Tag Archives: art

Michael Shermer's Awful Giraffe

Writer and Editor Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer (web; twitter) is a humanist/atheist/nontheist/skeptic thinker best known for his seventeen books on psychology, biology, history, and … cycling, the former of which includes the popular Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (2002) and his most recent The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (2011). In addition, Shermer is the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and also writes a monthly column for Scientific American. So, as you can probably infer, if you give this guy a pen, he will probably return it completely drained – along with an essay.

Approaching him at a convention in Fargo, ND, Shermer was happy to contribute though with the proviso that he have full artistic license to do as he wished. Having no problem with this, I let him do as he wished. After a matter of minutes he returned my notebook with what I can only call a classic. Unlike his giraffe-drawing contemporaries, Shermer saw this as an intellectual challenge; instead of just creating a reflection of the social construction we call a “giraffe” he broke it down to its barest essence. And while I am by no standard (but my own) an art critic, I do believe Shermer to be a noble successor to Duchamp and contemporary of Damien Hirst.

This is the future of art.

… And what a sad future it is.

Brian Melendez 1 11

Fmr. DFL Chairman Brian Melendez

Being out of town for the last several days I have not had the opportunity to write the articles I’ve been meaning to, but I assure you that the Gary Snyder and maybe even the Lawrence Krauss story will go up this week. Until then, enjoy the very first giraffe ever drawn from February ’11.

Brian Melendez is the former Chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (2005-2011), lawyer, contributer to Black’s Law Dictionary and most impressively: the guy with one of the highest ranked reviews of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (9th Edition) on Amazon.com. A graduate of Harvard, Melendez is perhaps one of the smartest guys you could ever hope to meet.

Also, he draws really terrible giraffes as I discovered when I approached him at a DFL event celebrating his years of service. Now that I have called in my one favor for the years of volunteer work, I am not sure how to feel. After all, all I got was the following and weird look – was it worth it?

Oh yeah.

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

Writer and Director Roger Nygard

The University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) had the pleasure of hosting Roger Nygard, director, writer and producer (perhaps best known for his 1997 documentary Trekkies) who screened his most recent film The Nature of Existence (2010) to an overflow crowd of students and faculty alike. In Nygard’s own words, Existence is a film where he “wrote the toughest 85 questions I could think of, about our purpose and the nature of existence, and then asked hundreds of people all over the globe, such as: Indian holy man Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Living), evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), 24th generation Chinese Taoist Master Zhang Chengda, Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind (co-discoverer of string theory), wrestler Rob Adonis (founder of Ultimate Christian Wrestling), confrontational evangelist Brother Jed Smock, novelist Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), director Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), Stonehenge Druids Rollo Maughfling & King Arthur Pendragon and many more…”

Overall the film was not too bad even if he refused to challenge or interrogate the logic of those he interviewed, a point he made clear in the Q-and-A following the film by pointing out that his film is meant only to make the viewer think and come to their own conclusion. PZ Myers, UMM professor and author of the science blog Pharyngula, was in attendance, voiced his opinion and did not seem impressed by Nygard’s hands off style. In fact, the only reflection of his own beliefs the director made clear was the fact that he is moral relativist, the notion that “because there is no universal moral standard by which to judge others, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others – even when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards”, which at face value is not an entirely harmful idea. After all, what is wrong with there being more tolerance in the world? Although such a notion can be agreeable to certain degrees it grants no excuse for reticence and does not justify inaction when there is a clear, unethical wrong being committed.

Take for example a brief exchange that happened during the Q-and-A.

When asked whether or not it would be acceptable for a culture to torture babies, Nygard responded socratically: “From what frame of reference?” stressing in his answer (and the small debate that followed between he and students) the fact that given the subjectivity of morality no culture has a right to dictate what is moral for another. In fact, when asked by a student whether or not his experience working on the film proved to him that “the world would have been a better place if there was no such thing as religion since all of the awful things that have been justified by it would not have happened” such as the Inquisition, the crusades, and so on. To this Nygard replied by again asking the student to define “what frame of reference” he was using. Clarifying his philosophy, Nygard said that while those things that have been committed in the name of religion were bad, to know good is to know what is bad.

I can’t say I agree – I happen to believe we can know what is good without killing the Jews – but that’s just my own opinion.

I wish I could say here that as the tension in the room began to build a member of the GDBWSNBDG editorial board turned the subject to giraffes, but the truth is Nygard’s moral relativism was an issue in most of the venues in which he spoke. Earlier in the day he participated in a roundtable discussion and apparently slipped into a debate with one of the university’s philosophy professors who wrote his thesis, which will soon be published as a book, on ethics. It was actually during this debate when Lucas Felts interjected during a pause … and asked for a giraffe …

Roger Nygard's Giraffe

… Or fucking dinosaur or something.