Archive for October, 2007

October 31, 2007

Charles Taylor in A Secular Age

In his new and awesome book, Charles Taylor the famed canadian philosopher has this to say about the virtues of medieval carnivals in which the order of all of society was turned upside down for a day, so as to let off some steam:

it was the eclipse of this sense of necessary complementarity, of the need for anti-structure, which preceded and helped to bring about the secularization of public space. The idea that a code need leave no space for the principle that contradicts it, that there ned be no limit to its enforcement, which is the spirit of totalitarianism, is not just on e of the consequences of the eclipse of anti-structure in modernity. That is certainly true. But it is also the case that the temptation to put into effect a code which brooks no limit came first. Yielding to this temptation is what helped bring modern secularity, in all its senses, into being. (pp. 50-51)

As usual, Taylor’s analysis is deep and insightful. I don’t know how many predecessors he had in this particular matter, but he puts the point very well. This naturally leads one to the thought that our current societies need some mechanism that would  emulate the defunct carnivals.

Taylor points to the division of powers or Mai 68 as such ersatz. But in keeping with or times, i would suggest that what would best replace this old “anti-structure” would be continuously changing societies, societies and governments that were set up specifically to include structural change in them. We are not very far from this, but still not there. Our constitutions still claim to set up governmental structures that should stay as they are. We need flexible constitutions instead. We’ll see.

October 27, 2007

mac vs windows vs catholics vs protestants

Umberto Ecco was a genius. He saw right through the trappings of western culture. And a long time ago at that. From Greenflame:

As a Protestant Mac user working part-time at a Catholic theological college where everyone uses Windows PCs I found last Thursday’s technology section on Radio New Zealand National : Nine to Noon (Thu, 25 October) fairly amusing.

You can find the full transcript over at » The Cult of the Mac, and at the end of it Colin Jackson quotes a chunk of Umberto Eco’s 1994 article The Holy War: Mac vs. DOS in which Eco comments:

The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.

(Windows is, Eco argues, like the Anglican church, at times appearing Catholic but also in places deep down quite Protestant).

How deep do you suppose the structure of the protestant vs catholic divide runs in western society? Or is it more than western? I presume its a standard human feature that was allowed to mercilessly bloom in eurpoe and then throughout european areas of influence.

As far as i can tell the divide is essentially one between those hankering after stability and those preferring freedom. Perhaps the latter simply have lower levels of risk-aversion? Anyhow, im an ex-protestant mac user.

October 9, 2007

google trends on religion and morality

In honor of the pew report on religion and morality of a previous post, i decided to do a little more google science. Pew reported that Europe didn’t see any need for god or religion to uphold morality, whereas the rest of the world did, the US being (as usual) divided on the subject matter. So here is how Europe (acutally France) googles religion and morality (“religion, morale”):

As you can see, even in secular France religion and morality are closely tied in people’s minds (or fingers at least). In the US the correlation (“religion, ethics”) is, however, much stronger:

 The correlation on the US graph is quite incredible. Though of course it does not allow us to tell if the googlers think ethics and religion are positively or negatively linked.

But India, my representant of “the rest of the world”, displays surprisingly no obvious correlation at all:

To explain the India graph, we could assume either that Indians do not worry about the question themselves (and therefore don’t google it) but are willing to answer our Western surveyors and tell them the two are inseparable, or the concepts of “religion” and “morality” don’t really correspond to standard ideas in their culture. I gather it is a bit of both, the second reason causing the first: in india the distinction is simply not made. The first explanation is supported by the non-correlation of the graphs; the second explanation is supported by the almost random-walk nature of the two graphs.

October 9, 2007

god in the brain

The Scientific American has an article on neuroscientists using fMRI to see what happens during religious experiences. via boingboing. Note: they are not explaining anything away, just explaining it.

October 9, 2007

pew on world religiosity

from the new pew global attitudes project :

Global publics are sharply divided over the relationship between religion and morality. In much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, there is a strong consensus that belief in God is necessary for morality and good values. Throughout much of Europe, however, majorities think morality is achievable without faith. Meanwhile, opinions are more mixed in the Americas, including in the United States, where 57% say that one must believe in God to have good values and be moral, while 41% disagree.

as for the obligatory wealth vs religion:

pew on wealth and religion

I can’t help but feel European on this one. The US sure looks like an odd outlier in the graph. Europeans certainly have a sense of historical superiority in the religion & morality field: “the rest of the world will catch on some day”. I can’t say that the feeling is justifiable, but it is (actually) one of those quasi-religious certainties that you simply cannot whisk away.

October 8, 2007

LOLcat bible

boingboing points us to the LOLcat bible wiki. From John 1:

1. In teh beginz is teh werd, and teh werd iz liek “Oh hai Ceiling Cat” and teh werd eated teh Ceiling Cat.
2. In teh beginz teh werd an teh Ceiling Cat iz teh bests frenz.
3. Him maeks alls teh cookies; no cookies iz maed wifout him.
4. Him haz teh liefs, an becuz ov teh liefs teh doodz sez “Oh hay lite.”
5. Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek “Wtf.”
6. And teh Ceiling Cat haz dis otehr man; his naem iz John.
7. He tellz teh ppl dat teh lites is tehre, so dat teh doodz sez “OMG.”
8. Him wuz not teh lite; he jsut sez teh lites is tehre.
9. Teh tru lite–iz lotz of lite–iz comes, k?
10. He iz liek, “Oh hai, I mades u,” but teh wurld duznt sees him.
11. He iz comes to his stuffs, but his stuffs sez “Do not want!”
12. And sum guyz did want, and sez “Teh Ceiling Cat pwns,” and deez guyz iz liek his kidz—
13. But not liek reel kidz, k? Iz liek teh Ceiling Cats kidz.

for more info on lolcat: wikip, icanhascheezburger

October 7, 2007

morality is a new type of causal world

The world of morality is made up of phrases and characters. Characters (or persons) produce phrases (like “thou shalt not kill”) that produce effects on other characters (like billiard balls bouncing into one another).

It would behoove us to figure out how to take advantage of this new type of causality and begin to produce moral phrases that work better.

October 7, 2007

the power of moral language

Moral language represents a qualitatively superior level to ordinary and scientific language. With morality language ceases to be only descriptive but becomes also capable of effecting change in the world. To say “the earth turns around the sun” might get you killed, but the utterance itself does not change you. To say “i/you shouldn’t do that” actually makes you want to do it a little less: it actually changes you. This is the power of moral language.

October 5, 2007

on the insignificance of the word “morality”

The Atheist Ethicist ponders the insignificance of the concept of “morality”.

He argues that since people make words mean what they want, he won’t trifle about how they use this specific word. However, constructing meaning takes a long time and we usually all have to agree on the new meanings – lest we stop understanding one another. Hence, i wouldn’t want to let anyone use the word “morality” however they want. Moreover, some words are more powerful than others, and morality has to be one of the more powerful ones (along with freedom and democracy). Powerful words are dangerous and should be wielded with care.

The problem is rather that “morality” means too many things and the solution is rather to get people to agree on a narrower, more useful definition.

But whatever that definition is, the Atheist Ethicist is right to insist that we must be able to justify our reasons and not simply stomp our feet and say “God said so”.

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October 3, 2007

mark vernon is not happy with happiness research

Mark Vernon has some valuable things to object to the newfangled scientific search for happiness. Isn’t a science of happiness a conundrum in itself?