Recent Politics

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 21st, 2010

Oh yeah, apparently the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are in a coalition. At least they agree on some good ideas, like political reform and abolishing ID cards. Good riddance ID cards (“and nothing of value was lost”). The list of civil rights goodies looks promising:

We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
We will outlaw the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.
We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
We will further regulate CCTV.
We will end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason.
We will create a level playing field for open-source software and will enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller components.
We will create a new “right to data” so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis.

I hope they can work together because it might be more common after voting reform for minority parties to form governments. The Conservatives got 36.1% of the popular vote, which is not much of a mandate. In 2005, labour had 35.3%, and 2001 a popular vote of 40.7%. So these previous governments can hardly be said to represent the majority view – ironic for a democracy.

Anti Citizen One

PS:

Word Cloud for El Sordo

Posted by on May 20th, 2010

philrant

Happy Birthday YtiMii

Images created by the Wordle.net web application are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Draw Mohammed Day

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 20th, 2010

Liberalism […] c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.
Merriam-Webster dictionary

Today has been proclaimed “Draw Mohammed Day”. This is an issue I have followed for a few years. The claim of some Muslims is depictions of humans, and particularly their prophet Mohammed, should be prohibited. This is a particularly reactionary use of “the thin end of the wedge argument”, because apparently depicting humans could lead to idolatry. This attitude highlights an apparent contradiction in liberalism: we try to accommodate cultural differences and yet value free expression. The latter should have priority but there is something to be said about not going out of ones way to insult people. Unfortunately, people who have interpreted Mohammad in art, criticism, education or humour have been criticised, threatened and harassed (by various factions respectively). Remember the infamous protests that followed the cartoons in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper? Also, the cartoon show South Park was recently censored because of its “depiction” of Mohammad – the postmodern twist is the character depicted was definitely not Mohammad (but the programme was censored anyway).

When I need some amusement, I look at a certain discussion page on wikipedia for the Mohammad article. The main article includes a few historical artistic depictions. Wikipedia has a strict policy of rejecting censorship (nice work, keep it up!) (at least on good days). There is a seemly endless stream of complaints about the images in the article. After the editors state wikipedia does not censor material, the argument moves to “avoiding insult to millions of Muslims”. The editors point out this is not a valid editorial justification. Their stand is a shining example of free expression. The “draw Mohammed day” is also an example of free expression but one that is going to be more controversial. Pakistan has apparently censored the entire facebook site for hosting information about the event. Because of the vocal protests of some Muslims against depictions, this issue has become about free speech as well as about artistic expression. Because the Muslim protesters chose to politicise this issue, they should not be surprised about a counter protest affirming free expression.

Depictions of Mohammed for artistic, humorous or educational use are very different in style compared to depicting Mohammad as a political statement. In a less emotionally charged situation, people might have been content with relatively tame depictions. But the draw Mohammad day will often use depictions that are deliberately insulting to the Muslim protesters. This is justified because it makes the statement, loud and clear, that depictions on Mohammad, “insulting” or not, are permitted in liberal societies. The point of protests, of course, is to send a message. A tame depiction would not be a protest and probably would have little impact. So the Muslim protests have ironically brought this counter protest upon themselves. Some depictions are made that I would not normally support as part of art or education, but I do support them as a protest for free speech. Part of the North Frieze of the US Supreme CourtThis includes deliberately insulting people if the point of the protest is “we support free speech, even when it may be insult to some people”, which is the case in today’s protest. The major disadvantage might be to alienate both sides in the dispute. Without mutual understanding, there can be no agreement. But some times we do not want “agreement” when an acceptable alternative is to “agree to disagree”, which is a principle of liberalism. We don’t want to agree that censorship is good. We can agree they can abide by their believes and we to ours. Our beliefs include they don’t have the right to impose restrictions on other people and they don’t have the right not to be offended.

I am offended at people claiming the right not the be offended. To claim “people ought not to be offended” thus results in a logical paradox, therefore it is absurd and is therefore false.

Anti Citizen One

PS. I incidentally include a photo of part of the North Frieze in the US supreme court. I hope you like it. It’s a depiction of Mohammed (and yes, this is technically not a drawing, but it will do). Photo by abde on Flickr.

Update 21st May: The protest received media coverage and a counter protest. Pakistan has indefinitely banned Youtube and Facebook (although it is accessible to tech savvy users), with some protesters calling for the sites to close completely. Having a counter protest against a pro-free speech protest I find repugnant (obviously they have their right to make such a protest). But their disappearance from youtube and facebook (resulting in an Internet traffic reduction of 25% in Pakistan) is, for the majority, no great shame; a culture who can’t handle free speech should stay off the Internet (I am assuming popular support for anti-free speech here). Actually, if I am more constructive, it would be better for them to protest against government censorship, but I don’t expect that any time soon. Fox News provided a characteristically shallow analysis.

Enough by John Naish

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 19th, 2010

I finished reading Enough by John Naish. It is a sustained attack on consumerism where he questions the assumption that “more is good”, which is at the heart of modern culture and economics. I agreed with many themes in this book. To reject the hamster wheel of consumption is far from easy, practically as well as philosophically. Since he effectively argues that consumerism is a misguided attempt at hedonism, because the actual routes to happiness are not the ones people actually pursue (and this results in people in affluent countries being no happier than elsewhere). Simply put, consumerism fails to produce happiness beyond a 5 minute rush when purchasing (and the guilt soon follows, particularly in a debt based economy). Because our actions are not even based on hedonism, is there any basis to current western civilisation? It is all nihilism and distraction from ennui. The author calls “enough” by saying goals we seek (even if it is hedonism) can be found outside of consumerism.

He avoids the obvious trap of calling for action based solely on collective good. He also avoids environmentalism for its own sake. Astutely, he claims selfish and collective action is united in rejecting consumerism. The problem is to find a way to break the hold of endless consumption, given that the rational calls for restraint and environmentalism have failed. We need more than a rational argument – we need one that appeals instinctively. Part of the problem, according to Naish, is our brains are good at seeking more “stuff”, due to their ancient origins. The question is, how do we change society? If we don’t then we run out of resources, the planet over heats and millions or billions will die (probably after being displaced by environmental factors or wars for resources). A few initial thoughts are outlined about the way ahead. It seems this is a fertile area of thought: can we transition to a sustainable society? (or have I been at the “Plato” too much?) I recently discovered the de-growth movement. I will need to do further thinking and research on this. Currently, I am sceptical that a society can be formulated that is both consistent with human happiness and human psychology (look how Marxism did not consider that). But I have an solution: human happiness is really a secondary consideration, particularly given that the modern world is addicted to consumption of goods. If we are heading to a world with zero or negative economic growth, my choice is a world with billions of unhappy (or merely content) people rather than billions of dead people (which is what we will get with current policies). To be continued (I hope).

Anti Citizen One

PS I am sure the Roman Empire did not expect it would collapse…

Word Cloud For Anti Citizen One

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 18th, 2010

To celebrate this blog’s 3 year(!) anniversary, here is a word cloud of my articles. The general idea is the cloud shows the commonly occurring words in a text. You can see my favourite themes and topics as the proportionally larger words.
Word Cloud
Images created by the Wordle.net web application are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

ugghh feel ill

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 18th, 2010

Reminds me of:

For a typical healthy person being sick can even become an energetic stimulus for life, for living more. This, in fact, is how [my own] long period of sickness appears to me now…it was during the years of my lowest vitality that I ceased to be a pessimist; the instinct of self-restoration forbade me a philosophy of poverty and discouragement. Nietzche

Existential Films: The Thin Red Line

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 16th, 2010

Continuing my haphazard series on existential films, there are a few movies that deserve a special mention. One of the foremost in artistic and philosophical scope is Malick’s The Thin Red Line (TTRL). It might be superficially considered a war film, but it is very distinct in its genre. I am hesitant to even label it a war film for that reason. The closest comparison might be made to Apocalypse Now with its examination of good and evil in each person (a la Heart of Darkness). TTRL strikes a different chord – one of life and death, creation and destruction, friendship and estrangement, loss of innocence and the value of individual people. The wandering style of the movie meant it never received much popularity and it was overshadowed by the much less interesting Saving Private Ryan (ok fans of TTRL are still bitter over that!).

The start references the beauty of nature and also the existence of suffering and death. This motif recurs thorough out the film. The camera often cuts in an action scene from fighting to an injured bird or an interesting plant. This links the moral evil in war with the natural evil in nature (and makes it the same thing, twice named).

[First lines] What’s this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?

Aesthetic and moral considerations are shown as independent of life and death, as both are shown to have both ugly and beautiful, good and bad aspects. It reminds me of the beauty of seemingly trivial things and of death, as used in American Beauty. The beauty of death is also central plot point in TTRL, it is first verbally discussed and then directly experienced by a main character.

The value of individuals and organisation of individuals is an important theme in TTRL. The character Witt is shown to be a free spirit but also stating he loves his army company. “They are my people.” His commanding officer, Welsh, is generally a stone cold, pragmatic soldier – and a philosophical collectivist and pessimist. Welsh threatens Witt with punishment for is insubordinate behaviour. But even Welsh has moments of emotion, heroism and intimacy. Through the convoluted plot, these two repeatedly meet and trade a few words from their respective world views. Welsh argues, in a world gone mad, only institutions can make any meaningful difference. Witt’s diametrically opposite view is one man can make a difference, even in war – but personal relationships are also key.

Welsh: In this world, a man, himself – is nothing. And there ain’t no world but this one.
Witt: Your wrong there, Top. I’ve seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.
Welsh: Well then you’ve seen things I never will.

Welsh: What difference do you think you can make, one man in all this madness?

Welsh: [looking down on grave] Where’s your spark now?

Welsh: They want you dead… or in their lie.

The film contrasts finding existential meaning with the arbitrariness of war and life. Welsh is a material pessimist, but unlike most other pessimists, he does not believe in an afterlife where justice will be done. This makes evil in the world without meaning, from his perspective. And evil is doubly unfair, as it harms people independently of circumstances, rather than as punishment for previous sins. “Every great pain, whether bodily or mental, states what we deserve; for it could not come to us if we did not deserve it.” Schopenhauer. With good and evil events seemingly having no teleological purpose, the characters are forced to independently find meaning to their actions.

Welsh: There’s not some other world out there where everything’s gonna be okay. There’s just this one, just this rock.

Storm: It makes no difference who you are, no matter how much training you got and the tougher guy you might be. When you’re at the wrong spot at the wrong time, you gonna get it.

TTRL examines themes of loyalty, friendship and love with several relationships being important to character and plot. Welsh, being an anti-individualist, makes this ironic observation:

Witt: Do you ever feel lonely?
Welsh: Only around people.

Witt: Everyone lookin’ for salvation by himself. Each like a coal thrown from the fire.

I have only scratched the surface of this film in this post, but it is worth multiple viewings. I love it and regard it as the greatest existential film (tied with Lost in Translation, at least from among those I have seen).

Anti Citizen One

PS Optical Illusions, seeing isn’t believing…

PPS Another top 10, completely different to my preferences. The Matrix is not really an existential film IMHO (except for about 2 lines, including “the matrix cannot tell you who you are”). And another top 10.

Review: Gospel According to John

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 15th, 2010

To finish the gospels, I read John. The contrast in the style and teachings of Jesus was very noticeable. The relative modesty (Mark 10:18) of Jesus in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) is replaced by a more egotistical Jesus (John 8:12). The central message in John is “believe in Jesus and have eternal life (or else)”, although with “love one another” (John 13:34). The latter is claimed to be a new commandment, which seems in contrast to the previous statements of “love thy neighbour” being already part of religious law:

He [Jesus] said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he [a certain lawyer] answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:26-27

The synoptic gospels had a different moral message than John. The emphasise the duty of obeying god, loving thy neighbour, forgiveness of sin and having faith. Although these things are touched upon in John, they are very minor themes.

The difference in style is interesting. The synoptic gospels have Jesus teaching almost always in parables (Mark 4:2, Matthew 13:34) but in John he generally uses long metaphorical discourses. The discourses in John are quite abstract and contain rhetorical paradoxes e.g.

Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. John 12:44

The abandonment of parables in John seems strange to me, because I can more or less understand the intent of the parables in the other gospels. I can’t make much sense of his teachings in John, or rather I see they can be interpreted in many different ways. Even his disciples were confused by his method of teaching (John 8:43). This in effect replaces the Bible with body of specialist bible interpreters (notably a human institution) which provides “the truth”, since the metaphorical style in John is frankly obscurantism. There is a trend beginning in Luke and expanded in John to move the concepts of Jesus from a deistic interventional God to being a metaphysical dualistic God. But with this shift, God becomes an unknowable enigma and, I hardly need to point out, an unknowable “objective” morality is a strange an enigmatic beast. Unknowable morality, from our human perspective, is the same as no moral standards (at least within earthly life). If there are exceptions, they are rare – possibly moral knowledge gained from revelation. From my sparse reading, it seems like a shift from William Blake style religion (more themed like the Gospel of Mark) to Kierkegaardian (more like John) but I would be interested in expert opinion on that. I wonder what their preferred gospels were? 🙂

John also has many less miracles than the other gospels. Since miracles usually were accompanied by the teaching “with faith anything is possible”, this teaching is not as evident in John.

Strangely, Judas seems to be encouraged by Jesus to betray him (John 13:27). Although this is very like a Dostoevsky plot, it is not explained in a psychologically consistent way (his actions are blamed on the devil). It is likely a hint at the fulfilment of prophesy. This raises implications for free will but I won’t get into that quagmire now. The gospels seemed to go down hill for me, in order they were written (John probably being the last)…

Anti Citizen One

PS Links to previous: Matthew, Mark, Luke.
PPS Will UK civil service scupper civil liberties reform?

Review: Gospel According to Luke

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 13th, 2010

Continuing my series on the gospels, I read Luke. Probably being the last of the synoptic gospels to be written, the evolution of the stories was very noticeable, as details were inserted and potentially difficult passages removed. I guessed the order the gospels with written was Mark-Matthew-Luke, and this interpretation is in agreement with most historians. There is a fascinating diagram showing the proportions of overlap between the synoptic gospels on wikipedia.

There are several places in Luke where the narrative in Mark has added detail inserted before it returns back to the original Mark based events. For example when he calls Simon (Peter) and Andrew for the first time to be “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-18, Matthew 4:18-20) they “straightway” follow Jesus. But in Luke, he talks to Simon on his own and Jesus does a quick fishing trip miracle (Luke 5:1-8) which is serves as a parable instead of a literal statement. So this is an example of a simple event narrative being expanded to being a dual purpose story/parable. (Or somehow both versions are literally true, which seems unlikely. Two separate events?) Similar expansions and insertions are used for love thy neighbour and the parable of the good samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), an angel appearing at the mount of olives (Luke 22:44), Jesus talking to the other two being crucified (Luke 22:39-43) and Jesus meeting Herod (Luke 23:7-9) (this seems particularly arbitrary).

I can’t remember if I have ranted on the blog before about Jesus being strongly anti-materialism and extremely anti-wealth. When I mention this to Christians, I usually get some equivocated answer about “cultural changes”. Anyway the strongest statements I have found is Luke 14:33, Luke 12:33, Luke 6:24, (rich man told to sell up) Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21, Matthew 19:21, (widow’s mite) Mark 12:42-44, Luke 21:1-4, (instruction to apostles and disciples) Mark 6:8, Matthew 10:9, Luke 10:4, Luke 22:35, not to mention the camel/eye of needle thing (Mark 10:25, Matthew 19:24, Luke 18:25). This is also backed up by Jesus’s example in life. I don’t think this could be much clearer! (Obviously, I personally feel we need to culturally reinterpret the Bible – to the extreme in fact, but this is a central point in the text and not lightly ignored.) On a related note, Nietzsche point it out it is weird saying one should give away your possessions when this burdens the recipient with just what you cast away!

The point at the end of the parable of Lazarus is strange:

And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. Luke 16:31

Which implies Jesus did not expect his resurrection to be persuasive. But it might be possible to justify the whole exercise on other grounds.

Prophesy gets a good watering down in Luke:

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:20-21

I guess they got bored of waiting for the earlier predictions in Mark and Matthew:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. Matthew 16:27-28

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. [9] And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. Mark 8:38-9:1

This also makes the kingdom a perspective rather than an event or place. This allows a great number of metaphysical inventions to escape their Pandora’s box. (I should write more on that some time.)

Finally, Jesus’s last moments. What is going on there? Three different versions are reported in three gospels. The biblical literalists have a particularly poor response on this conflict: they claim that all three are true but each narrative omits details. This is done because each author has a different “perspective”. This is pretty much an admission that the gospels are not literally true. (As if we needed that admission!)

Anyway, I now know why I was taught Mark at school, it has the least spin and “improvements” compared to the other synoptic gospels.

Anti Citizen One

Review: Gospel According to Mark

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 12th, 2010

I continued into read the gospel according to Mark. There are a few interesting things at the start of Chapter 6. He seems to have met his “brothers” and “sisters” (6:3) in his home country. This may be an interesting case of translation ambiguity. Brothers and sisters in the local culture could indicate his cousins or not, it is hard to say. There seems to be controversy on this point, at least among Internet commenters. After stating people were generally unfriendly and “offended”, it goes on to say:

And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. Mark 6:5

Which is a bizarre claim for an supposedly omnipotent being (see also 10:40). The implication is possibly that he could not because of the lack of faith. Apologists claim that “he could” might be better translated as “he would”. This might wash, if the problems were not compounded in 6:6, with Jesus being “amazed”, which implies he is not omniscient. A sceptic like me is not surprised that miracles don’t happen in unfriendly audiences, because they are not as credulous (this would also be consistent with psychology and experience). Alternatively, Jesus did seem to follow a pattern of rewarding faith with miracles. On that theme, Jesus claims that no signs from heaven will be given to that generation (Mark 8:12) but I guess he forgot he was due to be resurrected, which is lucky “corrected” in Matthew 12:39 (and Luke 11:29). The gospel according to Mark seems to contradict that this sign was the primary goal of Jesus’s appearance. This also raised my eyebrows:

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Mark 10:18

Which implies Jesus does not consider himself good. To argue otherwise is torturing language beyond the limit (except for possibly a bad translation, which is torture enough). The prohibition against exercising political authority is very interesting (10:42-43), which might be worth a read for most US and UK politicians (not to mention many others).

The incident of looking for figs on a fig tree, when it was not even the season for figs is an interesting note on the arbitrariness of Christianity (11:13). However there is probably an even deeper message when this incident is raised in 13:28 when it is considered as a parable. This might imply the original story really a parable and not a description of a real past event. Or it could be both a real event and used as a metaphor. The point is parts of the narrative shift between events and parables and we are not necessarily told which is occurring. Imagine if the source material for Mark 13 was lost, many would claim a miracle had occurred in Mark 11. And if Mark 11 was lost, people would claim Mark 13 contained the a parable of the fig tree. Given the murky history of the bible text and the general illiteracy of the time, we can safely assume some relevant sections were omitted (and the irrelevant retained). Since any part of the Bible could have important missing contextual information, the whole descents into a post-modern enigma. This also makes my earlier points somewhat redundant but I am not too concerned. The primary cultural impact of the Bible has been under the assumption it was true based on a rather superficial reading (such as in my limited capability).

Anti Citizen One