Philosophers and determining the meaning of life with a multiple choice test

It’s a weird, interesting, frustrating Survey on the Good and Meaningful Life. There were bits that made me think, and lots of bits where I thought, “my answer isn’t one of these multiple choice options!”

Go get provoked by it anyway. Now I just hope there is a follow up where Jean Kazez answers the question, “What was the meaning of that survey?”


[The scene: a misty auditorium in an undefinable state in the universe. The seats are occupied by ghosts; Sir Roger Penrose presides benignly from a pulpit overlooking all. He gestures, and Stuart Hameroff rises to deliver the sermon.]

Quantum quantum quantum. Quantum quantum. Quantum quantum quantum quantum, quantum quantum quantum, quantum quantum quantum. Quantum quantum. Quantum our experience of consciousness quantum is the result of quantum gravity effects inside these quantum microtubules – a process they call quantum orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) quantum quantum, quantum quantum.

Quantum, quantum quantum. Quantum quantum quantum, quantum quantum quantum quantum quantum quantum quantum. Quantum quantum. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed, it just quantum distributes and dissipates to the universe at quantum large. Therefore, quantum.

In a near-death experience the microtubules lose their quantum state but the information within them is not quantum destroyed. Quantum quantum. Quantum quantum quantum. Or in layman’s terms, the soul does not die but returns to quantum the quantum universe quantum. Quantum. Quantum quantum quantum quantum quantum, quantum quantum Quantum.

Quantum, my preciousss. We wants it, quantum quantum.

[Hameroff sits back down. Penrose smiles and silently blesses the audience. All disappear, quantally, as the quantum choir chants about quanta.]

Oh, look, a November surprise

Wait, no, I mean a November fizzle. I’m sure Romney was praying for signs of a dying economy, but instead the October jobs report shows higher than expected employment — 158,000 jobs added. It’s going to take a little effort to spin that into a litany of failure. But I’ll try.

The reason we had a substantial increase in jobs was that Obama’s gay-friendly policies attracted a swarm of natural catastrophes that caused a temporary surge of hiring as good, hardworking Republican heterosexuals were forced to hire illegal immigrants to cope with the devastation.

Also, Satan.

Oh, wait. I just learned that most of the growth was in the health and education sectors. Uh…Obamacare! And evilution!

Also, still Satan.

Truth ought to matter

Read this first paragraph of an article on the Book of Mormon. I rather quickly came to some conclusions about the author and the quality of his arguments.

WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF MORMON? For nearly two centuries, faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) have claimed that Joseph Smith translated the text from the writings of ancient prophets, while critics have endlessly recycled inadequate theories of plagiarism or co-authorship. What has rarely been addressed is that for much of his language and narrative structure, Smith turned to the most read and memorized author of the late seventeenth century, John Bunyan. He did so in such imaginative ways that the resulting work transcends any easy charge of plagiarism and calls upon us to reimagine the rich oral traditions of early America.

The rich oral traditions? Is that a new fancy term for “bullshit”?

The premise of the article is that the Book of Mormon is written as a literary homage to Bunyan — now I’m no fan of that pious nonsense Bunyan wrote, but that is perhaps the most slanderous thing I’ve seen written about him. No, Joseph Smith was not consciously emulating Bunyan; Smith was a con man with no literary skill who was mimicking the style of 17th century English to tie his phony story to the religious authority of the King James Bible and yes, other religious authors of that era. It is not an “imaginative” book — it’s pure blithering hackwork that goes on and on, and is a blighted fusion of faux KJV and glossolalia. It is the work of a charlatan shouting into a hat.

I’ve read chunks of the Book of Mormon. It is crap. It’s more poorly written than the Twilight series, or even 50 Shades of Gray. If you’re looking for the primal source of American popular hack literature, there it is in the work of Joseph Smith, and his bad fantasy novel that would have died of contempt if he hadn’t used it to tap into American religious gullibility. It is to Bunyan and the religious literature of the times as Eye of Argon is to science fiction and fantasy literature — a badly written derivative.

Seriously, this is a terrible article that tries to put a thin golden veneer on top of a turd. I don’t know why the LA Review of Books or Salon chose to publish it. The author is pandering to the Mormons, nothing more.

For instance, take a look at this summary of the Mormon story.

To the LDS faithful, the Book of Mormon is the true historical account of a group of ancient Israelites who fled Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian captivity (600 B.C.E.) and later journeyed to the Americas to establish a new civilization. Mormons claim that in 1823 an angel named Moroni revealed to Joseph Smith the location of a set of gold plates – which recorded that sacred history – buried in a hill south of Palmyra in upstate New York, known today as the Hill Cumorah. Six years later, at the age of 24, Joseph translated this ancient record, which he claimed was written in “Reformed Egyptian,” into English by “the gift and power of God.”

A real historian would look at that baldly ridiculous story and dismiss it as nonsense. Just the complete absence of provenance and its foundation in a story made up in a non-existent language and written on mysterious gold plates in New York (plates that no one else has ever seen) ought to mark it as fraud. But no, not to William L. Davis, who is trying to rationalize the story.

This is how he sums up the case against the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

Detractors, on the other hand, assume the Book of Mormon to be Smith’s invention, pointing not just to the improbability of the story, but to the lack of any linguistic, archeological, or DNA evidence tying any tribe of Native Americans to ancient Israelites. Several theories of the origin of the text have emerged, but they lack solid evidence and require leaps of speculation. The wider academic community steered clear of the debate, leaving serious inquiry into the Book of Mormon to a small group of scholars and enthusiasts. Some Mormon scholars, like Grant Hardy, who wrote Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, have attempted to move the discussion away from polemics to an appreciation for the book’s narrative complexities. As with most scripture, however, claims to historical authenticity remain a central issue. Joseph Smith stated that the Book of Mormon was “the keystone of our religion,” to which the former LDS Prophet Ezra Taft Benson added, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” Thus the stakes regarding authenticity are high, and the suggestion that Joseph Smith looked extensively to John Bunyan for inspiration to write the Book of Mormon is fraught not only for Mormon scholarship but for the religion as a whole.

No, the argument against the historicity of the Book of Mormon isn’t based on nothing but a lack of evidence supporting it; it’s about a body of “linguistic, archeological, or DNA evidence” that directly contradicts the story. America was not colonized by a group of Hebrew refugees in 600BCE who built a flourishing white civilization that crumbled, leaving modern degenerate tribes of brown people to wander among the ruins. It didn’t happen, period. You want to find the roots of Mormonism, you should be looking to the endemic racism of the Americans of European descent who were trying to justify an ongoing genocide. Not Bunyan.

I do like the remark that “so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.” I’m happy to accept that. It falls.

You know, the truth matters. Religions built on lies, like all of them, do not deserve respect or to persevere. I can see through all the vain striving to find some glimmer of character in Joseph Smith or some shadow of literary quality in his hat-shouting exercise — but what it all ought to come down to is, “IS IT TRUE?” And when it isn’t, it ought to be kicked to the curb and hauled away with the trash.

A Shonky poll

The Shonky Awards are an annual recognition of shoddy service and deceitful products in Australia. All are deserving (except Toblerone: their complaint is that the number of servings doesn’t line up with the number of pieces. But everyone knows you’re supposed to eat the whole Toblerone yourself, and not share). I don’t normally suggest how you should vote, but I would like to point out that Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicines is homeopathic and extravagantly priced water marketed to kids, and is probably the most appalling case on the list. But a lot of people seem to be outraged by Ticketmaster’s greed and an upscale travel company’s restrictions on refunds.

Which is the Shonkiest product or service?

Cabcharge 12%
Exit Mould and Coles Mould Remover 6%
Jetset Travelworld Group 11%
Liquipel 4%
Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicines 16%
Samsung washing machine SW70SP 4%
Ticketek and Ticketmaster 41%
Toblerone 1%

Around FtB

How was everyone’s Halloween? I had to work late and missed prime trick-or-treating time, so I had no kids stop by. Now I have these bags of candy that I’m sure not going to eat. I’ll dig into the goody bag of FtB, instead.

  • Stephanie Zvan was at CSICon, and she thinks they did a good job on social justice issues.

  • Kate Donovan revisits Harrison Bergeron and the ableist fallacy.

  • Brianne Bilyeu displays the post-Halloween aftermath. It’s not pretty.

  • Sikivu Hutchinson discusses the sport of Black Women Bashing. Don’t tell the Olympic committee.

  • Ophelia Benson has to remind us of the Montreal Massacre. I remember that, vividly: “I hate feminists!” has a peculiar resonance to those of us who followed events on that day.

  • Richard Carrier explains that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, which was all over the news a while back, is a forgery.

  • Ian Cromwell has a guest post from Jamie James on abortion. No punches are pulled.

  • Digital Cuttlefish discovers something amazing: the Romney Mega Prayer. Did you know that scientists have proven that group prayer works?

  • Dana Hunter can sew? What does that have to do with geology?

  • Greta Christina is getting better!

  • Jason Thibeault hosts an epic rap battle. Lincoln won, naturally.

  • Maryam Namazie tells us that her body isn’t obscene, veiling it is.

  • Natalie Reed finds that the trans community is broken. Every community is broken in its own special way; can we fix them?

  • Reasonable Doubts is all about the depraved babies. Sick, morally corrupt, evil babies.

  • Taslima Nasrin catalogs errors and contradictions in the Quran.

Wolves: please visit Canada this weekend

Since Chris wrote about “wildlife services” being one of those oxymoronic names for a department dedicated to exterminating wildlife, I am compelled to mention Minnesota’s shame.

Minnesota has the largest population of wolves in the lower 48 states: a whole 3000, most in the North (none live near me). That’s something that should make us proud, that we can actually bring populations in balance naturally. Deer are experiencing a population explosion right now, and are also expanding their ranges farther north, where they’re also causing problems for moose.

The response of our legislature, though, has been to gleefully pass a law allowing thuggish motherfuckers to slaughter them. The first wolf hunt is scheduled for this weekend.

It’s always dismaying to hear “hunters” talk openly and proudly about their tactics.

Deer come for the food, and Smith said wolves come for the deer. He said where the tracks are, and which cameras the wolves show up on, help him determine where to hunt for the night.

Smith said he’s been a deer hunter for decades, and does it for the challenge. But he said he is hunting wolves because they’re killing the deer on his land. “Seventy-five percent of our does are without fawns this year,” he said.

The day before we spoke with Smith, we met Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, on his hunting property just south of International Falls. Smith’s still hoping to take a wolf, but Dill told us he’s done it three times.

“Theres a thrill that you were able to conquer this,” Dill said.

Dill said he shot all three of his wolves in Canada over the course of many, many years. He authored the bill creating a wolf hunt in Minnesota, for recreation, and population management. He called them the most elusive animal in the state. “It’s a survivor because it’s the top of the food chain, and it knows exactly what to do when to do it.”

So this guy has hunting property where he maintains a population of deer that he kills “for the challenge”. He’s angry that wolves are killing his deer for food and survival. And he’s killing wolves (under a law he authored!) for recreation and “population management”, that universal euphemism for killing. He’s tracking them with hi-tech camera gear and shooting them with high-powered rifles, and calling it a “thrill”.

What an asshole. What a great big flaming asshole.

There are rational people opposing this hunt, but bigwigs of both parties (DFL, you win no brownie points with me on this one) are endorsing it, so it’s going to go on, and probably expand in later years as more happy sadists report their joy. But right now, the Humane Society, the Fund for Animals, the Center for Biodiversity, and Howling for Wolves all oppose the hunt. Unsurprisingly, the Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service all support it…but of course they would, because they might as well retitle themselves the Department of Blowing Miners and Cattlemen.

Some good news: the White Earth Nation has declared their entire reservation a wolf sanctuary, with no hunting allowed. The Red Lake tribe has done likewise.

I have a suggestion: let’s give the whole state back to the Indians. They seem to be the only ones with a sensible appreciation of what “wildlife” actually means.