Sunday, January 14, 2018

Donald Trump, the Antichrist, is “Close Enough to Christ,” said Evangelical Leader

Dateline: LICKSKILLET, KY—Evangelical Christians are supporting President Donald Trump, because “he’s probably the Antichrist and that’s close enough,” according to evangelical leader Leon Birdbrain.

Evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump to be president, and polls indicate that they haven’t wavered in their enthusiasm for President Trump and the GOP despite the opinion of a growing majority of Americans that, because of his “many scandals after only one year as president” and because of his “manifest unfitness for high office, Mr. Trump is easily the worst president in U.S. history,” as one national poll concluded.

This has led political scientists and pollsters to wonder why Mr. Trump can still count on his base of evangelical Christians even though his behaviour is obviously unchristian. According to the president’s many critics, his mendacity, sexism, racism, bigotry, narcissism, and personal wealth all indicate that Donald Trump has no interest in even appearing to care about the Christian message, and yet the most vocal American Christians flock to Trump and to the Republican Party, which has so far shielded Mr. Trump from impeachment proceedings. 

Mr. Birdbrain, a televangelist in Kentucky and author of 4,012 books on evangelical Christianity, held a press conference in which he announced that he believes evangelicals support Donald Trump precisely because they think he’s “not just a God-awful president and an abysmal human being,” but “the Antichrist in the flesh.”

When asked why so many supposedly earnest Christians would intentionally cheer for the Antichrist, whereas the New Testament is widely interpreted as preferring Christ to Satan’s earthly representative, Mr. Birdbrain said, “The Antichrist is close enough. I mean, we’ve been waiting a long, long time for Jesus Christ to return. It’s been over two thousand years and the Bible says he was supposed to come back before the first generation of his followers died. He’s evidently been delayed, to say the least, and many Christians now are getting impatient.

“So when we see the Antichrist, Donald Trump, in our very midst we figure, well, it’s only four letters away from ‘Christ,’ right? You take away the ‘anti’ and lo and behold, you’ve got the Christ. We’ve been waiting too long and Antichrist is close enough to Christ. That’s why Trump has my unconditional support and I know I speak for tens of thousands of my evangelical congregants.”

Leon Birdbrain went on to explain that he wears an upside down cross around his neck for similar reasons. “Once again, it’s simple: it’s close enough. You just turn the cross around 180 degrees and you’ve got the old-time cross, so I’m still in God’s good graces.”

According to Mr. Birdbrain, if President Trump does manage to destroy the planet, “it will be close enough. Christians have been waiting a long time for God to destroy human civilization to install his divine kingdom, so if the Antichrist accomplishes that in God’s absence, because of whatever’s been delaying Jesus Christ for so long, evangelicals will be fine with that. Either way, we’ll have a wrecked planet, so what’s the difference who pulls the trigger? Hopefully at that point God will finally step in to fix things and everything will be good as new. Like Satan, the Antichrist is being used by God anyway, so it’s all good.

“You can worship Christ or the Antichrist. You say ‘tomayto,’ I say ‘tomawto.’”

Monday, January 8, 2018

Is Jesus Lord or Legend?

Tom Gilson, “a Christian strategy and communication specialist,” according to his Amazon webpage, formerly with the Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru” to avoid the connotations of “crusade”) and Ratio Christi has an article out in a Christian journal called Touchstone. The article extends C.S. Lewis’s infamous Trilemma Argument, which Lewis intended as a rebuttal of the liberal view that you can admire Jesus’s moral caliber but deny Jesus’s divinity. That’s a non-starter, according to Lewis, because Jesus called himself divine. Thus, there are only three options: you either have to grant that Jesus was who he said he was, namely God, in which case you become a Christian, or you must condemn Jesus as a devil or a crackpot, that is, as a liar or a lunatic. You can’t have it both ways and accept some of what Jesus says (his moral teachings) while rejecting other parts of the gospel narratives (the parts where he indicates that he’s God).

Except that of course you can do that. Lewis seems to have forgotten that those who deny the Christian claim that Jesus was God naturally aren’t going to accept the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. Indeed, over the last two centuries, critical as opposed to dogmatic Bible scholars have shown how the legend of Jesus’s divinity would have built up over the decades after his death, such that the moral teachings in the gospels might go back to an historical Jesus while the more radical theological statements would have been added later by the early followers who were struggling to understand how their dear messiah could have been executed on the cross as a common criminal.

Gilson’s Argument against the Legend Hypothesis

Gilson’s argument is meant to shut down this “Legend” response to Lewis’s Trilemma. So Gilson argues that the early Christians couldn’t have invented the whole character of Jesus, that is, the character of someone who is perfectly moral (selfless, self-sacrificial, and other-directed) and perfectly powerful. Jesus’s sacrifice was “unique” and incomparable, according to Gilson, because Jesus sacrificed himself intentionally and from the very beginning, before his human incarnation, according to Philippians 2. Moreover, says Gilson, Jesus never used his supernatural power to benefit himself. Instead, his moral character is shown in how he laid aside his divine powers to sacrifice himself and save humanity from certain death (due to our original sin which forces God’s hand on Judgment Day). “By perfection,” writes Gilson, “I mean that there is no flaw in the consistency of the storyline, with respect to Jesus never using his power for his personal benefit.”

This is supposed to show how unlikely it was that the gospel writers invented Jesus’s character out of nothing, because everyone knows that power corrupts, so Jesus’s heroism is extremely counterintuitive. The gospel writers must have been Shakespearean geniuses to have conceived of such a fictional character. And Gilson doesn’t scruple about positing four separate gospel authors, to make the fiction seem all the more miraculous, as if the fiction had to have been created four times. Gilson acknowledges that “For the Gospel authors to have produced generally compatible pictures of Jesus would be no surprise: we can certainly assume that they worked interdependently, borrowing sources from each other, relying on common tradition, and so on. In the end, though, they all worked independently to some degree, and yet they all produced a character of unparalleled power and self-sacrifice, with no mar or imperfection of any sort.” Still, Gilson says that if Jesus were a fiction, “all four sources just happened to come up with a character of moral excellence beyond any other in all history or human imagination” (my emphasis). That’s contradictory, so Gilson is trying to have it both ways. If the synoptic gospels are interdependent, which they are, it was no accident that those gospels so closely resemble each other. They didn’t “just happen” to retain Jesus’s character. Luke and Matthew read it in Mark, and John’s likely independence explains why Jesus’s character in that later gospel is so different from the Jesus of the synoptic narratives. Whereas the synoptics are muted about Jesus’s divine role, in John Jesus is much more open and verbose about his relationship to the Father.

Gilson next shows how unlikely it would have been for the fiction to have developed by something like the Broken Telephone game, to have been orally transmitted before it was written down, and for the early Christian writers to have been motivated by the human need to avoid cognitive dissonance. According to Gilson, if the gospel narrative developed by word of mouth, adding distortions over time, we can’t say that the narrative developed in a “community of faith,” that is, within group of believers who were interested more in protecting their religious faith than in getting at the historical truth like Sherlock Holmes.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Clash of Worldviews: The Sexual Harassment Epidemic

MODERATOR: Good evening, viewers, and welcome to another edition of Clash of Worldviews, the show that interrupts the consumerist propaganda to present you with a discussion of philosophical issues of interest mainly to alienated cynics who surrender their capacity for happiness for a slender chance at enlightenment.

Tonight we have with us Queeneta Woods, noted African-American lesbian progressive feminist, and Frank Gulpa, the radical alt right blogger, and they’re here to discuss the wave of sexual misconduct allegations that appears to be cleansing American culture, especially its entertainment industry. Queeneta, have you been surprised by these allegations that dozens of mostly older male Hollywood executives and actors have sexually harassed or abused women in the industry?

QUEENETA: I’m not surprised that so much misconduct has occurred, but for some of it to come out all at once is unexpected. We need to listen to women who have the courage to come forward not only to accuse their abusers but to stand against the patriarchal society that’s made excuses for this exploitation, because the abusers’ professional work happens to be profitable for their company. Women have been sacrificed on the altar of private profit, and it’s a wonder when morality takes center stage.

FRANK: When you say the women should be “heard,” is that just a euphemism for saying that they should be automatically believed? Is it possible for a woman to make up a crime out of jealousy or to seek petty revenge against a man after their relationship didn’t pan out? Or are women always right and men always wrong because of patriarchy?

QUEENETA: Those deflationary scenarios are logically possible but unlikely, because American society is indeed patriarchal. Men are in charge, power corrupts, and so men tend to abuse women when they can, not the other way around. Sorry if the truth offends your masculine sense of entitlement, but the days of white male supremacy are numbered.

FRANK: Isn’t it a little early for you to be contradicting yourself, Queeneta? If our days are numbered and women are coming out of the woodwork with charges of male sexual abuse, how can this also be a patriarchal society as opposed to a fading, postmodern nanny state for spoiled sentimentalists?

QUEENETA: The women who have publicly named their abusers are only the tip of the iceberg. The abuse happens in all businesses and even in ordinary households whenever a man feels entitled to dominate a woman.

FRANK: Just for the record, you’re not religious, are you? I mean, you don’t believe there’s any God, afterlife, immortal spirit, or anything like that?

QUEENETA: Of course not. Those are elements of ancient patriarchal myths that have been instrumental in oppressing women by rationalizing the economic inequalities that benefit the male theocrats that supposedly represent their gods.

FRANK: Right, so how could the prevention of social domination even be possible? Why shouldn’t we expect only cause and effect, force and submission in social relationships? Where is there room for freedom anywhere in nature?

QUEENETA: What are you talking about?

FRANK: You said power corrupts, men have the power, and so they’re dominating women, and you want that to stop. But to what end? You can’t be against domination in general, since that would require an appeal to the supernatural. No, you just want the domination to switch directions: you want women to start dominating men, which is just what’s happening in our feminized, late-modern society. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Surgeons are Heroic for facing Blood and Guts without Puking, says Surgeon

Dateline: WHYNOT, NC—Surgeons are responding to the criticism that they’re vain and overpaid, by asking the critics how they would like it being elbow-deep in blood and guts.

“Most jobs involve manual labor or typing away on a computer,” said Lance Falcon, chief surgeon at Gory Hospital in Whynot, North Carolina. “Few have to face the horror of blood and guts on a daily basis like a surgeon. Even soldiers kill rarely and usually from a distance, as they look down the barrel of their gun.

“But a surgeon has to behold the appalling spectacles of pulsating human organs and gallons of blood, and to withstand the revolting stenches of the body’s interior which would make the average person vomit at first contact.

“How would you like to have your hands deep inside a disgusting pile of guts and to know that one wrong knick with the scalpel can kill the patient?”

According to Doctor Falcon, a heroic personality is needed to stomach a surgeon’s duties, which not only justifies the surgeon’s lavish pay, but explains his or her typical arrogance and smugness.

“Doctors are jerks,” said Milly Milton, a housewife who was rushed to the hospital in 2013 when she broke her arm in a horrific book-reading accident.

“The doctors that saw me were aloof and condescending. They all have perfect physiques and they’re handsome and brilliant to boot. And of course they’re rich, so it’s doubly sickening to have to go to the hospital. First of all, you’re injured, so you’re in pain. Second, you’ve got to endure the presence of doctors with their off-putting God complexes.

“That’s why a hospital might as well be a haunted house in hell. It’s a nightmare knowing that the only way to heal your wound or to cure your illness is to go through this infuriating gatekeeper of health, this smart, handsome, rich guy who lords it over you, letting you know that if you’re lucky he’ll deign to give you a couple minutes of his precious time to fix your arm. The average male doctor is a model of human perfection, setting aside his personality disorder; it’s like he’s sucked up all the physical health, beauty, intelligence, and riches in the world and he begrudgingly returns a portion of health, at least, to his patients.”

Doctor Falcon was Miss Milton’s lead doctor.

“Milly may complain about my demeanor,” he said, “but how would you like to have this stranger come into your place or work, her arm all gross and mangled like she’s some slaughtered character in a horror movie? How would you like having to inspect that shattered arm, the bone shards peeking through the torn skin, the blood dripping all over the place?

“Would you be able to take those mutilated fragments of arm in your hands and join them back together good as new, without fainting or throwing up or collapsing in terror from such a proof that we’re all worm food in the end?”

Whereas critics like Miss Milton wonder why doctors can’t just treat the injury or illness “without being a dick about it,” Doctor Falcon maintains that doctors develop a pompous, disdainful personality like a thick skin or suit of armor, to withstand their “daily parade of blood and guts.”

However, the irony that modern healers tend to inadvertently abuse their patients with their galling egotism may be short-lived, according to economists.

“Computers and robots are coming for those white collar jobs, just as they’re taking over the blue-collar ones,” said Wallace Poindexter, pseudoscientist at the Bean Counter Institute in Anchorage, Alaska. “More and more diagnoses and even operations are handled by machines without the need of human intervention. As artificial intelligence is improved, robots will be able to perform even complex surgeries, making adjustments as complications arise.”

Of course, robots aren’t sickened by the prospect of being covered by a stranger’s blood and guts, and assuming that robotic surgeons can be programmed not to fear the existential implications of the human body’s fragility, they might one day replace human surgeons and save both patients and human doctors from their respective burdens.

Miss Milton, however, is skeptical. “Whose bedside manner would be worse, that of an arrogant prick of a male surgeon or of a cold and calculating, inhuman machine? I’ll have to ponder that one, because the answer is far from obvious.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Disney Studios Rooting for the Empire in Future Star Wars Films, says Hollywood insider

Dateline: BURBANK—Disney Studios is rooting for the Empire to defeat the rebels in its upcoming Star Wars films, according to Hollywood insider Wily Hangeron. (Be warned that spoilers for The Last Jedi follow.)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was almost universally praised by professional film critics, but hardcore Star Wars fans are much more divided. Many thought the writer-director Rian Johnson meant to insult the older Star Wars films, even though those films form the bedrock of the lore celebrated especially by Generation X which grew up watching Star Wars.

“The Last Jedi spits on the characters of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and on the fans who take Star Wars seriously, who wanted to know who Snoke was or how Rey got all her Jedi powers with no training,” said Billy Fanboy, a Star Wars fan. “Kylo Ren even says in the movie to stop holding onto the past, to let it all die. That clearly is meant to have a double meaning.

“The reason why The Last Jedi is the way it is, of course, is that Disney wants to attract the new, younger generation, by cutting all ties to George Lucas’s legacy. That’s where the money is, not in the older, more ardent fans, and Disney needs to earn back the billions it spent on buying Lucasfilm.”

Some fans have gone further and speculated that Disney wants to disrupt the Star Wars narrative, because it sees itself in the role of the Empire, in which case Disney is increasingly uncomfortable telling a black and white story about the heroic, underdog rebels who resist and eventually defeat the evil galactic Empire or New Order.

“Let’s be clear,” said another Star Wars fan. “Disney is the friggin’ Empire. Disney owns Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Pixar, and now Fox movies. Disney ain’t no underdog. And Lucas himself turned to the dark side when he started tinkering with his first three Star Wars movies, and when he sold Star Wars to Disney. Now the Star Wars universe is in the hands of a monstrous conglomerate for realsies.

“That’s why the rebels come off as clueless dolts in The Last Jedi: that’s why Vice Admiral Holdo doesn’t tell her crew her secret plan to save them, and that’s why Rose Tico saves the alien horses but not the children tending to them, and why she chastises Finn for trying to sacrifice himself to save the rebels when that’s just what Holdo and then Skywalker do. And that’s why Luke loses his faith in the Jedi and concedes that the New Order is unstoppable. And on and on and on—the movie’s plot is a mess.

“But it’s not just that the writer was lazy. It’s that Disney wants to destroy the Star Wars universe as we’ve known it, to undercut its implicitly anti-Disney message, and create a new Star Wars vision that finds a home for the evil Empire, as a way of ‘providing balance in the Force.’ It’s hackneyed Daoism in the service of greedy, soulless capitalism.”

Wily Hangeron, a longtime Hollywood insider, has reported conversations he’s had with Disney executives who have admitted they have a hard time admiring the Star Wars world that George Lucas created.

“They tell me they can’t help but root for the Empire when they now watch the original Stars Wars movies,” said Mr. Hangeron. “‘Order throughout the galaxy? Sounds like a plan!’ they said. That’s what Disney’s all about. When rebellious artists rival the Order of Disney, Disney squashes them or buys them up. So some Disney executives told me that the Empire should just buy out the rebels; offer them a planet or two if they’ll stop their terrorist attacks.

“Nowadays the elites at Disney don’t even disguise their preference for the Dark Side. I have it on good authority that Bog Iger, the head of Disney, often walks around his offices in the Emperor’s black robe, pretending to strike down his subordinates with lighting flashing out of his fingertips.

“Industry insiders are betting that The Last Jedi is only the beginning of a shift in Star Wars messaging under Disney’s auspices. The ninth Star Wars movie may have the rebels all learning the error of their resistance to the New Order, and Rey turning to the dark side with Kylo Ren.

“Johnson’s new trilogy, then, may depict the Empire in an even kinder light, without any upstart rebels or sanctimonious Jedi. He may also include some subliminal advertising by having the Emperor wear Mickey Mouse ears.” 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Why Evangelical Christians shouldn’t Think too much

Once in a while I rummage through the detritus of the internet to see if I can spark a worthwhile discussion with someone with whom I strongly disagree. Recently, I found a blog called Thinking Christian, written by Tom Gilson who worked for Campus Crusade for Christ for over 30 years and who is senior editor of a Christian news website, The Stream, which says its aim is to champion the causes of “freedom, smaller government, and human dignity.” I read several articles on Thinking Christian and posted some comments, assuming Gilson would take the opportunity discuss the issues I raised. It didn’t go so well, but instead of letting the experience fade entirely from memory, I’ll use it as a launching pad to illustrate a larger point.

Here, first, is some of the back and forth, after which I’ll talk about the very notion of a thinking Christian.

The Problem with Old Testament Tribalism

Gilson wrote an article, Atheists Rejecting the Bible Due to OT Morality: Bound To Be a Bad Tradeoff, which presents a Pascalian wager to the skeptic who dismisses Christianity based on apparently immoral passages in the Old Testament, such as Exodus 21:7-11, which is about how Jews regulated their practice of sex slavery. Gilson argues that there may be an innocent explanation of such a troubling passage, whereas “We can know that the Bible presents the highest example of moral character in all history: Jesus Christ,” “that God revealed himself thoroughly and uniquely as a God of love,” and “that he expressed that love through the highest possible means, self-sacrifice on the Cross,” among other dubious Christian doctrines. So Gilson concludes, “An atheist who rejects all the outrageous good that we do know, based on some questionable, unknown passage about which we can’t know nearly enough, is making a bad tradeoff, rationally, morally, and experientially.”

Here’s the comment I posted beneath that article:

'I don’t think this article gets at the skeptic’s real problem with a biblical passage like the one above that’s meant to regulate slavery. The problem is that a unique book containing revelations from a personal creator of the universe wouldn’t contain any such passage. The book itself would be miraculous; otherwise, Occam’s Razor dictates that a thinking person should opt for the simpler, more familiar interpretation that the Bible is a library produced entirely by fallible people, containing books assembled and edited over some centuries which reflect only the human interests at those times and places. 

'No skeptic would dispute that a harmonizer can conceive of an interpretation that smooths over a problematic biblical passage. Our species is highly imaginative and intelligent. We can see things like the shapes of trains and rabbits in the clouds even though the shapes are accidental concatenations of water vapor. We can find Jesus’s face on a piece of burnt toast. So of course we can imagine possible defenses of a preferred view of the Bible. The interpretation will be more or less plausible depending on the Christian’s and the skeptic’s underlying beliefs, and these they don’t share. 

'So when the thinking Christian author here says we can know that Jesus is the paragon of morality and that God revealed himself in a loving act of sacrifice on the cross, he’s begging the question. We’re supposed to know these things from the Bible, but if the Bible reads more like one of many other human-made, historical records of a particular ancient culture’s beliefs and practices, not like miraculous divine revelation, we know nothing of the kind. You can choose to believe what you want based on faith or a religious experience, but the fact is that the above passage that merely regulates slavery doesn’t read as if it were inspired by a god who hates slavery. Sex slavery was widespread because humans are animals, male humans are stronger and more aggressive than female ones, and so societies tend to be patriarchal. It doesn’t take rocket science to explain the prevalence of sex slavery or sexism in an ancient religion. So this is evidence for the skeptic’s view of the Bible as a mere historical, literary document. 

'As to how a Christian can explain away the ancient Jewish view of slavery, that’s easy. The Jewish view of God evolved from the tribal one that distinguishes itself by its antisocial monotheism (its denial of the existence of other gods), to Christian universalism. That transition was obviously influenced by the fact that the early Christians were Jews living under occupation by the Roman Empire. The drive to evangelize, to spread Christianity around the world derives from Jewish syncretism with Roman imperialism and from Alexander the Great. After all, those pagans likewise wanted to spread their way of life everywhere, the difference being that they left alone the harmless idiosyncrasies of the foreign cultures they conquered, whereas Judaism added the antisocial element, the interest in controlling everyone’s mind and ethics rather than demanding only minimal displays of respect for Rome. 

'So there were two covenants between Jews and their god, and thus we have the two testaments, and the second one is less tribal and more universal in its morality. So a Christian will read the tribal parts of the Old Testament and thank God for finally sending his Son to die on the cross to teach everyone the importance of love. A skeptic will interpret the difference between the two testaments and religions as having arisen without the need of any divine intervention at all. 

'As I said, Jews finally made their peace with their occupiers, by compromising with them, injecting monotheism into their secular empire. The pagans (especially Paul) modified Judaism, in turn, by ditching the stringent concern with elaborate ethics and rituals, and making Judaism universal by putting all that hard stuff on Jesus. Jesus did us the service of perfecting Jewish behaviour and sacrificing himself so no one else would have to live like a perfect Jew. All we have to do is trust in Jesus’s sacrifice to receive those benefits. 

'So it’s a dumbing down of Jews’ absolutist ethics, and we know that dumbing things down does wonders in spreading a message far and wide. Today, the most popular songs, books, movies, and YouTube videos aren’t the ones that are the greatest in quality; on the contrary, they’re almost all dumbed down to reach the widest possible audience. It’s the same with comedy: the stand-up or late night comedy that pleases the most people is the kind that taxes their mental powers the least, that simplifies things the most to reach only the lowest standards. That’s also why Fox News is more popular than its competitors, and why most people watch TV rather than read anything. The majority normally goes with the easier option, because critical thinking and intellectual integrity are hard and rare. 

'Indeed, the above article itself is dumbed down for the sake of SEO optimization. The needless headings and short words, sentences, paragraphs, and article length are all simplifications to cater to the low standards needed to reach the widest possible audience on the internet. That’s what the Roman Empire did for Judaism: it packaged Jewish monotheism and ethics in a more appealing form (Jesus did all the work so you don’t have to) to reach the lower-quality masses. 

'That’s how a skeptic understands these matters, and the above article doesn’t really address the heart of the matter.'

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Hollywood’s schlocky Movies are Payback for China’s shoddy Merchandise, says Industry Insider

Dateline: HOLLYWOOD—The American movie industry has been releasing the simplest, dumbest possible movies for overseas markets, especially in China, to pay back the Chinese for flooding the American market with shoddy merchandise, according to Hollywood insider, Wily Hangeron.

“Hollywood no longer cares about making quality films,” said Mr. Hangeron. “North American audiences are cynical about movies now because they’ve already seen anything. So they’re like movie critics: almost impossible to please. It takes a lot of skill and money and time to entertain experienced audiences, so Hollywood has set its sights on foreign viewers that are new to American movies.

“That’s what all the superhero and action movies and remakes and reboots are all about. Instead of telling stories that would appeal specifically, say, to China or India, the American movie industry realized it could appeal to almost everyone by lowering the bar, by telling the broadest and dumbest possible stories. They’re not trying to make art anymore. It’s all seemingly about laziness and greed, because it turns out the Chinese will watch anything.”

When Hollywood ran out of superheroes, it began filming hours and hours of blank footage, and still made millions of dollars overseas.

“Americans hated those blank screen movies, of course,” said Mr. Hangeron. “They were like, ‘What happened to stories and characters and discernable objects and colours instead of just two hours of absolutely nothing? But the newbies in China ate it up, so Hollywood kept churning out these lowest-common-denominator productions.”

Wily Hangeron obtained secret information, however, indicating that Hollywood executives were interested in more than just making easy money by ignoring the sophisticated local expectations and appealing to foreign audiences that would evidently be content to watch paint dry.

“I kept hearing these rumours that it’s all really about revenge. Then I looked into it further, and it’s true! It turns out that China is a really old and experienced civilization—as in 4,000 years old.

“China invented paper, gunpowder, the compass, alcoholic drinks, bells, wooden coffins, cookware, noodles, rowing oars, rice, artillery, banknotes, colour printing, crankshafts, crossbows, dominoes, explosives, firecrackers, fishing reels, flares, folding screens, fragmentation bombs, fuses, gas lighting, goldfish domestication, hand fans, hand grenades, handguns, helicopter rotors, horse collars, incense, India ink, irrigation systems, kites, land mines, merit systems, modular architecture, nail polish, natural gas as a fuel, oil refining, paper cups, parachutes, pig iron, pinhole cameras, playing cards, porcelain, puppet theater, raincoats, restaurant menus, rocket boosters, salt mining, seals, soy sauce, stirrups, sunglasses, tea, toilet paper, umbrellas, wheelbarrows, wheelchairs, woks, wrought iron, and many, many other things. 

“So in its heyday China already did everything. Now Chinese people are as cynical as American movie-goers, except that the Chinese are also cynical about life in general. That’s why the Chinese are hard to please when it comes to merchandise, and that’s why, like Hollywood, China’s taken the easy route of ignoring its domestic market for so long and focusing on selling Americans the lowest-quality goods that the Chinese produce in their sleep, the stuff that falls apart as soon as you take it out of the box or that’s hazardous to your health if you look at it the wrong way.”

According to Mr. Hangeron, Hollywood decided to take revenge against China for its flooding of America with cheaply-made products, by sending the basest, most slapdash American movies China’s way.

“‘You want to give us your schlocky, knockoff goods, because you think Americans are newbies to culture in general and don’t know any better? Okay, we’ll give you our crappiest movies and we’ll see how you like it.’ That’s how Hollywood sees it. In the meantime, Western movie buffs, eager for more challenging fare on the big screen are left out in the cold.

“In the US, you couldn’t get away with two hours of just blank screen footage without even a CG superhero thrown in somewhere—not even in an arthouse cinema. If there’s anything Americans know about, it’s lowbrow entertainment. But even lowbrow movies should have at least a car chase, some course language, maybe a pointless reboot of a mediocre movie made only a decade ago. Something!”

Meanwhile, economists point out that China is beginning to focus on selling to its domestic market.

“It turns out that China has a lot of people in it—as in almost one and a half billion people,” said one economist. “That’s a lot of potential customers, compared to America’s measly 323 million.”

“Maybe China’s finally emerging from its funk of world-weariness,” said Mr. Hangeron, “and is ready to consume again instead of working like a dog all day and night to make a quick buck off of the credit cards of clueless Americans. In that case, it won’t take long for China to outgrow this generation of Hollywood movies. When that happens, Hollywood will have to relearn what it’s like to tell an original, grownup story.” 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Posthuman Religion from the End of Art

We like to think that our distant descendants represent an ideal we should strive to achieve, because collectively we’re bound to progress. But even if this social progress were to make sense and to happen, we should ask: progress for whom? If progress entails an honourable alignment with profound truths, we should strive, as Nietzsche said, to become posthuman, to grow out of the delusions that are normal for mammals with our brain type. So our distant descendants may be cosmically advanced, rather than just technologically more powerful than us, but their way of life might seem hellish from our naïve and vain perspective. I believe we’re provided an inkling of the posthuman outlook by the evolution of Western art that’s led to the end of art’s story in what’s been called a postmodern malaise. What seems like apathy and cynicism in response to art’s apparent descent into meaninglessness and irrelevance may instead be growing pains.

A Non-Design Argument for Pantheism

To catch a hint of how posthumans might think, consider William Paley’s watchmaker analogy. If you saw a watch lying on the beach, you wouldn’t think the watch had always lain there, since the evident contrivance of its parts would indicate that the watch was designed, which would imply the existence of a watchmaker. By contrast, if you found a stone lying on the beach, you would be more inclined to think that for all you know the stone had always been there and needn’t have originated from an intelligent designer. Then again, says Paley, “Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature.” Therefore, Paley concludes, the universe must have an intelligent designer. As you can tell, the argument is self-contradictory, since Paley both contrasts and equates the watch and the stone. Paley needs the watch to stand out as evidently designed, but he also needs the stone to have the same contrivance of its parts as the watch. So the argument dismisses itself, but it must be dismissed also for various other reasons, both logical and ethical. The notion of a supernatural person is incoherent, so positing God says nothing. Also, the notion of God stems from a vain anthropocentric bias and thus speaks poorly of the theist’s character. If we wish to retain our dignity and our chance of heroically facing the cosmic truth, we must decline to naively anthropomorphize the great unknown. Even if God exists, atheism would establish the skeptic’s ethical superiority to the average theist, given the state of the evidence.

Nevertheless, Paley’s argument can be modified for a less embarrassing purpose than that of promoting theism. Suppose, once again, you come upon both a stone and a watch lying on a beach. You’re struck now not by the naïve, self-serving, and self-contradictory theistic analogy, but by your knowledge that both the stone and the watch are created, and that because theism is absurd for independent reasons, only the watch, not the stone, is designed. Specifically, the stone is created by a vast intergalactic process of forming stars from collapsing nebular dust and gas, planets from the outer parts of the nebular cloud’s disk, and stones from climatic and weather cycles—all over a period of hundreds of millions of years. That’s how you make a stone with no intelligence: the natural universe does it for you. The universe is mindlessly creating every part of itself and it’s doing this out in the open, so there is still a basis for comparing the creators of the stone and the watch. Between the two, only the watch is designed for an intended purpose, but both are produced by elaborate processes. The stone’s creator is just impersonal causality, the watch’s is a person whose existential role is to oppose nature.

Thus, the stone’s maker, which is roughly the universe as a whole, has a different character than that of the watch. Intelligent design makes sense to sentient creatures, since we’re familiar with ourselves and with what we do, but impersonal creation is mysterious, however sophisticated may be our scientific understanding of the causes involved. Intelligent, artificial creation is comforting since it signifies that we’re putting our stamp on the universe to help eclipse precisely the other kind of creation, namely the natural kind which horrifies us enough to drive us to invent gods to feel more at home in the world. Nature creates with no end in view and with no regard for the creatures born and caught up in its arrangements. Nature thus creates wastefully and absurdly, since there’s no deeper reason for the universe’s origin or for its formations other than the calculation of cause and effect. The ultimate purpose of intelligent designs is the same as the epic hero’s, which is to smite the dragon whose very existence is blasphemous. To understand what the proverbial monster is is to drive you mad, and the same is true for the philosopher who realizes that far from being of ultimate significance on the cosmic scale, intelligent design is less than an afterthought, metaphysically speaking.   

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Woman sues Women Studies Feminists for preventing her from Sleeping her way to the Top

Dateline: NY CITY—Miss Marylou Ditsy is suing Women Studies departments in colleges across the United States, for creating an atmosphere of political correctness that she alleges has prevented her from sleeping her way to the top.

Since Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein made headlines for allegedly raping, sexually assaulting, or harassing many women over a period of decades, hundreds of other women have made similar charges against powerful men in government, the entertainment industry, and journalism.

No further evidence has been needed other than the women’s having come forward with allegations of the men’s misconduct, for the men to be tried in the court of public opinion and for them to step down or be fired in disgrace.

“Powerful men are afraid now of even being alone with female employees,” said Miss Ditsy. “And you can forget about them hitting on you, since they know the woman might turn around later if things don’t work out, and call his attempt to seduce her ‘harassment.’ So now how am I supposed to use my long legs and big tits to exploit my male boss’s superficiality and horniness and get ahead in business?”

One of Miss Ditsy’s lawyers explains that feminists in Women Studies department have made sluttiness in the workplace unfeasible.

“Much like my client,” said her lawyer, “who has no nonsexual skills to speak of, Women Studies professors have no idea what they’re doing. Their discipline is a sham, their philosophy a joke. But the difference is that the feminists deal with their lack of talent by playing victims on a pseudo-professional basis, whereas my client has taken it upon herself to make the best of unpleasant reality and to use men’s weakness for sex, to succeed in life.”

“Feminists have no right to take away my one advantage,” said Miss Ditsy. “Genetics blessed me with a slamming hot body and that’s all male bosses care about, because their powerful position naturally turns them into monsters.

“Everyone knows there’s a give and take in the real world of business. No one makes it to the top on their own. The powerful men themselves only reached the pinnacle in their fields because they’re white and their rich parents paid for their Ivory League education which awards them with bogus diplomas, since their parents’ donations to the college mean they could never have flunked out even if they were dumb as posts. Just look at George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

“And then when they reach the top, their job is just to be a dick all day. All the real work is done by the lowly employees you never hear about. So if men can skate by on their class privileges and their sociopathic tendencies, why can’t an attractive young woman flirt with the gatekeepers and even sleep with them to further her career?”

One social scientist points to a culture of political correctness which has lost its grip on reality: “It’s politically incorrect now to say that generally speaking, men and women are naturally unequal in various ways. The liberal myth of equality prevents feminists from acknowledging that only monsters want power because power turns you into a monster, and that men are better at being monsters than are women, because men are more aggressive, which is a polite way of saying that men are generally assholes.”

For that reason, said Miss Ditsy, “powerful men are eager to pretend that they’re taking advantage of their female employees’ weakness, by hitting on them in obnoxious ways, whereas often it’s the women who are trying to get ahead in the office by making the best of their absurd situation of having to humour their creepy male boss who can be bribed with something as trivial as sexual favours.”

Strippers usually feel the same way about their customers, according to exotic dancer Candy Boobs. “I hear from feminists trying to shame me for making a spectacle of my naked body on stage,” she said. “‘Have more respect for yourself,’ they tell me. ‘Get a real job.’

“But these feminists live in a fantasy world. Most of them are ugly as sin in the first place, so they’re just jealous that a woman can make so much money with so little effort, whereas they’re the ones making fools of themselves in public, spouting postmodern, overheated PC garbage.

“More than that, though, in the real world, most men are pigs. Period. So why not make money off their piggishness? Why not exploit their sexual weakness and get paid big time just for shaking your ass? You know why there are far more strip clubs for male customers than for female ones, all over the world? Because men and women aren’t equal, never were, and never will be. Men are way worse than women! And the smart women take advantage of that inequality instead of trying to deny it exists and pushing their PC fantasies onto everyone else.” 

As to how Miss Ditsy can afford to pay her team of lawyers in her class action lawsuit, even though by her admission she has no business skills and is being unfairly prevented from sleeping her way to the top, you can see her perform as an exotic dancer with Miss Boobs Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Male Suckers strip club in New York City. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reason, Attitude, and Ultimate Reality


Is there an ultimate explanation of everything? Or is the very notion of such an explanation confusing? I’ll show that can be no perfectly comprehensive mental representation, but that there’s at least a fitting nonrational way of relating to nature, a posthuman attitude towards the great cosmic mystery that dignifies us even as it begins with our humiliation. The world will be enlightened when selfishness and vanity are despised as signs of ignorance, and when the world is perceived as holy in Rudolph Otto’s sense, when those deemed wise ground their decisions in underlying angst, awe, and dread.

The Futility of Ultimate Explanations

The philosopher Immanuel Kant’s great insight was that explanations don’t fall from the sky or grow on trees; instead, they come from the human mind, of course, and it turns out our mind isn’t a blank slate. Even if we had no innate concepts or inborn ways of thinking, inevitable commonalities in human experience would shape our analyses and interpretations, by forming intuitions that ground our reflections, such as archetypal norms. Indeed, physicists are wary of these subjective starting points of inquiry and of natural language itself, since its terms carry the baggage of our formative experiences in the terms’ associative meanings. Still, when scientists reach for a theory of everything, they presuppose some laws or principles to show how the supposed first thing gave rise to the next thing. For example, this was the main criticism of Krauss’ cosmology, in A Universe from Nothing. Krauss’s “nothing” is nothing only in a technical sense, in that it’s a void with no material things in it. But the void always has energy in it which operates according to quantum mechanical laws. The void itself, then, goes unexplained, and so this attempt at an ultimate explanation isn’t so ultimate. It doesn’t explain absolute everything, because a naturalistic explanation is rational, by definition, and so must proceed in a stepwise fashion.

Likewise, Hawking and Mlodinow’s cosmological model in The Grand Design—which explains many features of our universe by appealing to a weak anthropic principle (if we’re here, the universe must contain such and such conditions to have evolved us)—presupposes the multiverse and the laws which give rise to it, such as the laws that rationally lay out the cosmic inflationary interpretation of the Big Bang theory. The first step of this explanation or of Krauss’s won’t follow logically from any step, by definition, and so these explanations will necessarily be incomplete. The first step needn’t be temporally first, but it will have to be at least logically prior to everything else or mereologically most fundamental, and so that step will be presupposed or, at best, self-evident. To say it’s self-evident, though, is to confess that the explanation rests on anthropocentrism, since the first theoretical step would thereby be evident only to creatures with selves like ours. 

It’s hard to see how any rational, naturalistic explanation could be absolutely complete. We understand things by generalizing about types and relations, and we think in terms of logical rules which have proved reliable or self-evident. That’s just how we do our best thinking, and there’s no guarantee that our ideal picture of the world would match up with the world itself or would capture its essence. On the contrary, living things seem fundamentally opposed to nature, assuming the natural universe isn’t alive at its core or in general. We evolved to decide how we should behave and to socialize with others, which requires that we understand ourselves. For those reasons, we’re most comfortable dealing with other living things, which is why science, logic, and math are often counterintuitive. Indeed, reason points us in the direction of naturalistic atheism, which means even our best, finished explanations will likely be embarrassingly human-centered—however far we try to stretch our imagination and to avoid appealing to our intuitions. This is because objectivity is naturally repugnant to us, and so we rebel against the nonliving world by striving to dominate it with mechanistic modeling and technology. We can’t entirely avoid being ourselves, after all. Even to divide events into cause and effect or to analyze matter into deeper and more superficial levels betrays a creaturely bias. The passage of time is an illusion in physics, according to which all events really happen at once, in which case causality too is illusory. Moreover, if there really is a multiverse containing infinite universes, the scientific analysis of our local matter pales into insignificance, and to speak of what’s “foundational” and what’s “merely epiphenomenal” in our universe is madness, if our universe is only like a raindrop in a sky full of other drops.

So even our most abstract and technical thoughts will depend on their societal and biological impetuses, and so science will be instrumental, which means our supreme rational enterprise will be guided by its mission founded in early modern Europe, to advance our species by discovering more and more efficient ways of controlling nature, including human nature. Again, that mission should provide with more of a self-portrait than with an objective representation of the universe itself. In fact, the notion of a perfectly objective explanation is oxymoronic, because only nonliving objects could produce such an explanation, by having no subjectivity and thus no biases or ulterior motives, and yet such objects—the stars, the void, the atoms—obviously couldn’t directly explain anything. No, objects can explain things only indirectly, by evolving creatures like us who do the explaining from our subjective viewpoints. Scientists leave aside their personal subjectivity, but not the collective subjectivity of our species and thus not the Enlightenment quest of pursuing instrumental rationality to the bitter end. We subjects think, using concepts and other generalizations, playing our cognitive games with our rules and guiding interests. But just because our thoughts and games derive from the nonliving universe, just because, for example, we’re star stuff doesn’t mean our best arguments and theories have anything especially to do with the universe at large. As effects, our works bear informational content pertaining to their source, but there’s a stark absurdity we often miss, which is that a thought of a tree, for example, is utterly unlike trees, just as a theory of the Big Bang is absolutely nothing like that mysterious event. Our thoughts are meaningful only to us, but in the bigger picture which we can glimpse in our moments of sobering, albeit partial objectivity, our thoughts are just more things that happen along with everything else.