Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Temporary hiatus.

I had suspected this might happen. Given that I'm holding a TAship and RAship at one university, a second TAship at another, taking a course and working on my dissertation proposal this semester, I'm going to have to put the blog on temporary hiatus until January. I may sporadically post something if I get really irritated, but, on the whole, expect to hear nothing until then.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The irrelevance of a ''need'' for religion.

This is one of the stupidest articles I've read lately. The "argument" is made by a psychologist, to the effect that there's a deep psychological need for religion and belief in the supernatural.
The work of Bruce Hood, a professor at Bristol University, suggests that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth, and that religions are therefore tapping into a powerful psychological force.
This is then conflated with a need to believe in the irrational.
"But almost everyone entertains some form of irrational beliefs even if they are not religious."
Which is then conflated with a need to believe in the valuable.
"For example, many people would be reluctant to part with a wedding ring for an identical ring because of the personal significance it holds. Conversely, many people are disgusted by an object if it has associations with 'evil'."
And this is all lumped together into a big mass of crap to conclude that, I think, we should just tolerate creationism rather than laughing hysterically at it.
The battle by scientists against "irrational" beliefs such as creationism is ultimately futile, a leading experimental psychologist said today.
Basically, it's all bullshit. None of it holds together. (The psychologist in question has the nerve to call Richard Dawkins' and Daniel Dennett's views "simplistic". One wonders how much of The Selfish Gene or The Intentional Stance he actually understood.) There's a difference between believing in the supernatural and believing in something irrational. There's a difference between believing in the irrational and believing in value. And nothing about the supernatural, the irrational, or value will undercut evolutionary biology's explanatory prowess when it comes to biology. (I should note that it's a lousy theory of why people value their wedding rings because it's not a theory about why people value their wedding rings.)

Food crisis?

I don't have anything like the expertise necessary to assess this article, but it sounds disturbing. How much food can we produce, as compared to how much we need in order to feed everyone? In developed countries, we'll probably be all right. But, as always, the poorest will be screwed.

No authority in tragedy.

Here we find the father of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan attacking Jack Layton's recent call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Putting aside whether Layton was right or not, I find it really bizarre the way the media tries to capitalize on victims of tragedy in this way, and accord them some sort of instant authority. The mere fact that someone has had one experience of something vaguely relevant to the issue being discussed does not confer authority. At the very least, there's a real problem of unconsciously exaggerating one's own experiences -- inflating their significance in order to over-generalize towards a desired conclusion. (Yes, this applies to Sheehan as well. Any authority she has must stem from reasons she offers for her views, not from the mere fact that her son was killed in Iraq.)

What's worse, the gentleman in this case has apparently been getting his marching orders from the right (emphases added):

[Jim] Davis said yesterday that Layton has not only insulted the memory of the dead and injured, but endangered the lives of those still fighting. "I mean, that's ridiculous and I can't believe he would do that, endanger the lives of our soldiers by saying such a thing," Davis told CTV News. ... Davis said statements like that encourage the Taliban to keep fighting. "Playing politics with the lives of our soldiers is despicable," he said. "We made a decision to go after the Taliban, trying to get Afghanistan back on its feet, so it doesn't make sense for us to call it quits."
Does it need to be said? I suppose it does:
  1. It is no insult to the dead to say that their actions were futile, for bravery is a matter of one's response to (physical) danger, not a matter of the sense of one's goal. Furthermore, if the action truly is futile, then the insult may be deserved. That something is an insult doesn't necessarily make it wrong.
  2. It is beyond implausible to suppose that the Taliban are sitting around, waiting for what Jack Layton has to say, in order to gain inspiration for their ongoing fight. It is clearly ludicrous. The idea that there is any causal connection between what Jack Layton says and what the Taliban does is viciously (as in "vice", of the intellectual and moral kind) stupid.
The only potentially cogent argument is at the end, that Canada is trying to "get Afghanistan back on its feet". I have yet to see any evidence, though, that this could ever happen. If the country wasn't stable before Canada (and everyone else) arrived, how stable can it be when Canada is there? (And when Canada ultimately leaves?)

Why I will never be a conservative redux.

Because I can't look at a horrific failure of government protection like Katrina and draw the conclusion that everyone should just get workin' and things will magically improve. Hard work doesn't create opportunity; hard work can only exploit opportunity. If the opportunities ain't there, then all the work in the world is simply wasted effort.


Nice little article here about the problems facing the US labour market. I'd disagree with the characterization of "both ends" of the labour spectrum. It seems more accurate to claim that the low end and the middle end are experiencing problems -- the actual upper end, as always, are doing just fine.

Pharmaceuticals follow-up.

Here I argued that there's really no good argument against allowing generic drug manufacturers to manufacture low-cost versions of prescribed medications. However, here we find that a US judge has nonetheless ruled against the generic manufacturer. Unfortunately, there's very little detail about the grounds for the ruling, so I'm a little at a loss as to how to understand this decision. It's entirely possible that it was purely procedural -- someone didn't dot an "i" or cross a "t", and hence certain mechanically-derived penalties in legal procedures kick in. However, if that's not the case, then I'd be very curious as to the reasoning used to reach this conclusion, given the utter bankruptcy of the "innovation" claims.