Mandela and atheist deathbed conversions

I’m still recovering from (minor) surgery, but I saw some mention of Mandela and atheism being floated around (my limited access to Internet is an additional hindrance to accessing information, along with my limited consciousness). However, thankfully, Jacques Rousseau has done a great job in tackling this subject.

In asserting that Mr Mandela’s “atheism” is another reason to celebrate his life, The Freethinker magazine (and, presumably, those who, like Richard Dawkins, retweeted the story in question) seem to be exploiting… “borrowed interest”, but which you might know better as simple opportunistic exploitation of largely irrelevant details about someone’s life.

I say largely irrelevant, because Mandela’s role involved highlighting what we have in common, rather than our differences and antagonisms. If any of the labels we use to describe religion and related issues could fit, the one that would have the best chance would be humanism, because his relationship to the citizens of the world seemed to transcend the quite limited boundaries offered by religion and its explicit opponent, atheism. The focus in religion vs. atheism is on difference, rather than commonality, and hardly seems either a good fit or a fitting thing to bring up while people are still mourning Mandela’s death. It’s crass, and opportunistic.

Furthermore, it also seems largely a fabrication, or at least a fantasy, that he was an atheist at all. The “evidence” offered in The Freethinker consists solely of a birthday wish to Mandela from a South African atheist, urging Mandela to “come out” as an atheist. In another piece, it’s asserted that “the other [after Andrei Sakharov] great moral atheist leader of the 20th century was Nelson Mandela”, but we’re given no reason to believe this assertion to be true.

Jacques’ final paragraph in the post is also important, concerning double-standards when it comes to nonbelievers claiming great people as “their own”.

Guys in dark alleys shouldn’t get upset if women fear them

I wouldn’t blame a strange woman if she was unnerved by me, a lone guy, if she and I were the only ones walking in a dark alley. I call this the Creepy Default.

This has happened twice, but I was the one unnerved due to doing everything I could not to be creepy (my cane doesn’t help, I suppose). Neither time did the woman walk faster or even appear to notice, but I was flustered.

When I told my friend this, she got upset. She said I wouldn’t hurt anyone and that women have no reason to fear me, alone in an alley.

However, the problem is twofold. [Read more…]

On that fake Paris Hilton Tweet

I scold Twitter. Again. Because apparently me and social media are like mortal enemies – or rather online conduct is.

Over at Big Think, I convey why it’s troublesome – both in terms of our conduct online and another area that is related: how we treat celebrities. I dislike the victim-blaming language of “they asked for it” by virtue of being celebrities, in terms of receiving flak and animosity and stalking and whatnot.

I really, really dislike being nasty to innocent, harmless people – even if they are famous.

I can’t say it, but Nehru can

Friends and Comrades,

The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader… the Father of the Nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that. Nevertheless, we will never see him again as we have seen him for these many years. We will not run to him for advice and seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not to me only, but to millions and millions in this country. And it is a little difficult to soften the blow by any other advice that I or anyone else can give you.

The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.

All this has happened when there was so much more for him to do. We could never think that he was unnecessary or that he had done his task. But now, particularly, when we are faced with so many difficulties, his not being with us is a blow most terrible to bear.

…There has been enough of poison spread in this country during the past years and months, and this poison has had an effect on people’s minds. We must face this poison, we must root out this poison, and we must face all the perils that encompass us, and face them not madly or badly, but rather in the way that our beloved teacher taught us to face them. (source)

Vale Nelson Mandela.

Support STASIS: A 2D, Sci-Fi Horror Adventure game

If, like me, you love classic adventure games – King’s Quest, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango and so forth – then this looks perfect. STASIS, boasting stunning art design, Ridley Scott-esque environmental creepiness, and engaging story, is being developed by local creator(s); it’s nearly reached its Kickstarter goal.

I love that it’s made by fellow South Africans, since it shows we’re capable of “world-class” in our creations.

I hope you’ll support it with me. Help me achieve my evil plans of showing the world what my country can do, beyond making biltong, getting upset at lady hunters, and laughable leadership.

[Mini-fisk] JR Hill, defending monarchy and conflating arguments

ComRes recently carried out a poll for the Sunday Telegraph, asking the question: ‘Do you believe Britain is better off as a monarchy or would be better off as a republic?’ 66% voted monarchy, 17% republic and 17% don’t know. Yet the Observer insists that the Royal Family is outdated. Is it not ironic that, in the name of democracy, the Observer rejects polling suggesting a democratic majority in favour of monarchy? Today, theirs is the minority opinion, and in democracies minority opinions are not carried. So, by all means disagree. We can do that sort of thing in a constitutional monarchy. But perhaps we should admit that it is the republicans who are outdated? (source)

JR Hill doesn’t show us the link of “yet” in his initial comment. A poll showing us what the average person thinks doesn’t contradict an argument from a single person. It doesn’t link in two ways.

First 66% could vote that women should be denied jobs, “yet” a John Stuart Mill could argue differently. That doesn’t tell us who is right in that debate (spoiler: it’s the great Mill), it shows us differing opinions. The “yet” should be replaced by another conjunction, like “and”.

But, that’s still probably wrong because of the second way it doesn’t link.

In saying that the Observer thinks the Royal Family is outdated, the only way for that sentence to link is if the Observer was making a FACTUAL claim based on the same poll data – not a moral argument. It would make sense in this way: “The poll says that 66% voted monarchy… yet the Observer insists the poll says majority voted against monarchy”.

The Observer isn’t arguing how many agree, it’s arguing the idea is unjustified.

Indeed, when Hill says “theirs is a minority opinion”, he again seems to be linking majority with justification of argument. This is an appeal to majority fallacy. And again, the Observer wasn’t describing data which is what Hill is doing and conflating.

Melissa Bachman, hunting and the ethics of outrage

In my latest for The Guardian, I examine the backlash against hunter Melissa Bachman who killed a lion then posted a picture of her successful kill on social media. The backlash, more than the kill itself, worries me. That doesn’t mean I support hunting – I still don’t know my moral position on it – but it does confirm my worry over pile-ons, hate and indications of sexism that poisons much discussion of women on the Internet. [Read more…]

The ethics and integrity of consumer media

I made noises (wrote a Medium post) about maintaining a sense of integrity when reporting and criticising and writing on media that is popularly consumed: particularly tech ones.

It’s really an elongated reaction to the frequent, dirty habit of game and other tech journalists Tweeting pictures of amazing technology, that they didn’t themselves pay for (my follow-up post will argue “not paying” is not the same as “for free”).

I’m ignoring the boring accusations of how it means journalists have been bought by whatever company sent them such swag. I’m interested in what is more essential: that critics and writers and so forth ought not to emulate the base actions of fans.

It doesn’t matter how much they love something – be it an Apple product or the latest Call of Duty – what separates them from every commenter and gamer with a blog, is that they should have a higher (or special) degree of integrity, anchored by their responsibility to us: their readers. When they fail that, they’ve failed their job. And we must learn to recognise it.

(You can probably tell how much I hate all those “unboxing” videos of the latest consoles.)