On the old saw, “Islam isn’t a race”

One strange feature of the online atheist movement is that while all religions are bad, Islam is consistently presented as the very worst — so that Richard Dawkins, for instance, can wonder aloud whether atheists should support Christian missionaries in Africa to combat the spread of Islam. Many people have suggested that this anti-Islam sentiment is racist, and the response is always that Islam isn’t a race and hence being opposed to Islam can’t be racism.

Let’s unpack that. For these thinkers, Islam is obviously a bad and destructive system of thought. Yet billions of people spend their whole lives trying to live according to these stupid teachings, generation after generation. What’s worse, in the modern world, they have ready access to knowledge about the superior system of secular modernity, but they persist in embracing a crappy religion. At a certain point, you have to wonder if there is simply something wrong with such people, right? Perhaps their reasoning capacities are hampered in some way. Indeed, one begins to wonder, could it perhaps be something … inborn?

Obviously atheists won’t embrace the extrapolation I’ve just made, but it’s ultimately the only conclusion — if Islam is a terrible thing, and if people continue to embrace it despite knowing about a superior alternative, there must be something wrong with those people’s reasoning capacity that doesn’t allow it to reach the high level of white people’s.

A really robust belief in the powers of human reason, of course, would take us in the opposite direction: if all human beings have basically equal reasoning capacity, and if billions upon billions of people have found Islam to be plausible and appealling, then there must be something good about Islam. Yet people who self-identify with “reason” never draw that conclusion, because the “party of reason” always turns out to be an elite who knows better than everyone else and deserves to be in charge. And when you ask why not everyone is willing to submit to the leadership of the “party of reason,” you begin to suspect that maybe there’s something wrong with their reasoning capacity, maybe on a biological level, etc., etc.

Basically, declaring oneself to be on the avant-garde of “reason” is always going to lead to racism if you take it to its logical conclusion. Thankfully for the mental health of the “party of reason,” however, their self-regard and in-group loyalty keep them from following the dictates of reason on this matter, because it would make it seem like maybe their empty gesture at a contentless “reason” had accidentally made them into bad people.

Memes Glorious Memes

Everyone loves memes, how we chuckle at LOLcats, how we laugh at their inherent creativity, how some of us take them pretty seriously politically. Conor Cunningham, however, really doesn’t like them. In an interview for the The Other Journal he lets rip:

as for memes, they are pure nonsense; you may as well speak of astrology or the X-Files. Not to sound too paradoxical, but if memes existed, first, we would never know, how could we? Second, how could there be more than one? Sure, we have things like fashion that some of us follow, but if, as Dawkins, Blackmore, Dennett, and company insist, we are created by memes rather than the other way around, then in a sense, there could only ever be one metameme. There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme. All thoughts would just be examples of the one “truth,” the metameme. This would have catastrophic consequences for science, because all scientific theories would be products of the selfish meme, like some great matrix; radical epistemological and ontological scepticism would surely follow.

I actually agree. From the perspective of any decent sociology mimetics is bunk and it makes no sense at all as social science. First because the problem of individuation Cunningham hints toward, second, the fact that Dawkins and crew tend to only consider it pejoratively in regard to religion, and third that like evolutionary psychology itself it is an inappropriate and facile explanation in the social sphere that tends towards ‘just-so’ stories that can never be verified or even argued against. However, these are not the claims here – there is an immediate move to the poking of philosophical problems. The argument for this is that all if all thoughts are memes then there must be some kind of flattening of distinction – all memes are equally true. But I don’t see how it this ends in there being one big meme “There could only be the selfish meme, because all thoughts, being illusory products of mimetics, would be evacuated of all content, and therefore, all thoughts would be instances of one type: small memes of the one great big meme” – I don’t see how that follows – surely even if we agree that there is this floating world of total untrue memes with no one being actually true as they are all memes, then I don’t see how this means there is one great big meme behind them – one massive ‘O Rly?’ owl, say.

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Richard Dawkins Keynesianism

I am with Negri on Keynes that Keynes was “a gentleman – that is, an honest bourgeois, not a petty-bourgeois like Proudhon, or an ideologue, but an easy man”. Proudhon was a localist after all, and we all know the petty-bourgeois nature of localism and those who believe it can resist capitalism – more on this later! Not that we should confuse any of the recent attempts at government intervention and regulation with Keynesianism – of course, none of them even consider the possibility of full employment as being a necessary goal. And we certainly shouldn’t confuse Keynesianism with anti-capitalism like so many friends do. I digress.

The popular form of Keynes states that inorder to stimulate the economy in the event of one of capitalism’s systematic downturns, the government must perform more activity, creating jobs and stimulating the economy as a whole, kicking the recovery into gear. This is illustrated by an example from his masterpiece The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money:

if the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.

The simple point was – and against those who would claim that you need to build something socially useful (though this is to the good if this is possible, because more satisfied secure people do more economic activity) – the government should do something, anything to stimulate the economy.

My premise is this then – the government should require Richard Dawkins to release yet another book of the ilk of The God Delusion – feel free to come up with your own names in the comments. The sheer stimulation of the publishing industry, both in terms of newsprint and books either refuting his claims line by line, systematically or morally, or piggy backing his claims with fresh praise, would increase the economy to an unprecedented extent. The book should be a mix of generally bad arguments (like many of those he gives in the forebear) and very good (perhaps outsourced to the best atheist philosophers of religion) and/or very subtle and convoluted arguments indeed (perhaps those that it is near impossible to decipher and are open to numerous contradictory interpretations)  that would generate far more responses at far higher level of scholarship than the rather thin dash he gives us there. Better still, he could maybe do a series of the books.

Considering this would be done in a private consultation with Dickie Dawkins, it would sneak around conservatives opposed to stimulation of the economy. Its as good idea as any – maybe they could convince him to perhaps convert to a minor and obscure religion, in order to stimulate a further flurry of publication?

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