Where On High Mountains

What a seismic shift

Running away into the backwoods

Playing at stories

To now being in

The epitome of anticlimax

~

Why out of all contingencies

Do we go with the lamest

Courting comfort

Without redefinition

On the flat of our backs

~

Who do you think

You are? Small fish of fate

Do not coax the uncoaxable

I will only go

Where I’ve got the knack

~

Where on high mountains

Or in the train station

There is the gall

That put me where I am

Hapless but in tact

~

How funny how expository

Inanely fake are the Luminaries

Playing at truth

Like it is a damn game

When it most certainly is not

Don’t tell me to relax

 

Why I’m Not an Atheist #2: The Banality of Materialism and Scientism

One of the main reasons I’m not an Atheist is because I reject Materialism as a philosophy. Not all versions of Atheism rely on Materialist philosophy, but many in the Western world do. Materialism is a philosophy that postulates that all phenomena in the universe are reducible to material explanations. I don’t think Materialism or Naturalism works as an account of all of reality, and see it as largely an incoherent position.

Many types of Atheism not only rely on Materialism but profess Scientism as well; if not in word than at least in deed. Scientism is a philosophy that takes Materialism one step further, saying that not only are all phenomena reducible to material accounts, but also any assertion that is not 1) testable, 2) measurable, and 3) repeatable, is not a valid candidate to be considered “truth”. To the adherent of Scientism, Science is the only valid way of knowing. “Knowledge” garnered outside the scientific method is not really knowledge, but whimsy masquerading as knowledge.

I reject Scientism along with Materialism. I believe there are better and more sophisticated accounts of the world. My reasons for rejecting Materialism are as follows:

1. Science relies on unprovable, immaterial phenomena that it, in principle, has no way of explaining.

Science relies on five basic non-material components that are central to its functioning: 1) mathematics, 2) logic, 3) language, 4) consciousness, and 5) the scientific method. Each one of these is used without proof of its reliability and yet science could not exist without any one of these phenomena.

This leads me to the conclusion that science, along with every other way of knowing, relies on assumptions that are simply unprovable. These phenomena are, by definition, irreducible to a physical, mechanistic account of their working. No material account of mathematics, logic, language, consciousness, or the scientific method exists, or could ever exist, ipso facto, based on their immaterial nature.

This does not mean science doesn’t work. Science of course does work. It simply shows that by science’s own standards a strictly materialistic construal of all of reality and all knowledge simply does not hold water since every fundamental tenant of science relies entirely on immaterial phenomena in order to work in the first place.

2. Recent science has shown how irreducible matter is.

The Materialist sees science in the way that Hegel saw history: it will all lead up to an inevitable end, a fortuitous conclusion when the most basic forms of matter are accounted for and we have built an entire geometric model of the universe with those most basic constituents as units of measure. The problem is: every time we thought we were getting to the most basic level, we realized there was something smaller to discover. It was once the particle that was the most basic unit of matter, then the cell, then the atom, then the subatomic particle. There seems no reason to suppose we’ll ever get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow at this point.

If there is a ‘smallest’ level we can reach, there seems no good reason beyond faith to suppose so.

My reasons for rejecting Scientism are as follows:

1. Science is good at producing material innovations, and making discoveries, but it does not follow from this that science trumps all other ways of knowing.

Terence McKenna famously called this “a fool’s argument for truth.” Saying science produces exhaustive and irreproachable truth above all other disciplines because of the “beautiful toys that it [can] create: aircraft, railroad, global economies, television, and spacecraft” is simply not a rational or logic argument. It’s an assertion, but no more provable than anything Scientism would itself decry as unscientific.

It is of course a laudable and good thing to praise science for its achievements – the more the better in my opinion. But to use this as an argument to say science is therefore the only or even best way for knowing something, or producing truth, is as fallacious as they come.

2. Most of our lives are occupied with considering non-scientific problems.

Most of our lives are spent outside of laboratories for good reason. Most of our lives are addressing problems and questions outside the realm of scientific inquiry.

Who to marry, what career to choose, what city to live in, which novel to read, how to raise your kids; these are issues that can be slightly aided with some science, but are not themselves problems to be solved using the scientific method. To do experiments on romantic interests would actually devalue that experience. To test every single career opportunity with the inductive method would waste time, not improve the quality of future work life. To look up opinion polls and city ratings may overlook important personal preferences that are unique to you, and lead you to move to the wrong city. Amazon reviews will tell you “The Da Vinci Code” is more highly rated than “The Tale of Two Cities,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a better book. Raising kids presents problems to be solved that cannot wait for the laborious pace of science.

The definition of science – “the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment,” – shows that more science would not always be helpful to these areas of life. It simply makes no claims to address certain issues.

A thing like taking a swing at the meaning of the universe, or “religion,” I would argue, is a problem science is ill-equipped to address. Science itself does not produce raw “meaning” for anything, let alone meaning for the entire universe. It produces data to be interpreted. It’s the interpretation that produces the meaning.

And to say that since science can’t measure it, therefore it does not exist, is again, fallacious.

Conclusion

Insofar as Atheism uses Materialism or Naturalism as a way of justifying its view of the universe, I have to disagree. Materialism is, in my view, a weak leg to stand on. It ignores the mysterious, non-material tools that are used in science everyday – takes them for granted – and holds a different standard for everyone else who also relies on unexplainable phenomena for their worldview. Materialism also overlooks the seeming irreducibility of life, of matter. There seems no reason to suppose that beyond a certain level of microscopic intensity, nothing else exists. Science in every one of its new reincarnations has discovered new levels of complexity, each one mind-boggling, that have revolutionized our understanding of the world. To supposed that this will one day stop, and we will have a grand poobah, ultimate material interpretation of the universe is of course possible in theory, but I doubt its reality.

Scientism’s claim that nothing beyond science should constitute genuine knowing is in my take, an outgrowth of Materialist philosophy and just as wrongheaded. Although science is a powerhouse at producing material discoveries and enhancements to everyday life, this does not ‘disprove’ or even discount other ways of knowing or of inquiry; despite what many popularizers of science professes. Science is a powerful tool, designed for a specific endeavor. Our daily lives also reflect how shallow an interpretation of reality Scientism is. Most of it is spent considering the experiential flow of our lives, not things that are testable, measure and repeatable. To then hold our lives to the standard of science at all times, would rid us of many rich experiences.

This post does not address all types of Atheism, only the Atheism that desires to wield science as a club against all other interpretations of reality, which insists upon a Materialist account of everything and insists that science is all we can say about the world around us.

Why I’m Not an Atheist #1: The Moral Universe and Power

Atheists often think that the theist position on morality is that ‘you can’t have any morals without god’ therefore you can’t be a moral person as an atheist. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The argument is not that atheists can’t be moral people. The argument is that without some sort of transcendent morality, the battle for right and wrong devolves into a power struggle between competing human ideas which necessitates force, sometimes violent, sometimes not, as a way of deciding who is right. That is, if morals simply come from culture and society, the most powerful civilization wins in the event of a conflict. Influence, bigger armies, and more tyrannical rulers will be the deciding factor if there is no higher authority to appeal to; the most powerful win the battle for setting moral standards.

Nietzsche, arguably the world’s most famous atheist, called this the Will to Power. In Tom Wolfe’s famous article “Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died,” he details Nietzsche’s bleak outlook for the 20th and 21st centuries. ‘Nietzsche said that mankind would limp on through the twentieth century “on the mere pittance” of the old decaying God–based moral codes. But then, in the twenty–first, would come a period more dreadful than the great wars, a time of “the total eclipse of all values” (in The Will to Power). This would also be a frantic period of “revaluation,” in which people would try to find new systems of values to replace the osteoporotic skeletons of the old.’

Why did Nietzsche have such a bleak outlook? Because he saw that without God, without an overruling transcendent moral law that applies to everyone, including the rich ruling class, humans are left to their own devices. These devices have tended to be historically, well – er! – barbaric on the whole. Nietzsche doesn’t see this as bleak but as harrowing. We may think we treasure altruism, helping the poor and needy, but Nietzsche called this ‘clinging to the dead corpse of Christianity,’ and a ‘slave morality.’ He praises the ‘ability and capacity to fulfill our own desires,’ what the Greeks called excellence.

I think Nietzsche is being logically consistent here which pushes me towards a transcendent conception of the moral universe. I mean after all, why would a biologist go looking for altruism in apes and dolphins to try to prove some bottom up theory of morality, if they have no reason to go looking for altruism in the first place? A cherry eventually dies once picked off a tree. This was Nietzsche’s point. We pretend as if hanging on to certain religious ideas we like and disregarding the ones we don’t, without any way to judge their merit beyond our own opinion, without any reference point beyond ourselves, is a moral process that will last any longer than one generation. If we believe nothing beyond ourselves, what will our children believe? This is not a process of conviction but of picking items from a menu. It’s as banal as that. These weak convictions will die with us. Nietzsche’s prediction for the 21st century looms darkly here.

I myself refuse to believe that human power brokers are the rule setters. I take Jesus at his word when he says ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ This is a Christian doctrine, not an enlightenment doctrine. God himself identifies, not just with, but as the poor themselves. This is beyond revolutionary. And this upending of the pagan power dynamic in Greece and Rome, and even in Israel itself is only expounded by Jesus in this way. This moves me deeply and powerfully away from trying to cobble together my own moral system with strictly earthly values. Something inside me reels against human excellence and power as a true measure of ‘rightness.’ There’s something else. I think it’s something profound and mysterious. The Bible calls it agape; flipping regular power dynamics on its head, a total usurpation of self-centeredness.

Reflections on the Superbowl

The NFL: that American institution, the pride of the beer drenched couch potato and the bane of the touchy liberal sensibility. On its greatest night of the year, all the more so. Corporate America sores high on ingeniously crafted commercials. The biggest names in music put on their best performances on neon stages that push the conceivable limits of pyrotechnics. Social media talks of nothing else for hours. Oh and there’s a football game in there somewhere. The Superbowl. The night global commercialism takes football to the magical Illuminati banquet. Brought to you by Disney, Coca Cola, and Budweiser.

In 1950 a description of the Superbowl as we experience it today could have easily been a Dystopian novel, even though we experience it as a sort of Utopian surround sound narrative of gain and loss, winners and losers, a midst the largest collective sales pitch the world has ever known, frothed in gargled nacho cheese, brown sugar water, and veggie dip.

#America

Getting Bored in the Culture Wars

For too long popular imagination has assumed, even at times asserted, that political positions are inherently loaded with morality. “The left is evil in this way. The right is evil in that way.” In the most extreme corners of each vision, they may see just one party, or part of a party as the total embodiment of good or evil, ethically speaking.

It’s not just right or left either.

The options have become complicated. Specific political issues have their own histories and philosophies and discrepancies in opinion cause factions within factions. What we are left with is an endlessly complex web of political opinion, more like a gradient whose axes are going in an infinite number of directions; politics, culture, race, geography, and personal histories all being operant factors in the plotting of one’s place in the spectrum.

This is a stultifying reality. The gut reaction is to simplify. Divide the complexity into two simple camps – those who disagree with me and those who don’t – and case closed. The dissenters are stupid, herd-like, and wrong. The ones who agree are awesome and we high five each other after some fresh zingers to the other side. Human nature and its glories.

We all do this at some level.

What get’s lost in translation is the inherent humanity in politics. Without humanity there is no politics. There are no political positions without people to have those positions. But when the position takes precedence over the person, and moral categories are pinned to the position, whole swaths of people become wrong, maybe even evil or ‘part of the problem,’ ipso facto, since we assume the position is inherently right or wrong instead of the person per se.

What follows then is that for some liberals there is no such thing as a good conservative, for some conservatives there is no such thing as a good liberal; by definition. It’s an ultimately exclusionary logic. The tragedy of this is that obviously there are good people on both, or rather, the many sides.

There’s nothing inherently right or wrong about a position. There is though, rightness or wrongness in how one uses their position. This is the infinitely important distinction.

The problem is with the premise. If we place a moral category on a position rather than a person and take that for granted, if we are being logical then anyone who subscribes to that position then becomes an adversary in some sense. The logic we use in these cases may be sound but our premise that certain political positions are inherently good or bad simply doesn’t hold water.

A Poem: I’m a Kid Like Everyone Else

When I was born I was looking up at the sky

Couldn’t tell you why

Was I born upside down?

Another drop in the cup

 ~

That’s the thing that seizes you

At once and in full view

Could I burst forth?

Like light bulbs and love

 ~

Maybe but for now it’s this picturesque desert

It’s says ‘Get in the dirt!’

‘Head down, on the grindstone’

But I just keep looking up

The Problem with Modern Feminism

The basis of feminism is a good one to embrace, one that most everybody agrees on: Equality. Hard to go wrong with equality. One argues about whether it’s a flower of Christianity or a flower of the Enlightenment but there is not much argument about whether or not it’s a good thing to uphold, a good thing to strive after.

The 20th century and the beginning of the 21st are replete with examples of political and non-political forces chasing this imperative, some reactionary, some ecumenical. Feminism is just one of many. What then is there to critique about one movement backed by such a unanimous moral fiat?

Feminism’s main problem is that although its central tenant is rock solid, its outworking of equality sometimes leaves more to be desired. It is too singularly focused on one point and can, and I would argue does, get carried away on its own momentum past the middle point of the swinging pendulum. It so resolutely answers all the world’s questions with one answer that one begins to become suspicious of its methods of inquiry, if it has any. Rather than begin with a question, feminism begins with an answer. And wherever the allowance of nuance gets squelched out under the tyranny of the simple answer you can bet a ruse is just around the corner.

This one answer that feminism chants like the holiest of mantras is Patriarchy. The Patriarchy is the embodiment of evil, the oppressors, the undoing of which will set the world right.

Swoosh! And the arrow just misses the bull’s eye.

It is here that I would insert Love thy neighbor as thyself as the thing the feminists were really trying to get after. It seems to me the best of all options as the candidate for bull’s eye. It captures within it true patriarchy, racism, human conflict of any kind. The concept is bigger and grander and encompasses more of life than anything in feminist theory could hope to. But here, the feminist shakes her head, possibly wags a finger a promptly points out that: ‘Ah! But Christianity, along with the last few thousand years of human history, is patriarchal. 12 disciples, Jesus, all men: can’t accept it. It’s all patriarchy, patriarchy, patriarchy.’ And we fall deeper into the ever receding caverns of a deleterious critical theory.

It’s not so much that at its core feminism is wrong on the whole about patriarchy. Much of human history, of entire civilizations and wayward individuals alike, has been hostile – sometimes brutally so – to the temperament of femininity and to women themselves. This has often been systematic and subtle. None of this is the point in contention here. To all that I say bravo to the feminist and pick up a sign and hit the streets along with. The point the modern non-feminist is trying to make to modern feminism is that, sometimes, too much of a good thing can spoil the beans.

At the same time, feminism almost too quickly capitulated to the capitalist, post-industrial value system of human dignity. It somehow did not see that making women more like men was like tacitly agreeing that men’s roles were more valuable to begin with. Hence the male fist in the mind’s eye of its logo. At the center of the female emblem is the symbol of male power. Instead of vying for a reassessment of how we should value motherhood in relation to fatherhood, sisterhood in relation to brotherhood, breadwinners in relation to non-breadwinners, feminism tried turning us all into fathers, brothers, and breadwinners. This is a mixing of categories. The value of a human does not and should not equal their role in society. This was and is our biggest sin. Not patriarchy but this ugly post-industrial utilitarianism. We did not and do not value motherhood because it produces in and of itself no capital.

The advent of feminism parallels the advent of sedentary production of value too closely not to notice the correlation. One becomes suspicious at the coincidence. Just around the time you didn’t need the natural strength of a man to produce a living by harvesting grain, or cutting stones, or welding metals more profitably than a woman could, came the logical corrective of feminism to spot the inconsistencies of late capitalism. Women could just as easily be businesspeople, educators, or politicians, when having stronger, more profitable arms and back is no longer a contingency.

This basically mundane fact gets patriarchy off the hook in a way that takes the spotlight off of sexism too much for the feminist. The heart of the political tension between the sexes has to be chauvinism for feminism to be a viable or intelligible political position. The stronger the sickness the stronger the medicine needed. And in steps in feminism with a ready-made antidote.

Feminism has more or less ignored this historical juncture. The cure for patriarchy is a moral pill, a lessening of male dominance, stamping out chauvinism, a pure irreducible evil.

I don’t think male dominance is a product of simple phallus worship, preferring men for the sake of men. I think at we valued breadwinners because we valued bread. Strong arms were the most efficient way at accomplishing that end. Men have been valued not as salvation but as vehicles for salvation. This overvaluing of the traditional role of men was a predominantly a product of the love of money, not mankind. Thus the role of man as the means of production became, among other things, a false god.

This does not deny chauvinism but explains it. It is certainly true that some chauvinism is simply meanness for meanness sake. I have a hard time though believing that the majority of it is irreducible to that. Some can be explained by simple economic and psychological realities at work on a much deeper level than a simple game of good guy, bad guy.

It’s at this point where I think the point becomes most clear that feminism is too constricting. Far from being liberal, it is a political agenda that seems bent on tapering thought and restricting it to certain predetermined living quarters. This does not free the mind.

Read feminists, many of them are brilliant. The Second Sex is a landmark text among many, but to buy into feminism wholesale as a primary political identification is to have to subscribe ultimately to an ideology.

So when people ask me whether or not I am a feminist and I say, “no,” it is not because I am in any way against the solidarity of women. It is because to me the greatest commandment has nothing to do with stymieing the chauvinist. The greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, including your women neighbors.