Followup to:  Yudkowsky and Frank on Religious Experience, Yudkowksy and Frank On Religious Experience Pt 2
With sincere apologies to: Mike Godwin

You are General Eisenhower. It is 1945. The Allies have just triumphantly liberated Berlin. As the remaining leaders of the old regime are being tried and executed, it begins to become apparent just how vile and despicable the Third Reich truly was.

In the midst of the chaos, a group of German leaders come to you with a proposal. Nazism, they admit, was completely wrong. Its racist ideology was false and its consequences were horrific. However, in the bleak poverty of post-war Germany, people need to keep united somehow. They need something to believe in. And a whole generation of them have been raised on Nazi ideology and symbolism. Why not take advantage of the national unity Nazism provides while discarding all the racist baggage? "Make it so," you say.

The swastikas hanging from every boulevard stay up, but now they represent "traditional values" and even "peace". Big pictures of Hitler still hang in every government office, not because Hitler was right about racial purity, but because he represents the desire for spiritual purity inside all of us, and the desire to create a better society by any means necessary. It's still acceptable to shout "KILL ALL THE JEWS AND GYPSIES AND HOMOSEXUALS!" in public places, but only because everyone realizes that Hitler meant "Jews" as a metaphor for "greed", "gypsies" as a metaphor for "superstition", and "homosexuals" as a metaphor for "lust", and so what he really meant is that you need to kill the greed, lust, and superstition in your own heart. Good Nazis love real, physical Jews! Some Jews even choose to join the Party, inspired by their principled stand against spiritual evil.

The Hitler Youth remains, but it's become more or less a German version of the Boy Scouts. The Party infrastructure remains, but only as a group of spiritual advisors helping people fight the untermenschen in their own soul. They suggest that, during times of trouble, people look to Mein Kampf for inspiration. If they open to a sentence like "The Aryan race shall conquer all in its path", then they can interpret "the Aryan race" to mean "righteous people", and the sentence is really just saying that good people can do anything if they set their minds to it. Isn't that lovely?

Soon, "Nazi" comes to just be a synonym for "good person". If anyone's not a member of the Nazi Party, everyone immediately becomes suspicious. Why is she against exterminating greed, lust, and superstition from her soul? Does she really not believe good people can do anything if they set their minds to it? Why does he oppose caring for your aging parents? We definitely can't trust him with high political office.

It is four years later. Soon, the occupation will end, and Germany will become an independent country once again. The Soviets have already taken East Germany and turned it Communist. As the de facto ruler of West Germany, its fate is in your hands. You ask your two most trusted subordinates for advice.

First, Colonel F gives his suggestion. It is vital that you order the preservation of the Nazi ideology so that Germany remains strong. After all, the Germans will need to stay united as a people in order to survive the inevitable struggle with the Soviets. If Nazism collapsed, then people would lose everything that connects them together, and become dispirited. The beautiful poetry of Mein Kampf speaks to something deep in the soul of every German, and if the Allies try to eradicate that just because they disagree with one outdated interpretation of the text, they will have removed meaning from the lives of millions of people all in the name of some sort of misguided desire to take everything absolutely literally all the time.

Your other trusted subordinate, Colonel Y, disagrees. He thinks that Mein Kampf may have some rousing passages, but that there's no special reason it has a unique ability to impart meaning to people other than that everyone believes it does. Not only that, but the actual contents of Mein Kampf are repulsive. Sure, if you make an extraordinary effort to gloss over or reinterpret the repulsive passages, you can do it, but this is more trouble than it is worth and might very well leave some lingering mental poison behind. Germany should completely lose all the baggage of Nazism and replace it with a completely democratic society that has no causal linkage whatsoever to its bloody past.

Colonel F objects. He hopes you don't just immediately side with Colonel Y just because the question includes the word "Nazi". Condemning Nazism is an obvious applause light, but a political decision of this magnitude requires a more carefully thought-out decision. After all, Nazism has been purged of its most objectionable elements, and the Germans really do seem to like it and draw a richer life from it. Colonel Y needs to have a better reason his personal distaste for an ideology because of past history in order to take it away from them.

Colonel Y thinks for a moment, then begins speaking. You have noticed, he says, that the new German society also has a lot of normal, "full-strength" Nazis around. The "reformed" Nazis occasionally denounce these people, and accuse them of misinterpreting Hitler's words, but they don't seem nearly as offended by the "full-strength" Nazis as they are by the idea of people who reject Nazism completely.

Might the existence of "reformed" Nazis, he asks, enable "full-strength" Nazis to become more powerful and influential? He thinks it might. It becomes impossible to condemn "full-strength" Nazis for worshipping a horrible figure like Hitler, or adoring a horrible book like Mein Kampf, when they're doing the same thing themselves. At worst, they can just say the others are misinterpreting it a little. And it will be very difficult to make this argument, because all evidence suggests that in fact it's the "full-strength" Nazis who are following Hitler's original intent and the true meaning of Mein Kampf, and the "reformed" Nazis who have reinterpreted it for political reasons. Assuming the idea of not being a Nazi at all remains socially beyond the pale, intellectually honest people will feel a strong pull towards "full-strength" Nazism.

Even if the "reformed" Nazis accept all moderate liberal practices considered reasonable today, he says, their ideology might still cause trouble later. Today, in 1945, mixed race marriage is still considered taboo by most liberal societies, including the United States. The re-interpreters of Mein Kampf have decided that, although "kill all the Jews" is clearly metaphorical, "never mix races" is meant literally. If other nations began legalizing mixed race marriage in the years to come, Party members will preach to the faithful that it is an abomination, and can even point to the verse in Mein Kampf that said so. It's utterly plausible that a "reformed" Nazi Germany may go on forbidding mixed race marriage much longer than surrounding countries. Even if Party leaders eventually bow to pressure and change their interpretation, the Party will always exist as a force opposing racial equality and social justice until the last possible moment.

And, he theorizes, there could be even deeper subconscious influences. He explains that people often process ideas and morals in ways that are only tangentially linked to specific facts and decisions. Instead, we tend to conflate things into huge, fuzzy concepts and assign "good" and "bad" tags to them. Saying "Jews are bad, but this doesn't apply to actual specific Jews" is the sort of thing the brain isn't very good at. At best, it will end out with the sort of forced politeness a person who's trying very hard not be racist shows around black people. As soon as we assign a good feeling to the broad idea of "Nazism", that reflects at least a little on everything Nazism stands for, everything Nazism ever has stood for, and every person who identifies as a Nazi.

He has read other essays that discuss the ability of connotations to warp thinking. Imagine you're taught things like "untermenschen like Jews and Gypsies are people too, and should be treated equally." The content of this opinion is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, it creates a category called "untermenschen" with a bad connotation and sticks Jews and Gypsies into it. Once you have accepted that Jews and Gypsies comprise a different category, even if that category is "people who are exactly like the rest of us except for being in this category here", three-quarters of the damage is already done. Here the Colonel sighs, and reminds you of the discrimination faced by wiggins in the modern military.

And (he adds) won't someone please think of the children? They're not very good at metaphor, they trust almost anything they hear, and they form a scaffolding of belief that later life can only edit, not demolish and rebuild. If someone was scared of ghosts as a child, they may not believe in ghosts now, but they're going to have some visceral reaction to them. Imagine telling a child "We should kill everyone in the lesser races" five times a day, on the assumption that once they're a teenager they'll understand what a "figurative" means and it'll all be okay.

He closes by telling you that he's not at all convinced that whatever metaphors the Nazis reinterpret Mein Kampf to mean aren't going to be damaging in themselves. After all, these metaphors will have been invented by Nazis, who are not exactly known for choosing the best moral lessons. What if "kill all lesser races" gets reinterpreted to "have no tolerance for anything that is less than perfect"? This sounds sort of like a good moral lesson, until people start preaching that it means we should lock up gay people, because homosexuality is an "imperfection". That, he says, is the sort of thing that happens when you get your morality from cliched maxims taken by drawing vapid conclusions from despicably evil works of literature.

So, the Colonel concludes, if you really want the German people to be peaceful and moral, you really have no choice but to nip this growing "reformed Nazi" movement in the bud. Colonel F has made some good points about respecting the Germans' culture, but doing so would make it difficult to eradicate their existing racist ideas, bias their younger generation towards habits of thought that encourage future racism, create a strong regressive tendency in their society, and yoke them to poorly fashioned moral arguments.

And, he finishes, he doesn't really think Nazism is that necessary for Germany to survive. Even in some crazy alternate universe where the Allies had immediately cracked down on Nazism as soon as they captured Berlin, yea, even in the absurd case where Germany immediately switched to a completely democratic society that condemned everything remotely associated with Nazism as evil and even banned swastikas and pictures of Hitler from even being displayed - even in that universe, Germans would keep a strong cultural identity and find new symbols of their patriotism.

Ridiculous, Colonel F objects! In such a universe, the Germans would be left adrift without the anchor of tradition, and immediately be taken over by the Soviets.

Colonel Y just smiles enigmatically. You are reminded of the time he first appeared at your command tent, during the middle of an unnatural thunderstorm, with a copy of Hugh Everett's The Theory of the Universal Wave Function tucked under one arm. You shudder, shake your head, and drag yourself back to the present.

So, General, what is your decision?

New Comment
288 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Reading this article is one of the things that caused me to become an atheist.

This is beautiful. My only problem with it is that I can't show it to anyone who'd be able to directly benefit from the cognitive dissonance, because they would be too offended about being compared to Nazis to glean anything useful.

I think you, perhaps, miss the ideal target audience of this post. What Yvain presents here is in effect a counterargument against people who argue that religion isn't all that bad, even if it's false, because of the other benefits it gives people. Anyone who is reduced to defending religion on these grounds is likely not a typical theist.

This isn't an argument against theism, it's "opiate of the masses" vs. "just say no to drugs".

Sure. But I wouldn't be inclined to try to convince those people because I'm inclined to tolerate tolerance of religion.

I think it's bad to punish people for their tolerance, but it has to be OK to try to change their mind?

Hmm... I think the argument against objecting when people don't dislike religion enough is a lot stronger than the argument against objecting when people actually spread false statements minimizing the harm from religion.
It's kind of an argument without an audience, if you ask me. Nobody who cares about being wrong in the first place believes the thing that Yvain's elaborate allegory is supposed to refute. Really it amounts to a long and self-indulgent way to say something simple: "the comfortable lie ultimately does more harm than good". Then again, 2000 words about how "religion is like nazism!" is certain to win a lot of fawning and back-patting from, well, the sort of people who you see posting comments here.

Yeah, I think I'm just going to link it anyway. See what happens.

I'd be interested to see what kinds of results you get, from brittle and less brittle recipients of the link.
Posted to my personal journal here, so we'll see if any angry comments turn up. Besides, these comments are (currently) at the top of the page -- if they've read all the way through, there's no reason they couldn't self-report =)

As someone who grew up hearing countless sermons comparing the conquest of Canaan and other Old Testament battles to the spiritual victories we should have in our lives, I can really appreciate this. For example, when the walls of Jericho fall down, this means that the "walls" that keep us from spiritual blessings need to fall down. Of course, the actual writers meant the destruction of real, stone-and-mortar walls and the death of real, flesh-and-blood people. (1)

As a child the true implications of killing every man, woman, and child in a city were lost on me. Rethinking the Bible stories as an adult, especially after seeing real footage of the aftermath of war, has a very different effect. It is interesting to note the rationalizations people use to try to reconcile the cognitive dissonance:

(1) I think this is what the writers of the Old Testament had in mind, regardless of whether or not the specific battles actually took place.

This reminds me of a rather interesting argument I foolishly got into on an internet forum that had no connection to religion. First mistake.

Anyhow, it involved someone saying Christianity was a religion of peace, and I couldn't help but quote:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father..." (full quote here)

His response, with what I assume was a completely straight face, was, "I'm glad you quoted that. Christ is just encouraging spirited debate within the household."

This would be hilarious if it weren't so terrifying.

My own view of that and similar statements is that Jesus was clearly expecting world-changing divine intervention to occur during his lifetime - he was basically the leader of a "the end is near" cult, waiting for God to go all Old Testament on the Roman Empire, much like he did to the Egyptians in the book of Exodus. The "Kingdom of Heaven" was to be a Jewish nation-state on Earth, which would be established after Rome was defeated by the hand of God. (Yes, indeed, embrace pacifism and endure your suffering, because God is coming to smite the wicked. And he's coming any day now!)

The religion that we now know as Christianity owes at least as much to Paul of Tarsus than to a certain wandering preacher that pissed off the local authorities and ended up nailed to a piece of wood.

There is no meaningful historical evidence that "Jesus" ever existed. The arguments for the existence of that figure boil down to "I don't think Paul would have made all that stuff up, it's too awesome", and I don't think they merit a high degree of belief in the historicity of Jesus (although plenty of career academics would argue vociferously that this argument does indeed merit belief in a historical Jesus).

There is no meaningful historical evidence that "Jesus" ever existed.

Not even a rather bland carpenter who got slightly popular, enough for folks like Paul to make stuff up?

No, just as there is no evidence for Russell's teapot.

There is only one historical document from the time of Jesus' supposed life which even resembles evidence of a teacher called Jesus (or Yeshua or whatever), and that is just a reference to a rabbi with the right name who had one brother with the right name. Given that Jesus supposedly had four named brothers and multiple sisters, at least one of whom is also named, there's plenty of scope for that to be a false positive. Taking it as strong evidence would be like taking the discovery of a journalist named Clark who worked with a journalist named James in the 1920s as strong evidence that those two were the historical basis for the story of Superman.

There could have been a historical Yeshua so boring that none of his contemporaries, including the Romans, wrote anything about him during his life or for decades after he died. Or the character could have been entirely made up. Evidence to differentiate these two possible universes does not currently exist.

There are passages in Flavius Josephus that talk about him but are clear fakes. The untampered versions might have been about a real guy named Jesus, but more likely they were reports of Christians beliefs, or just nonexistent. I don't know of any other evidence for the existence of a carpenter turned rabbi who disliked Romans.
As the word evidence is commonly used, there is evidence for Russell's teapot -- just not evidence that you or me believe in. If someone says "Russell's teapot exists! I've seen it!", that is anecdotal evidence for its existence. Anything that suggests something is true or false is evidence, no matter how flawed that evidence may be. It is by considering all the evidence, for and against our beliefs, that we progress towards truth.

I think I might have to write something specifically addressing this misconception because a few people seem to have picked it up.

It's only evidence for the existence of Russell's teapot if more people say they have seen it than you would expect in a universe where Russell's teapot does not exist.

(That's ignoring the fact that Russell's teapot is by stipulation non-observable and hence in that artificial situation we can skip Bayesian updating and just go straight to p=1 that anyone claiming to have observed it is lying or deluded).

I think our disagreement is to do with our differing usage of "evidence", not a misconception. I'd say that a sole anecdote of someone seeing Russell's teapot can be considered evidence for its existence, even though it's not credible evidence. I would add that different situations require different standards of evidence, depending on how willing we are to accept false positives. The fire service only requires one phone call before they respond.
Perhaps a less abstract example would help. Uri Geller used to claim he was projecting his psychic powers over the TV or the radio and invite people to phone in if something "spooky" happened in their home. Inevitably people phoned in to report clocks stopping or starting, things falling off shelves and so on. It was pretty convincing stuff for people who believed in that sort of thing, but it turned out that when skeptics with no psychic powers whatsoever pretended to be psychic on the radio and invited people to phone in they got exactly the same flood of calls. Odd things happen all the time and if you get a large enough sample of people looking about the house for odd things to report you get a fair number of calls. What would have been evidence for Uri Geller having psychic powers is if he got more calls than normal people when he did that stunt. Just getting the base rate of calls anyone else would proves nothing. As you said yourself, you have to look at all the evidence. You might be thinking "I read this Bayes theorem essay, and it said evidence for X was whatever was more likely to be true in a universe where X was true. In a universe where Russell's teapot existed I'd be more likely to hear someone say they saw Russel's teapot, right? So it's evidence! Bayes says so". That line of reasoning only works if you don't have all the evidence to look at so you can't determine the base rate. If you can determine the base rate then it's probably going to turn out that the number of claimed teapot-sightings is consistent with the base rate of stupid noises humans make. If all you have is the one anecdote then it does count as evidence, but only in a strictly philosophical or mathematical sense. Not in any practical sense though since the shift in the relevant p value isn't going to be visible in the first twenty or thirty decimal places and I doubt anyone alive has that level of precision in their decision-making. (The odds of someone having seen Russell's teapo
I don't think a less abstract example will solve a dispute over word usage. And even if they did receive a statistically significant number of calls, perhaps people lied, grouped together and phoned in supernatural events that hadn't actually occurred. I don't have a problem with dismissing evidence if it truly is highly irrelevant. I think the problem is that in some cases evidence that at first seems irrelevant turns out to be important. How relevant a piece of evidence truly is might not become apparent even after significant consideration. This is why, for important matters, I explore as much evidence as possible, even the seemingly irrelevant evidence.
This is really a dispute over maths. The laws of probability are the law, they don't depend on word usage. Of course people can mock up evidence of things that are not in fact true. It's still evidence from the perspective of people who are not in on the plot. All of our evidence for everything could in theory have been mocked up by the architects of the Matrix and it would still all be evidence, from our perspective. I'm not clear how this is relevant to the base rate fallacy though. Strictly speaking what's going on there is that you are collecting facts which might later turn out to be evidence for a hypothesis you have not articulated yet. This is an entirely rational approach to solving certain classes of problems. It doesn't change the definition of evidence though,
Explaining the way one uses a word isn't a statement about maths or the laws of probability either. It's not. I was riffing on what you said. I was discussing ascertaining the trustworthiness of evidence concerning a hypothesis you are currently considering. Like an investigation into whether Uri Gellers phone calls were genuine reports of supernatural events, for example. Of course not. I'm not trying to suggest that my usage of "evidence" is somehow better or superior than yours. I do think mine is more common, but that's a matter of opinion.
It is, actually. It's the Bayesian definition that evidence for X is something more likely to be true in a universe where X than in a universe where -X. Part of the point of Bayes' Theorem is that correction for the base rate fallacy is baked in. That's a large part of what separates Bayesian rationality from irrationality,
What you're saying here is that you use Bayes' theorem to inform your definition of "evidence". If I used a different definition of evidence, that doesn't mean I'm saying something about Bayes' theorem. That simply means I use the word differently. When it comes to evidence, I don't believe Bayes' theorem deals with the real-world problems that arise when considering a hypothesis. For example, it doesn't deal with the "garbage in, garbage out" problem. As I said, we might plug the number of calls Uri Geller got into Bayes' theorem and because of the answer believe that supernatural events did actually occur. But that would be an incorrect conclusion because we have based our conclusion on the faulty premise that more calls means supernatural events are more likely to have occurred.
Absolutely. Otherwise I can't exclude from the domain of "evidence of X" all things which should not incline a rational person to amend their views about X, and I very much want to do that. Note that something can be "evidence" without being "evidence of X" where X is one specific something. Someone calling in to say their watch stopped is evidence that someone called in and evidence that a watch stopped and so on, just not evidence that Uri Geller has radio-propagated psychic powers. I agree with you to the extent that Bayes' theorem is not a magic wand that cures all epistemological ills. You don't have to browse this site for too long to come across people advancing silly ideas under the banner of Bayesian inference because they are using it incorrectly. However while it's not a magic wand it's a mathematical truth about how the universe works, and any time you deliberately deviate from Bayes' theorem you are deliberately going wrong as a matter of mathematical fact. What is actually going on here, assuming you are applying Bayes correctly, is that the prior probability of Uri Geller having radio-propagated psychic powers should be seen as astoundingly low. Far lower than the odds of me winning the lotto twice in a row, for example - let's say one on ten to the fourteenth as a very generous prior probability. If Uri Geller got a lot more phone calls than a skeptic pretending to be a psychic that should tip the scales a little in his favour but nowhere near enough to get P(Uri Geller has psychic powers) up to a level we should take seriously. The premise "more calls makes psychic powers more likely" is not flawed at all. If we lived in a bizarre universe where Uri Geller really could reach out through your radio and stop your watch then we would indeed see more calls coming in, and if we lived in that bizarre world we should want to believe we lived in that bizarre world. I'm very sure we do not live in that world but that's because the evidence is against it,
If someone believes the Bible is central to question of whether God exists, you can challenge that without having a definition of "evidence" that is informed by Bayes' theorem. It could be flawed if there are things that effect the number of phone calls other than Geller's proposed psychic powers. One show might get more calls but also have more viewers, and that obviously doesn't make Geller more likely to be psychic during that particular show. But I am in agreement with you generally with the Uri Geller example. I don't think phone calls to a television show would alone change my mind, but if we did live in a world where he truly did have psychic powers, I would hope that such evidence would lead me to investigate the matter further.
Fair comment. I should have said "all things", not "things", and I've edited the grandparent appropriately. There's an implicit "all else being equal" in such statements, which really shouldn't need to be spelled out if all parties are respecting the principle of charity. Any number of things (time of day, stooges working for Uri, number of listeners, service to the telephone system) could also affect the number of calls received, but if all else is equal as far as we are aware then Uri getting more calls than the skeptic is more likely in a universe where he has psychic powers. Hence by Bayes' theorem it's evidence he has psychic powers - just extremely weak evidence which is alone insufficient to shift our prior probability much. It's also more likely in a universe where Uri has more listeners, has stooges working for him, or has some other non-psychic factor working in his favour of course, and those hypotheses have much, much higher prior probabilities.
If you mean things like the base rate fallacy, then yes it does. If you mean that putting in random numbers for your priors doesn't solve your problems, then there isn't any method of considering evidence that fixes that in principle.
In the paragraph after the one you quoted, I gave an example of what I was discussing. You can check the source of the evidence and try to make sure that you're not putting in random numbers but reliable data. When considering hypotheses in the real world -- like "Does God exist?" or "Is my wife cheating on me?"-- Bayes' theorem doesn't encapsulate all the skills you need to arrive at a trustworthy answer. You must clearly understand what it is you're trying to establish -- Aquinas's conception of God is very different from your average Christian's. You must be willing to question beliefs that you are attached to or identify with -- maybe your wife is sleeping with anything that moves, or maybe you're a needlessly jealous, insecure husband. You must gather as much evidence as possible, including the evidence that you might initially deem to be irrelevant. You must be diligent, fastidious, and detached when performing the investigation -- not hiding behind "Oh, my wife would never do that" or allowing your emotions to effect your judgment. People will have done all the above and still arrived at erroneous conclusions. Such is the difficulty of testing a hypothesis.
But nobody is saying that... er, right?
Even "Jesus the Bible character" shows signs of this.

Truth can be as strange as fiction. From Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project: A Study in German Culture, Rose 1998:

What explains the strange violation of common sense so often encountered in the postwar recollections and excuses offered by major cultural figures of the Nazi period? To any Western European or American viewer, Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will is a blatantly political film, both for its choice of a Nazi Nuremberg Rally as subject matter and for its treatment of the subject in a style glorifying Nazism, Hitler, and the German race. Yet Riefenstahl herself has always claimed that Triumph of the Will was an apolitical work of art, not propaganda but merely the artistic documentary filming of an event: "Work and peace are the only messages of Triumph of the Will ," she recently declared — not the glorification of Hitler.[4] Few Western critics — including modern German critics — have been convinced by these almost pro forma justifications, since the Western mind finds it hard to comprehend how politics and art can be separated in such a self-contradictory and indeed absurd way.

The same may be said of the notorious case of Heidegger. The philosoph

... (read more)

It's a fine parable but if I might request - give the Colonels different names, albeit perhaps names beginning with 'F' and 'Y'? I do generally prefer to have only me speaking for myself, and Frank may well feel the same way. That's why while I sometimes use similar names in my dialogues, I don't go so far as to use directly identical names.

Ah, now I understand where the letters F and Y came from!

Your point feels right, but situations close to Colonel F's approach actually happened in history, so we should probably look at such evidence. For example, it isn't a million miles away from the approach taken in postwar Japan, which actually involved a religion.

But Shinto was repurposed to be about worshiping the emperor just a short time before the war - it had a long history and didn't have any bad ideology really tied up with it. Nazism, by contrast, was a political party that didn't really stand for anything other than getting into power, and didn't have any long history or strong cultural roots.

But Shinto was repurposed to be about worshiping the emperor just a short time before the war - it had a long history and didn't have any bad ideology really tied up with it.

Hm? The central role of the Emperor in Shintoism goes back at least to the Heian era, and Shintoism was a critical tool of state power (witness the appointment of royalty to the most influential position in Shintoism, running the Ise Shrine). Or do you mean something else?

I think he meant “wasn't”.
Yeah. Don't we think though that Christianity has a long history, strong cultural roots and doesn't have an evil ideology tied up with it? (At least no ideology much worse than a lot of popular political movements).
4Eli Tyre
  These are strongly different claims.

Excellent. You might also look at the historical discussion over what to do with the Japanese emperor after WW2.

Shouldn't we, of all people, be most respectful of Godwin's Law, knowing as we do the dangers of affective analogy in human argument? I know you're trying to shock people out of their Cached Deep Thoughts, but that doesn't justify Dark Side Epistemology.

Generalized Godwin's Law: You should not score points simply by drawing analogies between the topic under consideration and a topic that everyone present feels morally obligated to applaud/boo when mentioned.

ETA: I understand that the point is a reductio ad absurdam of Frank's argument, but placing it in this context has a side effect of affective analogy which we ought to strongly avoid.

Can we avoid buzzwords, please, and try to discuss actual ideas?
4Eli Tyre
I think the jargon here is actually useful compression.

In our reality Americans built military bases in Germany to prevent Soviets from taking over. As of 2009 those bases are still there and operational. A lot of American personnel live there: varying accounts say from 50000 to 100000 doing duty, and their families. Germany pays America about 1 billion dollars each year for base maintenance.

If you think Germans today are strongly patriotic and have invented new symbols, I encourage you to go to Berlin and try finding indications of that.

strongly patriotic and have invented new symbols

Being 'patriotic' (or nationalistic) is arguably what started the world wars. Germany definitely has a strong cultural identity and fortunately has stayed away from the horrors of nationalism. Places where people wave flags are scary.

This might sound blasphemous here, but nationalism doesn't seem to me singularly harmful compared to other belief systems like religions or global ideologies. For example, the Cold War was a conflict between two explicitly internationalist visions of the world and resulted in tens of wars around the globe. If you want to find the root of humanity's woes, dig deeper.

I think that nationalism, religion, and global ideology are different aspects of the same problem, that they create an in group and an out group which can have conflicts.

And these aspects feed on each other. The Cold War era global ideology that is referred to as "democracy" seems to really be a sort of reversed communism (for example, the Russian government suppressed religion, so the American government violates its founding democratic principals to promote religion) that gained enthusiasm from American nationalism.

Similarly, in the so called "War on Terror", the conflict is portrayed as between Christianity and Islam, to feed the nationalism of those who believe "America is a Christian nation".

So, if I interviewed people in the middle east, they wouldn't see it as a conflict between Christianity and Islam?
Honestly, I don't know. I have a better handle on what politicians and pundits say, and how people react, in America than in the Middle East. Given how many Americans believe that Iraq was involved in destroying the World Trade Center, we have a problem. People are actually thinking "Our enemies are Muslims, therefore Muslims are our enemies."
No, if you went to the Middle East they would not see it as a conflict between Christianity and Islam. They see it as a conflict between America and terrorist groups.
Evidence, please.
How about personal experience?
"Personal experience" is not particularly informative. Most people think they have a much better handle on what most people think than they actually do. I know this from personal experience.
As a counterexample, Danes seem to enjoy flag-waving quite a lot, but are IMHO pretty unscary. I agree with your general point though.

You've obviously never watched a flotilla of longboats approach your shore.

Nor looked up the etymology of the word "danegeld".
They do, but other than that when I was there I didn't get the impression that “Danish” is as much of an applause light there as, say, “Irish” is in Ireland, “American” is in the US, or “Argentine” is in Argentina.
IAWY in general, but I think Denmark is a pretty good counterexample to this.
But they have kept a strong cultural identity, and within a generation became one of the richest nations on the planet.

Original Naziism was very tied to a historical milieu. The conditions of Weimar Germany won't exactly recur. But by interpreting it as a suite of metaphors, it becomes somewhat immune to context, more able to bridge the centuries - while continually enticing its adherents to drag the world back to 1935, which is the era in which the metaphors make sense.

I realize that you're not very concerned with the details of the situation here and that this is a metaphor and whatnot, but I'm a stickler for factual accuracy.

"You are General Eisenhower. It is 1945. You have just triumphantly liberated Berlin. As the remaining leaders of the old regime are tried and executed,"

General Eisenhower did not liberate Berlin; it was liberated by the Russians per inter-Allied agreement, as it was east of the Elbe River and thus fell into the Soviet zone of occupation. The Nuremberg defendants were not executed until l... (read more)

Germany didn't even have a national anthem until 1952

Yet, when they finally got around to choosing an anthem, they went with one that had been banned as Nazi-tainted.

To promote rational rather than emotional discussion, one should avoid argumentum ad Hitlerum. The general point seems to be unrelated to Nazism, so I propose rewriting the post using a more neutral background story. Something like

“You are General Grant. It is 1865. Colonel Y proposes to outlaw Democratic Party for its support of slavery...”

I would normally agree, but I don't see a good solution in this instance.
The example must be relatively uncontentious which I don't think this one is, and the symbols and such have got to be well known, which isn't true of Pol Pot. I do appreciate the problem you're talking about, but sadly I can't see a good substitute.

But do we actually have an emotional discussion now? I hope the community is sufficiently immune to the standard mind-killers.
We demonstrate our vulnerability every time someone stresses rationality without actually meaning rationality. Any discussion in which the points are not made explicitly is an emotional one, because logic and reason are not being engaged.

The Wikiquote link should point to a specific revision, in case the page layout there is changed.

An excellent parable! The argument against the Nazism meme is quite well laid out, though Colonel Frank comes off a bit like a straw man.

Unfortunately, I think this argument misses the main difficulty the General faces. It's easy to see that it would be better to replace the movement with something more sound. But policy makers cannot simply decide whether to preserve the Nazism meme. Actually changing dominant cultural ideas is a tremendously difficult problem, especially when the belief framework includes a sense of persecution. You cannot simply ... (read more)

Agreed. All discussions where? Who are 'we'? What did Yvain know, precisely? This last remark could be somewhat clearer...

He is referring to the link to Godwin's Law in the post. From the wiki.

For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically "lost" whatever debate was in progress.

Thank you! That makes so much more sense =)
Seconded. Religions are notoriously difficult to eradicate by force. Considering all that's happened, it's rather amazing that Judaism managed to survive. Similarly, neither the Roman Empire nor the Soviet Communists were successful at eliminating the influence of Christianity.

On the other hand, Christianity was quite successful at eliminating some competing religions, by utilizing the direct approach: physically eliminating all of their adherents.

The usual defense against that kind of thing is to pretend to convert while practicing your religion in secret. But yes, that does work if you know who to kill.
The problem is that many, if not most, religions impose two very strongly valued goals on their followers: 1). in-group and out-group separation, and 2). evangelism. These goals conflict directly with this new goal of 3). staying hidden so that you don't get burned at the stake. Many religions also devalue the follower's life on this Material Plane, which drives the utility of (3) even further down. As the result, heretics don't get the chance to survive in secret nearly as often as one might think.
At least the religions that still exist do. Fancy that!
I would argue that the majority of religions that no longer exist also fit this pattern, however.
There are religions which don't virulently evangelize, you just don't hear about them as much. It's like the difference between kudzu and orchids.
Actually, you hear about some of them all the time. Notably Judaism and Hinduism. Or perhaps more accurately, they online evangelize internally (and then only Lubavitchers and Hindu nationalists, respectively)
On the other hand, a number of polytheistic religions were pretty much eliminated by monotheistic religions. I assume that any religion that's more than a few centuries old is a very resilient set of memes (so are some younger religions, of course, but it's harder to predict with them) and isn't going away any time soon, unless, of course, there's a singularity or something extraordinary in the way of new religious ideas comes along.
Once we have artificial intelligence, can artificial deity be far behind? Indeed a fooming AI will have many of the amazing aspects typically attributed to a god.
Indeed; when that same Roman Empire became officially Christian, they eventually did end "paganism" within its borders, although it took them a long time to get serious about it.

Oh - this is a veiled critique of conciliatory attitudes toward religion? I though it was a direct critique of conciliatory attitudes toward political ideologies - and I was going to disagree with it. I think I detect a dark side to lumping all political ideologies together under the category of "poltitical ideology" and ignoring the specific reasons why political ideologies can become harmful or anti-rational.

Now that I see that this was a veiled critique of religion (or a specific religious grouping?) I think my reservations still stand.

What ... (read more)

I read your post multiple times, and yet I almost missed the point. Lumping is dangerous, yes. In the case of this parable, I think (though I might be wrong) that you noticed it was dangerous to lump everything related to Nazis together in one group. Blanket condemnation for supporting Nazism loses us the opportunity to examine what makes the difference between direct harm and harms that can be redirected. The lumping happens anyways, positive associations made by the typical human brains of the general populace, and this is the darkness seen by the original poster. That doesn't mean there aren't other dark corners to be seen. It occurs to me that science has had some pretty dark patches in its past. Especially with experimentation. Probably going a few questionable directions in the current day too. The march of reason is not marched at a uniform pace, even with a pretty agreed upon creed of "the scientific method". I wonder, have we differentiated ourselves enough? Do we still carry the baggage of our forbearers?

"Germany should completely lose all the baggage of Nazism and replace it with a completely democratic society that has no causal linkage whatsoever to its bloody past."

General Y is advocating for an absolute bastardization of history as much as General F. You cannot deny the past, because the past shaped your country and what your country did. There is a difference between interpreting the "real" meaning of Nazism, and actually erasing Nazism from history, as General Y wants.

General Y also want to place all blame on the the Nazi regime,... (read more)

I do understand how extreme it must sound to the average LW reader, but I do support some of the Red Army Faction's rhetoric and actions, particularly the Schleyer assassination. The post-war West German society's acquiescence and its desire to forget the past while abandoning all sense of historical responsibility needed a good shock. It's unfortunate that innocents were hurt, but I feel that the moral cleansing that the RAF declared as its goal was a just and necessary cause. The manipulative and sociopathic side of Baader and his group's backing by the East German regime are a somewhat different story.

So, General, what is your decision?

My decision is, do not mess with a Planeswalker unless you are, at the very minimum, a Planeswalker yourself, and probably not even then. Heh.

Anyway, Colonel Y's policies are far less harmful, but still suboptimal (assuming I understand him correctly). Suppressing ideas by force -- even harmful ideas -- never works out well in the wrong run. It is far better (though, admittedly, harder) to discredit them.


Replies to the comment you are now reading accurately describe my ideas so the original post has been replaced by this disclaimer to spare your time :)

Did you read the article you linked to? Let's say it's hard to take seriously. The first example is both contenders in the 2008 US presidential election. Well Obama won it and he turned to be anything but "postpartisan" in his governing style. The article doesn't do much to dispel the impression that when someone says "postpartisan" what he means is "I want my opponents to go along with my partisan position".
I love the whole world and being part of it, no replace I'd rather be
I can see in the Recent Comments sidebar that your comment starts with "[There is no such thing as ", but the actual text of your comment appears blank. Something might be screwy with your link syntax?
I don't see why political party affiliation (or, more generally, participating in the my-tribe-vs-the-enemy-tribe activities) cannot be instrumentally rational even without any post-partisanship.

You have noticed, he says, that the new German society also has a lot of normal, "full-strength" Nazis around. The "reformed" Nazis occasionally denounce these people, and accuse them of misinterpreting Hitler's words, but they don't seem nearly as offended by the "full-strength" Nazis as they are by the idea of people who reject Nazism completely.

This part of the metaphor doesn't work.

Religious people generally condemn heretics even more strongly than nonbelievers. Liberal Christians, specifically, are generally more oppos... (read more)

Worth noting here that both groups are convinced that this applies to the other group.
Oh, it does apply, generally. That's mindkilling for you. USian fundamentalist-evangelical Christianity, however, is ... exceptionally bad at reading their supposedly all-important sacred text, though. And, indeed, facts in general. We're talking about the movement that came up with and is still pushing "creationism", here. I'm Irish, and we seem to have pretty much no equivalent movement in Europe; our conservative Christians follow a different, traditionalist-Catholic model. The insanity that (presumably) sparked this article is fairly American in nature, but the metaphor is general enough that it presumably applies to all traditions? The conflict is still largely liberal-vs-conservative here, albeit based on different (and usually more obscure) doctrinal arguments.
This may be somewhat off-topic, but I've been noticing for some time that your comments frequently receive seemingly "random" downvotes--that is to say, downvotes that appear to be there for no good reason. As an example, the comment that I am replying to right now has a karma score of -1 at the time of posting, despite not being clearly mistaken or in violation of some LW social norm. Checking your profile reveals that your total karma score is in the negatives, despite the fact that you seem like a fairly well-read person, as well as a long-time user of LW. Does anyone have any idea why this is the case?
Yikes, you're right. I had noticed something odd, but forgot to look into it. Dangit. I'm pretty sure this is somebody going to the trouble of downvoting every comment of mine, which has happened before. It's against the rules, so I'll ask a mad to look into it; but obviously, if someone cares enough about something I'm doing or wrong about this much, please, PM me. I can't interpret you through meaningless downvotes, but I'll probably stop whatever is bothering you if I know what it is.
That usually indicates that someone's targeting the user for systematic downvoting, although this is the first time I've heard of it driving someone's score into the negatives. The last (and, to my knowledge, only) user that was proven to engage in that sort of voting behavior got banned for it, but it's next to impossible to get someone to stay gone if they don't want to with the administrative tools we have available. Alternately, we have a fundie floating around who's upset with MugaSofer's portrayal of their sect, although our demographics are such that that's probably not the most likely option.
A quick scan of the last couple of pages of MugaSofer's comments seems to indicate that the last handful of comments have not received negative votes, and a long sequence of comments before that have consistently received a single negative vote each, which looks like systematic downvoting to me (by someone who hasn't yet caught up) but of course is not remotely definitive. That said, the net balance of them is generally positive, which means the negative balance isn't accounted for either way.
I can give you a little more data - this has happened before, which is why I'm in the negatives. Which I guess makes it more likely to happen again, if I'm that annoying :/ It turned out to be a different person to the famous case, they were reasonable and explained their (accurate) complaint via PM. Probably not the same person this time, but if it happened once ...
Historically that isn't quite true to credit anything there to the US. Pre-Darwin insistence on a literal global flood could be found in locations all over Europe. But more relevant to the point, I don't see how this is a good example: if anything this is one where the fundamentalists are actually reading the text closer to what a naive reading means, without any stretched attempts to claim a metaphorical intent that is hard to see in the text. The problem of trying to read the Genesis text in a way that is consistent with the evidence is something that smart people have been trying for a very long time now, so that leads to a lot of very well done apologetics to choose from, but that doesn't mean it is actually what the text intended. It is true that the more, for lack of a better term, sophisticated creationists due stretch the text massive (claims about mats of vegetation to help preserve life during the flood and claims of rapid post-deluge speciation both fall into that category), but they A) aren't that common claims and B) aren't any more stretches than what liberal interpretations of the text are doing.
Well, I'm a Christian, so I might be biased in favour of interpretations that make that seem reasonable. But even so, I find it hard to believe a text that includes two mutually-contradictory creation stories (right next to each other in the text, at that) intended them to be interpreted literally.
I find it easy to believe. Someone put together two stories in an inconsistent way. You are basically saying "since it's inconsistent if interpreted literally, it couldn't have been meant to be interpreted literally". The other possibility, of course, is that it;'s inconsistent because it contains a mistake. Using inconsistency as a reason to decide that it's not literal makes you incapable of recognizing mistakes.
I think the claim isn't quite "it has a mistake, therefore it can't be meant to be interpreted at face value" but "it has a really glaringly obvious mistake, therefore it can't be meant to be interpreted at face value". That's a lot more sensible, and using this principle doesn't make you incapable of recognizing mistakes. It does make you incapable of recognizing when the people who put together your sacred text did something incredibly stupid, but maybe that's OK. Except that I think another reasonable interpretation is: whoever edited the text into a form that contains both stories did notice that they are inconsistent, didn't imagine that somehow they are both simultaneously correct, but did intend them to be taken at face value -- the implicit thinking being something like "obviously at least one of these is wrong somewhere, but both of them are here in our tradition; probably one is right and the other wrong; I'll preserve them both, so that at least the truth is in here somewhere". If this sort of thing is possible -- and I think it's very plausible -- then the inference from "glaring inconsistency" to "intended metaphorically or something like that" no longer works. On the other hand, in that case you at least have some precedent for it being OK not to assume that everything in the text is literally correct.
The trouble with this is that the Bible contains a number of other really glaringly obvious mistakes that believers do have to explain away, but which they explain away in some manner other than "that's a metaphor". The Bible also contains examples where believers say "well, it's literally wrong, so it has to be a metaphor" even when the above reasoning doesn't really apply (such as cases where the apparent mistake is glaringly obvious to us now, but would not have been glaringly obvious to the people who put the Bible together).
Few that are quite as glaring as this one, I think. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not attempting any general defence of the thinking and behaviour of religious believers in general or Christians in particular. (I'm an atheist myself -- though I was a pretty serious Christian for many years, and have quite a good idea of how they think.)
There's also the problem of people taking things meant to be metaphorical as literal, simply because, well, it's right there, right? For example (just ran into this today): This is pretty clearly an illustration. "Like this tree, you'd better actually give results, not just give the appearance of being moral". (In fact, I believe Jesus uses this exact illustration in a sermon later.) And yet, I saw this on a list of "God's Temper Tantrums that Christians Never Mention", presumably interpreted as "Jesus zapped a tree because it annoyed him." Ooh, I hadn't thought of that.
This is one of the standard scholarly explanations May I suggest this shows that you should maybe read more on this subject?
Yup, definitely. Interested amateur here.
When a metaphor uses words describing situation A in order to make a comparison to situation B, that still requires belief in A. If the Bible said "following God is like eating ice cream", that's a statement about following God being good, but it also carries the assumption that eating ice cream is good--if you don't think eating ice cream is good, using it as a metaphor for something else being good would fail. In order to use "Jesus zaps a tree" as a metaphor for "Jesus hates putting on appearances", you still need to believe that it's okay to zap a tree. If zapping a tree is not okay, then the metaphor makes no sense. So it is, in fact, legitimate to criticize this on the basis that zapping a tree is a temper tantrum. Furthermore, part of atheists' objection is to the story's metaphorical meaning. The full story is that Jesus zapped a tree for not providing figs even though it was not the season for figs. The metaphor, then, becomes "Jesus hates it when people aren't really moral even when it's impossible for them to follow Jesus' standards of morality". And a lot of people have good reason to object to that.
People frequently use phrases describing morally objectionable actions as metaphors for morally acceptable (and prudential) actions. For example, "eviscerate" is sometimes used as a metaphor for achieving a decisive victory in a debate or a sporting event. While actually eviscerating one's debate opponent would be morally objectionable, winning a debate is not morally objectionable. There are many other examples of this sort of thing, particularly in sports journalism.
We generally do that when there is an unobjectionable version of the action and it can be exaggerated into the objectionable one. It would be wrong to eviscerate an opponent in an actual violent fight, but it would be okay to hurt an opponent in one. Jesus zapping the tree is not just objectionable because it is too extreme; Jesus shouting at the tree or even politely condemning it wouldn't be acceptable.
Politely condemning a tree is not acceptable? You have a pretty strict ethic! :)
It's unacceptable in the sense that he has no reason to condemn it and that doing so with serious intent is a sign of a personality flaw, even if such behavior wouldn't be enough to get him thrown out of a restaurant.
What? Of course it's metaphorical for something (my guess would be the destruction of the Temple). I've used this as an example showing that Mark did not try to accurately describe history and therefore his Gospel does not tell us that Jesus rose from the dead or was the son of God. What do you think people are disagreeing about here? I think Jesus probably existed (though I haven't read Carrier's book on the subject). But Mark seems like poor evidence even for that.
I would not generally expect clear thinking and intellectual rigour from a list of "God's Temper Tantrums that Christians Never Mention", any more than I would in a list of "10 Ways Atheists Are Just Rebelling Against God". I would expect it to be a list of everything the author thought of that could fit that description, the more the merrier. Accordingly, the presence of an unconvincing entry in such a list doesn't seem to me to be much evidence for anything. I have to say, though, that "obviously this is metaphorical" makes an unsatisfactory answer to complaints that something's inconsistent / contradicted by more recent discoveries / silly / immoral, unless there is actually a good reason why the metaphor in question should be there. In this particular case, I think it's fair enough; zapping a fig tree as a vivid illustration of the danger of not "bearing fruit" seems like just the sort of thing someone with his head full of, e.g., the doings of Ezekiel might think of. (Though it's curious that no explanation of the context accompanies the description of the zapping; it looks as if the author hasn't really understood what Jesus had in mind. Which brings up problems of its own. But I digress.)
Why does this need to be an illustration? Assuming that such a person as Jesus existed, and assuming that said person had the ability to cause a fig tree to wither as described, is it so unbelievable that such a thing could be done? The incident may, indeed, have inspired the later use in a sermon. Morally, this is no worse than chopping the tree down in a fit of anger; since it was a tree "by the road", and thus presumably had no owner but rather grew wild, I don't think it would have been wrong to cut it down, or otherwise prevent it bearing fruit. So... I'm not quite sure why you think it's clearly an illustration. I mean, it can be used as an illustration... but so can virtually any incident, ever. Could you elaborate a bit more on that?
I'm not MugaSofer, nor am I a Christian (though I was for a long time), but: Supposing for the moment that the incident, or something like it, really occurred, it seems like there are three obvious explanations. * Jesus zapped the tree because it was a sensible response to the fact that the tree didn't have any figs on it. * Jesus zapped the tree because of some kind of flash of anger; he wasn't really in control of his actions. * Jesus zapped the tree in order to make a point to other people who were there (e.g., as MugaSofer describes). The first of these seems obviously not the case. (You want figs, the tree has no figs, fair enough; killing it doesn't make anything better for anyone.) The second is hard to reconcile with the character of Jesus as generally understood by Christians. (He was supposed to be superhumanly wise and morally perfect, and not getting carried away by anger is hard to reconcile with that.) That leaves the third in a fairly strong position. On top of this, there is a bit of a tradition in (what Christians call) the Old Testament, of prophets "acting out" the (allegedly divine) messages they are trying to convey. What MugaSofer proposes fits neatly into that tradition. None of that proves anything, even if we take the rightness of Christianity as axiomatic. But it does give Christians a pretty good reason for thinking that Jesus's action was meant (by him, or by the author of Matthew if it didn't actually happen) primarily as making a point for the benefit of other people, rather than because Jesus really wanted the fig tree to be dead.
Your three options seem sensible. Agreed. Disagreed. We're talking here about a man who made a whip out of cords and drove some merchants away from where they were selling stuff, overturning their tables and scattering coins everywhere and chasing away the livestock and generally causing a riot. One might quibble about whether this was "out of control" or not, but Jesus clearly had a temper and occasionally lost it. (In an interesting coincidence, just yesterday the priest gave a sermon involving that marketplace incident; as he put it, Jesus wasn't always a nice person. Nice people don't get nailed onto a wooden cross and left to die. That only happens to people who manage to seriously annoy certain other people.) I'm not saying that the third possibility is impossible; but I think the second is also in a fairly strong position. Hmmm. That is a good point, which I had not previously considered.
I don't think it's clear that the Incident In The Temple With The Whip was (or: was meant to be understood as) a matter of temper-losing. It could, again, be read as a deliberate statement, an invocation of (e.g.) the old prophecy about "purifying the sons of Levi", done deliberately to make a point. (Incidentally, an earlier edit of my paragraph about "the character of Jesus as generally understood by Christians" said explicitly something like "Of course being good isn't quite the same as being nice, and I'm not claiming otherwise". Though, as it happens, my own conception of goodness does involve being nicer than Jesus is shown as being in many stories in the gospels, and also nicer than I find it plausible to believe any super-powerful being actually is, given the state of the world. I mention this not in order to start an argument about the credibility of Christianity, but to calibrate the extent to which I agree with you that Christians needn't regard Jesus as "nice".)
I'm beginning to wonder if we don't perhaps ascribe subtly different definitions to the phrase "losing one's temper". I wonder that because I don't think that the two options that you present here - that of temper-losing, and that of deliberate action - are necessarily contradictory. Thinking about it, I am defining having lost one's temper as a state wherein one sounds audibly angry, has a tendency to select sweeping, destructive actions when attempting to reach one's goals, has very little patience with others and is likely to shout at people, but retains full control over one's actions and can do things quite deliberately. It may be that you are thinking of a yet angrier state, where one loses control and just lashes out at random. While that would also be losing one's temper, that wasn't what I'd meant by the phrase earlier... In other words, yes, I agree that the Incident In The Temple With The Whip was most likely a deliberate statement. I just don't think that that invalidates anything I said in my previous comment. Noted. While we could try to narrow down exactly to what extent each of us considers "good" and "nice" to overlap, I think we're more-or-less in agreement on the main point here; that Jesus, as presented in the Bible, could be good all the time without necessarily being nice all the time (and sometimes, indeed, could be good at the expense of being nice).
Wouldn't the attitude of moderate Muslims to more extreme Muslims often be an example of where the metaphor does work?
I don't know nearly as many Muslims as I do Christians, but I generally get the impression that liberal Muslims don't have unusually strong reactions to atheism and other religions? Whereas they are, if anything, more threatened by Muslim terrorists - because of the general name-blackening, in addition to the normal fear response to your tribe being attacked. Has this not been your experience?
I get the sense that battles over liberal vs. traditional vs. fundamentalist Islam, and over secularism in historically Islamic regions, are at least as hard-fought as their Christian equivalents are in the US -- but also that they get fought mostly on majority-Muslim turf. Here in the West, Islam takes on ethnic and cultural dimensions that work against that dynamic.
I was thinking more of cases such as high percentages of moderate Muslims in some countries support executing apostates.
Where are you getting "moderate" from? That link only gives the support for the death penalty for apostacy among Muslims who want sharia to be enforced as national law -- which isn't incompatible with a moderate approach to the religion, for some values of "moderate", but certainly doesn't imply one. The percentages given also correspond pretty well to my expectations for religious fundamentalism in those countries.
If you combine those percentages with the percentages who want Sharia as national law in the first place, you end up concluding that the majority of some countries, and very large minorities of others, want apostates to die. Of course, whether a group is "moderate" is a matter of semantics. These people are not moderate by comparison to Western standards, but they are moderate in the context of their own countries--that is, their positions are middle of the road compared to the general population (and they may actually be the general population). (Is a Nazi whose beliefs are typical for Nazis considered a moderate Nazi or an extremist Nazi?)
So, in other words, you're talking moderate relative to the country. That might make sense if we were discussing internal politics in Jordan, say, but it doesn't seem like an especially natural interpretation of "moderate Muslim" in a global context: to me, that phrase brings to mind nations like Indonesia.

Colonel F suggests the worst kind of compromise between the optimal and the real. Political actors must not overlook reality, as many of the great revolutionaries of history did, but neither should they bend their agendas to it, as Chamberlain, Kerensky, and so many tepid liberals and social democrats did. To do so is to surrender without even fighting. This is especially true for political actors with a true upper hand, like Eisenhower or MacArthur after World War II. They must control the conversation, they must push the Overton window away from compe... (read more)

Because of whatever parts I have read of an English translation of the Islamic scripture Quran, it seemed like 'Mein Kampf' means Quran and Nazi means 'Muslim'.

Certain self-consistent metaphysics and epistemologies lead you to belief in God. And a lot of human emotions do too. If you eliminated all the religions in the world, you would soon have new religions with 1) smart people accepting some form of philosophy that leads them to theism 2) lots of less smart people forming into mutually supporting congregations. Hopefully you get all the "religion of love" stuff from Christianity (historically a rarity) and the congregations produce public goods and charity.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

thank you for this great article.

Interesting. Part way through this switches to a narrower focus but the general concept applies to obsolete philosophy or discarded theories or anything else that has essentially been "overruled" by later works. One could even make the case that Newtonian physics is an obsolete ideology.

Philosophy in particular has great deal of old stuff that sticks around because it was first, even though large parts of it are now irrelevant. While it makes an interesting historical study, it now borders on bad philosophy. I have no specific examples to share, however, this is just an impression.

One could even make the case that Newtonian physics is an obsolete ideology.

Newtonian physics successfully makes precise predictions that approximate reality much closer than the precision of human perception for a large domain of problems that includes most of human experience, with far less computational cost than the more exact theories, and the more exact theories explain why the approximations are so good. While it is important to remember it is an approximation if you are going to investigate phenomena outside the domain that it works, the approximation is useful.

Conversely, religious morality is perceptibly wrong except in very narrow domains, and more complicated than secular morality.

Agreed. I am not making the case against Newtonian physics, but I can see how someone would start. Also, is it just me, or are my examples just causing more confusion? If I switched to the word "illustration" would it be easier? I keep using small examples to help convey a point but people jump on a problem with the example and completely ignore the point. Something is amiss but I cannot see what it is.
I did not mean to imply that you were. I meant to demonstrate that this concept of obsolete ideology can discriminate between old theories that are just wrong and old theories that are still useful. The best way I know to show that Newtonian physics could be defended against the charge of being an obsolete ideology is to actually defend it against the charge. Perhaps I could have been clearer about my central point, that the concept of obsolete ideology is not a fully general counter argument against any use of old theories that are inconsistent with newer theories.
Ah, okay. I think that the distinction you make is very good point. This in particular is good to keep in mind. "Old" does not mean "bad" and even if something comes along and supersedes an older ideology, the older ideology can have its uses. Approximation is the current example. Are there any others?

There is some old stuff that sticks around because, even though it turned out to be wrong, it was worth a try; and if you didn't keep it (and its critique) around, people would just keep re-inventing it. Platonic realism, Aristotelian necessary-and-sufficient definitions of categories, Marxism, and attempts to make quantum mechanics Newtonian are examples.

In my experience, this is a common position to be in. I've heard a lot of blanket statements about the problems with academic philosophy, without much evidence to back it up. Actual philosophers tend to be either good philosophers who know the good old stuff from the bad old stuff, or bad philosophers who write utter nonsense. Someone who actually cares shouldn't have too much of a problem telling one from the other, even though they're both acceptable in the academy. Compare Dennett and Derrida.

Academic philosophy differs from science in that it seems to place much higher value on the personalities and the original works relative to the ideas. When I studied physics at university we didn't learn physics from the original works or papers of the pioneering scientists. Newton is rightly recognized for his huge contribution to physics but no physics course will use the Principia to teach mechanics. The core ideas have been refined and are now presented in ways that are easier for students to grasp, without extraneous or incorrect extra detail present in the original works or problems of language.

When I studied philosophy at university however, great import was placed on reading the original texts from great philosophers. In many cases reading these works I was struck by the amount of confused and wrong ideas and the lack of clarity of presentation - Descartes is a prime example. It seemed to me at the time that if philosophy was the pursuit of truth in any sense then it would be better served by a model of instruction more like science: where the key ideas are presented in a refined and clarified modern text. My experience of academic philosophy was that it couldn't quite decide if it wanted to be science or literary criticism.

The fact that philosophy hasn't adopted such a model strongly suggests that it's not concerned with truth. There are people who can do good philosophy - contrary to thomblake's assertion, I've found that they're virtually never people called 'philosophers'. They're usually scientists.
As a data point, it should be noted that in the past 3 or so discussions of this problem, I've used Dan Dennett as my sole example of a good contemporary philosopher that anyone's heard of. If I'm going to keep talking about this, I really should find at least one or two more.
I would be fascinated to know why the above comment garnered two downvotes so quickly.
My guess would be that people aren't aware of the discourse you've been involved in regarding "philosophy" vs "academic philosophy". As stated, it seems like you're expressing something contradictory. Compare: "philosophy...[is] not concerned with truth" "people who can do good philosophy...[are] usually scientists" You seem to be equivocating. In the first sense, I think you mean "academic philosophy" (the institution), while in the second, you mean... well, philosophy (love of wisdom / pursuit of truith). Though I'd be surprised if anyone actually thought it through that clearly before downvoting.
My downvote was because I consider this sentence to be noise and inflammatory: ... And this sentence is anecdotal and coming from what I judge to be a biased position: I downvoted but did not comment because any direct response in the lines of argument seem likely to delve into semantics on the definitions of philosopher, philosophy, scientist, and science. Also, on a more personal note, I have yet to get any meaningful value from a conversation with you. For whatever reason, my fault or yours, it is not worth my time.
'Inflammatory' I could understand, although I submit that simple truth assertions ought not to be evaluated by looking at their social acceptability. But calling it noise is just silly. Then stop replying to me, please. And voting on my posts as well.
There's an element of truth to this critique, and I have felt for a long time that what is usually taught as "Introduction to Philosophy" should be taught as "Introduction to the History of Philosophy". However it's also totally off-base in that philosophy, when it's not being a total waste of time, is the examination of problems which are important but which can't be solved by science alone. As such philosophical conclusions aren't "true" and there is no "truth" to pursue or teach. There are competing views with no truth value, like deontological and utilitarian ethics, but neither is "true" or "false" and it's a category error to try to put them into those boxes. Done well it's neither science nor literary criticism, but rather the search for mental constructs which are useful or internally consistent.
Agreed; I made the disclaimer with the intent that this comment was meant to filed under "Hmm, interesting" not "Arguments against Philosophy". I was not specifically targeting academic philosophy but old philosophy. Quick potential examples from the top of my head: * Descartes' suggestions about the purpose of the pineal gland * The various Greek philosophers who tried to reduce all matter into combinations of Fire/Air/Water/Earth * Early psychology? Anyone reading Descartes and translating "pineal gland" into something other than "pineal gland" so they can continue claiming Descartes was right is another example of the parable above. Translating "Fire/Air/Water/Earth" into "Plasma/Gas/Liquid/Solid" is doing the same thing. The Greeks were not saying "Plasma/Gas/Liquid/Solid". They were saying "Fire/Air/Water/Earth". Agreed. I focused on Philosophy because I have enough experience to think of potential examples. The reason I did not put them in the first comment is because I am not in a position to defend my examples and did not consider them particularly relevant to the point. Also, my experience with "bad" Philosophers is that they seem to attach Truth to specific People and then try to turn anything said by those People into Truth using method like those in the parable. Most of these bad Philosophers were encountered during the few classes I took to get a Philosophy minor. I assume that most of these people are weeded out by the time they get to upper-level classes and beyond. So, anyway, to wrap it up, I agree with you completely. I extended my points to try bringing a little more clarification to my original comment not to argue against your comment.
Initially I thought you were talking about professional Philosophers, not students. This clears that up, but it would be better to refer to them as Philosophy students. Most people wouldn't call Science undergrads "Scientists". My experience with Philosophy has been the opposite. Almost all the original writing we've read has been focused on how and why the original authors were wrong, and how modern theories address their errors. Admittedly, I've tailored my study to contain more History and Philosophy of Science than is usual, but I've found the same to be true of the standard Philosophy classes I've taken. In summary, it probably varies from school to school and I don't think it's entirely fair to tar the whole field of Philosophy with the same brush.
That would be a difficult case to make. At most, you might be able to argue that it was founded on certain assumptions that were later recognized as not being necessarily true.

I hope when you guys get done beating up on theism, you'll take on a real challenge and go up against the SWPL bloc. That religion is far more dangerous and far more powerful than poor old Judeo-Christianity, which isn't even able to order scientists around anymore. Maybe Eliezer can debate Nancy Hopkins?

Please taboo religion. If you want to argue that a certain cluster of beliefs commonly held by upper-middle-class white American liberals is systematically mistaken in ways analogous to religious beliefs, and that this has harmful consequences, do come out and say this explicitly, and maybe we could have a productive discussion about the actual issues at hand. But gratuitous misuse of the world religion to describe positions you dislike just functions as a semantic stopsign. Actual religions have things like deities, and prayers, and rituals.
Wiki articles for Rationalist taboo and Semantic stopsign.
Assuming a charitable interpretation, I think he was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek with the use of "religion" there.
No, not necessarily. The usage you've criticized is perfectly compatible with the correct definition of the word. Please familiarize yourself with that definition before offering further criticism. Taking a word and re-defining it into a 'semantic stopsign' doesn't help anything or anyone, except confusion and causes that can be aided by confusion.
Why has this been voted up 4 times without anybody explaining what he's talking about? (Downvoted, for being hiply, intentionally obscure.) The Wikipedia entry on Nancy Hopkins is a clue, but I still have no idea what SWPL stands for.
Stuff White People Like. It's a term often used by razib and people at the Gene Expression blog, derived from the satirical website of the same name, used to refer to the cultural and political choices favored by upper-middle-class-to-rich Caucasians, including political correctness and the modern connotations of 'liberalism'.
It's been deciphered, although not confirmed by the original commenter.
I sympathize with your sentiment, but guess you'll have a hard time persuading LW/OB rationalists to act up against SWPL - great name for the phenomenon btw, I will use it from now on. First, such actions would greatly harm the stated goal of outreach to intelligent/educated demographics. Second, on sober thought SWPL per se hasn't yet caused as much hurt in the world as competing ideologies have (I'm not counting spiritual ancestors, this would be unfair). Third, a lot of us here are SWPL followers.

Perhaps we could make some progress if we employed a divide and conquer strategy. The agendas of the SW and PL blocs are not entirely consonant. Generally speaking, the SW position is somewhat more amenable to the techniques of rationality discussed on this site. The PL worldview, however, is more deeply committed to dark side epistemology (though I imagine that that could be a controversial position even here).

Seriously, though, what is SWPL?

:D This is some of the best short political satire I've ever read!
Stuff White People Like.
Agreed, the subculture in question seems fairly innocuous in itself. It needs infiltration and purging of dangerous aspects, not external opposition (fortunately, we seem to already have many inside agents).
1Paul Crowley
You seem to have deciphered the initialism, what does it refer to?
Stuff White People Like - steven0461 got it right.
Stuff White People Like.
The top Google result for "SWPL" is the blog "Stuff White People Like". I'm pretty sure that they have nothing to do with Nancy Hopkins - what SWPL are you talking about?
1Paul Crowley
This comment is the only hit on SWPL "Nancy Hopkins" - please expand the acronym. I'm guessing it doesn't refer to "Stuff White People Like".
It does refer to "Stuff White People Like", which is a perceived cluster of beliefs and behaviors that includes political correctness, hence Nancy Hopkins.

My decision is to invoke Godwin's law and go back to reading about the universal wave function.

Vote down all you like. If there was ever a time and place to invoke Godwin, it's after an overly long and self indulgent "religion = nazis!" analogy, intended as--what? An allegory against an argument that isn't articulately expressed by anyone alive, except people who make a living doing that sort of thing. And those people don't care that they're wrong. In short, Godwin. Return to sender. And now, you may all continue your circle jerk.
An actual counterargument would be less likely to be voted down than a snide post that seems to be willfully missing the point.