Why I am not a conservative

Given that I am a strategist of some skill, why would you ever expect me to subscribe to such an amorphous, strategically flawed ideology:

As society is successfully transformed by those who detest the status quo, the status quo changes. This means that the great defender ideology of the status quo, conservatism, will change with it.

“Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision.” — G.K. Chesterton

Both liberals and conservatives have shape-shifting visions. This is because the definitions of conservative and liberal are determined by the “position” of the given society ‘s political spectrum. Shift that spectrum left or right by altering the collective ideology of a nation, and the definitions of those two words will change commensurate with the degree of that shift…. This isn’t to say there is no difference between liberal and conservative visions. Liberals construct their vision based on opposition to the conservative one; conservatives’ vision is a product of the now accepted, decades-old vision of the left. Thus, liberals promote today’s liberal vision; conservatives defend yesterday’s liberal vision.

This isn’t new, but it’s a usefully succinct explanation of the strategic flaw inherent to conservatism. Like the feminism, communism and secularism it still tends to oppose at the moment, it is a temporally self-refuting ideology. Yesterday’s liberal is tomorrow’s conservative, as the neocons are demonstrating in bloody spades.

The pushers strike back

Doctors urged patients to keep taking their anti-depressants Wednesday despite a scientific study showing that the drugs are little more effective than placebos in treating depression. Doctors are warning their patients not to suddenly stop taking the medication prescribed to them…. Louis Appleby, national clinical director for Mental Health, told the Press Association: “New exculpatory whitewashingguidance on the treatment of depression will be issued by Nice [the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] later in the year, and this new study will be buried under technical jargonconsidered as the excuses areguidance is prepared.

In other news, 10 out of 10 doctors surveyed indicated that they would like to continue to be compensated in return for the service they provide in waving a dead chicken over their patients.

The last Republican giant

Requiescat in Pace, William F. Buckley, Jr. I never met the man, never once spoke with him and was never particularly influenced by him. But believe it or not, when I was signed to a national syndication deal by Universal Press Syndicate, it was with the idea that I was going to be an eventual long-term replacement for WFB, whom they had syndicated for donkey’s years. They liked the fact that I was a forthright right-winger and that my columns were more intellectually demanding than the norm, unfortunately, the editors of the nation’s newspapers very much disagreed. But I always felt a sense of personal appreciation for WFB Jr, as I never would have been given that opportunity to fail so spectacularly were it not for him blazing a trail with his labyrinthine sentence structures, heteroclitic vocabularies and the occasional foreign bon mot thrown in for good measure.

I read his National Review all through college and still retain an affinity for it even though I regard a good fifty percent of the writers – and most of the current editors – as traitors to the cause of thwarting history. Love him or loathe him, Buckley was a unique individual and his absence will leave a hole in the American political scene for some time to come.

Update – Ramesh Ponnuru quotes Republican House Leader John Boehner:

As long as America honors the ideals of our Founding Fathers – free speech, freedom of religion, and limited, Constitutional government – his legacy will be cherished.”

An ironic elegy, considering the source. As far as the Republican leadership is concerned, Buckley’s legacy should rival the long shadow cast by Nick Saban in Miami.

Contrarian confidence

Hillary must be a lock to win if Lopez is so sure she’s lost already:

There’s no way she’s winning Tuesday. And I say that with regret, because I think I rather a President Clinton than a President Obama if I have to have one or the other.

You’ll note that most of the professional pundits are pronouncing the death of the Rodham-Clinton campaign. You’ll also note that I am not.

No need to cherry pick

Like one of his religious opposites who’d never read them, J.J. Ramsey finds it difficult to believe that I didn’t cherry pick the easiest New Atheist arguments:

I took a read of Vox Day’s book, and some of it I skimmed or skipped. I’d say that his book is a good example of what happens when advocates for atheism get lazy. I’m not impressed by Day, and I am especially suspicious that he has cherry-picked or otherwise played with data when comparing crime rates of red (Republican) counties to blue (Democratic) counties. However, he legitimately jumped on dodgy arguments from atheists, such as the questionable connection between religion and war, and Dawkins’ shaky Ultimate 747 argument. In general, I’d say that the strength of his book is inversely related to the strength of his opposition.

Apparently, JJR finds it hard to believe Sam Harris, and by extension, Richard Dawkins, could have gotten it so wrong with the ridiculous Red State argument about the immorality of the religious faithful. But all the relevant data is right there on the CNN and FBI websites, there’s no need to trust me on any of it. JJR’s general conclusion is correct, he just clearly doesn’t understand the extent to which it is true.

It’s partly amusing and partly frustrating that on the one hand, you’ve got a lot of atheists bleating that there’s no way TIA could possibly refute the bestest minds of the brights so it must be nothing but strawman construction, while on the other, a minority of atheists who have actually read the book are saying that while I did successfully refute the arguments I attacked in the book, I must have avoided the really strong ones. But I attacked every major argument made in those books, as well as a dozens of minor ones, so I have no idea where these brilliant arguments that Dawkins, Harris and company have made are supposed to be found, because they certainly aren’t found anywhere in their books.

On a tangential note, don’t get too impressed by the Professor, Brent. I’ll show you how his points are spurious, to the extent they’re even relevant at all, once he finishes. In fact, he’ll discover himself how most of his points are incorrect once he reads a little farther. As to the slavery question, the fact that thousands of women are being trafficked to and from the civilized world is conclusive proof that the moral question has not been settled. I have no problem with constructing a moral argument for sex slavery on the basis of Sam Harris’s own happiness/suffering metric, needless to say, others have found their own moral justifications. The anonymous questioner is, like Harris himself, confusing legality with morality. The two are not unrelated, but they are by no means identical.

Is it just me

Or is Kylie Minogue’s “Wow” the most eighties song recorded since the 1980s actually ended? I quite like it, actually, and I imagine we’re going to hear rather a lot of that vocal effect in the near future.

How can one be too materialistic

If the material is all there is?

A survey by GfK NOP for the Children’s Society showed that out of the 1,225 adults questioned, 89 percent felt that children are more materialistic now than in previous generations. Evidence submitted to the inquiry from children themselves suggests that they do feel under pressure to keep up with the latest trends, the society added.

The poll is part of a larger inquiry into childhood and includes evidence by professionals and members of the public on issues such as lifestyle, learning, friends and family.

Professor of child psychology Philip Graham — who is leading the inquirys lifestyle theme — believes that commercial pressures may have “worrying psychological effects” on children.

“One factor that may be leading to rising mental health problems is the increasing degree to which children and young people are preoccupied with possessions; the latest in fashionable clothes and electronic equipment. “Evidence both from the United States and from the UK suggests that those most influenced by commercial pressures also show higher rates of mental health problems,” he said.

To me, it’s empirically obvious that those who believe they exist solely in the material are far more prone to mental health issues. There is a historical basis for the “mad scientist” stereotype after all. This is why I wholeheartedly concur with Daniel Dennett and endorse a scientific examination of both religion and secular materialism. I don’t think it’s religion that has much to fear from such an investigation.

On a completely anecdotal level, how many of you here are religious and have ever been diagnosed with a mental health issue? How many are not religious and have been so diagnosed? If you wish to remain anonymous, just don’t type your name in, as I’m not interested in knowing who’s crazy and who’s not. Let’s face it, I already have a fair amount of data on that.

The importance of faith

If you don’t mind my taking the gaming motif one speculative step further, bear with me for a moment. I haven’t been in the battlegrounds much over the last few days, partly because I was occupied with the aforementioned Imaginary Property work, but also because I found myself completely drained by a particularly heated battle the other day.

It took them much longer than I expected, but the Horde finally found themselves a leader capable of counteracting the basic strategy that the Finnish leader and I had refined between us. The mindless warriors of the Alliance had gotten accustomed to following that strategy, which was admittedly quite effective, but once a strategy becomes predictable it is much easier to work out tactics to blunt that effectiveness even if you don’t have a counter-strategy. When I popped in late the other day, I was surprised to see that we were losing by about 100 casualties, one of our towers had been burned and we had given up both graveyards in the middle in return for one graveyard in the south.

It was clear that the Alliance was not only handicapped by a silent Battleground Leader, but further disadvantaged because the Horde appeared to have a pretty good one for once. Things were getting increasingly desperate when the loss of the graveyards put Icewing under obvious threat and the idiots got too enthusiastic about pushing south from Iceblood and lost that as well. Just then, the leader chose that moment to succumb to demands from a few experienced Alterac vets and make me leader. I really didn’t know what to do, since strategy is much more my thing than tactics, (the Finnish guy is an amazing tactician, if all the Finns are like him it’s no wonder the Soviets had so much trouble with them in the last century), and I hadn’t even looked at the map before Icewing was being taken by the Horde with little prospect of us getting it back thanks to our loss of the two nearby graveyards. Three, if you count Iceblood.

I figured the best thing to do was to try to stabilize the situation and staunch the bleeding, so I ordered everyone in the north to stop trying to take back Stonehearth or Icewing, where they could do nothing but rack up casualties at a rapid rate, and instead defend the chokepoint at Stormpike. I told everyone that we could draw it out and make them pay for the victory, but I really didn’t see any way that we could win at this point since we were so far behind and the Horde obviously had a pretty good leader. I was completely resigned to losing, when one of the vets replied “yeah, well, so do we.”

I don’t know how, precisely, but that small expression of confidence in my leadership was like a shot of pure inspiration. They were pressing us so hard and were so far ahead that I realized they weren’t likely to worry much about defending. So, I put together a stealth team of two rogues and a druid and sent them south to Frostwolf, while ordering everyone still battling around Iceblood and the nearby towers to fall back and take Snowfall from behind so that we could at least try to keep Balinda alive. Meanwhile, Icewing burned and the outnumbered northern forces were driven back from Stormpike, which quickly put the Dun Baldur towers under threat since we could not hold the bridge.

Fortunately, the Horde leader only sent two defenders south, both of whom were dispatched by the stealth team, and the two Frostwolf towers burned. Snowfall helped us keep Balinda alive, and the Horde finally quit trying to kill her in favor of overwhelming us at Dun Baldur, the two towers of which were constantly changing hands. The stealth crew in the south managed to take the Frostwolf Relief Hut, so suddenly it became apparent that if we could burn the Hut and kill Galv before one of the Dun Baldur towers burned, we would win. I ordered everyone from Snowfall to Galv even as the Horde took the southern DB tower, but it was clear from the timer that there was no way we could do either before the Horde burned the crucial tower. I led three charges, but we were outnumbered and simply couldn’t beat our way through… but the attacks provided enough of a distraction that one of our southern roguestars – who’d taken the initiative to recall once it became clear that the Horde was letting the Frostwolf hut go – slipped in behind their defense and took the tower back with less than five seconds to spare.

Not ten seconds later, the relief hut burned. Not a heartbeat after that, the very welcome words GALV IS DOWN! appeared, followed by the crashing piano sound and the announcement that the Alliance had won the victory in Alterac Valley. One fighter summmed it up for everyone: “How the #@$! did we do that?”

The answer, I think, is that faith flows both ways. The follower’s faith in the leader may be just as important to the leader as it is to the follower. Now, God does not literally need our faith to sustain Him any more than I literally needed to know that my warriors had confidence in my abilities in order to give them direction, and yet it’s not hard to understand how He might desire that faith, and perhaps even find motivation in it, all the same. Our faith in God sustains and inspires us, but who is to say that it does not also sustain or inspire Him in some manner? According to Scripture, it seems that He at least finds our faith to be something to be desired.

Perhaps the more rational conclusion is that I simply spend way too much time inhabiting imaginary worlds. Of course, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t when a fair amount of what passes for my work in the nominally real one is every bit as imaginary.

Larry Norman exits the planet

I cannot overemphasize how much I loathed Christian Rock music while growing up. I couldn’t stand Amy Grant, pre- or post- pop career; the same year I bought my first album – AC/DC’s Back in Black – my Dad gave me a Sandi Patti record. A few years later, he noticed that it was still in the plastic… gee, I wonder why?

However, there were three more or less Christian artists that I thought were all right. They didn’t really play my style of music, but I thought U2, Daniel Amos and Randy Stonehill were all listenable. Larry Norman was too hippy for my tastes, but listening to some of his old songs now, I’m struck by how well-composed some of them were, especially I Wish We’d All Been Ready. Of course, the man’s got an awful lot to answer for, given that he almost surely inspired that horrificly bad series of best-selling novels with that song.

Now, I tend to prefer good music that happens to be written by Christians to self-conscious Christian Rock. I like Evanescence and Creed much better than Jars of Clay or whatever. But nevertheless, I respect those who elect to dedicate the entirety of their artistic efforts to the purpose of serving Jesus Christ, and Larry Norman was not only the Godfather of Christian Rock, he exemplified the spirit of a man who would serve God only.

Of reason and logical fallacies

Mike boils down his critique to a single if-then regarding reason:

The fundamental problem of chapter three is that it contains a basic ambiguity, an ambiguity that founds much of the argumentation. The religion of reason leads to authoritarianism and violence. In order to support this position, VD must accept one of two positions. The first possibility is that reason as such leads to authoritarianism and violence. The second possibility is that there is a peculiarly atheist form of reason that produces these sins.

The first possibility, which I don’t think is VD’s likely position, necessarily says that if reason inevitably causes great harm, there must be something fundamentally wrong with reason.

Actually, I would agree, if it were true that reason inevitably caused great harm. However, it obviously doesn’t, so Mike is correct, this is not my position.

Exactly what “reason” is to VD is unclear, because he never gets around to actually explaining it. A catalogue of the acts of the reason-obsessed does not serve as a substitute.

Oh, I had no idea that this required definition. In general, I’m entirely content with the standard dictionary definition about the capacity to think in a logical manner, the logically correct formulation of conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or basic premises. With regards to the Enlightenment, I mean Diderot’s Reason.

If reason is fundamentally flawed, that VD cannot stack up his own reasoning techniques against the New Atheists. It doesn’t matter how careful VD’s reasoning is; he is eating the fruit of the poisoned tree. And VD has already declared he will not introduce any a-rational elements. Additionally, If there is something fundamentally wrong with reason, then the book’s very title becomes moot. The very real possibility that it is the New Atheist’s “irrationality” that will prevent the twin sins of authoritarianism and violence. Perhaps because the New Atheists are so (hypothetically) irrational, they have something valuable to say to us? I certainly don’t accept this position, but if one takes option 1 from above, you’re stuck here.

But we’re not, so no problem.

So the second possibility, which I’ve already implied is more likely to be VD’s position. There is something peculiar about the reasoning the New Atheists use. VD never gets around to suggesting exactly what this peculiarity might be. Atheism itself cannot be the peculiarity, because atheism is a conclusion or at best a framework – it is certainly not a method or an element of pure reason.

And here Mike makes his fatal blunder, not of logic but of perception. I am not saying all atheism is irrational, nor that all atheists are irrational. In fact, I list no less than three perfectly rational atheisms in the book and even name them. What Mike fails to comprehend is that the book is not an attack on all atheists or even atheism itself, it is merely what it purports to be, an attack on the specific arguments made by specific atheists that are often mindlessly echoed by the godless acolytes of the nominally New Atheism. There is no particular rhyme or reason to the various New Atheists’ errors. Hitchens seldom even bothers to attempt presenting a logically coherent point, he simply rambles on about some random guy he once met in Lower Boohooboostan in the hopes that it might prove something. Dawkins often doesn’t even present a case per se, but attempts to pass off tangential asides and trivia as conclusive arguments. Harris at least tries to make a logical case, but he often gets the basic facts wrong, and even when he doesn’t, he tends to reach an demonstrably incorrect conclusion. Only Dennett ever shows a halfway decent logical facility, but even he goes off the logical rails on more than one occasion.

The only thing they have in common besides their lack of belief in the existence of God – and even that varies somewhat if measured on the Dawkins scale – is a shared inability to make logically sound arguments. I don’t believe this is the result of their atheism, the sample size is too small for correlation to imply causation, but there’s no shortage of empirical evidence that this is indeed the case.

Continuing in his misapprehension, Mike writes:

There is a huge logical fallacy in this. It is an especially surprising fallacy, since I’ve seen VD call this on others on his blog. VD’s argument in this chapter is simply a reversal of the “No true Scotsmen” fallacy. “All true atheists are adherents of the religion of reason.” It doesn’t matter how many historical examples of atheists believing in a utopia of reason; it is a blatant logical fallacy to attribute this position to all atheists. The argument of the entire chapter rests on this fallacy, and the fallacy is trumpeted by the chapter’s title.

This is downright amusing. I totally agree, it would be a negative No True Scotsman argument to claim that because atheists who subscribe to the religion of reason are irrational, an atheist who does not must be irrational too. Insisting that Brent Rasmussen is irrational just because Richard Dawkins is would be a massive logical fallacy right up there with Daniel Dennett arguing that because physicists are empirically credible, evolutionary biologists are too… or Sam Harris arguing that because Islamic jihadists are dangerous, moderate Anglicans are too.

Mike’s problem is that I never make that case, nor do I believe it. Had he read further, he’d see that I do suggest an explanation for the empirical observation that atheist political leaders are inordinately likely to commit large-scale atrocities; it is an explanation that lets the overwhelming majority of atheists completely off the hook.

So to recap. If VD is attacking reason itself, then the whole project falls apart. If VD is trying to attack some particular form of reason used by atheists, then he is not attacking something that is constitutive of atheism.

Yes. No, because Mike is confusing the set with the sub-set and attempting to expand the scope of the book beyond its limits. What does not apply to the former in its entirety may well sapply to the latter. I do appreciate this sort of critique, though, as even when incorrect or misplaced, they offer substantive engagement. I still intend to get to his science points one of these days.