Month: April 2015

The Preposterous Limiting of Free Speech and the Morons Who Actually Want to Do It

For once, the always magnanimous Jeffrey Tayler has written something well worth reading, something that even a raving, lunatic theist, such as myself, can look at and cry “amen!” Granted, the irony that I find so much pleasure in an article subtitled “Laughing at Religion Is Exactly What the World Needs” has not gone unnoticed and, to be sure, much of its content is the usual putrid drivel we’ve come to expect from a Salon writer who apparently has little more than a Sunday school education in theology. But Tayler’s unhealthy obsession with religion-bashing and proclivity for hate-fueled rants notwithstanding (What happened to you as a child, Jeffrey?), the core of his overall contention, in this article at least, is pure, unadulterated gold.

That Bill Maher has been so harshly criticized on so many occasions has often been a thing of disappointment for me, and I sometimes find it rather amusing that the bulk of this criticism comes from those of his own political persuasion, which, as far as I can tell, only reinforces the idea that those on the left have become increasingly totalitarian: liberals in name only. Interestingly, Tayler seems to neglect any mention that modern liberalism is one of the greatest enemies to free speech, choosing instead to focus solely on those Muslims and Christians who demand respect and freedom from offense, all the while failing to note that the Muslims and Christians calling for such action are primarily those who identify with the political left. A curious omission indeed.

None of this is to suggest that conservatives are innocent, mind you. It was, after all, Paul Weyrich who accused Natalie Maines of treason for doing little more than than criticizing George W. Bush (Let’s just bring back the Alien-Sedition Acts, shall we?), and you’ll find no end of non-profit “family” organizations whining over some benign joke or sexual innuendo that offends the delicate sensibilities of their pious, little souls. Rarely, however, have they actually called for the stifling of one’s right to unhindered expression (at least not in recent years), and what gripes they do have often remain in a relatively private setting as opposed to the appalling media circus incited by these idiotic clowns who clamor for that impossibly stupid forced “apology.” Give me a break. The matter is really one of balance and weight, since lunatics on both sides of the aisle will always try to quell the ideas of their ideological opponents in flagrant rebellion against the standards set by Milton, Bayle, Paine, Voltaire, Jefferson, Mill, and yes, the United States Constitution; but to my eye, it is the contemporary left that has been far and away the greatest single transgressor of this most basic human right, convicting the world of thought crimes and raping the minds of those with whom they disagree.

In a horrifying blog entry entitled “Here Is Why It’s Time to Get Tough on Hate Speech in America” a disgusting and evil woman by the purported name of Tanya Cohen, whose writings reek of such unimaginable, closed-minded intolerance that I momentarily thought her a satirist of the highest rank, proposes the outlawing of everything from insults and impoliteness to “speech that undermines the authority of the state.” (Odd that one by the name of Cohen should be so averse to questioning governmental authority.) Laughably she continues to suggest this abominable tripe all the while maintaining that she is a “strong believer in the unalienable right to freedom of speech,” as if one who calls for the banning of unacceptable ideas can possibly have even the slightest idea of what free speech really is. The whole concept of it is based on the exchange of unacceptable ideas and on the anti-authoritarian rhetoric that flourished at a time when the human mind was being liberated from the intellectual tyranny of popes, bishops, and man-made institutions.

Today we have controversy over whether or not public transportation in New York should carry the AFDI’s ad campaign exposing that farcical piss-stain of a religion known as radical Islam, Islamo-terrorism, Satanism, or whatever you prefer to call it. Admittedly, the matter is a sticky one since a company should never be forced to advance a message it finds objectionable, and, as a public benefit corporation, the MTA straddles a unique fence as part private entity and part government organization. It’s not my state. I’ll leave it alone. The whole debate, however, is indicative of the times: times characterized by a shocking sensitivity unparalleled in the history of mankind and accompanied by a fear of every possible offense that may possibly arise. As a result of this forced and artificial “tolerance” the entire left is becoming increasingly intolerant and turning, as Jim Norton says, “into the religious book-burners of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

What Ms. Cohen and her reprehensible ilk, blinded as their are by their own vile stupidity, don’t seem to understand is that the suppression of a word is the suppression of an idea. And the suppression of an idea, even a bad one, is an assault on human progress and probably the most illiberal thing a so-called “civil libertarian” can do. (Don’t sully that word, my dear.) However much I disagree with Jeffrey Tayler and the nonsensical excrement he tries to pass off as “reason,” the man is absolutely right when he says,

“[S]hut up!” is the last command of which the Greats of the Enlightenment and their heirs would have approved. The 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, put it best, referring to suppressed speech: “If the opinion is right, [the shutter-uppers] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” If Maher is really so wrong, why not let him hoist himself by his own petard?

The Rank Stupidity of Third-Wave Feminism

NOTE: This entry should not be taken as a diatribe against women’s rights and their freedom to choose their own destiny. It is, however, a diatribe against certain strains of feminism that twist the data and use it for certain socio-political ends.

The basic ignorance of female sexuality among modern-day feminists is borderline appalling — not the kind that simply want legal equality, mind you, which is nothing more than good and consistent classical liberalism, but the kind that are somehow under the mistaken impression that males and females are virtually identical, gender roles being little more than an artificial construct imposed by the (evil) patriarchy. More than once have I heard it asked why a woman’s breast should be considered erotic when, in fact, the answer should be immediately obvious to anyone with even a modicum of scientific reproductive knowledge, or at least it should be so after it’s pointed out. Breastfeeding, anyone? There you go. To make matters worse, it usually turns out to be members of the academic elite who are propagating this nonsense, thereby giving it an air of authenticity, as if voices from sociology and gender studies departments are really worth hearing — the two fields that have most thoroughly rejected the best findings in contemporary behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.

Years ago, when he was still alive, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote an article entitled “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” in which he pointed out, not that no women are funny of course, but only the well-known fact that, on average, females just simply aren’t as humorous as men. For this he was dubbed a “sexist,” a label he also received for benignly suggesting that women shouldn’t be forced to work if they don’t want to, as if that’s really such a ghastly idea. At any rate, similar disparities to that in the humor department exist in a variety of areas, and, for most of them, highly plausible evolutionary reasons can be posited as explanations, thereby negating the hypothesis that some socially-constructed sexism is to blame — this being part of the left’s own war on science.

No doubt in the coming months we’ll start hearing more about the overblown wage gap, primarily from Democrats who completely ignore the research which suggests that the classic 78% number can be reduced to something along the lines of, say, 5-8% by taking into account the choices women make with regards to family, education, and the like. Yes, it could be that the remaining percentage is due to some form of discrimination, but in reality this has yet to be confirmed, so anyone arguing that it is has the same burden of proof as those arguing otherwise. Up until now I’ve not seen it addressed, but given that the stupidly named “heightism” sees even shorter males earning less than their taller counterparts, I have to wonder if a part of this left-over mystery gap can’t be explained by the obvious fact that women are also, on average, shorter than men, in which case gender has little, if anything, to do with it at all.

As long as the writers at Jezebel and The Huffington Post still think that “slut shaming” is some patriarchal double-standard, though, then it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot what anyone says about the wage gap, because it’s quite obvious that many of these inane ramblers are operating within a nonsensical framework that violates the very nature of most human beings. Imagine, if you can, the psychological harm that could potentially befall those who are forced into the Procrustean bed of gender feminism, which really is far more than a hideous annoyance. It is, in fact, a sinister threat that should have no place among a population that claims enlightenment and scientific literacy.

Thoughts in the Wake of Eric Harris’s Death

If I were to imagine a police sting gone wrong, an operation wherein the victim was accidentally killed by one of the officers on duty, it would probably unfold in a manner almost identical to what we’ve seen in the Eric Harris footage that’s been in the news lately and making rounds on social media. You might speculate that racial motivations lay behind the execution of Walter Scott or, to invoke namesakes, the strangling of Eric Garner, no matter how much and how deeply I hope to the contrary; but as far as I can tell, everything in this most recent travesty points to an unfortunate, though honest, mistake, plain and simple, albeit the kind of mistake one would expect to see when some geriatric rent-a-cop (actually, I think it’s called “pay-to-play”) is given permission to handle a deadly weapon that looks all too much like a taser.

Perhaps I should be a bit kinder to Mr. Bates as the immediate disposal of the still smoking gun and concomitant apology strikes my eyes and ears as nothing less than a sincere expression of shock and disbelief at what had just happened, while the aggression, brutality, and callous disregard exhibited by the accompanying patrolmen bring to mind a passage from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

David Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel and the author of On Killing, argues that the optimal state of “arousal” — the range in which stress improves performance — is when our heart rate is between 115 and 145 beats per minute . . .

“After 145,” Grossman says, “bad things begin to happen. Complex motor skills start to break down. Doing something with one hand and not the other becomes very difficult . . . At 175, we being to see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing . . . The forebrain shuts down, and the mid-brain — the part of your brain that is the same as your dog’s (all mammals have that part of the brain) — reaches up and hijacks the forebrain. Have you ever tried to have a discussion with an angry or frightened human being? You can’t do it . . . You might as well try to argue with your dog.” Vision becomes even more restricted. Behavior becomes inappropriately aggressive . . . [emphasis mine]

This is precisely the reason that many police departments in recent years have banned high-speed chases. It’s not just because of the dangers of hitting some innocent bystander during the chase, although that is clearly part of the worry, since about three hundred Americans are killed accidentally every year during chases. It’s also because of what happens after the chase, since pursuing a suspect at high speed is precisely the kind of activity that pushes police officers into this dangerous high arousal. “The L.A. riot was started by what cops did to Rodney King at the end of the high-speed chase,” says James Fyfe, head of training for the NYPD, who has testified in many brutality cases.

However one feels about the previous law enforcement encounters that have made headlines over the past couple years (and weeks), I find it remarkably difficult to interpret this one as anything more than a mishap of the most tragic kind, fueled by the incompetence and poor judgement of whoever decided it would be a good idea to send an elderly reserve officer into a high pressure and volatile situation. Robert Bates deserves the conviction of second-degree manslaughter since “culpable negligence” is precisely how his behavior ought to be defined. The real responsibility, though, lies with the Tulsa County Police Department who should have never allowed this situation to happen and should have been far more diligent in assessing the type of work Officer Bates was being assigned.

Freedom and Fear Are Strange and Secret Bedfellows Who Need a Divorce.

As a corollary to the supercilious bullshittery being peddled by the worst representatives of leftist politics is the tragic proposition by California’s Matthew McLaughlin not only to outlaw homosexual behavior, but to make it a crime punishable by death (via bullets, though it’s not clear if the traditional methods of stoning and burning are acceptable). From one point of view this latter suggestion would appear substantially worse than the gross intolerance demonstrated by mainstream LBGT advocates, as seen especially in the wake of Indiana’s RFRA debacle, yet the matter is nonetheless precisely the same in both cases, i.e. a totalitarian imposition of personal morality upon a vast and diverse population who should have every right to judge for themselves what ethical and religious beliefs they consider best.

It’s hard to imagine McLaughlin making any pretensions of inclusivity, since I suspect most of those embracing his form of theonomy care little for the classically liberal, Enlightenment-based political philosophy of the American way and would prefer instead to live in a Geneva-like utopia, complete with consistory and all just to make sure there’s not too much dancing in the streets. But semantics and persona aside, is there any real difference to the underlying thought processes that inform the polar ends of our ideological spectrum and the participants in modern policy debate? As I see it, one of the major driving forces behind the vitriol of both sides is an incessant and nagging fear, likely stemming from a primitive instinct to favor the group, which can, in turn, cause us to view outside individuals as inherently suspect and potentially dangerous to our own well-being. Beneficial though this may have been in our ancestral environment (and maybe even today in certain contexts), when applied to a world in which democracy reigns, the inevitable result is a sort of political tribalism that elevates identity and ideology over reason and logic, thereby engendering a measure of strife that can’t be assuaged by rationalization, but only by bloodbath and sheer disaster.

At Least Some People Are Still Thinking Rationally

Here is one of the better write-ups I’ve seen on the current RFRA situation going on. Dougherty really nails is when he states,

There is something truly paradoxical about the progressive desire to vindicate secularism by compelling objectors to participate in another person’s marriage solemnities. That’s the sort of thing the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay did. Religious liberty — including the liberty not to participate in another’s private ceremonies — is a liberal value. And liberty of conscience should be protected for all small proprietors, even those who are not religious, or even anti-religious.

I can appreciate where certain individuals are coming from when they express their fear that Bill 101 will lead to gross and justified discrimination under the guise of religious freedom, I really can. At the end of the day, however, that’s all it really is — fear. There’s simply nothing in the text suggesting that such a scenario could ever reasonably occur.

More on Depression, the Limbic System, and My Own Struggles with Psychiatric Illness.

Yet another write-up on Nature suggesting that an overactive limbic system may causally contribute to a dampened prefrontal cortex, presumably leading to anxiety, depression, and even cases of ADD in some folks. Unfortunately this is a pay-to-read article, and I’m not a subscriber, but the abstract and this available box of information ought to do the trick. Here are the most relevant excerpts:

“Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites.”

“Under conditions of psychological stress the amygdala activates stress pathways in the hypothalamus and brainstem, which evokes high levels of noradrenaline (NA) and dopamine (DA) release. This impairs PFC regulation but strengthens amygdala function, thus setting up a ‘vicious cycle’. For example, high levels of catecholamines, such as occur during stress, strengthen fear conditioning mediated by the amygdala. By contrast, stress impairs higher-order PFC abilities such as working memory and attention regulation. Thus, attention regulation switches from thoughtful ‘top-down’ control by the PFC that is based on what is most relevant to the task at hand to ‘bottom-up’ control by the sensory cortices, whereby the salience of the stimulus (for example, whether it is brightly coloured, loud or moving) captures our attention. [emphasis mine]”

What’s particularly interesting for me is comparing my own neural SPECT scans from the Amen Clinic to these statements. I know. I know. Most psychiatrists are critical of Dr. Amen’s methods, which is fine. I’m neither making a plug for him nor am I criticizing him. The reader can decide his/her own opinion on the matter. One of the complaints, however, is that SPECT scans aren’t very good at actually tracing neurotransmitters, which have been implicated in most mental illnesses, since they primarily focus on blood flow, thereby making their relevance to psychiatric diagnosis quite limited. Sure, you can get a good overview of one’s brain function, detecting tumors, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, etc., but there seems to be no analysis of the chemicals themselves or the receptors that metabolize them, which means those with such issues won’t find any real benefit.

Despite all of this, however, we can be certain of the simple fact that my own scans showed, among other things, increased blood flow to my limbic area and slightly decreased blood flow to my dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, which seems to me highly suggestive of the aforementioned scenario and perfectly in sync with my own subjective perception of symptoms, e.g. depression, inattention, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, etc. Likewise, it fits fairly well with my own history since my younger years, in retrospect, seemed to have roughly followed the progression of nervous tics, full-blown anxiety/depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, then ADD. I purposely write ADD, by the way, and not ADHD since I was never hyperactive, and it just makes more sense to use the old terminology for my experience rather than ADHD-PI. At any rate, I’m only aware of the nervous tics beginning first because I’ve been told by my parents of the incessant cough that the pediatrician chalked-up to anxiety as opposed to some sort of illness. Unfortunately, I was always so quiet, introverted, and well-behaved that I probably never gave anyone a reason to think something was wrong, and it’s only now that the pieces can be put together more accurately.

In fourth grade I very clearly recall one of the earliest manifestations of textbook OCD during an incident in which I felt compelled to hold the left side metal support of my desk with my right hand so that my fingers touched, prompting the girl next to me to ask what I was doing. (I wonder if she remembers too) During those years I also began to stop swallowing my saliva from time to time for fear of being poisoned, which I hid well by either spitting when outside or wiping it on my sleeve when inside, always hiding it as best as I could because hey, I may have been a mentally ill kid, but even I knew that stuff was crazy. It was around that time, also, that teachers began telling my parents that I would daydream a lot, spacing out during lessons and such, though no one really knew what the story was, assuming I was just lazy and unmotivated — a perfectly reasonable conclusion based on the external data. From there it only got worse, prompting me to eventually seek treatment, which helped immensely in various ways and to varying degrees, but never permanently as one would like. I’ve had numerous relapses over the years, one in particular being the result of my foolish decision to totally ween myself off of a medication without the doctor’s knowledge. Helpful hint: don’t do it.

From what I’ve gathered, however, it all seems perfectly reasonable to suspect that a fiery limbic system somehow caused these issues and still continues to do so to this day. The good news, however, is that a variety of cognitive and behavioral techniques have shown serious promise is reversing many of these tendencies, as I pointed out in my last entry, so I may not be as doomed as I once thought.