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So after giving my political predictions, let’s move on to something eminently more satisfying and cool: that which is in my headline.
Online services will get crappier
Perhaps it is only me, but the past two years have seen many great online services climb up the stupid tree, then fall down it and hit every branch on the way to–well, not the ground, but maybe the bedrock.
…just keeps being Google+, I guess.
Oh, and the rampant advertising…
It used to be that these services was useful, interesting, fun, and were only mildly annoying. But I’ve noticed that, especially in the last 18 months-2 years, they’ve gone downhill. I suspect a huge part of this is due to IPO’s, at least in Facebook’s and Twitter’s cases. Why? Because the incentive structure has shifted. Instead of delivering value to their users, these services are now focused on delivering value to their shareholders. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it does lead to a lot of frustration for end users.
The thing is, these companies aren’t focused on delivering value anymore, and the shareholders, I fear, don’t realize that delivering value is the very way they make profits. In other industries, one way of making profits is by sucking up to the government teat and lobbying for special favors for yourself and special prohibitions for your opponents (affiliate link). That isn’t really viable in the social media sphere, however, at least not yet (thankfully; hopefully it will never be viable.)
Will it actually hurt these companies? To be honest…I doubt it. Yes there are always people who make #TwitterSuxSoBad and “Make Facebook Go Back To Its Old Non-Sucky Ways Group,” but they’re a minority. So I think in 2014 this trend will continue and we’ll continue to see more and more little annoyances mount. I also don’t think we’ll have any resolutions to privacy concerns from this year. While more people are aware of and upset over these things, and this will only increase next year, I doubt it will hit critical mass for anything significant to happen during the next year. Oh, sure, noises will be made to assuage folks and placate users, but anything dramatic? Not unless Google decides to unilaterally implement Lavabit-type encryption and tell everyone else to screw themselves.
Which probably wouldn’t happen.
Facebook will start to slow down
This is less of a prediction for next year and more of a prediction for 2015-2020, but what the heck, it will likely start next year. Whereas Twitter & Google will weather the various storms (controversial changes to blocking mechanisms, ending Google Reader) they’re facing, I’m far less certain about Facebook. Recently, a Business Insider writer wrote that Facebook is collapsing under it’s own weight. Milennials are dropping out of Facebook, and that doesn’t bode well for long-term viability.
I think next year we’ll see an uptick in stories about people leaving Facebook. (Lifehacker might even run an update on their old article about how to quit Facebook, or get a “minimalized” Facebook profile.) It won’t actually lead to an actual contraction in Facebook users, but growth will slow. Which will make shareholders more antsy than Barack Obama coming home after taking a selfie at a funeral with another woman.
Longer term, I think it spells doom. But then, everything ends. Facebook was launched in February 2004; it will definitely live to see it’s 10th birthday next year. When it finally goes I’m not sure; probably around 2019. Put your bets in the comments and let’s come back and see who wins.
We’ll see a 1TB solid state drive under $400
To me, this is a no-brainer, and kinda cheating because it’s so easy. Technology prices drop as people adopt these technologies; as demand increases, it becomes easier to make these things as economies of scale take over. (Distinguished economists can lambast me for what might be faulty economics.) Right now, a 1TB solid state drive (SSD) on Newegg costs between $540-$700 (there is one refurbished option for $150, but I think that must be some mistake.) These will definitely be under $400 next year, possibly as low as $320 (but not much lower than that, unless it’s part of a Newegg sale they have every three days.)
Also, we’ll probably see a 2TB SSD come out next year, probably costing around $750 at first and maybe bottoming out at $600 before the year is done.
2014 will be Linux’s year
Maybe I’m being way too optimistic, but I see a bunch of things coming together to benefit Linux.
A couple of things have been long-term developments. The first is really anecdotal, but in the past couple of years the number of people I’ve personally witnessed using Linux computers has jumped from absolute zero to about half a dozen. Granted, that’s small, and that’s just my personal experience, but it’s something. Next, there are way more Lifehacker articles on how to actually use Linux (usually Ubuntu because it’s supposedly very user friendly), and people out there are actually tinkering with this stuff. Third, Android, the most popular mobile OS in the world, is based on Linux; because of this, hardware manufacturers have had to rewrite their drivers to support the Linux kernel, and because of that Linux can now work on a lot more hardware combinations, without waiting for someone in the open source community to reverse engineer a driver. It used to be–back in 2007 when I first dabbled with Linux–that wireless was a hit and miss proposition. In 2013, I downloaded and installed Kubuntu and it worked perfectly. This is catching on and people are noticing.
Two other things, external to Linux, will help it along. The first is that, while Windows 8 is actually a great operating system, it’s also a total bust. It might actually be stalling Windows sales. In fact, Microsoft had previously announced it was ending Windows 7 sales next October; that decision has been reversed, no doubt because Windows 8 adoption has been about as real as one of the Surface commercials. Windows 7 is still a viable operating system. However, it does cost a lot of money.
And the other thing: Windows XP will finally go unsupported in April 2014. As they say on Twitter: #DOOOOOOOM.
According to NetMarketShare, on December 21st 2013, nearly a third of users were still running Windows XP. Most of those are either idiots, senior citizens and the like who can’t upgrade, or businesses with mission critical applications. (Ed Bott went over this pretty well at ZDnet.) Still, to me, that’s pretty insane that almost a third of people are using an operating system that is going to be 12 years old come next year. Granted, a huge bunch of that is in China (the above report was global) where nobody upgrades their blasted computers. Still, that’s incredible. And foolish. After April, Windows XP will be dangerous to use. Yes, there will still be security updates by third parties in the IT security business, but without official support from Redmond using XP will be dubious.
Enter Linux. While Windows 7 and 8 are costly, and can only run on modern systems (I think both require at least 2GB of RAM to operate, if I’m not mistaken), Linux is both free (usually) and runs on a wide range of hardware, including some really old stuff. Plus, because it’s open source, the code is there for anyone to see, meaning security holes are patched pretty quickly, instead of being held in secret at Microsoft’s engineering headquarters, so it’s more secure (generally, at least.) And for those who want support, there are paid support options. The most famous are probably Red Hat (whose Linux distribution is one of the major bases of the Linux family, next to Debian) and Canonical, who make Ubuntu, but Oracle and Novell also have their own Enterprise linux offerings (Oracle’s being based on Red Hat Linux.)
When XP goes down, people are going to have to move somewhere. Many are going to try Linux. And thanks to Android, Linux will work. So I think 2014 will be a good year for Linux and it might finally break out of the “only for nerds” trap it’s been living in for years. But that depends on a couple of things: good documentation, and if it comes preinstalled with Flash, MP3 codecs, and the like. If the documentation is terrible and if the free software fanatics prevent mainstream Linux distributions from coming with nonfree codecs, drivers, etc., then you can forget about any Linux gain. Nobody will go for that; they would rather pay out the nose than deal with an OS that ships without any support for their flash games or mice or monitors or printers (people still print, you know). So this is dependent on how much Linux teams work for it. If the effort is not made, the success will not happen. If the effort is made, I think Linux will see tremendous gains.
Now, what that will do I’m honestly not sure. It might make the Internet more secure….
Google+ is going to continue to have nobody on it
Bitcoin will crash
This is just a hunch, but not too long ago we saw China ban Bitcoin transactions (as well as Thailand and India, basically) and the value of Bitcoin plunged about 40%. That’s pretty damn volatile, and while I am not a monetary expert, I think that’s not good for a currency. If the value of your currency changes that much so quickly (and if you put in terms of it’s rapid growth over 2013, which I think was 50x–if you bought $100 worth in January it was worth $5,000 at the end of the year) it’s not going to be very usable.
Now I could be totally wrong about that, and also totally wrong about this, but I have a hunch Bitcoin will dramatically decrease in value next year and might go out. I think it will also bring down other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Peercoin, and the so-called “Dogecoin,” which is actually real. Although it’s also hit the reputation of these cryptocurrencies already…
There are going to be some awesome technological advances next year
We’ve seen some incredible things the past year. Soylent, dataSTICKIES, massive curved TV’s, not to mention all these really cool technologies that modern scifi is ignoring.
I have no idea what specific technologies will emerge next year. But I really think that there will be some super-cool technological advances next year, whether those guys working on building a sun in New Jersey get anywhere, or the scientist who is refining the formulae for faster-than-light travel finds something, or something completely different.
One thing is clear: 2014 is going to be cool.
Recently, a friend of mine noted that not enough people–mainly pundits–actually put their reputation (and even money!) on the line and make hard predictions. He admired a lefty blogger for doing so last year when said blogger made a line-in-the-sand prediction that everyone would be sold on Obamacare by today. (Naturally, my friend disagrees with this lefty blogger on several issues, though not all.) That got me thinking to what predictions I would make, so, well, at the end of 2013, here are a few.
I’m probably not going to make anything definite, or super-hard; I always try to hedge my bets as there’s always a degree of uncertainty. You can never be 100% certain about something; if you are, you’re probably wrong. But then I’m not sure about that either.
And also, because this turned out to be longer than I expected, I’m breaking it up into parts. Part 1 is politics; part 2 will be science & technology; I may be a part 3 for society; with part 4 a catch-all for anything miscelleanous, if I get to that.
So, here are some predictions I have for 2014, along with some that go a little beyond that…
Just before Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed posted an article about how some Brits couldn’t identify any of the US states. Then someone at BoredPanda responded that Americans could barely identify any of the countries in Europe. It’s a theme I’ve seen countless times before: Americans are unworldly, uneducated, and just plain stupid, especially when it comes to anything beyond their nation’s borders. The Buzzfeed article was, in some ways, a reprisal to that, noting “Hey, non-Americans are stupid too!”
What both articles completely ignore is the fact that geographical knowledge is really just bupkiss.
I mean, if you know all the countries in Europe, what does that do? Sure, you might receive a “That’s cool” at a party, but beyond that, do you need to know all those countries? Unless you’re a geography teacher or a cartographer or something similar, no, no you do not need to know all the countries in Europe. It might save some embarrassment if you meet someone from another country, but in an age of Google Maps, there’s ultimately no purpose to taking up valuable space in your brain for detailed geographical knowledge of another continent.
There are many marks to gauge whether or not a “populace” is “dumb”. Economic & political knowledge of their own country; basic mathematical and scientific principles; general history; logic and critical reasoning (understanding cause & effect and fallacies & so on); and, I would also argue, ethics. A person without any understanding of ethics is a dumb individual indeed. But geographical knowledge? For 99.9% of the populace, the usefulness of such knowledge falls about in between the win/loss record of the Arizona Cardinals and exactly how many minutes it takes for paint to dry on a house in Alaska in the winter. If you don’t know where a country is, you can just Google it. It doesn’t mean that you’re dumb or uneducated.
It means you have better things to do than know precisely where the Entitled Peoples’s Republic of Bumfuckistan is (which, for your information, is wedged precisely between Snobbitonia to the north and the Federal Republic of Conceitania to the south.)
Jeebus, people, we have better things to worry about.
Man, that title sounds hella-pretentious, but it’s immediately what came to my mind reading this article by Matthew Feeney on Reason.com, Scrap the Welfare State and Give People Free Money. It is a fine argument for replacing our current welfare system with a form of basic income, which I have come around to over the past two years (roughly) living in Washington DC. After leading in with the recent news that Switzerland has created a basic income (on top of their preexisting welfare system, which is dumb) he gives this key passage (emphasis mine):
Without the Swiss proposal being attached to drastic welfare reforms the plan is, I think, unfeasible. However, that the particular proposal in Switzerland is not ideal does not mean that libertarians should shy away from proposing something similar. Being morally comfortable with some degree of government wealth redistribution might be contrary to anarchism, but it is not contrary to libertarianism, and were libertarians to argue for replacing the current welfare system with a basic national income we would be better positioned to not only highlight the fact that libertarianism is not the heartless and selfish philosophy it is commonly portrayed as, it would allow for a more humane and effective way to deliver welfare than the current system on offer.
I’m sure that will greatly offend the Rothbardians in the audience, but I really don’t care about those guys anymore.
Matthew also makes this other key point, which is that the welfare system actually hurts and dehumanizes people:
Since I moved to DC, and “enjoyed” it’s sky-high prices for rent, food, utilities, clothing–well, everything–I’ve started to abandon my old view that we shouldn’t have welfare, period. As much as I do not like the idea of welfare itself, or the idea of wealth redistribution whatsoever, I now realize a couple of things:
- The American public will never buy a political system completely lacking in wealth redistribution, period. You can call this stupidity, you can call this a decline in American virtues, you can call this the bandwagon fallacy, you can call it whatever you wish–but it is reality. No matter how much I would prefer a more Nozickian (or heck, more Randian) government, the majority of Americans will consistently vote against such an idea. Trying to push that view is just a waste of time, energy, and resources.
- As much as I would like a more Nozickian state, and a completely free market economy, the current welfare system has so thoroughly ruined poor Americans there is no way to abruptly transition to a welfare free society. There are millions of Americans trapped in a cycle of poverty, a cycle partially perpetuated by the government (at all levels), and we’re going to be able to just switch and leave them behind. We have to light a path out of that and into the next stage. To us the words of philosophy professor Michael Munger, it’s not so much a libertarian destination as it is a libertarian direction–and I’m okay with that.
Considering that, the only real alternative available is a negative income tax. I’ve come to champion this proposal of Milton Friedman’s, for multiple reasons.
- It combines both welfare reform and tax reform in one package, making it more likely to get libertarians and conservatives onboard.
- It is more effective at helping the poor, so it should (in theory, anyways) be attractive to leftists.
- Unlike other universal basic income schemes, it is actually sustainable.
- It does not trap anyone in poverty, but instead lifts them out; poverty trap problems are neatly dealt with.
- I believe that it also avoids the problem of disincentivizing work; while those under the threshold do get money, they still have an opportunity to gain even more money past that threshold instead of receiving nothing. Also, many would appreciate a safety net to fall back on should their business attempts go awry, which may encourage them to go out and be more productive, rather than sit back and do nothing out of fear.
About a week ago, on Bleeding heart Libertarians, philosopher Fernando Teson laid out the basics of a philosophical school he called “sufficientarian liberalism.” I don’t want to quote the entire thing, because it’s brilliant, but it’s essentially where I have come to be. Teson notes that most libertarians readily acknowledge that free markets and (classically) liberal societies generate tremendous wealth and are the best tool for bringing people out of poverty. He then adds:
Although the comments section is rife with diehard libertarians and anarcho-capitalists flinging barbs, nothing here sounds too controversial to mainstream Americans. I wrote earlier about “market democracy” being a true American centrism; that was a more abstract view of things, while this is a bit more concrete (though still not a specific policy platform.) People really don’t give that much of a damn about income inequality; they only care that there are people starving and want them to be not-starving. Even the poor, I think, don’t really care if they’re making less than a Wall Street banker, they just want enough to get by. (And if they have political power, that definition can be “Let’s get the government to get us plasma TVs and a Cadillac too. I still think that would be easily dealt with in a negative income tax system.) Teson also makes the necessary point that this system would have to be combined with a deregulation wave; I don’t think an NIT on its own, without a dramatically freer market, would really help people all that much. There are a great number of government actions–such as the Dairy Price Support Program making milk more expensive, to monetary idiocy at the Federal Reserve killing the buying power of the individual dollar bill, to various regulations propping up barriers to entry and killing the competition that brings prices down–that artificially raise prices and make things more expensive, especially for the poor. Unless those things are done away with–and thus, in the process, making there a lot less poor to go around–anything else will have a blunted impact on poverty. (And though it shouldn’t be mentioned, such a plan should also include reducing the military budget by half–at least–and enacting serious entitlement reform, which may actually end up being scrapped if such a system was implemented.)
That’s a pretty damn good view of centrism to me.
I think what Feeney is writing about here is actually the future of libertarianism. He’s right that this isn’t ipso facto against libertarianism, just anarchism, which I don’t think libertarianism really is (no matter how much undead Murray Rothbard stamps his feet about it.) And while I suspect both of us are going to get a lot of flack from more hardcore libertarians who will claim we are sanctioning state theft, that has been going on for well over a century in America and centuries elsewhere; we are advocating lessening it greatly, and ultimately such a thing is going to be seen as a cost of living in society. Should there be a cost? That’s a philosophical discussion for another day.
TL;DR: I think a basic income of sorts can be justified on broadly libertarian grounds; it is clear that such a system is superior to our current welfare state; and I think that libertarians should stop beating their heads against the immovable rock they’ve been killing themselves with for decades, adopt this plan, and actually move the ball down the field beyond our 30-yard line, because it is getting to be really, really ridiculous at this point.
And I’m very, very thankful it is beginning to get a wider audience.
The title of a recent article at The New Republic reads:
The Period Is Pissed
When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?
This is one of the plainest cases of someone just making shit up. Ok, so he cites a professor of linguistics and the editor of something called the Awl (presumably short for “The Awful,” judging by the editor’s comments.) But this guy is definitely smoking something.
Look, a period at the end of sentences is not indicating aggressiveness. It is proper grammar. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, some people don’t do that and use line breaks because it’s more efficient to type that way on mobile phones. Not technically proper, but it’s a convenience to use such a wonderful device. I have no problem with that. But if you start assuming that using periods in a message indicates “anger,” well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems in your life. You’re probably going to end up hating a lot of people or feeling really bad about yourself. And then your life is going to get worse.
Do yourself a favor. Don’t assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.
EDIT: I am now very angry at my high school for making me think grammar is spelled with an “e”.
Before this week continues into the bloody mess that is the Healthcare.gov website, and the PR fiasco Obamacare is becoming for liberals and Democrats, I wanted to examine something far more promising and hopeful for America: that of the growing, silent middle.
Last week, a study from Esquire and NBC News identified a “New American Center” made up of disaffected Americans. NBC headlined their blog post with “Why our nation isn’t as divided as we think” and argued that our country, outside of the most vocal (and annoying) folks on both extremes, really isn’t that polarized. However, both Ramesh Ponnuru and Josh Feldman took issue with the study, noting that there weren’t many non-centrist categories to be in, and that the vast majority of the center was (in Ponnuru’s words) “irreligious and white.” Huh. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I fell in the exact middle when I took the online quiz.
Despite these flaws in the Esquire/NBC “study,” I still think there is an American center, I’m just not sure if it’s new. But there is a new and growing field in the realm of political philosophy that is American centrism, and always has been, it’s only been given a name recently. That field is market democracy, launched and identified by Harvard political philosopher John Tomasi, and explained at length in his fantastic book Free Market Fairness.
What is market democracy? Tomasi calls it a “research program,” which sounds clunky but apparently is perfectly apt, as classical liberalism is also sort of a “research program.” But more specifically, market democracy is:
a deliberative form of liberalism that is sensitive to the moral insights of libertarianism. Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation. Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice.
In the above quote, when Tomasi says “liberalism,” he is not just speaking about classical liberalism, but all liberalism. Tomasi divides the liberal camp into two shores on the sides of an ocean: on one side, the libertarians and classical liberals; on the other, the “high liberals” like Rawls and your average lefty who think that economic liberties are not that important and the free market is not the greatest thing in the world.
Tomasi operates from an essentially Rawlsian viewpoint, and indeed his entire book is about taking on the Rawlsian enterprise and forming a hybrid between it and classical liberalism and libertarianism. He takes the Rawlsian framework seriously, but notes that if you do so, then you must also take economic liberties seriously. Although “high liberals” who follow Rawls almost always single out economic liberties to be ignored, marginalized, or otherwise downgraded in importance, Tomasi makes the case that if you follow the rule that governments are about treating democratic citizens with dignity, then you must also give them the dignity of owning a business and earning profits. Thus, anyone who follows in the steps of Rawls–which is most academic liberals, though I think it’s a vanishingly small number of “liberals” and progressives you meet on campus or on the street or on the Internet–must also be a strong proponent of economic liberties and the free market if they want to be consistent.
One of the great aspects of market democracy, in my mind, is it’s focus not just to a social justice that takes free markets and economic liberties seriously, but also the concept of “responsible self-authorship.” Tomasi describes it thusly:
I am a huge fan of the website Bleeding Heart Libertarians. It’s one of the few blogs I read that is genuinely intelligent and intellectual, and while that’s probably because I don’t read too many philosophy blogs, it also makes it one of the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, every so often you get a dud. And, even more rarely, you get what can only be described as a rotten egg.
Earlier this week, public reason liberal anarchist Kevin Vallier posted Christian Belief is Reasonable, So Respect It. His basic thesis is that atheists and other irreligious folk need to give a ton of more respect to Christiansand the Christian religion.
I’m a big believer in reasonable pluralism, the notion that there are deep, pervasive disagreements about morality, politics and religion that are the unavoidable result of practical reasoning in a free society. That means I think there are non-culpable rational disagreements about all sorts of things that really matter.
But since I’m planning a series of religion posts in 2014, I thought it worthwhile to defend one of the applications of belief in reasonable pluralism that will be critical to those posts.
I believe that a reasonable, rational and well-informed person can believe in a revealed religion. That is, she not only affirms a scheme of transcendent values and a complex natural theology, but belief in a divinely inspired set of social practices and sacred texts. I am fairly confident that one can be a reasonable Confucian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jew. Due to my familiarity with Christianity, I am extremely confident that one can be a reasonable Christian.
This means that many atheists, in particular New Atheists and Objectivists, should treat the beliefs of people of faith with far more respect than they presently do.
In the above selection, the italicized parts are Vallier’s own emphasis, while the bolded fragment is my own emphasis. I intend to draw attention to the word “reasonable,” because it is upon this the crux of this argument is being made. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reasonable (in addition to the meanings of “fair, moderate no extreme or excessive”) means “being in accordance with reason.” What is reason? George H. Smith, in his seminal book Atheism: The Case Against God, identifies reason as:
“Reason,” to quote Ayn Rand, “is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” It is by abstracting the immediately given concretes of his experience into concepts, and integrating these into still wider concepts, that man acquires knowledge and surpasses the ability of lower life forms.
To qualify as knowledge (i.e., as a correct identification of reality), a belief must be justified; it must warrant acceptance by rational standards. If a belief meets the requirements of these standards, it is a rational belief; if a belief cannot meet the requirements–but is adopted nonetheless–it is an irrational belief.
Specifying criteria for knowledge is a complex and controversial task, and one which we shall discuss in more detail in the following chapter. For the present discussion, we may indicate three minimum requirements that must be fulfilled before any belief can claim the status of knowledge: (a) a belief must be based on evidence; (b)a belief must be internally consistent (i.e., not self-contradictory); (c)a belief cannot contradict previously validated knowledge with which it is to be integrated. If a belief fails to meet any or all of these criteria, it cannot properly be designated as knowledge.
Knowledge, of course, is basically reason’s raison d’etre. So here we have a pretty good foundation for what is reason, and thus, what is reasonable.
Vallier has three central points he addresses. His first point is theism:
The first foundational belief of the Christian is theism. It is simply obvious that theism is reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion. Nearly all atheists in the literature acknowledge that theistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified.
Wha-ha? “[T]heistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified”? And this is acknowledged by “nearly all atheists in the literature”? Perhaps I have not read enough atheist literature, but this seems to me to be a rather spurious claim. Who are these atheists? When and where did they write these things? Vallier does not provide these names, so already his argument is looking weak. (Remember, evidence.)
His other point, that theism is “reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion” also strikes me as rather weak. Theism is the belief that there is a god or gods who exist. Now, on the surface, this to anyone sounds like a valid claim, even if untrue. (Note that I’m not really using the word “valid” as expressed in logic.) But here comes the problem: what is (a) god?
Most people I’ve asked this question either start laughing (as in, “How can you be so stupid you don’t know what god is?”), or given me stares and/or start sputtering. (One answer was “God is god” with a nervous chuckle, as if the person saying it knew the tautology involved and it had started to crack their faith.) But the question is an important one: what, exactly, is god? As George H. Smith notes, if someone started claiming that an “unie” exists, the first thing you would do is not say “Prove it,” you would say, “Just what the hell is an ‘unie’?” As such, we need to know what, exactly, is entailed by the word “god”.
Alas, this has been a search that has been undergoing since the beginning of human civilization. You can ask innumerable people what god is, and come away with innumerable answers. This is one reason why there are so many monotheistic religions, but also within these religions so many sects, denominations, and divisions. This is not like libertarianism, where we have differences over what is the best way to achieve liberty, and what liberty in practice would mean; no, this is far deeper. At it’s core it’s that we really have no definition of god to begin with.
Many have gone through the argument that there is no coherent definition of god; George H. Smith goes into it in such depth in the first part of his book that I think it really should have been titled Igtheism: The Case Against God.. I will not reproduce Smith’s work here, but suffice to say there is a great deal of doubt as to what, if anything, the word “god” really refers to. One point is the idea that “god” is incomprehensible, lying beyond our reason. If that is the case, then by definition, belief is unreasonable. Another point, then, is to give “god” “unlimited attributes”, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence. But these don’t make any sense whatsoever. How could you have these unlimited attributes, when an attribute in and of itself consists of a limitation, of a definite quality? How can there be existence without limitations when existence is defined by limitations?
So theism is not reasonable. By entailing a belief in something that is inherently unknowable, incomprehensible, and defies reason itself, it is unreasonable. You wouldn’t start believing me if I told you that we were all seeds from a celestial kumquat that cracked itself upon the world to spread salvation. Why, really, should we then believe in the existence of a “god” or “gods”? At least we know what a kumquat is. We have no clue what a “god” is.
Of course, Vallier preempts any of this by saying:
Note that you needn’t think that theistic proofs are successful to think that at least one version of one of them can be rationally affirmed by an honest person. If so, then theistic belief is reasonable. Don’t dispute me here. I’m in good company with Leibniz and Aquinas.
Vallier does not tolerate your pathetic dissent. He just dismisses it entirely. Here’s his problem: as I pointed out above, by definition, theism isn’t nreasonable (and also isn’t rational) so while an honest person may affirm it, it would not actually be a rational decision.
Perhaps this is because I am not acquainted with the contemporary literature of the philosophy of religion. Maybe I just need to get a proper education in this topic. Or…maybe it’s because the philosophers of religion aren’t half as smart as they think they are. Just a thought.
Moving along to his second point, Vallier says:
The second foundational belief is that the Gospel reports of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are reliable. Many of you probably think the Gospels are not reliable sources of information about Jesus, given that they are full of miracles and were written long after Jesus’ death by unknown individuals. That’s fine. But is your view so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree?
I think there is significant doubt as to the veracity of the Gospels. First, even though Vallier says that the gospels were written within a generation of Jesus’ death, the earliest point around when they may have been written was 50 A.D.–twenty years after Jesus died. More reliable dating by historians point around after 70 A.D., forty years later. And these were most definitely not written by eyewitnesses, but loads and loads of heresay. Now how can these be accurate? The Associated Press frequently gets things wrong minutes after they occur in a society where we have advanced technology, education, and data verification systems. Imagine trying to get the truth of something decades after it occurred in a society where irrigation is considered a bloody miracle and you think the Earth is flat.
Is my view “so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree”? Again, this gets back to what is reasonable. Resurrection is just flat out unreasonable, and I would think any reasonable, informed person would agree on that. As for the life and death of Jesus, I am not one of those atheists who says that Jesus flat out did not exist. Rather, I think there was probably a man named Jesus who did some things, was probably a social reformer and agitator, and was executed by the Romans (and backed by corrupt Jewish authorities) for his trouble. Out of his life story, without modern inventions like video and rigorous journalism and historical documentation, a tale of a divine man emerged. Mixed with previous religions who had similar resurrection stories for their divine heroes, Jesus became the son of “god” (again, whatever that is) and a new religion was born. Indeed, the most prolific promoter of Christian, Paul of Tarsus, didn’t really start proselytizing until long after Jesus was dead and the truth was in doubt.
And so what if the Gospels were written within the generation of Jesus’ death? Eyewitness testimony is notorious for being of dubious value, and that’s before we get to the truly weird stuff. If someone was saying they just saw people abducted by aliens, you would either think they’re talking about the Mexican drug cartels or were just crazy. That would be the reasonable response, at least at first.
Lastly, Vallier addresses the Trinity. This is one of the most problematic components of Christian theology, for even though Christians stridently advocate there is only one god, they worship at least three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the Trinity–that’s a journey best undertaken by people who have the time, energy, and willpower to do so–but a good summary is that the Trinity is a doctrine riddled with contradictions, holes, and much philosophical jury-rigging to get it to fit with everything else. To believe in this would also be unreasonable, as nothing is clear nor consistent, requirements for reason.
In summary, then, no, the Christian belief is not actually reasonable. Theism itself is rather unreasonable, being as it is a belief system centered around one or more supernatural entities that are undefinable. In addition, neither the Bible nor the Trinity can save Christian belief from unreasonableness; indeed, if anything, they only doom it further.
This is most emphatically not to say that we should disrespect individual Christians, whether in public or in private. To paraphrase a popular Christian saying, “Hate the belief, love the believer.” I have made it known on this blog where I stand with regards to the antics of such organizations as American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well as all those local atheist groups who vandalize or do really dumb things regarding Nativity scenes. I do not believe in taking a combative approach, especially not in public. But if you’re in a private, or at least less public setting, and someone is telling you that they’ve made a decision based on (or worse, that you have to do something because of) something that a magical being that we cannot know told them, you would obligated to say, with a straight face, “Kevin, that is absurd.”
That is different from disrespecting the individual. You are pointing out that their point is ridiculous. Pointing out the ridiculous is not disrespect, but if it be disrespect, then make the most of it. We do not suffer outrageous statements and beliefs. We tolerate them for a time with children, but gradually help them grow out of it. We tend to regard anyone who seriously believes in fairies or unicorns as being either in jest or somewhat unstable. The same goes for libertarians who have discovered a bona fide socialist in this day and age.
Yet perhaps the very fact that theism is unreasonable is why it still lives. Perhaps Marx was right about the masses needing their opium. Is there a psychological or–dare I say it–spiritual need for a belief in the unbelievable? Do people need something in their hearts that exists beyond the realm of existence itself in order to give them some grounding, something to help them survive this existence? I think that’s probably the case. Just as fiction fulfills the role of “catharsis,” or release, so too does religion. (Now watch as some atheist wanders in here and says “Well duh, religion is fiction…”) So that is all well and good. The point of theism is that it is unreasonable, and humans need a dose of the unreasonable to get them through life. But that does nothing to make the belief itself reasonable or rational.
This is also, of course, before we get to some of the truly dark things about Christianity, especially those derived from its Judaic ancestry. Disobedient children are to be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), while those who mock a bald man are to be ripped apart by bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). How about killing women who are being raped who don’t scream hard enough? (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) Or subjecting wives to their husbands unconditionally? (Ephesians 5:22-24) Or how about cutting off your hands and feet that may give you temptation? (Mark 9:43-48) And let’s not even get started on Abraham almost murdering his son Isaac, because a voice in his head told him so. Against all reason, he takes his son up the mountain and gets ready to kill him there as an offering.
These are not only unreasonable, they are morally repugnant.
Of course, modern Christianity does not generally follow these points, yet they remain within the Bible and are not any less Christian for it. They are, of course, unreasonable, and that, more than anything, is why they are ignored.
Again, I want to reiterate that I do not advocate disrespecting individual Christians or being out and out assholes to them. But to argue that Christian belief is reasonable is a fool’s errand. It is built upon a foundation of irrationality and unreasonableness, and for many centuries openly attacked reason as being the Devil’s bride. For many people, that is the point.
I would suggest to anyone interested in reading books on atheism firstly the excellent Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith, with the warning that it is quite deep. Part 1 focuses on claims about the existence of god; part 2 is a massive, in-depth exploration of faith vs. reason; Part 3, which I haven’t gotten to yet, examine the positive arguments for god; Part 4 looks at practical consequences of belief in god. I would also recommend Richard Carrier’s Why I Am Not a Christian, an easier to read book that goes through four major reasons why Christianity does not work: god’s silence, god’s inert state, the wrong evidence for a supernatural being, and ultimately that we are just in the wrong universe for such an entity. (I understand Carrier is associated with the Atheist+ movement, which I reject, but his book is sound. His other book, Goodness without God is, to put it mildly, a bit boring. I only got through the preface.)
tl;dr: Um, no, Kevin, Christian belief is not reasonable, and I don’t really have any reason to respect it anymore than I have a reason to respect a genuine belief in fairies.
Update: Jason Brennan of BHL quotes a response to Vallier from another blogger, and underneath the quote makes this important statement:
I’m posting this because I saw similar types of responses in the commends to Kevin’s previous post. And I wonder if Richard [the other blogger] and Kevin are actually disagreeing here. I suspect–and I invite Kevin and Richard to correct me if I’m wrong–that Kevin is talking about reasonableness, but Richard is talking about epistemic justification or epistemic rationality.
Kevin claims that religious belief and theism, or at least certain instances of them, are reasonable. “Reasonable” is a technical term in public reason liberalism. Just what constitutes reasonableness is a big topic the PR liberals debate, but they all build into the concept of reasonable that reasonable beliefs are to be respected by liberalism. A reasonable objection has to be defeated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable lifestyle has to be accommodated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable claim has to be heard; an unreasonable one doesn’t. Etc.
In addition, PR liberals tend to hold that the category of the “reasonable” is broader than the category of the epistemically justified or the epistemically rational. Many beliefs that are not epistemically justified or that would be epistemically irrational to hold (because they are held in violation of the correct epistemic standards, whatever they are) are still reasonable. The standards of reasonableness are less demanding than the standards of epistemic justification.
Now I feel kinda dumb. I should have been the igtheist and asked just what Vallier meant by reasonable, but I figured I had a good sense of what reasonable is. Yet he’s not talking about reasonableness as reason at all; he’s talking about a technical term within the school of public reason liberalism. Moreover, this term isn’t even really defined; it seems to be a bit fuzzy. This is why asking for definitions and setting grounds for discussion are so important. Especially now that it looks like “reasonableness,” in this context, is functionally meaningless.
By yours truly, of course:
Newsflash: government does not mitigate the excesses of “capitalism.” What it does it exacerbate the excesses of corporatism. By creating a system where profit depends on political connections and lobbying, by having a government big enough to intervene in the economy and choose winners and losers, you’re creating cronyism.
How do you have cronyism in a (classical) liberal economic system, aka capitalism? You can’t really, because the entire economic system is predicated on fulfilling customers’ needs and providing value to society, not by lobbying and buying elections.
Your legislators are bought and paid for, and not by you. Why progressives willingly continue to be Big Businesses’ useful idiots I will never understand. Quit playing into corporations’ hands by giving them the tools to ban their competition and pad their executive paychecks.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I intend to update and add to this at a later date. I consider it to be somewhat incomplete at the moment.
I apologize for this post; it’s a bit spread out because of the way I got to the topic in question.
Over the weekend, NYPD officers attempted to subdue an apparently crazy person in Times Square. I say attempted, because all they really did was bulletspray and hit two completely innocent bystanders–one an elderly lady in a walker. This, after the bulletspray fest last year outside the Empire State Building, and also earlier this year when the LAPD, during the Dorner manhunt, bulletsprayed a completely random car that didn’t look anything like the vehicle that was on their APB.
Naturally, I spoke out against this. I think police brutality and police incompetence are serious issues that deserve more of a national discussion. Unlike talk about the deficit and the debt ceiling, or foreign policy, or the minutiae of economic regulation, police reform and criminal justice reform touches on Americans directly. It affects citizens in a very immediate sense–usually by killing them. Yet for some reason, despite all the deaths logged by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, or the other horrendous activities reported by CopBlock, or the crazy stories of civil asset forfeiture run amok, or even Third Amendment violations, it seems to me that nobody is really talking about this in a meaningful way. Politicians sweep it under the rug and go on to start another shouting match about the debt ceiling or them brown people coming over the border.
I also noted that one of the scariest things that is happening is the militarization of police around the country, something I noted last year for United Liberty, and which is the subject of a recent book by Radley Balko. This led to a gun control activist to start yelling about how the police were arming themselves with military hardware because the NRA had weakened gun laws and led to rampant armament of the populace. Naturally, I disagreed. We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and then somehow suicide entered into the equation. I’ll let my Storify speak for itself:
I went off on a rant about humanism and individual sovereignty.
This leads me to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post, which is atheism, libertarianism, and what it really means to be a humanist.
A long time ago, I blogged about the silliness that is Atheism+, a new “movement” that tried to merge atheism with third-wave feminism and far-left progressivism by basically being assholes to everybody. One of the most important points is that atheism does not lead to anything directly. Atheism, being merely the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity or entities, doesn’t really entail anything beyond that. Even though I would really like to agree with this blog post that says atheism leads to libertarianism, even that is really not true. How, exactly, does lack of a belief in a supernatural entity lead to a libertarian leap? It doesn’t. There is no underlying philosophical foundation there. The previous author talks about controlling your own life and thinking for yourself, but that is not ipso facto atheism.
There is a difference, though, between atheism and humanism. Atheism is a philosophical position. Humanism is to atheism what Christianity is to theism (sort of). While there is a long running argument over whether or not humanism is a religion (other terms include “life stance,” a “replacement for religion,” which I think both works and yet doesn’t), it sort of fits the bill. Just barely.
What is humanism, though? Let’ see a couple of definitions:
- (Philosophy) the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
- (Philosophy) a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church
Note that: human reason. Human autonomy. Exactly the things that I mentioned above in my Twitter rant.
Yes, said autonomy sometimes includes suicide. This is a tragic thing, but yet if we’re going to respect autonomy then we must respect that too. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t come up. What does come up all the time are small things, small decisions. Like the size of soda cup you’re buying, or your sexual orientation, or what sort of clothes you like to wear.
These decisions stem from our sapience, and come from our rationality. And if you’re going to be a human being, and not reject humanity, then you must embrace this sapience, and moreover, individual human sovereignty. Anything else is inhuman, full stop.
That’s why I think libertarianism and humanism naturally go together. If you’re a libertarian, that leads to humanism because you’re focused on freeing individuals from the power of a large government, and letting them control their lives; and humanism is all about human lives being front and center. If you’re a humanist, focusing on human lives and humanity, then you should naturally be a libertarian, because libertarianism embraces and encourages the natural essence of humanity, sapience.
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now ever since I heard about “thick libertarianism.” This is the idea that libertarianism entails other ideas that are not necessarily political, that there are consequences to being a libertarian. The idea, as far as I can determine, was formed by Charles Johnson, also known as RadGeek, a left-libertarian blogger. Here is a good reading list to start on if you want to know more about thick libertarianism and libertarian morality:
- The post where it all (sorta) began, “Libertarianism Through Thick & Thin” by Charles Johnson
- “Libertarianism: Thick and Thin“, by Matt Zwolinski
- “Libertarianism and Morality” by Fernando Teson
- “Libertarian Social Morality: Progressive, Conservative, or Liberal?” by Kevin Vallier
- BONUS: “The Libertarian Middle Way“, by Randy Barnett
Johnson explores several different forms of thick libertarianism, or shades of thickness, really. Two of these are “strategic thickness–causes of liberty,” and “thickness from consequences–the effects of liberty.” I think both of these lead toward humanism. The first because, as Johnson himself notes:
Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply becauseeverybodybelieves it, or to do things simply becauseeverybodydoes it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.
Technically, reason itself doesn’t require libertarianism, but if we’re going to promote a society where there is limited government and people have individual responsibility for their own actions, then you’re going to promote reason. And when you do that, you find yourself heading towards freethought, which heads towards humanism…
The other, “effects of liberty,” is simply the same thing but in reverse. A society of free people is going to lead towards humanism in one way or another. If we’re going to give people power over their own lives, there is going to be less power from the Church.
I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian at the same time, but there is a tension there between the Christian and libertarian elements that I don’t think you get from being an atheist libertarian or a humanist one. For centuries, the Christian Church has been a state unto itself, passing edicts and laws and being very forceful in demanding people to bow to its will, or at least the will of whomever at the time was wearing the most outrageous hat. God is described as a king, with ultimate power, and everyone is to bow down and obey him. Indeed, for a long time, free will was ignored, and the Church was extremely authoritative. Although various Christian denominations have undergone rebranding efforts over the past couple of centuries, dealing with the rise of (classical) liberalism, Christianity is still very much a top-down, hierarchical, authoritative institution. “Follow our commands or burn in hell forever.” Not exactly a lot of leeway there.
I should also point out that I don’t exactly agree with many of the various “Humanist Manifestos” either. A lot of what I’ve seen published suggests that many want to make humanism lean towards some variety of socialism or social democracy–but then, I see these people as not being fully humanist either. If they’re going to take so many decisions away from individuals and put it in the hands of a nebulous, all-powerful state, then they’re not embracing the very essence of humanity either. Just because I use the term “humanist” doesn’t mean I’m talking about the party line of the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the IHEU. I’m talking solely about a human-centered philosophy that lacks supernatural elements.
That, by itself, I think goes hand in hand with libertarianism. Sort of an odd topic to come to via police brutality and suicide, but that’s what happens when something has been bubbling under the surface for awhile and gets hit with a random act of tragedy.