I will probably make myself rather unpopular in this crowd but I've about had it up to here with P.Z. Myers. A few moments ago, he tweeted about a leaked video (http://bit.ly/ahSGr9) showing an engagement of the US military in Iraq involving two Reuters reporters (who were killed in the incident). The tweet: "We have seen evil, and it is us: Here is why we need Wikileaks — because when our soldiers carry out Collateral Mu[rder]" Admittedly the video is shocking and certainly calls the actions taken into question, but the video was leaked earlier today; not really a lot of time to gather evidence and draw conclusions.  I saw the video this morning, read the supporting documentation, and I don't know, yet, if I should be outraged. But this I do know -  all of the facts are not in and I certainly am not taking my facts only from one source (in this case, Wikileaks.)

But that is really not the point of this post, just the impetus. 

This community has its celebrities, its touchstones, its champions (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens, Myers, etc) and what I am increasingly finding is a glut of reactionary messages from the supposed champions of rationalism. After the change in the forums on rdf.net, a large contingent of the membership started hurling invective, and even Dawkins himself initially reacted emotionally in response (before issuing a very well reasoned apology and explanation). I am not suggesting that rationalists should be emotionally numb, but should not the first **public** response to something incendiary, especially of those who **know** they hold an extraordinary amount of influence, be something that aligns with the principles we profess to hold dear? 

We are dubious of those who claim to know God is real, that it is a gut feeling and they **KNOW** God is real. We ask them to use their heads and to think it through. But there is a parallel to us; when we react based on our gut feelings (on any topic, religion, politics, and, yes, even our favorite sports team), we lose that rational high ground. It gives fodder to those who oppose us. 

I see this as the biggest challenge for our community; holding ourselves to that higher standard, reserving judgement/comment until the facts are in. And if those facts indicate we should be outraged then, by all means, let's be outraged and make sure it is known. 


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Errare humanum est, perseverare diabolicum. That's the only rule I use to set irrational people apart from others. Rational people can react emotionally.
It's not that I don't like him, he is obviously a valuable member of the community which is why I follow him on twitter. He is a a very reasonable, articulate, smart guy. Perhaps it would be fair to say I was surprised.

My point is that being in a position such as he is, like or not, he is a thought leader and honestly, I don't think it unreasonable to expect that those who are leaders take extra time to step back from emotional reaction and respond in a reasoned way. PZ bore the brunt of my frustration in this case, but it is not his alone (nor anyone else). Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, I expect that this community should be more prone to letting cooler heads prevail (by virtue of our shared appeal to reason and logic) , even if it be your own five minutes from now.
Probably not. And publishing the video is a very good thing. What I find disturbing is the indictment of these soldiers. Frankly, when you train and arm very young men to be killers - it's patently unfair to call them murderers - regardless of the appearance of their behavior. What is the psychology of an 'honorable soldier?' How do we know how many of their friends were randomly killed by IED's and suicide bombers. We train them to call people targets (or worse) and then they are given plenty of heinous examples of an even more murderous 'other side.'

I'm by no means excusing this event. But, if you're gonna douse a house in gasoline and then blame some kids when it burns down because they were playing with the matches you handed them and showed them how to use - STFU.
I guess I look at it this way... We (the general public) don't know the circumstances leading up to what happened before the video started rolling (as of yet.) It is not unreasonable to think that there may have been some mitigating circumstances outside the scope of the video which led to this group being targeted. I don't know what the circumstances were, and I am certainly not going to try and make something up. However, there are a plethora of circumstances which can lead to coincidental and unfortunate circumstances/mistaken identity/whatever. Based on what has been made public, no one has the full story of the circumstances prior to this incident - leaping to murder in a time of war is gratuitous.

That being said, yes, the guys in the video come off as a bunch of yahoos and yes it looks damning; there is no denying it. But jumping to any conclusions as to unforgivable guilt or excusable guilt before we know the mitigating circumstances is wrong. We all know what happened; what I am interested in is why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future. If it turns out that there were no mitigating circumstances, I'll be the first in line to say they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.

No unique life experience, just trying to take a reasoned and rational approach to something which is obviously very tragic without amping up political rhetoric.

Originally, the post was about checking ones reactions before taking action, especially if you know you are a thought leader of ANY group. PZ, in this case, is certainly a thought leader. Again, I don't dislike the guy, I just think that this was one of many examples where emotion is an overriding force.
I honestly don't know what to make of that video...but my first reaction was my gut wrenched. But this may be due to the fact that I know they're innocent by standards. However I'd think (read that: hope) that the troops could have at least been a little less eager to "engage" those who actually need "engaging", rather than fly around like a buzzard, staring at people just walking around, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and waiting for the chance to squeeze the trigger.
I just saw the video and it is disturbing.

I have a few thoughts on how people act individually as well as a group.

I read Tipping Point a while back and in it the author reviewed how the higher cognitive processes shut down when a person is under stress. The more people involved in a high stress situation the MORE likely violence is going to happen. Ergo, a soldier operating in high stress is more likely to do reprehensible acts when other soldiers are about.

Atheists are people who understand that God doesn't exist. That's it. No superhuman abilities. No Jedi training. Nada. Many Atheists (a majority from what I've seen) are liberals too (I'm to the left on many issues myself). This creates a predisposition for a kind of group think mentality. If a person has a dissenting and reasoned response to the groups' reaction the person will still meet resistance of some kind.

The utility of dissent is to weigh out alternative points of view. So Joshua if you don't agree with a majority of other Atheists on this matter keep on making a reasonable argument.
I often say that, if accused of something, I would prefer the jury were full of atheists - largely because of the understanding of the rules of evidence.

However, I would like to say that training these children (hard to call soldiers children - but hard to call nineteen-year-olds adults) to see the 'enemy' a 'targets' and then calling them the murderers when shit like this goes bad is pretty out of line.

War is no excuse for wanton murder - but think about it: even after the facts are all in, do we really expect to put human beings into this role with this kind of firepower within this context and avoid the unwarranted death of innocents? This is one of my primary reasons to avoid war in the first place; let alone this kind of preemptive action.

I absolutely think that we who claim to hold reason in the place of superstition have to be careful about publishing this type of incendiary opinion. Sure, we can react emotionally as well as anyone else. But don't call these boys murderers - especially without a full examination of the facts. Because, considering the context, you would have to show me that they deliberately and with malice broke protocol, violated the rules of engagement and operated completely outside of the chain of command to lay this at their feet..

If we failed to overthrow our government when it went to war, then we are at least as culpable as these soldiers.
Emotion does not poison all thought process. We're not robots.

And it looks pretty legit to me. No one should be surprised.
Agreed, it does not poison the thought process it informs it, sometimes to the point of internal conflict. I think I am being honest in saying I hold us to a higher standard - reason over reaction.
From Pharyngula:

"Perhaps the killers were merely mistaken, as happens in war. Perhaps they had better views of weaponry than can be seen in this video. But that doesn't explain what happened next, when a van pulls up to help a wounded man and they open fire again, fully aware of what was going on below them, and fire several bursts into the people and into the van."

Fully aware? I am sorry but this is a war (justified or otherwise), no one is fully aware of anything. I don't think it is unreasonable to consider the possibility that the van was trying to pick up insurgents to treat them and put them back into the fight - I realize it is cold and calculating but (ostensibly) taken from a soldiers point of view; why give the guy another chance to shoot at you or your forces? If the Americans believed they were insurgents, or if the people were violating some law by carrying automatic weapons in the open (I don't know if it is against the law) and thus could reasonably be assumed to be insurgents because of it, then the action is more justifiable. The van wasn't marked as an medical vehicle and, perhaps wrongly in this case, there may have been guilt by association.

I really hate speculating but you have to consider multiple possibilities of circumstance; I have outlined a plausible circumstance. Until we have more data, I would refrain from things like the following (also from the same link):

"I am ashamed. We are the storm troopers, the murderous invaders, the butchers of children, the laughing barbarians. We aren't in Iraq to help those people, our troops are there to oppress them…when we aren't gunning them down outright."

On its face, I can see how one would react that way, but only if you take what was shown without context. So far we haven't been given any context, so we should be reserving judgement. But then that was the point of my original post - we need to take a reasoned approach, to temper our gut reactions and hold true to that ideal. And yes, I expect better of our thought leaders.

What would I have written? Something short and factual (kind of like how news organizations are supposed to be): Here is a leaked video from Wikileaks. The video is shocking and may be upsetting. I can neither confirm nor deny that the author(s) of the information presented with the video may have their own agenda, but in my estimation there is a sufficient lack of context to support any firm conclusions as of yet. I hope that as more information is acquired and released to the public we will find that the actions of the American soldiers were justified but I cannot conclude that (or indeed anything) from the information available at present.
I would say 'Cynical' with a capital 'C' - the good kind. This kind of Cynicism is what fuels the kind of reason that says that 'War is the last refuge of the incompetent.' (Isaac Asimov) It's the same kind of Cynicism that observes that prohibition of desirable substances coupled with easy access to guns and unaddressed poverty leads to violent street crime.

I mean, imagine the guys in Nevada, sitting in cubicles, flying predator drones and assassinating people - along with innocent bystanders. For them, it looks exactly like a video game.




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