Archive for the ‘ Blogging ’ Category

Outsourcing Privacy

In some ways, globalization isn’t a bad thing. One of my favorite experiences thus far in life has been running IRC channels/networks with a global population. On the other hand, the globalization – especially corporatization – of online social life has been a decided negative experience. Having to deal with behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Facebook just to socialize with dispersed family isn’t anything to write home about. The cognitive dissonance of massive corporations whose sole purpose is to surveil you in order to sell the products of that surveillance to advertisers also being the ones who have come to define the meaning of privacy online to an entire generation (and redefine it, for my generation backwards) is truly something to behold. I used to volunteer for an organization which sought to protect the vulnerable from cyberstalking in the earlier days of the internet. These days, the ability to stalk people has grown exponentially – and usually on the backs of platforms which have grown around the express purpose of tracking their users everywhere they go.

How did we get here? The same way we’ve arrived at most of the places we’re currently at, as Western consumers – by way of convenience. One-stop-shopping has been a plague on our habits since it was introduced, and the more it has invaded our social lives, the worse it has become. We’ve centralized everything because it is most convenient. With this centralization has come a relinquishment of control – of myriad aspects of our lives. What else we need to realize, though, is that while these corporations are indeed creepy – they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is us. We are the ones who made them behemoths. We are the ones who sacrificed quality, locality, privacy and personality on the altar of convenience. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Just like the problem came from us, the solution comes from us as well. We have to choose to act differently.

Instead of ordering from a company’s Amazon storefront – order from the company itself. Instead of looking globally for things you need – look locally. It takes more work to find, sometimes, yes – but it also provides more work to people who live near you. I just planted 4 fruit trees in my front yard. I have a paper route, where I deliver a secondhand goods paper to a variety of local businesses. While on that route, I bought the trees from a local feed store, a rake from a hardware store – and since I was delivering papers to a different hardware store at the time, picked up some gravel to fill in holes in my driveway. If you’re going for convenience, go to places that are actually convenient to you. Local places, that are on your way to wherever you are going. On the other hand, sometimes what you need is only available at big box stores – or if you order it. I broke down and went to Home Depot to get some foldable sawhorses yesterday. Where they get you is when you see that they also have red mulch on sale for 5/10$… but I digress πŸ™‚ What I should have done was find a small business that sells foldable sawhorses – but I didn’t think of it at the time – because I’d already looked at all the hardware stores on my route, and none of them sold what I wanted. The other thing I could have done was buy the lumber and make my own sawhorses… but I’ve made a good half dozen sets over the years, and they never last – and they’re a pain to store.

In my Mancave post, I talk about how I’ve shopped local for the building supplies I needed for this project. What I haven’t done as well with is shopping specialty for my equipment. It was so much easier to just make a wishlist on Amazon, populate it, and pick up practically everything for the project from there. I’ve decided that this is the last project I’m doing that way. I’m proud that I’ve been able to support my local businesses (like Jack’s Hardware and Alexander Hardware and Supply) with the building materials, but I really could have done better with the equipment. This is getting a bit afield of the point, though. Where Home Depot is better, marginally, than Amazon, is that they rely (primarily) on having a large stock of items in a central location that you can actually look at and go to. The same thing goes for an Auto Zone, or a Harbor Freight, or other “chain” stores of that magnitude. That is supply chain thinking. Amazon has taken “supply chain thinking” and made it gargantuan – and has mostly eliminated the local option. They are supply chain in the cloud.

With places like Amazon, though, we have outsourced our privacy to gain convenience. Amazon “knows” what we want, and can “suggest” things we might also want by means of number-crunching comparisons to both our purchase history, and that of millions of other people. Facebook and Google do the same thing with our browsing history – and sell the results of that number-crunching to advertisers, to better “target” us. They’re so good at surveilling us that their platforms are also outsourced by government agencies for surveillance tasks. Not only that, they have created “sweetheart deals” with other large corporations to circumvent things like DMCA laws through AI-driven content managers like YouTube’s ContentID. ContentID scans every video uploaded to YouTube, and scans it for copyrighted content. When that content is “flagged” as something a corporation has copyrighted, YouTube forces the uploader to prove that it isn’t copyrighted – to prove a negative. The corporation on whose behalf it was “flagged” is the only court of appeal for that content. Tell me that isn’t backwards! As a church tech/sound guy, I’m in charge of our service recordings. At least two hours of my week, every week, is spent appealing obviously public domain songs that were flagged as copyrighted – because some company, somewhere, has a performance of said song copyrighted. As a result, and after spending some time talking with some others at my church, I’m working on a way to move us off of YouTube – because it has crossed the line into harassment – into cyber-stalking. Big Tech’s relentless drive to know everything about us – the price for using their “free” services – has got us almost convinced that this is normal.

This is not normal. This is not right. I’d much rather go to the expense and trouble of hosting my church’s videos myself, rather than fighting with a Google subsidiary (and her music industry sweethearts) over whether public domain music is actually in the public domain. Outsourcing privacy to Google costs too much. They don’t actually offer privacy – just a fig leaf. The prospect of ads (over which we have no control) during a church service is appalling – and that is the consequence of losing an in-house appeal to a company who has a vested interest(!) in saying that public domain music is not public domain – and there are zero legal consequences for doing so, since Google has circumvented the legal process in place for companies to enforce copyright(s) by using this system. Your privacy has been outsourced in a similar fashion to a variety of companies who have a vested interest in seeing that your private affairs don’t stay private. They have a vested interest in knowing everything about you. Not only that, but they have a vested interest in telling other companies everything they know about you – in fact, that’s their business model. Not only that – but we’ve handed these companies everything about us – because they have told us “we care about your privacy.” They do care – just not in the way we take it to mean. We trust them with our outsourced privacy – and they violate that trust each and every day.

We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Do you want your privacy back? You have to change your behavior. Stop using Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As far as you can, use less Microsoft & Apple products. If we want the status quo to change, we have to change – because the status quo follows our behavior.

Locality – Virtually

Look, we all have told ourselves to “shop local”. We mean to do it, we really do. We don’t like how massive corporations have taken over practically every facet of our lives. We like the helpfulness of local business owners, and the idea of supporting our friends and neighbors. Then we’re on the lookout for something specialized, and… our local businesses don’t have it. This isn’t specific to small town life, either. Sometimes, we have very specific needs, and nobody even remotely nearby has what we’re looking for. So, where do we go? Amazon.

Why do we go there now? First and foremost, because Amazon has worked very hard to become uniquely ubiquitous. They have rolled a fairly large percentage of their profits, for a great many years, into diversifying – and cornering the market on online shopping. They are a video provider, book publisher, and also provide the hardware to support their various endeavors. They not only have Amazon Prime, but Prime Video, Prime Wardrobe, and Prime Music. They not only have FireTV, but the FireTV stick. They not only have Kindle, but the family of Kindle readers. They have Whole Foods, Twitch, IMdB, Amazon Music, Audible, Goodreads, Kuiper Systems, Alexa, Echo, Ring – their own appstore to compete with Google Play and Apple – and their Basics brand offers cheap(er) knockoffs of just about anything you could want – along with the real thing, of course. They also have their own logistics tail (including Maritime shipping!), warehousing, and of course, their massive online storefront – which has proceeded to incorporate a massive amount of third-party sellers. This doesn’t even count Amazon Web Services, which power a significant portion of the cloud market – about a third of it. In short, they have become ubiquitous – and not in a good way.

Nobody needs a history lesson about how Amazon came to dominate the online market – and thence the brick and mortar market – but it is illustrative of just how much convenience trumps sanity in today’s world. The fact that Amazon keeps buying subsidiaries and capitalizing them isn’t the issue – the issue is that we are the reason Amazon is what it is. They keep steamrolling businesses – large as well as small – because we’ve enabled them to. Whenever we use Amazon because it is easier, we’re giving Amazon business at the expense of local companies – or even other, larger corporations. Now, this isn’t a fault of Amazon – it’s our fault. Don’t get me wrong – it’d be great if other companies invested in infrastructure proportionally – but one business advantage Amazon has is, quite simply, the fact that it doesn’t have to duplicate their logistics tail for each of its subsidiaries. The other is that we have traded convenience and price for control of the markets. It is entirely behavior driven – by our behavior. I confess that I am guilty of this as well.

Amazon does what it does well – practically unexceptionally. That isn’t the problem. That is a feature of the business model they use. Efficiency as the means of cornering the market. Of course they are efficient – and usually cheaper, to boot. The problem is that when they do so, they intentionally drive their competitors into the ground as a feature of their business model. This is free-market capitalism, true – but it only works if we are willing to assist them in so doing. We don’t have to min-max our lives like an MMO raiding guild does with their characters. No matter what the markets say, if we choose to use something a little slower, a little more expensive, and local – we should – because those local businesses are run by people with families, and employ people with families we know. We should, because we want people to work for places other than, well, Amazon – who are famously terrible employers in order to make their business model work. In other words – whenever and wherever you have a choice, choose the option that doesn’t intentionally undercut your friends and neighbors’ ability to do business. If you need hardware, wood, or tools – go to your locally owned and operated hardware store instead of a box store – or Amazon. If you need specialty goods – find a supplier that *isn’t* a box store – or Amazon. It might be someone *else’s* local business – but that’s fine! It might even be a bigger business that caters to that particular specialty – but if it keeps that business from being eaten by the Amazon machine, isn’t that all to the good?

Don’t just shop local, either – live locally. Those ties to small businesses are part of what make communities. The more we live globally, the less ties we have to where we live, and who lives there. It creates an artificial distance between people. It’s fine to have communities where you unite around a common interest – that isn’t the point. The point is that those should be ancillary to communities in your locality. Churches, schools, sports all create local communities within the places where we live. Divorcing our purchasing from those communities drives much of the reasons for living in a particular place, having common interests, and common places of employment into the background – and denudes our lives of an ontology of place. Consumerism can’t provide much in the way of commonalities. Service employers and food service are important, but manufacturing and distribution are also key elements of creating communities that aren’t migratory. If our only choices for employment boil down to which chain of big box, global franchise, or behemoth online megalith we can work for – how much stability and sense of permanence does that offer?

In a similar fashion, outsourcing our communal lives to social media corporations is a bad idea. For the same reason we should stop feeding the Amazon machine so much of our money, we should stop feeding the Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter machines our social lives. Yes, COVID-19 was bad, and the ability to use the ephemeral imitation of society that Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch offers was a virtual lifeline – but we mustn’t forget that they are ephemeral imitations – and ephemeral imitations that are only there to provide advertisers with targeted data about us, so that they can more efficiently sell us things. That is the precise and specific purpose for the existence of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, and a host of similar corporate networking and social platforms. They take what you share about yourself – and sell it to advertisers – full stop.

Here’s something else to think about. Do you remember when “cyberstalking” was a big issue? I do. I used to volunteer with a group who addressed cyberstalking (CyberAngels)- especially of women and children. Online privacy was a very big deal for a decade or more. Once all of these big corporate social media companies got into the mix, however – most of that buzz just… disappeared. The big tech empires basically do everything we used to tell people was cyberstalking. They encourage all of the behaviors we discouraged in people’s online habits. Sharing personal information, photos with clear location data, photos of children… practically every single thing we advised that people stop doing – they want you to keep doing – and use their services to do them. They then have the audacity to ask you to trust them.

How the Internet is Supposed to Be

For those of you old enough to remember when there wasn’t an internet – you probably also remember its infancy. Back in BBS days where you had to dial in to someone’s computer, or to a usenet service – then later to providers like AOL, Prodigy, or Compuserve. As the internet grew older, there were always a couple of competing philosophies – whatever the most insistent FOSS advocates remember.

There have always been the decentralized, individualist proponents – and have always been the corporations trying to centralize as much as humanly possible under their brand. AOL was a giant, comparable to Facebook today for the time and then-current userbase. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and its war with Netscape (which was often bundled with dialup giant software!) was a fascinating struggle – comparable to the modern corporate throwdowns today.

It’s no accident that Apple and Microsoft are still players. Their forays into the incipient internet were largely due to the fact that their products ran a sizable portion of the computers that all the corporations vied to capture as customers. The corporate opportunism displayed by Google, Twitter, and Amazon is nothing new. In fact, it seems to be part and parcel of internet history for companies to repeatedly (serially and in parallel) attempt to capture large swathes of the internet. The argument for distributed and decentralized internet is not that corporations shouldn’t do what corporations do – but that the construction of the internet ensures that corporate entities can’t take it over, and definitely not for long – unless we give it to them wholesale.

There might well be a danger, currently, of large corporations “owning” large channels of distribution. However, that danger is largely due to our own complaisance – and complacence. Nobody made us sign everything over to Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon. We did it ourselves. I’ll offer up a reason for this: we’ve become accustomed to handing over large chunks of our lives to big companies for convenience’s sake. We did this in the 90s, the 00s, the 10s, and we continue to do it today. The same thing happens on a smaller scale, with companies like Steam, Epic, Spotify, Adobe, or a host of others like them. Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. The cool thing about the internet is that those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. AOL, for example, crashed and burned precisely because we were done putting up with their walled garden. Their DSL offerings had nothing to recommend them over other ISPs – and in fact, charged for services they overlaid that other ISPs offered for free. Other companies had similar problems. Where is Yahoo! these days? Compuserve?

Look familiar? It should. Facebook can buy up WhatsApp and Instagram – AOL could buy Time Warner. They’re making the same mistake, and setting up the same sort of walled garden. The CEOs of these bright new internet startups that seem to have taken over the internet are suffering from the same caretaker syndrome that the second generation of CEOs of the original startups suffered – for much the same reasons. Why did AOL crash and burn? They crashed and burned because people realized that they were paying to be manipulated and advertised to. These companies create problems that they try to sell themselves as the solution to.

We’ve never needed them. We all know that. It’s just easier to let someone else do the work, give up a little bit of privacy and control – and “use it for free”. It’s easier to use the all-in-one shop than it is to do the traveling and research things for yourself. The “swiss army knife” operating system is a lot easier to work with than any of the specialty jobs that the Linux community offers. There’s a reason that Ubuntu is the only one of them with any sort of significant market share – and even that is infinitesimal in comparison. Ubuntu can’t do everything that Windows or Apple does – and we’ve become used to the idea that it should. Some of the things that are done by Windows or MacOS aren’t things they should be doing.

That is neither here nor there – just offered as a comparison. There are, I think, three (somewhat) separate issues with the tech giants that need to be addressed. 1) Ease of use/familiarity 2) Ubiquity 3) Privacy. I’ll use Facebook as an example here.

Ease of use

While nobody will call Facebook’s interface truly user friendly, it is easy to use – and easy to seamlessly plug things into. Like any CMS, it is purposely modular, and meant to give the administrators a myriad of ways to plug in content in discrete blocks. This modular design is well-suited to Facebook’s swiss-army-knife philosophy. Grandma both can and does use this platform – and so do her grandkids. Hate it or not, it *is* easy – but no more so than any CMS.

Ubiquity

Again, hate them or not – everyone and their Grandma uses Facebook. Pretty much literally. It is the very definition of ubiquitous. It doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be everywhere. Since it is everywhere, it has what Facebook (the business, remember!) really wants – reams of data, to sell to advertisers – and an absolutely killer market share. They are, by any measure, the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over 2.7 billion users.

Privacy

We’ve grown used to everything happening “in public”. Everything. This was not always the case. Every thing in your life is now fair game for sharing. Our lives are content. We are all part of The Everscroll. Our digital lives are primarily composed of scrolling, endlessly, through other people’s lives. What they choose to share of them. What they – and we – choose to share, though, is practically everything. Why do we do this? We do this because we are incentivized to – through notifications, likes, comments – the entire social media ecosystem hamster wheel. We can talk about dopamine, about habit-forming, about a large number of things – but it all boils down to “they designed it that way, and we’re eating it up just like we eat up tabloids and reality tv.” If you didn’t eat up tabloids and reality tv before – you do now. It just comes in your endless scroll.

The Real Problem, Summarized

I remember what things were like before there was social media. Before Amazon. Before Google. It was a lot like it is now, just without nearly as many people on the internet – and way more glued to their network TVs. Soon after, Cable (and syndicated programming, let’s not forget) blew open the TV biz – and internet streaming has blown it up even more. Since that is true – why did we once again have Netflix owning practically all the streaming content? Well, we didn’t have all the other networks opening their own shops. Now that they have, what do we see now? Streaming everywhere. All the things. Streaming. Constantly. Netflix is still a powerhouse, but it doesn’t own streaming anymore. iTunes owned music content for a while. Not anymore. Why? Competition. Alternatives.

While it’s annoying that streaming is fragmented over a bunch of networks – much of the annoyance is over the fact that we have to choose now. Everyone has streaming. Everyone has platform-exclusive shows or movies. Remember what we said earlier about walled gardens? Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. While it is annoying, the fact that there is is competition is a good sign – that the corporations are going to be busy fighting each other like monsters in a Kaiju movie. In the space that leaves for thinking things over – there’s an opportunity for reflection.

What if your choice was not between which corporate behemoths to give all your personal data to – but between telling the corporate behemoths to go take a long walk with their creepy corporate surveillance culture and using community-or-family sized alternatives with a vested interest in your interest? Like I said at the beginning – there have always been two simultaneous internet cultures. Somebody made all the cool alternative stuff you used to think was cool, back before social media. Newgrounds, Strongbad, all those awesome (but mostly stupid) flash games… most of those were made by random dudes and dudettes – and were posted to communities. Those guys that used to host BBSs started making their own websites, and hosting IRC servers, building community forums. The internet of the 90s and 00s was weird – but there were so many quirky things that would get lost in today’s mindless everscroll. Virality is fleeting – and monetizing virality, more fleeting still.

We can do a bit better than IRC servers, a forum, and a website now. Of course, we can still do all of those – and many do. I’m an IRC server admin myself. You’re reading this on my personal website that I’ve maintained since 2003 – using the internet handle that I’ve used since the early-to-mid 90s. This website has changed software at least 4 times, and themes a dozen or more times – but it is just as recognizably “mine” as it was back then. If you want to grasp how identity and privacy should work – that’s a start. Further, the internet itself should work similarly. Your primary identity service should be yours. If anyone wants to know who you are, they should ask your stuff (your personal identity server) – which shares precisely as much as you wish to share, and no more. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Amazon – and certainly not Google – you. Any “central” datastore about you should be in your hands, and no one else’s. Using other people’s services should be a matter of verification with you of your identity – just like any other identification is – not a carte blanche to share whatever they feel like with whoever they feel like – about you. No service is worth that.

Ubiquity should devolve to how ubiquitous you choose to be, not how promiscuous your social media platform chooses to be with your identity. Ease of use is no excuse for being creepy. Google, Facebook, Amazon and their ilk know too much about us, and we give it all to them by our behavior – because we do too much stuff on their sites. If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to change your behavior, your habits, and where you do things. We all whine about Walmart and Target, and talk about how we should “shop local” – but it is our shopping behavior that drove their competition into the ground – drove our neighbors into the ground, because that is who runs those local businesses competing with the big box stores. Amazon is driving all the specialty box stores into the ground – and all the specialty shops too – unless they bite the bullet and become part of “the ecosystem”.

There is a problem – we’re too centralized. It’s our problem. We created it, we perpetuate it, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for how much of our lives Big Tech has taken over. Once we recognize that here is a problem, we have to commit to change. Pick one Big Tech company to wean off of – and start moving. There are alternatives for each and every service we have learned to not live without in these all-in-one companies. You can start somewhere.

There are alternatives.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want an alternative.

I’ll be honest with you. There’s nothing else quite like Facebook. That’s not really a bad thing, in my estimation. Facebook shouldn’t be a thing. At least not in sense of the ginormous everything-to-everyone behemoth that it has become. Facebook still has your grandma, or your kids, or your best friend from 4th grade. If you want to move off Facebook, you’re going to have to get together with those people and start making plans on how to continue keeping in contact – and having this same conversation with each of them, to fill the specific needs for your friends & family list. You might need something for birthdays and events. You might need something for groups. You might need some sort of social media hub that you can all keep in contact with. You might need chat. You might need video calling. All of those exist, all can be done – but only at the cost of work, and possibly expense on the part of your group. If you’re already doing that sort of thing, like I am, you probably have the infrastructure for doing a good portion of the above. You probably also have the know-how to help others learn how to manage their own identities, away from Big Tech. If you don’t, and you’re reading this entire article with a bit of alarm about how scathing I am about Big Tech in general, and you trusted these big companies – be aware that I am actually understating how bad the situation is, for the most part. Ask your techie family member or friend about those companies, and see what they tell you. You might be surprised to learn that the only reason they are still on Facebook is because of you – and people like you. Don’t take that the wrong way – it shows they care about you enough to use something they hate – just for you. Let it be a wake-up call for you – all of these companies are using your relationships as fodder for selling information to advertisers – and tracking your every move from the epicenter of your usage of their services. It’s what they do. The reason they exist is to target you as accurately as possible, so that someone can sell you exactly what you want.

That might be convenient – I won’t say it isn’t – but it is also dystopian to an extreme usually seen only in scifi until recently. What price does that sort of convenience actually have? If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to use these companies’ stuff less – and because they have also sucked all of your friends and family into the same black hole’s gravity well that you’re circling, you’ll have to convince them of the same thing. Not only that, but you’ll have to use the same thing(s). Preferably something that isn’t a walled garden just like the one you’re leaving – only not quite as big. How you build your communities is up to you – but build them you must – unless you want some big company to continue doing it for you – and vacuuming everything about you into their big server farms.

You can do it – but you’ll have to give up some familiar things – our goal, though, is to keep the familiar people. I’ll post more about ways to detox from surveillance capitalism and the Big Tech ecosystem next time. In conclusion: The internet has always been corporate and individual – but in structure, it has always been decentralized – no matter how many walled gardens are constructed. Those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. Decentralized is how the internet is supposed to be.

Just for fun

One of the disadvantages of having an eclectic position is that you might be the only one who holds that position, and the first to use the words you use. Case in point:

“be slaughtered, never to live again”

“lifeless, unconscious corpses”

Reminiscent of StrongBad:

“For death metal, you have to scream from the bowels of your lungs; words like decay, deranged, decrepit,and… um, deloused.”

“Creeping, rusty, meat. Truly the heart and soul of all death metal.”

lol…

I really have to ask…

Why on earth does anyone still use blogspot blogs?

The interface stinks, the comment platform is terrible, it can’t do trackbacks to save its life, and the “plugins” are laughable. Why on earth would you use it? It’s mystifying to me.

For a Theology Conference…

This seems to be a little light on “theology”.

Read through the list of speakers and topics. How much theology do you see in that speakers list? Tim Tebow? Uh. Not exactly a theologian, kids. Tony Boselli? Uh. Alvin Brown? Uh. Mike Licona? Something tells me, given his typical presentation, that it won’t be much about theology. Hank H.? As much as I’m sure people love him – he’s no theologian. Folks – if you’re going to call it a theology conference, invite theologians.

My favorite part of the survey: “Would you pay a $75 registration fee for 2 3-hour debates, 4-6 panel discussions, several ministry presentations, extraordinary worship music, and celebrity meet & greets and book signings?”

Yes, that’s exactly what a theology conference should be.

Issues resolved

The recent issues with redirects, et al should be resolved. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Wellum’s faculty address at SBTS

Apparently, this address didn’t pass muster in SBC politics. Since I’m not SBC, here it is. I think it’s pretty good, myself πŸ˜‰

β€œWhat does the Extent of the Atonement have to do with Baptist Ecclesiology: an Experience of Doing Theology.”

In case anyone was wondering, I got it last week from another blog that posted it. That blogger is SBC, I’m not. So there you go.

Why Shouldn't Paul Baird Choose Hats?

Paul Baird has given us his opinion in the case of the use of worldviews he does not adhere to.

This is a common complaint ie why argue a worldview that you do not hold ? The answer is the tallest child in the playground argument ie I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground – I can point out that individual (in this instance it would be a child of equal size).

Paul’s understanding here doesn’t really deal with the problem being brought forward. It may, of course, deal with the problem he thinks is being brought forward, but that is something else altogether. The complaint is in Dustin’s terms, of course, but it may be helpful to put it into the terms that our primary sources use, so that it might be recognizable. I appreciate Dustin’s work of course, but his expression of the problem, to me, seems to be unclear. When we speak of the problem at hand, we are speaking of the ability of a worldview to provide the preconditions of intelligibility. This may be expressed in the context of several different subjects, but chiefly, it must be said that it is only being expressed in terms of entire worldviews. When, for example, we speak of the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge, which seems to be the point of contention in the context of Paul’s remarks, we are speaking of epistemology. At this point, we are dealing with the subject of the quote “Choosing Hats” is named after.

Every system of philosophy must tell us whether it thinks true knowledge to be possible. Or if a system of philosophy thinks it impossible for man to have a true knowledge of the whole of reality or even of a part of reality, it must give good reasons for thinking so. From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology. It will then be possible to compare the Christian epistemology with any and with all others. And being thus enabled to compare them all, we are in a position and placed before the responsibility of choosing between them. And this choosing can then, in the nature of the case, no, longer be a matter of artistic preference. We cannot choose epistemologies as we choose hats. Such would be the case if it had been once for all established that the whole thing is but a matter of taste. But that is exactly what has not been established. That is exactly the point in dispute.

As such, it is obvious that this subject needs to be addressed by something more robust than “I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground.” In fact, it would point to the need for something far stronger than this particular assertion. What are the presuppositional commitments required for the assumption that the examination of epistemological foundations is as simple a matter as the observation of children’s heights? When looking at the subject at the level of presuppositional commitments, we see that it is no such matter at all. You cannot “simply observe” the validity of an epistemological foundation – it must be considered in terms of whether this epistemological foundation can provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Just as it is more than simple observation, it is likewise more than a matter of simple communication to “point out” who the “tallest child” on the playground actually is.

We are dealing with, not observational data collected by the senses, but epistemological foundations. You can’t “just look at” an epistemological foundation without having an epistemological foundation to be looking from. Paul, here, is missing the point in a rather unfortunate way. We are speaking of what makes anything intelligible at all – what must be presupposed in order for the “facts” he wants everyone to consider to be intelligible in the first place. He is making comparisons of that to empiricism, as if it is remotely applicable. It’s rather frustrating to watch Paul beating his head on a brick wall of his own misapprehensions, yet condescendingly dismissing his sore head as the fault of the person on the other side of the wall – on the basis of those same misapprehensions.

When he brings out his “pagan” worldview – he is assuming a commonality in everyone’s assessment of it, of atheism, and of Christianity. If he would care to read through Van Til, or Bahnsen, he would have to address the arguments they make as to why there is no neutrality in those sorts of assessments. What we actually are saying is not what Paul is assuming here. We aren’t assuming that there is some “common ground”, like the playground, where we are all assessing the heights of the respective “children”, or worldviews, in a collegial atmosphere. What we are saying is that the real discussion is over things like 1) Whose playground it is 2) Whether the “children” are children or chimera 3) What “tall” means in the first place 4) How you know what “tall” is supposed to be, anyway. To simply say “well, let’s see what this kid over here says” is to miss the entire point altogether. This is a round-robin affair, Paul. You are not a pagan, Paul. The Pagan child and the Atheist child do not agree with each other, let alone the Christian child. The Pagan and the Atheist agree insofar as their distaste for and disbelief concerning the God of the Christian – but they give wildly variant answers on questions such as “What is this playground?” What is the playground to a pagan? Is it, per Wicca,the manifestation of deity? Is this the same “playground” an atheist has? I can’t see how that is remotely the case. The atheist, as they claim, fails to hold every god-belief. So, for Paul to claim that this “answers” the problem we’re posing requires him to say that he agrees with what the Pagan’s playground is, if he is going to cite the Pagan’s opinion of the matter! Further, and this should be obvious, it necessitates a rather disturbing state of affairs for the atheist – it requires him to state either 1) It is unequivocally not the case that we are on the same playground OR 2) It is unequivocally the case that we are on the same playground, in which case he has to make a positive claim considering WHOSE playground it is. To make an actual positive claim seems to be anathema to an atheist of Paul’s stripe – and it seems that in order to make a claim, he’d also have to make an argument. This mode of operation seems similarly anathema to Paul. It would also require Paul to actually get what we are talking about, which at this point does not seem likely.

Let me reiterate; We are speaking of the nature of playgrounds, tallness, children, and pointing, not about “who is the tallest child on the playground”. We are speaking of the “nature of facts”, not of the “facts themselves”, as if facts are simply “there”, and uninterpreted. When speaking of a worldview, you are speaking of everything the worldview posits – be it metaphysics, epistemology, or physics. What seems sadly absent in Paul’s thinking is the willingness to pay close attention to what we are speaking of. He would rather dismiss it as whatever he thinks it to be, instead of exercising due diligence in understanding it. Since this has been the case up until this point, Paul must decide something for himself. Is he willing to actually look at what we are saying, or will he continue to insist on misrepresenting it? Up until now, he seems to have had serious problems grasping the nature of what he has been presented with. A case in point.

When he brings out Bahnsen’s quote concerning the “self-sufficient knower,” he insists on understanding it as some variant of the cosmological argument. He then proceeds to claim that Paganism fulfills the condition of “self-sufficient knower”. He doesn’t tell us why it does. He just says it does. After redefining what the argument is, for us, he then pronounces that paganism satisfies it! Says who? First, he doesn’t even identify the argument correctly, or it’s proper context. Second, he doesn’t give us any reason to think his worldview fulfills these conditions, or any clear sense of what these conditions are! Let’s examine first what this argument is, and it’s proper context, and then, what is necessary to fulfill that argument’s conditions.

In the cited argument, there is the stipulation that a self-sufficient knower cannot be denied, as the person denying such would, in the nature of the case, be himself a self-sufficient knower. Secondly, it is stipulated that there cannot be a plurality of self-sufficient knowers. You cannot have “two ultimates.” Thirdly, it is stipulated that if the first two are granted as insuperable, then you have three alternatives; solipsistic, skeptical, and revelational epistemology. Paul does not deal with that resultant discussion – and it is very germane to the discussion. It is not germane because it supposedly “develops a cosmological argument” – it is germane because it is an example of an argument from the impossibility of the contrary. In the first case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of solipsism. In the second case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of skepticism. Following that, he argues that only a revelational epistemology affirming the God of Scripture – the “self-contained God” Van Til speaks of, satisfies the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge. In short, only a self-sufficient knower as God reveals Himself to be can grant us a functional, intelligible epistemology. If Paul would pay more attention to Christianity’s extensive library of theological definition and explanation, and less to his own self-congratulations, he might get somewhere with the conversation, instead of continually demonstrating his need for correction and instruction on what he is claiming to object to.

The Pagan worldview I’ve put forward satisfies all of Bahsen’s and Dustin’s conditions, furthermore Bahsen’s conditions do not rule out the possibility that such a non-Christian worldview could exist, yet Presuppositional Apologetics is based on the assertion that none could exist because of the impossibility of the contrary (to the Christian worldview).

It becomes easier to discern the parlour trick when it’s set out like this and it does perhaps explain why Sye, and his fellow Presuppositionalists, try so hard to focus the exchanges on the areas of the laws of logic and human perception as well as morality rather than, in Chris Bolts words, begin with the question “Where’s the beef ?”

Dustin lists 12 Questions for Mockgodafarians which I’ll answer from the Pagan worldview. Please remember the tallest in the playground argument throughout this. My answers are in purple.

Paul’s problem is that he keeps thinking he has found a “silver bullet” – when his real problem is that he doesn’t know where the beef is at. When he doesn’t investigate these sources, but instead reads them in such a way as it “says what he wants”, he gets something all out of kilter to what is being said. It isn’t contextual, and it doesn’t bear any relationship to what he thinks it says. It is obvious Paul doesn’t own this book. I do. If he had the book, he could look one page over and see an extensive discussion on the particulars and universals of knowledge. He would see exactly what I was speaking of earlier, in terms of entire worldviews, as a universal system of principles, and not merely “the particulars of his knowledge”. Only in a universal system of principles can be found an adequate interpretation of the particulars of knowledge. It is within the entirety of the Christian worldview – in the systematic exposition of Reformed theology – where he can find what it is we are saying. Reinterpreting our statements through his personal experience has done nothing but lead him astray from where the discussion is. If he persists in doing so, he is going to be left as the only one discussing what he is discussing. This is the case, because it bears no resemblance to what we are saying, nor does it accurately reflect what we believe. If he wants to rectify his problematic interpretation of what is being said, all he need do is begin asking questions, rather than making pronouncements about what the subject is. It’s really that simple. The problem is not that we are somehow “hiding” the argument away – it’s that Paul has shown almost no effort whatsoever toward understanding what the argument is, or what it means. It is not especially difficult, were he willing to put in that effort. I hope he does, and begins to ask, rather than to tell us.

Hosted by: Dreamhost