The American writer H L Mencken once said “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” He was referring to ‘common sense’, which can be superficially plausible and sometimes right, but often wrong.
The Common Sense Fallacy (or ‘Appeal to Common Sense’) is somewhat related to the Argument from Popularity and/or the Argument from Tradition. However, it differs from these fallacies by not necessarily relying on popularity or tradition.
Instead, common sense relies on the vague notion of ‘obviousness’, which means something like ‘what we perceive from personal experience’ or ‘what we should know without having had to learn.’ In other words, common sense is not necessarily supported by evidence or reasoning. As such, beliefs based on common sense are unreliable. The fallacy lies in giving too much weight to common sense in drawing conclusions, at the expense of…
( based on a presentation at Vic Skeptics Café, 19 June 2017 at the Clyde Hotel, Carlton, Vic)
Today we are living in a world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs where anyone (even President Trump) can instantly post their ideas to the world for essentially no cost. We are also living in dangerous times where exploding human populations and technologies are affecting the planet’s climate and natural resources where extreme concentrations of wealth and power, warfare, epidemics, climate extremes, ecological collapses and famine threaten humanity’s survival. Unsurprisingly there are often conflicts between vested interests seeking wealth, power and control versus those concerned with the futures of our descendents and of humanity in general. Both are heavy users of the new media.
We’ve talked a lot on this site about “cultural appropriation,” whose definition is amorphous but roughly corresponds to one culture adopting aspects of another’s. But the term usually has a pejorative connotation—that is, such appropriation is deemed harmful and unethical to the culture that’s “appropriated”. And that is the subject of an essay by K. Tempest Bradford on the National Public Radio (NPR) site: “Cultural appropriation is, in fact, indefensible.” Wikipedia identifies Bradford like this:
K. Tempest Bradford (born April 19, 1978 in Cincinnati, Ohio) is an African-American science fiction and fantasy author and editor. She was a non-fiction and managing editor with Fantasy Magazine from 2007 to 2009 and has edited fiction for Peridot Books, The Fortean Bureau and Sybil’s Garage.
Bradford is an activist for racial and gender equality both within and outside of the science fiction community. In 2005 she founded the Angry Black Woman blog, and her contributions under that moniker…
To understand why, we might turn our attention to the great social and economic transformation that occurred after the discovery of gold (by Europeans) in Victoria in 1851. Archaeological excavations across Melbourne have uncovered masses of rubbish dating back to the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s.
Artefacts recovered from sites within Melbourne show that the city’s Gold Rush era occupants were incredibly wasteful. You might think that 150 years ago, Victorians would have been thrifty and mended their belongings or sold them on secondhand. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
Working-class people living in Melbourne’s CBD were throwing out so much stuff that the weekly rubbish collections couldn’t manage all their trash. Residents were stockpiling rubbish under floorboards, in hidden corners of the backyard or digging holes specifically for it.
Cesspits (old-fashioned long drop toilets) were closed across the city in the early 1870s, leaving large empty holes in the ground. Residents took the opportunity to fill them with their surplus rubbish. Many of these rubbish dumps remain under current city buildings and have been found and recorded in cultural heritage management excavations.
Analysing the contents of all these rubbish dumps, it’s clear that people were discarding dinner sets and replacing them with more fashionable designs, buying and chucking out junk jewellery, and throwing out glass bottles in vast numbers in spite of industrial-scale local recycling operations. Sound familiar? They were even using “disposable” clay pipes, a Gold Rush era equivalent of our disposable coffee cups.
Another surprising find was a rubbish pit dug in the backyard of a draper shop and filled with piles of seemingly perfectly good clothes and shoes. Perhaps they had gone out of fashion? Excess, it seems, is in Melbourne’s bones.
You are what you own
The discovery of gold brought a massive increase in population, new wealth, unprecedented access to a global network of consumer goods and great opportunities for social mobility. No one could be sure of your social background in the chaos of this rapid change. The old working, middle and upper class hierarchy became less relevant and it was possible to move up the social ladder.
How, then, did people communicate their status? Through stuff. Cultural capital refers to how people play the “culture game”: their accent, their clothes, their possessions, their manners, their interests. The argument goes that status is determined by the expression of cultural values and particular behaviours rather than wealth alone.
Everyday choices of consumer goods became powerful in carving out a new position and a better life in the new city. Your home, your furniture, your tableware, your drinking glasses, your clothes, all became vital markers of your place in society. You were no longer constrained by your situation of birth.
Melbourne society was reinvented and a new, much larger and more diverse middle class emerged. One that had a new system for determining status based largely on what they bought.
Why do we buy and why can’t we stop?
As a globalised world grapples with the problem of fast fashion, fast consumerism and a throw away culture, with massive landfills and climate change, the question of why we consume is more important than ever.
You might want to consume and waste less. But old habits die hard and it’s important to understand why we consume before we are able to make significant changes to our wasteful habits.
Social mobility might not have the currency that it did in the gold rush era, but we are still purchasing to communicate something. What we buy announces our position in the world and our values. Our possessions place us within one group and distance us from another just as they did in the Gold Rush era.
As the slow movement, anti-consumerism and concerns over sustainability gather pace, a new brand of cultural capital may emerge. A cheap polyester jumper and a disposable coffee cup may become a sign of inappropriate excess. A minimal wardrobe of ethically produced clothes and a reusable coffee cup could become the ultimate marker of status.
All too often my brother Sam Harris gets the short end of the stick, especially when people determined to take him down misuse or misrepresent his words to smear him. The “ticking time bomb torture scenario”, for instance, which Sam floated as a hypothetical scenario to inspire thought, was distorted to make it seem that he was strongly in favor of torture. I could give other examples, but this latest, reported by both Hemant at The Friendly Atheist and Clarion, is a doozy. In this case, on Sam’s podcast with Maajid Nawaz, Sam played the devil’s advocate, making a case against Muslim immigration he doesn’t believe, just to get Maajid’s response. Here’s the beginning of that bit of the conversation. Click on this video; the bit that got distorted begins about 1:10:50 (if this doesn’t start there, go to 1:10:50):
A family out fishing last week caught more than salmon.
Ashton Phillips was on a fishing trip last Friday with his cousin and uncle in Kyuquot, B.C. on the northwest side of Vancouver Island when he captured a video of an eagle swooping down to grab a piece of salmon.
His group had pulled into a bay around noon to strip up a fresh piece of salmon for halibut fishing.
“As we were sitting there cutting pieces of salmon … I noticed there were a few eagles flying around,” said Phillips, who lives in Vancouver.
“I thought that was pretty cool because I hadn’t really been exposed to that too much.”
Phillips had his camera out to capture some of the scenery when out of nowhere, he saw a bird cut from the shore and head towards the boat — just in time for lunch.
We’ve just passed another winter solstice. Wednesday June 21 was the shortest day of the year. I live in Melbourne, so we had just 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight, and it was dark and grey, so we certainly felt the lack of sunlight.
For those up north and closer to the equator the shortest day is not so extreme. For example, Brisbane had 10 hours and 24 minutes of daylight on Wednesday, almost an hour more than Melbourne. No wonder southerners head north for winter.
Traditionally, the solstice marks the time when the Sun “stands still”.
From our vantage point on Earth, the Sun is changing directions. At 2:24pm June 21, it reached its furthest north for the year and then started heading south.
If you’re like me, you might find that statement a little confusing. What it means is that the Sun is now moving higher in our northern sky, which course means it’s moving southward.
Still no morning Sun
We may have reached our shortest day, but unfortunately it will be a few more weeks before our mornings get any brighter. In fact, sunrise will shift slightly later (by a couple of minutes) and it won’t be until July that the trend will start to shift. Bad news indeed for those of us who struggle to get going in the morning.
But our days are still getting longer, just the extra daylight is added to our afternoons, not our mornings.
It’s a pattern that happens around the time of the solstice. At the winter solstice, the earliest sunset (or shortest afternoon), happens first, then the solstice (shortest day), followed by the latest sunrise (or shortest morning).
It works in the opposite way for the summer solstice in December. The earliest sunrise comes first (or longest morning), then the solstice (longest day), then the latest sunset (longest afternoon).
What’s in a day?
While our clocks mark out an equal 24 hours to every day, the Sun is not so steady.
When you take a photo of the Sun at the same time every day, not only do you see it move higher and lower in the sky, but it also appears “later” or “earlier” in the east-west direction.
A solar day is the time it takes for the Sun to return to due north (or local noon) each day and it is constantly changing in length.
Not because of the the Earth’s rotation, which is really very constant (to the order of a millisecond). Every 23 hours and 56 minutes, the Earth rotates once on its axis.
But as the Earth rotates it also moves along its orbit around the Sun. After 23 hours and 56 minutes, the Earth has moved far enough along that it needs a further 4 minutes, on average, to realign itself to the Sun.
The key word here is average. In February, May, June and July a solar day can equal 24 hours. But around the autumnal equinox in March and the spring equinox in September, the solar day is about 20 seconds less than 24 hours, and at the solstices, the solar day is slightly more than 24 hours.
Turning, turning, turning
To understand what’s going on, we need to reframe the Earth’s movement. Let’s suspend reality for a moment and imagine how things would work if we switch from a Sun centred view to an Earth centred one.
Since the Earth is tilted by 23.5 degrees, let’s position the Earth upright and place the Sun’s orbit on a 23.5 degree tilt.
The solstices are now obvious. They are the moments when the Sun reaches its most northern or southern points.
You can also see the why the Earth’s tilt (seen in the diagram as the tilt of the Sun’s orbit) causes the seasons. When the Sun hits its northern most point, it shines down on the northern hemisphere bringing the long days of summer.
While here in the south, as the Earth rotates on its axis, it’s the nights that are long and our winter days are short.
When the Sun crosses the Earth’s equator it is the time of the equinox (or equal day-night). The “Sun’s orbit” near the equator is relatively steep. The Sun is mostly moving north-south with only a small fraction of its movement in the east-west direction (or parallel to the equator).
And because the Sun doesn’t “move” very far in the east-west direction, the Earth doesn’t need to rotate as much for the Sun to return to due north and complete a solar day.
That’s why the solar day is less than 24 hours at the time of the equinox.
But at the extremes of the “Sun’s orbit” the rate of movement in the north-south direction slows and most of the Sun’s movement is now east-west or parallel to the Earth’s equator.
At these times, the Earth has to rotate even further to bring the Sun back to due north, and hence the solar day is longer than 24 hours around the time of the solstices.
The tilt and the solar day
So there are two things going on here. As we move towards winter, the tilt of the Earth makes the days grow shorter. This naturally brings later sunrises and earlier sunsets.
But as we approach the solstice, the second effect kicks in – the solar day starts getting longer. The Earth has to rotate more to bring the Sun back into place and this shifts both the sunrise and sunset progressively later.
It pushes the time of latest sunrise to occur after the solstice and that’s why we have this wait to see more of the morning Sun. It also means that the time of earliest sunset must happen before the solstice.
At the summer solstice, it all plays out in the opposite way. As we move through spring, the tilt of the Earth makes the days grow longer – we have earlier sunrises and later sunsets.
But once again as the summer solstice nears, the lengthening solar day kicks into action, pushing both sunrise and sunset to happen later. It pushes the latest sunset to occur after the summer solstice, while earliest sunrise must occur before the solstice.
Of course, when we are basking in the summer Sun we don’t pay quite as much attention.
So just hang in there a little longer. We’ve made it past the shortest day and eventually the lengthening daylight will bring us brighter mornings.
I woke up this morning to find at least 10 emails from people—largely Aussies, I think— informing me about the new census data on religious affiliation in Australia. (Thanks to all—there are too many to h/t!) Australia seems a sensible country, and even though it has its share of religious extremists (it produced Ken Ham, for instance), I wasn’t surprised to see that, like Europe, Australia is undergoing secularization at a fast pace.
A pretty good summary of the data from the Australian Census of 2016 (apparently taken every five years) can be seen at news.com.au. The question about religious affiliation is the only question on the census that’s optional, which suggests to me that the percentage of nonbelievers could be even higher, as those would seem to be the group least likely to declare their (non)belief (perhaps Muslims are in there, too).
As the cis-gendered possessor of a Y chromosome, I have little credibility to pronounce on feminism, though I often allude to how it’s become fractured by identity politics, is a bit self-contradictory, extolling symbols of oppression like the hijab as well as giving Muslim misogyny a pass, often seems more concerned with trivial than important issues, and even demonizes women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who call for more attention to serious problems of religiously-based oppression of women.
But today I’ll let feminists speak about feminism—or at least former feminists who now are being expelled from the sorority for their heresies in criticizing the movement. There are two articles, and the first one, “Why I no longer identify as a feminist“, by Helen Pluckrose in Areo, is very good. Here’s her ID given in the article:
Helen Pluckrose is a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious…
I am deeply ashamed of Chicago’s gay community today.
From both the left-wing Israel paper Haaretz and the Windy City Media Group, we get a disturbing report: at yesterday’s “Dyke March” in Chicago, a parade celebrating lesbian and LGBT pride and achievements, Jewish lesbians carrying the “Jewish pride” flag were asked to leave. Why? Because the flag “triggered” some of the participants, and apparently because some participants considered the march implicitly “anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian”. Here, from Pink News, is what the Jewish Pride flag looks like. It’s basically the Gay Pride flag with a star of David on it, a symbol of Judaism. Note that it is not the Israeli flag. (These pictures are from the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv; photos by Jack Guez):
What went down? Let the Jewish lesbians speak, as reported in Windy City Media: