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The Marketplace of Realities

August 8, 2019

If elected president, Bernie Sanders will go on Joe Rogan’s show and tell the tRuTh about aliens. Yep:

Rogan: If you got into the office and you found out something about aliens, if you found out something about UFOs, would you let us know?
Sanders: Well I tell you, my wife would demand I let you know.
Rogan: Is your wife a UFO nut?
Sanders: No, she’s not a UFO nut. She goes, Bernie, ‘What is going on, do you know? Do you have any access?’
Rogan: You don’t have any access? You’ll let us know though?
Sanders: Alright, we’ll announce it on the show. How’s that?

How best to assess the risk of alien invasion, or of Bernie Sanders spilling the beans about an alien invasion? On the latest Point of Inquiry podcast, Kavin Senapathy talks to neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme about risk and risk perception. I’m looking forward to this one.

Susan Gerbic interviews CSICon speaker and biologist Nathan Lents:

Understanding the twists and turns of our evolutionary journey is not a subject of idle curiosity. It can provide profound insights into how we can make the most of the life we have now and the society we would like to live in.

In Arizona, humanist celebrant Luke Douglas is taking a novel approach to challenging the IRS’s “parsonage exemption”; not by suing, but by trying to claim that exemption himself:

Unlike recent legal challenges that sought to strike down the tax rule as a government subsidy and endorsement of religion, Douglas mainly wants to broaden the reach of the parsonage exemption beyond ministers, pastors, rabbis and the like.If the IRS doesn’t object, other nonprofit leaders could be encouraged to claim the tax break.

“We believe it should apply equally to nonprofit leaders across the board,” he said.

The Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix is a nonprofit group that includes atheists, agnostics and other “free thinkers,” he said.

State legislators in Wisconsin are looking to close loopholes that keep clergy from reporting sexual abuse they discover is being perpetrated by other clergy as well as abolish statutes of limitations for civil suits by sexual abuse victims against clergy.

Alyssa Rosenberg tells us that QAnon and its tangle of conspiracy theories may sound ridiculous, but the forces driving it are anything but:

The best way to think of QAnon may be not as a conspiracy theory, but as an unusually absorbing alternate-reality game with extremely low barriers to entry. The “Q” poster’s cryptic missives give believers a task to complete on a semiregular basis. …

… If QAnon functions like a puzzle game, other extremists are borrowing from the aesthetics of video games to stylize their massacres — and to challenge potential imitators to new heights of violence. …

… we’re living not in a marketplace of ideas but in a “marketplace of realities.” And the tools of gaming have given disaffected people the ability to bend our reality to theirs, whether we like it or not.

One conspiracy theory in what I just decided to call the QPU (QAnon Psychopathic Universe) is that of “white replacement,” you know, whereby all these not-real-Americans (or not-real-Europeans) like people of color and Jews will take over and kick out the nice white men. Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo does the ugly task of delving into the muck:

The conspiracy theory has evolved from a fringe European idea into a concept that’s been customized for American politics, becoming a main talking point of the alt-right, while Fox News and, occasionally, the President have drawn on elements of it without necessarily fully adhering to the notion. …

In August 2018, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) explicitly endorsed the theory, telling a far-right Austrian website, “Great Replacement, yes,” while adding that “These people walking into Europe by ethnic migration, 80 percent are young men.” King went on to blame billionaire George Soros as masterminding the supposed cabal behind the conspiracy.

Fox News has begun to propagate aspects of the racist narrative over the past year, without necessarily adhering to the theory itself. The Fox News version is more narrowly focused on domestic electoral politics, accusing Democrats of pushing for replacement for partisan political advantage.

The utterly insufferable Tucker Carlson has rendered the very concept of irony comatose as he declared white supremacy to be a hoax and conspiracy theory. Margaret Sullivan (who I spoke to on Point of Inquiry back in olden times) shows us the pointy hats:

Carlson’s nightly show does a great deal to portray nonwhites as the dangerous “other,” a force to be beaten back to save America.

His denials and rhetoric must be called out for the lies that they are.

Consider his and his Fox colleagues’ insistence on using the word “invasion” to describe migrants coming to America — generally people of color from countries south of the border. … as Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith put it: “By likening people to insects or vermin, even if he considers them criminals, [Trump] provides himself license to be an exterminator. We know that story.” …

… if Carlson thinks he hasn’t met a single white supremacist, he might want to take a searching look in the mirror.

Here’s Louie Gohmert (I know, I know, I feel sick already too) on the El Paso shooter:

…all of this screaming and yelling we need to punish him for hate crimes, you know, that’s just going to be something used to lock up preachers someday.

I don’t know what preachers he’s hanging out with, but he should probably frisk them because they sound very dangerous.

On his road to becoming a “professional humanist,” James Croft recalls coming over from the UK to Harvard:

… even in coastal Boston, people were much more religious. I was shocked, in fact, in my first weeks in the graduate student dorms on campus, to meet a fellow student who had never met a nonreligious person. This person, when they found out somehow that I didn’t believe in God, literally laughed in my face, as if it was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

Today I learned that scientists are discovering more about our earliest multi-cellular ancestors and naming things after Norse mythological characters (by which we obviously mean the superhero Thor). Here’s Ars Technica:

…large-scale DNA sequencing … enabled us to start looking at the DNA of organisms that couldn’t otherwise be grown in sufficient quantities to characterize. In 2010, sequencing of environmental samples revealed the existence of the Asgard archaea (including Lokiarchaeota, Thorarchaeota, Odinarchaeota, and Heimdallarchaeota). Based on the genome reconstructions, these organisms appear to have relatives of some genes that had only been seen previously in eukaryotes and are used for organizing the inside of cells. Various studies of their DNA placed them as eukaryotes’ closest living relatives—in fact, all eukaryotes can be considered a single branch of the Asgard archaea.

Quote of the Day

This GIF. You’re welcome.

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