Trudeau Was Wrong

The universe is not unfolding as it should. It is merely unfolding as it always has.

It was a nice dream while it lasted: a grass-roots campaign, launched and promoted by the scientific community, supported by Nobel Laureates, endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, pimped on science blogs far and wide: a debate among the three presidential candidates on science policy. Because word has it that science and technology might have some small amount of impact on, you know, the future of our fucking species. Just maybe.

And all three candidates have declined the invitation. Oh, Clinton and Obama tripped all over themselves signing up for a televised debate on “Faith and Values“, of course, but then, faith is pretty much what you want it to be. You can make any statement you want, with no fear that some uppity chick with too many letters after her name is going to jump up and say Actually, we got the data on that, we did a multilinear regression and it got an radj.2 of 0.82 with P<0.0001,and according to those numbers God actually doesn’t want you to put retarded children in the electric chair. That’s the main reason faith sucks, actually.

Science is a whole different ball game. You shoot from the lip on climate change or El Nino and some guy who’s spent his whole life studying the subject is liable to set you straight. And that’s the thing about politicians. They don’t like it much when it’s obvious that they’re not the smartest ones in the room. (I rather suspect this is why Stephen Harper is such an intensely private man.)

I didn’t expect McCain to go for it. He’d probably lose support if any of his base thought he had any respect for science. Clinton, well, we all knew she’d avoid it if she could, but there was hope she’d be shamed into it just to keep up with Obama. And Obama? The dude throws out enough curves (and catches enough of those aimed at his head) that he might have just gone for it.

But no. Once again, the status quo reigns supreme.

Fuck all of them. May drug-resistant syphilis saturate their bloodlines, may their genitals wither and drop off. You especially, Obama. You alone offered hope for real change, you alone made the unrepentant realists among us think Hell, if that guy is making it work, maybe we can turn this thing around after all. You actually made an optimist out of me, for a little while. And because of that, you suck harder than all the rest.

You’re still way better than the alternatives, granted. But that’s a pretty low bar to clear.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday April 17 2008at 04:04 pm , filed under misc, rant . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “Trudeau Was Wrong”

  1. And people wonder why I don’t vote. ::sigh::

    I’m still crossing my fingers for Obama to win, though; just because he’s a hollow shell (like all the others) doesn’t mean he’s not the least-damaging prospect. It’s like being sick and waiting for your blood work to come back: you don’t want to have disease X, but it’s a hell of a lot better than diseases Y or Z.

  2. “politicians … don’t like it much when it’s obvious that they’re not the smartest ones in the room.”

    I don’t believe this is true. Politicians just want to get elected and the way you do that is by seeking a broad consensus among diverse interest groups or else by manipulating ignorant voters (or both). You don’t get elected by being an ass.

    This shouldn’t be a big mystery and research has shown that if you want things from other people there are effective ways of getting it and there are highly ineffective ways. Demanding, cajoling, using abusive language, berating and in general being a sanctimonious jerk is not likely to get you what you want. Not in life and not in politics.

    Telling people that everything they hold important in life is wrong and that you know better than they do and that in fact they are stupid, ignorant bigots (even if they are) is not likely to work out very well if you want something in return from them. In fact, I sort of think that this long standing attitude by atheists of arrogance and elitism probably explains their low acceptance in society. It’s not a wining strategy. Doesn’t seem to be working out so well for the fundamentalists either.

    “And people wonder why I don’t vote.”

    So we have you to blame for Bush then right Korpios? Tell me, how intelligent is it to not vote and then be upset and cynical about the consequences. Or are consequences only for other people?

  3. Voting makes sense as long as you choose to coordinate and organize with groups that use voting power to influence government. Of course, our voting system is so problematic that actually voting as an individual is in practical terms fairly futile. However, taking the time to learn about legislation, policies and political active groups can prove fruitful, and if you feel that there is no one out there acting as an advocate for your interests, then you’re probably not alone and now, more than ever before, you have the chance to form your own groups and use that collective power more effectively.

    Won’t change the world by a lot or rapidly, but you don’t have to give up outright believing that your single vote is the only influence you can ever have on government. In that case, one vote really doesn’t matter compared to all the collective voting groups actively at work to get their views represented.

  4. Brenda: How can I be to blame when my vote is statistically insignificant? From my perspective, regardless of whether I vote or not, the world will be the same the morning after Election Day. This is something I’d cheerfully wager any sum of money — or my life, for that matter — on. Voting is a waste of my time; the best I could get out of it is an irrational warm fuzzy feeling for voting for someone I liked, and, well, I never get that opportunity.

    John: Finding a group of people who I agree with on a broad range of substantive issues would be, well, nigh-impossible. For starters, my thoughts on kids: I think the goals of society should be adult-centric, not child-centric, and that having children one cannot independently support should be felonious. Could anyone convince society to move in that direction? Hmm, perhaps not.

  5. Hey, you could be the first! I’d sign up for that – I’m totally pro-Adult! Especially when it comes to movies.

    Seriously, I think you’d find a LOT of people to support some restrictions on parenthood to ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact society. I doubt we could get forced abortions or felonious child-bearing on the books, but I’m sure there are courses of action available – you should come up with a few and then demand public funds for your political action group.

    On the other hand, rather than looking for agreement on your more extreme opinions, you may be able to find various groups whose aims you find attractive.

    My point is that there is collective political activity going on all the time in the form of votes or dollars a group can bring to the table. Many of them are affective – especially on the dollars side, unfortunately, more than the votes – depending on the amount of effort you want to put into it, you can have some effect.

    However, I agree simply relying on your one vote doesn’t do much other than make you “feel” slightly more righteous than those who don’t vote.

    On the other hand, I suppose one could be equally self-righteous not voting if it’s apparently useless to do so.

  6. Neh. I generally function on a version of the Kantian imperative, albeit a screwed-up one (I add a category of “acceptable” where he, being an optimistic philosopher, has just “ideal” and “unacceptable”), and hence I vote.

    One person deciding not to vote is statistically insignificant. One hundred million is not. Yes, fine, there’s at best a thin causal link between me voting and other people voting (inspiration! Possibly a teensy bit of social “if I don’t vote people will think I’m either elitist or lazy” incentive!), but if we assume that I am rational, and that other people are rational or at least indistinguishable from being rational – call it the economist in me – then other people are likely to come to similar conclusions to me.

    Hm. The more I type, the shakier my reasoning winds up looking. I stand by it nonetheless, and fall back to the “my eloquence is lacking” and “Hofstaedter says it better” position. (Ever read any of his essays, Peter? I think you’d like him. He seems to see eye to eye with you, only from a somewhat prior era, and more cheery.)

  7. Brenda said…

    “politicians … don’t like it much when it’s obvious that they’re not the smartest ones in the room.”
    I don’t believe this is true.

    Yeah, maybe that was a cheap shot on my part. Maybe I should have said they like to regard themselves as the dominant ones in the room.

    You don’t get elected by being an ass. … in general being a sanctimonious jerk is not likely to get you what you want. … Telling people that everything they hold important in life is wrong and that you know better than they do and that in fact they are stupid, ignorant bigots (even if they are) is not likely to work out very well if you want something in return from them…

    Hmmm. Yes and no. Being a sanctimonious jerk seems to work gangbusters, for the most part. Ridiculing other people and treating them as stupid, ignorant bigots is pretty much politics as usual. You’re technically right, of course, insofar as that’s not generally what politicians call the voters (at least, not in public), but it’s certainly what they call their opponents. You pander to the mob, and you find an outgroup to demonise; that’s what works, for the most part. And I, for one, would gladly vote for someone who said that desperate, bitter people cling to their gods and their guns and their xenophobia — not because they were being arrogant or jerky, but because they had the gonads to tell the truth.

    The problem is, I think, that the voters don’t want to be told the truth — but neither to they want to admit that fact. So rather than say they hate the messenger because he bears bad news, they’ll say they hate him because he’s elitist. He’s arrogant. He’s a sanctimonious jerk.

    In fact, I sort of think that this long standing attitude by atheists of arrogance and elitism probably explains their low acceptance in society. It’s not a winning strategy.

    Ohhhh, Brenda. Serious double-standard there. Even the angriest atheists don’t come close to the kind of hate-mongering that the fundies engage in on a daily basis. The worst Dawkins has ever done is claim that belief in deities is unsupported by any empirical evidence, and often leads to gross offenses against both humanity and nature. Every word of that is true, but Dawkins et al get no end of grief for their “harshness” and their “anger”. Now look at the other guys: Haven’t you heard that 9/11 was caused by the feminists and abortionists and the Darwinists? Haven’t you seen the signs outside the southern churches proclaiming that God Hates Fags? Haven’t you checked out the recent premiere of Expelled, the Ben Stein movie that blames evolutionary biology for the holocaust? These are outright lies. There is no fucking comparison.

    Doesn’t seem to be working out so well for the fundamentalists either.

    Sure it is. I mean, yes, Expelled is getting a lot of bad reviews, and there was much outraged chest-thumping from the left when certain parties on the right claimed that Katrina was God’s justice visited upon a sinful New Orleans. But once the theatrics die down, confirmed atheists still account for only 9-11% of the population, despite the fact that their most voluble mouthpieces have only told the truth; and born-again Christians still comprise an overwhelming majority of the population, despite the fact that their most voluble mouthpieces have routinely lied and slandered and condemned their opponents to all manner of horrific eternal damnation.

    It’s working out too damn well for the fundamentalists, if you ask me.

  8. Peter, I probably shouldn’t have taken the position I did given that it was just a rant on your part. I ought to have known that it did not reflect your more serious and considered thoughts that we can see here. I’m sorry about that.

  9. 10% atheist.

    I wonder how many are functionally atheist.

    I mean someone who doesn’t believe in prayer, holiness of the bible, virgin birth, miracles, or the fall, but sticks only to untestable things like mysterious ways, ethereal spirit, and a vaguely defined afterlife. Something so weakly stated it might as well be atheism for all the difference it makes. People who would never call themselves “The A Word.”

    Avoid the A word, and I betcha it might bump up to 15% or so. Because Atheist is a power word, like freedom, hero, communist, godless, society, elite, etc… a word that people have an unthinking reaction against or for.

    My dad believes in free will and divine prophecy. So if you ask him if he believes he can control his own choices, he says yes. But if you ask him if someone knows now what he will do later, he says yes. He’s functionally determinist, but he’ll never call himself that.

    I believe… I hope… that atheism is like that, too. A belief kept secret, even from themselves.

  10. Something that struck me the other day-this is just an opinion from a guy who refuses any and all self-identification words-anything from believer, deist, atheist, to pataphysicist (though I has a soft spot for ol’ Jarry) “Darlin’, it’s a random meaningless universe out there, that happened by chance, and it makes no difference to it whether we’re here or not, and anyways, we’re just meat vehicles with no free will, and I’m just the rough and tough cowboy or crazed viking to sail those random, meaningless waters where the best you can hope for, is a painless death.”

    Hey, I could be wrong, but then I am not burdened by such subjective maps such as ‘free will’ or ‘determinism’. To date, no one has successfully mapped those concepts. Not to mention, I can easily, quite happily, decide that what we might consider ‘God’, may easily, simultaneously, exist, and not exist. To me, ‘free will’, ‘determinism’, aren’t even concepts-they’re just words.

  11. McCain supporter and molecular biologist. Can’t stand clinton and think obama is all style, no substance. Be careful when painting- you use a broad brush.

    Other than that, agree that it is a shame that nobody came to the party. But remember- none of these guys have the faintest clue about science. The only politician I can think of that has… adopted… a scientific concept is Gore, and look what he did- turned it into a religion.

  12. Very true and, apparently, the believers feel Katrina was justice visited on the sinful.

  13. Brenda said…

    Peter, I probably shouldn’t have taken the position I did given that it was just a rant on your part. I ought to have known that it did not reflect your more serious and considered thoughts that we can see here. I’m sorry about that.

    No apology necessary. You said nothing wrong, and it forced me to clarify some points I maybe should have made clearer at the outset. We thrive on disagreement here. Bring it on.

    Keith David It’s-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz
    said…

    I wonder how many are functionally atheist.

    In the sense that no one can disprove the existence of a deity, even the most apostate of us are technically agnostic — even Dawkins admits as much — but are functionally atheist.

    I mean someone who doesn’t believe in prayer, holiness of the bible, virgin birth, miracles, or the fall, but sticks only to untestable things like mysterious ways, ethereal spirit, and a vaguely defined afterlife. Something so weakly stated it might as well be atheism for all the difference it makes. People who would never call themselves “The A Word.”

    Oddly enough, this came up on the morning run yesterday, and my buddy made the point that belief in a generic, vague “ethereal spirit” as you describe is harmless, and its adherents should be left alone. But if your belief is that vague, you can’t very well draw any hard and fast rules-for-living from it.

    The rules only arise when you attach all sorts of non-ethereal edicts to your divine spirit, which is what pretty much every formal religious system does. And a lot of those rules simply don’t allow people of good conscience to leave us alone. Certainly, the traditional human response to genocide is to sit off to one side whistling Live and let live while the machetes swing and the ovens fire up, but even the not-our-problem types would be hard-pressed to condemn someone who tried to actively intervene in such atrocities. Hell, I’d probably get involved myself if the two-year-old next door was being abused, and I hate kids. So in a sense, we can’t condemn all the biblethumpers who firebomb abortion clinics; at least some of them probably believe, in all honesty, that they are intervening in a holocaust.

    But the reason they believe such bullshit is because whoever’s making up the lines for their God this week tells them that’s the case. And therein lies the problem. If your belief is harmlessly generic, it doesn’t really offer any useful guidance. And the moment it becomes specific enough to offer guidance, it becomes pernicious. It has no other choice if it is to survive, because being grounded on faith rather than evidence, it cannot withstand empirical challenge. So it must suppress it.

    My dad believes in free will and divine prophecy. So if you ask him if he believes he can control his own choices, he says yes. But if you ask him if someone knows now what he will do later, he says yes. He’s functionally determinist, but he’ll never call himself that.

    CS Lewis got around that by pointing out that any truly divine entity is outside of time, and therefore sees everything happening simultaneously. And seeing something happen is not the same thing as making it happen.

    Which only gets God off the hook if the one who’s looking in on us now is not the same one who set the game running in the first place. Which, now that I think of it, means that Lewis should logically have believed in Gods, plural. Which, as far as I know, he didn’t. I loved The Screwtape Letters, but given the consistency of Lewis’s argument you really gotta wonder how such eloquence and idiocy could coexist in the same brain.

    CS Lewis, polytheist. Man, I hope the BSG staff haven’t read that guy…


    patrick
    said…

    Be careful when painting- you use a broad brush.

    I do. And I realize that every distribution has tails, some thicker than others. But when 85% of a population subscribes to a common set of unsubstantiated beliefs, I’d argue that some generalizations are perfectly legitimate.

  14. Doesn’t Pickover explore the problems with omniscience and divine predetermination in his book The Paradox of God? I skimmed a review of that one time and the interesting thing I remember is that an omniscient person would be at a disadvantage during a game of chicken.