Durango Skeptics and Atheists

A Community for Critical Thinkers in the Four Corners Region

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango NEWSLETTER January 21, 2014

Skeptics and Atheists of Durango        January 21, 2015


All meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango.    Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM.  Meeting at 6:00-ish.

This month, Kathleen (with a K) will be moderating a discussion of cognitive bias.  As ‘K’ cheerfully observed, “Cognitive Biases, we’ve all got ‘em.”  What are they?  What are yours? What to do about them?  This should be a great discussion!



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“You Will Never Change My Decision.”


  1. Jane Dunn

    It’s important to wonder whether freedom of speech was worth 12 lives in Paris. Not being one of the 12 and not knowing any of them personally, it’s easy for me to say, “Yes. Yes! It’s worth it!” And it’s easy to mean it. It seems to me that feeedom of speech is an all or nothing issue. It would be ideal if the ENTIRE WORLD stood together and said, “Go ahead. We will never back down, no matter what you do.” The religious idiots are unlikely to out-fight the rest of the world. Although I’m a skeptic, I do tend to believe good outweighs bad most of the time and when it’s vitally important. Having said that…I’m not convinced “the world” has the guts or the balls to make a united front against these assholes. There’s a lot to be said for turning the other cheek and standing your ground. However, that door swings both ways. And it’s likely to be a long, bloody fight with no winners. There’s no accounting for taste or tact. But in a perfect world, we should all be free to say whatever we want. Jane BE GOOD HUMANS

  2. It IS important to defend free speech…I am just not convinced that these cartoons are worth poking an angry ignorant mob in the eye for. For instance, it might have been more productive to have engaged Muslims in a discussion over their primitive blasphemy laws…but good luck doing that now! Why stir up trouble when you don’t have to, I am wondering? What did we gain? More important, what did we lose?
    I am attempting to think ‘beyond my confirmation biases’…so I am trying to imagine how things look to the miserable masses that we have had a part in making more miserable.
    For instance, I wondered how many civilian deaths occurred in Iraq as a result of the US war-of-choice? Answer: somewhere between 150,000 and 500,000 invasion-related civilian deaths are estimated for the years 2003 – 2011. jIt’s an ‘estimate’ because the US Gubbmint intentionally failed to count them. As a conservative estimate, say the US is responsible for killing around 200,000 civilians in a country of 26,000,000 over eight years. The US population is more that 12x larger than Iraq…so a comparable loss to the US would involve the loss of 2,400,000 American lives to a foreign invader! The US went ape-shit ballistic when we suffered the loss of ‘only’ 3,000 on 9/11…imagine what we’d do if 2 1/2 million of us ended up dead in an invasion!! Why shouldn’t the residents of the mid-east be outraged just as we would be?

    With regard to the Paris attack, the murderers are indeed ‘assholes’. But the huge anti-Islam rallies in Germany and in France must look pretty frightening to the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslims who have taken refuge in those countries. European colonialism is coming home to roost! On balance, I can see how Muslims might feel a bit stressed by the past few decades.
    There is no good excuse for such criminal actions as the Charlie Hebdo murders, but we’d be smarter to limit our own rhetoric so that we can better coexist with the 2,038,040,000 Muslims with whom we share this god-forsaken dirt clod. As it stands now, we are heading into chaos.

    BTW, did you check out the blog by Katie Miranda, the political cartoonist? She expresses the frustration and angst that I imagine innocent and law-abiding Muslims are feeling. She is what got me started on this tangent.

  3. Sebastian

    The actions of the US government in the Middle East that you mention are dually noted. But to answer the question of whether or not it is acceptable to exercise free speech to the extent that Charlie Hebdo did, the answer is yes. The cartoons I’ve seen appear to be satire directed at the extreme and more profane aspects of the muslim world. And there appear to be parallel satires directed at Catholics, Jews, and politicians. Would it be appropriate to call the magazine Catholic-phobe for its cartoons criticizing the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests? Absolutely not. Do many Catholics find such a cartoon offensive? Probably, but the cartoon is not directed at the rank-and-file of that particular religion, but rather the leadership of the Catholic Church. And the true offense they should be offended about is the cover-up, and not the criticism of it. Absolute free speech is one of the very few tools that the masses have to call the leaders of various institutions out on their bad behavior.

    And if a person exercises their right to free speech by actually creating speech that is Islamaphobe, Anti-Semite, racist, or whatever, the proper response is to rebut with more free speech to counter them. Publish their stupid comments, show them what a fool they are, shed sunlight on their thoughts so they can be ridiculed.

    Should a person go to work and mockingly criticize the religious convictions of their co-workers? Probably not a good idea. Same for a head of state as another example. But for a known satirical publication, the publishing of such criticisims is perfectly acceptable as this is an appropriate forum for harsh, perhaps profane speech. The rational will understand the context, and unfortunately the irrational will not. And at any rate, no one has a right to not be offended.

  4. Dave

    Thank you for your excellent work, Larry!

  5. Sabastian: Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I am no fan of Religion. I am especially not a fan of Islam. If I could wave a magic wand and banish all organized religion, I would do so in a heartbeat. But the reality is that we have to learn to live side-by-side with those who choose to walk through life on their knees, groveling to a vengeful/angry god, demanding that we all do likewise.

    I am suggesting that perhaps satire, in the case of Charlie Hebdo, wasn’t the best avenue for affecting change in a huge violent religious movement that has no history in, or understanding of, satire. If our goal in The West is to attract Islam to join the 21st century, we are doing a poor job. I am suggesting that insulting the core beliefs of such people in the casual way that Charlie Hebdo did (which, again, was their Right) made a bad situation even worse.

    I am suggesting that perhaps it’s due to the confirmation biases of The West to think that these cartoons were an invitation for the world of Islam (which is not progressive and not modern but which is anti-intellectual and anti-free speech) to form their own satirical newspaper to ‘fight back’. For CH to attack Western politicians and Western theology is one thing, since we (in the modern West) have a history of public discourse about sensitive subjects and a tradition of free speech. The world of Islam, however, is stuck back in the sixth or seventh century and views free speech as something Evil and subversive. Instead of convincing them otherwise, we have just confirmed THEIR confirmation bias that the West is out to destroy their religion, their world view.

    Say, for example, you hate the Hell’s Angels and want them to become better people. Although it is within your rights, it would not be prudent or effective to repeatedly draw and publish cartoons depicting them in dresses, sharing homosexual kisses with one another and riding pink bikes. Hell’s Angels, known for being violent and not devoted to intellectual pursuits, would most likely send you to the hospital (if you were lucky). Is a violent response to the provocation acceptable? NO. Although it was your ‘right’ to draw such cartoons and publish them, was the ultimate outcome predictable? Yes. Did your cartoons help you achieve your goal of reforming Hell’s Angels? No.

    The goal of the Charlie cartoons was not a lofty one…reform of Islam was not their aim. Their goal was only to sell more newspapers. Was it their right to publish whatever they wished? Yes. Was it prudent to do so? Was it helpful in any way? No. Was this outcome foreseeable? Yes, and that opinion was expressed by one of the founders of Charlie Hebdo (see January Newsletter) who blames the current, now deceased, CH Editor for being a ‘blockhead’.

    I am trying to walk in the other guys’ shoes and it isn’t hard to imagine that there is some serious Karma that we in the West will have to own. It seems you are blowing off “the actions of the US government in the Middle East” which you say you have duly noted. If the United States lost 2.5 million of its citizens over an eight year period because of the actions of a foreign power on our soil, there would be no containing the Fury…bombs would be falling on all of our perceived enemies 24/7. Well, a similar catastrophic loss of life actually happened in Iraq. And the religious conflagration we, The West, started rages on and on. And those in Paris paid with their lives.

  6. There is an interesting article on the front page of today’s Herald tracing the history of Islam’s traditions regarding images of Muhammad. Here is the link: durangoherald.co.newsmemory.com/publink.php?shareid=42183495f

  7. Sebastian

    I agree that the west has not been kind to that part of the world, what with the crusades and colonialism and the associated proselytizing (to be fair, similar actions were carried out by Middle Eastern peoples as well). But I firmly believe that the principles of our constitution and Bill of Rights are the way forward. Rule of law, free speech, religious tolerance, etc. are the keys to a society that will maximize happiness and promote the general welfare of all. We can’t undo all the wrongs of the past, nor should we because we were not responsible for those wrongs. But if we live up to these liberal principles going forward, then religious extremism will lose much of it’s fuel.

    Unfortunately, “we” are not living up to those principals. Setting aside whether our interventions in Iraq or Afganistan were justified, we have not been living up to those principals. From leadership speaking of military actions in Christian terms, conducting torture, soldiers disseminating bibles, arbitrarily picking and choosing sides on political whims, conducting mass surveillance, or passing out tanks to our own local police, we have been setting a pretty poor example. The French and much of the rest of Europe are no better. They actually have laws against “hate speech” (see amendment #1) and although they have allowed huge numbers of muslims to immigrate there, they have done little to promote their assimilation into the larger society, and in some cases have accommodated Sharia law, which doesn’t help with the assimilation, and creates a dangerous precedent for the rule of law (rule of two sets of law?). Not to mention banning of certain religious dress (again see amendment #1) and what appears to be a general xenophobia (or let’s just call it racism) across Europe.

    The French have certainly contributed to the huge population of disaffected muslim youth in their own country. And it’s not surprising that some fanatics have sprang out of their ranks. And by no means am I excusing their actions. But the exercising of the freedom of expression by CH was an example of people doing what they should have been doing all along.

  8. Sebastian: We agree. I also think my culture has the correct path for the world’s future. I also believe in total free expression…but there is not tradition that is remotely similar to free speech in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, their cognitive bias tells them that THEIRS is the correct path. I have no answers to offer. It’s just that the CH cartoons were an unnecessary and unhelpful contribution to the world dialogue.

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