Sunday, July 12, 2015

My special take on Pascal's Wager

It is likely that you have heard some version of Pascal's wager:
(1) It is possible that the Christian God exists and it is possible that the Christian God does not exist.

(2) If one believes in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great reward and if he does not exist then one loses little or nothing.

(3) If one does not believe in the Christian God then if he exists then one receives an infinitely great punishment and if he does not exist then one gains little or nothing.

(4) It is better to either receive an infinitely great reward or lose little or nothing than it is to either receive an infinitely great punishment or gain little or nothing. Therefore:

(5) It is better to believe in the Christian God than it is not to believe in the Christian God.

(6) If one course of action is better than another then it is rational to follow that course of action and irrational to follow the other. Therefore:

(7) It is rational to believe in the Christian God and irrational not to believe in the Christian God.

While many people have refuted Pascal's wager, here is my take:
My religion offers a 110% afterlife guarantee. Bring in the description of the afterlife from any other religion, and the Great Goddess Bhuhl'Schyttah will offer you a Heaven that is 110% as heavenly and a Hell that is 110% as hellish. It is therefore irrational not to follow the religion of the Great Goddess Bhuhl'Schyttah.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Someone actually said this: Pure reason as a construction

In case you've wondered what deep thoughts are pondered in humanities departments, as reported by that ne plus ultra of journalistic excellence, The New York Times, I have exciting news for you. The newspaper of record has interviewed John D. Caputo, the Thomas J. Watson professor of religion emeritus at Syracuse University and David R. Cook professor of philosophy emeritus at Villanova University, who shares the following insights:
Postmodern theory tries to interrupt that expression [of referring to "we" with no analysis of who "we" are] at every stop, to put every word in scare quotes, to put our own presuppositions into question, to make us worry about the murderousness of “we,” and so to get in the habit of asking, “we, who?” I think that what modern philosophers call “pure” reason — the Cartesian ego cogito and Kant’s transcendental consciousness — is a white male Euro-Christian construction.
Someone's still appealing to postmodernism? Greetings, time traveler from the nineties. Also, are we sure that it's "pure" reason, not postmodernism, that's "a white male Euro-Christian construction"?

So what is the professor's proof that "pure" reason is a white male Euro-Christian construction?

White is not “neutral.” “Pure” reason is lily white, as if white is not a color or is closest to the purity of the sun, and everything else is “colored.” Purification is a name for terror and deportation, and “white” is a thick, dense, potent cultural signifier that is closely linked to rationalism and colonialism. What is not white is not rational. So white is philosophically relevant and needs to be philosophically critiqued — it affects what we mean by “reason” — and “we” white philosophers cannot ignore it.
What's that thing called again when you postulate what you're trying to prove? It has "reasoning" in its name, but it's not the good kind of reasoning. Also, I suppose that wanting pure anything is now the moral equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Then there is this:

The trigger-happy practices of the police, not all police, but too many police, on the streets of black America should alert everyone to how profoundly adrift American democracy has become — attacking the poor as freeloaders and criminals, a distorted and grotesque ideological exaggeration of freedom over equality.
Nothing says "ideological exaggeration of freedom" like trigger-happy police.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Faux News: Study Shows Broad Support for Higher Taxes on Other People

VALLEY HILLS (Faux News): A groundbreaking new study shows that Americans overwhelmingly believe that government should protect the public good by imposing higher taxes on other people.

According to Antonia Comstock of Comstock Opinion Research, a nationally representative sample was conducted of 35,721 adults interviewed by telephone, on both cellphones and landlines. Comstock Opinion Research asked the respondents questions about what whether higher taxes were desirable and, if so, on whom.

One respondent said, "We need higher taxes to maintain the high quality of services to which we're entitled. I can't pay more because my budget is stretched as it is, but for other taxpayers, I just know that it'll be no problem."

Another said, "The state needs to keep current revenue levels, and with the tax refund that I'm going to get because of the recent court decision, that money has to come from somewhere."

Respondents in the District of Columbia cited two injustices that our nation's capital faces: taxation without representation and the lack of power to impose a commuter tax.

"This study," Comstock said, "shows an increased maturity among Americans in recognizing that the collective good of the collective whole requires that someone else make sacrifices."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don't just do something; stand there until the problem is solved.

Russell Tovey has come under criticism for the following:
Example No. 1: In an interview earlier this week with The Guardian, “Looking” star Russell Tovey, 33, revealed that he was assaulted for being gay, spurring a change in his physical presentation, which his father encouraged.

“I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up,” he said. “If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.”

The author of that column responds thus:
Can someone please tell Tovey that he’s not the only one who’s been bullied for being gay? In fact, this happens all the time, causing a suicide rate in the LGBT community drastically higher than the rate for our straight counterparts. But the solution to being bullied isn’t to “hit the gym,” as Tovey says. Rather, it’s our job as a community to speak out against old notions of how people are supposed to express their identities. It’s our job to stop the bullying.
Earlier, we read about anti-LGBT violence and self-defense:
"We need to look at the systemic inequalities that are causing people to be victims of violence,” .... “The solution to that is definitely not creating violence to end violence."
While I do not agree completely with Tovey's attitude, nor do I agree that the other side presents a complete real-world solution. Doing "our job as a community ... to stop the bullying" and "to look at the systemic inequalities" will not work overnight, if they do at all; in the meantime, what are people supposed to do?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nice promises, if you keep them.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, gave her State of the Movement Address at the Creating Change Conference last Friday. She made some interesting points, but the sort of points that movement leaders should spend less time telling us that they believe and more time showing us that they believe.

Carey made the following observation about freedom, with which, as far as it goes, I agree:

The greater good, the greater truth we hold is that freedom is not a zero sum game. Sadly, there are those who believe otherwise. But I believe that your life is not diminished by my freedom to be whole. And, my life is not diminished by your freedom to be whole. I don’t become less of a human if more of your humanity is recognized.
Nonetheless, much LGBT activism seems premised on the idea that freedom is a zero-sum game. We have developed a reputation for demanding our rights at the expense of others' rights, the cake police being a prominent example. The LGBT movement's devotion to "tolerance" has become a punchline among people who should be our natural allies.

She later says,

I believe we need a new agenda for the next decade, for the future — a new agenda for all LGBTQ people and our families — that recognizes the breath and the depth of all we face. And there is no one organization, there is no one person that can or should create that agenda. Rather it will be held by all of us and will require of all of us to envision it, to create it and to fulfill it.

Next month you'll be hearing from us and other organizations about a grassroots digital and in-person campaign called Our Tomorrow that will engage people across the country in a conversation about their hopes, fears and ideas to inform the future of the LGBTQ movement.

That would be a welcome change from the movement's S.O.P. When I was more involved in mainstream LGBT organizations than I am today, I noticed that movement leaders cultivated the sort of "diversity" that, while ensuring that all of the right boxes were checked, was free from diversity of viewpoint. Unsurprisingly, those organizations were echo chambers whose participants could not imagine that opinions outside of the group-certified orthodoxy could have validity and sometimes could not imagine that any authentic LGBT person could even hold such opinions.

As a result, many LGBT people feel disaffected from a movement that they see as not speaking for them or even as directly opposing their liberation. I am not talking only about people who believe that their identity categories are not represented. This will strike some people as heresy, but people lumped into the same identity category can have widely divergent perspectives, opinions, and needs. Any movement whose leaders aspire to speak for "all LGBTQ people and our families" must reach out to people holding those widely divergent perspectives, opinions, and needs, however distasteful the goodthinkful may find doing so.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Thank you, Jeb Bush, for inadvertently helping to advance freedom.

Now that Jeb Bush's nanny-statism and hypocrisy on the subject of marijuana have been unmasked, even my progressive acquaintances are now recognizing (i) that Republican politicians, by and large, are pro-government and in particular pro-nanny-state and (ii) that that isn't a good thing. It helps that the issue is marijuana, on which my progressive acquaintances tend to be at least libertarianish. While they are hardly going to become anarcho-capitalists overnight, at least Bush has given them a valuable lesson in seeing past what "everyone knows."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Write your own opinion piece for the LGBT media with the new Write-o-Matic!

Haven't you always wanted to say something to the world in The Advocate, The Washington Blade, or some other LGBT publication? Of course you have. Now, with the new Write-o-Matic and a standard six-sided die, you'll be able to write an opinion piece in no time.

I. Choose a subject.

Throw the die and choose one of the following six subjects:
  1. "Not Everyone Is Physically Attracted to Me, and That's Unfair."
  2. "Democratic Politicians Are God's Angels on the Earth."
  3. "My Identity Group Is the Most Virtuous, yet Most Persecuted in the History of Ever."
  4. "Lesbians Can Do No Wrong; Gay Men Can Do No Right."
  5. "Bigger Government Is a Panacea."
  6. "My Freedom Matters; Yours Is Stupid and Pointless."
II. Choose an information source.

Throw the die again and choose one of the following six information sources:
  1. A data set taken under such questionable circumstances that it is worthless
  2. A data set cherry-picked to support your desired conclusion
  3. One anecdotal example
  4. Unfounded speculation
  5. Your own amazing powers of clairvoyance and mind-reading
  6. Something that's been reverberating in the echo chamber for so long that it just has to be true
III. Choose someone to quote.

A good journalist provides quotes, so throw the die again and choose the person whom you'll quote:
  1. Someone who has no special expertise in the subject but who can be counted on to agree with you
  2. Someone who has no special expertise in the subject but to whom you owe a favor
  3. Someone who fancies her/himself to have special expertise in the subject but who gets it wrong
  4. A politician who cannot do anything about the issue
  5. A politician who is now taking a position directly contrary to her or his record
  6. A random person on Twitter
IV. Choose a product placement.

That politically correct happy talk about anti-capitalism is all very nice, but the bills won't pay themselves, so throw the die again and choose a product or service to plug engage in serious journalism about:
  1. A bar, restaurant, or other nightlife spot
  2. A counseling service
  3. An item of popular culture
  4. An item of geek culture
  5. A car
  6. A wedding service
V. Write.

Now write that opinion piece and become famous. Caveat: Under no circumstances should you express an original thought.

See also: