Friday, August 18, 2017

The Fraud of Theology

In an interview with The Washington Post, one of Donald Trump’s advisors on theological matters, Robert Jeffress, supported Trump’s apocalyptic August bluster against North Korea, by citing Romans 13. At the beginning of that chapter of the epistle, Paul recommends that Christians obey their secular rulers, because “the authorities that exist have been established by God” (13:1). But in a NY Times article, Steven Paulikas, an Episcopal priest, contends that Jeffress tore that scriptural passage out of context and perverted Christian theology in Jeffress’s fetishizing “message of violence over the clarion call to love of Romans 13:8,” which speaks of love of others as the fulfillment of Jewish law. That latter idea of the Golden Rule seems to derive from Rabbi Hillel who lived a century before Jesus is supposed to have lived.

Paulikas’ point about context is that “Paul is telling Christians to obey the Roman authorities in temporal matters such as taxation, not justifying the authority of one ruler over another,” such as Trump over Kim Jong-un. But Paulikas seems to be forgetting Rom.13:4, which says the secular authorities “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Just because a ruler’s power derives from God doesn’t mean the ruler can’t misuse his power. For example, Jews considered Moses to be an instrument of God’s wrath against the Pharaoh. Instead of being commanded to obey the Egyptians, the Jewish slaves (who never historically existed) rebelled against Egypt to build their own society in Israel, according to Exodus. So if Christians can construe Kim Jong-un as a “wrongdoer,” they’re free to interpret Rom.13 as meaning that Trump might be “an agent of wrath” who will “bring punishment” upon North Korea.

Moreover, while Paulikas calls it a “clarion call,” meaning that the call for love of others trumps the advice to obey secular authorities, the context actually indicates that this allusion to the Golden Rule is just a digression and an extended figure of speech. It’s just a fancy way for Paul to make his point that his readers should “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (13:8, my emphasis). The rest (13:9-10) pursues the tangent about love as the fulfillment of Jewish law, a digression invited by that turn of phrase about the only “debt” that should be left standing (the obligation to love others). It’s like saying, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. And fish don’t need land transportation, because they live underwater. Did you know that fish come in a variety of sizes and colours? And fish taste differently too, especially if you choose to add a sauce. The best way to catch fish is with the special lures I sell at the local shop, which I’m pleased to announce is open six days a week.” The intended main point, of course, is that women don’t need men, the rest being a tangent that follows only from the rhetorical way of expressing that point. Likewise, the main point in the middle of Romans 13 is that Christians should pay all their secular debts, not that love is all-important.

Mind you, if secular authorities as well as their subjects can misbehave, as Jeffress would have to be assuming, there’s no longer an imperative to obey any particular secular ruler, since perhaps President Trump is as bad (as sociopathic, psychotic, and otherwise loathsome, etc.) as the North Korean leader, in which case Jeffress’s case falls to pieces, after all. Alas, this criticism is mooted by the rest of the context which Paulikas doesn’t address, in Rom.13:11-14, which begins, “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” So the overriding reason for Christians to obey their secular masters, to pay their taxes and avoid debts, besides the interest in avoiding secular punishment, is that the whole natural world was about to end in any case, so presumably there would be no time to make like Moses and rebel against society to establish a new earthly one. And of course, once this bit of context is entered into the hermeneutic ledger, both Jeffress’s and Paulikas’s arguments come to nothing, since obviously the Kingdom of Heaven didn’t arrive in the lifetime of those early Christians. The Jewish Temple fell in 70 CE, but the apocalyptic significance of that event was only subjective, since it mattered much more to Jews than to the Romans, for example. The secular world as a whole endured for two millennia and persists to this day despite Paul’s assurances that the contrary scenario would unfold. So this entire theological discussion of Trump and North Korea falls apart because Rom.13 itself implodes. 

Theology, Fiction, and Reason

In any case, Paulikas’s discussion raises a deeper, more interesting question, when he lays out an assumption that’s crucial to his article. According to Paulikas, “There is such a thing as incorrect theological and moral thinking, and the best way to neutralize it is with an intellectually and morally superior argument on the same terrain. Only good theology can debunk bad theology.” 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Art of Narrating Ourselves into Being

In the Western religious myths, God spoke the world into being. There is no god, of course, and nature is a horrifically undead phenomenon that defies complete explanation, let alone an anthropomorphic one that downplays the world’s fundamental impersonality. No, it’s not nature in general that has a literary origin, but only the human world since that world begins with us as persons. As human animals we evolved by natural selection and by other such mechanisms, but as autonomous, encultured selves, we are indeed spoken into being—not by any extraterrestrial intelligence, but by our thoughts which comprise an inner voice that weaves itself into a grand fiction featuring characters that embody our ideals, with whom we’re free to identify to begin to salvage some meaning and dignity from the otherwise absurd flow of events in the wilderness.

We are just Characters in our Life’s Story

A self is not an immaterial thing, a ghost, and to think that what distinguishes people from animals or objects is that we have some such spiritual body is to reify and to fall victim to a cognitive illusion. A self is really a way of organizing thoughts. In so far as we identify with our bodies, we’re biological entities like the other animals, but in so far as our nature is defined by our thinking, we become morally-significant persons. What, though, is a thought? A thought is a generalization which simplifies for some purpose, which is to say a thought is a map or a model which manages the chaotic flux of experience by representing those parts of the world that interest us. The main purpose of our representations of the outer world is to predict what will happen so we can control the environment rather than be helpless to the indifferent forces and cycles and accidents of nature. We predict by generalizing across instances, inducing patterns by transducing and neurally binding sensory inputs, slotting experiences into conceptual boxes for memory recall so we can implement our plans for future projections of our identity. This allows us to respond with greater intelligence and autonomy than could those animal species that rely on preprogrammed, as opposed to learned, responses.

We also model the inner world, which is to say ourselves. Through introspection, however, we have no knowledge of our brain that organizes our experience. So although we now know of the brain’s importance to ourselves, we have difficulty personally identifying with that squishy mass. On the contrary, even the notion of the brain seems alien and revolting. Instead, in our daily life we who have a personal level of identity prefer to think of ourselves as the character that figures in the lifelong narrative we tell to ourselves. This narrative is the overall model that organizes our private data, which are the otherwise confusing signals produced by the body that we sense through introspection, proprioception, memory, and other interior channels. Roughly, our reflexes, feelings, emotions, judgments, notions, ideas, guesses, and so forth are organized by a personalizing story we tell.

The story is what the philosopher Marya Schachtman calls a form of diachronic unity, meaning that like a sonata or a song, a story is a holistic structure that provides meaning to the sequential parts of which it’s made. A fragment of a song is meaningless without the temporal structure, which is the plan for the song that stretches across time, including the introduction, the verses, chorus, bridge and the end. That structure is defined partly by the genre and indeed by the lyrics which likewise tell a story, giving the song a personality. In the same way, from the raw bits of experience we assemble a narrative that connects our memories with our hopes and intentions, to form a satisfying, meaningful whole. The whole of that story amounts to our personal (as opposed to our biological) identity. A self is something like an entire movie or play with defined characters who take the stage at different times depending on which part of the story is presently being “read” or called for, by the rest of the world. Thus, we may occupy different perspectives or personas, according not just to what’s happening in the outer world, but to how we make sense of the environment with our inner narrative. The narrative assigns roles to enable us to socialize, to retain our dignity under trying circumstances, or to perform other functions.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Horror or Snark? The Millennial’s Dilemma

Millennials, the young adults born in a developed country between the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, are frequently scolded for acting like perpetual adolescents, for failing to face up to their adult responsibilities, for being overprotected by their parents who themselves—like everyone else—understand less and less how to prosper in the postindustrial world. There are various factors that could account for that generation’s failure. The high-speed internet and the ubiquity of smart phones, along with the loss of manufacturing jobs in developed countries after globalization have created so-called gig economies. The increasing reliance on industrial automation and the collapse of the American liberal class (as explained well by Chris Hedges and Thomas Frank) have disenfranchised most Americans, as the majority of the economic gains since the 1980s has gone to the richest one percent. The children of the internet age have thus been left to hustle for diminished economic opportunities: their jobs are often in the service sector, they’re typically short-term or unsteady and they don’t pay the bills, and so Millennials are often still financially dependent on their parents.

Moreover, as the art of selling products has become nearly a science for large corporations, all enthusiastic consumers have been infantilized to some extent, including Millennials. We watch television or play on our smart phones more than we read books and so our attention span has shortened, and instead of instilling in its younger users a universal perspective so that they think of themselves as part of a global collective, the internet has created echo chambers that foster self-absorption. Finally, dating apps and other dehumanizing areas of online culture have arguably made Millennials antisocial in that these young adults prefer to communicate on chat forums or on Facebook and Twitter or with emojis rather than to converse in person. To take an extreme example, Japan’s Millennials are often wholly uninterested in sex or dating, a problem known as “celibacy syndrome.”

Suppose there are these structural reasons why those who are currently in their twenties or thirties have gotten stuck in an adolescent phase of emotional and cognitive development. Suppose that technologies and economic forces have created a social environment that prevents the younger generation—one that’s still mentally flexible—from settling into a stable work or family life, into a routine that promotes virtues traditionally associated with mature adulthood. Are Millennials condemned, then, to be a deadweight generation, an albatross around the neck of humanity?

Consider that if Millennials are locked into an adolescent mentality, they’ll stand apart from society. They’ll be outsiders or even outcasts, just as modern teens have usually occupied a twilight period between childhood and mature adulthood, between phases driven mostly by play and work, respectively. Teens are no longer the center of attention as they were when they were adorable babies, but they lack the authority and responsibility of adults. Yet teens have the intellectual capacity to understand their forlornness, which makes them infamous for their angst. Teens often lash out in frustration or from boredom, revolting against the world that doesn’t live up to their ideals. They can afford to do this because they’re not yet part of the wider world: they’re social outsiders who are compelled to look at society objectively, albeit often with a lack of sufficient information, because they’re not yet committed to a daily grind outside the ivory tower. Teens have the spare time to philosophize, but are typically unable to apply their insights because they’re powerless and so they stage futile, mini rebellions. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Liberals accused of Insensitivity for mocking Mentally-Disordered President Trump

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Martha Mollycoddle, the mother of a man diagnosed as a psychopath and currently undergoing treatment in a hospital for the criminally insane, has begun a campaign to shame liberals and Democrats for mocking President Trump as a result of his similar mental disorder.

“For all his chaos and irrationality and amorality, the real shame isn’t Trump,” she said. “It’s the Democrats who pretend to be warriors for social justice, who rail against cyber bullies and cut a man’s testicles off if he brushes up against a woman in the workplace. But then as soon as they think they’re free and clear to attack a severely mentally ill individual, they burry him beneath a thousand avalanches of insults and put-downs, and bitter cartoons and parodies at his expense.

“And all merely because Trump is destroying the country!

“Well, if a fellow in a wheelchair had the power to crush all Americans beneath his wheels, would the proper course be not to take away his wheelchair, but just to stand there and ridicule his handicap until the end of time?

“It’s the same with Trump: taking away his presidency would be one thing—but just to make fun of his hair and his face and his voice and his idiocy and his narcissism and his hypocrisy and his mendacity and his vulgarity and his ignorance and his racism and his sexism and his corruption and his treachery? That would amount to spitting on Franklin Roosevelt because he sometimes needed to move around in a wheelchair.

Donald Trump, she pointed out, “is ridiculed on the talk shows and the cable news channels and in newspapers and blogs and wherever else liberals congregate, day after day and hour after hour. They’re taunting a man for his antisocial personality disorders, for his malignant narcissism and his psychopathy. For shame!”

Mollycoddle knows firsthand the frustration and resentment of having that sort of insult added to injury. Her son was arrested for attempting to rape three women simultaneously, while he was wearing a costume to look like ET, the alien from Spielberg’s classic movie.

“My son is finally getting the medical treatment he needs,” she said, “but not before the journalists and the policemen mocked him for the strangeness of his behaviour. Two psychiatrists found that his mind doesn’t work like most people’s. So what’s the point of making fun of someone for something he can’t help?

“Trying to hold down three women while wearing an ET costume may amuse some, but the mental illness has serious consequences and you can be sure those three women weren’t laughing. Likewise, the prospect of Donald Trump trying to run a powerful country may seem like the makings of a comedy goldmine. But what’s less classy, Trump acting like the psychopath he is? Or making a gazillion nasty and smug remarks about Trump, whose mind is evidently malfunctioning?”

Mollycoddle pointed to what she called Hillary Clinton’s “understatements” that Donald Trump’s behaviour is “unprecedented” and that he “lacks the temperament to be president.” According to Mollycoddle, Clinton had to be vague during the general campaign, without specifying the gravity of Trump’s mental imbalance, because had she “laid the cards on the table” and called him a literal and full-blown sociopath, Clinton would have “pulled the rug out from under the comedians who fuelled her campaign.”

Hillary’s Clinton’s “lazy and overly cautious strategy” was “to throw shade against Trump, not to stand on her own inspiring policy platform. But had she followed through and charged Trump with being manifestly unwell in the head, her base might have found it unseemly to mock Trump at every turn, instead of just feeling sorry for him.”

Hillary’s “bloodless, calculated, and thus ineffectual rhetoric” notwithstanding, President Trump’s psychopathy is evident to many professionals, including Brandy Lee, who leads a coalition of 800 medical professionals that seeks to warn the public about the danger of Trump’s medical condition, and John Gartner who wrote a petition saying Trump should be removed from office, as required by the 25th amendment to the Constitution. Trump has slightly more psychopathic traits than Adolph Hitler, according to an Oxford study by Kevin Dutton.

The danger is so significant that some of these professionals voiced their concerns despite the so-called Goldwater rule of the American Psychiatry Association, which says that psychiatrists shouldn’t speak out against a public figure unless they’ve personally examined that person.  

“The rule is bogus,” said Mollycoddle, “and is only meant to protect psychiatrists from lawsuits for slander. In Trump’s case, there’s no reasonable dispute about whether he’s mentally healthy or ill. You don’t need a fancy degree to know he’s deranged, just like you don’t need to be a mathematician to know that two and two are four. Just read through the characteristics of a psychopath, derived from Hare’s checklist, and see for yourself if they apply to Trump. It’s all there in black and white.”

Mollycoddle has protested outside the offices of comedians Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, and Bill Maher, and has published articles against their “bullying humour.” “Mocking Trump,” she wrote, “is as disgraceful as laughing at a disabled person who collapses after dropping her crutches. Despite their presumed moral high ground and conceit of being masters of political correctness, liberals are highly insensitive to the grievous nature of psychopathy.”

Moreover, she contended, “Republicans should be praised for their optimism,” since “they’ve given a flagrant psychopath the chance to hold the highest office in the land. Instead of tearing down Trump with mockery and derision, they lift him up with a can-do attitude and with an onslaught of gaslighting and spin to keep Trump from learning the unsettling truth about his mental condition, which would only prevent Trump from making-believe he can do anything.

“Do you tell the child diagnosed with terminal cancer that he shouldn’t dress up like Spiderman and pretend to solve crimes, if that’s what his heart desires? No, you indulge that fantasy in such a terminal case. Likewise, if there’s no cure for someone like Trump, who’s had the luxury to indulge his antisocial personality disorders for many decades, the least we can do is humour his last hurrah—even if it destroys the country. That’s just the price of political correctness.” 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

God praised for outfitting Donald Trump with Self-Destruct Button

Dateline: LOS ANGELES—Thousands of Americans, who resist Donald Trump’s presidency on the grounds that he is literally a psychopath, have formed a religious group calling for praise of God for supplying the psychopath Donald Trump with a self-destruct button.

The group is called Small Mercies and was founded in Los Angeles, by Joey Garbanzo. Members of the group call themselves The Thankful, thus fulfilling the phrase, being “thankful for small mercies.”  

According to Garbanzo, “President Trump’s grotesque antics were on full display while he was campaigning for the presidency and they only got worse after he took office. But viewers should be twice astonished by Trump’s lunacy, as we The Thankful are.”

First, American viewers should be “grief-stricken to learn that a country with an alleged manifest destiny could award such a psycho clown with control of the White House. Was it our God-given destiny to be mocked all over the world for the travesty of Trump’s presidency?”

The second shock, however, “should be in noticing that every time Trump acts so bizarrely, he pushes a red button on his palm that’s clearly labeled ‘Self-Destruct.’”

Reporters also noticed the red button and attempted to normalize it, comparing it to a red-button that was allegedly located on Bill Clinton’s hip, which Clinton pushed during his intimate relations with Monica Lewinski; to the red button allegedly found above Barack Obama’s left ankle, which Obama pushed while picking his neoliberal cabinet members and advisors; and to the red button allegedly hidden behind George W. Bush’s right ear, which Bush pressed every time he opened his mouth in public.

“All modern American presidents have self-destruct buttons attached to their persons,” said one news anchor. “There’s nothing untoward about that.”

But Trump’s red button is located on his right palm, which is, of course, readily seen by viewers and which is a frequently-used part of the body. This has led The Thankful to theorize that Trump is compelled to push his self-destruct button more often than past presidents pushed theirs. The more frantically the button is pushed, the greater the psychopathy that must be crying out for escape.

Chief psychologist of Small Mercies, Laura Littlebitty, explains that psychopaths are “evil robots cleverly disguised as people,” and as such, each is outfitted with a self-destruct button. “I mean, would you want to be an evil robot, getting into all sorts of waywardness and utterly unable to learn from your mistakes or to fit into normal society and be happy? No, of course not, and neither would the psycho robot.”

The psychopath therefore invariably sabotages his “sham of a life,” to escape “his private hell built on glibness, high intelligence, inability to learn from experience, pathological self-centeredness, incapacity to love, callousness, shamelessness, impulsivity, recklessness, grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulation, juvenile delinquency, and pathological lying.”   
The “small mercy” of President Trump’s “big, honking red self-destruct button right there on his palm where he can’t avoid pushing it is that the existence of this button is perhaps the greatest proof that God loves us after all,” said Garbanzo.

“Yes, God cursed us with the psychopaths in the first place. But the Creator was evidently careful to install a self-destruct button on each and every otherwise-unbearable monster he sent our way. That’s why as loathsome as a psychopath like Donald Trump is, we’re blessed with the saving grace of getting to watch him flame out like the Hindenburg.

“It might look merely like Trump is doing this to himself, because he knows he’s in way over his head, he can’t stand being so abominable, and he’s unconsciously looking to get caught for his atrocious sins, like the serial killer who keeps writing the cops letters bearing cryptic clues to his whereabouts. However, we The Thankful see the hand of Providence in the fact that Trump can’t help but spoil his inhuman schemes, by being the way-over-the-top psycho that he is.”

Critics question why Trump’s presidency hasn’t yet ended in ignominious failure if Trump has been so repeatedly trying to destroy himself.

“Sure, it’s obvious Trump has a flaming-red self-destruct button attached to his hand,” said one Trump supporter. “And sure, he couldn’t help but push that button over and over again, just by going about his daily activities. But what if the wiring were cut or the mechanism were otherwise disabled? In that case, Trump could keep acting like the monster we on the alt right want him to be, and nothing could stop him.”

Others blame the mass media for inadvertently propping up the dead weight of Trump’s presidency, by showering him with the kind of titillating news coverage that only adds to his infamy, making him an exception to ordinary rules of conduct. In return, Trump supplies the infotainment industry with an enormous ratings boost.

Small Mercies maintains that there’s a mathematical relationship between the number of button-pushes needed to bring down the monstrosity in question, and the scale of that psychopathy. “The more hideous the psychopathy, that is, the older and more settled in his grievous outlook is the psychopath, the more times he must tap his self-destruct button for that outlet for his despair to have any effect.”

Monday, July 31, 2017

Prophet of Doom cheated out of his Due Respect

Dateline: Year 2032, somewhere in the former United States—After the collapse of Western civilization in 2031, followed by the ruination of the rest of the planet, a self-proclaimed former prophet of doom has been reminding the survivors that he told them so, but they’ve declined to favour him with praise for his foresight, on account of their being too busy clawing for scraps and fending off the cannibals and scavengers who threaten their squalid encampments.

The doomsayer styles himself Ludovico the Magnificent, and carries a scrapbook bearing photographic evidence of the years he spent as a rabble-rousing anarchist standing on street corners, holding accusatory signs, and barking at strangers about the coming end of all things.

In addition, his scrapbook contains printouts of articles he wrote on his pessimistic blog in which he predicted at length how and why the world would be imminently destroyed.

“I saw the end coming and I told them so,” said Ludovico. “I told everyone back when no one cared. They were all bustling from here to there, happy as clams and blissfully unaware of the dangers of their way of doing business. They didn’t care about the blowback, because they lacked the vision or the commitment of a prophet.

“That’s where I came in. But no one listened! No one put their briefcase down for even a single nanosecond to stop and listen to summaries of the case I laid out in meticulous detail on my blog. And look where they are now: dead from war, plague, or starvation. Just as I predicted!”

Ludovico has taken it upon himself to continue his rounds, albeit now clad in a flamboyant red cape and sparkly magician’s suit he’d preserved in his bug-out rucksack. The prophet, however, has switched from predicting catastrophe, to rubbing the bitter truth in the faces of the beleaguered remnants of humanity.

“Oh, what’s that you got there?” he asked a bedraggled old woman who sat by her mud hut. “Is that rat flesh you’re feasting on? Gee, I wonder who predicted ten years ago on his blog that everyone was going to be reduced to eating rats. I wonder if that genius survived the apocalypse and might even be standing right in front of you, waiting for an apology because you would have failed to give him even the time of day, let alone the help he could have used marketing his website and spreading the news that could have saved the planet.

“And what’s that I hear? Nothing at all? You’re just going to keep sitting there, gnawing on rat, your sad old eyes staring at nothing? How typical!”

Later, the prophet came upon a wretched family wandering the hillside, whereupon he badgered them for hours but failed to receive the thanks and the praise he sought for his labours.

“Just a middle-aged couple now with their two daughters, eh?” he told them. “They would still have been old enough to read when my blog was at its peak. But did any of you read a word of it? Of course not! And look where you are now; look what’s befallen you. No more amenities for you, eh?

“And who predicted all of it? Did you? Of course not! No, let’s think now. Who both saw it all coming and had the foresight as well to protect the hard evidence of his wisdom? Could he be—Oh, I don’t know—stumbling along right beside you in a flipping red cape, waiting for—hmm, I don’t know—someone to acknowledge he was right all along and everyone else was stupid and arrogant?”

The family never did pay its respects to Ludovico, oppressed as they were by the weight of all that had befallen them.

At any event, they were soon set upon by cannibalistic ravagers whom the prophet addressed in turn.

“And who do we have here?” said the prophet. “Cannibals from the tar pits yonder? And I suppose you’re just going to go ahead and rape those girls without even setting a moment aside to honour the personage who’s wearing a wondrous red cape, who just happens to be called Ludovico the Magnificent, who bears evidence of his genius in this here scrapbook, and who foretold all this misery. Sure, don’t mind me! I just saw it all coming, is all. Just ignore the prophet while you chop up their flesh. Don’t even give him the time of day or anything! Just like before.”

The prophet made his escape by convincing the savages that his cape conferred magical powers on him. But his getaway provided him little joy, because the savages likewise neglected to acknowledge that some years ago he in fact had shown remarkable foresight.

“What really gets my goat,” confessed Ludovico, “is that the world itself is screwing me over a second time. The first time, everyone was too busy to acknowledge my greatness. Now, when all the businesses are ashes, everyone’s too depressed or horrified to do so. Either way, I’m being cheated twice over!”   

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Twelfth PDF Installment of RWUG

Here's the twelfth PDF installment of this blog's major articles. May it lighten the load of alienated souls. 

And here's a link to the other PDF installments.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Beautiful Women conceal their Hotness to attract Nice Guys

Dateline: NEW YORK—A growing number of beautiful single women curse their physical charms, fearing that worthy men aren’t attracted to them so much as intimidated and liable to defecate in their pants before even thinking of approaching them.

Suzanne Kroener is a model and considered a ten on men’s “hotness scale.” Instead of reveling in her facial symmetry, luxurious hair, flawless skin, long legs, and hourglass figure, however, she laments these physical features.

“In some ways, having perfect breasts is an advantage,” she admits. “When I want to manipulate a guy, my beauty comes in handy. But what if I want to attract a mate, a potential husband? In that case, my hotness works against me. It’s actually a nightmare.

“The only guys who will approach me in a bar or a supermarket or anywhere else are the slicksters and sociopaths, the arrogant and vain assholes who are too dumb to deal with their flaws.

“Sure, they’re fearless and they think they deserve to date a woman like me, because they’re usually fit and handsome. The problem is they’re able to approach me not because they’re courageous or confident, but because they’re douchebags. They’re con artists, selling lies and interested only in the ‘conquest,’ in hooking up with a trophy girl, using her up, and then moving on to their next prey.”

Michelle Bordeaux agrees with Suzanne. A lawyer and also widely considered a smoking hottie, Michelle can scan the men at a bar and tell who will approach her and who is “pissing in their pants.”

The irony, she said, is that those who are cowed by her beauty are “the nice guys who would make for the best boyfriends or husbands, if only they had more self-esteem. But the more self-esteem a guy has, the closer he is to being a jerk.

“It’s no accident that the nice guys piss themselves as soon as they see me looking at them in a bar. They’re hypersensitive and overly familiar with all their weaknesses; all day long they’d apologize for being unworthy to breathe the same air as I do. And so the only guys left standing are the game-playing phonies. They may have money and good looks and so they’re great for hooking up with, but if you’re looking to form an emotional connection with a guy, you’ve got no one and it’s all because of your slamming, smoking hot body.”

Michelle once tried approaching a nice guy at a bar, but before he could stammer his response to her flirtatious remark, he ran screaming to the restroom. He died of a heart attack ten minutes later, sitting with diarrhea on the toilet.

“I literally have looks that can kill,” Michelle said, “which is fine if I want to seize power as a tyrannical queen like some babe out of Game of Thrones. But that’s a fantasy. In reality I just want a nice guy for a life partner. And sooner or later every guy I hook up with reveals himself to be a scumbag. Again, that’s no accident, because a nice guy couldn’t even say hi to me without urinating all over the floor or dying from anxiety.”

Frustrated by “the irony that feminine beauty doesn’t belong in this godless world,” as their manifesto states, Michelle and Suzanne teamed up to form Hotties for Nice Guys, an association of women who train to disguise their heart-stopping beauty so as not to burden ordinary men with a vision of womanly splendor.

“Instead of dressing up for the bar scene, we dress down, way down,” said Natasha, a recruit of HNC. “I wear busted-up glasses and the grossest baggy clothes to hide my assets. I wear no makeup except for fake scars, warts, and pimples I apply to my skin to look hideous. Then I walk into that bar with bed head and nauseating body odour, and I hit on the nice guys for all I’m worth.”

No longer compelled to lose control of his bodily functions, the “properly-shielded nice guy” feels as though he’s on more equal ground and the pair can engage in a meaningful conversation.

“Eventually, however, the moment arrives when I have to reveal my true form,” said Natasha. “I dated a nice guy a few times, thanks to my homely disguise, and everything was going well.

“Then I showed up at his place for dinner, all dressed up, my disguise left in my drawer at home. When he saw I was in reality a smoking hottie, he screamed and fell to the floor, pulling his hair out of his head. Then he ran around the room breaking everything he owned. He kept shouting that he could never keep me, because of the competition from superior men, and that he could endure seeing beautiful women only in porn. I tried to comfort him, to build up his confidence a little, but he fainted like he was a little boy and I was the monster creeping out from under his bed. So that was a bust.”

“We babes who want nice guys are caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Michelle. “First, we have to build up the nice guy’s self-esteem slowly, before revealing our outer beauty. But we can’t build it up too much or he’ll tip over into sociopath territory and lose his niceness. So it’s a delicate balancing act.

“Honestly, I never thought I’d have to work so hard to land a good guy.”

Men, however, doubt the very existence of “alleged hotties who want nice guys,” said Todd Gunderson, an auto mechanic and a nice guy who maintains that the assumptions of HNC are absurd.

“They’re just out to take your money,” he said, “these babes with a so-called heart of gold. Then when your guard is down, they’ll laugh in your face and move on to the next sucker. The nice guys who don’t hit on the smoking hotties in bars or who run away screaming? It’s not because they’re scared; it’s because deep down they know better, not to believe in something that’s too good to be true.

“If good looks usually corrupt guys, why would it be any different for good-looking women?

“That’s why I prefer to date women who are genuinely threes or fours on the hotness scale. Leave the beautiful women for the hunky guys. They deserve each other.”

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: The Paradox of Late Modern Conservatism

MODERATOR: Welcome to another episode of Clash of Worldviews. Tonight we’re fortunate to have with us in the studio Fred Gulpa, self-described alt right transhumanist; Rich Goldfarb, a fiery young Jewish conservative debater; Adam Garnett, noted liberal secular humanist; and Heather Fogarty, hypermodern skeptic and gadfly. Welcome to all of you and to our viewers joining us from around the world. Tonight the topic is postmodern conservatism. What does it mean to be a conservative in the twenty-first century, under advanced technoscientific, postindustrial conditions? Who would like to start us off?

RICH: That’s a preposterous question and you’re an imbecile for asking it. Your hair is all messed up and I’m appalled by your cheap aftershave, which I’m aghast to say I can smell all the way from over here. So you must be a closet liberal, which is unfortunate because all liberals are evil.

MODERATOR: Uh, oh…kay? That wasn’t quite the response I was looking for. I understood that you’re a professional debater, Rich. Have you learned about ad hominem attacks?—not to mention red herrings, since I’m just the moderator here.

RICH: You see that’s just like a liberal. Run from your liberalism all you like, but it’s a disgrace.

You want to know what conservatism means today. I’ll tell you: it means standing up for divine or natural rights against tyrannies like the liberal state that holds a gun to your head to push corrupt liberal values down your throat and to collect ill-gotten taxes to grow its Mafioso hold over the population. The liberal government is an incompetent bureaucracy that can’t do anything right except shake down its citizens, disrupt the free flow of market competition, and expand the cushy public sector for the pack of liberal cronies. Conservatism means respecting the traditions that connect us with what’s right in the world so that we can oppose what’s evil. And liberalism is evil. Liberalism boils down to kleptocratic communism: the liberal state wants to redistribute money that was earned in market transactions, which means the government steals from the rich to give to the poor—like Robin Hood, except that instead of a hero, the government is evil. Stealing is wrong. And like cancer, the liberal state needs runaway growth in its tyrannical powers to protect unnatural liberal morality, including silly rights for women’s equality with men, for the killing of babies, for politically-correct recognition of absurdities such as the wholesomeness of homosexuality, and for government boondoggles like its nonsolutions to the overhyped problem of global warming.

ADAM: I mean: wow. Just, wow. It’s safe to say there must have been a hundred strawmen in that screed.

RICH: Everything I just said is obviously correct. You’re an execrable monster and a charlatan and a demonic insect for suggesting otherwise.

HEATHER: Uh, Rich, I think someone neglected to inform you that Clash of Worldviews isn’t like the infotainment newshour shows or campus debates you’re used to having, in which the goal is to pwn your opponent with vile hate speech and cheap zingers. We’ll actually expect some arguments here and won’t be impressed by schoolyard tactics.

RICH: Thanks for the tip. But everything I said is still obviously correct. There is no counterargument for liberals, since all liberals ever do is call conservatives bad names. Liberals are the ones with no arguments, and that’s because liberals are—

ADAM: —evil. That’s what you were going to say, right? Yeah, that shtick’s going to get old real fast. You’re starting to sound like Ben Shapiro.

RICH: I’m waiting for the rebuttal.

Theocracy, Natural Rights, and the Tyranny of Liberalism

ADAM: Alright. First of all, you said a lot more about liberalism than about conservatism, even though liberalism isn’t our topic. But fine, maybe we can arrive at the nature of conservatism indirectly, by focusing for a while on its opposite.

So just for starters, your slide from social democracy, or the so-called liberal establishment, to communism or tyranny is a grotesque oversimplification. In a democratic country with a capitalistic economy like the United States, the government needs certain powers to protect the social fabric and thus to prevent an outbreak of chaos, as in what’s called a failed state. The selfish impulses that capitalism nurtures are utterly amoral. For example, enterprising businessmen in early American history had no compunction against selling slaves; likewise, even today there’s a thriving business of human trafficking of sex slaves. Responsible governments collect taxes not just to protect private property or to defend against foreign enemies, but to preserve the public welfare, which means upholding its culture’s ideals. Slavery is against both Christian and Enlightenment values, but as long as there’s a supply of and demand for slaves, capitalism itself isn’t going to end slavery. Thus, the government needs to step in as a bulwark against capitalistic greed.

I mean, there are a hundred other grotesqueries in your rant, but let’s leave it there for a minute. Tell us, then, how are all liberal governments communistic or tyrannical? 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Club Punishes Talk Show Audiences for Drowning out Guests with Lingering Applause

Dateline: LOS ANGELES—Investigators have uncovered a club devoted to shaming audience members of American talk shows whose clapping and other loud reactions to the guests’ remarks often drown out what the guests are saying, wasting the time of the viewers at home.

Based in LA, the club is called Citizens for Silencing Audience Noise. Ray Akaji, CSAN’s spokesperson, expressed befuddlement at the audacity and self-centeredness of the studio audiences.

“If you watch Real Time with Bill Maher,” said Akaji, “almost a quarter of what you hear is the clapping, hollering, laughter, and other obnoxious noises made by the audience. The live audience members seem to think they’re more important than the millions watching around the world—as if anyone on earth is tuning in because they want to hear a single peep from Joe Blow sitting in the studio audience. No, of course we want to hear only the celebrity guests themselves.

“That’s what truly makes no sense. The noise-makers think they can interrupt the guests with impunity, wasting valuable airtime in an hour-long show with their cacophony of worthless cheering, as though there were no danger of reprisal. Well, not on CSAN’s watch.

“We treat the noise-makers as thieves, because that’s what they are: they steal the meaningful content that could have been, the funny jokes the comedian would have said had he or she not been rudely interrupted by the infantile noise-makers. Sure, the live audience buys the tickets to enjoy the show, but that doesn’t entitle those members to curtail the show’s content with their idiotic noises. Make annoying sounds at home if you insist, but not in what is effectively a public space.”

CSAN members have thus taken it upon themselves to camp outside television studios, wait for the offending audience members to exit at the parking lot, and yell in their ears or work party horns, blowouts, and kazoos such as you would find on New Year’s Eve.

“Our mission,” said Akaji, “is to render the offenders unable to hear themselves speak—at least until they reach the comforting silence within their vehicle. That way, the analogy should strike home and they may desist from repeating their bit of foolishness in the future.

“They should be asking themselves, ‘Isn’t it annoying to have some strangers blast nonsense in your ear so you can’t hear what you’d rather be hearing? Isn’t life better when those who should be quiet keep quiet, so you can get stuff done?’ That’s what the insolent noise-makers should be thinking when CSAN has taken vengeance on behalf of the millions of more polite audience members at home.”

TV critic Marsha Marshmallow and CSAN member reasons that the sources of the disturbance may be Los Angeles and New York in particular, those being the cities where most American talk shows are taped.

“These self-centered fans who get tickets to sit in the TV studio audience come from parts of America which aren’t known for their humility,” said Marshmallow. “Most are relatively well-off, so they feel entitled and are thrilled at the prospect that their clapping might somehow match the guests’ discourse, as though they were on equal ground. They thus forget that they’re nobodies whatsoever in comparison to the celebrity guests, and should therefore oblige the vast audience at home by shutting the hell up when the cameras are rolling.”

The TV show producers often whip the crowd into a frenzy, inviting the wider viewership to tune in by holding up signs about when to clap and using that in-studio noise to create the impression that the show is entertaining.

“CSAN understands that side of the television business,” said Akaji. “But that doesn’t entitle the audience to drag out its mischief, squandering the precious airtime and causing a backlash of frustration. It’s the same reason listeners are quick to tune out a radio program when even the guests talk over each other so no one can understand what they’re saying. Who wants to listen to noise?”

Not everyone agrees with CSAN, however. Ted Cruikshank insists that he prefers the noise, including the audience clapping or laughter. “I just go ahead and fast-forward whenever the guests are talking, because I like to hear on TV only the eruption of applause. Guess you could call me a connoisseur of noise.”

Cruikshank lets the clapping, laughter, or booing wash over him, testing his peculiar ability to discern what strike him as interesting variations in what would otherwise seem to be the equivalent of so much space-wasting rubbish.

“The clapping in particular just appeals to me—much more so than the opinions of the actors, professors, and pundits who, I take it, are the starring attractions for most viewers. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but there’s no accounting for taste, right?”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

News Media Confuse Viewers by speaking as if all Oligarchs are Russian

Dateline: TENNESSEE—American corporate news media baffle viewers by presupposing that all oligarchs are Russian citizens.

“You never hear CNN speak of American oligarchs,” said news media watcher Alonzo Plompus. “For some unknown reason, whenever you hear about oligarchs on cable news, they’re always Russian.”

An oligarchy is a state ruled by only a few people, or by a small minority. Officially, the United States is a democratic republic, not an oligarchy. But Russia under Vladimir Putin likewise holds elections, giving at least the appearance of being democratic.

According to Plompus, viewers of CNN are perplexed by the cable news meme “Russian oligarch,” because they’ve become “familiar with the phoniness of American democracy.”

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, said Plompus, but lost in the Electoral College, and that "college of elites" was “established by the Founders as a bulwark against democracy.”

In 2001, George W. Bush was handed the presidency by the Supreme Court, which ordered Florida to stop its controversial, grossly-dysfunctional vote count.

And a 2014 Princeton study found that because American governmental policies for four decades have demonstrably favoured the wealthy and ignored the majority’s stated preferences, and because the richest ten percent therefore has held a virtual veto on public policy, the United States is effectively a plutocracy, which is a type of oligarchy.

“Then there’s the gerrymandering that renders the congressional elections a total charade in numerous states,” said Plompus. “Because of corruption in how redistricting was done to lock in arbitrary advantages after the 2011 census, many Republicans found they could pick their voters rather than the other way around.”

According to the Forbes list of the world’s 500 richest people in 2017, only 28 are Russian citizens. The United States has over 200. The richest Russian is only 46th on the list, whereas 8 of the world’s richest 10 billionaires and 14 of the richest 20 are American.   

“But you never hear the phrase ‘American oligarch’ on US cable news,” said Mr. Plompus. “Even the business elites who ruled in the American Gilded Age are called ‘robber barons,’ never ‘oligarchs.’

Mr. Plompus held a contest to brainstorm hypotheses to explain this puzzling news media phenomenon. The winner, whose solution was voted most promising, received a basket of assorted muffins.

One of these hypotheses is that journalists are lazy and so once they devise a meme, they become glued to it because they’re averse to creative thinking. But this hypothesis leaves open the question of how the meme got started.

Another solution is that the word “oligarch” sounds vaguely Russian to the “clueless egomaniacs” who read the news on the corporate news channels, according to the teenager who suggested this explanation. The word “oligarchy” is actually rooted in ancient Greek.

The winning possibility, raised by Delilah Butte, is that the news media believe that all the world’s oligarchs packed up and moved to Russia, “because they like vodka or because Russia is so geographically enormous that it can better fit all their gargantuan possessions.”

Ms. Butte generously shared her muffins with the others who attended the contest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: Is Philosophy a Boon or a Con?

MODERATOR: Good evening, denizens of the interweb, and welcome to a special edition of Clash of Worldviews. We have a stacked panel here to discuss whether philosophy is a boon or a con, a topic that should naturally branch out into the meaning of life and the nature of happiness. Please put your hands together for Adam, noted liberal secular humanist; Heather, postmodern pessimist and cynic; Lindsey, Catholic conservative; Fred, popular alt right blogger and President Trump supporter; and Tariq, Muslim writer and intellectual. In addition, we expect two special guests to drop in later.

But in the meantime, let me put this question to the panel: Who here has a negative view of philosophy? And let me be clear, by “philosophy” I mean not just the academic subject, but any use of critical thinking to answer life’s most general, fundamental questions. 

Scientism and Normative Myths

ADAM: There’s a problem with that definition of “philosophy,” though, and once we see what that is, we’ll see what’s wrong with philosophy. If you’re talking about “any” use of critical thinking in those areas, you’re talking about cosmology, physics, and mathematics, but those are sciences. So the reason philosophy is indeed a fraud is that philosophy has been rendered obsolete by scientific progress. Thus, those engaging in the old-fashioned discussions are wasting their time.

LINDSEY: All hail Western scientism! Tell us, Adam, which scientific theory has established your liberal values or demonstrated that capitalism and democracy are the best ways of organizing a society.

ADAM: No political opinions are known to be true. We don’t need to think critically about them. Instead, different societies try out various political and ethical ideas, and majorities gravitate to the most attractive options. Capitalism and democracy rule in most places because they work well, not because of any argument or experiment. History is a process of trial and error.

HEATHER: Oh, so it’s good to know that, according to that bit of pragmatism, it isn’t exactly true that humans have rights or that women should be treated as men’s equals. I suppose those bits of liberal Enlightenment wisdom just happen to work for a while until the next fad comes along, correct?  

ADAM: Correct, but there’s no need to be smarmy about it. For a belief to be true, you need a fact to correspond with the symbols making up the thoughts that constitute the belief. And there’s no fact of the matter when it comes to what we ought to be doing.

HEATHER: Really? Then won’t you tell us more about how the Western lifestyle works relatively well. I take it you mean that individualism, capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law are most effective in achieving certain goals. What are those goals, I wonder. 

ADAM: Presumably, the point of a social structure is to make people happy or to ensure that some members are more powerful than others.

HEATHER: So if history discards some cultures and lifestyles and preserves others, as being more or less effective at achieving those goals, how do we justify those ultimate goals themselves? Not through history and not through science. How else, then?

ADAM: Who says they have to be justified? That’s just the way things are: we want to be happy or to dominate weaker persons.

LINDSEY: So if you lived in a dictatorship and you came to be dominated by the corrupt ruling elites, Adam, you might feel the power distribution is unfair, but you’d still maintain there’s no way to prove the elites are in the wrong? You’d just say, “Oh, well, that’s how things are around here in the torture chamber.”

ADAM: I might fight back or try to reason with the torturers, but even if I were to succeed, that wouldn’t show it’s empirically true as a matter of fact that their conduct is wrong.

HEATHER: No, not “empirically” true, just philosophically so. Nice try with the word game. 

MODERATOR: If I might interject, Adam, are you saying that philosophy doesn’t exist or is some sort of illusion, or instead that philosophy has been outmoded by science?

ADAM: The latter, of course. Talk about word games—that’s all philosophy is now, because the substantial issues are handled by the sciences.

LINDSEY: Like the issue of whether we should strive to be happy or should rebel against dictators? Yeah, right!

ADAM: People still engage in philosophical speculations—and religious ones too—but that doesn’t mean those are respectable practices. You won’t come to know anything from philosophy or religion that you shouldn’t instead be learning from science.

HEATHER: He means you won’t learn anything from philosophy or religion in the scientific way. So are you going to blame philosophy for the fact that you’re now playing another word game, even though you supposedly reject philosophy?

Can we move on from this scientism? Philosophical questions are meaningful, not to mention profound. Indeed, their profundity can be measured by the extent to which their answers are potentially subversive.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Miracle of Intelligent Selection of Events

Do miracles happen? Is the notion of the miraculous still useful, after the Scientific Revolution? I think so, contrary to the strawman originating, perhaps, from David Hume’s criticisms of natural theology. Hume misconceived of miracles as violations of natural law, defining “natural law” as an inductive generalization that’s based on observations of mere correlations between events. We perceive loose patterns in the world and add causal connections via the imposition of instinctive expectations or heuristics (cognitive rules of thumb) onto the more open-ended data. We thus naturally simplify the world’s infinite complexity to make rational sense of it, as opposed to wishing the world operated according to the gratuitous, occult dictates of divine commandments. Natural laws are thus opposed to religious dogmas, for example, in that the former are based on the brain’s interpretive mechanisms, whereas the stem from strategies for social domination.

This Humean view is right as far as it goes, but it’s not sufficiently atheistic. There are no objective natural laws, since “law” in this case is euphemistic. There are regularities which we understand according to our models which simplify and idealize to further such pragmatic ends as our interest in exploiting apparent natural processes. But all laws are social agreements, given atheism rather than deism or theism. Strictly speaking, there are no natural laws and thus there can be no violations of them. Thus, the notion of a miracle as a violation of a natural law is useless. Here, though, is a worthwhile notion of a miracle: a miracle is an anomaly that astonishes or terrorizes those who appreciate something of the strange event’s significance. Notice that this definition is consistent with the foregoing account of natural order. Again, there are perceived regularities which are understood in light of our subjective and social resources, including our cognitive rules of thumb and experimental models. The regularities themselves are objective, as are the data that inform our models, but the way we understand and explain the phenomena are largely anthropocentric. Even scientific understanding, which bypasses the crude anthropocentrism in the metaphors implicit in natural language, inherits the animal’s prejudice for the utility of working tools or traits. The chief standard for scientific explanations is their workability in the civilized project of taming the natural world. Like all gross, bullying demonstrations of power, technoscience will likely prove to be self-destructive. In any case, we become accustomed to the regularities we observe, because we’re in terror mainly of what we don’t understand. Anomalies, then, are those natural events which are rare and which we don’t understand. Some subset of anomalies is, further, miraculous, because a philosophical suspicion of its cosmic importance subverts the predominant way of life.

There have been at least three miracles in this viable sense. First, there was the proto-physical event that sparked the universe’s creation from quantum weirdness rather than from any intelligent design. Virtual nothingness proved to be unstable and so particles popped spontaneously into being. Then the seed inflated and evolved into spacetime which fragmented into the galaxies of solar systems we see today. Second, life developed from nonlife. At one time, physical processes occurred despite there being no one to wonder at them. Some such processes created a rudimentary form of biological life, and that life form complexified by natural selection and by other such evolutionary means so that organisms acquired various body types, including senses and brains for interpreting the environment. Third, some organisms developed also a vision of how the world should be and boldly sought to modify how the world naturally is, according to that ideal.

The Miracle of Artificiality

Let’s focus on the third miracle, which is the miracle of artificiality, of art and of all other idealistic contrivances. Part of this miracle is present in the way the natural patterns of some system persist despite interference from the system’s environment. This is why working explanatory models are ceteris paribus, why they include some humble recognition of the model’s limitations or partiality. The model is about a special occurrence that “tends” to happen but that may or may not actually happen, depending on the circumstances. In the laboratory, those circumstances are controlled for, so the phenomenon can be studied in isolation and in its pristine form, whereas in the wild, factors which aren’t covered by the model can intervene and prevent the causal relationship from materializing. There are, then, possible outcomes, one of which speaks, as it were, to what we think of as nature’s structure, to some signal or meaningful bit of information, whereas the other outcomes are so many confounding noises. Only a theory of the totality of the universe would bypass the need for this distinction between system and environment, between the part and the whole, in which case the places of every part would be understood according to their interrelations that make up the whole of everything; more precisely, the whole would be understood as a unity with no divisible parts.