28 December 2013

Gun control

This is the section on guns from the previous post. There's a section on abortion coming if you wish to be reassured or pissed off by that instead.

For gun control, I am perfectly happy to have conversations over the possible effectiveness of various proposals in a theoretical debate. I find that most proposals don't have much regulatory value to the actual problems in our gun culture and all its associated carnage in public and private violence. I'm also perfectly happy to point out that, despite the elegant plans often drawn up, we have a second amendment. And while I'm not necessarily happy about it, there are legal scholars and court rulings which say it is kind of a big deal. In the haste to say we need gun control, it's rather important to acknowledge this exists.

It is not sufficient to begin arguments as "you don't need..." when talking about regulations that would impact constitutionally guaranteed liberties as a basis for why a particular regulation is required. "You don't need" isn't a determination that I am often convinced is well established is correct in the first place. It's more like "I don't want you to...". Which is fine as a motivation, but it often goes unacknowledged in the debate. I'm not comfortable around guns either (outside of video games and violent movies). But I'm aware this is often why I might not be all that happy about someone else having one and not out of some dubious understanding of their needs that I'd be comfortable making into a law preventing them from attaining those needs. Their needs might include an enjoyment of owning and using firearms for some particular sport, for self-defence, for traditional value, and so on. These are not necessarily convincing "needs", or entirely accurate determinations that they made themselves either. But they do exist. They can often make for adequate grounds against for eliminating accessibility to particular kinds of firearms (on their own), or for many weapons accessories (most extended clips, flash suppressors, silencers, etc). As a result, gun control advocates advancing questions of "need" will tend to ignore that "need" is not a very salient point in the debate as it is subjective what that "need" is, and is rather immaterial in any regard if one concurs with a general proscription that the object whose need is being measured is a protected class of good via a constitutional amendment. (Note: I would argue many more things than firearms fall into this category as protected private actions and forms of property, including most of our vice crimes like narcotics or various forms of sexual services, but firearms were at least mentioned in the constitution and for whatever reason the public often subscribes to a legal theory that if the government isn't expressly limited or prevented from doing something, it can do it).

On the one case where there seems to be an actual restriction, automatic machine guns, even that restriction comes out of a sort of circular basis. Machine guns are illegal effectively because it's not likely a civilian would have one. But civilians would not likely have one because they were made illegal decades ago during the height of Prohibition. There's a great deal of absurdity in comparing automatic machine guns designed to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, often high powered rounds at long range at that, and semi-automatic rifles that are often called "machine guns" based on their similar appearance. One is clearly more lethal and dangerous than the other. So. There's a better reason available for why a machine gun is illegal of course, in the same way that a civilian can't get a rocket launcher, artillery rounds, tanks, or gunships for private use. Namely it serves little purpose other than intimidation and destruction via violence or the threat of it and constitutes a significant danger to the peace and tranquility of a community. This is still true of other firearms to a degree, but making a functional distinction about actual military grade equipment has a way of pointing out that some, if not all or most, of that equipment is designed expressly for killing other human beings easily and in large numbers and this is a significant threat that ownership would likely only be for offensive purpose against other human beings and is often too impractical for use in other needs. For other fire arms it is more often appropriate or sufficient to say "you can have that, but don't walk around with it and start pointing it at your neighbours when talking to them" or "firing it without defensive cause in the town", and to some extent to provide legal restrictions like "we do not trust you to have that because you have committed violent acts in the past for which you have been arrested and convicted of." Although our restrictions over gun ownership via felonies leads to ridiculous problems in many states because of what is classified as a felony in the first place, and who gets convicted of such, there's some reasonable basis in making these specific distinctions where there's less of a clear basis in attacking "need" more broadly.

That ultimately all becomes more an argument over use instead of need. Rather than arguments over need, I think the much stronger case for gun control is made by establishing that we have a gun culture problem that generates an unreasonable amount of gun-related violence. Some of that violence, in some places quite a lot of it, is generated by other factors than the mere existence of the weapons being used. Gang violence resulting from black market disputes over market share in illicit goods or services for example. That has little to do with guns in the abstract and more to do with other dubious legal pursuits of the state (usually narcotics). In examining this as an actual problem within our midst, we might also become aware of the gun problem in suicides; in that suicide by gun is far more common and far more deadly than murder or assault by gun. This too is a trail of carnage. When this is understood to be an actual and very large/complicated problem, what we find is that there might still be appropriate, even legally accessible, state reactions, but they probably won't have as much to do with regulating "assault weapons" or flash suppressors. Which are at best cosmetic ways of firing pellets of metal at high speed into living tissue rather than a significant contributing factor to the violence and blood spilled. They might have more to do with why people are using these weapons aggressively in the first place.

We might instead modify the way we prosecute, arrest, and impound property in the form of illicit vices. We might increase the availability of and augment the way we treat mental illness and disturbances. I'd be very cautious about tying gun ownership rights to said illness and treatments, most likely because the result would be fewer people with guns or who want guns getting treatment. Here I don't think either the NRA or liberals opposing them have any idea what they're talking about. We might increase or establish federal or state taxes on mind-altering substances; alcohol especially or through decriminalised or legal markets for narcotics. We might find ways to encourage weapon safety through offering basic training courses in exchange for registration or manufacturing companies could be installing or providing security features on weapons. We might work to reduce crime in areas that people no longer feel a "need" to be armed in the first place and would not purchase a weapon for that purpose of self-defence and in time decrease the cultural reverence attached to them. We might talk more about why we have a cultural medium that is more comfortable with violence than with saying certain words or with nudity. I think all three have a place in culture and cultural depiction, but the current comfort with violence relative to sexuality is absurdly puritanical. Why, we might ask, is it that we ourselves are so inclined to consume that media? Again, I'm not convinced it is a problem that we do so, but it does us little good to point fingers in a taxing blame game rather than look in the mirror once in a while and re-evaluate.

These are all complicated ways of getting at the problem. But all of them are likely to have much larger impacts on gun related violence than restricting "assault weapons", and various other proposals based upon "need".

We might also acknowledge that the largest cause of violence by choice of weapon, even among mass shooting events for which we often find gun control a topic de jour, is easily concealed handguns; a variety of guns so prolific in this country that there are at least half as many as there are citizens. Any legislative attempt to restrict these runs into some practical problems. First, there's so many available that it would take decades or hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce that number to a manageable level that it would even be possible to track or be reasonably certain who possesses or desires the possession of such weapons rather than through a grey market as now. Second, restricting handguns in some way is incredibly unpopular with the public (and even less popular after a major shooting event, even if a handgun was the primary weapon used). Third, it appears that home or local manufacture of weapons might be a near-term possibility via 3D printing and other assembler technologies that are decreasing in cost, making the regulation and control of weapons even less likely to be a centrally controlled matter. Some of these arguments apply equally to the question of restricting large capacity magazines, a popular state level restriction adopted in the wake of mass shootings.

And then, finally, the point of this exercise. It's unlikely to stand up to a Supreme Court challenge to make most varieties of restrictions upon handguns in particular a legal method of regulation. Because there's a pretty good case out there being made that such types of restrictions violate the Constitution and that case has won at the Supreme Court level already.

While I'm quite happy to have the conversations about efficacy and effectiveness, I'm not sure how people get past the "it's illegal for the government to do X" problem. Even good or well-intentioned ideas are restricted by these barriers, at least intended to be so restricted at any rate. And in this case, there are recent federal rulings and some not-so-recent that point away from the argument that many varieties of proposed restrictions could be legally interpreted in a manner that allows them to be used. And this is a major flaw in much liberal hand-wringing about firearms in that it often supposes the legal interpretation that the 2nd amendment is largely a device about tyranny and state militias, and thus a mostly quaint artifact of the 18th and 19th centuries perhaps, is the correct and only interpretation available and in wide use amongst legal scholars or the general public. I am disposed by some level of personal disgust to agree that this is a mostly correct legal and historical interpretation and that the historical capacity of the public to overthrow its government is much diminished in an aging country of 300 million citizens to be laughably improbable as an event worth considering in laying out our legal boundaries anyway.

But. I do not find my disgust to be informative about what the legal and moral rights of others shall be either and do not find it persuasive that these other interpretations must be wrong or inherently flawed by this particular variety of gun-clinging culture or some such with only that objection to raise. I do think it is sufficient to be questioning of that culture, curious of it, and if possible to act coercively in a private manner to encourage others to avoid the "need" or want of firearms. That's a process largely consisting of conversation or unwritten rules enforced by socially binding norms; norms which we have done little to create or foster amongst people who are not inclined to find guns discomforting and by the failure to do so have rendered many attempts at the federal or state level to adopt what may be perceived publicly or broadly as reasonable restrictions on weapons sales to be futile and abandoned.

Without talking to such people in the language of their adopted views on these issues, and abandoning the questions of need in a legal sense before having made the cultural argument, I would be very skeptical that any meaningful advances will be made on the social problem of violence and could easily see that what cosmetic methods are passed to deal with it will be either ineffective, overturned, or do more harm than good making these efforts rather pointless wastes of political energy.

There is naturally some contradiction in conservative claims on gun control as well, in that they advance an "originalist" logic to the documents but are often dismissive of that fact the documents have had to evolve based on changes in technology and social pressures that did not exist in the 18th century. Guns and human settlement were very different objects over 200 years ago in the same way that phones were very different 35 years ago. We should expect that any such regulations or restrictions that may have existed or were deemed appropriate in that time would be less so now.

We do not now have a culture that is likely to need to overthrow its government by force, nor a population broadly inclined to do so or to support movements to do so. Secession by states or cities is not a heavily backed item on the political agenda even in the various Southern states that still seem by rhetoric to want to fight the Civil War again. In Texas petitions to this effect received less than 1% of the state's population. While polls misleadingly portray a more robust population in favor than this, they still receive a small plurality (less than a quarter of those polled typically). Violent revolution, or even peaceful revolt, is even less supported. Various fringe to mainstream political groups agitating for radical adjustments in current policies such as the Free State Movement, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, Greenpeace, and so on do not attract broader popular support and indeed, are often perceived or portrayed as annoying and incoherent political brands rather than substantive responses to the actual political problems concerning the average person/voter. As a result, I do not think the notion that somehow we are about to fight a war against our own government(s) is a compelling reason, though nor is it a necessary one, to prevent various laws to be adopted. I do think it is a sufficient reason to question the arsenals that the government has deployed or made available to local and state police forces, and why it is that they require and receive heavy machine guns or armored vehicles in small towns dotting the country. But that's a somewhat different question than what sort of gun a person may purchase, or what requirements we would have placed upon them to do so.

That conservatives or the NRA can rush to this argument; that some crucial number of home-owning men with rifles is all that stands between America as a free country and the imposition of a tyrannical dictatorship is a flag-waving piece of nonsense that does little to aid their cause in the debate either. It provides the misguided impression that we live in a far more dangerous country than we actually do. Most of the people pushing for gun rights do not live in dangerous neighborhoods beset by violence (some do) and we are so vanishingly unlikely to be attacked by foreign powers directly that such a well-armed public would be an asset rather than the current liability it is often seen as. It provides the impression that only these rights relating to weapons ownership are worth standing up for and fighting against attempts to oppress them. While other rights such as the freedom from unreasonable searches, rights to a trial by jury, or the capacity to speak freely or worship freely (or not) are often sought to be suppressed or abandoned by the same groups of people along with "lesser" rights like access to voting or the hiring and firing decisions of business owners vis a vis immigrants and migrant workers. There are certainly Constitutionally or morally consistent conservatives who will readily defend the right of say, a Muslim to attend a mosque, an atheist to agitate peacefully, or blacks or Latino citizens access to vote, and also to not be detained and harassed without reasonable suspicion (read: more than just it's a young darker skinned male) by police and other security forces.

But these are not the people they send to office to enact policy. And by that process it presents a position that looks very much like a cultural island where so long as gun ownership as a basic right is preserved, other freedoms may be freely eliminated by the state. And indeed may be enthusiastically eviscerated along the way. It would be trivial for a tyrant to co-opt such armed bands into whatever mobile oppression system they would desire to rule with and to be used against whomever they wished to use it against. Indeed, one could argue that's what we are already doing with police forces being armed to the teeth, ostensibly for counter-terrorism, but really to make aggressive raids over compliance with often petty regulations and conduct shake-downs in grey-zone regulation or against otherwise non-violent citizens. Whether the appropriate response to a well-armed government is to demand a well-armed citizenry seems ludicrous given the propensity for violence against the state being so low and the dangers still quite real. The appropriate response is most likely to call for a less-well-armed government.

Whatever we are left with at the end of this is not necessarily great and wise policy. Maybe we could restrict sales at certain third party access points or require certain information in background checks. Maybe we would restrict the sale of video games (also hasn't held up in court rulings though). Maybe we would restrict the size of magazines one could use for ammunition. Maybe we would do none of those things. And so on.

For me though, the only good and relevant outcome of all of that would be there might be a pause in the volume of screaming people do about how holy they are about some legal right granted and guaranteed them hundreds of years before their birth and how awful their opponents are for supposedly attacking that right, for this or that reason.

Both of you have no idea what you sound like.

And it's something like this. 

Free speech and other things.

I've written quite a lot about the intersection of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Including on a related subject, the likely SCOTUS rulings impacting the legality of marriage rights applying to homosexual couples. 

To repeat the essential point: people telling you that your beliefs are flawed, impractical, immoral, or otherwise critical of them is not the same as the government preventing you from practicing those beliefs. Nor is such coercive pushback the same as a "chilling" effect when, say, an employer fires someone for statements that are likely unpopular under that directive. As we saw with the same kerfuffle over Chik-Fil-A and the reactions now of various companies and advertisers to the Great American Waterfowl Scenario, there are lots of places in the market, and other employers might not care or may actively support the voicing of certain unpopular views. These are not that unpopular of views even, a large plurality of Americans share the core view being expressed that homosexuality is to be deemed a sin, and thereby a wrongful action on some level. I do not find their reasoning or evidence persuasive that it need be punished or held to a lesser legal standard, but we cannot exactly hand wave away the multitudes and they will maintain their controversial stance on this issue for at least the better part of the next decade (at which point the demographics of aging will make it less of an issue in polite conversation, public debate, and political footballs).

What interested me more than the bizarre conflation of free expression with the right to a particular platform to make that expression (eg, no one has a right to a TV show), was the bizarre conflation that somehow this was at all a Constitutional question, and by extension, that there were Constitutional claims being made by people who hold a much lower esteem to the Constitution when it (actually) accounts for other rights and values as though there were some kind of "we love this document more!" contest being run. Because in my somewhat outsider perspective politically, I'd have to say that much of the time, both sides hate the document for the inconveniences it presents to the agendas they would enact. Or blatantly ignore it and enact said agendas anyway. Possibly one side hates more of the document. I might concede this at least (and I might note it's usually the right that has a disdain for the 14th amendment, judicial independence, and basically any amendment after the 2nd, plus sometimes the 1st). But neither side of debates is immune to it and both sides too often use the document as some kind of talisman rather than an interpretative basis for what sorts of laws are justified on moral and efficacy grounds.

There's two rather obvious places this intersects most often: gun control and abortion. In both cases, the opposing views take a position that effectively wills away the constitutional interpretations of the other side as completely irrelevant, despite sometimes long-standing legal precedents and rulings and often decades if not centuries of political philosophy written on related subjects from which to draw upon these distinct schools of thought and practice. I intend to write at length on each such that one can select their interest of outrage or vigorous nodding along from here. The curious angle though is the defense of "liberty" being used as a cause while often ignoring what those guaranteed liberties are or that opposing sides in a controversial issue present arguments also based upon essential liberties.

16 December 2013

And the NSA continues

Fuck Hoover. As the old joke goes. 

I had to watch that 60 Minutes segment mostly because I have less informed friends who would watch it and ask me questions, because they seem to know I follow this stuff very much more closely. So I'd prefer to know what was going on in their heads ahead of time or alongside. They have lives, so I can't say that I blame them. 

It was completely anodyne and came off very much as an ad for the NSA rather than a critical journalistic piece. But then, this is 60 Minutes, and good luck to anyone finding adversarial journalism there. Or as it used to be known: journalism. I don't have very much to say about the actual piece because nothing really controversial was actually discussed (none of the thorny legal questions came up as it was simply asserted it was in fact legal, none of the allegations that the program was used on various groups, reporters, or political figures came up, and so on). This isn't surprising. The only reason a high profile reporting group is allowed access to the NSA is because it is known they won't ask challenging pushback questions in the first place (or risk revoking their access). This is also why the piece included a 5 or 6 minute detour to advertise the NSA's cyberwarfare missions or how cool it is that they have a vault with broken codes from foreign countries, isn't that neat. And so on. Because if you're not actually going to cover any of the issues pressing against the NSA, it's kind of a short interview that needs such filler to it. 

The biggest problem I have with the interview was Alexander's closing argument makes no sense, at least to me. There's no demonstrated basis for how curtailing the various domestic surveillance powers and techniques of the NSA would in some way prevent detection of potential terrorist threats (imaginary or not) from bubbling up in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and so on. You know. All the places the NSA's mandate is pretty clearly not going to be impeded from operating. I have a hard time following how A affects Z here or maybe how 2-0=0. It's not a very clear bright line. It's just asserted that somehow their mission of monitoring foreign threats and governments (because it is a DoD operation) would be negatively effected if any of their existing powers and operations are shut down or reduced in any way. And that's the end of the piece. No where in the piece was it established that a) such foreign operations are being threatened with reduction, even by various NSA critics, or b) that such operations domestically help us investigate foreign threats of terrorism or sabotage or so on. Maybe if they hadn't wasted several minutes talking about vaults and code breakers and recruitment and solving rubik's cubes, we'd have some critical examination of that question. 
(also a minute and half is pretty slow from what I gather of rubik's cubes these days, there are lots of people who can solve any cube in seconds, and some who would do it faster than he did... blindfolded. So that's cute that 60 Minutes thought that would be impressive.)

I'd have to agree the haystack problem is insufficiently discussed. I think it's related to a question about "how does this actually work, you know, to catch bad guys", in so far as I'm highly skeptical that it does. But even the people advancing the argument that it does actually work, don't really seek to address this question of how to prevent themselves from drowning in information. It looked quite sterile and simple there on their demonstrations for the piece. And maybe it is. Surely there are very smart people who think on this problem.  But it's a very large problem with the approach of gathering this information in the first place and its a very large amount of information they are gathering. And to me, its not like the hits we have taken (the Boston bombing, the underwear bomber, etc), were either a) stopped, or b) sorted out from the haystack in time to stop them when in retrospect there appear to have been clues. You know like people shouting up and down that this guy is a terrorist. And not just people, but like a guy's own father. Things like that. I'm a little fuzzy on how that kind of information, reasonably solid normal human intelligence, can't be followed up with using tools like this kind of surveillance of gathering someone's metadata, checking phone and email, etc, but rather that the system must operate only in the other direction, to gather the metadata and be able to tell us afterward what a terrible person this person must have been. 

One of the major problems I have with that problem is that it also doesn't really tell us what they think the needles are. We could assume, perhaps mostly accurately, that these are needles of actual potential threats, potential terrorists or pirates or hackers abroad or attempting to attack us in some way. Or we could assume, as with the PATRIOT act, that these are powers that are available for use on terrorism, but which we have largely sidetracked to do other unrelated things (like go after drug dealers, which appears to be the most common use of the patriot acts various police powers, or the various Homeland Security provided grants that police departments get to militarize their forces). And maybe under a less scrupulous authority, if we for some reason still trust the current one, such powers might be used for less noble deeds. We could say that assumption that they will is foolish, or we could point out that they've done so before, investigating political rivals, political dissidents, potential communists, reporters, and that it's likely they're still doing it. 

For me it sidesteps the important legal questions, whether Smith actually applies to what they're doing, whether scooping up information on international data pipelines without a warrant is a violation of domestic surveillance laws (or at least an evasion of the spirit of those laws), to question whether it's effective or whether they're using it for explicitly non-terrorism related purposes in some kind of vast conspiracy. But given that many, many people seem quite comfortable to sidestep the 4th amendment and risk having domestic intelligence organs decide on whether or not you pose some kind of threat to national security, or at least some kind of annoyance for deciding to speak out and report against it, I have to deal also with the effect and strategic questions of just how valuable this kind of thing actually is. 

I'm still not satisfied that it helps. And neither are well-placed critics, people who used to be in the intel community or critics who sit on oversight committees, and at times even, the FISA courts themselves. So. Yeah. Thanks 60 Minutes for that 15 minute advertisement for the NSA. I'm sure some people are willing to go work there now. But you didn't really help us understand the terms of the debate, why it is happening, and over what. 

Update: It now appears at least one federal judge agrees with me, if not several on the FISA courts as well who are increasingly skeptical that the NSA isn't just lying to them flatly about what it has been up to with the authority they granted it. 

06 December 2013

A disconnected series of thoughts

1) I'm not sure what NSA supporters are expecting from their critics. But here's what I'd summarize as the most plausible cases for criticism:

NSA has lied or deceived Congress/FISA in the past and on a somewhat ongoing basis throughout the series of revelations of its activities. This should lend more credence to critics who are skeptical of claims defending what it is doing on the grounds that what it is doing... is not what it says it is doing in the first place. This position does not require that it is doing whatever it is that critics are afraid it might do, only that it is not transparent to the means of oversight appointed to make sure it behaves such that it is possible to imagine it going more rogue than critics already believed and know it to be doing.

It also lends some credence to allowing private but ostensibly "American" technology companies to disclose the type and number of requests they receive and perhaps to more deeply encrypt their international communities in response to NSA hacking. And in effect defeating the purpose of those efforts in order to protect their customers here and abroad.

The NSA had been running a massive and expanding intelligence programme for almost a decade but hadn't compartmentalized information considered of a crucial nature such that a hired contractor with limited job experience could walk off with huge amounts of data and program information. Had Snowden's interest actually been espionage/treason of the variety many of his most fervent detractors imagine it to be, the damage done could be far, far worse than disclosing this to friendly governments and their people via the press. This suggests the people running the system either don't know what's going on perhaps because they don't care and don't need to, or that they can't know because it's too big to be run efficiently. Or that too much is classified (the argument critics make). There are millions of people with some level of classified access in government or engaged in work related to the government and some hundreds of thousands with access on a level similar to that of Mr Snowden. This is only possible if too much is being classified in the first place and it leaves open the question of how accessible this information actually is when it may be of greatest use given that we have had fairly normal police work style leads on the various attacks that actually occurred under this counter-terrorism regime that were apparently not followed up on within this vast architecture.

It's very possible they built something because they could out of the considerable available resources, and not because they had any particular use for it.

NSA critics maintain that if these programmes are in anyway necessary, there should be something to show for it. Critics of the programme in a position to evaluate it (eg, Ron Wyden or Mark Udall) are not satisfied by the claims being advanced that dragnet surveillance of citizen's metadata and other massive filtering and algorithmic data searches of internet and cellular communication were in any significant way essential to stop attacks, in the past, now, or in the future. Unless these well-placed critics on the intelligence committees, as well as related critics like Sensenbrenner (Patriot Act author), are assuaged and assured that there are significant safeguards of American privacy rights in place, and that these are even necessary utilities to find and identify threats via terrorism (or related forms of disruption perhaps), less informed critics should likewise be skeptical of the "necessary for national security" claims that prevent further disclosures of successes, or failures, of these programmes for a fuller Congressional and public oversight. The "if you knew what I know" argument can only go so far.

A note: events stopped in other countries are not sensible defences of spying on potentially millions of Americans, or for that matter, millions of citizens in other countries. Both seem like enormous wastes of energy and money and time. A second note, spying on foreign leaders, allied or not, I don't care. I don't imagine most critics do. It's not gentlemanly or sporting of us, but that's the game. More to the problem here, it also doesn't seem to have greatly advantaged us in diplomatic pressures within the game of nations and the trade and alliances spawned of it.

Maybe we have incompetent diplomats along with incompetent spymasters.

2) Path of Exile is basically what I might have wanted Diablo 3 to be like. I think I'd to like to see the kickstarter/pay for frills method of game development used more often. It's essentially a mix of all 3 Diablo games but not anywhere near as dumbed down as D3 was. I particularly like: can use skills with any character provided you have the requirements to equip it, which is a throwback to D1 (with a twist), and that the economy isn't gold related. Also, removing the level only requirements from D3 on equipment, with a need to build up stats to use a better weapon or armor. And that it then matters, sometimes a lot, what weapons or armor is used. D3's silly "I'm going to use a spear or a sword or an axe or a wand... to perform the exact same attacks" was just ridiculous.

3) The next Spider Man movie looks awful. Between the trailer, the graphics, and that Orci's involved, I'm skipping it as it looks quite shoddy and messy. Between Lindelof and Orci, there's some seriously horrible writers out there getting major jobs in Hollywood, combined they may have single-handedly destroyed both Star Trek and the Alien series of films for a while by reducing both to incomprehensible nonsense. In a related comic book film note, I've no idea why Wonder Woman doesn't get her own film to start off in and instead is just eye candy for the next Superman movie.

04 December 2013

A word of advice

As a random thought from an event over the past week. 

If one is a Christian (I am not, obviously), when presenting oneself at the average American suburban home in the design of speaking to a stranger of their religion in a proselytizing manner, one should not need to open with something like: 

"I know you probably have your own religion", with the implication being that this is probably not a Christian you are speaking to. This is America. Most of Americans are. So you will sound like an idiot who won't know what you are talking about to be even worth talking to about your supposed good book simply because you are not paying attention to who lives around you. I had to restrain myself from laughing at that opening line once I deduced that's what he had said (my brain was slowly getting around to the idea there was a man holding church literature out to me as though I should take it). 

I get the impression from this that there are sects of Christendom who seem to believe the secular frontier is far more advanced than people who are on the secular frontier know it to be. Most of you still believe not just in Christianity but in the "personal god" that appears basically nowhere in that text (theologians will say so and try to pretend that atheists don't know what they're talking about when they attack this concept). It's not going anywhere, your faith. I would like to be able to say otherwise. But it's just not. And pretending that it has, or will, well you then you just look like you have no comprehension of reality and the actual power and spread of religious folks like yourself. I know you're trying hard, I can see that. Try in a different direction. Really. Because you sound like a complete moron. I'm trying to be helpful here. 

Following it up with "there are some people who don't even believe god is real" was just bonus gravy for setting me up for shutting the door on the "yes, I'm one of those, thanks. Now go away." I will talk to people about religion, about dogma, and about theology, unlike many atheists. Who frankly find these topics too tedious to put up with in the daily arena and find better things to do with their time. I find the psychological effects of various rituals interesting. I find the mythologies involved amusing. I find its mastery over thousands of years of us-them tribalist dimensions of thought to be disturbing but interesting in its implications for our other moral behaviors (like political ideologies, political parties, and nationalism), in that religion like the others occasionally manages to start something useful at least within those communities, at the cost of creating rivals and outgroups. So while I don't find the arguments compelling or logical, I can enjoy having them with, some. Not all, but some. I find I upset many religious people for one reason or another. I find there are some notions of dogma (but not the high-level theology), that I find quite simply offensive and harmful to the human condition and its necessary moral dimensions for getting along and existing and pointing that out can be annoying. 

What I won't do is have such an argument on my doorstep with a stranger who has crafted a prepared speech with an empty head when I'm probably trying to make a lunch. Food wins over boring rehearsed metaphysical arguments. Open with something a little less absurd. Try asking if you're really that unsure of your community.