Monthly Archives: March 2010

Ignorance and lies

I’m going to propose a hypothetical situation to you. You’re in a burning building. You need to get out. You make it to the ground floor and end up in a room with two unmarked exits. One of them leads outside to safety. The other leads straight into a worse fire and you’ll be killed instantly if you open it. It fact in that room is worse than a fire. There are also lions in there. Hungry, fire-proof lions. And they have machine guns. Plus there are flying sharks with lasers on their heads. That room is bad news.

The trouble is, you don’t know which door leads to safety and which leads to certain death. Fortunately, there is someone in the room who does.

In one scenario, this person really doesn’t like you. In fact they’re a bit of a prick to people generally. They think it’s funny to send people to their death. So when you ask which door leads to safety he points you to the heavily armed lion and laser shark room. Because he’s an arsehole and he wants you to die.

In another scenario, the person is simply ignorant of how dangerous it is to go into a burning room full of machine gun wielding lions and sharks with lasers on their heads. He doesn’t really know much about wildlife but he does remember seeing a show on TV where someone petted a lion and swam with sharks. That person lived so he figures you’ll also live despite how different the situation is.

You approach the deadly door and ask is it safe to go through? He says yes so you open the door whereupon you are promptly chomped, shot, lasered and burnt to death.

Here’s an important question: in which scenario are you less dead?

That’s a trick question – you’re dead either way. Both the malicious person and the ignorant person kill you. This is why it shits me when people use ignorance as a justification for really negative and destructive behaviour. There are people who’ll make excuses for even truly evil behaviour but it’s far more common for people to want to let people off the hook because of ignorance.

“Oh, when they dressed up in blackface they had no idea it would be considered racist by some people so that means the act itself wasn’t racist.” Ignorance is no excuse. If you’re too fucking stupid to know that an act with a long history of racism is not acceptable then maybe you should just shut the fuck up when you’re being told rather than wearing your ignorance as a badge of honour!

“Why not let those people teach their religious beliefs in a science class?” Because it isn’t fucking science! The fact that someone is too stupid to know their beliefs are completely ridiculous in a scientific context doesn’t mean they should be humoured and given equal time – they should shut the fuck up!

“Don’t be so harsh on those global warming deniers, they genuinely believe that the science doesn’t support the idea that human activity is causing global warming.” FUCK THEM! Opinion is not the same thing as evidence. The fact that their ignorance has let them be led by ideology rather than evidence means they are fucking dangerous. The fact that they are really, really loud doesn’t make them less wrong! Their ignorance risks economic, ecological and human disaster on a global scale. Granting the braying ignorant masses an “equal voice” with established scientific evidence because of the weight of their opinion is not only illogical, it runs the risk of being suicidal.

So the next time someone wants me to indulge the ignorance of idiots I’m going to throw them into a burning room full of implausibly dangerous animals and see how they like it.



Filed under General Angriness

Knowledge vs Data

I’ve just had an epiphany. I was rolling around a few ideas in my head about the nature of learning and thinking when a few puzzle pieces clicked together for me. A disclaimer up front, I’m not claiming these are totally original thoughts that have never been articulated before by other people (although, if that turns out to be the case, hello PhD thesis!) I have not read or heard this exact thing expressed elsewhere which compelled me to write these thoughts down and share them.

Being a science fiction buff I enjoy the speculative and predictive nature of SF stories although I’m very sceptical of many (if any) writers being directly accurate in their predictions. To be fair, the open secret about SF is the best writers aren’t writing thematically about the future, they are writing about now. They use the future and/or alien worlds to frame their ideas but what they are really concerned with is the technology, issues ideas and actions of today and what paths they might lead us down.

So the focus on prediction is far more a shortcoming of readers than writers but it’s something everyone is guilty of at some point.

One of the favourite wet dreams of SF nerds is the idea of downloaded knowledge a la The Matrix and dozens of other stories. I’ve always had a gut feel this one was bullshit simply because of how long so many people have been fixated on it. I’m not really a contrarian by nature, this is more an analysis of the track record of SF predictions than saying “everyone says it so it must be wrong.”

Big and specific predictions (like personal jet packs) tend to be wrong and I’ve been convinced for a while that downloadable or implantable knowledge is simply not going to happen. It comes down to the difference between data and knowledge. Computers can hold and process vast amounts of data but can’t actually come up with ideas of their own (“not yet” is the breathless whisper from the Singularity geeks who squirt a little in their pants as they get worked up yet again over their fantasy of the rapture of the nerds). I’ll go further, the fact that a person has access to Wikipedia (or any encyclopaedia) doesn’t make them smart. In fact, let’s go even further, anyone who copies and pastes slabs of text from Wikipedia because that “proves their point” is a fucking moron.

But someone who reads, researches, analyses, proposes new ideas and just thinks dammit! That is a person who can get away with calling themselves smart.

And that’s why I think implanted/downloaded knowledge can’t work. It’s mixing up data with knowledge. The most likely outcome would be the scenario in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” where kids have information forced into their brains but they can’t use it. When they hear a trigger word they can repeat the relevant data but it still doesn’t mean anything to them.

A kid is asked about the Nile River and automatically repeats “The Nile is the longest river in the world…” Then the kid is asked what is the longest river in the world and can’t answer. He’s prompted “What about the Nile?” He reflexively repeats “The Nile is the longest river in the world…” then he’s prompted, “So what’s the longest river in the world?” and he still can’t answer.

Now, a smart person can benefit from having fast access to data but even a genius doesn’t learn anything useful from it instantly. And quite honestly, a stupid person with data is still stupid. In fact, they’re probably worse now because they’re drowning in a tsunami of data but they have no idea what to do with it. They have no way of knowing what bits of the data are most valuable and they are incapable of applying it effectively. But that won’t stop them from being a pundit on Fox News.


Filed under General

I have offended “the gays”

Here’s a video I did last week:

I have gone through a huge number of permutations of this since seeing some of the reactions to my video last Friday. For those wondering what they’ve missed with those could have been responses, they were essentially variations of “go fuck yourself”. That’s still my central message, it’s really only the tone of delivery that’s changed.

For those who don’t know, my TFU Friday video was 7.30 minutes long and featured me being angry about, among other things, political and moral hypocrisy resulting in the oppression of gay rights – by closeted gays. But the real fireworks came from the fact I used the phrase “Being gay is a choice.” To some people, this is apparently as bad as setting babies on fire.

And then I compounded my sin by not immediately capitulating to some people’s outrage and begging forgiveness. They appeared surprised when I did not react favourable to being told what I can and can’t say. Guess what? When nazis tell me what I can and can’t say I tell them to go fuck themselves. I say the same thing to christians, muslims, atheists, teabaggers, gun nuts, conspiracy theorists and general haters. Go fuck yourself. And some people think the fact they are gay gives them special dispensation to dictate terms to me? See if you can guess what my reaction to that attitude is. I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “go fuck yourself”. I’m an equal opportunity abuser.

If you still can’t tell why these responses pissed me off let me explain. This outrage was generated over three seconds out of a 7&1/2 minute video and that 3 seconds wasn’t even the main point of the video which is why I didn’t put a lot of thought into what interpretation people could put on it if they took it out of context. It isn’t even that they took three seconds out of context in such a long video – a very small number of people have chosen to pass judgement on me based on three seconds despite everything I’ve done here over the years.

If you want me to have any respect for you when you pass judgement on me you had fucking well better put that judgement in the context of every video I’ve made, not three seconds out of one video. Actually, that would take days to watch all of them so that might not be the most practical proposal. Maybe just limit it to watching the video where I talked about bigotry generally and gay rights specifically. I haven’t added those up but that should only take you a couple of hours.

That’s right – that’s how much effort I’ve put into addressing bigotry. What have you done you fucking whiners?

But seeing as so many people do apparently want to know if I think being gay is a choice I will address that directly. To make it clear: my sum total of knowing what it means to be gay is I’m not gay. I wouldn’t waste time trying to make an all encompassing statement about being gay – I doubt anyone can do that but I certainly can’t and that wasn’t remotely what saying “being gay is a choice” was meant to mean.

Having said that, a lot of the outraged comments had a distinct “I am the only gay in the village” tone. It was hard to escape the feeling that a lot of people think they can unequivocally speak for the experience of all gay people everywhere. Kind of a big call.  Hell, in the straight world I see a lot of conflict all the time about what constitutes sexuality and sexual identity – I had no idea things were so clearly defined in the gay world.

One person even went so far as to say sexuality overall was not a choice. All I could think was that their sexuality was very boring if it didn’t involve choices. Or maybe very weird. I make choices all the time: this person/that person, yes/no, this position/that position, do I need batteries, should I go with leather restraints or nylon rope? All sorts of choices.

Also, while I am not one of “the gays” I am one of “the olds”. I know this is the intarwebz and I’m dealing with people who have such a short attention span they don’t remember anything that happened more than 5 seconds ago but I do actually remember when the queer politics orthodoxy was very different, in the olden days. You know, the 80s.

I went to college that had a campus with a very strong Marxist/Leninist/feminist dialectic going on. And back in the day the party line was that being gay was most definitely a choice. The say gays had no choice in the matter was to suggest weakness and even said to be equating homosexuality with base animal urges that needed to be controlled. If you said being gay was genetic you left yourself open to what was essentially eugenics arguments: this “gay gene” was defective and should be treated like any other genetic disorder.

There were seriously even people saying this gay gene should be identified so pregnant women could be tested and defective gay foetuses could be identified in utero and aborted. So careful what you wish for.

Personally, I don’t think homosexuality needs a defence. If you’re gay it’s who you are, regardless of how you arrived there. But if you think you do need a defence to use against social conservatives who declare homosexuality to be somehow “wrong” and you think you have a bulletproof defence with the genetic response, sorry to disappoint you but it ain’t gonna work. Objections to homosexual sex aren’t really about whether or not it’s “natural” (whatever that means), they’re more about “ewww that’s icky.” And no matter what you come up with, the conservatives are still going to think same sex hanky panky is icky.

So yeah, if I had any inkling of how fucking stupidly some people were going to react I might have said “Being gay isn’t an issue, if that’s who you are that’s who you are. But being a lying, hypocritical coward who actively ruins the lives of people who aren’t as privileged makes you a worthless piece of shit.”

And if that isn’t good enough for you, I really don’t give a fuck about you.

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TFU Files – Lying gay conservatives

One of my favourite topics earned a guernsey for this week’s TFU Friday – anti-gay conservatives who are actually gay. Roy Ashburn isn’t as spectacular as Ted Haggard (using church money to buy crack cocaine and gay escorts) or as funny as Larry Craig (I have a “wide stance”) but he’s one of the boys now.

Here’s a fun slideshow of anti-gay hypocrites through the years.

The other story that caught my eye was so fucked up it’s almost sad. Fox News sued for the right to deliberately lie to the public – and they won. How do you even satirise an outfit that has stopped even pretending they have a soul?


Filed under General Angriness

1+1 DOES NOT =3

A few thoughts on facts, lies, disagreement, argument and controversy.

I’ll start with a self-evident fact. 1+1=2. There’s no shades of grey there, it’s a simple, irrefutable mathematical fact that 1+1=2. Now imagine someone comes along and wants to propose that 1+1 in fact =4. I don’t know why they want to assert something so ridiculous. Maybe a magic bloke in the sky told them. Or maybe they have a book that they declare is the divine word of this magic bloke in the sky despite the fact it’s nothing more than a bunch of fairy stories invented centuries ago to scare illiterate goat herders into behaving themselves.

Whatever. They’re being very loud about their belief that 1+1=4. No amount of evidence will sway them. The fact that every credible mathematician in the world tells them that, no, your point of view isn’t valid, 1+1 is definitely 2 doesn’t even slow them down. They trot out someone they call a “creation mathematician” who says that because the magic bloke in the sky created everything including numbers, whatever he says about numbers must be true, therefore 1+1=4.

The actual mathematicians spend a bit of time trying to think of the most polite way to say “Fuck off and leave us alone you deranged, inbred fuckwit”. In the meantime, some other people who believe in the magic bloke in the sky start to think the creation mathematicians are onto something. “I’ve never understood mathematics, I’ve failed every maths test I’ve taken in my life. I reckon it’s because the mathematicians are wrong. All that complicated thinking is just there to confuse us. I believe the magic bloke in the sky says 1+1=4.”

It never occurs to them that the reason they don’t understand mathematics is that they are really fucking stupid. Likewise, not understanding mathematics is a good indication you should leave it to the mathematicians rather than shouting that the simpler thing you’ve decided you believe in is more valid.

Soon, politicians start to latch onto creation mathematics. They’ve known for years that it’s easier to get ten morons to vote for them than it is to get one smart person on their side. They have all had expensive educations at the most prestigious universities in the country and they know creation mathematics is fucking insane. They also know how much the inbred yokels lap it up when they talk about being simple folk who believe in the same “down home” values.

So it starts to be put about that creation mathematics should be part of the school curriculum. Because so many uninformed morons believe it, it should be taught alongside mathematical principles that have been proven by the greatest thinkers in history. Because the blatherings of clueless fuckwits have the same validity as the output of the finest minds known to humanity – what are you, an elitist or something?

Most maths teachers jack up at this saying “creation mathematics” isn’t mathematics and has no place in a classroom because it’s fucking voodoo. The weasel politicians say you should “teach the controversy” despite the fact the only controversy is the fact that morons whose outlook belongs more in the middle ages think they deserve to be taken seriously.

Then someone suggests a compromise, maybe we should follow the middle ground. Maybe neither “extreme” is right. This is bullshit for a couple of reasons. First, there’s only one extreme here – the extreme stupidity in believing in superstitious rubbish like creation mathematics over science. Second, the two viewpoints are not equally valid. The rantings of an ignorant fool who believes in a magic bloke in the sky simply don’t belong in the same place as the works of someone following rigorous scientific and/or academic process.

In short, a compromise would be saying 1+1=3 and that simply isn’t right. There are times when compromise is a good thing (in fact, this is probably the case most of the time) but sometimes it is simply not a legitimate option. Sometimes one answer is absolutely right and one asnwer is absolutely wrong. 1+1 will never =3.

Obviously, nothing as stupid as this could happen in the real world, I was using this fictional example to illustrate a point. I’m a very reasonable person (despite some performances that may suggest otherwise). I know some people can’t tell the difference between a performance and real life but trust me, in real life I’m likely to go out of my way to avoid offending someone. But I won’t back away from a fight when some fucking moron wants to fly in the face of reality with their stupid ideology.

So don’t expect me to “respect” someone who doesn’t deserve any respect. Sometimes people are so ignorant, so duplicitous and so WRONG that contempt is all they deserve. And I have to admit, I enjoy dishing it out.


Filed under General Angriness