Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Common Agenda of Atheists

Infidel753 put up an interesting and thought provoking post called "Internet insularity" (Nov.27). It was so intriguing that Ute went to her blog and riffed off of it. And now I’m going to do so also, though on a different point that the one Ute was particularly interested in.

What got me going was this, from what Infidel said to The Exterminator in the comments section of his post:

"That's certainly true, though I'd argue that atheists are not a "community" in the sense that Christians or Muslims are. All we have in common is a lack of belief in one particular thing. There's no reason to think that that implies commonalities on anything else -- as I like to say, what's the common agenda of all people who don't believe in unicorns?"

This is standard wisdom that most of us have acknowledged as a general truism about atheists. Sometimes instead of “unicorns” its leprechauns, fairies or teapots orbiting mars that are used as examples of this axiom. But we all know what’s meant by it, and tend to agree that it is so. We are not united, because atheism is not a religion. It is intuitively accurate to make the assertion. I’ve done it myself - probably many times. But is it true?

Am I exceedingly optimistic or do we certainly seem to agree on an astounding amount of topics? Ever since I started blogging, and interacting with other bloggers, I’ve noticed that I have relatively few serious disagreements with fellow atheists. And I mean on any subject, not just on the supernatural. My single biggest disagreement has probably been with Philly Chief, who seems to believe (erroneously) that it's better to be a Kansas City Chiefs fan than a Green Bay Packers fan! It may well be true that getting a group of atheists to all do the same thing is like herding cats. But cats are still obstinately similar to other cats!

What I’m going to suggest here is that the sweeping majority of atheists share something else besides the default view of the universe as being godless. I think what this 'certain something' is, happens to be the very thing that led most of us to atheism. People who see the world for what it is, and not some fantasy view, are employing free-thinking, reason, rationality, and common-sense. And even if they do not earn their living in the sciences, they fully accept the Scientific Method as being the greatest tool ever devised by the human mind for arriving at accurate answers to the questions we have about the universe. We didn't just stumble into atheism. We didn't become atheist because we hate life or because we desire being different. Becoming an atheist, for most of us, was a natural progression from a method of viewing life.

People who think this way are bound to arrive at very similar conclusions to any number of controversies. The general principles of Humanism are derived in no small part by the use of these intellectual tools. While atheists can, and do, disagree on various aspects of a Humanist agenda, nearly all are “on board” to varying degrees. I don't think I've ever exactly defined myself as a Humanist. But from everything I've heard about it, I am in agreement, by and large. And that means we have an answer to Infidel’s question: what's the common agenda of all people who don't believe in unicorns? It is a Humanist agenda, even if we don't describe ourselves quite that way.

35 comments:

Plonka said...

I'm beginning to think that "scientific method" is to narrow a definition. We (and I mean everyone, religious folk included) use it for so much more than strict science, yet that's the image the term conjures. For me anyway.

For instance: Here you've posed a philosophical problem and although there's very little about it that's strictly "scientific", I've applied the method to your reasoning and I've judged the evidence you provide and my experience would tend to suggest that you make a valid point. I'm not doing any real science, but I've still applied the method.

And here's what little argument that process has yielded: Although I agree that most atheists are generally "humanistic" in their outlook, I'm not so sure it's an agenda so much as just an idea.

Agendas tend to be pushed and we don't tend to do that with atheism, with occasional and notable exceptions, of course (Dawkins, Harris, etc). The religious agenda on the other hand, is shoved down our throats and pushed to the highest levels of government.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:

I always thought of myself as a Gorilla-ist, rather than a Humanist, but I basically agree with your viewpoint.

I think atheism, at least as it's practiced here in the Atheosphere, does go beyond a simple freedom from god-belief. Maybe we're not exacly united, but we're certainly confederated. There are lots of assumptions we make about one another beyond just the fact that we don't believe in any gods. Some of those assumptions are about our attitudes toward science, some about our political ideas, and others about how we view culture and society. I don't think it's necessary to list these assumptions specifically, although perhaps other commenters may want to do that. (Be aware, though, that the assumptions often are not 100% correct. There's a lot of agreement among us, but no orthodoxy here.)

I'm not sure that there's a Humanist "agenda," though. And if there were, I'm pretty certain I wouldn't approve. Because, to tell you the truth, that word scares the shit out of me.

Infidel753 said...

Hi John, thanks for the quote.

My point of view on this: even if it is true that a majority of atheists share other viewpoints beyond their lack of belief in a deity, those other viewpoints are not definitionally part of atheism, the way that, for example, belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is definitionally part of fundamentalist Christianity. An atheist can be liberal or conservative, humanist or misanthropic, and still be not one whit less of an atheist. Atheists can even be flat-out evil. Remember that Stalin and his inner circle were atheists, and it would be hard to imagine any group further removed from humanism (as I've argued before, Communism in many ways resembles a religion, but that doesn't change the fact that those people did not believe in a deity, and therefore met the definition of being atheists).

This is part of why I'm rather skeptical of the concept of an atheist "community". Where views on religion are concerned, I have more in common with other atheists than with anyone else. On other issues such as the Islamic threat, I might have more in common with some God-believers than with some atheists who prefer to downplay that problem.

There is more of a coherent community if one defines it as consisting of that subset of atheists who also share a certain range of left-wing political views and humanist values. But whether that is 10% or 90% of all the atheists in America, it is not "the atheist community", though it may well be called an atheist community. It would seem to exclude some of the atheists I most admire -- such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who have been among the best activists on the Islam problem, and Heather Mac Donald on illegal immigration.

I do value the atheist blogosphere's openmindedness and opportunities to exchange ideas about living with an atheist and coping with religion in society, and all the other issues we genuinely do have in common (and, of course, we will often find that we have things beyond atheism in common with some other individuals). I just worry that if we try to push beyond that and assert the existence of a coherent "community" whose definition includes a range of other criteria, we're going to wind up having surreal debates about whether certain atheists "aren't real atheists" because they don't have the right opinions on other subjects, rather like the grumbling in some quarters about whether Barack Obama "isn't really black" because he doesn't share a particular agenda.

Infidel753 said...

living with an atheist

Should be "living as an atheist" (Freudian slip perhaps).

Sarge said...

Most people I know tend to identify and classify things in certain ways, therefore, if it deals with religion, whether a belief or non belief, they have to think of and refer to that subject in those contexts. Sorry, let me simplify that if I can. To many I know, it's like a coin. On the obverse is belif in and worship of a deity. On the reverse is non-belief. But to them, it's the same coin, which they refer to as religion, so non-belief to them is also a religion as to them its the other side of the coin. That's the take I get, it's a way of thinking and classifying your world, and many of them think about things and define them that way.

The one thing I've noticed about my fellow atheists, whether I like them or not, is that we generally tend to not stand still for bull shit to some degree.

To me, I don't need mission statements, formal policies, focus groups, or any other heirarchy in order to say "I don't believe it", and leave it at that.

Lifeguard said...

It sounds like we all agree that humanism signifies more of an aspiration than an agenda and atheism describes us as an adjective rather than labels us as a noun.

I have started wondering whether it makes more sense to say "I am atheist" as opposed to "I am AN atheist." The latter suggests I belong to some group, while the former characterizes my outlook as one that makes no reference to a supreme being.

Maybe this distinction gets a little too fine for some tastes, but I think it avoids the confusion some people have that we share some kind of common agenda, which just isn't true.

I reckon if one of us asked the group "If you could snap your fingers and make religion disappear right this second, would you," we might get some vigorous disagreement as to whether that would be a wise idea-- notwithstanding that we are all atheists.

I think humanism as a word simply describes any worldview, outlook agenda or whose primary criteria is that it values the good of humanity more than allegiance to any religious or even political creed.

PhillyChief said...

Aside from sharing a stance on the god issue, we atheists share commonality in how we arrived at such a position. Aside from the occasional mindless anomalies, atheists became atheists due to critical thinking. We looked at the issue, weighed the evidence, abandoned the irrationality of faith and arrived here together. Now not all issues are as cut and dry as the god issue, so when we apply this same thinking to US foreign policy, health care, immigration reform, abortion, gun control or even capital punishment we probably won't be arriving at all the same conclusions. We can be diametrically opposed to our atheist kindred next to us, but perhaps at least we can rationally debate the issues.

EnoNomi said...

Our little non-group here are not only atheists, but are also bloggers. We're going to be exposed to alot of the same resources so I don't think it's going to be unusual that we've formed common opinions. However, I'm not exposed to non-blogging atheists. I'm sure it would be interesting to find those people who describe themselves as atheist, but arn't involved in the Atheosphere, and have some conversations (ack live talking? *shudder*).

John Evo said...

I probably should have run my post through Philly Chief before publishing. Yeah. That is a pretty fair synopsis of what I was hoping to say.

I made a huge mistake with the word "agenda" and several of you properly took me to task for it. I should have minimized the use of agenda, while maximizing the use of "commonality".

I respond directly to several of your points later, but thanks for all of your highly thoughtful responses. Good stuff!

Ute said...

Amazingly enough I have nothing to say. Everything has been said quite beautifully. Loved reading your post and all the comments here. :)

Infidel753 said...

Phillychief: Aside from the occasional mindless anomalies, atheists became atheists due to critical thinking. We looked at the issue, weighed the evidence, abandoned the irrationality of faith and arrived here together.

Actually, there arexceptions even to this. I'm one. I never "became" an atheist at all. I grew up in a non-religious household and only became vaguely aware of religion as a teenager (I do remember one kid's book with Bible stories, but my parents never suggested that there was some profound issue about whether or not to take them as literally true, any more than with Puff the Magic Dragon). Of course it was obvious that religion was nonsense, but since I never believed in it in the first place, I never had to "deconvert".

PhillyChief said...

I should have been more clear. I didn't mean that we deconverted. I meant that through critical thinking we arrived at atheism. The abandoning of faith is probably a bad verb choice, as it implies having once possessed it. I meant choosing critical thinking instead of faith. I must read more Pinker.

Even if you grew up in an atheist household, you still needed to accept the idea and make it yours. Otherwise, you would be some silly sod taking it on faith. I also reject the idea that atheism is the innate default position. We're not born with the thought of a god; therefore, we can't be born with the thought of rejecting that thought. Somehow the idea came to us, we considered it, and then decided against it. It may have been an immediate decision or it might have taken longer. It doesn't matter that much.

The Exterminator said...

Philly:
Yeah, Infidel is right. I never had to deconvert, either. Even as a small child, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that some people actually believed in a powerful fairy-tale character in the sky.

Eno:
You said, I'm sure it would be interesting to find those people who describe themselves as atheist, but arn't involved in the Atheosphere, and have some conversations (ack live talking? *shudder*).

As I mentioned a while back in a comment on your blog, I know lots of atheists who aren't in the Atheosphere. And you know what? They run about the same gamut of personality types as we find here. Some are perennial clowns, some are as serious as a heart attack. Some are liberals, some are conservatives, some are libertarians. Some are ... but you get the idea.

The only thing we all have in common is, as Philly pointed out above, critical thinking.

But I'd say that's a big thing. Atheists, technically, by definition, as Infidel points out, have no commonality other than not believing in any gods. But that's dictionary stuff. On a practical level, most atheists are enamored of ideas, and love exchanging them, chewing over them, weighing them, trying them on for size. Most of us, in a world highly suspicious of independent thinkers, are, at least to some extent, idea-driven. That's
a major commonality.

Infidel:
I've read your excellent post on Communism, and I agree with everything you said. However, I don't think you carried your case quite far enough. One could make a cogent argument that Stalin and his ilk were not atheists because they did have a god -- the "state," or the "people," or whatever you'd like to call it. Soviet Communism didn't resemble a religion, it was a religion. Since "god" is not precisely defined, as witness the myriad varieties of same, to be a "theist" means nothing other than having a faith, often in contradiction to empirical evidence, that there is some powerful entity above and beyond, and separate from, humans. So to be an "atheist" means not having faith in any such entity. I think Stalin preached such a faith of state worship (although I doubt he believed it himself). And, as you point out, the Soviet system was built on many, many similarities to organized religion.

But, I'd go out further on the controversial limb, and say that any person who has blind "patriotism" for any country isn't really an atheist, either. An atheist is a person who has no gods, whatever form those gods may take.

Infidel753 said...

Phillychief: I also reject the idea that atheism is the innate default position. We're not born with the thought of a god; therefore, we can't be born with the thought of rejecting that thought.

Actually, this is an interesting definitional question. Imagine a planet or isolated island where the concept of deities simply never developed in history. The people there don't believe in a god because the idea has simply never occurred to them. Are those people "atheists"?

Exterminator: One could make a cogent argument that Stalin and his ilk were not atheists because they did have a god -- the "state," or the "people," or whatever you'd like to call it.

Thanks. I suppose it's a matter of semantics whether Communism resembles a religion so closely that we can say it actually is one. Saying that the state or whatever really was the Communists' "god" strikes me as being pretty firmly a metaphorical statement rather than a literal one.

But, I'd go out further on the controversial limb, and say that any person who has blind "patriotism" for any country isn't really an atheist, either.

I had a bit of a debate on this point over at Black Sun Journal a while back. I certainly consider myself a patriot (I don't know how you define "blind" in this context). Feelings like patriotism are mostly based on the territorial group solidarity we inherited from our chimpanzee ancestors; I don't think calling them the equivalent of a belief in the existence of something really works, even as metaphor.

PhillyChief said...

" Imagine a planet or isolated island where the concept of deities simply never developed in history. The people there don't believe in a god because the idea has simply never occurred to them. Are those people "atheists"?"

I'd say no. I've advanced the definition of atheism as 'the rejection of claims for the existence of a god or gods for lack of evidence'. Based on this definition, those aliens aren't atheists. They need the idea for a god to exist first before they can reject it. I reject definitions like 'lack of belief in god'. The reason is twofold. First, it implies we're deficient (do you say you lack cancer?). Second, it presents god as something real. Such definitions have been created for us by theists and I think we're fools if we adopt their definitions for us. This is where I divert from Harris. I don't think the word is so badly ruined that we should abandon it but rather rescue it from the state of misuse and disrepair it is in.

The Exterminator said...

Infidel:
We've gone off topic, but I don't think Evo will mind if we carry on our conversation for a few more rounds. Evo, if I'm wrong and you want one or both of us to shut up, just say so.

First of all, here's a definition of blind patriotism for you. It's the attitude: My country, right or wrong. Here in the U.S. of A., it's the smug belief that we have a mission to spread "our way of life" all over the world, without having to define what that way of life is, or to take into consideration the geographical, historical, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of whatever world region we're "honoring" at the moment. It's the incessant speechifying about defending the Constitution by people who have absolutely no clue about that document's contents or history. It's the insistence that some all-powerful deity is on our side, and smiles down on even our most hateful leaders. It's blind because it lacks any evidentiary support.

Now, as far as the "territorial imperative" vs. god-belief goes: First of all, and of course you know this, we don't have chimpanzee ancestors. Chimps and we share a common primate ancestor. Now, if there is a human territorial imperative (and I do think there is), we've inherited, from our common ancestor, the genetic material that helps engender it. But we've also inherited, from our common ancestor, genetic material that gives humans their propensity for god-belief. Maybe, in fact, since many individual genes carry more than one trait, the territorial imperative and god-belief are linked.

That's why I'm not suprised when evangelicals are so gung-ho about the worst thugs in the political marketplace -- like the current administration.

John Evo said...

I have extremely ambivalent feelings about nationalism (and my own patriotism). Infidel is perfectly correct in "where it came from". That much is clear. It's another thing to say that as supposedly intellectually advanced creatures that we need to hang on to those vestiges. Especially since they will inevitably lead to conflict.

Am I a "patriot"? I guess as long as my country does the right thing. We are supposedly on a wartime footing right now. I don't feel any particular loyalty to the leader of our nation. If lawfully ordered to take up arms and go to the Middle East, I would refuse. Frankly, right now I'd be more inclined to take up arms against the lawful order.

I don't think it's going to come to that. But as a strictly theoretical exercise, would I be a patriot, for defending what I believe the Founders had in mind? Or would I be a traitor? You'd have to wait to read the history books to find out. It would all depend on whether the side I was on was successful or not. And doesn’t that show you how silly the very notion of “patriotism” is, that this could be so?

John Evo said...

Ex, you posted while I was composing. I assume my comment answers your question to me?

John Evo said...

Infidel is perfectly correct in "where it came from".

As usual, Exterminator is correct - and Infidel, in this case, is not.

While I glossed over the comment, I get the gist of what he is saying and that much is certainly correct. That the ancestor's of both us and our chimp cousins carried those genes. We know this because we both share the behavior.

I recently saw a Jane Goodall special that was made for IMAX. It was absolutely startling to see, not only the warfare and hostility between tribes, but even the mannerisms (or is that "chimperisms"?) of one tribe, while the group of males literally patrol the perimeter of their territory.

The Exterminator said...

Evo:

While we may see ourselves in the warlike societies of Chimpanzees, we should also take an optimistic peek at the Bonobo. That species seems to believe in: Make love, not war.

So, somewhere, we've got that genetic material, too.

the chaplain said...

Great discussion going on here. I think we've arrived at agreeing that atheists are generally committed to a) rational thought and b) scientific method. That's music to the ears of a Deweyan experimentalist philosopher.

Dewey rejected the idealist religion of his youth and developed a humanist epistemology based on an experimentalism that was grounded in and advanced by rational thought. In a nutshell:

1. you have a problem,
2. you examine the problem and conceive of a way to solve that problem,
3. you try out your solution,
4. you evaluate the results of your experimental solution, and then
5. you start all over again.

Empiricism + rationalism = Deweyan epistemology.

You'll likely have noticed that this is very similar to the way the Scientific Method is often outlined. Great stuff. It seems so common sense to me.

As far as uber-patriotism, since my family and I are dual Canadian-US citizens, if my sons were drafted to fight Bush's War, I'd encourage them to move to Canada ASAP. If they were called to fight in a justifiable conflict, that would be a different matter. But there is no way I'll willingly sacrifice them to Bush's macho fantasy.

John Evo said...

Ex - I neither take joy at the bonobo, nor despair at the chimp. We aren't the victims of our genes. Clearly both influences are in our nature. But we evolved to be clever and imaginative apes. So clever we can outwit our own genes.

Infidel753 said...

First of all, and of course you know this, we don't have chimpanzee ancestors. Chimps and we share a common primate ancestor.

True, but that's a fine point. The common ancestor, as far as we can tell, was fairly similar to the modern chimpanzee. Modern chimpanzees tell us a lot about what the common ancestor was like.

The bonobos' ancestors split off from chimpanzees considerably later than the chimpanzee-human split, and in a different geographical area (Congo basin) from where humans evolved (Tanganyika-Kenya-Ethiopia region). In areas where chimpanzees and bonobos differ, there's no reason to expect that humans would have bonobo-like genetic traits. And indeed, in all those areas, human societies are more chimpanzee-like: male-dominated, males capable of cooperating as well as competing, national territories not overlapping geographically (as bonobo territories do, but chimpanzee territories do not). Humans eat meat and fight intergroup wars, which chimpanzees do and bonobos have not, at least, been seen to do. The cross-cultural range of typical human sexual behavior is also much more chimpanzee-like than bonobo-like, unfortunately.

I see no reason to think that the genes for territoriality and the genes that prompt religious belief (probably a vast array of genes in both cases) are particularly linked. We share the former trait with chimpanzees and, in different forms, with many other primates, but not the latter, as far as anyone can tell.

I don't agree that national consciousness invariably leads to conflict. Some nation-states live in peace with each other for long periods, while many very violent conflicts have nothing to do with national differences. Many primitive human societies have rates of violence and conflict as bad as chimpanzee groups have, while the rates of those things in modern societies are far lower, even though national identity is arguably stronger.

Getting back to the (semi-)original point, again, there is no reason why atheism and patriotism are incompatible. If anything, I would argue that an atheist like me has all the more reason to want to see our secular society survive. An atheist would be much worse off trying to live in most non-Western societies than a Christian American would.

John Evo said...

Chaplain;

I'd need to know more about that approach. It sounds reasonable, but I can see some problems - where it doesn't exactly coincide with the scientific method. Then again, the method is a tool of science and not necessarily of solving issues related to the emotions. We can only take the science analogy so far, I think.

The Exterminator said...

I'm not going to get into a chimp vs. bonobo thing in reference to human DNA, but anyone interested might enjoy reading this conversation with Vanessa Woods, who has written extensively about bonobos.

chappy:
Dewey's system, as you've presented it, sounds like solid advice. Of course, not all problems have "solutions" that can be tested.

the chaplain said...

John-Evo:

Dewey was first and foremost a philosopher, not a scientist. Recognize too, that my synopsis was really quick and dirty, and definitely simplistic.

Dewey took a great interest in the philosophy of science, which is not surprising since its sphere of interest overlaps with epistemology. Science seeks to gain better knowledge about the natural world, epistemology tackles questions about how and what it is possible to know. Dewey was interested in applying systematic thinking/learning skills to solving the problems of society. Scientific methods of hypothesis and experimentation, and rational thinking were Dewey's primary means for acquiring knowledge. He eventually eschewed metaphysical questions because they had little import for the ways in which people live their lives in a natural, material world. He was a "pragmatic" philosopher in all the best senses of that word.

John Evo said...

Infidel said: don't agree that national consciousness invariably leads to conflict. Some nation-states live in peace with each other for long periods, while many very violent conflicts have nothing to do with national differences

As to your first point, "long periods" doesn't change my mind on the problem. It just means that since we have developed better ways of coping with each other, but not good enough that conflict will not come - eventually. As to the second point, well, of course I didn't say that conflict was exclusively caused by nationalism.

While I agree with you that more modernized nation/states actually have a lower rate of conflict than more primitive societies, unfortunately the other side of that is that the modern states also have the technology to make those (relatively) occasional conflicts so much deadlier.

Sarge said...

I think Stalin and Hitler were cases which theism-atheism don't really touch. They were solipscists (sorry, spell nazis) who were quite simply the center of the universe as they saw it. Theism or non-theism had very little to do with them except as a model to get and wield power and influence.

It is reported of Stalin that in his younger days he was on a picnic with some friends, they were at some river. There had been a lot of flooding due to unseasonable rains, and there was an island formed by the waters, and on this was a calf which wa seperated from its mother. It was bawling, in obvious distress, and some of the women wanted someone to
do something. Stalin did. He jumped into the flooded river, swam to the island, and got to the calf. He threw it down and stomped its legs until they were all broken, then he swam back, and was very surprised at the reaction this caused. He had been unaware that SAVING the animal was an option, or that anyone WANTED it.

A mind like that doesn't look at ANYTHING, let alone religious belief or non-belief the way anyone else does.

John Evo said...

Sarge,

the Stalin/Hitler "acted as atheists" has been well rebutted in a number of places. But I think it was Sam Harris who pointed out (I believe correctly) that it doesn't matter. When you study the conscious or sub-conscious tactics of theists, it is absolutely clear that they will repeat the lie over and over and over.

It makes sense. They are playing for the same minds we are - those who are open to evidence. Even a lie, repeated as evidence, has an effect. They do this with dozens of lies about evolution (I'm calling them lies, because for the most part - they are. There is the occasional theist who is simply mistaken, but it doesn't take a lot of research to find the facts).

How many times have you heard these phrases? "No transitional fossils". "Piltdown man was a hoax - therefore evolution..." "The flagellum is irreducibly complex" "micro evolution is true but macro evolution is not" and so on... This is the nature of their game. You pointing out the facts about Stalinism will leave them unfazed and they'll repeat the same thing to the next person they debate.

PhillyChief said...

And that brings us right back to why do we write? Why do we debate online? Because if they're going to scream in every corner of the world lie after lie after lie, then we need to be there countering each one with truth, truth, truth. A lie told enough times and unchallenged will get accepted as fact. It's not necessarily the liar we have to set straight, but the audience he's lying to. We can't stop until these people start trying to tell their old lies and people say, "oh yeah, I heard that crazy shit before. You don't actually believe that, do you, because..."

It's frightening what lies get told in this country and go unchallenged.

Infidel753 said...

While I agree with you that more modernized nation/states actually have a lower rate of conflict than more primitive societies, unfortunately the other side of that is that the modern states also have the technology to make those (relatively) occasional conflicts so much deadlier.

But they aren't deadlier. The per-capita death rates from conflict in modern societies are much lower than in the primitive ones, even when things like World War II are taken into account.

In any case, a drastic fall in the level of conflict while nationalism increased argues that nationalism does not increase conflict, while the existence of more dangerous technology can't be attributed to nationalism.

John Evo said...

In any case, a drastic fall in the level of conflict while nationalism increased argues that nationalism does not increase conflict, while the existence of more dangerous technology can't be attributed to nationalism.

Well, I think we are rapidly closing in on the same impasse we arrived at over at your blog on " Life after death ".

I can award you the “up to the minute” evidentiary statistics. But I have to caution you that you only have to be wrong in the future ONE TIME, for all the stats up to this point to be meaningless.

While a horrible war in a primitive society may cause the death of millions over some years (and a high pct. of the population) we need only have one that could wipe out a big chunk of the 7 billion.

And it has reached the point in technology where it need not even be warfare in the old sense. Shit happens. It need not start with a overtly “evil” or malicious intent.

Now, in this case I need to tie this in to patriotism. I leave it to you. If you think the kind of blind patriotism that Exterminator talked about does not increase the chances of that happening, then we just disagree!

Infidel753 said...

If you think the kind of blind patriotism that Exterminator talked about does not increase the chances of that happening, then we just disagree!

Well, I think "blind patriotism" is a caricature of the actual feelings of most patriots. It's sort of like talking about "blind atheism" or "blind liberalism". Who would defend that -- or agree that it accurately described their views? Extreme, belligerent nationalism is obviously dangerous, but that has nothing to do with what I'm talking about.

Thanks for an interesting discussion.

John Evo said...

Indeed. Thank you as well.

Just as a final clarification on the "blind patriotism", I fully agree with you that none of us would define ourselves as such.

But I did clarify what I was saying - the kind of blind patriotism that Exterminator talked about which gives it a definition we can examine and apply to others.

In fact, you could empirically use it to discover "blind patriotism". Let's just look at the first part of his definition: My country, right or wrong. You could ask, is this something you feel about America? I submit that it's no small number that would answer "yes". If (and perhaps that's a BIG IF) this is a legitimate part of the definition, then you have a piece of evidence for blind patriotism.

But, we stray even further off topic... ain't it great?

Infidel753 said...

"My country right or wrong" is an awfully vague sentiment, but I could certainly think of cases where I would disagree with it.

It's important to keep in mind the distinction between a country and its government. Some of what I consider the best and healthiest expressions of patriotic feeling have come from people standing up for their nation against its own rulers. An example would be the protests by many Chinese engineers, explicitly motivated by national feeling, against the regime's insistence on building the Three Gorges Dam, an ill-considered project which would endanger millions of Chinese if it failed. Here are some other examples of what I consider taking a healthy patriotic stand against one's own government: by a Russian, by Ukrainians, and by Americans.

Infidel753