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The Secular Society and its Enemies: Nov. 2007 Conference, NYC
Posted: 02 August 2007 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]
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HERE is the info about this Center for Inquiry conference, which will take place from November 9th to the 11th. It is being organized by the CFI-NYC, and appears to be in concert with the New York Academy of Sciences, as it will be at their new venue in lower Manhattan.

Includes a long list of excellent and potentially very interesting speakers.

I would definitely urge everyone to take a look and attend!

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Posted: 02 August 2007 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Cool! I was going to visit by brother in NYC in November anyway. This really motivates me to go…

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Posted: 03 August 2007 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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please dont tell me I just read on the homepage that this group considers Dershowitz a defender of freedoms, especially of science and secularism? The same Dershowitz who plays apologia for Israels crime? The same Dershowitz who advocates torture?

And Christopher Hitchens? Defender of freedoms? This supporter of the Iraq War!!!

Thats really depressing…

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Posted: 03 August 2007 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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CFI wants to pitch a broad tent ...

I can’t speak to their selection process, however I expect that what they would say is that they may agree with some of the things that these people stand for and not other things. Hitchens, after all, writes for Free Inquiry magazine in a regular column, and has for years. So he’s clearly a person who would be invited to this sort of thing. Even moreso now that he’s written his book about god.

Dershowitz I don’t have as good a feel for. FWIW, I consider both Hitchens and Dershowitz to be very good polemicists ... which for me isn’t such a good thing, however it does mean that they get press attention.

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Posted: 03 August 2007 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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it seems to me its about press attention. this can come back to haunt the group. these are two individuals who are proponents of aggression. hitchens was an advocate for the Iraq War and Dershowitz has been a long time defender of US and Israels crimes. That these two can speak at some conference overlooking where the world trade center was comes off as a political statement and that bothers me.

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Posted: 03 August 2007 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I have not been a particular fan of Hitchens ever since I first saw him interviewed on TV over a decade ago. He can be a self-righteous, arrogant ass. There’s no doubt about it. And his advocacy of the war in Iraq is grotesque. That said, I just did finish reading his recent god book, and I found it generally quite good, well written, and aimed at a more literary audience than Dennett, Dawkins and Harris. So it has its place. And so long as Hitchens wants to keep his talk to issues about religion, god and secularism, I will at least agree with his aims. As an accomplished polemicist, he is also very good at coming up with argumentative tactics and turns of phrase. That’s all to the good.

I haven’t read much Dershowitz, but my overall feeling about him isn’t particularly positive either. Once again, I expect he will discuss issues of secularism in his talk; we’ll see how it goes.

We’ve had some pretty significant arguments on this site about CFI’s sometime choice of writers and speakers. I must say, however, that I entirely understand their decision to choose people who:

(1) are generally recognizable public individuals and good speakers, rather than closeted and unknown intellectuals,
(2) are not necessarily onboard with all the aims of the group, and
(3) meanwhile not to be too narrow in defining the aims of the group.

Point (1) is difficult to attain. Most public individuals who are good speakers wouldn’t be caught dead with CFI. So we have a relatively small group from which to choose.

Point (3) is important because in taking on aspects of organized religion, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, et cetera, we’ve bitten off plenty as it is. We can’t tilt at every windmill. And so even though it may be that most CFI employees, readers and friends are politically liberal, we have to be open to taking help from all quarters. There is a largely dormant but historically important group of conservatives, for example, who are generally opposed to religious meddling in politics. We need their help as well.

At any rate, all this gets into issues of how politically best to aim the group. CFI is aiming to enlarge the tent somewhat. I agree with that aim, although of course we all retain the right to take issue with those things we don’t see eye-to-eye with.

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Posted: 03 August 2007 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I get what youre saying, but Hitchens and Dershowitz!!!!!

I, personally, could never stomach through hearing them talk. I would hear them make a good (and most likely vague) point about humanity, then I would be overcome with revulsion from their putrid hypocrisy and end up being the guy shouting about Iraq and Palestine. *giggles

Cause thats what im getting at. Alot of what centers around CFI is the concepts of justice, humanity and democracy. So to have a speaker talk about how Secularism fights the tyranny of Religion; how Science rails against pseduoscience, advances our understanding of the natural world; etc and then know this guy, Hitchens, supports the Iraq War. A War that has killed nearly one million people, created 2-4 million refugees, injured no telling how many millions of people, doubled the infant malnutrition rate, caused cancer to soar higher than it already was (again, due to use of DU), etc and then have the nerve to talk about humanity. Or to have someone like Dershowitz who routinely plays apologia for the crimes of Israel, proactively works to silence professors (Finklestein) from speaking out about these crimes and regularly has to be rebuffed by Noam Chomsky on those very crimes, and then come up to a podium about Secularism and Science and pretend he is this noble figure in society. Well, thats poetic injustice!

CFI can choose better people than this. I know they can do better.

[ Edited: 03 August 2007 04:34 PM by truthaddict ]
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Posted: 03 August 2007 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The first two times I saw Dershowitz speak on CSPAN quite a few years ago, I was quite impressed with his reasoning.  Then I read an article by him and couldn’t believe it was the same guy.  I figured he had just suffered an attack of acute Alzheimers.  Since then I’ve found that I love about one in four and hate three in four of the things Dershowitz writes.  And he seems to be sinking into irrationality. 

Since I won’t be attending, it won’t bother me personally, however, if they print his talk in Skeptic, it will be interesting to read what he has to say and to see which direction he’s going in.

Who knows?  Maybe DFI figured someone as controversial as he is would tend to bring in a bigger audience.

Apropos of this and other situations:  “It’s much harder to recognize a demagogue with whom you agree.”

Occam

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Posted: 06 August 2007 03:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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There’s something to be said for ideological diversity. I didn’t know Dershowitz had any special secularist credentials, but then again, I didn’t know Hitchens did, either, until God is Not Great came out. But it’s important not to turn secularism into yet another chapter of the radical left; a good number of American secularists are libertarian or conservative and voted for Bush, and excluding them is a recipe for failure.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 10:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Alon - 06 August 2007 03:00 AM

...it’s important not to turn secularism into yet another chapter of the radical left…

I’m sorry, but I’m sort of offended by that comment. To me it comes off as suggesting that the attrocities/crimes/dispicable actions Dershowitz and Hitchens support or are a part of is just “another chapter of the radical left” or that opposing these things and the people who support them makes one a radical leftist.

The things Israel is doing to the Lebanese and Palestinians is not just “another chapter of the radical left.” Nor are the things the US/UK doing to Iraq and Afghanistan “another chapter of the radical left.”

Dershowitz did everything in his power to get Norman Finklesteins tenure denied. How does that speak well for “free inquiry”? What kind of spokesman for CFI do we have when that same person distorts reality to block inquiry??

My concern for how we treat each other and our enviornment does not come from me identifying with the “radical left.”

I think Dershowitz and Hitchens dont have the credentials to endorse CFI. Not because they are lefties or right-wingers; Jews or Atheists. Dershowtiz and Hitchens could refer to themselves as Socialists for all I care. What concerns me are the incredible hypocrisies and how those could tarnish the image of CFI.

[ Edited: 06 August 2007 10:05 AM by truthaddict ]
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Posted: 06 August 2007 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Radicalism isn’t determined by what your personal view of the world considers acceptable. It’s determined by what the general population has considered acceptable over the years. A broad secularist movement meeting in Ramallah would have to have some people who support the Intifada, as well as some who oppose it (fortunately, the third view, the destruction of Israel, is pretty much dead among non-fundamentalists, at least in Palestine).

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Posted: 06 August 2007 01:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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On a completely different note, I have another concern with the conference, which is that the cost is a bit exorbitant… is there any serious discount for students? Or a way of getting a grant if I promise to write about the event afterward?

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Posted: 06 August 2007 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Alon - 06 August 2007 01:51 PM

Radicalism isn’t determined by what your personal view of the world considers acceptable. It’s determined by what the general population has considered acceptable over the years. A broad secularist movement meeting in Ramallah would have to have some people who support the Intifada, as well as some who oppose it (fortunately, the third view, the destruction of Israel, is pretty much dead among non-fundamentalists, at least in Palestine).

In that case, objections to the wars, occupations and smear campaigns are not “radical.” By standing opposed to these things CFI would not be radicalizing itself. Public opinion - even under the reigning “bullshit” (Frankfurt, Harry) of how the media operates - has, for the most part, been way to the “left” on foreign and domestic issues. It takes massive amounts of propaganda campaigns just to maintain the large indescripancies as it is. Dershowitz and Hitchens are “radical” in that they support crimes that the general public oppose!

The idea that a group needs to be able to reach to a wide array of other groups to surivive is correct, and im not arguing against that at all. My argument is about what disappoints me: CFI having anything to do with, primarily, Dershowitz and, not as importantly, Hitchens. These two men support disturbing crimes that run counter to many of the ideals expressed by Secularists.

How can anyone see Dershowitz as a proponent of Secularism when much of his time is defending the crimes of Israel, a Jewish state? Or, how can anyone see him as a proponent for inquiry when he bent over backwards to get Finklesteins tenure denied? Is his idea of favoring science the use of tools to conduct torture, which he has publicly come out in support of?

What possible value does CFI stand to gain from aligning with these two men, especially Dershowitz? I dont see much and, if any, it’s certainly not worth the risk. Just the thought alienates me from CFI. And, if Secularism is in such short supply of willing speakers that Dershowitz and Hitchens is a must - and which I strongly doubt - then the “recipe for failure” is already in place.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 02:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Ah, the old “The people would certainly agree with me if they weren’t brainwashed” argument…

Also, note that Hitchens and Dershowitz are just two participants. Much as I appreciate the notion that everybody on a secularist forum has to agree with you on the I/P conflict, it’s okay if only the majority of people agrees with you. If that alienates you, it’s really too bad; just think for a moment what pro-Israeli secularists would think if there were no pro-Israeli speaker whatsoever when you say what you think about two of the speakers’ being pro-Israeli.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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the crimes the US and Israel are committing are not a matter of my opinion, neither is Dershowitz’ and Hitchens support of them. I can call them “crimes” because they are clear violations of existing laws. A look at the US use of veto power in the UN Security Council makes that abundantly clear. Even the World Court judgement from July 2004 (correct year?) made it clear that not only was the “separation wall” illegal but the occupation as well!

and I never made the “old ‘The people would certainly agree with me if they weren’t brainwashed’ argument.” Actually, what I pointed out was that despite the propaganda campagains (which again, are not a matter of my opinion) the public is still opposed to them. Which, by your definition, does not make them “radical.” You’re trying to spin it to suggest that how the media operates, what the US and Israel are doing and what Dershowitz did to have Finklesteins tenure rejected at Depaul is just a matter of my opinion, which is completely false. Im not bringing up issues that are so obscure that it’s left up to interpretations or opinions. The documented records are extensive. Illan Pape, Moshi Sharret, Shlomo ben Ami and Normon Finklestein have chronicled exactly what Israel has done to the Palestinians from al Nakba to the present. These are not matters of my own opinion. That the US lied to get into war with Iraq, that the media was complicit and didnt bother to check the governments claims and that the whole thing is illegal is not a matter of my opinion. Again, the documented record is extensive.

Take the Finklestein issue, again. A majority of the students, teachers and board were in favor of renewing his tenure (but because of Dershowitz’ campagin the university president “radically” went against nearly everyone else!). Thus, by your definition, Finklestein was not a radical and should not have been let go. What Dershowitz made clear was his opposition to Finklesteins inquiries on the actions of Israel. Can it or has it been demonstrated that what Finklestein wrote was inaccurate? No, but Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe have shown that was incredibly accurate.

Lastly, I really take offense to the suggestion that being opposed to the crimes of Israel is not “pro-Israeli.” Neither am I anti-American for joining a large majority of the public in opposing our war in Iraq, which, the radical, Hitchens supports. There is something very disturbing in the suggestion that what qualifies as “pro” or “anti” is determined by identifying with governmental policies and actions; what the US and Israeli governments do (and do) is not what determines the country. America is not defined by what George Bush does anymore than Paris Hilton.

[ Edited: 06 August 2007 03:15 PM by truthaddict ]
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Posted: 07 August 2007 07:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Well as far as I understand it is suppose to be an open discussion so certainly none of us can agree on all what it will be said in that conference.
Referring to what Alon said before what is the point of having something beneficial to young minds like this conference if the above mentioned young minds cant afford it ?
I’m aware of the cost to make anything in NYC but we are here to promote science, not to cash in on it. I hope anyway…

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