Friday, 30 December 2011
When considering a response to a blog by a twitter friend, I posed a question to myself... Why are people so much ruder these days than when I was a kid? Kids are brattier, people show less consideration for disabled or even simply injured people, and little or none for the elderly. What has led to this streak of indifference - and even cruelty - that seems to have become a hallmark of western society in the 21st century?
Here's the discussion that went on in my head.
- Is it a generational thing?
- It seems not to be confined to Gen Y or Millennials. There are plenty of Gen-Xers and Boomers who are oblivious to the needs of others and who seem to take a kind of grim satisfaction in beating others to the punch.
- Okay... so if it's not generational, what other factors could be in play?
- Could it be that other people are all just more oblivious to the wants and needs of others? There are potentially many reasons why...
- Is there a change in our cultural values towards responsibility for others? If so, what could be behind this?
- Is this simply a result of a greater sense of personal entitlement?
- So... then I looked at obliviousness. To exhibit the kind of obliviousness that many people show to their common man, there are a number of possible justifications
- Simple misanthropy. Buy why would so many people dislike each other with so little justification? Is that perhaps a subliminal "stranger danger" response that has been elicited by the panic-mongering of our politicians over immigration policy and the Global War on Terror (GWOT)? A xenophobic fear of "otherness"? But if this is the case, how have our "societies" shrunk to such a small circle that even a stranger in the street now lumped in with the dreaded "other" - even if they might happen to share our own ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds? So it's probably not quite that.
- Are our own problems now becoming so complex and insurmountable that the issues other people have are now just too much to cope with? There are people touting statistics stating that we work longer hours for less buying power and have worse work life balance control than our forebears. Is it possible that these kinds of factors have pushed us into a state of numbness with respect to the needs of others? This idea seems to fit the facts, but it paints a bleak dystopian view of our civilization. I can't believe this is all that's going on. I have just as crappy a time of things as anyone else but I can still see the bigger picture and see beyond my own personal dramas. I don't see my mind as being so exceptional that I'm the only one who still understands the social contract.
- Is there perhaps a sense of entitlement in play? It occurs to me that one of the downsides of a Laissez-Faire "User Pays" society is that we are told entirely too much to stick up for our rights, that we have earned the right to do what we want without consequence, and without remorse. That we as "the little guy" don't have to kow-tow to social convention and that our freedoms matter. This seems to make more sense to me, as I occasionally find myself wondering why it is that other people won't get out of my way when I need them to. However, if I can rise above my own sense of personal entitlement when it is appropriate to show some empathy for others, why can't everyone else?
The truth here is that we're probably all guilty of some or all of the above, and the effect tends to be cumulative, not driven exclusively by any one of the influences outlined. The one thing that I think differentiates those of us who are capable of showing some decency to those around us and those who don't is simply a matter of empathy. The person who leans on the horn to tell another motorist to go faster may not have considered the possibility that the person in front might be looking for a specific side-street that they might not have been to before. The teenagers walking six-abreast down a busy city footpath (sidewalk for those of you in the US) and not leaving space for people travelling in the opposite direction are generally not thinking about the possibility that other people might want to use the space they are so aggressively monopolizing. The person who leaves a shopping trolley blocking an entire aisle while they look at something at an end-of-aisle merchandising display are generally not thinking about the people who they might be holding up by doing so. These are things that we've all been guilty of one time or another ourselves, yet we all find them hard to forgive others for.
Ultimately I think this boils down to a sense of mindfulness. We are not reminded enough in our consumption-driven materialistic society that mindfulness is as much a virtue as possession, punctuality or trying to fill the abyssal pit of despair we all feel in a disconnected and seemingly disenfranchised society.
If you're going to take away anything from reading this blog entry, make it this. Before you leap to anger or impatience, put yourself in the shoes of the people around you before taking aggressive action to empower yourself at the expense of others. This kind of mindfulness is fundamental to good manners, and to respectful neighbourly behaviour. Ask yourself why that person is doing what they're doing and whether it's reasonable to expect them to do otherwise. If the answer is still "No, they're the ones being unmindful" then perhaps a simple statement of this lesson to your tormentors might be more productive than an aggressive or belligerent response.
With that, may you all have a mindful, successful and happy new year. May 2012 bring us all what we need, not just what we want! :)
Hopefully in my case, the good karma I've tried to earn with this blog this will result in winning lottery tickets in Australia's $31m X-lotto this weekend!
Thursday, 22 September 2011
My partner forwarded on a copy of a you-tube video that pokes fun at the current crop of Miss USA contestants by providing supposed responses to the question "Should math be taught in schools?" I wanted to confirm whether it was a piss-take, so jumped on You Tube and did some searching about. Sure enough, I found it pretty quickly, and was able to establish that it was indeed a satirical piss-take, but satire needs source material, so I broadened my search. Fairly quickly I came across a you-tube clip containing footage of actual Miss USA contestants responding to the question "Should evolution be taught in schools?" The thing that horrified me most was the general ignorance about the subject of the question. The contestants were aware that it was a contentious issue, and many of them hedged their responses accordingly, but not one of them really put forth any kind of critical discourse on the topic. Now - to be fair, this is a collection of the 15 worst answers to the question, but for state representatives to get that far through the competition with that level of ignorance behind them is a saddening reflection of the kind of "instant fix" our society now craves.
The "news-byte" syndrome that focuses on the controversy, not the meat of the matter is not what really gets my gander up, though. What makes me cross, sad and generally disappointed is the lack of critical thinking and informed debate. I have no problem with someone claiming that God created the world in 6 days, took the Sabbath day off, and seeded the universe with phenomenae and relics such as dinosaur fossils and star-light that appears to have set out from its point of origin well before the 7,500 year point at which the act of creation is supposed to have occurred. I won't choose to socialize with that person, but I respect their right to their (admittedly ignorant and self-delusional) opinion. However, if that person can't stay WHY they believe that - can't provide some demonstration of at least an attempt at gathering knowledge and facts in support of their opinion, they shouldn't be making any kind of assertion to that effect in a public forum.
The cute thing with science, is that it based on evidence. That evidence is analysed from several perspectives, and scientists are generally fairly careful to ensure that their experiments and observations are not subject to confirmation bias. It is genuinely difficult to assault scientific evidence with well-founded arguments because science is BASED on well-founded arguments. A debate between a scientist and someone who is quoting "divinely imparted" scriptural mythology or popular opinion as the basis for their position will inevitably result in the scientist looking like a well-prepared know-it-all and their opponent looking like an ignorant schmuck, simply because their opponent - no matter how well-read in scripture, or how connected they are to popular opinion - cannot refute the scientist's argument with anything that has defensible substance.
Scientist: Gravity is a documented and well understood phenomenon. We've performed experiments, taken measurements and confirmed our theories about how gravity operates through field observations.
Scripture Zealot: But gravity is only a theory.
Scientist: Sure - it's only a theory... but it's a pretty comprehensively tested theory that seems to match up to observed facts. What are you suggesting as the alternative to our theory?
Scripture Zealot: Is it not possible that the phenomenon of people staying rooted on the face of the earth is evidence of God's love for them? Without such love, they would surely drift off into space!
Scientist: Umm... okay. So what about atheists and people from faiths other than your own?
Scripture Zealot: Oh... that's an easy one. God loves all of his creations!
Scientist: A convenient and relatively trite argument. Okay... so let's say you're right. How do you prove that?
Scripture Zealot: Ah... we do not need proof - we have faith in the holy words in the holy book, and they are clear about God's love!
Scientist: So we have clearly stated, tested and - to the greatest extent possible with current technology - proven theories, and you have a motherhood statement written two thousand years ago in a book...
Scripture Zealot: Yes - but it's a very popular book. People have been reading it for 2000 years!
Scientist: Well... people have had parts of it read selectively to them for 2000 years. Only a very small percentage of the population has actually read the whole thing.
Scripture Zealot: But that doesn't matter. The book says the book is right, so the book is right!
Scientist: Okay... so if I wrote down an assertion that you're a blithering idiot, and then followed that with a statement that my previous assertion is undeniably correct, then you'd accept that?
Scripture Zealot: Of course not! You have no divine mandate to write such a thing, and it's clear that because I know my scripture so well I'm no idiot, blithering or otherwise.
Scientist: Hmm... the jury's still out on that. Nor should we get into an epistemological debate on the respective values of thought vs memory. So... who actually wrote your book?
Scripture Zealot: Oh... lots of people. It's a historical record, and there's no way that the miracles performed in our book could have happened without divine agency! Our book was written by prophets of the Lord our God!
Scientist: Oh... okay. So... a prophet is someone who - under the inspiration of a higher being - writes down radical ideas and presents them as facts. How're we doing so far?
Scripture Zealot: Uh... not too bad.
Scientist: Well... modern medicine has a term for the kind of people you call prophets. Have you heard of Schizophrenia?
Scripture Zealot: Err... yes. But you can't go calling prophets schizophrenics?
Scientist: Too late - I just did.
Scripture Zealot: But they weren't. The fundamental goodness of our scripture cannot possibly have been the result of insane people.
Scientist: Ummm... says who?
Scripture Zealot: Says... err... the book. Umm... can we change the topic?
Scientist: Okay... sure. We'll chalk that one up as a win to me. You also said that the number of believers was proof of the correctness of your book.
Scripture Zealot: Yes! Yes, I did! How can so many believers be wrong?
Scientist: You realize that the cultures that have had any affiliation with your book currently make up only a fifth of the world's population?
Scripture Zealot: Oh... sure... but most of the others are ignorant savages!
Scientist: Ignorant savages who had stone-buildings and documented history a thousand years before your lot even wandered away from the pyramid projects?
Scripture Zealot: Umm... you've got me there. Who are you talking about?
Scientist: Hmm... the Chinese? Babylonians? Sumerians?
Scripture Zealot: Oh... them. Okay... so they had technology, but they had the souls of barbarians.
Scientist: Really? So because they weren't inspired by the so-called divine truth in your book, they don't count in your popularity contest?
Scripture Zealot: Umm... yes. I'm sure I can find a passage in the book that confirms that!
Scientist: I'm sure you can. That doesn't make it correct.
Scripture Zealot: But the book is truth! It says so!
Scientist: Here's your blithering idiot note back.
Scripture Zealot: No need to be nasty...
Scientist: I'm not... I'm simply stating that the only documents that validate the assertions in your book, are histories written by the same races that wrote your book, and they only really validate the historical content, not the mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Scripture Zealot: It's not mumbo-jumbo - it's divine revelation!
Scientist: Says who?
Scripture Zealot: The book!
Scientist: So... have you posed any experiments to confirm the contents of your book?
Scripture Zealot: Of course not. That would be an act of heresy!
Scientist: Ah... so the reason you haven't confirmed the assertions your book makes is that the book tells you not to?
Scripture Zealot: I see where you're heading with that. No... that's not my point. My point is that God rewards the faithful and punishes the unbeliever. To question God's word is to cast oneself into perdition!
Scientist: Let me guess - the book says that?
Scripture Zealot: No - I say that!
Scientist: So now you're taking personal responsibility for the fact that your faith is based on the wild ravings of the mentally ill, and shouldn't be questioned lest you get sent to hell yourself?
Scripture Zealot: Stop putting words in my mouth! That's not what I'm saying!
Scientist: So what are you saying?
Scripture Zealot: I... umm... I have no idea what I'm saying, other than as an unbeliever, you're going to hell, and I'm not. So NYER!!! In your face science man!
Scientist: Very mature. Thanks for the entertaining 15 minutes. Let me know when you have something other than the wild ravings of crazy people to support your arguments. Oh... and while we're at it, you could do worse than check yourself in for a mental health check-up... that infantile display in the midst of a rational debate was a tad disturbing.
And with science having the last word, the uncritical thinking of the zealot carted off by men in white coats, and my hands starting to cramp up from the typing, I now bid you adieu until next time.
My partner and I have been having a number of frank discussions recently regarding my assertion that I am an Agnostic rather than an Atheist. The Atheist Foundation of Australia defines Atheism as "Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural." My partner has decided that this definition is now what Atheism is, but I have issues with both the definition, and with the statement that it's the ONLY definition that matters.
Let's start with first principles from an etymological perspective.
Agnostic - from the greek : a - without, and gnosis - knowledge. In English, gnosis is taken to mean "Intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, an esoteric form of knowledge sought by the Gnostics."
So... from this linguistic basis, Agnosticism is the sense that one is without a sense of esoteric or spiritual knowledge. Contrast this with:
Atheism - from the greek : a - without, and theos - god. In English, theism is taken to mean "Belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world."
Thus: Atheism is the sense that one is without belief in a god or gods.
Being more specific: my take on the difference is as follows...
Agnostics state that the question of the existence of a god, higher being or numinous intelligence behind the universe's existence is too big for a definitive answer. Atheists assert that the question CAN and SHOULD be answered in the negative.
Deconstructing the ridiculous drivel from the AFA, it seems to be a deer stuck in the headlights of oncoming traffic at a cross-roads.
On the East-West run, you have a weak attempt at intellectual rigour. By dressing up the denial of deity in pseudoscientific terms, the AFA is trying to take the intellectual high ground over their opponents in the religious community. Sadly, there's nothing rational in the statement that "there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence..." - you can't prove the negative case for the existence of an unknowable entity by saying "there's no proof." What if the very existence of the universe itself is proof of an omnipotent creator? Given the limited scope of human knowledge, who are we to state that there's no proof positive of a higher intelligence?
On the North-South run, you have the simple hubris of the statement that the science of a marginally sentient race of upright apes who owe their success as a species to an interesting tension between social cooperation and competition is even vaguely capable of measuring the existence (or non-existence) of a higher power.
So... that's definitions out of the way.
My attitude is that I am simply a smartish ape with access to some technology that rates as a little more advanced that pointy sticks, but is ultimately nothing to write home about in the context of what can be imagined (and therefore, probably exists in a more developed part of the universe). With my silicon tech (it's a bit smarter than banging rocks together, but not much), I can perform complex calculations a lot faster than I can do them in my head, but I can't measure divinity. Even the egg-heads from the LHC project at CERN will happily admit that the search for the Higgs-Boson is not an attempt to measure the existence of God - even though the proto-particle they're looking for is nick-named "The God Particle".
As Clarke's third law states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." On a similar basis, the effects of any technology sufficiently more advanced than our own must therefore appear to be the work of a divine being. Given the size of the universe, number of galaxies, stars, planets, etc... I find it hard to believe that there's not races in the universe sufficiently more intelligent and technologically capable than us so as to appear as if gods to beings with our limited level of comprehension.
However, there's also another angle to the Agnostic vs Atheist debate. My partner likes trying to point out to me that claiming to be an agnostic is the same thing as condoning institutionalized religion. I take umbrage at this statement. This seems to be a piece of programming common to many of the popular atheism blogs. Strangely, it has more in common with the sorts of statements made by the leaders of religious sects - i.e. "If you're not with us, you're against us!" Personally, I think such a binary view of the world is flawed. The world is not just black or white. As an agnostic, I respect the right of other people to have faith. While I suspect their beliefs are more rooted in mythology than in any kind of measurable reality, I don't think faith is a weakness. Sometimes, faith can be the difference between a cognitive meltdown and a good night's sleep. Who am I to force insomnia on others?
On the other hand, I have big issues with people who tell other people what to believe. My opinion (despite my partner's assertions to the contrary) is that the leaders of cults and organized religious institutions are predatory, exploitative bastards, and they should all go rot in their personal definitions of whatever hell is. Rather than promoting ignorance and painting critical thinking as "giving in to temptation," these amoral pricks should stick to promoting the good things that religion can lead to - a sense of community, charitable works, and a generosity of spirit that transcends the mean-hearted money-grubbing power-hungry carry-on they are so prone to. However, my approach is not to campaign against them. When one draws battle lines, it's too easy to be brought down to the level of your opponent. I'd rather follow the approach from another A.C. Clarke quote - "Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets. No one ever demonstrated, so far as I am aware, the non-existence of Zeus or Thor — but they have few followers now."
The great quest should not be a search for absolutes, as they cannot exist when we are such tiny specks of intelligence in a near infinite universe. We should instead seek to critically determine the difference between superstition and wisdom, and find ways to give our lives meaning on our own terms. If some people need to turn to old books to find the wisdom therein, then so be it. But let's ensure that as a society, we're giving them the critical tools to distinguish mythology from meaningful social and personal truths. The epistles of Paul and the book of Revelations are hardly reasonable bed-time reading - the first being sprinkled with misogynstic and homophobic rhetoric, and the latter most likely being the mad ravings of a schizophrenic. But "Do unto others as thou wouldst have them do unto you" is a good policy, regardless of your beliefs. Likewise, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" is simply a restatement of the social contract. However, we should also not forget that Christ's teachings against the hypocrisy present in certain sects of the Hebrew faith during his time are valid today. We should not be afraid to ask the Fred Niles and the Fred Phelpses of the world to critically analyze their behaviour in the context of the Gospels, rather than let them continue to selectively pick out the old testament and Pauline texts that happen to support their particular points of view. Likewise, we should be able to expect that the muslim world which brought such great scientific gifts to the world should also subject its own religious leaders to similar scrutiny.
We should not forget that the point of scripture was to give people guidance on how to live good and productive lives. However, we should not be so caught up in what scripture demands of us that we forget the good, and the living. Most importantly, we should remember to put the folk tales of empires long gone into their appropriate social, political and philosophical context. Our values and our beliefs are our own choice. Some of us choose to honour the rational and empirical imperative to say that "In the absence of concrete proof to the positive of any theory, we should simply say we haven't proved it yet," rather than to say "without proof, the divinity hypothesis is untrue." To me, the latter is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so I'm not afraid to stand proudly and say I'm an agnostic, because I simply do not know.
Next time you have a religious (or irreligious) debate with someone, ask yourself how you have come to know what you "know". Challenge your own suppositions before you try tearing down those of another person. But also don't be afraid to call people on exploitation and controlling practices. Have fun with the debate, and make the outcomes positive. Don't seek to tear down the other side, but to help them find the wisdom in your own argument while also acknowledging the wisdom in their own. Don't forget that intellectual freedom also permits people to make choices we disagree with. And have a nice day! :P
Saturday, 03 September 2011
Just letting people know that I'm setting up a new DNS CName record to allow Xanga to redirect to a more consistent web identity for the "Gedulous" name.
For future reference, feel free to point your browser at xanga.gedulous.com to get to this site instead of the usual www.xanga.com/ged1970 URL.
Also expect to see content up here a bit more often.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
I've been doing some more tech posts on yet another new blog. I decided to split the techy posts into two areas:
- SQL Server posts (on which I'm pretty much an expert)
- I'm starting out with a fairly long series of posts about SQL Server metadata
- These posts are also going to help focus some ideas for a data architecture product I'm hoping to build (or at least, start building) this year.
- .NET Development posts (where I'm blogging as I learn)
- In is blog, I'm blogging my experiences on building a relatively simple app (not Hello World, but not an ERP system either) that will give me exposure to a bunch of different .NET framework areas.
- I've also started up an open source project at http://dpga.codeplex.com/ which will allow people to download/view what I've done so far and provide feedback on what I can improve..
Feel free to take a look. Subscribe to the feeds if you like them. I'm going to try to post to each blog at least once a week, and more often if time permits.
Agile Principles, Patterns, and Practices in C#
By Robert C. Martin, Micah Martin