Ideology in the Science I Think I Love

I can be as partisan and/or practical as the next person.

I like the scientific method; I use the scientific method. I’d be foolish to say — to think, even — that an explicitly anti-subjective, empirically driven and self-criticizing method of investigation is anything but perfectly vital towards discovering what is true and false in every aspect of reality.

But, I do not “Fucking Love Science” (tm), and not because of so-and-so (hint hint nudge nudge). I fucking love (if one were to state it thus) asking what “Science” is.

So, what is “Science” in the everyday sense of the thing? What are people talking about when they invoke the word?

We can talk about methods of investigation; I suspect that is not what people are talking about when they invoke the word. We can talk about “discoveries”, and that would bring us closer to the everyday sense of its use. It’s also getting closer to something which fans of “Science” seem to believe they are immune from, something entirely foreign to the enforced optimism of “loving Science”.

This is something one step removed from the “science” of method and investigation.

Collectively, we now can marvel at sights no person in the long history of human experience ever thought possible–distant stars, the very small, the unveiling of the impossible and achieving what was literally impossible: machines sent to planets and the knowledge of places so distant that we (you and I) can die with the sure knowledge that we will never see them. Yet, we know of them.

Well, now, that celebratory spirit is beginning to sound a little like something decidedly not science. The awe and wonder in that feels a little like religious ecstasy.

I fucking love “ideology”.

I think that the key to understanding the convoluted thoughts and intents of humans is to ask questions and use some explicitly self-criticizing method of investigation (whatever you want to call that). Ask questions and be a little bit of an ass about it. Ideology reaches inside all of us social primates and directs our paths while we yet remain oblivious to the very thing itself.

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What is left to choose in Syria?

As with World War II, Vietnam, and several dozen other wars and “police actions” in which nothing was actually done to alleviate suffering or prevent massacre, the time for “someone” to easily “do something” in Syria has long, long, long ago come and gone, forever.

Now that the dissidents and protesters have long ago (2+ years) been arrested, tortured, killed and dumped on the streets; now that entire cities (Homs, Aleppo) have been leveled (over a year ago) by the Syrian military, tens of thousands of people snuffed out in a week of heavy artillery; now that criminals and religious fundamentalists have already taken up weapons and can be guaranteed to soon be fighting anyone who wants an actual working government: only NOW the American President and assembled legislature consider whether to “do something”.

The question is no longer a simple choice between doing something — that is, “warfare” — and doing nothing. You have waited too long again. The question has now become: “What hideous, deadly and stupid action will someone be guaranteed to perform and what will the reaction to that hideous, deadly and stupid action be?

Godly Cowardice

Reliance upon god is a vulgar act of cowardice.

Let me be very clear about what I mean by vulgar. In the strictest sense, the vulgar is that which is entirely common and without nuance; average and mundane; impervious to critique. This vulgarity requires little effort, just a passive acceptance of all that is handed down as culturally or doctrinally permitted. Personally, I think that belief in god(s) does also have an element of the obscene (I admit that this is the first sense of the word I think of), but I’d have a tough time applying that particular sense to all forms of belief.

You should not be put off by the vulgarity, I think, but by the cowardice.

nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses

This cowardice is demonstrated by the varying displays of aversion to the real: To avoid the dynamism of life, god thoughts stand in for and as an antidote to personal and cultural development; without a means for controlling others it becomes only a projection of personal demands.

The God  is a convenient in-group icon against a manufactured out-group and, I would argue, a terrible, often toxic and always phony substitute for the Ethical: that necessary moral negotiation which is required of every person who lives with other people.

If that weren’t enough, the faithful and godly always at this point, say — shout, actually — as on queue, “…you’ve been talking to the wrong people…” before then declaring definitively and finally for all around them to hear, the nature of the true god, according to their own in-group assessment.

What else can I say to that but, “Says who?”

Oh, godly of the world, I cannot un-see;
You’ve made your point too well for me.

Agnostic What?

How’s this for a ‘statement of faith’:

…Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind…

Although here Einstein was clearly ignoring the power of a scientific method over the purported truth claims of religion; though he was clearly putting emphasis on the aspiration toward truth and understanding; though clearly he chose here to define a sort of “religion” quite different from religion as it is actually invented and actually practiced; though we see consistently that, in fact, religion never determines any goal but merely follows the lead of the culture; nevertheless, smarmy idiots everywhere love to quote the last sentence, stripped of context, and exclaim, “You see?! Einstein thought religion is great! Take that, you atheists!

Or some such foolishness.

Agnostic End

“I cannot know.”

Agnosticism is a valid, default response to aspects of a set of well-defined problems: That which is known is known; that which is unknown is also known. The agnostic position, then, recognizes where a particular question is not adequate. It sees that the question is the problem. One should change the question; look for a way to formulate a better question.

When you are not aware of what you don’t know, not even aware that you don’t know, can it ever be true that an assertion like “I cannot know” could be valid or meaningful? Further, how about that murky, that which you do not know that you know: What you knew, but forgot; knew, but merely took as granted; knew, but without context or analysis? Your unthought presuppositions and prejudices.

It is this gap in knowledge, I think, that is the real state of permanent, tragic bafflement. This gap leaves the “cannot know” mindset with no tools and no approach in what could appear to be an infinitely complicated and permanently indecipherable world.

Actually, those problematic states of ignorance — ignorance about “what you do not know” and ignorance about “what you do know” — are dangerous conditions to find yourself in. The latter is the worse of the two, I think. Both propel tepid, pseudo-intellectual agnosticism on a plummeting toward self-imposed ignorance!

Someone’s Plan hasn’t Proceeded as Advertised (top-down class warfare)

Did we not all hear and read that “Accumulated wealth turns into investment which creates more jobs.”? That is what I remember hearing repeatedly.

If a smaller and smaller percentage of individuals 1 are accumulating assets without folding capital back, as continuously asserted and predicted since the early 1980s, then targeted taxation with incentives is one of two paths toward remediation. I would prefer not to mention the second method.

The alternative, as I understand it, is simply to do nothing and watch passively as yet a smaller percentage of self-appointed American monarchies are then able to create a monetary standard of their own–if we aren’t at that point already–currency beyond the reach of a weakened representative government.

The accusation of “class warfare” against those who seek equity and opportunity is not a natural consequence of observation. Rather, it is an artificial assertion: Few sensible people think the “lower” classes are capable of engaging in any such battle. If there exists anyone who actually thinks in terms of class, you can be sure it is not the majority of the “middle-class”, but those who seek to take and protect yet more privilege.

Class warfare is fought from the top down. Most people took at face value the seductive idea that wealth would magically “turn into jobs”. The wealthy are not investing.


  1. Hardly controversial by now, but common knowledge. It is one of those facts which we simply take as a “normal” feature of the landscape — like occupier tanks in one’s neighborhood; you’ve lived with them for so long that you no longer notice them draining the life from your neighbors.
    See also
    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-03/top-tenth-of-1-percenters-reaps-all-the-riches
    tttp://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/joshua-rauh-what-forbes-400-list-says-about-american-wealth
    http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_24065108/wealth-gap-widens-richest-1-percent-earn-biggest
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2012/03/21/average-america-vs-the-one-percent/
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/s/stanley-millionaire.html * A simple graphic showing distribution: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/images/wealth/Figure_4.gif

Rogue Reading Skills

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“She didn’t have meetings. If she was meeting with anybody it was with Vogue magazine or Vanity Fair. We were supposed to get her schedule a day in advance so we could plan who would cover what, but most days there was nothing on her schedule. It was blank.”
—retired Alaskan state trooper Gary Wheeler, from The Rogue, by Joe McGinniss 1

The Chicago Tribune, 2011-09-12

(Doonsbury strip 2 )


  1. Joe McGinniss, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. New York: Crown Publishers (2011) 
  2. Garry Trudeau. “Doonsbury”, 2011-09-12. The Chicago Tribune. Internet (retrieved, http://doonesbury.washingtonpost.com/strip/archive/2011/09/12#mutable

Retribution

You may easily apprehend that US law enforcement and juridical systems are built upon the idea of incarceration as retribution rather than rehabilitation. Were this construed from nothing else, it would be that the United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world.

I think you’d have a hard time pinning that particular conclusion down from any one, specific case or dictum and could, I suppose, mistakenly hope that all those people are being jailed for, oh, “therapeutic” reasons. Men of specifically African decent are imprisoned far out of proportion to the alleged crimes, assuming 1 that crimes were 2 ever proved 3 to have 4 been committed 5 (!), and most certainly in greater proportions than European descendants or “merely brown-skinned” for similar or lesser crimes.

The rule behind and underlying political pressure is to punish for prejudices about a person’s perceived nature. It is retribution.


  1. Phil Villarreal, “Texas Refuses To Pay Wrongfully Convicted Man, Garnishes His Wages Instead”. (2011-05-05) (http://consumerist.com/2011/05/texas-refuses-to-pay-wrongfully-convicted-man-garnishes-his-wages-instead.html
  2. “The Innocence Project of Texas is dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions and securing freedom for men and women wrongfully imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit.” (http://ipoftexas.org/”) 
  3. “The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exoneration wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” (http://www.innocenceproject.org/
  4. “Wrongfully Convicted Death Row Inmate Wins Civil Suit with Help from Virginia Law Students” (2006-05-11) (http://www.law.virginia.edu/html/news/2006_spr/washington.htm
  5. “Wrongly convicted get $80,000 a year in Texas: Restitution includes college tuition, job training and financial advice”. (2009-09-04); (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32692576/ns/us_news-life/t/wrongly-convicted-get-year-texas/

Quote and Misquote

I have no particular reason to think that Gabriel Garcia Marquez did not say
.
“He sido forastera durante casi toda mi vida, condición que acepto porque no me queda alternativa.”

But the admission, widely attributed to him lately, seems unlikely even if it is inversely inspirational. Marquez doesn’t seem that convincing as an “outsider”.


This was a lucky guess, as it turns out, concerning an implausible source. The misattributed quote had been floating around unchallenged. Happily, it didn’t end up being permanently processed by the public mythology machine like the “absence of evidence” 1 quote.

I put exactly no effort into finding the origin of this quote I jotted down four years ago. I stumbled across the source entirely by chance. This is, in fact, a line from the memoir, Mi país inventado 2–from the beginning of the first chapter, entitled “Unas Palabras Para Comenzar”–written by (another) writer known for “magical realist” style, the Chilean author, Isabel Allende.


  1. Absence of Source 
  2. Isabel Allende
    , Mi Pais Inventado: Un Paseo Nostalgico por Chile. New York: Harper Collins (2004) 

Respectable Privilege and Common Decency

No one I know of seems to disagree substantially with Watson’s first assessment and request. After the first salvos in clever reply, I lost track of who was shooting at whom and why: I was still naively asking people, while threats of boycott floated in the air, “But don’t you think she makes a good point?”

The issue blew up into a pissing match, I think, because of some unfortunate and irrelevant pleading (Plait, Mehta, et al), bandwagon political glosses, and reactions against reactions. As of this edit, there are nearly too many to cite. Maybe everyone wanted to jump on the short-lived publicity train. And now it looks like I’m on it, too, if only for a quick run down the tracks.

I am happy for the chance at jettisoning some my own, previously hidden naiveté. I was appalled by comments from people I had formerly taken to be consummately perceptive and rational, speaking as they did so earnestly and adamantly either for or against the so-called “Feminist Agenda”. Guess what? Everyone gets to be an idiot at least once in life!

So, that takes care of my naiveté. For now.

Those against the proposition cannot present evidence for the existence of any such feminist agenda, certainly none like the paranoid and incoherent insinuated version, and definitely none actually matching the real goals of feminism! Meanwhile, proponents were distracted and consumed by pure reaction against the “echo chamber”!

Those against believe militants (as they say) have forced this into yet another male v. female issue and were ready — in fact, are continually ready — with cynical, unwarranted and tiresome comments about body parts and with their self-pitying complaints about “Political Correctness”. Proponents countered with equally pointless comments about privilege and age. I say pointless since, just to mention one point of communication failure, the intended audience had already plugged their ears! The particular jibe I’m talking about with reference to privilege didn’t get a heck of a lot of subscribers; most people seem to want to sympathize with old man Dawkins despite the glaring stupidity of his comments and grotesque sarcasm.

Moments like this make me think that science and philosophy may not ultimately prevail over stupidity. I am confident this moment will pass. So, I have some specific questions for you to consider, thoughtful reader:

  • At what point did Watson’s two minute comment cease to be a request for self-reflection and begin to become part of an overarching conspiracy, a demand for or against special privileges?
  • When did otherwise rational, empirically-grounded skeptics forget that civilization lives and dies by the conditions of the women resident in that civilization?
  • Shall we trivialize every instance of male blundering until it becomes an entrenched problem?

By the way, if you think the last question represents an unwarranted exaggeration, please demonstrate to me how I have inappropriately invoked slippery slope! Yes, I am inviting comment.

What Watson said: On 20 June 2011,  published a video blog entitled About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes to her publicly available video blog, Skepchick. The following is the (transcribed) “elevator” statement, with some context included:

…so, I was interested in the response to my, sort of, rambling on that panel which, like this video, was unscripted and rambling, for which I apologize.

But, the response was really fascinating. The response at the conference itself was really wonderful. There were a ton of great feminists there, male and female, and also just open-minded people who had maybe never really considered the way that women are treated in this community but were interested in learning more. Thank you to everyone who was at that conference who engaged in those discussions outside that panel. You were all fantastic. I love talking to you guys. All of you except for the one man who didn’t really grasp, I think, what I said on the panel because at the bar, later that night — actually, at 4 in the morning — we were at the hotel bar, 4 am.

I said, “…I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, I’m going to bed.

So, I walked to the elevator and a man got on the elevator with me and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?

Just a word to the wise here, guys. Don’t do that. I don’t know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4AM in a hotel elevator with you. Just you. And I — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner…

But everyone else seemed to really get it! and thank you, for getting it…

Please refer to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHwduG1Frk#t=3m47s for clarification.

Perhaps if she had only under-reacted! Would everyone be happier? Better still, perhaps she should have remained completely silent. I’m sure everyone would then approve, noddingly. Would her position then have been appropriately tasteful enough for the likes of the young, part-time, self-professed Third-Wave Feminists, the populist skeptics and serious atheists, any and all respectable holders of letters and leaders in the fields of science and philosophy? Everyone would sympathize, surely, having heard second hand, but her experiences and arguments would be completely meaningless and so, would be ignored. That so many are still in an uproar indicates that she nailed the right level.

Today in Cairo: Arrest of British photojournalist Neil Pollick

British journalist and free-lance photographer Neil Pollick, has been arrested while photographing a group of protesters in front of the Ministry of Defense, presumably on charges of espionage.

His arrest signals the continued insecurity by the military government of Egypt with regard to the control of information. It is trivial to say that this is an impossible condition for the military and the sooner they get out of the business of governing, the better.

Amira Al-Tahawi posted confirmation of his arrest earlier today after other unconfirmed reports indicated doubts about his name or whether his arrest took place.

Pollick contributes to the Egyptian daily, Al Masr y Al Youm.

Update:

I have not confirmed this personally, but Twitter posts (1, 2, 3) say that although he was asked a lot of questions, he was not harmed and has been released. No one at Al Masr y Al Youm has responded to inquiries.

Repudiate the sentence of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani

To the Embassy of Iran,

I repudiate the execution sentence of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani by Iran’s court. This is an act of barbarism and an insult to the concept of justice.

I join every citizen of the United States of America and every civilized nation that does not engage in reckless and arbitrary jurisprudence in demanding that Sakineh Moahmmadie Ashtiani be granted a fair trial.

We demand that, should a personally intrusive motion be pursued, justified by what is unquestionably no more than a misdemeanor civil offense, if not a mere infraction of public sensibilities, that a reasoned sentence will come only after long and merciful deliberation in greater consideration for her life, for her freedom and for the lives of her children above the arbitrary demands of the State. Indeed, clemency in this matter is preferable to injustice.

Fish or Cut

The context was propaganda or novel ideas or something like that.  It was said,

“…cognitive dissonance is when you are presented with two contradictory ideas, linked together in a way that forces you to redefine both”

That isn’t entirely true.  It’s a stretch to interpret it that way, even though that could be one outcome.
Cognitive Dissonance

I think it is simpler to start thinking of cognitive dissonance in the way that it refers to the feeling you get, perhaps even the unthought compulsions when you have two (or more?) contradictory facts about one thing.  For example, perhaps you love to smoke and you love the idea of smoking; but, you also know that smoking will probably cripple you in some way. It isn’t that you redefine your love of smoking and redefine what it means to be crippled or to die in a particular manner. Rather, you feel that one of the ideas has to be eliminated or rationalized.

With the example of smoking, the most common result is just rationalization. There are a number of reasons for this, the least of which not being physical addiction.  But also the social benefits which include a certain culturally bounded “style” and “fitting in” with the expectations of peers (or your perception of said expectations); its function as a conversational catalyst. There could be others, but the point is that the rationalization is a direct result of the brain trying to hold these two contradictory and subjectively true ideas at the same time.  The decisions are usually made (“to smoke” or “not to smoke”) on-the-fly and in the moment.

Revolution

There is another possible outcome to cognitive dissonance.  This alternate outcome is what I latch onto: Cognitive dissonance can directly cause revolution. Under the right circumstances, it can force you to reexamine what the two terms mean, not simply “redefine” them or “rationalize” one or the other. The tension can defy all attempts at rationalization and result in re-creation.

Some events have made be wonder about the power of cognitive dissonance.  During the presidential campaign (two years!), we heard all manner of supposed “facts” about the President Elect.  Even I was shocked.  Maybe, for all of the people out there who are afraid of Muslims and Arabs — and actually believe the foolishness about President Obama being both a Muslim and an Arab (are these crimes?!) — the election of this man they believed to be so dangerous could force them to re-evaluate their fears and reconsider what the real dangers are in the world.

Maybe that’s too optimistic.

[EDIT: Yes, that was too optimistic]

Stockholm Syndrome in Alaska: Citizens elect a convicted criminal

Perhaps it is the power of rationalization. Or perhaps is is a matter of thinking that the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t.

Trauma Bonding reinforces illusions that the captor is your friend or that you cannot survive without his magnanimity and protection.

May I suggest that Alaskans love Senator Stevens for the same reason a business owner loves the Mafia or, more accurately, the way that an abductee loves his kidnapper:  When you think you have no options, when you have been convinced (or have convinced yourself) that you need this person, then your abuser’s gifts sustain you for another day of exploitation.  The effort involved in extracting yourself from this exploiter exceeds the benefits of freedom.  Perhaps it’s the power of rationalization.  Or perhaps it’s is just that the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t know.

Anyway, 106,351 Alaskans did not have the discernment to recognize a criminal; 114,400 did see.  Only 3,354 votes, among 11,402 in that latter group, would have taken an election away or, at the least, forced a recount.

THIS JUST IN:  Stevens conceeds defeat to Mark Begich

Alaska, can you find it in your heart to forgive me?