Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Ten Things You’ll Disagree With

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 18, 2009

I’ll do a proper post tonight, but I just thought this would be interesting… I’m going to make ten statements of things I consider to be true but which (I suspect) a vast majority of my readers disagree with. This isn’t a ‘meme’, but I would be interested to see other people try this…

1) Much (but by no means all, or even most) so-called ‘alternative medicine’ is actually effective. Conversely much (but by no means all, or even most) conventional medicine is pseudoscientific quackery.

2) Government intervention in the economy can often be a good thing.

3) Art should be measured primarily by how novel the ideas it communicates are, secondarily by its moral tone, and lastly by the technical skill with which it communicates them. By this measure the works of Jane Austen, for example, are of considerably less merit than even most potboiling bestsellers.

4) There is no such thing as a consistently moral opponent of immigration – unless that person also advocates enforced birth control, in which case they are consistent but wrong.

5) The scientific method is the single most important thing children could possibly be taught, and should take priority over everything else.

6) That said, spelling and grammar *matter*. The written word is a means of information transfer, and bad spelling and grammar add noise to the signal. Linguistic rules are arbitrary, but that doesn’t matter – what matters is that everyone abides by the same conventions.

7) Most music of the Classical and Romantic periods is pap. The influence of Mozart, leading to the effective death of counterpoint for two hundred years, was the most pernicious in musical history.

8) The term ‘free will’ is literally meaningless, and the hoops physicists jump through in order to reconcile it with experimental and theoretical results are ridiculous.

9) The ‘new atheism’ of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. is dangerous. It is entirely possible to hold religious beliefs and be a rational person (though probably not to be a dogmatic follower of any major religion while doing so). The battle they should be fighting is not religion vs atheism, but dogmatism vs secularism – a battle on which many religious people of goodwill would be on their side.

10) The lending of money at interest is immoral.

60 Responses

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  1. Charlotte Gore said, on July 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    You’re surely having a trollgasm here?

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 6:20 pm

      Not at all. I suspect, in fact, that most people hold at least as many opinions which, if stated as bluntly as I stated those, would be regarded as ‘trolling’.

      I know that you yourself, for example, hold a lot of opinions that are at least as far from the mainstream (some in the opposite direction) as I do. Were you to state those opinions in the one- or two-sentence form I stated mine, they’d probably be regarded as trolling…

      I might expand on some of these at some point…

    • Jennie said, on July 23, 2009 at 10:30 am

      I agree with most of them…

  2. neilfutureboy said, on July 18, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    5 “Priority” suggests it be the first thing they learn day 1 age 5. I suspect the scientific method is a bit sophisticated for that & that reading should come first. Nonetheless i broadly agre.

    10 I assume this is for an ideal world where inflation is zero (& probably also growth too since otherwise the repaid money would be a lesser part of income) & that all loans are repaid without difficulty. If you take account of all these phenomenon I suspect most loans attract real negative income. I think this, or even zero interest, is bad for society in that it discourages investment for the future & indeed any financially based willingness to delay gratification.

    3 I have some sympathy with this idea but remember that when it was written the idea in Austen’s novels, that unmarried daughters were intelligent beings who could & should shape their own destinies was novel indeed.

    4 You are presupposing a morality you agree with. Hitler genuinely believed that his only moral duty was to the volk. In the same way I believe it is moral to eat pork even though the extent to which I enjoy it is less than the extent to which the pig doesn’t.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 6:34 pm

      For your first point, I think the scientific method in its basics would be an *excellent* thing to teach children first, in a simplified form like “If you want to know how something works, the best way to find out is by trying to figure it out, then test what you’ve thought of and see if you’re right”…

      And as for your last point, I think it incumbent upon people to behave *as if* there were a universal morality, even though no such thing exists, otherwise one gets into it being OK to stop women voting if it’s part of your culture, and suchlike…

      • Andrew Ducker said, on August 4, 2009 at 1:19 pm

        I think it incumbent upon people to behave *as if* there were a universal morality, even though no such thing exists, otherwise one gets into it being OK to stop women voting if it’s part of your culture, and suchlike…

        I totally disagree. Behaving as if there were a universal morality means (a) ignoring reality and (b) getting yourself into a position where you are unable to debate with people who differ from you, because it’s now not a difference of opinion, it’s their failure to recognise Truth. It’s dogmatism, which is something I despise.

        It’s fine for me to say “I loathe the idea of living in a society where women do not have the vote, and I will do everything I can to prevent such a thing coming about” without having to resort to nonsense ideas such as absolute morality.

        And without universal morality there’s no such as thing “ok” actions, so framign it that way literally makes no sense to me.

  3. Duncan said, on July 18, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I don’t think I agree with 5), couldn’t even really say about 7) and think 3) is a very interesting position, which could do with some more fleshing out and otherwise feel pretty agreeable.

  4. [...] the old Fisking. Now, I’ve met Andrew Hickey and think he’s a nice guy, but his ‘ten things you’re going to disagree with‘ definitely hit the mark in terms of accurately labelled. I thought he was joking – turns out [...]

  5. Edmund said, on July 18, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Anyone going to take bets on which’ll generate the largest number of responses? My money is on 9 closely followed by 1 and 10. However, I’ll disagree with 8:

    “8) The term ‘free will’ is literally meaningless, and the hoops physicists jump through in order to reconcile it with experimental and theoretical results are ridiculous.”

    I disagree that “free will” is meaningless, and the implication that physicists need to reconcile any experimental results with “free will” is rather in need of a citation. What experimental evidence – and what hoops – are you thinking of?

    There a fair number of people on the internets who do publish gloriously barmy manifestoes about how quantum theory disproves god/free will/ lobsters etc, but these are (a) not by physicists, and (b) generally based on a half-understanding of Gribben combined with a misunderstanding of Penrose.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 6:44 pm

      As Charlotte has linked to this on her blog, I suspect the economics ones will be the most-attacked ;)

      As for the Free Will thing, I’m thinking of people like John Conway – he produced a theorem recently which said that a hidden variable quantum interpretation would be incompatible with free will – and then used that to argue that a hidden variable interpretation must be false. Which seems somewhat to be begging the question.

      I’ve never actually heard a functional definition of ‘free will’ – I’d be willing to change my mind about its meaninglessness or otherwise were I to hear a definition of it that was in principle testable…

  6. Dave Godfrey said, on July 18, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    1. I would modify “much” to “some”. I believe that there is potential in “herbal medicine”. After all it led to Aspirin, Quinine, some chemotherapies, etc, etc. And the scientific method is how one distinguishes between that which has merit and that which does not. And the list of treatments that were accepted with relatively little understanding of their effectiveness, and later shown to be of no benefit (or actively harmful) is a mine of “what were they thinking?”

    2, 4, 5, 6, 8 Agreed.

    I’m not sure I agree with 3 and 7. But I’ve never read either Austen or potboilers, and don’t know enough classical music to be happy commenting on it.

    9. I do not entirely agree. I think the “New Atheists” are fighting a battle between dogmatism and secularism. Its just that in Western society dogmatism and religion go hand in hand.

  7. Richard said, on July 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    “Alternative medicine” that has been shown to be effective goes by another name. It is called medicine, or when it needs to be specified “conventional” medicine. Every alternative therapy that has been tested in a sound way has failed, and that includes some of the major ones, homoeopathy, chiropractic medicine and acupuncture.

    To say that government intervention in an economy is often a good thing would be easy to prove if true. Just provide several examples from a short timespan. I suspect you can’t.

    As for art, your idea is so reductionist as to remove all the meaning of the term art. Without skill the only message communicated is so banal as to have no novelty anyway, so your list reverses itself. As for moral tone, what relevance does that have, unless it is included in the message which is accounted for by your first criterion?

    I have never met an opponent of immigration who wasn’t a BNP-level nutter, so can’t comment on that one. Consistent opponents of unrestricted immigration are ten a penny, though, and the only one I can think of who advocates enforced birth control has just been appointed to Obama’s cabinet.

    Of the scientific method I can agree with you entirely. That is what is used to show that modern medicine works better than a placebo and alternative medicines do not.

    On grammar and spelling I am also with you. As well as communication problems you cannot have the rule of law without consistent grammar, because the law could not have a consistent meaning.

    Never a fan of Mozart, but some of the romantic composers and poets made sublime art, that moved people’s emotions, gave great joy, helped people express themselves and influenced generations of artists. Hardly ‘pap’.

    Free will is not meaningless. It just doesn’t mean what people think it means. No-one is quite sure what it does mean though.

    Personally I agree that the fundamentalist – secularist battle is most important, however you have not said why a strong statement of atheist philosophy is unhelpful. Without it religious fundamentalists have had far too easy a time claiming that atheists are immoral or devil worshippers.

    Not only is lending money at interest perfectly moral but to discourage it is utterly immoral. Without money lending there can be nothing more than the slowest cultural, economic and scientific advancement. We would still be in the middle ages without the Jewish money lenders (the great irony of anti-Semitism), a totalitarian theocratic monarchy with even the richest living in poverty by today’s standards, the poorest living in the most desperate conditions and working themselves to an early grave. Without bank loans and private capital socio-economic mobility would depend only on patronage and politics. The rich would survive but atrophy, the most able and innovative of the rest would not be able to follow through with their ideas.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 8:17 pm

      Your first point is simply *wrong*, for reasons I won’t go into now (I covered some of it in a reply to Mark on Charlotte’s blog, where i suspect you came from, the rest will be covered in a possible future post…)
      Second point – the National Health Service. The Welfare State.
      Third point – you’ve misread what I said. Reread it.
      Eighth point – if no-one’s sure what ‘free will’ means, then the term is meaningless – see the point about consistent spelling and grammar. Terms must also have consistent *meanings*, and that one doesn’t.
      Ninth point – I never said that ‘atheist philosophy’ is unhelpful – merely that the combative, often factually-inaccurate ‘New Atheism’ of Dawkins, Hitchens etc is unhelpful.
      Tenth point would require more argument than a comment page can hold.

      • neilfutureboy said, on July 19, 2009 at 10:58 am

        I’m with Richard on this. If alternative medicine gets proven by the scientific method of replicable results it becomes official medicine (eg quinine) if official medicine fails by the scientific method it becomes alternative ot disappears eg prayer, leedhes). I think you have overstated in an attempt to denounce much politically correct nonsense(passive smoking, the LNT radioactivity theory, AIDS as a primarily infectious disease) but without official medicine & the germ theory doctors wouldn’t be washing their hands before operations.

        4 – The problem with us all starting off adhering to a universal morality is there would be no universal agreement about what it was & indeed if we polled the average of human history we would have to support human slavery, genocide & perhaps even cannibalism.

  8. Debi Linton said, on July 18, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    You’re right. I do.

    However, the statements are too broad and brief to effectively invite me to debate the detail of any of your positions. So simply; yes, I disagree with a lot of these.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 8:29 pm

      And the award for ‘person who actually gets what I’m doing here’ goes to… ;)

  9. Richard said, on July 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    First point, no you are wrong. For reasons that number 5 would tell you if you happened to understand it.

    Second point – you don’t answer the question. Neither the NHS nor the welfare state are universal good things, it is easily arguable that in their current form they are a bad thing, but more importantly you have given two examples from 60 years ago. That does not come under my understanding of the word ‘often’.

    Third point, no I haven’t. You put novelty above skill, but without skill there is no real novelty. Your pot boiler certainly has no novelty! You then randomly throw in morality, which if relevant is surely part of the idea, novel or not.

    Just because we don’t understand every part of free will is doesn’t mean it is meaningless. You were saying that it doesn’t exist because scientific evidence suggests that it is not what most people think it is. That does not mean that all the philosophical ideas of free will are invalid – the lack of predetermination for example, and the importance of the individual (although I agree the role of the individual is uncertain).

    You think combative atheism is unhelpful, but it is a new phenomenon so you could have no sound evidence to support that view. You have provided no evidence for inaccuracies (yes, I have read the God Delusion, and while I wouldn’t have put it like that I can’t remember any unarguable error).

    Tenth point “hurrumph”??? You would consign everyone without money to servitude and penury and can’t even articulate a skeleton argument?

    • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 7:42 am

      I gather Dawkins talks about how Galileo was persecuted by the religious authorities for daring to speak the truth, or somesuch nonsense? When Galileo was actually persecuted for publicly calling the Pope an imbecile.

      There you go.

  10. James Graham said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    I haven’t read this thread but I’m struggling to understand why 1 is even controversial. The placebo effect is well established in science. People have written whole books about it. Conversely, much of what passes for conventional medicine has at best mixed scientific evidence behind it, at worst no scientific merit whatsoever, yet is pushed forward by pharmaceutical companies.

    A lot of people seem to be confusing “science” with “conventional medicine” which is not only wrong but utterly insane.

    None of that is to say that large amounts of public money should go into homeopathy et al, but it is a very real conundrum that we need to consider.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:08 pm

      1 is the single most controversial thing I’ve ever said…
      I agree with most of this comment, but would disagree slightly in that not all alt. medicine has *only* placebo effects – some actually has effects that signficantly beat both placebo and conventional medicine.

      “A lot of people seem to be confusing “science” with “conventional medicine” which is not only wrong but utterly insane.”
      This is one of the truest sentences I’ve read…

      • James Graham said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:24 pm

        “not all alt. medicine has *only* placebo effects – some actually has effects that signficantly beat both placebo and conventional medicine”

        Well, I’d need to see evidence for that.

        • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:31 pm

          Absolutely. I’ve only come to that conclusion myself based on a hell of a lot of research and number-crunching, and don’t expect you to just take my word for it. (Unfortunately the best evidence I could cite right now is in a series of books co-authored by my uncle, and trying to persuade someone to buy those would be nepotism in reverse ;) ) . I *must* at some point do my Big Long Series Of Posts on that subject that’s in my head.

          The important thing though is that you’re saying “I’d need to see evidence” rather than “no it isn’t”, which is the correct attitude but one which shockingly few people take, alas…

          • pillock said, on July 19, 2009 at 12:14 am

            I recall a study of the placebo effect some years ago…which claimed to prove there was no such thing, at least no such thing worth talking about. The explanation for this was: the original demonstration of the placebo effect was a poorly-controlled experiment.

            Of course one wants it to be true…and maybe it is, for some things. But (so said this study) not for medicine vs. sugar pills.

            Very interesting, I thought. Of course once medicine grabs a thing, it’s hard to get it to let go…

            • Andrew Hickey said, on July 19, 2009 at 12:23 am

              That’s correct as far as it goes. The placebo effect doesn’t have any measurable effect on *physical* illnesses – there’s no (or minimal) placebo effect for, say, cancer or AIDS.

              It *does* exist though, when it comes to mental illness, pain relief and psychosomatic illnesses…

              • pillock said, on July 19, 2009 at 12:50 am

                Oh, naturally! I’ve self-medicated with it, haven’t we all?

  11. James Graham said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Let’s take 9 apart piece by piece:

    “The ‘new atheism’ of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. is dangerous.”

    Nonsense. Challenging, certainly. Wrong in some cases, absolutely (haven’t read Hitchens. Wrote my undergrad dissertation about Dawkins back in 1997 and am currently ploughing through The God Delusion. In the section I’m currently reading he describes this phenomenon, which he asserts, exists, called the Zeitgeist which is every bit as mystical and unscientific as the Holy Ghost he spent the first half of the book arguing doesn’t exist. Hmmm…). But dangerous? In what way?

    “It is entirely possible to hold religious beliefs and be a rational person (though probably not to be a dogmatic follower of any major religion while doing so).”

    It depends on what you mean by rational. I’m not sure a “rational person” actually exists – we all have our foibles and religious belief is a bigger irrationality than most. If you had said “reasonable person” on the other hand, I’d agree.

    “The battle they should be fighting is not religion vs atheism, but dogmatism vs secularism – a battle on which many religious people of goodwill would be on their side.”

    I would agree. Sadly however, a lot of “right minded” religious people would disagree with you. Dawkins and Hitchens are actually a good acid test. Far too many “liberal” religious people join in the circle jerk of condemnation against them and I’ve heard them described by otherwise reasonable people as “extremists” on too many occasions. At the same time, I hear far too little from people of faith in condemnation of groups such as Christian Voice. The fact that no UK Church has taken steps to rebut such vicious nonsense is shameful.

    I think Dawkins and Hitchens go to far at times, but I still haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that even a significant minority of reasonable people of faith would rather side with them than dogmatics in their own church.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:44 pm

      With ‘dangerous’ I was probably over-stating things. I certainly think it counterproductive if what one wants is a greater understanding between people of different belief systems and none, and also more likely to push religious people towards hardliners than change their minds, but I don’t really think it does a huge amount of harm.

      I don’t know how many religious people *would* agree/disagree, but when I’m talking about reasonable religious people I mean people like Andrew Rilstone and Fred ‘Slacktivist’ Clark (both linked in my sidebar – not awake enough at this point to do well-formed links). Rilstone has a wonderful evisceration of Dawkins’ book, but is also rightly dismissive of Christian Voice (though he says – possibly rightly, I don’t know – that CV is in fact a single nutcase who just gets a lot of publicity). Clark, on the other hand, spends so much time attacking the lunatic fringe of the American Religious Right that one prominent atheist blogger (I think Myers, I’m not sure) put him on a list of ‘ten best atheist blogs’ – only for Clark to point out that he was flattered but he’s actually an evangelical Christian.

      So they are out there – I’m not sure how great a proportion of believers are reasonable people, because the people whose views I’m aware of tend to be a self-selecting group, so I don’t know if the Rilstones and Clarks outnumber the Stephen Greens and Jack Chicks. But they are out there…

      • James Graham said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:53 pm

        But, and perhaps I should restate things here, nowhere do I find any attempts by people of faith to cross the divide between atheism and faith. Occasionally, I read the odd, reluctant, acceptance that we don’t all worship Satan.

        It is too easy to dismiss CV as one man – firstly he manages to get crowds of people to his protests and secondly he gets plenty of press. Has Lambeth Palace ever put out a press release to condemn his actions? Has any Anglican ever publically attacked them for not doing so?

        I am possibly guilty of overstaking things here. I tend to get on very well with Ekklesia. But the Anglican church in particular at the moment is so obsessed with stopping itself from splitting over something as trivial as what individuals do with their winkies behind closed doors that they’ve lost the plot. In doing so, they are far more “dangerous” than Dawkins or Hitchens.

        • Andrew Hickey said, on July 19, 2009 at 12:03 am

          Again, Clark and Rilstone are very accepting of atheists, agnostics and so on, not just in that false ‘tolerance’ way but genuinely accepting that people can differ in their views and it’s not a big deal. As I say, I don’t know how representative they are of the wider ‘faith community’.

          As for condemnations by official bodies, a quick Google says the Bishop of Worcester has attacked CV, as have the United Reform Church. But you’re right, of course – they should make it very clear that they regard Green’s views as unacceptable.

          And yes, the obsession with keeping a facade of unity rather than taking a moral stand is intensely damaging and utterly wrong, and against what a church *should* be for…

    • Andy Hinton said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:46 pm

      I’d heartily reccommend Hitchens’s book, but only really as entertainment for the convinced atheist. It makes Dawkins look positively conciliatory.

      • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:47 pm

        Oh, Hitchens is a brilliant ranter, and one of the best crafters of English sentences alive…

  12. Andy Hinton said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    I’m surprised you think 9 is an especially controversial statement; sounds like at least half a dozen glib reviews I’ve read, for a start. :p

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm

      Heh
      Controversial *among my readership*, not the general public ;)

  13. pillock said, on July 19, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Well, I definitely think it’s dangerous to go around bellowing out an ideology of SCIENCE!, especially when you mythologize the history of it. That cure’s worse than the disease.

  14. LemmusLemmus said, on July 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Now that I think I’ve understood the purpose of this exercise, I might as well respond, withholding more in-depth commentary until you’ve put your cards on the table; maybe we’ll have a fruitful debate then.

    1 – “Much” is a vague term. Having said that, and keeping in mind that having a closed mind on these issues would be utterly unscientific thinking, for the time being I’m skeptical at least concerning the first part.

    2 – Define “often”. I’m definitely not against all government intervention.

    3 – Disagree.

    4 – Although there is obviously an argument behind your statement that I can’t reconstruct, I’m almost certain you’re wrong on this one.

    5 – Disagree; I think the “three r’s” are more important.

    6 – Agree

    7 – Well I don’t care much about classical music (broadly defined) anyway, so I don’t really have an opinion on this one.

    8 – Well again. Whether it’s meaningless depends on the definition of the term you work with. And I don’t know which utterances by physicists you mean. At least here in Germany it’s hard science types preferred pastime to point out that there’s no free will. A short take of mine on this is here.

    9 – Haven’t read any of the “new atheists'” books, so I can’t really have an opinion on the question whether they’re dangerous. The “rational” question depends on how you define “rational”, but I wouldn’t call anybody who’s a Christian, Muslim or Jew* a rational or reasonable person. Although there is a surprising amount of otherwise reasonable religious people, which I find baffling.

    10 – Seems completely bonkers to me so I would be particularly interested to read an explanation of this one.

    *I’m referring to these specific religions because I know enough about them to say that I wouldn’t consider their followers rational people. I know f— all about Buddhism.

    • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 12:13 am

      Well, you’re setting the bar for rationality and reasonableness rather high, aren’t you?

      Also, I would argue that governance itself is an intervention into matters economic. AND A DAMN GOOD THING IT IS, TOO.

      • LemmusLemmus said, on July 20, 2009 at 6:36 am

        Am I setting the bar high? Maybe. You, in turn, are setting the bar for calling something government intervention pretty low. It seems that people arguing against government intervention usually mean something more specific, such as environmental regulation.

        • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 7:21 am

          Well, there’s no “maybe” about it…you’ve basically defined rationality as something that only obtains in the absence of religious belief, haven’t you? Perfectly fine, of course, but it’s just that it makes me question what the hell’s rationality that we should set such store by it, when most of our great thinkers haven’t been, by that definition, rational people. So how high is that bar? Maybe high enough that there’s nothing particularly to esteem in getting over it.

          As far as the governmental intervention thing goes, I think I’m not setting the bar low, but simply calling a spade a spade. I don’t know what you may think “intervention” is…I hope it is not just “something that is vexing”.

          But if it is…how about the right to strike? Would that count?

        • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 7:33 am

          Ahhhhh, never mind. Like, I can’t get involved with what people arguing “against” government intervention usually say about what they think it is, you know? When I’m saying they’re cherrypicking that stuff anyway. My country has a central bank — banknotes are signed by the Governor of that institution, the same guy who controls whether the interest rate goes up or down. This is government intervention in the economy…hell, this is the economy, what we mean when we say “the economy”! It’s the regulation of economic activity by government. They say what’s legal and what isn’t, what you can do and what you can’t, what you have to pay and what you don’t. They define who is and is not to be considered a free economic actor, what “money” is, and where fault lies in disputes. And a million other things large and small.

          I said to Andrew one time: if you want to be free of government intervention, in my country all you have to do is walk fifty miles north and hide behind a tree. You’ll never be freer.

          • LemmusLemmus said, on July 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

            I’m not going to have an argument about proper definitions. Should Andrew expand on his views maybe we’ll find disagreements that are actually interesting.

            • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 8:48 pm

              You have already in an argument about proper definitions. Christians, Muslims, and Jews, remember?

              No fair saying someone who disagrees with you doesn’t disagree in an interesting enough way for you to respond.

            • pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 10:05 pm

              And I think we could go so far as to call this a little replication of Andrew’s posting strategy here, so if this isn’t interesting, neither is responding to Andrew’s original points. Because here’s the definitional quicksand, except I don’t think it’s that deep that we could drown in it: you could say that Christians, Muslims, and Jews were all irrational and unreasonable. But if your underlying belief was that all people, or even just most people, are irrational and unreasonable…then you would’ve made a statement that was (let’s face it) very likely true, but only in a much wider sense than the one you seemed to intend. So it’d be your own fault if you got pelted with rotten tomatoes after saying it…but it wouldn’t necessarily make you a person who likes to say nasty things about religious folk!

              It’s of course not what you’re saying anyway — or at least, not what you seem to be saying. You seem to be saying “why, you’d have to be a half-wit to believe in all that religious goop, you’d have to take leave of your senses to swallow it, so if you believe in it even part-time, that’s pretty good evidence that you’re not a rational person, and more than that you’re probably not even reasonable enough to talk to.” Which as far as I’m concerned sounds quite a touch more intolerant than “all people can be stupid bastards on occasion”, but whatever — that’s just me.

              Then again, look at my response to the business of “government intervention” — perhaps you suspect I am taking the “all people are irrational” approach to matters economic — saying something which in an unaccented sense is true (why should Chriatians and Jews and Muslims be exempt from the general human irrationality?) but seems to confusingly ignore the smaller and more specific issue.

              Okay, so right up to this point, you and I take the same dismissive approach — you to religious people, and me to free-marketeers — that Andrew appears to take to the lending of money at interest. I presume no one reading this would claim that when governments cap the amount of interest people can legally charge on lent money, in other words when they define what consututes usury, that they are being wholly arbitrary…but where that limit is placed isn’t the result of some natural functionalist law of money, but the result of fallible human legislative efforts. And I think one could easily look at this situation and say “lending money at interest is technically not a very nice thing to do, except we’re willing to put up with it for this reason and that reason…but we will say that should you charge too much for your money, you cross a line into criminal behaviour.” In the same way, fraudulent behaviour isn’t very nice, even if the laws of the land permit emplying deceitful business practises up to a point…a general truth, I think, that’s evidenced by the way that once it passes that point it too becomes universally recognized as a criminal act. So in a wider sense, mightn’t Andrew be making a true statement?

              Given that he might be (and I think perhaps he is), I think then the only meaningful difference that might obtain between you and me and Andrew lies in whether the broader construction of the statement is simply ignorant of the more specific construction…or whether it’s designed as an attack on it. I intend to say that uncritical belief in the homeostatic efficacy of the “free market” is delusional, because no one here has ever seen a truly free market — truly free markets are (if you will) in the state of nature, and blood runs between their stalls: the booms and the busts follow so hard on one another that they pound the human landscape flat. So mine’s an attack.

              Not that you’ve taken a crazy-ass right-wing opposition to government “interfering” with business, or anything. But I think the parallels between your take on religion vs. rationality and mine on Friedmanian claptrap vs. economic reality (insert smiley-face here) are instructive, especially considered in the light of Andrew’s as-yet-unexplicated claim about the immorality of moneylending…which is sort of why I’ve brought ‘em all up together here.

              Mind you, if that contention of mine isn’t decent enough grounds for an interesting disagreement, I’m perfectly willing to give up: because I don’t have many other grounds upon which I disagree with anything anyone’s said about this.

              • LemmusLemmus said, on July 21, 2009 at 5:11 am

                Definitions can’t be right or wrong, hence no point arguing about the rightness or wrongness of definitions. Simple.

                • pillock said, on July 21, 2009 at 5:42 am

                  Worst Zen koan ever, and furthermore bah to you, sir. Giving up on this attempt at communication is a pleasure.

  15. Prankster said, on July 20, 2009 at 2:08 am

    What sort of blows my mind here is that there are people taking issue with #2, which just seems like common sense. Are there really people who believe that government intervention in the economy is ALWAYS a bad thing? As a North American, the New Deal is the immediate counterexample to pop into my mind, but then there are plenty of Americans who seem to believe that the prosperity of the post-WWII era was caused by magical elves, too.

    Also amusing to me: the bible agrees with Andrew on #10. Western civilization has done an awful lot of work to shuck-and-jive their way around this.

  16. pillock said, on July 20, 2009 at 5:19 am

    And you know, the thing is that the almighty SCIENCE! that the New Atheists proclaim — Dawkins is not even the worst in this respect, though he’s pretty bad — is so obviously conditioned by ideals of progress and perfectability that originate in the Western religions, that it almost amounts to shilling for whack-job Christian values, under the guise of saying Christians are whack-jobs. And I believe in science, but my science strives to be a little more self-aware, and a little more value-neutral, than that!

    Keep your weird sublimated fundamentalism out of my lab, New Atheists!

    And read a history book written after 1920, if you can manage it. No, Neuromancer doesn’t count…

  17. neilfutureboy said, on July 20, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I think the vital part in #2 is “CAN often be a good thing”. In a world in which government achieved the competence most businesses do intervention would often be a good thing. I think maybe Singapore approaches that standard. Most governments are run by people who could never get jobs as CEOs & all of them have more drivers than economic competence, indeed it is, for most of them, a very long way down the list.

  18. A.Ferguson said, on July 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Nobody seems to be objecting to statement 7 — “The influence of Mozart, leading to the effective death of counterpoint for two hundred years…” — so I’ll take a stab.

    The high baroque style — fugue, counterpoint, all that Lutheran jazz — was already going out of fashion in Bach’s lifetime (1685-1750). Mozart (born 1756) could hardly have influenced a shift in musical style that was well underway BEFORE HE WAS BORN.

    In the 1780s, when Mozart was already an established composer, he began to study The Art of Fugue and other works by Bach, and incorporated Bach’s techniques into several compositions throughout the rest of his short lifetime. The Great Mass in C minor, for one, and I suppose most famously the final movement of his final symphony, the “Jupiter,” where as many as five melodies are played at once.

    So I’m not buying it. Thank you for listening.

    • Andrew Hickey said, on July 20, 2009 at 1:08 pm

      Makes sense, and I’m clearly showing my relative lack of knowledge about the period. Bernard Shaw, somewhere in his music criticism (which I adore) claims Mozart was the prime influence between the comparative lack of polyphony in late-18th and 19th-century music, and the rise of what he referred to as ‘big guitar orchestration’, and it’s that claim that led me to place the blame at Mozart’s feet (and certainly the relatively small amount of Mozart’s music I know well contains few of those techniques). Clearly either Shaw misstated things or I misremembered what he said.

      • A.Ferguson said, on July 20, 2009 at 9:16 pm

        Fair enough — I suppose if you’d just said that it was too bad that European classical music abandoned counterpoint (for the most part) without the ad hominem attack on Mozart, I’d have let you get away with it. But it’s really just the natural evolution that any art form goes through, not the fault of any one composer. (I guess you could blame Haydn, if you really need a face in the middle of your dartboard :)) I’ve read some of Shaw’s music criticism — sometimes he was just full of shit, gawd rest ‘im.

  19. Andrew said, on July 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Haven’t had time to read your paper yet but, in general,

    1) disagree
    2) disagree
    3-6) agree
    7) disagree
    8) agree
    9-10) disagree

    1,2,7 & 9 are all too ambiguous to make a definite judgement. All are personal opinion though.

  20. Zom said, on July 20, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    All are personal opinion though.

    Er, yeah…

  21. zcunning said, on July 20, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Being as it’s been pointed out by now that arguing with this post is a fool’s errand (due to its lack of any actual, well, argumentation), i’m just going to reply to a few philosophically interesting claims you’ve made there and in the comments:

    “8) The term ‘free will’ is literally meaningless, and the hoops physicists jump through in order to reconcile it with experimental and theoretical results are ridiculous.”

    I would disagree on the first claim simply because, in my opinion, the meaning of “free will” has been set in stone (at least) since Kant: a free will is one whose actions/decisions are not the direct, irrevocable, and (perhaps most importantly) determinable result of natural laws.

    I.e., a being with a free will is one who is able to make decisions and act on the world independently of the influence of stimuli from the world, who actually has the ability to choose between two (or more) possible actions–as opposed to the deterministic option where “choosing” is not an ability any being possesses and all actions by any being are predetermined by natural laws and the influence of the natural world upon said being.

    I don’t mean to get into a discussion about the existence of free wills, but I do think that the claim that there isn’t any sort of (even relatively) codified or agreed upon meaning of “free will” is patently false.

    I also think it’s interesting that you take issue with physicists of all people jumping through hoops to perpetuate the idea of a free will. Among all the people who have been arguing about the (non)existence of free will over the course of human history, physicists form a very, very tiny minority, I think. XD

    “And as for your last point, I think it incumbent upon people to behave *as if* there were a universal morality, even though no such thing exists, otherwise one gets into it being OK to stop women voting if it’s part of your culture, and suchlike…”

    In light of your comment about free will I have to wonder about your views on morality. How do you reconcile your repudiation of any idea of free will with the fact that you obviously believe actions have a moral character?

    Obviously I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but i am genuinely curious.

    • pillock said, on July 21, 2009 at 7:10 am

      Me, too! I sense that Andrew’s answer will be thought-provoking.

  22. Oliver Townshend said, on July 21, 2009 at 6:54 am

    1 and 5 are such a contradiction I don’t know if I should bother replying to the rest. The last century or two of Evidence Based Medicine have done so much more for health than ‘alternative medicine’ ever did, and it follows Scientific Method, so I’m baffled how you can say both with a straight face?

  23. Andrew Ducker said, on August 4, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Disagree with (3) – Art _should_ be measured? Really? I don’t see any reason why any technique for measuring art is better than any other – the measurement technique a person prefers will depend entirely on what they want their art to do.

    It’s like measuring cars based on speed, safety and comfort – different people have different priorities – and saying that “Cars should be measured by safety.” would be just as odd a statement.

    Art _is_. If you choose to measure it at all then that’s your problem – telling me what I should be getting out of it strikes me as oppressive and, well, silly.


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