Archive for March, 2006

The Fightin’ Multiculturalist

March 16th, 2006 — Wordman

The world “multiculturalism” means different things to different people. Critics of multiculturalism, like the Ayn Rand Institute, tend to define it like so:

In brief, multiculturalism is the view that all cultures, from that of a spirits-worshiping tribe to that of an advanced industrial civilization, are equal in value.

They then proceed to refute, often logically and convincingly, that such a view is foolish, saying things like:

Multiculturalism seeks to obliterate the value of a free, industrialized civilization (which today exists in the West and elsewhere), by declaring that such a civilization is no better than primitive tribalism. … The ideas and values that animate a particular culture can and should be judged objectively. A culture that values freedom, progress, reason and science, for instance, is good; one that values oppression, stagnation, mysticism, and ignorance is not.

This critique seems to the one voiced most often in recent popular (as opposed to academic) debate, particularly in discussions about the Islamic world.

The problem with this argument is that its initial definition of what multiculturalism means is completely wrong. Granted, one of the largest difficulties with multiculturalism is that it is not well defined, a point made evident by the entry on it in the Wikipedia, where at least four different definitions are mentioned. Even so, it seems that the only credible groups who use the definition above are the ones who oppose it. The impact and meaning of multiculturalism has been debated significantly in academic circles for quite some time. Though I was trained at one of the primary institutions that could be accused of “pushing a multiculturalist agenda”, I’m not an academic, so I confess ignorance of much of this debate. My interest here is more in the popular use of the term and, in particular, how a multicultural society can consistently deal with one that is not.

In saying that people like the Ayn Rand Institute have the definition of multiculturalism “completely wrong” it is incumbent on me to provide a correct one. Sadly, the best definition I can provide is by way of an example of multicultural behavior: fans of the National Football League.

Your average NFL fan (or any other fan of a professional domestic sport team) favors one team above others. When attending the temple of their team, they will dress in appropriate religious regalia, usually a set mix of colors, maybe with a large number on the front, or representations of dairy products on their head. Some will be disgusted and/or amused at the zealotry of those of their number who get tattoos of team iconography or paint their body bright orange or wear big foam hands. Many even do this watching on television at home. Most will talk about their team with anyone who will listen. Every one of these fans, however, knows somebody that roots for another team, maybe even someone even more impassioned about their own team than they themselves are about theirs.

Ayn Rand, no doubt, would be thrilled to know that each particular team “can be judged objectively” and it is usually (though not always) possible to empirically determine which team is “better”. No fan anywhere would ever claim that all teams in the league “are equal in value”. Clearly his own team is worth far more to him than the others are, even though it may simultaneously be worth far less in terms of monetary value, turnover ratio or victory percentage.

While a fan of a losing team may have to endure barbs of fans of other teams (or even his own fellow fans), it’s rare that his choice of team puts him in any real danger. By the same token, a fan on the championship team, while he might not understand why someone would root for any other team and may, in fact, consider anyone that does so inferior or even express hatred for them, he never seriously opposes, or even questions, the right of those other fans to root for whoever they like. It’s not like a large group of them get together and scream through loudspeakers “all others must renounce their own loyalty and support our team, or face righteous wrath,” then send out the “Shining Row 12 of Section J” to hack up non-believers with machetes. (Well, at least not outside of Oakland.)

There are exceptions, of course, but when American sports fans hear of planned soccer riots, fans grouping together to fight fans of other teams, fans murdering their own goalie after a loss, governments torturing their athletes for losing or even when players leave the field to deck some smart ass, the vast majority of them wonder “what the hell is wrong with these people?”. Sure, American fans react badly to victory and turn over police cars with the best of them, but this almost never involves clashes with opposing fans. While they think their own team superior, they don’t assume that this means that fans of other teams should have less of a right to root for whoever they want. In short, they have a “multicultural” view when it comes to team loyalty.

You might define multiculturalism as “the tolerance to allow others to believe stupid things”. Or maybe it’s as simple as “live and let live”.

However, practicing multiculturalism has a lot in common with laws surrounding free speech. In principle, it’s fine to say “people are free to say what they want”. In practice, there are sticky implementation problems. How do you deal with someone yelling “fire” in a crowded room? How do you deal with someone who invokes their free speech rights to broadcast the secrets of people, corporations or governments or make false accusations against them? Is it permissible for someone to claim their right to free speech is more important than someone else’s? Suppose someone openly encourages others to kill someone?

Similarly, encoding a principle like “people are free to believe in what they want and live the way they want to” has implementation problems of its own. Suppose a prisoner believes he must be provided steak as part of his religion. What about a culture that allows its children to die from preventable ailments? How about a religion that considers its practitioners justified—in fact expected—to kill members of other cultures?

The guiding principle in rationalizing these kinds of difficulties tends to be “your right to swing your fist ends at my face”. In other words, I consider myself a multiculturalist, but I also have no problem at all with killing someone who is trying to kill me because he is not.

Seeking source

March 12th, 2006 — Wordman

In the comments of a recent Fark article, someone posted a list of questionable “lessons” one could learn from the Bible. Google indicates the same list is posted in a few other forums, but I can’t find any reference to the original source. Anyone know where it might be from? This is the list:

  1. In Genesis 3:16 god punishes all women, innocent or not, with painful childbirth and subjugation to men.
  2. In Genesis 7:4 god has a bad day at the office, thus decides to drown innocent babies, and animals both wild and domestic.
  3. In Exodus 4:11 god boasts about making people handicapped.
  4. In Exodus 4:23 god resorts to hostage taking and terrorism in order to get his own way. He does this via threatening a baby. Soon, he is slaughtering little babies all across Egypt.
  5. In Exodus 9:19-20 god slaughters Egyptian cattle. Sometimes, cow tipping just isn’t enough.
  6. In Exodus 9:29-30 god kills off innocent babies, and whatever cows he missed earlier.
  7. In Exodus 20:17 god tells us not to free another’s slaves. Abolitionists beware!!
  8. In Exodus 32:27-28 god tells the sons to slaughter their neighbors: 3,000 men are slain.
  9. In Leviticus 19:20-22 god demands that raping a slave woman is punishable by scourging the victim. The rapist is to be forgiven.
  10. In Leviticus 25:44-46 god tells his followers to make slaves of their neighbors.
  11. In Leviticus 27:3-7 god helpfully provides a pricing guide. According to this guide, as a male between the ages of 20 and 60 years (the most expensive category), I am worth approximately US$25. How much are you worth to god?
  12. In Numbers 14:18 god’s idea of justice is explained: little children are to be punished for their great-great grandparents transgressions.
  13. In Numbers 31:1-54 god tells his followers to commit genocide, “sparing” only the virgin girls, who are to be raped. Even god gets some “unspared” virgins.
  14. In Numbers 33:4 god kills of another batch of Egyptian babies. Abortion is a sin because…?
  15. In Deuteronomy 2:33-36 god demands genocide again. No mention of virgin girls this time, unless these children are raped to death…
  16. In Deuteronomy 7:2 god demands more genocide from his followers.
  17. In Deuteronomy 13:12-16 god demands new and improved genocide, now including cattle. Oh, wait, we’ve had that before. Damn cows.
  18. In Deuteronomy 32:21-26 god glories in being a psychotic terrorist. Don’t miss the atrocities of Deuteronomy 28, either!
  19. In Joshua 6:18-19 the omnipotent creator is short of cash, again.
  20. In Joshua 8:22-26 god demands more genocide, plus some more slavery as detailed in Joshua 9:21-27, but this time, in Joshua 10:10-11, we get slaughter and a chase scene!! Go, god!!
  21. In Joshua 10:28-32 god demands still more genocide.
  22. In Joshua 11:6-17 god still demands more genocide. There are more exceptions to “Thou shalt not kill” than there are to a rich man’s tax code.
  23. In Judges 1:2-7. god’s takes a break from genocide, has his followers kill “only” 10,000 people, but at least they get to torture and mutilate somebody by cutting off both thumbs and big toes!
  24. In Judges 1:12-13 Caleb offers his daughter as prize to anyone who conquers the City of Debir. The girl’s cousin wins the contest, thus the prize.
  25. In Judges 1:17-19 god gets back to good, ol’ regular genocide. Killing innocent people is serious work!!
  26. In Judges 2:14 god has a temper-tantrum and sells Israel into slavery.
  27. In Judges 3:28-29 & 4:15-16 god reverts to, you guessed it, genocide.
  28. In Judges 5:30 god hands out a damsel or two to each of his rapist soldiers. Booty Call!!
  29. In Judges 10:17 god gets angry at Israel, again, and sells them into slavery, again.
  30. In Judges 12:6 god slays 42,000 innocent people because someone with a speech impediment mispronounces the word “shibboleth”. I’ll bet you thought the word “lisp” was cruel jest.
  31. In Judges 15:4-8 a “righteous” Samson captures 300 foxes, ties their tails together, and sets them on fire. Abusing animals is almost as righteous as killing babies, apparently.
  32. In Judges 19:22-30, after taking in a traveling Levite, the host offers his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine to a mob of perverts (who want to have sex with his guest). The mob refuses the daughter, but accepts the concubine and they “abuse her all night.” The next morning she crawls back to the doorstep and dies. The Levite mounts her dead body on an ass and takes her home. Then he chops her body up into twelve pieces and sends them to each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  33. In Judges 21:7-23 in order to find wives for the Benjamites, who were unwilling to use their own daughters, the other tribes attacked and killed all occupants of a city except for the young virgins. These virgins were then given to the Benjamites as “wives”.
  34. In 1 Samuel 2:10 if god doesn’t like you he will send a thunderstorm to break your body into little pieces. In 1 Samuel 2:31-34, if god really doesn’t like you, he will cut off your arm, consume your eyes, grieve your heart, and slay your sons and grandfathers. In 1 Samuel 5:6, 9, and 12 we learn that if god really, really doesn’t like you, he will give you hemorrhoids in your “secret parts”.
  35. In 1 Samuel 5:11 god wipes out another city.
  36. In 1 Samuel 15:2-3 god demands more genocide, this time as punishment for some no doubt petty transgression committed hundreds of years previously by the forefathers of these innocent people.
  37. In 1 Samuel 15:7-34 god goads Saul into torturing and slaying his prisoner, a King.
  38. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus strongly approves of the law and the prophets. He hasn’t the slightest objection to the cruelties of the Old Testament.
  39. In Matthew 8:21 Jesus shows no compassion for the bereaved, saying to a man who had just lost his father: “Let the dead bury the dead.”
  40. In Matthew 8:32 Jesus abuses animals by sending some devils into a herd of pigs, causing the pigs to run off a cliff and drown in the sea below. The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Was there a local shortage of Egyptian cows? Moo!
  41. In Matthew 10:15 Jesus becomes a terrorist, and threatens genocide against cities.
  42. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus tries to scare people by telling them that his dad can beat up their dad.
  43. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus threatens more cities.
  44. In Matthew 12:47-49 “Mister Family Values” himself (Jesus) is disrespectful to his mother and rude to his brothers.
  45. In Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus threatens to send his angels against any who offend him, and send them straight to hell. Love, peace, tolerance, and forgiveness are beneath him, apparently.
  46. In Matthew 15:4-7 Jesus commits hypocrisy by demanding all others to honor their parents. “Sorry about being rude back in Matthew 12, Mom.”
  47. In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus advocates self-mutilation, but for others, not him. He’s perfect, thank you.
  48. In Matthew 18:25 Jesus advocates slavery.
  49. In Matthew 25:29 Jesus proposes a system of economy where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
  50. In Mark 5:12-13 Jesus spooks 2,000 pigs, causing them to jump of a cliff and drown in the sea. Is this evidence of more animal abuse, or is the story from Matthew 8:32 getting better with each telling?
  51. In Mark 6:11 Jesus resorts to threatening cities again. Die, innocent babies, Die!!
  52. In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus criticizes people for not killing their children, as they should have, according to Old Testament law. The same law Jesus broke when he was disrespectful to his Mother in Matthew 12:47-49.
  53. In Mark 10:29-30 Jesus will reward men who abandon their wives and children.
  54. In Mark 11:13-14 Jesus kills a fig tree for not bearing fruit, even though it was out of season. Apparently, “Mister Perfect” wasn’t much of an agronomist, or ethicist.
  55. In Luke 8:20-21 Jesus is disrespectful to his mother and rude to his brothers, again. Or still?
  56. In Luke 8:27-37 Jesus heals a naked man who was possessed by many devils by sending the devils into a herd of pigs, causing them to run off a cliff and drown in the sea. This messy, cruel, and expensive (for the owners of the pigs) treatment did not favorably impress the local residents, and Jesus was asked to leave. This story does get better with each telling!!
  57. In Luke 10:10-15 Jesus terrorizes entire cities, claiming they will be violently destroyed and the inhabitants “thrust down to hell” for not “receiving” his disciples. No doubt these people preferred their pigs.
  58. In Luke 12:46-47 Jesus likens god to a sadistic, diabolical slave-owner, who will beat you “with many stripes”.
  59. In Luke 14:26 Jesus decides that it is not enough for men to abandon their families; they must actively hate them, too. Where is the love??
  60. In Luke 16:17 Jesus declares that all the vicious, irrational laws of the Old Testament are binding forever.
  61. In Luke 17:27 Jesus talks about Noah, neatly demonstrating his own ignorance of science, history, and justice.
  62. In John 2:4 Jesus is, again, rude to his mother. She seemed so nice, too.
  63. In John 5:14 Jesus stupidly announces that god handicaps people as just punishment for their sins.
  64. In John 7:8-10 Jesus lies to his family about attending a feast.
  65. In Acts 5:1-10 Peter, with god’s help, kills a man who sold his possessions, but did not fork over all of the earnings. Why is the omnipotent creator always short of cash?
  66. In Acts 13:48 we learn that only pre-ordained people would be allowed in heaven. So much for freewill…

How you will be wasting your time in the near future

March 3rd, 2006 — Wordman

Will Wright has changed the face of computer gaming at least twice. He’s about to do it again in what may turn out to be the coolest video game ever. I’m not even going to try to explain it, but let Mr. Wright show you himself in this video. The video is quite long. After about the first two minutes, you are thinking to yourself “well, that looks like it might be kinda fun”. After about seven minutes, you really want to play it. But the video continues for another twenty minutes and just keeps getting better.

Seriously, if you like computer simulation games at all, spend the time to watch the whole thing. Keep an eye out for the way he uses the word “landmark”, which gives some interesting insight into the way his mind works.

Once you’ve seen the video, you might also read this article about it. I think it’s pretty clear that “Spore” will be a household word before the decade is out.