Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Are There Any "Iraqis?"

Among the things I've come to doubt is the existence of Iraq, and of a people called the 'Iraqis.'

Remember when we all used to think there was a place called Yugoslavia and a people, the Yugoslavians? It was there on the map. On the Olympics broadcast the announcer would say something like, "And the Yugoslavian water polo team won the gold medal..."

Only one day we woke up to discover there was no such place and no such people. There were Serbs, and Croats, and Slovenes, Bosnian Muslims, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Albanians, but no Yugoslavians. They never existed.

Iraq looks more and more like "Yugoslavia." I've been reading a book about the creation of the modern Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and "Iraq" is just a bunch of lines drawn on a map by the English. It's filled with religions and their sects, tribes and their smaller clans, ethnicities and language groups, but nothing much really in common except that they all happen to live inside a line. The more I read Iraqi blogs that claim they're really not like this and there won't be a civil war, the more it sounds like whistling past the graveyard. I hope I'm wrong; I really wanted this Japan Solution to Iraq's problems to work out, but it won't happen if there are no 'Iraqis.'

Age of Aquarius

Just to show how difficult this is for me: I couldn't finish the last post before I was interrupted and I had to quickly click 'publish post.' I had more to say but now I can't remember what I was composing next. (I'm almost 40. When the train of thought is rudely and suddenly derailed, it never gets back on track. :)

So to continue with my former credophilia and why I want to be as friendly as possible to believers. I used to be a believer myself, so I always try to point this out when a believer says to me, "You're just one of those people who think I'm stupid because I have a religion."

No, I don't think he's stupid. He might be ignorant, which is not a synonym for stupidity. He (or she) might be lacking in self-criticism, which is hardly rare. But to call him stupid would be to call my former self stupid. I wasn't stupid; I was just misinformed and unskilled in thought.

For example, I firmly believed in astrology back in the 1970s. My older sister was devoted to it--still is, in fact, to both Occidental and Chinese astrology, despite the fact that they are mutually incompatible. The 70s was a time of great resurgence for astrology; in particular I was taken in by the big-selling Linda Goodman, author of Sun Signs. It was a normal topic at parties, one of those safe subjects one could yap to girls about. I don't know how popular it is now. From the age of about eleven up to about 19 or 20 I continued to believe it, but with each passing year with less and less seriousness, until I dropped it altogether. I didn't have some moment of sudden realization. Just the fact that I knew so much more about science and my troubling but undeniable real-world experiences showed that astrology just didn't work, just didn't do what it purported to do, were enough to erode to nothing my little hill of faith.

So that's how the Age of Aquarius came to an end. This didn't stop me from believing all kinds of other things, which lacked any good evidence, but that's for next time. Suffice to say I don't lack sympathy with credophiles, as do many other skeptics. I used to be one, as I'm reminded by every starry sky.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Way Forward?

How do I proceed with this blog? I've done nothing here because I have trouble with this question. I can't figure out how to do it without the usual nastiness and fireworks that seem to follow whenever I express my real opinions about things. I'm a skeptic, and an agnostic that you'd have trouble distinguishing from an atheist. How can I discuss the many things I doubt, particularly religion, without the heat and light that always seem to follow? It's because of this that I have to blog here under a pseudonym; my friends and family and particularly my job would be adversely affected if I were to openly talk about these things.

It annoys me of course that I have to keep my mouth shut. People at work can casually run their yaps about God this, prayer that, and I have to sit there and smile thinly and nod. Keep your mouth shut, I remind myself. Every time you open your piehole you get yourself in trouble, so just shut up. And smile. And nod.

Some people seem to have been skeptics or heretics from the first jump; but I wasn't like that. I always try to remember all the unsupportable stuff I once believed. I've learned to reject strongly held beliefs that lack evidence; I've also learned to fear them. I learned to do this through noticing how often things didn't match up with what I wanted to believe. I just seemed to learn through trial and error what sorts of things deserve to be accepted as true. It was only later that I came across skeptical literature, things written by Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, and Thomas Paine, among others.