Vanity thought #1497. Inattentive atheism

Continuing with the coverage of atheistic trifecta I started yesterday – still with Richard Dawkins but getting to the last point of his interview, political correctness on college campuses. It’s been one of Bill Maher’s favorite topics ever since some university invited him to speak but then students demanded that the invitation was withdrawn after hearing what he has to say about Islam. That episode, unfortunately, skewed the whole discussion.

PC is taking over American colleges with renewed force, even South Park got on their case with a new “PC Principal” character, and the issue is far bigger than Maher’s criticism of Islam. A while ago Jerry Seinfeld swore off speaking on campuses because of their PC culture and his case has nothing to do with religion but with allegedly being sexist and racist. Explaining himself, he said he was told not to go to colleges by fellow comedians. Chris Rock refuses to perform at campuses, too. Narrowing the problem down to inability to criticize Islam doesn’t do it justice, but maybe it’s even for the better.

Even if Bill Maher was correct that religion is the main issue here it would only highlitght the failure of atheism based liberal culture. It would have been hard to blame atheism for Seinfeld’s problems but for Bill Maher it comes front and center. Of course it gets reversed and reflected multiple times but the root is still the same. I mean typically the expectation is that atheists would not allow anyone to speak FOR religion but since they see themselves as liberal they realize that outlawing religion outright would be bad. They still won’t invite religious speakers because who wants to listen to them, it’s silly, but they won’t allow disparaging religion either, because of PC. If they constrained their PC to racism no one would remember atheism anymore but Bill Maher made sure to remind us about it.

Dawkins supported Maher in this crusade against colleges but both forgot to mention that universities are supposed to be the showcase for the atheism. They are supposed to be filled with smart and enlightened people taking humanity into the future based on rationality and reason based moral values. Well, it doesn’t work, evidently, but both Maher and Dawkins missed it. Rationalizing morality fails even if you put your best and brightest at it – university professors.

At one point Dawkins joked that lots of people still think that Islam is a race. Ha ha, but these are the same people that think that religion is stupid and science rulez. These are Dawkins’ own people, they grow up on his preaching, reading his books and quoting his arguments. And now they look like idiots? What does it say about quality of their anti-religious rhetoric?

Next up was Neil deGrasse Tyson, you can see his introduction here. Bill Maher asked him to explain once again why discovery of water on Mars is so important and Tyson obliged. Being such an animated character he was too big for the set, though, his hands often didn’t fit into the frame and he appeared larger than life. Later on Maher had a trouble restraining him and getting Tyson’s hands off his suit, but it was all in good fun. Regarding the importance of the discovery Tyson gave a very good example with Einstein’s paper on lasers. When it came out no one knew of its potential value but now lasers are ubiquitous. Same with quantum mechanics, back in the 1920s it seemed all too theoretical and impractical but, Tyson said, it enabled IT revolution which is responsible for one third of world’s GDP nowadays but.

At this point Maher inserted a joke that without QM we wouldn’t be able to take pictures of our food but I don’t think he realized how important that observation was. There was a question there somewhere about what it will be like in the future when practical applications of Mars water discovery become common place in our lives but the answer was left hanging in the air, and it’s not obvious.

Some advantages will be obvious and they will be relentlessly marketed everywhere but there will be inevitable side effects, too, perhaps even threatening the existence of our civilization. They will be talked about as challenges for the science, UN will be organizing conferences, politicians will be paying lip service while corporations will be trying to skirt the new rules in every way possible. This happens all the time, on every lap in our civilization’s progress. Science acts our of ignorance, everyone reaps short term benefits while sweeping problems under the carpet, and we all hope that karma is not real and the humanity will never run out of good luck.

Burning fossil fuels hasn’t been around for two hundred years yet and we are pretty close to running out, if global warming doesn’t get us first. It took nature millions and millions of years to store away oil and coal and we burned it all in a second, and we think that this second would last forever just because we don’t know anything else and no one remembers what life was like before cars and electricity.

Assuming there will be a hundred years from now, it won’t be all that different even though we can’t imagine it at the moment. A hundred years ago who would have thought that photography would allow us to look at pictures of other people’s food while sitting on the toilet? What is the improvement here exactly? What is the progress? We aren’t becoming better human beings.

This was one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s main points – this civilization doesn’t know the goal of human life and so it “progresses” in the wrong direction. So much time and energy is wasted on trivial pursuits but human character degrades lower and lower. As people grow older they realize that this instant excitement has no lasting value and progress doesn’t actually improve life where it matters. Bill Maher appears to be on the cusp of this realization.

One last thing, yesterday I mentioned John Cleese and while searching for his words on organized religion vs mystics I came across his last year’s appearance on Bill Maher’s where he talked specifically about political correctness. He started with paying tribute to stupidity, of all things. Life without stupidity would be impossible, he said, and he gave a justification for it from the point of view of a comedian, but that is only one of the ways why organized religion might still be helpful even with all the stupid things that go on there for the amusement of atheists. Also no one becomes a “mystic” without going to through ABCs of religion first, and those basics are mostly likely to be taught in institutionalized way.

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