Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

Roko’s Basilisk – Lovecraftian Calvinism on Steroids?

Memetic hazard warningSlate Magazine has discovered Roko’s Basilisk: The most terrifying thought experiment of all time, which postulates that an all-powerful Godlike artificial intelligence will punish everyone who didn’t help it come into existence in a computer-generated afterlife.

SF author Charlie Stross blogged about Roko’s Basilisk last year, and correctly identified is an a nasty mashup of the bleakest elements of Calvinist theology with H.P.Lovecraft’s “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know”.

Leaving aside the essentially Calvinist nature of Extropian techno-theology exposed herein (thou canst be punished in the afterlife for not devoting thine every waking moment to fighting for God, thou miserable slacking sinner), it amuses me that these folks actually presume that we’d cop the blame for it—much less that they seem to be in a tizzy over the mere idea that spreading this meme could be tantamount to a crime against humanity (because it DOOMS EVERYONE who is aware of it).

And now I discover I’m followed by Roko’s Basilisk on Twitter. Should I be worried?

Posted in Computing, Religion & Politics, Science Fiction | Tagged , | 2 Comments

There is so much rejoicing from teachers and parents over the removal of the appalling Michael Gove from education that you’re sure it’s being used to bury bad news. So presumably David Cameron wants to bury the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill so badly he’s willing to sacrifice one of the most hated cabinet members to do so.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Ann Coulter Auto-Poes

Infamous foaming-at-the-mouth American conservative pundit Ann Coulter thinks any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay.

A taste:

The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating.

The whole thing is either a hilarious parody worthy of The Onion, or a terrifying insight into the world-view of American conservatism. And there is absolutely no way of telling which of the two it is. Another example of Poe’s Law in action.

If there are conservatives that genuinely take her seriously, it’s proof that spending too long in any echo chamber makes your bullshit detectors stop working.

Posted in Religion & Politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Perils of Hiring for “Cultural Fit”

In a blog post entitled “Inside the Mirrortocracy“, Carlos Bueno skewers the notion of hiring for “cultural fit”, where a perfectly qualified candidate can be rejected purely for liking the wrong sports or having the wrong taste in music.

Call­ing it out and mak­ing fun of it is not en­ough. Whatev­er else one can say about the Mir­rortoc­ra­cy, it has the vir­tue of ac­tual­ly work­ing, in the sense that the lucky few who break in have a de­cent rate of suc­cess. Com­pared to what, well, that is careful­ly left un­as­ked. The col­later­al damage of “false negatives” is as large as it is in­visib­le. But it is dif­ficult to argue with suc­cess. It takes a humil­ity and generos­ity that must come from with­in. It can’t be for­ced on oth­ers, only en­couraged to de­velop.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not mak­ing a moral case but a fair­ly amor­al one. It’s hard to argue against the fact that the Val­ley is un­fair­ly ex­clusiona­ry. This im­pl­ies that there is a large un­tap­ped talent pool to be de­veloped. Since the tech war boils down to a talent war, the com­pany that figures out how to get over it­self and tap that pool wins.

Yes, it’s probably far worse in Silicon Valley than perhaps it is in the rest of the world, but I’m sure there are plenty of other places in the world with similar problems. And as Carlos Bueno says, it results in a monoculture so limiting that those inside don’t even realise it.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Testing & Software | Tagged , | 3 Comments

So Wonga have been caught chasing debt using fake law firms. This bunch of malevolent sharks are the epitome of everything that’s wrong with David Cameron’s Britain. They deserve to have Russian soldiers planting their flag atop the ruins of Wonga HQ, while their CEO commits suicide in the bunker beneath. After which the surviving board members flee to the jungles of Paraguay, only to be hunted down and put on trial for their crimes.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

Operation Lollipop demonstrates Poe’s Law in action

Last week large numbers of supposed feminists on Twitter were exposed as trolls associated with the notorious troll citadel 4chan, and at least two of the most dubious Twitter hashtags, including #EndFathersDay turned out to be their work, part of an orchestrated mass trolling called “Operation Lollipop”.

Everyone writing about the subject naturally concludes that it confirms their existing point of view. Lola Okolosie and Laurie Penny, writing in The Guardian, saw the whole thing as an extinction burst.

The reason sexist trolls fretting alone in their bedrooms are frightened of political women online, particularly women of colour, is the same reason they won’t win. Despite our differences, and even because of our differences, we are powerful, and we are many, and this is our time, not theirs.

Meanwhile the former Communists turned right-libertarians of Spiked Online consider the whole thing to be a useful parody.

There is something pretty pompous about the rigid etiquette of the Twitter activists’ call-out culture that begs to be mocked.

If hashtag activism is easily parodied, then that shows what is wrong with it. By drawing out the excessiveness of hashtags like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen or #KillAllMen, the 4channers were doing everyone a favour. The wisest point about Twitter was made by playwright Steven Berkoff: if you jump in a dustbin you cannot complain that you are covered in rubbish.

The whole thing does seem like a very good practical demonsration of Poe’s Law, which states:

Without a blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

And that’s true about this. By no means everyone who picked up and ran with their fake hashtags were 4chan’s adolescent racists and sexists.  And quite a few right-wing anti-feminist types, including the even arch misogynist Paul Elam fell for it too.

What it has done is exposed the weaknesses of “Hashtag activism”. Twitter’s 140-character limit means activist soundbites are stripped of all context and nuance, and Twitter always tends to magnify the loudest voices at the expense of the wisest. Even well-intentioned hashtags frequently become toxic as more people jump on, and nobody can control or moderate them.

Whether it will lead to any self-reflection remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Social Media | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Quote of the Day

Today’s quote comes from this interview with Rachel Mann.

Monika: One of my favourite quotations of yours is ‘Christians could learn a lot about life from Heavy Metal’…

Rachel: Oh my. That got me into a lot of hot water a few years ago. A fair few conservative Christians didn’t like me saying that at all. I guess I was saying that I’d found metal, among other music sub-cultures, a place of energy and welcome. There’s a massive theatrical element to metal that appeals to me and I love its willingness to be playful with the concept of ‘darkness’. I wish more Christians would less afraid of the dark.

I guess that fundamentalist Christians have something in common with indie fans in that they just don’t understand metal.

On the other hand, I’m sure there must be Methodist property stewards in places like Cornwall who are deeply disappointed that Norwegian-style black metal never really caught on in Britain…

Posted in Music Opinion, Religion & Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I see Tony Blair is bloviating about Iraq again. I don’t really care about what he has to say. I don’t remember any media pundits going to Spandau prison in Berlin in 1956 and asking any of the inmates what to do about the Suez crisis.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

So Richard Dawkins claims fairy tales are harmful to children because reasons. He’ll be coming after music next, after all, it’s made-up stuff that engages emotion rather than reason. His “Ian Paisley of Atheism” schtick is getting increasingly tiresome now. It makes me wonder if he’s really a deep-cover Anglican, on a mission to make Atheism look silly.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

Twitter’s 140 character limit is one of its great strengths, most of the time. But the downside is that Twitter is awful at nuance or at things that require context. Which means it all-too-easily turns very toxic in emotionally-charged situations.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment