Tuesday, September 07, 2010

To a Fucking Altie Racist

I am not going to be the least bit polite to you in this post. Racism doesn't deserve gentle words. If you're reading this, it's because either I or one of my readers caught you saying something racist, but also because you said it in such a fucking casual manner. Polite language isn't going to grab your attention or force you to look in the mirror. I also think some of my fellow skeptics could use a bit of a nudge to pay attention to this sort of thing. It's sad that many of us have just gotten used to your brand of casual racism and/or gotten too tired to point it out.

"Eastern" people are not almond-eyed gods with wisdom beyond our "Western" understanding. They are human just like the rest of us, and thus they are subject to the same cognitive failings we are. I don't care how fucking long they've been using some herb or poking a particular spot with needles. The invisible hand of the market isn't that great at figuring out what medicines work. That's why we "Westerners" insist on rigorous, transparent safety and efficacy trials for medicine.

The only reason people like me place any trust at all in the local pharmacy is because we have all sorts of organizations keeping the manufacturers in check. We support the existence of regulations that force people to test medical claims before they unleash their product on the market.

Some people, most likely including you, dear racist, seem to think that "Eastern" people are just so magical and so wise that they are immune to the failings of us mere mortals. Because you think this, you can just trust the blind market traditions. Human perception is flawed, regardless of what part of the globe that human was born in. Because human perception is flawed, all sorts of bad and useless superstitions can persist over long periods of time.

I have little reason to doubt that there have been useful treatments to come from that region of the world, despite what your Big Placebo indoctrination would say. Just by sheer coincidence, there's bound to be some useful treatments out of any culture group. Of course, there's also going to be lots and lots of useless and harmful treatments as well. Remember the first emperor of China? Acute mercury poisoning by his alchemists. Why mercury? Because mercury dissolves the "immortal" metal of gold, and supposedly that's supposed to extend life because Ancient Chinese Tradition or whatever says the human body is like an ingot of gold. Even if I got that wrong, I doubt the actual answer makes better sense.

What we are demanding isn't a "Western" standard, it's a human standard. It's your fucking racism that makes you label it "Western." One of the chief premises behind science is that people are fallible, thus we undergo all those trials, retesting, verification, and statistical analysis so that we can be sure that it's more likely the force in question doing the work than our capacity to deceive ourselves.

But racist assholes like you don't want complex stories or the uncertainty of noisy data. You want superhuman god-men to look up to and obey, and ooooo! the East is so exotic and mysterious! They must be somehow fundamentally better than the boring old West.

That's how you come across when you say that "Western" standards can't measure "Eastern" things, as if the historical accident that caused modern scientific thought take its first steps on one location instead of another somehow magically contaminates the very concept of inquiry. Good science involves making the "who" of the experimenter completely irrelevant. Authoritarian epistemology does the opposite: Trust the authority because it's an authority, and it's an authority because it says so.

I don't trust the guys in lab coats because they have lab coats. I trust them because they're being forced by scientific insistence on rigor, peer reviewers, consumer protection laws, and government organizations to show their work as thoroughly and unambiguously as nature will allow. The "authority" is in the work, not the person. There are no gurus or priests, only the answers nature gives us when we take the time to ask the question properly.

So don't give us any more shit about how superhuman some people on a particular half of the globe are. Everyone is fallible, therefore every idea should be equally open to scrutiny. Race and nationality are not free passes.

Very sincerely,
Bronze Dog.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Poverty of the Creationist Imagination

This post isn't going to be about the usual shortcomings in a Creationist's imagination, like their inability to appreciate how long a million years is or how many living things there are on this world. It's about the inherent violence and hunger for power that drives their thinking.

In my experience (your mileage may vary, of course), the typical Creationist looks at science the way Hollywood and Saturday morning cartoons do: To them, science is just fancy magic people use to grab power.

Let's say someone actually invents a shrink ray. Your typical science and tech savvy person will be thinking stuff along the lines of "Does this mean I could install a gaming-quality computer into something the size of a pocket calculator?" at the very least. Others will be thinking of ways of fast transit: If you can shrink a payload's mass, it'll take less energy to transport it, assuming you can unshrink it later.

Your typical Creationist will instead be thinking, "Oh, noes! They're going to shrink the moon and hold it for ransom!"

That's the general illustration. One example I recall was a ban on research into mixing human genes into other species because the Creationists thought stuff along the lines of "Oh noes! They're going to make pig slaves and pig soldiers!" when those of us in the know were thinking of growing replacement human organs in livestock or bacteria that can mass produce vital hormones sick people need.

Another poverty that comes to mind is the Creationist idea that evolution is supposed to be a progression to bigger, stronger, and more badass. Complete bullshit. This kind of thinking is why you have idiots driving Canyoneros on big, flat cities to ultimately visit the corner convenience store, when a bike or *gasp* walking would be much easier. Bigger is not necessarily better. Bigger takes a lot of resources that might have better uses. Stronger doesn't matter if you don't need brute force.

This is especially true with humans. Just look at our civilization today. Our strength as a species isn't brute muscle, sharp claws, or fleetness of foot: It's our ability to cooperate and specialize. We're a brainy species. We can coordinate our efforts in amazing ways by communication. We're plastic enough that we can develop our own specialties to cover the weaknesses of others or enhance their strengths.

If we were as brutal as the straw men they implied, we wouldn't have doctors, and we wouldn't be constantly looking for new ways to improve medicine. When cooperation is your greatest strength, altruism comes naturally. Because we care for our sick, many of them get to grow up to be productive members of society and thus contribute to the good of our species.

This simple concept is often lost on Creationists who treat altruism like some sort of sacred (or profane) disadvantage with no practical value. Because they can't imagine altruism having a practical value, they assume evolution couldn't come up with it, and thus they start spreading their ignorance about evolution favoring individual selfishness. It's projection on a massive scale.

I find the eugenics projection particularly galling. After the fundie eugenicists started getting stigmatized and decided (for the sake of appearances only) that Darwin was right about it being immortal to impose livestock breeding methods on humans, they tried to turn it around, including a popular quote mine where they replace Darwin's disgust for the idea with ellipses, trying to claim that we're in favor of eugenics.

Uh, fellas, don't you know anything about our farming monocultures? You know that urban legend going around about how the modern dessert banana's going to be extinct within X years? There's a grain of truth to that: Seedless bananas are pretty much just clones of one another. At any time, nature could throw just the right kind of blight at the breed, and we'd have to start over from scratch. Aside from the natural altruism we have for our fellow sentient beings, we have a desire to avoid extinction.

Genetic diversity is a hedge against extinction. The more diversity there is, the more likely some members of the threatened species has some gene combination that overcomes whatever catastrophe eventually comes along. Eugenics reduces diversity, and with it, the chances something like a pandemic could cripple or wipe out mankind. Eugenics has a talent for creating stuff that serves a specifically desired function, but it has a bad habit of causing all sorts of problems. Founder effects can make rare recessive defects commonplace through inbreeding. You get livestock that couldn't survive without human supervision. And usually, with those favoring human eugenics programs, all you'd get out of it is a species that appeals to some guy's fetish for clones.

This culturally outdated alpha male craving for dominance and power just stands out whenever I hear a Creationist trying to tell me what I believe instead of actually listening. We've all got plenty of baggage from our simian ancestors, but we have to work past that sort of violent, selfish thinking if we want to prosper as a civilization.

The Creationists I know, however, can only offer strife and anarchy as an alternative.