Monday, June 20, 2005

Reason and Hollow Lives.

I've been reading this book while at work, to while away the hours.

It was on my father's shelf for months now, and I've been wanting to read it forever, since I've been a fan of Karen Armstrong.

And Ash's post made me think about it, today.

Fundamentalism. Let's face it, if you're here, you hate fundamentalists, or at least have some kind of dim view about them. So much of what fundies are promotes bad science and even worse religion, and has ruined and made the lives of people around the world difficult.

I've always known, reading from her writings, that fundamentalism was tied to modernity — that it was a harsh rejection of modernity, and a literal reading of scripture, at least for Abrahamaic faiths. What I didn't know was the fundamentalism was a modern movement — yes, a movement that was born in modern times, but also incorporating modern ideas like the separation of mythos (the irrational, mythic component of ideology) and logos (the rational, pragmatic component of ideology).

What Armstrong explained to me was why and how modernity created fundamentalism, and the deep-seated neurosis that persists, even to this day, among rational scientific thought.

Let me be clear. Neither Armstrong nor I, as far as I can tell, think modernity is evil. It was necessary, because it helped us out of a deadly resource trap that plagued pre-modern agrarian societies. But to get to it, its progenitors had to, in a sense, separate myth and rationality.

Let me put it to you this way. To ask a man, who lived in the Middle Ages, or a man who lives and still lives in a pre-modern world whether the events depicted in the Qur'an or Scripture actually happened is to miss the fundamental point. To a pre-modern man, there is no distinction to what happened in myth and what happened in reality. Yes, God did make the Earth in Seven Days. Yes, Man was an evolved ape. Both ideas could be accepted, with little or not contradiction.

And we're not talking about mud huts here. We're talking about civilizations that invented algebra, number theory, and shit like that. Yes, the Classical Greeks, yes, the Caliphate Muslims, yes, the Ming Dynasty and yes, the Egyptians. They weren't primitive idiots, but they were pre-Modern.

What makes a Modern man is, or at least, was his reliance on reason and reason alone to get the truth. That's a great way to succeed politically, economically and socially, by the way — look at the Europeans and Americans. They drive scientific and political discourse, and dominate the world's economy. That's something you cannot run away from.

But to get there, for them, took 300 years of bloodshed, pain and suffering. Now think of the Muslims who were their neighbours, and later, their vassals. They were forced into Modernity, and were made to adapt it in a span of less than a century.

We're still struggling. Look at the people in your life, who hover between scientific rationalism and their older, mythical and traditional lives. Living a modern life meant abandoning your culture, to the early modern Muslims. And if you were trained in a non-traditional way, you'd look at your culture askance.

I know I did. I know Hani does, at least in some points. Many bloggers, good people, would dearly love to be Good Muslims or Good Christians or Good Whatevers. Sometimes, retreating into reason could not be enough — while reason is good at the what, it isn't very good at the how.

We need myth in our lives. It isn't enough to feed the mind and intellect and body and pocket; man needs to feed his soul. Some retreat to magic. Others retreat to music, or art, or love, or pleasure, or pain, or reason. Many more retreat to religion — at least, they used to.

Sadly, being a religious typically means being antithetical to reason, at least now. Many people now have a hard time reconciling religion with science. It should be the case — if anything, myth and reason are good at two separate things. Myth, taken into a practical context, leads to disaster and pain; reason, in an attempt to give meaning to one's life, leads to despair and pain.

Is it fundamentalism's fault? Hardly. Fundamentalism is a new development, postdating modernity by decades. Was it modernity's fault? It seems that way, but I don't think so. What was at fault is a recurring tale in human history — human foible and frailty causing pain and death. Proponents of modernism were not to blame — what they merely sook was the truth. Conservatives were not to blame — what they sook was certainty, in a world that seemed intent on falling apart around them. It simply happened; no one factor is responsible for our sad state today.

And what a sad state it is. Torn between madness and hollowness, most Malaysians and members of developing nations stand adrift. We yearn to be fed from one spring or the other, and in pursuing both, gain neither.

Mind you, I'm only halfway through this book. And it's a gloomy read. It's a tragic tale of loss, arrogance, madness and ignorance. Not only from the poor, the religious and the ignorant, but also from the so-called enlightened, both religious and secular.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Geekdom? Bah!

Yes, this is me, picking a fight with someone else for no reason. Don't like? Go away. I promise to give you something better some other time.

It's about this particular blog entry, really.

Man, talk about shallow understanding. Being a geek is nothing about the shit you read, the crap you do and the stuff you know, it's an attitude.

And before you start:

  1. Slashdot is bullshit.

    The stereotypical slashdot activist is someone who thinks they are the hot shit because they have a Linux box and know how to use it properly.

    It's the same attitude that spawned kuro5hin, and it's the same attitude that'll spawn people sick of kuro5hin and split off to form their own geek mecca.

    Know how to use it? Fine. Know how it works? Great. Read it once in a while? Okay. Read it everyday? You sad bastard.

    And yes, I've been banned from it's RSS feed at least once, for updating it too often. Cemented my attitude towards that piece of trash faster than anything else.

  2. I think. A lot.

    I'm not as delusional to think that I think logically and rationally all the time. Logical thinking happens naturally to some people — sometimes you don't notice it, but you've already split the problem, categorized its components, and worked out a solution. That happens 50% of the time for me.

    Mind you, it makes it hard for you to learn salsa.

  3. I can't honestly program a “Hello World” program in 10 programming languages.

    Not without actually getting another four programming language specifications and spending 15 minutes each on reading each one up.

    It's something I can do, but don't bother to.

  4. No, I don't use l33t, sTUdLYcAPs, or txt.

    But I know when to use it, often as a satirical weapon. It's part of geek and fen culture; you use it when you need to use it, to drive a point. There's no point saying “zOMG! u f4g!!!1111one” every time some dweeb misplaces a vowel and drops a 3.

    Yes, that was a point.

  5. I don't have a real blog

    This is Blogger. It's nice, easy, relatively free and effort-cheap. I like it for that reason. And if you don't like it you can use shit like nucleus.

    I tried it. Got tired of it. There's a reason why we're all using GUIs, you know, it's not because we're shallow stupid fucks. Mostly.

  6. I don't boast. Usually. Possibly.

    Instead I talk about incomprehensible shit that no one outside of my geekdom can grasp.

    And yes, I'm on LiveJournal. So is everyone else who would like to blather on about stuff without having everyone reading behind his fucking shoulder.

  7. Yes, I am lazy.

    Being lazy has nothing to do with thinking. Mind you, I'm lazy and inefficient, unlike Hani, who is lazy and efficient.

Being a geek means your intellect isn't yours to control — you cannot bring it to focus, unlike other well-adjusted people, on the important things in your life. So you'll fill your life full of extrenous crap — Computing. Science. Mechanical Toys. Comics. Tarot. Role Playing Games. Miniature Wargaming. Typography. Anime. sf. Fantasy. Accessibility.

It's not about toys. Toys are commercially available, and cost very little, nonmaterially, to obtain. Toys anyone can get if they got money.

It's not about dedication. Ultimate dedication is monomania — geeks are almost never monomaniacal. It's about being omnivorous and adaptable, at least in the most limited of ways. That's why Steve Jobs is a geek, and that loser who collected stamps and did nothing else in class was just a dork.

It's not about being Elite and showing off. Dorks in slashdot do that. Sure they're geeks. They're dorks too, though, because it's not about the recognition, it's not about being listened, it's all about doing something and speaking out. Who cares if no one listens? You're doing what you like and that's all that matters. That same attitude that got you through high school will get you through life, while everyone else does what you won't — probably breed and have well-adjusted, ordered lives.

It's about having a dozen or more projects in the back burner, a baroque life and a mind that isn't just omnivorous, it eats the weirdest things.

And I dare anyone to find a way to quantify that in some goddamn checklist. Mind you, people will try.