Archive | March, 2010

A Quick Scientific Limerick :)

Come on guys, let’s show our love for science and poetry. Let’s keep the creative juices flowing. Here’s my start on this mess. :) I’m sure you can think of other creative limericks, whether they be about science, math, or anything under the freethinking sun, no? :)

There was a guy named Schroedinger
who was quite an exceptional thinker
He posited that
there’d either be a dead or live cat
Even before you laid down a finger
(to appreciate my limerick even more, here’s a good reference on Schroedinger’s cat)
:)
And I don’t want to leave another favorite subject of mine (among others) without its own limerick. ;)
Newton discovered calculus
So did Leibniz, plus its use
There was some dispute
on who’d bring the discoverer’s loot
But Isaac won over a ruse.
(to appreciate my math limerick, please see the Wikipedia article on the Calculus discovery controversy)
:)

Posted in Entertainment, Humor, Media, Personal, Pictures, Poetry, Science7 Comments

Power and Addiction

One minute I held the key
Next, the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

Those lines were from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, a song about a king who lost his kingdom. I sometimes wonder how it feels like to be a person of power one minute and an outsider the next. It must be the worst hangover.

I had often read that Power is the most addictive drug. With “conventional” drugs, you get high for a few hours. With Power, you get high continuously for years. With conventional drugs, you feel like you can do anything. With Power, you actually can do anything.

Then comes the hangover. The crash. I remember a line from the movie Amistad about how there is nothing more pathetic than a former president. Maybe this is why some people will do anything to stay in power. Some would willingly sell their souls, and those who didn’t believe in souls would gladly run over the bodies of their own children if that’s what it takes to gain and regain immense power. It’s really not unlike the meth addict who will do anything for the next fix.

In January 2009, less than two weeks before Barack Obama assumed office (he was already president-elect then), I saw this picture of the five living US presidents standing side by side with George W. Bush at the center, Obama and Clinton at either side of him, and Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter beside them. It was a sight to behold. No matter what it meant to be the most powerful man in the world, these men had known and accepted that the Presidency is bigger than the president, that it is the Presidency that gives the president his temporary power, and that each of them must pass on the torch that he once clutched so tightly from the moment it was passed on to him.

I wonder if our country’s torch will be passed as willingly, and if our people will be able to sing:

Now the old king is dead
Long live the King!
.

Posted in Politics0 Comments

Kingdom of Heaven

“We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Jonathan Swift.

The above quote is a sad fact; instead of leading to a better life, a better world, religon has been used to hate, think less of the unbeliever, and dehumanize anyone who is different.  Society has many problems today and the religious groups still have this illusion that going back on the old ways will solve everything.

Maybe it is an oversimplification to say, at least from the three major religions, that there is one God and we are all his creations in one earth.  The closest analogy I can think of is parent (or father since the three refer to God as a man) and the children.  Do brother and sister fight over what their parents say to the point of killing each other?  Would any parent love to see that happen?

In the end we always end up fighting on how one God is better from the other; we fight over who has the correct idea of God, never minding if we end up killing one another.  If God really is a father, then with fatherly instincts I believe he would be furious seeing the world destroy each other over useless things.  Sam Harris was right in his view – religion leads to misplaced priorities.

Religion should never again take hold of government and society. It has no answers. It had its chance in the Middle Ages when it ruled and failed as depicted in the movie Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

Orlando Bloom played the lead, going from Middle Earth to the Middle East in this period-piece. Set in the religion-mad era of the Crusades, the Lord of the Rings heartthrob now plays a lost and tortured soul searching for salvation.

He is Balian, a blacksmith fresh from losing both wife and child.  He thought himself to be cursed and far from the grace of his God until some good news knocked on his door. A crusader knight named Godfrey who as it turns out was his father, a lord and member of the King’s court in Jerusalem, wants his company. So cursed by God, he thought, what else he could do than look for God in his city: in Jerusalem.

Now the place that he went to, Jerusalem, it was at this time far from heavenly because it was a drowning kingdom in a sea of Arabs led by an effective leader, Saladin.  Also, the city was fractured by two powerful religions hell bent on killing each other.

First, a warning: this film is by no means historically accurate. It has been commented more than once that Hollywood creates its version of history into something more palatable and sexy on the big screen, with the American audience having the highest consideration. What really happened in those days you have to read on your own, as I did – well at least a few pages of articles.

Saladin, like in the film, was a great general for the Arabs and was highly respected by both sides. Some have the point of view that Christians had a better respect for him than the Muslims. Jerusalem was indeed lost though I am not sure in which crusade or war did it fall. The odds of holding the city were just insurmountable.

But what I really agree with this film is that barbarism chooses no religion; the film even proposes that one needs no religion to do the right thing.

In Kingdom of Heaven the Templars were the most brutal, always with the insane line of “God wills it!” a phrase not so different from suicide bombers who cry out “God is great.”  Present day’s prominent version of those two statements is George Bush who said God wanted him to invade Iraq, and the western world’s villain of the hour, Bin Laden.

My favorite line in the film was made by the Hospitaller and it goes: “I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the Will of God.”

He goes on by saying, “Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.”  Wise words in a movie filled with insane religious men.

That quote made me think of what happened then and what is happening now with religion coming in the forefront of many national debates here and abroad.

There are reported inequities in the theocratic states in the Middle East especially in the lines between the sexes.  Somewhere in Palestine and even in the United States there are still incidences of honor killings.  In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive.

The Catholic Church can’t even protect the interests of children, yet they have the gall to demand the right to dictate national policy.  Why give them the control over state policy when one, they don’t pay taxes and two, they don’t respect the state!

Cardinal Sean Brady, who is at the heart of Ireland’s current church scandals, was quoted as saying that there was ‘no moral obligation’ for him to report to the police. According to Irishtimes.com he said, “Is it a sin against the law of God not to report matters to the police…no I don’t think so…because there are certain people exempt from this moral obligation to report to the police.” Is that what you call respecting the state, much less the child?

A crime has been done to a child.  Talk with anyone less than a priest who confessed of pedophilia and you’ll be wondering where your children are, hoping they are far away.  If your children are victims then you would not even not care about internal mechanisms that an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times have credited the Pope for spearheading.

There is a system of laws, justice, criminal investigations; a penal system, available for every citizen who needs or deserves it.  Why have they not availed of it?  Is this the pro-family, pro-life, heavenly existence we can expect if religion is back in the forefront?

In the film Balian made his decisions outside of religion.  He ordered the cremation of the dead to avoid an epidemic, ordered the city to be abandoned, and made military decisions not out of Christian conceit that victory is assured.  He faced Saladin and his aides with respect even in the midst of the war.  The irony there is that he thought of himself as cursed, went to Jerusalem to find God; in the end did what he could outside of anyone’s concept of God – and found his salvation.

The film has an interesting message in that the kingdom of heaven is achievable out of religious hands, especially if you know enough history or read enough news and see that with religion in the forefront, full control in fact, little good has been achieved.

“Holiness is in right action,” the movie says.  It is time for us to find a way for just that to be enough.

Also seen in my blog.

Posted in Religion, Reviews8 Comments

When boredom attacks: God, the great teacher?

I made a recent foray into the forums earlier, and let’s just say an encounter with an apologist inspired me to write this short excerpt.

I have always wondered about the mindset of religious apologists who claim that when a calamity strikes, it’s some sort of lesson we can learn from. That despite all the death, pain, and suffering, there is some sort of greater plan God has for us, and that eventually it will all make sense.

I battled with this notion for a while, and asked myself: What kind of a being, one that is supposedly eternally good and omniscient, would intentionally let suffering and death befall their children, just to teach them a life lesson?

It just didn’t make any sense at all. Every metaphor of God I have heard from – as a shepherd, a parent, a loyal guardian, or a company president – would never intentionally hurt their kin (unless they were mentally ill) unless under the most extreme circumstances.

And then, after some quiet reflection, it hit me. I was wrong about God. I was wrong about the imagery I had drawn up of this greater entity, and that was exactly why I had such a misunderstood notion of a God.

To follow the tradition of Mother Teresa and the Apostle Paul, I have had to completely revamp my understand of a God that allows human suffering as part of a greater life plan, and this is the image I have been led to.

Behold, and be in awe!

Hallelujah! I feel more enlightened already. The (puzzle) pieces are finally falling in place.

Just a little something I was cooking up as Holy Weeks starts up – you know the boredom really getting to me now. Send help.

Enjoy the vacation time, peeps!

Posted in Others0 Comments

We Really Should Get Our Focus Back On Religion

Shortly after Karlo’s article What’s So Wrong With Objectivism was published, someone went berserk and got busy writing against the Filipino Freethinkers and even created a Facebook page called EXPOSING THE FILIPINO FREETHINKERS: The Enemy of REASON.

He also made this very cool logo specially for us:

Well unfortunately for him, this only exposed his own irrationality. When freethinkers joined the group and posted straightforward questions like why does he say that the FF is the enemy of reason, instead of responding he simply removed the posts and banned the annoying posters from his page and then wrote, “FREE-FARTERS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO COMMENT ON THIS GROUP.” Now that doesn’t sound very reasonable especially for someone who accuses us of being enemies of reason, does it?

However tempting it is to get back at this RANDROID, I believe we will just be wasting our time and losing focus on the more important things like challenging Religion and exposing how it has blinded the Filipinos and helped perpetuate poverty in our country. The Church is very much bigger than our fledgling fellowship that it can afford to ignore our constant criticisms and our attempts at awakening its followers. I think we should do the same to this Randroid and his brainless bashing: ignore him into nonexistence. He is insignificant because he is not capable of  gathering as many cult followers as even the most obscure religions. Besides, he is actually doing us a favor by posting our link to his blog and Facebook page, telling his readers to check our site and forum. How can that be bad? Let the readers decide who really is the irrational one.

Karlo has done a great job of writing that well-researched article on Ayn Rand Objectivism, and I think that should be more than enough to answer our stalker’s immature attacks including his calling us “Free-Farters”. I just wonder how long he tries to hold his flatulence.

Posted in Others5 Comments

FF Top Ten: March 27, 2010

Hello, and welcome to the Sunday segment of Filipino Freethinker’s bi-weekly Top Ten news. We’ll be taking a short break from the Vatican’s slew of sex scandals to take a gander at other relevant news from the past few days, starting with a jarring article on the plight of Ethiopia’s women.

When a society promotes forced rape, it makes you wonder at just where government should draw the line on respecting cultural and religious boundaries in order to truly serve the interests of its people.

On a more positive note, Youtube’s Thunderf00t has recently posted a new video, and there non-belief related news brewing over in Copenhagen.

But don’t let me spoil the surprise – Check out the links, and remember to submit your favorite snippets of the week over at the Filipino Freethinkers forum’s News Thread!

======================

How NOT to promote LGBT rights: Ticked Off Trannies with Knives (Via Pam’s House Blend) Link

IslamOnline staff strike over editorial independence (via Telegraph) Link

Kidnapped, Raped, Married: The Inspiring Rebellion of Ethiopia’s Abducted Brides (via Johann Hari) Link

Catholic Church apparently okay with pedophilia among priesthood, but draws line at pro-gay outreach program for the homeless (via The Portland Press Herald) Link

More of Thunderf00t’s sexy British accent: Was God a Volcano? (via Youtube) Link

Greta Christina’s letter to the theists: Thanks for the advise, but… (via Greta Christina’s Blog) Link

Copenhagen’s heathens get the gift of awesome this June… (via Atheist Convention) Link

Activist Aikido: Using the Westboro Baptist Church to support human rights (via Youtube) Link

Tim Tebow asks entire team to pray, gets 4chan treatment (via NBC Sports) Link

The real face of Jesus in 3D…and no, it’s not on a potato chip (via New York Post) Link

Posted in Others0 Comments

What’s So Wrong with Objectivism?

What’s So Wrong with Objectivism?

Editor’s note: This was published in 2010, when FF did not have an editorial board. Since then, the plagiarizing author has not been published by Filipino Freethinkers and the author has amended citations to passages.

Our Editorial Board, which has been in operation for since 2011 has been very careful that such incidents never happen again. We have kept this post up in the interest of transparency.

Ayn Rand

DISCLAIMER: All the views and opinions expressed in this blog post are all mine and do NOT represent the views and opinions of this community.

Introduction

I seem to encounter a recurring discussion about Ayn Rand and Objectivism but I only had a vague idea what it’s all about. And so, I made some research to find out about it. After reading works of Ayn Rand and Objectivism (Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Virtue of Selfishness), I think I now understand why Rand’s philosophy has such a cult following. To begin with, I found out that Objectivism is just pure philosophy, it’s not science. There is no evidence to support its claims and therefore it is not scientifically justifiable. Let me emphasize that again — it is NOT SCIENCE. It claims to be committed to reason, but without science and evidence to back up its claims, it’s just another belief system — just like any other cult or religion. Pure reason is not enough and it is dangerous. When you have a belief system that claims to know the ABSOLUTE standards of right and wrong, you now have a belief system that is INTOLERANT. And hence, the end of reason and rationality. Absolutism and intolerance are the defining characteristics of a cult, religion, or any other group detrimental to individual freedom (Shermer, M.Why People Believe Believe in Weird Things. 1997 ).

Who is Aynd Rand and What’s Objectivism?

The story of Objectivism starts with Ayn Rand (1905-1982), who is known for her two best-selling novels Fountainhead(1943) and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged(1957). As far as anyone is concerned, Objectivism refers to the work of Ayn Rand,exclusively. And followers of her philosophy call themselves – Objectivists. With the death of Rand in 1982, Objectivism became cast in stone. All knowledge of this philosophy came from Ayn Rand, end of story.

Basically, her philosophy advocates that man should abide by certain thoughts and actions to live a proper life. The basic principles of objectivism are objective reality (facts are facts), reason (man’s only means of obtaining knowledge), self-interest (happiness as the highest moral pursuit), and pure capitalism. In a nutshell, you owe it to yourself to be happy.

Where Ayn Rand Came From and How She Lived

The thoughts of Ayn Rand cannot be separated from who she is and how she developed as a person. According to Wikipedia:

Rand was born in 1905 into a middle-class family of non-observant Jews in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Her father was a chemist and became a successful pharmacist who eventually owned his own pharmacy and the building in which it was located.

Rand was only twelve when the Russian revolution arrived in 1917. When she grew up, she was opposed to the Tsar. Her family life was troubled by the rise of the Bolshevik party, and her father’s pharmacy ended up being confiscated by the Soviets. Her family fled to the Crimea (initially under the control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War), and there, her family started a new life.

Ayn Rand determined that she was an atheist while she was in high school, and she graduated from high school in the Crimea. She held there for a short period a job teaching Red Army soldiers to read, and she enjoyed the work very much. During her work, she observed that the illiterate soldiers were eager to learn and respectful of her.

At sixteen, Rand returned with her family to Saint Petersburg. She enrolled at Petrograd State University, where she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, and she studied heavily the philosophical works of Friedrich Nietzsche. Her formal study of philosophy amounted to only a few courses. Along with other non-Communist students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before graduating. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, some of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924. She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad.

In the fall of 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives. She left Russia on January 17, 1926, and arrived in the United States on February 19, entering by ship through New York City. After a brief stay with her relatives in Chicago, she resolved never to return to the Soviet Union.

What’s So Wrong with Objectivism?

Now, what’s wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism? Well, essentially everything. Firstly, Objectivism’s claims are simply asserted as self-evident philosophical truths. Without any evidence, assertions are meaningless. Christopher Hitchens said it more elegantly – “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

The premise of Objectivism’s claims seems to be reasonable but after following their reasoning, assumptions start to begin. And these assumptions are embraced as unquestionable truths which then lead to erroneous conclusions. To make things short, the philosophy derived human nature from a small set of axioms.

To demonstrate, let us look at its most basic tenet, its so-called “axiom of existence”, which states that “existence exists”. If you think about it, you’ll realize that it is flat out wrong. Try that statement to different words – “abstinence abstains, difference differs, excellence excels, obedience obeys, persistence persists, life lives, etc…“. Do any of these statements make sense? Of course not. That is to say, you exist, I exist, the universe exists— but existence doesn’t exist. This is because as even Rand herself admits in her writings, only concretes exist. And existence is clearly not a concrete, because you cannot ascribe any specific characteristics to it. Existence, out of context means nothing, and hence, to say out of any specific context that “existence” exists is to effectively say that nothing exists. Every other philosopher has realized that the assumption is not only meaningless but outright false (What’s terribly wrong with Objectivism?). It’s ironic that Rand is also famous for saying the words — “Check your premises…

Another fundamental tenet of Objectivism is the axiom of identity: “A is A”. As it is, that statement is incapable of explaining anything. This axiom of identity seems to be the first indication of Objectivists’ overuse of deductive reasoning. The law of identity was used to assume that there are some truths that are absolute. Objectivism’s truth claims seem to be entirely built around this idea. It starts with a few axioms, and from these axioms, everything else is derived – gender roles, the right kind of music, capitalism as right form of economic system, selfishness as a virtue, and so on. From the premise “A is A”, everything else follows. There’s a Ayn Rand quote to that effect:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

Another apparent big mistake of Objectivism is that every idea can be derived from deductive reasoning, wherein all its conclusions leave no room for errors, which is simply false. The vast majority of other knowledge requires inductive reasoning which involves reasoning from a set of specific facts to arrive at general conclusions.

What is it about Rand’s philosophy as presented in her novels that engendered it to have a cult following? Well, some of her ideas are very powerful and appealing – individualism, excellence in one’s own work, personal responsibility, etc. Both of her novels have protagonists that were always rational, productive, and individualistic; all the other characters where irrational, second-raters, and always dependent on the productiveness of the main characters. All the decisions that the characters had to decide were either always absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Followers of Objectivism never seem to realize that real people aren’t characters, that there are other factors that affect human nature which simply cannot be deduced from a small set of axioms. (My Country ‘Tis of ME–The United States of Ayn Rand)

Objectivist Morality and the Virtue of Selfishness

In terms of morality, what would seem to be one big flaw in Rand’s philosophy is the belief that morals can have an absolute standard of criteria, which is simply not scientifically supportable. Morals don’t exist in nature and so, it cannot be discovered (The Science of Good and Evil. Shermer, M. 2004 ).

Morality is subject to culture and human experience and it is constantly evolving. A few centuries ago, slavery was widely accepted but it is now generally abhorred. Different social groups and different time periods have claims on what is regarded as morally right or wrong. And this phenomenon alone tells us that morality is not absolute. When a social group claims to know the absolute right and wrong, you now have a group that is very similar to religion or ideology that is intolerant of differing ideas. This absolutism and intolerance, I think, could be the biggest flaw of Objectivism. The historical decline of Objectivism confirms this observation.

Kitty Genovese's murder in 1964 prompted investigation into the phenomenon that has become known as the bystander effect

Genovese's murder(1964) prompted study into the 'bystander effect' phenomenon

The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness, which tells a man to be concerned with one’s owns interests. It considers altruism as evil because it permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man – a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others (Virtue of Selfishness, 1965). The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York, where 38 of her neighbors did not intervene while she was being raped and murdered for about half an hour, perfectly demonstrates how an Objectivist would act improperly. If one would follow John Galt’s oath (Atlas Shrugged, 1957), he would certainly not sacrifice his life for Ms. Genovese. This act of nonintervention for selfish reasons is clearly appalling and self-defeating for any self-respecting individual. (The Vice of Selfishness)

Why Most Objectivists are Hostile

You would notice that whenever you encounter an Objectivist, they would always seem to start with questions followed by countless moralizing and condemnation. Such behavior is personally supported and advocated by Aynd Rand herself, Leonard Peikoff, and many of their followers. Most often, Objectivists that you will encounter online could just be Ayn Rand copycats. (The term – ‘Randroid’, a blending of ‘Rand’ and ‘android’ – has been used to evoke the image of “the John Galt-imitating robots produced by the cult). They start with questions and then they will insist on attacking your honesty, integrity, and character. This is the approach how Ayn Rand argued with her critics. When you are familiar with her essays and interviews, you will notice that those of the Objectivists just follow her technique, the same way religious fanatics follow their leader.

Why is this so? This is because the Objectivist ethics (The Objectivist Ethics. Rand, A. 1961) have extensive claims about concepts in human psychology that can never be proved or defended (The Peikovian Doctrine of the Arbitrary Assertion, 2008). These claims are simply assumed to be true. Again, no evidence to back up these claims, just assumed to be true. And these claims fall into three main categories: Inherently Dishonest Ideas, Evil, and Evasion.

These psychological concepts of ‘evil,’ ‘evasion,’ and ‘inherently dishonest ideas’ do not belong to philosophy. Objectivists appear to use these concepts to morally condemn other people without restriction. As a result, the Objectivist movement has remained a tiny group for the past forty years, and has hardly been ever taken seriously in the academic world. And since most Objectivists appear to be honestly convinced that an intellectual opponent is holding an inherently dishonest idea, they end up insulting them.

They have a technique called ‘guessing‘, which Objectivists appear to use to determine if an opponent is holding an inherently dishonest idea. They seem to use this technique to declare someone to be evil and dishonest. And this is most probably why most Objectivists often start their statements with questions. Doesn’t that sound too familiar? How many times have you encountered “What is…?”-type of questions from Objectivists? Well, now you know why. Always keep in mind, they appear to be mostly Ayn Rand copycats.

To most Objectivists, they regard morality based solely on the ethical principles that people conform to without identifying the people’s actual motivations. They seem to judge other people’s morals on the basis of whether they conform to Objectivist ethical principles or not. If your morality does not conform to their principles, it appears that you can be judged by them as dishonest and evil. And hence, it permits them to morally condemn you or other people.

Other philosophy forums seem to have the same problem with Objectivists. One person noted that –”
Objectivists preach their newfound brilliance for a few months in other philosophy forums. After some time, the reasonable ones learn from other people that dissect and expose their faulty logic. The unreasonable ones become delusional and get banned or become ignored by everyone.”

Conclusions

The foregoing discussion showed that Objectivism is a radical belief system without evidential foundation and filled with contradictions. The most evident of these contradictions is that Objectivism, although it would seem to motivate individualism and embolden critical thinking, actually turns into a dogmatic belief system that cannot be questioned nor scrutinized.

John Galt or Howard Roark, her two famous protagonists in Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, would have never joined the Objectivist movement. There was no individualism in Rand’s inner circle. Any follower must have the same musical taste, philosophical views, ethical principles, etc. For a philosophy that claimed to be the only and best way to achieve personal happiness, it seems to be a contradiction that Ayn Rand lived a lonely, isolated life in her later years. Her followers worshipped her like a cult figurehead, which she also accepted, despite her rejection of all things religious. Her Objectivism became more than a philosophy but a religion if not a simple cult (Walker, J. The Ayn Rand Cult. 1999). The philosophy of Objectivism appears to be very dogmatic in practice and prone to different interpretations as demonstrated by the successive schisms that plagued the Objectivist movement. Several of the splits were not caused by personal or political differences, but fundamental and philosophical. Moreover, Rand’s followers treated her like a cult figurehead or Supreme Ruler. To her, there were only absolutes, be it on what was good art, music, gender roles, or views of the world (Branden, N. Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand. 1989). She believed that it was more important to adhere to a principle than to live up to the expectations of society. (My Country ‘Tis of ME–The United States of Ayn Rand)

Objectivism can be compared to any other cult or religion; its equivalent holy book is Atlas Shrugged. And similar to any fundamentalist religious group, everything Objectivists proclaim is but an interpretation of their holy book. That’s all there is since it is just pure philosophy (and so it is safe to call it a belief system). It has no evidence to support its claims, and appropriately, it is not science. It used pure deductive reasoning to make a derivation of human nature without any evidential foundation and without science to test its claims. Rand herself acknowledged that she did not work out a philosophy of science (Rand, A., Binswanger, H., Peikoff, L. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 1990. pp. 303–304). Clearly, there are good reasons why Objectivism is not a real philosophy.

Ayn Rand, who left Russia, never returned to it, and stayed in the U.S., indeed endeavored to repudiate the overly extreme altruism of collectivist communism. Her theory of Objectivism correctly points out the flaws of inefficiency and ultimate self-destruction inherent in the Russian system. But, the pure self-interest embodied in her novel Atlas Shrugged is a dangerous overreaction that both involves intuitively wrong actions and creates an untenably dangerous social situation. Clearly, selfishness is no real virtue and Objectivism is no real theory. (The Vice of Selfishness)

What makes science light years away from all other disciplines is its commitment to the tentative nature of all its conclusions. Shermer explained science in his book, Why People Believe Believe in Weird Things, in a very simple and elegant way — In science, there are no final answers, only varying degrees of probability. Even scientific “facts” are just conclusions confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement, but that acceptance is never final. Science is not the declaration of a set of beliefs but a process of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to rejection or confirmation. And that is at the center of its limitations and is also its greatest strength. Science is the best tool ever devised for understanding our world, and we should love and use it.

Sources:

Additional Resources (If you’re still not convinced):

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science, Society94 Comments

Heathen Holy Week

If there’s one good thing about living in a predominantly Christian country, it’s the four straight holidays from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. And the good thing about being a heathen is that one gets to really enjoy these holidays without feeling guilty about indulging on food and drink and not spending precious hours listening to the Seven Last Words and having to get up at Easter dawn with a hangover from Saturday night’s binge.

Holy Week is one of the longest holidays in the Philippines, yet most people do not get to fully enjoy it because they have to be silent and serious until Easter sunrise. I bet the heathens are more excited than the Christians about Holy Week because who would look forward to commemorating the death of their deity?

I have a relative working out of town who has no plans of flying home to take advantage of the long holidays because for him Holy Week is not really a vacation time considering the artificially gloomy mood (not to mention the bars are closed), so he might as well stay in the city where he works and save the air fare.

But if not for this Christian tradition, people would be working this Lenten season, so we should be thankful for this break even though it is not as merry as that other Christian holiday.

By the way, did you know that the word holy shares the same Indo-European root with wholeheal, and health? In that case heathens can actually spend a ‘holy’ week by having a holistic schedule – a balance of indulgence, exercise, and rest – while feeding on healthful food.

Ah, food. When Catholics say that we should abstain from eating meat during the Holy Week as a form of sacrifice, I often tell them that instead of having the regular pork adobo, we should be feasting on lapu-lapu, lobsters, oysters, scallops, salmon, and sashimi.

Happy Heathen Holy Week everyone!!! :)

* * * * *

Here are some very good articles for the Holy Week about the ‘sacrifice’ of Jesus (feel free to share with Christians):

Sacrifice - by Igme

The Greatest Love Of All - by Lucius Ferrer

Posted in Religion2 Comments

Instituting Religion Through Philippine History (Part 2)

(Continued from Part I)

Missing Identities

There are numerous other issues with the way Muslims themselves are presented by Philippine textbooks, again pointing out how effective mental control has been. Some other examples include the following historical figures in early colonial history: Soliman of Manila, Lapulapu of Mactan, (Raja) Ladyang Matanda of Manila (whom the Chinese called “King of Luzon”), and Aceh of Manila. All of those figures can be traced to Tausug and Bruneian tarsilas (genealogy charts), which strongly suggests they were all Muslim. The accounts of Tomas Piras in his Summa Oriental in the 16th century also support that many Tagalogs, Visayans, and Tausugs–particularly the merchants and the ruling class–were “Mohammedans”.  These facts were also completely ignored by most Filipino lawmakers and history teachers.  In addition to erasing the role of Filipino Muslims played in Philippine history, there is also no mention about the famous Hindu-Buddhists. Lakandula, for example may have practiced a form of Buddhism which mixed Islam and indigenous religious beliefs.

Muslim History in the Philippines

While Christianity enjoys a privileged status in Philippine history texts, there are also issues with the way Philippine history is taught by Muslims.  Most madaris (the plural form of madrassah or Islamic school), if they include Philippine history at all, mostly start with the arrival of Islam into the country. Thus history begins in either 1380 which marks the date of the arrival of Islamic missionaries, or 1490 which  marks the date of the first Muslim state in the Philippines, the Sultanate of Sulu. The 20,000 years of history prior to that is essentially left out just as nearly everything before 1521 is blurry in national textbooks.  Thus Butuan, which was predominately a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom founded by Tausugs  and which flourished for 500 years, is left out along with the art works it produced such as the Tara of Agusan.

There are significant problems with those dates even from a Muslim perspective.  We know that there are graves of Muslims–mostly Chinese–from the 12th and 13th century in Tawi-Tawi and Jolo. The earliest we know of dates from 1210. We also know Tausug rulers visited China and a Tuhan Makbalu, a Muslim, died there in 1310.

Female Sultans

Another issue with the way Muslim Filipinos are teaching and writing is the role of women. Though this problem also exists with the way national history texts portray females, the erasing of female leaders from history is a recent phenomenon. Up until the late 20th century, woman exercised a great deal of authority both at home and in the Astana Putih (the White Palace, the royal of the Sultanate of Sulu). One of the most remarkable women in Philippine history was Sultana Sittie Kabira (Siti Cabil) in the 17th century.  She was part-Tausug and part-Maguindanaon. Eventually over the objections of more conservative elements, she was enthroned as the female Sultan of Sulu and Maguindanao after the death of her grandfather. To bring about a closer alliance with other sultans, she took a Maranao prince as her husband thus uniting the three largest ethno-linguistic of what is now the BangsaMoro.  She survived attempts by replace her by the Spanish, the Dutch, clerics, and rival families.  Eventually her successor, Kudarat, would expand further to Borneo and negotiate a treaty with the Spanish.

However, today, a Muslim Filipino would be hard pressed to find information about pioneering females such as  Sultana Sittie Kabira, Queen Regent Raja Portri of Maguindanao, Princess Tarhata Kiram or Dayang Dayang Piandao of Sulu. A cursory look at “Heroes of Moroland” or “Heroes of  the BangsaMoro” on Google would reveal almost no women on their websites.  Textbooks in madaris also generally do not celebrate these female rulers. Female sultans have been removed from official tarsilas within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao after the 1980s. However, that is not traditional. The Darangen epic of the Maranaw for example celebrates the woman. In fact, Princess Lawanen is the central character.  This new attitude can be attributed to the fact that many clerics have been greatly influenced by attitudes from the Middle East and are imposing a new social order in the name of Islam and BangsaMoro unity.

A Use-able and Filipino-Friendly History

While there are a number of good history texts out there, the teaching of Philippine history is left too much in the hands of individuals schools. When one considers how badly written some of the math textbooks are, it’s no surprise that our history books also are a casualty.  It is also unfortunate that the National Historical Institute basically writes trivia and investigates how the national anthem is sung rather than actually trying to build a more use-able and Filipino-friendly (as opposed to the useless and Euro-centric one we have now) history course through the education system. There should be stronger legislation in how history is taught and a civil-orientation of history textbooks. This means a more balanced and scientific approach in all history textbooks, a better construction of “pre-colonial history”, accurate 21st century data, removing religious and ethnic bias, the incorporation of more history from various regions and especially from national minority groups including the Aeta, the Lumads, the Moros, the Igorots, as well as reflecting more on the way women are portrayed in history texts.

We can not begin to really build a national community until we can really examine our history and recognize the contribution of these many people have made in nation-building.   José Rizal, after all, said:  “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”

Posted in Religion7 Comments

Instituting Religion Through Philippine History

For most people who had to take Philippine history either through the Makabayan course or through some sort of college class, history is divided generally into five eras: Pre-colonial, Spanish, American, Japanese, and Post-1946.  Instantly, these categories of course do not have any actual meaning to indigenous peoples in Northern Luzon, the Aetas, the Lumads of Mindanao, and the BangsaMoro who are all groups that were basically still autonomous until the American era.

For most other Filipinos, instead of history, we are taught stereotypes and religion is re-enforced.

The most common textbook used in high schools is the Philippine History and Government text by Gregorio F. Zaide and Sonia M. Zaide.  In addition to incorrect information (such as the Beyer Migration Theory) and a catelogue of stereotypes about different ethno-linguistic groups (i.e. Ilocanos are frugal, Tagalogs are proud, etc.) which comprises Chapter 2.  Here are some exceptional excerpts:

“…We are a nation with a gift of faith and a gift of music that other Asian nations do not have. The Filipinos are very spiritual and deeply religious. Christianity triumphed easily in the Philippines, but the other Asian nations do not accept Christianity from the West….” (p20)

“…We are a very important and unique nation in the world because God made us to be a gift of faith…This means that God likes to do an important mission with us….” (p. 29)

“…It is not by accident that we are the only Christian nation in Asia. We are meant to be the bridge between the Christian West and the non-Christian East…” (p. 29)

“…Thus Fr. Franciso Colin, a Jesuit historian, wrote that the first settler of our country was Tharsis, son of Javan and great grandson of Noah…” (p. 30)

All in all, it’s about 20,000 years of history before Magellan is summed up in one chapter (about 30 pages). Nowhere in the lengthy discourses about Noah (from a Jesuit historian who lived in the 17th century no less), or how the Philippines is on a prophetic mission from God, are there any real and useful facts. For example, all Filipinos speak Austronesian languages–though one can argue that Chavacano is not Austronesian–which is the largest family of languages in the world and are genetically related to Indonesians, Malays, Micronesians,  aboriginal Taiwanese and Polynesians.  Nor does it mention anywhere that Filipino soldiers were prized by the Sultans of Malacca, that trade missions with China were conducted as early as the 10th century, or even that historically  the Philippines had close relations with Ternate, Sulawesi, Borneo, Johor and Champa (an Austronesian kingdom in what is now Viet Nam).

Now when one reads from William Henry Scott’s Barangay, one finds an entire book of 300 pages dedicated to 16th century Philippines without any mention of genealogy tables from Noah. One also finds several interesting references not covered in most Philippine textbooks such as the use of the word “siyak” in Kapampangan and Tagalog texts,which the early Spanish friars  translated as bishop or a caretaker of a masjid (mosque) (p.241). Siyak comes from the Malay word, syekh, which in turn comes from the Arab word, shiekh. The word simba also comes from the Malay word, sembah, which means to worship and the word sambahan (simbahan) is mentioned in the Boxer text to mean mosque and Fr. Pedro Chirino also noted the presence of several mosques in Manila (mostly in Santa Ana) at the time of the Spanish conquest of Luzon. We can therefore see from Scott’s work that Christianity was fused into an existing indigenous religious system which was already incorporating complicated ideas from Islam and Hindu-Buddhist traditions.  It also clearly shows that the early friars essentially embraced some of these Islamic and Hindu-Buddhist elements in order to make it more comprehensible especially to the datus who would have been familiar with these concepts in the same way they took the practice of anting-anting and stamped on images of the Santo Nino.

The Role of the Spanish Inquisition

Zaide and other textbook writers also leave out an important historical contribution on how we became a “bridge”: the Spanish Inquisition. On January 25, 1569 Philip II (after whom the Philippines is named) issued a decree establishing the “El Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquicision” in New Spain (Mexico).  Thereafter the Archbishops of Mexico were also Inquisitor-General (or “Grand Inquisitor”) of New Spain and were independent of the state. After the re-establisment of Manila in 1571, the bishop and later archbishop of Manila was named an Inquisitor of the Faithful. After Mexican independence in 1821, the Archbishop became the Inquisitor-General and held that position until 1898. We know from the Boxer Codex and the writings of Fr. Pedro Chirino that the Inquisitor-Generals took their office seriously and we know several stories where Filipinos were forced to turn over anitos, poetry (poetry not dedicated to the Christian God were termed “gulo” and therefore subject to the Inquistion), writings, and any other object that might lead one to form a pact with the Devil….(Scott, 242).” The Devil of course meant anything that could not be useful to the Spanish political and religious consolidation of the Philippines.

Therefore, one of the basic reasons why Christianity “triumphed” in the Philippines was because of the success of the early friars to synchronize Christianity with indigenous beliefs on one hand and on the other hand to erase anything that would undermine their mental hold. As Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o explains, “….economic and political control can never be complete without mental control…[This mental control is achieved through] the destruction or deliberate undervaluing of a people’s culture, their arts, dances, religions, history, geography, education, orature (oral traditions), and literature, with the conscious elevation of the language of the colonizer.”

Through the readings of Zaide, one can see how deep this mental control is.

Click here for Part II.

Posted in Religion4 Comments

FF Top Ten: March 24, 2010

FF Top Ten: March 24, 2010

It is so ironic that the Catholic Church, a group so obsessed with legislating people’s sex lives, can’t keep it in their pants (do they even wear pants?).  Sex scandals involving church men in Ireland, Germany, and Spain are being brought to the forefront by really angry Catholics who are demanding justice for the victims.  Note to sex offenders – people are judging you, too. Hopefully, actual judges in court get to do that as well.

Send your stories via The News Thread or the comments. Theme suggestions are also welcome.

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Jesus and friends get supersized meals, still thin though (via The Guardian) link

Catholic Sex Scandal Tour hits Spain (via Times Online) link More sex abuses are exposed.  The people so obsessed with legislating sex are having so much sex! Illegally! With minors! Such great examples for the youth.

Ukrainian Catholic priests can get married, apparently. Lucky bastards. (via NY Times) link

As usual, nuns make more sense than priests, but are summarily ignored. (via NY Times) link

James Randi, famous atheist commentator = Dumbledore. (via Blag Hag) link

You can be gay in Malaysian movies, only if you don’t really act gay and you change your mind afterwards. (via Inquirer) link

Christians hating on gay couple, rightfully reported to the police. (via The Guardian) link

Psychic pretending to see the future of the stock market is sued by the SEC for fraud.   (via NY Times) link If you invest your money with a company named Magic Eight Ball Distribution, you should be disqualified from investing anything. Ever.

A whopping 92% of Americans believe in some higher being. Here is a summary of the debate surrounding the future of religion in the US.  Participants are Deepak Chopra (Deepak!!), Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, and Jean Houston. (via ABC news) link

Secular group has a chance of winning the Iraqi elections.  Good news. (via Cleveland.com) link

Posted in Others2 Comments

Roll Initiative

I got into Role-playing Games when I was around 11. We were middle class but on the stingy side. Our parents were starting up their business and we had to cut a lot of corners when it came to toys. So we played imaginary games. My brothers and I learned about DnD from the cartoon, comic book ads, and fantasy fiction in movies and anime in the 80s. We bought a very discounted but original DnD computer game at around 1990, but it was so old it was broken. My brothers and I only had the manuals and we liked the ideas so much we used it as the baseline for our imaginary games.

We studied in Alabang while living in San Juan. Our parents, struggling with their business, made us stay with them in the office. After class it was about another 3-4 hours before we got home. That was when we would play RPGs a lot. We didn’t have dice and we didn’t know what it was called. It was a year later that I found out that it was called RPGs and what DnD was all about from my classmates who spent summers in the US.

Role-playing was cheap, forced us to read a lot, and all other tools was left to our creativity and imagination. It was a game I played with my brothers and brought us very close.

It eventually became the focus of my career choice, taking up Multi-Media Arts specializing in Game Design and writing a 19C Philippine Historical Role-playing Game for my thesis.

Fast-forward to today. Role-playing has become a powerful business critical thinking technique. As game theory unraveled the complex interactions among individuals and organizations with mathematics, it highlighted the ability of empathy to intuitively make sense of these complex interactions. It has become a structured exercise for developing one’s empathy, honing it to better take in the character of another person and to generate ideas with the shift in perspective.

Sample Role-plays from Harvard Business School Press

Teaching business, management and strategy through role-playing a Scientific Journal

Teaching Empathy through Role-playing Exercise from the American Humanist Association.

TED Games Saving the World

Using Role-playing to Teach Empathy

Posted in Others, Personal5 Comments

On Prayer

Our imagination is within our mind, and it is infinite. Our conscious dwells in our mind and is finite. We are only aware of the imaginations that are within the limits of the abilities of our conscious capabilities, and those are our capabilities that we are aware of and can be performed consciously.

When the conscious desires something it doesn’t have, it becomes a necessity for it to seek that thing which it wishes to have in the area beyond it, which is the imagination, and to actualize it by its abilities. However, it is a very hard task to search the entire imagination, and the abilities of the conscious are very limited for doing this task. Therefore, it is necessary to bring the entire imagination within the limits of the conscious, so that the conscious may have a glimpse of what it wants and for it to figure out how it can realize this desire by its own capabilities.  Imagine that we would like to get ourselves a pearl. For us to get a pearl, it is a must that we search the sea for one. But the vastness of the sea makes it quite hard for us to do so. Furthermore, the efforts required for the search can be beyond one’s abilities. To make our search easier, we can put the sea within our reach. We can cultivate oyster beds that we can approach and harvest pearls within our abilities.

Imagine that one desires a specific mental attribute, like intelligence. His desire exists in the conscious, and what he seeks is found in the imagination but can only be actualized by his conscious abilities.  If he tries to search in his imagination, I doubt that he would get what he wants, knowing its vastness and the limits of his abilities. It is then necessary that he bring his imagination within reach of his conscious abilities by symbolizing it with such a thing that can be grasped by his conscious abilities, and when he sees knowledge in his imagination and that it is within reach of his conscious abilities, he can now start working to attain it.

I consider prayer as a form of mental conditioning like meditation. Prayer at its vaguest definition is asking some supernatural being for favors. When someone prays for mental attributes that don’t exist in his conscious, he searches his imagination by personifying it and enters into dialogue with that personification. The God of prayer is a personification of a person’s imagination having those untapped attributes which a person desires and having the personality and intellect of the one who conceived it portrayed as a superior existence of that person. By giving his conscious a glimpse of his untapped attributes, and by seeing himself as possessing those attributes, he realizes the potential for the actualization of his desired attribute and up to what extent he can attain it by his conscious abilities and is emotionally inspired by the image of seeing a portrait of a superior self having what he desires.

Imagine that a student needs to study for his exam. This student begins to pray that God adjust his mental configurations in order for him to pass the exam. What I see is that this student does not know how to organize his thoughts, or how to get his mind in the right shape for his exam.  In the conscious mind of that student there exists a desire for the organization of his thoughts and to get in shape for his exam. Now, his conscious seeks to attain that attribute of his thoughts being well-organized and of him being in shape for his exam by seeking it in his imagination. However, what he seeks in his imagination is beyond his conscious abilities. Therefore, it is a must for him to bring his imagination within sight of his conscious by personifying it in such a way that is within his conscious abilities of understanding that he may get a glimpse of what he wants. When he invokes God, which is a personification of a person’s imagination bearing those untapped attributes that he wants, he sees a superior self that understands him and has what he wants- that said attribute of being in shape for the exam and having organized thoughts. Now that he has a clear picture of what he wants, he can now start to learn how to attain this attribute by what abilities he has. Furthermore, the experience of seeing a superior self having those attributes he desires emotionally motivates to actualize what he has seen.

In the end, it is still us who helps ourselves. Nobody helps us but ourselves. We ourselves make and walk our own paths.

Posted in Others5 Comments

Volunteer’s Dilemma

As a game theory enthusiast, I sometimes get questions about what would be the most effective strategy in improving our situation in the Philippines. When people ask me this, there is a notion of a utopia that distracts from the reality and makes my answer difficult to take. Addressing such expectations, I’m aware people need an idea of what to strive for or what clues to look out for, to know that all their efforts and suffering are not in vain.

If you’ve heard of what is happening in Thailand, they are clear examples of what it looks like moving towards better horizons.  Having more people involved in addressing the shortcomings of government and participating in making things fairer is a very good sign.  It’s not a pretty sight to see so many people angry, disgruntled and making sacrifices just to be heard. Change for the Philippines invovled people organizing and holding the country “hostage” because this is the only leverage ordinary people have.

In game theory you cannot expect anyone, no matter how much they claim to be on your side, to REALY promise change unless you have leverage over the other party. Having all the guns (all the leverage), means having never to listen or make good on the promise.

Thomas Schelling, an economist, professor of foreign affairs  and author of the Strategy of Conflict helped explain the necessity of making parties accountable in the deals they make. In the same principle that if I want people to believe what I am saying, I will give them the same information to see it for themselves. If I wanted my promises to be credible, there should be a form of leverage the other party can enforce on me should I break it.

We don’t have leverage, unless we have numbers and cohesion. In Thailand, they can paralyze the economy or take away the legitimacy of leader in retaliation.

Do we have that same kind of leverage?

The irony is knowing how some people who like to bash on Thailand for their morals don’t realize they are leaving us in the dust. Another irony is that those who are comfortable have the least to gain and have the least to lose. Those who have the most to gain are those who have the most to lose. Protests, rallies, and boycotts cost days of pay for the people who need the jobs more.

Check www.gapminder.org and compare the Philippines and Thailand.

Posted in Others, Politics4 Comments

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