Posts Tagged ‘ religion

The Supreme Court and Marriage

Is there anything more pathetic than having a panel of geriatric neo-scholastics as society’s self-proclaimed ultimate arbiters of right and wrong?

We should be immediately suspicious of this black-clad gang as they are supposed to use sane first principles, the facts of reality, and reason to arrive a just decisions, and yet not one of them is an atheist. In fact the currently represented religions (6 Catholic and 3 Jewish, I think) are demonstrably expert and ginning up internally consistent bullshit whirlwinds that can avoid, dismantle and adapt to any reality based objection–other religions aren’t slackers in this department either, but certain religions have truly raised this nonsense to an artform, or more aptly, an academic pursuit.

Supreme Court deliberations also sound remarkably similar to the early-bird dinner hour at Luby’s.

Reading the court transcript has much in common with reading a sci-fi forum about who would win in a fight between the Enterprise and a Star Destroyer. In both instances, the participants have powerful intellects that can make coherent, compelling arguments about anything, no matter how fanciful the context. In both instances a baseline fantasy story is held by all the participants, each then adds a few individual fantasy premises and then the reasoning process begins. In both cases, the conclusions are meaningless outside of their fantasy settings and nothing about reality has been decided at all. To be fair to the sci-fi folks, only the Supreme Court has millions of armed brutes enforcing their arbitrary conclusions.

As a quick demonstration of what a reality-based court transcript might look like (courtesy of a friend’s Facebook post):

I don’t know what kind of vaguely legitimate arguments anyone could make in defense of the DOMA. I take an adult’s right to enter into a contract of any kind–marriage or other– with another adult as so much of a given that trying to explain myself would be like trying to explain why slavery is wrong. If you’re still one of those people who believes that a Bronze Age collection of stories justifies you imposing your hangups on others’, I got nothing for you. Please go fuck yourself in the most hetero way you please.

Case closed.

The Cart and the Horse

Amanda Marcotte makes note of a study that indicates religious homophobia is the primary force driving the young out of the church, with 60% quitting religion when they leave home. The claim, she concludes, that morality comes from religion is precisely backwards:

The church needs people in the pews to survive, and while those people are constantly told their role is to submit and obey, if they just decide they don’t want to, the church is shown to be an emperor with no clothes. Thus, religion throughout history has had plenty of takebacks. The churches that used to preach segregation and white supremacy don’t do so anymore, at least as openly. A lot of churches, especially more mainstream ones, are giving up on the argument that women are just support staff, and many are even letting them be ministers and priests. Either they get with the times on gay marriage, or they find their ability to exert power diminish. Since churches are about power, most of them will adjust over time. That’s why they’re freaking out now; they know what’s coming.

While the “common wisdom” is that the church creates and maintains a moral code, the reality is that the chuch adapts the moral code of the majority in order to maintain the largest cohesive flock (for continual fleecing).

Religious doctrine is simply the encoding of popular morality, both the good, doing unto other an’at; and the stone evil, usually sanctifying existing hierarchies. As Amanda observes:

the historical purpose of religion is not to comfort but to control. Religion’s primary function is, if you look at the whole of history, about creating rationales for unjust power hierarchies. Kings have used “god” as their excuse for absolute power, and religion is the primary reason that men in a diverse array of cultures over cite as the reason they should be the lords of their wives and daughters. Even liberal Christians are tied to the long history of power-grabbing through religion, using the language of submission and calling believers a “kingdom”.

As humanity shakes off the various barbaric hierarchies of our past, religion has had to adopt. It gets dragged kicking and screaming into modernity. In the future, of course, religious adherents will highlight the work that some christians somewhere have probably done to advance gay rights and claim that christianity and its message of all encompassing love lead the way to a more perfect equality.

Most of us–the historically literate anyway–will call bullshit. We can cite the nearly infinite counter-examples where red faced douchebags stomped around waving the bible around and screaming about the evils of homosexuality.

Like the myths that the German catholic church opposed Hitler, or that American churches opposed slavery, only believers will, well, believe.

The timing of this article is interesting. Coming, as it does, the day after Barack Obama publicly supported gay marriage. Government is the other stone-aged human superstition that humanity has dragged along through the centuries. Very much like religion, it has always claimed to be a bringer of order in the midst of chaos.

Rest assured that, like future religious hagiographers, future historians will tell a convincing tale of how the government, with its commitment to civil liberties, boldly legislated marital freedom for everyone–in between pacifying the borders and protecting the world from terrorists. We’re hearing the first draft of the story right now. The one your grandkids learn, should they fall into the hands of government schools, will be far more epic.

Which really is the only difference between the chuch and the state in this regard. I’d wager it’s the only reason there are more atheists than anarchists: the state has 15,000 more hours to propagandize children than the church. The state’s stories aren’t remarkably more believable, and a few hours of research on a particular issue will reveal the nature of both church and state as reactionary anchors against human progress.

The Bikecast Episode #55: Chit-chatting About the Patriarchy

Th Bikecast is back, albeit without the bike this time. I’ll transition to another name when I think of a good one.

In this reboot premier episode, I’m thinking through the history and nature of patriarchy and how its position as the fundamental organizing principle of the various and myriad institutional hurdles to human happiness and flourishing. Good stuff!

PS. I have no idea why the embed is doing that. The Internet Archive has changed up some stuff since last year.

It’s Not a Fact Just Because You Want It To Be

Frequently discussion/arguments between theist and atheists begin with the theist counting off all the things that science doesn’t have a explanation for (What came before the big bang? What causes gravity? How did life begin?). After much circling and probably a fair amount of misdirection, one of two outcomes are reached, a) the theist concludes by saying that both he and the atheist have equally indefensible positions or b) he will simply demand the acceptance of his belief system regardless of its absurdity. God does exist because he has to exist–it’s so obvious only a crazy person could argue against it.
Arguing with a statist, someone who believes that violence is the only possible answer to all manner of social conflict, has much the same feel. The opening position is a list of all the problems that they can’t imagine being solved without a violent hierarchy (road construction, education of children, national defense, more road construction) and the conclusion is either a) “generously” that the arguments are symmetrical and that nobody can be demonstrably correct or b) the statist shouldn’t even have to make the case for government, because it’s so obviously good and necessary!

A case in point, That we need government is just fact, by Amanda Marcotte [1].

It [an article praising the state for not stealing and reselling all of North America to developers] also caused me to want to ball up on the floor and cry. Not because it’s bad; it’s great. But because it had to be written in the first place. That’s how stupid our political discourse has gotten, that people are actually defending the existence of the government. It’s like having a debate about whether or not water is good for you.

It would be like arguing whether or not water is good for you if water had bombed, shot, tortured and imprisoned some millions of people in the last year–and every year since the beginning of time. Generally water doesn’t do that. It’s really only dangerous in huge quantities–especially when driven by wind.

Amanda continues:

In a sense, I feel like defending the existence of government is wasting your breath. If people who are just generally “against” government can’t see how their day to day life is affected by—usually for the better—the existence of government, I don’t know that rational arguments pointing it out are going to make much difference. They clearly live in a fantasy world. Rationality has no influence on them.

Of course, the principled anarchist makes the same argument in return. These may be seen as symmetrical positions, much as the theist’s and atheist’s above. In a context free from reason and evidence, and with a healthy dose of cultural indoctrination, one may be able to squint and say, “yep, there’s no way to decide whether or not God exists.” Of course, if you just fucking look around, maybe read a book or two, and think about it for a bit, it’s pretty evident that there’s no supernatural power that exists outside of material reality and is intervening in earthly events.

It’s equally evident that government is a construct dedicated to the preservation of existing power and privilege, that it is the last remaining “acceptable” perpetrator of violence, and that it always and everywhere grows, heaping increasing misery on the poor until it collapses in ruin; leaving the powerful and privileged to start a new government. Sure, this is a simplified description of a very complex process. The theory of evolution is a simplification of a complex process. You can pick nits around the boundaries of either, but if you don’t accept the reality of the processes described, you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Next comes a challenge from Amanda to the reader:

Seriously, just grab a notebook and put in a hashmark for every time you do something that you couldn’t do if it weren’t for government regulation, funding, and organizing. You’ll find you fill a page up before lunch with hashmarks. I’ve been up for an hour now, and I’ve made coffee(1,2,3), eaten breakfast (4,5), had a glass of water (6), used the toilet (7,8) . . . [the numbers relate to a list included below]

That’s nothing. If you’re one of the 2.5+ million prisoners in the country, you’ll have that notebook filled up by 9am. Oh, except you might not have anything to write with–hey, that’s a hashmark too: seizure of contraband! Let’s say you just counted off in your head. Government provides your wake up call. Government opens the door for you. Government provided you with the door, the bed, the floor. Government arranged for your roommate. Government day planning–what a full calendar! Amanda’s premise is that none of these things would happen, or not nearly as well, if the government didn’t exist. Her evidence is that it just wouldn’t and only a moron can’t understand that.

We all understand, though, that even without a government provided loudspeaker outside you cell, somebody has managed to provide you a means of getting up in the morning; even without a government provided yard to walk around in circles, somebody has figured out a way (probably lots of ways) to help you get your exercise and social interaction. The fact that the government has a monopoly on these services in prison doesn’t mean that a free human being is deprived of them.

The same is true for the items on Amanda’s list. Even without marines enforcing U.S. corporation’s claims on vast swaths of S. America and even without death squads preventing peasant labor from leaving, somebody would grow and sell coffee beans to American consumers. Even without eminent domain being used to throw people from their homes so giant asphalt monstrosities can be built and the surrounding land sold off to politically connected developers, somebody would provide means (again, probably lots of them) for moving goods and people between places.

The same goes for all the items on her list (1-8 corresponding to the above quotation, see her article if you care for more).

1. Clean water.
2. International trade agreements getting the coffee to the U.S.
3. Roads to ship it to the store.
4. Clean water.
5. Roads!
6. Water!
7. Seriously, water.
8. Regulations governing size and other aspects of the toilet.

The idea that toilets wouldn’t exist except that someone will fine you for toilets of the wrong size is kind of weird. The idea that a trade agreement (i.e., not arresting people and stealing their good for crossing a border) is somehow fostering trade as opposed to simply ceasing to stop it is also pretty inexplicable.

The roads are another issue that I’ve touched on here and way back here. But the drum beat for infrastructure from the left has become pretty monotonous lately–I guess due to the “Rebuilding ‘merica” bill. Ivan Illich and I might have to drop another post or two about it.

Anyhoo, to sum up, the existence of god and the need for government are not “just facts” because somebody really, really, REALLY believes they are and wants them to be. God and government are both frauds intended to bully the weak and indoctrinated for the benefit of folks who a) would rather get paid for pretending to solve problems with imaginary solutions than exchange value for value in the real world (or would rather receive huge amounts of money from those people in exchange for patronage) and b) don’t give a shit about shafting other human beings (I’d put this group around 80%), or are honestly so broken that they really think the fantasy to be real (probably mostly on the religious side, but that’s just a guess).

  1. [1] I know Amanda in real life and she is a fantastic human being. I end up responding to a fair amount of what she posts because I try to read everything she writes. I agree with her 100% on all things patriarchal, on everything to do with women’s health, republicans, justice, sex, god(s), the police state, and most things food, drink, music and culture related. Her political writing is instructive because she fully inhabits and owns the role of the unflinching political apologist. She expresses the viewpoint of the very last folks (on the left anyway) trying to keep belief in “the system” alive. I think that position is quietly clung to by a large number of smart and well meaning people. It’s also a fairly flimsy position, and it’sthe last refuge before giving up on violence and allowing oneself to imagine and participate in alternatives. This is why I respond to it, directly or indirectly, somewhat frequently. That said, I can’t recommend her website enough. Skip the political articles if you need to, the rest is gold.

Trust and Obey

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

- Classic Creepy Hymn

For a number of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about my history with religion. I’m perceived as being hostile to (most specifically) Christianity and even accused of “hating” it. I honestly don’t feel like I hate Christianity–I’m not even sure what that means–but I wanted to think through the possibility and explain my opposition to religion and why it is often so fierce.

Most atheists’[1] primary objection to religion is that it’s not true. Believers are like our primitive ancestors who think the earth is flat. The atheist can’t understand why, when faced with very clear, logical, and conclusive[2] arguments against the existence of whatever god(s) are in question, believers refuse to modify their position or admit its obvious absurdity.

The argument is about what is factually correct, and most of the “wrongness” of the religious is thought to be in their lack of understanding of reality. In this context, the argument against religion is like an argument about where the 1928 olympics were held[3] (well, ok, an argument taking place before search engines . . . and away from libraries). Somebody is right and somebody is wrong–or both might be wrong–but if everyone is convinced of their “facts,” then there’s no means by which to end the argument or make progress in any direction.

And of course this is annoying and, if the individuals in the discussion stake enough of their identity in their positions, it can even be infuriating for them. Nevertheless, it’s often enough chalked up to a difference of “opinion,” or a matter of faith, or a to-each-his-own scenario or whatever.

Religion has a much, much darker side however, which is it’s training in obedience in the face of things one is told one “can’t understand.”

This isn’t a trait of hardcore evangelical faiths (aka fundamentalism), but is a common thread throughout all varieties of religion. Religions are premised on the notion that the universe we perceive and can bring our senses and mind to bear on isn’t “real.” Beyond the senses, beyond matter and energy, there is a much greater, majestic, and eternal reality filled with spirits and, most importantly deities, that determine the fate of your eternal soul and are very interested in your choices and actions[4].
Conveniently, these Gods can’t simply tell you what you need to do. Unless you’re a Moses, Mohammad, Joseph Smith, or L. Ron Hubbard, you’re going to want the guidance of an expert–a priest, minister or other clergy. These people will help with the interpretation of religious texts at the very least and may even be in a direct chain of communication to God himself.

Baby praying--super creepy
Even though a cursory lay-persons reading of, for example, the New Testament reveals a pretty simple message–don’t hurt other people, help children, the poor, the sick and the old–the primary message of every religion is, as the song goes, Trust and Obey.

Children, obey your parents; women folk, obey your men folk; slaves, obey your masters; church members, obey the church; and everybody, obey the government[5]. Submit and obey. Obey and submit. You have been put on this earth under the supervision of various god-appointed authorities. They exist to interface with the mysteries and complexities that are beyond your comprehension and to deliver to you divinely prescribed commandments that you are to follow.

Of course, religion is not alone in this endeavor. The other authorities at the top of the previous paragraph reinforce each other. Parents tell their children to obey the church (priests, sunday school teachers) and the state (police, school teachers). The government legislates, public schools teach and elected leaders constantly harp on the need for obedience to spiritual leaders and parents (or adults more generally).

Religion adds the mystery and ritual, however, and goes beyond right and wrong, legal and illegal to a special dispensation on what is transcendentally good and evil.

These two things–1. casting doubt on the biological means of comprehending the material world (senses and reason)[6] and 2. elevating blind obedience, faith and submission to authority into the highest realms of virtue–move religion from the category of factually-and-infuriatingly-wrong to that of fundamentally-destructive-of-human-well-being.

There’s much more to say, and it’s likely that my real-life conversations about religion will inspire future posts, but I’m going to wrap this post up and leave you with the dirge that inspired this post. Warning! If you know this song, think carefully about re-subjecting yourself to it–it can stay in your head for days.

  1. [1] For the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to all manner of non-believers as atheists
  2. [2] At least, as conclusive as any argument against the existence of anything can be.
  3. [3] I tried to think of a better example: evolution, global warming, geology, but most break down along religious lines.
  4. [4] One could argue that the “personal deity” is more a description of western, abrahamic religions, but even easterners seem to receive directions to kill based on religious differences, so I’m going to cast my net widely
  5. [5] On very rare occasions these things can be in conflict, but after a brief, usually violent, sorting-out they tend to self-correct and harmonize.
  6. [6] I may follow up about this, but a really good analogy can be found in this Stephan Molyneux podcast.

Takedown of an Anarcho-Misogynist: Religion

Here’s the introduction to this series. I followed up with a post on marriage, monogamy and violence and another on abortion. The time has come to dismantle Jay Batman’s spectacularly indefensible argument that women control religious institutions. Don’t laugh–okay you can laugh. Here’s what he says:

Consider the following from the article The Feminization of Christianity by Leon Podles, which finds church membership ratios overwhelming dominated by women: Roman Catholics, 1.09 to one; Lutherans, 1.04-1.23 to one; Mennonites, 1.44-1.16 to one; Friends, 1.40 to one; Methodists, 1.33-1.47 to one; Baptists, 1.35 to one; Assembly of God, 1.71 to one; Pentecostals, 1.71-2.09 to one; and Christian Scientists, 3.19 to one. Podles notes that when men do attend church, it is usually only because they are pressured into doing so by women.

Ah, so the members of the world’s religions–at least the western ones–are mostly females. They’ve used their dominant position in the church to take leadership positions and direct the police and military apparatus to enforce their will on manly men. Led by the heads of the catholic church Pope Clementine VII (successor of long-time Pope Johanna Pauline II) they . . . what’s that you say? All the Popes are male? All the clergy are male? The leaders and priest class of virtually every world religion are all males? And no army? No police? Well how do they force men to marry and inseminate women?

To be fair Jay and Podles do cover the clergy:

Podles goes on to critique the clergy, and what he notes is informative: “Because Christianity is now seen as a part of the sphere of life proper to women rather than to men, it sometimes attracts men whose own masculinity is somewhat doubtful. By this I do not mean homosexuals, although a certain type of homosexual is included. Rather, religion is seen as a safe field, a refuge from the challenges of life, and therefore attracts men who are fearful of making the break with the secure world of childhood dominated by women.

Lewis M. Terman and Catherine Cox Miles measured masculinity among men involved in religion, and their findings were even more striking: “Most masculine of all are still the men who have little or no interest in religion. Very masculine men showed little interest in religion, very feminine men great interest. Women who have highly feminine scores were also especially religious, while women who had more masculine scores were neutral or adverse to religion. The difference was clearly not physical sex, but attitude, or gender, as the term is now used.”

Let’s try to decode this. People of all genders with masculine traits tend not to be religious. Let’s assume Podles is also a misogynist. I wonder what he considers masculine traits . . . I’ll bet independently minded is on the list. Free thinking, willing to challenge authority, probably strong willed make the roll. Proud, self-interested, assertive–I think we’ve got a good picture here.

What do these things have in common . . . hmmmm. Well, for one thing, they’ll get a slave killed. Sure as shit if you can be legitimately aggressed against by a physical superior with the law on his side, you will radically shorten your life–or at least make it alot less bearable–by exhibiting Podles’ masculine traits.

Oh, something else in common, they are anti-virtues in almost all world religions. Some of them are even deadly sins! In religious “teachings,” the virtues are humility, obedience, submission, forgiveness, and an annihilation of free thinking, reason and evidence in favor of faith in that which cannot be demonstrated.

I’m not a expert in things Nietzsche–I need spell check to get his name right–but he seemed to have pretty much nailed the purpose of religion, which is to create virtues out of being small, passive and doormat-like–the survival strategies for people who are owned. It really reduces the incidents of rebellion and escape when you are not only physically dominated, but also convinced that submitting to domination is “the right thing to do.”

We live in a society based on violence, domination and physical superiority–that’s a basic analysis of anarchism. Religion provides shelter, validation and comfort (of a sort) to people who are physically and socially dominated. It also provides a very inexpensive and historically reliable method of control for people who own or control the people who go to church. Again, this isn’t a strange, new or radical claim, it’s sort of an axiom of revolutionary thought. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t stand scrutiny, but pointing out that churches are attended by women and staffed by “non-masculine” men sort of reinforces the argument.

The Bikecast Episode #12: Genital Mutilation and the Supreme Court

Alright, it’s actually two separate topics loosely related by religion. I’m still having some word clippage issues, but I think everything is comprehensible. I typically don’t notice the clipping until I’ve already put in too many edits to undo them back to the clip. Sorry if they’re annoying.

Download this episode of the bikecast

The medical profession now has mutilation methodologies for both boys and girls! This flared up a couple days ago and had so many tempting approaches to it, I thought I’d give it a go. The story goes like this: the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report saying that doctors should offer a “ritual nicking” of girls genitals to prevent child-mutilating parents from going elsewhere for what would be more extensive hacking of the genital area. One the one side is the anti-immigrant, we-shouldn’t-accomodate-ferners anger. On the other is the utilitarian argument that this is reducing the harm done to girls by satisfying their lunatic parents. On the other other side is the anti-religion at all costs, don’t accommodate godbaggery and the accompanying misogyny, posotion. And lastly the other other other side which opposes “back-sliding” towards an accommodation when progress is being made towards eliminating the practice altogether.

I am sympathetic to all the arguments–well, except the ban-the-foreigners argument. By coincidence, not principle, I made this podcast before doing any reading of people’s opinions. It turns out, I hit many of the same points that as some of them (betcha can’t guess who!). Only Amanda, that I saw, drew the obvious parallel between this ritual and circumcision. The women’s rights piece even chides her mildly for equating the two, which boggles my mind.

I wish fervently that doctors would refuse to do these and explain why: the practice of medicine has nothing to do with stone age cults and their infant mutilating rituals. Doctors who perform unnecessary surgery without the consent of the patient are, I imagine, committing medical malpractice. I’m not sure what restitution would be owed by the doctor who drugged and circumcised an adult male. Whatever it is, is owed by all doctors who perform circumcision to all patients who wish to seek redress.

This strikes me as a classic example of shit-that-will-sort-itself-out. Banning this or fining that won’t do anything except increase the value of gaining political power for the lunatic mutilators. Demand just compensation for victims and encourage victims to flee their victimizers and demand restitution. Over time, doctors performing mutilation will be put out of business, doctors performing harmless rituals will not*. Parents teaching their children hateful misogynist fairly tales will be shunned, while parents who teach their children to think rationally will not. While slow and painful, this is the only way that lasting change is made.

The most valuable insight to draw from this story is the degree to which religion permeates everything around us, even modern medicine can’t free itself from these 5,000 year old lunacies.

Nor can the Supreme Court. I heard on the morning news that, should the new nominee be confirmed, there will be a protestant-free court! Hooray! Oh wait, it will be 3 Jews and 6 Catholics. The nine people who are the ultimate arbiters of fact in the land all believe in invisible, all-powerful deities. Great.

*and doctors who refuse to do even that can count on my and other atheists patronage, I’m sure.

godbaggery,religion,lunatics,genital mutilation,supreme court

The Bikecast Episode #5a: State Destruction of Social Organization

My latest ramble, starting on, 4/20 spilled over into two other bikecasts. In the first, I’m attempting to stake out a pattern I’ve been noticing alot lately: reliance on the state is back-firing in numerous ways.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Show notes Episode 5a:
Here are the stories behind my brief “today’s headlines” segment:
More raping catholics. This guy is a real gem:
More thieving liars from the financial sector (I’m not actually sure this is the story that inspired the comment, but close enough):

In Texas, California, and probably 48 other states, money is tight. Everywhere, programs are being defunded and are in danger of vanishing altogether. The people that depend on these services are/will be left in truly dire straights. Yet constant pressure exists for the various levels of government to move additional services out of the community and into the public sector.

When such a move happens, the organic institutions involved with the service vanish and dependence on the state becomes, over time, complete. When the state becomes incapable of continuing the delivery of the service, as we will see increasingly as the economy continues its collapse, the remnant institutions of civil, voluntary society will be hard pressed to resume their previous roles.

Organic societal structures, due to their voluntary nature and respect for the wishes of the people involved, take time and trust to develop and thrive. This gives them tremendous strength and resilience. When they atrophy or are actively dismantled, it takes time for them to develop again.

Parallel to this concern is the nature of state prohibition/permission. Here, the issue is the drain of time and resources involved in moving a political agenda in a given direction. “Winning” a political battle means that the resources of the advocate group will be entirely expended protecting against political reversal. Even then, the decision can always be overturned, returning the advocates to their previous state without the advantages of the voluntary structures that had aided them.

As an example, I talk about a fictionalized* version of the temperance movement. The social issue they sought to impact was alcoholism and the attending blights of spousal and child abuse and abandonment. For many decades, this various components considered part of this movement preached sobriety, made sobriety a pre-condition for mutual aid membership, lobbied schools to include alcohol awareness in the curriculum, and even physically protested the activities of bars by “entering saloons, singing, praying, and urging saloon keepers to stop selling alcohol.”

At some point, various groups began to depart from civil means of dissuading people from drinking and switched instead to the force of law. This activity culminated in the 18th amendment. We know now, of course, that all the millions of hours of lobbying, rallying, begging and pleading for this amendment was undone less than 15 years later.

Imagine if all those resources had been directed at getting to the root of alcoholism, alleviating the conditions that give rise to it and spreading the practice of rewarding sobriety in friendly societies, mutual aid organizations, trade unions other voluntary, community accountable organizations.

Of course, during the 100 years leading to prohibition, people had a very primitive understanding of the mind and the components of and influences upon human nature. It was a far easier task to rally support for the violent smashing of people and businesses trading in booze than it was to seek to understand the behavioral and societal factors involved in creating an alcoholic. Current efforts by whole hosts of advocates for or against this and that demonstrate that people’s understanding remains primitive. Although the science is there and well established to recommend a non-violent course, it remains simplest to advocate force as a means of solving social problems.

Besides the opportunity costs, there are also the side effects of using violence. The most obvious of these is the spawning of more violence in the form of modern crime syndicates. In addition, the victims of the outlawed substance are treated as less than human and become frequent victims of state violence. Federal enforcement techniques such as additon of poison to  commercial ethanol killed around 10,000 people by prohibition’s end.

*I realize my example has more than a few holes in it. For example: it’s not like there aren’t people running around preaching sobriety, maybe more now than ever–I’m not a meticulous fact checker, it ain’t that kind of bikecast. My point is that the resources interested in controlling the public ills related to alcoholism were strong enough to manage a constitutional amendment–I can’t even imagine what topic would garner that kind of support now. It could have been turned to a million different compassionate, human respecting means of providing help and care for alcoholics and their victims.


Reason vs. Faith

As further evidence of my unresolved psychological issues, I’ve occasionally have conversations with theists.  A classic dynamic that I find myself in during these conversations is the faith vs. evidence/discernment–I think most skeptics are familiar with the phenomenon.

First, the theist will claim that their belief is just a reasonable following of the facts.  After the evidence examined, found lacking, and dispensed with, the theist claims that their beliefs are faith based and founded on subjective experience–hard to argue with that!
Today I was talking to an ex-catholic who had been challenged in his teens to reconcile the bible with the tenets of the catholic religion.  He decided to read the bible in order to refute the challenger, but found instead that the man had, in fact, been correct.  He was upset that more self-identified Christians didn’t take time to apply reason to their beliefs and discern god’s intent for their lives.
I pointed out the irresolvable problem he faces: if a person examines the evidence and applies reason to religious beliefs, she will become an atheist.  The most basic filters that we humans use to strain out nonsense-that-cannot-possibly-be-true immediately get rid of all religious claims.  Only indoctrination of the young and the threat of ostracism and/or physical harm keeps these relics of humanity’s psychotic past alive.

Arbitrary Moral Codes

In a conversation I had recently with a friend who is a Christian, he shared with me that he’s raising his children to respect their parents because that is the commandment of their God.

“What if they grow up and stop believing in that God?”  I asked.

This demonstrates a terrible flaw in externalizing morality.  If the fictional nature of the entity enforcing a moral code is understood, the former believer is left in a moral vacuum–some form of nihilism typically follows.

A personal morality, generated by reason from first principles, doesn’t share this flaw.  Why is it, then, that parents don’t teach children to use reason and evidence to build their own moral code?  Part of the reason is that “respect your parents” isn’t included in such a code.

If you want to guarantee a lifetime of respect from your children, you need to act in such a way that their natural, inborn tendency will be to respect you.  A good way to risk that respect is by making it a part of an arbitrary moral code.  A great way to lose that respect is to verbally or physically punish a child in the name of said arbitrary moral code.