The Appaling Views of John C Wright on Islam – a study in error

John C Wright has written a piece here on Islam and history. It really is very bad but it is also quite nasty – I sometimes see Wright as just harmless but it is worth remembering how nasty his rhetoric can be. Being wrong is one thing, being wrong for the purpose of trying to invoke religious war is deeply immoral. Wright uses a crazy mix of facts and half truths. Several parts deal with the early history of Islam, which certainly is bloody and violent but no less so than the establishment of Wright’s religion – The Roman Catholic Church. That doesn’t make either religion good and it should cause a skeptical mind to consider the validity of a morality based on divine revelation but it also doesn’t make a religion inherently bad. Worse, it does not imply any kind of religious determinism – i.e. that somehow if a person is of religion X they must have a particular character or behavior, even when considered en-mass. The characteristics of a religious movement tend to be specific to time and place and as fickle as other social phenomenon.

I’ll pick out some specific levels of plain old wrong:

Continue reading “The Appaling Views of John C Wright on Islam – a study in error”

Has every state in history collapsed?

A few throw away quips on Twitter with Philip Sandifer and I found myself foolishly visiting Vox Day’s blog. Nothing much has changed and it is the same mix of deniable stuff that isn’t worth engaging with. However, I did notice this throw away remark: “Remember, every state in history has collapsed.” – this was in a post about this post http://www.internationalman.com/articles/the-deep-state <- a site I know nothing about so be careful.

Well that got me wondering. Firstly clearly no state will last forever just because entropy and the existence of the universe etc. However, ‘collapsing’ is a specific way for a state to end, rather than morphing into some other kind of state, amalgamating or sub-dividing. So how true is it that all states collapse?

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Where will UK Labour Go?

I don’t currently live in the UK and I haven’t been a member of the Labour Party for even longer, so I’m not really entitled to say very much about the current leadership battle. For those who don’t follow the ins and outs of one Britain’s best soap-operas, the defeat of the Labour Party in the last general election naturally led to the resignation of the party leader, the unfortunate Ed Milliband.

Currently voting for a new leader is set to close September 10 and The Guardian, unsurprisingly, has a breakdown of the candidates positions here http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2015/aug/13/labour-leadership-candidates-comparison-burnham-cooper-corbyn-kendall

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Fascism, Australia, Refugees and other things

lemongrabYesterday an extraordinary thing happened in Australia. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear the Australian Border Force announced that it would, in conjunction with Victorian* police, would be roaming the center of Melbourne and checking whether people ‘who crossed their path’ where in Australia legitimately. Now to make matters more like exactly what they sound like, the Australian Border Force is a newish agency cobbled together by the current government to protect Australia’s borders, and because that might not yet sound sufficiently creepy, they have black military style uniforms and are armed.

So, yes, literally black-uniformed armed paramilitaries roaming Melbourne demanding to see the papers of people they suspect to be insufficiently Australian.

Luckily the announcement led to mass protests and the whole things was cancelled when somebody finally realized that overtly imitating fascism is not the way to win friends and influence people.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-28/operation-fortitude-cancelled/6733008

Continue reading “Fascism, Australia, Refugees and other things”

Comparing Kerfuffles: Atheism + and social justice and stuff

A reply to a comment at File 770 that kind of ran away from me and was also both on & off topic in a some sort of quantum superposition of relevance.

<blockquote>David W. on August 15, 2015 at 11:09 am said:
True, but they also said that atheism should lead one to support social justice, based on atheism as a search for truth and justice being truth-based, as opposed to religion’s faith-based morality.</blockquote>

I recognizes this is very much sticking my finger straight into a particular can of worms and stirring it around and then saying ‘Hey look! worms!’ but…

Well yes, in so far as somebody who wants people to respect the rights and dignity of others and in particular the rights and dignity of people in groups that have often been marginalized by society *AND* in particular marginalized by organized religion *AND* for whom organized religion is often used as an excuse for retaining legal discrimination against, they had a strong point.

Personally, as an atheist I didn’t see it quite that way but probably because I saw my activism as being primarily as part of secular left wing movements with religious people involved. i.e. I’d rather be politically active in a movement that is orientated to social justice but has religious people in it, than active in an atheist movement that is focused on social justice. [In GRRM speak – I’m a fan of atheism but I’m not a truefan 🙂 ]

The key thing here was not who gets to call themselves an ‘atheist’ – anybody can but what should a movement advocating atheism be like. After all why even bother advocating for atheism unless there is some underlying ethical reason to do so. This is the point of the PZ Myers ‘dictionary atheism’ jibe – not believing in something isn’t much of a motive for doing something. If somebody is not only an atheist but actually feels that it is important to be active in organizations that advocate atheism and convince people that they should be atheists, then simply saying ‘I don’t believe in god’ is insufficient. I don’t believe in lots of things. What we could call ‘movement atheism’ or ‘organized atheism’ is going to depend on some kind of motivation or purpose or objective and the dictionary definition of atheism doesn’t provide that.

Now on top of that, moves to broaden atheist organizations so that more women, people of color and LGBTI people were represented and felt safe to speak in conventions (or safe to ATTEND) was met with significant push back from some quarters. Now it is important to note that the harassment of women was not confined to any one ideological grouping of men but the attempts to do something about it was met with a kind of quasi-libertarian and/or lets-keep-the-movement-big response from various quarters.

Focusing on that point is what brings me back to science fiction, ‘social justice’ and why it becomes an issue in any community of people. Putting aside wider ideological differences there is a principle that I think is actually coherent in most ethical systems: do not treat other people like shit. Or as expressed by the philosophers Bill S Preston and Theodore Logan esq. “Be Excellent to one another”. From a practical stand point of running conventions or online communities that means certain people have to change their behavior – you can’t act as if you are entitled to sex, you can’t act as if people who have been traditionally marginalized by society should stay marginalized in a community and , in short, you can’t act like jerk towards other people. That isn’t a new rule , ALL communities of people place some social (or legal) sanction on people who act obnoxiously to others – it is just that there have in the past been all sorts of exemptions that meant that communities would turn a blind-eye (or actively encourage) to people being a jerk (or worse) to members of particular groups or in particular ways.

Oddly this is one of the most fundamentally conservative things in modern thinking as it encapsulates two core conservative principles:

  1. Morality matters
  2. Social standards of behavior matter

The fury and the counter-reaction and the dressing it all up as either a quasi-libertarianism or an assault on religious freedom or an attack on male rights is actually about conservatives of various kinds (and certainly not ALL conservatives) reacting against the change to what those social standards of behavior are. Which is why discussion on these issues is so often covered in FUD and confusion. People on the right (with some exceptions) aren’t keen on arguing in against the notion that there should not be basic standards of decorum and decency. However if it is taken as given that there SHOULD be such standards it is clear that in modern society they can’t include sexual harassment, racial slurs or vilification, slurs on gender, gender identification/representation, sexuality or slurs aimed at men not meeting some masculine ideal*.

So just a quick comment then 🙂

Diversity of belief

There is a post here: http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2015/fans-try-bringing-diversity-of-thought-to-sci-fi-literature-and-that-scares-liberal-elitist-gatekeepers-to-death/ which via a comment has brought some visitors (hi!) but which was originally from here: http://chicksontheright.com/blog/item/30184-fans-try-bringing-diversity-of-thought-to-sci-fi-literature-and-that-scares-liberal-elitist-gatekeepers-to-death

It is yet another spin on the Sad/Rabid Hugo Kerfuffle and it has nice idea behind it. I know I’ve promised a Karl Popper post and have not yet delivered but one of Popper’s key ideas is the notion of an Open Society. Essentially a society in which ideas can be discussed freely and evaluated by individuals. Although the notion is political in nature it is closely tied to Popper’s epistemology which avoids dogmatic certainties and instead relies on a more evidential and provisional notion of truth. An open society is one that can adapt and change when reality runs counter to expectations.

So there is potential for an interesting claim there: perhaps a claim that the Hugo awards have become dominated by a single set of ideas and that this has stifled the dialog of ideas that the genre of SF/F is unique at providing. Sadly the article is largely just a rehash of same complaints and semi-truths. Even so there is enough to go on to consider whether the Puppies brought a diversity of ideas with them.

In terms of the banner award of Best Novel the answer is no. The Puppy nominees for best novel are OK books but don’t contain any new or particularly interesting ideas that an interested reader won’t have read before. Whatever Skin Game or the Dark Between the Stars have to author as novels might be, new and original ideas are not their strength. Beyond the novel and into the other works there are arguably some interesting ideas in Kary English’s Totaled and Lou Antonelli’s On a Spiritual Plain has a somewhat original take on death but neither are presenting ideas that would have been shut out of recent iterations of the award. John C Wright’s stories have some interesting ideas but each of his works intentionally invoke other stories and classic themes of fantasy and science fiction. Even the notion in One Bright Star to Guide Them of an adult returning to a fantasy world they met as a child is not new or an idea that the Hugo nomination process would avoid.

Looking over the categories it possibly only the the Best Related Work category that could even come close to representing an attempt to introduce more diversity of ideas. Of those the Hot Equations is unexceptional in its ideas, Letters from Gardner is primarily an autobiographical account of the writing process, The Science is Never Settled contains some original ideas but only when the author gets himself confused and the less said of Wisdom from My Internet the better. That really leaves only John C Wright’s Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth as the soul puppy contribution to ‘diversity of ideas’. So was that work the payload of all this angst ridden process? That seems unlikely and it runs counter to the other claims made by puppy supporters that they were trying to AVOID politics and heavy message fiction.

I guess we can just chalk it up to another spin of the Puppy narrative.

More on nomination systems for the Hugo awards [Updated]

[Update: an observant reader at File770 has pointed out that I may have misunderstood (and hence misrepresented) Brian’s position i.e. he is not sympathetic to a long list – and that also I may have misunderstood what the long list proposal was. Apologies to Brian in either case.]

So despite my recent attempts to provide counter-arguments in the form of meta-fiction or verse arguments continue at File770 over the E Pluribus Hugo nomination system. I say ‘arguments’ but it has been primarily one person (Brian Z)  repeating objections in the hope that somebody will bite.

The latest is support for an alternative suggestion: instead of a single nomination vote, there could be a two stage nomination. The first stage would be as per normal: eligible votes would submit a set of five (or less) works in each category that they liked. These nominations would be tallied and a long list of 15 works would be produced (possibly with the top 5 indicated). People would then nominate their preferred 5 from the long list. Brian is now advocating for this proposal.

I don’t regard Brian’s argument as sincere as the long list idea seems to have more of the flaws that he objected to with EPH

Continue reading “More on nomination systems for the Hugo awards [Updated]”