‘Boasters, Maids And Cockroaches’ – Conversations With A Believer


As many of you good, fine, upstanding and downright skeptical people will know, I like to hear from you.  I love getting your feedback, your comments, and your general thoughts – from the thought-provoking and informative, all the way through to the outright bizarre (yes Colonel Molerat, I do mean you).

Perhaps just as many of you may also know, I’m somewhat prone to receiving other comments, too.  I’ve been – in my short but somewhat-surreal skeptical career – labelled a paedophile, a fascist akin to the BNP*, accused of making myself look foolish and of having nothing more meaningful than my scouse wit – and that’s just what I can recall off the top of my head.  Fortunately, I kinda love it.

But I must admit, even my usually-calm blood was somewhat boiled by an exchange I recently had/am having on Facebook, in response to one of my regular (and actually rather innocuous) updates.  The feedbacker had, as far as I can see, taken offence to the question of the week that arose during the last Skeptics in the Pub (that’s right, I’m blaming you guys for this one!) – What would you sell your soul for?  Feel free to answer that if you haven’t already, by the way…

The nature of her feedback was somewhat remarkable to me – partly in the vehemence in the attack of British skeptics in general, and of me in particular.  But the other thing that struck me was the lack of direction – I can only assume from the tone and the aggression that she is a true believer, but curiously I have no clue what in!

I’ll keep the name of the feedbacker private for now, although if she’d like to stand by her views on a public forum I’m more than happy to continue the discussion we’re having here.  Until then, I’ll keep her name secret, but I will say that her friends list includes Steve, Jay and Bob Novello of the SGU, David Gorski of Science Based Medicine, David Colquhoun (pharmacologist and pseudo-medicine debunker) and even Richard Dawkins.  Either she’s hugely into the skeptical movement (and therefore has a personal grudge against me!), or she has other reasons for being involved.

In the interests of opening the discussion to a public forum and having a full and frank debate on the matter, I’ll publish here the exchange so far, unedited (save for obscuring the name of said feedbacker, whom we shall call D).  If nothing else, it will give you an opportunity to play ‘spot the logical fallacy’ and to see what level of argument a true believer (as I can only assume) will put forward.  I’ll let you guys make up your own minds, and your comments/logical-fallacy-sightings are welcomed:

Hi, Michael,
Answer me, please, buddy, why must the skeptics meet just IN THE PUB? Why – in conditions of drinking, in darkness, embracing with drunk stupid maids/chaps, in noise and sometimes even in smoke? Why – not in library, not outdoor among nice nature, not in university, not in cinema, not in theatre, etc? Why – just in this place of drinking and stupid entertainment?
Did you ask such question to yourself anywhen?
Why must reasonable and clever person (and skeptics consider themselves as reasonable and clever people, don’t them?) meet with friends in such conditions, which are suitable rather for idiots? Why is it necessary to change one idiotism to another stupidity?
Can you answer this question?
I guess that you can’t answer this question. You need enough brains for this. And it is unlikely you can find the answer yourself.
But your favourite eldest ally and countryman Professor Colquhoun forgot to explain you about this … 😛 😛
Cheers,
Dalilah.
PS. And why have you choose such idiotic subject – about Faust? Did you read Goethe? It sounds oddly for chap from Merseyside’s pub… 😛 Do Merseyside’s chaps read the books? And when do they do it? When don’t drink? 😛
Michael Marshall
23 July at 09:39
Hey Dalilah
Thanks for your questions. The reason our monthly debates and chats are in a pub is purely convenience – if we met in a cinema or theatre people would probably get a bit annoyed with our talking and chatting! It’s very hard to hold a balanced intellectual debate while strangers are asking you to quieten down and stop spoiling their film. Similar for the library really, it’s a bit off-putting to have a lively and educated debate while people are requiring silence to read! But, fortunately, we don’t just meet in pubs – I’ve met with people in parks, at parties, at book signings, and generally everywhere that people meet people.
Also, I don’t think I’d call a pub a place of stupid entertainment, but then again I’m not really someone who labels anything stupid really – except probably Big Brother. I can confirm to you right now that we will never have a Skeptics’ social event in the Big Brother house, you have my word on that.
So, I hope that answers the question(s) for you! Perhaps that means I have brains, I’m not sure but then again I was never making that claim really 😛
I think the beautiful thing about independent thought, really, is that it’s capable of being arrived to independently – if you can learn ways of exploring and learning about the world, the base set of tools, then you’ll find that these simple guidelines can help you navigate through all manner of mires.
As for Faust, I must confess I’ve not read Goethe, partly because I find 18th century German somewhat impenetrable but also because I though Kit Marlowe told the somewhat definitive tale in Dr. Faustus, I remember I studied it during the Elizabethan theatre areas of my English Degree and really enjoyed the story. Plus the way in which it feeds into the blues mythology of the depression era and the surrounding racial tensions I find very fascinating. But I suppose that’s the benefit of a Literature Degree, you’re able to appreciate all manner of authorial voices and histories. So I guess some merseyside-based chaps do read some books, or my entire degree class would have found life a lot easier! 😉 Perhaps I’m just an exception though! In the same way that a couple of members of our group, including Mike our president, have never drank alcohol in their lives! Perhaps your views are a little out of line with reality in general then!
All the best
Michael
Dalilah Porter
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Today at 14:32
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Hi, Michael,
Ha-ha, is Goethe “impenetrable”? 😉 And I thought always that – contrariwise – too comprehensible, and even slightly “primitive”, didactic and homiletic in some points, though sentimental and rhetorical as real German poet and philosopher 🙂
What a difference of views, eh? 🙂 Or – rather mentalities… 😉
And if doesn’t one drink alcohol, why does one come to pub? 😯
No, it is nonsense 🙂 Pub exists for drinking!
Any man must drink though once. Why? To know his measure and not to give his possible enemies additional weapon against himself.
However, I saw in some countries that their cinemas, theaters and libraries have special halls and rooms, which people can take (for payment and sometimes even free) for their meetings and not to disturb the readers/spectators by their noisy discussion. I saw also the meetings of skeptics in universities or in universities clubs. However, these countries have old traditions of reason, whereas Britain preserves still a tradition of stupidity, ignorance and obscurantism. This dark traditions comes from past centuries, when there were two ways to pass the time. Poor people did it in pubs, where they tippled up to piggish state. And rich people did it in elite clubs, where they behaved not better sometimes, because despite of their good education, they had low and dirty moral. Moreover – the university’s education gave only degree for career, but not knowledge for life.
Besides, the tradition of pub meetings is also some tribute of ancient and obsolete opinion that commons, plebeians are more progressive social power than educated people.
But if one thinks a bit, then the idea arises itself that the skeptic in pub is … some nonsense and enough idiotic contradiction…
Skepticism (if you don’t know it still) is a product of good education and reason. But in absence of high moral the skepticism turns into cynicism. However absence of education, reason and high moral makes the skeptic to be like a parrot, who is meaninglessly chiming the sounds of human speech.
Unfortunately, I don’t see your good education. Degree in literature supposes the good knowledge of originals and best examples of literature criticism. But it seems you were taught merely to murmur nice senseless words and in addition, you were hastily familiarized with the list of main world writers. And the content of their works (best world literature classics!) was reported for you on the level of comics and yellow tabloids. Your degree is suitable only to boaster before silly maids, having an aim to fuck each other in some dark corner and rush asunder after this like cockroaches. Pardon.
Education must be valuable for life – the doctor, engineer, teacher, scientist, etc. Educated person of these professions, if he (she) has self-esteem and love of learning, as a rule knows also literature, art, history, etc by tens better than any humanitarian. Thus former has two good educations in fact, whereas latter has one very poor education. If a person wants to be skeptic, the person needs to receive good education plus – … to have the brains 😉
And as for Big Brother…. 🙂 My first husband was Russian (the scientist from USSR). So I could tell you much more funny info about the interesting side of our great world such as “Big Brotherhood” than all our stupid mass media 😉
Sorry for my delay with answer. Simply I was bored. Only educated and clever people are interesting as companions. But then I thought that you are still young, so you have time and chance to become clever and educated man in future, if you are warned in time.
That is why I have answered.
Good luck.
Dalilah.
PS. As for Faust… And didn’t you have an idea that devil can give only NOTHING? Don’t you understand – why? Because devil is a Master of DESTRUCTION, but not creation. So devil CAN’T give or create something. He can only take away or destroy. So – to ask devil about anything is terrible stupidity. And this primitive thought is main idea of all innumerable versions of this fairy-tale about Faust. Uh-huh… 😉
Michael Marshall
Today at 23:18
Hi Delilah
Goethe is as impenetrable to someone who speaks and reads almost no German as Sun Tzu is to someone who reads no Chinese – I of course wasn’t talking about a translation of the text into a native tongue to the reader.
I think people visit a pub for the association and interaction as well as the alcohol – as I say, there are members of our group who are teetotal. Then again, there are also members who do not wish to ‘fuck silly maids in dark corners and scuttle off like cockroaches’ too, so perhaps you have a strange impression of English pubs! Similarly, your perception of Britain as a tradition of stupidity seems somewhat baffling also – I am not someone who believes with fervent nationalism that any country is so much intrinsically better than any other, but to label a country which gave the world Newton, Shakespeare, Darwin, Faraday, Orwell and Hawking as having ‘a tradition of stupidity, ignorance and obscurantism’ seems a wildly inaccurate and baffling statement!
Similarly I have to take umbrage with your use of discriminant and archaic labels such as ‘plebians’ and ‘commons’ to describe members of (presumably) the working class, although from your broken grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker of the Eastern European or Germanic regions, I’d say, perhaps this is more of a language barrier issue.
Ironic, too, that you profess to have a better understanding of skepticism as being based on education and reason, and yet you purport that there is an internal and ‘idiotic contradiction’ in the notion of skepticism taking place in a public house – this is a clear non-sequitor, as there is nothing in the slightest to say that reason cannot act within the walls one particular building as opposed to another. For too long, people assume that discussion, debate and knowledge is the sole remit of the privileged and the stuffy, the snobbish assumption that the ‘plebians’ in their pubs are not worthy of entry into the elitist world of such haughty notions as reason and logic is a wildly antiquated and counter-productive to social and scientific advance, frankly.
It’s also bizarre that you lay claim to my level of education and the content of my learnings throughout my life – I’d be intrigued as to how you came to the conclusion, logically and with sound reasoning, that I ‘were taught merely to murmur nice senseless words and in addition, you were hastily familiarized with the list of main world writers’. Bizarre. Please, if you could detail your thought process in coming to the conclusion that ‘the content of their works (best world literature classics!) was reported for [me] on the level of comics and yellow tabloids’ it would greatly increase my understanding of a viewpoint so alien and askew to the rational-minded.
To your opinion that the only valid education is that of a doctor, engineer or scientist, again I can only shake my head in wonder! What world you wish to live in, where people may only walk such narrow paths! Why you wish to deny the world the art, music and literature you were only moments ago chastising my supposed ignorance of… I suppose one of the many burdens of the rational and logical mind is the need to obey internally consistent standards; abandonment of such constraints must free you up to be as internally inconsistent and self-contradictory as you see fit.
I am, however, grateful for your concern that I am neither clever nor educated, and your wish to save me from a life of such leaden-eyed dopery. I wish only that one day this young man may reach so haughty a position as to dispense the wisdom and beneficence you’ve shown me so far.
Adieu, et à votre santé
Michael

_________________________________________________________________

From: D
23 July at 08:44

Hi, Michael,

Answer me, please, buddy, why must the skeptics meet just IN THE PUB? Why – in conditions of drinking, in darkness, embracing with drunk stupid maids/chaps, in noise and sometimes even in smoke? Why – not in library, not outdoor among nice nature, not in university, not in cinema, not in theatre, etc? Why – just in this place of drinking and stupid entertainment?

Did you ask such question to yourself anywhen?

Why must reasonable and clever person (and skeptics consider themselves as reasonable and clever people, don’t them?) meet with friends in such conditions, which are suitable rather for idiots? Why is it necessary to change one idiotism to another stupidity?

Can you answer this question?

I guess that you can’t answer this question. You need enough brains for this. And it is unlikely you can find the answer yourself.

But your favourite eldest ally and countryman Professor Colquhoun forgot to explain you about this … 😛 😛

Cheers,
D.

PS. And why have you choose such idiotic subject – about Faust? Did you read Goethe? It sounds oddly for chap from Merseyside’s pub… 😛 Do Merseyside’s chaps read the books? And when do they do it? When don’t drink? 😛

_________________________________________________________________

From:  Marsh
23 July at 09:39

Hey D

Thanks for your questions. The reason our monthly debates and chats are in a pub is purely convenience – if we met in a cinema or theatre people would probably get a bit annoyed with our talking and chatting! It’s very hard to hold a balanced intellectual debate while strangers are asking you to quieten down and stop spoiling their film. Similar for the library really, it’s a bit off-putting to have a lively and educated debate while people are requiring silence to read! But, fortunately, we don’t just meet in pubs – I’ve met with people in parks, at parties, at book signings, and generally everywhere that people meet people.

Also, I don’t think I’d call a pub a place of stupid entertainment, but then again I’m not really someone who labels anything stupid really – except probably Big Brother. I can confirm to you right now that we will never have a Skeptics’ social event in the Big Brother house, you have my word on that.

So, I hope that answers the question(s) for you! Perhaps that means I have brains, I’m not sure but then again I was never making that claim really 😛

I think the beautiful thing about independent thought, really, is that it’s capable of being arrived to independently – if you can learn ways of exploring and learning about the world, the base set of tools, then you’ll find that these simple guidelines can help you navigate through all manner of mires.

As for Faust, I must confess I’ve not read Goethe, partly because I find 18th century German somewhat impenetrable but also because I though Kit Marlowe told the somewhat definitive tale in Dr. Faustus, I remember I studied it during the Elizabethan theatre areas of my English Degree and really enjoyed the story. Plus the way in which it feeds into the blues mythology of the depression era and the surrounding racial tensions I find very fascinating. But I suppose that’s the benefit of a Literature Degree, you’re able to appreciate all manner of authorial voices and histories. So I guess some merseyside-based chaps do read some books, or my entire degree class would have found life a lot easier! 😉 Perhaps I’m just an exception though! In the same way that a couple of members of our group, including Mike our president, have never drank alcohol in their lives! Perhaps your views are a little out of line with reality in general then!

All the best
Michael

_________________________________________________________________

From:  D
27 July at 14:32

Hi, Michael,

Ha-ha, is Goethe “impenetrable”? 😉 And I thought always that – contrariwise – too comprehensible, and even slightly “primitive”, didactic and homiletic in some points, though sentimental and rhetorical as real German poet and philosopher 🙂

What a difference of views, eh? 🙂 Or – rather mentalities… 😉

And if doesn’t one drink alcohol, why does one come to pub? 😯

No, it is nonsense 🙂 Pub exists for drinking!

Any man must drink though once. Why? To know his measure and not to give his possible enemies additional weapon against himself.

However, I saw in some countries that their cinemas, theaters and libraries have special halls and rooms, which people can take (for payment and sometimes even free) for their meetings and not to disturb the readers/spectators by their noisy discussion. I saw also the meetings of skeptics in universities or in universities clubs. However, these countries have old traditions of reason, whereas Britain preserves still a tradition of stupidity, ignorance and obscurantism. This dark traditions comes from past centuries, when there were two ways to pass the time. Poor people did it in pubs, where they tippled up to piggish state. And rich people did it in elite clubs, where they behaved not better sometimes, because despite of their good education, they had low and dirty moral. Moreover – the university’s education gave only degree for career, but not knowledge for life.

Besides, the tradition of pub meetings is also some tribute of ancient and obsolete opinion that commons, plebeians are more progressive social power than educated people.

But if one thinks a bit, then the idea arises itself that the skeptic in pub is … some nonsense and enough idiotic contradiction…

Skepticism (if you don’t know it still) is a product of good education and reason. But in absence of high moral the skepticism turns into cynicism. However absence of education, reason and high moral makes the skeptic to be like a parrot, who is meaninglessly chiming the sounds of human speech.

Unfortunately, I don’t see your good education. Degree in literature supposes the good knowledge of originals and best examples of literature criticism. But it seems you were taught merely to murmur nice senseless words and in addition, you were hastily familiarized with the list of main world writers. And the content of their works (best world literature classics!) was reported for you on the level of comics and yellow tabloids. Your degree is suitable only to boaster before silly maids, having an aim to fuck each other in some dark corner and rush asunder after this like cockroaches. Pardon.

Education must be valuable for life – the doctor, engineer, teacher, scientist, etc. Educated person of these professions, if he (she) has self-esteem and love of learning, as a rule knows also literature, art, history, etc by tens better than any humanitarian. Thus former has two good educations in fact, whereas latter has one very poor education. If a person wants to be skeptic, the person needs to receive good education plus – … to have the brains 😉

And as for Big Brother…. 🙂 My first husband was Russian (the scientist from USSR). So I could tell you much more funny info about the interesting side of our great world such as “Big Brotherhood” than all our stupid mass media 😉

Sorry for my delay with answer. Simply I was bored. Only educated and clever people are interesting as companions. But then I thought that you are still young, so you have time and chance to become clever and educated man in future, if you are warned in time.

That is why I have answered.

Good luck.

D.

PS. As for Faust… And didn’t you have an idea that devil can give only NOTHING? Don’t you understand – why? Because devil is a Master of DESTRUCTION, but not creation. So devil CAN’T give or create something. He can only take away or destroy. So – to ask devil about anything is terrible stupidity. And this primitive thought is main idea of all innumerable versions of this fairy-tale about Faust. Uh-huh… 😉

_________________________________________________________________

From:  Marsh
27 Julyat 23:18

Hi D.

Goethe is as impenetrable to someone who speaks and reads almost no German as Sun Tzu is to someone who reads no Chinese – I of course wasn’t talking about a translation of the text into a native tongue to the reader.

I think people visit a pub for the association and interaction as well as the alcohol – as I say, there are members of our group who are teetotal. Then again, there are also members who do not wish to ‘fuck silly maids in dark corners and scuttle off like cockroaches’ too, so perhaps you have a strange impression of English pubs! Similarly, your perception of Britain as a tradition of stupidity seems somewhat baffling also – I am not someone who believes with fervent nationalism that any country is so much intrinsically better than any other, but to label a country which gave the world Newton, Shakespeare, Darwin, Faraday, Orwell and Hawking as having ‘a tradition of stupidity, ignorance and obscurantism’ seems a wildly inaccurate and baffling statement!

Similarly I have to take umbrage with your use of discriminant and archaic labels such as ‘plebians’ and ‘commons’ to describe members of (presumably) the working class, although from your broken grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker of the Eastern European or Germanic regions, I’d say, perhaps this is more of a language barrier issue.

Ironic, too, that you profess to have a better understanding of skepticism as being based on education and reason, and yet you purport that there is an internal and ‘idiotic contradiction’ in the notion of skepticism taking place in a public house – this is a clear non-sequitor, as there is nothing in the slightest to say that reason cannot act within the walls one particular building as opposed to another. For too long, people assume that discussion, debate and knowledge is the sole remit of the privileged and the stuffy, the snobbish assumption that the ‘plebians’ in their pubs are not worthy of entry into the elitist world of such haughty notions as reason and logic is a wildly antiquated and counter-productive to social and scientific advance, frankly.

It’s also bizarre that you lay claim to my level of education and the content of my learnings throughout my life – I’d be intrigued as to how you came to the conclusion, logically and with sound reasoning, that I ‘were taught merely to murmur nice senseless words and in addition, you were hastily familiarized with the list of main world writers’. Bizarre. Please, if you could detail your thought process in coming to the conclusion that ‘the content of their works (best world literature classics!) was reported for [me] on the level of comics and yellow tabloids’ it would greatly increase my understanding of a viewpoint so alien and askew to the rational-minded.

To your opinion that the only valid education is that of a doctor, engineer or scientist, again I can only shake my head in wonder! What world you wish to live in, where people may only walk such narrow paths! Why you wish to deny the world the art, music and literature you were only moments ago chastising my supposed ignorance of… I suppose one of the many burdens of the rational and logical mind is the need to obey internally consistent standards; abandonment of such constraints must free you up to be as internally inconsistent and self-contradictory as you see fit.

I am, however, grateful for your concern that I am neither clever nor educated, and your wish to save me from a life of such leaden-eyed dopery. I wish only that one day this young man may reach so haughty a position as to dispense the wisdom and beneficence you’ve shown me so far.

Adieu, et à votre santé
Michael

_________________________________________________________________

That’s as far as we are so far – D, I await your response.

_________________________________________________________________

Quick Update – A comeback from D.

From:  D
28 July at 08:05

Hi, Michael,

I have impression of you, not of English pubs… 😉

Wszystkiego najlepszego,

D.

_________________________________________________________________

From:  Marsh
28 July at 09:24
Hi D.

Really? That seems unusual, given your initial note mentioning pubs as being ‘in darkness, embracing with drunk stupid maids/chaps, in noise and sometimes even in smoke’, and how the pubs are ‘such conditions, which are suitable rather for idiots’.

Also, what gave you such bizarre and incorrectly-specific impressions of me?

And it’s not my birthday for another month yet… but dziękuję anyway!

Michael

_________________________________________________________________

*A somewhat long story whereby an old school friend of mine decided that, as he’s just finished being psychically ‘tuned’, he would offer me sound and sage advice of the ‘turn your life around and believe or great misery will come your way variety’.  When I offered him a little more critical thinking and posed a few questions, I was treated to ‘skeptics, to me, are exactly like the BNP’.  Amazing.

, , ,

  1. #1 by Chris H on July 28, 2009 - 01:02

    I have never had a sceptic-oriented diatribe such as this from someone but I have had a fair few from religious individuals who seek discussions on science and philosophy. Mostly I start off with great enthusiasm before plunging into despair after hours of ploughing through mindless tripe… I have now started taking a proactive approach and telling them that I simply do not have time to engage in online debate, but if they ever fancy a coffee and a chat I am willing to meet up. I haven’t had anyone take me up on it so far, but I live in hope!

    This particular lady’s vitriol reads like one of those Nigerian con-emails when the author has been spending too much time alone with a thesaurus. She sounds fun, though, if arrogant. Maybe invite her along to a meeting? 🙂

  2. #2 by Lard on July 28, 2009 - 11:04

    Machine translation?

  3. #3 by Trystan on July 28, 2009 - 11:59

    Couple of points:

    1) It is a ridiculously snobbish attitude that only someone with ‘good education plus – … brains’ can be an effective skeptic. It does not necessarily follow. Sure, it helps to be aware of science and logic but to an extent everyone is skeptical to a certain extent. Skepticism explains why we don’t respond to Nigerian scam emails. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t engineers, scientists etc, who do not hold degrees but can be, or possess the potential to be very good skeptics.

    2) I’m completely tee-total (oops, tautology!) but I have no problems meeting in a pub with other skeptically minded people. A pub is a reasonable venue because they have refreshments on tap and are something of a social centre. They are also far more alluring than the prospect of meeting in Goole community centre.

    However, I have the suspicion that said correspondent is a wind-up merchant!

  4. #4 by Colonel Molerat on July 28, 2009 - 13:13

    Drat! I wish I could write gold like D can!

  5. #5 by Colonel Molerat on July 28, 2009 - 13:44

    Hell’s bells and buckets of blood! I just lost a more detailed reply when I closed the wrong tab…
    I’d like to know D’s background, as well as her real grudge (besides the ad-hominum attacks on you). The conclusion to her penultimate letter certainly suggests an (in my experience) evangelical protestant – ‘new Christian’?
    And why are pubs so bad? A little self-administered, temporary stupidity is quite enjoyable – ignorance is bliss! In the extremes, temporary nirvanic oblivion can be refreshing!
    In less excessive doses, alcohol is a valuable social lubricant – especially if we live up to the stereotype of asocial science nerds…
    And for those who don’t drink? Apart from the noise, drunks and low-quality ‘dry’ drinks, pubs tend to be frequent, central, relaxed, fairly well-decorated, tolerant of groups and noise, free to occupy, and providing of refreshments.
    They’re also usually easier to find and nicer to occupy than a university classroom (which are generally nestled deep within miles of labyrinthine halls, in my experience!).
    When it comes to meeting places, I’d rather dally in the idiots’ lair than wherever the people like D reside…

  6. #6 by Barbara on July 30, 2009 - 01:53

    Wow! If I could argue in English as well as the Polish lady can, I’d be well proud. Good for you D!
    But all credit to Marsh for taking the time to address all her issues; don’t you have work to do? Let’s hope D turns up at the pub (and resists the temptation of alcohol of course) to continue the debate.
    But maybe she has a point about pubs… recovering alcoholics mighty prefer a temperance hall, but hey you can’t cater to everyone’s needs.

(will not be published)