Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cross Posted at my daily kos diary, where maybe someone will read it.

It's hard to admit that your lifelong beliefs, inculcated from people who were otherwise quite perceptive and accurate about the state of the world, could be so horribly wrong. but facts are facts. the point of being a secular humanist, nay the very definition of one, to me at least, is that when new information comes in that refutes other firmly held beliefs, and that information stands up to scientifically based scrutiny, you change your beliefs to accomodate this new information.


So, a bit about me. i was raised by a social democratic professor father, and an early and ardent feminist mother. i lived either in London, where such beliefs were mainstream, or in Northampton, Massachusetts, about as liberal a college town as one could find. i think i went to my first gay rights march when i was 7, in 1975 or so. i was surrounded, literally, by people who believed that difference (later known as diversity, or multi-culturism) was to be celebrated. i guess the extreme version of this would say that headhunters in borneo were behaving in a manner appropriate to their culture, and who were we to judge them?

it always annoyed me that my parents were mostly right about everything political (although supporting one quixotic campaign after another [Fred Harris for President in 1976 for instance] ,was ultimately a useless endeavor), so where was the chance at rebellion? But something about the whole 70s/80s progressive beliefs always rubbed me the wrong way.

Moral Relativism was one central component of that group of beliefs which made up the "Academic Left" of that era. Let's call that the philosophically grounded version of the simpler concept of "tolerance." ultimately, tolerance is a profoundly Liberal (and liberal) sentiment: that one should listen to and respect the beliefs of others, especially if one disagrees with those beliefs. one root of this belief comes, at least in part, from the central nature of the protection of minority rights that Hamilton held so dear, as he made clear in his Federalist papers. those guys were very open minded for their time, the founding fathers. they were...tolerant. obviously within the proscribed area of possible reality of the 1770s, but nonetheless still very open to other's ideas.

Tolerance was so central to my upbringing, that it curled off into the P.C. of late 70s/early-mid 80s. P.C., as some will remember, was an internal issue of the Left (we used to make jokes about how we had to mention every agenda at every meeting--"what will the anti-fur pro-vegetarian radlebfems think" etc.) back then. it was later seized on by the Right as a club against us, and in retrospect, it was the beginning of the Right using our own belief system to get their own power boosted.

so where did all this multi-culti stuff lead? well, i would argue to two places. first (and grist for the mill of a second post, i don't want to deal with it here) i believe it became the linchpin of the criticism of the left, and of progressivism in general, in a way that allowed people to take what were once racist beliefs but could now be subsumed under the rubric of "anti-affirmative action" in the negative, or "i'm a proud white man celebratin' my heritage with this confederate flag" in the proactive mode. in turn i think this hurt our standing in the real world of american politics, and some of what tom frank talks about in "What's wrong with Kansas" comes out of this same place. these are bad things, but much less pernicious than the second outcome. and here we come to the present day, via the magic of cartoons, of all things.

we all know the story by now, how the muslim world has reacted in the main to the publication in a danish newspaper of mildly critical and marginally satirical cartoons depicting mohammed in various different ways. the muslim reaction was predictable--salman rushdie gave us a preview, and theo van gogh as well. islam has a shitty track record at inculcating criticism and improving from it. rather, it tends, as a religion, to lash out at criticism in ways we are all seeing now. I absolutely do not want to single out Islam here--all the major monotheistic (or polytheistic, in the case of Hinduism, or something-or-othertheistic, as in buddhism) religions can't handle logically grounded criticism, but some deal with it better than others. it is central to jewishness to push against the religion for many jews, and always has been. but really, all religions are pretty much terrible for progressivism, whatever good lefty catholic priest or unitarians might say to the contrary. Sam Harris has made the case quite brilliantly in "The End of Faith" that in fact moderate religious folk are the most dangerous people of all, as they allow us to believe that somehow these religions are sane or rational. they are neither, none of them. they are all ancients wrong-headed attempts to understand a world that is utterly different from the one we live in today. they fuck us up. bad.

but as a liberal, as a lefty, i'm supposed to celebrate this diversity of belief. i'm supposed to respect people's religious values. i'm supposed to believe that our country very existence comes from such beliefs. and no matter how weird, one is supposed to tread lightly when criticizing such beliefs. in this country, we have in Mormonism and Scientology two of the craziest fucking set of precepts one could imagine. you would have to be a fucking science fiction writer to come up with that shit.

oh. right. funny, but sad clown funny. shakes the clown funny. bad funny.

so i find myself, as is my wont, perusing your dailykos, your atrios, your americablogs, and yet on no strong intelligent lefty site can one just boldly state the obvious: You can't write a cartoon about your prophet? he's that insecure? your belief in him is that insecure? i can't express my opinion because of your insecurity? THAT IS FUCKING LAME AND IRRATIONAL, AND A BELIEF SYSTEM THAT IS SO FUCKING DELICATE AS TO FEAR ATTACKS FROM CARTOONISTS IS AN EMBARRASSMENT TO ALL RATIONAL HUMAN BEINGS!!!!!!!

sorry, yelling there. i've calmed down a bit. why can't otherwise right (and by right i mean left) thinking folk say this? because religion is the bridge too far. to belittle religion is to be racist, or anti-diversity and multi-culti, and it is ingrained into us on the left that this is a very.bad.thing.

well, that's wrong. it's just plain wrong. their are elements of the right who can say the obvious about islam with far greater accuracy than our side can. i'm not going to link to the horror festival otherwise known as Little Green Footballs, but trust me, those paranoid whack jobs over there are far more comprehensive and right-on in their analysis of islamic behavior than anyone on our side is, even Juan Cole, one of my favorite writers. don't get me wrong--if you turn the right towards the insanity and shortcomings of Christianity in its myriad guises, they revert to type, and will attack you for daring to say their god is as stupid as mohammeds. but still, what is wrong with us on the left that we can't see this situation for what it is: example number 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 that religion is one giant death cult and that ultimately the battle that matters will be between rationalists and god freaks.

get on the right damn side of the ramparts, i say.

1 comment:

  1. Right on point. I have been having a hard time with this issue in progressive circles. As with cable news, two or more opinions on an issue are not necessarily valid. We need more people to challenge this idea, although hoping to get some action from a public figure on such a hot-button issue. I finished "The End of Faith" recently as well, and I think it really nailed down many of my feelings about religion in general. Keep up the good work.