Friday, January 11


If you want to be a jerk about it but gain a pretty good understanding of what neo-atheism is (so named and anecdotally described in this article by Wired Magazine, the same which introduced me to the movement), replace ‘neo’ with ‘fundamentalist.’ No different than Islam or Christianity, atheism has accrued fundamentalists of its own, and considering their rather antagonistic viewpoints, I have always found it amusing just how much of the language and techniques the neo-atheists have appropriated from their religious fundamental brethren. You get the same talk of the imminence of the end times, couched in language of nuclear holocaust rather than Revelation, and the same belief that their position is not only right, which is really not so uncommon even among the moderate, but that it is the only position worth having. Everyone not a part of your camp must either be persuaded from their path or is a potential threat. There has to be a video on YouTube somewhere of someone pointing this parallel out to Dawkins or Hitchens, and I have to see their response

This post is not intended as a refutation of neo-atheism. While I do believe that its most vocal proponents have gone off the deep end in their extreme rejection of everything religious and the possibility of any good coming from it, I understand why people choose atheism. I also know why I do not. Someday I may post on my thoughts on the subject, but that day is not today.

Rather, I prefer now to write on something which occurred to me since completing an essay comparing John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. As one may guess from the titles, Locke and Harris have differing views on the subject of tolerance, Locke believing that so long as religious practices do not intrude upon the civil interests or otherwise muscle in on the state’s territory it must be afforded tolerance. At the other end of the spectrum, Harris insists that religion, as the prime source of pain and suffering in this world and throughout history, must be eliminated.

The thing is, their underlying, fundamental goal is not so different. Both are members of the Enlightenment tradition and anticipating truth and a communal utopia through argument. Locke has faith that “truth certainly would do well enough, if were once left to shift for herself,” and Harris believes that civil society is “a place where ideas, of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence,” and where the expectation is that only the truth is able to survive the ensuing rigorous debate.

What is with that? That was the question my professor posed to me after we went through an early draft. My answer after a great deal of thought (not in that same meeting but a month or so afterwards)? Harris is trying to resuscitate the Enlightenment project of achieving a universal Utopia through argument and discussion since postmodernism came through and did a hatchet job on the veryidea of there even being a firm ground from which we can judge the rightness or wrongness of different ideas. First, he asserts materialism and the related ability to objectively quantify and measure everything as this common ground. Second, he tries his hardest to tear down religion, something which I find largely dependent upon one’s subjective experience of the spiritual, because anything relying upon the individual experience is a friend of postmodernism.

I like to think of Harris’ philosophy in this context as the Enlightenment project with teeth. And guns. Lots of guns. The gloves of Harris’ Enlightenment have come off. It cannot wait for everyone to realize that something is true or false. It needs to make that decision for them.

It is a pity. I like to think that people can still be trusted to come to the appropriate conclusions on the big issues by themselves.

Wednesday, January 9

Considering "Tanguera"

Night before my pan-European Christmas vacation began, I caught Tanguera, a modern musical that manages not to be based on a book written by Hugo, Eliot or Maguire; second-class movie; or some band looking to provide the next Mamma Mia!, on opening night at the Deutsches Theater. Ever since deciding that a Dance Minor would be fun and subsequently discovering that I could not actually complete it, I have been getting more into social dance, especially Argentine Tango for its music and moves that do not require planning five steps ahead. Thus, when the advertisements were screaming “Das tango Musikal direkt aus Buenos Aires,” my attention was rather effectively caught.

Certainly no intellectual heavyweight questioning the postmodern condition or anything of that sort, it was a story of love at first sight, love thwarted, love fought for and love immortalized. In short, it was fun and effectively so. I never fidgeted and was quite amazed to realize when I left that the running time pushed two hours and catching the familiar sounds of “Pena multa” in such a production was a pleasure.

The story. Dock Worker falls in love with Girl as she comes off the boat. Her returned affections, accompanied by a spotlight and the freezing of all other players on stage, are clear. Unfortunately, Local Brothel Owner, identified by his wearing of a hat, is also intrigued by Girl and takes her away. Dock Worker, disliked by Brothel Owner, is disturbed by this, and his increasingly violent attempts to regain Girl propel the rest of the story on through the building action to the climax.

And all of this, excluding the briefest of Spanish prologues and epilogues, is performed entirely without words, only dance, specifically, the titular Tango. When love is in the air, they tango. When they wash their laundry, they tango. When they fight, they actually tango. When Girl is attempting to decide between the true love of Dock Worker or moderately glamorous though mostly seedy life offered by Brothel Owner, they make their respective arguments through a threesome tango, one of the best moments in the entire musical.

One gripe. Part of the fun of musicals I have always understood, if my friends and their immense appreciation for Wicked and Rent is any indication, is the ability to participate, mostly through the singing. As already mentioned, the lack of vocals in this musical (does is still count as such then?) is not so possible with Tanguera. I guess I can just play some of the classics constantly on my laptop or tango my way to class. Unfortunately as my companion for the evening, who ought to know considering his month-long stay in Buenos Aires to practice the only dance I have referenced in this entire post, noted, none of the moves in Tanguera are practically possible. Of course they were choreographed and practiced until the actors were twitching the moves out in their sleep. It is just kind of disappointing when I cannot take anything from it.