Saturday, April 17, 2010
One of the views shared by many who have posted on the relevant forums over the years was formulated by the user Calilasseia thusly: ‘Bad ideas exist to be destroyed.’ Indeed, this is the central thread that links this collection of writings, disparate as they may otherwise be.
Many of the essays included in this collection also share another similarity: the use of what may be considered, by some, profanity. Also know as swearing, cursing, and foul or bad language.
The often liberal use of expletives in some of these tracts may appear gratuitous and immature, even offensive. The reader is advised to bear in mind the aforementioned notion: bad ideas exist to be destroyed, in this case formulated as what has become known as Goldenmane’s Third Rule of Public Discourse, commonly referred to as Rule #3: swear a lot.
Rule #3 was formulated initially as a joke, the point being that it serves as a way of distinguishing between those conversational opponents who were capable of addressing an argument intellectually, rationally, and logically, and those who were governed entirely by emotion. The key here is to realise that those governed by emotion would be those who would be offended (and loudly) by the use of words like fuck, cunt, shit, piss, arsehole, and sundry others. Such people would tend to leave a debate or conversation in high dudgeon, complaining loudly about the language their interlocutors were using. So much the better. There is little worth in continuing a discussion with someone who bases their entire position on emotion, and it’s all to the good if they can be induced to chuck the shits and storm out, since it starkly highlights the intellectual vacuity of their entire approach.
What started as a jest (as all good jests do) rapidly developed more profound ramifications. For example: the words used to refer to swearing (including, tellingly, “swearing”) reveal an unholy (or perhaps overly holy) reliance upon certain magical notions. ‘Cursing’, ‘swearing’, ‘using God’s name in vain’ and the like all rest upon the rather quaint and somewhat silly notion that words have magical power. Whilst words do have power (the power to communicate ideas being primary), there’s no evidence whatsofuckingever to suggest that incantations can make shit magically happen.
The idea that certain combinations of sounds (always culturally determined) can have inherent magically ‘bad’ properties is, to be blunt, bullshit. Most such words from around the world’s different cultures are related to one of two things: fucking and shitting. Why these two essential processes for a complex sexually-reliant species that needs to eat should become the ‘bad’ words I’m not going to debate here. Suffice it to say that from a rational modern perspective, it’s a little bizarre. But I’ll work with it. It’s my fucking medium, after all.
Bad ideas exist to be destroyed. The notion that words can inherently be bad is a bad idea. It springs from primitive beliefs about words being magical. Similarly, the intellectual coward’s retreat from debate under the banner of ‘my opponent swears’ is rooted in the same notion. It also provides them with an easy escape route, and in this sense it is offered up as a service: allowing them to exit with the personal sense that they have retained the moral high ground, even if they have been unable to support their own arguments.
What renders the whole notion of ‘bad language’ truly ludicrous is that words are just effectively arbitrary collections of sounds (or letters, if written down). Start with ‘c’. Add a ‘t’: ‘ct’. Add a ‘u’: ‘cut’ Wow, we now have a word that we recognise. There’s nothing bad about the word, just as there’s nothing bad about the letters it is made from. Now add an ‘n’: cnut.
That should, properly, be rendered Cnut, it being a proper noun. Chap is famous for arguing with the sea, or something. The sea, of course, ignored him, because words aren’t actually magical. Changing Cnut around a little makes him a cunt. Where’s the fucking magic?
In writing this, I have been reminded to add a little explanation of Rules 1 and 2. An explanation was posted some time ago. Here it is, and I hope the reader gains some understanding:
Sweet juicy Mohammed on Satan's glistening prong, you want comedy and explanations on demand?
I can give you the explanation, but I can't guarantee the comedy. I've got stage fright, and as everyone knows stage fright causes the balls to shrink and try to hide in the body, and as everyone also knows the balls are where the comedy glands reside, which is why (as Hitchens so rightly pointed out) women aren't funny. Unless they have balls. Evidence of this, in case anyone was wondering, is there to be seen. Just look at the scrotum. Take a long, hard (or flaccid, depending on your proclivities) look, and tell me that the scrotum isn't fucking funny. You'll be lying if you say it isn't. The scrotum is like the world's most honest packaging. It says, "Here be comedy. There is literally and categorically nothing as funny as this.
It's an evolutionary thing. Dick Dawkins even touched on it (well, there's really no other way to put it, is there? No quote mines, please, I won't have it said that Dick touches his, or any other, scrotum any more than strictly necessary) in The Greatest Show on Earth, where he points to the completely ridiculous path the vas deferens takes. It's fucking bizarre and surreal. Any designer who came up with that and was still responsible for the entirety of everything is a joker on a colossal scale. It's the only possible answer that isn't pants-shittingly terrifying. And as it is, it's minor-incident-of-bowel-incontinence scary. You wonder why God is referred to as He? It can only be because the fucker's a sadistic practical joker, with testicles the size of... well, how do you measure such balls?
The other option is that He doesn't exist, of course, but some well-known people have, historically, bet against that.
Anyway, enough (as the sage said) of that guff: Rule #3. The strict name of said rule is Goldenmane's 3rd Rule of Public Discourse, and stackhishash has quoted the short form verbatim: Swear a lot. The reasons are, I hope, obvious, and need no further explanation. Rules #1 and #2 are both the same as, and yet separate from, Rule #3. Simply put, Rule #1 dictates the rules (whilst being identical to Rule #3) and Rule #2 fucks about in the background somehow making globules of retarded effluent seem to mean something that gives Rule #3 its efficacy.
To put it another way, Rules 1,2 and 3 are the same goddamn rule, but invoking Rule #3 is all that is needed to have a cock-suckingly good life, and if you fucking well understand Rule #3, you'll stop asking for explanations. Fuck.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Friday, November 13, 2009
The Tree of Knowledge’s (per Genesis) full title was, after all, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Quite aside from the fucking ridiculous theological knots this presents us with, the fundamental idea is that Good and Evil not only absolutely exist and are in some way in actual constant contest with each other, and the only reason we can tell the difference between the two sides is because that bitch Eve had no self-control around quinces. Which is odd, really, because if we can tell the difference as a result of a bit of inadvertent scrumping, then why would we need to be told? More fucking knots than Mistress Truss-em-up on a good Friday night…
In reality, there’s about as much evidence for the existence of Good and Evil as there is for God, which is to say bugger-all. To those of us minded to take our cues from reality as opposed to made-up bullshit, morality is nothing to do with these illusive constructs. Morality is an interplay between two things:
i) The group of behaviours exhibited by evolved social animals, which both grew out of and enabled the development of said social animals, also known as Why Not Everyone’s a Cunt; and
ii) The process – and product – of the application of abstract reasoning to our perceptions and experiences of our interaction with others and our wider environment, also known as Thinking About How Not to be a Cunt.
Where does morality come from? Well, it’s an artificial (as much as anything is) construct that pretty much just acts as an excuse for whatever it is that you’ve just done, or are about to do. That’s the very simplified answer dealing with the religious version of morality. It’s a fucking excuse. No foul, though, in a larger sense, since that’s pretty much what your consciousness acts as: a generator of excuses.
Our evolutionary development has armed us with certain behavioural responses to certain stimuli. Reciprocal altruism is one, and generally cast as a rather nice one. Tribalism may well be another, and if so, it’s a fucking ugly one. It fits, though.
The point is that even if my behavioural tendencies, inherited through selection over millions of years, are such that I’m inclined to be a right cunt, reason trumps that. I may, possibly, be hardwired to be wary or suspicious of people with brown skin. I don’t know if I am, but it stands out as a prominent example. I may be hardwired somehow to class women as some mysterious baby-generating devices. Even were that the case, I also have the capacity to weigh such behavioural tendencies and realise that they’re bullshit.
When the religious buggers come and spout ‘morality’ at us, it may behoove us to remember that they’re talking another language. They may be using words that sound the same, but they mean something completely fucking different.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This is a very useful thing to do. Life would be rather different and more difficult if we were to periodically attempt to pluck the moon to stave off scurvy. Categories are helpful. But there’s a problem that arises from this, too, and it’s the problem of boundaries.
When you place something in a category, you are placing a conceptual boundary around it. In a rough-and-ready, daily existence fashion this works. It’s a sort of mental shorthand that’s useful for general purposes. It becomes a problem, though, when those abstract boundaries are attributed significance beyond mental shorthand, and viewed as rules which the real world follows.
Take the often-misunderstood field of taxonomy, and the notion of species, for example. Now, ‘species’ is a useful classification tool, but many people get confused and the evolution-deniers come from that confusion, because they insist on rigid boundaries where there really are none, either chronological or geographical. This insistence upon rigid boundaries of distinction allows them to insist that insipid bullshit like ‘evolution says that we come from apes, but what did the first human mate with? It couldn’t have been an ape, because they’re different species!’ is actually a valid argument, rather than a categorical and undeniable display of pig-shit ignorance.
It’s backwards thinking again, this idea that conceptual distinctions used to get a handle on the real world actually dictate how the real world works. It’s magical thinking, too, a sort of postmodernist ‘my brain creates the world’ assumption which appears to rest on the notion that you can dictate reality if you think really hard at it. But I digress.
The point is that we tend to think in terms of categories, but this tendency is revealed as not-really-reflective-of-the-real-world when we examine the notion of boundaries, those borders between things. It turns out, when you examine those borders, that they aren’t really there, or at the very least they’re extremely fuzzy, and become more and more fuzzy the closer you look at them.
I’ll look at the ‘when life emerged from the oceans’ idea to illustrate. The boundary between ‘ocean’ and ‘land’ seems pretty fucking clear-cut, yeah? So we’re looking for the first animal to crawl out of the water and start sunbathing or something, or so it might first appear. Actually, that’s fucking simple-minded and stupid – so stupid, in fact, that evolution-deniers can see the stupidity of it. They choose to stick with the rigid-boundaries notion, though, and that’s where their thinking fails them. Let’s go for a walk on the beach…
First off, lets take a fairly calm day. Even on a calm day, the ocean isn’t still. There’s swell, even if slight. So if you were to arbitrarily decide that the boundary between water and sand or rock is where you draw the distinction, well, that boundary moves – constantly. And there are forms of life which actually rely on that. It’s the environmental niche in which they fit. And they are diverse, being plants and animals, and I’ll give you short fucking odds that they include a fuck-off lot of bacteria.
That’s the thing: everywhere we’ve looked on this godforsaken planet, we’ve found life. Most of it’s bacterial, but it’s undeniably life. There are species of bacteria that are uniquely suited to life behind your left ear, for example. Again, I digress.
Now, go near to the edge of the water, on the beach side of our now-acknowledged-as-shifting boundary. Start digging. It won’t be long before you hit water. The ocean and the land bleed into each other. This boundary we had in our heads has become pretty blurry…
…and that’s because, in reality, and to ‘life’, the boundary isn’t there. Not really. Life hangs about wherever it is because it can, or if something changes in an organism or its environment, that organism hangs about if it can. Now, a deep-sea quid isn’t going to climb out of the ocean and start walking around, but that’s just absurdity talking. Life is, ultimately, a massive, complicated series of chemical reactions on (at least) a planetary scale. And the boundaries that we create in our heads – those boundaries that help us to eat fruit instead of car-parts – don’t really, ultimately, reflect reality. They are conceptual boundaries, they don’t really exist as we tend to think they do.
And that, incidentally, is why creationists think abiogenesis is such a big load of bogeyman’s bollocks. According tho their conceptual boundaries, there’s a great big boundary smack-bang in the middle between life and non-life. That boundary doesn’t really exist, though, as is becoming increasingly clear.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
My response (as originally posted on RDnet):
That was a nice, thoughtful article. And I have a suggestion regarding "how such a confusion (can) have occurred". It goes a little something like this:
Christianity isn't, for many (if not most) anything to do with developing as a decent person. It's all about getting into Heaven. It's a game, ultimately, of ultimate greed. The notion of "working on one's relationship with God" is really just a euphemism for "sucking God's cock so He'll keep me out of Hell". Another way to put it would be that it's the metaphysical equivalent of obsequiously sucking up to the boss in the hopes of getting a promotion.
This, incidentally, is another reason I find this shit ridiculous. If there was a God, and it's the kind of God that would reward such lackwit arselicking over genuine inquiry and integrity, I could in no wise bring myself to worship it. By their fruits, after all, shall ye judge them.
Anyway, this is the problem with the whole "eternal reward" basis of a morality. People are inclined to go for the prize. We evolved as social apes, and bribery is pretty much an instinctual part of that social milieu. So if the prize is presented, and there's a judge determining who gets it, humans will try to bribe the judge. Or find other ways to influence the decision.
We're tricky, clever little buggers, humans. We're pretty good at manipulating systems, or at least attempting to. We like to fuck with the rules, or simply ignore them if we think we can get away with it. So what you tend to see, when you hold up "eternal reward", is that people become highly motivated to get that reward, and instinctively try to find any way they can to get it as easily as possible. It's far easier to suck the ineffable cock than to actually consider one's actions and the people you interact with. They don't matter, only the prize matters.
And even if people are minded to pay attention to the rules, and the rules say "the only way you get this prize is by being a really tops person", all it really tends to produce is a sort of braggadocio, an unsavoury strutting about, a display of "look how fucking nice and wonderful I am!" in the hopes that God will be fooled into giving you the prize.
It's a fucking joke, because the motivation isn't to get along with others, and help build and develop a society which is actually really fucking awesome for everybody, because that is something so mind-blowingly fucking cool and I'd really like to live there. It's a simple, selfish, misguided and horrible desire to win an imaginary bauble and laugh for eternity at the fuckers who didn't. It's obscene.
(Edit: such != suck)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
(Note: this is the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)
Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results - and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.
You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that "99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae". In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence.
I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.
But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.
In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.
More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.
Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.
Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."
This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.
If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Still, we plug away, in the hopes that reason will take its rightful place in human endeavours.