Freedom of Religion… or Culture?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 29th, 2009

Swiss voters have supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, official results show.

More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons – or provinces – voted in favour of the ban. BBC

An interesting issue is at stake. Amnesty International, for whom I have great respect, is against this – as well as the Swiss government. But democracy is a funny thing – freedom in politics conflicts with freedom of religion. It again illustrates the self conflict of natural rights. On the other hand, is this really a matter of religion? Admittedly, my knowledge is limited but I was not aware that minarets was a religious duty? And if it is a cultural convention, can’t Swiss culture said to have precedence on its own ground? Even if it was a religious law, why does religious freedom trump architectural tradition and taste (and therefore cultural practice)?

I feel somewhat unsatisfied with the above, as it raises several questions and hints at my views with very little commitment… What is my view? Good question… mmm. I don’t think minaret construction is a major issue. More significant are the values that go with it. By “it” I mean religion generally and particularly institutional religion. Political control lies behind most or all additions to early manifestations of religions. I’d say let them be built but question the goal of their construction – to cement the influence of institution over personal religious or mystical experience. But very few have the appetite for individual ventures in this rocky terrain.

(Looking at the above, I think post-modernism has warped my fragile little mind.)

Anti Citizen One (still reading Derrida! for now…)

The Cost of My Desire

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 28th, 2009

The British inquiry into the Iraq war has already been informative. I look forward to further developments. For some reason, my listening to the band Rage Against the Machine has increased in response. Questioning of authority and consequences of obeying authority are major themes. For example, they question if we should be follow the current political course when it is unsustainable and self destructive?

I am the Nina, The Pinta, The Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist
The fields overseer
The agent of orange
The priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire (RATM)

In other news, I finished re-reading Lord of the Rings. It is very interesting after the reader changes to perceive things in a new way on returning to a book. “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same.” There are many times when the protagonists pity other characters (most often, Gollum). It might be interesting to study if any of the pitied characters actually recover from their pitiable state…

In related news, I have finished the translator’s preface of Of Grammatology. This took significant effort! I will perhaps blog my thoughts one day…

Anti Citizen One

On the Origin of Species, 150th years old today!

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 24th, 2009

Yes, not sure I agree with arbitrary anniversaries. But still, it is a very influential book. Having not read it, I think I might. I was also thinking of commenting on Nietzsche’s disagreements with Darwin’s theory. One area I think he was mistaken. It’s kind of ironic that some people associate the two thinkers. Too tired… *yawn*


News Round-up

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 23rd, 2009

Human rights lawyers reviewed computer games with a war setting.

The group chose games, rather than films, because of their interactivity.

“Thus,” said the report, “the line between the virtual and real experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real life situations on the battlefield.” BBC

This key assumption, that actions in games are morally equivalent to actions outside the game is laughably untrue. We don’t see people getting post traumatic stress disorder from computer games. Playing games is nothing like being in a war. Other studies show that gamers are not desensitised to actual war violence (stated later in the article). Therefore, the choices are not the same as those posed outside games. Games are more or less works of fiction and the choices posed to the player are almost forced outcome moral choices, since the player is not acting as “himself”, but as the character created by the game’s script writer.

I was recently hearing about the Australian Prime Minister apologising for the treatment of child migrants. This apology was presumably done on behalf of the institution that he represents i.e. the state. But the state does not feel “regret” since it is merely a concept. Even if the people comprising “the state” feel the actions were wrong, it is the individuals themselves that are responsible, not the state itself – which cannot act or think independently! Unless the individuals themselves were responsible, guilt does not even apply. Although it may cheer the victims of injustice, I am concerned that if we shunt the responsibility (and “guilt”) for wrong actions onto institutions, it diminishes the personal responsibility that each individual bears and transfers in onto a mere concept. In the extreme case, it may lead to the bystander effect, were everyone does nothing to correct injustice because it is “the state’s” responsibility. So I distrust all institutional apologies and think of them as political tools.

In agreement with our favourite existential thinkers, a new study has linked suffering with religiosity:

Gray and Wegner created a state-by-state “suffering index” and found a positive correlation between a state’s relative misery (compared to the rest of the country) and its population’s belief in God. Sciam

That’s all the news that’s fit to print.

Anti Citizen One

Religiosity & Degree Choice

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 18th, 2009

Interesting piece on the choice of degree and the change in student’s religiosity. (Annoyingly, I have not found the original research paper.)

How important do students think religion is in their lives? For scale, Miles Kimball says, if the difference between the religiosity of people living in the Bible Belt and those in the rest of the country equals 100, then the effect of majoring in a particular subject would be:

-47 Social science
-28 Humanities
-24 Physical science/math
-14 Engineering
-13 Biology
0 No college
+2 Business
+10 Other
+16 Vocational
+23 Education NYTimes

Ah, those Godless social scientists! One conclusion is this effect seems to be smaller than regional variation of religiosity.

Anti Citizen One


Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 15th, 2009

I had a really odd dream last night. It was probably caused by thinking about philosophy 🙂

  • Dreamed about stuff (the usual – having psychokinesis, etc) then I experienced a false awakening
  • I then thought it would be useful to record my dream imagery in the previous dream. (I had a gizmo to do that, apparently.)
  • I then wondered if I went into this dream, when I awoke I might not be about to tell for sure if I was dreaming. (Of course, this thought occurred inside a dream.)
  • I then dreamed about thinking about Plato’s cave.
  • I started to prepare to enter this “dream” state from my “awake” state, then I woke up again.

The only question: am I dreaming now? Ask me if I have psychokinetic powers. If I say yes, I am definitely dreaming!

Anti Citizen One

Either one does not dream at all, or one dreams in an interesting manner. One must learn to be awake in the same fashion: — either not at all, or in an interesting manner. FN

Doing A Job For The Pay?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 14th, 2009

There is something that I find existentially baffling: people who quit their job upon a lottery win. I ignore the not unrelated issue of attempting to play a lottery in the first place, for now. Quitting after getting a lottery prize rather implies that the primary reason for them having a job was the financial benefit and also they would rather not being doing the job at all. It reminds me of arguments against prostitution: “sex workers would not be doing it except for the pay, therefore it is bad”. This argument then applies to these lottery winners (who worked in information technology). It seems people who have jobs they would rather not do are wasting their time in a form of slow suicide. Or perhaps Camus has warped my fragile little mind. A third possibility is they were pursuing a private passion (family life for instance) that was merely supported by their jobs. They can now focus on that more fully. In that case, working long hours at a hated job is slow suicide…

The antithesis to the lottery quitters might be people who voluntarily live on less than they earn, or who choose to work part time because it provides sufficient income. They perhaps realise that happiness is mostly independent of wealth (except I will admit, the case of lack of wealth or resources causing starvation).

Anti Citizen One

The Prince

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 13th, 2009

by Machiavelli

I short book and very concise for it. It examines the strategic and personal traits of successful princes. What makes the book notable is Machiavelli’s view of “successful” is in terms of a prince maintaining or expanding their realms. For our times, he seems rather paranoid of invasions and defeats – but then it was a serious concern in 1500’s Italy (or what is now called Italy). For him, the end always justifies then means. His view of people is rather low, being concerned mainly with self interest. He calls for Princes to do “good” when possible and “evil” when necessary. To say a person should do evil almost turns the concept on its head. It certainly flies in the face of objective moralists.

Regarding the current wars in Afghanistan, I don’t think Machiavelli would approve of the current approach. Western armies have injured but not eliminated their enemies. They have installed a puppet government instead of direct ruler who resides in the territory. They have not established permanent colonies (the Romans were well known for this). The West has instituted new laws which are a lack of continuity from local customs. A stranger to the land has become powerful, through links with groups in Pakistan. Western forces mostly don’t speak the local language.

Perhaps it is unwise to apply Machiavelli’s ideas to the modern world, but it is likely that they would succeed in rapidly subduing newly acquired territory. But does the end justify the means? One cool name for a chapter: “Of cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved of Feared”. They don’t write them like they used to…

Anti Citizen One

My Genes Made Me Do It

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 9th, 2009

Like something from a Dostoevsky novel, a man found to have a gene linked to aggression has used that fact to get a reduced sentence for murder. This of course is justified if the primary role of criminal justice is to punish the guilty, who make evil choices using free will. But how could we know if we have free will?

On the basis of the genetic tests, Judge Reinotti docked a further year off the defendant’s sentence, arguing that the defendant’s genes “would make him particularly aggressive in stressful situations”. Giving his verdict, Reinotti said he had found the MAOA evidence particularly compelling. Nature


The Myth of Sisyphus

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 5th, 2009

I finished The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus. It was generally very interesting. For several pages, I thought this is really deep. For the rest I was left baffled, which may have been the intention! He quoted generously from Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. (I did not recognise a single Nietzsche quote for memory.) Since the book is pro-paradox it can’t be summarised in any conventional sense. It is a foundational text in absurdism, I would imagine. I admire his clear statement of his assumptions – that the world is absurd. In a sense, attempting to justify this is impossible. He is appealing to those who already know this is the case. I am not really sure I am one of those entirely but I can feel where the thought originates. To me, it is a reaction or over-reaction to idealism – that there is order behind the apparent chaotic world. The idealism is rejected… obviously. But to cling to the idea that the world is chaotic? Or to use his terms, humans are unreasonable and the world is not reasonable and therefore inhuman. There are many responses to this lack of reasonableness. The famous response is suicide (and this makes this work infamous). The absurdist response is revolt against the world and without hope that the world can become humanised. A third is acceptance and embracing it, with a hope of a leap into meaning – Kierkegaard is said to have taken this option.

It is refreshing to read an author who is more well read in existential writings than myself, but I still read it from a existential and frankly Nietzschian viewpoint. The main objection to my view is how does Camus separate himself from this world he finds so inhuman? The world can only be experienced through his body and any judgements of the world reflect more on his body than on the world. Although I’m sure Camus does not need lessons in existentialism:

…that “other world” is well concealed from man, that dehumanised, inhuman world, which is a celestial naught; and the bowels of existence do not speak unto man, except as man.

Meaning the metaphysical world is inhuman. But the metaphysical world cannot be known except by accepting (tacitly or otherwise) the testimony of our senses. So where does the expectation that the world should be “reasonable” originate? In our nostalgia i.e. ourselves? But with the rejection of metaphysics, we reject the a-priori idea of reasonableness of the world. Of course, Camus does not claim that people generally share his view. He spends effort distancing himself from Kierkegaard when I perhaps would have been interested in a constrast with Nietzsche (surprise surprise!) The appendix discusses Kafka’s work and interestingly rejects it as absurdist. The possibility of K reaching The Castle is, according to Camus, retained. I don’t see the stark contrast he draws between that and The Trial. The protagonist tenaciously seeks access to The Castle or acquittal from The Trial. Both are predicted by other characters to be impossible. And even if he does access the Castle, which is never described since the author abandoned the work, he probably would find another layer of bureaucracy and another and another – in the same fashion as Kafka’s parable Before The Law.

Anyway, it got the juices flowing. Knowledge of Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky is recommended before reading this work!

Anti-Citizen One