Question everything: scepticism as a way of life

A wonderfully clear and concise discussion of what has become a national obsession. I don’t reblog much, but couldn’t resist this one. Or could I? ūüėČ

Philosophy for change

Question-everythingIn 155BC, Carneades the Sceptic travelled to Rome to give an important speech to the Roman Senate. Carneades was the head of the Athenian Academy and the most dignified philosopher of his day. He was known as a brillant speaker with a whip-sharp mind and a mastery of sceptical techniques that was second to none. In Rome, there were mixed feelings about Carneades’ speech. Some people were concerned about Carneades’ brand of sceptical philosophy and the effect it might have on the Roman youth. Others, however, were curious to learn what Carnaedes had to offer. Greek scepticism was a mystery to the Romans, yet to immigrate across the Ionian Sea. Carnaedes was an ambassador from the land of skeptikos. Was this a land worth visiting?

Introducing Sceptic philosophy to the Romans was not Carneades’ main objective. Carneades came to Rome as a diplomat, tasked with convincing the Senate to reduce…

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Saints preserve us!

Pope Francis has put two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, on the fast track to sainthood.  Well, alright, for all I know, they were fine people, and maybe deserve some recognition.  Setting aside for the moment the question of all the millions of other fine people who were their contemporaries, but not popes or even Catholics, I have a major quibble with the reasoning here.

According to the ancient rules of such things, to even get this far (beatitude) there has to have been an attested miracle.  This can vary widely, from healing the sick to simply not rotting in the casket.  In the case of John Paul II, there have been two alleged miracles, both involving inexplicable cures from incurable medical conditions after praying to him (while dead, of course) to intercede with God on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Here’s what’s weird.¬† Presumably, had JP II not been in heaven, all those pleas for intercession would have been for nothing, and the women involved would still be sick today, if they hadn’t died first.¬† But according to the Church, God is perfectly just.¬† The whole thing seems to resemble a lottery, in which your health depends not on medicine, or even on your personal faith or the extent of your prayers, but on whether you guessed right as to the eternal disposition of some dead person.

Of course, this is just a minor quibble, in the face of the idea that God, presumably the creator of the universe and hence all of the laws of physics, will suspend those laws on the request of someone from earth.¬† And not do it for anyone who doesn’t ask nicely, or even for the vast, vast majority of those who do.

Mysterious ways, indeed.

The writer as commodity

When I was a young pup, many, many years ago, I wanted to be a writer.¬† I didn’t particularly want to write in any disciplined way, mind you.¬† What I was after was the identity of the fierce intellectual, scowling over my Smith-Corona, dimly visible through the clouds of pipe smoke curling around my august head.¬† I couldn’t pinpoint it, but somewhere along the line I came to the realization that I had not only to pound away at my typewriter to become the man of my dreams, but write well and often enough so that people would want to read my stuff enough to pay money for it.¬† Crass, but there it was:¬† I had to work, and I had to sell.

In spite of being a card-carrying old fart, I am reasonably cyber-literate, having worked with and on computers since about 1964 (not a typo).¬† I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in the blogo-twittersphere: the writer as commodity; it comes with a cute bit of jargon as well: crowdfunding.¬† Its done sometimes through websites like SellaBand or Kickstarter, but as often as an independent project.¬† This typically involves a blog page with a link where you can send contributions; almost never is any actual piece of writing offered in exchange.¬† Throw in a twitter account where you can point to the page, and keep everybody abreast of how the donations are going, and Bob’s your uncle.

I am very skeptical of this development, which strikes me as just this side of holding out a cup on the street corner with a sign saying “Will write, but not for you.”

I am well aware of the long tradition of patronage in the arts.¬† It usually involved, however, wealthy members of the aristocracy, and was the norm mainly before copywrite laws and royalties.¬† Indeed, the word “royalties” derives from the practice of royal courts to patronize writers and other artists. But such arrangements almost always involved the commissioning of specific works, which had to meet the criteria of the patron.¬† If you held such a position, you had better write something pleasing to your angel, or you would soon find yourself on the street:

…writing for a patron typically meant avoiding the expression of ideas that would upset the established political order, on which the patron built his wealth and power.¬† —Gennady Stolyarov II

Today’s writers would be affronted by the very notion of such limits on their production, but they forget, or never knew, that this commitment to artistic integrity is a very modern thing, dating to the fairly recent phenomenon that writers could actually make money directly from the sale of their work.¬† You can have patronage, or you can have integrity; you can’t expect to have both.

Of course, it’s possible to get people to donate to your enterprise with no qualifications, on the basis of some romantic notion.¬† Gullible people are everywhere.¬† But do you want a living on those terms?¬† I’m asking; if you’re comfortable with it, none of my business, I suppose.

The long and short of it:  If you want integrity, sell what you write.  Go ahead and advertise online, include a donation link if you like, but give something in return, beyond your mere existence as a writer.

In other news…

Going on the theory that guns don’t kill people, people do, the Pentagon announced today that they will sell all of the guns they currently have, and not replace them.

“We have plenty of people, that should do the trick,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The sale represents a bonanza for NRA members, who are nonetheless not pleased with the situation.

“Well, okay, we get lots of guns cheap, but what about bombs and missiles?¬† Hunting is a cherished tradition for Americans, and here’s a politician trying to deny us our constitutional rights,” said NRA spokesman¬† Wayne LaPierre.

When asked if Wayne LaPierre was really his name, he abruptly ended the interview, by speculating whether, just this once, his own gun could kill someone.

In other news, Dwayne Sheboygan, 18, was arrested at his school in Texas for threatening to kill everybody in his class with a cocked and fully loaded index finger.