Must read – Online Essays and Blogposts

Below is a list of essays and posts I think every person should read, as from my perspective, they are either very interesting, very poignant, or very thought provoking. I refer to many of these essay’s and blogs in my own writing, and as far as I’m concerned are compulsory reading for anyone who cares about the nature of humanity on this lonely blue rock we inhabit. Each essay or post has a short excerpt, the core of the discussion and a link to the full article. Hopefully I will be adding to these as time goes on.

GREETINGS FROM IDIOT AMERICA by Charles P Pierce (2005, Esquire Magazine)

I’ve written about the book he wrote as an extension of this idea. I keep coming back to this essay, as so much I see going on in the western world relates to the happenings in the USA.

Excerpt: “The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the leastare the people who best know what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.”

AN ATHEIST MANIFESTO by Sam Harris (2005)

This is a great short piece outlining what atheism is, and also what it isn’t. I’ve used this in blog pieces in the past also.

Excerpt: Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

THE BASIC LAWS OF HUMAN STUPIDITY by Carlo M. Cipolla

Proposes the “five basic laws of human stupidity”, and outlines not only how dangerous stupid people can be, but that it’s much more common than you think.

Excerpt: “Cultural trends now fashionable in the West favour an egalitarian approach to life. People like to think of human beings as the output of a perfectly engineered mass production machine. Geneticists and sociologists especially go out of their way to prove, with an impressive apparatus of scientific data and formulations that all men are naturally equal and if some are more equal than others, this is attributable to nurture and not to nature. I take an exception to this general view. It is my firm conviction, supported by years of observation and experimentation, that men are not equal, that some are stupid and others are not, and that the difference is determined by nature and not by cultural forces or factors. One is stupid in the same way one is red-haired; one belongs to the stupid set as one belongs to a blood group.”

ON THE VALUE OF SCEPTICISM by Bertrand Russell

Russell is one of the forefathers of modern philosophical thinking. This essay is a great introduction to exactly what constitutes “scepticism” (skepticism), and how, if all of humanity was more skeptical that the world would be a very different place.

Excerpt: “There are matters about which those who have investigated them are agreed; the dates of eclipses may serve as an illustration. There are other matters about which experts are not agreed. Even when the experts all agree, they may well be mistaken. Einstein’s view as to the magnitude of the deflection of light by gravitation would have been rejected by all experts not many years ago, yet it proved to be right. Nevertheless the opinion of experts, when it is unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion. The scepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.”

WHY DO THEY HATE US? by Mona Eltahawy (2012, Foreign Policy)

This was an extremely moving piece from the perspective of an ex-Arab ex-Muslim woman from Egypt, about the challenges faced by women in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. I wrote about this article on my blog.

Excerpt: Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”

A MESSAGE TO GIRLS ABOUT RELIGIOUS MEN WHO FEAR YOU by Soraya Chemaly (2012, Huffington Post)

This was my introduction to Soraya’s work. She is a tireless supporter of the rights of women worldwide, and writes for The Huffington Post.

Excerpt: Girls, these things happen because there are men with power who fear you and want to control you. I know that I have equated relatively benign baseball games with deadly, honor killings but, whereas one is a type of daily, seemingly harmless micro-aggression and the other is a lethal macro-aggression they share the same roots. The basis of both, and escalating actions in between, is the same: To teach you, and all girls subject to these men and their authority, a lesson: “Know your place.” I also know that there are places where girls are marginalized and hurt that are not religious. But all over the world these hypocritical, pious men, in their shamefully obvious wrongness, represent the sharp-edged tip of an iceberg, the visible surface of a deep and vast harm. They employ the full range of their earthly and divine influence to make sure, as early as possible, that you and the boys around you understand what they want your relative roles to be. Where there are patriarchal religions girls, in dramatically varying and extreme degrees, disproportionately suffer. Understand these men for what they are: bullies. Do not internalize what they would have you believe.

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