Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Evolution of Conspiracy Theorism


Roberts: a stage in the evolution of conspiracy theorism. 

The above video has being doing the rounds of late. It shows Prof Brian Cox's clash with right wing Australia senator Malcolm Roberts over climate change.  Cox presents some climate data but Roberts simply rejects it as data manipulated by NASA.  The shortened Guardian version of the clash appeared on Facebook. I shared it and added my comment as follows:

Poor old Cox is reckoning without the conspiracy theorist's mindset: conspiracy theorism allows the fanciful multiplication of any number of entities and Machiavellian players who, it claims, are systematically distorting the truth. Presenting science to conspiracy theorists doesn't work because science depends on institutions and according to the conspiracy theorist those institutions are systematically corrupt.. Christian fundamentalists are of a similar ilk.


However, I don't think Roberts is a fully-blown conspiracy theorist himself, but he has the necessary precursors - deep suspicion of the motives of a scientific institution and the public funded scientific enterprise in general. There is probably a continuum here from a fairly undeveloped prototypical form of conspiracy theorism to the fully blown version we see in David Ike for instance. I interpreted Cox's vain attempts to teach Roberts about the need for theoretical modelling as a sign that Roberts doesn't have a well formed notion about the scientific dialogue between theory and observation; my guess is that he thinks modelling is non-empirical; this modelling may be too far removed from the obvious to register as empirical in Roberts mind. I've seen a similar mistrust of the academic community's orientation toward deeply theoretical narratives among flat earth theorists who would declare that the Earth is manifestly and empirically flat. The unfortunate fact is that academia has become in the eyes of the right-wing an ivory tower elite who speak a cryptic language beyond the average true hearted citizen whose common sense engagement with the truly empirical is the measure truth - well that's how the right-wing are liable to spin it if they can - in fact watch out for Donald Trump because this is the sort of thing you might hear from his mouth. If he becomes president it could become a time of danger and persecution for the academic community. 

This episode is also an indication of how far NASA has fallen since the glory days of the Moon landings. Roberts is part of the general drift toward suspicion and conspiracy theorism with its dread of government, even Western democratic government. I'm not quite sure of the reason for this overall drift; but at least two possible reasons occur to me; 

1. In the 1980s Marxism lost the argument with free market laissez-faire economics and its concomitant individualism. We are now seeing the outworking of this free market individualism in its more libertarian extreme. This is particularly so in America where its whiggish historical traditions were helped along by the over-interference of the British government with its colony, Those otherwise good American traditions have sprung into life and have been mythologized by paranoiac right-wingers as a government vs. the individual scifi romance. 

2. Secondly, the demise of Christianity: Christianity has become increasingly intellectually marginalized (expelled even!) in the West particularly in the public academic institutions which ironically had their origins in the Western church. Christianity's all embracing world view has been replaced by...... nothing. There have been some attempts to argue that atheism is a religion in its own right, but that is not convincing except in cases where Marxism or another atheist philosophy acquires a mystical eschatological status thereby resembling religion with its sense of destiny. Otherwise atheism is more naturally described as an ideological vacuum which fails to satisfy the soul of many. Possible outcomes of this are that either the ideological vacuum grows to envelope the whole of life in a hopeless dark cloud of nihilism. or that the vacuum gets filled with the most horrible ideological demons such as some version of fundamentalism. Like parts of Islam Christianity is reacting adversely and fanatically to intellectual marginalization and in consequence finds that it naturally identifies with the "libertarian" cause and its hatred of institutionalized public funded learning.  I say this as a Christian myself; my closeness to the Christian cause may have given me an advantageous perspective on the  malaise suffered by some contemporary Christians. 


***

I have recently learnt of another crackpot theory that is doing the rounds, namely, the  belief that Earth's mountains are the remains of what was at one time huge silicon trees which reached the clouds. (Devil's mountain, which vaguely resembles a large cut-down tree stump, is quoted as evidence  - I wonder where the chainsaw is that cut it down!). This theory isn't worth evaluating. but it goes to show that there is a contingent of people out there who so distrust scientific institutions that they would prefer to fill their minds with weird and wonderful fantasies propagated on the internet. They no longer believe in modernist progress and the theoretical narratives that have been painstakingly put together over the course of centuries in order to be consistent with observation. This is the new protest tradition of "throw it all out and start again!". That the established scientific community could be so systematically wrong about such gross aspects of our world invites systematic theories about intentional, clandestine and deceptive error. This context is fertile ground for conspiracy theorism. 


Stuff decades of geological research! Those flat topped mountains are obviously and empirically tree stumps!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Denis Alexander: "I would suggest dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'"

Theological Dualism: The "God bits" vs.  the "Natural  forces bits":  You only need drop the "God bits" and you're an atheist. 

I'm continuing to work my way through (v. slowly)  Denis Alexander's book  "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose". Chapter 8, which is entitled "Evolutionary Creation", critiques the concept of "naturalism" (and also "methodological naturalism"), a concept which I have also criticized in this blog many times. Naturalism is the subliminally theological idea that so called "natural forces" are set over and against Divine creative "interventions". Underlying "naturalism" is, in fact, the deistic notion that the cosmos works "naturally" by itself and where God (if you believe in him) steps in on occasion to do his stuff. Perhaps I caricature just a little, but to a dualist "Evolution did it" is identical to saying "God didn't do it" and "God did it" is the same as saying "Evolution didn't do it"! This mindset readily connects with subliminal gnosto-dualism, an implicit view where God is set over an against the inferior, if not downright evil, "natural forces".

"Naturalism" as a concept is also subliminally entrenched in the de-facto Intelligent Design community's explanatory filter. This filter is actually a sound epistemic procedure if we are dealing with human or alien artifacts: Intelligent entities, although they themselves may arguably conform to the laws of physics, are nevertheless too complex a realization of physics to their make treatment from physical first principles possible and therefore their works are best treated as a separate "intelligent" category. 

But the explanatory filter is grossly flawed if used in Christian theology where a totalising all-embracing immanent God is inextricably bound up with all that passes under the created order. In short all activity in creation, theologically speaking, traces back to Divine intelligence whether by permission or proactive decree. There is really no such thing as autonomous "natural forces" unless by it one simply means those phenomena whose patterns of behavior which are tractable to the law and disorder descriptions of conventional science. In contrast, the de facto IDists find it difficult to conceive God as much more than a tinkering alien. Let me submit here a radical proposal: If manifest divine "interventions" are the main basis for belief in God you may as well drop the whole concept of God and become an atheist.

I'm not going to do justice to Alexander's account here - he really needs to be read - but he also is highly critical of "naturalism" and by implication its subliminal philosophy of dualism,. However, I will give some sample quotes from Alexander. I don't myself necessarily accept the plain neo-Darwinist ideas of the academic establishment, but I believe Alexander is right in saying that Darwin's explication of creation as a process had the ironic consequence of actually giving traction to the idea that God was immanent and active in creation. For example, Alexander quotes Aubrey Moore, a fellow of St John's College Oxford and curator of the Oxford botanical gardens  in Victorian times:

There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present  everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law...For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God. (p. 202)

What's gone wrong since then? Christian theology, at least among the de-facto IDists and fundamentalists seems to have gone backwards since the nineteenth century! The above exposes the theological naivety of trying to put the intelligence of God in a similar category to that of aliens or humans who work very much within the created order. The only thing I would want to add to the above is that like an author of a book God has different attitudes toward what he brings forth from platonic space for reification by his permissive or  proactive will.

At the very least the quote from Moore does bring out Alexander's point that evolution favored explications that moved away from deism and dualism towards a full-time rather than part-time dualist-deist God. (At this juncture we must bear in mind that there are arguments against the notion that the creation didn't initially contain death as is maintain by most fundamentalists -  see Alexander's comments here)

If I'm not careful I could end up quoting the whole of chapter 8 but here are some further samples:

This rapid baptism of evolution into the Christian doctrine of creation, so characteristic on both sides of the Atlantic, was facilitated by a strongly providential theology that emphasized the total sovereignty of God over the whole created order. (p. 203)

Given that context it's no surprise that Alexander has turned against so-called "naturalism" and  also it seems "methodological naturalism":

We don't call Christian accountants 'naturalistic' because of the absence of theological terminology as they check the company accounts, any more than we expect our doctor to use theological language when she tells us that we've got the flu, or the mechanic to refer to Biblical texts when servicing our car. The absence of specific references to God does not render our lives suddenly 'naturalistic'. Quite the opposite: Christians walking with God in the power of the Spirit will be only too aware of God's presence and leading permeating every aspect of their daily lives. Naturalism is the philosophy that there is no God in the first place, so only an atheists can provide truly naturalistic explanations for anything. 
For the same reason I would not myself use the term 'methodological naturalism' to refer to what scientists do in their research, irrespective of their own personal beliefs. .....I would therefore suggest simply dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'

But today in the West we are in reactionary gnosto-dualistic times, so I don't suppose Christians unschooled in the nuances of the sciences like Alexander will be able to unthink the well entrenched dualism of God vs "Natural Forces". In its place a defensive blend of anti-science Biblical liberalism and "touch of God" gnosticsm are likely to persist in Christian fundamentalist circles as they fight a retreating rearguard action. These people are unlikely to listen to Denis Alexander or any other Christian member of the academic establishment for that matter. For the extremists that establishment is all part of the end-time satanic conspiracy!

More on the false dichotomy zone

 ...and so on and so forth!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Trump: a Favorite of Christian Fundamentalists

That many US evangelicals think Trump  is God's chosen
man to rule the most powerful nuclear armed democracy
in the world is a pretty hair raising thought. 
Apart from his thoroughly deluded cult following of racists, right wingers, patriot ultras, semi-fascists, Kluk Klux Klansman and wacko Christian fundamentalists I don't think anyone regards presidential nincompoop in waiting, Donald Trump, as a serious presidential candidate, especially in view of his recent gaffs. But some Christian fundamentalists really do think he's God's gift to America.

Evidence of an affinity between the Christian hard right and Trump surfaces in a news item appearing in the August Premier Christianity magazine. This item tells us that fundamentalist James Dobson believes Trump has been "led to Christ".  Dobson who falls in the same league as the Falwells and Pat Robertson goes on to say:

All I can tell you is that we have only  two choices, Hilary and Donald. Hillary  scares me to death'

The article also says that:

 ...the president of of Liberty university, Jerry Falwell Junior and broadcaster Max Lucado have voiced support [for Trump]. ... Mr Trump recently appointed an evangelical advisory board, on which Dr Dobson and 24 other Christians sit.

So, the link between an incompetent quasi-fascist presidential candidate and Christian fundamentalists is further confirmed; they clearly have like minds.  It scares me to death that Dobson, Falwell and Lucado et al aren't scarred to death by Trump: It all goes to show that being a Christian doesn't guarantee discernment in spite of  fundamentalist self-belief in being privy to the counsels of the Divine. Although the Christianity article does say that not all evangelicals support Trump this connection between Trump and evangelicalism is testament to how lacking in self-criticism and how culturally run down some versions  of US Christianity have become. 

Further evidence of the link between Trump and fundamentalist Christianity comes from another fundamentalist source, namely Dr Michael Brown whose newsletters I receive (Not because I support Brown but because I like to keep an eye on fundamentalism). Brown is not the most extreme of fundamentalists himself - although still pretty extreme in my books - but his news is revealing. For according to Brown (My emphasis):

Ever since Donald Trump began to surge as a candidate last year, Christians have been pointing to the book of Isaiah and comparing Trump with the ancient Persian king Cyrus. Some have even claimed that God has revealed to them that He will use Trump for the good of America just as He used Cyrus for the good of the Jewish people, even though Cyrus was a “pagan” king.

To be fair Brown doesn't agree with these views himself although he doesn't condemn Trump. Brown, however, does otherwise hold extreme right-wing political views: As an indication of the latter,  we find Brown in another web article telling us it is possible that Trump's buffoonery is God's way of ensuring Democratic victory; Why? This is not because Brown supports the Democrats; far from it in fact. What follows is Brown's opinion of why he thinks the Democrats are being let in by God (My emphases): 

     To me the message would be clear: Despite President Obama’s radical policies, policies which have directly (and, for the most part, quite negatively) affected our families and our freedoms, the Church in America is still largely asleep, still largely oblivious to our nation’s steep moral and spiritual decline, still largely unaware of the perilous situation in which we find ourselves in the world today.
     The bad news is that a Hillary presidency would mean divine judgment on a sleeping Church and a sinning nation.
     The good news is that, with true repentance, that judgment could become a mercy, provided that we wake up.
     The best news is that the elections are still three months off and we can wake up today, asking God to have mercy on our land, getting out of our self-satisfied complacency, and praying for the Lord to turn us in the right direction without the help of His smiting rod.
     Obviously, I can only offer these thoughts as spiritual surmisings, also recognizing that the Lord has no political affiliation and that there is good and bad in each party. And whoever our next president is, that person will be my president and I will pray for him or her.
    My hope, though, is that the thought of Trump being raised up to pave the way for Hillary, all for the purpose of divine judgment, would provoke us to a greater sense of prayerful urgency. It is certainly called for today.

It is quite possible that as he wrote the above the issues of homosexuality, Obama care and even gun control were in Brown's head. In common with other fundamentalists Brown's mind is full of judgement, damnation and holy vengeance.   He regards the whole business of Trump as a wake up call to the sleeping right wing of Christian America who must rise up against the devil Democrats else come under judgement themselves! I am actually familiar with this kind of fundamentalist response when the drift of a nation or a church goes against their views - they believe the nation or church to be worthy of the most severe judgement by God. I personally have seen this kind of angry fundamentalist taste for judgment  in church contexts. Their moral compass is such that they see it as highly moral to express righteous anger and look for judgement if there is no submissive acquiescence to their theological views. Like other fundies Brown is all too ready to read wickedness into the behavior of both believers and unbelievers if that behaviour doesn't suite him (See footnote for another example *1).

Brown also provides a window on just how extreme some US Christian fundamentalists get in their opinion of Barak Obama:

    Is it true that a Hebrew prophecy about Barack Obama is hidden in the words of Jesus in Luke 10:18, where He said to His disciples, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”?
     Although this claim has been circulating for a number of years, I was asked about it again today, prompting this article.
     The short answer is: Absolutely, categorically, certainly not. This is complete nonsense, without any possible linguistic support.
     The claim goes like this: 1) Although Luke wrote in Greek, Jesus was speaking in Hebrew, so we must translate Luke’s Greek back into the original Hebrew; 2) the Hebrew word for lightning is baraq; 3) the Hebrew word for “high place” is bama; 4) in some cases there would be a u before the word bama (like the u in tube); 5) putting this together, Jesus would have spoken about baraq ubama, equating him with Satan.
     To repeat: This is complete nonsense, without any possible linguistic support, but since this claim is still in circulation, I’ll take a few moments to demolish it.

To his credit Brown condemns this fanciful rubbish:

    That being said, if you want to have some fun with the president’s name, then try this on for size: When you rearrange the letters for President Barack Obama you end up with An Arab Backed Imposter.
     As ridiculous as this is (and of course, it’s just plain silly), it’s infinitely more plausible than is the completely absurd, not to mention impossible, reconstruction of Luke 10:18 to yield a secret reference to Barack Obama, one in which he is connected to Satan himself.
     To be sure, internet myths die a prolonged and painful death, but I’m hoping that this one can be snuffed out once and for all right here.

Woe betide you if you are a Christian and you disagree with these people - they will probably regard you as fighting on the side of Satan! In their books appeal to the Divine Grace in Christ is futile unless you eat out of their doctrinaire hand!

Although Brown is anxious to distance himself from some of these extremes his evidence has grave implications: It  shows that in spite of the testimony of some Christians about how God guides their thinking the above subverts the thought that God works personally in peoples lives. Many apparently devout fundamentalists are living in a fanciful world of paranoia and conspiracy theorism, a world that qualitatively is not that much different from that of David Ike.The whole episode reflects extremely badly on Christian testimony and its persuasive power is correspondingly compromised.


Footnote:
*1 For example, see a blog post by fundamentalist Jason Lisle entitled "Deep Time - the god of our age  and dated 9/11/12 Lisle, like a good inquisitor stuffs blasphemies in the mouths of Christians who don't agree with his Young Earthism. He then uses this as a pretext to call down Divine censor upon them. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Meloncolia I Resume

This post is a recap of where I last left my Meloncolia I project, my last word being this paper where I derived the following information relationship:

I(p) = I(1/N)  + I(q) + I(b)
1.0
....and where:

 I( ) represents the information function --log( ),   

p is the absolute probability of an outcome. The implication is that p is extremely small as it represents a tiny minority of favourable cases among the huge space of platonic possibility. In the context of Meloncolia I the cases of relevance and interest is the class of organic configurations. Clearly within the context of all that is possible this class of organised complexity is very small. Thus it follows from the definition of information that I(p) is very high.

b is the conditional probability of the outcome under scrutiny. This probability is within  the bonds of practical realization - that is, it must be high enough to mean that the outcome has a realistic chance of occurrence.  e.g. life exists so we expect it that its conditional probability is within the realms of practicability given the age and size of the universe. It follows then that the information embodied in b is relatively low.  

q is the probability of the physical constraints which constitute the conditions that make b a conditional probability. 

The above three probabilities were the concern of William Dembski's "conservation of information" thesis. If for the moment we forget the first term on the right hand side of  equation 1.0 it is easy to see why it is so termed. In order to get I(b) sufficiently small for its corresponding outcome to be realistic, the absolute information embodied in I(p) must be soaked up in the conditions needed to make the outcome associated with b realistic. That is, the absolute  improbability of p can only be expressed as the product of the improbabilities of q and b - which in information terms means the corresponding information values are summed. An example of the kind of precise physical set up embodying the information implicit in q needed to give evolution a realistic chance is the spongeam. 

The I(1/N) term
However, I have added a third term on the right-hand side of equation 1.0. This term,  I(1/N), is the information created by activity or searching. In the most elementary model N represents a simple sequential searching of the possible cases in the huge volumes of platonic space. Under these circumstances it is clear that because I is a logarithmic function, I(1/N) grows extremely slowly with N, so slowly in fact that we can understand why this term is easily missed from 1.0. A conservation law of sorts, nevertheless, still holds in as much three terms sum to a constant, but the existence of I(1/N) makes for a dynamic equation where information shifts from one term to another, rather than having a situation that is in stasis. However,  the existence of the term I(1/N) may be liminal and difficult to perceive, for whenever we do algorithmic searches conventional computational activity is creating information only very slowly given the processing technology of our current machines. 

***

I would submit that equation 1.0 gives us hints about the nature of intelligent activity and this becomes clearer once we include the activity term in the information conservation equation. Without this dynamic term the equation we are left with pertains to a static system that does nothing, leaving the question of where does the information come from? dangling. This prompts dualistic attempts to fill the gap with a mysterious thing called "intelligence" which is eminent to physical systems and all but beyond further scientific scrutiny: It's no surprise, therefore, that IDist Robert Marks should believe intelligence to be a different genus to physical activity (or "natural processes" - sic) rather than seeing that activity as bound up with Intelligence. Further, it is of no surprise that some de facto IDists see the nature of intelligence as beyond their terms of reference. In short, the philosophical problems with their explanatory filter has brought their inquiry to an end.  It is not that adding the dynamic term I(1/N) to equation 1.0 answers all the questions, far from it, but we are effectively zooming in on the subject of intelligence itself and resolving it into parts which may help take the inquiry beyond de facto ID's God Intelligence-of-the-Gaps. 

Computations and also, I would maintain, human mental activity produces envelopes of tentative experimental possibility. These envelopes or "halos" are scrutinized for the fulfillment of high level objectives thus making the process of intelligence teleological. If a configuration is discovered that fits these general objectives the envelops generated by the trial process are discarded. In such trial systems the information is, as it were, back-loaded into general and sometimes very fuzzy teleological goals rather than front-loaded into the very tight and precise constraints signified by I(q) in equation 1.0. Because there may be many configurations that fit the general goals selection of a particular outcome could be probabilistic.  (See here for more details)

Equation 1.0 may also give us a clue about the nature of learning. Huge activity is needed to create the information required to fulfill teleological goals. When that information is found it may be stored away and used to update the I(q) term which then acts to constrain future searches. In the activity of human thinking learning no doubt considerably reduces the search space. 

Disclaimer: The above is certainly not being proposed with any claim to scientific authority. The above is more about speculative world view synthesis as I attempt to make an epistemic trade off between proposing embracing high level theoretical speculation against empirical rigor. It is more an avenue of speculation which is not going to be everyone's cup of tea; see the epistemic note below which was my response to a Facebook entry on epistemology.


Appendix: An Epistemic Note:

It was requested that I make a comment on the following facebook entry: 

Quine would agree with me that there is no difference in type comparing religion and science.They are both science and just differ in degree.There are just varying degrees of scientific goodness. Religion is in fact just bad science.There may be a god but it is much less likely to be found or understood by bad science. Quine said:
"For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing, the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience."

My reply, below, is that whilst I agree that there is a general category of epistemology that runs from standard science through world view synthesis to religion, we need to factor in epistemic tractability which varies with the object of study.  Objects such as springs and precipitates are very different in terms of epistemic tractability  to say "evolutionary history"; accordingly standards of "proof" vary. 

Timothy V Reeves I believe there is an epistemic continuum from elementary spring extending and test tube precipitating science, through economics, sociology, history, evolutionary psychology to outright world view synthesis which includes what we think ultimate reality to be. (The latter includes religion). The epistemic common factor here is one of a contentious but hopefully constructive dialogue between experience and our theoretical narratives which attempt to make sense of our experience. So I’m inclined to agree with the view that elementary science is on the same epistemic continuum that religion is on.

But… and it’s a really big but….But that continuum is not necessarily a continuum of “good and bad” science/rationality, but one of epistemic tractability. For example the objects that social scientists and historians deal with are far less epistemically tractable than, say, springs and chemicals in as much as those objects are far more complex and erratic in their presentation. Hence someone can practice bad science with a very tractable ontology and yet another person can do good history with the far less epistemically tractable objects of history. In short it would certainly be wrong to judge historians by the standards of the “physical sciences” when the ontologies dealt with are very different in complexity, accessibility and presentation.


One has to factor in the nature of the ontology one is dealing when discussing this subject. In “Against Method” Feyeraband is good on the subject of how hard epistemic method is to pin down to anything definite even within the so-called “physical sciences”


As for “physical objects” – Quine really needs to reflect on what this means – it’s a loaded term that makes little sense given that the concept of “physical objects” presumes a huge mountain of epistemic and theoretical refection even before they can be defined and understood with anything less than a vaguely felt understanding. 



17 hrs · Edited · Like · 2

Timothy V Reeves ..and one of those non-physical objects with all the potential for generating controversy is the question of very complex nature of science itself. In the philosophy of science we attempt to turn the tools of observation and theoretical narrative onto themselves, thus giving us a "science of science", the quintessential reflexive endeavour!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Brexit: Farce piled on top of Fiasco

Successful Politicians? 

farce (fars): noun: A comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations.


I thought I'd join in the general political jamboree and "headless chicken" melee that erupted after the UK's Brexit vote. So, I decided to sign the petition for a second Brexit referendum.  Here's the circular reply I recently received (Note: The petition now has over 4.1 million signatures)


Dear Timothy V Reeves,
The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “EU Referendum Rules triggering a 2nd EU Referendum”.
Government responded:
The European Union Referendum Act received Royal Assent in December 2015, receiving overwhelming support from Parliament. The Act did not set a threshold for the result or for minimum turnout.
The EU Referendum Act received Royal Assent in December 2015. The Act was scrutinised and debated in Parliament during its passage and agreed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Act set out the terms under which the referendum would take place, including provisions for setting the date, franchise and the question that would appear on the ballot paper. The Act did not set a threshold for the result or for minimum turnout.
As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement to the House of Commons on 27 June, the referendum was one of the biggest democratic exercises in British history with over 33 million people having their say. The Prime Minister and Government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected. We must now prepare for the process to exit the EU and the Government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people in the negotiations.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Click this link to view the response online:
This petition has over 100,000 signatures. The Petitions Committee will consider it for a debate. They can also gather further evidence and press the government for action.
The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#petitions-committee
Thanks,
The Petitions team
UK Government and Parliament

My comments
1. This above doesn't say whether or not the outcome of the referendum is legally binding; they've evaded answering that one;  truthfully and explicitly answering that question would, of course, beg the question (See here)
2. The leadership that acted as the main player in securing a Brexit vote has collapsed and made an ignominious exit rather than take responsibility for the circumstances their actions have brought about. You might expect that out of a Brexit victory would come firm decisive leadership, but no, they were just demagogues who touted misleading information.  This doesn't inspire much confidence in the cause they promulgated.
3. Ironically the petition was set up by a Leave campaigner; its parameter thresholds  of a  >75% turnout and >60% majority were conceived in advance of the vote,  evidence of at least one Leave campaigners perception of what would constitute  a valid outcome; ergo, by his own rules the outcome is not sound. 
4.  I don't think it is contentious to claim that a large proportion of the Leave vote was based on crypto-xenophobia. Moreover many have expressed regret at their all too causal voting practice in favor of Brexit and would now vote Remain.

5. I'll concede that having a second referendum would certainly not feel like good democratic practice: It looks as though  we've made our bed and we're probably going to have to sleep on it. However, in what looks suspiciously like a flawed vote and a Brexit leadership collapse farce has been added to fiasco. I doubt if British democracy would be set back much by a second referendum. British democracy must be the laughing stock of the world already and it couldn't get much worse than it is.

6. One reason why I have favoured Remain  (and I admit this is a very personal and idiosyncratic reason) is not just because of the weight of economic opinion in favour of Remain, but because "Brexit" has a high frequency of conspiracy cranks in its ranks, from the loony left to the  raging right, through David Ike to the numerous fundamentalist christian sects. These people promote fantasy cloud-cuckoo-land ideologies that incorporate anti-EU theories. I personally have seen some of their thinking in operation at close quarters and have become very aware of their all too human foibles which in the case of the Christian fundamentalists often masquerade as spiritual authority. Consequently knowing what I do meant that I just couldn't bring myself to vote the same way!

To complete the story today I received the following email.



Dear Timothy V Reeves,
You recently signed the petition “EU Referendum Rules triggering a 2nd EU Referendum”:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215
The Petitions Committee has decided to schedule a House of Commons debate on this petition. The debate will take place on 5 September at 4.30pm in Westminster Hall, the second debating chamber of the House of Commons. The debate will be opened by Ian Blackford MP.
The Committee has decided that the huge number of people signing this petition means that it should be debated by MPs. The Petitions Committee would like to make clear that, in scheduling this debate, they are not supporting the call for a second referendum. The debate will allow MPs to put forward a range of views on behalf of their constituents. At the end of the debate, a Government Minister will respond to the points raised.
A debate in Westminster Hall does not have the power to change the law, and won’t end with the House of Commons deciding whether or not to have a second referendum. Moreover, the petition – which was opened on 25 May, well before the referendum – calls for the referendum rules to be changed. It is now too late for the rules to be changed retrospectively. It will be up to the Government to decide whether it wants to start the process of agreeing a new law for a second referendum.
The Petitions Committee is a cross-party group of MPs. It is independent from Government. You can find out more about the Committee on its website: http://www.parliament.uk/petitions-committee/role
Thanks,
The Petitions team
UK Government and Parliament

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Right Wing Perspective on the Orlando Night Club Massacre

In a rather disquieting post on the web site "Uncommon Descent" we read the reaction of abrasive right wing Christian Gordon Mullings to the Orlando Night Club Massacre. The post can be found here:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/off-topic/sad-news-event-mass-murder-at-nightclub-in-orlando-fl/

Below I reproduce some portions of Mullings' post plus one comment he added in the comment thread. I also reproduce below some of the content by another right-wing UD poster Denise O'Leary. I have interleaved my comments.  

This seems to be of a — horrific — piece with the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. (The direct parallel to Bataclan makes chatter about “gun control” as the solution patently irrelevant.)

My Comment:  Irrelevant? Far from it!

Unlike the Bataclan attacks which had detectable IS links it seems the FBI are having trouble finding any links with IS apart from lone-wolf radicalization. I have heard it said that there is a distinction between being inspired by IS and being directed by IS. When directed by IS the radicalized Islamist must be linked into the IS communications network which then considerably increases the chances of the radical appearing on the security services radar. But those who are just inspired by IS and otherwise operate alone, are much more difficult to detect. 

In the UK attacks from those who have links to radical Islam or claim to be inspired by radical Islam have used sharp edge weapons and not guns (See here and here). This is very likely down the the difficulty of getting guns in the UK. So, provided there is effective gun control already in place, as it is in the UK,  lives  are clearly being saved; for it is extremely likely that if the perpetrators of UK attacks could have laid their hands on high powered military grade weapons of mass destruction they would have done so. 

Mullings can say what he likes but once good gun control is already in place it is a very relevant factor in public safety although it is not the complete solution, of course. 

Per Drudge, it seems Gateway Pundit and Walid Shoebat are saying there was an ISIS threat against Florida three days ago. Sky News reports a call to emergency services just prior to the attack, during which loyalty was pledged to IS. A now sadly familiar modus operandi.

Mass murder, demonic evil on the loose, 4th generation war with no distinction between military and civilians.

My Comment: A familiar modus operandi? I suppose it is if you understand that in the US lone wolves inspired by IS who are likely to be off the radar of the security services, can easily pick up military grade weaponry and start shooting straight away with devastating results. 

Let us get what seems to be relevant geostrategic context:
The  geographic paranoia of  right-wing America

My Comment: To my mind this vision of America is typical of the extreme right wing; Christian supporters of Donald Trump are also likely to see the world much like this; that is, a decaying and weak US beset by increasingly confident and belligerent antagonists. These supporters are quite sure America is no longer great and therefore respond to the appeal to "Make America great again". In fact the above is a paranoid vision that fails to take into account the nature  of Russian, China and as we shall see, human nature in general.

The Chinese are a creative and hard working nation and have been the seat of thousands of years of high civilization. It ought to be no surprise that a country like China, once it mobilizes its huge population and starts to feel its strength, is going to be a force to be reckoned with; but not necessarily a malign force if the West, faced with a trade hungry nation, plays its (business) cards right and leaves the Chinese to govern themselves the Chinese way.

As for Russia we must remember that here we are dealing with a nation whose history favours a perspective of paranoia and belligerence - as one commentator put it, in Russian culture  "Might is right". But nevertheless we ought to have some sympathy with Russia on several counts. From a Russian point of view there is a long history of the West appearing to be always out to get Russia and do down its culture and generally humiliate it. This started, I suppose, with the great schism of 1154 between Latin and Greek Christianity, followed by the Western Crusader sack of Constantinople in 1204. More recently Russia has had to face Napoleon, the Crimean war, Nazi Germany, the Cold war defeat, not to mention recent tensions with the West which from a Russian point of view look malign, threatening and above all humiliating.  Let's also recall that the Russian population is only similar in size to the populations of just the UK and Germany combined, both of whom have larger economies than Russia and where the UK alone has a similar military spend to Russia. If one now combines all the rich Western nations (and Japan) ranged against Russia (and that includes the most powerful nation in the world i.e. America, in spite of what Trump says) one can understand Russian fears.

Let's remember that Russia, like the West, has a Christian background, namely the eastern orthodox church with its roots in Greek speaking Byzantium. This background Christian culture should be respected and encouraged. I know it's not a perfect model of Christianity, but then neither is Roman Catholicism and its Protestant offspring with its numerous fanatical fundamentalist sects and cults. Most of all Russia wants respect and security. For the Latin Christian this means respecting Russia's orthodox Christian tradition.

Yes, there are dangers in the current tensions between the big nations as there always have been, but it  helps to attempt to understand the perceptions and sense of (jn)justice of those on opposite sides of national divides. Contrast this with a right-winger like Mullings who only sees bogeymen and threat. If that attitude spreads and goes go critical on all sides then you've got a world war on your hands. 



It seems the weapon is an AR-15, which would be a semiauto 5.56 mm NATO weapon. At Bataclan,  AK 47s were used.

I think, again, that we need to look to serious target hardening, given the successful defense of the Geller event in Garland TX. END

VS, while I really do not want to get into an exchange just now, I note that in Paris the restrictions on firearms are far more stringent than anything that would be imposed in the US for the foreseeable future. All it did was create a massive soft target. The tactical lesson is, targets need to be hardened in a 4th gen war world in which the determined WILL be able to get hands on weapons (as long as drugs are smuggled, so can be guns); as the Garland TX case also shows. Also, as was discussed here at UD after the San Bernardino case. KF

My Comment. Well, I can't speak for the US; it's already awash with military grade weaponry and whether you are a lone mass killer or a well organised network of killers guns are virtually on tap; how one proceeds given a national situation like that I've no idea. If I lived in such an armed environment I might well feel threatened and paranoid enough to want to defend myself with a gun. i.e to become a "hard target", in the face of threats from extremists, cranks and people angry enough to just blow it.

Guns beget more guns and that in turn begets more killings in an fight for survival that leads to an arms race. Let's face it; in the US the horse has bolted and I've really no idea of how they are going to sort it, especially in the face of right wing intransigence on gun control.

But how would Mullings propose to target harden places like the UK and France where that hardening is in the hands of the security forces?  According to Mullings the stringent firearms controls in both countries makes their populace a massive soft target! But imagine it: To target harden the UK gun shops would have to open up on every street corner. That would immediately make guns available to both those inspired by IS and those already linked to the IS comms network. If there wasn't such stringent gun control in the UK we would very probably have seen several IS style massacres by now. But radicalized Islamic extremists would be the least of our problems; at most they are likely to take the lives of a hundred or so citizens. However, make weapons of mass destruction available to citizens on a huge scale and you immediately consign many thousands per year to death by gun. When guns are available over the counter the human impulse is to use them under situations of stress, threat and anger, not to mention the obvious dangers of making guns readily available to malign crackpots. Where a society is awash with military grade weaponry its citizens don't just become hardened targets but potentially proactive shooters themselves simply because  anger, vengeance and mental pathology then have the potential to express themselves with a gun; the population turns the guns on itself.

At times Mullings seems paranoid; he is very ready to read ad hominem, web stalking, and malicious innuendo into critics behavior especially if the criticism comes from that much feared bogeyman, the atheist liberal-left. This prompts further abrasive and accusing reactions from Mullings which only have the effect of inflaming the web attacks on him still further, thus fixing the whole process in a polarising feedback cycle. But we can't just blame Mullings here. A kind of cultural paranoia is abroad among the transatlantic right-wingers in general, a paranoia which in part defines the right-wing and conditions its responses.  Consider for example UD poster Denise O'Leary who gives her reason for not favoring Brexit as follows:

I’m not a Brit, but were I one, I’d sure vote Brexit. Several reasons:
1. If Britain had wanted to be run by Germany, she could have surrendered in either of the two World Wars. But she didn’t. She defeated Germany in both. History matters.
2. One person who clearly recognized all that was WWII era French President Charles deGaulle. He vetoed England’s entry into the European Common Market precisely because he had lived in England, knew English, and understood that the culture of the English-speaking peoples is different. For one thing, we have each other, worldwide.

(See http://www.uncommondescent.com/science/celebrate-the-science-writer-as-asshat/)

To me the above smacks of subliminal xenophobia: It doesn't follow that being part of the EU means acquiescent acceptance that Germany runs the show or even wants to run the show. Frankly O'Leary's comment trades on a lingering distrust and fear of ulterior Germanic motives that revolve round the bad memories of fascist Germany. Also, it is entirely erroneous to talk as if the English speaking peoples share a very common culture - they don't. For example, the kind of quasi-anarchistic gun tooting libertarian brash right wingery and christian fundamentalism we see in the States leaves me utterly uncomprehending of transatlantic culture. It seems that the self-selecting go-getting Europeans who left the troubles of Europe in favor of the promise of the New World has given America its own peculiar culture, vibrant, pioneering and innovative  yes, but sometimes it feels a little off-balance to a Brit.

Clearly O'Leary's simplistic "Whose side are you on?" dichotomy and her fanatical paranoia over the liberal left does no justice whatever to the real world situation. But paranoia isn't a problem unique to US right wingers and fundamentalists - it's a human nature problem and that is a universal independent of culture. There are bound to be the paranoid and nationally belligerent equivalents of the O'Learys and Mullings among the Russians, the Germans, the Chinese*1, not to mention the Brits, each of whom fancies they see a threatening world of ulterior motives, a world out to get them. And these nations don't just have a few Kalashnikovs, truck bombs, bows and arrows, flint axes and what-have-yous, but huge arsenals of some of the most advanced weapons of mass destruction the world has seen. Now that is scary, very scary.


Footnote:
* 1  See here for an example of Chinese paranoia: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-36983521


Note on Gordon Mullings' Science
Mullings' hard-right attitudes and personal abrasiveness doesn't do justice to his science material which is eminently more reasonable. He's not a fanatical YEC and seems aware of the heuristic nature of science. If you want to find out about transatlantic de-facto ID you couldn't do much better than consult Mullings' works - they are well organised and well presented.  However, there are aspects of his thinking which in my opinion are badly wrong: He uses the old crude explanatory filter which leads him to adopt the standard God-of-the-gaps paradigm of de facto ID. Also, he wrongly thinks the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution. This seems to be because he has no concept of how physical constraint (such as the spongeam) might play a role in evolution, as it does in life's ability to organise and annex matter on a large scale and yet stay within the second law. It's true that the latter is down to the presence of biological information, but conceivably the laws of physics provide this up front information for evolution. Although I personally actually doubt this proposition the possibility of the spongeam has to be examined and consciously eliminated from the inquiry. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Independence Day: I always knew they'd be back

Independence day: Coming soon to a small island near you. Where are the Germans, French and Italians when you could do with a bit of help?


As I said in my last post on the Brexit issue there is a distinct possibility that the UK will vote to come out of the EU. Well, we are now here with the UK facing its "Independence Day" and a very forbidding prospect it is. No one has the slightest idea how it's all going to end. Let me say straight away that although I'm very proud of British heritage and wish it to be preserved, I nevertheless feel very European. I've worked with continental Europeans and have continental Europeans in the family. I have always thought of them as my fellow countrymen and friends. But this is starting to feel like a goodbye - I hope it isn't. 

Although it looks likely that the Brexit result is in the bag it is not yet legally binding upon Parliament and there is a mathematical possibility that Parliament reject it. If perchance the UK, on reflection, reverses its marginal referendum result and decides to stay with the EU the whole messy episode might serve as short sharp shock to focus European minds, prompting them to draw some salutary lessons about the problems inherent in the EU and think up some solutions. I wrote the piece below immediately after the vote and published it on Facebook. As I wrote it I found I was directing my annoyance less at some of the crypto-bigotry in the Leave camp than at the deep structural failings of the EU and the inability of the EU project to do justice to itself. If we get out from under this cloud overshadowing the UK (and even the world) the EU needs to take a long hard look at its self and engage in some very deep self-critical thinking about its short comings.

***


Among my acquaintance network the percentage of passionate Brexitors is tiny, perhaps close to 1%. So where are all those Brexit voters? This is probably evidence that voting patterns follow along cultural and community fault lines. Consequently, my acquaintance with Brexit culture largely comes indirectly via the media. Now there are, of course, intelligent, reasonable and nuancing Brexitors (Like David Owen and James Knight) but as far as my sampling is concerned this is a minority.

A good chunk of the Brexit vote were fired with the passions aroused by one issue, namely immigration and this at times seemed to boarder on a crypto-xenophobia promoted by demagogues. Added to this was a festering contingency of those enthralled by authoritarian fantasy ideologies whether of the ultra-left, the ultra-right, or the numerous conflicting fundamentalist conspiracy theorists. These latter extremists are a kind of Freudian outlier of the group as whole: They encrypt, embellish and express what’s ailing many Brexit voters with fantastic dream like narratives rich in hyperbolic symbolism. E.g. for some the EU isn’t just a faceless lumbering bureaucracy but the very throne of the anti-Christ. Rubbish, of course, because anti-Christs make sure they have faces, but nevertheless highly symbolic of a profound breakdown of relationship. The fact is the Brexit vote has in part been fed on a diet of those whole feel one or more of:: Left out, disenfranchised, uninvolved, disaffected, disinterested, disconnected, in the dark, misfitting, threatened, powerless, unable to identify etc, etc. And for some there is a dread of the spiritual open endedness of secular societies. Take all these groups out of the vote and it is likely that “remain” would have sailed through.

A lot of it is down to a failure of the EU project with its ham-stringing anonymity to appeal to its grass roots and instead appeal more to cultural elites like scientists, economists, professionals, Eurocrats, business magnates, high flying politicians, the educated, establishment religious leaders etc. This is a key failing of the EU – it connects to cultural elites, but it doesn’t connect easily with the small-town-man, particularly the disaffected folksy small-town-man. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership failed on this point.

Human beings, all human beings, have strong tribal proclivities, often closely linked to their religion and these proclivities sleep a restless sleep in the wings. They are easily awakened and especially so by failure to identify, a sense of suspicion, distrust, paranoia and fear. After awakening they shuffle on the scene ready to embrace decisive human leadership; after all, a leadership with a real face is far more appealing than a faceless bureaucracy even though that real face may hold some highly authoritarian and oppressive values. There is, therefore, a significant minority of Brexitors who are no friend of democracy, progress or the freemarket; they prefer the fundamentalist language of authority and utter certainty. It is no surprise that Donald Trump in the US and Katie Hopkins in the UK, with their subliminal fascism, are Brexit sympathisers.

Hilter succeeded because he connected with the disaffected small-town-man. Hitler was a human face promoting the black and white folksy bucolic values of cottage and farm (allied of course to the fantasy ideology of facism). He made a connection where the liberals of the German cultural elites didn’t. The EU suffers a similar huge failing: Its anonymity is less a problem with cultural and educated elites like scientists and economists but it has trouble getting traction on the thinking of the small-town-man. Although folksy kitsch leadership with a human face is all very well, it has its dangers, the chief danger being that it doesn’t look dangerous until it’s too late.

***

It is a strange paradox that although anonymous bureaucracies are far from ideal I personally have a much deeper dread of the potential dangers of strong leadership with a face; patriarchal leadership can be the most cruel and oppressive of all because it appeals to humanity's very strong tribal instincts and the cluster of emotions that come along with it. If we think of some of the most terrifying and evil episodes in history they all have faces at the top: Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Hilter, Islamic extremism, Jones town, David Koresh, David Berg, Charles Manson etc. 

I trace my idiosyncratic dread of demagogue leadership back to me having moved among Christians of many different persuasions. Here I've seen the oppressiveness of the Christian fundamentalist sect and cult world with its cluster of aberrant behaviors keeping people in place: Viz: Patriarchy and authority, fear of damnation, epistemic arrogance, gnosticism,  fideism, legalism, scripturalism, glib quip theology etc etc -   I could go on  forever about these potentially malign  human  behaviors. 

The lack of a human identity in the EU system, its anonymity of administration and its failure to pique the interest of its subjects leaves a huge space to be filled by the imaginative narrative weavers who have a strong unifying myth purporting to explain in lurid terms what everyone otherwise is in the dark about. An extreme example is David Ike's "Lizard conspiracy theory" which spreads fear and alienation among a few. Less extreme are the various fundamentalist Christian ministries, both charismatic and anti-charismatic, who are anti-EU and who make much of the vacuum of anonymity which surrounds EU administration and which provides huge opportunities for the imaginative and well placed conspiracy artist. These Christian gurus fill in the white spaces off the edges of the map with fantasies that are sold with unambiguity and certainty. They trade on fear of the unknown, populating vulnerable and paranoiac Christian minds with lurking monsters from the id. These gurus head up cosy self congratulating groups which provide all the answers to your pressing riddles. They are looked up to and admired by their followers who lionize them and believe they have a very direct connection with God. The less epistemic ambiguity there is the better for the security of the followers who are energized by conspiracy myths as their guru unpicks the riddles of life for them. 

In comparison with all this atheism is a very weak myth liable to collapse into nihilism. When it does succeed in gaining any traction on the human mind the atheist myth starts to show hints of what one sees in religion - for example the quasi end-time eschatology of the toy town Marxists who see the working classes on course for a glorious destiny. Another example is the exalted mystical status of larger than life leaders like Mao Tse Tung. 

If we think of social trends as a form of crowd computation then we do well to look at the extremist asymptotic tail of the computation currently in progress.  The asymptotic tail is likely to be more visible than the norm which merges into the background noise of the bulk of opinions. If we observe a shift in the asymptotic tail that is likely to be evidence of a similar shift in the norm. Hence, using this heuristic we can interpret the meaning of the increasing sense of entitlement expressed by sensationalists like Donald Trump and the extreme right wing movement in the UK who have gained confidence since the Brexit vote, coming out on the streets abusing people and demanding repatriations. The asymptotic tail is not necessarily very representative of the bulk of opinions but it might tell us something about the way the country is shifting.