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Peter Hitchens reviews philosopher John Gray: An atheist who rebukes banal atheists

john gray

John Gray
Seven Types of Atheism
By John Gray
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018)

This is a justifiably testy book, by an atheist about atheists. Perhaps it means that the long and lucrative fashion for books about how God does not exist, and how God is simultaneously hateful and wicked, is over. Since John Gray is a capable thinker, knowledgeable about philosophy and a respecter of facts, the recent outburst of arguments for and even about atheism, presented as if they were fresh discoveries, must have struck him as thin. As he himself says, atheism does not really amount to very much. It is just an absence, even if it is a willful one. There is no Gospel of Godlessness, as such, no anti-scripture to which the unbeliever may turn for guidance or solace.

Yet Professor Gray is chilly toward conventional Western religious belief, seeing it as confining rather than liberating. He thinks that by stepping outside monotheism altogether some have "found freedom and fulfilment." Such people are "not looking for cosmic meaning" and so are "content with the world as they found it." Are they? Is he? How odd if so. He writes, with what looks like scorn for the Abrahamic faiths, that "religion is universal, whereas monotheism is a local cult."

Stop

Perfection at any cost?

perfection
© Kevin Lamarque
A trait that's often seen as good can actually be destructive. Here's how to combat it.

When the psychologist Jessica Pryor lived near an internationally renowned university, she once saw a student walking into a library holding a sleeping bag and a coffee maker.

She's heard of grad students spending 12 to 18 hours at a time in the lab. Their schedules are meant to be literally punishing: If they're scientists-in-training, they won't allow themselves to watch Netflix until their experiments start generating results. "Relationships become estranged-people stop inviting them to things, which leads them to spend even more time in the lab," Pryor told me.

Along with other therapists, Pryor, who is now with the Family Institute at Northwestern University, is trying to sound the alarm about a tendency among young adults and college students to strive for perfection in their work-sometimes at any cost. Though it is often portrayed as a positive trait-a clever response to the "greatest weaknesses" question during job interviews, for instance-Pryor and others say extreme perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.

Comment: What's driving young peoples' obsession with perfection?


Cheeseburger

Douglas Murray in conversation with Jordan Peterson

murray peterson
This is a wide ranging and thought-provoking conversation between Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray on the veracity and usefulness (as well as the dangers) of IQ testing, and where the Left and Right 'go wrong', thus contributing to the polarization of Western society.

Check out unherd.com

Snow Globe

The pursuit in 'interestingness': Giving goals a fluidity that can accommodate new information

woman dreaming, hyperdimensional
The late physicist Richard Feynman famously won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. But here's something most people don't know about him: He was also a world-class safecracker.

In the 1940s, in the New Mexico Desert, Feynman was bored while working on the Manhattan project that would birth the atomic bomb. Naturally, then, he decided to occupy himself by pulling pranks on his colleagues.

Knowing that most of them were relatively careless when dealing with the safes that stored top secret documents - whether forgetting to lock them, or leaving them on factory settings, or choosing obvious dates as their codes - he began leaving notes in the place of their work like:
"I borrowed document no. LA4312 - Feynman the safecracker."
Eventually, he got so good at it that the Colonel in charge of his unit began advising people that if Feynman had been anywhere near their safe, it was a part of their job to change their combination lock once more.

This story is one of many stories Feynman tells in his autobiography Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman!, where his playful nature gets the better out of both him and his attention.

NPC

Why some people are unable to admit when they're wrong

white flag
Psychological rigidity is not a sign of strength.

We all make mistakes and we do so with regularity. Some errors are small, such as, "No, we don't need to stop at the store; there's plenty of milk left for breakfast". Some bigger, such as, "Don't rush me; we have plenty of time to get to the airport before the flight leaves". And some are crucial, such as, "I know it was raining and dark but I'm sure that was the man I saw breaking into the home across the street."

No one enjoys being wrong. It's an unpleasant emotional experience for all of us. The question is how do we respond when it turns out we were wrong when there wasn't enough milk left for coffee, when we hit traffic and missed the flight, or when we find out the man who sat in jail for 5 years based on our identification was innocent all along?

Some of us admit we were wrong and say, "Oops, you were right. We should have gotten more milk."

Some of us kind of imply we were wrong but we don't do so explicitly or in a way that is satisfying to the other person, "We had plenty of time to get to the airport on time if the traffic hadn't been unusually bad. But fine, we'll leave earlier next time."

But some people refuse to admit they're wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. "They let him go because of DNA evidence and another dude's confession? Ridiculous! That's the guy! I saw him!"

Comment: This is where the tools of gaining insight become invaluable: Getting to know how others see you can help you see yourself


Book 2

Reviewing Germaine Greer's 'On Rape': Lots of opinion, few facts

germaine greer
A review of On Rape by Germaine Greer. Bloomsbury Publishing (September 2018) 92 pages.

Germaine Greer's On Rape is roughly the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter story. And why not? As it happens, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck also says a great deal of what young people need to know about the topic: beware of polite, well-dressed gentlemen (especially if they have foxy whiskers and black prick ears); don't go uncritically into dismal summerhouses in the woods; and accepting a dinner invitation does not imply consent to everything the polite gentlemen is looking for.

Greer's book is not as incisive as Potter's and it is considerably more expensive. But that is not to say it is a complete waste of money. In some ways it fizzes along with ideas and raises lots of questions that others are frightened to ask. Why are we so afraid of the penis when a fist and a thumb can do more physical damage? Why do some women fantasise about being raped? Are sentences for rapists too long? Should rapists be compulsorily castrated? That it is less good at answering them is not necessarily a criticism. Indeed, as she says (of her proposal that rape sentences should be shorter) "the mere suggestion will cause an outcry which is one good reason for making it."

Fire

Gabor Maté: How a traumatized America finds relief in hate

Gabor Maté
© ABRAHAM GUTMAN / Staff
Robert Bowers allegedly killed 11 worshipers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh because he hates Jews. Dylann Roof killed nine worshipers in a church in South Carolina because he hates black people. Cesar Sayoc is believed to have sent more than a dozen pipe bombs by mail because he hates Democrats and CNN.

Hate seems to be everywhere we look - and it is violent. According to a Government Accountability Office report, in the 15 years after 9/11, right-wing domestic terrorists killed 106 people. The FBI recorded more than 6,000 hate crimes in 2016 - the last year for which data are available.

What drives so much hate and can it be stopped?

Comment: See also:


Eye 1

7 things covert psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths do differently

7 things psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths do
© Shutterstock
The only truly effective method for dealing with a sociopath you have identified is to disallow him or her from your life altogether. Sociopaths live completely outside of the social contract, and therefore to include them in relationships or other social arrangements is perilous. ~ Dr. Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door
When many of us think of malignant narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths, the image of the egotistical megalomaniac is called to mind: overly proud, boastful, arrogant, vain, self-centered, even violent, depending on how psychopathic we think they might be. Yet many of the most conniving and dangerous manipulators are not overt in their tactics - and their violence does not leave visible scars.

Predators who fly under the radar are able to so because they disguise their tactics behind false humility, a convincing facade and an arsenal of underhanded tactics meant to keep their victims bewildered, gaslighted and striving to regain the abuser's approval.

Here are seven ways covert malignant narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths differ from their more overt counterparts.

1. They apologize strategically to keep you hooked

It is a common misconception that those who have narcissistic or even sociopathic tendencies never take accountability for their actions. While it's true that more overt narcissists rage at any perceived slight and suffer narcissistic injury, covert manipulators are able to keep their contempt in check if it means sustaining a relationship or furthering an agenda. For example, an abusive relationship partner may still apologize and acknowledge what they did wrong if they find it more convenient than to disagree.

Comment: See also: Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes


Attention

Social contagion: Trigger warnings are a mass psychogenic illness

hospital gurney
Contrary to the tradition of free inquiry, many college students now demand the suppression of ideas they find offensive. As if to raise the stakes by transforming the issues in play into medical ones, many also claim that such ideas traumatize them. Implying as it does that offensive material doesn't just insult decency or pollute the public realm but wounds the very psyche of those exposed to it, the term "trauma" as deployed by the critics of free inquiry has indeed taken the argument to a new level. What are we to make of the contention that students are so vulnerable that the syllabus of a lit course should carry a "trigger warning" to the effect that their psyches might suffer damage merely as a result of the reading?

A medical argument calls for a medical reply.

Suppose rumors begin to circulate in a small town that the insulation stuffed into local walls and attics contains a toxic substance. Literally surrounded by toxicity, the residents begin to report symptoms like nausea, headache, dizziness and poor concentration, with each new case producing others in a cascade effect. The Emergency Room overflows. Upon investigation, however, no toxic source can be found. According to the medical literature, we have here a case of mass psychogenic illness (or mass hysteria): a social phenomenon in which people suddenly fall ill, and inspire others to do so as well, in the belief that they have been exposed to a toxic agent, though in fact the belief itself is making them sick. Such an outbreak poses a spurious emergency.


Comment: Jordan Peterson recently interviewed Lukianoff and Haidt on their book, pointing out that the trigger-warning approach is actually the exact opposite of how to deal with fears and trauma. Rather than shield oneself from triggers, the only thing that actually works is to build resilience by exposing yourself to 'triggers'. Trigger warnings only make things worse.




SOTT Logo Radio

The Truth Perspective: Churches Behaving Badly: How Religions Succeed or Fail to Prevent Pathocracy

inquisition
Some critics of organized religions argue that religions are the root of all evils. Some of the faithful argue that atheism and secular ideologies like communism or capitalism produce the worst atrocities. But is either side correct? Or are they missing an important piece of the puzzle?

Today on the Truth Perspective we discuss a chapter in Andrew Lobaczewski's Political Ponerology on religion and pathocracy: how religious ideologies get infected with pathological material, which can remain semi-dormant for centuries; how religions can be hijacked by malevolent individuals and groups; how the same pathological influences produce secular systems that then attack the faithful; and how despite their errors, religions still offer the best defense against political and interpersonal evil.

Religion is both our greatest aid against evil, and also - because of its importance - one of the greatest portals for evil to manifest itself. Both sides of the debate are correct, in a sense. Ponerology fills in the holes of our understanding of spirituality and evil, bridging the gap between the two and pointing the way to a reconciliation between the scientific and religious domains, where each has an important role to play.

Running Time: 01:42:40

Download: OGG, MP3


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