Atheists invariably haul out the religious wars of Europe to make the case that religion is pernicious. It is indisputable that from The Age of Faith to the Reformation/Counter Reformation numerous bloody wars and slaughters were committed in the name if the Christian God and there were countless more if you include the wars fought in His second best known name, Allah. It’s not an obviously wacky point.
But hold on there—religious war is monstrous just as all war is monstrous, and it is possible that religion is monstrous as well, but the proposition that wars being fought over religion proves that religion is monstrous is a classic example of what philosophers call “an association fallacy of the red herring type.” The herring, i.e., the thing dragged in that is not logically connected is religion. Helen’s face launched a thousand ships only in a poetic sense; Paris and Agamemnon are to blame for the Trojan war, not Helen, love, or beauty.
Such a fundamentally flawed attack shouldn’t require any defense, but logic isn’t a central concern in religion; Christians consistently fall for this argument and end up defending Christianity from the accusation with words to the effect that “sure, there were wars, but those people weren’t real Christians” or “they weren’t acting consistently with Christian principles.“
This is a terrible argument but not because it’s inherently fallacious. It’s weak because it invites the accuser to apply what is known as the duck test, AKA Occam’s Razor. You’d sneer if I defended, say, Nazism, using the same logic. Try it out: “Nazism didn’t really underly the horrors of the Holocaust; the problem was that bad people coopted a good idea. Let’s let bygones be bygones and give it another chance.” No, the killers were Nazis and the actions were consistent with the principles of Nazism as advocated by the founders, so you can go out on a limb and say Nazism caused the Holocaust. It is logically possible that a small animal that looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, and is often seen in the company of ducks, is not a duck, but that’s not where a wise ornithologist will take the argument.
Continue reading “Christianity and Ducks”
Against a cultural background of morbid touchiness about references to gender, race, etc., the word bitch is a lens into what’s going on beneath the fig leaf of political correctness.
Calling a particular person a bitch in private is bad manners but if you disregard all the ostentatious political posturing, the visceral reaction most people have to bitch used in that way isn’t much different from their reaction to gender-neutral epithets such asshole, or to male-specific insults such as prick, or dick. Bitch, used in this way, is an insult to a particular person, and after all, offending is the goal. Bitch is not nearly as shocking to the ears as the c-word-that-dare-not-be-spoken (here in the US, anyway—in the UK cunt is practically a term of endearment when applied to a man.)
Gender-specific insults are tricky but you have to be willfully obtuse to deny that much obnoxious behavior has gender. I’m not talking about the gender of the obnoxious person, but the behavior itself. Being a prick is definitely a yang personality trait and being a bitch is yin, regardless of the sex of the insulted or insulting party. Asshole, on the other hand, is neuter, despite the fact that many more men than women are assholes. Assholes are like happy families but the epithet pig can connote at least three distinct kinds of obnoxiousness, one specific to each gender plus one neuter. I like the gender-specificity of all of these words and usages and doubly applaud their use when the target is not gender-consistent with the epithet. The comprehensibility of cross-gender insults is a sign of progress in the relationship of the sexes.
Continue reading “Bitchin’”
I wasn’t a reflexive Kavanaugh hater when this started. His politics are deplorable but they are pretty much of a piece with those of anyone else who was in the running. His evasive responses to virtually all questions were dismaying but they were not much worse than has become customary in Senate hearings.
The spectacle only strayed into the bizarre with Kavanaugh’s response to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Who carries on like that at a job interview, attacking and insulting the interviewers, raging, crying, acting hurt, citing massive conspiracies to get revenge for work he did for Ken Starr twenty-some years ago? You can lose touch with how weird that performance was.
Continue reading “Yep, I Definitely Believe Her.”
We shouldn’t be thinking of Trump’s campaign shenanigans with the Russians and his payoffs to silence former mistresses as normal, Watergate-style scandals. Either of these clumps of mini-scandals would be enough to bring a normal presidency crashing to the ground, but they are more likely to end up a footnote, remembered not for their intrinsic importance but as the threads investigators first pulled on that ultimately unraveled the Republican party and exposed the bizarre epochal political disaster that started America on an historic decline as a world power.
What’s going on is widely recognized as a scandal, but it’s not usually spoken of in such cataclysmic terms. Is this author overly excited or will we look back one day and feel that the mainstream press missed something obvious?
The media is struggling because what’s going is unprecedented. To be fair, everyone else is struggling too: law enforcement, our intelligence apparatus, the courts; even the KGB doesn’t know quite what to do. Trump’s Russia problem is morphing into that rarest political thing: something new under the sun.
Continue reading “We’re Looking At It All Wrong”
The release of Bob Woodward’s book Fear, about the state of Trump’s White House, and the nearly simultaneous publication in the New York Times of an anonymous op-ed piece telling much the same story from inside the Cabinet, make it clear that the end is approaching.
These stories of White House chaos come just as three currents of history are about to crash together. Mueller’s investigation, the November elections, and Trump’s impatience are headed for a three-way pileup that could see the Pence family decorating the White House Christmas tree this year.
The pivot point for the scandal is November 8th, the first business day after the election. The chaos, corruption, and buffoonery of Trump’s first two years make Democratic control of the House next year likely, and even control of the Senate now seems like a possibility. With a Democratic majority in the House, the tide will truly change against the Republicans and the President. Investigations can’t be strangled and impeachment becomes a serious option. At that point, the Republicans will have less than two months to salvage what they can.
Continue reading “A Delicate Moment”
Ordell tells Melanie that too much weed will sap her ambition. Melanie responds, “Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV.” Jackie Brown, 1997.
As a society, we’re in the process of accepting the obvious truth that pot is never going away and that impairing hundreds of thousands of lives with criminal prosecutions is cruel and wasteful. Decriminalization is a good thing.
What’s not a good thing is letting decriminalization blur into officially normalizing pot use by setting up a government-approved infrastructure for distribution so that we can tax it. Is there no middle ground between imprisoning people over something and giving that thing the government’s seal of approval?
Continue reading “Reefer Madness”