catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for January 2005

Religious motives, secular reasons

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Tony Abbott has regularly found himself in political trouble when people suspect that his Catholicism is behind his views on issues such as euthanasia, embryo experimentation and abortion. During last year’s election campaign the media even managed to see something sinister in Abbott paying Cardinal Pell a visit.

But should it matter if Abbott’s stance on these issue is due to his Catholicism? I think not, any more than my atheism affects some of the political views I hold. What we should look for here is not someone’s motive for holding their views, but the reasons they advance.

In a society like Australia, no religious belief or text can itself be a justification for a policy. This is pretty much the view that Abbott expressed in a speech he gave last March, on the ethical responsibilities of a Christian politician. He looked (with varying degrees of success) for secular reasons for the views he holds on controversial social issues. While I think there is a socio-political norm against bring God directly into politics, in any case the political reality is that appeals to God, except of the most rhetorical kind, won’t resonate with the Australian electorate.

Even as an atheist, I think we should avoid deligitimating political views because the people who hold them are religious (this was happening on Catallaxy and other blogs when Family First was in the news). Marion Maddox appears to take such an extreme version of this stance that entirely secular policy stances are tainted because some people who support them are religious. All this runs very close to the prejudice that people like Maddox claim to oppose.

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January 30, 2005 at 8:23 pm

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Comic books … rap music … deja-vu

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On anti-comic book campaigner Frederic Wertham from Men of tomorrow: Geeks, gangsters and the birth of the comic book

‘I began to notice’, he said, ‘that every delinquent child I treated was a reader of these so-called “comic books”. As Wertham’s critics have pointed out, since 90 per cent of American children in the 1940s reported reading comic books regularly, and since those who didn’t were more likely to be from more educated homes than the psychiatric patients at a free clinic, the coincidence of comic book reading and delinequent behaviour was inevitable. But Wertham saw what he expected to see. When he saw a comic book with a gruesome scene of a suicide by hanging, he immediately lined it up with the similar juvenile suicides he knew. When he saw Batman living with his young ward Robin, he saw an advertisment for homosexuality. And when he saw any hero using physical force he saw fascism.

‘Superman (with the big S on his uniform – we should, I suppose, be thankful that it is not S.S.) needs an endless stream of ever new submen, criminals and ‘foreign looking’ people not only to justify his existence but even to make it possible,’ he said. ‘Superman has long been recognised as a symbol of violent race superiority …’

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January 30, 2005 at 3:50 pm

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Logical anomalies in comic books

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Well, it is the weekend, so here’s something light. Some of these concerns I have detailed before and I may think of new ones to add, but here’s a list of FAQs that pop into my mind on reading comic books (note some of these may actually have answers already but because I’ve returned to the habit after a long absence and there are huge gaps in my reading, I may have missed the crucial explanatory episodes). Readers are welcome to add their own concerns in the comments:

1) Dr Bruce Banner buys pants a few sizes too big so they won’t be completely ripped apart when he transforms into the Hulk. Presumably he holds them up with a belt when in human form. But after his transformation to the Hulk and back again to Banner he is frequently depicted with his pants still on him and sans a belt (which you would think would be ripped apart anyway) without having to hold on to his pants. How is this possible? And how does he go around wearing pants a few sizes too big without looking like a clown? And how can he afford to buy these special pants anyway if he spends his life on the run? And what about his glasses? How many does he carry? How does he manage to tuck his glasses away in a safe place during transformation?

2) Why can’t anyone work out that Clark Kent without his glasses is Superman???

3) Luke Cage (Power Man) has hard, unbreakable skin which can even withstand the impact of bullets. Isn’t this a little painful for the women he gets it on with??

4) Why is it that Green Lantern’s power ring can do anything but can be defeated by the colour yellow?

5) How does Wonder Woman do the trick whereby she can change any clothes she is wearing into the Wonder Woman costume and then back again into exactly the same clothes she’s wearing? Isn’t this technology rather disproportionately extravagant ? Why go to all that trouble?

6) When Bruce Banner the ’99 pound weakling’ transforms into the 800 pound Hulk and then back again into Banner, where does all that mass go? Presumably this is amenable to a scientific explanation – perhaps the extra Hulk mass surrounds Banner as an energy force field so it doesn’t show up on say, a weighing scale. But this must make things difficult for Banner at airports. Presumably he sets off geiger counters unless this force field is enveloped in some hidden dimension. Or perhaps the transformation involves him absorbing the gamma radiation around him.

7) How does Spiderman’s ‘warning sense’ actually work? Is it based on some subconscious but ultimately still sensory impressions or is it some actual psychic ability, because I doubt that spiders are psychic.

8) Daredevil must have a hell of a time reining in his enhanced senses of smell, taste, hearing and touch, especially during sex. Does he have to pick partners who don’t have very strong body odours?

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January 30, 2005 at 9:29 am

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The not-so religious right

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Marion Maddox’s God Under Howard takes us on another trip to the Howard haters’ parallel Australia, where things seem oddly different to the Australia the rest of us live in. I have only dipped into the book this evening (it doesn’t merit a cover-to-cover read) but those chapters confirm Emma-Kate Symon’s description of its basic thesis in the Weekend Australian this morning:

Howard is a rampaging heretic, re-creating the Australian political landscape in the image of the American Christian Right, and in the process destroying the fabric of Australian democracy.

Naturally I turned first to the chapter on think-tanks. It contains a long description of US think-tanks, though it is of no obvious relevance (presumably Maddox had spent weeks on the research, and did not want to waste it). Talking about the CIS’s ‘Religion and the Free Society’ programme, along with Social Foundations and Taking Children Seriously programmes, Maddox concludes:

CIS is Australia’s most prolific think tank source of conservative ‘family values’, loosely tied to Christian theology.
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January 29, 2005 at 8:20 pm

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The irrelevance of moral desert: Meritocracy as a 'noble lie'

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This post is prompted by this post by Elizabeth Anderson which I’ll come back to later and the following exchange on John Quiggin’s blog on the causes of obesity:

Andrew Norton: … one autonomy related health theme is not just control over your environment but self-control. This is to with things like maintaining a healthy diet, getting exercise, and taking medications correctly. Educated people, who are often higher status, are much better at these things …

Don Arthur: Andrew’s comment raises an interesting point – how much of the socio-economic gradient in health is due to differences in the environment and how much is due to differences in indivduals.

I think Andrew is aware of what psychologists call the ‘fundamental attribution error’ – a tendency to overestimate the effect of individual traits on success and failure and to underestimate the effect of situations. Many of those on the right seem to think that the purpose of society is the same as a sporting competition or competitive examination – to separate the strong from the weak. On the left people are more likely to think of it as a garden bed – if too many people don’t flourish then there’s something wrong with the environment.

When taken in the context of his comments on ‘attribution error’, Don seems to frame the left-right debate as essentially one based on notions of individual moral desert (i.e. deservingness) on the right (i.e. ‘I worked hard and therefore deserve my income’) .
But is this necessarily true? No doubt this is the most ‘populist’ right-leaning justification for capitalism and is the sort of rhetoric found amonst mainstream conservatives as well as Randroids who take it to an extreme. Acompanying this rhetoric is. as Don implies, a tendency to frame left-wing critiques of capitalism on the basis that the left is overly determinist because of its emphasis on the ‘environment’. However, the joker in the pack of cards that undermines this dichotomy and leads to a fundamental incoherence in the traditional conservative justification of capitalism on the basis of some individual moral entitlment is that in other contexts, this conservative right is just as inclined to accept another form of determinism, namely genetic determinism. For instance the Right has always been more inclined to defend the conclusions by Murray and Herrnstein that IQ is predominantly genetically determined. Regardless of how one chooses to interpret Murray and Herrnstein’s research there is also at least a growing body of evidence that suggests that even some personality factors may be genetically determined. What implications does this have for the traditional left-right dichotomy posed by Don Arthur? Read the rest of this entry »

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January 29, 2005 at 10:45 am

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Are students like patients?

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University traditionalists and leftists alike resist the idea of students as ‘customers’. The don’t think that money and education should mix. Admission should not be for sale, but based only on academic merit, irrespective of the student’s financial circumstances. Regarding students as customers encourages them to think that they should have the same rights they have as consumers in other markets – that the customer is always right rather than the professor, and that they are entitled to what they came to get, a degree, whether they genuinely earned it or not.

Students being regarded as customers would be step up on what HECS students are now – they are not called customers, but referred to as ‘student load’, a phrase that has turned out to be rather apt, since HECS students are now burdens on universities, loss-leaders to attract the fee-paying students who keep universities going financially.

But it remains true that ‘customer’ has connotations that aren’t quite right. Is there a better term, which has neither the neglect implicit in ‘student load’ nor the over-empowering implicit in ‘customer’? An article in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (premium content, sorry) suggests another metaphor – students as ‘patients’.
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January 28, 2005 at 8:32 pm

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We wuz robbed!

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Who stuffed the ballot boxes!
Keks has given out gongs for blogs and Catallaxy was done over.

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January 27, 2005 at 7:33 pm

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