April 30, 2013

Chain Bear Blog Has Moved

I've been meaning to move this blog from Blogger to Wordpress for ages, but was always too lazy. Then I realised it was ridiculously easy to migrate, so now you can find me at:


You'll probably need to update your RSS feeds if you were following on RSS. Having said that, I redirected the old RSS to the Wordpress, so maybe you won't?

You can tell I'm good at this, can't you?

April 24, 2013

More on Dawkins. Morekins.

A further thought upon my blog post about Dawkins last week.

I made a suggestion that Richard Dawkins should stick to spouting wise about evolutionary biology instead of burping out whatever thought comes into his head about feminism, Islam and all the rest. I also, maybe as a lemma, suggested he wasn’t worth listening to unless he was speaking about evolutionary biology. But this isn’t strictly true and kind of poisons the well somewhat.
See, Dawkins is actually good at writing and research. Even when he writes outside of biology, his back-of-the-book bibliography is still ten miles long. His writing in The God Delusion was forceful, but generally considered. This comes with the benefits of writing a book. With a book you spend time scouring resources, references and witnesses; you can do rewrites and edits; you get peers and editors to check your work. By the time you’ve actually published your book, you’ve produced a (hopefully) finely honed piece of work.
Tweets are often none of the above. Dawkins’s tweets in particular tend to be whatever idea has rolled over inside his brain at any particular moment. Due to Dawkins’s quite substantial credentials and following, he tends to think every thought he has it worth sharing. It is not.
I guess we’re just not used to seeing raw Dawkins (Rawkins?) and perhaps this is a good opportunity to learn a valuable lesson in:
a)      Research
b)      Editing
c)       Peer Review
d)      Arrogance
e)      The old classic, ‘Engage Brain Before Opening Mouth’

April 22, 2013

National Treasure

I'd quite like to be popular enough on twitter that hundreds of people rush to my defence no matter what stupid shit I say. I mean, I'd be somewhat uncomfortable with it and of course I'd tell them to stop being to silly. But it would be nice.

In fact, maybe I'd just start saying more and more outrageous and clearly unhinged stuff to see how much it would take for my little twitter army to turn on me. It could be my own little social experiment, my own twitter version of Joaquin Phoenix.

Now that I think about it, maybe some people are already doing this. I can't wait to see their results.

April 18, 2013

'Crazy' and Other Words (Pt 1)

I've been thinking about this for a little while, and in light of some heated discussions that have occurred in my line of sight, I thought I'd vomit out a few thoughts.

Some people use words like 'crazy', 'mad', 'insane' and many, many synonymous terms (seriously, there's like a bazillion of them, most of them food-based) to describe people with, let's say, erroneous opinions. Other people call out this use of language as slurring of the actually mentally ill, similar to other social slurs like 'Paki', 'tranny' or 'sand monkey'.

(Incidentally, the Public Shaming blog has made me aware of a whole range of bizarre racial epithets that I never knew existed. America's multi-culturalism has brought with is multi-cultural racism.)

Now, it's rare that I can say this, but I actually have a foot in the door with this discussion. I suffer from depression - not as badly as many, but the waves come and go and still cause me problems. Depression makes me crazy. See, craziness or insanity is a description of the disconnect between reality and one's mental interpretation of reality. JT Eberhard in his quite wonderful talk on his own mental illness reminded me that it was OK to consider myself crazy (at time), because that was accurate. When I'm in the good part of my depressive waves, I can look back to the troughs and realise, 'Shit, the way I saw things was completely wrong, I was so blinded by the fog of depression.'

My point in the above is to actually define what craziness is. There may be a clinical, chronic insanity, where you are near-permanently separated from reality and there may be bouts of insanity, which you can escape from. People with body dysmorphia (often including eating disorders), for example, are constantly fighting their own minds interpretation of their own bodies. It's crazy.

So, when people call another person's opinion crazy, it really tends to be a description of the difference between what they've said and what's real. For example, if someone told me the Earth was flat, I might call that crazy. Or insane. It is my opinion (thus far) that this a legitimate use of the word 'crazy'. Alternatively, you might call the person making the statement crazy: 'You think the Earth is flat? You're crazy!' Again (and this depends on each context), the suggestion of this phrase is really that the statement is crazy and not that the person is crazy, or mentally ill. But what if it didn't? What if the accuser was suggestion that there's was something problematic in the Flat-Earther's mind that made him unable to connect the facts and appreciate the reality of a round Earth? It's a euphemistic, metaphorical parallel to mental illness, I guess. Is this wrong?

This is where I start to get a bit hazy. And now we have to consider what calling someone crazy actually suggests about genuinely mentally ill people. From my perspective, I do not think calling someone crazy suggests that mentally ill people are bad. Calling someone a slut (pejoratively) does. Calling someone or their argument crazy tends to speak to the argument, statement or position they hold.

However, this is just from my perspective and I've barely had any societal push back for my particular mental problems, which is great for me. So, I've titled this blog post, "Pt 1" so that I can try an engage with other people of mental illness and see if this kind of language has affected them. Then I'll come back once I have a better idea.

I Can Solve This Whole Richard Dawkins Problem

Richard Dawkins was a big player in reigniting the atheist movement and possibly the skeptic and humanist movements too, with the release of The God Delusion. This made him a sort of focal point for a lot of 'New Atheists' and people of that ilk and caused religious groups to equate with a Pope-like figure.

Now, really we should all know that we have, in the (borrowed) words of Margaret Sanger, 'No Gods, No Masters.' We should hold no one up to the standards of near-infallibility. The whole point of skepticism and its subsidiaries are to reserve doubt, to question and not to follow blindly. So the first and most obvious point to make is that, obviously Richard Dawkins is not the final word on everything and people who just sponge up everything he says need to stop it.

See, Richard Dawkins, now that he's strapped himself into the social media machine, has continued to brain-fart across the twittersphere for all and sundry. This has revealed his ignorance and his privilege when it comes to social justice issues that many in the skeptic arena are moving to embrace. He is often as arrogant and dismissive as you might expect a septuagenariat white, male emeritas professor and best-selling author to be; his plasticity is somewhat rigid at this point.

This doesn't excuse the crap he says (with annoyingly increasing frequency), but I think we need to remember this: Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. That's his expertise. Those are his credentials. That's not to say people can't speak knowledgeably and legitimately outside of their fields but Dawkins is no social scientist, feminist or theologian and often hasn't done the legwork required to give his brain-farts the acknowledgement being given. When he dismisses modern feminism, I like to think as if he's dismissing House music or Danny Boyle films. Why should we care what he says about these things? He has nothing to do with them and knows little about them.

Of course, the problem is that people do care about what he says, whatever he talks about. He's a lauded figure. But we need to uncouple these experts from the things they know next to nothing about. Just because you're a respected and listened-to figure in certain areas, doesn't mean that every word leaving your lips turns to gold. If we can keep reminding ourselves that the further speakers are from their expertise, the more evidence we should demand from them to back up their assertions.

Or, stop listening to Dawkins unless he's talking about the Gene Theory of Natural Selection.