I recently read Sebastien Junger’s book War. It was captivating because of the real life-or-death action and thought-provoking because of the deeper central idea. If you think about it, for the last 100,000 years, anatomically modern human beings have been struggling for survival. Many times, what was trying to kill them was other human beings. Junger quotes a statistic that 15% of pre-civilization human beings were killed by other human beings. Because of this, core to our culture and, to some extent, our nature, is the concept of the war party. Young men gathered together to go fight and perhaps die in defense of their people.

This is an interesting and powerful notion and Junger’s book brings it to life through the eyes of young soldiers stationed at remote outposts in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.

We see this instinct prevail in non-war ways, too. Men get together to hunt and fish, party or work and they bring to the dynamic these macho ideas of brotherhood and self-sacrifice that have been part of our existence since before we were human. To sacrifice for the tribe is the highest and most honored value. In spite of the seeming contradiction with “survival of the fittest” it appears that we are evolutionary descendants of those willing to sacrifice for tribe.

I’m going to Restrepo tonight, which is the documentary Junger made while writing this book, and I can’t wait. I’ll report back.


The Red Pill

(This is an old post I found sitting in my Drafts…)

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. — Morpheus from The Matrix

There is a minor war going on between the “new atheists” and the “new accommodationists”, the latter being namely Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, the hot wonder twins of atheist bashing.

PZ doesn’t like them, Jerry Coyne doesn’t like them and, frankly, I don’t like them. I’ll let the other guys speak for themselves, ’cause they do it a lot, and just chime in with my own two little cents.

First of all, let me agree with them — framing is a no brainer. Anyone who wants to convince people needs to frame their argument. PZ demeans framing as accommodation but that is not the case — framing is a tactic used to get people to drop their guard enough to listen enough to be convinced.

Now the disagreement — atheism is the red pill. Once you open your eyes to it, you can no longer tolerate wild, unfounded speculation, regardless of the source. Religion is nonsense and people who believe it are suspending rationality in favor of mystical faith-based bullshit. I’m not saying they are stupid, I’m saying that they do not think about religion the way they think about everything else. They give it a free pass, usually because they were brainwashed as children to do so.

When you swallow the red pill you can’t go back to a world where you respect people’s religion. You can respect the person without respecting the philosophy.

So the discomfort that Dawkins and PZ create is necessary. Kindness can’t win this one. There are always casualties in revolutions. The notion that atheists are mean or intolerant is not true and is really beside the point. The bigger issue is: religion is indefensible and more and more people are waking up to it.

The Red Pill