May 2004

This is your brain.

This is your brain on evangelicalism.

Any questions?

Wired did an article on, a Christian organisation which has apparently decided that, what with the state of the world and so on, the best thing they can do is start a crusade against wanking.

I’ve been trying to work out whether XXX Church is a spoof. I just can’t tell. I should like to announce my own adaption of Clarke’s Law, namely that “any sufficiently Christian website is indistinguishable from Landover Baptist Church. I think I’ll call it “Wright’s Law”, unless that’s already the name of a TV cop show where I fight crime using ballroom dancing moves. But I think I’d remember that.

I have memories from my time “on the inside” of just how weird the attitudes to sex were. Being gay is right out, but being straight and doing everything-but is OK as long as you don’t ask and don’t tell. The leaders come out with statements like “no heavy petting” (a phrase which seems slightly 70s for some reason) and back them up with Bible verses about pornea (usually translated “sexual immorality”, which seems to be begging the question). Meanwhile, if you’re married it’s your positive duty to go at it like rabbits, but if you’re a teenager with hormones raging, you’re stuffed. Many of them marry young after very short courtships, an understandable reaction but not one I’m convinced leads to happy marriages.

I’ve been clean of the meme for over 2 years now. If I can do it, so can you. Just say no, kids.

(S notes that all good Internet memes have kittens in them).

A packed weekend. “Special” General Dancing on Friday was fun (it was special because it was in a bigger hall and there was a bar, both of which count as good things). Lots of orange people around, all fake tanned in preparation for the Varsity match.

We watched Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday night. It was hugely good fun. The new format is pro-celebrity rather than having professional couples dancing against each other. Predictably, the couples where the man was a professional did best. Girls have it so easily in ballroom 🙂 CDC’s own Erin was the best out of the couples with a celeb bloke, with her partner Martin Offiah pulling off a creditable waltz. Full marks to them, nil points to the East Enders “star” who mostly stood there bowlegged while the woman did around fancy stuff around him. Pshaw!

The BBC’s site helpfully points at CDC, but alas, the first news item you see on the CDC site at the moment tells prospective beginners to bugger off and come back next year. Sort it out, readers. Update: they sorted it.

Didn’t watch the Eurovision, we went to Trinity for Formal Hall instead. Our host was most apologetic about the racuous behaviour of the undergraduates, who belted out “Happy Birthday” to one of their friends in 6 part harmony (I think it was a choral get together). I was shocked, I tell you. Bring back the birch and National Service.

CDC’s Tea Dance today was at Downing, which turns out to be a pretty college. Dancing on a sunny Sunday afternoon is a pleasingly civilised experience. The room had a little balcony to disappear onto. All very Jane Austen. We lost Varsity, of course, but I know which club I’d rather be in.

Rounded off the weekend’s cultural delights with a concert from CUSO. I’m not really an expert on classical stuff, preferring death thrash metal, but Elgar’s Enigma Variations was good, and the bassoon concerto from Holloway was interesting.

Photos from lisekit and terriem‘s Karoake party are up. The close-ups of faces are courtesy of S, who does that composition thing (as well as being a talented pianist). Thanks for a good party, Terrie and Lise.

I promised Terrie a link to Milkbusters, so there it is.

My computer is unhappy. It freezes or resets itself about 20 minutes after it’s powered on. After that runs for the rest of the day. I’m getting kernel oopses just before the bad stuff happens, which seem to be related to memory paging, so I suspect dodgy hardware.

I could just replace the memory modules and see whether that helps. However, Drogon people have been attempting to convince me that what I really want is one of these fine Apple computers. Apple’s OS X has Unix underneath, and the Fink project makes a variety of open source stuff available to it using the Debian package tools. The PowerBooks look rather nice. They’re also rather expensive. If anyone’s used one, do let me know what you thought of it.

The ensuing discussion of laptops, 802.11, and hence using the computer on the loo made me think of Anthony Hopkins, for some reason.

A locked posting in Another Place asks where morality comes from. So, let’s polish that off in an LJ posting, shall we?

I find something like Ken Macleod’s so-called True Knowledge tempting, at least as a fall back position (as the author of that page says). In the absence of a God, or at least, of one who cares enough to show herself plainly, what matters to you is what matters. If love, charity and loyalty are important to you, you should act to advance them as far as you can. Morality is whatever you can get away with, where “getting away” doesn’t necessarily mean swindling people (although it might, there being no absolutes here), but merely advancing things which you consider good. If enough people agree with you, the power of your argument grows.

<lj-cut> It’s not clear the MacLeod himself thinks the True Knowledge is a good thing (believers in it commit what I’d regard as genocide in his book The Cassini Division). I found some interesting discussion of quite what it is he does think of morality, which makes reference to the True Knowledge idea. Graydon’s views seem particularlty apposite.

Isn’t this the bad old “might makes right” philosophy, which, taken to its logical extension, will lead to us driving around on smoke-belching killing machines while wearing leather and listening to Tina Turner? I’d like to hope not.

My own morality is based on my long term self interest. Being content, finding things out, having friends and loves are all things I enjoy, so I act to maximise my chances of such things persisting. That includes being part of a group and of a society which will allow such things to continue. I’m surely not unique in thinking that the Mad Max war of all against all isn’t going to help further my aims. As Graydon says, power rests of peace.

In Greg Egan’s rather good Distress, there’s an artificial island which floats unsupported in the middle of the ocean (that’s like, a bleedin’ metaphor for existence, you see: keep up at the back). The society on it is one of your standard SF capitalist anarchies, although a little less hard nosed than the sort of thing you find in other authors’ works. The response to the narrator’s question “Why doesn’t someone try to exploit the system and take over?” is amused condescension from the islanders, who point out that that the question amounts to “Why don’t you all try to make your lives as miserable as possible?”

That’s not quite the full story, of course: there are bad people out there, so whatchya gonna do when they come for you? The book’s islanders have their own answer, which I won’t spoil. The sort of biology based ethics which MacLeod seems to have in mind advises being nice to everyone you meet and walloping them if they wallop you. There are people who’ve not worked out that it’s in their own best interests not to be an asshole, but eventually everyone else will move out of their way and defend their walls. I’ve made comments about burbclaves and things of that nature before. As I’ve been talking about Neal Stephenson, what I’m thinking of is more of a phyle (from his book The Diamond Age) than a burbclave, really. It’s not about living with people who all like ballroom dancing, but rather about living with people who share your outlook.

Surfing around the other day, I found a Christian response to Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, in which the author points out that saying Jesus’ belief in hell was immoral presupposes some sort of morality. The same goes for the Problem of Evil: where does your definition of evil come from? In both cases, my answer is that morality comes from within me by the process of considering what I want my life to be about. Ignoring Calvinism (which has huge moral problems of its own), it is my choice whether or not to accept Christianity’s morality. I find the infinite torture of relative innocents to be unjust. There are other people who can accept this idea, and so be a part of the Christian phyle, but I’m not one of them.