Saturday, April 07, 2012

Demand the Unreasonable

The Reason Rally® -- billed as the biggest-ever gathering of atheists, skeptics and so on and so forth--came and went without my reporting on it. I was busy with work and was also in the middle of the Millennium series that I'd been meaning to put up here for several years.

Rally boosters claimed 20,000 people attended (some particularly over-enthusiastic atheists claimed 40,000 godless minions descended on Washington for the event) but the generally sober atheist Ed Brayton at Free Thought Blogs put the crowd somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000.

Pretty goddamn pitiful, if this is meant to be the harbinger of an atheist revolution in America.

To put it all into context, the media claimed Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally was a dismal failure because he only managed to put somewhere between 78,000 and 96,000 people on the Mall, almost ten times the amount of atheists and skeptics could manage in what was supposed to their "coming out party," their grand appearance on the national stage.

And it's a damn good thing the atheists don't believe in signs and portents because after weeks of unseasonably gorgeous, almost summer-like weather (March 2012 was one of the warmest and dryest on record in DC), the Rally took place on a cold, rainy and generally miserable Saturday. The attendees put on a brave face, but surely you're familiar with the expression "rain on your parade?"

Yeah, good luck with that

I also couldn't help but be reminded what Camille Paglia said of the Columbia disaster and the Iraq War, since the Reason Rally was clearly designed to be a war-rally for the atheist's "war on religion" and all forms of thoughtcrime that the atheists, skeptics and proponents of Scientism want to abolish:
As we speak, I have a terrible sense of foreboding, because last weekend a stunning omen occurred in this country. Anyone who thinks symbolically had to be shocked by the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, disintegrating in the air and strewing its parts and human remains over Texas — the president’s home state!
So many times in antiquity, the emperors of Persia or other proud empires went to the oracles to ask for advice about going to war. Roman generals summoned soothsayers to read the entrails before a battle. If there was ever a sign for a president and his administration to rethink what they’re doing, this was it. I mean, no sooner had Bush announced that the war was “weeks, not months” away and gone off for a peaceful weekend at Camp David than this catastrophe occurred in the skies over Texas.
From the point of view of the Muslim streets, surely it looks like the hand of Allah has intervened, as with the attack on the World Trade Center.
Of course, I have my own theories on the Columbia disaster, that have less to do with Allah and more to do with personages a bit more elusive, shall we say. But the metaphor stands, nonetheless- especially since the following Sunday was as beautiful as Reason Rally Saturday was miserable.

The emphasis of the Rally was heavy on tedious, paint-by-number politics (aside from outliers like Shermer and Penn Jillette, who both shill tirelessly for Koch Brother-type "invisible hand" market mythology, the general thrust of the movement is ultra-extreme Left, with extremist PC orthodoxy viciously enforced by an army of neo-Stalinist apparatchiks).

The tendency to emphasize entertainers over intellectuals that we see in skepticism (Randi, Jillette, Savage, etc) has carried over into the movement as well, all the more so with the death of Christopher Hitchens (Sam Harris, the Thinking Man's Atheist, did not attend, as far as I know). Dawkins may be a great scientist but as a public intellectual he's nothing more than a shrill polemicist, who's well-noted for alienating serious thinkers outside the atheist cult (there's another, more sulfrous stink about the man that I've been researching, but we'll save that for another post).

After reading a number of reports and watching a number of videos from the Rally, the general impression I got was less a CSiCOP meeting circa 1976 and more a LARP version of the same- a kind of RenFaire take on an actual atheist rally. A fanboy/fangrrl reenactment.

If you hadn't told me this was an atheist/skeptic rally, I would have just as easily thought it was an open-air Star Wars convention, or a Magic the Gathering, um, gathering.

I'm sure a goodly number of the attendees were tossing the old twenty-sided dice well into the wee hours, or donning their furry costumes for some skritchery or who knows what else we're better off not knowing about in their downmarket hotel rooms.

Surprisingly, The Blaze caught a fairly representative cross-section of the people drawn to Rally in its video report, even though it failed to call Randi out for...oh Christ, you name it. But what you see in the video captures exactly why I'm so alienated from fandom as Geek® and Nerd™ culture becomes so codified and reductionist- and boring and inert, I might add.

For all the talk about science and reason, this is all about politics, nothing more and nothing less. "Science" is little more than a blunt organizing principle to most of these people, just as "The Bible" is to Fundamentalists. It's a cudgel to be used against one's opponents, not something to be learned, understood and utilized.

Science itself is far more complex and problematic than any of these people could possibly understand; Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh was also quoted as saying "Science is my religion" and Harry Truman declared that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

Despite what some of the rainsoaked minions at the Reason Rally might think, I'm not hostile to science at all. I simply understand it for what it is. I understand that when Chicken Dawkins or the Amazing Rambli talk about science and medicine, they're talking about corporate science and corporate medicine, both of which are mixed blessings to say the very least.

I deal every day with a condition that both mainstream and alternative medicine are stymied by, and though both offer relief to a certain extent, neither offer much of a break from the considerable suffering I deal with. I had two very serious and chronic medical issues that mainstream medicine could do nothing about but my own very rigorous scientific immersion in alternative medicine actually cured. I also had some nightmarish, hell-on-earth experiences with certain pharmaceuticals that well-meaning doctors prescribed to me for my condition.

On the other hand, a brilliant surgeon saved my wife's life (just to let you guys know, the day a nurse comes out to the waiting room in tears is going to be a bad day) a couple year's back and I've been seeing a dentist who I'm beginning to suspect might actually be a magician. Which all goes to show you that life is too complex for fundamentalisms, whether religious or scientific.

Not that I could explain any of this to the Geeks® and Nerds™- they're too busy honing their snark skills and looking for Star Wars dioramas made of macaroni on Flickr to pretend to be excited about to pay attention to anything but themselves (and if they absolutely have to, each other).

It's a closed loop no less dogmatic and isolating than any other cult, and is creating a human island economy that will do what all human island economies eventually do-- contract into a manageable state of inevitable decline.

I wrote about this in my recent Pop Culture screed, about how Atheism is hardly the bellwether of a brave new future of progress, but a surefire symptom of decline and decay.
But the comfortable cosmopolitans of the Roman Empire were not stupid; I'd say most were smarter than the average American. You even had slaves with high degrees of education. And they too embraced reason and atheism as the hallmarks of a modern cilivized Roman.

They became obsessed with fitness and business and pleasure. And birthrates plummeted far below replacement rate among these fine, educated souls. Not so among the superstitious masses. Their religious leaders used demographics as a weapon and realized that they would one day overwhelm their refined rivals by force of sheer numbers. And, of course, they did.

Atheists and freethinkers ended up being burned at the stake for the next thousand years or so after Rome became a totalitarian theocracy and science, art, technology and medicine utterly collapsed until the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the old gods of Europe awoke from their slumber once again.

For all of the brave talk about the inevitable march to an atheist, rationalist future the numbers again fail to bear all of that out.
As if in answer to all of this, PZ Myers, a petulant, obscure biology plonker that rode the Atheist movement to international prominence, wrote this on his blog:
Is that border magical?

What strange transformation occurs within humanity as we trace the population northward, from the United States to Canada? A recent survey of Canadians (especially the Quebecois variety) revealed something:

Buried away in the survey was a single question that caught my eye immediately: Personally, do you consider yourself to be a religious person? A minuscule 22% answered yes. Presumeably, a whopping 78% of Quebecers do not consider themselves religious.
Well, that's great for you, PZ, but unfortunately you missed the flipside of the story, published a couple days earlier:
Quebec Census Population Numbers Show Continuing Demographic Decline

MONTREAL - Old anxieties about the survival of Quebec's culture are being revived — with front-page headlines, talk-show airwaves and the provincial legislature filled with warnings of impending doom.

The latest Canadian census offers a chunk of new data for those sounding the alarm bells of assimilation, by showing that Quebec's demographic influence is waning within Canada.

The results of the 2011 survey, released in February, revealed that Quebec's weight within Canada has shrunk by nearly one-fifth over recent decades, with no sign of that trend diminishing.
All around the world, the trends are clear: secular and atheist populations are imploding. It's facts like that led me to AAT, ironically- the utterly anti-natural reality of higher brain function in human beings. Rationality and Reason are lovely ideals for the Ivory Tower, but they don't seem to inspire many people outside of it. Human beings need more than test tubes and telescopes to wake them up in the morning. Even the majority of those miserable folks standing in the rain at the Reason Rally, I'd wager.

There's another way out, another door that doesn't lead to the dull, dreary miserable materialism of Dawkinsism or the stultifying, conflict-breeding path of fundamentalism, I can feel it. I just can't articulate it yet. But I guarantee you that as soon as I can I will. The stakes are quite high at this point in the game.


Fandom has always been so porous- and desperate for any meaningful creative input-- that it has allowed interesting people to sneak through once in a while.

But I'm getting the feeling that with the rise of this new inquisitional, totalitarian new religion of Atheism, that your Jack Kirby's and your Neil Gaiman's and your Philip K Dick's and your Alan Moore's and your Chris Carter's will be filtered out before they can even begin.

Because the obvious next step is that "Reason" and "Rationality" be forcibly applied to sci-fi, comics and the rest of it. If you poke around comments sections and message boards you'll see this process is already taking root.

Wizards and werewolves and vampires and all of the rest of it will be fair game (as usual), but anything that remotely smacks of traditional religion-- or even un-traditional religion-- will be attacked and excoriated by the new militant Geeks® and Nerds™, their heads full of vague swatches of Dawkins quotes they read on t-shirts while in line for nachos at an anime con or at an apparel vendor at San Diego.

I had high hopes that fandom would be the last refuge of the unprogrammable-- a true counterculture-- but as usual my nostalgia got the best of me. The daycare generation that fills the ranks of fandom these days is so efficiently socialized that the weirdness and freedom of 70s fandom exists as nothing but as just another museum piece to be cataloged and double-bagged and put away in a box, never to be seen again.


  1. "new militant Geeks® and Nerds™"
    i feel that its important to give due credit to teh deliberate and well studied science of subversion and control pointed at not only the sci-fi fantasy whathave you consumers, but the others too. the reality tv crowd, courtroom and true crime, the kardashians, horror/thrillers, the desperate housewives, torture-porn crowd and primetime soap consumers. pretty much across the board, even indy film fans get blasted with targeted "marketing" and "lifestyle" branding. dont even get me started on MSM news broadcasts and the aging baby boomers who can "appreciate" modern pop music or the lifelong republicans "converting" for obama.

    delerium aside ill stick to smelling my performers, maybe flatscreens.

  2. over here we have 'Reason' and over here we have 'Religion'. Oh I see.
    Well, I say to the athiest, I wanna reason with you about the MEANING OF 'religion' both patriarchal and the deeper meaning of what we could call religious spiritual sense of reality. This will freak him/her out. They are not used to *that* shit. They want in-the-box debates about religion as they reason it, and reason as they reason it, hence they are not REALLY into exploring reason and religion, but *rather" pushing 'Reasonism' which has become their *religion* lol

  3. From PZ Myers, (who by the way, I've read and ... whew!) "Buried away in the survey was a single question that caught my eye immediately: Personally, do you consider yourself to be a religious person? A minuscule 22% answered yes. Presumeably, a whopping 78% of Quebecers do not consider themselves religious."

    A good answer to that might be why most people I know don't consider themselves "religious" either... and they're also not atheists. They're spiritual, but don't follow any organized religion. There is a difference.

    I fall into that category; big time. I'm no atheist, but I also will never describe myself as religious. Those who do (usually) follow some form of organized religion with all it's dogmatic established belief systems from which one best not diverge.

    Those who are spiritual, on the other hand, feel there is more to life than the strict, also dogmatic approach scientific fundamentalists take, like most atheists (which, in itself is a belief system when you get right down to it) which is the belief that in order for something to be "real" and "exist", it must be quantifiable, and measurable with current scientific technology.

    I call BS because like you, I also have medical conditions which cannot be examined, quantified, measured with any current technology, and yet, they are recognized as actual medical conditions for which I must be treated for the rest of my life with medication.

    When science catches up, stuff most now call "paranormal" (which is really just another word for normal experiences which are outside the realm of what can be studied, measured and quantified with current technology) will be better understood and will eventually be seen as "normal". What's "normal" anyway?

    People once believed the world was flat, too. Just sayin'...

  4. Hey Chris,

    Another excellent, lucid post. For me, the essence of your post is captured in this quote:

    "Science" is little more than a blunt organizing principle to most of these people, just as "The Bible" is to Fundamentalists. It's a cudgel to be used against one's opponents, not as something to be learned, understood and utilized.

    And then when you go on to say:

    ...Which all goes to show you that life is too complex for fundamentalisms, whether religious or scientific.

    This is precisely the case. Over the past year my girlfriend and I have had firsthand experience of exactly what you're talking about. In the end it was only a discerning mix of mainstream and alternative medicine, along with rigorous attention to diet that seemed to really help us. The jury is still out on the whole thing, I guess, but it really made me see the uselessness of fundamentalist, binary paradigms.

    It's as though the atheists and skepdicks want to present themselves as the vanguard of common sense and self-evident 'reality' , and yet their critical-thinking abilities to not appear to be as razor-shap as they might imagine. I think mainstream/corporate science sets itself up heroic and unassailable. But the poetic beat for many thinkers who buy into it completely is, "I shan't have any truck with any of that religious hoodoo nonsense - I'm an educated fellow, damn it!"

    Personally, what I see here is the writ-large insecurity of people who cannot do the following:

    "Make a commitment to a path of inquiry and stick to it. Have the courage of your convictions. Accept that you'll have to accept evidence in lieu of proof and interesting questions instead of simple answers." (From your Exegesis: Be Brave post)

    When insecurity rears its head what can often happen is that suddenly we want to be righteous, we want opponents to vanquish in scathing displays of our skill and flair, and we want the unassailability of our beliefs to act as our backbone. To me this is all getting close to the heart of what fundamentalism (scientific and religious) is all about.

    Unfortunately for the bullies and close-minded thinkers of the world, science and religion are NOT unassailable. Sorry, folks, but there's mystery and magic everywhere. And it can't be intellectualised, bullied or sniggered out of existence.

    That kind of imperial, spoilt-brat hubris is extremely odious, because it claims to be a champion of freedom and free-thinking - but it has no f**king idea what it's talking about. And why? Because it either belittles, ridicules or ignores the presence of Mystery wherever it finds it.

    You could make a very lucid argument that all active evolution occurs as a transition through the Unknowns of our culture and our schools-of-thought. If Mystery is so derided in this New Reductionism, this doesn't auger well for such active evolution. But, having said all that; and despite my natural gothic sensibility, I still believe in the essential bravery, magic and compassion of the human race. To believe otherwise is to flirt dangerously with the Abyss.


  5. I think I can speak for many atheists when I say that more people didn't gather at the Reason Rally because most of us don't go in for the cultification of atheism. Not that I hide my atheism, but I sure as hell don't feel the need to proselytize.

    And I would add to Rose Weaver's comment that some of us also consider ourselves spiritual.

  6. This is very insightful stuff. I think I understand both sides of this debate pretty well, since my education was in physics while my personal interests are more mystical and spiritual. If you spend years studying the spectacular intellectual triumphs of science, it’s difficult not to be carried away by it and to make it your religion (somewhat like a Catholic theologian). The problem isn’t science, but the intolerant breed of scientists who are trying to use their methods to impose intellectual totalitarianism and to justify modern witch hunts.

    Fortunately, there is a growing movement within scientific circles toward a “third way” between dogmatic scientism and dogmatic religion that gives me hope. Scientists like Stuart Hameroff, Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake, Brian Josephson, Amit Goswani and many other “quantum mystics” are trying to develop a science of consciousness that leaves room for spirituality, mysticism, psychic phenomena, etc. that have been part of human experience since the beginning. The Dalai Lama has met with quantum physicists to discuss their findings and relate them to Buddhist ideas about consciousness, which probably annoys hardcore materialists, but gives us a working model of a third way for the 21st century. Stuart Hameroff actually confronted the New Atheists at one of their conventions and described them as “like the Spanish Inquisition but in reverse.”

    Aren’t these modern inquisitors aware that some of the most celebrated scientists, including Einstein, Schrodinger, Wigner and Bohm, spoke like mystics when confronted with the undeniable weirdness and magic underlying our physical reality? To me the dogmatic materialist mindset seems rather Newtonian and provincial, considering that we appear to be living in a quantum, magical multiverse that is continually blowing our paradigms out of the water! Science has been revealing a much stranger world than any rationalist could have imagined for a long time now, and it shows no signs of letting up (96% of the universe is unaccounted for at last count, consciousness and free will remain a total mystery, evolutionary theory and cosmology have many holes, even logic itself has Godelian limits, yet the Scientists (with a capital S) want to dismiss whole areas of inquiry as quackery unsupported by the Scientific Method. What dangerous hubris!

    I hope and suspect that the quantum mystics are ahead of the curve, and in another century the guardians of the old paradigms are going to look as foolish as the Catholics of Galileo’s time. I’m also hopeful that a new kind of spirituality that respects science will emerge, as many brilliant scientific thinkers have long predicted:

    “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.” —Albert Einstein

    “We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating. Feeling that there must be more behind, we return to our starting point in human consciousness - the one centre where more might become known. There we find other stirrings, other revelations than those conditioned by the world of symbols... Physics most strongly insists that its methods do not penetrate behind the symbolism. Surely then that mental and spiritual nature of ourselves, known in our minds by an intimate contact transcending the methods of physics, supplies just that... which science is admittedly unable to give.”
    ―Arthur Eddington

    “Politics and Religion are obsolete. The time has come for Science and Spirituality.” –Jawaharlal Nehru, quoted by Arthur C. Clarke

  7. Chris, ever spent time on Reddit? It's a 24/7 online "Reason Rally".

  8. Yes, the Nerds™ on Reddit have bashed me quite a bit over the years. It's quite the little Borg-cube.

  9. It is interesting that these atheists and science over whatever people did congregate without capturing any wave of influence. Where was Bill Maher???

    Yet I feel this ties into a grander PTB experiment. Chris, in a 2010 interview you did on a "hidden" interview you talked of Hawkings and the Vatican, et al. "covering their asses" with talk of ETs as inevitabilities.


    There was no great swelling of talk surrounding Hawkings' pronouncement, and beside the obligatory mention in an "Ancient Alens" episode, the Vatican hasn't received much play, either.

    This tells me that the these mentions by "Science" - Hawkings - and The Catholic Church - Vatican - were/are purposeful in another, more sinister light.

    Is it possible that this was meant to further alienate Americans tossed into the air as the rug of "USA as No.1" is pulled from their feet? Might these pronouncements be made to further entrench and validate the god-fearing Evangelicals and their supporters - the, 'we need to bring the rapture through WWIII in the Middle East,' crowd?

    Might this be a sure sign to the PTB that they have perfectly destroyed much of the faith invested in Science and Catholicism (and its religious cousins)?

    It is as if we are being led to see or concentrate on nothing more than the impending battle of good v. evil; where, at some point in the near future there will be a mass "UFO" "sighting" with a mass "sighting" of "angels" in close temporal proximity in another city thousands of miles from the UFO sighting; where UFOs are either rendered as products of minds rotted by evil, or that UFOs are demonized in juxtaposition to the angels.

    The natural extension/end of this thought is this: if people in this country can be herded into collective "faith-think" they will gleefully hand themselves over completely to the PTB. And what better way to achieve such a goal than by having Hawkings, that pillar of rational, scientific thinking be allied with the already ostracized Vatican/Catholic Church?...

    just putting out some thoughts based on this tenet: at the level of "Power Over Tens to Hundreds of Millions of People," there are no accidents - everything is an event executed as a result of decades of research, testing, and collective thought planting...

  10. Not too long ago I dialed in to catch up on latest Secret Sun and had the synchronicity of reading one of the Millennium installments that touched on a the subject of intentionally engineering the apocalypse. At the time I had just paused momentarily from a non-fiction book I was reading where the arch subject was the deliberate engineering of the apocalypse (in a manner reminiscent of Issac Asimov's Mule character from the Foundation Trilogy).

    This time the subject matter is the fundamentalist mentality of the so-called "scientific" reason crowd.

    Not intending to be an echo chamber, but is pretty much the theme going on here too in my own recent last installment:

    21st Century Schizoid Man – The Epistemology Crisis

  11. "the weirdness and freedom of 70s fandom exists as nothing but as just another museum piece" -- I don't know if it supports or undermines your thesis -- supports I'm afraid -- but there are still unrepentant congregations of fans, for example, the Bowienetters. Although is pretty much kaput, and Bowie dropped out of his site years ago, much of the community lives on, having decamped to Facebook. Then again, the average age is at a guess 50, but there are a few 20 somethings, and their demigod is, of course, Bowie.

  12. Agnosticism I can get behind - but to flat out claim to know for fact (without proof), is pretty arrogant and closed-minded.

    Go after Organized Religion Institutions, not the beliefs themselves.

  13. Unknown- here, this is about your friends over at Reddit. Everyone else- this is the kind of people we're dealing with.

  14. The distance between skeptics and Members of the Skeptical Community cannot be measured. The two groups occupy different universes altogether and share nothing but a word in common; they are as different as chesapeake blue crabs and krab-with-a-k "crab sticks" found in Korean California rolls around the world. Skeptics require no label, no positioning relative to other modalities or points of view in order to exist; each skeptic would exist regardless of contextualization. Members of the skeptical community, on the other hand, practice identity politics by willingly identifying with a group, which intrinsically create boundaries, which in turn are reinforced and maintained by guarding borders and quashing dissent. (it's why anarchists have a problem organizing. The only successful groups and movements inherently require some level of groupthink, thought policing, and intolerance of dissent. Critical thinking is always a threat to group cohesion because it prizes the individual over the ollective, meaning that skepticism, as an idea, as a cognitive process, as a worldview, cannot operate within the boundaries of the collective for long.)

    This dissonance rarely occurs to the Members, of course, because they're not really skeptics or critical thinkers, but even if they were initially, their desire to belong supersedes their ability to retain enough distance to do so. Crowds have gravity and gravity sucks.

    The Skeptical Community is a little like the nascent GOP in the initial years of the southern strategy, and because of their uneasy intraparty alliances believe, as the GOP did, that they actually are diverse and tolerant. Instead they represent a venn diagram of created identities and sub groups, from atheists to objectivists to debunkers to corporate scientists, every one of them orthodox in the extreme and allegiant to their primary group first and their skeptic coalition second, ready to police and defend their carefully constructed and over engineered belief systems as vigorously as and fundie catholic, jihadist Muslim, alabama bigot, or frum Jew. Free thought is rarely welcome in gatherings of this sort, and the fundamental insecurity (their self perceived marginal status) leads inevitably to insufferable smugness. Which in turn undermines their own professed cause.

    I submit that skepticism, in the form of directed and informed critical thinking, cannot be accomplished in a group of any size, in that it requires a level of open mindedness intolerable and implicitly destructive to any group or coalition. That groups are motivated, furthermore, by shared goals, and to share goals you must establish and agree on them. That establishing goals implies desired outcome, before the fact, and that desiring an outcome of any kind flies smack in the face of the scientific method. That finally it is impossible to be truly critical and rational if one declares oneself anything, or approaches any problem or challenge with preconception.