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Archive for March 2013

Alex Grey’s “Gaia”

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Alex_Grey_Gaia

At first glance, Alex Grey’s “Gaia” presents a sharp dichotomy between unspoiled Nature (hooray!) and industrial civilization (booo!). But Grey’s attempt is foiled by his own imagery.

The artist loves eyes, for good reason: eyes represent awareness and look trippy even when you’re sober. To stick them on things that aren’t aware, though, like the central tree and the atmosphere, admits that the biocentric message is hollow. If the best way to elicit sympathy for non-human objects is to make them look more like humans, it suggests humans really are superior. Even “nature” on the left side is crafted to appeal to human needs–a savannah, the environment in which people evolved.

The faces in the sun and moon are particularly jarring, contrasted with the mechanical ICBMs soaring nearby. All I can think about are the actual missiles from space–the comets and asteroids–that strike the earth every hundred million years or so, perfectly natural and perfectly horrifying to things that actually do have faces outside of medieval tapestries.

The inconsistency appears in reverse, too: look at the giant phallus at the bottom-right of the tree. Its appendages are either insect legs or thorny branches, unnerving precisely because they represent wildlife free of pesticides or plows. The attempt to marshal imagery from Genesis into the service of Gaia is particularly awkward, since Eden’s villain was a snake, not a steam engine.

I’m not criticizing Grey for demonizing nature (plenty of it is scary!). What bothers me is the self-refuting effort to imply human action is a moral offense against the biosphere, when really people are the only things that give the universe any worth. Trees, moons, and clouds make no distinction between right or wrong. Only things with brains can do that.

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Written by pinkocrat

March 15, 2013 at 5:11 pm

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Notes on the National Atheist Party platform

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I don’t think an atheist political party is a good idea in the US for two reasons:

1) I don’t think any third party is a good idea.  First-past-the-post electoral systems strongly encourage two and only two parties, and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are going to collapse soon.  If the NAP runs candidates (which they currently cannot, but eventually intend to), they will not win a single seat in anything.

2) Even if you like third-parties, it’s still a waste of time to make one that duplicates an existing party.  And someone who supports the NAP platform is basically a progressive Democrat who wants to tax churches.

Like any political platform, though, it has its interesting bits.  Dive in with me!

A) Economy

With a cognizance of our national security, an awareness of the scientific community’s research into global climate change, and a desire to create new jobs, we must as a nation bring to a halt our national dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. To this end, we call for a “Manhattan Project” or “Apollo program” level of national commitment and research into green energy solutions.

I’ll try to avoid points on style and structure, but this platform needs an editor.  One who might suggest writing a snappier opening sentence, and removing duplicate points (like universal healthcare and church taxation), and not using the word “surcease”.

The phrase “foreign oil” is misleading, because oil is traded in a global market (and NAP opposes domestic oil regardless).

This party recognizes that the criminalization of drug use stems from a position grounded in religion.

Neither the stated reasons for drug prohibition (health, productivity, crime) nor the widely accepted unofficial reasons (competing economic interests, with a seasoning of racism) are primarily religious.

B) Jobs

 The traditional policy of “spend-down” – in which each department tries to spend its entire budget each fiscal segment, in order to justify receiving more money in the next – shall be halted.

How?

Jobs are created when innovation occurs. There is no argument or question that this is true.

This unusually dogmatic statement is false, especially in the short term.  Innovation makes certain activities and skills obsolete.  Innovation often increases a population’s net well-being, but it doesn’t always lead to more jobs.

All of our modern technological conveniences, from LCD and LED display technology to studless tires and athletic shoes, have been developed as spin-off technologies from NASA. The lesson is clear: investment in advanced technology reaps huge economic rewards. …

The NAP believes that the alternative energy industry, or “green energy”, is an untapped source of jobs. If a national mandate for alternative energy research and installation in existing homes and businesses would create jobs and revitalize the economy.

I’ll assume there’s a typo and NAP doesn’t actually credit NASA for the entirety of modern technology.  More seriously, it’s dangerous to justify green energy by promising jobs.   Green energy is good for the environment only to the extent that it replaces fossil fuels, which leaves fewer jobs in coal, oil, and gas.

E) Abortion

It is our position that legislation inhibiting a woman’s right to choose is based on religious concerns of morality and conception, and does not reflect the scientific community’s consensus of when a fetus can be said to be an independent organism.

What is that consensus, and how does wanting to ban abortion reject it?  Are they talking about the morning-after pill?

F) Gay Rights

We call for a Constitutional amendment recognizing the rights of the GLBT, alongside other distinguished characteristics like race, creed, and national origin.

We already have one.

H) Immigration

The U.S. is currently experiencing a large influx of documented and undocumented immigration from Mexico and other places. Many of these workers are paid “under the table,” and many more pay into a system from which they will never see a benefit. The National Atheist Party believes that the current system of Immigration policies is deeply flawed. We move for a relaxation of Citizenship Qualification Standards, and a liberal border policy allowing workers to come and go as they please.

This might be the most radical plank in the platform, and I suspect it’s here only because they didn’t really think through the consequences.

P) Foreign Policy

In order to move forward in a peaceful and responsible manner, the NAP believes that the U.S.’s role in U.N. Peacekeeping missions should be reduced and eliminated entirely when possible. The U.S. should modify its role to an advisory position and only field troops in a dire emergency of last resort. For too long, we have spent taxpayers’ money and the lives of our young men and women in support of conflicts that may have been diplomatically solved.

The whole point of peacekeeping missions is to prevent eruptions of violence so that they can be diplomatically solved.

The U.S. is in a deficit position with foreign economies like China and Japan. To combat this, we support a leveling of the playing field by de-incentivizing the movement of manufacturing overseas and imposing a fair tariff on imported goods. Our focus now should be on debt reduction.

Which imported goods?  All of them?  How is debt reduction involved?

Q) Faith/Religion

The National Atheist Party believes in the U.S. Constitution, and in the wisdom of the Founding Fathers who wrote it. These great men had the foresight to erect a wall of separation between church and state; a wall that has been eroding for many years.

I would take tax-supported churches and Jesus on our money in return for never hearing about the Wisdom of Our Founders ever again.

R) Organ Donation

Organ donation can save a life that would otherwise end in tragedy. Recognizing this, we believe that the parents of a recently deceased child should be given full authority to donate the remains and help others who are less fortunate.

Huh?  Is this not currently the case?

S) Constitutional Matters

Although today’s proliferation of media outlets, including the Internet and other electronic news sources virtually guarantees that any viewpoint can be heard, a cursory examination of primary national news outlets shows an increasingly biased and polarized reporting atmosphere. Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, especially in a modified form that accounts for the growing number of independent and electronic media outlets, would restore the level playing field that has been missing from the post-911, hopelessly partisan news media.

Skeptics should demand more than a “cursory examination”.

* * * *

(Apologies for lack of comment on NAP’s signature policy, the tax-exempt status of churches.  I don’t know enough to have an opinion.)

Written by pinkocrat

March 8, 2013 at 6:15 am

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On passing a huge turd

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The most difficult dumps are the most rewarding, when you sit down and immediately discover the disconcerting incongruence between this giant fucking turd and your impossibly constricted sphincter. Nature has called you to challenge yourself–your pain tolerance, your endurance. The first half of the turd is a monster, but your sphincter expands and the turd is squeezed through in a compromise between your body and the morphological laws of matter. As you reach half-way it slides quicker, and finally the turd tapers off and the jumble of despair and hope and anticipation is washed away in a pseudo-orgasmic warmth.

A shit is a profound pleasure, both in meeting the physical need to void and in reconnecting you with your own digestion. Eating is more complicated, in that its base pleasure is often diluted by social graces and ethical concerns. I’m not going to pretend that pissing doesn’t feel good, but it’s more like a accommodating a need than an experience in itself. It’s the nicotine to shitting’s weed. Pissing feels kinda nice, and certainly relieves an uncomfortable pressure, but shitting is a positive joy.

Taking a dump is one of the only activities that’s both viscerally pleasurable and universally accepted. Not only is time spent on the toilet gratifying, it feels productive. If you have activities to attend, most people will excuse your absence if you really need to shit, a card you can’t play with sex or even eating. It’s telling that the most soul-crushing institutions–high schools, factories, barracks, prisons—all assume the right to tell you when to shit.

Written by pinkocrat

March 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm

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Conservatives understand the stakes of gay marriage

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Social conservatives are naturally inclined to portray evolution as revolution, but they’re substantially correct about same-sex marriage.  Rhetoric like “It doesn’t effect your marriage” suggests gay marriage is just a minor legal tweak, when it’s more like one victory in an ongoing gender revolution.  I broadly agree with NRO’s Dennis Prager in his response to Republican Jon Huntsman’s recent endorsement of marriage equality:

I believe that the ultimate aim of the LGBT movement and the rest of the cultural Left is nothing less than to end gender distinctions.

It’s obviously a generalization that ignores a lot of gay/trans/feminist infighting, but yes, leftists generally do think most gender distinctions are pointless and poisonous.  But these intuitions are so deep that we’re baffled when conservatives say things like:

…the consequences of redefining marriage — asking children if they hope to marry a boy or a girl when they get older, banning religious adoption agencies from placing children first with a married man and woman, denying the importance of both sexes in making families, choosing boys to be high-school prom queens and girls to be high-school prom kings, and much more…

we think, “Do they realize how ridiculous that sounds?”  And the answer is no, they don’t, because it isn’t ridiculous to them.  Any major change in marriage–and officially declaring that gender is irrelevant is a major change–is a potential threat to the institution.  As Jennifer Thieme at the Christian Post puts it:

Gay marriage does not exist as a stand-alone policy issue.  Nor is it a conservative issue, because it requires the natural family to be dismantled at the level of public policy. True conservatives support limited government, and they understand that there are other institutions which serve to limit government power. Two of these institutions are the natural family and religion.

There’s truth here.  Families, churches, and the state provide overlapping economic goods: healthcare, food, housing and job training.  That means a larger state can make traditional family roles less important.

I think gender-role-based nuclear families unfairly task husbands with being sole “providers”and make wives into dependent unpaid laborers, and I’d feel more economically secure getting welfare from a legally accountable bureaucracy that doesn’t get frustrated if I don’t want to have sex or go to church.  Same-sex marriage to me is the culmination of decades of feminist work to build relationships on joy rather than economic obligation.  But if you like the old model, it’s a nightmare.

Written by pinkocrat

March 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm

“The hole left by the Christian dark ages”

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This chart is horseshit.

DarkAges

It’s horseshit logic based on horseshit history.

As a history of science, it’s glaringly bad.  Since the scientific method wasn’t really developed until early modern (Christian) Europe, let’s assume “scientific advancement” means philosophical and technological  innovation.  There was no precipitous drop to barbarism in the fifth century (and little disruption in the “Byzantine” Roman east).  Western Europe suffered the collapse of infrastructure, but monasteries preserved classical learning until church-supported universities began to thrive in the early second millennium.  Along the way medieval Europeans gained wind and water mills, spectacles, rudders, and a host of other inventions Augustus didn’t dream of.

Europe in 400 CE was not equal in “scientific advancement” to Europe in 1600.

But suppose the chart was completely accurate: what does it prove?  That religion is harmful?  That’s unlikely–learning flourished under early Islam (another problem with the chart–it ignores everyone but Europeans).  Is it that Christianity in particular is bad for science?  That’s hard to argue, given that Christian civilization produced Galileo and Newton.

As an alternate history (“What if there was no ‘hole’?”), it’s hackwork.  Before Rome, states had risen and fallen for thousands of years and none had taken this exponential trajectory.  By 400 Rome was already fracturing for reasons unrelated to Jesus.  Even if it weren’t, widespread slavery dampened the demand for labor-saving technology, and classical thinkers shunned physical experiments (manual labor!) in favor of thought experiments.

One final note: when Christians invented steam engines, they used it for pumps and looms and locomotives.  The ancient Greeks used theirs to wow the masses with fake miracles.

Written by pinkocrat

March 1, 2013 at 11:34 am