Flashback: The Magic of Reality Deployed!

Sometimes a little flashback can be sort of fun. Here’s a post I jotted down way back in October of 2011.  Fast forward five years, and we tell this story from time to time, much to my now young adult daughter’s chagrin…and to be honest, I think she’s still a little miffed about my then lack of compassion regarding her mortal dread of fictional creatures!

The Magic of Reality Deployed!

MagicofRealityI let my 12 year old daughter watch Insidious.  There, I said it.  The cat’s out of the bag and I’m officially a bad dad.  Since that night, she’s manifested an incredibly irrational fear of the supernatural.

At about the same time as she watched the movie, I bought Richard Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality. This is a wonderful book geared to be understood by kids about her age, yet entertaining enough to be enjoyed by kids about my age!

So I’ve spent the last couple of days talking to her about some of the first big ideas Dr. Dawkins introduces in the book and she’s actually started reading chapter one.

First and foremost, I wanted to break out for her the three kinds of magic as Richard describes them:

  1. Supernatural magic  – the kind of magic that exists only in fairy tales, myths, and of course, fiction (movies, books, etc.). It only lives in human imaginations.
  2. Stage magic – the awesome slight of hand and illusory magic performed for our entertainment by David Copperfield, David Blaine, Penn and Teller, etc. These are magic tricks. The tricks only work because our rational brain knows that what these guys just pulled off, makes no sense in the real world! It’s great stuff.
  3. Poetic magic – the kind of magic that one “feels” when you see something beautiful, natural, artistic, poetic, etc. This is the “magic of reality.”

With this understanding, I wanted to ultimately give her the logical tools to quite easily tell the difference between these three types of magic as a means to help her regain control of her rational brain, and unload that nagging nugget of irrationality that has been embedded like a splinter ever since she watched that dadgum movie!  Poor kid.

Here’s hoping for a good night’s sleep!

The “ophobia” ruse as a means to protect ideas from critique

Twitter Richard Dawkins Ryan BaysMy morning started early with a cup of coffee and great intentions of adding a few paragraphs to my book project. As the rain fell soothingly outside, and just as I was getting the old writing wheels warmed up, I stole a quick skim of my twitter timeline. One of my favorite accounts is that of famous biologist Richard Dawkins and this morning, Dr. Dawkins was tweeting about British politics. In particular, about a Labour Party desire, expressed in no uncertain terms by Ed Millband, to outlaw the “scourge” of Islamophobia by making it a crime.

Islamophobia a crime? Absurd. How can criticism of anything be considered criminal in a free society? Writing, speaking, blogging, and drawing, all methods of critique, none of which do any real harm to anyone save challenging them to examine their own beliefs, and in so doing perhaps hurting their feelings. I replied to Dr. Dawkins’ tweet with one of my own:

“I suppose by attaching the suffix “ophobia” to the end of a set of beliefs, they expect immunity from criticism.”

Judging by the response to Dr. Dawkin’s re-tweet, this assessment resonated positively with a great many of his reasonable followers (and incidentally, quite negatively with a few of his less rational).

It would seem that the trick to ensure that one’s feelings remain unhurt, is to simply affix “ophobia” to the end of the label that captures whatever “deeply held beliefs” they hold, and then charge any critics with this new and wholly fictional affront.  Of course this is a gimmick. A cop-out. It’s impossible to but a boundary around what ideas fit within the protection of the “ophobia” and what ideas must make their case on the open market. There’s no limit to the “ophobias” that the holders of ridiculous or dangerous ideas can cower behind.

What’s this? You think L. Ron Hubbard’s book is silly? You’re just exhibiting Scientolophobia.

Did I hear you scoff at the doctrine of transubstantiation? You must be a Catholophobe.

What do you mean you don’t believe in Santa Clause? You are guilty of Santophobia.

Critical of religious doctrines that encourage death to apostates? Careful if you live in England, for if Milliband has his way, you may just end up breaking laws prohibiting Islamophobia.

We in the Western world have been down this road before. The road where certain beliefs and ideas were placed beyond reproach by the rule of theocratic law, but rather than label their critics as “Islamophobes” or “Christophobes,” critics were called “blasphemers” and “heretics” and were garroted or burned at the stake.  Of course, free governments will no longer issue death penalties for the crime of being offensive, but criminal penalties of any type are unconscionable.  No idea is beyond critique. No belief is too precious to be held above examination and yes, even ridicule.

If the goal of freedom-loving societies is to ensure the maximum number of people living in them have access to the possibility of human happiness, and if human happiness is a product of actions inspired by beliefs, then all beliefs need to be on the table. How else can we choose which are worthy of our respect? How else can we cause to whiter away under the relentless light of rational critique, those beliefs which inspire actual atrocities?