1. Speaking of Repeating History…

    October 30, 2008 by Craig

    Check out the Christians praying on the bronze bull statue at Wall Street as they “try” to rescue the economy. Godless heathens cackle indeed.

  2. Teach the Controversy

    October 23, 2008 by Craig

    These are in reference to the Discovery Institute’s intelligent design promotional campaign. I don’t know if they have a T-shirt too.

    (Found at Fark)

  3. Wikipedia Tourism #12

    August 15, 2008 by Craig

    Poe’s Law — Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to tell the difference between religious Fundamentalism and a parody thereof.

    From List of eponymous laws (sorry, there’s no article for the law itself).

  4. Follow the Leader

    by Craig

    Marco and I have been talking a lot about the role of leadership in organizations. We’ve gotten on to a lot of different tangents, but there’s one important point I’d like to make out in the clear.

    Marco’s Bro writes:

    When I put someone in charge it’s because I want them to use their discretion — I believe they can be successful. I trust their judgment.

    I expect that their team members will support them. I don’t expect unquestioning obedience or anything, but I expect everyone to realize that Leader Guy is, in fact, Leader Guy because I thought he was the best person for the job.

    I know Marco’s Bro and, in real life, would probably accept most of his decisions. However, I disagree with this way of thinking in a general sense. My response to his statement goes like this:

    What if you made a mistake? What if Leader Guy deceived you into thinking he’s more capable than he really is? What if he’s no longer as capable as he once was (personal problems, brain injury, etc)? What if he’s now out of his area of competence (see: the Peter Principle). What if you only rationalized to yourself that he’s trustworthy, when in actual fact you installed him because he’s dating your sister? What if your trust in him stems from his Harvard degree that his father bought for him? What if your boss chose you because he knew you’d choose That Guy, who happens to be his nephew?

    Authority is a dangerous thing. When you trust in vested authority over other qualities then you put all of your eggs in the basket of the authority figure; your risk has gone up dramatically. That may turn out OK if the leader happens to be a good decision maker. However, thousands of years of history have shown us that following the leader doesn’t always work out well, and can often be disastrous. I’m sure everyone has been in a situation where they’ve had to accept the authority of someone who, on the face of it, shouldn’t have been given that power (I know that everyone in the U.S. has).

    Marco and His Bro have stated that they don’t expect unquestioning obedience in the leader, but that when the leader has made a decision, they expect the rest of the team to go along with it, even if they think it’s wrong. This strengthens my argument against authority while at the same time cuts its legs out from under it. Yes, you want your leader to be taking the arguments of his subordinates into consideration. If, at the end of the day, he rejects them regardless of their validity, then they may as well not have been voiced in the first place. Both Marco and His Bro have said that if they’d heard of dissent escaping from the confines of the team and propagating up to their level, they’d tend to trust the leader and think of the dissenter as a troublemaker. Of course, that may true in a some cases, but this policy definitely puts a chilling effect on dissent that could be beneficial (or even critical).

    In one of my instant messaging chats with Marco, the topic of religion (very briefly) came up. Religion is, of course, the ultimate in authority, both in a supernatural and in a real-world sense. Especially in monotheism, a deity has overwhelming power over its followers, who in turn have none over it. That deity, in turn “installs” its own hierarchy of people to act as a local authority on its behalf — at least according to the people in the hierarchy. Since these people supposedly have privileged access to the deity, they are effectively granted authority by the followers. Religion is particularly good at suppressing dissent, through everything from genocide down to making virtues out of trust and belief without evidence.

    Evidence and reasoning are the keys to overcoming the risks associated with authority. They are the great equalizers, because Nature doesn’t care one bit about who has granted authority to whom — but with enough evidence and reasoning you can navigate the rules that Nature has put in place and use them to achieve your goals.

    It may very well be that the chosen leader makes successful decisions because she applies the best evidence and reasoning to a problem. Ideally, this should be true in every case; you can make the best decision possible in the shortest amount of time when you don’t have to explain and justify it to others. But we all know that this doesn’t happen every time. Even if the leader has the best reasoning skills, she may not have the best evidence, and so her conclusions might be suboptimal.

    This is why I reject authority that exists for its own sake. If an authority figure makes a decision, let the decision stand on its own merits, not on the position of the person who makes it. If it’s a good decision (based on the reasoning and on the evidence), then it’s worth supporting. If there’s an better one, let it be the course of action, regardless of who proposed it. If gathering evidence is too costly (and it often is), then it’s OK to go with the assumptions of the most “experienced” person on the team, but be prepared to reject those assumptions when the evidence contradicts it. Personal experience is a valid argument (we rely on it for a great many decisions), but it’s a weak one, and it should be overridden and/or augmented by objective evidence whenever possible.

    Authority, at best, illegitimately takes credit for success. At worst, it leads to failure. Be skeptical of it at all times.

  5. Wikipedia Tourism #11

    June 27, 2008 by Craig

    The Pastafarian belief of heaven stresses that it contains beer volcanoes and a stripper factory. Hell is similar, except that the beer is stale, and the strippers have VD.

    From Flying_Spaghetti_Monster: Beliefs.

  6. Lies We Tell Kids (and Ourselves)

    May 14, 2008 by Craig

    Paul Graham has posted a great essay on the lies and misdirections we tell to children, the reasons we do it, and the consequences of doing so. There’s one passage I particularly liked:

    Telling a child they have a particular ethnic or religious identity is one of the stickiest things you can tell them. Almost anything else you tell a kid, they can change their mind about later when they start to think for themselves. But if you tell a kid they’re a member of a certain group, that seems nearly impossible to shake.

    This despite the fact that it can be one of the most premeditated lies parents tell. When parents are of different religions, they’ll often agree between themselves that their children will be “raised as Xes.” And it works. The kids obligingly grow up considering themselves as Xes, despite the fact that if their parents had chosen the other way, they’d have grown up considering themselves as Ys.

    One reason this works so well is the second kind of lie involved. The truth is common property. You can’t distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by “outsiders” on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren’t an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? If they aren’t an X, why do all the non-Xes call them one?

    Now, to segue a bit:

    This form of lie is not without its uses. You can use it to carry a payload of beneficial beliefs, and they will also become part of the child’s identity. You can tell the child that in addition to never wearing the color yellow, believing the world was created by a giant rabbit, and always snapping their fingers before eating fish, Xes are also particularly honest and industrious. Then X children will grow up feeling it’s part of their identity to be honest and industrious.

    My grandmother has, on a couple of occasions, (jokingly) said to Laura that “she must have some Irish in her” due to her cheerful and outgoing personality. Laura happens to be Latin American and of course has pretty much zero actual Irish ancestry. There are cheerful and outgoing people in all cultures, but we like to assign people to groups and then infer properties about the person based on the properties we’ve observed or assigned to the group. That’s called prejudice, and it’s misleading even when it’s done with positive intentions.


    We arrive at adulthood with a kind of truth debt. We were told a lot of lies to get us (and our parents) through our childhood. Some may have been necessary. Some probably weren’t. But we all arrive at adulthood with heads full of lies.

    There’s never a point where the adults sit you down and explain all the lies they told you. They’ve forgotten most of them. So if you’re going to clear these lies out of your head, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

    Few do. Most people go through life with bits of packing material adhering to their minds and never know it. You probably never can completely undo the effects of lies you were told as a kid, but it’s worth trying. I’ve found that whenever I’ve been able to undo a lie I was told, a lot of other things fell into place.

  7. Protection from Black Magic

    March 24, 2008 by Craig

    When we Westerners hear the adjective “Tantra”, we generally think “hour-long orgasms“, not “black magicians trying to kill people on primetime TV“. Fortunately my blog is here to broaden your horizons.

    James Randi might have put up a million dollars, but this guy staked his whole life (twice) that the paranormalist in question was full of crap. Needless to say, he won. The best part was near the end though:

    After nearly two hours, the anchor declared the tantrik’s failure. The tantrik, unwilling to admit defeat, tried the excuse that a very strong god whom Sanal might be worshipping obviously protected him. “No, I am an atheist,” said Sanal Edamaruku.

    Via Fark

  8. Self Oppression

    February 12, 2007 by Craig

    Just this past Friday, I had a conversation with my aunt on oppression and how very much of it is self-imposed / tolerated. Especially among the religious, restriction of personal freedom is often seen as a good thing by the restricted.

    There’s a small town in Quebec called Herouxville that’s been making the news these days. They created a code of conduct for immigrants that prohibits a lot of stereotypically Muslim horrific behavior.

    What I’d like to note here is that the Muslim women (whom the code of conduct is supposed to “protect”) claim that they’re not oppressed in the first place. While we’re not talking about enburqa’d Afghani women here (these Canadian residents are far more liberated than that), I’d still argue that they are to some degree. They’re effectively required to wear headscarves, for religious and not fashion reasons. The key is that they have a Stockholm-syndromesque belief with regards to their oppression. I think that it’s a very common thing throughout the entire world, and it explains how a lot of oppression can continue to exist.

    One other thing to note: while most of the Herouxville rules are along the lines of personal-safety (ex: don’t stone women), there are some that cross the line into oppression themselves (ex: don’t wear headscarves). That’s a bit of irony that I’m sure the townspeople don’t realize.