Plots and Thoughts

Musings on Israel and Palestine

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on November 30, 2009

I was talking with a friend about Israel, and he did something uncharacteristic.  He tried to shut down the debate.  He did so using a few problematic arguments.  Arguments I would like to take a look at before adding in my own thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

Tax Dollars and Speech

J made the point that since my tax dollars go towards supporting Israel’s violence towards the Palestinians, I couldn’t talk about “opposing violence”.  This is a pretty easy argument to defeat.  J opposes the Iraqi war, yet his tax dollars go towards its support.  Would anyone say he ought to shut up about his opposition?  Of course not.  It is vital we speak our minds, especially when our tax dollars go towards a cause we deem unjust.

Privilege and Violence

J then pointed out that the Palestinians were under attack, and I was speaking from the position of “Extreme Privilege” in condemning their violence.  Ironically, this is the exact same argument the Israeli government uses to justify its attacks on Palestinians!  J is hardly living under threat, from missiles or bombs, Palestinians or Israelis.  We share in this privilege, but it does not bind us to silence.  If anything it compels us to educate ourselves and seek to impact the situation positively.  Privilege is a blindfold, not a perpetual state of being.  We must first realize we are blind, but then we must tear off the blindfold as best we can and see!

Knowledge and Speech

J Finally said he didn’t have time to educate me, and I ought to “go do some critical thinking”.  This reminds me of a professor I had in college, who used to attack students whose viewpoints he disagreed with by lambasting them for “not having done the reading” (even when they had).  It also reminds me of a student of my own.  After establishing she had political viewpoints after all, I asked why she didn’t express them.  She responded that she didn’t feel she knew enough to have a voice.

One must always have a voice.  Knowledge is not a prerequisite for taking part in the discourse of society.  It is a desirable thing of course.  But too often knowledge is transformed into agreeable knowledge.  That is, the right kind of knowledge according to a particular point of view.  So I was told to read books that supported J’s viewpoint (no mention of those that opposed it).

Discussion as Democratic Vitality

Regardless of one’s viewpoints, it is essential to the health of Democratic discourse that we work to increase, not shut down, communication.  The Israel Palestine problem is huge, and one we all have an interest in seeing solved peaceably and sustainably.  We need to be finding ways to open channels of communication.  Especially when it comes to this issue.

OK OK, Where do YOU Stand?

I support a single secular state.  I don’t think two theocratic states prone to violence in close proximity is a recipe for success.  I think Israel-Palestine’s promise is in becoming a force for peace and an advocate for the oppressed.  I consider both the Israeli and Palestinian people to be a part of my heritage, and get excited thinking about the wonderful things they could accomplish together.

When it comes to guilt and responsibility, I find that both sides use violence, both sides kill the innocent, and both sides employ lies and propaganda to further their aims.  Being the state carries with it a higher responsibility, and Israel needs to step up.

I cannot say whether or not I would be moved to commit acts of violence if I were in their shoes.  What I can say is that as long as that violence continues it will make the situation ever worse, and consume the very blood of the innocent those acts of violence were meant to protect or avenge.

What do you think?

Evolution, Religion and Bullshit

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on November 19, 2009

Gather round for a lesson in poor reporting.  The NYTimes has an article on the relationship between evolution and religion, and wow do they make a zinger of a mistake (I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the stupid for your convenience):

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

Let’s look at the fallacies:

  • Failure to consider co-evolved vs evolved traits
  • Failure to consider vestigial traits

If the traits necessary to support religion did evolve for a purpose, what proof do we have that purpose still persists to this day?  Or that those traits are the best solution?

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

What effects do rituals have today?  How does this kind of tribalism and tendency to follow the leader play out in today’s global society?  Looking at religion through the lens of an evolved trait lends it an additional appearance of usefulness and legitimacy.

All this allows that the traits which support religion evolved directly, and didn’t co-evolve with other directly beneficial evolutionary traits.  Following the logic present in Nicholas Wade’s article, one might consider anything from red hair to armed conflict to be “evolved”.  They too have “occurred in societies at every stage of development”.

This article is one in a long line of “gee golly” articles meant to lend religion the legitimacy of science.  They let faith put on a labcoat and call itself doctor.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles

Religion can be viewed, and judged, within the context of its impact on society today and historically.  The addition of pseudo-scientific hypothesis about religion as an evolved trait will not clarify the debate over the role of religion in society.  It can only muddy the water.  And at some point we must question why so many of religion’s proponents feel the need to dip into trickery and dishonesty to prop up their cosmology. And we must re-evaluate our own responses keeping that tendency in mind.  Especially when responding to apologists who hide under a guise of science.


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