How to live (I)

As an atheist of the militant persuasion, it’s somewhat odd that in the past two weeks I’ve spent significant time in deep conversation with a preacherman. Sometimes you need to call in the specialists, and the situation demanded a specialist of his description.

The strangest part of the experience, however, was finding that the urge to label myself inconsistent in having this interaction was insignificantly weak, and in the end rested on something linguistic rather than principled. And I mention this because it’s immensely liberating to realise that one can be as principled as always, without those principles trumping all other interests. Continue reading “How to live (I)”

Teaching students about god

Now that the teaching part of the semester is over, and the marking part nearly so, I can reflect on my effectiveness in getting students to think rationally, using the ever-reliable indicator of whether I’ve managed to convert any of them to godlessness. The evidence is mixed. On the one hand, I’ve received a typical amount of hate mail. But on the other, for the first time I managed to convert an actual believer, rather than a mere skeptic – perhaps Bob was strong with me one day, and I managed to find just the right words, in the right order. This particular believer, a sincerely devout 19-year-old male, was quite perturbed by my choices of examples when teaching about logical fallacies (given that I often use religious discourse to source said examples) at the start of the semester, and had a number of earnest conversations early on, in which he asked me if I’d ever considered what a pickle I would be in if I was wrong about god. Continue reading “Teaching students about god”


What do you consider to be essential character traits in a friend? If you had asked me this question last year, I would have answered it by reference to those people who had shaped many of my experiences over the past decade, and listed at least 2 attributes: honesty, and the synchronicity of interest that allows for good and easy conversation. But there are things missing from that short list of 2 – particularly the attribute of empathy. In other words – or by my definition – the ability to, and interest in, seeing things from the reactive stance (see Strawson for more on this). Instead, I typically treated myself and others as objective logical puzzles, to mull over and manage when necessary. But there is very little room for spontaneity and pleasure in the objective stance, as useful as it can be in terms of troubleshooting.

The simple point is that one can extol and present the virtues of logic and consistency without them being all that your interactions are about. We don’t make ourselves less consistent and coherent in being silly, or in being able to let our critical standards rest for a few hours. Instead, we can reinforce the importance of those standards, in that people can then see that they aren’t simply habits, but rather positions that make sense, in their proper context. For myself, perhaps it could be that my lack of empathy encouraged those I thought were my friends to be dishonest with me, but I can’t believe that it excuses that. I do think that one can rank these attributes, in that without honesty, there is little chance for empathy and enjoyment of company to flourish. And as simple, and formulaic, as it sounds, taking care to keep these fundamentals intact now seems crucial to keeping yourself intact – or to developing an intact self.

Be careful out there.

Apologists: lessons in how not to read

At some point, when time allows, I’ll share with you the extent of the confusion Christian apologists labour under. To generalise, this is a group that imagines themselves as Christian philosophers, and who take on the challenge of defending their belief system through what they imagine to be rational argumentation. Some even actively engage, and attempt to refute, arguments they encounter on non-theistic websites. Unfortunately, most of these non-theistic websites do civilization no favours themselves, as their rabid athiesm leads them to offer arguments nearly as poor as those of the theists. But sometimes the apologists don’t even bother trying to argue – they simply lie.
Continue reading “Apologists: lessons in how not to read”

Drones in denial

Yes, I’m a bad person, etc. With that out of the way, let us begin with the following, from Frank Lampard, via The Guardian:

Consider Lampard’s reflections after a fortnight spent on Roman Abramovich’s yacht. “I suppose people imagine that as a Premiership footballer, my life is quite special,” he hazards. “I would agree, but those two weeks opened my eyes to another world.” Ah, a millionaire yearning to be a billionaire … is there anything more charmless?

At dinner last Friday night, our ragtag collection of Resistentialism were confronted by a tsunami of social disorder. The tsunami was fully embodied in one person, rather than the more typical distribution involving a group of people, each exhibiting one or more elements.

Continue reading “Drones in denial”


A friend remarked over dinner that, if we were in London (his home town), power outages such as those experienced in Cape Town of late would result in marches and the like. This may be true, and I can’t help wondering if my feeling that there would simply be no point in marching is a) true or b) an indication that he’s highlighting a deep-seated apathy that Capetonians (maybe South Africans) are prone to. Continue reading “Apathy”

Classroom politics

Whether students like it or not, one of the things I aim for in my classrooms is to break down the (usually artificial) divide between academia and everyday life. It’s made somewhat easier by the fact that the sort of things I teach are easily applicable to non-academic activities. Continue reading “Classroom politics”

The Mohammed cartoons

In light of a riot in Iran a few days ago against New Zealand, in which an interviewed leader seemed quite confused as to where NZ was:

Surely with just a few well-placed web-postings on discovery of the Mohammed cartoons in yet another country’s newspapers, someone could bring it about that we get to see video footage of mobs chanting “Death to Ruritania!” and looking for its embassy. Continue reading “The Mohammed cartoons”

Report on Resistentialism

It is the peculiar genius of the French to express their philosophical thought in aphorisms, sayings hard and tight as diamonds, each one the crystal centre of a whole constellation of ideas. Thus, the entire scheme of seventeenth century intellectual rationalism may be said to branch out from that single, pregnant saying of Descartes, ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Resistentialism, the philosophy which has swept present-day France, runs true to this aphoristic form. Go into any of the little caf├ęs or horlogeries on Paris’s Left Bank (make sure the Seine is flowing away from you, otherwise you’ll be on the Right Bank, where no one is ever seen) and sooner or later you will hear someone say, ‘Les choses sont contre nous.’ ‘Things are against us.’ Continue reading “Report on Resistentialism”

We return, mostly unscathed

from a trip to the country. On Friday night the “season” began in earnest, but all of us seemed to be preserving our energies, or perhaps recuperating from all the Resistential dinners that led up to this one (which was, in truth, no Resistential dinner – despite most of us being present). Every weekend between now and early January is booked for some event or other, starting with this drive to have dinner in the place of my childhood, named after pumpkins. Continue reading “We return, mostly unscathed”