Thursday, August 18, 2005

Plato's Cave

I was cruising around on the Internet today and spent some time looking at science-oriented sites that I enjoy reading. My grasp of science is not high, because I did not take very many science classes in high school and did not *have* to take any hard science courses in college, and therefore chose to take courses that would give me credits in my double major and minor fields (French Language/Lit, Spanish Language/Lit, and American Government). This is something I later regretted, as was my decision at about age 16 to stop at Algebra II and never take higher math.

Because of this lack, I often struggle to understand scientific concepts and I am trying to encourage my kids not to go for what's easy for them (verbal oriented stuff, just like me) and keep on with their interests in science and math.

This is all an explanation of why I enjoy science blogs; I usually learn something new from them, given there is such a wealth of information in that area, a lot of it pretty basic, that I did not learn in school.

However, I did take two years of basic biology and am deeply interested in the U.S. "culture wars" between scientists and Creationists regarding the theory of Evolution. I happen to be a religious believer and practitioner. Yet, to me, the spiritual belief in some sort of organizing principle/force (God) does not contradict the theories that have developed in scientific query through the system of experimentation, analysis of results, and analysis of available evidence. There obviously has been a lot of evolution between the past and the present, and evolution continues today, and the principles developed by evolutionary theorists are used to design new medicines and to understand genetics and to do many other things that contribute to our current civilization. Being against it is unbelievable to me.

By clicking on some links, I found an article by a scientist mocking a guy named Vox, who happens to be anti-evolution as well as apparently believing that U.S. society, economy and culture went South when women started entering the urban workforce in the 1970s. The scientist had a lot of response from this guy Vox's fans who read his website. One in particular started into the evolution argument.

Now at first it seemed this guy was just your regular silly Internet troll. He used bad spelling and grammar and used terminology wrong (calling a regular insult an "ad hominem" for example) and kept the discussion veering off in weird directions. Then he admitted to being 14 years old, and the scientist and his buddies, probably feeling bad for being harsh on him near the top of the thread, began carefully and soberly responding to his arguments against evolution. They were really trying to get him to understand, feeling wrong for merely mocking a young person like this, I imagine (they did not actually say this, though - the tone of their posts just changed).

At the very end of the thread, the kid said he had to go play a baseball game, at which point his younger sister got on and angrily told the people on the website to stop making fun of him because he was a very smart 14 year old and she was 13 and they were home schooled and evolution was evil and they were good Christians.

I felt like crying. Why is it legal for parents to keep their kids this ignorant? Not only the fact the kids don't understand science and what it is, and think that to understand it is bad, but that they can't write, spell, use grammar correctly, or use terminology correctly. What are their parents teaching them? As far as I could tell, very little. It also seemed they had done very little reading and considered the idea of reading articles that they were told about to be beyond the pale. I started that post thinking it was kind of funny, but ended up feeling so sorry for the kids I was close to tears.

Here is the link at Dispatches from the Culture Wars if anyone is interested in the story.

The only thing that is keeping me from total depression is the hope that these people are making up their identity and are not really young, impressionable teens locked in their house by their religious fanatic parents and not allowed to learn basic science (or spelling or anything else).

Update! Yay! Yes, it was just an internet troll who is not really 14 1/2. Thank Goodness. Also, which is not so good, he apparently posts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Holy Grail Quiz

Too many serious posts these days so I was very happy to get the idea to take this and jazz up this site a little.

No surprises there. Mark of Witnit was, of course, God. I was, of course, Dennis the Peasant. This was predictable if you are one of the so-small-as-to-be-nonexistant group of readers who reads both of us regularly.

The test was fun, but totally easy to fix if you have seen the movie as many times as I have (I have two teenagers who love to recite the dialogue to it).

Take the quiz: "Which Holy Grail Character Are You?"

Dennis the Peasant
Oh, King, eh, very nice. And how d'you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By 'anging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there's ever going to be any progress with the...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why is Honesty Brutal?

I got a very kind note from Arthur Silber after writing the previous post. In it, he wondered why we see honesty as being "brutal." He mentioned that he, too, uses this phrase, but isn't there something strange about seeing truth as being violent?

I agree with him that it goes back to the Alice Miller theories he discusses (go to his blog to read up on these and come back here when you are done!). In fact, we are socialized from a very young age to carry certain core values and assumptions. I have Western values and assumptions, but unlike most Westerners, I know what these are and am sensitive to differences, having lived in non-Western society for many years and made a daily effort to observe myself as well as others.

Sometimes we find that our core assumptions and values turn out to be either morally wrong, or not factual, or both. When that happens, just stating that they are wrong/not factual seems like an act of violence.

For example, the core assumption that Alice Miller attacks is that parents always do what is best for their children, and if they don't, it does not matter because they 'mean' well. Thus children are made to feel guilty if their parents are cruel to them - and often internalize the cruelty. Arthur has a great article on the strength of this cultural assumption, examining the actor Mel Gibson's relationship to his father. Alice Miller was strongly attacked in her native country of Germany by psychiatrists for bringing up this issue.

I have taught management workshops in which people discuss how to challenge assumptions. It is really difficult to do directly. People have a lot invested in their assumptions - and they have internalized them from a very early age. I think this is why there are often surprisingly hysterical reactions in US and other societies to people who attack those core assumptions.

For example, a feminist writer who points out that some widespread cultural conventions, such as telling upset-looking women you don't know to "smile," is sexist, gets really outraged reactions. People of color and women who write about white or male privilege get this all the time from white/male people whose assumptions are being challenged.

People who challenge homophobia also tend to receive outraged responses that don't seem to have at all comprehended what they actually said. I think the action of "speaking truth to power" often brings out people's defensive reactions. Anything that provokes such strong reactions could thus be categorized as violent.

Those of us who do try to speak the truth in uncomfortable circumstances really feel that we are being brutal at times. Sometimes, I feel when I confront people in the US on their faulty assumptions regarding the Middle East, that I am truly attacking them, though I am trying to approach it rationally. Part of this is because I often provoke an outraged and often completely disconnected angry response. Then I feel as if I really don't know where to start with this person.

Thus, "brutal" honesty.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Arthur Silber, Great Writer on the Internet

I plan to start a regular feature on this blog highlighting other, better, blogs in case there is anyone who, by some weird stroke of luck/lightning, happens by here and has not heard of them.

For the past year or so I have been in the habit of checking The Light of Reason blog religiously every day. Its owner, Arthur Silber, is a tremendously articulate and brutally honest writer. He has written a series that I expect will someday be compiled in college texts on the history of blogging - "The Roots of Horror," about Alice Miller's theories on child-rearing and their relevance to geo-political events. If that's not enough, he is also a classical music buff who writes about opera and orchestral news.

Arthur is ill and jobless, yet continues to write thought-provoking, timely and important articles every day in spite of all of the problems in his personal life. Because of the strain of maintaining his great blog, he needs and deserves financial contributions from readers.

(I think he feels even greater need to post regularly, as his well-written articles are more and more often mentioned by big and popular blogs such as Atrios and Digby, and thus attracting an ever greater readership.)

I highly recommend that you check him out - and that if you find his writing as valuable as I do, you should pay for his inestimable service.

Back in Cairo from the US

I only have scattered impressions at this point:

1. The stores are so big it is scary. There is so much stuff yet it is so alike. I do not like the size because I do not like having to take so much time locating the right aisle to find what I want and get out of the store. I had never gone to a Target before and found the one in Cleveland Heights, Ohio particularly intimidating. I visited no Walmarts.

2. My kids and I bought Harry Potter the morning of the 16th of July and had all read it, in turn (though I cheated by sneaking it while the kid whose turn it was was doing something else) by the 22nd. The coverage of the Harry Potter release in the papers was very amusing. I am torn between recognizing slick marketing and being happy that kids are still so into reading a book - any book.

3. The Pacific Northwest is still the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and if you have never been there before I highly recommend Klamath, Oregon and the surrounding countryside (comprising the Redwoods national park (?) forest (?) monument (?)) and visit the tacky-outside, very-wonderful-inside "Trees of Mystery" with the huge statue of Paul Bunyan visible from the highway. It has an amazing collection of American Indian artifacts.

(EDIT: Oh God, I can't believe I said Klamath is in OR. I spent most of my time in OR (in the Kalmiopsis and in Portland) but Klamath is in Northern California. Apologies.)