Monday, December 7, 2015

Richard Dawkins and the Question of Zombie Rights



"What on Earth is a why question?" --Richard Dawkins: The Delusion (80)

To forestall any misunderstandings I ought to begin by acknowledging that I fully respect Richard Dawkins’ right to speak his mind. That such a mind has spoken, and at such length, can only be seen as a boon to the scientific community. With Dawkins, after all, we finally have incontrovertible proof that zombies can speak.

Of course we already knew, starting mid-1980s, that zombies could tie a tie. But the added proof Dawkins has provided of linguistic competence raises the zombie debate to a whole new level. And many other zombies--as demonstrated by “lively” discussions now splattered over the Internet--are themselves entering the lists in greater and greater numbers.

Though recent studies correlate high-functioning autism with atheism, in the case of the New Atheists I think the diagnosis isn’t apt. No, with this latter crowd it seems clear we are dealing with full-on zombism.

Whether Dawkins and other newly vocal zombies are what is called philosophical zombies or whether they are rather the traditional flesh-eating zombies is not a question I can determine here. Personally I incline toward the theory that finds in them elements of both. In any case, it is not the type of zombie that concerns me, but rather their sudden ascent to language.

What does it mean?

Whatever the answer may prove, my current interests lie more in what these zombies actually say when they do speak. Or when they write. Because Dawkins has also proven that zombies can write human-like prose.

From the start, when they first began talking back in 2004, I noticed that New Atheist zombies were liable to toss out all manner of interesting material, if only we paid them closer attention. It’s this, the oddness of their pronouncements, that’s kept me following them and their “work”. That they self-identify as atheists is secondary for me. Because in their pronouncements, it’s not so much the atheist element that stands out, but the zombie element. Non-zombie atheists, which may be found anywhere, and which have been around for centuries, are not nearly as avid in their sheer flippancy. Others have remarked on this too; with Dawkins and his fellows there’s a certain zombie panache that’s difficult to pin down.

For instance, Dawkins last year opined that we in the non-zombie community would do well if we aborted infants with Down syndrome. The remark was worthy of note for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrated a nascent zombie “desire” to play some kind of directive role in our societies. Why? Second, that zombies would presume to give us advice on normal human affairs is interesting in itself, almost as if my electric range were to start telling me how it wants the French toast made.

But I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Regardless of the politically lame and often horrific things Dawkins and other New Atheist zombies say, I believe we must continue to respect their right to say on. Further (because many have already started to think along these lines) even if we did have prenatal tests that could determine a child would be born with a mind like Richard Dawkins’, I would not be among those in favor of aborting it. Why not? Well, for one, the tests might be inaccurate. It’s happened before. And the possibility of error more or less ties our hands, ethically speaking. Myself, I would rather let a hundred babbling zombies live than abort one healthy baby by mistake.

Perhaps my position will be seen as extreme.

To what degree a person suffering from Dawkins syndrome is in fact an actual person like the rest of us is still hotly debated, but again, I think we should err on the cautious side. Zombies do have rights. Though I grant that their work does tangible harm to our larger culture, their innate idiocy has so far managed to undermine the influence they might otherwise have. In other words, we might as well let them talk on as much as they like since their own speech clearly proves their inhumanity to anyone with ears to hear. Rather than outright censorship, I think it sufficient for now if we simply keep an eye on them, all the while adamantly resisting their crazed efforts to change us.

Some fear we are on the brink of a Zombie Apocalypse. I think such fear is premature. Given the limited number of actual zombies out there, added to the aforesaid stupidity of their discourse, I highly doubt an apocalypse is imminent. Most people, so far, are smart enough not to be swayed by the shabby rhetoric these zombies deploy. Let us hope this continues.

There are so many sad questions raised by this zombie syndrome. Why it broke out so suddenly and with such virulence in the first decade of this century no one knows. We still don’t really understand the etiology of New Atheist zombism. More research is needed. Preventive medicine is, as usual, the best medicine. Once we’ve got a clearer understanding of what is turning these men (it is mostly men) into zombies, we can begin work to decrease incidence of zombism in future generations.

A careful study of the early years of the most prominent New Atheist zombies might provide helpful clues. With Dawkins himself, some have speculated that an accident at the time of birth or in youth may be to blame. Did perinatal asphyxia perhaps shut down the parts of his brain capable of spiritual intelligence? Or did he maybe, as a child, drink a bottle of laundry detergent, thinking it was soda?

Dawkins and Sam Harris are very possibly walking/talking evidence of the need for better child-proof packaging. It’s a tragedy really, for everyone. On the one hand, the whole English-speaking world suffers from their drooly teachings, their frantic construction of straw men; on the other, they themselves suffer through their utter inability to comprehend the human minds around them.

I often wonder what it’s like to live inside such brains, where all the neural activity is located in the mechanical and calculative sectors.

Oh, and the moneymaking sectors. The “Dawkins Circle”, after all, which Dawkins launched himself, is certainly proof that zombies can make a quick buck. Just look at the cult-like hierarchy of the organization, carefully designed to lure others who have drunk laundry detergent. Then consider the price exacted from sycophants each time they try to move up a level.

How does one become a member of this new religion?

Consider: For $1,000 a year you enter the first level, what is called the “Reason Circle”, which allows you discounts on cult merchandise and the chance to meet “personalities” from the Richard Dawkins foundation; but not Dawkins himself.

For $2,500 a year, the price of joining the “Science Circle”, you get a chance to actually attend an event where the Alpha Zombie will speak; but you won’t necessarily meet him.

Then come the “Darwin Circle” at $5,000 a year and the “Fifth Horseman Circle” at $10,000 a year. Those who have attained to the Fifth Horseman Circle will get to sit at a table with . . . Richard Dawkins Foundation Executive Director Robyn Blumner.

In fact if you want to get close enough to the center of this Zombie Circle Jerk to actually kiss the Ring of Reason, you’ll have to come up with a staggering $100,000 a year. That’s the entrance fee for what is called “The Magic of Reality Circle”, which I take to be the very rectal center of the organization. For your $100,000 cheque, you’ll get a private breakfast or lunch with Dawkins himself.

But don’t ask about dinner. Dinner is a different price scale entirely.

This is all as ingenious as it is zombiesque. Can one imagine non-zombie scientists like Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein creating such an organization? Or any of the prominent Western scientists who are also Christians?

Yes, it’s sad what can happen to otherwise normal humans when they fall under the spell of the Dawkins. Or at least it’s sad what can happen to those with money. Because look--the lower classes (even the middle classes!) are not meant to attain Reason in this particular pseudo-religion. Which leads one to ask--Why would anyone pay such money to sit by, and maybe, just maybe, talk with a zombie?

Myself I can talk with my coffee grinder any time for free. Like a zombie, my coffee grinder is entirely lacking in spiritual intelligence. So I don’t much see the need to spend my hard-earned money on the Dawkins model.

Again: How did we get to this point?

As a zombie is a human-like creature adept at simulating humans but lacking consciousness, so New Atheism is a religion-like phenomenon adept at simulating human meaning but lacking soul. New Atheism With the Dawkins Circle, Richard Dawkins is using a religion-like hierarchy to soak money, in sometimes substantial sums, from deluded admirers who want to say they sat next to him. Sure, founding his little cult demonstrates business acumen. But money is, here, largely a matter of the calculative. Dawkins’ success at this scam doesn’t do anything to controvert the sad reality of his zombie state: he and Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett with them, have brains in which all the eggs are in one basket. And the three of them together, along with a few frothy others, are swiftly on their way to becoming one Huge, Messy Omelet--an insipid, spreading, tasteless Omelet that those of us with human brains had best Keep a Close Watch On.

Of course a crucial part of this close watch will be the constant work of keeping these zombies and their repellent ideas away from Christian children. And Jewish children. And Muslim children. And Hindu children. The task is an especially difficult one because the young are so susceptible to the lure of virtual or mechanical things, as anyone knows who sees how quickly they take to video games. Consider that the relation zombie discourse holds to human language is similar to that which computer generated images hold to the real world. Further, New Atheist zombies understand that enticing our children into alignment with them is their surest route to dominating us. It is a perilous mix of factors. We must not let them succeed.

The arrogant and eggy certainties of the zombie mind must not be allowed to engulf our more flexible and receptive human minds--especially not our children’s minds: Christian children, Hindu children, Shinto children, Shia children.

As I’ve already mentioned Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I should probably say something about Christopher Hitchens too, the so-called Second Horseman of the Arsepocalypse. Hitchens passed away three years ago. Though it’s still debated, I believe Hitchens was not in fact a zombie, though it’s true he exhibited increasing zombielike symptoms in later years. Hitchens himself attributed his esophageal cancer to a life of drinking and smoking, but I suspect a different culprit: the existential pressure wearing him down as the zombie part of his psyche struggled to push out the still human parts.

All of which raises the frightening question: Is zombism perhaps infectious? Did Hitchens maybe contract it from the wrong drinking buddies? God forbid. And yes, I mean the real God.

My basic point here is simple: If we let the New Atheist zombies speak on out of respect for the basic rights we still grant them, we must nonetheless be wise enough to take everything they say with a big grain of salt.

Like I do, when my refrigerator tries to tell me what juice to buy.

“Thanks for the advice, Siri,” I say, “but you can’t taste the juice, so why even get involved?”

And Siri says no more. Unlike New Atheists, she at least knows when she’s out of her league.

Which is why I prefer dealing with the simpler mechanical devices. They may say impertinent things now and then, but at least they’re not likely to go and start their own fake religion. I mean--Can you imagine a vacuum cleaner trying to tell us our place in the universe?

Eric Mader
Taipei
02/07/15

This and 42 other important public service announcements can be found in my new book Idiocy, Ltd.

2 comments:

Richelieu88 said...

"Can one imagine non-zombie scientists like Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein creating such an organization?"

Sigmund Freud and his Psychology-circle (rings inclusive) - who were also somehow a bit zombie, but never had such a money machine Dawkins installed with his "Foundation" and his totally outdated "Meme-theory" and biologistic Weltanschauung.

donovan mann said...

I would be careful about "studies" on High Functioning Autism. As someone who has High Functioning Autism I believe in God. One of the gifts that my autism has given me is logic. When I ask my fellow Aspies whether or not they believe in god, most say "of course". While they do not all hole to the Christian God, they do accept the concept of intelligent design as logical and even obvious.