No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
You can see the full text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 here (Section 230(c)(1) is on page 101). Why this is in the news lately is that a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may be deciding whether Section 230(c)(1) ought to be upheld or disposed (namely, in the cases Gonzalez v. Google, LLC and Taamneh v. Twitter, Inc.).
Objectivity, also known as value neutrality or impartiality, is one of the highest ideals of science. The principle behind it is that science studies mind-independent reality, i.e., that which continues to exist even if no consciousness is there to perceive or think about it. This mind-independent reality is devoid of all values – there is no such thing as “good and bad” or “useful” or “beautiful” when it comes to, say, galaxy formation or evolution by natural selection. A major criticism of science levied by critical theory is that value neutrality is impossible, even if we are to take the assumption that mind-independent reality exists and that mind-independent reality is value neutral. As such, instead of blinding ourselves to the values and biases that are inextricable from science, we ought to import the “correct” values into science (e.g., feminist science).
A recent Munk Debates in Toronto on November 30 examined the topic of whether or not the mainstream news media is trustworthy (the debate is titled “Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media”). Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi took the position that the mainstream media is not to be trusted while Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg took the opposing position. You can read a transcript of the debate here. As debates usually go, nothing was really resolved, though an overwhelming majority of the audience seemed to favor the Murray-Taibbi position after the debate. As such, the question remains: should people trust the mainstream news media?
The COVID19 pandemic saturated the news for a good eighteen months or better. Lately we don’t hear much about it anymore. If topics jawed about by the usual talking heads are to be gauged, everyone is over the whole pandemic thing. Few places still require masks and few people still voluntarily wear them. This, of course, ignores the fact that, with some six-and-a-half million people dead as a result of COVID infection, and ten times that many who got it and lived, there are a good deal of people who had their lives changed dramatically and permanently as a result of the pandemic. But now that the virus is endemic in a seemingly less pathogenic variant, it is a topic that has taken leave of the rapidly shifting zeitgeist of our modern times. Now is the time for postmortems by commentators and historians. That’s what I’m about to do here (as a commentator, not a historian).
Here in the United States, the so-called “Red Wave” that was supposed to have crashed over our legislature and state offices on November 8, 2022 failed to transpire. Prior to the midterm election, grim warnings of rising fascism abounded. “Democracy itself”, we were repeatedly admonished, was going to be strangled by rightwing fanatics before it could die its natural death. Pair this with the dour tidings of Elon Musk purchasing Twitter and Kanye West spouting more of his increasingly deranged brand of asinine attention seeking, and the rhetoric from the left almost painted a picture of the U.S. teetering on the brink of madness, like Germany of 1933.
On the other side of the ledger, prognostications warning of the gathering whirlwind of Woke-ism and Marxism grew ever more vociferous. Schools and universities, we are warned, have been mutated and twisted into Marxist reeducation camps where children are corrupted and groomed by depraved deviants and insidious ideologues, all while leftwing censorious indignation furiously proliferates in every corner of the internet. The “Red Wave” was supposed to be a last-ditch bulwark against the rising red tide of Neo-Marxist totalitarianism. If these dire omens were to be believed, then one might be convinced that the U.S. is in the same precarious position as China in 1966.
In the United States, we have our midterm elections coming up on November 8, 2022. Both “sides” of the election (the conservative and right-leaning Republicans and the progressive and left-leaning Democrats) have an alarming number of people frothing at the mouth with vitriol toward their opposing side. The other side, both argue, are an existential threat to democracy. They’re not just wrong or misguided, but nefarious and cunning. They want to harm [insert group here, e.g., children or minorities]. This is the kind of political divisiveness that heralds an inevitable plunge into authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Here is the problem, though: both sides are not exactly wrong about their opponents.
It’s been in vogue to say that we live in a post-truth society (never mind that this is making a truth-valued statement). Fake news, wokism, QAnon, standpoint epistemology (i.e., “my truth”), distrust of institutions and experts, postmodernism, social media echo chambers, internet algorithms, Donald Trump, bias in mainstream media, secularization, and so on have all been viewed as the death knell of Truth by some subset of the population or another within the past couple decades or so. But what do people mean when they talk about truth or the truth? Are people talking about the same things? Let’s look at this a little deeper.
I’ve said before that I don’t usually like to talk about the news-of-the-day stuff here. I like to make posts that, even if someone stumbles upon it a few years from now, they’ll still find it relevant, or at least interesting. Here I’m going to talk about the recent controversy about Sam Harris and his alleged Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. The reason is that, like it or not, Donald Trump’s ascendancy to leadership (even messianic) status among conservatives, Republicans, and right-wingers is going to have a long-reaching effect within the United States. And, since the U.S. has such a large place on the world stage, this is also something that will have far-reaching effects throughout the rest of the world as well.
Philosophy is broadly concerned with two questions: what is there (i.e. what exists)? And what is the good life? The former still holds a prominent place in philosophy. The latter has undergone an evolution. If it is asked now days, it is usually rephrased something more like: how can I maximize pleasure and reduce suffering? But is this the question we ought to be asking?
Mary Eberstadt has a new book called Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics where she makes the case that the 1960s sexual revolution is what gave rise to identity politics today. I think, while that may have played a part, the identity politics craze can’t be completely laid at the feet of the sexual revolution.
I am currently reading David J. Chalmers’ 1996 book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory which claims that, due to consciousness not being logically supervenient, there is no reductive explanation for consciousness. Thus Chalmers concludes that consciousness must be explained through a dualist paradigm. I have some issues with the argument.
Among the Abrahamic religions, multiple arguments have been put forward by philosophers and theologians to prove the existence of God. I’m an atheist and don’t think any of these arguments are convincing. In this post – the first in a series I will do concerning the existence of God – I will demonstrate why I personally don’t think these philosophical arguments are very convincing.
The second post in the “series” on the scientific reasons for not believing in God is here.
Human nature, as I define it, is the set of cognitive and behavioral patterns that are innate in human beings, regardless of culture and specific upbringing. These are patterns passed down to us by evolution. With humans, though, we seem to be unique in our ability for metacognition – thinking about our thinking and our behaviors. Does that give us the ability to change our innate human nature?
Aristotle defined metaphysics as the study of Being qua Being – or, one might say, studying Being being Being. He says in book VII of his Metaphysics that Being is the individual instances of essence, which is the substance that defines what a thing is in-itself. Now, in our present time, we’ve narrowed down the primary substance further than our everyday sensible objects, down to subatomic particles. Can Aristotle’s philosophy be a useful lens to think about quantum mechanics?
Voltaire once said that “if God didn’t exist we would have to invent him.” Our imaginations are, of course, limited by our evolutionary past. To us, God has to be human-like. God must be benevolent, meaning it’s actions must seek to benefit humans. Why wouldn’t we invent a God like that? We are human-centered by our very nature. We feel that we deserve our self-designated special place in the universe.
Consciousness and qualia are problems that are still unsolved by philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. My way of viewing consciousness and qualia is that consciousness is the process by which our brains organize the world into working models and qualia is the ‘stuff’ that consciousness uses to generate those models. For better or worse, both of these exist due to evolutionary forces. That means they’re fine tuned to a very specific sort of survival, not for any pure understanding of the world or ourselves. In order to understand the limitations of our own minds, we need to know the inner workings of how the world is organized in our minds on a fundamental level. That requires knowing the structure of our minds.
After two years of investigation and constant media coverage, the Mueller Report is finally finished. While anyone outside the Justice Department has yet to read the full report, Attorney General William Barr has released a summary. The so-called Russiagate story is not yet over, however, as there are now calls for the entire Mueller Report to be made public. Exactly what the Russiagate story is and how it started is expertly told by Matt Taibbi in his “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” piece. What I’m more interested in is how this whole story is indicative of human nature.
In part two, I will give a brief overview of the evidence for the theory of evolution. This is not an exhaustive compendium of all the evidence in support of the theory of evolution. It is already a long post, so I keep all my descriptions brief. If you are interested in learning more, I provide plenty of links to websites and peer reviewed papers all throughout.
If you’re interested in how evolution relates to religion and whether it gives us any reason not to believe in God, check out this post. The current discussion will not touch on the subject, sticking strictly to the science.