In case you’re unaware, BigThink.com is a news, science, and politics website which regularly features interviews, writings and analysis from the world’s top thinkers: from Steven Pinker and Sam Harris to Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais. It’s an exciting move for me, since I’ve never earned anything from my writing before. I’ve already contributed some essays for them, which seemed to have been received well (by well, I mean they were featured at the Huffington Post, whatever that means in terms of numbers). Big Think was rated the #1 website for News & Info in TIME magazine last year, which is well-deserved in my opinion. I’ve been reading BigThink in general for a long time, since it engages with new ideas either from secondary sources or directly – since their “Experts” are truly experts, which includes numerous Nobel Laureates. I recommend you add them to your regular reading, too.
I doubt I’ll be using this site as much, now, but it will remain here for archive purposes or in case I should decide to move back. Thanks for being with me and I hope you’ll follow me to Big Think, to help defend unappetising (but reasoned) views against silly, but powerful, ones.
It is according to Brendan O’Neill. In The Telegraph he writes that the “hounding” of Sally Morgan, supernatural adviser and dead-person telephone, is reaching the fever-pitch of the historical witch hunts. “Decent society once hounded witches; now it hounds pseudo-witches,” he asserts. Indeed, “the anti-Morgan lobby is motivated by the same impulses as those of pointy-hatted witch-hunters of old”. What’s interesting is his list compared to what both sides – witch hunters of the past and O’Neill’s of today – wrote or described of their own actions for pursuing their “witches”.
I just read the article in which this extended quotation occurs and thought this was an interesting, eloquent summation of many recurring thoughts on secular morality. Philip Kitcher writes:
The overwhelming majority of the world’s moral practices are intertwined with religious views. One of the ways of making moral progress consists in freeing ourselves of the need for this system of enforcement, in rejecting the false religious presuppositions, and in disentangling and dismissing the special injunctions that the religious framework has introduced. In part, this is simply a matter of replacing superstition with true belief (or with the absence of judgement) – and notions of truth and falsity apply directly here because of the religious claims purport to describe the decisions and volitions of person-like entities. It’s also a matter, however, both of reinforcing our altruistic dispositions, preventing irrelevant moral commands from interfering with the plans and interests of our fellows, and of expanding the range of opinion available to people. We should think of our moral system as a spare and streamlined device for developing the dispositions that first made social beings of us, unfortunately overlain with excrescences that were once useful in ensuring conformity, but that can now be scraped away to benefit effect.
The last part reminds me of the famous Heinrich Heine quotation, from his Gedanken und Einfalle (that also appears in Hitchens’ god is Not Great)
In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.
I’m currently busy exploring how sanctity was used in Western society as method of latent social control, thus becoming equated with the “highest good”. One of the arguments I am making is that we are better off without sanctity and Kitcher has attempted to formulate a normative reason for this – as the quotation highlights at least.
Kitcher, P. (2006). Biology and Ethics. In D. Copp (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 178-179
In her book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby constantly highlights how often great thinkers are neglected from the American historical canon due to their criticism of religious authority or social norms. This may seem odd to anyone who knows even a little about the Founding Fathers and, for example, Abraham Lincoln – but we know of these gentlemen due to their role as presidents and founders of the very nation itself, despite their antagonism toward organised religion and its “truths”.
During the late 18th century, many thinkers – prominently those fighting for abolition and women’s equality, which were often united causes – optimistically presumed that the deliberate neglect of powerful activists would be eroded, since the values themselves would come to fruition; and, thus blooming, all would recognise those who originally distributed the seeds of such knowledge. But even today, the names William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine L. Rose, are quite forgotten by those who more confidently remember other names within the era.
UPDATE: Prof. Pierre de Vos has written an excellent post detailing the idiocy of still having royalty in South Africa, who receive millions from the government for having the right genetics.Start a slow clap for these people…
Can you imagine any public figure saying on a public platform that all black or coloured people “are rotten”? Not only are these statements false (and I think meaningless), they are insulting to the group of people in question. But insult or offense isn’t a measurement of a statement’s strength. Anyone reading those statements, whether they are part of the targeted group or not, would rightfully think such statements unjustified and bigoted – and it’s these two conclusions that matter. In this same way, I look forward to the day when we take a similar hard-line approach to those who make homophobic statements, as King Goodwill Zwelithini has done.
The Zulu monarch – Brits aren’t the only ones with these strange titles still in existence – has recently said:
Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten.
And in case you didn’t quite understand him or feel different, it doesn’t matter: “I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable.”