Plato’s weekend suggestions

readingsOur regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

How does ignorance spread? Welcome to the field of agnotology.

Reading is good, right? Well, not always. Some books can sap your soul and infect you with bad thoughts.

The history of magical thinking and its relationship to science.

The four-dimensional human: 3D + social networking.

The horrible confusion between two Wheaton Colleges: academic freedom, religious freedom, and the age of spewing hate.

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47 thoughts on “Plato’s weekend suggestions

  1. “but then in return New Atheists are among the most derided and disparaged groups around (not only from the religious, but also from the “I’m an atheist, but …” crowd).”

    Perhaps the other interpretation is that they are among the most glass-jawed groups around.

    Some of the criticism they complain of seems, to me, to be rather mild. I think there us a “If you dish it out” principle at work here too. If you want to tweet, for example, that Peter Carey (who is, as far as I know, a gentle and principled person) an appeaser of murderers, then to complain of anything that is said of you is deeply hypocritical.

    I know people who count it a quiet day that they only get a few death or rape threats through twitter, but who are rigorously courteous themselves.

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  2. Hi Robin,

    If you want to tweet, for example, that Peter Carey (who is, as far as I know, a gentle and principled person) an appeaser of murderers, …

    The murderers in question wanted Charlie Hebdo not to draw pictures of Mohammed.

    Appeasement: (OED): “Pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands”

    Peter Carey (with others) criticised Charlie Hebdo and said they should not be drawing such things, and refused to support an award to Charlie Hebdo questioning whether it was even a freedom-of-speech issue.

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  3. What I meant, when I said that we should accept that we are and were humans, is that we should not imagine that there was a golden age where people were civil and that men did not make rape threats against women or that politicians did not engage in partisan bickering, or that people remained courteous to other road users at all times.

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  4. Here are the equivocations:

    In the first place, the concern of those people he is talking about was not for the murderers or the extremists. Obviously. It was for the everyday Muslims who are often marginalised or disadvantaged.

    Secondly, it is not “acceding to a demand” to express an opinion which you would have expressed in any case, whether or not there had been a demand.

    It is not appeasement to express an opinion which you would have expressed in any case whether or not there had been those who have allegedly been appeased.

    Thirdly, does anyone think that the author of the Wheaton College article is against free speech? Of course he is not.

    There is no inconsistency at all between saying that people should not say certain things or say things in a certain way and saying that they completely support their right to say them in whatever way they want.

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  5. There are at least three options if one doesn’t like both the tone and the conclusion of an argument:
    1) ignore the argument.
    2) ignore the tone and reply to the argument, but act as if the arguer were civil.
    3) reply in kind.

    I can say I have engaged in all three, who am I to judge?

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  6. New Atheists are among the most derided and disparaged groups around (not only from the religious, but also from the “I’m an atheist, but …” crowd).

    The vitriolic speech practised by New Atheism does not attract admirers. It is extravagantly tribal behaviour designed to incite and consolidate the tribe of New Atheists. But at what cost? The religious, like myself, listen, learn, sharpen our arguments and redouble our efforts to do good and live devout lives. So we thank you for the stimulus.

    The general public, who have an innate sense of fairness, find their opinion of New Atheism tinged with disdain. Your behaviour attracts the rabble rousing minority and this sets in concrete a rabble rousing culture which you cannot escape. And a rabble rousing organisation will always be a minority movement regarded with disdain by the general, more moderate and fair minded minded public.

    We, the religious, look on with astonishment as New Atheism shoots itself in the foot, simultaneously, with both barrels of a double bore 12 gauge shotgun, while the recouil breaks its teeth. That takes skill.

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  7. satirical cartoons, of a cutting and scathing nature,…holding influential ideas and influential people to account.

    Not so fast. Cartoons are first and foremost entertainment that depend on the conjunction between an element of truth and the element of absurdity to induce surprise and laughter. It is a thin slice of distorted reality, rather like the distorting playground mirrors.

    It is when cartoonists move on from entertainment to serious political commentary that all the mistakes happen., Serious political commentary deserves a serious insightful political commentator who knows his stuff.

    Humour brings a light hearted touch to life that we all need. Humour opens us to seeing things in a new way and this is immensely valuable. The danger of criticism is that it provokes affective partisan polarisation. Cleverly done humour disables the provocation.

    The enemy of humour is prejudice and Charlie Hebdo crossed that line by appealing to prejudice, ceasing to be humorous. The appeal to prejudice does not open new insights, as humour does, it merely consolidates old biases and this is the great crime committed by Charlie Hebdo.

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  8. And to state the obvious, unwise speech is still free speech, stupid speech is still free speech and vindictive speech is still free speech. Opposing the unwise, stupid and vindictive is not to oppose free speech and conversely, brandishing the flag of free speech does nothing to justify the unwise, stupid or vindictive.

    And finally, context matters and indeed context is usually vital. In the Wheaton College matter context is missing. What was the history of this professor’s employment and conduct? There is always a history and often when that history is revealed the matter is seen in a very different light.

    Again and again I have seen that journalism shortchanges us on the context. Is this such a case?

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  9. I have friends who know the French language and culture better than I and who assure me that Charlie Hebdo is and was not prejudiced in the way people said it was.

    I would have to accept their judgement on that. Still, it seems to me that a cartoon of Muslim women praying with bared backsides to a Kabah depicted as a brothel Madam is intended to needle and humiliate ordinary Muslims.

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  10. Hi Robin,

    The appeasement is this:

    Muslims: (1) there is an Islamic rule that says we should not depict Mohammed. Part of the reason for this is to place Mohammed and his teachings beyond criticism, beyond human questioning. Islam is about submitting to the religion, not about questioning it.

    Muslims: (2) Obviously, the prohibition will work better if everyone else also abides by it. Therefore we would like non-Muslims also to submit themselves to this Islamic rule.

    Peter Carey: OK then, in that case we should submit ourselves to your rule.

    By any normal standard the Mohammed cartoons are innocuous. By “normal standard” I mean the sort of cartoon in major UK newspapers every day, aimed at the government, the opposition, and just about anyone else influential and in the news.

    If is not the case that Mohammed cartoons are particularly nasty or particularly vicious — they are actually fairly mild. The only “issue” is that they are not in accord with an Islamic rule.

    [As an aside, the Danish & Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons are *vastly* less nasty than the typical anti-Jewish and anti-Israel cartoons that are *routine* in the Islamic world. So don’t try kidding yourself that Muslims oppose satirical cartoons in general.]

    I will quote Salman Rushdie, who called Carey et al “dangerously wrong” and tweeted:

    “Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character”

    He followed this with:

    ““It is quite right that PEN should honour [Charlie Hebdo’s] sacrifice and condemn their murder without these disgusting ‘buts’. […] This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non Muslims, into a cowed silence. … These six writers have made themselves the fellow travellers of that project.”

    Lastly, one group often gets overlooked in the anti-Charlie complaints. They are the ones in the Islamic community who want to reform Islam and make it more open and tolerant. They are the ex-Muslims or the ones who would like to be ex-Muslims. They are the atheists in Islamic communities.

    These people *want* to be able to openly criticise Islam and to openly reject Islamic rules. They would like, for example, not to wear a head scarf, but often fear doing so. They would like to declare themselves atheists but fear doing so. How are they supposed to speak up and challenge the totalitarian aspects of Islam if people like Peter Carey says we should meekly submit to Islamic requests?

    Sorry, Peter Carey was appeasing murderers. I enjoyed his book on the Kelly Gang, but he is wrong on this. #JeSuisCharlie

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  11. Morning labnut,

    Thank you for illustrating my point with your denunciation of the New Atheists!

    We, the religious, look on with astonishment as New Atheism shoots itself in the foot, simultaneously, with both barrels of a double bore 12 gauge shotgun, while the recouil breaks its teeth.

    In the countries where New Atheists are most active, the UK and the US, the indicators on numbers of non-religious people are steadily climbing. If that’s “shooting ourselves in the foot” then lots more of the same please!

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  12. Thank you for illustrating my point with your denunciation of the New Atheists!

    Happy to be of service; now, my dear sir, reload the shotgun and attend to the other foot.

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  13. Hi labnut,

    now, my dear sir, reload the shotgun and attend to the other foot.

    Certainly will! Anyhow, of tangential relevance, it’s amazing the extent to which Dawkins now promotes instant reactions such that the very name seems to have become click bait.

    This article exemplifies that quite remarkably! Headlined:

    This is how science lost God: Atheism, evolution and the long road to Richard Dawkins’ latest Twitter controversy.

    Then read the article and try to figure out the connection with Dawkins and twitter!

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