The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, February 12, 2010

I do not now, nor have I ever...

I get this "A Word A Day" email, and the one this morning was "obnubilate," which means to darken over or cloud. Good Lord. There's one I've never heard before...

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It cracks me up that I can say, honestly, that as a person of partially African heritage I have a vested interest in seeing Obama succeed. I can be that honest about myself. And when I say that, whites have no problem buying that blacks might cut him extra slack on those grounds. They have a far harder time agreeing that it would also stand to reason that whites might do exactly the opposite. To think otherwise is to take the position that one's own group is relatively free of tribalism, doesn't it? Which will, without many steps, lead to the rather awkward logical construction of "we're better because we don't think we're better." Human beings crack me up.

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BTW--I am not, and have not ever, made the claim that there are not logical and proper reasons to oppose Obama's policies. It is equally amusing how often people leap to that conclusion, regardless of how many times I specifically state that position. I suspect it's kinda like talking about black sex in movies: no matter how clearly I state that the problem is black men not having even PG love scenes with ANYONE, someone always assumes I mean that they aren't having it with white women. Which suggests to me that that is the actual fear on the part of white males.

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I want to enjoy "The Wolfman," I really do. But I've yet to see a CGI monster who frightened me. Even in Jurassic Park, where there WERE frightening sequences, looking back all of the most terrifying ones were actually Stan Winston's practical effects. I don't know for sure...but suspect that our hindbrains simply know when something isn't really there. That the actors know too...and that it is far easier to project fear when there is a physical object resembling the actual creature than when there is nothing...or a head on a stick...or a guy with ping-pong balls glued to his leotards for reference. We'll see, though.

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Watched "Zombieland" again, and still believe that it works about as well as "Shawn of the Dead," but with an American style of humor. I certainly found the end as touching, and the star cameo (if you don't know, I'm not gonna spoil it) was one of the funniest sequences of the year.

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It amuses me that people expect me to never take sides on something. There is no human being who doesn't take sides. Who doesn't make judgements. Who does not engage in dualistic thinking. The best we can do is understand that all such thinking locks us into the system, and grasp that we can never be totally free of it...to grant that we may be wrong, and have a sense of humor about it. The trick (or at least one trick) is to remember that our thoughts are not reality. Over on Ain't It Cool News, the talk-backs are filled with kids who make this mistake. If they don't like a movie, it is BAD. If they do like it, it is GOOD. The idea that this is just their opinion, and not some cosmic truth, rarely occurs to them. And political partisans make this mistake quite often. There are certain things that seem painfully obvious to me...but I always remember that I might be wrong. People much smarter than I have been wrong about things they were even more certain about.

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A classic example of this is philosophers trying to logically "prove" the existence of God. Excuse me, but I thought "faith" was all about grasping that there were things beyond logical thought. Watching some of the smartest human beings who ever lived tying themselves into horrid knots makes me think that they are trying to justify, with their adult minds, things they were given to believe in childhood and literally CANNOT reexamine without risking their lives, social positions, or unleashing a mountain of existential terror. The ego, after all, knows it is the camel that cannot pass through the eye of the needle. It is Moses, which cannot enter the Promised Land. What is true about us needs have no fear of eternity. What is transitory screams most loudly, anguished at the prospect of extinction. I sympathize, and am glad that there are comforting words and rituals.

And hey--it might be right. Right? The ego just might survive that final obnubilation after all.

43 comments:

Marty S said...

My personal attitude towards Obama is quite conflicted. I oppose a good many of his policies and don't want to see them successfully implemented. On the other hand I want him to be a successful President, because the country is much better off with a successful and respected President than one poorly regarded, as Bush was.

Anonymous said...

> And when I say that, whites have no problem buying that blacks might cut him extra slack on those grounds. They have a far harder time agreeing that it would also stand to reason that whites might do exactly the opposite.<

But does it stand to reason that they would do it to the same degree? Blacks, by the mere fact that they are a minority, are less powerful than the majority. If the first Black President messes up big time, and there is some sort of backlash (to whatever degree) against Blacks as a whole because of it, the average Black could be personally affected. By contrast Whites simply don't have to fear a backlash by Blacks if a White President messes up big time. It seems to me that from a pure power angle, the average Black has far more invested in the first Black President being successful then Whites have invested in yet another White President being successful.

Dan Moran said...

"Blue Cross has just announced that it's immediately raising premiums charged to hundreds of thousands of individual customers by as much as 39% — even though their parent company's profits soared to a record $4.7 billion last year."

One can only hope their customers are mostly Republicans. Some things are just too amusing to let pass without comment.

I'm retiring to Mexico, where they have decent medical care. I know that sounds like a joke to Americans, but it's only because Americans are provincials who don't understand how badly they're getting screwed.

~~~~~

A huge percentage of the conservative opposition to Obama is race based. Obama came into office with an approval rating among conservatives 30 points lower than what Clinton started with. That's skin color.

wraith808 said...

A huge percentage of the conservative opposition to Obama is race based. Obama came into office with an approval rating among conservatives 30 points lower than what Clinton started with. That's skin color.

Actually, I don't believe it all is. To a certain extent you might be right, but in this climate, any democratic president elected would have come into office with a lower approval rating than Clinton. It's because the two parties have never been more polarized in recent history IMO. Which is also one of the reasons that I positively hate the two-party system. Too easy to get into the us vs. them mentality when there are no other forces to face.

Dan Moran said...
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Dan Moran said...

They impeached Clinton. Obama, who they didn't know nearly as well, they hated worse on the merits? Maybe, but it doesn't seem the way to bet.

wraith808 said...

They impeached Clinton. Obama, who they didn't know nearly as well, they hated worse on the merits? Maybe, but it doesn't seem the way to bet.

You said Obama came into office with an approval rating 30 points lower than what Clinton started with. That was before impeachment and all of the other scandals. Or was that a mis-statement?

Dan Moran said...

I'm conflating there, you're correct. But aside from skin color, I really don't see a big difference between Obama and Clinton -- certainly not on policy, where they were both moderate Republicans. (There are no more moderate Republicans. But when there were, they looked like Clinton & Obama.)

wraith808 said...

"Conflating" - My word for the day. :)

And yes, I wonder sometimes where the moderates in both parties have gone. But that's a different discussion.

Pagan Topologist said...

I agree that Clinton and Obama are both best described as Moderate Republicans." A firend of mine who is a lifelong republican says Clinton was the best Republican President in decades. And, he supported Obama also.

Pagan Topologist said...

A few posts back, someone posted the suggestion that disasters disproportionately harm the poor. I cannot find the entry now, so I am responding again here. I mentioned the Concorde crash in Paris several years ago. Another exception is the mudslides in southern California which harm the well to do but not the homeless a few miles away in L. A.

I think that the fact that more poor people seem to be harmed by disasters is just a statistical consequence of the fact that there are a LOT more poor people to be harmed, so randomly distributed harm will harm more poor people than rich ones.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...
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Ethiopian_Infidel said...
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Ethiopian_Infidel said...

“I thought "faith" was all about grasping that there were things beyond logical thought.”

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris highlights this contradiction so ubiquitous among "people of faith". While enjoined to have faith in "things unseen", Christians and others are rarely satisfied doing so. Instead, they nearly always reach for "proof" in the form of supposedly fulfilled prophesies, miracles, physical evidence such as "relics", and "signs". And, as Steve said, the supposedly more intelligent among them spin elaborate Aquinas-type arguments so obtuse and vaporous that what little logic resides therein barely fills a pin's pixel.

“There is no human being who doesn't take sides.”

For the most part, professed impartiality is a croc. Darwin insightfully observed that all observations and evidence are made and gathered to either win or refute arguments. As with evolution, cognitive science vindicates Darwin, in its case by revealing that we don’t merely observe, but actively filter and distort raw perception to force the world to confirm our biases. Since few biases are stronger than tribal allegiance, I’d expect true indifference or opposition interests dictated by culture and blood to be rare indeed. No matter their degree of professed conservatism or radicalism or the extent of their claimed integration into the White-dominated mainstream, I think all American Blacks champion Obama in their true hearts.

wraith808 said...

True faith is a lot harder than professing to believe. True faith involves letting go of the rational to take without rational evidence that something is true, even in the face of something that may seem to indicate otherwise.

This does not mean checking your reasoning or logical thought at the door. It involves more of an understanding that you may not be able to understand everything, but that your belief shouldn't require you to- and shouldn't require that anyone else believe as you do.

It is a part of the human condition to want to be able to understand, that this part of the human psyche pulls against faith in the face of others disbelief- or your own insecurities.

I think it is just as unreasoned to attribute this to Christianity as to any religion- or even a lack thereof. The same sort of irrational action of thought and deed occurs across all of humanity, including so-called rationalists and those who profess to have belief in no higher power- why else do you have so many 'debunkers' other than that they are on a search also- one that their cynicism doesn't allow them to acknowledge.

At least, that's the way I view it, which is the reason that I look down on no one else's thoughts, and the reason that I can have perfectly rational conversations with people that don't believe the same as I do about my religion.

Commander Lock: Not everyone believes what you do Morpheus.
Morpheus: My beliefs do not require them to.

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Marty S said...

Some of us on this site will never agree with others of us. This is because we look at the same facts and we interpret them differently because we are wired differently. Most Thursday nights I play bridge with best and oldest friend as my partner. On average we do less well than we should given our skill levels. The reason for this is we are wired differently. He is engineer by inclination and training and plays the game like an engineer. I am a Statistician by inclination training and play the game that way. The two different modes don't work and play well together.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..why else do you have so many 'debunkers' other than that they are on a search also- one that their cynicism doesn't allow them to acknowledge.."

Most "debunkers" freely acknowledge their quest to unmask and demolish the ludicrous and often dangerous frauds perpetrated by sordid mystic and religious huskers. Further, this quest isn't born of cynicism, but of irritation at offensive garbage passing for fact, and a passion for opening eyes and minds to the beauties and authentic mysterious of REALITY. Debunkers are also anxious about the dangers posed by policymakers mistaking thoroughgoing lunacy for fact, about, as Sagan ruefully noted in his masterful debunking tomb The Demon-Haunted World, the political machinery being hijacked by charlatans.

"I look down on no one else's thoughts"

Like impartiality, crate blanche PC tolerance is a complete crock. Most will freely admit to political intolerance, to looking down on offensive ideologies like Nazism or Stalinism; yet the common hypocrisy grants a pass to religion and related private persuasions. For myself, I freely admit to feeling utter contempt for Creationism, Jihadism, Astrology, ritualized communal cannibalism..

wraith808 said...

I never said that I had carte blanche PC tolerance. I have no problems with the belief of ritualized communal cannibalism for instance. I have a problem with the practice of it. I have no problem with the belief of Nazism or Stalinism. But the practice- yes. There is a difference. Belief starts within- when that belief interacts with the world, that's when there's a problem.

wraith808 said...

Most "debunkers" freely acknowledge their quest to unmask and demolish the ludicrous and often dangerous frauds perpetrated by sordid mystic and religious huskers. Further, this quest isn't born of cynicism, but of irritation at offensive garbage passing for fact, and a passion for opening eyes and minds to the beauties and authentic mysterious of REALITY.

Don't those directly contradict each other? Mystery and complete and utter certainty that because I don't know, it doesn't exist? There are frauds out there- but to say that *all* is a fraud unless it fits into your narrow worldview is rather hidebound and the exact opposite of the quest that they profess to be on. That's the part that I say that they deny.

Lorenzo said...

I suspect that Obama is the first African-American President might be a bigger deal to African-Americans than to white Americans. Particularly as African-Americans seem to vote in a more solidly race-based way than white Americans do.

As to support among conservatives being lower for Obama than for Clinton when they took office, Obama was painted as much more liberal (in that weird US sense) than Clinton had been in conservative circles. Obama was, after all, one of the most liberal-voting Senators while Clinton was a Southern governor. So I do not think you can class it all as skin colour.

The last NE liberal to be president (and the last serving Senator to elected President) was JFK (tax-cutting cold warrior), who was the first Catholic president. Perhaps that is how NE liberals/serving Senators can get to be Prez nowadays: be a big first.

As for his politics, Obama strikes me as a fairly conventional Chicago corporatist who happens to be black.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..to say that *all* is a fraud unless it fits into your narrow worldview.."

I'd never say this. Much exists that remains unknown and will in time profoundly alter the species' collective map of reality. However, the substantial body of firmly established FACT categorically falsifies some claims and perforce renders these and their advocates frauds. Creationism is a fraud; Astrology is a fraud; Nazism is a fraud; perpetual motion is a fraud. Period.

" I have no problem with the belief of Nazism or Stalinism. But the practice- yes."

Beliefs aren't idle inner fancies. Beliefs are interpretations of reality that serve as springboards to action. What we do follows directly and inseparably from our sincere beliefs. If the dementia of Hitler or Stalin constitutes your perceived reality, you will of necessity ENACT Nazism and Stalinism. Ditto for all beliefs, opinions and world-views, be they sane, bogus or monstrous. Beliefs are inseparable from the actions they inspire and deserve the self-same respect or contempt.

wraith808 said...

"...Creationism is a fraud..."

Concrete proof that it is a fraud doesn't exist to my knowledge. What evidence can you provide of something that gives concrete evidence that Creationism is a fraud?

What we do follows directly and inseparably from our sincere beliefs.

Please. If you can't believe something and not act upon it, then you are in dire need of psychological assistance. All actions are from choice- those choices can be prompted by our beliefs, but that they have to be is fallacy, and the same thing that apologists use to divorce a person's actions from his responsibilities. Actions come from choice, plain and simple, and are divorced from your beliefs by that. A lot of people profess to believe, but then when action comes do not adhere to that.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"Concrete proof that it is a fraud doesn't exist to my knowledge"

Try the fossil record, the genetic record, comparative anatomy, ethnology, embryology.. Richard Dawkins put it best in The Selfish Gene: "Evolution via Natural Selection is a FACT as firmly established as the rotation of Earth about its Sun".

"A lot of people profess to believe.."

That's why I stressed SINCERE BELIEFS. Legions express adherence to religions or ideologies that mandate specific behaviors, yet harbor doubts that reveal themselves in their unwillingness to ACT as their professed beliefs dictate. Indeed, to paraphrase Thomas Paine far less eloquently, the deceit and self-betrayal required for sane people to maintain the pretense of devoutness constitutes religion's most pervasive and insidious evil. If you truly believe your views are RIGHT, you will ACT as they mandate. If not, you don't truly believe such and are fooling yourself.

wraith808 said...

Try the fossil record, the genetic record, comparative anatomy, ethnology, embryology.. Richard Dawkins put it best in The Selfish Gene: "Evolution via Natural Selection is a FACT as firmly established as the rotation of Earth about its Sun".

And the conclusions wrought by such studies are as open to interpretation as the bible itself. Creationism doesn't state that life is static, only that it was created.

If you truly believe your views are RIGHT, you will ACT as they mandate. If not, you don't truly believe such and are fooling yourself.

Doesn't wash. Some people truly believe, but such beliefs don't lead to actions- and not just in religion, but in everyday life. Belief is not inexorably tied to action. It can be, but there is still choice involved, and such choice does not negate belief, it just indicates that humans are not robots and are indeed free moral agents.

But I think that on these two points, we've come to the point that we'll have to agree to disagree. Unless you have empirical evidence- on which these two subjects there doesn't exist any- at least as far as I know.

Shady_Grady said...

Biblical creationism has a foundational tenet that God created the earth in six days, roughly 6000 years ago.

All sorts of scientific evidence indicates that that's an untrue statement. And creationists do make all sorts of claims about evolution, which are equally false.

wraith808 said...

Biblical creationism has a foundational tenet that God created the earth in six days, roughly 6000 years ago.

But he didn't say one specific form of Creationism, but Creationism in general, which only has this basic tenet: "Creationism is the religious belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe were created in some form by a supernatural being or beings."

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"..we've come to the point that we'll have to agree to disagree."

Indeed. The relation of idea to action is a vigorously researched and debated topic in neuroscience and psychology. However, the FACT OF evolution as the agent responsible for life's origin and elaboration is established beyond rational dispute.

"And the conclusions wrought by such studies are as open to interpretation as the bible itself."

Comparing the corpus of scientific fact with a work of fiction that whose claims have been demolished and which essentially says the world was created by magic is erroneous and doesn't wash. Further, while some facets of our evolutionary heritage are hotly debated (ex: the stimulus for bipedalism), the essentials are well established. Humanity developed from chimp-like ancestors whose hominid descendants acquired bipedalism and larger brains. FACT. Humans and all other mammals developed from Synapsids (mammal-like reptiles). FACT. And so on. Further, the nature of the evolutionary process, haphazard improvisation to survive random environmental changes, is the exact opposite of "creation". Ricard Dawkins discusses this incompatibility at length in Climbing Mount Improbable and his other works, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

If I've bored anyone with my long-winded, protracted diatribe, I apologize. However, I consider Creationism and the attempt by its proponents to destroy science education insidious. Rationalists can't leave this battle to the Dawkinses alone. To paraphrase Henry Cele's Shaka Zulu sound on military strategy: "Never leave a Creationist behind".

wraith808 said...

However, the FACT OF evolution as the agent responsible for life's origin and elaboration is established beyond rational dispute.

Ah, but the beginning of true wisdom is the recognition that what we know is only the smallest fraction of this universe in which we live. To say that something is established beyond rational dispute is the ultimate hubris of human pride in his own achievement. At some point, there was creation- and the agent to that creation could very well have been a being, and to dismiss those that believe that is to close yourself off to any progress along a path that would have any chance to open your eyes to other ways of thinking.

Lobo said...

It's just common sense that if we can't know EVERYTHING about a particular subject, we must not know ANYTHING about it.

And in that vein, I declare that gravity is nothing more than angels holding us down. After all, since science has not been able to discern the particles posited to explain the characteristics of gravity, my assertion has equal merit. I've seen their fanciful equations and I couldn't understand them, therefore they must be nonsense. I am just as qualified as any theoretical physicist with all their fancy education, experience, and skills gained from years of training and research in a rarefied field of study that would probably drive me insane. I don't care if they ever do find those pesky gravitons they keep going on about. I prefer my explanation because it's a lot easier for me to understand, and it gives me the warm tinglies because I like the idea that angels are paying so much attention to me and they must love me very much to dedicate their existence to make sure I don't get flung off the planet and into the void where hell must surely await those who don't believe the angels are holding them down.

I would argue that it is supremely hubristic to ignore evidence (in the case of evolution, the evidence really is overwhelming) in favor of some generic navel-gazing and then act as if it's somehow morally superior to be ignorant.

Dan Moran said...

and then act as if it's somehow morally superior to be ignorant.

Takes a lot less time and effort, I imagine.

I forget who made this observation

Dan Moran said...

made this observation -- that if a book contradicted the Bible it was heretical, and if it agreed with the Bible it was unnecessary. This attitude informs most religious people's attitude toward science -- you can't argue with them on the grounds that science works and religion doesn't; they have "faith," the get out of jail card that permits them to ignore facts, research, and reasoning, if it contradicts the holy ravings of savages wandering in the desert thousands of years ago ...

wraith808 said...

As there are those who on the basis of very thin scientific research try to base findings, there are also those who are unwilling to enter into discourse with others for fear that it might contradict their faith. However, that is not all. Discussion about facts is all well and good, but to look down on anyone that has faith in explanations beyond their ken, is rather condescending and more than a bit of a generalization, don't you think?

Lobo said...

If we're talking about someone who accepts the evidence and is trying to reconcile their belief with them, no skin off my nose, even though I personally feel it is a waste of time and effort.

If we're talking about someone who uses their faith as an excuse to disregard the evidence in favor of an unsupported, fanciful worldview, condescension is an appropriate response. In the same way that condescension is appropriate when dealing with flat-earth proponents (and they are still out there.) and anti-germ theory proponents, it's appropriate for the kinds of creationists who insist their book literally supercedes everything we have been able to discover about the world and universe at large. That's just being willfully ignorant and impeding progress on truly interesting questions. Every second a scientist (or informed layman) has to spend defending Evolution through Natural Selection against some dimwit who doesn't know or care that it is settled science is a second they can't spend doing real science.

Marty S said...

Logically evolution and the general concept of creationism(i.e. our universe was created by some superior being) are not contradictory. We are rapidly approaching the point where we might be able to create entirely new life forms our self. I can imagine not that far in the future by history's standard a high school science project in which a student creates a life form and injects it into an artificial environment and observes its evolution. If that life form then developed intelligence I could see the current discussion occurring between inhabitants of that, to us artificial, to them natural environment.

Anonymous said...

Wraith808

You appear to be unable to seperate an upper case CREATIONIST from a lower case belief in creation. It's like being a REPUBLICAN isn't the same as wanting a republic form of government.

Dan Moran said...

Marty,

No, a belief that the universe was created is not incompatible with an acceptance of evolution. It's also not connected ... the two have almost nothing to do with one another.

wraith808 said...

You appear to be unable to seperate an upper case CREATIONIST from a lower case belief in creation. It's like being a REPUBLICAN isn't the same as wanting a republic form of government.

Caps are not required to get your point across, and indeed I can and do realize the difference, just like I realize that there are different forms of creationism. Look it up.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

".You appear to be unable to seperate an upper case CREATIONIST from a lower case belief in creation.."

While I have no respect for Creationist views whatsoever, my fight's not with private beliefs, which are rightly protected by the US Constitution. My fight's with the Quasi-Fascist POLITICAL MOVEMENT that wields Creationism as a wedge to destroy science education and, ultimately, to undermine secular freedom. To paraphrase Muslim Jihadi lingo, I'll consent to tolerate "Lesser Creationism" (Creationism as private adult religious practice), provided its adherents forgo "Greater Creationism", i.e. cease trying to hijack school ciricula and political organs, and don't attempt to misdirect and indoctrinate children.

Anonymous said...

I actually considered including direct quotes from "looking it up" but thought that was superfluous.

I see I was wrong. It's not because it's unnecessary that there's no reason to, it's because your mind is closed and it is all wasted effort. Apparently it takes MORE then caps (I concede that italics would have been better but I got an error message when I tried that so I went with the caps).

By the, Ethiopian Infidel, I happen to agree completely on this one.

wraith808 said...

I actually considered including direct quotes from "looking it up" but thought that was superfluous.

I see I was wrong. It's not because it's unnecessary that there's no reason to, it's because your mind is closed and it is all wasted effort.


Actually, I quite enjoy spirited discourse on any subject; though in the end we had to agree to disagree on points, I enjoyed the discussion with Infidel. You, however, are taking the easy way out. Superfluous? The difference between creationist camps? I think they would disagree, as even I do, not being one of them. But c'est la vie.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, I quite enjoy spirited discourse on any subject;"

Cleary. You probably should have put 'any' in caps though. For emphasis.

"You, however, are taking the easy way out."

What does that even mean in this context?

"Superfluous? The difference between creationist camps?"

Maybe you should reread the post. Then look up superfluous.

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