Emily's List must think its followers are half-witted.
Or Emily's List just knows they are.
one of their latest spam email, copied below, Emily's List finally addresses the latest
"attacks" against its BFF. The email is shocking in its
frivolousness and cretinism. Full of empty statements, it repeats embarrassingly vacuous slogans that can hypnotise only the intellectually inferior.
After a huge amount of nothing,
abortion is thrown about, and so are other strobe-light words like women, pro-choice, families, child-care. Emily's audience is an easy one to work on. The disembodied
voice of the email's pentecostal priest then scares the panties off the ladies by naming the boogiemale: Repuuublicaans. And then it soothes their femaly souls with a generous offer of indulgence for 3 pieces of gold (not 2,99, surprisingly). Yes, that's how Emily's List email ends, fooling the dimwitted women twice: first by pretending that Hillary needs the public to fiance her campaign, and second by pretending that Hillary is a product of grass-roots voluntarism.
such strategy is expected to work says a lot about how Emily's List
see its audience or, perhaps more alarming, it says a lot about the audience itself.
They almost deserve a prize. I'd give Emily's feminists the Pink
Little Lace Award for Incredible Ability to Support a Cause One is Too
Shallow To Understand (But Not So Stupid As To Not Take Full Advantage Of) . But
to the well-intentioned female followers who give blind, unquestioned support
for a potential criminal of an awfully immoral sort, I want to suggest
you may be nothing but a malleable colony of single-cell organisms,
individually irrelevant but collectively crucial in helping fester the
purulence of US politics. I'd much rather be a proud housewife making awesome food in the kitchen than being used as fodder for the usual thieves.
When it comes to doing what's best for American women and families,
pro-choice Democratic women are pushing the right policies — like
affordable childcare, paid sick leave, and raising the minimum wage.
Republicans can't win on that ground, and they know it. That's why they
try to distract voters by making up fake controversies. Or, they
outright lie about their positions — remember when Scott Walker told
Wisconsin that he signed anti-choice laws because he trusts women to
make their own health care decisions?
Make sure Republicans like Scott Walker don't get away with it by helping to shut them down now.
got just one day left to meet our April fundraising goal of $75,000,
and we need to hit it if we're going to stop the Republicans' spin.
We're just $29,254 short — will you donate $3 now?
I was reporting in 2008 from
Jerusalem for SBT, then the second largest Brazilian TV network. I had crossed
the wall and went into Palestinian-controlled areas. As I’m returning to
Jerusalem and about to cross the checkpoint, I see a woman pleading with an Israeli
soldier. She was about 26 years old, very sweet-mannered, wearing a hijab and a
white uniform. She was carrying two large duffel bags, and kept beseeching the
soldier in English. I stood there watching for a moment.
“Please,” she begged, “this is a
document issued by your government. It’s written in Hebrew. You just saw me
leaving. You know I work at the hospital.”
The soldier acted like the woman was
another part of that wall – no reaction whatsoever. He wouldn’t even look at
“Please,” she begged again, her
hands and head making the unmistakable gesture of someone who asks for
compassion. She tried the same plea in Hebrew. Then she asked almost in tears “Why
does this give you pleasure?”
I was baffled. I laid my camera bag on
the ground and asked her to explain what was going on. She told me that she
worked at a Jerusalem hospital (Hadassah, I think) and that every week, in
order to help provide some work to a poor Palestinian family, she would go
around the hospital collecting uniforms from nurses and doctors, would put them
in those two big bags, would drag those bags across the wall and take them to be
washed in Palestine. The family who owned the laundry survived from those
weekly batches of uniforms and would have no means of sustenance otherwise.
“Why is he not allowing you to come
back?” I asked.
“For no reason. I have all the
permits. They do this to me every week. They take note of my documents, let me
leave with the bags, and when I come back with the batch of clean uniforms they
make me walk along the wall just to see me carry the weight. They make me walk
for miles, and laugh amongst themselves, until I end up back here, and then the
same soldier who didn’t let me in hours before will finally let me cross. It’s a
type of pastime for them.”
I wanted to cry. Instead I asked her
in Arabic, hoping the soldier wouldn’t understand, if I could tell that story
to Brazilian viewers, if she minded explaining it all again on camera so our
audience would understand about the subtle ways of killing a people. She smiled
and said in English “Be my guest.”
But as soon as I set up my tripod
and pulled the mic with my TV’s logo out of my bag, the soldier said “Come in,
yalla, come in. I let you.”
The woman then looked at me with a
tilted head and an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” she said, “Do you mind? I want to
come back in, but I think this will spoil your reporting.”
I told her not to worry: “I’m
actually happy,” I said. “I think it’s the first time I see journalism help someone.”
We then walked together to a cab, carrying her bags, and I saw how heavy they
were. We were both crying in silence, half of me in utter admiration for her
fortitude and self-constraint, the other half in sheer amazement at how she has
always managed not to grab the soldier’s gun and shoot him in the face.
(The reader will notice, if the reader manages to wade through this, that the skeptic Mr Shermer can sometimes be quite gullible.)
N.B. This interview was originally published on a blog I created called DeeperSlowerHarder. The idea of that blog is to publish interviews with minimum, if any, editing, and also to keep all the questions as they were asked. Journalists, perhaps myself included, often beguile the interviewer with jokes and comments that give the interviewee a false sense of intimacy, camaraderie, sometimes making both interviewee and interviewer appear fortuitously similar. Then, when it's time to publish the interview, the interviewer edits out all his or her bits, making sure only the interviewee is exposed to the reader's scrutiny. I wanted to avoid that, and have a more honest (if embarrassing) approach, so that both people in the conversation are equally exposed, and the reader is not deprived from knowing how an answer came about.
I'm not sure the idea works, though.
Note: Whenever there is no question mark at the end of the question,
or whenever any other punctuation is lacking, it’s because the person
speaking has been interrupted or has been aided in his/her speech.
PS: So first can you do a cold reading of me? It’s not gonna be so cold, of course, you already have some information.
I sense you are a very intuitive woman; very intelligent, thoughtful,
people have great affection for you, your skills in the way of
communication, you are pretty open-minded because you travel a lot, you
are open to new experiences, you are very liberal PS: What does that mean?
You’re liberal, a champion for equal rights around the world. I say you
are tough-minded because you had many experiences and you won’t take
bullshit from people. I’d say you are between introverted and
extroverted, you spend a lot of your time alone because you travel, if
you are in a social group you can be outgoing and extroverted, but you
don’t mind being alone, you’re ok with your own thoughts and brain.
You’re able to entertain yourself. Let’s see. Loves life, not married,
no kids, couple of long-term relationships, nothing right now. And a
complicated woman, for relationships. PS: You got the 'complicated' right, but the long-term bit is wrong.
[silence] PS: I had one long-term and it became a bit tragic, so I will never repeat it.
MS: They’re all tragic. PS: That one ended in death, so…
MS: I’m sorry, what happened? PS: Well.
MS: Enough about you. PS: Yes, let’s talk about me now.
[Laughs] PS: So, atheist or agnostic?
I’m an atheist. In terms of what I actually believe about the world, I
assume there is no god and act upon accordingly. If you press me on a
philosophical point on whether there is a god or not, I’ll have to be an
agnostic, it’s not a knowable concept but I’d say that the evidence is
overwhelming that there is no god, so I am an atheist. PS: How can you be certain that there is no god? Isn’t that as naïve as being certain there is one?
In science we don’t have certainty in any case, there’s just
probabilities of things being true or not, in a small T true. In the
case of god of course I’m not sure there is no god, but the burden of
proof is not on me to prove there is no god, it’s on the person making
the claim for god’s existence to prove that there is. And in science we
start with the ‘null hypothesis’, that your claim is not true until you
prove otherwise. That’s true for all claims. So if you wanna say there
is a Big Foot out there I’ll say that’s nice, show me the body. You have
to provide the proof. You can’t just say ‘I think there is a big foot,
now prove me wrong’. And that’s essentially what god believers do, they
say ‘well I believe in god, can you prove for sure that there isn’t
one?’ I mean we test claims, you say this is what I believe and we say
ok, let’s see your evidence, show us your data. […] I’m a scientist so
I’m interested in what are the scientific evidence for things, because
that is the best tool we have. PS: […] You said America is
the most religious of the western countries – I don’t know if that is
true – while it has some of the worst social statistics. Can you tell me
what are those statistics?
MS: Things like rates of teen pregnancy, abortions, suicide, homicide, we are off the chart in homicide. PS: Prison population.
Prison population, right, very low education rates. In other words, the
kinds of things religious people say religion is good for, you know,
the moral fabric of a society, if America is so religious why is it
we’re not particularly socially healthy in that regard? I don’t think
things like homicides are caused by religion, I’m just saying that they
are caused by poverty and gangs and drugs and things like that, but I am
also saying that if religion is supposed to be a prophylactic against
these things, it doesn’t seem to be working here. PS:
Later I’d like to talk about a subject that fascinates me, how to apply
morality without religion. I was born catholic, baptized and confirmed,
but I don’t believe in it. But I bet that most of the little goodness I
have is somehow a remnant of my religious education, considering I’m not
a good-natured person.
MS: What do you mean? PS:
I mean that my instinct is very selfish and I am very self-centred, but
I donate part of my salary to charity and I’m compassionate, for some
reason. I’d guess that’s all the Sunday masses I had to attend.
MS: Is that out of religious convictions? Or out of political conviction? PS:
No, I think it is out of uh… I call it the birth lotto in my book. I
was born lucky to have a family that managed to educate me, had money
etc etc, so I think that in a way you owe some of that back to the
mathematics of life.
MS: Well that’s genetic, at least
half. About 50% of pretty much everything you can think of, in terms of
personality, temperament, you know, political preferences, religiosity,
is genetic. And then the rest is environment – some of it is your
parents. Either way it’s your parent’s fault. PS:
So you mean that, let’s say my parents are very good, and they are
indeed, if I hadn’t lived with them I would likely be as good?
MS: Yes, you would. PS: I heard about the twin study but
Yeah, that’s right, the twin study shows that twins separated from
birth and raised in different environments are almost identical on so
many things, not just physical but PS: This is like genetic determinism of one’s personality
MS: Yes, but it’s not determinism, I’m only talking 50%, but PS: can you actually say it’s 50%?
Yes, there are researches from behaviour genetics and they have a large
sample size, thousands and thousands of twins in the last half century
have been studied for their political preferences, their religious
preference, their personality, the kind of food they like, the kind of
clothes they wear. So let’s say you met your long-lost twin that you
didn’t know about. And she shows up and she’s got jeans and boots and a
top like that. This would shock most people, they’d go ‘wow’, but really
there’s no genes for picking jeans. It’s just that you have a certain
body type and your twin is gonna have the same body type, and you look
in the mirror and go ‘well I look good in this, I don’t look so good in
that’. PS: What about colour?
colour. You pick a certain colour that matches your eyes, or your hair,
because it looks better, and your twin is likely to do the same thing,
so there’s a slight push towards buying the same kind of clothes… PS:
Wait, in that case you are associating choice to a type of physical
determinism. Give me other examples [of genetically determined traits]
If you are politically left, if you are liberal, your siblings or twin
would likely be in that direction too. Because the liberal world view
and the conservative world view appeal to different aspects of our
personality and temperament. So, for example, political liberals tend to
be more comfortable with change, and a political systems that allows
people to move around, up and down the economic ladder; conservatives
tend to like a conservative world view that doesn’t change a lot, it’s
hierarchical, it’s law-bound, it’s rule-bound, everybody is in their
place, everybody should stay in their place and not move around. PS: I was probably adopted.
MS: Do you have sisters or brothers? PS: Yes.
MS: Are they older? PS: Younger. But they are all responsible people
MS: You’re the first born? PS: Oh, you support that theory of the first born? How can they establish that? Is it statistical?
MS: Yes, it’s a statistical argument. There will always be exceptions. PS: Exactly, which makes it sound like that technique applied on cold reading and astrology. If it is 50%...
MS: 50% is not much. PS:
Exactly. If you use binary choices in the analysis – do you prefer dark
colours or light colours; do you prefer outdoor activities or indoor
activities – you’re bound to get 50% of something…
Like I said, in terms like a measure of extroversion, or openness to
experience, there’s a scale, you can be from zero to ten on openness to
experience. So I’d put you at like a 9 or 10, you are probably way up
there, just from what I read about you and talking to you and just from
what you told me tonight that you’ve lived in so many different
countries, and you’ve… so, travel is a proxy for openness to experience.
In other words you are more liberal and tolerant of other people’s
beliefs that are different from yours, you are less likely to be, say,
judgemental of somebody that believes different than you than, say, a
conservative. PS: Thanks for your misperception.
Compared to, say, a political conservative from the Midwest who likes
things just the way they are, the American way is the only way. PS:
I understand. Oh, I saw your video with Jeffrey Armstrong and I was
shocked. What’s the story with that?
story was that we didn’t get to finish the shoot that day, we were
supposed to do another set of tests, and we ran out of time, it was 5
o’clock and we would have to pay the camera crew double over-time and
all that stuff, and the producer said we’re done, we’re just gonna
finish with this and I’ll edit it and that’ll be fine. And I said ‘ok,
are you sure?’ because it looks pretty bad. PS: It looks
awful, it proves you wrong if anything. So how do you explain that [the
statistically above-average number of correct hits by the astrologer]?
Just a fluke?
MS: Yes, just a fluke, you have to run a
number of trials. If you flip a coin and you get four heads in a row you
can’t just go ‘wow,’ because that must be a rigged coin or something.
Because if you flip 100 coins it would come out pretty close to 50/50. PS: Well, in that specific case I’d say the man flipped ten coins, and he got all of them right.
Yeah, well, I haven’t watched that for a long time, I forgot what we
did. See, the proper way to do it, what we were gonna do, we would give
him some files and he would have to match people to those files, and get
something like, seven out of ten. But the way we did it initially was
not good, we had to do the follow up as a test but we ran out of time
and we didn’t get to do it. PS: Who posted that video?
MS: I didn’t. PS:
[laughter] Of course you didn’t. That would be quite interesting if you
had, actually, I’d have admired the intellectual honesty. It was funny.
I don’t believe in that, of course, but I found it very interesting.
I’m quoting you here. You say: “What’s the difference between an
invisible god that is not measurable and a non-existing god? None.” But I
say – and this is my question – that Heisenberg said (and you quote him
in your book) that “what we observe is not nature itself, but nature
exposed to our method of questioning.” So basically, if ants thought men
did not exist, because they could not be detected by their scope of
vision, for example… […] Do you get where I’m going here? I mean, are
you saying that man is the final arbiter [of truth and existence]?
Because if you are, you seem more religious than most believers I know,
because it’s like you believe man to be the final product. [note to the
interested: On that particular philosophical quest, I recommend a tiny
book that reproduces a dialogue between Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore
on this very ontological point.]
MS: There are certain
limitations to science that are based on the instruments that we use,
and so as the instruments broaden we find more things. So in the
physical sciences, something like the size of your telescope will
determine how big the universe is. But of course that’s only a partial
reflection of the restrictions of our technology. We assume that the
universe is just the way it is regardless of what we’re doing and
whether we are here or not, and that we’re just limited based on our
brains and our technology. And if that is the case in the physical
sciences… that’s why I was talking about truth as being provisional and
not absolute. It could change, for sure, but if you’re talking about
something like social sciences, like IQ tests and are they measuring
intelligence? Well, what do you mean by intelligence? IQ measures a
particular skill but they miss a lot of other things, and the SAT
measures something, the GRE measures something etc. So those will
definitely be determined by the instruments you’re using. But even
though that’s restricting and limiting, it’s better than nothing, it’s
better than guessing. It’s better than horoscopes. So I’m admitting that
science has certain restrictions. PS: Ok. I don’t know
where I took that from, I think it was from one of your lectures, though
I don’t know if you actually wrote that down. My question is, would you
be that adamant that there is no difference between an invisible god
that’s not measurable and a non-existing god?
point with that is, if every time I ask you for evidence for god… ok,
let’s use a different example. Say you have this conspiracy theory that
the US government is hiding aliens in Roswell in New Mexico, so say
every time I say ‘how do you know’ you say ‘oh, because I heard that’s
the case’. And I ask you ‘where is the evidence for that? Who told you
that?’ and you say ‘well, they’re hiding the evidence. They’re hiding
the body.’ ‘Show me the body.’ ‘Show me the spacecraft.’ ‘They’re hiding
the spacecraft.’ Where is the document? ‘They blacked out the document,
see, here is the document with blacked-out bits.’ So at some point you
have no evidence at all, so what’s the difference between hidden secret
aliens and no aliens? It’s the same with god. If you say… PS: This is mostly a rhetorical answer.
Yes, it is. If god is outside of space and time and he is supernatural,
then I ask ‘how do you know he’s there?’ ‘Well, because he answers
prayers.’ ‘Oh, so he sticks his hand into the pot to stir the particles
to cure your cancer, fix your heart valve.’ PS: You mean
to say that once god intercedes with the natural world, then we should
indeed be able to measure that interference and have evidence?
Right. So scientists measure the natural world and if god is tweaking
it in some way then we should be able to measure that. Does that make
sense? PS: It does. You say in your book that ‘shouldn’t
we know by now that ghosts cannot exist unless the laws of science are
faulty or incomplete?’ My question is, what makes you think that the
laws of science are complete? Where did you get that from? Newtonian
physics was the only physics that existed until very recently, but now
we know that depending on the dimension – size-wise even – the laws are
MS: They are supplemented. Newtonian physics is supplemented by Einstein, not displaced. PS: No, it’s a whole new reality, with different laws.
Sort of. It’s an expansion of reality. If you want to go on a
spacecraft tomorrow you just pretty much use Newtonian mechanics. PS:
But I’m not talking about spacecraft. If you want to work in the Large
Hadron Collider it’s a whole new different world with different
MS: Different physics, you’re right. So, on
the ghost question, even if the laws of nature are not complete, and
it’s possible there are ghosts, where is the evidence, what is the
mechanism by which a disembodied soul floats off and is able to hang
mid-air, so to speak, in what substance, what is the substrate holding
the pattern that represents your soul, what would that be? We have no
physics for that. PS: For the record, I don’t believe in
soul myself, but I am not giving any lectures on the subject. I find it
interesting that you… For example, the Large Hadron Collider just came
up with a new type of matter. [….] You don’t believe that thought can be
transmitted between people, right?
MS: No, not other than the normal way, like we are doing… PS: You mean by sound, right?
MS: Right. PS: Well, couple of hundred years ago we wouldn’t be able to say how sound was transmitted, right? We didn’t know sound waves.
That’s right. But there’s nothing in terms of thought transfer that
needs explaining. In other words, you say ‘how do you explain how people
can read each other’s mind,” my answer is, they can’t. PS: Because nobody has.
MS: They can’t. People say they can, but when you put them under controlled conditions in a lab, then the effect disappears. PS:
I find it plausible that there may be waves that we haven’t yet… I
don’t see why we would have to know every existing wave in the world. I
don’t doubt that there can be types of waves that one person could emit,
and another could receive, but we just don’t have the machine to
capture it. Two hundred years ago, if I told you something about the
radio you would think I am nuts.
MS: Right. So is there something equivalent to the radio in the brain, that’s what you’re asking. PS: No, not equivalent.
MS: Analogous. PS:
I mean to say that if you are scientifically agnostic too, you know
that there can be infinite things that we don’t know about yet.
MS: But that doesn’t mean they are there just because we can imagine them. PS: But are you so adamant that they aren’t there?
Analogously, J.K. Rowling can make up an entire world of magic but
nobody thinks that might be real, they know she just made that up. So
the fact that humans are capable of making up fantastical worlds doesn’t
mean they are true. So neuroscientists have a pretty good handle now on
what the brain does, how it operates, the neurochemical transmitters,
the electrical impulses when the neurons fire, how small the gap is… PS: We don’t even know what consciousness is.
MS: But the waves don’t extend beyond the skull. PS: How do you know?
MS: We never measured it. PS: Exactly.
MS: You’re reversing the argument. PS: Do you know what consciousness is? That hasn’t even been defined yet.
The fact that consciousness is spooky and weird, and quantum physics is
spooky and weird, it doesn’t mean they are connected. PS: I’m not saying they are connected.
This is a big theory, about quantum consciousness. This is the theory
you’re referring to, of people reading each other’s minds, that it’s not
radio waves, or sound waves, or electromagnetic spectrum, it’s quantum,
it’s quantum action at a distance. So my neuron fires and causes the
subatomic particles to affect the subatomic particles in your neurons
and cause your neurons to fire in the same pattern mine is firing and
you’d read my thoughts. Well, first of all, if that was true that would
not be the paranormal, it wouldn’t be ESP, it would just be
Neurophysics, something like that. It would just be part of the natural
world. PS: Ok, I want to talk about that. What I find
funny in your reasoning is that you insist on that, that once something
is proven or explained, it is not paranormal anymore. It seems that you
are focused on whether something is called paranormal or not, whereas I
think the people you are arguing with, they don’t care if something is
considered to be paranormal or not, they care about whether that thing
MS: Yes, I agree. You’re right. PS: Mind-reading. People don’t necessarily care if that is like, a gift from god or…
MS: What I’m saying is that, I don’t think it exists. Forget the psychics on TV and the people who talk to the dead PS: Think of a number, quickly.
MS: Seven. PS: Aaaaaaaaargh!I said think a number, not say a number. I was thinking seven.
[laughter] PS: Never mind. I always get right once, and only the first time.
So we just put people in a lab and say ‘ok, so in the other room
there’s this person and he is sending you a thought. What is it?’ and if
that’s too nebulous you have the Zener cards, you know, the wavy line,
the circle, the square, the triangle. And you just pull it up and ask
which one do I have. And you do that 500 times, and they never do better
than one out of five, 20% PS: Which is just
MS: Chance. It’s chance. Under controlled conditions, the effect disappears when you tighten the controls. […] PS: Do you believe in that quantum principle that the observer interferes with uh
MS: Yes, at a subatomic level. PS: Ok. You think thought is ‘over-atomic’?
Yeah, I do. Because neurons firing and swapping chemicals, those are
molecules, they are much bigger, they are orders of magnitude bigger
than subatomic particles, so the effects would wash out. The moon is
there whether you look at it or not. The moon is not like a subatomic
particle, even though Deepak disagrees with me on that.
I’d like to talk about things I didn’t see you covering very much but I
did hear you mention. For example, organic products. Do you have a
problem with organic food?
MS: No, well, it depends on
what you mean by organic. It’s all organic. It’s just to what extent is
has been modified chemically, I guess, or genetically. PS: Does it bother you? Do you have a problem with genetically modified stuff?
MS: No, I don’t have a problem with genetically modified organisms, I’m fine with them, frankenfood, bring them on. PS: Ok, so let me ask: have you ever been given money by any company that works with genetically
MS: No. PS: Has Monsanto ever sponsored any
MS: Monsanto [laughter], there it is. PS: No? I’m asking because you believe in evolution, and you call evolution ‘functional’.
MS: But Paula, we’ve been modifying food for ten thousand years. PS:
Wait, that’s something else, that’s hybrid [breeding]. The plant has to
fall in love with the other little plant, they have to have some
chemistry. [laughter]. You yourself call evolution ‘functional
MS: Yes. PS: And such
evolution is beautiful in its quote unquote perfection because time
equals adaptation therefore perfection in purpose or function. Now, if
you do believe that, how can you think it’s fine that someone would come
and just invent a new type of corn that can never give birth to other
MS: Yes, but you know what the original
corns look like, right? They were an inch tall, half an inch wide,
you’re not gonna feed very many people out there, so we have been
genetically modifying PS: Oh, because we are feeding the world, huh?
MS: Well, what do you want to do with the seven billion people, let them die? PS: So many are dying of starvation already
MS: I know, you want more people to die? PS:
No, I just don’t see how genetically modified is feeding anybody. I
just see how they are actually preventing people from having new
cultivation from the seeds they bought, because they end up buying
MS: I think we’re talking about two
different things. There’s the business of mega-farming and all that and
then there is the issue of how we’re gonna feed… if we ban all
genetically modified foods of any kind we’re going to go back to
hunter-gatherers. Farming has already modified cows and chickens and all
that stuff. None of those animals are natural. PS: Do you have a problem with how animals are kept in captivity
MS: Well, I’m not crazy about the beef industry. PS: Chicken
MS: Yeah, it’s pretty disgusting. And when I see something about that I don’t eat meat for a few days until I forget. PS: But do you make it a point to eat from free range
I do when I can, I prefer…uh, I guess I don’t have a big dog in that
fight, it’s not a big thing for me, I guess politically I feel like
we’ve already got so far down the road of civilisation that we can’t go
back to the grassroots of living off the land because there’s not enough
ways to feed that many people. PS: Between margarine and butter, which one would you choose?
MS: Butter. I don’t eat margarine. PS: Because you trust the cow better than the chemist?
MS: Yeah, I guess a little bit, yeah. PS: Evolution?
MS: Yeah, I trust evolution. PS: I mean the evolution of the cow and the milk and how the digestive enzymes evolved
MS: Of course I know that the cow has been modified a lot in ten thousand years PS: Has it really?
MS: Yeah. Q - Was the cow also one inch long and half an inch wide?
MS: I mean, I’m not crazy about the way animals are treated but I think we’ve made progress on that front. PS: You could help.
MS: By joining PETA? PS:
Look, I’m not a vegetarian and I can’t understand it, I find it so
artificial. If anything, nature teaches us that one animal eats another
animal, and I don’t believe in waste either, I feel if an animal is dead
you might as well eat it. But I don’t like the idea of making an animal
miserable and deprive it of its natural gift of grazing and basking in
the sun, it’s very sad the way they are treated. And I can’t stand
people who want to save the whales and don’t give a damn about the cows.
I think I’d rather save the whales than the cows. They have bigger
brains. See, I adjust my opinions on that based on approximation to
consciousness. PS: [Approximation] to man, the ultimate product.
MS: Yeah, I guess so. PS:
So there is a value scale for you in nature, man is obviously the
highest, and the closest an animal is to man the more deserving it is of
MS: Yes, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, dolphins, porpoises, whales PS: So you wouldn’t like people eating dolphin meat.
MS: No, I’m against all that PS: But cow is fine.
Yes, we’re going down the scale: chicken, even better, fish. You know
fish have tiny little brains, they are not even really brains. You know,
so I’m less concerned about that, it bothers me less. PS: And you’re measuring intelligence by brain size?
MS: It’s not intelligence, just probably consciousness, or awareness, or something like that. PS: You’re equating consciousness to brain size.
MS: Yeah. PS: Or [equating it] to evolution.
MS: Yes. I think that chimps and dolphins feel more pain than fish. PS: You know that porpoises kill other porpoises, right, baby porpoises?
MS: Yes. Chimps do too. Chimps are nasty. I’m not judging based on good or evil. PS: So you’re judging them based on their capacity to feel pain?
MS: Yeah, pain and awareness. PS: Sentiment?
Sentience. And also to how social they are, how connected to other
members of their species, if you take them away from their mother or
their child… PS: So if you take a little fish from its school
MS: Yeah, but you see, fish are not social in the same way that mammals are social PS: You clearly haven’t watched Finding Nemo
[laughter] PS: I read that you wrote or gave a lecture entitled ‘Confessions of a former environmental sceptic’ but I couldn’t see it.
MS: Oh. That’s available. What I wrote is that I used to be sceptical of global warming. PS:
Yes, that’s the thing, I keep hearing you say that but I never find the
original material [you’re now disowning]. I don’t know if you’ve
deleted all the videos where you spoke of your skepticism…
MS: No! Maybe somebody is out there doing that PS:
A friend clearing your past. [laughter] And the only thing I have on
that is you saying ‘I used to be a skeptic on global warming.’ Can you
tell me more about that?
MS: Yes. So when I was in
college the whole ecology movement was getting going and there were all
these prophecies of doom and gloom, you know, the rainforest will be
gone by the eighties, we’ll run out of oil, precious minerals and all
that stuff will be depleted, and over-population, we’re not gonna make
it to the nineties, and none of that happened, it’s not even close to
happening, so I thought you know, that’s a bunch of bullshit, I think
this is more of a political movement, sort of a quasi-religious
movement, sort of like ‘religion for leftists,’ and I still think
there’s something to that, the sacred values that the conservative right
has about god and marriage and the body and sex, liberals have with the
purity and sanctity of the environment, the air, the water, that sort
of thing, food can be pure and natural. So I think they’re the same
sacred values that we hold, but liberals and conservatives apply them
differently, in different places. So anyway, I was sceptical of all that
for the longest time, and I wasn’t that interested in the subject in
terms of spending a lot of time studying it. But in the early 2000’s, at
Skeptic Magazine, it became a hugely important topic, people kept
sending me articles, you know, about this side or that side. PS: And you were still sceptical.
Yes, then I actually started reading the literature, because I hadn’t
really looked at that carefully in ages, and I’m not an environmental
scientist so what do I know, I am just an observer like you or anybody
else. So I started reading about it, and I met Al Gore at TED and I
listened to him talk, and I know he is a political, uh, he is out there
as an activist, but still I can on my own go check his sources and
enough of the evidence started to accumulate… PS: When did you change, then?
MS: Around 2006, I think, 2007. PS: Whoa.
MS: Whoa? Is that late in the game? PS: Oh yes, that’s very late in the game.
MS: Well, I came around late. PS: I like that you had the… uh. Changing one’s mind is usually a sign of intelligence.
MS: Oh thank you. [laughter] PS: That’s not how I spotted yours, I mean. But considering that you can be wrong, I mean, what a revelation for you, no?
MS: I can be wrong about that. PS: And you could be wrong about other things as well.
MS: Yes. It would be interesting to see, like, in 30 years from now if the sea levels haven’t risen and all these things. PS: But they are rising, no?
Yeah, a little bit. But the doomsayers say it’s gonna raise by meters,
not millimetres, so we’ll see, that’s a test, we can see what happens. PS: When I was at CERN, the laboratory
MS: You were there? PS: Yes, I wrote a piece for Rolling Stone.
MS: Cool. PS:
I spoke to various scientists and I asked all of them about god. I was
actually writing about quantum physics but the god bit was, like, a
standard question. And most of the answers I got were variations of, “it
makes no sense to discuss negative time, or time before time. Time
begins at the Big Bang and that is the zero mark.” But that is a
convention, right, it’s a mark decided by man that zero is the moment of
the Big Bang. Do you see a lot of that in science, human limitation
used to determine paradigms?
[I shortened this question because my examples were too convoluted. I thank Shermer for making sense of them]
So the examples you gave there, I mean, physicists have to define a
system, in some way, and so they do (that) with mathematics. In my
field, social sciences, we talk about the operational definition of
something. You have to operationally define it: exactly what do you mean
by depression, or intelligence, or whatever? You have to put a number
on it so we can then put in different conditions and measure how the
numbers go up or down. That’s kind of restraining but it’s necessary
because without that then we have no objective standards to go by and it
just boils down to my opinion versus your opinion. So one thing we know
from cognitive psychology is that our biases are so powerful that I am
very likely to find – even if I am trying to be careful – I’m very
likely to find what I want to be true, what I’m expecting to be true,
what I’ve guessed as true. So we have to go to great lengths to avoid
the confirmation bias, for example. That’s why it’s good to have
thousands of experimenters checking those numbers and writing those
experiments so it’s not just you and me and… That’s the problem with the
cold fusion thing, there were just two guys in a lab and they never
checked it, they never had somebody else check it before they made their
announcement. PS: There was no peer review?
MS: No peer review, no. They held a press conference and then they released their data and their methods and then everybody ran out… PS:
Ok, on the same vein of this subject, I’d like you to tell me how are
experiments decided upon, who funds them. Explain to me what’s the
system, the procedure (for an experiment to be conducted) because I also
want to talk about what I see as your lack of scepticism of the
corporate science nowadays, because experiments start with a goal in
MS: Not just corporate, government. There’s really
more money in government funding of science than corporate funding of
science. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of
Health and the National Institutes of Mental Health, they are huge, you
know, billions and billions of dollars PS: Of public money
Yeah, of public money. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, your point is a
larger one, that might this not have built into it hidden biases, it’s
like, the people who sit on the committee decide who gets which money,
they themselves are people with an agenda? Yes, of course, absolutely,
it’s a big problem. It’s no different than a corporation that wants to
fund research that happens to affect its bottom line. You know, these
are all biases that are for real, and so I am sympathetic to outsiders
who want to make a contribution but they can’t get funding, they can’t
get telescope time, say, because the people who sit on the committee
don’t like their particular line of research and this area over here is
hot now so they give the telescope time to all those people. Yes, that’s
a problem, it’s a built-in limitation to science. PS: Does that hamper in any way your work? Have you ever been funded by the government or a private company?
MS: No, no. PS: Never?
MS: No. PS: Everything you do is financed by Skeptic…
Yeah, my research is pretty much… I mean, when I write a book I get a
book advance from my publisher, so that’s corporate money, I guess, but I
don’t think that’s what you’re talking about. I don’t get any money
from like, a pharmaceutical company or… Probably the closest thing would
be Templeton Foundation hired me to edit some essays, but they said
‘you can edit them in any way you want, you can hire anybody you like to
write these essays.’ The essay question was “Does science make belief
in God obsolete?” So I said “can I have atheists?” and they go “oh,
please, get Hitchens if you can.” So I did, I got Christopher Hitchens
and they paid him to write an essay. That’s just work for hire, that’s
not quite the same thing. I’d say drug research is a big problem, it’s
not what I do, but I read people who study this and I can see where the
biases are. PS: Ok, so when you criticise natural medicine, or…
Oh, I’m doing on a different level. See, there’s no such thing as
alternative medicine, there’s just medicine. There’s only medicine that
has been tested and that hasn’t been. It’s not that the non-tested ones,
traditional medicines are wrong, we just don’t know if they work or
not. PS: Though you agree that if I am, say Pfizer, I have
no interest in funding the research of an herb that I cannot patent,
right? Why would I want to know if an herb is efficient in fighting
cancer, for example, or
MS: Why wouldn’t you be able to patent it, or patent a molecular structure similar to that… PS:
Then I would conduct a secret research and then I would tweak the
molecule and say that the medicine I just invented cures cancer.
Yeah. I’m actually ok with that to a certain extent, because the
government is so involved in the approval of drugs, the FDA, that these
pharmaceutical companies have to spend enormous amounts of money to get a
drug approved, and so they have to make money, they’re a company, so
unless you wanna make public all drug companies or something like that…
But even there you’d still gonna have other bias problems, who is
deciding which drugs should get research money or not. You see,
presumably private corporations like Pfizer, the marketplace kinda
directs them. If there is a clamouring for aids drugs or a particular
kind of cancer that they need a drug for, then they are responding to a
market function, a market demand. I’m not very confident that the
government is gonna do that any better. Because the government is often
beholden to special interest groups that give them money, they give
politicians money. And it might not be that the guy who gives the most
money is representing us, the people, and what we want. Let’s say cancer
is the number one killer but the guy, let’s say it’s David Koch, of the
Koch brothers, and they give some politician a gazillion dollars to
fund some research on AIDS because he has AIDS, or something like that. PS: Speaking of Koch, you call yourself a conservative. I heard
MS: No, libertarian. PS: No… I heard you
MS: I am fiscally conservative, socially liberal. PS: Ah, ok.
MS: Fiscally conservative, socially liberal. You have to qualify that. PS:
No, but when you said it, you said… I’ll find the video – damn it, I
will have to go through all that again. Wait, I remember, you were
talking to Dinesh.
MS: Oh yes, yes. PS: And you said “we are both conservative.”
MS: He doesn’t mean on social issues. He means PS: No, but you said it, not him.
MS: He knows I’m pro-gay marriage and that kind of stuff. Separation of church and state… PS: So basically you are against the welfare state, medicare and all that?
MS: I’d rather the market tried to solve those problems in a more efficient way, as a general principle… PS: Yes, because the market has all intention of saving old people from dying, wink
MS: Today I was reading an article about New York taxi cab permits. PS: The medallion.
Yes, the medallion. They are a million dollars, it’s all unionised, the
government controls it, and there’s companies trying to get in, where
you can get an app on your iphone and you tap the app and type in where
you are and a car just comes and gets you and takes you where you wanna
go, it’s just a company. And they’re starting to do this and the taxi
unions just go ‘no no no no, because then anybody can do this and we’d
be out of business.’ So they are pressuring politicians to ban this
private taxi. PS: You call it taxi unions. I’d like to
look into it. I think it’s way more interesting what happens in Seville,
where the law does not allow you to own a taxi if you are not the
driver. That is fair. Why? Because it allows people to be their own
bosses. In Sao Paulo, when I lived there, there were a few companies
that basically owned all taxis, it was a cartel, and taxi drivers had to
pay the taxi rental per day. If they didn’t have as many trips as they
needed to cover the payment, they’d just pay to work. It was almost a
type of slavery, awful.
MS: I do think it’s good to have
some kind of social safety net to help people that really need help. No
question about it, there’s a certain percentage of the population that
is mentally ill and they have real problems and they can’t work. Yes, we
have a moral obligation as a society to take care of the… yes, I agree,
but the moment you set it up and then you offer free goods, then people
that don’t necessarily need it or they only need it for a little while
but they extend it and, in other words it’s called the free-riding
problem. PS: Don’t tell me you also believe homeless are just people who don’t want to work?
MS: No. Ok, I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about mentally ill people on the streets PS: Not mentally ill. Do you think there’s a job for everybody in the world?
MS: There could be. PS: “There could be” is something else.
MS: That’s my superstition. [laughs] PS: Right, exactly, I was just going to say
MS: I think we are on the road to abundance. I’m pretty optimistic about PS: My god, what drug are you on? I want some.
MS: [laughter] You want some? PS: You are a very optimistic person, right?
Yes, I am, it’s my nature. I think things are getting better, I think
more people in more places have more freedom now than ever before. I
mean, I just saw the Lincoln movie, you know. Here, here Lincoln barely
got past the idea of banning slavery, I mean, and it was the Democrats
who were fighting him, you know, the Democrats. PS: I know.
MS: This was not that long ago. So we’ve come a long ways just in our century. PS: But poverty is increasing…
MS: And remember, women could not vote until 1920. I mean, one of the arguments against the passage of the 13th
amendment was, “what’s next, you’re gonna let women vote? I mean, come
on!” That’s how ridiculous it sounded to the ears of people living in
the 1860’s, in America, the land of the free. So, I’m encouraged by
that. I think gay marriage in 50 years will be just like that. People in
50 years will look back and go, “what were they thinking, they wouldn’t
let gays get married, are you kidding me?” PS: Yeah, I
think you’re right about that. But I think the exclusion will no longer
be about that, it will be those who have money and those who don’t have.
Well, the solution is just to get more people money, just abundance.
Even poor people today have way more than people had 50 years ago. I
mean, the poorest people in America today, they have televisions and
refrigerator and a microwave, most of them have cell phones PS: My god, they eat Cheetos for dinner, hello.
MS: But it’s still better than it used to be. PS: Is it really?
MS: We have to take the long perspective. Yes, it’s better. PS: These people now weigh 300 and frigging kilos.
Ok, so, when you have a problem of over-eating, that’s very different
from starvation. They over eat, they have too much food. PS:
They eat the wrong food. And they don’t have money to buy what I eat,
which is to go to Whole Foods [note from the interviewer: since I
learned of the sale of GMO foods at Whole Foods, I am no longer a
consumer. If I were still in New York, I’d take the trouble to walk
longer to shop from Trader’s Joe.]
MS: Ok, since you
brought that up. So here is the solution, compassionate capitalism.
That’s John Mackey’s theory, the CEO of Whole Foods. No, no, not
compassion – what is it called – compassion capitalism, or something
like that. So he believes in taking care of people, like your employees.
You pay your employees really well, you give them a great healthcare
program, you take care of the people in the community near the store,
they do all this stuff. So this is the future of capitalism. PS: Tell me a country that applies a type of capitalism that you admire.
MS: Well. Some of it here. It’s an approximation. We have a ways to go. PS: Whoa. Shit.
Well, I’d say the modified economies of northern European countries
seem to work pretty well. Those governments are more intrusive than I’m
comfortable with, because I’m an American, but I was just in Denmark and
people seem happy. PS: Intrusive? What do you mean by
intrusive? I’d like you to qualify it because I don’t know a country
that is more intrusive than yours, as far as espionage goes, reading
MS: You’re right. Touché. PS: Have
you ever debunked something that came from the government, from the
pharmaceutical industry or the establishment – I’ll tell you why I am
asking this. For example, you talk a lot about Islam, and how scary
fundamentalism is, and I agree with you. In fact, one good example of
religious fundamentalism is Israel. That is a whole country based on the
idea that they have been chosen by God. I never heard you say anything
about it. Why do you never talk about it?
MS: Well, because I don’t talk about politics that much. PS: That’s religion.
MS: Well, so. No, that’s really politics. I don’t address Israel in particular because I support Israel. I mean PS: Wow.
MS: I think it’s good to have a western democracy in the middle of that… area. PS: Oh, because it spreads democracy?
MS: Yes, it spreads democracy. PS: Oh yeah, right, I can see it spreading right now, democracy is bursting at the seams.
MS: Well, it’s not spreading so well. PS: How would it spread? You mean to other Arab countries?
MS: The Arab Spring was a good start but then it kinda fizzled. PS:
Wait, just a second. Israel is in fact the justification for most of
the dictatorships in the Middle East. Those dictators can only be
dictators and impose state of emergency because their countries are
technically at war with Israel.
MS: Hum. Ok, I didn’t
know that. So the very existence of Israel leads to certain kinds of
government. But that’s not a reason to eradicate them. Ok, so two
different issues. I’m totally sceptical of the Jewish claim of the god
of Abraham and all those stories, I don’t think there was a Moses,
there’s no divine basis for Israel existing PS: You don’t think Moses existed?
MS: No, I don’t. I’m just going by what Biblical scholars and archaeologists tell me, things I read. PS: Jesus?
I think he probably existed. But that is a different question. Yes, I’m
totally sceptical of the claims the Jews make about the world. But
still, everybody has a right to exist. I would support a two-state
solution, a two-state solution is the only solution but Israel violates
that as much as Palestinians do. PS: I won’t get into that.
MS: Well, it’s not an area I follow really closely. PS: So you see it more as a political problem, rather than religious.
Yes, right. I mean, if you took religion away obviously they couldn’t
make divine claims to the land, so that would be a good start but I
don’t think that is gonna happen. So in the meantime, the political
solution is like a two-state solution, and yes the United States should
support them because, well, we should.
MS: Back to your
question, we can pick and choose our battles and that’s just not one of
mine. I mean, just on the side, as a person, politically, yes, I think
we should support Israel. And I believe in a two-state solution,
Palestine should exist, ok. But at Skeptic, we don’t deal with any of
that. Yes, we deal with religious claims, like that, there was no Moses,
whatever PS: Has the Skeptic Magazine published articles on Moses?
MS: Yes. PS:
You seem to criticise people – no, you do criticise people who say they
are “spiritual but not religious.” Why is that? What’s your problem
with spirituality and why do you need to have a definition of it?
MS: I sometimes am spiritual. PS: In what way?
Well, because people insist that if you’re not… there’s a sense that if
you’re not, there’s something wrong with you, you’re like Mr Spock, you
don’t have any feelings or any emotions. That’s bullshit. I just think
that’s a fuzzy word that people misuse, they don’t really know what they
mean. When people say they are spiritual but not religious, I say “what
do you mean by spiritual?” And I typically get an answer like this,
“Oh, well, you know, it’s kinda, you know, it’s like a feeling.” Ok.
Whatever. But what I mean is just sort of the awe and wonder at the
cosmos and the world and deep time and deep space… PS: The sense of wonder?
MS: Yes, sense of wonder, that’s it. PS: The sense of not knowing?
MS: And science offers that in spades compared to religion. PS: Absolutely.
I mean, if you wanna feel… I mean, one of my favourite things to do is
going to observatories; I’ve visited observatories around the world. To
me they are much more spectacular than cathedrals, and I like
cathedrals. I was just in the big Catholic cathedral in Madrid, and I
was in another one in Copenhagen, another one in Oxford. They are
everywhere. And they are spectacular but they are minuscule compared to
the big dome of an observatory that gives us an eye on the cosmos, that
makes us feel small compared to what religion can do. That would be my
religion. PS: Ok, morality. This is a subject that
fascinates and scares me a little. What do you think of this statement,
which is mine: If the world is as unjust as it is with so many people
believing that after they die there will be a heaven or hell, a reward
or a punishment, or, as your experiment proved how people have the
impression they are being watched by a supreme being, what do you think
would be of the world if this whole sense of an invisible watcher was
MS: That’s a good question. But we’re not talking
about replacing god with nothing – we are replacing our religious-based
morality with a secular-based morality. PS: Government?
Well, government, yes, of course, we need to have rules to get along,
but of course we want people to also be self-governing, so what we’ve
been witnessing in the last, say, 200 years is a shift in morality from,
sort of religious-based to people having values in and of themselves.
This is Kant’s idea from the Enlightenment, and that people should be
good for goodness sake. And that as a society we need take care of one
another, that people should be treated equally under the law, civil
liberties, civil rights, all these things did not exist before 200 years
ago, and now they do. And so people have inculcated into their brains
that you just don’t treat blacks this way, like they used to; you don’t
treat women like this anymore. And gays and atheists were the last of
these repressed minorities, so to speak. How does that happen? PS: The sense of right and wrong?
No, not just right and wrong but, ok, yes, in a deeper sense, I guess,
but how we should treat other people and interact with them, who counts
as a member of our ‘in’ group. It used to be just this tiny sphere of
who counts as member of our moral community, that used to be pretty
small. That expanding circle is getting huge now, where we count all
women now – except for Muslim countries – and all blacks, all Jews. And
eventually I think it will expand to include all primates, and marine
mammals, that those are conscious creatures that should be treated with
respect and dignity and – they will not get voting rights or something
like that, but the idea that they should not be harmed, that sort of
thing. So, I’m optimistic because the trend lines are very positive –
this is my next book, the Moral Arc in Science. Martin Luther King said,
“The arc in the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
[…] So you have to have rules that people respect, and the rule of law
is necessary for a country to be prosperous, for people not to pluck the
flower [in a public park that belongs to everyone and does not belong
to one person in particular. Shermer was referring to my previous point
on game theory, not transcribed here because I was the one doing the
talking, blabbermouth!]. So the argument that without religion such
thing won’t happen is not true, it’s already happening. Slavery was not
really abolished because of religions, it was abolished politically. And
Christians make it like… Dinesh [D’Souza] makes a big deal of Samuel
Wilberforce, the Christian abolitionist. Yes, of course, he was
Christian. But who were the abolitionists riding against? So believers
like to make a big deal about the fact that it was a Christian who led
that movement. And there were Christians in the American abolitionist
movement. But who were they railing against? Their fellow Christians.
There were more Christians who believed slavery was good and decent and
just… and you can read their sermons and their speeches and
justifications why slavery was a good thing for blacks. PS: Have you ever read the Bible?
MS: Yes, I have. PS: The whole thing?
MS: Yes. PS: So why don’t you use it against itself?
MS: I do sometimes. PS: Could you, for example, ask Dinesh tomorrow what he thinks of Noah being buggered by his own son?
MS: [laughter] We are not debating that tomorrow night. But I have used stuff like that before. PS: Like what?
Well, like most of the commandments in Deuteronomy, like death penalty
for disobedient children, death penalty for adulterous women but not
guys – of course, this was written by men – and I even make a joke,
death penalty for adultery, there goes half a Congress. PS: What is their answer to that?
MS: They say that’s the Old Testament, not the New Testament. PS:
Well, then let me tell you something I wrote about. The New Testament
tells, I think it’s in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he says that
women should cover their heads. The Koran doesn’t, actually. In fact, if
you analyse the scriptures alone, the Koran is more egalitarian than
MS: I’ve heard that. When people say ‘oh,
that’s the Old Testament, we believe in the New Testament.’ I point out
that Jesus says you’re supposed to leave your family and give up your
belongings and follow me. And by the way, when did Jesus become a
conservative? I mean, Jesus says you can’t get into heaven if you are
rich, right, and that you’re supposed to turn the other cheek. When did
Jesus become a militant, a war-monger? He is the opposite of that, so I
don’t know how conservatives embrace Jesus. PS: I quite like Jesus expelling the vendors from the temple.
I wanted to know if you’ve heard of the refuseniks. Because I heard Sam
Harris speak – and I’m not confusing you with Sam Harris but I think
you guys are similar in that you both seem to say that “oh, Christians
don’t bomb anything, Jews don’t go about exploding stuff.” Well, not if
you count Israel. In Israel they massacre whole villages, and they are
Jews, and almost every Jew is a soldier. So how is that so different
from… Perhaps it’s even worse, because that is…
MS: State-sanctioned? PS: Exactly, state-sanctioned.
MS: Well I guess that’s the difference, it’s state-sanctioned, instead of religion-sanctioned. PS: But it’s based on religion.
Well, is it? Or is it more political? Is it more self-defence, and
political, or territorial? I mean, religion may be behind it, but is it
really the true motive? PS: I understand what you mean,
and I understand that a fundamentalist Muslim who kills an infidel may
think he is doing a favour to God. But what if I think that I’ve been
chosen by God… Isn’t the belief that one has been chosen by God as his
chosen people a good predictor of enormous evil?
MS: Yes, certainly, of course, I agree. PS:
Peter Ustinov, apparently, said “Terrorism is the war of the poor, and
war is the terrorism of the rich.” My point is, it’s even worse that
it’s sanctioned by the state.
[I will refrain from transcribing this bit because it is a long discussion on history, interpretation and epistemology]
MS: You ask me interesting questions that people have never asked. PS:
So, the meaning of life. You dedicated one of your books to your
daughter saying “the mantle now is yours.” So, is that how you see your,
ahn, permanence? Do you believe that, in a world that is secular and
that has no soul or life after death, having kids is your…
Yes, for sure, that’s it, my work and my child. I doubt that much of
what I do will make a difference 500 years from now, but, you never
know. All of us make a tiny little bit of difference and push the moral
arc further and further towards justice, if I can help a little bit, you
can help a little bit… I mean, I didn’t have a child for that purpose,
it’s just an accident, most of them are, it just happened. But once
that’s there, ok, that’s my legacy. But I didn’t think about it, it’s
like evolution just took over my brain and I am just crazy about it and I
just want her to carry on. PS: So you hope she will have kids?
It doesn’t matter. The only reason I want her to have kids is for her
to know how great it is to have kids. It’s great. It’s a really
rewarding experience. I would have never imagined, I didn’t care, I
didn’t want kids, but then once I had Devin it’s like, wow, this is
fantastic. But on the other hand I got lucky because she is a good kid.
[…] So back to your previous point about, if there is no god, I mean the
larger point you made, if there is no god are you free of any kind of
moral restraints? No, I’m not free of restraints, I have all kinds of
obligations, and promises, and friendships, and people I love and that I
feel obligated to. The basis of morality is in human relationships, a
person on an island by themselves, there’s no morality there, they’re
just by themselves, it’s only how you interact with other people, you
don’t need god for that, and if you’re not sure if you should violate a
moral norm, just ask the person you’re thinking about sticking it to,
how they feel about it. They will tell you, right? So you know, you
don’t even need to ask, you know how someone will feel about something
before you do it, that’s the basis of morality. PS: Do you think you have the obligation to help people that you never met?
MS: Just a second. [pause] Say again? PS:
Do you think you have a moral duty to help people less privileged, for
example, people you have nothing to do with and never met?
On the sliding scale as you expand out from yourself and your immediate
family, friends, yes, I think we do have the moral obligation to help
those who are less privileged. But I don’t think we have the right to
make you do. In other words, I don’t feel right that I should take your
money and give it to someone that I think needs it. You should be free
to do that, you do it. So this is why I am against government… I don’t
like government hand-outs PS: Do you do it?
Yeah, yeah, I adopted, er, I did a, I have an adopted-child program
through, you know, one of those adopt-a-child things, it’s a little
girl, actually she is, like, almost done now, I think she is almost out
of high-school, in Europe, in Romania. PS: Oh.
MS: Yeah. [silence] So ah, I mean, it’s not a lot, it’s 30 bucks a month maybe for ten years now. Yeah, I feel good about that. PS: That’s it? That’s all?
MS: Well, what do you mean, I don’t know, like what else? PS: I don’t know.
[silence] PS: Do you feel that religious people are more charitable than non-religious people?
MS: Yes. Not only do I see it, but the data shows that. PS: Why?
Well, because religions are good at rallying the troops to get people
to do the right thing, that’s one of the good things that religions do.
My atheist friends don’t like to acknowledge but it’s true, they do. Now
it’s not that secular people can’t do it. They can and they do, but
religions are just more organised about it. In fact one of the reasons
why I think America is more religious than European nations is because
European nations’ governments do what religions do here, take care of
the poor, help the people in need. Like in Katrina, in New Orleans, way
before Bush and his cronies got there with FEMA to help out, the
churches were there instantly, they were there like the next day. A
friend of mine works in this business so she was full time on this and
they got mass donations instantly, millions of dollars, and they
converted that immediately into food and water, they just drive right
there, “go!”, whereas the government, well, it takes forever for them to
do anything. So religion in a way is privatised social security,
privatised welfare. In that sense science will never replace religion,
because religion does something that science doesn’t even do, it’s not
tasked to do that. Mormons are spectacularly good at this, but they
mostly take care of themselves. PS: You said that computers are five years away from being more intelligent than humans and forever will be. Can you explain?
MS: That’s my joke. Obviously that’s not true, we will get there, the curve shows that we will get there. PS: That computers will get there.
MS: Yes, eventually. But the proof is in the pudding, let’s go ahead and do it. PS: Well, and when they do? Can you lucubrate on that scenario?
First and foremost, I think computers are just too used to help us lead
better lives, to solve problems. And to that extent it’s great. I
really, I’m optimistic as I usually am. I don’t think computer are gonna
take over the world, I don’t think computers are gonna decide humans
are obsolete and be done with us, or anything like that. […] We don’t
know how (computers) are going to change the world. I think it will
mostly change the world for good. So imagine an entirely wireless world
and every single person on the planet has a laptop. And we can
communicate instantly. Already, as Kurzweil points out, a teenager in
Kenya has access to more knowledge than the president of the United
States did 15 years ago. Just the internet, Google, Wikipedia and boom,
you have... PS: You said ‘access’ to knowledge. To process that knowledge is something else.
So imagine when a billion minds come online in Africa, and we get them
wealthy enough, and educated enough, and online – how fast the world
will change for the good – [all those people] solving problems, just
being involved. I’m optimistic about that, I think that’s coming. I mean
the one-hundred dollar laptop kinda fizzled out, but, you know, the
idea is there. It will happen. I mean, nobody was online 25 years ago.
Now 3 billion or 4 billion online, that’s just phenomenal. PS: Damn you’re such a positive man. What’s your star sign?