I’ve been running the Weekly Link Roundup series for awhile, which has now expanded to both document my favourite links that I read within the week and document the happenings essay-wise and discussion-wise for the links. But another feature of the weekly link roundup was that I specifically ordered all of the links from favourite to least-favourite, with what I thought to be the most-worth-reading link (from my perspective, your mileage might vary) at the top.
This gives me a good basis to do some celebrating. Now that I’ve written twenty different link roundups, I want to make a compilation essay of the best-of links from all my link roundups that I’ve done to date. I will then order them here, again, in ranking, so that you can see my favourite essays of all-time, so far. I will also set precedent to do so again on the fortieth link roundup.
Before listing the links, I’d like to just renew some the important disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
So, without further ado, here is the top link from all twenty link roundups, plus five of my favourites from Essays That Inspire Me”. For Link Roundups #1-#4 that do not have the ordering feature, I’ve taken liberty to select my favourite and include it. Then, for these twenty-five links, I’ve re-ranked them.
- The Twelve Virtues of Rationality: “The first virtue is curiosity. A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth. To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance. If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. Curiosity seeks to annihilate itself; there is no curiosity that does not want an answer. The glory of glorious mystery is to be solved, after which it ceases to be mystery. Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance. There is a time to confess your ignorance and a time to relinquish your ignorance.”
- What An Atheist Ought to Stand For: “I want to talk about atheists, in as general a sense as I can. Although no one can write a truly general statement about what atheists stand for–since there are too many different kinds of atheists–it is still possible to describe what certain atheists stand for, and I have in mind the garden variety American atheist whom I have met many times in my life. It is also possible to suggest what all atheists ought to stand for, and this is ultimately what I intend to do. For there are certain values that have been held by almost all the atheists I have known and studied, values that I believe are not only compatible with atheism, but necessary to it. Besides, whenever we are asked “What do you stand for?” it is helpful to have a ready answer to that question.”
- How to be a Philosopher: “In Sense and Goodness without God I open with an impassioned plea that everyone be a philosopher, that they replace all the devotion and time they spend on religion, all to doing philosophy instead. To which I’m often asked ‘How?’ Indeed, someone on FaceBook just asked me that the other day. [...] I got to thinking I should at least publish some basic starter tips, which by following you can figure out on your own how to do philosophy and be a philosopher–by which I mean in a useful way, not a boring, useless, academic way. To that end I have four suggestions to get started on finding your own path.”
- A Letter to my Students: “The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.”
- Religion’s Claim to be Nondisprovable: “Back in the old days, people actually believed their religions instead of just believing in them. The biblical archaeologists who went in search of Noah’s Ark did not think they were wasting their time; they anticipated they might become famous. Only after failing to find confirming evidence – and finding disconfirming evidence in its place – did religionists execute what William Bartley called the retreat to commitment, ‘I believe because I believe.’”
- The Armor of God, or, The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful: “Religion is ultimately dependent on belief in invisible beings, inaudible voices, intangible entities, undetectable forces, and events and judgments that happen after we die. It therefore has no reality check. And it is therefore uniquely armored against criticism, questioning, and self- correction. It is uniquely armored against anything that might stop it from spinning into extreme absurdity, extreme denial of reality… and extreme, grotesque immorality.”
- A Seriously Warped Moral Compass: “This is one of the primary reasons I, as an atheist, oppose religion: because it can warp and distort people’s moral priorities, blinding them to true evils while causing them to obsessively focus on things that are not problems at all. In both of these respects, the villain is faith: blind belief in the unseen, the unevidenced, and the irrational. Only when we reject faith as a method of decision-making and instead base our morality on reason can we undo the damage that religion has done.”
- A Parable on Obsolete Ideologies: “In the midst of the chaos, a group of German leaders come to you with a proposal. Nazism, they admit, was completely wrong. Its racist ideology was false and its consequences were horrific. However, in the bleak poverty of post-war Germany, people need to keep united somehow. They need something to believe in. And a whole generation of them have been raised on Nazi ideology and symbolism. Why not take advantage of the national unity Nazism provides while discarding all the racist baggage?”
- The Almighty Screwup: “This essay is derived from my understanding of the Bible and conservative Christian theology and explains one of the principal reasons (other than the lack of evidence) why I reject the Christian fundamentalists’ god. Simply put, the Christian fundamentalist god is a colossal screwup. Anyone who reads the Bible can see for themselves that he just can’t do anything right.”
- Why I Am Not a Christian: “A fellow freethinker by the name of John Ransom engaged me to compose a statement of why I am not a Christian. I should summarize my case, he said, simply and clearly so everyone can understand where I’m coming from. [...] If this is what Christianity is (and most Christians appear to believe so), there are four major reasons why I do not believe a word of it. And all four would have to be answered with a clear preponderance of evidence and reason before I would ever change my mind. I’m serious about this, too. If all four points are ever refuted with solid, objective evidence, then any other quibbles I have beyond these four would not stop me from declaring faith in Christ. For surely any other problem I or anyone might find with the Christian worldview could easily be solved from within the faith itself–if it weren’t for the following four facts.”
- The Evangelical Conspiracy Theory: “Craig’s position requires him to believe that everyone – everyone – in the world who’s not an evangelical Christian – every atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Sikh and Shintoist, every pagan past and present, every member of every indigenous tribe – is fully aware of the truth of evangelical Christianity and refuses to admit this out of a stubborn desire to sin. It forces him to believe in a worldwide conspiracy involving sustained, lifelong deception practiced on a daily basis by billions of people throughout history.”
- 9/11, and the Shallow Comfort of Religion: “When it happened, I wished that I believed in God. For about four seconds. [...] And then I realized: If I believed in God, I wouldn’t be comforted. If I believed in God, I’d be furious. [...] I think the comforts of religion are only comforting when you don’t think about them very carefully.”
- Efficient Charity – Do Unto Others: “The Roman historian Sallust said of Cato ‘He preferred to be good, rather than to seem so’. The lawyer who quits a high-powered law firm to work at a nonprofit organization certainly seems like a good person. But if we define “good” as helping people, then the lawyer who stays at his law firm but donates the profit to charity is taking Cato’s path of maximizing how much good he does, rather than how good he looks.”
- Optimal Philanthropy for Human Beings: “Giving to optimal charities instead of average charities can multiply one person’s impact 10, 100, or maybe 1000 times. Now multiply that change in impact by a hundred, thousand, or million people who have been persuaded by the simple math and equipped with the psychology of giving. That’s a big impact.”
- The Fallacy of Gray: “Everything is shades of gray, but there are shades of gray so light as to be very nearly white, and shades of gray so dark as to be very nearly black. Or even if not, we can still compare shades, and say ‘it is darker’ or ‘it is lighter’.”
- Depression, Rationality, and the Difficulty of Perspective: “We talk a lot in the atheist/ rationalist/ skeptical community about how life can be made better by leaving religion and embracing rationality. And we talk a lot about wanting to get that message out into the world. Today, I want to talk about a very specific, personal, pragmatic example of this.”
- The Ways of Silencing: “Suppose that President Obama really was a secret Islamist agent, or born in Kenya. In that case, he would be grossly insincere. We would have no reason to believe what he said in any situation. The function of disseminating such claims about the president is not to object to his specific arguments or agenda. It is to undermine the public’s trust in him, so that nothing he says can be taken at face value.”
- Diseased Thinking – Dissolving Questions About Disease: “If we can determine whether a person should get sympathy, and whether they should be allowed to seek medical treatment, independently of the central node ‘disease’ or of the criteria that feed into it, we will have successfully unasked the question are these marginal conditions real diseases” and cleared up the confusion.’”
- Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided: “On questions of simple fact (for example, whether Earthly life arose by natural selection) there’s a legitimate expectation that the argument should be a one-sided battle; the facts themselves are either one way or another, and the so-called “balance of evidence” should reflect this. Indeed, under the Bayesian definition of evidence, “strong evidence” is just that sort of evidence which we only expect to find on one side of an argument. But there is no reason for complex actions with many consequences to exhibit this onesidedness property. Why do people seem to want their policy debates to be one-sided?”
- Factual Politics: “After posting on my blog a long while ago on the question Does Free Will Matter? a bizarre anarchist going by the local moniker Benjamin replied in elaborate length denouncing the very concept of all government whatever, insisting that if we got rid of it (all of it), everyone would live happily ever after in perfect harmony. [...] That went so far off the original topic my final reply to him follows here (in several ensuing parts). I’m not even responding to half the insane things he said or claimed, and yet it’s still intolerably long for most readers. But anyone interested in political philosophy as a whole, or my political philosophy in particular, will find in the following a useful toolkit for constructing a sound political philosophy from the ground up (whether they follow mine or not), by seeing where crazies like Benjamin go wrong, and avoiding what they do by doing (methodologically) exactly the opposite.”
- Smart Taxes: An Open Invitation to Join the Pigou Club [PDF]: “Many economists favor higher taxes on energy-related products such as gasoline, while the general public is more skeptical. This essay discusses various aspects of this policy debate. It focuses, in particular, on the use of these taxes to correct for various externalities—an idea advocated long ago by British economist Arthur Pigou.”
- Crisis Economics [PDF]: “To understand the challenge government economists have faced over the past year and a half, it is useful to imagine the case of
a physician trying to treat an ill patient.”
- Sam, Janet, and Debt: “One of the common arguments against fiscal policy in the current situation – one that sounds sensible – is that debt is the problem, so how can debt be the solution? Households borrowed too much; now you want the government to borrow even more?”
- Diplomacy as a Game Theory Laboratory: “Game theory. You’ve studied the posts, you’ve laughed at the comics, you’ve heard the music. But the best way to make it Truly Part Of You is to play a genuine game, and I have yet to find any more effective than Diplomacy.”
- Liberal vs. Conservative on Climate Change: “It is really interesting that what I have been arguing – based on free trade and individual rights – is seen as ‘liberal’ and condemned as ‘socialists’ by a large portion of the population. Those people, in turn, are defending a set of attitudes that I think can more accurately be called “corporate feudalism”.”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.