Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Pinter, The Nobel Prize, and the Frozen Pool

Saturday, December 10th, 2005


Harold Pinter, on receiving his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize on Wednesday,
spoke in an unadulterated voice rarely heard in the US. This from a NYT report:

returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American
leaders use it to anesthetize the public. "It’s a scintillating stratagem,"
Mr. Pinter said. "Language is actually employed to keep thought
at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion
of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The
cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but
it’s very comfortable.

This idea of language as an "obscurer of reality" is a potent one.
Warm, fuzzy, easy conceptions keep us a managed population, as Curtis White
has described. The fuzziness makes criticisms and harsh truths seem fantastic
and truly out of this world. "This world" is a carefully manufactured
set of safe, simple mental way points that keep away troubling thoughts about
some of the assumptions that form the foundation of modern western consumer
culture, and its leadership by the United States. As Pinter says, it is "a
brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."


Proposition 2 in Texas: Reluctant Comments

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

Here’s the question I have for those who voted for Proposition 2 in the
recent election here in Texas: How many gay people have you been friends with?
Any family members? Have you ever spent appreciable time with anyone who is
gay? Enough time to understand them in a thorough way? My guess is that answers
in the positive to this question number in the low single digits.

Gay marriage affects very few people, but its emotional appeal is the heart
of the conservative republican strategy to get out the vote. The real agenda,
of course, are the economic policies that get passed quietly while all the noise
is being made about the issues that make us uncomfortable. (Thomas Frank has
done an excellent job of outlining this strategy in What’s
the Matter with Kansas

When I left Texas for graduate school in 1989 I had little experience with
anyone who was openly homosexual. Though I liked to think of myself tolerant
and liberal, I had no direct experience.

The first thing that happened to me upon arriving in Southern California was
to end up living with a gay man in a rent house in Claremont. I was literally
walking the streets looking for a place to live and this guy put me up in a
room in his house. For nine months I took part in parties, dinners, and general
lounging about. Whatever was different from straight culture was learned and
became a matter of course. There was never any issue about me being straight
and him being gay.


Intelligent Design of Propaganda

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

A lot of people are coming out having to defend evolution from the propaganda
campaign that is intelligent design. Confusion abounds. Daniel Dennett penned
an NYT
with several good points.

no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival
explanation of any biological phenomenon
. This might seem surprising
to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis
of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent
design proponents do, "You haven’t explained everything yet," is
not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn’t explained
everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn’t
yet tried to explain anything

Instead of spending more than $1 million a year on publishing books and articles
for non-scientists and on other public relations efforts, the Discovery Institute
should finance its own peer-reviewed electronic journal.

The sad truth is that you don’t really need truth or evidence or studies
or ethics or history on your side. You merely need a good marketing campaign

I personally like the UFO analogy Dennett gives: that the idea that we are
the results of ancient alien experiments being a more scientific idea than intelligent
design. When I was an undergraduate at UNT I had an instructor who made paintings
in homage of our supposed alien ancestors. It was so amusing I used flying saucer
images in my drawings and paintings for several years afterward. I thought of
them as symbols of projected meaning: we could use pretty much anything - might
as well be an artifact of the cold war fears and 50’s sci-fi.

Intelligent design, rather than a topic in a science class, should be a topic
of a philosophy or theology or politics class, as Dennett suggests. Better yet,
a class on persuasion, propaganda, and perception management. But that would
go against the role of public K-12 education: to create dutiful workers and
consumers. No wonder somewhere near 50% of Americans think the world is less
than 10,000 years old. In Texas, about that same percentage failed to graduate
from high school. Yeee Haaaw.

Evolution is no more a threat to Christianity than subatomic physics or the
paintings of Picasso. The intelligent design folks have basically given up the
territory already. You are saying that the basic presumptions of the scientific
view of the world are correct. That the right way to spread and defend religion
is through the methodology of science, rather than through faith.

Needing to "prove" anything religious is like claiming you
need to have "faith" in the periodic table.

Religion and faith are not, to my understanding, about logic, reason or evidence.
That is the realm of philosophy and science, respectively. The Bible doesn’t
say the real is rational and the rational is real, that was Hegel. And even
most scientists don’t exclusively believe that. Those that do commit the same
error as the fundamentalists: they fail to understand that theirs is merely
a way of describing certain aspects of experience. In other words, there are
multiple ways of describing things (or as I like to say, frames for experience
and possibilities for experience).

Science does not provide a value system. On the one hand it generates awe at
the scale and grandeur of the universe but on the other it makes us feel insignificant.
As if the world in our heads were but an insignificant blip on an insignificant
speck in an indifferent, unimaginably huge universe. It doesn’t really have
anything to offer us in the way of personal purpose or meaning.

Evolution doesn’t "disprove" Christianity. It has no interest in
it. Maybe it should go both ways.