Huge rally for Turkish secularism

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 29th, 2007

“Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Istanbul in support of secularism in Turkey, amid a row over a vote for the country’s next president.” BBC News

This is related to open vs closed societies…

Someone Does Not Want You To Read This

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 28th, 2007

Offense and its critics 3: open and closed societies

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 28th, 2007

Thanks for your thoughts. I have been advancing my thinking on freedom of speech. (Advancing where remains to be seen.)

I want to slightly restate your question but hopefully it will still be a relevant response. Question: How does an open and a closed society interact and do they have responsibly for consequences outside their culture? I am using Karl Poppers terminology, but we will assume open society->protected free speech, closed society->restricted speech.

I will attempt to argue that self censorship to avoid outrage in another culture is in fact their culture imposing on the author’s culture. I might mention this post is me thinking out loud so there are some redundancies and unanswered questions in my augument.

Imagine we have country A which is a closed society. The leadership is autocratic or has a one party state and speech on certain topics is legally or socially moderated. I was going to give examples but it some extent, most countries occasionally veer to a closed society.

The people currently in charge have forgotten the first principle of an open society, namely that we may be wrong and that there has to be free discussion. That it’s possible to be opposed to the policies without being unpatriotic. George Soros speaking about the US

Second, imagine we have country B which is an open society. The leadership can be changed by the (non-manipulated) governed using reliable information. It is possible no country fully meets this criteria.

Third, we have a way of communicating from A to B – for example the Internet.

Bert (citizen of open society B) has got a controversial publication. His options are:
1) Publish – it’s discussed in the open society of B. Unfortunately extreme elements in country A use this to launch waves of protests (possibly distorting the original publication) and some people may get killed in the protests. Possibly Bert threatened with death. For those who we killed in protests, I’d say:

“He wondered what the mans name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil at heart, or what lies or threats had lead him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really have rather stayed there in peace.” Character of Sam in the Lord of the Rings

2) Don’t publish – because option 1 is not desirable. But hang on, isn’t the author living in an open society with freedom of speech? To avoid option 1 is to accept that restricted speech is a more desirable course of action! Why should “Bert” who has protected free speech need to be bound by an external culture when publishing? That would be having a closed society values imposing on a open society. We would need to reject the viability of open society because of the detrimental effect on closed societies. I think that would be absurd!

The very unpleasant deaths in closed society protests where not as a direct result of the offending material. Someone needs to distribute it in the closed society and organise the protests… I think they might be the ones responsible for deaths or destruction.

Often a closed society censors information into the country to prevent these problems (in the short term?). They do have a choice not to read publications from open societies.

Hopefully you found something in here that makes sense!

Anti Citizen One

Freedom of belief examples

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 28th, 2007

Stuff that is vaguely connected to my recent posting. Both are examples of freedom of belief. They are just interesting.

“Wiccans who served in the U.S. military will be allowed to have a pentacle emblem engraved on government-issued tombstones and memorials under a legal agreement announced Monday with the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

From USA TODAY (at first I thought they were joking)

“We are SEVEN UK CITIZENS who are going to the EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS to claim the right for CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS to have the MILITARY part of their TAXES diverted to a PEACE FUND” Peace Tax Seven

Anti Citizen One

Offense and its critics 2: a response

Posted by on April 27th, 2007

In general I find myself in agreement with you on a number of crucial points throughout this excellent and thought provoking post. I think we both fundamentally agree to the freedom of belief/nonbelief and the freedom of expression that we take for granted, best exemplified by a blog such as this. There were a few points though where I wasn’t in full agreement with you, or where I felt the argument you presented had some drawbacks that maybe needed reevaluation or reconsideration.  However in the spirit of the broad rules we both agreed upon I’m going to restrict myself to exploring just one theme in this response which I will present at the end as a question for you to defend.

First in brief our areas of common agreement: Freedom of religious belief, freedom of expression best represented by self-censorship (if you know that the newspaper/tv programme is liable to offend you don’t read/watch it or complain if you ignore the fact that it is liable to conflict with your views/offend you). Do not harass people with your beliefs, particularly if the methods you use are liable to offend (although not the message I would state). Respect the belief of others, and respect the freedom of others to express their beliefs even if they are contrary to your own.

I also agree that Richard Dawkins is probably a nice fellow, I could be persuaded that he does not intend to cause offence when he proposes that religious belief is contrary to his materialist viewpoint. I remain to be convinced that he is unaware of the offence people take to the paternalistic tone of the presentation of his beliefs. An offence not at the fact that he chooses as a materialist not to believe in god/religion, but an offence that he maintains that it is deluded to have such a belief and that he is obliged to inform believers as such. If his response to belief was: ‘I am a materialist and I consider it inconsistent with my scientific world view to believe in or to posit belief in a supernatural spiritual being and therefore cannot agree with you’ then fair enough, but to say: ‘I am a materialist and to maintain a consistent worldview as a materialist I not only reject but ridicule your belief system’ seems to fulfil Douglas Adams’ critique of religious intolerance and reject Mencken’s worldview that one can accept the theory (as in right to believe) without accepting it as being the truth. This I believe is the offence that people of faith find with Dawkins and I think under the Adams/Mencken criteria the problem he has in the presentation of his worldview.

Now the area I wish to explore and ask you to defend or clarify has nothing to with Dawkins. It concerns two events that you rightly demonstrated as examples of religious intolerance that are at conflict with the points of principle with which we agree. The Mohammed cartoons, and the Richard Gere/Shilpa Shetty obscenity issue.

The Mohammed cartoons caused offence to Muslims but was defended within the Danish courts as an expression of editorial freedom of speech and rejected that it was printed with the intention of inciting religious or racial hatred.

Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty a number of times in front of the Indian media. Civil unrest and legal action has followed.

Both of these have a common denominator, and it is this that I believe you are arguing against, that is the disproportionate reaction to the alleged cause of the offence that includes civil unrest, violence, threats of death etc. In principle I agree with you that this is disproportionate, however I am worried that we are projecting western liberal values upon non-western cultures that are a repeat of the errors of Orientalism.

Muslim offence was primarily concerned with the percieved blasphemy of drawing a cartoon or an image of the prophet Mohammed. Islam is an iconaclastic religion and opposes images of Allah (as humans cannot comprehend him) and advises against images of Mohammed (for fear of idolatry, that he becomes elevated beyond prophethood, this was an explicit reaction to Christianity and its divinizing of a man). I accept the Danish courts ruling that under incitement to hatred laws the paper was not guilty. The intent was to open up a debate on Islam’s response to criticism (perhaps the paper took on the role of agent provocateur). But its publication would seem naive considering the socio-political climate and the knowledge that it would lead to such responses. Whatever your beliefs on offence and freedom of expression, it was known that this would offend muslims and that an element of radical Islam would respond negatively. And the perception (perhaps falsely) that the cartoon represented Islam as a terrorist culture, was also liable to offend. The artist has defended himself saying he did not view Islam in this way and was commenting on fundamentalism, but again this could be naive considering post 9/11 tensions in the world and the neo-con assertion that there is an axis of evil (tantamount to saying west is best).

The Gere/Shetty controversy centres on two aspects, public decency of which Indian laws are extremely conservative, and Hindu culture which is generally opposed to public expressions of affection. In front of the media it was widely reported and would likely inflame the passions of somebody.  I will not comment further on these two issues other than to remind people that civil unrest and mass demonstrations are not uncommon phenomena in eastern cultures, and that it is not reserved to religion. One need only look at the death threats, violence to property, burning of effigies and mass protests that followed the eliminations of India and Pakistan from the 1st round of the Cricket World Cup.

My critique then, that I invite you to defend is, are we not naive and perhaps wrong to apply western liberal values to other cultures with regards our defence of the offensive?

Offense and its critics

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 27th, 2007

I wish to argue that we do not have the right not to be offended. It is likely the offended party has views that others would find offensive so we cannot judge the argument based on one sides displeasure, anger, resentment, or wounded feelings (this is the definition of offended).

“Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!'” Douglas Adams

People usually defend their current views regardless of their current validity. This is seen in cases of conformational bias where we emphasis evidence that agrees with our current view.

The Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons saw outrage and protests against what was intended as humour. Many people were killed in demonstrations around the world. I consider this over-reacting to say the least. But then Islam is not tolerant of critisism:

Those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah hath cursed them in the world and the Hereafter, and hath prepared for them the doom of the disdained. Quran 33:57

But this quote does illustrate an all powerful God does not need defending from insults – he can look after himself! Why then the outrage? Some religions are more tolerant, for example Father Ted is considered amusing, while some took exception to Dogma.

In an example of cultural offense: “An Indian court has issued an arrest warrant for Hollywood actor Richard Gere after he kissed Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty in public.” Most people only heard about this because it was splashed across newspaper headlines with photos. If this was offensive, why did it end up selling newspapers and their owners profiting from the supposed outrage? A smart observation: “If the human body’s obscene complain to the manufacturer not me” Larry Flynt in the movie (question: is that a direct quote?)

Dawkins’s views have been considered “insulting” and “patronising” by many commentators. The insulting aspect of his views is the physical world is all that there is and there is no God – and if you disagree you are “delusioned”. This is in a nutshell materialism which “holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions; that matter is the only substance.” Is it insulting that he said opponents of materialism are deluded? Well possibly but he did not intend to insult – its just his view (and mine). If I say people who believe in Odin are deluded is that insulting? In this case there are no believers to offend (that are known to me*). Unsurprisingly, the non-existence of Odin is accepted without complaint.

*Update: Apparently Germanic Neopagan groups believe in him. Instead of Odin, imagine I had said Flying Spaghetti Monster – a god who definitely has no current believers.

Perhaps people who rush to the defense of religion should take a look at their sacred texts which generally are more forgiving.

“ good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” Luke 6

“Repel evil with good.” Quran 28:54

An exception or related rule is people should not be harassed. If I stood outside your house with a megaphone and ranted at you all day with upsetting opinions, or posted shocking photos then that is not cool. 🙂

If you voluntarily watched a TV programme or read a book, that is not harassment since you can switch off/put it down at any time.

Also, for a thought experiment, imagine a person that was offended by absolutely anything – we could not do anything for fear of causing offense. Everything is forbidden. Reductio ad absurdum, etc. That is why I oppose censorship (which usually an instrument of state control) but accept classification of material. On the other hand: “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary” George Orwell.

My ideal is people can freely discuss their views without forcing or imposing them on other people. My current view is summed up in this quote:

We must accept the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart. HL Mencken

And a quote that I just found:

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” — Winston Churchill

Anti Citizen One

The Science Delusion

Posted by on April 26th, 2007

Robert Winston scientist and man of faith condemns the absolutism of Richard Dawkins scientist and… man.,,2064899,00.html

Free Alan Johnston!

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 25th, 2007

Alan Johnston banner

Everything Must Be Functional 12

Posted by on April 24th, 2007

In closure I’m going to limit myself to four responses.

Functionalism, falsifiability,Wittgenstein and language games, and a final attempt at structuring my position in the original posts.

Functionalism. There are lots of different theories on functionalism but I have focused mainly on Durkheim’s sociological theory of Functionalism. Which has been developed into Structural Functionalism. This article gives a good outline of the different applications

There are criticisms of functionalism which can be found here which also outlines some alternatives to functionalism

The basic drive I was making was the ‘organic analogy’ that society is made up of different interdependent organs that must function together in order for the greater body of society to work. Durkheim wanted to explain a phenomena in terms of its function within society, saying “the determination of function is…necessary for the complete explanation of the phenomena.” The position I was proposing is that functionalism is describing an effect not a cause. So religion/spiritualism is a phenomenological effect of an un-defined cause which could be the transpersonal realm, social language games, a mythology of justification, or mere delusion. Whatever the cause may be which could be non-definable the effect is observable.

This brings me to part 2 falsifiability. On this matter I’m rooting for Karl Popper. A scientific theory is only scientific if it is falsifiable. Furthermore empirical experimentation logically cannot verify a theory (infinite experiments needed) but can falsify one. I think Popper and Wittgenstein fall into similar categories with regards language games. Questions have been raised as to whether sociological functionism is scientific. I think that is an interesting debate. There are alternatives to and criticisms of functionalism so I think it fulfils the falsifiability criteria.

Wittgenstein and language games, here I’m responding to the addendum you have posted which has the character of reductio ad absurdum 🙂 nicely used as well.

Using Wittgensteins rules on language games it would be an interference with the principles of language for an argument in favour of the transpersonal paradigm to attempt a proof or demonstration in verifying the position using the language of a naturalist or scientist. Likewise he considers it illogical and abberrant to use the language of science to disprove or refute the transpersonal paradigm. To sum up you cannot use the language of Naturalism to prove/disprove Supernaturalism or vice versa. It would be like explaining the game of tennis using the rules of chess.

Which I think swiftly sinks Intelligent Design. (Another point of agreement between us).

Concerning our dialog and whether Wittgensteins rules dissallows it to even take place, or as you put it, is it right for me a supernaturalist to try to advance its theories to a naturalist? I think the dialog is allowed where the language rules are obeyed, but this can lead to: Confusion (wrong language use), Disagreement (opposite language games) leading to Stalemate or if the language rules change through the person making those changes (existential choice) Resolution.

Wittgensteins response is that religion is valid on the personal experiential level, and cannot claim an absolute truth for that would disobey fundamental language rules. So an individual should choose existentially any religion or no-religion depending on what worked for the individual. Dialogue then between believer and disbeliever could have 4 possible outcomes: Stalemate (again), Belief to disbelief, disbelief to belief, or a new belief based on common ground or consensus. All of the four though have one thing in common, that is independent language games and rules. Only by changing the rules can resolution be reached, and that is what I was trying to demonstrate with Kierkegaard, the ideal of existential choice.

In conclusion. Durkheim sees religion as a social phenomenon, that where it exists, serves certain functions within the organic whole of society. For Kierkegaard ‘true’ religion or belief is a matter of existential choice that transcends institutions and scientific observations or attempts at structuralism. Wittgenstein doesnt approve of such approaches either on the grounds of differing language games and the logical conflict between different truth claims. The language games though are valid in themselves and religious belief is valid on a personal level as indeed is disbelief. To paraphrase Wittgenstein ‘whatever works for you…’ In that case religion can be seen as a personal phenomenon that serves certain functions within the individual… including consolation, development of the conscience, personal ethical standards, self-understanding, etc. The observation is of an effect not a cause, so these functoins or phenomonological effects are valid for the individual whether believer/unbeliever. Which I hope I demonstrated with Wittgensteins defence through language games, Kierkegaards existentialism and Durkheims organic analogy of functionalism.


Everything “Must be Functional” 11 (Addendum)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on April 24th, 2007

A post script follow on (which I was of two minds if to post at all):

“In our contact with Iban society, we should observe the phenomena and accept the phenomena for what it is, a function of Iban society.” If we followed this, we could not really debate anything because everything is “just language games” and we “exist on different planes”. Aren’t you trying to advance the transpersonal paradigm to me, a Naturalist? By Wittgenstein’s point is this disallowed? (This is a stab at reduction to the absurd.)

Anti Citizen One