Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Chomsky

Here’s a recent interview from Guernica:

“Chomsky Half Full”

My favorite part:
Guernica: So what are you recommending?

Noam Chomsky: I think decisions should be made in an entirely different manner for entirely different ends. Should producing more goods and consuming more goods be the highest value in life? That’s not obvious, by any means.

Guernica: And what would be?

Noam Chomsky: Living decent lives, in an environment that provides for people’s essential needs, offers them opportunities to become creative, active, to work together in solidarity, [and lead] more happy, creative lives. That’s a more important goal, I think.
Simple and true. More generally, I enjoy how he conducts himself in an interview. He simply doesn’t allow it to be a one-way process in which the interviewer asks him questions and he responds. He asks for clarification. He requires context before he responds to quotations. He asks questions himself. Best of all, he turns the questions around on the interviewer – “but I think you might ask yourself why you are asking this question…” In short, he conducts interviews as a real political dialogue in a way that doesn’t allow the interviewer to stand apart. I like that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I don’t know much about Andrew Sullivan. I know enough to be sure that we’re not in agreement politically or in terms of religion. But when Peter Beattie linked* to this piece by Glenn Greenwald about recent accusations toward him, “TNR’s ugly and reckless anti-semitism games,” I had to read up. I highly recommend that people read it and the linked pieces (especially Sullivan’s longer reply) with an eye to recent events. (For the record, I'm not very familiar with most of the personalities involved here.) Peter Beattie singles out two short quotations from Greenwald, but this stood out to me:
(4) Writing about the TNR attack on Sullivan, Yglesias writes: "when I raised this issue on a liberal listserve some people said they had no sympathy for Sullivan because of one or another of the things he’d done to piss them off over the years”….

What Yglesias' fellow listserv members are saying, in essence, is that they determine their political commentary not based on the merits of an issue, but rather based on whom they like and who their friends are. Even if I find Wieseltier's anti-semitism accusation to be pernicious and ugly, I won't say so because Andrew Sullivan isn't my friend and I don't like him. The converse of this juvenile mentality is: even if I find that critique to be true and compelling, I'm going to object to it and attack the critic because it's aimed at my friend. The accompanying worldview is: I'm not going to criticize that politician, even when he's wrong, because he's a Good Democrat and is on my team. I find it amazing that this small-minded, clique-based "thinking" persists beyond the sixth grade, but it obviously does, and it particularly thrives among Beltway denizens.

What one thinks of Andrew Sullivan, or how angry he's made one over the years, ought to be about the most irrelevant factor imaginable in determining one's reaction to this TNR attack. Sometimes, even people you don't like are the targets of odious and harmful accusations, and sometimes, even your Bestest Friends, fellow party members and listserv pals might do wrong things that merit criticism. Wieseltier's polemic is a classic example of anti-semitism accusations tossed around with no conceivable basis and for purely ignoble ends. It's the very tactic that has caused significant damage in the past. So obviously unhinged is this particular assault that it actually presents a good opportunity to discredit behavior like this once and for all. That's all that should matter; how many grudges one nurses towards Andrew Sullivan is nice fodder for gossipy listserv chats, but no responsible or even adult commentator would allow it to influence one's views on this matter.
This reminded me of how grateful I am to people whom I have come to know (and who have come to know me), to the extent that this is possible online, who have come forward to object to the baseless insinuations and allegations against me. This has included several people I have had strong disagreements and less-than-cordial dealings with in the past, such as heddle and Russell Blackford. Given what I’ve seen in the atheist/science/skeptical blogosphere, I’m happy to say that I’m not surprised by this. My most heartfelt thanks.

*I am not asking anyone to go there and contend with Laden, Wormtongue, and the Dingbat Sycophants. Their intellectual dishonesty renders any discussion impossible, and Greg Laden’s ethical breaches of the past few days – in addition to the spurious charges and their repetition without basis, intimidation, altering comments without noting it, and revealing the personal email of a commenter – should lead everyone to be wary of interactions there and to question why Scienceblogs would tolerate such behavior.**

**I just saw that Laden has closed the thread (with a stunningly obnoxious and self-serving characterization of the situation and a ludicrous demand for an apology from Paul W.) due to a death in the family. My condolences.

Linkage Love, Awesome Female Atheists, Sabina Guzzanti

It’s in the air. Already mine is the Quote of the Day! Thanks, Rational Rant. I’ve looked through some of your earlier posts, but I don’t really know you well at all, so please don’t be anything bad. I’d hate to link to anything bad.

In that warm spirit, I’ll belatedly draw more attention to Blag Hag’s Large List of Awesome Female Atheists.*

(By the way, how’s that database coming along, Dr. Dawkins?)

Well done, Jen. I thought at the time that Sabina Guzzanti should be added, but couldn’t find clear evidence that she’s an atheist (though she certainly appears to be). Regardless, this should be watched:

Here it is in English, but it appears to be only her narration that is translated, so it misses a lot.

*This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I’m on it.

Shut up.

50 Smart Atheists, Chomsky and Nonbelief in the Incoherent, and the US as Mafia Don

Someone recently linked to this list over at Pharyngula: “The 50 Most Brilliant Atheists of All Time.” For some reason, I can’t get the page to display at the moment, but PZ made it, right on top of Jodie Foster (to his apparent delight). Not enough women and not enough anarchists. No Emma Goldman? No Voltairine de Cleyre? No Peter Kropotkin? To that I say Harumph. But Chomsky made the list, and I liked the quotation from him. I think I’ve found the longer version:
Do I believe in God? Can't answer, I'm afraid. I'm not being flippant, but I don't understand the question. What is it that I am supposed to believe or not believe in? Are you asking whether I believe there is something not in the universe (or the universes, if there are (maybe infinitely) many of them), and that somehow stands above them? I've never heard of any reason for believing that. Something else? What. There are many concepts of spirituality, among them, various notions of divinity developed in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic religions. Within these the concepts vary greatly. St. Augustine and others, for example, argued that one should not take seriously the Biblical account of God as an exaggerated human, and other Biblical accounts, because they were crafted so as to make the intended message intelligible to humans -- and on such grounds, he argued, organized religion ought to accept persuasive conclusions of science, a conception that Galileo appealed to (in vain) when he faced Papal censure.

Anyway, without clarification of a kind I have never seen, I don't know whether I believe or don't believe in whatever a questioner has in mind.
Exactly. This has long been a source of annoyance to me. I’m bothered by these “God is beyond science” and “God is an untestable hypothesis” claims. No. If you can’t describe clearly the nature of something, it isn’t beyond science. It’s beneath it. It isn’t a hypothesis. It’s incoherent rubbish. The clarification Chomsky notes as lacking concerning “God” is the responsibility of the person speaking or asking about belief. If it can’t be provided, the question isn’t worth answering (and indeed cannot be answered due to its unintelligibility).

Since I’m talking about Chomsky, I’ll put up the recent video here that I linked to at Pharyngula a while back, in which he situates the current situation in Honduras within the longer history of US policy in the Americas, characterizing the US as a mafia don:

I’ll have more to say about Honduras when I’m up to it. Lobo sworn in, more people killed, more repression, World Bank funds,... It’s depressing. But it’s far from over.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I’m writing a longer post about argumentation, but I’m going to leave this one first.
The following (not entirely consistent) insinuations and allegations have been made by Greg Laden in recent days:

Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with. I'm not saying that, but I just want you to know that it could look this way. (I don't happen to think it is the case.)

This is not about appeasement. It is about not being a racist slob.

I honestly believe that SC's commentary and other commentary on other blogs (on SB and NN) looked dangerously like antisemitism, telling the loud jew to shut up, a bit of victim blaming.

I also honestly believed that this was nothing like the intent of those who were making the comments.

Greg has been asked numerous times, in a variety of manners and tones, by a number of people to point to the specific “commentary” he’s talking about and how it can reasonably be seen this way in context, and to explain his bizarre reading of the one sentence he did single out. (Of course some people could read my comments any way at all, but they could be deluded, willfully misinterpreting, or stupid; only reasonable interpretations are material here.) He has explicitly declined to do so, as has his sidekick.

So far, the people who have preferred to quietly abide or defend these accusations, often disingenuously and callously suggesting that they’re irrelevant to some broader point he was supposedly making or of no particular significance, have also failed to cite anything specific or attempt to make any substantive case on his behalf. If anyone wants to do so, this thread is open to your comments. If you cannot produce anything in support of these insinuations/allegations but continue to ignore them and defend Greg’s “argument,” then be aware that you’re condoning Greg’s making the worst sort of charge about another person* – and one whom he called a friend – casually and baselessly, and refusing to retract it and apologize when he couldn’t defend it. You should think about how you would feel in my place.

*And let's be very clear here: the insinuation is obvious to anyone reading honestly. But even assuming he was "merely" talking about how my comments could be read by objective others, no evidence has been presented in support of that, either.