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.