Pat Condell: “The faith of idiots”

On a related note

I admit freely, I simply do not understand it:  with so much opportunity for factual learning, why do so many people insist on submitting their minds to dogma – whether secular or religious?

Spirituality is one thing.  But imprisoning one’s spirituality (and/or intelligence) within the cage of any dogma – that is not just shameful, it is immoral.

Will all Muslims be caught in the backlash against Islamists?

This post can stand on its own, but it is a loose continuation of my rant from yesterday:  Actions and reactions

In my never-humble-opinion, we are dealing with several things which overlap and muddle all discussions when we discuss ‘freedom of speech’, Islam and the now inevitable clash between the two.  Here is my little breakdown:

1. Islamists – those for whom Islam is not just a religion, but a political movement bent on dominating the world (it is wrong to dismiss the things people say they believe – and want to do, even if it sounds outrageous to our sensibilities).

2. Muslims – these are people for whom Islam is a religion.  It includes people for whom it is nothing more than their personal faith and who wish nothing more than to live in a free, democratic society.  It also includes all the Islamists.

3. Islamists make claims and demands on behalf of all Muslims, whether all Muslims agree with them or not.

4. Making claims and demands is perfectly OK. I know I make enough of them!

5. Legislators are satisfying and accommodating these claims and demands.  This is wrong.

Even if the Islamists DID have a mandate to speak for all Muslims (which they do NOT) it is unwise to grant any demands for special privileges to any group within a democracy, because this sets up official ‘classes of citizenship’. (Do we really want to follow the example of Malaysia, where there is one ministry to deal with the rights of non-Muslim women and then a secretariate to deal with the rights and welfare of only Muslim women, with no agencies permitted to participate in both?)

Also, accommodating the Islamists sets them up as ‘community leaders’ and this special status empowers the individual Islamist leaders.  It physically, financially (as government programs for the community are often administered through them) and psychologically gives them the ability to control most of the Muslims in their community.  Not only is very unfair to those moderate Muslims who want to enjoy democracy, it also, in a very real way, creates a parallel governance structure which is independent of the national government and free to pursue its own goals (which are often not compatible with the national government’s goals of maintaining terittorial sovereignity, and so on.)  

6. By setting Muslims apart from society, and giving them a special, privileged status (real or perceived), a strong resentment against all members of this perceived special group will necessarily happen.  That is human nature – people resent being treated (even if this is just a false perception) as second-class citizens, and, if they feel unable to change the governance structure which instituted this inequity, they will turn their resentment against the privileged group.   This is dangerous.

I am in no way saying this is right, or should be happening.  Rather, I am lamenting that human nature dictates that this is inevitable.

Let us look at what is happening in Europe now. No, let’s not dwell on the players: that is minutia. Let us examine the bigger forces behind the action….

The European Union (EU) has adopted many of the ‘multicultural’ attitudes from the UN.  The UN has, over and over, accommodated lobbying from the Organization of Islamic Conference to accord special status to religions in general and to Islam in particular.  And, regardless of the fact that the Western society is deeply rooted in the European renaissance – whose very existence began by criticizing religion and removing blasphemy from the criminal code… the EU has re-criminalized blasphemy.

In Holland, Geert Wilders, a sitting MP, is criminally charged. The prosecution charged him with making anti-Muslim statements. Wilders claimed he made true, supportable statements and quoted Muslim leaders. Wilders won, the charges get thrown out of court. The prosecution appealed. The appeals court – which over-rules the lower court in every way – ruled (on the day after President Obama’s inoguration – so the mainstream media focus would be elsewere) that the charges should not have been dropped and that the politician must face prosecution in that lower court because he is, in the appeals court’s opinion, guilty and must be punished.

You don’t have to be an accomplished jurist to understand the situation here. The lower court was told by its boss that this guy must stand trial because he is guilty.  So, they have to try him and find him guilty. Even if they do not, the appeals court will over-rule them.  Do you think there is even a tiny possibility this can be an impartial trial?

In Austria, Sussane Winter, a sitting MP, was actually convicted of ‘insulting Islam’.  24,000 Euros in penalties (I wonder what her court costs were in addition to the fine) and a suspended 3 month prison term. Her statements may have been phrased differently, yet the substance of what she said is in complete agreement with what the leading Muslim scholars are saying.

If re-criminalizing blasphemy is not going to plunge Europe into another era of ‘Dark Ages’, then what I found out while digging about on this definitely will!

The story comes from Belgium (and, yes, it does make on recount the Monty Python skit about the contest for the most insulting thing to call a Belgian…).

There, only a few years ago, some very, very strange stuff was happening indeed.

First, I must declare my political bias here – I deplore separatist parties. Frankly, I think it is wrong for a party to be in Parliament, if its main goal is to break up the state. Yet, if this party’s representatives are elected into parliament, I would never prevent them from representing their electorate. In this case, subverting the will of the electorate would be a greater wrong.

OK

In Belgiun, there is was a separatist party of an ethnic minority. This party was – from what I have read – not too nice. But, what happened to it – that is even more ‘not nice’. It would appear that the Belgian Parliament actually passed some laws whose sole purpose it was to make this minority party illegal.

Scary?

Not as scary as what followed…

The party ‘cleaned up’ – at least, on the outside, changed its name (slightly) and is now growing in popularity.

GROWING IN POPULARITY!

Is this the beginning of the backlash?

And if it is, will ALL Muslims be caught up in it, not just the Islamists???  I certainly hope not!!!

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Journalists and elites

Societies change.  That is natural and to be expected.  And as they do, who makes up the ‘elites’ also changes.  While I think that observing the patterns in societal changes may be interesting all on its own, it may also help us predict the future patterns of change.

A while ago, the ruling class was determined by family affiliation:  in order to raise an army to conquer a country with, a person had to belong to a royal or, at least, an aristocratic family.  Same for succession.  Well, usually! 

This has changed.  The patterns of how and why are complex and more suited to a book than a simple blog post.  Let it suffice to say that looking at today’s elites, it appears that most of their members do not have pretentions to royal bloodlines.

So, whom are todays elites made up from?

Aside from the celbrities (why they are ‘famous elite’ is a whole different post), today’s elites can be (very roughly) divided into two general groups:  ‘rich elites’ and ‘intellectual elites’.  (Looking at the infinite nuances of their sub-casts would take another book…so let’s stick with the ‘big’ differentiation.)

The rich elites are often marked by the pretentions of past nobility:  ‘familly money’ individuals often look down on the ‘nuveau-riche’ as ‘upstarts’.  But, especially in the US, where personal achievement is not yet regarded as a bad thing, the rich can all be lumped together under the general label of ‘rich elites’.  Especially by the second generation…

The intellectual elites are a lot more interesting:  these people have no pretentions to being able to actually do something.  Instead, they see themselves as the ‘thinkers’ of society.  It is not sufficient to be highly educated and very intelligent in order to be part of the ‘intellectual elite’ – scientists, for example, would satisfy these criteria, yet they are most certainly not politically influential.  They get patted on their heads, warmly welcome (for a little while) if they can be temporarily useful, but then they get locked back in their labs.  So, what is that quality?

Unsurprisingly enough, to be a member of the ‘intellectual elite’, one has to appear to fit in comfortably with the ‘rich elite’.  This ‘fitting in’ could be an ostentatiously overdone ‘poor look’ (like the ‘bohemians’ that many University Professors used to affect while it was fashionable), but underneath, one must be able to act rich, rich, rich!  

This immediatelly rules out those who are unpretentious – keeping up fake appearances is simply not attractive to unpretentious people.  Now, since our Universities and Colleges have, to a great degree, been staffed by professors who typically hold radically socialist views, it is not surprising that those who wished to be admitted to these ‘intellectual elites’ had to affect similar manners and assimilate these very political views.

So, the group which emerges as being most politically influential (other than the ‘old rich elites’ – as in, old-money  families) is made up of pretentious, radical socialists!  In Canada and the US, we easily recognize them as our ‘Liberals’ and ‘Democrats’…

But, where do the journalists fit in?  They, most certainly, are not even now rich enough to be admitted to either of the ‘elites’ of today!  Yet, in Journalism schools, they were subjected to radical socialist teachings.  And, now, they are sent to cover the lives and actions of the two elites.  Is is surprising, then, that getting to know these people as individuals during the course of their work, the journalists (who, like all of us, wish to be ‘special’ and ‘extraordinary’) have come to identify themselves with one of these two elites?

Unless born or married into a rich family, a journalist cannot hope to fit in with the ‘rich elite’.  That is just a simple economic fact – even the best newspapers do not pay that well.  However, many of them can and do fit in comfortably with the ‘intellectual elites’.  Well, sort of.  At least, they are much closer – close enough that from the point of view of the journalists, they feel like they fit in.

And while there may be some crossover, at least in the USA, the ‘rich elite’ is traditionally associated with the pro-business Republicans while the ‘intellectual elite’ tends to be associated with the socialist Democrats.  The rest of us mortals fall into one or the other camp, based on what we think is a better way to organize a society:  based on individual achievement or on group-rule.  (In Canada, the ‘rich elite’ is almost non-existant, so the ‘Conservative’ party only retains the image of ‘old money’, rather than embodies it – but despite the facts, the image remains.  The ‘intellectual elite’ in Canada is split between the ‘Liberal’ and ‘New Democratic’ parties).

Is it surprising, then, that when covering ‘their own’ elite, the journalists of the MainStream Media find themselves ‘cheering’, and while when covering ‘the other elite’, they are incessantlly booing?

All right, so I don’t have a revelation here, or much of a real point of any kind.  But, watching this particular pattern is interesting, is it not?

Things that make you go: Hmmmm!

Via Five Feet of Fury, I came across an interesting post on Ghost of a Flea:

 

Tigh/Roslin ’08

tighroslin2.jpg

The Russians may want to consider their latest imperial adventure. Dick Cheney is on his way to Georgia and Ukraine and given what comes next they might look back fondly upon the current Vice President. They had better pray for an Obama presidency; they do not want Colonel Tigh or President Roslin with their finger on the trigger. So say we all.

“The parallels continue! McCain is a military man who spent time in a Vietnam prison camp, the character of Col. Tigh is a military man who spent time in a Cylon prison camp. Sarah Palin comes from a family of school teachers, the character of Laura Roslin was school teacher before becoming Secretary of Education (and then later President).”
I don’t usually re-print the whole of another blogger’s post, but, well, this one was just too brilliant!

If a tree falls in the forest….

Having spent time in such serene surroundings like this:

Canada has magnificent trees.  This one looks like it's in the thralls of a wild, primal dance!

Canada has magnificent trees.

…is it not surprising that my mind had taken a break from the ‘everyday’ and slipped into a bit of philosophising?

If a tree falls in the forest, and no-one is there to hear it, would it make a sound?

In the past, when discussing this with my kids and husband, we have invariably fallen into the pitfalls like, for example, trying to define what does ‘sound’ mean:  is it simply the movement of air molecules in a particular way, or does it have to be ‘perceived’ by human ears?  (If it is recorded, then the sound we hear is made by the recorder, not the tree…and endless possibilities along these chains of thoughts.)

This year, I began so see it from a different perspective…

Richard Feynman is perhaps my favourite genius of the 20th century – and I am convinced he is an ‘Aspie’ to boot! ( Just reading his most awesome book, ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’, is an excellent lesson in how an ‘Aspie’ mind organizes thoughts and commits them onto paper – plus it is fun and curiously comforting to read).  In his Lectures (available as podcasts, and ideal for relaxing with while ‘away from it all’), specifically, in the ‘Quantum Mechanics’ lecture, he also visits this question about the proverbial tree falling in the forest… 

Dr. Feynman gives some very specific qualifications regarding this issue:  he would not be a physicist had he not done that.  He states that in the real world, even if there is no observer when the tree falls, there are still unmistakable physical signgs that it had, indeed, made a sound.  These signs, perhaps as minute as little scratches from vibrating leaves/needles as the sound energy is transferred to them, could then be observed after the event itself and the presence of such sound would be conclusively demonstrated.  Thus, he concludes that ‘in a real world, of course, a tree falling in a forest makes a sound‘.

He is, of course, absolutely correct – given the qualifications he does.  

Yet, listening to him made me think that perhaps his ‘after the fact observer’ – as our familial discussions from the past – were really missing the whole point of the question!

Whether during the act of the tree falling, or afterwards; directly or through recording devices of some sort (even leaves and needles) – this introduces an observer.   And the fact remains that if an observer is present, and the original condition (or, rather, its intent) is breeched.

Yes, I’ll gladly concede that in the real world, it might be impossible to have a ‘no observer’ scenario – but that is not the point.  The question asks us about a hypothetical situation, where no observation (during or after the event) occurred (even had it been possible). 

Let us imagine an observer who makes a direct observation that 999 trees, as they fell, indeed did make a sound.  Then the observer leaves, and our proverbial tree falls.  No observation as to the sound of any kind had been made during the event.  The scene has since been altered so much that no additional evidence can be gathered.  How can we answer the question now?  Did our proverbial tree make a sound, or not?

And this, in my never-humble-opinion, is the crux, the core, of this principle:  one can only say that one does not know.

It would be reasonable to predict that it is highly likely that the tree had made a sound, based on previous observations.  But one would not know !

This is the difference between direct observation and a guess.  Perhaps it might be an ‘educated guess’ (based on the previous 999 observations) , but it is still only a guess.  And that is the whole point:  to get us to stop and think, to learn to recognize that difference between what we know and what we are making educated guesses about (or a semi-educated guess about).

One of my sons thought this simply reduced the question to the ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ scenario, but I think there is a difference.  This is not about probability curves and their collapses, this is about learning to recognize the blinders we all wear which let us treat guesses (whether ors or those of others) as equally valid to observed facts. 

And it is about time that some of these blinders statred coming off! 

After all, guesses, even educated ones, are not facts – and we must not fall into the easy trap of treating them as such.  Especially in cases where the guess is not based on 999 direct observations of this very event…or not on even one such event having ever happened!

Which leads me to the next question:  If the global temperatures change by 0.6 of a degree, and no well-financed lobby group is there to use it as a pretext to organize a scare-mongering, funds-transfering campaign, would anyone notice?

Perspective - we all need it!

Perspective - we all need it!

Question about ‘Hippies’

All right, we all know what the Hippies stood for:  peace and love and removing socially repressive barriers imposed by mainstream culture.  Sort of  modern-day Dionysians, except with LDS and marijuana instead of wine…

They self-describe as being peaceful, accepting, laid-back…  When one hears the word, we think of open-air music festivals, free love, the ‘peace’ movement, bad hair and ‘punch-Buggies’ painted in psychadelic colours and other similar cultural icons of the 60’s era.

Here is my question:

What can we conclude about the Hippie counterculture from the fact that they self-branded with the only car whose distinctive ‘look’ was designed by Adolf Hitler?

Immigrants: escaping the ‘self-imposed ghettos’

Over the last few years, people all over the world have noticed ‘problems with immigrants’.

Failure to integrate leads to demands for the host culture to adapt to the immigrants, rather than the immigrants adapting to the culture and accepting the customs of their adoptive land.  Perpetuation of non-integration leads to immigrant-youth alienation, which, in turn, leads to immigrant-youth radicalization.  This leads to a vicious cycle of conflict between immigrants and their host cultures.

BUT IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!!!

Immigrants come to their new, carefully selected homeland filled with dreams and hopes….  I know I did!!!  Along with these, there are also a few apprehensions, or dowright fears.  The greatest fear which I, as an immigrant, personally faced in coming to a new land is that of ‘the unknown’.

Yes, most of us educate ourselves about our new land before arriving here.  We study the demographics, the political system, the statistics about the population.  Yet, the textbooks can never capture the essence of the landscape, TV-documentaries never reveal the true atmosphere of a place – at best, these are mere glimpses that can help prepare us for the reality which our new homeland will be.

And we want there to be differences! If there were none, there would have been no point to having left our birthplaces!  We come here for the differences!

So, it is not the fact that there are differences that is frightening.  Rather, it is the not knowing the scope of the differences….and how we will be able to understand them and learn to adjust to them.  It is sort of like going through one’s teens all over again – but without the benefits of youth!  That is a very real fear most of us immigrants do face when we first arrive.

It is natural that we should reach out to others, who have gone through this before us.  Especially the members of our original ethnic groups who will have experienced these differences already, and know how to explain them in cultural and linguistic terms that are easiest for us to understand.  It is comforting to the new immigrant to see people who came from similar backgrounds are thriving and happy here, and we try to learn from thier experiences.  And that is good – usually…

As with everything, too much of a good thing becomes poisonous.

So it is with this type of help. 

The first, and perhaps most obvious, danger is that the person(s) doing the explaining of the customs have not successfully integrated themselves, that their understanding of the mainstream culture and how to integrate into it is flawed. 

This does not, in any way, shape or form, imply that there is any malice or ill intent here.  To the contrary.  There are many immigrants who misunderstand or misinterpret much of the cultural mainstream about them, and only partially succeed in integrating.  Perhaps their professional skills and/or their tenacity allow them to succeed economically, but they simply do not have the time, skills or desire to integrate socially.  Perhaps their social obligations to non-integrated members of the community hold them hostage.

It does not mean that they are any less intelligent, or any less ‘cultured’!  Not in the least!  Being able to successfully integrate into another society requires a specific set of skills, and ‘intelligence’ is not a deciding factor in these.  Nor is the ‘previous culture’, the one they are coming from, necessarily an indicator of how successful will be their social integration.  I really do not know what the indicators are, or what the required skills are – though mastering the language does have a lot to do with it.  Simply, I have observed that this phenomenon of ‘partial integration’ cuts across cultures, professions, education levels – even perceived ‘people skills’.

The people who have only partially integrated then naturally cleave towards other immigrants, who are a ‘fresh source’ of contact with their ‘original culture’.  After all, intelligent, sociable people have a need for ‘cultured expression’.  Those for whom the host culture is incomprehensible – or, at least, viewed in a skewed way – will seek out immigrants in order to satisfy this need to sustain the ‘cultured’ part of their soul. 

In turn, they honestly try to be helpful to the newcomers, helping them establish themselves here….mirroring their own un-integrated ways!  And much of what they do is helpful – yet, at what cost…

This is strike one against many new immigrants:  the very help they receive may, indeed, perpetuate misconceptions about the host society and actively prevent the new immigrants from successfully integrating within it.

The second, much less ‘visible’ or ‘correctible’ danger is ‘social indebtedness’.

One of the best human qualities is our reciprocity in kindness.  It is what we need for that most human of things:  building communities. It is one of our best qualities – yet, it is also this very same quality which may shackle immigrants and prevent them from successfully integrating into their host society.

When we receive help from someone – someone who is truly interested in helping us, not one who is trying to somehow get an advantage by doing things for us, but who is genuinely doing things because they want to help us, we feel truly gratefull, and ‘well-inclined’ towards them.  We wish to reciprocate their kindness.  Through this benevolence, this ‘reciprocity of voluntary kindnesses’, communities are built – one relationship at a time. 

In order to successfully itegrate, an immigrant needs to turn to its host society to satisfy her/his cultural needs. 

If this does not happen, there will not be anything but the most superficial integration.  It is therefore ESSENTIAL that these ‘community bonds’ be establilshed with members of the mainstream society – NOT that of the socially un-integrated immigrant community!

Yet, it is exactly within the un-integrated elements of the immigrant community that a newcomer to a society will find help, and it is with these people that the social bonds will begin to be built through ‘reciprocity of kindnesses’.

Before they realize it, many immigrants find themselves living (socially and/or physically) in a self-imposed ghettos, made up of immigrants from their background, who have not integrated into the host society.

As the size of this ‘ghetto’ grows, the need to integrate decreases.  Once the ‘community’ is large enough to satisfy both the economic and social needs of the immigrants, there will be little incentive to interact (much less integrate into) the host society.  Even worse:  any desire or attempt to integrate (outside the immigrant community) will be perceived by the ‘helpful’ elements within this sub-culture as ‘being ungrateful’ for the help received.  After all, this would be a rejection of their version of the host society – and, in effect, the rejection of the benefactors themselves!!!

Nobody wishes to be ungrateful or disrespectful of the very people who have gone out of their way to help her/him.  Eventually, there will be very strong pressure on the new immigrant to reject integration into the host society.

So, how do we escape this self-imposed ghetto?

I don’t know a ‘good’ way of going about this.  I know how I escaped – but I also know ‘my way’ cannot possibly work for everyone…. 

I escaped by ‘being eccentric’.

I’m the first one to admit it – I am eccentric.  And, ‘eccentric’ is one of ‘them irregular words’:

  1. I am ‘original’/’free thinker’
  2. You are ‘eccentric’
  3. he/she/it is ‘certifiably nuts’

I know I hurt people’s feelings along the way – people who were nice people, and tried to help me the best they could.  But, I was ‘equal’ in my treatment of others and rejection of their ‘help’.  Soon, my ‘would-like-to-be-benefactors’ realized that I was indeed grateful to them, in my own way, it’s just that I was a bit weird…. and incredibly pig-headed, headstrong and perhaps even a little bit stubborn! 

So, socially, I was ‘written off’ as a ‘lost cause’….. 

Still, when I became of ‘marrigable age’, there were MANY attempts to find an ‘appropriate match’ for me from within the ‘immigrant community’.  I suspect that male or female, all young immigrants – and children of immigrants – go through this to some degree.  And I also understand that this is really meant in the best possible way. 

But, well, that way, self-ghettoization lies! 

Again, I know I was seen as rude – but in the most polite way I could manage (yes, that is not saying much…), I rejected ALL ‘help’ equally.  I did understand the desire to help me drove these efforts, and thanked my ‘benefactors’ for their efforts, even as I rejected them.  As politely as possible, but firmly and definitely. 

My best help in this came from my parents.  They were supportive of my desire to fully integrate.  Had they had a different set of morals, had they thought my desire to actually exercise the freedoms my adopted homeland afforded me was an attack upon them and their honour, I might not have had the desire or courage to make my integration complete.  And to them go  my eternal thanks for empowering me like this!

In times when so many immigrants live in self-imposed ghettos, it is important for those of us who have succeeded in integrating into our host cultures to share our experiences and insights.  It is imperative that we go out of our way to help all other immigrants – not just those from out specific background – succeed the way we have, so they, too, may enjoy all that our new homeland has to offer us! 

It is just as important that we do identify ourselves as immigrants to ‘the mainstream culture’ – in order to make people see that immigrants CAN successfully integrate!  And, of course, to reassure them that we came here BECAUSE of thier culture and customs, and that we, the immigrants, want them preserved at all costs!!!

Therefore, it is also imperative that we, the well-adjusted immigrants, oppose most vehemently and most vocally the erosion of values in the cultures of our adoptive homelands!!!  We are the ones who MUST LEAD the forces that protect the cultures and customs whose protections we sought when we were the most vulnerable! 

After all, this is the only way we will be able to preserve our host cultures!  We have NOT picked them lightly, we picked them because we liked them. 

Perhaps we each and every immigrant is not completely comfortable with all aspects of the host culture, but the whole is what we came for, and this whole cannot exist without the bits we are not all that comfortable with….so we must protect ALL OF IT!!!! 

All right, I know I am ranting now – but, well, this is something really, really important! 

I do not wish to loose all that my adoptive homeland has to offer – especially its culture!  I came here for the benfits the ‘Western culture’ of individualism has to offer – and I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything in my power to preserve it for my children to enjoy!!!