I’m not a True Scotsman

There is a reason I detest arguments on twitter.

I’ve stated my very narrow definition of feminism in “I’m still a feminist and so are you” and, it is the definition I use when referring to feminism. I cannot speak for anyone else’s use of the term feminism no more than a certain charlatan can claim to be a physicist– In other words when you have a grassroots term and there is no copyright on popular terms, the term becomes semantically diffuse. Does this means we should give up the term feminism and conclude it’s usefulness is over? This does seem a sensible solution at first glance until one realises that any term, unless backed by an organisation with a well defined statement of purpose, is also going to become useless. The solution I have chosen for myself is to define what exactly I mean by feminism and use the term accordingly. I readily admit that many people use the term feminist in other ways and, since I do not own the word I will reserve the right to disagree with their views.

Now as to the charge of “No true Scotsman”, anyone who has studied logical fallacies notes that the charge is only valid when a term is not rigidly defined and held to in the first place. The logical fallacy comes up because of the propensity of some groups to change a definition on the fly as to exclude people from a group when those people damage the reputation of a group. It is also an invalid charge it is admitted that some people who call themselves feminists using my definition are going to be nasty people, which I do. I also admit it is also possible all men with moustaches are evil since Hitler had a moustache. Logical fallacies are fun aren’t they?

I’m not a True Scotsman even though my last name is Bruce, because my family 7 generations or so back immigrated from Northern Ireland to Canada. I’m guessing they did so to get away from religious bigotry since the Robert Bruce that emigrated was married to a Mary Kennedy.



Why are you reading my blog?

Why are you reading any atheist blog for that matter? Yes for some of you, they were helpful for your deconversion, but why are you still reading them now? What is the point of continually reading one atheist blog and agreeing with everything said? You’ve come out of the dogma of religion only to take on the dogma of another person’s thoughts. Wasn’t the point of deconverting to learn to think, and evaluate evidence for yourself? I want to be challenged not pampered as religion does.

There is so much work to be done in our own communities, are you there helping with your local atheist groups? Are you active politically arguing for reason and science over nonsense?

Our local group has meet ups where I have met the most interesting people, and perhaps helped some come to grips with their family not accepting their atheism. I have met an active minister a member of the clergy project, trying hard to find other work, an atheist immigrant from Iran and several who have found reason and left evangelical lifestyles behind– they need our help and reading or even writing (!) a blog does not help them.

There is a reason the sub title of my blog is “Yet another atheist blog”. I don’t write to flame up controversy for the sake of followers– I write because I see things are not said. That said, I’ll concede more atheist blogs are good, if it translates into real action not keyboard warrior action,

So do you do anything in your local community?


I’m still a feminist (but so are you)

I have had to defend feminism many times from both Men’s Rights  Activists (MRA) and from women. I’ve heard such things as “you are are really just a humanist”, “we have equality already”, and “feminism poisons everything”. Yes it’s a word which has become so semantically diffuse and emotions so heightened with “group think” and politics, that what the word means or meant or why it is  still relevant today gets lost in the noise. And that’s a shame.

In my 20’s feminism was simple:

“Feminism is theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially.”

(From: http://www.sascwr.org/files/www/resources_pdfs/feminism/Definitions_of_Branches_of_Feminisn.pdf)

How can something this simple a concept become so complicated and controversial? This naturally happens with any group that forms to protect their interests; a small group can infiltrate and use Identity Politic tactics to bring their own agenda to the forefront. Any group. Feminism is simply a logical viewpoint of any sane humanist, if you consider yourself a humanist you are  a feminist. It is obvious that at one time women in western society got a very bad deal, but surely it is obvious women in other countries are still getting a bad deal– (and there are still places in the west http://www.trumpetmaster.com/vb/f133/san-francisco-musicians-protest-gender-discrimination-77376.html). 

Is it not logical then to work on the core feminist ideals where it is applicable instead of fighting about terms?

As a humanist we have to consider everyone not just women. Do we have to allow ourselves to be divided and conquered? When we stop listening to the pain of others but lash out with our own pain against others, we dehumanize other human beings and lose some of our own humanity.

What can we do about this? I don’t know. I can only speak for myself. All I can do is challenge other people’s preconceptions to try and get them to put themselves in another persons shoes, so they try to understand why they are hurting. Maybe I mostly fail with this, maybe I sound angry but one thing I will never do, is allow an ‘ism to dictate how I treat another human being.

We all get only one life folks, be nice.



Consciousness Is Not A Brick Wall

I don’t pay a lot of attention to a certain well known quack who argues that atoms are conscious. However, I ran into a philosopher who mistakenly believed the nonsense about consciousness being needed to cause a wave function to collapse.

Physicists have mathematical models describing what happens at the quantum level which make very good predictions, but these are models, and not reality. The wave function that is a solution to the Schrödinger equation describes the behaviour of particles at the quantum level, but what happens when we go to try and measure a particle? We have an interaction between the wave function that describes the particle, and the wave function that describes the particles of the measuring instrument. Why yes the observer affects the observation, but a brick wall would do just as well.

I am not a foot soldier in your war

I’ll likely lose more followers in the shallow world of twitter– I already have– but I have never been one to join sides. I’ve always been a great believer in Mark Twain’s ‘Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.’ Perhaps the partisanship I see from some atheists is an import from the partisanship of U.S.politics? Perhaps it is because I am older (I do have two young grandchildren after all), and less passionate; at least I choose my battles more carefully.

At the risk of Gowdining myself, if I had not known Hitler painted in his youth, and had I as a child seen a painting of his, would I have rejected his painting as evil? I will concede they are not great paintings, but there is a ‘what if’ here .Going less extreme, what of other groups? Is everything as stated from one group evil because they are known as a hate group, or at least proclaimed by one side or another as a hate group? To someone like me, the answer is no since maybe I don’t know a group is supposed to be evil, or sometimes I don’t care. Truth is truth no matter who utters it.

I criticise ideas not people. What’s worse, I will criticise anyone regardless of the group they are in. This is hard to do in written media and impossible on twitter. (I wish more atheists would learn ‘The principle of charity’.) This puts me in the position of having friends in various groups who I admire, but the groups themselves seem to be at war. To those groups Ican only say — “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster…” (Nietzsche) Critising ideas is one thing, parody, dogged nitpicking of people without constructive criticism, is just as evil.

I continue to reserve the right to disagree with people, and sometimes vehemently. If you are an atheist, or even a theistic secularist we can agree that religion has no place in government and education, but anything else will have to be negotiated on a case by case basis. You are just going to have to accept that I might agree with you on one thing, but not another.

I am not your foot soldier in your war.

The Mind counter-Virus

I’ve always despaired at the inability of atheist/skeptical blogs to make any difference in the crazy nonsense people believe and even my own blog sub-title reflects that despair.

At the last skepticamp here in Ottawa after I had given my talk on propaganda I was asked by a member of the audience if perhaps the techniques of propaganda could be used for good instead of evil. I pointed out that the problem with that was “who gets the choose what is for the public good?”. Yet the question has haunted me. Recently at our local Unsermon one of the regulars wondered if we couldn’t somehow use propaganda techniques to teach people how to become critical thinkers? In the process they’d become immune to propaganda, much like a computer anti-virus to remove malignant computer virus.

I love the idea but sadly I don’t see how it could possibly work.

One of the techniques of PR (a modern name for propaganda) is “hero worship”. That is, one is more likely to believe and accept the ideas of a famous person and that to me directly contradict the ideals of critical thinking. Maybe all we can do is to encourage more science education.

I’d love to hear other ideas.

Logic in the comics

It’s not often I glance at the comics but Saturday’s comic (February 9, 2014) in the Ottawa Citizen nailed one logical fallacy. In “Get Fuzzy” (http://www.gocomics.com/getfuzzy/2014/02/09) the cat shows the headline “Vet says number of cats in U.S. on rise” and makes the claim that this means cats are more popular than dogs. The dog retorts “By your logic, mosquitoes and bacteria are the most popular pets in the U.S.!” The ad populum fallacy debunked in one swift move!