What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’m sure you’ve all seen all the repugnant things religious leader fuckheads have said in the last few days. I’m not going to comment on that because it makes me feel ill.

This post has three sections.

Gun Control

Seriously, the sheer number of American pathological gun nuts I’ve dealt with online in the last two days is staggering.

I’m finding exactly the same problems I have with religion, especially when religion is driving good people to kill and giving bad people an excuse to kill (and an excuse to get good people to kill). It’s a faith-based claim that offers no rationale except for bullshit cliched arguments that have clearly not been critically examined by someone who cares about anything other than feeding on confirmation bias.

So my problem is faith. I just typically go after religion because it’s the largest and most prevalent manifestation of this defective way of thinking; and so it just happens to piss me off more often.

But now I find myself forced to go after the American gun cult.

Something about children being killed with legal weapons just makes me fucking mad, you know? There’s also something about the callous self-justifications from trigger-happy traditionalist idiots, while families are mourning, that just begs to be called out.

So here it is.

America’s gun laws fail so hard at preventing homicides, robberies, accidental shootings and suicides according to evidence from peer-reviewed literature (not reports from “think-tanks” and other bullshit sources); but that doesn’t matter. The solution is moar guns! It’s a Second Amendment right!

Yes, more guns is exactly what America needs.

Here, by the way, is the Second Amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Hmm.

The Second Amendment argument is stupid, and clearly nobody has read it — if it were still relevant it’d imply that citizens should be allowed access to nuclear weapons. Besides, interpreting the Second Amendment on an individual protection level is problematic and unsophisticated.

Then times changed, democracy got better (fine, it’s actually a polyarchy, but whatever) — making revolution less meaningful. Also, civilisation is qualitatively different now than it was at any other point in history.

Violence, all over the world, is in decline (help speed it along!), and liberalisation is rising, despite some other depressing statistics (I’ll get to them). The revolution in the United States will not be televised, because it won’t happen; it’s little more than another American Dream.

Second, guns for personal protection? Bullshit.

I looked through a bunch of my university library’s research databases and all I came up with, from reputable psychological and medical journals, was strong evidence that legally owned guns for self-defence are rarely used for self-defence; they’re more likely (22 times!) to be used in homicides, accidental deaths, suicides and to intimidate family members. This general trend of this study has been corroborated by numerous others.

(In light of those studies, which, most charitably, paint private gun-packers as highly incompetent and dangerous people, rather than autonomous agents capable of defending themselves; would a militia comprised of these people really capable of overthrowing a hypothetical tyrannical government? That might be a little too much to expect…)

Here are two charts that should hit this crime rate point home:

Number of guns per 100 people, OECD

Interesting, because “Switzerland” I hear a lot. I guess nobody bothered to look up how that actually works.

Gun-related murder rates in the developed world.

That’s another bullshit claim I hear: “What about Mexico? That’s what gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens does to reduce crime!” Yes, what about Mexico? Where do Mexican cartels get their guns from?

A more in-depth analysis can be found here. I guess facts really do have a progressive bias.

The cost-benefit analysis, if you care about protecting people, just doesn’t justify guns for personal protection.

Some might be tempted to use this against me when I advocate full drug-legalisation. They’d be wrong. Drugs are an individual choice, and you can’t use drugs to kill lots of people, only yourself (if you’re so inclined, or if you’re an irresponsible user, or by accident — but then, mountain climbing can kill you in that way). Drugs should be illegal in situations where they can play some causal role in harming others: like when you’re driving. If you drug-and-drive, fuck you. You’re a criminal because you put others at risk.

(Incidentally, in some U.S. states, car licenses are more heavily regulated than gun ownership.)

So, being a rabid supporter of “the right to bear arms” is to buy into a bullshit faith-based enterprise, with its own mythology and various off-shoot sects. The fact that it’s about providing false-consolation and a false sense security and the fact that it’s totally contrary to the evidence makes it exactly like religion.

And, on exactness: this is exactly why I go after religion. Religion is based on faith, which is essentially pretending to know things you don’t know. Appeals to faith are used to justify tribalism, delusion and all manner of bullshit. When someone says “that’s what I believe” you’re supposed to avoid being disrespectful. Fuck that I say.

People can be wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with exercising your own free speech to hold them to account. And making light of the majority hard-headed among them in front of fence-sitters.

So fuck those idiots against gun control. There is blood on their hands.

Mental Health

This is important to me.

I have lived with bipolar disorder since my early teenage years and I’m now in recovery.

I’ve never shot anyone, but I’ve faced discrimination in personal, professional and schooling situations due to the stigma associated with mental illness.

I don’t care about it, personally, because I’ve been lucky; it hasn’t ever really gotten in my way. But discrimination affects others badly. Really fucking badly. And I totally understand why.

The mentally ill don’t need to be singled out based on the actions of criminals. It’s offensive to do so, and it doesn’t even make sense.

The amount of demonisation I’ve seen the mentally ill as a group subjected to — surreptitiously by the hard right (because it wasn’t guns!) and inadvertently hiding in articles in the PC left media (smacked down here) — since this recent mass murder in the United States is mind-boggling.

It’s quite simple: the United States has worse healthcare than some developing countries (Columbia!); but look at these fucking statistics. Now, what should the priority be following Friday’s Connecticut shooting? It’s pretty fucking obvious to me.

To start with: to demonise people with autism spectrum disorders is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of established facts about abnormal human psychology.

Second; what effect does mental illness have on crime? The first clear-cut example is psychopathy; but does psychopathy predict criminal behaviour? A bit of arithmetic carried out on Baylor College’s neurolaw-focused blog, using some estimates and some quantified statistics indicated that 15% of all psychopaths currently living in the United States are incarcerated for some crime or another. Would increased mental health funding, and more accessible high-quality treatment help these rates? No. Psychopathy is untreatable, and very difficult to diagnose.

What about the mentally ill population as a whole? That’s a point of contention too, and it shouldn’t be, because there are more of these things called facts — and they’re in. The mentally ill, as a population, are overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Check this in the peer-reviewed literature for yourself, and look through other articles.

This is the crux of my argument: if the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence, then taking measures to reduce violence also protects the mentally ill. Tackling gun violence is a step towards protecting the mentally ill, and a step towards protecting everyone else.

Better healthcare is an absolute imperative. There are some shocking stats associated with mental illness in the United States. The one I find scariest is that only one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosable mental illnesses actually get to talk to a professional in any meaningful capacity.

Clearly, mental health services in the United States need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed soon; but right now, a scourge that infects American culture as a whole must be fixed. This is gun culture.

This is a hard calculation to make with objectivity, but right now, America’s progressives and concerned conservatives should try to rewrite the gun laws.

Now is the time. This isn’t an either-or thing; it should be a both thing — but smart progressives should not lose sight of the myopia of their fellow countrymen.

Help everyone first: fix your fucking gun culture.

Ethics

Now, you could say that who am I, an Australian descended from undesirable colonisers (I’m not, but that’s what I was told) — to derive morals from facts (as Hume supposedly prohibited) and moreover, how dare I use my moral standards to judge another country’s laws and culture?

Because fuck you. If ethics aren’t about minimising suffering and maximising flourishing for all conscious creatures, then ethics is a waste of everyone’s time — and anyone who believes that has no grounds to support any moral cause, or to judge the behaviours of others. That’s why.

Why should we be interested in minimising suffering and maximising harm? Well, would you apply the same standard to medical research? How about physics? No. I didn’t fucking think so. So why do people hate it when you try to come up with a normative system of ethics? Out of respect for unjustified, unsubstantiated bullshit faith-based opinions.

Also, you didn’t read Hume properly. He used inference to the best explanation (induction) all the time, despite pointing out a “problem with induction” (that modern epistemology and philosophy of science has easily accommodated in the form of evidentialism; even verificationism), and he was an empiricist. He’d be fine with physics and medicine; and if he knew about consequentialism, he’d be fine with that too. (The problems in that BBC link have largely been resolved, it just covers naive consequentialism really, but you can find that shit out yourself. Go read some Peter Singer and even Sam Harris — neither of whom I totally agree with — and make up your own mind.)

My thoughts go out to all the families who lost loved ones last Friday. If children, a teacher and a psychologist being murdered in cold blood with legal weapons isn’t a wakeup call for America, there’s something wrong with the American leadership, and by extension, the people who elected those leaders.

Disagree?

Before you tell me, read what I wrote. Read it again. Check my sources. I don’t like repeating myself. I will approve your comments (I do that anyway), but only to enshrine you as a dunce.

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Why it’s OK to hate religion

Religion, by any precise definition, is based on faith, and faith is about preserving assumptions at all costs.

Evidentialist philosopher Peter Boghossian defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know”; so by definition, faith entails what the late Christopher Hitchens termed “the surrender of the mind”. The cost of faith is reason. Wilfully surrendering one’s reason to the dictates of a higher authority is not only stupefying, it also sets a dangerous social precedent.

My argument against faith is a consequentialist one: when polite society is conditioned to extend “politeness” to deluded assumptions about the nature of reality, the venom of epistemic relativism has been injected.

For this reason, hating religion is not just OK, it is practically a moral imperative. Religion is by far the most obvious manifestation of the faith disease.

In response to one of my recent attacks on the ejaculations of a faith head, I was told something to the effect of “but that’s just your opinion, and you will respect mine.”

Why should I? And why should anyone? That perverted wisp of wisdom emanated from someone who believes that holding off her child’s vaccinations is a just and socially responsible thing to do, which it isn’t. Perhaps such a potentially infanticidal sentiment is not quite as extreme as those motivating acts of faith-based terrorism, but it does certainly resonate with Voltaire’s timeless dictum:

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

As I’ve written elsewhere, opinions that are not informed by evidence are worthless opinions. Religious convictions eschew evidence entirely; they write any empirical evidence that doesn’t gel out of consideration.

Occasionally, in the “pluralistic” media, we are forced to endure the cognitive putrification of some disingenuous religious figure distorting science to justify his brand of faith-based garbage, but we should always consider the myriad things this professional rationaliser is not saying.

Religion is based on faith, and for that reason, it’s OK to hate religion. This contempt should extend to more liberal interpretations of the various religions too, because such prescriptive worldviews remain grounded in faith. The theocrat is right to assert that her faith should be afforded respect when the faith of the liberal theist is considered impervious to scrutiny.

If we wish to distinguish between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” religious dogmas, which criteria should we employ? Almost without exception, the various holy books of the world claim that the normative delusions they describe are absolute truths. Their doctrines are not mutually inclusive. Individual theists may hold beliefs that roughly align with liberal democratic values, but their motivations are still delusional.

Of course, religiosity should not rob anyone of the right to vote or to contribute to our discourse; but a person’s faith, like their politics, should not be exempt from scrutiny. Asking Mitt Romney whether or not he adheres to some of his church’s more contemptible doctrines should be a necessity, not a taboo.

Scientific knowledge, and the scientific approach to knowledge, on the other hand, is truly democratic. If we agree that science is about uncovering reality, anyone who cares enough to do the background reading can contribute. The culture of science is distinguished in other ways too: it’s worth noting that string theorists do not engage in holy wars with other quantum gravity theorists.

When made acceptable, the faith precedent rears its ugly head elsewhere in society.

I spend a lot of time arguing with global warming deniers, and ultimately their arguments will come down to “I have a right to my opinion”. Yes, they sure do, and I’d hate to disabuse them of their rights, no matter how much and in what manner they abuse those rights. But I don’t think their opinions deserve undue respect.

The precedent that everyone’s assumptions should be exempt from criticism in public space runs counter to free speech. Free speech is supposed to be a social mechanism for the self-correction intrinsic to modern liberal democracy.

The public have a right to know the truth, so it follows that the merchants of comfortable delusions deserve to be ridiculed and alienated. Free speech thus provides the rope for the Chris Moncktons and Rush Limbaughs of the world to publicly hang themselves with.

The reason we should not disabuse people of their faith, so we’re told, is that faith brings people comfort. Comfortable delusions are virulent infectious memes, and they do harm.

When confronted with a serial killer, nobody confuses tolerating with enabling. I think that the only reason people don’t readily equate enabling religion with enabling serial killers is due to the average homo sapiens’ inveterate environmental and temporal cognitive myopia. It’s the same myopia that causes people to stop and save a child who is drowning in front of them at the expense of their designer shoes, but to rarely even consider that giving money to alleviate poverty elsewhere in the world is equivalent.

On a personal level, I find the idea of healthy people with access to adequate nutrition and shelter pretending to know things they don’t know for a little extra comfort to be the height of self-indulgence. It takes a special kind of solipsism to take solace in the notion that something is looking out for a First World thirty-something, while millions of children who live in abject poverty die horribly every year.

Less seriously, for many people, use of the word “religion” is suspiciously correlated with a sudden transient drop in the user’s IQ score. Since this essay was originally posted, I have been told that I should identify my religious affiliation as “consequentialist” on the Australian census. I find the notion that the idea of minimising the palpable, measurable phenomenon of human suffering is on equal ground with childish, solipsistic delusions about reality more than a little distasteful.

Religion is like junk food. As psychiatrist Andy Thomson has pointed out, the evolutionary psychology of religion is almost analogous to the evolutionary psychology of junk food. The reason we modern humans like junk food, despite the fact that it’s so bad for us, is an evolutionary one. Sugars, salt and saturated fats were hard to come by in prehistoric times, but they provided fast energy and nutrients, so our taste buds evolved to seek them out.

Humans have succeeded as a species because we also evolved to spot patterns, and this trait has allowed us to refine our resource-gathering skills. Today, junk foods are available in quantities sufficient to choke our arteries to death; but still, we eat them because we can reach them, just as our ancestors would have done.

As with junk food, humans are apt to become pattern-greedy. Religion provides humans with the comforting illusion of an invisible intentional stance to attribute to the random events that make up our lives.

Clinging to religion also gives us a sense of relief from the knowledge of our impending death, which seems to be an unfortunate consequence of our evolved conscious self-awareness. But if we really get to live forever in some magical hereafter, why bother taking responsibility for the future and improving life here, on this planet?

Finally, it gives the faithful the illusion of a kind of moral safety net; we know that we are in the Higher Order’s hands, and that’s why we don’t have to take responsibility for our prejudices. Southern Baptists don’t hate gay people, God does. Psychopaths can defer to the supernatural and be forgiven. Ethics are predicated on delusional whims and wishful thinking rather than a careful consideration of the effects of one’s actions on the well-being of others. This is no way to think about building a just society.

And the faith of global warming denial, like religious faith, brings people mental (and often material) comfort. It is predicated on the faith that the resources on our planet are inexhaustible, designated as ours for the taking, and that our use of them must be inconsequential — these assumptions absolutely fly in the face of the evidence.

These delusions are again rooted in our evolutionary history: the smaller tribes of our Pleistocene ancestors could not possibly exhaust all of the resources available to them. Greed then was indeed good.

The Higher Order, or the conveniently simplistic Greater Good that buttresses the faith underlying global warming denialism can be religious or political, but usually both. In any case, it is a comfortable delusion based on the denial of evidence. The precedent for such harmful denialism was set by our cultural respect for the odious institution of faith.

I submit that respecting religion does not respect the religious individual. The health department has no right to ban junk food, but it does have a right to circulate evidence-based dietary recommendations. (And maybe proposing extra taxes on fatty foods, but that’s a discussion for another post.)

Secularists should not make the condescending and paternalistic assumption that religious people cannot live without their comfortable delusions. Everyone has a right to the best truth the evidence provides, and everyone who participates in a modern democracy has an obligation to the rest of society to at least be familiar with what constitutes the current best guess at the truth.

Faith therefore surrenders the modern mind to seductive delusions, to evolutionary hyper-stimuli. It is a fearful retreat to the terrified infancy of our species. The comparatively limited life spans of our ancestors have written a dangerous myopia into our genes; a disabling affliction that we must overcome.

Atavistic convictions only serve to placate yesterday’s evolutionary needs and they are not sufficient to address today’s problems. Evolution, with its blind brutality, does not intentionally furnish its products with the predispositions necessary for science or philosophy.

Those things are side-effects, perhaps glitches, emerging from our pattern-seeking minds. We can therefore ratiocinate, and today, we must ratiocinate if we want to overcome our evolutionary baggage. The ability to think is a happy accident, and we need to seize upon it to survive. We have to work at it and get better at it. Reason must become human nature.

All faith-based beliefs must be eradicated. We shouldn’t even say that we have “faith” in someone else’s abilities — instead, we should say that we have “confidence”, because confidence implies evidence. Even trust among adults typically involves the sort of basic reasoning and scepticism that faith must eschew.

We should not respect comfortable delusions aired in public space. We should be allowed to express hatred towards the idea of religion, and the notion of faith generally. For if we care about democracy, we should detest the precedent that such “toleration” sets. And we should respect our religious peers enough to tell them that their faith-based assertions poison our discourse.