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I studied anthropology in college. At the particular university I attended, this entailed a certain amount of time spent hanging around the anthro lounge with other students. There was a grassy corner outside the building housing said lounge where a curious family would occasionally take up temporary residence to harangue the students passing by. They had a large (about 15’ tall) wooden cross they would hold (usually the father) and they would scream at the passerby about their likelihood of burning in Hell for all eternity. Apparently, this family thought attending university was some form of especially grievous sin. Beside the father, the family consisted of a mother and a small boy, probably around 8 years old at the time.
One day, I sat in the lounge while this family stood at their posts screaming invectives. Dickie, a grad student, entered the lounge and flopped angrily into a chair. I looked up and noted that he was visibly upset.
“What’s up?” I queried.
“I just feel for that little boy,” came the response. “I just want to go out and tell him that there’s another way.”
My reaction to this statement was to question Dickie about a few things. Specifically, why he thought he had the right to tell anyone else how to raise their children, what he thought entitled him to pass judgment on someone else’s beliefs, and whether he liked the idea of someone else telling Dickie how to raise his own children. I didn’t do it very nicely.
I got to thinking about that family today as I was reading yet another article about China/Google. I was thinking about them because the elephant in the room reminded me of them.
You see, in all the discussion about this scenario, I have read reams of opinions about human rights (which I’ll get to later), but I have read precious little about sovereignty. You know – something along the lines of: Who are we to tell China what to do? When companies from other countries do business here in the United States (even Chinese companies), we quite rightly expect them to play by our rules. If they fail to do things our way, we kick them out. This is right and proper and how it should be.
But not, apparently, when China does it. When we do it, we are a sovereign nation exercising its right to protect the interests of its people. When China does it, they’re an evil, tyrannical empire abusing its citizens.
To quote Brian Lewis: “God bless America. And no place else.”
Just one more damn thing I find tiresome about my country. Which should not be taken to mean I don’t love my country. I love my country, and I always have. I just hold it to a higher standard than most people.
Anyway, a large part of the Great American Idiocy is the unshakable belief that everyone else in the world wants what we have (which contains a kernel of truth, but not of the sort most people think). Americans inexplicably think that the rest of humanity would really love to have an American form of government, as well as a full set of American rights. This is inexplicable for a variety of reasons, the largest of which being that Americans don’t even want them themselves.
Don’t believe me? Are you actually under the impression that Americans are protective of their rights? If so, I have one question: Where the hell were you for the first eight years of this millennium? You know – that dark, cold period in American history when the Bush/Cheney empire routinely erased the rights of the American people, in response to which the majority of Americans stood up and cheered.
And our form of government? Please. In the first place, we do not have a democracy in this country, or even anything close to it. ‘Representative Republic’ is one of the phrases that often gets batted around in an attempt to describe what we have. Whatever you want to call it, what we do have in this country is the ability to vote. The actual weight our individual votes carry is an arguable point (and it varies, depending on what, exactly, we’re voting about), but in some fashion it boils down to the fact that we are freely given a real, active and meaningful voice in our government.
And yet, in the last election, only 58% of Americans who were eligible to vote actually did so. This means that 42% of the Americans who were eligible to vote chose not to participate in the process, despite the fact that it doesn’t cost them anything, is easy to do, and directly and immediately affects their lives.
So tell me – if our form of government is so damned wonderful, why do almost half of the eligible participants choose not to play? And please don’t try to tell me that all those Americans want our form of government, but just aren’t willing to ‘work’ for it. That’s just another way of saying they don’t want it. Besides, dropping by the polls for an hour (at most) once every couple of years is not exactly work (truth be told, there are only two things that the majority of Americans really do want. They want to be able to pick up a six-pack on their way home from work, and they want their cable to work when they get home. If these two things are in place, the average American doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything else). I just don’t understand why we insist on believing the rest of the world wants a piece of our so-called ‘democracy’ when such a large percentage of Americans don’t even want it. Seems like a bit of a stretch.
Which brings us to the subject of human rights. We here in the Land Of Silk And Money tend to believe that the government of China routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Personally, I believe this to be true, but not through any firsthand (or even secondhand) knowledge.
What’s unclear to me is why we’re bringing internet censorship into the whole human rights discussion. This is not to say I am a proponent of internet censorship (or any other sort of censorship, for that matter). I’d like to think this is obvious. Censorship in any form is an infringement of the freedom of expression, something I consider to be a basic human right (within reason, of course. You know – the old saw about not yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. Possessing a right to speak freely does not automatically confer a license to use it recklessly. Nor does it absolve one from taking responsibility for things said). What I’m not getting here is why we’re all pretending that the Chinese government is the only government that actively censors the information its citizens receive. Or why we pretend that censorship only comes from ‘bad’ governments. All governments censor information – some are just more honest about it (for which they get sent over to sit on the Group ‘W’ bench).
We here in the United States tend to place freedom of expression into the ‘basic human right’ category, I think mainly because our freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and therefore we have more of it than most. What we forget is just how rare this is. The overwhelming majority of humanity does not enjoy this right, even many of the people we Americans kind of assume do have such a right – While article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights pertains to the freedom of expression, it contains the conditional: subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. In other words, everyone should have a right to free speech, but only insofar as their government wishes to allow (Neil Gaiman wrote a great piece on this a while back). It also should be noted that the European Convention on Human Rights is much like the United Nations – it has no muscles. It is only enforceable if a government chooses to flex its muscles on the Convention’s behalf.
I guess my point here is simply a repetition of one of the great litanies of my life: They are all bastards. I don’t really see how asking Google to abide by their rules makes Chinese bastards worse than all the other bastards.
I am a pretty smart guy. The tests that are usually used to measure these things tend to place me somewhere in the smartest 5% of humanity, depending on the particular test and what kind of day I’m having. I am also smart enough to know the flaws inherent in these tests and am very much aware that they are not always accurate (unless, of course, you just want to run comparisons of middle-class, white guys of European descent).
So let’s allow for the less-than-perfect nature of intelligence testing. Let’s say I’m considerably less intelligent than the tests are wont to place me. For the sake of argument, let’s say that I actually place just inside the smartest 20% of humanity.
This means that every time I initially encounter another human being, there is an 80% chance that they will be dumber than I am. Although even the most determined moron isn’t stupid all the time, I think if we took the time to crunch all the numbers (and allowing for the relative nature of stupidity), we would end up with something like a solid 20-25% chance that any time another human being opens their mouth in my presence, something stupid will come out of it.
By now you may be thinking that I am arrogant. While I feel arrogance is too strong a term, I am the first to admit I possess an ego the size of Louisiana. However, my ego has nothing to do with with my intellect. Rather, it is a result of my upbringing. My family took pains to see that I developed a strong self-image. They did not foresee the monster they would create.
My intelligence, to the contrary, tends more often to have a humbling effect.
The smartest human being I have ever met (and believe me, children – she’s really fucking smart) once explained it to me this way: The universe is an enormous place full of stuff we don’t know. Somewhere in that immensity, we live inside miniscule bubbles made up of our knowledge. When we learn new things, the size of our bubble expands, but the net result of this is that the surface area of our bubble (the interface where our knowledge meets our ignorance) increases. Therefore, expanding our knowledge exponentially increases our awareness of just how much we don’t know.
This is why those who posses truly superior intellects are usually not prideful about it. Real intelligence instills humility. Real intelligence knows that it has arrived where it is through a certain amount of luck and is thankful for it. And real intelligence knows what it is – it needs no validation. This is why most people who are truly intelligent view their intelligence as just another physical attribute, like being tall or having blue eyes.
And then there are those who just think they’re smart. Those who are, in fact, not smart at all, but they believe otherwise because some test or web site or TV show told them otherwise. To be fair, they probably clock in at the smarter end of mediocrity, but they don’t actually ever cross over into the realm of intelligence. And stupidity that thinks it’s smart is the most dangerous form of stupidity.
You know the type – there’s no humility in this crowd. They’re oblivious to the vastness of their ignorance, mainly because they never look up from the shiny baubles of their amassed ‘knowledge’. They actually believe that they ‘know’ things. They speak of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ that is ‘proven’ and ‘undeniable’ as if such things actually exist. And what really drives them crazy is when someone has the gall to question their so-called ‘knowledge’. This is when they leap to the attack, and their attack always takes the same form: they must prove you wrong. This is the only manner in which they can believe themselves to be right. The fastest – hell, the only – route to intellectual superiority lies in the ability to point to another human being and convincingly declare: You are wrong! It’s kind of sad, actually.
But here’s the thing that pisses off the genius wannabees the most: that it is unacceptable in our society to walk up to others and say “I’m really smart”. I mean, what’s the point of possessing a superior intellect if nobody notices? How will everyone else know they are inferior unless their betters point it out to them?
So the wannabees found themselves in a bit of a pickle. How can they show off their intellectual superiority without just coming out and saying it?
After applying their mediocre intellects to the matter, they eventually decided that the way to show off their brains was to be annoying. You know – needlessly correcting grammar. Obsessing on minute, meaningless detail. Memorizing acronyms and using the complete term instead. You’ve been exposed to the behavior. You’ve probably wanted to knee a groin over it.
Eventually, though, they managed to see through the fog of their mediocrity and noticed that all they were accomplishing was to piss everyone off. While they may have been exhibiting their superiority, the inferior masses were clearly not ‘getting it’. A new method was called for, and after much screaming and gnashing of teeth, one member of this ‘intelligentsia’ stood up and said “Um…what about this ‘God’ thing?”
After a brief fight, he managed to clear enough space around himself to offer an explanation: “I meant that we should profess ourselves as atheists. Everyone knows religion is for idiots. If we say we don’t believe in God, everyone will know we’re smart. And society allows us to go around saying we’re atheists.”
The rest – as they say – is history. Now the creme de la mediocre have adopted atheism as their own personal religion. And they cling to a few studies that support their primary idiocy, i.e., ‘smart people tend to be atheists’.
But what the mediocre minds really hate most is me. I show up and declare my atheism in complete (usually well-constructed) sentences, and they welcome me with open arms.
And then I go and ruin everything by explaining a few things to them. Like evolution is a belief, not a fact. Like unbelief is as much a matter of faith as belief. Like atheism is, in fact, a form of religion, as is science. And my personal favorite, the one they hate most:
The universe is a really big place. There’s enough room in it for more than one Truth.
The other night my wife and I watched the last episode of Glee (great fun. I highly recommend the show). The program takes place in a high school and, as such, much of the storyline revolves around the social aspects of that purgatory of the teen years. Halfway through the program, I realized something about my own high school experience:
I have no idea who the popular kids were. Additionally, I have no idea who the unpopular kids were. In a nutshell, I have no recollection of the social life in my high school of any kind.
I have my closest friends to thank for this. We all met while attending (or rather, while we were supposed to be attending) high school, and one of the things that first brought us all together was a shared disdain for pretty much anything society had to offer. Even at 16 years of age, we had realized that the status quo was not ‘quo’ (as Dr. Horrible so succinctly put it) and our collective response to it was to pretty much opt out. I really miss my teenage omniscience.
I bring all this up because my lack of experience with the high school social scene has left me ill-equipped to deal with vast portions of the internet. In case you haven’t noticed , much of the so-called ‘Social Web’ is simply a substitute for the popularity contest that was high school. With one important difference: The popular kids on the internet are usually the ones who were unpopular in high school. And they’re generally pretty angry about it.
Sometimes the popularity contest simply manifests itself as comparing numbers of ‘friends’ (a quaint euphemism for people you’ve never met). This is the kind of score-keeping you see at Facebook and Twitter. For the most part, it’s pretty harmless (especially at Twitter, where no one ever seems to care how many ‘friends’ you have. One of the reasons Twitter is the only corner of the ‘Social Web’ I regularly visit), pretty much just amounting to a method of keeping score.
Other times, though, the popularity contest results in gang-like behavior. This usually manifests in the comment sections of popular web sites, particularly those that are self-moderating. While crowd-sourcing can be a very good thing (see OpenStreetMap and/or Wikipedia), any time you put power into the hands of the mob, you run the risk that it will behave like – well – a mob (see Lord of the Flies). There is a very popular tech website that is a perfect example of this. I will refrain from mentioning it by name (suffice to say it can be referred to using only punctuation). This site used to be the source for most kinds of technical information, so when I was writing a post about Google Wave I paid the site a visit to see what the geeks were saying about it.
I was greatly disappointed to discover that the site has been largely taken over by juvenile idiots. Sadly, I left having learned nothing of value about Wave. (I have since learned that disagreeing with the ‘wisdom’ of the mob at this site gets you quickly relegated to the status of ‘Troll’. I proudly admit that I am currently considered a ‘Troll’, and I stop by every now and again to disagree with someone, thereby maintaining my ‘Trolldom’. I know – my own little bit of juvenile behavior.)
Some sites avoid this. One such is Lifehacker, a site I’ve been visiting for years. I’ve found it to be a good source of ideas and advice (you know – life ‘hacks’), but they also regularly point their readers to good sources of (usually free or cheap) software.
Which is what all this has been leading up to. The other day Lifehacker had a post about Windows Live Writer, which is part of the whole Windows Live suite. Based on that post, I decided to download Live Writer and give it a whirl, which I am doing at this very moment. And I have to say I’m quite pleased. I’ve always been a fan of WYSIWYG editors, and Live Writer really delivers on that score. It feels very much like writing directly to my blog. I could get used to this. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with WordPress’s built-in editor. Live Writer has a better interface, though, and just plain looks better.
And I was very pleased to see the fashion in which Live Writer was packaged. The installer offers a suite of applications, most of which Windows users will be familiar with. Apps like Messenger and Mail (neither of which I use, both of which I was happy to see as no longer being included in a standard Windows install). I was especially happy to see Windows Movie Maker, the unsung hero of Microsoft products. While it doesn’t pack a whole lot of punch (as video editing software goes), its lack of cost and ease of use make it one of the home movie enthusiast’s best friends.
I have to admit, though, that I would be using Live Writer even if it didn’t have a pleasing interface and was difficult to use. Why? Because it lets me easily do this:
Makes me a happy Map Dork indeed.
Update: Looks like I can do this with Google Maps, too:
Unfortunately, though, not with OpenStreetMap.
There’s this guy – let’s call him Steve. Steve is a believer, and what he believes in is Creationism. He has not arrived at this belief through any sort of evidence or proof, but rather he believes in Creationism simply because it makes sense to him. Within the boundaries of Steve’s worldview, Creationism is the only argument that is even remotely plausible. However, Steve is also an honest man. He freely admits that his belief in Creationism is his own personal belief, and that he has arrived at it without benefit of direct evidence of any sort. As a matter of fact, Steve will even admit that he believes this way because there isn’t, in fact, any direct evidence that supports Creationism. However, he will go on to point out that Creationism is a theory and – like most scientific theories – is very difficult to outright prove. So Steve (like most of us) is content to believe the way his personal logic dictates, and will accept evidence that appears to support his beliefs as proof enough (he’ll even go so far as to admit that sometimes he must avoid looking too closely at evidence that appears to contradict his beliefs).
Obviously, Steve is not the only Creationist in the world. He has many fellow believers, but the majority of them believe in a fashion dissimilar to Steve’s. Their worldview (unlike Steve’s) demands that there be proof of Creationism. Because their beliefs are subject to opposing beliefs, they must be unchallengeable. It is not enough to simply profess a belief in Creationism – belief is a fuzzy, imprecise and immeasurable thing. This will simply not do. Their beliefs must be precise, pure and unassailable. Faith is not enough – there must be proof. This is science, after all.
Unsurprisingly, these Soldiers of Truth do not take kindly to those in the opposing camp. Those who would dare to refute – or even question – the righteous veracity of Creationism are the worst sort of unfaithful, unbelieving and unconscionable fools. It is the utmost folly to question the truth behind any idea that is so clearly logical, reasonable and – above all – proven. However, while these Soldiers of Truth are righteous, they are also compassionate. Those who possess opposing points of view are not viewed as objects of rancor but rather as objects of pity. After all, it’s rather sad that they are too ignorant and unenlightened to see the truth that’s right before their noses.
Instead, their rancor is reserved for the likes of our friend Steve. You see, while Steve is, technically, one of their own, he’s not enough one of their own. It’s not enough that he believes in Creationism as sincerely as they do. Simply because Steve believes in Creationism in a fashion that differs from theirs makes him worse than the enemy. The fact that Steve believes in Creationism, but fails to believe in the same way they believe, makes him some sort of abomination. In their eyes, it’s just not possible for Steve to share their belief in Creationism because he does not share every aspect of that belief. There is only one road leading to the moral and logical high ground on which they stand, and there is simply no other route by which one can arrive there. And to pretend otherwise is the utmost conceit. “If you are not with us in every respect,” Steve is told, “Then you are not with us at all. And if you are not with us, you are against us.” So Steve often ends up being a target for his fellow Creationist’s aggression, usually because he repeatedly makes the mistake of wading into arguments on the subject.
Okay. Are we feeling properly pissed off at Creationists? Has Steve won our sympathies? Have we yet figured out that Steve’s story should be re-read, but this time replacing every instance of ‘Creationism’ with ‘evolution’? (Replacing ‘Steve’ with ‘Terry’ is optional.) Have we fastened our seat-belts and placed our trays in their upright position in preparation for today’s rant? Good.
I have just about had it with liberals. Don’t get me wrong – I am about left as they come – but I’m not talking about anything as secular as mere politics here. I’m talking about the kind of liberalism that borders on religion. The kind of left wing that believes it is, in fact, the Right Hand of God.
As you may have guessed, this post springs from a recent argument (two of them, actually). In both instances, I took the stance you can assume I took based on the story above. I do, indeed, believe in the theory of evolution. I am also aware that there is no direct evidence of evolution. You’d be amazed at the amount of liberal venom this stance attracts. Wave after wave of vitriolic attacks flew my way, despite the fact that the first statement I made was that I believe in the theory of evolution. But for most liberals (you know, the open-minded, accepting, understanding end of the spectrum) my belief sans proof is not enough. In fact, it’s blasphemy. By believing without proof, I am (to their way of thinking) invalidating their faith in the supposed ‘proof’ behind their belief in the theory. In other words, the fact that the object of our belief is exactly the same is insufficient. To these yahoos, my crime lays in that I do not share their method of belief.
For those of you keeping score at home, this is the stuff of which the Crusades and Inquisition were born.
And I am fed up with this crap. So let me set a few things straight. First off, there is no direct evidence of evolution. Let me repeat that, using overweight letters to show I really mean it: there is no direct evidence of evolution. Evolution is a theory and, in case you hadn’t noticed, the overwhelming majority of science is made up of theory. There is blessed little proof in science. Fact is also pretty scarce. And laws are just theories that enjoy widespread acceptance.
This is not to say that there is no evidence of evolution. There is plenty of it, actually. Conversely, there is a fair amount of evidence that contradicts evolution. To scientists, this is not a problem – it’s just the way of theory. But trust me, folks, there is no evidence that proves – irrefutably – that evolution occurs. If there was, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. One of the boneheads I was arguing with recently pointed to a dozen or so experiments (you know – the kind with fruit flies or earthworms or somesuch) that ‘prove’ evolution. Stands to reason – if it occurs with fruit flies and earthworms, it must occur in all species. I tried to explain that a few examples cannot prove a premise unless at least a few assumptions are made along the way. The response: “I provided concrete evidence of experiments and observations that support evolution”. Am I the only one who understands that ‘support’ and ‘prove’ are two different things? Why is it that all these pundits think that any evidence that supports their beliefs equates to proof?
I’ll tell you why. Because they turned to science looking for the same thing other people turn to religion for: certainty. Clarity. Because they are looking for the absolute in a world that can only offer relativity. Because they seek truth in a world that can only offer honesty. And for some inexplicable reason, they seem to think science can deliver this. But science is not – cannot be – this way. Science is relative, not absolute. It is honest, but not necessarily truthful. Truth and the absolute are the domain of gods, not science. This is by design. Science is the domain of humans. Therefore it will always be imperfect. If you need perfection, shrug off your liberal prejudices and go out and find a religion you can agree with. Seriously.
Due to my recent experiences with my fellow liberals (added to all the ones I’ve had throughout my life), I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to separate myself from the bulk of the ‘left wing’. I no longer feel that I can define myself in the fashion they want me to define myself, so I must respectfully decline membership in whatever it is they’re selling. Instead, I’m starting my own Left Wing (note the capitals) splinter group, A Latere Sinister.
The manifesto of A Latere Sinister will be posted at a later time. For the nonce, know that we are the reasoning branch of the left wing. We think before we speak, and we deliberate before we challenge. We are driven by our hearts first, our conscience second, and our brains third. Unlike the majority of our liberal brethren, we do not whine. We see whining as the pointless exercise it is. And while we are not a particularly militant branch, we will not hesitate to knee you in the groin if it becomes necessary. Applications are currently being accepted.