Monday, January 22, 2018

A Thinker's Book of Dangerous Knowledge (a book review post)

Some book reviews are more difficult than others. Which probably goes without saying except that I don't think it does since a "review" for most people amounts to "I loved this!" or "This sucked ass!"
Of course, those hardly qualify as reviews, but that tends to be the state of the world, and there's not a lot in between.

There should be a lot in between.

The stuff in between often requires a lot of thought, though, which is kind of the point of this book.

So let's get it out of the way that I know Peter. Like for real. Like he lives a few blocks away, and we go over to his house sometimes to do things like play Cards Against Humanity. I've known Peter for pretty close to 20 years now.

We like a lot of the same things, so I get all of the jokes and references in the book. However, there are a lot of them. At some points, I would say that there are too many, that the jokes detract from the message. I say that as someone who gets them. If you're not a Monty Python fan or a Doctor Who fan or... well, a fan of any of the other things frequently referred to, then this book isn't going to work for you. You're just going to end up confused by all the things you're not getting. And that's too bad, because there is some worthwhile material in here. But Peter has created his book, probably inadvertently, to appeal to fairly niche audience, most of whom probably don't need a book like this to begin with. The people who need the book are the ones who have the jokes flying over their heads.

Which would be the time to tell you that if you are unfamiliar with Monty Python et al. that you should probably check them out, because everyone should have some kind of passing familiarity with... things, but that reminds me of another thing from the book, because Peter mentions so many times that you should run out and buy... whatever he's referring to at any given moment, like the complete collection of Flying Circus... that you'd think he's getting paid for product placement. Or getting a commission on sales, and I'm pretty sure that's not true. Pretty sure. At any rate, while it's amusing to be told to run out and buy some other author's books once or twice, after a while, you begin to wonder why you're reading the book in your hand.

And that thought isn't helped by how often Peter tells you that you probably shouldn't be reading his book, anyway. Self-deprecating humor only goes so far before you start to believe the person saying it.

All of that aside, it's not a bad book. Despite that it deals with kind of a heavy topic, Peter keeps it light, and it moves along fairly quickly. If you're unfamiliar with more formal thinking strategies, this book could be part of a good introduction. It's the kind of thing that can put you on the right path, though it's not really the path itself.

I could go on about all the whys and wherefors, but in this day and age when the word on any given day consistently has something to do with "fake news," thinking and how to do it and why to do it ought to be something everyone is, well, thinking about. Especially before you forward any news bites. Or, even, before you believe what the President #fakepresident is saying. So the book isn't perfect and could use some shoring up in places (like the section about deductive vs. inductive reasoning), but it's a good start.

A good start which will never be seen or read by the people who need it most, which is, unfortunately, most people. Because most people never move beyond their search for confirmation bias and most people don't read... Hmm... There's probably a connection there.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Hidden God

Let's imagine for a moment...

Imagine you're a young child. Your circumstances don't matter. They could be anything: you live in an orphanage and don't know who your parents are, you have an upper middle class family with a stay at home mom who devotes her time to you, you live in a single-parent home and your one parent works all the time so that you have enough money to eat and have a place to live. Really, it doesn't matter.

So you have this particular living circumstance, whatever it is, and, one day, someone comes along and gives you a letter. The letter is a little lengthy, especially for a kid, but the gist of it is that the letter is from your real father. He's sorry that he can't be there with you all the time like a good dad would be, and that he can't even come in person to meet you, but he wants you to know that he loves you and will be watching out for you. He will even do what he can during your life to make sure things go your way and that you're provided for, though he will never be able to be there in person to do any of those things or even let you know when he's done something. You just have to believe that he's there and that he cares for you even if you never see any proof of this. Never. The letter will have to be enough.

He does want you to know, though, that you are his living heir and, one day, his immense wealth will pass to you. One day. If you believe enough and have faith. Because he will always be watching and will know if you forget he exists. If you don't honor him, you get nothing.
Even though he wants above all else to have a relationship with you, his child.

As you grow up, you cherish the letter, reading it frequently and dreaming of the day when you might one day get to meet your father. Your real father. When you find a $5 bill on the ground, you know your father left it there for you to find. When your dog dies, you know it's because your father wanted you to get a new, better dog, so you shouldn't be sad about the old one. You see your father's hand in ever circumstance that happens to you. After all, if he's as rich and powerful as he says he is -- and he did say he would always be watching you -- you can't risk not attributing every good thing to him.


Now... Imagine that this is not you but someone you recently met. This person talks about his "real" father all the time (let's just say it's a "he") and to everyone he meets... because he doesn't know who might be an agent of his "real" father. He has to make sure his "real" father knows he believes and that he's keeping the faith.

What would you say to this person? It's not like he doesn't have "proof" that his father is watching out for him. I mean, what about that time he found the $5 bill? And what about that time he got the awesome puppy when his dog died? His father was there for him. Right there. His "real" father. Watching. And, of course, there's the letter itself. Even though some stranger whom he has never seen again gave it to him.

It wouldn't matter how much you tried to talk about how there was no actual relationship involved in any of what that person had experienced in his life. You'd tell him that an actual relationship includes interaction and that if his "real" father really did love him and want a relationship with him then he'd show up. In person. Relationships aren't built on... let's call it what it is: fantasy.

Of course, the real issue in all of this is that the letter is a lie. Even if the letter is real, the letter is a lie. So, sure, there might be some real father out there somewhere who is exactly who he says he is, but all of that stuff about wanting a relationship is a lie.  And, well, if that one thing is a lie, then the rest of the letter is suspect, at the very least.

How do I know it's a lie?

Because if you want to have a relationship with someone who also wants to have a relationship with you and that mutual desire is known, then you do that. If you don't do that, then there is something else that one of you wants more than the relationship so, then, any "desire" for a relationship, any "wanting to be there" for someone, is just lip service.
Seriously, ask any kid who has a parent who never comes to his games, performances, or birthdays, or, even, just never spends any time with her.
Like the kid I once heard say in response to a comment about how much her father loved her, "No, my daddy loves golf." (I knew him. She was right.)

To be cliche, love is a verb. It's about what you do, not what you say. The same is true of "god." If "God," any god, wanted to have a relationship with you, "God" could do it. A real relationship with tangible proof. Tangible, verifiable proof.

It's like this:
Let's pretend that one day I just took off and left my family. I called and told my wife and kids that I had things to do but that I loved them and that they should just keep believing that I do. That might work for a little while but, eventually, they'd all say, "Fuck that guy." Why? Because it wouldn't matter how many messages I sent them saying "I love you" if I wasn't going to show up or offer any compelling evidence that I was somehow being detained.

In the same respect, the idea of a god who hides himself away from the world while demanding blind faith and unrequited love is absurd. By "his" own standards -- if you're going by the "christian" Bible -- it's absurd. Double standards, even for "God," aren't okay.

Now, I'm not saying that there's not a Creator, not necessarily, but I am saying that the one presented by "christians" is a lie. That god who wants to have a personal relationship with you...? Yeah, he doesn't exist. If that's what he wanted; he'd do it. For real. Anything else is just a letter from someone who isn't going to follow through.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Unfortunately... (pictures I like)

...things haven't changed.
You can tell because "we" elected a president (#fakepresident) who believes it's okay to "grab 'em by the pussy."
Actual flyer from the Summer of Love