Pages

Monday, 3 December 2012

Twelvers

I've been having a bunch of odd experiences on the trains lately. I have this really tatty old rail card. It's basically a card that allows me to get huge discounts off my travel into work in the mornings, I buy it, it lasts a year. I save 30%, I win.

That seems pretty straight forward, but the card has a date on it, the date it expires, and every now and then I get asked to show it. I bought the ticket when I started working outside of London, which was April this year, so the ticket expires on April 2013. However, the inspectors all swear blind that the ticket says April 2012, which of course, makes absolutely no sense to me. When I look at the ticket, I can see that it vaguely says April 2013, I can't for the life of me understand why all of them, every single inspector tells me, ever so confidently, that it says 2012. The card, fortunately has a magnetic strip, which can be scanned and when they do scan it, I always end up being correct, but often they don't have the equipment to check that so I end up in an argument.

Them: This says 2012.
Me: No, it says 2013.
Them: It says 2012.
Me: Except that you're wrong, it doesn't.
Them: If you look at this curve here, you can see that it's clearly a two.
Me: No, that's the curve of a 3 turning back under itself. Look!

It's weird arguing with someone about something you know you're correct about. There's something kind of infuriating about it. Just a while ago, I passed the card to an inspector saying "It's a bit tatty, but its all good" and he says "I'm sure this says 2012, might wanna check that out" and walks away. Now, that was annoying, because this fucking clown of an inspector is now walking away thinking he let me off and I'm two inches from shouting back at him saying "Listen you blind fuck, the number of the card says 2013, not 2012, and if you took a moment to use the brain in that fat balding skull of yours you'll see that!", but then... I realise it's not worth the effort, maybe.

I wanna know what it is though, what's making these people see 2012 rather than 2013. I can only speculate that it's because the card looks old. It looks ancient in comparison to other cards its own age, but it's only that age because it lives in the slot for my debit card, so unlike most other's mine has seen a lot of action. Seeing the apparent age of the card probably makes them incredulous to its actual age and forces them to see the number they expect to see instead of the one that's there.

Other than that I can't figure what could be making these guys hallucinate so violently.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Answering Everything

I was looking up particulars about the assassination of Ka'b b. Ashraf, a contemporary of Muhammed, the Islamic prophet, when I found this article on Answering Islam, which put my thoughts pretty well, except for one small part at the end.

Before I get to that, let me give you some context. Ka'b b. Ashraf was a Jewish poet who criticized Muhammed and Islam. I think his story tells us a little about what happened to Muhammed's most harsh critics as he was violently assassinated. Ka'b's words have only be conveyed to us by the very group that assassinated him, so we can't be very sure exactly what he said, but what we can gather from Muhammed's companions is that he said some insulting things about Muslim women and he was saddened by the deaths of many noble Arab men in on the side of the pagans in one of Muhammed's victorious battles. This is, to any sensible person, no valid reason to harm another person, to have him killed for this should strike you as being a little in the way of wrong if not an out-right travesty.

Answering Islam, is a Christian site, which gives particularly well researched and in depth criticism on Islam. I wouldn't give my stamp of approval to all of their criticism, though not because they're Christian, I just find that criticising Islam (or any religion really) is something most people have difficulty with and I see errors here and there, but nonetheless the page on Ka'b was flawless, it raised all the valid questions I think this raises. Namely, if Muhammed was intent on killing people that disagreed with him and openly criticised him for it, then can we actually trust the good we hear about him? Doesn't that force the people to say good things about him if he'll kill you otherwise?

That said, I take issue with it's last bit.

Try and spot where we go wrong here:

Once again, when Muhammad was confronted with a challenge, he dealt with it in a violent fashion. When he lived in Mecca, prior to his flight to Medina, Muhammad was weak and unable to use force to obtain his wants. But after he gained power, he used it to his own advantage, to accomplish his desires. He had become a law unto himself.
This is not the work or actions of a real prophet.

See it? "This is not the work or actions of a real prophet". I wonder about that, considering that the prophets of the Old Testament, lied, slaughtered, maimed, stoned and performed genocide for any little thing their god would ask for, does Muhammed really defy that trend?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Male Privelege

I watched a video recently, by a YouTuber that I sort of like called Noel Plum. I've taken issue with him lately as he seems to have got caught up with berating Atheism+, a position I don't quite understand. Differences aside, I think he's a great guy, his problem seems to be that he can't quite see eye to eye with the people on the Atheism+ website, rather than this be an actual problem with what the site stands for. In his latest video he seems to have gone off on a rant about privilege, saying that he doesn't deny privilege, but he thinks that the under-privileged are using the concept of privilege to silence, ignore or disregard the privileged.

Par for the course with these kinds of claims, it seems comes with absolutely no qualifiers or examples to demonstrate his point and the whole video seems to end up being a bare assertion fallacy, but to be fair I can't say for sure, because I didn't watch the whole thing, I got half-way and heard too many unjustified assertions and sort of got fed up of the whole thing and stopped. Perhaps he provides examples of his points at the end, but I'm sure that any example he provides can be contended with. A lot of the criticism of A+ and FreeThoughtBlogs etc, seems to be nitpicking at a comment that someone visiting the site has said, rather than being some problem with the overall movement. I'm a member of the A+ forum and I see lots of things said that I disagree with (and a lot of people disagreeing with each other, that's how an open fucking forum works), so I would not be quite so surprised if Noel Plum could find a post he disagreed with on there to use as an example.

Anyhow, as I wasn't sure I agreed with Noel on his definition or understanding of privilege and I certainly thought that Noel's understanding of what feminists mean when they use the word was a blatant strawman, I thought I'd exemplify what I think privilege means as a feminist.

Privilege, male privilege in particular, can not be better demonstrated by anything other than this video. There, you'll see a man clearly declare that it's not men that need to change the way they behave, but it's women. He has a neat set of excuses like:

Young women are the thermostats of morality in our culture.
and

"The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women."
 to
Men will allow pretty much anything that the women will. Its a male weakness and a female power. Very few men can restrain themselves and control themselves with a woman. But most are going to respect a woman who can respect herself and accept a no.
These are a very revealing set of beliefs. His whole argument is basically that, it's not men that need to change, men will always be men, we can't change that, they can't help it. It's the women that need to change, because they set the standard for men. This kind of thinking eventually bears down to, let's let men behaver however they please, but put women need to wear burqas (burquas? spell check is not liking that... how do you spell it? You'd think as an ex-Muslim, I'd know, but I always just called it a Niqab).

How is this the epitome of male privilege, you ask? Just check out the video, it's called "Just Dads", it calls upon men (dads) to use their power to limit the free expression of women, while tacitly eliminating any moral culpability on their own part. Not only does it trap women in this male imposed mental prison, but it gives men the privilege to do as they please. So if a man is sexually promiscuous, that's all of the women's fault, but if a woman is sexually promiscuous it's their fault too, but partly their father's fault for not teaching them better, nothing to do with the men she was with at all.

I see this kind of thinking all the time, I know guys that will try to sleep with every girl they meet, the day they meet them, if they fail they'll think the woman is a good catch or a good person, but if they succeed, they'll assume that the woman is a slut and not worth spending their time with. They have no moral culpability for their own behaviour at all though, because men are men and y'know, that's just how they are!

This kind of privileged thought goes further than that, it's this kind of privilege that makes victim blaming prevalent to the point that even when an 11 year-old is raped by several different guys, people actually begin to question what she was wearing and if it was sexual.

That's what privilege is to me. It's not specifically one particular group of people's ability over an other, it can be, but isn't in the context that I use it. To me it's an innate sense that one group of people are allowed to have some things, while another isn't. It's an expectation that one group of people should behave a certain way, while another shouldn't.

Lastly, I'd like to say that it's very easy to strawman the position of a group of diverse people to being strictly one particular thing, but it's very rarely true. All atheists don't agree on what the word "atheist" even means, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that "privilege" doesn't always mean the same thing in every context to a feminist. If you're interested in real discussion, you can take a look at the A+ thread on privilege to see what privilege means to A+ members, instead of what someone on YouTube thinks they mean.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Alexander, The Two Horned Lord

Came across a bit of data I wanted to jot down.

In the Quran, Dhul Qarnayn, The Two Horned Lord, commonly thought to be a reference to Alexander The Great, is depicted as being blessed, guided and helped by Allah, in the Quran. This is a problem for Muslims because Alexander the Great was a polytheist, not a monotheist. So, some are ascribing the attribution of the title Dhul Qarnayn to Cyrus II of Persia, founder of the Archemenind Empire. There are ways to make this attribution, if you interpret various passages of the Quran and the Bible to mean particular things, but I remain unmoved by that proposition.

I think the Alexander the Great hypothesis suits the facts better as it was he who was was represented as having the two ram horns of the Greek god Amun-Ra and the story in the Quran appears to follow a Christian legend that sprung up in Syria around the same time.

I've stolen this from pothos.org, you can see the original article here.

This short synopsis is based on a Dutch translation by Belgian scholar Patrick De Rynck of a fragment of the Late Antiquity Romance (published in Amsterdam, 2000, ISBN 9025346766). De Rynck argues that the origin of this fragment must me dated back to 500 AD.

Alexander reigned for nineteen years from Alexandria, then he defeated Darius, marched around the globe and ended up at the seacoast of Sunland. Sunland was where the Unclean Peoples lived: they sustained themselves by eating human foetusses, decaying corpses and still-born infants - as well as dogs, flies and cats. Alexander drove those Unclean Peoples to the north and he sealed the entrance to the north by building bronze gates between the two mountains commonly known as Ubera Aquilonis - 'Breasts of the North'. Alexander strengthened his gates with asiceton, some supernatural form of metal. He also forced the Unclean Peoples to abandon all uses of witchcraft, so that they would never be able to destroy the 'Gates of the North'. However, at the day of the apocalypse these Unclean Peoples - Gog and Magog being their foremost - will scale Alexander's barricade and will turn against the 'Israelites'.
[Edit] Found a better source at: http://http-server.carleton.ca/~jopp/3850/3-3.htm The above is a synopsis, the text below, is a literal translation.
Hear now then in true fashion how these four empires were joined, the Ethiopian with the Macedonian and the Greek with the Roman. They are the four winds that move the great sea (Dan. 7:2). Philip the Macedonian was the father of Alexander and took to wife Chuseth, the daughter of King Phol of Ethiopia. From her was born Alexander, who was made ruler of the Greeks. He founded Alexandria the Great and reigned nineteen years. He went to the East and killed Darius, king of the Medes. He was the ruler of many regions and cities and he destroyed the earth. He even went as far as the sea which is called the region of the sun24 where he beheld unclean races of horrible appearance. . . . He gave orders and gathered them all together with their women and children and all their villages. Leading them away from the East, he restrained them with threats until they entered the northern lands where there is no way in or out from East to West to visit them. Alexander prayed to God without interruption and He heard his prayer.25 The Lord God gave a command to the two mountains which are called the "Breasts of the North,"26 and they came together to within twelve cubits. Alexander built bronze gates and covered them with unmixed bitumen,27 so that if anyone wished to force them open by steel or to melt them with fire, he would be able to do neither, but immediately every fire would be extinguished. .
Who are the nations and the kings that Alexander concealed in the North? Gog and Magog, Anog and Ageg, Achenaz, Dephar, and the Potinei, the Libii, Eunii, Pharizei, Declemi, Zarmatae, Theblei, Zamartiani, Chaconii, Amarzarthae, Agrimardii, the Anuphagii (who are called Cynocephali),28 the Tharbei, Alanes, Phisolonici, Arcnei, and the Asalturii. These twenty-two kings live enclosed within the gates that Alexander made.29

Lets see how this matches up with the Quranic story.
They ask thee concerning Zul-qarnain. Say, "I will rehearse to you something of his story." Verily We established his power on earth, and We gave him the ways and the means to all ends. One (such) way he followed... ...Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had provided no covering protection against the sun. (He left them) as they were: We completely understood what was before him.    Then followed he (another) way,    Until, when he reached (a tract) between two mountains, he found, beneath them, a people who scarcely understood a word. They said: "O Zul-qarnain! the Gog and Magog (People) do great mischief on earth: shall we then render thee tribute in order that thou mightest erect a barrier between us and them?"  He said: "(The power) in which my Lord has established me is better (than tribute): Help me therefore with strength (and labour): I will erect a strong barrier between you and them: "Bring me blocks of iron." At length, when he had filled up the space between the two steep mountain-sides, He said, "Blow (with your bellows)" Then, when he had made it (red) as fire, he said: "Bring me, that I may pour over it, molten lead." Thus were they made powerless to scale it or to dig through it. He said: "This is a mercy from my Lord: But when the promise of my Lord comes to pass, He will make it into dust; and the promise of my Lord is true." On that day We shall leave them to surge like waves on one another: the trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them all together.  - Quran 18:83-99
The correlations between these two narratives are too many to be ignored. That being said, some scholars have suggested that the origin of the first text dates back around 644 - 691 AD, written by a Christian scholar only known as Pseudo-Methodius (Pseudo, because he tried to attribute his works to an actual Methodius who lived around 200 years prior.). This would mean, however that according to traditional Muslim accounts the Quranic story predates the Pseudo-Methodius source, however, according to archaeology, the earliest sources of the Quran date to around the time these legends were written. So it's not quite certain which is really the chicken or the egg. What is certain however, is that this exact story is attributed to Alexander the Great around that time and probably suggests that the Quranic story and the Pseudo Methodius one, stemmed from another source; both being eggs of a different chicken, rather than one copying from the other. I think this is best demonstrated by the Quranic statement: "They ask thee concerning Zul-qarnain" It appears that Muhammed is being asked about "Dhul Qarnayn", so there were already stories floating around about this "Dhul Qarnayn" character that Muhammed was asked to elaborate on.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Is Godless Morality the Only Way?

I had a thought about morality recently, I've always been quite confused as to how some theists can claim that there is no logical reason to be moral without god as I'm not sure what it means to be moral via god.

For one, morality, in the strictly theistic sense, would only be blind obedience. What reason is there to obey god? A more passive theist would probably argue that we should obey god because he created us, but that's a non-sequitor. There is no logical connection between being created and having to obey the creator or as some have put it, how do you go from an "is" to an "ought". The theist might say we should be obedient out of gratitude, respect or because we are indebted to god for having created us, to which many atheists would question what it is exactly we have to respect or have gratitude for, but that aside, we should immediately realise that respect, gratitude and repaying debts are moral concepts. When we are questioning the basis of morality, using moral constructs as a reason to be moral immediately becomes circular.

There's also the people that would appeal to consequences, the people who say "Obey god, or else!", which is fallacious, but still we've gotten to at least some instance where it may be in our interest to obey this figure. This, though, is still just fearful obedience, not exactly morality. To make a point of my case, let's take Abraham. He was prepared to kill his own child for god, was this a good act because God was stronger than him? Because god could threaten to hurt him otherwise? Is morality just being obedient to the strongest person?

In any case, obedience is the worst kind of thing to base your morality on. Especially to something as fuzzy and woo-ful as god. There's no consistent account on what or who god is, even when people are reading from the same book. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what god wants them to do and they're fervently confident about their own particular idea. If you truly believed god wanted you to fly planes into buildings, would that be the moral thing to do?

The only way to escape this plastic moral system based purely on the whimsical interpretation of the individual, is to define morality in a way which actually takes into account the lives, feelings and subjective experiences of others. This morality may be subjective, but if it is, it is only subjective because emotions themselves are too subjective. Love is subjective, happiness is subjective, pain is subjective, morality is the glove that handles those things, so if it is so intertwined with subjectivity, how then could it ever be objective?

Friday, 3 August 2012

Deconverting and Moral Dissonance

I just had a bit of an epiphany a moment ago and though I'd write about it. I remember quite clearly  10 years before my deconversion that I'd have doubts a lot about everything, just reading the Quran would fill my mind with deviant thoughts. I wasn't quite sure how that worked, because the Quran purported to take doubt away and fill people with faith. I figured I was just a bad person.

That aside, I've beat myself up a lot over the fact that despite having doubts, for around 10 years before deconverting, I'd continue believing. I know there were elements of pascal's wager involved (even if this is wrong, I'm too scared to find out), but that wasn't quite enough. Pascal's wager just isn't enough to keep anyone believing. Also I'd like to think I've always been a courageous person that would pursue truth through the course of any danger. Even if it's not true :(

Thinking back at those times of doubt, I may have finally found my major motivation for remaining a believer.

I thought it was the right thing to do.

Somehow, my logical contentions hadn't quite fed into my moral convictions. I always doubted, but I remember thinking that despite my doubts, I'd do the right thing and remain a believer. I felt that being a believer, true or false, gave meaning to people. I felt that it gave them a set of important moral rules to live by. I remember thinking, even if atheism is true, people aren't ready for it.

Of course, none of that was really true either. As a matter of fact, the very morals I was given were a major aberration from anything anyone would consider "moral". I was taught that theft and murder was cool, as long as the victim wasn't Muslim, that slavery and even sex-slavery was perfectly fine, that lying, deception, fraud and trickery were necessary evils and a whole load of other shit...

So what in the world was I thinking?

Well, it's not so much that I hadn't thought about that logically, but that I had a lot of emotional concepts tied up in morality. If atheism was true, then homosexuality and sexual promiscuity wasn't really bad any more and that women no longer had any obligation to obey men (which I was okay with, but to have one's wife be the dominant figure was something so humiliating and detestable to the people I grew up with, one tended to actively strive for the opposite). There were a variety of concepts that I held on to which caused me to think that the moral thing to do would be to remain a believer, because even if I was allowed and encouraged to do a plethora of evil things as an atheist, everything would be permissible, murder, theft, rape, genocide, what would be the limit? Atheists have no limits.

Of course, I was missing the point. People don't do bad things, because they can, people do them because they want to. No matter how religious you may be, if you want to do something, you'll probably end up doing it. We've yet to find statistics that demonstrate that becoming a priest will make you less likely to molest children. I don't think religion really makes people good, good people just tend to be attracted to religion.

Religion, however, readily provides new motivations to do bad things however. It creates a dichotomy of right and wrong in minds and then fills each side with whatever arbitrary notion it pleases.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Feminazi Atheism

Sometimes I'm unsure when watching the reaction of many people to basic feminist principles,  if my disgust is a product of my own feministic bias or if it really speaks well of how deeply affected our culture is by male chauvinism.

I've been leaning heavily towards the latter lately.

I don't want to go into elevator-gate right now, but the fact that ThunderF00t refers to Rebecca Watson with the term "crazies" because of it, really gets under my skin.

The thing that really gets me with this debate, isn't the fact that people disagree with me, but moreso it's how vehemently they do so despite the facts. Even when Rebecca Watson, in Thunderf00t's video talks about how she was threatened with rape, he seems to just brush it off with the simple assertion "you were beign trolled lolz" (paraphrased).

Hasn't this man ever heard of Poe's law?

It's near impossible to tell one poe apart from the real thing. Yet, this fool thinks he can dismiss a plethora of rape threats as all trolls. As if that would make everything all fine and dandy anyway!

There seems to a distinct lack of rationale coming from one side on this subject. They don't seem to care if they're right or wrong, they don't seem to be concerned about the truth, they just have specific emotional contentions about the subject and want to parade them as if they have some validity.


This all started with ThunderF00t's dedication to fight against the latest anti-harrassment policies put in place by quite a few atheist and skeptism conferences.

If that doesn't raise a red flag already, I'm getting suspicious of you.

Why would someone fight AGAINST anti-harrassment policies? That sounds vapidly dispassionate.

So the man writes up this post complaining about how the whole thing was a non-issue, mixing his comments with a series of unnecessarily patronising remarks.

Now first let me say from a strategically point of view sexual harassment at conferences really is a non-issue (and if reading that has just pushed some buttons, I want you to calmly unplug those emotions and put them in a box, then take a deep breath, relax and read the rest of this reasoned argument)… breathing calmly yet? good!, then we can continue….

He then goes on to say that it's not happening to much people and basically that it doesn't concern him.

PZ Myers, Greta Christina and a few others jump on it like the bullshit that it is and stamp it out into a thin brown smear.

Thunderf00t doesn't like this and he goes on a merciless tirade of nitpicking trying to shoe horn every little comment of PZ's into a fallacy. His posts are poorly structured and have absolutely no respect or etiquette to them at all, telling PZ to "learn to read" and referring to him as "STRAWMYERS". He get's his ass handed to him several more times and only seems to repeat his previous mistakes until he gets himself ejected from group.

Then this happens...

Apparently, PZ promised that there would be no attempt to control his content. He says this contradicts the decision to disband him from the group. I disagree, I think his content remains uncontrolled.

He was kicked out for poor behaviour.