Sunday, March 4, 2018

Economist Mark Blyth On New Economic Normals

For the past year or so I've been listening to economist Mark Blyth break down the rather complex and esoteric field of economics. Despite his thick Scottish accent, he's a skilled communicator at making it somewhat digestible. He's particularly good at criticizing the ineffectiveness of right wing ideas like austerity and showing the problems that come as a result of middle class wage stagnation for 40 years. This is a recent talk of his at the Global Financial Markets Forum on those topics.

Follow him on Twitter here: @MkBlyth

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Secular Humanism: What Is It, And Can It Replace Religion?

There are numerous ideas in modern social justice philosophy and tactics used to achieve its goals that are counterproductive and that are fueling a resurgence and interest in the political Right. Many people on the Left are completely unaware of this because they live firmly surrounded by the ideological bubble cocooning them from any views they might disagree with.

And so in the sea of alternatives to traditional religion, a large segment of the Left has turned to social justice in a way that resembles all the hallmarks of a traditional religion, just without the deity. This alarms many, including me, which is why in my last post I argued why we have no better alternative but to double down in our efforts to replace traditional religion with something like secular humanism. But this won't be easy, and secular humanism is fraught with problems if it is to replace religion. And that's what I'm going to explore in this post.

What is secular humanism?

First, what is secular humanism? The name gets used a lot by atheists, but what does it mean? While there are numerous definitions, I'll focus on two. From, it's a "comprehensive, nonreligious lifestance incorporating:
  • A naturalistic philosophy
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science
  • A consequentialist ethical system"
So secular humanism commits one to a basic consequentialist ethics, according to the Council for Secular Humanism. According to Wikipedia, secular humanism is a "philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making."

The international symbol
of secular humanism
So let's examine the definitions above. First, secular humanism is naturalistic, meaning, it's atheistic. And that means it can't be religious in any traditional way. So far so good. Second, it's rooted in science, meaning, it's a worldview with an epistemological framework "relying on methods demonstrated by science." A critic could argue that this is scientism. Scientism is the view that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. The problem with that is it's wrong. There are other ways to know truth besides science, like for example, philosophy. It's not clear from the secular humanist's site that they are saying science is the only way to truth, but it is implied. Science is certainly the most reliable way to know truth about our world, as I've written about in the past, but it isn't the only way. This is a modified view known as weak scientism. Third, strict consequentialism as a normative ethical theory is too restrictive. The best approach to ethics is the tool box approach: a combination of consequentialism, virtue ethics, and deontology. So demanding that secular humanists must abide by consequentialism is a potential problem. It can alienate people, like me, who think there is no single normative ethical framework that works perfectly in all situations.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What Should Replace Religion In A Post Religious Society?

I just wrote a few blog posts last week about how traditional religious belief is rapidly declining in the US, particularly among the younger generations, and how in its absence "social justice" increasingly has become the new "religion" of the Left, adopting along with it many of the negative attributes one typically associates with traditional religion: dogma, tribalism, group-think, purity.

I am certainly not alone in noticing this, nor am I the only one concerned by it. I see this as a huge problem. The Right has made somewhat of a comeback in recently years with its fresh faced new internet superstars Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Milo Yiannopoulos, Laura Southern, and Paul Joseph Watson, all gaining notoriety riding the growing wave of criticism of the Left's extreme PC culture and identity politics. It's quickly becoming "cool" to riff on the Left's insanity — as well as a good way to make money. Notorious critic of the Regressive Left, Dave Rubin, for example, makes over $30k a month just on Patreon donations.

I'm mostly on the Left politically (even though I'm increasingly weary of labels), but I do have to say, many of these popular critics of the modern day Left do have a point. Their criticism isn't completely unfounded. In the larger picture, it was never just religion simpliciter that was the problem, it was always the kind of thinking endemic in religion that was the main problem: the dogmatic, tribalistic thinking that puts feelings-before-facts. Religion is just a product of that kind of thinking; it's not the cause.

Here is where I will predictably tell you that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, secular humanism, and skepticism. But I'm not sure anymore that this is even possible. I'm very skeptical skepticism will prevail. That's not to say we shouldn't encourage these three things as paramount, it's just to say that achieving them as a replacement for religion may not be feasible because human nature is antithetical to them. (More on that later.) Secular humanism is also too vague an idea to unite us. What is secular humanism? That's a topic I will tackle properly in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that it's not going to unite people as easily as traditional religion did. Not even close. And yes, I'm aware that religions divide, even from within via competing sects, but I don't see secular humanism even coming close to the unifier that any major religion ever has.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Social Justice: The New Religion Of The Left?

Traditional religious belief is dying, especially among younger generations like millennials (AKA Gen Y) and the new generation below them, Gen Z, as I just blogged about. And the Left in particular is jettisoning traditional religion at a phenomenal pace. Between 2007 and 2014, disbelief in god grew among liberals from 10% to 19%, according to PEW. While this is all music to my ears, a growing concern I share with traditionalists is what is going to replace traditional religious beliefs?

In recent years, it seems that an answer is starting to emerge. Traditional religious belief is being replaced by social justice philosophies as religions. Social justice is in a way becoming the new religion of the Left.

Social justice is a broad term generally referring to "a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society." Legitimate social justice is perfectly fine and reasonable, but in recent years "social justice" has morphed into a new ideology based on an obsession with exaggerated perceived "victimhood" and "oppression," where getting the right gender pronouns are as important as actual racism. Today the pejorative "social justice warrior" (or SJW for short) refers to the kind of person for whom social justice is important, but who is gravely mistaken as to what real justice and fairness is, and how it pertains to individuals and society.

For example, an SJW will argue for "equality" but then insist that all differences in equality of outcome are due to racism and/or sexism and not other factors. So the fact that there are more men in physics and engineering, or more male CEOs, they will argue is due to cultural or institutional sexism, and not because more men simply like those professions and strive for those positions. They will insist that we have a 50/50 representation of men to women in all fields that women don't already dominate and that "fairness" means equality of outcome. And any challenge of this as an idea, or as a practicality, will get you tarnished as a sexist who's enabling the patriarchy.

And this is when social justice starts to become a new religion: there's an idea of the way the world works and the way it ought to be regardless of the facts, these ideas are held with dogmatic fervor, and anyone challenging them will be ostracized and effectively accused of heresy, which encourages extreme tribalism, group-think, and ideological purity.

Here are some of the dogmas of modern day social justice philosophy:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z - But Are Only 6% of US Adults Atheists?

A new Barna poll has come out recently which reports that Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z from 6% of all US adults to 13%. This is no surprise to many who pay attention to cultural trends as it's well known that religiosity is dropping precipitously.

But I do take issue with the idea that only 6% of US adults are atheists. Technically, the 6% comes from people who identify as atheists, not those are are atheists. That is an important distinction. Many people who are atheists don't identify as atheists for a variety of reasons, and that means the number of people who identify as atheists will always be lower than the number who actually are.

PEW Research's numbers from a few years ago stated that, "Nearly one-in-ten U.S. adults overall (9%) now say they do not believe in God, up from 5% in 2007." But only 3.1% of Americans are "atheists" according to their 2014 Religious Landscape survey. So 3.1% of American adults reported themselves as atheists, but 9% don't believe in god, which would make them atheists. So PEW's own numbers show that there are nearly 3 times as many actual atheists than reported atheists.

As someone who wants the world to be less religious in the future, I'm excited about the results from the new report. But I take issue with the idea that only 6% of US adults are atheists. The real number is much higher, and may be as high as 26%.

I hope that in the not-too-distant future, as millennials become the largest voting block in the US, their higher rates of irreligiosity will change the political landscape to finally once and for all get influence of religion out of American politics. And then, hopefully, we can have real policy debates with facts and evidence without religion ever interfering, like they do in many other first world nations.

But given traditional religion's decline, this brings up the next question: what's going to replace traditional religion? And that will be tackled in my next post.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Religion At Work

The other day I saw this ad on the internet advertising a 1 day conference called "Faith at Work New York" that according to its website is a "dynamic, one-day conference on how we, as Christ-followers, can engage in everyday work as a sacred calling from God Himself, and thereby become agents of grace in workplaces everywhere."

It seems to me like it's trying to teach people to preach the gospel and proselytize at work, and it got me thinking: is it appropriate to proselytize at work?

I would say the answer is no. One should keep their religious beliefs out of the workplace as much as possible. Here's why.

Work is a place you have to be (unless you want to go broke). And most people don't have the luxury of just being able to quit their jobs and go somewhere else. Millions of Americans are a few paychecks away from being homeless, and so work is such a special kind of environment. It's not like a shopping mall, or a street corner that you can leave without severe consequence. Because of this, when people are at work, they shouldn't be subject to religious proselytizing as it could make them uncomfortable with undue pressure to respond a certain way.

This is heightened by the fact that there are many power imbalances at work. Managers have the power to fire workers. What if a manager tried to preach the gospel to a subordinate? The subordinate might feel as if accepting their manager's enticements might get them favors, or worse, rejecting them might get them fired. Just as with workplace relationships, power imbalances at work make religious proselytizing a big complication. Big enough that I think it should be avoided altogether.

Every work environment is different and I have no idea what kinds of tactics will be taught at this conference. I would hope these concerns are taken into account. At my job, religion is almost never talked about, certainly not in a way where it's presumed to be true. My manager is actually a theist, but he's critical of religion, and so whenever it comes up, he's never preachy about it. If I was put under pressure at work to believe Christianity, I don't know how I'd react. The anti-theist in me would lash out and tell my coworkers their religion is nonsense. The accommodationist in me would be more diplomatic. Thankfully, living in the secular metropolis of New York, I've never had that experience. But I know my fellow atheists in the south are not as lucky.

I don't think religion nor atheism should be promoted in the workplace. In other words, there should be a separation between business and religion. Now if your business is religion that's another story. But in general, in most businesses that are merely selling a product of service that has nothing to do with religion, and so religion should be kept out.

I hope that the faithful don't think it's a good idea to bring religion into the workplace as a tactic to increase their numbers. That will likely backfire in our increasingly secular culture. There is no going back to pre-2000s levels of religious belief. That's just not happening Christians, sorry to burst your hopes. And the increased irreligiosity of generation Z ensures that.

Friday, February 16, 2018

How Special Relativity Makes Magnets Work

Length contraction is a fundamental consequence of the fact that we live in a 4 dimensional world in which objects are worldtubes in spacetime that are cut at different angles by the "now slices" of relative observers. Depending on the angle of the slice across the worldtube, it will either be longer or shorter. That means that objects that are moving relative to you will literally be contracted in the direction they're moving in. Now technically, this contraction doesn't come from the objects being "squished" in the sense of being compressed, like what you do with an accordion or a slinky. That would require an additional force and is a misunderstanding of length contraction.

If you've ever wanted a clear example of experimental proof of length contraction you may not have considered, watch this video from the highly popular YouTube channel Veritasium that shows how electric magnets are due to length contraction.


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