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Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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Am I Wasting My Time?

April 22nd, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 18 Comments

A question that has come up numerous times in the past: am I wasting my time?

*sigh*

Advice like “don’t waste your brain cells”, “they’re not worth it”, or “the smart ones will figure it out for themselves” is often given. And then I think of clichéd quotes like “all that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing”, and I come across cases of individual suffering brought about by extremely unhealthy meme complexes.

Should I sit back and watch the show, or should I go ahead and point out the good and the bad, that people may more clearly see what the problem is? In particular, I have a semester of supposedly “interdenominational Bible School” material available, that I am tempted to examine in depth, and contrast with other world views, in order to point out the good, the lacking, and the outright bad of the world views in question.

Is it worth it?

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Clare // Apr 22, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    I think that decision is up to you. If you enjoy and learn something by looking at these issues and sharing this with others then go for it. From a personal perspective, I have learned a lot from your blog about every day living in South Africa that I had no idea about before, as well as about the various church communities.

  • 2 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 22, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    One person’s worth of influence is worth making and all any one person can hope to do.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

  • 3 Hugo // Apr 22, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    The question is how much time I should invest, when I should rather be focusing on getting on with my life and career? But hey, I always thought I’d give it a few months, or to the end of the year.

  • 4 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 23, 2008 at 2:51 am

    The question is how much time I should invest, when I should rather be focusing on getting on with my life and career?

    Dunno. I tend to assume other countries have fewer problems with fundamentalism than the U.S., but I really have no idea how good or bad South Africa is. Would things like this or this get a reaction in South Africa? They got none here. Does your national government limit educational money for sex education to be abstinence only? Does your President reject 19th century science like the theory of evolution? Googling, it appears he is ignorant on AIDS, which is pretty bad.

    If you’re not as bad off as we are, I wouldn’t put all that much time in it.

  • 5 Pieter // Apr 23, 2008 at 10:08 am

    If there is work to be done and one can’t do it all,
    another way is to organize the like-minded and make it less of a one man show.

  • 6 Hugo // Apr 23, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Ben, while our president might be ignorant of AIDS, our government isn’t Christian. Unless Shofar’s prayers bring about a miracle and get the ACDP elected (luckily I don’t believe God would side with fundamentalists), there won’t be a religious fundamentalism problem on the side of our government. We were one of the first countries to legalise homosexual marriage, we have legalised abortion and it isn’t under threat, and I remember teachers in school complaining that they want to take away prayer… don’t know if that has happened yet. Our government distributes free condoms, our up-and-coming president has a charge of rape against him and the biggest uproar was that he didn’t use a condom despite knowing she was HIV positive… nope, he “took a shower” afterwards.

    So no, we definitely don’t have the same problems as the USA. I believe fundamentalist leanings is found mostly amongst conservative white South Africans that feel the threat of an uncertain future. (Now’s the time to say something like Obama said… they grab onto something that they can hold on to in uncertain times.)

    In the case of Stellenbosch, some people enjoy the presence of fundamentalism: they think it is comical. I.e. it is irritating and frustrating to a number of lecturers, and it’s scary how high up they are in the university structures, but… might we end up producing the next Dr Snelling?

    So no, it’s not as big an issue as in the USA, we need not really worry. It’s more a case of friends and family members (aunts, uncles, cousins). Then again, if I want to keep relationships in tact, maybe it would be best to put things to rest. But if I’m concerned about nieces and nephews? (And genetically, I might have reason care, right?)

    Not all of (one half of) my extended family is in the same boat. Some are into the young earth fundamentalism thing (Shofar), and others are worried about Shofar as a potentially dangerous sect. (Recent conversation with an aunt. She denies common descent though. But that doesn’t really matter. I’m just giving some background on my family here.)

    organize the like-minded and make it less of a one man show

    That was/is the plan. Once I laid some foundations, gave some examples of what could be done, and tested it for it’s worth/effectiveness, someone else could continue with it. Of course there is now a Freethinking Maties society at Stellenbosch, and Tygerberg has a society as well, SHARP I think, “Secular Humanism and Related Philosophies”, so in terms of challenges to anti-science, I could probably just step down and let them handle it.

    Freethinking Maties has “secularised” the societies council already: they now have a moment of silence at the start, instead of prayer. They may have an influence on moderates, and they may lobby for acceptance of atheism, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to have much direct impact on fundamentalism yet. They come across as too Dawkins-esque.

    Ah, whatever. I suppose I should stick to my plans if I find it worthwhile personally. I probably will do so, I still feel like making my contribution.

  • 7 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 23, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Freethinking Maties has “secularised” the societies council already: they now have a moment of silence at the start, instead of prayer. They may have an influence on moderates, and they may lobby for acceptance of atheism, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to have much direct impact on fundamentalism yet. They come across as too Dawkins-esque.

    Heh. I knew they were thinking of doing this. I am surprised this was accepted so quickly.

    Ah, whatever. I suppose I should stick to my plans if I find it worthwhile personally. I probably will do so, I still feel like making my contribution.

    For what its worth, I think your blog has value. Don’t give up because other people have.

  • 8 gloep // Apr 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    …I believe fundamentalist leanings is found mostly amongst conservative white South Africans that feel the threat of an uncertain future.

    http://pewforum.org/world-affairs/countries/?CountryID=193

    en

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zionist_Church

  • 9 Hugo // Apr 23, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    gloep is right, my “belief”, stated in my previous comment, is incorrect and uninformed. May it serve as an example of what happens if you simply run with beliefs without evidence. ;)

    So let me reconsider and add more details. As a member of the upper-middle class white demographic in Stellenbosch, a “conservative” (what’s that anyway?) town, with a serious university with the standard progressive/liberal influence, I really don’t have much clue what’s going on in the country, and my opinions should be seen in this light.

    Now when I spoke of the people drawn to fundamentalism, I was referring to the primary two pentecostal “Bible believing” (their propaganda term meaning “literalist” with regard to eg Genesis) congregations amongst the students. So I look at who seems interested in these, and that’s what I’m referring to.

    Their congregations are predominately white, but yes, that doesn’t mean that much in the context of a student population that is predominately white. While uncertainty and oppression does typically push people towards fundamentalism, the mainline churches also have fundamentalists. So who gets attracted to these communities? I don’t really know, but they appeal to people that like the social crowd. And they draw people that want to feel less powerless in political uncertainty: eg Shofar prays for supernatural intervention in the government, and has a stronger or more explicit belief in the power of such prayer and intervention than mainstream churches seem to have. Or they just express it that way, as charismatic/pentecostal churches are prone to do.

    Better?

  • 10 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 23, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    gloep:
    I am very surprised at the large irreligious group in SA. I never saw that one coming…15% is a substantial proportion of the population!

    Also interesting how there wasn’t even an option for non-religious folks in the 1951 census…how times have changed.

    It is interesting to see the way that the African Independent Churches are growing. Incorporating traditional African elements into Christianity. Marvellous example of cultural evolution.

  • 11 gloep // Apr 24, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Kenneth: I think that non-religious 15% included people who cited purely “traditional” beliefs (sangomas, etc).

    Oh, and nice letter in Die Matie! Glad to see both your and Rohwer’s letters published. I can’t actually believe that as a post-grad science student I have never, ever been in any type of “wetenskapfilosofie” class – we have never been taught the fundemantal differences between “theory”, “fact”, “hypothesis” and “proof”, amongst other concepts that people misinterpret and then misuse and abuse at free will. Kind of makes my little well-done-you-graduated-here’s-my-signature piece of paper seem a bit over-esteemd.

  • 12 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Gloep, that’s interesting…we were subjected to (inflicted with?) a six week course dealing in Popper, Feyerabend, Kuhn etc in our Honours course…I found it incredibly boring at the time, and I still think there are better ways to teach philosophy of science to B.Sc post-grads, but in hindsight I am rather grateful that we were made to do it…

    Re the letter: thanks! I’m also glad that Chris Rohwer chimed in. He took a different tack to the one Maud and I tried, and I think rather effectively so. There will be more responses to van der Ventel’s letter.

  • 13 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Do you think I could reproduce Chris Rohwer’s letter here? As well as Van der Ventel’s? People write letters to get them published, I can’t think they’d complain. And I don’t think Die Matie really “owns” the letters, do they? I’ll link to Die Matie, give it credit… should be good enough?

  • 14 gloep // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Apparently Mathematical Sciences students don’t need the philosophy course, then… I think it sucks supremely.

    Hugo, ek sou eers toestemming by die skrywers self kry. Weet nie wat die “done thing” met so iets is nie, maar dis dalk net in jou eie best interest.

  • 15 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Most probably. I think they would jump at the chance to have their name featured on an internationally read blog ;-). Do we have a tongue smiley?

    If you are really worried about this, contact the Matie directly…in my experience, they have been courteous and approachable.

    With regards to van der Ventel, our global campus address list gives her credentials as a final year undergraduate student, in Biological Chemistry. I have managed to get hold of a list of all staff and post-graduate students in the Dept. Chemistry and she is not on it. Because undergraduates are not associated with any particular Department or Institute, her stated affiliation with Chemistry is at best ignorant (this word is cropping up a lot), and at worst, an outright lie.

  • 16 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Now that I think about it, gloep might have a point. Personally, as long as you freely acknowledge your source, I think you’re in the clear. But I think gloep is right in that by approaching the original authors for consent, you are effectively covering all your bases.

    Gloep, why don’t you enquire about such a course? As I understand it, you are perfectly entitled to attend these classes of your own free will…I highly doubt any lecturer would chuck you out! With the caveat that you aren’t neglecting your other classes, naturally…

  • 17 gloep // Apr 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    With the caveat that you aren’t neglecting your other classes, naturally…
    Therein lies the bugger-up. :)

    Wat maak ‘n mens gewoonlik as jy ‘n uittrekksel van ‘n brief in ‘n ander koerant wil publiseer? Daar is seker een of ander protokol/joernalistieke etiek – wonder net of die oorspronklike briefskwryer enigsins betrokke is daarby.

  • 18 Hugo // Apr 25, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve sent an email to a Chris Rohwer that is currently busy with his honours in theoretical physics. I have permission from Kenneth & Maud. So the question: how do I contact Tracy-Lee? Kenneth, do you have her address? You have mine, no need to publish it here. (Uh, and what if she says “no”? Maybe I should rather not ask. ;) )

    gloep, I don’t know what the South African laws are. In the USA (hello internet) “fair use” allows quoting people if it is accompanied by a commentary. I know this from blogs tackling creationism talks: they could not post a recording, but they were allowed to post a transcription as long as it includes some commentary. Maybe that’s bending the rules a little: extracts may be copied for use in a critique or something…

    In the case of the letters though, I won’t be adding much to them. I’d essentially just be copying Die Matie material and publishing it directly.

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