Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Conservatism and authoritarianism

Very busy so two quick links.  The first is an essay on conservatism that does a fine job of defining it.

The second is an old favourite of mine, defining authoritarianism.  There's a lot of overlap.

The Authoritarians

Monday, 23 September 2013

Excellent blog entry on the clobber passages

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The addiction to certainty

I am an addict.

Addiction is an imbalance in the brain's dealings with neurotransmitters in response to outside stimulus.  Where ordinary people would have a "ho hum" reaction, addicts get a boost of certain neurotransmitters and/or are deficient in neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine,  and are using the stimulus of choice in an attempt to bring themselves up to normal levels.

From previous blog entries, it's obvious alcohol is my stimulus of choice.  I'm likely also addicted to stimulants such as caffeine and I have an unhealthy relationship with tranquilizers.  When using my drug of choice, I get a nice feeling associated with certain neurotransmitters.  When I'm doing without, I get withdrawal symptoms - I call it the "screaming meemies", others call it "jonesing" or "the monkey on my back".

You will notice I've been avoiding the normally-used word "substance".  That's because it doesn't necessarily have to be a substance.  I have a number of obsessions.  When I indulge myself in them, I get the exact same "thrill" - the hallmark of a neurotransmitter - that I get from alcohol.  For example, there's certain political websites I can't keep away from, and I have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of bookstores else I leave with more books than I can carry, have shelf space for or can afford.

A lot of our understanding of addiction was mostly theory until the invention of the real-time MRI scanner.  This allowed scientists to see exactly what was going on in the brain during addictive behaviour.  What surprised scientists was they were seeing the exact same brain activity for non-substance addictive behaviour to, for example, mental states.

One  mental state is certainty.

I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension.  Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, "the stock market always recovers," even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.
A much longer excerpt can be found here.

I listen to voices.  Someone who knows what they're talking about speaks with an authoritative tone, even and measured with a dropping tone on facts.  If they get into uncertain territory, the voice rises e.g. "applying this patch should work" but you can hear the implied "but" at the end.  An authoritarian speaks differently.  They're dropping tone is on "should", with a rising tone on their "facts" (which usually aren't).  Their emphasis is on conclusions - how they get there is irrelevant.  The "facts" must match the conclusions, not the other way around.

Hence authoritarian followers look to authoritarian leaders for their source of certainty - which outrageous statement they can treat as "fact" to get them through their day.  The other day Pat Robertson announced that gay people go around with special rings that infect people with AIDS.  Not a whimper of protest from the Religious Right to this obvious nonsense.  But sure as shootin' they're been certain this is a fact just 'cause he said it. 

Addiction sucks - don't it.

How the Religious Right gives communicable diseases a chance to spread

The origins of an Epidemic: How Right-Wing Religious Communities Give Measles A Chance To Spread

At the end of last month, epidemiologists in Texas traced the source of a measles outbreak to a right-wing megachurch whose pastor has preached against vaccines. Even though about 98 percent of Texas residents are vaccinated against the highly contagious disease, the congregants who attended that evangelical church represented a pocket of unprotected people, and measles was able to spread rapidly.

The country’s epidemiologists are having difficulty tracking the outbreak because orthodox Protestants don’t usually seek treatment at the doctor after they become sick. The close-knit religious community believes in faith healing, and opposes medical interventions like vaccines because they undermine “divine providence.” And because they live among other orthodox Protestants, rather than being integrated among the rest of the country’s residents, they don’t benefit from the “herd effect” that helps prevent the spread of diseases — that is, the fact that vaccinating some people can end up protecting the unvaccinated ones around them
 The United Kingdom has also been struggling with a resurgence in measles cases over the past several years. The recent uptick hasn’t been linked to a particular religious community, but health officials do blame a widely-debunked study that claimed vaccines can cause autism. Thanks to that persistent myth, many parents still have misconceptions about the risks of inoculating their kids.
 The "widely-debunked study" was originally published by a Dr. Wakefield, causing a huge controversy.  It claimed that autism was caused by a specific vaccine which contained mercury.  Parents with autistic kids jumped on board hoping to find a cause for autism and possibly a cure.  A secondary industry arose of quacks selling cures for autism such as chelation.  The problem - vaccine is no longer used, when it was used it contained less mercury than a can of tuna and the controversy invoked a logical fallacy. 

Here's the problem.  The symptoms of autism show up right around the same time that kids are vaccinated.  The temptation is to blame the symptoms on the vaccination because they occurred at the same time. That's fallacy of the Undivided Middle, otherwise refuted as "correlation does not imply causation".

To cause the changes to brain structure that appear to be the actual causes of autism, these causes would have to occur when the brain was first developing, way before vaccine time. 

I've been sitting here trying to way of phrasing this so it doesn't come across as insulting, but I've come up empty.  Authoritarians love simplistic thinking and projection.  It's as simple as that.  They're thinking "if my kid has autism it must be somebody's fault, likely mine and that's unacceptable so I'm going to project it someplace else".  Blaming it on vaccines is a simple out.  The problem is to take it to its logical conclusion, they have to ban vaccines and damn the consequences to anybody else.  Their only concern is for their herd.  They don't care if the rest of us live or die.  As long as they isolate themselves, huddling in their megachurches and homeschooling their kids, they think they're safe.

They're not.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Exodus International fesses up, closes shop

As noted on my information page on sexual orientation, the "ex-gay movement" consists of people who believe you can "pray the gay away" - basically stop being gay and start being attracted to women.  Personally I feel that if you have been attracted to men, then are also attracted to women, you're likely bisexual or pansexual but I'll address that some other time.
Exodus International was the front-runner in the movement until chinks started appearing in the armour.  In 1979 one of its founders and another leader left the organization to be with each other and eventually entered a committed relationship.  In 2000, literal poster boy John Paulk was discovered flirting in a gay bar.

“Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus. “For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
Chambers continued: “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”
For these reasons, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry.

It remains to be seen how this new ministry behaves but with Chambers mea culpa-ing all over the place, I remain hopeful.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Prosperity Gospel

I've been meaning to write about this for awhile but have been putting it off because I don't totally understand it.  However, it's been mentioned out there a couple of places recently so it's probably time.  Here's the triggering article...

How E.W. Jackson’s ‘Prosperity Gospel’ Could Spell Bad News For Low-Income Virginians

Jackson’s theology, like most articulations of the prosperity gospel, is wildly problematic and spiritually exploitative. His glorification of money and wealth flies in the face of Christian gospel messages such as Matthew 19, where Jesus tells a young rich man “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What’s more, the idea that giving “upward” (to the wealthy) is somehow morally preferable to giving “downward” (to the poor) is the opposite of Jesus’ repeated instruction to care for the “least of these,” and ignores verses in Proverbs, James, and 1 John that clearly prioritize giving to the less fortunate. Worst of all, Jackson implies that people who are poor simply aren’t believing hard enough, meaning the plight of the underprivileged is somehow the result of their own lack of piety.
  Here's some links to save you time.
What does the Bible say about Prosperity Gospel
It's also known as Word of Faith
The Bankruptcy of the Prosperity Gospel
The Prosperity Gospel is actually Satan's Gospel

As best I understand it, which is limited, assuming it is actually an understandable concept, the Prosperity Gospel means...

  • financial blessing is the will of God for Christians
  • donations to Christian ministries will increase one's material wealth
  • implemented through positive confession, visualization
  • sickness and poverty are curses to be broken by faith
  • a Christian with faith can speak into existence anything consistent with the will of God
I will leave it to the people linked above to address specific theological concerns.  I'm a logician so that's the approach I take.  The flip-side of the above...

  • if you are poor or sick you lack the favour of God, likely for being cursed, not giving to the church, not confessing everything, not visualizing correctly or praying hard enough 
  • the methodology of Prosperity Gospel is identical to the methods attempted by Satan in the temptation of Christ 
  • in violation of John 1:1, the Logos is not Christ, anyone has access to Logos.  Heresy.
The whole thing reminds me of The Secret, which is turn is based on the Law of Attraction which is basically "like attracts like" - magical thinking.  The alchemists (yes, I've studied it extensively) attempted it and it just plain didn't work.  It's victim blaming of the worst possible sort.

And you know where it got it's start?  The televangelists - yes those guys who would be all over the TV saying "send me money or the gays will take over the world" or even better "if you don't send money, God will call me home".

Good riddance.  It's a pity they never found Christ.