Stephen Colbert patented the WORD unquisition in honour of Onfray. He describes the work of unquisitionists as, “Missionary secularists [who] are working hard to convince the faithful not not believe what they don’t.” (Colbert 2007).

Karen Armstrong, a prominent British author on religion, claims that missionary secularism mimics the ardor of Christianity, Islam and Marxism, all of which have at their core an urge to convert nonbelievers to their world view (Higgins 2007 ).

Michel Onfray chose Delacroix’s Jacob Fighting the Devil for the cover of his controversial book entitled Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (2007). It is one of a series of publications that are part of the rise in missionary secularists’ Atheist manifestos such as Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Michel Onfray, who has a enormous cult following as philosopher and high-priest of atheism, advocates work by Marx, Foucault, Nietzche, Gilles Deleuze, and Jeremny Bentham instead of the Bible or the Koran. His interview with Nicolas Sarkozy on Philosophie Mag has an enormous impact.

D’un côté, un philosophe athée, antilibéral, hédoniste et libertaire. De l’autre, un candidat à la présidentielle n’hésitant pas à remettre en cause la loi sur la séparation de l’Église et de l’État, un ministre de l’Intérieur rêvant au rétablissement de l’autorité. À notre initiative, les deux hommes se sont rencontrés. On s’attendait à un choc frontal, il a été question de la croyance, du mal, de la liberté, de la transgression (Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis).

In the course of the interview Onfray ceremoniously offered Sarkozy gifts of his own secular bibles:

Totem et Tabou, je vous l’offre parce que Sigmund Freud y traite du meurtre du père et de l’exercice du pouvoir dans la horde. L’Antéchrist de Friedrich Nietzsche, pour la question de la religion, la critique radicale de la morale chrétienne à vous qui, parfois, allez à la messe en famille. Michel Foucault, c’est une lecture que je recommande plus particulièrement au ministre de l’Intérieur, adepte des solutions disciplinaires. Dans Surveiller et punir, Michel Foucault analyse le rôle du système carcéral et de l’emprisonnement, puis de leur relation avec la norme libérale. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, enfin, car il montre qu’on peut ne pas être libéral sans pour autant être communiste (Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis).

Delacroix’ painting Jacob Fighting the Devil is visible on this theatrical poster for Director Sally Potter’s (1997) film The Tango Lesson.

Poster provided through Wikipedia by Sony2.

Key words: evangelical atheist, Unquisition, Atheist, Awakening Secular, Selling Nothingness, Colbert, Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens vs Lou Dobs,

1. This is a file from the Wikimedia CommonsThis illustration was made by Gloumouth1. Please credit this : Gloumouth1, http://gloumouth1.free.fr (An email to gloumouth1 at laposte.net would be appreciated too).

2. Wikipedia advises that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to illustrate the film, event, etc. in question or to provide critical analysis of the poster content or artworkEnglish-language Wikipedia, hosted on servers in the United States by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image, on Wikipedia or elsewhere, may be copyright infringement. See Wikipedia:Non-free content for more information. To the uploader: please add a detailed fair use rationale for each use, as described on Wikipedia:Image description page, as well as the source of the work and copyright information. Fair use rationale:This image is being used to illustrate the article of the movie in question and is used for informational purposes only. This image is of low resolution. It is believed that this image will not devalue the ability of the copyright holder to profit from the original work. Image used for comment, reporting, and teaching qualifies as Fair Use.

3. Images are only available in the Google docs version Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. >> http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_233dqs84d”> “Unquisition: Selling Nothingness.”

Webliography and Bibliography

Colbert, Stephen. 2007. Unquisition. May 3.

Delacroix, Eugène. Jacob Fighting the Devil. Lutte de Jacob avec l’Ange. Eglise Saint Sulpice Detail. 2005.1

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve/Warner Books. 

“Jacob Fighting the Devil.” chapter 32 of Genesis

Kinsley, Michael. 2007. “In God, Distrust.” Sunday Book Review. New York Times. May 13.
Lacroix, Alexandre, Truong, Nicolas. 2007. “Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis.” Philosophie Mag. No. 8. >> Philomag.com

Onfray, Michel. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Higgins, Andrew. 2007. As religious strife grows, atheists seize pulpit.” Northwest Herald. >> nwherald.com. April 13.   

The things we do with words . . .

For awhile after I had noticed my speechless blog stats reached 10, 000 (whatever that means) I couldn’t write anymore. Weeks later when I started again the stats graph revived. I have no idea how that works.

Since October 2006 I have been able to connect Flickr, Google Docs, iGoogle homepage, Google Video, deli.cio.us, Digg, My Swicki, Facebook, wikipedia through my WordPress blog while living on an Island off the West Coast.

The widget counter on my iGoogle reminds me each day that we will be packing again soon. Somehow I hope that Speechless will provide a virtual space that even mountains can’t block.

If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing entrenched brain pathways may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) is the logical conclusion of an entirely naturalistic Darwinian human evolution a more just, humane world or a dystopia? Or you tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.

Dennett (2003) argues that the evolution of the human brain over deep time has followed the laws of natural science and that human free will is an emergent phenomena of that same physical process. He forcefully argues that biological determinism does not limit human behaviour to predictable, inevitable outcomes.

Dennett contends that recognition of the true nature of man as an exclusively physical body proscribed by the laws of nature will provide a stronger, wiser doctrine of freedom (Dennett 2003:22) than the belief that the reality of man resides in her immaterial, immortal human soul capable of defying the laws of nature (Dennett 2003:1).

Man’s evolution towards moral thinking and existential interpretations is constituted by higher levels of evolution, more advanced outcomes of the natural evolution of entities towards emergent changes that allowed them to avoid harm and reproduce themselves (Dennett 2003:22).

While Dennett draws on arguments from biology, cognitive neuroscience, economics and philosophy proposing provocative and original arguments, there is a lack of the psychological or sociological2 imaginations in his work. It is in the area of habits (particularly those that are institutionalized or community-sanctioned) that flaws may be revealed in Dennett’s arguments of a logical evolutionary conclusion of an emergent salutary human nature incapable of overriding its material brain yet somehow managing to move beyond its own autopoietic system. Would human nature not follow evolutionary pathways towards conservation of the familiar while eliminating that which is uncomfortably unfamiliar from everyday life? What are the ethical implications for sustaining an authentic pluralism, diversity of cultures? It is in this area of an expanded Derridian hospitality towards the stranger, the unknown that Dennett’s secular humanism fails to respond.

Like Dennett, William James1 (1986:369 cited in Tursi 1999) perceived the same evolutionary principles at work in inorganic matter that have been applied to organic matter. In the same year that James developed his ideas on the relationship between the birth of human consciousness, habit and knowing, Freud explored the concept of habit formation as simple agents of conservation that are instinctual reaching deeply back through consciousness, through organic and even organic compulsions. James seemed to perceive the evolutionary changes in human consciousness as radical agents of variance and development. He aligned habit and knowing so that free human agents develop habits by force of will and character. James regretfully admits that habits are difficult to change after the age of thirty (1890). Freud’s theorized that an organism, including a human being, is disposed towards repeating its own lived experience while protecting itself against unsafe levels of stimulation from the unknown, the unheimlich or the uncanny. Freud argued that the cerebral cortex as the seat of consciousness, recorded negative past experiences of unfamiliar stimuli protected itself by constructed hardened defensive shields against outer stimuli. James acknowledges the way in which habitual sequences and customary feelings provide us with an agreeable feeling of being at home with oneself, whereas unsafe levels of excitation from uncustomary, unfamiliar, incongruous representations evoke distress, doubt, misunderstanding and irrationality (Essays in Philosophy 345). For a more in-depth thoughtful discussion see Tursi (1999).

James “advocates idiosyncrasy, spontaneity, and originality as enrichments to a malleable world, he always returns to habit (Tursi 1999). We reconfigure the unfamiliar or uncanny, the unheimlich to a more welcome pattern (Pragmatism 122).

Just as rivers can be reconfigured so too can our neural networks but deep entrenchment of fast flowing rivers in their time-worn river beds are less flexible, less plastic and more embedded.

It may seem easy to change your mind, but if it’s your brain we’re talking about, maybe it’s harder than we think. A University of Houston professor is looking into this with research into something called ‘brain plasticity (Merkl 2007 ).’

Key Words: brain plasticity, free will, entrenched core beliefs, reconfiguring entrenched brain pathways, habits, character, morality and meaning,


1 The work of William James, considered by his followers as canonical, has been derided by his critics as classist and elitist. I consider it fortunate that his work has again found a legitimate place even with these critics. James began or contributed to so many debates that have been recently resuscitated.

2 Pierre Boudieu’s studies on the reproduction of social values through cultural institutions through schools and museums, for example, reveal the degree to which entrenched societal values continue to be reinforced in a hidden curriculum that benefits exclusive, powerful social strata. In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that genocide was the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment project with its promise of a better society based on shared western values. The Other who refused modernity would be eradicated through a process of natural selection that ensured a safer world for those with more power to reproduce themselves.

Not just for radicals, but for many mainstream liberals too, the road that began in the Enlightenment ends in savagery, even genocide. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues: ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society (Bauman 1989:8).


Zygmunt Bauman. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p8

Dennett, Daniel C. 2003. Freedom Evolves. New York: Penguin.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “You tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.” >> papergirls. May 3. http://papergirls.wordpress.com/2007/05/04/you-tried-to-change-your-mind-but-your-brain-wouldnt-let-you /

Freud, Sigmund. 1953-75 [1919]. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Trans. and Gen. Ed. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1953-75.

James, William. 1890. “Habit.” The Principles of Psychology. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin4.htm

James, William. 1986 [1919]. Essays in Psychical Research. Ed. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

Merkl, Lisa. 2007. “How Plastic Is Your Brain? UH Engineer Seeks Answers.” Medical News Today. May 3. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69263&nfid=crss

Tursi, Renee. 1999. “William James’ Narrative of Habit.” Style. Spring. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2342/is_1_33/ai_58055905/print

© Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. “If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing our brain’s habits may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) can we achieve a wiser, stronger freer society through a process of purely natural selection as Dennett predicts?” >> Speechless

Fireplace with Artist and Easel ReflectingFlynn-Burhoe. 1999. “Fireplace with Easel and Artist Reflecting.” Acrylic. 12″ x 14.” Creative Commons License 2.5 BY-NC-SA..


December 11, 2006

tag cloud

home| about | key concepts | theorists | timelines | Opinion pieces | Web 2.0

Somewhere on the Pacific a small lifeboat shared by two unwilling and unlikely passengers rolled with the waves. Pi knew he could do more than just survive once he realized that Richard was dependent on him. Pi could fish. A Bengal Tiger, king of his own ecosystem, would die at sea without the help of the seventeen-year-old. The book really ended there; it didn’t matter after that what was truth or fiction. Pi’s understanding of power in everyday life was his new reality.

Speechless refers to both the writer and reader. At one level it’s about a writers’ block being blogged. At another level is refers to deafening silence that occurs when one speaks with too much feeling or mentions an uncomfortable idea in a nice place, a unpleasant reminder in polite company, a divergent idea in a space of group think, another perspective than the Renaissance perspective. But it also refers to robust conversations among political philosophers who understand the power of language and everyday life. Socrates, Plato, Derrida called for renewals in philosophy. They examined what we do with words, the role of memory. Speechless alludes to Derrida’s urgent appeal for a renewed democracy, for a revitalized philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view.

The human eye can distinguish 16 values of grey but that’s not including the subtle differences in the colours of grey. We just don’t have the time to see the variations.

I began speechless on October 16, 2006. Two months later I have learned what a permalink is and how to make one. It’s the equivalent to the old web page’s index.html. Now I have to learn where to use it.


The cloud of tags below has grown organically since I first began using WordPress as my main blog host on October 16, 2006. I am building my customized clouds of folksonomies by working on and learning from a number of Web 2.0 feeds. This includes a Flickr account for photo blogging which attracts alot of viewers. I have only a couple of dozen images but one image alone uploaded on October 22, 2006 was viewed 1,179 times over a period of 64 days! I reworked this image again and posted it on speechless under “Wave Algorithms.”

Featured folksonomy:

Benign colonialism is a term that refers to an alleged form of colonialism in which benefits outweighed risks for indigenous population whose lands, resources, rights and freedoms were preempted by a colonizing nation-state. The historical source for the concept of benign colonialism resides with John Stuart Mills who was chief examiner of the British East India Company dealing with British interests in India in the 1820s and 1830s. Mills most well-known essays (1844) on benign colonialism are found in Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy. Mills’ view contrasted with Burkean orientalists. Mills promoted the training of a corps of bureaucrats indigenous to India who could adopt the modern liberal perspective and values of 19th century Britain. Mills predicted this group’s eventual governance of India would be based on British values and perspectives. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for indigenous peoples as settlers, merchants and administrators also brought new industries, liberal markets, developed natural resources and introduced improved governance. The first wave of benign colonialism lasted from c. 1790s-1960s. The second wave included new colonial policies such as exemplified in Hong Kong (Liu 2003)), where unfettered expansion of the market created a new form of benign colonialism. Political interference and military interference (Doyle 2006) in independent nation-states, such as Iraq (Campo 2004 ), is also discussed under the rubric of benign colonialism in which a foreign power preempts national governance to protect a higher concept of freedom. The term is also used in the 21st century to refer to American, French and Chinese market activities in countries on the African continent with massive quantities of underdeveloped nonrenewable envied resources. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized.

For more see Flynn-Burhoe (2007).

There is a widespread Canadian mythology that First Nations, Inuit and Métis are among those who benefited from settler colonies prempting, improving, managing and governing aboriginal lands, resources and educating, training, developing, serving, monitoring and governing its peoples. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for the indigenous peoples since the arrival of settlers. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) addressed these claims but the term benign colonialism is still a convenient truth for many. Celebratory and one-sided social histories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the RCMP, and various government leaders such as John A. MacDonald or civil servants such as Indian Agents, northern adventurers, when viewed through the lens of settlers while ignoring the perspective of First Nations, Inuit and Métis contribute to on-going dissemination of distorted histories. Museums, maps and census contribute to these distorted histories by grave omissions.

Related citations:

“Today, Mill’s most controversial case would be benign colonialism. His principles of nonintervention only hold among “civilized” nations. “Uncivilized” peoples, among whom Mill dumps most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are not fit for the principle of nonintervention. Like Oude (in India), they suffer four debilitating infirmities – despotism, anarchy, amoral presentism and familism — that make them incapable of self-determination. The people are imposed upon by a “despot… so oppressive and extortionate as to devastate the country.” Despotism long endured has produced “such a state of nerveless imbecility that everyone subject to their will, who had not the means of defending himself by his own armed followers, was the prey of anybody who had a band of ruffians in his pay.” The people as a result deteriorate into amoral relations in which the present overwhelms the future and no contracts can be relied upon. Moral duties extend no further than the family; national or civic identity is altogether absent. In these circumstances, Mill claims, benign colonialism is best for the population . Normal relations cannot be maintained in such an anarchic and lawless environment. It is important to note that Mill advocates neither exploitation nor racialist domination. He applies the same reasoning to once primitive northern Europeans who benefited from the imperial rule imposed by civilized Romans. The duties of paternal care, moreover, are real, precluding oppression and exploitation and requiring care and education designed to one day fit the colonized people for independent national existence. Nonetheless, the argument also rests on (wildly distorted) readings of the history and culture of Africa and Asia and Latin America. Anarchy and despotic oppression did afflict many of the peoples in these regions, but ancient cultures embodying deep senses of social obligation made nonsense of presentism and familism. Shorn of its cultural “Orientalism,” Mill’s argument for trusteeship addresses one serious gap in our strategies of humanitarian assistance: the devastations that cannot be readily redressed by a quick intervention designed to liberate an oppressed people from the clutches of foreign oppression or a domestic despot. But how does one prevent benign trusteeship from becoming malign imperialism, particularly when one recalls the flowery words and humanitarian intentions that accompanied the conquerors of Africa? How far is it from the Anti-Slavery Campaign and the Aborigine Rights Protection Society to King Leopold’s Congo and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”?

Here Doyle is referring to John S. Mill cited in “A Few Words on Nonintervention.” . 1973. In Essays on Politics and Culture, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, 368-84. Gloucester, Peter Smith.

See also WordPress featured blogs Benign colonialism.

Related tags: Tom Kent Royal Commission on Newspapers, Hackett and Zhao, economic efficiency, Power and everyday life, ethical topography of self and the Other, teaching learning and research, wealth disparities will intensify, C.D. Howe, Cannibals with Forks.Selected annotated webliography

Campo, Juan E.  2004. “Benign Colonialism? The Iraq War: Hidden Agendas and Babylonian Intrigue.” Interventionism. 26:1. Spring.

Doyle, Michael W.  2006. “Sovereignty and Humanitarian Military Intervention.” Hoover Institute.

Falk, Richard. Human Rights Horizons: the Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World. New York & London: Routledge.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. Benign colonialism. >> Speechless. Uploaded January 14th, 2007

Liu, Henry C. K. “China: a Case of Self-Delusion: Part 1: From colonialism to confusionLiu 2003.” Asia Times. May 14, 2003.

Kurtz,Stanley. 2003.”Lessons from the British in India.” Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint. Policy Review.Mill, John Stuart. 1844. Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy.
Of these Essays, which were written in 1829 and 1830,

Current debates on colonization and human rights (Falk 2000) raise questions about the notion of benign colonialism. The dominant language, culture and values of colonizers imposed on colonised peoples is often narrated as salutary. Dominant social and cultural institutions contributed to faciliating the entry of indigenous peoples trapped in unsustainable subsistence economies. Previously colonised peoples claim that the colonization process resulted in a parallel process of the colonization of the minds of indigenous peoples. The process of decolonization of memory (Ricoeur 1980), history and the spirit is crucial for the social inclusion (OECD) of indigenous peoples and nations within nations, such as Canada.