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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

You may have heard about it recently in the news, depending on where you live.

On February 10, 2008, the birthday of death-by-Scientology victim Lisa McPherson, the internet group “Anonymous” organized – without a notable leader or leaders – mass worldwide protests of the Church of Scientology. More than 7,000 people in nearly 100 cities protested outside Scientology churches, sporting inside-joke Guy Fawkes masks.

Today, on March 15, 2008, the first Saturday after the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the same thing, under the code name “Operation Party Hard”. In parody of LRH’s birthday, Anonymous this time wore party hats and passed out party favors to fellow Anons. Cake was served. Along with chants of “CULT!” and “SCIENTOLOGY KILLS!” were hearty, mocking choruses of the Happy Birthday song.

Welcome to the internet culture of Anonymous.

Since Anonymous was first established, it has abided by its own “Rules of the Internet”. There is a list somewhere of 48 of them but only 3 “real” rules: 1, 2, and 34.

The first two are in the spirit of the Fight Club:

Rule 1 of the internet is “Do not talk about Anonymous.”
Rule 2 of the internet is “Do NOT talk about Anonymous.”

There have always been plenty of Anons who, feeling superior in being part of a group so cool that it can’t be mentioned to outsiders, have gone and shamed their fellow Anonymous by bragging about it to their friends and coworkers. (But most Anons have done this at least once.) In general, though, Anon kept it within Anon.

Through 2007, rules 1 and 2 kept weakening within Anon. Guy Fawkes masks (yes, an inside joke) started to show up at anime and gaming conventions around the globe. Anonymous’s flamboyance in the real world continued to increase until it declared war against Scientology, after which it did away with rules 1 and 2 for good. A couple of years ago, people arranging local meet-ups of Anonymous would be mocked for it. Now, Anonymous meets IRL with pride.

As long as there’s no longer a stigma associated with it, I may as well admit that I’ve been a “member” of Anonymous for over a year now.

Trust me, it’s not an elite hacker group at all, and Anonymous isn’t nearly as cool as it thinks it is. But to its credit, Anonymous is probably the most massive, effective, and fascinating destructive force for “justice” on the internet. Its culture is fascinating. Its methods, though disagreeable at times, are both hilarious and effective. Anonymous has its own subsects, its own politics, and its own justice system. I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been, as a person so intrigued by sociology, to watch this culture develop over the last year.

Anonymous would not be pleased, but I really feel like I need to share some of my more intriguing observations about the culture of Anonymous. Look forward to some fascinating posts about the other side of internet culture showing up in the next little while. If my readers feel that it interferes too much with the regular content of my blog, I’ll start putting them on seperate WordPress pages rather than the blog itself. I just need to share these observations somehow.

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Since I left the last ‘Weekend Reading’ until mid-week, this one has only a few days’ worth of links.  I believe these ones date back to… last Wednesday?  Anyway, enjoy this week’s very short list!

Best of the Week – Religion: Blind Faith (Washington Post)
Some disturbing information about religious literacy in the US here – for the most Christian nation in the world, I find this horrifying.  For instance, cited in the article is that less than half of Americans know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, that only half can name even one of the Gospels, and a little over 10% think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  The title of this article is very fitting – what are all these people following?

Psychology: This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) (New York Times)
How you view and retell memories says a lot about you, and can have substantial impact on your thoughts about them.  Sad and embarrassing memories viewed and recalled in the third person can actually seem less sad and embarrassing, and the people who recall them that way seem to have apparently learned more from them.

Software/Advice: Firefox Keyboard Shortcut to Retrieve Lost Tabs
The BEST Firefox tip I’ve ever heard.  It happens so often to me: I start closing down unused tabs, and accidentally delete one that I really needed.  Pressing Command+Shift+T (Ctrl+Shift+T for us Microsoft slaves) will bring back any tab you just closed.  No more accidentally deleting the wrong tabs!

Gender/Psychology: Girls do badly at math when told boys do better (Reuters)
A study from the University of Chicago shows that when girls are told that their male counterparts are naturally better at math, they start doing badly on tests.  This was also shown to impact achievement in whatever tests or classes they took directly afterwards, and was not limited to just mathematics.

Coffee: Understanding Coffee People
Coffee can be a link category all on its own, who says it can’t?  I found this accidentally through Google hunting for myself (you know you’ve done it).  These are descriptions of a few distinct “coffee types”… the Addict, the Snob, the Teenager (proud to say I’m not one of them in this context), etc.  Which one are you?  (I’m the Addict – I like my coffee bitter, black, and lots of it.)

Nostalgia: 15 (Painfully) Unforgettable Cartoon Theme Songs
Ahhh, pre-Y2K cartoons… how I miss that blurry quality that I thought was so awesome as a kid.  To think there are kids today growing up without classics like the Looney Tunes.  This is a list of 15 memorable cartoon themes (YouTubed and embedded!) from the 80s and 90s.  (Some of these I can just barely remember, and some I didn’t even realize had stopped airing. I miss the 90s… I made a Mister Rogers joke to some kids I know and they just gave me blank looks.  I shouldn’t have to feel that old yet.)

That’s it for this week!

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As I type, an article titled ‘Murdered for Being an Atheist’ is at the top of Digg‘s popularity list, currently with 2392 diggs (approvals from Digg users). This morning, when I first checked my Digg feed, the article had a mere 200 diggs–barely enough for the front page–featuring a dozen or so comments from outraged atheists condemning religion. I gave the comments page another glance just a few minutes ago, and the sheer volume of them actually froze my browser. (From what I could read before it collapsed on me–about a hundred or so comments in–most of the discussion was strongly bigoted on both sides.)

And, lo and behold, just as I was starting to think, “Gee, there have certainly been a lot of pro-atheist articles on Digg these last few months,” an article called ‘Digg and YouTube Powering Atheism 2.o’ clawed its way to the front page. Since I opened a new tab to begin writing this post, it has gone from 300 to 608 diggs. This, folks, is just in the last ten minutes. By the time I finish writing, I bet it’ll break 800. The article stated that there have been seven articles about Richard Dawkins on the front page in the last 2-3 months, and 10-12 other atheism-related articles. I disagree with these numbers. At the very least, I’d guess that I see at least one Dawkins- and/or atheism-related article every other day.

It’s not just atheism, either. A lot of trends–ideologies, software, politics–are being vastly spread through, and accepted by, the internet community. This isn’t a new thing, but it’s interesting to see which ideas are catching on and which are completely floundering in the era of Web 2.0. Going by Digg stats and my own observation, these are the biggest trends that are spreading via the web at the moment:

1. Atheism/Richard Dawkins.
As I mentioned before, atheism is gaining huge popularity among Digg users in particular. So much is being said about it right now that even the Los Angeles Times has jumped on the bandwagon with their recent article ’10 Myths–and 10 Truths–about Atheism’ (strangely, less than a week after reading this article on the web, I saw it reproduced in my local newspaper, The Vancouver Sun; it’s that popular.) Richard Dawkins, atheism’s front man, gets his own mention in this trend, and not just because he may have encouraged it with his recent bestseller, ‘The God Delusion.’ Dawkins himself is gaining a huge amount of internet popularity, with his articles and video lectures constantly appearing on the front page of Digg and making headlines in print newspapers, as well.

2. Anti-Christianity.
Though it could definitely be argued, I think it’s a trend apart from atheism. In fact, I have a hunch–though perhaps not a correct one–that this trend may have encouraged the atheism trend, because I was seeing a heck of a lot more anti-Christianity than atheism a few years back. It’s not just bashing fundamentalists, because even more liberal Christians are really getting it on the ‘net nowadays. I wish I could say it was a fair turnaround, but a lot of the outspoken Christian-bashers on the web are just as bigoted as the fundamentalists they condemn.

3. Anti-Bush.
Bush had the misfortune of coming into office at the time when the internet was just starting to really tear down barriers between civilians and authority. Certain things could just be expected to fade away in the past, or never reach the public eye in the first place. Not in Web 2.0. In Web 2.0, any sort of incompetency in authority can and will be spread through the masses. And indeed, it was–his current 30% approval rating is proof enough of that. I think the anti-Bush trend was probably the most widely internet-circulated of all.

4. Opensource.
This one is soft of a no-brainer, because why wouldn’t the opensource movement be popular? Getting spectacular, better-than-Microsoft software for free–plus constant and similarly free upgrades–was bound to catch on among Web 2.0 users. The only users who wouldn’t be quite as thrilled would be the programmers who depend on software companies for their paychecks. That’s why the huge popularity of the opensource movement is so important as an internet trend; it encourages more programmers to participate for the international recognition. Certain aspects of opensource have really taken off in the last year, particularly Ubuntu Linux, which probably wouldn’t have become so popular without forums and tech blogs to spread the news. For these reasons, I think it should still be considered an internet trend, even if its popularity among users was for obvious reasons.

I’ll end with this: the article I mentioned above about the spread of atheism through Digg and YouTube has reached exactly 850 diggs at this moment. How’s that for internet popularity?

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The concept of balance has been on my mind lately, in many different forms. The most recent of them was the fictional (is it?) concept of touka koukan (“Equivalent Exchange”) from the Japanese anime series ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’. The series is, predictably, about alchemy, but as a strict, practical science accompanied by laws and limitations, much like physics or chemistry. Touka koukan is one of these laws, explained at the beginning of every episode with this prologue: “Man cannot gain anything without first sacrificing something else. To obtain anything, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s Law of Equivalent Exchange.” (This, according to the show, is why the idea of a Philosopher’s Stone is so crucial to alchemy; it would allow the alchemist to bypass touka koukan.)

Outside of fictional worlds, we have the spiritual concepts of karma and the taijitu (yin and yang) and the scientific ones of equilibrium and Newton’s Third Law, all revolving around this general concept of balance. They’re all different interpretations of how it works and where it’s applied, but each reflects the same basic idea: that by nature, something is always equal to something else.

Correct me if I’m excluding anything important here, but it seems to me like these interpretations of balance–spiritual and scientific–can be divided into three types: cause-and-effect balance (touka koukan, Newton’s Third Law, karma), existing balance (yin and yang), and natural balancing (equilibrium). Not the best titles for each type, I know, but I hope the general idea gets across. The first type asserts that every action has an equal reaction, and it refers to action; there must be an initial action to spark the reaction. The second type is the idea that balance already exists, and will always exist; no action is needed, because the balance just is. The third type describes two unequal amounts of something balancing together (eg, the ideas behind carbon-14 dating and economic price theory), and is a sort of blend of the former two (action and pre-existing balance). All three are simply different views on balance.

Interpretations and applications of the balance concept are prevalent in many (if not all) cultures spanning the entire globe and thousands of years of human history. The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a ceremony called the Weighing of the Heart, in which the heart (believed to contain the soul) of the deceased was weighed against the feather of truth before they could be admitted to the afterlife. A strange example of balance, but an ancient and applicable one nonetheless. Better known is the Chinese idea of yin and yang, probably dating back even earlier than the Book of the Dead and developed independently thousands of miles east. The idea of religious sacrifice, present in early European and South/Central American religions (among others), is similar to touka koukan, because it stems from the belief that whatever is sacrificed will give them a blessing of similar value (hence the sacrificing of the more valuable things–best of the crops, best of the herds, sometimes children–was assumed to yield a better result).

So why is humankind so interested in the idea of balance? Why is it so widely spread out over so many cultures and time periods? “Because it’s true” is a very weak answer, because it’s hard to substantiate that (outside of equilibrium) without religious or philosophical claims. Why do some babies not survive to toddlerhood? They surely can’t have done something equivalently wrong already. It’s impossible to answer that without blaming a past life or claiming that the baby was ‘destined’ to die because his parents did something wrong. Why do bad things happen to good people, and why are murderers running free? Those kinds of questions can’t be answered with touka koukan or yin/yang or whatever form of balance we might think exists.

I haven’t reflected on the concept as much as I’d like (when do I ever?), or assessed my own personal beliefs on the matter, but I have a feeling that a belief in something like touka koukan might come from the urge to control. For most, I think, there’s a comfort associated with the knowledge that every result is deserved. It’s like a blending (balance?) of fate and control. We can’t control the balance itself, but we can control how we use it. If karma were true, whatever terrible thing that happens to us is our own fault. It’s controllable, yet not completely, and that’s what makes it such an appealing idea.

However, until the question of why bad things happen to good people can be actually answered, whether or not the prevalent concept of real balance actually exists can’t be determined. Speculation might or might not help; who knows?

Thoughts?

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