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December 6, 2005 6:19 AM   Subscribe


 
Where's the quote itself from? Ironically enough, it is religious illusion that causes madness, not prevents it. Madness is separation from reality. Reality isn't exciting enough or meaningful enough or fair enough for most people, so they buy some illusions. But the more illusions they buy, the farther they get from an accurate perception of reality, and the more insane they become.

It is no coincidence that education and religious fundamentalism are inversely related. Critical thinking is a reality based tool.
posted by ewkpates at 6:34 AM on December 6, 2005


Kristol, typically, has it backward. The prof was beaten not by the disillusioned but, surely, by true believers. And that eight-year-old Reason article claiming that intelligent design is ascendant is, well, eight years out of date, as Sunday's NYTimes article "Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker" documents.
posted by nicwolff at 6:36 AM on December 6, 2005


(ewkpates, the quote is from an essay by Kristol in Commentary that is quoted about 1/3 of the way down the Reason article.)
posted by nicwolff at 6:38 AM on December 6, 2005


Yes, but it does clarify the role of neo-cons in cynically selling yet another pernicious lie for political reasons. I actually thought I had included the Times article, wierd.

Here it is.
posted by empath at 6:39 AM on December 6, 2005


And so it starts... One wonders when they will start using brown shirts. Or is a white hood more in tune with modern America? Isn't it also about time to call back the bomb experts from the previous abortion clinic campaign to help deal with those who won't see the light even if it is beaten upon their heads?
posted by nkyad at 6:41 AM on December 6, 2005


The quote seems like a paraphrase of Dostoevsky...I think it's when Ivan Karamakov is talking about a story he's written?
posted by iamck at 6:42 AM on December 6, 2005


Seriously, fuck Kansas.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:43 AM on December 6, 2005


...IN THEIR BIG FAT FACE!!!
posted by rxrfrx at 6:47 AM on December 6, 2005


nkyad: Forget brown shirts and white hoods. Bring back zoot suits!
posted by Mach5 at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2005


According to Wikipedia, Kristol has also said, "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

And that sums up the neoconservative relationship to truth. Let the yahoos have their religion, the way we let kids have their belief in Santa Claus. Use their beliefs to manipulate them, but know what's really going on.
posted by barjo at 6:56 AM on December 6, 2005 [1 favorite]


I have a suspicion (hope) that the rise of the internet makes that kind of manipulation slightly more difficult.
posted by empath at 7:02 AM on December 6, 2005


neoconservative

I like the short form - neo-cons - better. It just seems so much more accurate for some reason.
posted by srboisvert at 7:13 AM on December 6, 2005


barjo, that quote is in the first link (about a third of the way down, paragraph beginning "Kristol agrees with this view...").

What an asshole Irving Kristol is.
posted by languagehat at 7:13 AM on December 6, 2005


I have a suspicion (hope) that the rise of the internet makes that kind of manipulation slightly more difficult.
Quite the opposite, actually. It's far too easy to balkanize yourself on the web. Expose yourself only to ideas that you agree with.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2005


Here's how this post would have looked if it were written for ease of understanding instead of linky cleverness:
After the Kansas Board of Ed added intelligent design to the state's education standards, the chairman of religious studies at the University of Kansas proposed to teach a course on "Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies", which he told his student atheist group would be "a nice slap" in the "fundies" "big fat face". The fundies didn't like that much, and not only has he been forced to cancel the course, he has been driven off the road and badly beaten. Are neoconservative creationists just manipulative hypocrites?
This makes it clearer that the Reason article is an afterthought and we could have told what the post is about without a lot of work. Just sayin'.
posted by nicwolff at 7:21 AM on December 6, 2005


That's definitely how plastic.com would have done it.
posted by empath at 7:24 AM on December 6, 2005


That's definitely how plastic.com would have done it.
posted by empath at 10:24 AM EST on December 6 [!]


Ooooooh....are you going to take that lieing down, nicwolff? :)
posted by unreason at 7:28 AM on December 6, 2005


Thanks for the useful edit nicwolff. The post makes much more sense your way, and I actually want to click through.
posted by OmieWise at 7:29 AM on December 6, 2005


Bah.

I just liked the quote. I was going to just link the Reason article and the NY Times article, but I saw the news about the Kansas guy while I was getting ready to post it, and thought it was a nice ironic counterpoint to his thesis.

So really, the Kansas thing is the afterthought and not the other way around.
posted by empath at 7:33 AM on December 6, 2005


Wait, you mean plastic.com is like MetaFilter for people whose time and attention are valuable? I'm outta here!
posted by nicwolff at 7:34 AM on December 6, 2005


empath: I thought your post was interesting and artfully composed. Ignore the critics.
posted by twsf at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2005


The quote also recalls Straussian thought on the Noble Lie (people forget that a lot of neoconservatism comes out of neo-platonism in a weird way). Of couse, on the other hand, radical post-structuralist democratic thinkers also endorse a pretty similar view, only they differ on how it should be constructed and what the use of it is.
posted by klangklangston at 7:45 AM on December 6, 2005


empath: I thought your post was interesting and artfully composed. Ignore the critics.

I agree. Good to try new things, and it certainly got my attention.
posted by londonmark at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2005


twsf writes "empath: I thought your post was interesting and artfully composed. Ignore the critics."

No, don't ignore your critics, at least consider what they have to say, even if you choose not to follow there suggestions. It's a good post, with good content, and there is certainly no need for a black-or-white approach to posting, but ignoring people who make constructive suggestions about your style would be a puerile response.

klangklangston writes "The quote also recalls Straussian thought on the Noble Lie (people forget that a lot of neoconservatism comes out of neo-platonism in a weird way)."

Yeah, not me. It's actually those philosophical underpinnings, with their Straussian exo- and eso-teric readings, as well as the obvious indebtedness to Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt, that make me most uncomfortable about the neo-cons.
posted by OmieWise at 7:52 AM on December 6, 2005


So wait, it's an eight-year-old-link post that was supposed to be an op-ed post but you forgot while you were mystery-linking it to some newsfilter? You win!

(Actually, I had never seen the Reason article, which is interesting at least historically, or the stuff about Prof. Mirecki which is alarming. I liked the links, that's why I went to the trouble of rewriting the post. Sorry it's becoming a derail.)

(twsf: Yes, let's all post artfully-composed link puzzles to the front page. The days will just speed by.)

On preview: yay klangk with the on-topic!

posted by nicwolff at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2005


It's not so much that I disagree with them that galls me about the neo-cons -- it's their blind, insufferable, un-self-aware arrogance that irritates me the most.

The two Kristol quotes given above are interesting contrasts. One I find hard to quarrel with: It's true that there are truths people are not equipped to deal with at certain stages of development, or from certain frames of reference.

The other -- the one from the post itself -- is patently false. We give lie to it every day, as people in their own lives face things they wouldn't have thought they could handle, and then proceed to handle them. Kristol (and Strauss before him) grossly underestimate humanity in that regard. They would have the perfect be the enemy of the good: Since people can't always be smart enough to see past cons like Naziism and Stalinism, we should just let the correct smart folks take charge. (srboisvert -- replacing the "cons" with "neo-cons"?)

Because that's the gist of the "noble lie" in a nutshell: They know better than everybody else, so we ought to Just Trust them.

nicwolff: don't you know that to look good is much more important than to feel good be understood?
posted by lodurr at 7:57 AM on December 6, 2005


A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

no this is okay because Christians are persecuted and it's really tough for them this is just backlash to the roving gangs of atheists who attack Christians coming from their volunteer work at the soup kitchen

because Christians are persecuted you see
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:06 AM on December 6, 2005


(However, I remain skeptical of the attack, because it's totally insane if it actually happened.)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:07 AM on December 6, 2005


Optimus- do you remain skeptical that he was actually beaten? I don't really get what you're saying...
posted by papakwanz at 8:13 AM on December 6, 2005


And because I can:

Who would Jesus beat?
posted by papakwanz at 8:14 AM on December 6, 2005


It's not the "noble lie" arrogance that gets me - religion has always been a tool of control, and it's tautological that the greedy and powerful have never really believed the precepts of Christianity - it's Kristol's boldness in saying this publicly. What makes him so sure that the scorn in which movement conservatism holds its gullible constituents no longer needs to be a secret? And - scary! - is he right?
posted by nicwolff at 8:16 AM on December 6, 2005


Optimus- do you remain skeptical that he was actually beaten? I don't really get what you're saying...
posted by papakwanz at 8:13 AM PST on December 6


Yes, I do. There are many many many people who after being castigated for doing dumb things - in this case, the email about shoving it in their big fat faces or whatever - are later "attacked" by mysterious assailants, when in fact it was a self-administered beating, done solely to gain sympathy or attention for themselves or their cause. It seems to strike the left as often as the right, and it makes me sad.

The professor's case has many similarities to past faux-assaults and so I cannot in good conscience accept his claims at face value.

See, theists, skepticism works both ways. Try it! :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2005


papakwanz: I can only offer the traditional response....
posted by lodurr at 8:22 AM on December 6, 2005


Optimus- do you remain skeptical that he was actually beaten? I don't really get what you're saying...
posted by papakwanz at 11:13 AM EST on December 6 [!]


I don't think anyone is questioning that the man was beaten. What Optimus was speculating on, I think, is that the motive may be in doubt, particularly since we have no evidence other than the victim's say so as to the motive. I have a terrible memory, but I seem to remember a situation discussed in the blue where a man got beat up outside of a strip club, and claimed that it had to do with his anti-Bush stance or something of that nature, when further investigation suggested that there were other reasons.

I have no real opinion, one way or another. However, consider this. Whoever beat him up were probably dumb thugs, with neither patience nor intelligence. The attack happened early in the morning, while the man was on his way to breakfast. It is unlikely that the thugs would be able to instantly recognize the guy from inside his car. This means that in order to attack this guy for who he is, rather than at random, they would have had to have staked out his house, probably all night, or at least starting very early in the morning, followed him without being noticed, then run him off the road. Waiting out in the cold just to attack a college prof doesn't seem that likely. It strikes me as more probable that he was just attacked from some random hoods.
posted by unreason at 8:24 AM on December 6, 2005


A Tawana Brawley for the new millennium, OC?
posted by Gator at 8:34 AM on December 6, 2005


I am with Optimus here. Though I have no evidence whatsoever, my bullshit alarm went off when I read the newspaper headline. I think he is faking it.
posted by LarryC at 8:35 AM on December 6, 2005


From the Kansas.com article: Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered
It does not elaborate so we cannot judge whether he is justified in his analysis of their motive. But there is no mention of robbery either.
posted by magpie68 at 8:36 AM on December 6, 2005


And as to the Kristol quote that Empath used to frame the post, Ben Franklin said it better. When Tom Paine sent him the manuscript for The Age of Reason, Franklin advised Paine:

"I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?"
posted by LarryC at 8:41 AM on December 6, 2005


The professor's case has many similarities to past faux-assaults and so I cannot in good conscience accept his claims at face value.

Yeah, like that Matthew Shepherd guy in Wyoming. Anyone with any sense knows that that faggot tied himself to the back of a wagon and drove himself down the street, simply to get attention for his gay rights agenda.

Uh, just a minute...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2005


It strikes me as more probable that he was just attacked from some random hoods.

Most crimes have a motivation. What was the thugs'? Was the prof robbed? Road rage? The facts are too slim to know anything. God works in mysterious ways.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:44 AM on December 6, 2005


Yeah, like that Matthew Shepherd guy in Wyoming.

Wait...the fact that Shepherd was killed for being gay automatically means that this guy was attacked for his beliefs? How does that follow?
posted by unreason at 8:50 AM on December 6, 2005


I'm wondering why so many people have such a strong gut reaction that Mirecki must be faking this.

I don't think I've got enough information to make a character judgement, for my own part, but I find it suspicious that people find it suspicious.

And if I rely on reason rather than my gut, I note that Mirecki is a noted scholar on Manichean texts, with a lot to lose by fabricating an assault claim. Especially since there seem to be a lot of people these days who think that the absense of a prosecution case is tantamount to a case for false-report.

I also looked at some of the things that he's said on the matter. For example: "The KU faculty has had enough. … Creationism is mythology. Intelligent design is mythology. It’s not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

Doesn't sound that radical to me. Sounds like a mainstream position in most colleges in America -- or in the world, for that matter.

I'm just not seeing the reason for presumption of falsehood, here. Thought I've no doubt at all that this is neither the first nor last time it will come up with regard to this.
posted by lodurr at 8:55 AM on December 6, 2005


Lodurr: You are absolutely right, but my gut reaction remains the same.

From the KC Star article:

Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital after the attack.

Mirecki told the student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, that he spent between three and four hours at the hospital. He said his injuries included a broken tooth.

"I'm mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots," he told the Lawrence Journal-World.


A far cry from Matthew Shepard!
posted by LarryC at 9:00 AM on December 6, 2005


Perhaps if you believe that God is the absolute - an unstoppable force that has to move against an apparently immovable barrier - and that you are under His dominion, then nothing less than everything in his defence is required. Beating up or killing his enemies is just one more necessity - an absolute necessity - an act of God as is were - one among many.
posted by donfactor at 9:05 AM on December 6, 2005


For the benefit of the literal minded, I am not under his dominion. But there are many, I think, who are.
posted by donfactor at 9:06 AM on December 6, 2005


I'm wondering why so many people have such a strong gut reaction that Mirecki must be faking this.
I don't think I've got enough information to make a character judgement, for my own part, but I find it suspicious that people find it suspicious.


No one wants to believe that the USA could eventually end up with its own version of the mutaween.
posted by PsychoKick at 9:11 AM on December 6, 2005


I like the quote, though I despise the author's politics. I take it to acknowledge the current "madness" that has taken over America now that the extreme religious right-wing has gained power. Life makes more sense when you think that the Christian fundamentalists are going through a "last gasp" of sorts.
posted by jimmy76 at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2005


I'm going to repost my comment from the other thread:

Crazy. I actually took a class with Prof. Mirecki and spoke with him on many occasions during office hours. He is extremely knowledgeable about Biblical studies, and can read Koine Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, etc. He also discovered (in a library) and translated previously unknown fragments of a new Gospel (I mean writings about Jesus' life) if I remember right. I'm not suprised that he wrote that stuff, since his office door was covered with Weekly World news headlines and insane Christian fundamentalist stuff about Christianity, and he approaches religion from a historical/archaeological/literary angle, so it must drive him nuts to have to deal with that stuff. Still the "fundies" comment was just a bad idea, even though I completely agree with him. It's a real shame that class won't be taught though.

And I second the observation that Lawrence is generally a very progressive, liberal town, but there's all manner of conservative country folk surrounding it.

And BTW, from what I know of him, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would fake a beating. He's a college prof, for god's sake, he has too much at stake if he was found to have filed a false police report.
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:16 PM on December 6, 2005


Ah, the old pious fraud, or noble lie, or self-preserving self-deception. Perhaps it is not even worth pointing to a different take on the problem? After all, "Freud has been discredited by modern psychology and neuroscience." Still, I can't help returning every now and then to his take on certain illusions:
Thus I must contradict you when you go on to argue that men are completely unable to do without the consolation of the religious illusion, that without it they could not bear the troubles of life and the cruelties of reality. That is true, certainly, of the men into whom you have instilled the sweet—or bitter-sweet—poison from childhood onwards. But what of the other men, who have been sensibly brought up? Perhaps those who do not suffer from the neurosis will need no intoxication to deaden it. They will, it is true, find themselves in a difficult situation. They will have to admit to themselves the full extent of their helplessness and their insignificance in the machinery of the universe; they can no longer be the center of creation, no longer the object of tender care on the part of a benificent Providence. They will be in the same position as a child who has left the parental house where he was so warm and comfortable. But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted. [Freud, The Future of an Illusion, tr. James Strachey]
posted by dilettanti at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2005


Previous News from Kansas, the pure, flowing spring of American Values.
posted by gimonca at 1:15 PM on December 6, 2005


I am an atheist and NOT a neocon, but I agree with the quote's notion of keeping religion, whether or not it's an illusion. (I DISagree that we atheists are somehow better or smarter than theists.)

Many atheists seem to feel it's "right" and "noble" to face the truth. Why should this be? If truth is your personal preference, so be it. But what is the value of everyone knowing the truth? Why is truth intrinsically good? If illusions keep people happy and healthy, why shouldn't they believe in them?

Life is messy. Some truths are healthy, some are unhealthy; some illusions are healthy, others are unhealthy (and the specific ones that are healthy and unhealthy vary from person to person). And even healthy things can have unhealthy side-effects. This desire to proclaim all truth GOOD seems to me like an infantile scrambling to simplify the world.

I certainly don't think I'm BETTER than my theistic friends. In fact, I often suspect that faith is normal, natural and healthy. As an atheist, I believe it's also untrue. So I'm suggesting that thougj it's a lie, it's normal and healthy to believe in this lie.

I'm hoping one day this question will be answered scientifically. Maybe we'll eventually locate a definitive "religious center" in the brain. If we do, I wouldn't be surprised if a scan showed that my brain had a mutation in that region.

So if I could push a button and make all people see the truth (as I believe it) that God doesn't exist, I definitely would NOT do it. I see every day how religion improves the lives of my friends (yes, it creates some problems for them too -- nothing is perfect.) Some of them wouldn't be alive without religion.

Sure, there have been wars fought over religious matters. But does anyone seriously believed that if we magically turned everyone into atheists, all these wars would end? Wars -- even so-called religious wars -- occur for many complex, interconnected reasons. People fight because they want power, wealth, land, etc. Were the crusades JUST about faith? Are atheists all pacifists?

On a personal level, would mommy and daddy stop forcing me to do stuff I hate doing if I stripped them of their religion? Probably not. I would also have to strip them of their desire to control.
posted by grumblebee at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2005 [1 favorite]


But surely infantilism is destined to be surmounted.

This sounds smart, but I think it's silly. First of all, infantilism isn't destined to be anything, unless you believe in destiny, which is a religious concept. Or, if you define destiny to mean "the result of all the natural effects that play on a person", then Freud is saying that infantilism WILL be surmounted, which contradicts what he says earlier.

So surely he means people SHOULD surmount infantilism. And he seems to define infantilism as a state in which people are unnaturally comfortable. In nature, "comfort" is a dry patch of ground to lie on. So would Freud like us to burn down our houses, throw away our clothes and become hunter/gatherers?

Look, when I was in my 20s and early 30s, my atheism seemed pretty harmless. Now I'm 40 and married. I have to face the cold, hard fact that, if my wife dies before me, I will NEVER, EVER see her again. This horrible thought torments me. It's awful, it's draining, and I don't see how my escape from the infantile idea that we'll be together again some day is helpful to me in any way. If I could press a button and make myself believe in an afterlife, I would do it in a heartbeat.
posted by grumblebee at 1:44 PM on December 6, 2005


i never had a problem with religion to the extent that it refrained from intentional effort to influence how i live my life...given that christianity won't give up this effort, and that its proponents have chosen to adopt the pose of persecution and victimhood while forming an aggressive attack, i have to say i'm looking forward to the upcoming war on christianity
posted by troybob at 1:46 PM on December 6, 2005


Now I'm 40 and married. I have to face the cold, hard fact that, if my wife dies before me, I will NEVER, EVER see her again. This horrible thought torments me. It's awful, it's draining, and I don't see how my escape from the infantile idea that we'll be together again some day is helpful to me in any way. If I could press a button and make myself believe in an afterlife, I would do it in a heartbeat.
posted by grumblebee at 1:44 PM PST on December 6


If it makes you feel any better, remember that no matter what, one day you will be dead, too. That's how I reconcile it. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2005


It makes me feel a bit better if that day comes, say, the next day after my wife dies.
posted by grumblebee at 2:32 PM on December 6, 2005


grumblebee, you and I think very similarly about these matters. Nice to have the company!

"Humankind cannot bear very much reality."

  —TS Eliot

"Don't truth me, Unk, and I won't truth you."

  —Kurt Vonnegut
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on December 6, 2005


grumblebee:
Kristol's quote is premised on religion being necessary, that "the majority of men cannot live without" it. Freud's response is that it may well not be necessary.

Aside from that: as you allow, there may be dangers in believing in an afterlife as well as comforts. After all, if you believe in such a thing, might it not affect the value you place on your present condition? Might you be more willing to suffer more discomfort here—and inflict more suffering on others—if you thought that access to such an afterlife were conditioned upon it? My own problem with Kristol and his ilk (one of many, I suppose) is that they would push that magical button for you. They don't want to preserve for you the option to elect a self-deception. They want to blind you. They want to put out your eyes to keep you in line. And they think you should thank them for it. They may, in fact, be right—many of us might have been happier, more content, more blissful, less conscious of our limitations, whatever, if we had adopted and maintained a determined faith—but they might be wrong, too. It's an uncontrolled experiment they're trying to run, and we're the lab rats.

Actually, it's worse than that. Anyone who claims that religion makes people better off, or happier, or [insert idea of goodness here], are up against some ugly data that must be explained. Sure, you might be able to point to people who are happy and religious at the same time. You might even point to people who "found faith" and are now much happier. But it is all too easy to point to many, many people who are much less happy because their neighbors found religion. You are right to question whether particular wars, or acts of terrorism, were motivated by religion, rather than complex, interconnected reasons including "power, wealth, land, etc." But surely, if it is religion that makes your friends happier, it might also be playing some role in some of these conflicts? And why is belief untenable for so many people? If ordinary people are losing their religious faith, what is the disease of which this is a symptom? Is a pattern of choice, or evaluation of health and benefits, reflected in the movement away from faith, if such a move is underway? It isn't obvious whether this "lie" is healthy at all.

It isn't any ol' religion Kristol wants you to have, either:
Kristol [...] crisply restated his belief that religion is essential for maintaining social discipline. A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion." [from the Reason FPP article]
It's a nice little Soma religion, of precisely the sort your magic button would provide. He wants to keep you docile, harmless, weak. The shepherd wants you to be his little sheep. Sheep, he thinks, are docile animals, and easy to lead to slaughter.
posted by dilettanti at 3:48 PM on December 6, 2005


Sure, religion makes people feel better. And advocating tolerance for religion makes atheists feel kind. But for each expression of tolerance we trade one opportunity to promote pride in reason, and a little of our ability to work rationally toward mutual understanding. Which has been bad enough till now, but we're on the brink of destruction, and militant believers are willfully pushing us over. When we endorse faith, we lose the authority to countermand the imminentizing of the eschaton. (As compared to its immanentizing, which I'm all for.)
posted by nicwolff at 4:04 PM on December 6, 2005


I wonder if the people who don't think he was really beaten up exercise the same skepticism with every reported criminal act.
posted by papakwanz at 4:07 PM on December 6, 2005


Didn't Kristol formulate a lot of his more Straussian ideas in reference to totalitarianism -- specifically, to Hitler and Stalin? That's been my understanding.

And so I could be forgiven, I think, for finding advocacy of the "noble lie" to be especially disturbing in such a context...
posted by lodurr at 4:24 PM on December 6, 2005


I hear the Christians burned Rome, too.
posted by spock at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2005


I wonder if the people who don't think he was really beaten up exercise the same skepticism with every reported criminal act.
posted by papakwanz at 4:07 PM PST on December 6


If the circumstances are similar, yeah. You have to understand as an atheist and an advocate of secular government it hurts me big time when people do this sort of bullshit to get attention or sympathy. But I just can't believe this story without evidence, because it doesn't really add up. That is the consequence of skepticism and intellectual honesty.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:05 AM on December 7, 2005


Help me out, here: Just what doesn't add up? Do you find it improbable that someone would actually stalk and beat someone over religious remarks? Do you think there are problems with the account?

You're not alone, of course. The sherrif's office, in their public statements, are tacitly asserting that Mirecki isn't telling 'the truth':
“The sheriff’s office takes these things very seriously, so we investigate them thoroughly,” Wempe said. “Our hope is that we end up finally at the end of a successful investigation and find the truth.” [emph added]
Maybe it's just me, but I feel as though I see a pretty clear bias at work there.

Now, I don't have a problem with skepticism and intellectual honesty. But it seems to me that all that's necessary here is to simply, once, say "if it's true." Anything beyond that is active skepticism, which is something that AFAIAC ought to be merited by virtue of evidence. I.e., if we're going to be skeptical, as opposed to simply reserving judgement, we ought to have a reason. I don't see one.
posted by lodurr at 6:34 AM on December 7, 2005


Help me out, here: Just what doesn't add up?

Well, most crimes in this vein are done by absolute crazies who feel that they're upholding God's law and acting in His name; this is the justification of those who murder doctors who perform abortions. They truly believe that they must kill these doctors in order to save the lives of "babies."

In this case, all the professor had done was to a) offer a class and b) make semi-public his thoughts on fundamentalist Christians. If the latter alone were worth a beating, I'd have been in the hospital a dozen times by now. If the former were, there are literally hundreds of professors around the nation who were threatened merely for teaching the Bible as Literature course available at every major and most minor universities. The reason that crazies focus on abortion doctors is that they believe that that particular sin is one of the most egregious. It doesn't seem "worth it," in my opinion.

More: if true, this was clearly a premeditated crime, as I presume the prof doesn't have a bumper sticker on his car saying "HEY I'M THE GUY WHO TEACHES THAT CLASS." So you have two assailants who found out this guy's address, waited for at least a few hours, followed him until he was in a desolate area, at which point he got out of the car and was attacked. Setting aside the fact that he got out of the car when followed by people who clearly meant him harm, this is also unusual: despite being set upon by two men, at least one of whom was armed with a blunt weapon, he didn't have major or life-threatening injuries. This is highly irregular; anyone so worked up as to wait with an accomplice for hours and risk being caught just to assault someone is going to leave the victim unbelievably fucked up. I'm taking broken ribs, shattered jaw, internal injuries. This did not happen. Why did these attackers pull their punches if they were so incensed?

Is it possible that his story is true? Yeah, I guess. But I'm not holding my breath and I will be very very surprised if this does not turn out to be a hoax.

If I'm wrong, lodurr, I will make a public apology to you and everyone else; mark my words.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:08 AM on December 7, 2005


You're making a lot of assumptions that seem unwarranted, to me.

First, in a college town, everyone knows who the college professors are in the neighborhood. Since his picture was probably in the news, they would have had his face to look at, as well. In neighborhoods, people also know one another's routines -- especially if they're on similar schedules. He's leaving the house at sometime around 6 am; the guys in the truck, if they're tradesmen, would be getting up at about the same time. Maybe they even eat at the same place.

Aside: Is it logical to beat up somebody who eats breakfast in the same place you do? No, not to you or me, but it happens all the time, and if what you're trying to do is express your power over someone or his/her ideas, and you live in a community where you think everyone will be solidly on your side, you might not even see it as a minus -- you might see it as a plus.

Also, this has a different character from abortion clinic actions. For one thing, if they were "fundie-crazies", they've have beaten him a lot worse. So for myself, I wouldn't really bother considering people like that in my profiling. These guys feel more like good old boys with a bee in their britches.

It's also not clear that he knew the men meant him harm. Here's a scenario: Suppose you're driving on a two-lane and you see someone driving with a flat tire, or showing some other kind of equipment failure that you think they might be unaware of. What do you do? Might you try to signal them, somehow? Sure, there would be better ways to do it than tailgaiting, but I've had people do that to me for that reason, and have been in the car with people who did that for that reason.

As for whether this is sufficient cause, I suggest you look at the local media a bit. It was pretty controversial, apparently; he was on the news, he probably got hate mail and threats. ("Why would he stop, then?" Well, because people don't like to remember all the hours of every day that there are people out there who don't like them.)

I'm not looking for a public apology; I just don't think active skepticism is warranted. But then I'm biased against explanations that require active conspiracies or plots, even w.r.t. people and entities (like the Bushites) of whom I'm deeply suspicious.

Like you, I see the potential for damage if it turns out to be a hoax. But I also see the very very real possibility that it will be framed as a hoax -- no conspiracy needed, all that needs to happen is for the police to not look very hard and make equivocating statements to the press. As a capper, the local DA could press charges for false report against the professor. And we'd never know, one way or the other -- but a lot of people would think they knew.

That's the real problem, here, as I see it: Mirecki, if he were faking, would be playing a game that he had almost no chance of winning. Because even if he's not faking, he stands a really, really good chance of losing all the same things he's lose if he were. He not only has a lot to lose if he's lying; he has a lot to lose if he's telling the truth.
posted by lodurr at 8:29 AM on December 7, 2005


Followup: Mirecki resigning chairmanship; predictable accusations of fraud. From the Badger Herald:
Mirecki’s resignation comes as some call into question the accuracy of his police report.

According to John Altevogt, a conservative activist in Kansas, Mirecki has been unable to even identify the street on which his alleged beating occurred.

“There’s also confusion about whether or not he called from the spot or whether he called from the hospital,” Altevogt said. “If he can’t tell them where the alleged assault took place — the closest he’s come is two different streets, two rural roads — so how are they going to collect evidence? He couldn’t [even] tell them where on those rural roads it was.”

Altevogt also said Mirecki’s description of his attackers — white, 30-40 years old, wearing jeans and driving a big pickup truck — fits “half the population of Kansas.”

Also odd, Altevogt noted, is the lack of support from Mirecki’s colleagues at KU, epitomized, he said, by his fellow professors’ requests for him to resign as department chair.

“At a time when you’d think his colleagues would rally around the flag, they in fact have asked him to resign,” he said. “If this is a ‘for real’ thing, you would think they would rally around him in the face of this horrendous attack and do something.”

Lt. Kari Wempe of the Douglas County (Kan.) Sheriff’s Office would not comment on Altevogt’s speculation and added there has been nothing new to report since Mirecki first spoke of his attack.

“That is a public opinion,” Wempe said, adding she has not been told of any inconsistencies in the professor’s report. “That’s not a law-enforcement opinion.”
Note that Mirecki is being criticized based on things that one would expect to actually happen following this chain of events: Faculty fading into the woodwork in fear, confusion in the aftermath of an assault (if he were faking, I'd expect him to have more details, not fewer), difficulty in identifying people who look like anybody else...

All that's needed now is a little casual inattention on the part of hte police department, and his reputation is toast: Conservative critics will scream "See? the police never found anything! He's a fraud!" And it won't matter whether it's true or not.
posted by lodurr at 5:27 AM on December 9, 2005


Thanks for the follow-up, lodurr.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:43 AM on December 9, 2005


Update in the other thread.
posted by lodurr at 4:37 AM on December 22, 2005


"It's not so much that I disagree with them that galls me about the neo-cons -- it's their blind, insufferable, un-self-aware arrogance that irritates me the most."

Who is calling whom arrogant, and sure of themselves?


The real twits are those who can't see that evolution was most likely started by God.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:45 AM on December 22, 2005


(also, Kansas sounds frightening...bunch of immature people and professors...)
posted by ParisParamus at 5:46 AM on December 22, 2005


ParisParamus: The real twits are those who can't see that evolution was most likely started by God.
I agree if you replace "most likely" with "could have been."
ParisParamus: Who is calling whom arrogant, and sure of themselves?
If it's not clear, I'm calling neo-cons arrogant and sure of themselves. Are you saying that it's inherently arrogant to call someone else arrogant? Kind of makes the word a little useless, doesn't it? Careful what corners you paint yourself into, PP.
posted by lodurr at 6:04 AM on December 22, 2005


"Are you saying that it's inherently arrogant to call someone else arrogant?"

No.

I'm not sure Kristol and Bork are arguing against science, or evolution; just against those arrogant enough to think that it explains everything; or explains how the process began, or why we are here, or why we are not just animals.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:24 AM on December 22, 2005


yes, "could have been."
posted by ParisParamus at 6:28 AM on December 22, 2005


And for the record, PEOPLE WHO WANT TO TEACH INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN A SCIENCE CLASS ARE IDIOTS.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:30 AM on December 22, 2005


... alas, I fear some of them are actually rather clever.
posted by lodurr at 6:46 AM on December 22, 2005


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