Thursday, July 24, 2014

Definition: Counterfactual

"Ever look back and wish you made different choices in life? If you have, this is the alternate reality you envision when you're in that jail cell whining to yourself 'If only I hadn't had that last margarita...'"

In foreign policy analysis, it's a wonderful exercise of the mind to wonder "What would have happened if..."  What would have happened if Saddam didn't invade Kuwait?  What would have happened if Prime Minister Chamberlain would have been more strict in dealing with that Hitler guy?  What would have happened if whatever foreign leader had made a different decision and not had that last margarita -- not taken leave of his senses?

The short answer is that we don't know, but with enough insight and enough examples in history to draw upon, we can come to some sort of approximation of the counterfactual history and use it so that we can learn from the mistakes made by our ancestors.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Definition: Falsifiability

"In science you have to make claims that are so strong, so undeniably brazen that someone should be able to prove that they're full of crap."

Science is filled with people making claims.  "There's a purple donkey living somewhere in this universe."  A scientist could make this claim, but no one could rightly disprove it,  therefore it lacks what is called falsifiability.  However, if I say "there's a donkey in my living room", this statement is falsifiable.  I can invite you over to my living room and you can easily say whether or not that is the case, because it is easy to prove the statement false.  This was the problem with lots of Sigmund Freud's theories.

"Your personal problems," Freud would say to his patients, "are the result of traumatic experiences you had as a child."

"But I don't remember that," the patient would say.

"That's because you're repressing them," says Freud.

"But I don't remember it!"

"That's what repression is stupid: not remembering stuff.  That'll be eighty dollars."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Misconceptions about the Bible: From Christine Hayes

If college can't turn a bible-believing preacher's kid into a cussing, drunken heathen destined for eternal hell-fire, nothing can.  Forget about witches covens; forget about Comedy Central; forget about Tinky Winky from the tele-tubbies; the single-most debilitating factor to your faith will be Texas A&M on rush week. The minute you step on campus, you're inundated with "let's go drink this", "let's go smoke that", "the bible's full of snot" and that's just what the instructors say.  If there is one shortcoming our churches have it's not preparing young people for this inundation of worldly attacks.

They come to college with an immature view of Christianity and, therefore, when even a slightly developed argument against Christianity is forged their worldview shatters like a house of cards, they grab a glass of Hennessy, and Dougie their way into debauchery.

This, of course, is in the end counterproductive and will leave to your eventual de-conversion without your faith putting up much of a fight at all.  It is for this reason that I have always sought out a richer understanding of the Bible.  This journey starts in the Old Testament or -- the Jewish Phrase -- the Tanakh.

In an online Yale course on the Old Testament Christine Hayes starts by pointing out of a few misconceptions about the Bible.  Understanding these is pivotal in knowing the true meaning of the bible.  The misconceptions are as follows:

(1) The Bible is a book.

Lots of times, skeptics will ask you to show evidence that the bible is true.  The natural response is "Well, the bible itself is evidence."  Skeptics will often come back with "NO, that's circular reasoning.  You cannot use the conclusion to prove that the premise is true!"

Of course they are right by pointing out that you cannot use a thing to prove itself true.  But this response is one part equivocating and two parts gross misunderstanding of what the bible is.  The bible is NOT one single entity.  It is NOT a book.  It is a library of books.  It is a collection of ancient texts that have been used by scholars (skeptical and otherwise) as evidence that certain events in the bible have occurred.

So, if someone attacks you because they say the bible is not true you have to ask, which part are they talking about.  Psalms, for instance, is just a collection of hymns.  In what context can you say that this is true or untrue?  Books like Isaiah and Daniel are largely prophetic visions.  How can you say that it is untrue that people had these visions without getting into the author's head.  Proverbs is a book of advice.  Ecclesiastes is a philosophical book that raises existential questions about the meaning of life.

(2) The Bible is a book for kids.
Looks like they forgot to include
Everclear in this picture.

This is another problem with the bible.  Like I said before, lots of people come into college with Pre-K notions of what the bible is about.  There is killing in the bible, there is deceit, incest, rape, castration.  The list goes on and on.  You're probably about to vomit.

Noah?  David?  Solomon?  A drunk, an adulterer, and a polygamist.

(3) The bible is a self-help book about pious saints

This leads me to another common attack against Bible which is that all of its heroes constantly display what many would consider deplorable behavior.  Critics therefore mistake the silence for condoning, but often the writers of the Old Testament will take a minimalist approach by detailing what a person is doing without giving any commentary whatsoever as to whether the deed is right or wrong.  This is the case in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  You remember the story.  God was thinking about blowing up Sodom and Gomorrah because its inhabitants were such a bunch of jerks.  However, Abraham convinced God to go easy on the guys, and at least spare his buddy lot.

So, some angels dropped by to see if Lot was a cool guy.  I assume the meeting went well for the angels, I guess that is until a bunch of men showed up at the doorstep to try to rape them.  Lot, wanting to be a gracious host, tells the angry mob, "here! rape my daughters instead!"

Christian apologists have been trying to defend this series of events ever since.  But what skeptics always neglect to realize concerning this passage is that neither the narrator nor God say "Hey!  Good thinking there, Lot!  Giving your daughters up to be raped is totally holy."

The bible seldom sanctions or repudiates the behavior of one of its characters; so, why should you have to defend it against a skeptic who is really just trying to piss you off?

(4) The Bible is written by God

Often people will tell you that the bible is the inerrant word of God.  But most biblical teachers have come to rest upon the fact that this is not the case.  Instead, they call it God-inspired or God-breathed.  What this means to me is that the point of the bible was not to disseminate certain scientific facts, but to express certain existential, philosophical viewpoints about life and ultimately death.  Truly, later we will find what was revolutionary about the bible was its priority given to objective morals rather than eternal life.  Additionally, compared to its contemporaries we find that the biblical codes and customs especially expressed in Deuteronomy were very humanitarian for their time.


The bible is not perfect.  It doesn't pretend to be such.  When you're searching for perfection in a book that, in its footnotes, already admits that there may have been of a few errors, you miss the forest for the trees.  To me the real beauty of the bible pops off the pages when you learn the historical context within which it was forged.  You're immersed in the experience, walking with the characters, and the true meaning of the bible comes to life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Definition: Superego

"That little angel in your head that tells you when you're doing s#%! you got no business doing."

Tisk, tisk, tisk goes the Superego.  A concept created by Sigmund Freud, it is not a great moral philosopher.  Rather its just a feeling.  That little voice in your head that tells you when you're doing wrong and manifests itself in the form of guilt.  It can become rather annoying.  Sociopaths don't bother with this little guy and tell him to take a hike.    

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Definition: Emotional Contagion

"'Happy' is contagious.  'Sad' is contagious.  'Butthole destined for indefinite hellfire' is sadly contagious.  This adequately explains all those rush hours to and from work."

Find a friend and look her in the face while she smiles.  Chances are you'll end up smiling too.  This phenomenon is known as emotional contagion.  Emotions are contagious like small pox.  Unfortunately, this works for the negative emotions also.  This is why nervous people make you nervous.  This is how fights start.  One person gets mad, and the person next to him gets mad.  I guess a bar brawl occurs when there's an emotional epidemic.

Try to stay aware of your emotions and how other people may be affecting them positively and negatively.  Those positive people who smile so much it makes you sick to your stomach?  Hang out with them more.  And when people around you get so angry you start to feel that Incredible-Hulk feeling coming on, repeat the words emotional contagion and resolve that you will not be fooled by psychological parlor tricks, count to ten, and take the reigns of own your emotions.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Definition: The Two-Level Game

"Having to kiss people's asses, both domestic and abroad."

In politics, the two-level game is just that: a game that politicians, such as the President of the United States, have to play.  A balancing act between domestic and foreign policy.  Trying not to piss off your neighbors, all the while soothing the masses: a feat that usually requires blowing smoke up someone's behind.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Overlap: Deconstructing Homosexuality

The following is a feature I like to call The Overlap.  In this feature, I discuss a certain topic utilizing a couple of subjects I am in the process of studying.  Today, the topic of interest is the legality of homosexual marriage and I will utilize logic and critical thinking, ethics, and psychology to make my point.

Recently, controversial Megachurch pastor, Rick Warren went on Pierce Morgan's show to talk about a little bit of old-fashioned homosexuality.

Many were, of course, offend because he compared homosexuality to arsenic.  "I might have an urge to drink arsenic," he essentially said, "but that doesn't mean I should do it."  People who disparage this remark,  I think, are missing something.  "HE'S COMPARING HOMOSEXUALS TO ARSENIC," they say.  "THAT'S DEMEANING!  WHAT A BIGOT!"  Conversation over.  The pro-gay wins... But wait a minute!  Though you may think the pro-homosexual  argument is more sound, there was not an ounce of reasoning in the argument we just witnessed.  This fictional advocate for gay marriage did not break down  that argument methodically and isolate the logical flaws in the opponent's argument.  She just screamed real loud and considered the matter done with.

Too often this happens when we talk about controversial matters such as gay marriage.  We're too busy getting outraged to bother doing the work of critical thinking.  Therefore, without condoning or endorsing, I will point out a few arguments for and against gay marriage that do not hold water, and will deconstruct them using logic and critical thought.

 I'm a Natural!

In his clumsy metaphor, Rick Warren was attempting to rebut the following argument made by gay advocates:
  • PREMISE 1: Anything that is a natural desire should be permissible.
  • PREMISE 2: Homosexuality is a natural desire.
  • CONCLUSION: Therefore, homosexuality is permissible.
Now, in the case of drinking arsenic, Warren was just trying to come up with something that we all agree that you shouldn't do.  Unfortunately, the arsenic thing is a poor analogy.  Therefore, we will turn to the stronger example Warren provides. "Sometimes I feel like punching a guy in the nose.  It doesn't mean I act on it."   Therefore, Warren's rebuttal to the naturalness argument goes something like this:
  • PREMISE 3: Someone may have a natural desire to punch another person in the nose.
  • PREMISE 4: According to Premise 1, anything that is a natural desire should be permissible.
  • PREMISE 5: (conclusion drawn from Premises 3 & 4) By this reasoning, punching someone in the nose        would be permissible.
  • PREMISE 6: We as a society agree that punching someone in the nose is NOT permissible.
  • CONCLUSION 2: Therefore, PREMISE 1 is false, and the argument from naturalness is therefore faulty.  (EDIT: Previously said Premise 2 is false.  Changed to Premise 1 is false.)
This is no way proves that homosexuality is wrong.  All it demonstrates is that a certain argument for homosexuality is lacking in logical merit.  Often skeptics are threatened by this and run for the hills instead of actually addressing the rationale behind an argument.  They will instead take the low road and call people names and such, which brings me to my next form of bad argumentation: often made by either side.

The "Got" Words: Vilification of the other Side

When you vilify the other side, you end the conversation and squander any opportunity at rational argument.  The wheels come off of the conversation.  One side panics.  He cannot think.  Rationality goes out the window, and pure primal instinct takes over.  He turns into frenzied monster, with no means of reasoning.  "Hulk smash" is his only mode of communication.

The first "got" word that causes this frenzied state is "bigot."  Just because someone has a philosophical difference of opinion on what is right and wrong, that in no way means they are a bigot.  So, when someone says homosexuality is wrong and therefore they have misgivings supporting gay marriage, it is understandable that they would feel that way.  "You are calling a human being an abomination," the gay advocate will say.  "That is bigotry."  No, that is quoting the bible.  Furthermore, homosexuality is not a human being.  It is an act.  I am not defined, nor is anyone else defined, by what they do behind closed doors.

What are we saying when we call someone a bigot?  We are saying that they are calling someone inferior (morally, intellectually, intrinsically) by virtue of what they are (black, white, gay, straight).  This is not necessarily what someone who is anti-gay is saying.  Someone being gay or lesbian essentially means that they have the theoretical gay gene, but that does not necessarily mean that they are engaging in gay sex.  What religious people have a problem with is others actually going out and having sexual relations with someone of the same sex.  Now, you can tell them to mind their own business; you can call them old-fashioned; you can even call them ignorant, but do not call them a bigot, because that does not match definition.

I'm reminded of an advocate for gay marriage who shared his experiences of trying to convince conservative lawmakers on the matter.  He did not brow beat them or talk down to them.  He merely reasoned with them on their own terms.  He talked to them about things like love and loyalty -- concepts conservatives understood.  Ultimately, they were not convinced on gay marriage, but gradual he was able to sway them in the direction of civil unions.  That's progress you cannot get via spitting in someone's fact and calling them a bigot.  Many militant liberals may do well to learn this method.

In the same token, I have no patience for those who use the other, more incendiary "got" word (the first half of which is pictured below).  It is demeaning, and dehumanizing and instantly ruins all opportunities for rational argument; for not only are you taking the focus off the issue and on the intransigence of your words, but, also, you're making yourself look like a fool in the public light.  Whatever ideas you have about gay marriage will be overshadowed by your intolerant language and you will be cast aside into the barrel of the unreasoning along with the likes of the Flat-Earthers and the crackheads.  To summarize, you are a dumb ass, and, yes, you have now earned the moniker "bigot".

No, in all likelihood, God hates bigots who
carry a sign reading "God hates fags."

But It's Love!

The second argument I do not buy is merely calling marriage "love" and saying that, on that basis, we should therefore allow it.  The argument goes something like "why would religious people want to stop others from expressing love.  Religion is supposed to be all about love."  Why the idea of two people being denied the public expression of their love for each other is heartbreaking, there are two problems with this argument.  One: you are doing what is known as equivocating.  Equivocating occurs when you change the meaning of a word mid-argument in order to make a case.  If we are to get technical here, love -- in the most scientific of terms -- is known as a combination of three elements between two people: intimacy, passion, and commitment.  Obviously, the love espoused by religious people is closer to friendship in which the element of  passion is missing.  Therefore, the statement is in actuality saying "Why would religious people want to stop others from expressing sexual love?  Religion is supposed to be all about platonic relationships."  Obviously, this is argument makes no sense and is essence saying nothing.

Lolita is a Controversial book, turned controversial 
movie,  about a man who falls in love with an under-aged 
woman.  How do we, as a society,  determine that a sexual 
relationship between these two is wrong?

The second problem is of vagueness.  The meaning of love means many things to different people.  If we are allowing and disallowing people from marrying on the basis of love, how are we to disallow the fifty year old who convinces the fifteen year old that they are love?  Obviously, mere love is not the only criterion for allowing someone to marry; therefore, we should delve deeper.

Arguments Concerning Consent

Now, let's go from something scholarly to something what some might call sophomoric.  If you watch WWE at all, you would know about the wrestling faction known as Degeneration X.  Degeneration X consisted of popular wrestlers like Triple-H, HBK, and a cast of others.  In one episode of Raw, Stephanie McMahon was set to marry a wrestler known as Test (and, no, you won't be tested on this later).  In the middle of the wedding, Triple-H pulls of the granddaddy of all pranks.  He plays video footage of him marrying Stephanie McMahon the night before!  After drugging her, he takes her to a drive-thru wedding service and tricks the lady at the window into marrying them.  Obviously, that someone could marry in this way strikes us as immediately ridiculous.  Stephanie has to be aware of what's going on in order for there to be a fair exchanging of vows.  She wasn't even conscious.  Furthermore, there has to be consent.

An important issue in ethics is that of tainted consent.  Tainted consent occurs when one party either is coerced or has incomplete knowledge about the agreement being forged.  Thus, when consent is tainted, this deems a contract null and void.

Therefore, knowing this about marriage, we can come up with the appropriate responses to the following anti-gay arguments.

ARGUMENT 1: But if we have no limitations set on who can marry who, then what's to stop two kids from marrying?

This is where the issue of incomplete knowledge comes into play.  In order for a contract to be a good contract, both parties have to basically know what they are getting into.  You wouldn't sign a contract to sign away all of your droodmeyers if you didn't know what droodmeyer was.  You have to be knowledgeable of the incident at hand.  

Lawmakers realize this and therefore have age limits upon when you are considered an adult: namely when you are competent enough and have enough knowledge about the world to make your own decisions.  Therefore, when two homosexual men marry, they still should be within the law.

ARGUMENT 2: Well what's to stop me from marrying a mop?  An emu?

Nothing, if you can find someone who will do it for you.  Unfortunately, in order for it to be legally binding, again, there has to be consent and the other entity has be competent enough to make an informed decision.  In the case of the mop, there is no such thing as competence in its world, for it requires at least a brain to be incompetent.  As for the emu, maybe you can get some form of consent, but even then its competence level will be no more than that of a one-year-old.  Not even that.  Therefore, the rules of consent and competence have not been met in either of these instances.  Thus, on these grounds, you have no case.

As you may have noticed, I really have not made any arguments for or against gay marriage per se.  My major beef against each side is not in the content of their beliefs but in their weaponry.  You do not use a sword in a boxing match; you should not use poor reasoning in debate.