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Monday, February 23, 2009

Boy Overgrown child meets (an unreasonable facsimile of the) World

All of you know that I have been trying to cut back on my Conservapedia watching. You know that I have been trying to reduce the amount that I talk about it. We all know that the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. You know what? I don't care. Fuck it. We're talking about Conservapedia today. I am officially off the goddamned wagon.

So, as some of you may know, Andrew Schlafly, prince idiot of Conservapedia, teaches children. Yes, you read that right: he teaches children.* Specifically, he participates in the Eagle Forum, which is an educational resource for homeschoolers/way for Phyllis Schlafly to feel important. As a part of the Eagle Forum Andrew Schlafly teaches a variety of courses through his blog, Conservapedia. Right now he is teaching a course in world history. Okay, hang on, let me back up here. It is labeled as a course in world history but it is, in fact, one of the most unbelievable clusterfucks I have ever seen. Take, for example, this excerpt from lecture one that sets the stage for the rest of the course:

"World history" is the true story of thought, ideas, culture, language, wars, governments, and economic systems throughout all of mankind's history. This includes billions of people over thousands of years. Every source is available to us, from the Bible to ancient and modern historians. Everything mankind has ever written, invented, observed, conquered and destroyed is part of "World history." For example, we will study how Carthage was built into a power, and how it was then forever destroyed by its enemies from Rome.


We will consider how mankind progressed in understanding the unseen, such as truth and gravity and God. In mathematics, mankind progressed from the discovery of geometry (Greeks) to the concept of "zero" (Indians) to calculus (English). In economics, mankind progressed from wage and price controls (Romans) to the "invisible hand" of the free market (Scottish), which then unleashed tremendous prosperity. World history spans from pre-Christian to Christian. What are we progressing towards now? We will learn to use history to predict the future.

Do not be misled by thinking that ancient peoples were dumb or boring because they lacked the technology of modern society. The Egyptians, for example, cleverly built the massive pyramids using techniques that no one to this day can figure out or duplicate. In 2600 B.C., they constructed the pyramid of Khufu containing 6 million tons of stone extending to a height of 481 feet. The workmanship was superior to anything we do today: the rock base was virtually flat, not varying in elevation by more than a half-inch; its orientation is precisely aligned with the points of a compass; its stones were perfect fits. Inside was a chapel, a causeway, and a temple. It amazes architects to this day. We would not be able to duplicate it, and no one knows how the Egyptians were able to build these intricate structures 4600 years ago. Many other cultures, from Mesopotamia to Greece to Rome to India to China, invented things and discovered knowledge that no one today is smart enough to duplicate. Can you build a useful wheel, or make paper? [emphasis added]

Right, so, modern architects can't duplicate the pyramids, but we can build shit like the Sears Tower, the three-gorges dam, and send people to the moon? Riiiiiiight. I think he may be correct that we're not sure how the Egyptians did it, but I'm quite sure that building a bigass pyramid out of stone is well within our capabilities. And as long as we're on the subject: yes, I can make paper, and have done so on more than one occasion. Haven't made a wheel before, but I'm pretty certain I could pull it off given some basic tools and some wood. I'm also pleased to see god lumped in with gravity. Sure, we can't "see" either one with our eyes, but gravity is pretty damned noticeable whereas god is a tad more... elusive.

Yet, believe it or not, this introduction is relatively mild compared to the lecture itself. How mild? Well, come along with me for a journey through the early part of the first lecture. For your enjoyment, I will insert comments when I feel like it. Ready?

Let's begin:

Introduction to Ancient History

Ancient history is everything before about A.D. 500 or 600, when every major religion except Islam was established. Ancient history created civilization and achieved many of the greatest intellectual breakthroughs of all time. Literature, drama, mathematics, philosophy, language, etc., were all created and developed during ancient history, which is why this time period is emphasized so much in education.

Yes, Ancient History created religion. It created civilization. Ancient History is very creative. Have you met Ancient History's family? They're very nice.

When did mankind first begin? There is no reliable evidence of man existing before 3500 B.C.

Although if you ask the Smithsonian they observe that fossil evidence shows Humans in Africa about 130,000 years ago, and in the near East 90,000 years ago.

The oldest writing was a pictographic tablet called a "cuneiform" (pronounced kyu-NEE-uh-form) dated to perhaps 3400 B.C. from Sumer (SOO-mur) in Southern Mesopotamia (where Iraq is today). Cuneiform looks like chicken-scratches featuring wedge-like or arrow-shaped characters. Although cuneiform was a primitive writing style, it continued in use until shortly before the birth of Christ. Originally pictographs (e.g., to write "foot", you would draw a foot), cuneiform expanded to 600 stick-based symbols or figures, with each one developing multiple meanings (e.g., the symbol for "foot" also developed the meanings of "to go" or "to stand," depending on the context). For those who "text message" on cell phones, notice how each key has multiple possible letters and how the phone resolves the ambiguity and forms words depending on how the letters fit together to form a word. Cuneiform had only 600 symbols, but their multiple meanings were resolved by seeing how they fit together to form sentences. Notice that cuneiform was not an alphabet or western-style script; the oldest script-based language is from the Indo-Aryan language, and an example dating back to 1550 B.C. was found in the Sinai.

Interestingly, and contrary to what Schlafly suggests, cuneiform gradually evolved towards a modern syllable based language and lost characters over time, rather than growing to include 600 symbols (i.e. it went from 1,000 unique symbols to 400).

Historians feel that spoken language originated in southeastern Europe near the Black Sea, not far from the Ararat mountain range cited in the Bible in connection with Noah.

Um... what? How the fuck would anyone know for sure when spoken language first appeared, given that it leaves no traces in the historical record? I mean, you could look for complex tool use that would be difficult to pass on from generation to generation without the use of language- in which case you might guess language emerged 164,000 years ago in Africa- but what sources do "historians" base this Ararat language contention on? Oh, wait, you're just making shit up to push your ideological cookie about the ark. Never mind.

Using population estimates, we know that about 300 million people existed in the world at the time of Christ, and extrapolating backwards yields only one family in the year 3300 B.C. The oldest trees do not predate this time; the oldest sequoias, which never die of old age, but which, of course, do succumb to diseases, forest fires, and animal damage, are no older than 2000 B.C.

"Extrapolating backwards?" Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to extrapolate over long swathes of time with something like population? Why do you assholes make this mistake every time? Oh, and by the way? The oldest living tree we know of is in Sweden and is a bit older than 2,000. How much older? It's 9,550 years old you jackass!

No "civilization" has been found that is older than about 3000 B.C. By "civilization" we mean an order and hierarchy in the way of life. Some type of political system or government is usually necessary to have a civilization. A structure similar to a city or town is necessary to bring together people, jobs, buildings or religious centers. Usually there are different classes of people, such as rich and poor. Some historians say there must be an agricultural surplus also: enough food to feed the people so that some workers could spend time in jobs other than farming. In a nutshell, a civilization must have cities, skilled (non-farming) workers, social and government institutions, writing to maintain records such as property ownership, and advanced technology.

So we have two definitions here. The first "an order and hierarchy in the way of life" would apply to a goddamn streetgang. So, apparently, according to Andrew Schlafly, the Crips are a civilization. Awesome. The second definition is a little more constraining: "a civilization must have cities, skilled (non-farming) workers, social and government institutions, writing to maintain records such as property ownership, and advanced technology." Sadly, this definition verges on useless. What constitutes a "city"? What does he mean by "advanced technology"? Writing? Pyramids? A skyhook? What? Advanced is a relative, rather than absolute, term. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Sumer appears to have been around since about 6,000 BCE.

Memorize the oldest dates for the ancient civilizations:

Name Time of existence
Mesopotamia (Mes-uh-puh-tay-mee-uh) 3500 – 500 B.C., when conquered by Persia
Egypt 3100 – 525 B.C., when conquered by the Hyksos (HIK-sohs)
Indus (IN-dus) Valley: beginning in 2900 B.C.
China: beginning in 2200 B.C.
Mexican Olmec (AWL-mek): 1200 – 300 B.C., the earliest known American civilization
Peru (South America): 900 B.C.

History books speculate about "prehistory", which predates writing (i.e., before 3400 B.C.). But there is no reliable evidence to support this speculation, and it is not worth spending time on. There is no reason to think that man existed for thousands of years without ever expressing himself in written form.

Yes, no evidence to support pre-history other than, you know, all the fossils we keep finding of tools, buildings, bones, etc. I'm also pleased to see truckloads of evidence that the world is older than a piddling 6,000 years referred to as "Not worth spending time on". Brilliant.

But in case you are asked on a standardized test, historians describe the period of time known as "prehistory" as the "Stone Age." They divide the Stone Age into two time periods: "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic". The Paleolithic Age is older, when man relied mostly on hunting and picking nuts and fruit to supplement his diet. The Paleolithic Age was followed by the Neolithic Age, which consisted of the rise of agriculture. The "Neolithic Revolution" means the "Agricultural Revolution," when farming became dominant. The dates of these ages are controversial, and historians have a bias for giving them older dates than archaeology actually proves.

What the hell does that even mean? "A bias for giving them older dates than archaeology proves"? Obviously you haven't read this paper which dates the neolithic agricultural revolution to 10,000 to 7,000 years ago. And, as a side note, it's an archaeology paper.

After the Stone Age came the Bronze Age, beginning in 3500 B.C., when copper and/or bronze tools were used. That was followed by the Iron Age, which began in Turkey around 2200 B.C. and later spread to other regions. As its name suggests, people during this period used iron for tools.

Amusingly, given that he thinks the world is only about 6,000 years old, that means that the stone age only lasted about 500 years but the bronze age lasted 700. So it took us longer to figure out how to work iron after we had bronze than it took to figure out bronze when we had stones, sticks, and dirt? Riiiiiight. That sounds reasonable and consistent with what we see in technological development. As we become more advanced, obviously it takes longer to figure out the next thing. Obviously!

Ancient civilizations are often called "classical civilizations," particularly when they produced great intellectual advances as Ancient Greece did. For example, "Classical Indian Civilization" refers to Ancient India, which lasted from 300 B.C. to A.D. 500.

Two of the oldest towns are the biblical town of Jericho, located in Palestine (on the "West Bank" of the Jordan River, between Israel and Jordan today), and Catal Huyuk, located in modern-day Turkey. Jericho was famous for its high city walls to protect against attack.

The ancient world was the source of the most basic aspects of life that we still use today, such as the seven-day week and marriage. The Bible remains the best written explanation for these and many other aspects of the ancient world. Note that all four civilizations discussed in this lecture arose in or near what we now call the "Middle East."

Ah, yes, well, if the bible is your source for world history, of course you'd be startlingly ignorant. Because the bible is not an f-ing history book, whatever it may be.

And if that isn't enough to horrify you, try out some of the homework assignments he gives. I particularly love Homework Two for the assortment of opinion questions that can't be marked one way or the other. Questions like, "Socrates, Plato and Aristotle: who impresses you most and why?" I mean, seriously folks, what is a wrong answer to that question? For crying out loud, he actually has an "honors" question that reads, in its entirety: "The Persian Wars. What can you say about them?"

So long as Andrew Schlafly is teaching children, I feel like I have to teach twice as well just to keep the human race from getting dumber as a whole.

* If you remember the last time I mentioned this, you're a truly obsessed reader. Give yourself a cookie!

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