“Once, every village had an idiot. It took the internet to bring them all together.”
Colonel Robert Bateman
I’ve come to the conclusion that Twitter is probably the most god forsaken place on the internet. But being an atheist, maybe I should say, truth forsaken. Understanding that I’m an atheist, a libertarian atheist, is essential if anything that follows is to make any sense. Howevever, even if you do happen to remember that I’m a libertarian atheist, there still remains a fairly high chance that what follows still won’t make a whole lot of sense.
There was just a fleeting moment, between the idea of the internet and the manifestation of the internet. It was in this briefest period that, just like the Gutenberg Press, the internet promised to democratize knowledge. When Marshall McLuhan talked of the, global Village, he talked about a world in which physical distance was no longer an obstacle influencing communication and the flow of information. And whilst McLuhan foresaw the dawn of the internet, what he failed to foresee was the explosion in the volume of communication.
Instead of one tribal drum communicating one message, giving everyone access to a unified source of knowledge, it’s given everyone a voice, irrespective of their knowledge. Rather than democratizing knowledge, it’s democratized the right to express ones opinions, no matter how unqualified the person might be expressing it. Essentially it’s armed every village idiot with a megaphone, while forcing everyone else to wear hearing aids, making their uninformed opinions hard to ignore. (The secret to the internet seems to be in substituting the metaphorical hearing aids for metaphorical ear plugs.) Where as historically these idiots were spread evenly geographically, say one in every village, the internet has enabled them to band together. If McLuhan were alive today, I wonder, might he be tempted to amend his title to, The Global Village Idiot.
The Twittersphere, the internet as a whole, works as a monolithic soap box, immense in its size and capability of spreading half baked beliefs that can be turned into truths at the blink of an eye, a touch of a button, or just by clicking, ‘like’ (see my previous post, Echo Chambers, Memes and Brain Viruses). The internet has facilitated the spread of bad ideas, and extremist opinions, more than it has benefited mankind with the passing on of knowledge. Bad ideas, and extremism fester, and incubate inside echo chambers, a phenomenon I discussed previously in, Echo Chambers, Memes and Brain Viruses – Weaponizing the Internet. Because of this, it should be of no surprise that the stupidity of groups like, flat earthers, and the irresponsibility of, anti vaxxers have managed to gain such strong foothold in, what was already an already, a neurotic society. The internet is the perfect device for spreading and magnifying mankind’s neuroses. And if the internet has proven anything to us it’s that people are only too happy to offer opinions on things they have little, or next to no knowledge about. This has made the internet the universal melting pot for global ignorance.
Initially marveled at how the internet would communicate ideas, what we failed to recognise was that humans have far more bad, or meaningless ideas, than good ones. The internet is a perfect example of a GIGO system, Garbage In Garbage Out. GIGO is one of those tech acronyms thought up by a mind that’s been over exposed to programming languages and underexposed to fresh air. GIGO simply means that if you put garbage into a system then it’s only garbage you can get out. The internet itself can’t make us more intelligent. It’s a perfect reflection of the mental-states of the people that put things onto it. Volume wise, the internet is of overwhelmingly poor quality, this blog included, but good information can be found, although as David Mitchell recently described the internet as:
…making truth and lies indistinguishable. It’s like a huge haystack of things that may, or may not be true, and the truth is just a piece of hay just like the others, it’s not even a needle.
Recently, whilst floating aimlessly through the Twittersphere, I encountered an unusual advert. It was unusual due to the fact that I read it. I really enjoy deleting adverts on Twitter. I have this this belief that as I’m deleting them one at a time, that one day I will have finally deleted them all and so live in an ad free environment, at heart I’m fantasist. The advert grabbed my attention because it was asking for donations to enable its cause to close schools. Being a teacher seeing an advert that seeked contributions to close my means of employment, cut a little too close to the bone. So rather than deleting the advert, I jumped down the rabbit hole, except it wasn’t really a rabbit hole, it was more of a humanist hole, but the wisdom of our ancestors is in the metaphor and it’s not my place to disturb it. Whatever it was, like most internet misadventures, imagine it as being towards the abstract end of the figurative spectrum.
After reading this advert, I responded with my belief , that people should be afforded the choice between faith schools and secular schools. I pointed out that the aim of Humanist UK is not to get funding to build new secular schools, but to close and replace faith schools. And after they’ve achieved this what do they move on to, the churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques? There followed a flurry of predictably defensive ripostes.
The last time somebody quoted chapter and verse at me was when they were quoting from the Bible. There are many parallels between religious faiths and the followers of Humanist UK. Like religions Humanist UK is funded by charitable donations. Both believe they have the definitive answer to the question of what happens after we die. And both have their poster boys, god or some derivative thereof, and Richard Dawkins. Some followers of Humanist UK have merely substituted a belief in god and his book, the Bible, with a belief in Richard Dawkins and his book, The God Delusion.
As a person who actually attended a faith school, I can say from personal experience that there is no greater recruiter to atheism than faith schools. That said at my school I never remember Darwin’s theory of evolution being denied, creationism was never pushed as being the only explanation for our existence. We studied other faiths Judeo-Christian and Eastern religions. I suspect Humanist UK seem to believe that all faith schools do is teach students how to use AK47s and make explosive vests, they would be so disappointed if they took the time to discover the truth. My faith school also consistently out performed the local secular schools in both the GCSE and A-Level examinations. As well as it being morally dubious to shut down faith schools it might also be counterproductive from an academic perspective.
Libertarian Atheist Vs. Secular humanist
Like two blind men challenging one another to a duel, never discovering that we were standing in separate fields. Humanists UK and I commenced battle with all the finesse of a bumblebee with a machine gun.
As a libertarian atheist my philosophy is simple, I am resolute in my belief that there is no god, I’m equally assured in my belief that all people have the freedom to choose, and make whatever of their lives, under the condition that it doesn’t disable another person from doing likewise. Therefore people have the right to choose a faith.
Humanists UK appear to be fighting out of the secular humanist corner. With a complete intolerance towards anything said to exist beyond the physical realm of nature. Anything claiming to be knowledge that can’t be supported scientifically, isn’t knowledge. As schools are places of knowledge, all supernatural references and explanations should have no place in them. I’m not arguing against this reasoning. To me it’s perfectly logical, where I am circumspect is empowering myself with the mandate to shut down, and thereby removing the option.
For me though, the libertarian and secular humanist opinion are in conflict insofar as the idea: freedom of, and from religion. That’s why I would contribute to the building of new secular schools but not the closing of faith schools, it’s a subtle, but crucial distinction.
The Ultimate Failing Inherent in …isms
The greatest short fall undermining any ism is it’s inflexibility, the absolutism of its nature. Isms have a necessity to be seen as the one true way in which to perceive the world, as the suffix denotes:
used as a productive suffix in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion or adherence, etc. (criticism; barbarism; Darwinism; despotism; plagiarism; realism; witticism; intellectualism).
My mix of libertarianism and atheism, is no different than a blend of secularism and humanism. Both soon become entrenched in the a mindset reflected by many faiths, one that fervently believes that they are the enlightened ones, when if we’re to be honest, none of us really have a clue. So I go back to my libertarian humanism, and I say live and let live. Let’s forego the philosophical word salad, and ask ourselves one final question; what kind of asshat goes around shutting schools anyway?