Religion

Number 59’s Wall

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Published on Peak Surfer on July 24, 2016

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— Te-lah-nay

 

When we first published this essay in September of 2009, our blog was in its infancy and to this day the post has received only 219 reads. Now, in 2016, with the dog days of summer upon us, we are setting off to find a nice beach somewhere and find it the perfect opportunity to repost this story, one of our personal favorites and one we shall tell our granddaughter some day. Likely we will take her to the Wall when we do.
 
The Wall came to pass from a series of events in the Nineteenth Century, beginning with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which was opposed by our local Congressman of that time, David Crockett of Tennessee. A lawsuit for the Cherokee Nation reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1832 and Justice John Marshall ruled in Worcester v. Georgia, (31 U.S. [6 Pet.] 515) that an indigenous nation was a "distinct community" with sovereign self-government and the power to engage in treaties with the United States.
 
President Andrew Jackson wrote that “the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.” He sent General Winfield Scott to effect the clearances while Congress busied itself passing fake treaties to paper over the ethnic cleansing.
 
Ewashnay-e-e-mello
 
A little girl named Tah-nan-kay was living with her people in the Euchee Nation of Northern Alabama at that time. They called themselves Tsoyaha yuchi, “the Children of the Sun from faraway.” Ironically, the Euchee had fought alongside of Andrew Jackson at the battle of Callabee Creek, in the Indian Wars of 1814, and were praised by the General for their gallantry and valor.
 
 
The Euchee language is a linguistic isolate, not known to be related to any other language, but there are similarities to ancient Hebrew and the Bat Creek Stone (Smithsonian Collection), removed from an East Tennessee mound (since plowed flat), contains a Semitic inscription of the first or second century C.E. which translates "For the Judeans." Carbon-dating has confirmed the linguistic dating.
 
We know that the Euchee were descendents of the original Mississipian mound builders, that they were decimated by European disease following contact with DeSoto (1540) and Pardo (1567) expeditions, and that their widely scattered villages were the consequence of that decimation and of being on the losing side of conflicts with in-migrating Muskhogean, Iroquoian, and Algonkian peoples.
 
The Euchee are now the oldest recognizable residents of the Southeast. There are only 7 native speakers left.
Tah-nan-kay and her sister, Whana-le watched from the bushes where their father had hid them when the whites, led by Hairy Face, who drank from a jug and walked crooked, came to their wasi. Hairy Face killed their family before their eyes, but, guided by their grandmother, the sisters, aged about 16 and 14, reached a canoe and went down the Singing River to the Muscle Shoals. There they were captured, removed to a stockade, and then put aboard a Navy keelboat going to Arkansas, with 20 Chicasaws, 12 Creeks, 11 Choctaws and 30 Cherokees. 
 
They were given necklaces with brass tags bearing numbers. Tah-nan-kay and Whana-le were given 59 and 60, which they understood to be their new names, the names the Shiny Buttons called them. They said the canoe was so large they could not hear the Woman in the Singing River. From West Memphis, they joined the long walk to Oklahoma. Many stories are told of that forced winter march, and of the more than 4,000 who died, and they will not be recounted here.

 

 

We have an artist friend, Bernice Davidson, who has done a series of public art monuments to the Trail of Tears. In one mural she prepared for Lawrenceburg, Tennessee,  she shows a long line of bedraggled men, women and children, some of them in manacles, being frog-marched through town by mounted cavalry. In every window and doorway there are white residents looking on, and they are crying. Those tears are not being shed by the proud and honorable peoples being marched through the town. They are being shed by the citizens forced to witness in shock and horror what their own government is capable of.

 

 
After a winter or more in Oklahoma, Number 59 resolved to return home. She told her younger sister that she had visited all the rivers and creeks in that place and they were silent. She did not know the birds. She was not a flower that could bloom in that place, like her sister was, she said. She had spoken to her grandmother in her dreams, and her grandmother had told her to return to the Singing River.
 
When the snows melted, she left Oklahoma and walked back. In her dreams, her grandmother told her to mark where the Blue Star rose, and to go that way under cover of dark, avoiding the roads and settlements, and especially the dogs around them. The hardest part about crossing creeks was not the swim, but getting through the cane breaks on the banks, which often had nests of the snakes that drum with their tails.
 
She observed a fox, who her grandmother had told her was very smart. The fox picked up a cane in its mouth and waded slowly into the river. The bugs on the fox moved up to the cane and out onto its dry ends to keep from drowning. Then the fox dropped the cane and swam back to the shore. 
 
Number 59 told her grandchildren many years later that she spent some months with a family who took her in at their settlement near the warm water (Hot Springs), and then, after she went around the “firefly village” (Little Rock), she met a Natchez Indian woman, named Wachetto, who had married a white settler named Pryor Donelson. Number 59 stayed with the Donelsons that winter. They arranged for a ferryman they knew to take her to Batesville, Mississippi, and from there she kept walking east. 
 
After she left, the Donelson’s boy, Jacob, discovered a small circular wall of stones behind the barn. Inside the wall there was a stone with the name of each member of the Donelson family, and one for Te-lah-nay, with the Euchee symbol of remembrance. 
 
 
 
Eventually, after more than two years on the trail, she heard the sound of the Night Singer (whipporwill) and Rain Crow (yellow-billed cuckoo) and she knew she was nearly home. Already there were many new white settlements in the 25 million acres of confiscated lands. When she found her home, she sat by the bank and listened to the low voice of the Woman in the River. After a journey of more than 700 miles, “I’ve come home, Grandmother,” she said. 
 
Wichahpi
 
This story was told to us by her great-great grandson, Tom Hendrix, who sat on a folding chair inside the garage behind his house, as the rain fell in torrents. He showed us a basket woven by a Euchee in Oklahoma, and how precise the weaving was. We were just off the Natchez Trace in Lauderdale, County, Alabama, about 50 miles from The Farm. The story Tom told came from his grandmother and his uncle. 
 
He says he is not much of a storyteller. Tom’s Euchee name means the Stonetalker. For much of his life, he has been building a wall to remember Te-lah-nay. The wall is actually two massive walls, running nearly parallel, for more than a quarter mile through the forest. The outer wall, representing the Trail of Tears, is very straight and broad – 16 feet or more at the start, tapering to 10 feet, then 8 feet, then nothing. It ends in a tapered hook. The inner wall, representing the trail back for Number 59, is more idiosyncratic, weaving around trees, with alcove seats, prayer circles and small chapels, and many special gifts that have been left in the wall.
 
Stonetalker, now age 77, told us that each stone has been picked up at least three times. Once in the field, once from his truck, once from his wheelbarrow. He has been through many wheelbarrows, and his favorite, the one that lived longest, was named Fred and when Fred retired he had a special retirement party, dressed in a necktie and party hat. Fred is buried in the wall.
 
Between the parallel walls Tom has left some low stumps in the path. He says he leaves the stumps as “toestubbers,” to remind people of what it was like to travel at night in the forest.
 
Near where the wall begins the Nations have sent young stonecrafting emissaries to place sacred protection on both sides — rocks with eyes that look out to each person entering the path. 
 
At the guidance of a holy man from the Nations whose name we forget he built the prayer circle seven times before leaving it as it is now. Each time he thought he had it right, but the emissaries from the Nations came and measured it with their special sticks and said he had to do it again. He did that until after the seventh time, when they said it was right. “What was wrong before?” he asked. 
 
“Nothing,” they said. Each time was for a generation, first his great-great grandmother, then his great grandmother, his grandmother, his mother, him, his children, and his grandchildren. 
 
The inner wall is built with three steps. The ground is birth, the first step is life, the second is death, the third is rebirth. 
 
For the past 30 years, Tom has been building the wall, a little longer, a little wider, each stone, one stone at a time. He has been visited by people from many countries and many faiths. He works still. He says the wall does not belong to him, it belongs to everyone. It is wichahpi, "like the stars."
 

President Trump

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 31, 2016

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"From here this presidency sure looks like an unqualified success."

 

  It has been more than a year now since The Donald moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and he continues to be thwarted at every turn by that do-nothing Congress and the Democrat Party.

We all had expected that by now the Asian countries that have dumped their goods here and almost bankrupted our country by causing our trade deficit would have felt the bite of tough new rules, but the Trans Pacific Partnership tied Donald's hands on that one.

Mexico still won’t keep its illegals — the source for Americans’ drugs — on their side of the border. NAFTA prevented the border closing there. It wouldn't even take those Mexican tractor-trailers off our roads, and who knows how many of them are filled with illegals being dropped off in Ohio and Pennsylvania? Still, we are pouring concrete for a bigger wall all the time, whether Mexico pays for it or not. They should because they created this problem, but so far Donald has not gotten a single peso from the ingrates.

And, of course, the Muslims have always been fighting us when they are not too busy squirmishing between themselves. The Donald's executive order closed all our borders to refugees from Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan; countries populated by still more ingrates who are unwilling to pay for the wars that we started on their behalf. And wouldn't you know? That is now going to the Supreme Court, challenged by the Democrat Party as unconstitutional. As if the President of the United States, as Commander in Chief, doesn't have the power to keep all the riffraff out. That wishy washy Supreme Court is not conservative enough! The Donald will get his chance to change that, soon, with real right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution.

Solving our trade deficit wasn't as simple as ending the supply of cheap Chinese stuff. Donald got around Congress and the TPP by calling that retailer CEO summit at the White House. But it still comes in from places protected by those bad trade deals negotiated by idiot presidents who didn't know the first thing about the art of the deal. Now the Chinese stuff goes to Australia and gets rebranded before the container ships take it to WalMart. That is why the prices we pay didn't change much, so I guess we can be grateful. The Chinese and Koreans should be too, but are they? No way.

When the Donald sent the marines to grab Iraq’s oilfields last month there was a big uproar at the UN but what could they do, the toothless liberals? Donald just vetoed any Security Council resolution they passed. Now we control a significant supply of the world’s oil and can set prices where we like, and not just where the Saudis want them, in the basement. We all have to put up with higher prices at the pump now, but rising crude prices have stopped the slump in fracked gas futures and got us back on the path to the energy independence that made America strong.

If the Saudis gripe about that, Donald says he is ready to send a bunch of oil sheiks to his reopened Guantanamo just to let them know who's in charge. Sure, he hasn't gotten rid of ISIS yet, but give him time. He will get their oil too, and you can take that to the bank. The marines are just settling into Iraq now. Syria is a quick hop.

Donald's poll numbers are quite good, and it is long past the honeymoon stage. People are calling him the Second Great Communicator. Doubters have to eat crow. Our military is stronger than ever, and we are respected again, whether foreigners like it or not.

We will know soon whether that do-nothing Congress passes the President's energy plan and American builders can get started on those 100 new nuclear plants. That will be a real shot in the arm for the economy, as well as making energy cheap again. People say the President is a climate denier, but those new nukes will do more to stop climate change than anything Obama did in Paris. Put a trillion dollars into nuclear power, like we will, and your other countries can be energy independent too, you UN people.

People criticize the President for ordering the National Football League to move the Super Bowl to New Jersey, but now that more than a third of the teams have relocated to California, it seems only reasonable that the East Coast should get its share of the action. Some of the best football we've ever seen was played in snow.

When the Donald took office the economy was in shambles. Stocks were getting schlonged. Oil, coal, and car companies were talking bankruptcy and wanting bailouts. The Donald doesn't do bailouts. How about that?

The Donald met with all the banks and cut them checks. He refinanced the country. Remember: this is a guy who knows what it is to go bankrupt and still wind up with high-rise penthouses and golf courses. That's exactly what he did for America. Who cares what the dollar is now worth in Timbuktu? We will soon have legal casinos in every city and every state, and they won't be run by Indians, either.

We are still only a year into this presidency, but from here it sure looks like an unqualified success. We guess that's only to be expected when you buy the best.
 

“I’m Donald Trump and I endorse this message” — Trump for President 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Clear Mind: Laudato Si’

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 28, 2015

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"Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational."
 

Does the Pope also Duckwalk?

If we are honest and admit climate change threatens the survival of our species, right now and not next decade or next century, and don't just turn away or accept the numbing banality that comes with avoidance of the subject, we would have to, to not be hypocritical, actually choose to do something about what we know we know.

But do what, exactly? Our institutions are not working. Any real change has to come from our personal footprint, changing our choices. Change is our only way of being truthful with ourselves, and not neurotic or schizophrenic.

What is needed, says Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of Climate Change Mobilization, are achievable goals, a set of actions that anyone can take and appreciate that they are actually changing the situation for the better. Merely changing light bulbs or buying a Prius won't cut it. It has to involve not green consumerism but de-consumerism. We have to give up those fabulous perks that came with the Age of Oil; to discard zombie fashion. We have to stop having so many babies, eating so much meat, and cutting down so many trees. We have to go back to understanding our relationship with the land and our sources of sustenance, and showing greater care for the whole of the natural world that underpins our existence.

Salaman says:

When people become agents for truth and vital change, they are elevated, enlarged, and lit up. The truth, and their role in advancing it, affects how they view themselves, what occupies their mind, and how they conduct their affairs. The power of truth allows them to transcend their limitations and what they once thought possible for themselves.

We cannot begin to say how refreshing it is to see Pope Francis face the urgency of the situation and awaken us to our need to be alive, and to swim upstream. To borrow a line from Jim Hightower, “Even a dead fish can swim downstream.” In his new encyclical, Laudato Si', Francis writes:
 

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

***

[I]f we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.


The pope comes out against technological advances that will save us from our modern sins or magically improve productivity by replacing human work. He eschews market-based mechanisms to solve environmental problems, condemning, like the popes before him, the profit motive at its root.

The New York Times columnist David Brooks, defender of both profits and the fossil economy, responds:
 

Within marriage, lust can lead to childbearing. Within a regulated market, greed can lead to entrepreneurship and economic innovation. Within a constitution, the desire for fame can lead to political greatness…. [G]as and oil resources extracted through fracking have already added more than $430 billion to annual gross domestic product and supported more than 2.7 million jobs that pay, on average, twice the median U.S. salary.


We won't quibble with either Brooks or the pope because they are speaking past each other. Brooks is right that lust and greed are powerful motivators, and part of our serpent brain. Francis is right that to live at peace with each other and the planet we have to set aside those childish things, open our hearts and begin to see the world as adults. Brooks is clinging to the past while Francis is salvaging the future.

Jeb Bush, shortly after announcing his candidacy for US President, told a reporter about the pope's statement, "I don't get my economic advice from my priest." His pollsters are telling him he is on the wrong side of the climate issue but his strategists tell him he doesn't want to see the Koch brothers' billions go to a rival. Perhaps he thinks he will pivot later in the race, before he has to debate Bernie. 

 

What is new is that it is not even about pandering to voters anymore. Even half of Republicans now want this issue dealt with. Well, good luck, because the zombie lies aren't about the voters. They're for the donors, who make their living killing the planet. The question is not why today's politicians suck more than ever, it is who they are sucking more than ever.

 

—  Bill Maher


Paradigms change. Jason Hickel, Martin Kirk, and Joe Brewer, co-authors of a London School of Economics comparison between the encyclical and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wrote in The Guardian:
 

He calls out the transnational corporations that profit by polluting poor countries. He criticizes the foreign debt system that has become a tool by which rich countries control poor countries. And he warns that the financial sector, grown too powerful, has eroded the sovereignty of nation states and “tends to prevail over the political.”

This is an important move, because without naming the forces that cause human suffering and environmental destruction, it is impossible to address them.


As Professor Ian Gough put it, "This revolutionary encyclical challenges both current ethics and economics."


Francis continues:

The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.

Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.

It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed” (quoting the Pontifical Council For Justice And Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, at page 462).


Here Francis begins to sound more like the Dalai Lama. The Tibetian Book of Secret Doctrines says, "Cherish no notion of separated individuality." Subject and Object are one. Man and Nature are one. Form and Formlessness are one. Mind and Buddha are one. The encyclical says:
 

It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.


Speaking directly to his "cheerfully reckless" critics, Francis says:

It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all” (quoting Omano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, (The End of the Modern World, at 56).

***

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.


The study by Hickel, Kirk and Brewer contrasted Francis’s vision with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:
 

The SDGs are right to embrace a wide range of issues. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals, they recognize that the problems we face are multidimensional. But they have confused thoroughness with holism, lists with patterns. It’s a mistake born of outdated thinking.

The pope, by contrast, has struck at the systemic nature of the issue. “It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is connected,” he says. “To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”

This is what makes the encyclical far more than a document about climate change. It is a profound critique of the deep logic of our political economy. This is a vastly more sophisticated paradigm than the one that underpins the SDGs and a large part of why the encyclical feels cohesive, fresh and relevant, where the SDGs feel inconsistent, clunky and 20 years out of date.


Francis is not above legitimate criticism, less for what he puts into the encyclical than for what he leaves out. Physicist Lawrence Krauss, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, says:
 

First off, he dismisses the need to address reproductive rights for women, and also the concomitant problem of population growth in poor countries as part of any proposed solution to world environmental problems. If one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale, then one needs to worry about population growth. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level that provides all humans with adequate food and access to medicine, water, and security.  Moreover, the environmental problems induced by overpopulation are also disproportionately born by those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited. As I have argued elsewhere recently in this regard, ultimately empowering women to manage their own reproductive future gives them the surest road out of poverty.


Perhaps even more glaring is the double standard within which Francis, with Franciscan modesty, lives in a grand gilded palace, overseeing a legion of wealthy Cardinals, while calling for even the poorest among us to reduce consumption. To be sure, the encyclical was directed to believers within the church, including collegially off-key voices within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier and plenty of other senior Catholics are dredging up lame, discredited arguments against His Holiness's views. To them, Francis says:
 

Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.


In 1978, Vaclev Havel, who led the non-violent Velvet Revolution and later became president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, wrote:
 

(The power of truth) does not reside in the strength of definable political or social groups, but chiefly in a potential, which is hidden throughout the whole of society, including the official power structures of that society. Therefore this power does not rely on soldiers of its own, but on soldiers of the enemy as it were—that is to say, on everyone who is living within the lie and who may be struck at any moment (in theory, at least) by the force of truth (or who, out of an instinctive desire to protect their position, may at least adapt to that force). It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak, utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division…. This, too, is why the regime prosecutes, almost as a reflex action, preventatively, even modest attempts to live in truth.


Salaman wrote, "Climate truth has the potential to be more powerful than any country’s independence; more powerful that overthrowing authoritarian states; and more powerful than civil rights or any group’s struggle for safety, recognition and equality. Climate truth contains such superordinate power because all of those causes depend on a safe climate."

Will the Papal Encyclical make any real difference in the battle against climate change? One need only recall what happened in 1979, when John Paul II traveled to Poland and preached thirty-two sermons in nine days. Timothy Garton Ash put it this way, "Without the pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of communism." Bogdan Szajkowski said it was, "A psychological earthquake, an opportunity for mass political catharsis…"  The Poles who turned out by the millions looked around and saw they were not alone.  

On the Nature of Belief: Appendices

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 22, 2015

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APPENDICES TO THE ESSAY “ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF

G. Chia, April 2015

APPENDIX 1: THE PROPOSITION OF PREDISPOSITION TO A PARADIGM BASED ON POLITICS, PERSONALITY &/OR PROFESSION (the 6P)

Some dictionaries may define the term “ideology” simply as a system of beliefs. However, it is more useful to define a term according to the manner in which it is used in the real world. Thus, an “ideology” is more accurately defined as a rigid system of beliefs. When we say “Mr X is driven by his ideology” we imply that he holds rigid views which he refuses to change, no matter what the circumstances.

As such, the Scientific Method is not an ideology, because it is not a rigid system of beliefs. It is a rigorous, rational process by which hypotheses are accepted or discarded according to the best evidence, reason and investigation. If we say “Mr X is driven by his scientific enquiry”, we mean that he assesses a situation, then formulates a few hypotheses on the basis of the best evidence and reason available at the time (in medical parlance this is known as making a list of “differential diagnoses”). He then tests each hypothesis for validity and falsifiability and adopts the one which best stands up to scrutiny. His evaluation (or diagnosis) may change later, if better information comes to light. This is exactly how a Physician works.

Pretty much all other belief systems are ideologies with varying degrees of rigidity. Some ideologies are less rigid in that they are willing to adopt selected paradigms from Science and reason-based progressive social policies. For example, some Christian groups and clerics are willing to accept that evolution and global warming are realities and that women deserve equal respect and status to men, notwithstanding their “Adam’s rib” fable (hence women are allowed to be pastors and hold positions of authority in their church). Even the Pope has come to accept the reality of AGW and advocates that humanity must take measures to deal with it http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing Fundamentalist Christians however remain abjectly insistent on their particular interpretation of their version of their sacred doctrines, as is equally the case for Fundamentalist Muslims or Fundamentalist Jews. They each demand their “divine right” to pursue their (self serving) agendas to the point of murder and death. This is a major reason why the conflicts in the Middle East will never be resolved. Such a mentality brings to mind lyrics from the Dire Straits song “Industrial Disease”:

…I go down to Speaker’s Corner, I’m thunderstruck,
They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks,
Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong,

There’s a protest singer singing a protest song

Obviously the amusing irony here is that both men who claim to be Jesus are certainly wrong and the listener laughs in amusement, that to entertain the idea that even one of them may be Jesus is an insane delusion. However, by that same token, rational thinkers know that the superstitious ideologies of all the Abrahamic religions (indeed all religions) are certainly wrong and are just as insanely deluded.

Here is an idea widely prevalent (and widely promoted by the media) in society at present: that political persuasion, personality traits or professional background determine one’s ideology. Let us call it the Proposition of Predisposition to a Paradigm based on Politics, Personality &/or Profession, or for simplicity, the 6P.

Here are some elaborations of the 6P based on:

1. Political views:

The “right wing conservative / left wing liberal” political dichotomy was particularly well satirised by the late Kurt Vonnegut in his classic essay “Cold Turkey” (now nearing the tenth anniversary of publication):

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative…Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other. If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut. If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you. If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal. If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative. What could be simpler?

In the article by Lissa Johnson, “At All Costs: The Dark Psychology Of Abbott Government Climate Policy” she wrote…”Right Wing Authoritarianism is fearful and cautious, driven by a view of the world as a dangerous place. It seeks safety and stability via conformity to traditional hierarchies in which everyone knows their place…Social Dominance Orientation, in contrast, seeks to win at all costs, via the ‘strong’ in society dominating the ‘weak’…‘Superior’ groups coming out on top is the goal…Put briefly, they are the two faces of authoritarianism: authoritarian obedience and authoritarian dominance…Social Dominance Orientation correlates negatively with empathy, altruism and honesty, and is predicted by high levels of the personality trait ‘tough mindedness’, which involves lack of sympathy and compassion. So strong is the ruthless emotional foundation of Social Dominance that in 2013 it was empirically recognized as not only correlating with the ‘dark triad’ of personality (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy), but as being a member of the dark personality cluster itself… (Researchers Daniel Jones and Aurelio Figueredo) found that the interrelationship between the three dark triad traits and Social Dominance Orientation was explained by a common ‘Dark Core’. This Dark Core consists of two parts: manipulation (or dishonesty), and callousness (or lack of empathy)…The authors concluded that, like those high in narcissism, Machiavellianism or psychopathy, “Individuals high in Social Dominance have a dark personality”. What distinguishes Social Dominance is that it manifests “at a group level with a politically oppressive style.”…The primary goal of Social Domination is to maximize inequality between social groups in a “superior-inferior” order. This requires a capacity, if not a zeal, to oppress and subordinate other human beings.

2. Personality: Optimists vs Pessimists

This is the view that irrespective of objective facts, the natural optimist tends to select positive information to construct their world view and the pessimist selects negative information. It does appear that most people may be hard wired to have an optimism bias (see explanation in main Belief essay and also: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jan/01/tali-sharot-the-optimism-bias-extract ). Optimism bias serves several purposes for the individual: it makes them feel better, it gives them hope and motivation to work towards their desired goal and it boosts their popularity within their social group. No one likes a wet blanket to dampen a party. Unfortunately, such “rose coloured glasses” can blind these people to the potential pitfalls and problems they may encounter along the way. The “she’ll be right, mate” Aussie attitude (or the condescending admonition, “cheer up, it’ll probably never happen”) is in fact is a recipe for disaster. Real world observation suggests that a cautiously pessimistic approach is more likely to lead to success or prevent disaster, precisely because problems are actively avoided, or if encountered are anticipated and therefore tackled promptly (compared to the incautious optimists who will flounder about and remain in denial when faced with crises they did not prepare for). According to neuroscientist CJ Bajada, “optimism bias is a well established psychological phenomenon that, despite criticism, has been replicated in many experiments. While it is generally an adaptive phenomenon, it can have disastrous consequences (such as an economic collapse).” http://www.academia.edu/7957545/The_Optimism_Bias_A_cognitive_neuroscience_perspective

Hence what is the best way to approach challenges in an uncertain future? Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Self professed optimism, apart from being an emotive ploy to win popularity in a crowd, can be simply an excuse for inaction by the person who is too darned lazy to make contingency plans.

3. Professional background

“To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The implication here is that a person’s occupation shapes their world view. I can offer some personal perspective regarding this matter, specifically in relation to the prospect of Near Term Human Extinction. I will contrast my views with those of Dr Guy McPherson, a conservation biologist and relentless promoter of the “inevitability” of NTHE. In some of my previous essays, I was significantly influenced by Dr McPherson’s opinion due to his summaries of overwhelming dire information sourced from the peer reviewed scientific literature regarding the exponential worsening of global warming. There is no doubt whatsoever that we are headed for the catastrophic devastation of our planetary biosphere. Nevertheless to “prove” that NTHE is “inevitable”, it is necessary to show beyond any reasonable doubt that there is not a single future scenario where even one small group of human beings can possibly survive in the long term.

For example, the Limits to Growth scientists have conclusively shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the collapse of Industrial Civilisation is guaranteed this century. They have shown there is not a single realistic scenario (using even the most optimistic inputs) where modern industrial society can continue functioning by the end of this century, even without taking into account the guaranteed impending global financial collapse as a result of our Ponzi scheme economics. Even if we were to ignore the LtG projections, the most conservative estimate by climate scientists of a global average temperature rise of 4°C by the end of this century means that climate change alone guarantees that large scale agriculture (and hence cities and civilisation) will collapse. Not only that, the inevitable decline of high net energy sources (Peak Oil) alone also guarantees the collapse of Industrial Civilisation. The impending collapse of global Industrial Civilisation is a certainty beyond any reasonable doubt. But what about NTHE?

After pondering NTHE for two years, I was able to work out a feasible scenario by which at least one population of humans may be able to survive even the worst global warming projections, putting the lie to the “inevitability” of NTHE: http://www.thecanadiandaily.ca/geoffrey-chia-critique-guy-mcphersons-views/ Despite cursory admission that my views had validity, McPherson continues to propagate the overall message of the “inevitability” of NTHE to the public, spurred on by his echochamber of anonymous uberdoomer blogfans. Could our different professional backgrounds possibly account for our different views?

I do not deny the possibility of NTHE, indeed I agree it may be a likely outcome. Nevertheless I am working towards and promoting the idea that survival of a tiny number of humans is possible if adequate preparations are made and I advise sapient people around the world to give it a go. McPherson has not denied the possibility that a tiny handful of humans may survive. Despite this, his overarching message to the public remains that NTHE is guaranteed. He dismisses any other opinion as “hopium” and therefore he promotes hopelessness.

Why the different strategies? I am certainly not a natural optimist, hence that personality trait can be eliminated as an explanation. My success as a medical practitioner stems from my habit of always pessimistically considering the worst case scenarios in my patients, which I then take measures to protect them against, hence minimising their future risk. I am not unfamiliar with death, having experienced, as a junior doctor on call, patients dying in front of me from cardiac arrest who failed to respond to resuscitation. My own death and the death of my species are not beyond my contemplation. On the other hand I have also witnessed remarkable advances in cardiac therapy over the years with dramatic reductions in cardiac mortality and prolongation of good quality life in patients who would have been written off as hopeless cases a decade ago. Perhaps it is the latter which motivates me to strive for the survival of our benighted species, for better or worse.

I suspect that Dr McPherson’s professional experiences have been different. As a conservation biologist, if all that he has witnessed, researched, documented and read about over the past few decades have been relentless mass extinctions (about 50% of all vertebrate species have gone extinct over the past 40 years), then he may well consider the human species to be on the same trajectory and the outcome to be inevitable. The Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson stated that over 99% of all species that have ever existed have gone extinct. The difference for humans is that if we go extinct in the near term, it will be self inflicted.

What purposes do the 6P serve?

  1. The 6P is an easy model for the mainstream media to sell to the general public. It pigeonholes people into categories. It is a form of stereotyping. It is lazy simplistic thinking. Therefore, just like high-fat sugary food, it slides down the gullets of the simpleminded sheeple most readily*, delivered in the form of a 30 second sound byte between “infomercials” (*in contrast to more complex, more truthful ideas, which require greater time and effort to properly deliver, ruminate on and digest).
  2. The 6P is used for targeted advertising by corporations and for identification of “persons of interest” by governments.

This is based on the following premise: surveys have shown that interests in, beliefs in or purchases of “a, b, c, d and e” are associated with personality or political inclination “Z”. You have shown interest in “a, c and e”, therefore you must be a “Z” type person and should also be interested in “b and d”.

You must be aware of the fact that corporations and governments are collecting all your digital metadata and using idiot computer algorithms to profile you. For example, Google trawls through your internet browsing to identify your “pattern” of searches. Their algorithm then makes an assumption about your values and beliefs, pigeonholes you into one particular category of consumers and automatically triggers a suite of advertisements directed towards you. In your subsequent searches you then find commercial options ranked on the top lines or ads displayed on the side of the webpage representing suggested searches or purchases. It does not matter if the algorithm is not 100% accurate regarding your personal situation, a 30% hit rate on those ads among a billion consumers represents a great deal of money to Google and the advertisers.

The database of your searches and purchases by eBay and purchases by PayPal also represent valuable commercial intelligence to advertisers, to be used in the same way.

Facebook in particular is a goldmine of personal information, by which narcissistic individuals and the means to manipulate them can be identified. How many “friends” do you have?

Government collection of your metadata is even more chilling. The previous US government tactic of racial profiling and kidnapping people of “Middle Eastern appearance” and rendering them to prisons for torture without trial resulted in monstrous travesties of justice against innumerable innocent people. It may even have led to the radicalisation of previously moderate law abiding individuals. Nowadays, phonecalls, emails and browsing history of the general population are electronically trawled by dumb programs which flag key words or phrases such as “terrorism”, “bomb making”,”jihad” or the phrase we used in the main essay, “evil corporations”, irrespective of context. “Persons of interest” are then identified, categorised and can later be singled out for “special treatment”. This process “analyses” hundreds of millions of people more than the old blunt instrument of racial profiling, which means that potentially magnitudes more innocent people will be unfairly flagged. The fact of the matter is that any terrorist with half a brain will use untraceable phones and anonymized web browsing to avoid identification. It is the innocent citizens who will end up being targeted and harrassed by the authorities.

  1. Fraudsters such as Fox News (of “WMDs in Iraq” fame) use the 6P as a mental Trojan horse by which they outrageously distort the public perception of reality. Specifically, we refer to the way Fox News claimed to be “fair and balanced” by seeking views about AGW from “both sides”. Typically they would interview a legitimate climate scientist, then seek the opinion of a scientifically illiterate denialist, say, a “freemarket” economics professor with impressive academic titles (but no scientific credentials). Fox News would then conclude that there is considerable doubt regarding AGW: the scientific experts hold to a left wing version of the “truth”, the economic experts hold to a right wing version of the “truth”, so Fox News implies that reality may lie somewhere in between.

It is as though the scientists claim the Earth is round, the economists claim the Earth is flat and Fox News, being “fair and balanced”, concludes that the Earth could be oval.

To reiterate yet again, here is the objective truth: AGW is a fact recognised by ALL the National Academies of Science around the world (including the Royal Society of London). It is not a “left wing politically motivated opinion” as Fox News would like to portray it. AGW deniers are either liars or fools or both. The Earth is round and anyone who claims it is flat or oval is a liar or a fool or both.

Another personal experience as to why the 6P is flawed:

I too had been a “brain hostage” of the 6P in the past. Specifically, I previously assumed that other atheists would have reached the conclusion that “Man” created “God” (rather than the other way around) in the same way that I did, by means of evidential analysis and rational thinking. I therefore assumed they would also accept the rational consensus, based on decades of irrefutable evidence, of all the academies of Science around the world about the reality and importance of AGW. I was stunned to discover (in my interactions with the Brisbane Atheist group about 10 years ago) this assumption was incorrect and a significant number of them were intransigent AGW denialists and extreme right wing rednecks. They mounted ad hominem attacks against me for my position on AGW and I called them liars or fools or both. Not my finest moment I admit, but a reflection of my deep disappointment in my inability to find sensible thinkers in what I had wrongly assumed to be a forum of rational minds. On one topic (the existence of God or gods), they adopted a rational position; but on another topic (AGW – which they felt threatened their comfortable lifestyles), their self-serving arseholery trumped any rationality. An avalanche of further overwhelming climate data over the past decade have only proven more conclusively the fact that AGW deniers are either liars or fools or both.

I was subsequently motivated to look beyond assumptions which could prove false (eg. that as a rational atheist, I assumed other atheists to be rational) and to try to find a way to achieve an better understanding of the origins and purpose of each and every one of the beliefs of each particular individual, rather than lump people into categories as the 6P does.

CONCLUSION:

We regard the 6P as being of limited utility to help us understand the beliefs of a person. Saying that a person subscribes to right wing views because they are predisposed to believe in right wing views explains nothing. Saying a person is predisposed to right wing views because they have an authoritarian personality has some explanatory value, but still requires the nature and origin of that personality to be further assessed.

The 6P can be misused in this way: Belief in AGW is portrayed by Fox News as a function of “leftie/greenie” political ideology (ignoring that AGW is a scientifically validated fact beyond any shadow of a doubt, which has nothing to do with politics). Fox News followers then feel that their own views denying AGW, which stem from their self serving motivations (and indeed from their nonscience or nonsense based political ideology), can be regarded as equally valid as the “political views” of the “warmists”, thus perpetuating a dysfunctional denialist mindset.

The analytical method we outlined in our main essay on Belief requires firstly to determine whether a particular belief of a particular individual has been scientifically validated beyond any reasonable doubt, or at least whether that belief is considered to be reasonable evidence-based speculation by the scientific community. If the explanation for their belief is that it is a reality based belief, no further explanation for that belief is required. If not reality based, then that particular belief of that particular individual needs to be evaluated according to the nine major functions of belief we outlined (and ancillary factors if applicable – in parts 2 & 3 of the Belief essay, of which the 6P is just a small part). By applying that process to all the individual’s beliefs, we can establish a precise and purposeful explanation of the unique nature of that individual’s belief system. The 6P in isolation however offers limited explanation as to what purposes an individual’s beliefs serve, it is primarily a form of pigeonholing and can be prone to misuse.

GC Appendix 2 follows…

APPENDIX 2: THE MISREPRESENTATION OF “COGITO ER SUM” BY PHILOSOPHERS AND THE FAULTY LOGIC OF PASCAL’S WAGER COMPARED WITH THE GOOD SENSE OF THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE

COGITO ER SUM:

Here is a common misrepresentation of “I think therefore I am”:

The sensory information I receive, my perception of the world, is impossible to absolutely verify. It is impossible to be absolutely certain that my perceptions represent an external objective reality. It is possible such information may in fact be hallucinatory and entirely false. The only thing I can be abolutely certain of is that I am thinking about this issue and therefore I and only I alone definitely exist. Therefore the denial of external objective reality is a reasonable philosophical proposition.

Such a declaration by a pundit (usually male) is the ultimate in egocentric blather, essentially being a dismissal of everyone else around him and an acknowledgement only of himself. Perhaps the best response to such dumb pontification is to kick him in the shins, then say to him that according to his own philosophy, the kick was merely a figment of his own imagination.

It brings to mind this limerick:

There once was a Reverend named Peel,

Who said, “Although pain isn’t real,

When I sit on a pin,

And it punctures my skin,

I dislike what I fancy I feel.

Humans are certainly prone to hallucinations and illusions, however we can overcome these limitations by performing independent observations and measurements by different people using different modalities at different times in different places (and ensuring we are not in a drugged out state when we do so).

Descartes’ thought experiment was intended to argue that only the certainty of existence of the thinking self was indisputable, however it did not necessarily conversely follow that everything else was non-existent. Decartes was a pioneer of the Enlightenment and an advocate of empirical observation, precise measurement and the testing of hypotheses. Therefore he clearly believed in external objective reality. For philosophers to hijack “cogito er sum” and argue that just because something could not be absolutely proven, therefore it could be regarded as unproven and therefore could be considered false, is an absurd stretch. Objective Truth exists but we can never achieve Absolute Truth. This misinterpretation of “cogito er sum” reflects the fact that those who demand Absolutes are absurd thinkers who simply do not understand Reality. This is mirrored in contemporary times in the absurd argument by the AGW deniers, who say that because AGW cannot be proven to the absolute level of their scientifically illiterate satisfaction, therefore AGW does not exist. The best response to them is to kick them in the shins.

PASCAL’S WAGER vs THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE:

The brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal justified his belief in God as follows, best illustrated in this 2×2 table:

God exists God does not exist
I choose to believe in God and follow the rules of the Church Consequence: a few lifetime inconveniences, rewarded by Eternal paradise (finite disadvantage, infinite benefit) Consequence: a few lifetime inconveniences, with no Eternal reward (finite disadvantage, no benefit)
I choose not to believe in God and live life as I best see fit Consequence: self determination in life, but Eternal damnation (finite benefit, infinite disadvantage) Consequence: self determination in life, with no Eternal consequences (finite benefit, no disadvantage)

Pascal’s Wager bears some superficial resemblence to the Precautionary Principle shown generically below:

Low probability but high impact (major consequences) scenario High probability but low impact (minor consequences) scenario
Precautionary action Consequence: minor inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, mitigation of severe event Consequence: minor inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, mitigation of minor event
No action Consequence: no inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, but if event does occur, outcome will be terrible Consequence: no inconveniences from taking precautionary actions, and even if event does occur, disadvantage will be minor

What is the similarity between the two tables? In both cases, the upper left hand box of the 2×2 table seem to represent taking out insurance, which we all do for our cars, property or for overseas travel, so why not do so? Furthermore the outcome to avoid at all costs is the bottom left hand box of the 2×2 table, the worst case scenario. Hence, why not hedge our bets?

In theory one could express the various benefits and disadvantages of Pascal’s Wager better numerically, if we could establish a probability for the existence of God and could also rate the inconvenience of following Church rules. Even using a small probability of God and an afterlife, say one in a million, and using quality of (earthbound) life or QOL “units” from 0 to 10 (zero being dead and nonexistent, 10 having an optimal self determined full life and 5 representing a halving of your quality of life due to religious rules), what would the numbers look like? The aggregate quality of existence or AQOE will be the quality of your earthbound life combined with either eternal paradise (positive infinity) or eternal damnation (negative infinity)

God (and afterlife) may exist God (and afterlife) do not exist
I choose to believe in God and follow the rules of the Church Earthbound QOL = 5, AQOE taking into account 1/1000000 probability of God = 5 + (1/1000000 x infinity) = POSITIVE INFINITY Earthbound QOL = 5, AQOE = 5 + 0 = 5 (no afterlife)
I choose not to believe in God and live life as I best see fit Earthbound QOL = 10, AQOE taking into account 1/1000000 probability of God = 10 + (1/1000000 x negative infinity) = NEGATIVE INFINITY Earthbound QOL = 10, AQOE = 10 + 0 = 10(no afterlife)

So there it is, a nice neat table with nice neat numbers enabling you to make a nice neat decision. Hence the cold calculating brain tells us it is best to believe in, or go through the motions of believing in God. No matter how you run your calculations, even with a one in a billion or one in a trillion probability of the existence of God, it is still best to believe in God because even the smallest imaginable number multiplied by infinity is still infinity. A convincing logical argument? Actually, it is unmitigated bullshit.

Pascal’s Wager is so deeply flawed it is difficult to know where to begin and we can only scratch the surface of the counterargument in this appendix. No doubt, you will spot many flaws for yourself, however we would like to highlight just a few points. The refutation can be achieved quantitatively, or qualitatively by commonsense argument.

We have assumed, as Pascal and the Church had done, that the probability of the existence of God and the probability of a human afterlife go together. However how do we know the two are not mutually exclusive? That, for example, a creator God may exist but humans do not have an afterlife, just as we assume that God created all other animals but did not give them an afterlife? Furthermore, how do we know that any purported human afterlife goes on for an infinite duration? What is the evidence for that assertion? The only bases for those religious assertions (indeed, the assertion that God exists in the first place) are the human interpretations of “sacred” texts which were written by other humans in antiquity who claimed to have been inspired by God.This mindset is identical to that of Scientologists who intensely believe in Xenu the galactic overlord on the basis of the “sacred” text written by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Nevertheless, let us lump the probability of existence of God and the afterlife together and assume an infinite afterlife, for simplicity. How can you quantitatively judge the probability of the existence of God? You need to look at any evidence suggesting God may exist, against evidence suggesting God may not exist, multiply each by weighted factors determined by you, do some kind of subtraction judgement and come to a percentage likelihood. As stated before, whatever number you arrive at is irrelevant, because any positive number, no matter how small, when multiplied by infinity, becomes infinity. But what if there is NO evidence whatsoever for the existence of God? Without rehashing the same arguments which Richard Dawkins made in his book “The God Delusion”, the evidence for the existence of God or gods is in fact zero, zilch, nada, nothing. There is simply no evidence. What is zero multiplied by infinity? An infinity of zeroes, ie zero.

It was understandable in the time of Pascal, when proper knowledge of the physics based origins of the Universe, of biological evolution and of DNA were lacking, that the appearance of a clockwork universe and the apparent “intelligent design” of organisms seemed to represent convincing evidence for a creator. Knowing what we now know however, we can completely dismiss both arguments (in particular that of I.D.) as utterly bogus (see “Confronting the Wizards of ID, http://archive-au.com/page/2595960/2013-08-10/http://www.dissent.com.au/backissues/issue22.htm ). There is simply NO evidence for the existence of God. All our reality based knowledge points to the fact that the Universe is utterly indifferent to humanity, that the current favourable conditions on this planet for our existence have arisen due to an extremely rare convergence of circumstances in time and place in an ancient and vast Universe. Such a rare convergence was bound to happen sometime, somewhere, in an old enough and big enough Universe.

For qualitative refutation of Pascal’s Wager, we need to consider the following:

Firstly, Pascal’s argument assumed dichotomously that either the Christian God exists or does not exist, a monumentally flawed assumption. The impartial observer will recognise that his view was merely a tiny microscopic smallminded perspective of the broad vista of human religious belief, hamstrung to the extreme by his ethnocentric culture. The fact is that many thousands of different Gods were and are purported to exist by many different groups of people, with many different versions of afterlives (or reincarnations), with many different purported rewards or punishments for following or not following their particular doctrines. It did not and does not make any sense whatsoever to place the probability of existence of the Christian God above the probability of existence of any one of thousands of other Gods (unless one’s brain had been captured by the “might equals right” paradigm outlined in our Belief essay). Hence in order to hedge one’s bets, it would be logically necessary to follow all the practices of all the religions around the world (including making blood sacrifices of your enemies, flaying their corpses and wearing their skins, as was the practice of Mesoamerican Religions) to maximise your chance of eternal reward and minimise your chance of eternal punishment. Due to the fact that many religious practices are mutually contradictory, such a strategy is clearly impossible. The honest observer therefore has to conclude that Pascal’s strategy, properly applied, is completely unworkable. Pascal chose to dismiss non-Christian Gods as pure superstitions, not worthy of any consideration in his Wager. Accordingly, by that very same token, the impartial observer is also justified in dismissing the Christian God as pure superstition not worthy of any consideration in the Precautionary Principle.

Secondly, just for the sake of argument, let us say that the Christian God, Heaven and Hell do indeed exist. Certain clerics who claim to know the mind of God assert that disbelievers are guaranteed to go to Hell, however on what evidential basis do they make such an assertion? Or is that something they just made up, so they could use fear to control the behaviour of others? I personally had a memorable conversation with a Catholic priest while on attachment to a hospice as a junior doctor. I was surprised to hear he believed that ethical non-Christians or Atheists, who did good deeds in the world, were not condemned to Hell and could even end up in Heaven. Indeed multitudes of people around the world in history had never been exposed to Christianity and were completely unaware of the Christian God through no fault of their own. He could not believe a compassionate God would condemn such people to Hell. Was that Catholic priest a heretical deviant who himself was headed for Hell for opposing the doctines of the church, or was he simply a compassionate man who believed in a fair, compassionate God?

Thirdly, let us employ some common sense as to the origins of the threat of an eternity of punishment in Hell. Most parents at one time or another would have invoked the threat to their four year old child that a horrrible Bogey man would kidnap and torture them if the child did not do the bidding of the parent eg “if you don’t stop wiping your snot with your sleeve, the Bogey man will grab you in the night”. Striking fear into the heart of a naive child using an imaginary threat can enforce compliance until they grow up and wise up. In the absence of any evidence of Heaven or Hell throughout the entirety of human (or paleolithic) history, sensible adults will dismiss the threat of Hell as no different from the fabricated threat of the Bogey man. Unfortunately some naive people never grow up nor wise up.

The 2×2 Precautionary Principle table is actually too simplistic for proper decision making and is better replaced by the “Probability-Outcome Graph” I previously formulated:

http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMDecisionMaking.pdf

With regard to Global Warming and the Precautionary Principle: AGW should never have been regarded as a “low probability but high impact” scenario. It was always a “high probability, high impact” scenario and it was always a no brainer that humanity should have worked hard to prevent it. Unfortunately planetary policies had been hijacked by people with no brains, hence nothing substantial has been done. The fact is that AGW is no longer a “future probability”, whether low or high. It is a present certainty. Catastrophic events will become unimaginably more severe in the years to come and desolation of our biosphere is baked into the cake. We have missed the boat.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: critical feedback

April 2015

On Belief

Off the keyboards of Geoffrey Chia & Rebecca Willis

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 15, 2015

the thinker

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner

ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF or:

Why do people believe what they believe (or claim to believe) ?

G. Chia & R. Willis April 2015

INTRODUCTION

In our previous essay, Thinking about thinking we described the characteristics of dysfunctional (or unhealthy) and eufunctional (or healthy) thinking. We dispensed with the notion of “normal” thinking, because this term is essentially meaningless and unhelpful. If normal thinking is defined as the mode of thought adopted by the majority of a population, it is possible, indeed common, for “normal” thinking to be utterly dysfunctional and destructive, as shown by the many examples of mass delusions leading to chaos and warfare not only in history, but in our present day. As such, it may actually be a very bad thing to be “normal”, to run with the herd. We previously described the techniques by which the media, corporations and governments systematically exploit the infantile and reptilian aspects of our brains to impose particular views and values on the masses who lack the faculties of critical thinking. It turns out you can actually fool most of the people all of the time. Such social manipulation leads to the perversion of democracy.

Seminal publications such as “Irrationality” by Stuart Sutherland and “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre have elucidated the mechanisms of flawed thinking and the tactics of pseudoscientific fraud in detail. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote the landmark book “The Merchants of Doubt” which described the origins of systematic global warming denialism, perpetrated by a few so-called “free” market ideologues funded by billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs. Notwithstanding her outstanding research and scholarship, Oreskes in this podcast interview

https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/43-naomi-oreskes-the-collapse-of-western-civilization/sets

could not fully explain why such blatantly fraudulent denial continues to be so readily accepted by large sections of society. She criticises the scientists for not being more forceful in opposition to such deceit.

The “new Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were active some years ago in debunking the nonsensical foundations for supernatural religious myths. They too did not provide a comprehensive explanation as to why many if not most members of society are unwilling or unable to shed the brain virus of religion (apart from stating that innate obedience to authority by children has historical survival value).

In this essay we assess the nature of human beliefs and try to explain the “stickiness” of nonsensical ideas which may have little or nothing to do with reality. The key question is this: what purposes do such false beliefs serve?

Belief refers to the acceptance of, or claimed acceptance of a particular paradigm. In theory, there might be some difference between sincere belief and proclaimed (but insincere) belief, however in practice there is little difference in real world outcomes (see next paragraph). Therefore we will not distinguish between the two for the purposes of this essay. Furthermore as behavioural psychologists assert, it can be difficult if not impossible to determine what is really going on in a person’s mind1. Hence empirical science focuses on measurable actions, deeds and outcomes.

Twenty years ago when most people may not have personally been experiencing the effects of anthropogenic global warming or AGW (apart from seeing photographs of melting glaciers retreating all around the world), it was conceivable that many global warming denialists, unable to comprehend the science, sincerely believed that AGW was not true. Nowadays with exponential changes and extreme weather events occurring all round the world far exceeding the IPCC projections, rendering the fact of AGW indisputable, global warming denialists face a rearguard action. Those who remain intransigent cannot truly believe their position unless they are insane or stupid. Yet they persist in their purported belief that AGW is a hoax. If they are not insane or stupid, we can only conclude that their proclaimed “belief” is insincere and is cynically being used to serve their personal agendas and short term vested interests. Whether a result of stupidity (inability to see the overwhelming evidence for AGW) or mendacity (realising the truth of AGW but refusing to admit it), the outcome is the same, ie opposition to the reduction of GHG emissions, opposition to the adoption of renewable energy initiatives and continuation of business as usual to the point of annihilation.2

A paradigm may be accepted at emotional and/or intellectual levels. Generally, emotion tends to have a much stronger grip over people than intellect. This is because the majority of homo sapiens are not, in fact, sapient, but are driven primarily by their reptile brains. This fact was comprehensively demonstrated by the remarkably effective propaganda campaigns perpetrated by Bernays in the US and Goebbels in Germany, which were described in our previous essay3.

PART 1: THE NINE MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF FALSE BELIEFS

We assert that beliefs should be based on truth. What is truth? It is that paradigm which provides the closest approximation to reality. We know a belief is most likely to be true when it is backed up by evidence and reason, stands up to empirical validation and resists falsifiability. The belief passes the tests of scientific scrutiny, offers the best explanation for the circumstances being investigated and has useful predictive value. We assert that such reality based thinking should be the only valid reason for holding any belief4. All else is speculation or delusion. Unfortunately it appears that reality based thinking may actually be the least common reason for holding beliefs.

Why then do so many supposedly mentally “normal” people subscribe to non-reality based (ie false) beliefs? We assert that many, (probably most) people tend to seek out world views which:

  1. justifiy the pursuit of their self interest
  2. represent the easy option, the path of least resistance, which requires minimal intellectual, social, physical or financial investment or effort on their part. Ideas requiring sacrifice or hard work tend to be rejected.5
  3. cast themselves in a positive light to impress others (especially to gain favourable treatment or special dispensation from others or advantage over others)
  4. cast themselves in a postive light to boost their own egos. They subscribe to self-flattering narratives which elevate their status, which portray themselves as “special” or “exceptional” or “superior to” the rest of humanity and to the rest of creation (ie views which verify their infantile predisposition to believe they are the centre of the universe).
  5. cast others in a negative light to justify the belittlement, ostracism, subjugation, oppression, exploitation and/or murder of “the other”.
  6. cement the bonds of belonging, solidarity and pride within their social group or tribe. This is of important survival value to the individual, because historically, membership to a group or tribe was essential for material sustenance. Expulsion from the group, being left to fend on your own, could lead to death. One useful tool to bond tribal members is that of camaradarie resulting from being part of the same sporting team or fan club. If we regard the Nation as an extended tribe, this can take the form of overt displays of fanatical support for National sports teams or sportsmen. Hence former PM John Howard, despite himself being physically inept and hopelessly uncoordinated, took every opportunity to promote to the public his image as a “cricket tragic”. He even insisted that prospective Australian citizens learned the history of Donald Bradman, no matter that such useless pablum did nothing to educate them about core Australian values such as the Rule of Law, separation of powers, liberal democratic principles and freedom of (responsible) speech.

Tribal solidarity, even if based on imaginary myths (such as the Jews being the “chosen” people of God), has historically been of critical survival value to the group, as the members had to stick together to compete against or defend themselves from other groups.

  1. offer psychological comfort, emotional solace and hope, particularly during difficult times. This is comforting function is exemplified in the famous passage from Psalm 23 of the Bible, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. Religion in particular can reassure the believer that “everything will be alright” no matter how dire and depressing their actual reality. This mindset can also confer survival value, because even if a situation poses a 99.99% likelhood of death, which a “rational” person may deem hopeless and therefore give up hope and perish, the “irrational” optimist, comforted by their ideology, will seize that 0.01% likelihood of survival. Hence in a mass die-off of a million people with a 99.99% death rate, the 100 or so people who do manage to survive against all the odds may mostly be those with “optimism bias”, who eventually propagate this trait to future generations. This may explain why “optimism bias” may be hard wired into human populations, as our distant ancestors have in fact faced mass die-offs more than once.
  2. confer upon the believer a sense of schadenfreude smugness, a sense of satisfaction that somehow in the long run, their enemies will inevitably face horrible violent retribution in this life or the next.
  3. offer simplistic pseudoexplanations which are easy to grasp (but are wrong). Most people are unable to comprehend complex ideas and therefore gravitate towards infantile scenarios or myths which superficially or intuitively “make sense” to them, but have no evidential or rational basis. For example, their “explanation” for human existence is that a supernatural father figure called God created everything just for us. Beyond this myth, the thoughts of the faithful congregation are then censored, they are not allowed to ask the next logical question, which is “who or what then created God?” because that would be blasphemy.

There is of course a tenth possible reason for holding a false belief, which is organic brain disease. We mentioned unusual conditions such as Capgras syndrome in our previous essay. Schizophrenia is characterised by “thought disorder” and deluded beliefs such as aliens broadcasting messages into one’s brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy can create hallucinations of an intensely religious nature. This essay on belief however focuses on the factors affecting belief in people without organic brain disease, hence here we will only apply the nine major factors described above and ancillary factors mentioned in parts 2 & 3, when analysing the nature of false beliefs.

Unfortunately the inevitable conclusion we must reach if the nine factors are indeed true, is that most human beings are self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simple minded. The profusion of brutal human conflicts and Machiavellian behaviour in history can indeed be best explained by these traits. Some pundits such as Steven Pinker have argued that there has been a trajectory of increasing peace, diminishing violence and greater social enlightenment in human societies over the past couple of hundred years (which they expect will continue into the indefinite future). Such pundits invariably write from the perspective of (and within the cocoon of) rich industrial societies, which over the past two hundred years have accumulated immense material wealth derived from our ability to harness fossil fuels. However we would argue that such diminished violence is not due to greater enlightenment nor wisdom in the population, but due to the hugely abundant resources available per capita in rich societies in contemporary times. Unrest, dissatisfaction and violence are quelled when an abundance of resources are available. When per capita resources become scarce (due to increasing populations, climate devastation and diminishing supply of high net energy sources ie Peak Oil) as is happening now in more vulnerable countries, revolution erupts among the deprived who are unable to obtain sufficient food or clean water. Deprivation was the root cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 (extending into 2012, when Syria thoroughly disintegrated), not the pursuit of greater freedom nor human rights nor democracy among those populations. As the rest of the world experiences worsening deprivation, we will see many more such revolutions erupt around the world, with the inevitable imposition of martial law. We witnessed this unfold in Egypt. After Mubarak was deposed, the subsequent democratically elected government was also unable to provide the resources demanded by the population, resulting in ongoing unrest. The only way order could be restored was by a military takeover. The military government will of course be no better at delivering resources to the people than any other government. They merely serve to maintain order by brutally suppressing dissent6.

Using the criteria above we can immediately understand why certain religious and political myths have such a strong hold over the human psyche, despite having no basis in reality. Let us examine the mindset of right wing Christian “patriotic” Americans, such as US Republican Tea Party members or the Republican Neoconservatives, with regard to the nine points above. Their typical beliefs, which are held to a greater or lesser degree among the faithful are:

  1. The “exceptionalism” of the USA, that they are entitled to do anything, anywhere, to anyone in the world (eg invade Iraq), using any fabricated excuses. They make up the rules and everyone else has to comply (or face trade sanctions, a CIA backed coup or invasion). American exceptionalism means that International Law does not apply to the USA or its citizens eg they can kidnap anyone arbitrarily and render them to prisons without trial and subject them to torture. Habeus corpus does not apply to “alien” nationals.
  2. The renewable energy option is just too much hard work and involves too much sacrifice. Much better to deny that global warming or Peak Oil exist, so they can blissfully continue their easy, comfortable fossil fuel based American way of life forever, a lifestyle which is “non-negotiable” (as famously declared by George HW Bush). Hence their favourite catchphrase “drill baby, drill”.
  3. The USA is the “last best hope” for the world, a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy for a glorious future, which everyone else, everywhere else, will do well to emulate. They conveniently ignore the fact that the USA since World War II has a track record of actually undermining freedom, liberty and democracy around the world. They have a prolific history of corrupting governments to enslave their people to the service of American profits, or of overthrowing democratically elected governments, from Guatemala to Iran to Chile to name a few, then installing murderous despotic puppet leaders who offer sweetheart deals to predatory US corporations.
  4. They (the good Christian Neocons) were created in the image of God who has given them dominion over all creation to do with as they please.
  5. The “other” represent the forces of evil, whether it was Reagan’s view of “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union or Bush’s “crusade” against Saddam Hussein the “terrorist”, (even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and actually opposed Al Qaeda and it was in fact the US destruction of a functioning Iraq which turned it into a hotbed of terrorism and a breeding ground for ISIS). In preparation for the US invasion of Iraq, grunts in boot camp training were encouraged to denigrate Iraqis as “towel heads” or “sand niggers” to facilitate the indiscriminate oppression or murder of innocent people.
  6. The common views and values of the GOP faithful reinforce their prejudices and serve as social glue between them. “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” are regarded as lofty virtues, just as the Nazis promoted such unquestioning mindless conformity. (We see a similar mindset with Tony Abbott’s “team Australia”). Those who exposed or undermined illegitimate or murderous US government practices, such as Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, were labelled as traitors. The vicous pursuit of Swartz and Snowden by the US government illustrates that the Obama administration is, in this respect, no different in practice to the rabid, foaming at the mouth Republicans.
  7. God is on their side and as “good” Christians in the “end times”, they will be magically levitated to paradise in the Rapture and enjoy heavenly bliss forever.
  8. Everyone else in the “end times” will die and suffer excruciatingly in the fires of hell. Unbelievers and non-Christians will get their just desserts in the form of relentless torture for all eternity. Furthermore these good Christians hold the view that Jihadi suicide bombers, who believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Muslim heaven, are utterly deluded.
  9. Global warming is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be a greenie conspiracy. Evolution is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be an atheist conspiracy. They cannot imagine a world 4.5 billion years old nor the gradual movement of continents across the face of the planet, however a 6000 year old world with fixed continents is easier to grasp by the simpleminded and therefore must be true.

Australia has its own share of lunatics who hold similar Imperialistic and religious views to varying degrees, from the Rinehart funded racist hack Andrew Bolt, to politicians such as the execrable Cory Bernardi and the anti-science Prime Monster Tony Abbott. It is fair to describe them as self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simpleminded. Our most powerful tool to oppose such corrosive, indeed downright evil characters, is the weapon of ridicule. For any talented satirists out there, here is a suggested title for a series of political cartoons: The Madventures of Phoney Rabbit AKA Malice in Plunderland. Abbott is portrayed as a long eared, rodent-like creature (akin to his “conservative” predecessor, the lying rodent war criminal) whose only ideas about national policy are to abuse refugees (including children7) and to seek out money by digging holes in the ground.

We can now understand why such people reject (and are downright hostile toward) world views which:

  1. Reveal that their agendas are self serving with utter disregard for any people outside their circle of insular tribalism.
  2. Require they adopt a difficult path of hard work and sacrifice.
  3. Reveal that they are actually morally deficient or morally bankrupt.
  4. Reveal that they are not particularly special and are in fact inextricably related to that which they have regarded as inferior or repugnant or “separate”. For example, they regard the environment as “separate” from human beings and “separate” from economics, they believe the environment is an infinite resource and a limitless toilet that they can use and abuse forever. Hence they reject the views that we originate from, are part of and are dependent on the environment for our survival, labeling such views as “leftie/greenie” propaganda8.
  5. Reveal that the groups they have previously reviled, “the other”, are in fact just ordinary human beings not too different from themselves. Indeed “the other” may well be morally superior to them in many respects and certainly do not deserve to be exploited and killed.
  6. Require them, for ethical or other honourable reasons, to break away from their traditional social support group or tribe or nation, an emotionally gutwrenching act which they cannot contemplate.
  7. Reveal the reality of the situation is far worse than they ever imagined, with little or no hope for the future. This can lead to disruptive psychological and emotional distress and even despair (eg awareness of the guaranteed self-destruction of industrial civilisation and the possibility of human extinction as a result of climate devastation)
  8. Reveal that not only will there be no future paradise for them but their enemies will not get any particular “comeuppance”. Everyone is in the same boat.
  9. Are too complex for them to understand9

We can now also see why it is difficult if not impossible to pry people away from their religious and political beliefs and why logical argument using irrefutable evidence is generally ineffective. Nothing short of a monumentally traumatic upheaval (eg the arbitrary death of their own child, perhaps from an extreme weather event) which forces them to try to make sense of the situation and to confront their false beliefs, may possibly have any effect. Even despite such an event, many will still go to their graves persisting in their denial of reality, as their mindset is too firmly entrenched. They simply cannot give up the phoney edifice, the false image, that they have constructed of themselves, for themselves.

PART 2: OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING BELIEFS (or proclaimed beliefs):

  1. The blame game: avoiding or laying blame:

a. Avoiding blame: You will recall the trial of Oscar Pistorius (the bilateral amputee athlete nicknamed “the blade runner”) in 2014 for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. According to neighbours the couple had a loud argument lasting more than an hour late at night, just prior to the shooting. Pistorius pleaded not guilty, his defence in court being that he believed her to be a burglar in the washroom, a burglar who had decided to linger about and partake in bodily ablutions (as desperate criminals are wont to do) before sauntering off with any booty. Quite rightly, the judges dismissed Pistorius’ absurd proclaimed “belief” for the contrived nonsense it was.

b. Laying blame:

To blame others in order to “make sense” of a devastating event (“something bad happened, it must be someone’s fault”) or assuage their own sense of guilt (eg their child being afflicted with autism), or to extort financial compensation. Two examples here:

      1. Blaming the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for autism:

This scare was manufactured by the fraudster Andrew Wakefield in an anecdotal compilation of twelve cases published by the respected medical journal the Lancet in 199810. The concerns raised were taken seriously by the Medical community. In subsequent years, at least 120 studies were conducted in different countries involving huge numbers of children – the Danish cohort study alone, by Madsen et al, followed up more than half a million children. Multiple meta-analyses of the numerous independent studies were performed by different bodies (eg. the US CDC, UK MRC, NHS and Cochrane collaboration to name a few) and no convincing statistical association between MMR and autism could ever be demonstrated. It was conclusively found that the benefits of the MMR vaccine overwhelmingly exceeded any risks. Yes, the vaccine could have side effects, but catching the infections was many magnitudes worse (particularly in malnourished children in poor countries). Wakefield was investigated and was discovered to have committed scientific fraud for pecuniary gain and was deregistered by the General Medical Council of the UK in 2010. The Lancet itself eventually retracted Wakefield’s paper, denouncing it as a fraudulent submission. The mainstream media on the other hand had no interest in hard data. Sensationalism is what sells the tabloids. They chose scientifically illiterate journalists to continue perpetrating Wakefield’s fraud according to the time honoured tactic of Goebbels (if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it). As a result, there remains no shortage of people who still “believe” this fabricated lie and think that the medical establishment are involved in a conspiracy to cover up any MMR/autism link (if so, why did the Lancet publish it in the first place?). This has resulted in many children not being vaccinated over the years, loss of herd immunity and the eruption of various viral epidemics. Wakefield, the scurrilous mainstream media and their gullible readers have been responsible for the death and disability of many unvaccinated children. This is an ongoing issue, the most recent measles epidemic occurring among visitors to Disneyland in December 2014. This is but one example of the deceit perpetrated by antivaccination zealots who have mounted scare campaigns against other vaccines such as whooping cough. In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control, the greatest number since 1955. Even though many of these antivaccination nutcases may be wealthy middle class Americans or Australians, their mentality is the same as that of the Islamic fundamentalists or the Taliban who killed polio vaccinators working in Nigeria or Pakistan 11. Hence the one great chance humanity had to eradicate another viral blight (other than smallpox) from the face of the Earth has now been lost due to stubborn and vicious human ignorance. Unfortunately it is the children who suffer the most, at the hands of those who claim to act in their best interests.

      1. Blaming silicone breast implants for rheumatological or autoimmune diseases:

The assertion, over many years, that silicone breast implants caused rheumatological or autoimmune diseases, was conclusively disproven by several studies including those by the Mayo Clinic (NEJM 1994) and a Harvard Nurses study (NEJM 1995). No significant association could be found. Even though many lawsuits against implant manufacturers were subsequently dismissed, courts still sporadically found in favour of litigants despite the absence of scientific evidence eg in late 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a compensatory damage award of $41 million against Dow Chemical to Charlotte Mahlum for her multiple-sclerosis-like symptoms. In January 1999 a jury in a Washington Federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to an attorney who claimed her implants caused scleroderma. Such verdicts show that the Law can indeed be an ass.

It is not our intention to defend any corporations or establishment organisations. It is our intention to promote the use of evidence, reason and fairness as the bases for belief and action, no matter what individuals or groups are in question. This should be equally applicable to our dealings with the “evil” corporations.

  1. The 6 P: The proposition of predisposition to a paradigm based on politics, personality or profession:

This is idea that people seek belief systems which happen to align with their political prejudices (eg right wing conservatives vs left wing, small “l” liberals), their innate personality (eg pessimist vs optimist) or their professional background (reflecting the ingrained mindset and experiences of the profession they were trained in). It is a highly prevalent idea popularised by the mainstream media, but has weak explanatory power and can be misused. It is such a large topic that it requires considerable elaboration in appendix 1 to this article.

PART 3: FACTORS WHICH GENERATE AND PROPAGATE BOGUS PARADIGMS

  1. Childhood indoctrination is probably the most powerful factor. Richard Dawkins himself alluded to the fact that children will uncritically accept the edicts of authority figures, which certainly has survival value when there is legitimate transfer of worthwhile practical knowledge from old to young. However, like many human traits, this process is open to abuse by those in power. Childhood indoctrination with nonsensical ideas can be particularly difficult to shake off and may require many decades of critical re-evaluation by the thinking individual before being shed, if at all. As the Jesuits famously claimed “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” 12. They had certainly figured out how to brainwash children.
  2. The “might equals right” paradigm, which is generally framed in this way: God is on my side. I have triumphed over my enemies. That proves God is on my side. Consider groups A to E, which each believe in “different” gods, however thay all adopt the exact same paradigm mentioned above. In battles between the groups, group A eventually triumphs and dominates groups B to E (one group or another is bound to win, eventually). Group A then claims in retrospect they have “proven” god A is the only true god and the other groups also end up subscribing to this view, seeing as how their own gods have abandoned them to defeat (never mind the fact that none of these gods ever existed in the first place). In reality any other group, eg group B, could well have triumphed (depending on all sorts of factors including military intelligence, superior technology, better organisation and most important, sheer luck eg weather which favoured them on the day of battle). Triumphant group B would then claim their god B is the only true one and the others would buy into it. Such a retrospective claim does not however prove the validity of any god nor the existence of any god. It is a post hoc pseudoproof with no basis in reality, however it is a powerful propaganda tool which can be used to persuade the unthinking masses.
  3. Extreme conviction. Strongly held beliefs may sometimes be defended to the death. However just because an individual is willing to die for their belief (eg Christian martyrs in pagan Rome) does not mean that their belief is true. It merely reflects an intractable delusion (which in some cases may be the result of temporal lobe dysfunction or schizophrenia, organic brain abnormalities which are completely impervious to logical persuasion). Matyrdom however tends to be a rather convincing act of commitment, which may therefore serve to recruit naive onlookers as new followers.

PART 4: DENIALISM VS SKEPTICISM, ANALYSING THE ANALYSTS

Global warming denialists insist they should be called skeptics and resent being called denialists. The fact is they are not skeptics and are unworthy of such a title. The only proper, correct and accurate term for them is denialists.

A skeptic is one who debunks nonsensical beliefs (ie. ideas not based on evidence and reason). A true skeptic will therefore debunk the idea that global warming is a hoax rather than promote it.

Even though the skeptic habitually debunks silly ideas, this does not mean the skeptic does not believe in anything. In fact, a true skeptic is also a rationalist, who accepts paradigms based on evidence and reason, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that such science based paradigms may be need to be modified or even abandoned if better evidence and reason subsequently come to light.

The astounding effectiveness of the Scientific Method which has transformed our modern lives is undeniable proof that Objective Truth exists. All of our modern inventions, innovations and complex systems (eg computer software) originating from scientific discoveries, logic and rationality are predicated on the fact that Objective Truth exists, that outside our tiny little minds there is an external reality which operates on hard mathematical principles and a logical framework. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Only ivory tower philosophers13 and humanities graduates educated to the highest level of stupidity will attempt to deny the fact of Objective Truth14, even as they type out their drivel on their electronic computers.

Absolute Truth however is something we can never achieve. Even in the “hard” science of Physics, truth is highly contextual. For example, Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, strictly speaking, are not absolutely “true” but are merely extremely accurate in the context of the medium scale (the magnitudes of mass, speed, acceleration etc familiar to our human scale). However Newtonian physics needs to be modified or abandoned in favour of Einstein’s theories of relativity in the situations of extreme mass, relative speeds or acceleration eg when making satellite GPS calculations or in the vicinity of a black hole. Furthermore Newtonian and gravitational considerations vanish at the level of subatomic particles where Quantum mechanics must be adopted. Each of these Physics paradigms, applied in the appropriate context, is objectively true (often to a mindbogglingly high level of mathematical precision), but in a different context the paradigm may have to be modified or even disregarded. None of those Physics paradigms represents Absolute Truth. Indeed, in Quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle provides mathematical proof that Absolute Truth is absolutely unattainable.

All statements about truth are actually statements about probability, about what we deem to be correct beyond any reasonable doubt. This applies to the context of a rocket scientist who calculates the trajectory of a spacecraft and makes judgements about where it is and where it is headed, which, although highly accurate, are always prone to margins of error. It applies to the context of the climate scientists who collate data from multiple sources and make judgements about the current state of global warming and where we are headed, which are also prone to margins of error, but represent the most reliable information we can possibly achieve. The denialists who demand absolute precision about the present, absolute certainty about the future and “absolute truth” about everything are merely demonstrating that they are utterly ignorant as to how Science and reality work.

Skeptical thinking requires both intellectual flexibility and humility. Humility to admit error when the evidence indicates one is wrong and humility to be able to examine one’s own beliefs. Even the famous quip by Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, itself requires examination. What was the basis of Socrates’ belief ? Was it founded on some sort of empirical observation, population survey or cohort study? Or did it merely stem from intellectual arrogance: “I am a grey haired philosopher therefore my life is more worthwhile than yours” (reflecting belief functions 4 and 5)?

Using the Socratic method itself, we ourselves should ask Socrates: What is an unexamined life and what is an examined life? Is there a hard boundary between the two categories or a gradual fuzzy transition? At what level of fuzzy transition does a life suddenly become worthwhile? Is navel gazing the only criterion by which we should measure the value of a life?

Consider children with Down’s syndrome, who tend to be good natured, gentle, generous and loving. They have a great capacity to derive joy from simple everyday life and can also generate great joy for others, especially their parents. However they lack the ability to indulge in complicated philosphical musings. Does that mean their lives are not worth living?

Consider philosophers such as Otto Weininger or intellectuals such as Sylvia Plath, who deeply examined their own lives, wallowed in existential angst and eventually committed suicide, the ultimate declaration that their examined lives were not worth living.

We agree that those who can attain a deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything can also gain a higher level of appreciation regarding our existence. The intermittent “eureka” moments enjoyed from achieving profound comprehension of various aspects of Reality while muddling through this journey of life, certainly add greatly to the richness of our life.

Is it however better to be a contented cow, blissfully ignorant as you are being led along the ramp to the slaughterhouse; or a sentient being, fully aware and utterly terrified of your impending demise as you trundle towards the abbatoir? Perhaps it is best to strive to be a sentient being who can sieze control of your own destiny and escape from the abbatoir. This is what we advocate to our readers: get off this fatal path now, before it is too late. It is no longer possible to “save humanity” but you may be able to save yourselves, to survive at least a few decades beyond the general die-off, by establishing an offgrid permaculture community in a high latitude remote location.

PART 5: REASSESSING “CHICKEN AND EGG” ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BELIEF

Neurophysiological studies have discovered this bizarre, counterintuitive finding: that the electrical trigger in the motor cortex to perform an action precedes the electrical activity in the frontal cortex indicative of our conscious awareness to perform that act. The neurological impulse to, say, pick up an object activates a split second before the awareness we have made such a decision surfaces. Our brain triggers the action first, then we make up reasons as to why we acted later.

Using that as an analogy, let us also consider this possibility: that we instinctively understand what behaviours are required to advance our self interests (at least in the short term), such as seizing the resources of other people. Only after we have commited ourselves to behave in a particular way do we then make up “beliefs” to justify our heinous actions, eg the Neoconartists proclaimed “belief” that Saddam had WMDs in Iraq, evidence be damned. Here is another example: I know my luxurious lifestyle depends on my profligate combustion of fossil fuels, which I therefore choose to continue unabated. Only after I have made that choice, do I then profess my belief that AGW must be a hoax, evidence be damned.

Hence rather than belief giving rise to behaviour (as is generally assumed), we assert that in many cases the decision to pursue a course of self serving behaviour is made first and only subsequently is a purported “belief” then fabricated. This would explain why so many purported beliefs are patently absurd and are unrelated to any real world evidence. Contrived “beliefs” tend to lack any logical consistency, apart from the finding that they benefit the “believer” and are used to justify their despicable behaviour.

CONCLUSION

Before attempting to analyse others, it is important we analyse ourselves. Are our beliefs based on reality and truth (as they should be), or are they contrived and based on or influenced by the self serving elements outlined in our essay?

We contend that our exposition regarding the nature of human belief provides the best explanation as to why supposedly sane people without any known brain damage, such as members of the US Republican Tea Party or Australian “conservative” politicians (and those who voted them in), can subscribe to beliefs which are demonstrably false, irrational and ludicrous.

Never has the phrase “knowledge is power” been so starkly relevant, as when applied to the understanding of the psychological mechanisms which underpin human behaviour. Freud was the first to describe how the reptilian and infantile aspects of our brains tend to dominate over the rational and restrained “superego”. His nephew Edward Bernays applied this knowledge to devastating effect, with astoundingly successful US government and commercial propaganda campaigns which reaped vast wealth for himself.

If you are among the tiny fraction of the human population who are interested in these matters and have managed to read and understand this article up to this point, you will now also have acquired the knowledge by which you can gain power over others. You will now know how to manufacture an ideology which panders to the nine factors which promote adherence to false beliefs. You will grasp the means by which you can indoctrinate gormless people, who constitute the majority of the population, into your ideology. With a little charisma and marketing, you too can be the next L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, reaping vast wealth for yourself.

Or you can try to do some good in the world instead, by teaching others how to think critically, avoid false beliefs and resist bullshit.

Proximate Planetary Problems Caused by: Caused by: UNDERLYING CAUSES of Planetary Problems
– Mass extinctions due to– Ecosystem destruction due to– Global warming and – Pollution – Overharvesting of Nature’s Capital and – Fossil Fuel extraction and combustion – Overconsumption & excessive waste production by– Excessive numbers of homo stupidus – Bad human behaviour due to Dysfunctional thinking (eg delusional “infinite” economic growth on a finite planet) and Bogus beliefs (eg a God given sense of entitlement)

Medical principles specify that true cures for diseases can be only achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those diseases. True cures for our planetary problems can only be achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those problems, ie human beings who behave badly. By necessity, this will take the form of either complete human extinction, or the massive dieoff of humanity leaving only a tiny handful of survivors who are able to behave properly, who can exert a light ecofootprint without destroying the very life support systems which sustain us. Such remaining sapient humans can then pass on the qualities of eufunctional thinking and reality based beliefs to future generations. Failure to achieve sapience among surviving humans will inevitably lead to complete human extinction. The Planet will rid itself of parasitic human activities one way or another.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: quality control.

Footnotes:

  1. Functional MRI may change this, however such research is beyond the scope of this essay.
  2. Who tends to benefit from such a position? The fossil fuel industry. Who has funded the multibillion dollar disinformation campaign denying AGW? The fossil fuel industry.
  3. For a society to descend into madness, two elements must coexist together: a self-serving, deceitful ruling class and a gullible, compliant population. If one exists but not the other, then sanity may yet prevail. If lying psychopaths somehow seize power but a sensible population are wise to the absurdity of their propaganda, the psychopaths will be ejected in short order. If the population are naive and gullible but are governed by wise and benevolent leaders, then sane policy promoting social justice and peace can prevail, but may be tenuous. The naive population is always vulnerable to the false promises and charisma of duplicitous psychopaths, who may eventually sieze power. The best scenario is of course that of a sapient population who vote into power wise and benevolent leaders to govern them, but this population must not hesitate to depose and prosecute any leaders who engage in egregious acts of betrayal such as railroading the country into war on the basis of lies. The key to social stability therefore has to be the intensive education of the general population in critical thinking, to encourage them to be active politically and to hold their leaders to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. Unfortunately the so-called modern education system is only geared towards churning out clever idiots, useful cogs in the machinery of industrial society who lack the sense or the motivation to question or oppose obscenities such as the invasion of Iraq or the omnicidal agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. Among the clever idiots, I (GC) must include my own Medical Specialist colleagues, in whom I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that the USA of today has tumbled well down into the abyss of insanity, with not much further to go till it implodes catastrophically. It appears that Australia will inevitably follow suit.

  1. http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMSeekingTruth-by-Chia-for-NBL.pdf
  2. It has been quipped that the favourite response by a bureaucrat to any request is “NO”, because such a negative answer fulfils two functions: it gives him/her a sense of power over others and enables him/her to avoid doing any actual work.
  3. The Pentagon, in collaboration with major US universities, is in the process of militarising the social sciences, to formulate a systematic action plan which they will ruthlessly implement when civil society inevitably breaks down in the USA. They have titled this “The Minerva Initiative”. Their goal is to maintain, through force, the supply chains of fossil fuels and other critical resources as they become scarce, to preserve the creature comforts and security of the controlling establishment, at the expense of everyone else. Dr Nafeez Ahmed, erstwhile Guardian writer, calls it “a defence manifesto for the one percent”.
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-14/malcolm-fraser-attacks-abbott-treatment-human-rights-commission/6098920
  5. Abbott’s latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease was seen in his condescending St. Patrick’s day speech to the Irish on 13/3/15 when he declared it was “the one day of the year when it’s good to be green” before waving his green tie at the camera.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/03/13/12/45/pm-abbotts-patronising-st-patricks-day-message-slammed-by-irish-business-leaders The way this fossil fuel flunky parades his ignorant environmental vandalism as badge of pride continues to be truly nauseating and represents an ongoing malevolent threat to humanity.

  1. Incomprehensible complexity by itself is not a reason to reject a paradigm. It all depends on whether the complex paradigm is based on evidence, reason and proof. I (GC) will be the first to admit I am too stupid to understand Einsteinian or Quantum Physics. I find them incomprehensibly complex. Nevertheless I trust and accept their conclusions, not because they have been advocated by professorial authority figures in white coats, but because they have been amply validated in the real world. Functioning electronics, laser devices and GPS systems to name just a few, are irrefutable proof of the truth of those paradigms. There is a vast difference between trust in Science, which is based on real world validation, and faith in Religion, which is based on gullilbility. On the other hand, many of the financial machinations of bankers and their cronies have deliberately been made incomprehensibly complex and opaque, not because they are based on real mathematical laws of the universe, but because they wish to obfuscate and hide the convoluted pathways by which they funnel vast amounts of money into their pockets. They are parasites on the productive endeavours of society. This explains why poor and middle class people, particularly in the USA, have been going backwards economically over the past few decades despite working longer and harder, but the top 0.1% have seen their bank balances skyrocket despite little or no effort on their part (unless one defines “effort” as creating new “financial innovations” such as subprime mortgage schemes camouflaged by collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps).
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#cite_note
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication#Opposition_and_aid_worker_killings
  4. https://breakingspells.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/give-me-a-child-until-he-is-seven-and-i-will-give-you-the-man/
  5. I (GC) define an ivory tower philosopher as a scientifically illiterate pundit who attempts to explain life, the universe and everything by navel-gazing within the vacuum of ignorance. Advice to philosophers: unless you can achieve some level of scientific knowledge and literacy, your pontifications are utterly worthless and any similarity of your ideas to objective reality are purely coincidental. On the other hand, scientifically literate philosophers such as Clive Hamilton are of immense value to humanity. We sorely need their thoughts and advice, as is true for scientifically literate investigative journalists.
  6. The misrepresentation of “cogito er sum” by philosophers and the faulty logic of Pascal’s Wager compared with the good sense of the Precautionary Principle are outlined in appendix 2

Appendices 1 and 2 will be published in another post

Bomb Iran? Not now: bomb Yemen

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

People walk past a car damaged by an airstrike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Originally published in RT on April 9, 2015


‘Operation Decisive Storm’ – the Pentagon-style House of Saud glorifying of its ghastly ‘Bomb Yemen’ show – could be summed up in a single paragraph.

The wealthiest Arab nation – the House of Saud petro-hacienda – supported by other GCC petro-rackets and also the wealthy “West”, has launched an – illegal – bombing/war/kinetic operation against the poorest Arab nation in the name of “democracy.”

And this absurdity is just the beginning.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, the innocuous as a stale cannoli Federica Mogherini, seems to be mildly alarmed. She remarked that Saudi bombing of hospitals and “deliberate targeting and destruction of private homes, education facilities and basic infrastructure cannot be tolerated.”

Well, the EU tolerates exactly the same thing in Donbass perpetrated by Kiev’s goons – so nothing will come out La Mogherini’s feigned outrage.

The Red Cross and the Russian Federation, for their part, at least are demanding a temporary ceasefire to allow for humanitarian relief. Humanitarian relief is incompatible with the House of Saud’s bloodline. So after two weeks of Saudi ‘Shock and Awe’, the current toll of at least 560 Yemeni civilians dead (and counting), and 1700 wounded – dozens of them children – is bound to increase.

Bab-el-Mandeb me, baby

Bomb Iran? Not now; the new normal is bomb Yemen. But still bomb Iran might be back in a flash. Pentagon supremo Ash Carter confirmed last week “all options are on the table” even if an Iran-P5+1 nuclear deal is finally reached in June. So, for the record, the Pentagon is affirming nuclear negotiations are just white noise unable to deter the tantalizing prospect of yet another nice little Middle East war.

Needless to add, the so civilized ‘West’ didn’t even flinch when “our bastards” the House of Saud invaded and started shockin’ an’awin’ dirt-poor Yemen. No UN Security Council resolution. Not even a mandate from the totally discredited Arab League. Who cares? After all the ‘Empire of Chaos’ has done the same over and over again with total impunity.

Much hysteria has been raging on whether the Houthis are about to take control of the Bab-el-Mandeb – one of the key strategic global energy chokepoints along with the Straits of Hormuz, and as crucial as the Suez Canal. Nonsense. Whatever the House of Saud does, the not so hidden ‘Empire of Chaos’ agenda is never to lose control of the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, and the Socotra Islands.

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

A man reacts as he inspects the damage of a building caused by an air strike in Sanaa April 8, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

This is part of what we could dub ‘Chokepointistan’; wars taking place near or around energy bottlenecks, and always narrated in Global War on Terror (GWOT) deceitful terminology. US Think Tankland is more straightforward, carefully following US naval deployments. That’s what this is all about; an Orwellian “freedom of navigation” masquerading a hardcore strategy of shutting out the geopolitical enemy – be it Iran, Russia, China or all of the above.

‘Chokepointistan’ is all over the place: just watch the war or pre-positioning action in the Bab-el-Mandeb (with spillover effects from Yemen to Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti); the Straits of Hormuz (all about Iran); but also the strait of Malacca (all about China), Panama (about Venezuela), the coming Nicaragua canal (about China), the Korean Strait, the Taiwan Strait, the Kuril Islands, and last but not least the Baltic Sea.

A Grand Armada Run Amok

Saudi intel knows the Houthis can’t possibly control the Bab-el-Mandeb – not to mention Washington would never allow it. What freaks the Saudis out is that the Houthi rebellion in Yemen – supported by Tehran – may encourage bright rebellion ideas among the Shi’ite majority in the eastern provinces in Saudi Arabia, where most of the oil is.

And this where the Saudi excuse for war interfaces with the empire’s paranoia of preventing Iran, Russia and/or China from establishing a possible strategic presence in Yemen, at the Bab-el-Mandeb, overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

So we have once again Pentagon supremo Carter insisting, “The United States supports Arab plans to create a unified military force to counter growing security threats in the Middle East, and the Pentagon will cooperate with it where US and Arab interests coincide.” Translation: we gave the green light for our bastards to maintain “stability” in the Middle East.

Yet there’s a spanner in the works; the possible Washington-Tehran rapprochement, assuming a nuclear deal is reached. For the self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration, the nuclear deal will be their only foreign policy success. Moreover, without Tehran there’s no meaningful fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in “Syraq”.

None of this mollifies the cosmically paranoid Saudis, who assembled in a flash a Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) – 100 jet fighters, 150,000 soldiers – respectfully described by US Think Tankland as a “coalition” of 10 countries. Without even blinking at UN norms, the Saudis instantly declared the whole of Yemen as a no-fly zone.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif addresses during a joint statement with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (L) in Lausanne April 2, 2015. (Reuters/Ruben Sprich)

And along with routine bombing of residential complexes, the al-Mazraq camp for the internally displaced in Hajjah, a dairy factory near Hodeida, and other instances, came, what else, hardcore internal Saudi repression, via a crackdown with tanks and indiscriminate shooting in Awamiyah, in the eastern provinces; Shi’ites there can’t even think of organizing protests against the bloodbath in Yemen.

In a nutshell, this is the immensely wealthy, corrupt, medieval Saudi regime busy at war against their own people. The usual hard-line Wahhabi imams are busy working up anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iranian fever everywhere; these are all “apostates” under the takfir doctrine, and Iranians are lowly “Safawis” – a quite pejorative reference to the 16th century Safavid dynasty. It’s crucial to remember that Islamic State treats Shi’tes and Iranians the exact same way. But forget about any of this being reported by Western corporate media.

The General and the Sheikh

The House of Saud insists it wants to reinstall the government-in-exile of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. Or, as Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir glowingly put it, “protect the legitimate government of the country.”

Royally paid Saudi lobby hagiographers are once again frantically spinning the Sunni versus Shi’ite sectarian narrative – which totally ignores the mind-boggling tribal/class complexity of Yemeni society. In a nutshell, this laughable Saudi defense of democracy is paving the way for a ground war; a long, bloody and horribly expensive ground war.

And it gets, as expected, even more absurd. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was recently asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL.” His response: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.”

Translation: the US government not only does not sanction or punish these “allies” (the real fun is to sanction Russia) but showers with logistical and “non-lethal” support the “coalition” that is arguably fighting the same Islamic State they are funding. No one is making this up; this is how the endless war on terra remains the gift that keeps on giving.

It gets even curioser and curioser when we have Dempsey on the same page of Hezbollah’s Sheikh Nasrallah. In this crucial speech, Sheikh Nasrallah offers the most extensive and precise account of the origins and ideology of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. And here he expands on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

So what we have is the ‘Empire of Chaos’ ‘leading from behind’ in the war on Yemen and also de facto ‘leading from behind’ in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; the ones doing the heavy lifting are Iraqi militias supported by Tehran. The hidden agenda is always – what else –chaos; be it across “Syraq” or inside Yemen. With an extra bonus; while Washington is engaged on striking a nuclear deal with Tehran, it also turbo-charges an alliance against Tehran using the House of Saud.

Vietnam in the desert

The House of Saud badly wants Pakistan to take no prisoners, supplying bomber jets, ships and lots of ground troops for their war. Riyadh treats Islamabad as a vassal state. A joint session of the Pakistani Parliament will decide what to do.

It’s quite revealing to learn what happened when Pakistan’s most popular private TV channel assembled representatives of all major political parties to explain where they stand. Soon they reached a consensus; Pakistan should be neutral; act as mediator; and commit no troops, unless there was a “tangible threat” to the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, which is far from the case.

The House of Saud remains on overdrive, showering tons of cash over Salafi and Deobandi preachers to bullhorn their war; that includes a delegation of ulema visiting Riyadh. Support has already duly poured from Pakistan-based hardcore groups that trained with al-Qaeda and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan; after all they are all funded by Wahhabi fanatics.

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Followers of the Houthi movement attend a protest against the Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Meanwhile, in the front lines, a real game-changer may be ahead, with the Houthis already firing missiles across the border at Saudi oil installations. Then all bets are off – and the possibility that long-range missiles have been pre-positioned becomes quite credible.

That scenario would mean a foreign intel agency luring the House of Saud into its own Vietnam quagmire in Yemen, setting them up for a barrage of missiles hitting their pumping stations and oil fields, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. It’s crucial to remember that the Grand Armada Run Amok (GARA) assembled by Riyadh happens to account for no less than 32% of global oil production. This cannot possibly end well.

Everyone in Yemen has an AK-47, not to mention RPGs and hand grenades. The terrain is guerrilla heaven. History spells out at least 2,000 years of hardened tribes fighting foreign invaders. Most Yemenis hate the House of Saud with a vengeance; a majority follows what the Houthis announced in late February, that the House of Saud and the US were planning to devastate Yemen.

The Houthi rebellion includes both Sunnis and Shi’ites – thus totally debunking the Saudi narrative. When they captured the Yemeni National Security Bureau, which was basically a CIA station, the Houthis found a wealth of secret documents that “compromised” Washington’s Yemeni chapter of the war on terra. As for the Saudi Army, it’s a joke. Besides, it employs a huge contingent of – you guessed it – Yemeni soldiers.

“Operation Decisive Storm” – yet another Pentagon-style illegal war – has already plunged Yemen into the twin plagues of civil war and humanitarian disaster. The remains of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and most of all ISIS/ISIL/Daesh (who hate the Houthis and all Shi’ites with a vengeance) couldn’t be happier. The ‘Empire of Chaos’ couldn’t give a damn; the more widespread the chaos, the better for the Pentagon-defined Long War (on terra).

Over five years ago I wrote that Yemen is the new Waziristan. Now it’s also heading towards the new Somalia. And soon it may become the House of Saud’s Vietnam.


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Civil religion in an age of collapse is for the birds

Off the keyboard of Mister Roboto

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Published on Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto on November 24, 2014

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To understand from where I am coming in this post, it is probably helpful to read John Michael Greer’s blog-post on The Fate of Civil Religion. If you don’t feel like doing that, what the post is about is how people in the modern world make quasi-religions out of politics and other non-theist ideas, and one major drawback of that sort of religion is that being of this world, it is very brittle and prone to cognitive dissonance because its premises are inherently falsifiable. Greer’s classic example is the way communist ideology definitely became such a religion, and when the communist regimes of the previous century proved unable to deliver the promised paradise on Earth, very many people simply stopped believing altogether. These days the only Marxists you tend to find, in the USA anyway, are ivory-tower academic types or splinter-party cultists who get together every now and then and grimly pretend that the very flow of history they revere hasn’t left them flat on their backs in a dusty ditch somewhere.

I see the Democratic Party civil religion as now arriving at a similar point in its particular journey. Don’t get me wrong, here. I am most certainly not comparing post-World-War-Two American liberal ideology with the ideology of the old USSR and its now-defunct client-states. I’ll leave that sort of invidious comparison to the slavering, inbred fuckwits who live in Glenn Beck-istan and need right-wing talk-radio to tell them when to eat, sleep, shit, and play with themselves. The only respect in which I am comparing liberal Democratic-Party faith and Marxist ideology is that the adherents of both have become devotees of a sad ghost of a bygone era that will never be able to deliver a different and better world.

An instructive metaphor may be helpful here. I see supporters of the Democratic Party faith as being a bunch of people, many of them in hipster garb, running down the street chasing after something that passersby can’t see because that something simply isn’t there. It looks awfully futile and silly to the passersby, but the folks who are doing this clearly have an emotional investment in maintaining their pretense that keeps them existentially intact somehow. Now, just as long as the pursuers aren’t interfering with the business of the passersby and the pursuers feel this is something they really need to be doing, the more rational and well-adjusted passersby won’t attempt to interfere with the contrived business of the pursuers. After all, any passersby or apostate pursuers who would get all caught up in attempting to stop any of the pursuers and show them the error of their ways would be just as silly and codependent as the pursuers themselves. In fact, such people would certainly turn out to have issues of their own that they might be doing a much better job of managing instead of trying to set other people right.

To extend the metaphor a bit, I can easily imagine an intelligent grade-school-aged boy asking his mother why those people are so frantically engaged in an endeavor that appears to be so imagination-based from everybody else’s point of view. The boy’s mother would distractedly reply, “That’s just their religion, honey” and the young lad would nod in sudden clarifying comprehension. Indeed, if you look at such devotion to the politics of the weak and dying Democratic Party as this devotion exists on the Internet, calling it religion is not just a cute metaphor employed by cynics such as yours truly looking for some clever new way to make our point. This devotion is increasingly using not just the attitude but the language of religion, and it really is old-fashioned, service-attending, heretic-excoriating, demonology-obsessing religion in the truest sense of the word. As such, it is inherently non-falsifiable and more about keeping the psyches of the remaining faithful intact than it is about any concurrent social, political, or economic reality. And I really do think that the only way one can deny this is if one is a devotee of this religion who doesn’t wish to admit that it has become a civil religion.

I suppose if I would have realized this sooner, I wouldn’t have felt the need to waste all this time commenting on it and simply decided that I’m probably too much of an old-fashioned theist religionist (I suppose it would be not entirely unfair to describe me as a reconstituted or reformed New Ager, even though I don’t think there’s going to be any freaking “New Age” of goodness and sweetness and light in this world anytime soon) to be able to go there with the Democratic Party civil religionists of my era. Devoting oneself so thoroughly to an entity as manifestly unworthy as the Democratic Party of the USA seems to me to be about as creepy and sad as creepy and sad gets. Besides, I’ve done the civil-religion thing back when I was a know-it-all denizen of the college PC scene (which is, let’s face it, mostly a post-modern reconstitution of Marxist ideology), and to say I ultimately found it unrewarding and untrue would be the understatement of the year. Those idiots including myself were much bigger losers then the Democratic Party’s codependent doormat supporters ever could be.

If my “civil atheism” somehow qualifies as a species of civil religion, in the same way that today’s atheist-skeptic orthodoxy has become a religion in its own right, I guess I can live with that. I’m not going to sit here and fatuously claim, “What I believe isn’t a civil religion because I’m always right about absolutely everything!” in a manner comparable to some sophomoric Richard Dawkins fanboy from Reddit.com.

Considering that we’re facing some pretty harsh shit as a civilization in terms of exhausting energy and resources, pollution, agricultural exhaustion, and climate-change, it probably is rather uncharitable of me to paint liberal supporters of the decidedly not-liberal modern Democratic Party as being nothing but silly nincompoops because I’m sure that’s not all there is to them. They do have some significant awareness that things are changing for the worse and that changing how we do things would be a good idea in the face of that. Even if the approach they continually pursue is based upon an illusion, their wanting to do something about the troubled nature of current human life in this world comes from an essentially good place. I guess where I part company with them is in being of the mind that things have progressed too far to halt or significantly mitigate any consequences of what is charging at us over the horizon, and US society is too locked into the way it now is for it to be anything but too late. Whatever is going to happen is simply going to happen.

Conversation with Guy McPherson II: Religion & Morality

Off the microphones of Guy McPherson and Monsta

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on July 17, 2014

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In this portion of the podcast with Guy, the typical Religious beliefs of the major religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are discussed, along with the more abstract idea that the Progress meme of Industrialization itself is a form of religious belief.

In addition, there are further discussions of how Human Extinction scenarios might play out, as a consequence of the Collapse of Industrial Civilization.

RE

X-mas Goodies …

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on December 23, 2013

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Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 7.24.27 PM

God takes it in the neck among Americans surveyed in a recent Harris Interactive poll, (click on graph for big). Belief in Almighty God has collapsed 8% from 2005 – 2009. So much for John Michael Greer’s postulation that the world is entering an era of increased religiosity. By 2030 belief in God will be less than belief in ghosts. Heaven and miracles have taken a swift kick in the pants along with angels. There is still public support for Jesus, the devil and hell, but all have lost percentages. Astrology, witches and UFOs get votes but no mention of elves, dwarves or Hobbits …

The joint-and-several ‘God’ is an unknown quality but religions, like other political entities, are creatures of credibility; they exist only so long as their adherents believe in them. There is a real, ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ character to religion which makes the cynical, deterministic aspect of the regime function properly. As with finance, religion requires ‘fools in the market’, credulity is the lubricant of the faith process.

With the passage of time and the advance of modernity religions have become more ‘useless’; they are excluded from policy making, record keeping and secular intermediation — which have been historical roles. As with economics, there is a greater emphasis on abstract articles of faith and the ascendency of doctrine, or one form of doctrine over others. Because none of the doctrines actually ‘work’ or effect a direct outcome — only a promised outcome in some indeterminate ‘tomorrow’ — religion must compete with television and other high-powered anti-imagination forms of marketing which more effectively offer the same thing. ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘the future’ have become big business monopoly goods like ‘pleasure’; religion has been crowded out. In the narrow spaces remaining between marketing campaigns there are marginal ‘doctrine providers’ competing for relevance: sadistic sharia law adherents versus self-interested high-tech militarists, a pope critical of finance versus finance itself.

Filling the void vacated by superstitions; Darwinian evolution has become more popular by 5%. What does this mean? Maybe there is such a thing as progress but there is still a ways to go before America becomes a nation of hard-headed realists …

Speaking of belief in fairy tales:

 

North America to Drown in Oil as Mexico Ends Monopoly

Joe Carroll and Bradley Olson

The flood of North American crude oil is set to become a deluge as Mexico dismantles a 75-year-old barrier to foreign investment in its oil fields.

Plagued by almost a decade of slumping output that has degraded Mexico’s take from a $100-a-barrel oil market, President Enrique Pena Nieto is seeking an end to the state monopoly over one of the biggest crude resources in the Western Hemisphere. The doubling in Mexican oil output that Citigroup Inc. said may result from inviting international explorers to drill would be equivalent to adding another Nigeria to world supply, or about 2.5 million barrels a day.

 

Sweep the bumbling Mexican government out of the way, add nimble innovators and entrepreneurs (Exxon-Mobil) and get that gusher of oil! The process is so simple it’s a wonder why nobody thought of it earlier. Here is another one (NY Times):

 

Surge Seen in U.S. Oil Output, Lowering Gasoline PricesClifford Krauss and Stanley ReedHOUSTON — Domestic oil production will continue to soar for years to come, the Energy Department predicted on Monday, scaling to levels not seen in nearly half a century by 2016.The annual outlook by the department’s Energy Information Administration was cited by experts as confirmation that the United States was well on its way — far faster than anticipated even a year ago — to achieving virtual energy independence.

The report predicted that the increase in United States production would contribute to a decline in the world oil benchmark price over the next few years to $92 a barrel in 2017 from a 2012 average of $112 a barrel, which should translate into lower prices at the pump for consumers.

… “The E.I.A. report confirms that the United States really is experiencing an energy revolution,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian and author of “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.”

Oil production in North Dakota and Texas is expanding so rapidly that a glut of certain higher grades of oil has already developed in the Midwest and Gulf States. That glut is beginning to stir a debate in Washington over whether the Obama administration should reverse a policy of banning most exports of oil that goes back to the 1970s.

 

Notice the sleight of hand: the promise of low gas prices morphs into exports: extra money for customers becomes all the money for bosses. These guys practice by stealing candy from babies in their spare time …

Sadly, gasoline prices simply cannot fall as drillers must receive a larger percentage of funds than their customers to meet real, geologically driven costs. These costs constantly increase. In a way, throwing deluges of money at Mexican oil fields is the model for the rest of the world’s oil plays. If the drillers’ level of funding does not increase there will be shortages.

Says Kurt Cobb (Resource Insights):

 

– The trouble with optimistic forecasts of fossil fuel availability is that we can’t fix the situation easily if those forecasts turn out wrong to the downside and we have made absolutely no provision for this possibility, that is, we’ve done nothing to enable us to replace those fuels or to live with less and less of them over time. If we base our policies and actions on such forecasts, they must be right or we are in deep, deep trouble. We should strive instead to create a forecast-proof society.- Therefore, the most prudent course given the stakes is to begin a deliberate, but expedited program of deep energy reductions (through efficiency and conservation), dramatically ramp up the rate of renewable energy production and work furiously to solve the problem of electricity storage since most renewable energy comes in this form.

 

It’s hard to make deep energy reductions when your economy depends on sales of more cars and tract houses. Cobb wonders if the shills in the ongoing energy Ponzi schemes will be held to account … ?

 

The U.S. energy independence story: Will anyone be punished if it turns out to be wrong?… I ask because the story — and that’s all it is right now — appears to be driving public policy and business planning practically worldwide.Often implied with that narrative is a corresponding abundance of oil globally. In fact, some are predicating worldwide abundance on a continuous rise in U.S. oil output. This is despite the fact that even many optimistic forecasts make such ideas seem foolish. The actual data for crude plus condensate (which is the definition of oil) show oil production in the rest of world declining almost as much as the United States has increased its production from 2005 onward. Worldwide crude volumes have barely nudged upward in the last eight years, just 2.7 percent versus 10 percent in the previous eight-year period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is despite record oil prices and record investment!Now, a lot of people stand to get hurt by the energy independence/abundance story — which is, in effect, a forecast — if the story turns out to be wrong. This is because governments, businesses and households will not have prepared themselves for a negative surprise — all because they were assured that the United States and even the world had nothing to worry about when it comes to oil supplies.

 

Here’s a stuffer of some kind or other from Reformed Broker Josh Brown:

 

Sundown at the Permabear Alamo

I sure hope the US stock market pauses or corrects soon – because otherwise it’s going to be a complete and total permabear massacre.

China is stabilizing. Europe is growing – peripheral Europe is growing! Japan is percolating. US manufacturing is back above pre-recession levels and household net worth is too. American politicians are introducing bipartisan budget deals. Iran is talking peace. The gold investment complex is collapsing.

None of this was supposed to happen! It was all meant to unravel. WTF?

The pessimists have been absolutely routed this year, it’s becoming uncomfortable to watch. Their intellectual leaders are abandoning the cause or, worse, switching sides. None of their formulas or equations are working, they’re just losing more people more money every month. Those who answer to clients have run out of excuses, they’re now lashing out at everyone else to make themselves feel better.

 

What was the broker before he was reformed? What does he believe in? Elves? Fairies? That the money ‘making’ (stealing) is honest? That it is a substitute for creative and useful work? That it makes the world a better place? Indeed, the so-called ‘pessimists’ have been routed. Economic Undertow must confess missing one of the greatest stock bull markets in American history. Economic Undertow also missed the greatest stock bull market in Zimbabwe history …

 

Off Limits, but Blessed by the FedBy Gretchen Morgenson (NY Times)The good news arrived in a confidential letter from the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. Enron The nation’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase, had won the right to expand its reach in a lucrative business that has nothing to do with banking: electricity.Areas like electricity are generally off limits to banks because of the risks involved. But with its June 2010 letter, the Fed let JPMorgan take an even bigger role selling electricity in California and the Midwest, saying the push would “reasonably be expected to produce benefits to the public that outweigh any potential adverse effects.”

Three months later, JPMorgan traders began a scheme to manipulate electricity prices, ultimately forcing consumers in those regions to pay more every time they flicked on a light switch or an air-conditioner, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission subsequently contended …

 

Wall Street is a self-financed, government-approved Ponzi Scheme. Everything looks great for the moment … from a safe distance. Only the Ponzi promoters will be able to convert their holdings into actual money … before the scheme collapses under its own weight …

USA = Albania in 1997; there has been a 25% return in this one year for the S&P 500! How is this supposed to be a normal return?

None of the finance analysts or even high-level economists discuss energy, the effect of rising real energy costs (not nominal costs) on the economy … Nor do they discuss asset bubbles-as-energy-price-hedges. These hedges — which include currency union(s), military invasions of oil producers and shifting jobs overseas have failed completely since 1973. The only noise from analysts is nonsense about ‘Energy Independence’, ‘Saudi America’ and ‘Fracking Revolution’. Fantasy thinking exudes from the governments … when all the bosses are blatantly lying it is best to head for the hills.

Nicole Foss:

 

Following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, there was a spate of such schemes – notably MMM in Russia, Caritas in Romania, Jugoskandic and Dafiment Bank in Serbia, TAT in Macedonia, and VEFA Holdings, Xhafferi, Populli, Gjallica and several others in Albania. They were the topic of my academic research at the time. All of these lasted for quite a long time, and some paid out spectacular returns for much of that time. For instance, the Albanian funds , or quasi-banks, began by paying out 3-5% per month over a 6 month term and were eventually paying out 10% per month (and briefly much more as an interest rate war ensued very late in the game).

 

The payees were simply shills, many of them ‘reinvested’ their funds; why not? The person exiting the scheme was left with increasingly worthless paper money. What else to do with it? The Ponzis were together a contained form of hyper-inflation … just like Wall Street is now.

 

They were able to do this temporarily (offer extremely high interest rates) because the income from the buy-in of new entrants was supplemented by revenue from drug smuggling, oil sanctions busting, money laundering, gun running, human trafficking and a thriving trade in car theft from across Europe. There was some revenue from legitimate business interests, but not much in a country that survived mainly on a combination of remittances and politically supported criminal activity. Ironically, Albania was the darling of the IMF at the time.

 

Actually, the schemes could offer high rates because they didn’t actually pay anything. Returns were the famous ‘wealth effect’; paper gains. Outside of small cash payments to shills, funds flowed into the schemes and vanished. Promoters converted Albanian leks into harder European currencies using their long-established money laundering facilities. It was the absence of any real payout that kept the schemes running as long as they did. Think of the schemes as lotteries where the prizes became larger and larger with minimal payouts. Here is the IMF:

 

The Rise and Fall of Albania’s Pyramid SchemesChristopher JarvisDuring 1996-97, Albania was convulsed by the dramatic rise and collapse of several huge financial pyramid schemes. This article discusses the crisis and the steps other countries can take to prevent similar disasters.The pyramid scheme phenomenon in Albania is important because its scale relative to the size of the economy was unprecedented, and because the political and social consequences of the collapse of the pyramid schemes were profound. At their peak, the nominal value of the pyramid schemes’ liabilities amounted to almost half of the country’s GDP. Many Albanians—about two-thirds of the population—invested in them. When the schemes collapsed, there was uncontained rioting, the government fell, and the country descended into anarchy and a near civil war in which some 2,000 people were killed.

 

Change a few words here and there and it is easy compare Albania to Wall Street:

 

Why the pyramid schemes grewThe wide appeal of Albania’s schemes can be attributed to several factors, including Albanians’ unfamiliarity with financial markets; the deficiencies of the country’s formal financial system, which encouraged the development of an informal market and, within this market, of the pyramid schemes; and failures of governance.

 

Just substitute ‘Wall Street’s for ‘Albania’s, ‘Americans’ for ‘Albanians’; include laughable oversight and hyper-complexity of the formal finance system … change ‘shadow banking, black pools and over the counter swaps’ for ‘informal market’ … within this context the emergence of Ponzis is inevitable. Failures of governance in Anglo-American finance speaks for itself.

 

The proliferation of schemes had baleful effects. First, more depositors were drawn in. Although VEFA had the largest liabilities, it had only 85,000 depositors. Xhafferi and Populli between them attracted nearly 2 million depositors—in a country with a population of 3.5 million—within a few months. Second, the investment funds felt pressured to compete and began to offer higher interest rates on deposits. In July, Kamberi raised its monthly interest rate to 10 percent. In September, Populli began offering more than 30 percent a month. In November, Xhafferi offered to treble depositors’ money in three months; Sude responded with an offer to double principal in two months. By November, the face value of the schemes’ liabilities totaled $1.2 billion. Albanians sold their houses to invest in the schemes; farmers sold their livestock. The mood is vividly captured by a resident who said that, in the fall of 1996, Tirana smelled and sounded like a slaughterhouse, as farmers drove their animals to market to invest the proceeds in the pyramid schemes.Throughout the year, the government was a passive spectator to the unfolding crisis. Although the enormity of the problem became clear when the Bank of Albania discovered that VEFA’s deposits in the banking system were equivalent to $120 million (5 percent of GDP), and despite repeated warnings from the IMF and the World Bank, the finance ministry did not warn the public about the schemes until October. Even then, however, it drew a false and misleading distinction between companies with real investments, which were believed to be solvent, and “pure pyramid schemes.”

When it was suggested that some companies might be surviving by laundering money, President Sali Berisha came to their defense. Press and public reaction was mostly negative: the IMF was accused of trying to close down Albania’s most successful firms.

In November, in response to outside pressure, the government set up a committee to investigate the schemes. The committee never met. On November 19, Sude defaulted on its payments, and the collapse began.

 

The biggest difference between Albania and the Wall Street version is that the latter is self-financed, that is, the giant banks are lending to the speculators (their own investment arms) so that increase in worth — wealth effect — is collateral for more and more loans.

Meanwhile, here is a stocking stuffer for all the small children out there, not so much from Santa but from the endless clusterfuck in Fukushima, Japan:

 

Iodine-131 rises in Chiba prefecture.The most recent measurements of iodine-131 in sewage sludge from Chiba prefecture indicate the highest amount of I-131 since August. The last measurement was actually made on Dec. 3. It is the third highest measurement since May 2011.Iodine-131 from Gunma prefecture remained relatively low, as of Nov. 26.

 

This doesn’t come from The International Atomic Energy Agency or NRC but from a blog called ‘Bobby1′s Blog’! However, the information from Chiba and Gunma is real, from government web sites regarding real places. Here is a screenshot of the Gunma prefecture web page:

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 4.59.10 PM

Iodine-131 is a daughter product of nuclear fission, it isn’t a decay product. Iodine-131 is created by a nuclear chain reaction where an isotope such as U-235 is bombarded with neutrons. The fissile material decay chains do not include this isotope. The half-life of Iodine-131 is 8.2 days! What this means is there is are recent- or underway nuclear chain reactions nearby or within Gunma and Chiba prefectures.

Iodine-131 is used for medical radiation therapy and is also used as a tracer isotope for industrial purposes such as downhole logging in fracked gas- and oil wells. Isotopes for industrial or medical purposes are created by bombarding Tellurium with neutrons in a reactor. Otherwise Iodine-131 is a waste-product of a nuclear chain reaction: it is a percentage of nuclear spent fuel during and immediately after fissioning as well as a component of post-atomic blast fallout.

The sludge aspect is relevant only so far as that the isotope is concentrated: there should not be any Iodine-131 emissions at all. Below the radar of both the nuclear establishment and the media the Fukushima complex is actively fissioning. The Japanese are effectively running a reactor without containment. That they are not taking immediate steps to bring this to an end is incomprehensible.

The reactors melted down-blew up almost 3 years ago, long past the time to build a cofferdam around the site which would eliminate the flow of groundwater through the complex. It is likely that ground water is reflecting high-energy neutrons and creating chain reactions that are poisoned by Xenon-135. A measure of Xenon would determine the energy level of the reactions. A low-energy reaction is unlikely because the grid structure of the cores has been undone by their melting. More likely are very short high-energy reaction pulses that are poisoned by Xenon. This is very dangerous as high-energy reactions are unpredictable and can run-away into a prompt-criticality event. Such an event would be similar to the March, 2011 explosion in reactor unit #3. The Fukushima site would then be too radioactive for human workers to approach. There would then be the danger of follow-on explosions and fires on the site.

Keeping this in mind Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 5 and 6 must be decommissioned and de-fueled at once. If something goes wrong with the other reactors there is a chance that the fuel in these reactors would be adversely effected. Fuel assemblies from reactor unit #4 spent fuel pool are being shifted to the common fuel pool which is located approximately 100 meters from the four damaged reactors. If there is a significant radiation release from a damaged reactor it will be more difficult or impossible to approach the common pool to service it. All fuel must be removed from the site as soon as possible … regardless of the cost or sacrifice.

With a cofferdam in place it would be possible to seal the entire complex and contain radiation within a sarcophagus structure similar to that built over the ruined reactor at Chernobyl. Control of the underground water flows would reduce reactivity within the destroyed reactors and halt the flow of radioactive materials into the ocean. Radiation emitted by the damaged cores would be contained. It is hard to believe the Japanese have not made the all-out effort to build this containment. If the world’s third largest economy cannot properly manage failure one modest power plant complex how will it deal with its other reactors as the economy falters?

There is a creeping realization that radiation hazards from the Fukushima Daiichi complex are likely far greater than the establishment has been letting on …

 

Seventy sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan are filling suit against the Japanese company TEPCO after allegedly suffering radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant melt down.The law suit states TEPCO downplayed the nuclear radiation danger until it was too late.According to the suit, radiation experts who assisted in the decontamination say the USS Ronald Reagan sailed straight into a plume of radioactivity, which contaminated the ship’s water supply. Crew members washed, brushed their teeth and drank potentially contaminated water.The law suit claims active and former sailors are suffering from cancer, blindness, impotence, and fatigue as a result of the radiation exposure.

 

How much longer can the Japanese establishment keep a lid on reactor casualties in Japan? It will become more difficult to do so as time passes.

We need to stop believing that ‘God 2.0′ — technology and ‘Free Enterprise’ — can fix things that the previous versions of God have damaged or ruined. We need to start telling ourselves the truth; it really isn’t that painful for us to do so. Only the lies of interested parties paint truth-telling as ‘too hard to bear’. Everywhere you look it is clear that things are falling apart: reactors, governments, climate, finance and big business. Dear Santa, please give all of us a change of approach.

Or else your popularity is going to take a hit!

Suicidal Growth

Off the keyboard of Ray Jason

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Published on The Sea Gypsy Philosopher on December 10, 2013

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Sailing down the decades, my sweet little boat and I have witnessed some amazing meteor showers while alone at sea. During those nights I always listen to Debussy’s lyrical masterpiece “Reverie,” while lying on my back and marveling at the falling stars. And what makes it even more sublime is being the only human presence in that sector of the planet. It reminds me of how utterly tiny Homo Sapiens is in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, back on land the dominant perspective is just the opposite. Humanity considers itself the Grand Actor in the center of the cosmic stage, and Nature is merely the backdrop.

But my almost visceral understanding of just how miniscule our species is, inspires me to view our human project in a radically different manner. Spend as much time alone at sea as I have, and you too might find yourself transformed from being an Accepter to a Questioner. In this essay I will discuss a topic that is almost universally embraced and yet never challenged. That subject is Growth. How can somebody argue against Growth you might wonder? Well, hopefully I can do so calmly and convincingly.

*******

Even a sixth grader understands that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. This is not an “economic issue” to be debated. It is an ecological fact that must be addressed. Our planet has limited resources and our survival hinges upon our ability to allocate and preserve them. The two great enemies of sustainability on Earth are Runaway Population Growth and Conspicuous Consumption Growth. Together they are a recipe for biological botulism.

http://isiria.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/overpopulation.jpgPopulation overshoot has been fervently debated ever since Thomas Malthus first introduced it back in 1798. In the 1960s, Paul and Anne Ehrlich reignited the discussion with their cautionary book, THE POPULATION BOMB. The timeline of their predictions did not come true, because they had not foreseen the Green Revolution that massively expanded industrial agriculture. But now food output HAS peaked while population expansion continues to accelerate. So a significant population decrease is essential.

But there is a huge force in the world which will not allow this to happen. That obstacle is Big Religion. The major monotheistic churches want their membership to grow as enormously and rapidly as possible. But they never admit to such selfish motives. Instead, they claim that they are merely following god’s edict that birth control shall be forbidden and that the flock shall go forth and multiply.

If you doubt the truth of this indictment, consider this. If the Catholic Church injunction against birth control is not just designed to increase their enrollment, then they will not object to this suggestion: Let every other child that is born to a Catholic parent be raised as a Muslim. Observe how the church fathers respond to that recommendation, and you will quickly understand that their birth tyranny edicts are not about god’s will, but are instead about increasing their membership and their power.

Another more subtle impact of Big Religion’s dictatorial population stance is how it affects education. There is a direct link between a higher level of education and a lower birth rate. The least educated segments of society tend to be the most religious. And so women who are forbidden by the church to use birth control devices soon become birth increase devices. Since they are burdened with almost constant childbirth, they have little time for education or for the widening of their personal horizons and opportunities. They become slaves to reproduction and to Big Religion.

Besides the bishops and mullahs and rabbis, there are other factors contributing to out of control population growth, and I will deal with them thoroughly in a future essay. But one thing that I can’t emphasize enough is the fact that this issue does not even get discussed in any meaningful way. If you think that bringing up politics and religion is a sure way to derail a conversation in polite company, just interject the issue of population control and notice how almost everyone considers it a taboo subject. And yet overpopulation is a major element – if not THE major factor – in the history of every single civilization that has collapsed.

*******

The second type of growth that is so hazardous to our planet and all of its creatures is our lust for stuff. Although the USA is largely innocent when it comes to causing population problems, it is unmistakably guilty when it comes to promoting rampant consumerism. The American Way of Life is worshipped and imitated around the globe. Through its movies and television and product saturation, the American Empire spreads its own religion with missionary zeal – The Church of the Mall. The message of that gospel is that happiness is achieved by owning things. The corollary to this is that more stuff equals more fulfillment. Embracing such a vapid worldview has dire consequences for the Individual, the Society and the Planet.

For people, it means that values such as the affection of friends, the solidarity of community, the appreciation of beauty are all subordinate to the less meaningful and often endless craving for more stuff. I contend that the world is not better off with cars that talk to us or 671 types of “yogurt products” or phones so expensive that one has to take out a loan to purchase them.

http://www.photosensitive.com/imgs/native-children-happy.jpgMany of my sea gypsy years have been spent in Third World countries. I have carefully observed that there is a direct correlation between personal happiness and owning a lot of things. But it is an inverse relationship. Only 30 yards from where I am now typing, I will often marvel at Indio children playing joyously for hours with just a coconut and a stick. And yet just down the dock, first world kids will be miserable because their electronic game console is not the latest version.

http://www.tophostgames.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/kids-playing-violent-video-gamesdo-bad-grades---violent-video-games---violent-kids--greater-good-irfohlij.jpgAside from the damage that insatiable consumption inflicts on the individual, it also has extremely harmful consequences for the larger society. When a person fixates on buying more things and interfacing with more machines, they forget to exercise their power of critical thinking. They are so mesmerized and distracted by the latest iEverything, that they don’t even notice their slide into consumer slavery. A society with a colossal wealth discrepancy between the rich and the poor, with meaningless work that is numbing and degrading and with a tyrannical police/surveillance grid should be cause for code-red alarm. But instead, most people barely notice it because there is an enormous plasma TV in the way.

But our addiction to more and more stuff is not just harmful to individuals and to societies. It is utterly catastrophic to our one and only life-supporting planet. Our constant-growth consumerism pollutes the air, decimates the ocean fish stocks, poisons the rivers and blows away the topsoil.

*******

This combo platter of increasing population growth and unceasing consumer growth is a recipe for societal suicide. Too many people and too much stuff are ravaging all of the support systems that keep us alive. We need breathable air, clean drinkable water, fertile land, plus renewable and non-renewable resources. But we are decreasing all of these vital necessities and at the same time we are increasing all of the waste products that our excesses are generating. This cannot end well! But it CAN end horribly!

 

P.S. For excellent information on how to steadily decrease population without coercion, visit Bill Ryerson’s site www.populationmedia.org. He has nobly dedicated 40 years of his life to this unpopular cause.

 

Chained to the Cross

Off the keyboard of Ray Jason

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Published on The Sea Gypsy Philosopher on November 8, 2013

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AVENTURA at anchorThere is no calendar aboard AVENTURA, and I often lose track of what day it is. Actually, down here – south of many borders – the seasons are so similar to each other, that I often lose track of what month it is! But I always know when it is Sunday. That’s because a veritable armada of cayucos will stream by my boat on their way to church.

A few weeks ago one passed very close, and as always, I waved with neighborly enthusiasm. Seven or eight of the kids waved back just as vigorously. But there was one young, teen-aged girl who responded differently. Apparently she had never been so close to one of these sailing boats, and she studied it carefully. I watched her gaze drift from bow to stern and then from the waterline to the top of the mast. Then she noticed my boat’s name which is the Spanish word for “adventure.”

With the cayuco only 10 feet away, I delighted in seeing her happy smile as visions of travel, freedom and exotic elsewhere’s danced in her head. But swiftly her face changed, and I witnessed something that a man in his Middle Years never wishes to see in the eyes of someone so young. As she looked directly up at me, I watched as her youthful joy was suffocated by despair. There was surrender in that look – the realization that her dreams for a life that could cross over the borders of her birth, might never be achieved.

This experience touched me so deeply that I created this little story, which tries to depict what she is experiencing at this threshold moment in her life. And even if this tale is not accurate in the case of this young woman, it surely is for someone else her age – and probably for many, many others out there who also feel caged by the circumstances of their birth.

 

*******

 

I will name her Dolores, which is the Spanish word for “sadness.” She was the second born of 8 children. As is often the case, in an effort to keep up with her older brother, she tended to be tomboyish. If he could row the cayuco across the bay in 20 minutes, she would try to do it in 18 minutes. If he caught 4 fish she would strive for 6. But one thing that they did not compete in was sea turtles. They both loved the big creatures, and would drift for hours amongst them in their little native canoe.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_B12ademvvek/THbbjHJ4FPI/AAAAAAAAARE/OnD_U2rAtyo/s1600/Turtle2BabiesReturning.jpgFor her 10th birthday, her father took her on a turtle-watching trip at a remote beach. As the female labored most of the night laying her eggs and covering them in the sandy nest, the volunteers quietly explained to Dolores the entire process including how the tiny hatchlings will have to race down the beach to the safety of the sea as predator birds and animals attack them.

It was a momentous night in her young life. Besides being inquisitive about the mother turtle, Dolores asked the volunteers many questions about their lives and their dedication to these animals. She learned that a person had to be at least 18 years old and very carefully trained before they could qualify to be turtle beach monitors. She also discovered that some of them were studying marine biology with a specialty in sea turtles. Dolores felt a bit like her beloved turtles that night. She sensed that she had stuck her head out of her own shell and glimpsed her future.

At school she found a helpful teacher who encouraged her and brought her books and magazine articles about the turtles of the sea. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know. Could it be that one day she could go to university and become a marine biologist and then travel the world studying and helping these gentle animals?

 

*******

 

And now at 13 years old, her family cayuco is passing beside AVENTURA. My sweet, little boat is the perfect symbol for all that she seeks in life. But it is not just a fairy tale illusion. It is a real thing – tangible evidence that people can voyage to strange new lands, see unusual creatures and savor exotic adventures. And it lives where the turtles live – in the sea.

As her cayuco heads across the bay to the chapel, the young girl pivots and looks back at the lovely AVENTURA once more. Even from 30 yards away I can sense her longing and her sad resignation. She is headed to church, which is supposed to be a joyous and liberating experience. But Dolores is wise beyond her years, and she understands that it does not emancipate her – it enslaves and crushes her.

Yet, even though she intuitively recognizes this, she cannot possibly imagine how masterfully the church orchestrates this. For over 20 centuries they have perfected their subtle incarceration methods so brilliantly that the prisoners barely realize that they are captives. Allow me to explain how profoundly and malevolently they dominate so many lives around the world.

Here in Latin America, when a baby is born, it is extremely likely that it will be designated as a Catholic child. A few weeks later a baptismal ceremony further reinforces this status. As the little one finds its way in the world it receives loving guidance from its parents. It learns that fire and snakes and lightning are dangerous. And it is also taught that mangoes ripe from the tree and fish fresh from the sea are delicious. A bond of sublime trust is formed between parent and child. So when these adults, who have provided so much helpful knowledge about how the world works, also teach it that religion is a good thing, why would the youngster not believe the parents?

And this is further reinforced by the pageantry of the religious services. Things are different inside the church. It is quieter and solemn and reverent. The kids aren’t running around wildly, and the person at the front wears very unusual clothes. He gives some sort of fancy speech that the adults all follow carefully. Afterwards the grown-ups behave as if something important has happened.

So if the child’s parents say that religion is a good thing and if the ceremony at the church is so extraordinary, then it is natural for the kids to accept their place in the flock. And the term “flock” is appropriate here – for the church controls them as thoroughly as a shepherd dominates his sheep.

http://what-buddha-said.net/Pics/hell.n4.jpgThe keystone of the church’s indoctrination is the concept of hell. The young people are relentlessly warned that if they do certain things they will suffer grotesque agony for all of eternity. Most of the “sins” that will condemn a person to this horrible fate are irrelevant to typical kids. After all, they are not going to murder someone or worship false idols or rob the local bank. But as soon as they reach puberty, they get hammered by a Catholic edict that they barely knew even existed. Thou shalt not use birth control.

After the epiphany that Dolores experienced on the beach with the mother turtle, she realized that her desired path in life was different from most of her peers. Although there was much charm in her Indio village life, her dreams swept towards the far horizon. She wanted to venture beyond the boundaries of her birthplace, and embrace the wider world. To achieve this she would need to succeed in both high school and university.

Just when Dolores was recognizing this, she noticed that many of the girls just a few years older than her were suddenly dropping out of high school and having babies. When she asked them why they didn’t wait a little longer until they finished school, they confessed that the pleasure of sex was so extraordinary that they couldn’t restrain themselves. And since the almighty church insisted that if they used birth control they would burn in hell for a million years, they had risked unwanted pregnancies because sexual passion can be so overpowering.

Because Dolores had not yet reached puberty, she convinced herself that she could forego sexual desire in order to fulfill her dreams. But when those potent universal yearnings started to pulse through her young body, she too felt herself being swept along. She went to her mother seeking guidance. Why can’t a person enjoy the wonders of sex without having to risk bringing an unwanted child into the world? Since her mom had never questioned such things herself, her only response was, “…because the church says so, and they know what’s best.”

But with the exquisite vision of her future blurring and darkening before her eyes, that answer was not good enough for Dolores. So she asked the teacher who had been so helpful to her, if there wasn’t some other way, some other option? As an instructor in a Catholic school, the sympathetic teacher hesitated, but then decided to answer truthfully. She told her bright young student – so overflowing with curiosity about life and the world – that there was another way. She explained that there are reliable and affordable methods of birth control as close as the nearest drug store. And she added that millions and millions of people around the world use them without fear or guilt, because they have not been told that by doing so they will burn forever in hell.

And then the confused young student said, “But if the church cares about us so much, why would it destroy my dreams for the future – my simple dreams that harm no one and can help the turtles?”

The good teacher paused and looked Dolores in the eyes, “Your question is a just and sensible one, but the answer is very complicated. Anything I say will probably confuse you even more. But in only a few more years you will discover the answer for yourself. And it will be much more powerful and valuable to you because you found it on your own!”

 

*******

 

It was only a few days after that conversation with her beloved teacher that Dolores passed by AVENTURA in the family cayuco headed for church. Had I known the source of the anguish that was so clearly visible in her eyes, I might have shouted out something like this:

The church does not care about you, Dolores. It seeks only to further its own power and interests. Witness how its birth control rules crush your dreams and force you down a life path that you do not desire. Ignore the church. It is a dictatorship that wants to dominate your heart and your mind and your body. Cast it off like a scorpion on a shoe, and race out into that wide world that beckons to you so powerfully. Listen to the murmurings within you. They are the voices of our race and the echoes of the centuries. They will serve you well.”

India and its Incredible Problems

Off the keyboard of Jason Heppenstall

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Published on 22 Billion Energy Slaves on October 30, 2013

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In the year 2000 I spent several months in India. I love India and it was my third visit to the subcontinent. Anyone who has spent time there either ends up loving it or hating it – the sheer in-your-facedness of the whole place, combined with the manic religious devotion that forms a part of everyday life force you to face up to who you believe yourself to be. Yes, India is life with the volume turned up to number 11.

I saw a lot of unsettling things in India. I saw a young woman being burned on a funeral pyre, and afterwards the dogs snuffling through the ashes and running off with morsels of meat. I met sadhus – holy men – who had forsaken the material life and devoted themselves to asceticism, I saw the bullet holes in buildings where British colonial soldiers had massacred Sikhs, and I went to a school high up in the Himalayas where the Dalai Lama was the acting headmaster. And I also met a thousand hucksters and conmen whose ingenious trickery knew no bounds.

I have a fantasy of one day going back to India and living there for good – if it survives the onslaught of pollution, nuclear madness and dam building. Perhaps this will be when I ‘retire’ (ha ha!). As far as I’m concerned, there is no place of Earth like India for sheer oppositeness to our western culture, although Sri Lanka and Nepal come a close joint second. I’d live in an adobe shack in a fishing community in the deep south. My small sailing boat would be moored nearby and I’d use it to ‘commute’ between the ancient world (India) and the old world (Europe) to collect my state pension cheque, which would be enough to survive off for another year (in India).

Beat that for a retirement plan – it’s not exactly golf and cruises.

Anyway, for all the talk of India becoming an advanced industrial nation like the US or European countries I say: no way. That will never be. The limiting factors that describe the scale of the problems she faces are just too constrictive. It’s not just economics that is not on their side (and far too often these days debates are just about economics and nothing else – don’t people have any other idea of how to look at the world?) there are so many other factors to consider. This is what I wrote in my travel diary when I was there 13 years ago. I haven’t been back since, but other than in tech-happy enclaves such as Hyderabad, I can’t imagine it has changed all that much.

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December 2000, Tamil Nadu state, India

People say that you can not merely ‘see’ India but are forced to experience it to a greater or lesser extent. This sore fact is now quite apparent to us and I hope to be able to give some impression of the confusing emotions that have been aroused.

The primary and most obvious facet of Indian life that is unavoidably obvious even to the most casual visitor is the level of abject poverty. Any romantic notions of the existence of some sort of genteel poverty are soon dismissed when one sees the desperate plight that many people face in this country. Beggars are commonplace even in so-called prosperous towns and much of the begging is done by ragged children and leprous adults. The pitiful sight of the man dressed in rags sat in the dust holding out an outstretched fingerless hand or the barely-alive young woman lying in the middle of the road whilst her child sits sullen-eyed beside her and monstrous Tata trucks thunder past only inches away are not uncommon sights. It is impossible to walk in the streets without attracting the attention of the more mobile beggars, mostly children, who will hold out their hands or else crowd around you and tug on your clothing. This kind of scene prevents a moral dilemma for the westerner who, by comparison with these people, is rich beyond imagination.

Even the most penny-pinching backpacker who eats only bread and uses the most dilapidated and cheap transport, though he may not readily admit it, has a kind of wealth beyond the dreams of these dusty figures for he can afford the elite luxury of foreign travel and does not have to devote every ounce of his energy to earning enough rupees just to keep himself alive. Assuming that the potential donor acknowledges this fact the dilemma that is presented is multi-faceted. Firstly, even if one were to choose to do so, one cannot give change to every beggar. On the streets of Old Delhi, for example, one would be forced to hand out money every few seconds. Secondly, the act of giving to beggars, conventional logic tells us, perpetuates the problem further. Although this argument is most commonly used by people who feel the need to justify their meanness in the face of overwhelming poverty there must be some truth in it.

Although it would be very difficult to gather ‘proof’ of such a theory (you simply can’t go about asking beggars what made them decide to ‘go into begging’) it was clearly apparent in the hills of Nepal where children now routinely skip school to demand sweets and pens from passing trekkers, enough of whom oblige to keep the scourge alive. Thirdly, stories abound of adults mutilating their children (or the children of others) in order to arouse the sympathy of others and thus increase the takings. Whether these stories are true or not it is difficult to say but the image of the young boy sitting in the gutter minus a foot is far more likely to get people to dig into their pockets than the same boy with both feet attached. Whatever moral dilemmas westerners tangle themselves up in when it comes to giving their ‘hard earned’ money to beggars the fact remains that, by ignoring the problem and not giving them anything, they will not simply move into some other ‘profession’ or fall back on some non-existent charitable fund or government scheme. Most of them, one imagines, would simply die quietly to be replaced by others.

Another immediately obvious problem faced by India is the ruination of the natural environment. At times it can seem that entire towns and their outlying vicinities can be several inches deep in biodegradable and non-biodegradable rubbish. As is occurring elsewhere, the rush to become a consumer society has made no allowance for the correct disposal of the trash that it generates. In times past, one imagines, this problem would not have existed as all waste would be composed of such material as banana skins, crushed sugar cane, wood carvings and vegetable waste. This would be routinely tossed out into the streets where the famous holy cows would devour the majority of it (surely the real reason these beasts are allowed to roam freely). Whatever was left would be swept up by the untouchables, put into carts and dumped into the nearest river, pond or creek. This practice doesn’t seem to have changed much and travelling through Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab, I don’t recall seeing a single pond that wasn’t stagnating with plastic trash or a single stream that wasn’t oozing pollutants with more and more cartloads of waste being taken to their banks and tipped in. These squalid scenes are normally populated by scavenging dogs of such obvious ill health that it seems a wonder that they are alive at all. Neither does it help that any open space, whether in town or country, is used as an open toilet which , in some instances, creates a slick of evil-smelling slurry.

In addition to the despoilment of the land and the water there is the serious problem of air pollution. In Delhi, for example, the air around the old part of the city was so polluted a single trip through it in a rickshaw during the evening rush-hour had us coughing and blowing black soot out of our noses until the next day. Motor vehicles, of which there are many, are in the main not fitted with the slightest modification to prevent thick black plumes of smoke issuing forth from their exhaust pipes. As if pollution from vehicles were not enough there is a similar lack of control over the emissions of factories and power stations which can be seen belching thick smoke into the skies. Added to this is the habit of setting fire to piles of plastic and cardboard waste in the streets as a way of ‘getting rid’ of it. In fact, it is said that living in Delhi subjects one’s health to the equivalent of twenty cigarettes per day. The rickshaw wallahs are the most likely casualties of this pollution as they are normally of the lowest caste and social status and therefore least likely to benefit from any healthcare system. It is they who have to sweat through the polluted air, day in day out, breathing the poison deep into their lungs.

Many of India’s problems arise from the sheer number of people who live here. A billion people now live in this country and this number is rising at an alarming rate [about 200 million more now live there since I wrote those words 13 years ago]. A night-time satellite view of northern India shows a relative paucity of light pollution when compared with many other countries. The Netherlands and Japan, by way of example, are so built-up and industrialised that it is as though their entire countries are floodlit. Northern India, despite a population density that rates as almost the highest in the world, is dark by comparison. The reason for this, of course, is the relative unavailability of electricity to such an over-stretched region. In fact demand can be so great and the supply so temperamental that power outages are commonplace and industry is forced to shut down regularly as a result. Any business that needs to present itself as reliable and modern in these difficult circumstances is required to install some sort of backup power generation, usually in the form of a noisy diesel generator and a heap of car batteries. When the power comes back on these same batteries must recharge their cells which then create another excess demand for electricity which will in turn cause the whole system to become unstable and so on and so forth.

So far the picture I have painted of modern India is a bleak one. But for every man-made disaster that India faces there must surely be a man-made solution. Unfortunately though, for the common Indian, there seems to be little prospect of hope from the politicians. The incumbent ruling party, the Hindu nationalist BJP looks to be keener on spending resources fighting Pakistan over Kashmir and developing nuclear weapons than implementing far-reaching policies of poverty alleviation and education. What efforts they do serve up in the name social advancement appear to be white elephants, normally in the form of giant dams, which many claim merely serve self-edifying politicians and consolidate the power of water distribution into the hands of a few. The huge Narmada Valley dam project that is currently being constructed in Gujarat will irrigate a large region and provide a source of power at the cost of the displacement of a million marginalised Indians who do not posses a strong enough voice to block the decision to build it. It will also be costly in terms of the amount of land it will inundate. Gerald Durell, the late English naturalist and captive breeder, once challenged the Indian government over the decision to flood a large area of land for economic gain even though the area was considered to be of great importance for wildlife. The minister in charge of the project rounded on him saying ‘ we in India can not afford such ecological luxuries’. Indeed it was Nehru who, in the 1950s, delivered a speech saying that ‘dams are the new temples of modern India’. Today, despite widespread condemnation from within and abroad, there appears to be no letup in the persual of this received wisdom.

[The Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy (author of ‘The God of Small Things’) has written a nice polemical pamphlet on the social and environmental cost of the Narmada Dam Project entitled ‘The Greater Common Good’ for those interested]

In any picture of modern India it is impossible to leave out religion and the caste system of discrimination. The beliefs of Indians holds a huge sway over the population and their daily decisions which certainly can not be ignored. The government, whilst claiming to be modernist and therefore religiously neutral are clearly, as Hindu nationalists, not going to go to great lengths to improve the lives of Muslims, Sikhs, Jains or tribals. I am not able to relate to a starving beggar refusing food from me because, me being a non-Hindu, I would have spiritually polluted it. And the concept of holy animals (cows, monkeys, elephants) on the basis of some mythical association with the Hindu pantheon seems anomalous whilst at the same time the streets are full of starved-looking and badly-whipped horses and donkeys (who, when they die from exhaustion or are hit by a vehicle, are tossed into the nearest ditch to be torn apart by dogs and vultures) and the rivers are polluted to the extent that all life is eradicated. One thing is clear however and that is as personal wealth grows there is a diminishing of religious belief. The Indian television adverts almost universally feature light-skinned wealthy Brahmin types (I’ve yet to see a dark-skinned Indian advertising a Business Class plane seat) who live in Beverley Hills type surroundings and drive sports cars and wear expensive suits. These modern role models for the Indian elite and nouveau riche show no outward signs of religious belief other than in some cynical consumerist way (‘Bring a new surround sound Philips flat screen home entertainment system this Diwali’). Basically speaking then, religion, the consoler, is for the suffering masses who have little control over their lives. Religion, after all, doesn’t cost anything, financially speaking.

It seems that for India the solution to the great problems of today can not be expected to come from politicians or Big Business. India is a vast nation of a few big cities and thousands of villages and small-scale schemes seem to often be the most effective. Soon, the Indian Post Office will be training their postmen in the science and philosophy of effective contraception. In Indian society the postman does not just deliver the mail but quite often reads it out to illiterates and his advice may be sought on matters pertaining to it. He is therefore a trusted ally of the people and will be a useful weapon in the war against rampant population growth. One also reads of micro credit schemes where ordinary people are able to lift themselves out of abject poverty by receiving a small loan to start up some small-scale activity, such as making baskets, that they are able to do.

India, most marketing people seem to agree, is an overwhelming of the senses. The potential holidaymaker might be expected to imagine walking through a teeming bazaar full of smiling women in brightly-coloured sarees selling technicolor mounds of tikka powder in silver dishes whilst the whiff of sandalwood and incence drifts up into the clear evening sky as the giant orange ball of the sun sets over the Arab dhows on the Indian Ocean. The reality is a little less prosaic. India is certainly a land of smells, not all of them pleasant, and anyhow the ‘magical pink light at dawn in Varanasi’ is only a result of the industrial pollutants hanging over the Ganges. The coffee table book that contains glossy pictures of a colourful and spiritual India tells only half the story. Tales abound of people planning trips of several months or years in India only to find themselves travelling on the first plane back home after two illusion-shattering days in Delhi. India, for sure, demands a lot more of her visitors than most countries but, in turn, offers a lot more food for thought.

This Week In Doom October 6, 2013: Franciscus

From the keyboard of Surly1
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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 6, 2013

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Franciscus

“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being. Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

“Despite all the slowness, the infidelities, the errors and sins [the Church] could have committed and can still commit… it has no other sense or end but that of living and witnessing Jesus: He who was sent by Abba ‘to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:18-19)”

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

“I have never been a right-winger. It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio

***

My record as a public scold on these pages has been one of pursuit of social justice. Whether writing about the cold structural injustice of the economy, the worship of Mammon in a nominally Christian nation, the Occupy movement from one man’s perspective, its foibles, or current events, my view has been consistent: That the economy is a Ponzi scheme kept afloat by the Fed, the net effect of which is to  transfer wealth from the middle class to the upper one quarter of one percent. That the government, once the refuge of common folk, is now the oppressor, its regulatory agencies captured by the corporations they were intended to regulate. That our technology has outstripped our moral capacity by at least several centuries, and that we are awash in both toys and weapons of mass distruction without ethics guiding their employment.  That the courtier media is as corrupt as it is obsequious. . .  and on and on.

This week’s effort will mark a departure from the usual diet of clucking at the weekly record of Indications The The World Is Going to Hell. Thus in a week where the moral midgets of the Midway bring government to a screeching halt, where those whose votes are directly responsible for putting over 800,000 people out of employment defend their actions and  their  paychecks under the guise of, “I need my paycheck” ,  where a man sets himself on fire on the National Mall, where we learn that the NSA continues to sort and sift every electronic communication we originate, and where a whistleblower reveals how the global elite rule the world (and aside from Michael Snyder (and the Diner), nobody notices), it is easy to elevate Blake to the level of Old Testament prophecy:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(Blake, The Second Coming)

The Inauguration Mass For Pope Francis

Amidst the din and clamor, the utterances of one man caught my attention this week.  Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio,  has been making both statements and simple acts of faith that signify a sharp break with recent Vatican history.  The Pope’s visit to Assisi this week gathers many of these threads into one strand. Many assumed that like Benedict before him, he would be a caretaker pope, having been elevated at the age of 76.  In the brief months since his elevation, Francis has shown himself to be anything but.

After his election, Esquire’s Joe Keohane observed:

He won’t wear the shoes. He doesn’t bait the gays, or hound the nuns, or call Mohammed “evil and inhuman,” or fear the mean-girl Vatican cardinals whose solid gold multi-millennium party he’s so genially wrecking. Instead Pope Francis spends his days publicly worrying about social justice, calling attention to the problems of runaway capitalism, and entreating people to be decent to one another. He even washed the feet of a Muslim woman, which is about as double a whammy as a Pope can possible execute—especially after eight years of old Emperor Palpatine there.

 

What Francis says is important because as the head of the Roman Catholic Church,  his statements have a profound effect upon the lives of over one billion Catholics worldwide, especially in the global South where Catholicism is growing most quickly. But the behavior he models may be even more important.

For starters, he eschewes the opulent Vatican apartments for life in a small guest cottage.  He carries his own bags, and cooks his own dinner. He places his own calls to reporters. He prefers tooling around in a Ford Focus to the papal Mercedes-Benz. One of his earliest acts of piety was, per above, to wash and kiss the feet of a dozen young prisoners, two female, and at least one Muslim.  The ritual of footwashing is told to us in the book of John, historically seen as an act of humility. If in the last hours before his crucifixion Jesus could humble himself to clean the feet of  fishermen and camel herders, what was he telling them? And us?

It says here that Jesus’ message was one of selflessness and love. By his actions, Jesus says to take care of one another. Put the other first. Serve one another, and love one another. In a column last week, Leonard Pitts asks:

We should ask what it tells us that a pope models humility, inclusion, unpretentiousness, concern for the poor and nonjudgmental, small “c” catholic love — and people are surprised. Indeed, it generates headlines around the world.

What it should tell us is that people are not used to seeing those virtues from people of faith. Their praise, then, amounts to a stark indictment.

The political discussion advanced by the insurgent right, fueled by the Gospel according to Rand, the views the poor as so many “takers,” little better than pests seeking SNAP card handouts from the virtuous employed. Such is the drumbeat of right wing rhetoric, where people of “faith” make public statements to keep Muslims away, or pray for the president to die, or be replaced by a military coup. Against the backdrop of a decline of organized religion (with mainstream Protestantism suffering the most attrition) and a Church scandalized by  continued exposure of semi-institutionalized sodomy,  this Pope’s words elevating the rights and dignity of the poor, the humanity of those at the margins, and decrying materialism  resonate so clearly.

Francis recently criticized Catholics narrowly “obsessed” with abortion, contraception, homosexuality. He openly called for the church to be for the poor. He even, horror of horrors, said that God loves atheists too.  What Francis is done is to attempt to shift  the focus of the church from being Vatican-centric to being people-centric.

 This past week, Pope Francis visited Assisi, the birthplace of his namesake.

The pope used the occasion of the Feast Day of St. Francis to retrace the footsteps of a holy man widely respected even among people of other faiths. The pope visited the site — now a shrine — where the saint is said to have heard the voice of Jesus and been converted.

The carefully choreographed pilgrimage was sprinkled with impromptu moments, too, as the pope appealed to the church and to Christians worldwide to divest themselves of worldliness, which leads to “vanity, arrogance and pride,” because “it is bad for us,” he said.

What the Pope says is important because he sets the tone for  the church.  Carefully chosen words are one thing: actions are quite another. Since his election, Francis has initiated a series of measures for reform. These include investigating allegations of mismanagement and corruption, changes in the way the church litigates sexual abuse allegations against priests and other clergy, changes in the Vatican hierarchy, appointing a commission to investigate the Vatican bank, even choosing a Group of Eight Cardinals as his personal think tank. He has said he wants to place the Curia (the administrative arm of the Vatican) in service to the universal church, rather than the locus of centralized power.

 Perhaps it’s best to take this pontiff at face value in his own words. In a story that will be referred to, but rarely read in its original,  Francis gave an interview to the atheist editor of Italian daily La Repubblica.  The pope even called publisher Eugenio Scalfari himself  to schedule the interview. Some highlights:

“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

 “The real trouble is that those most affected by (narcissism) — which is actually a kind of mental disorder — are people who have a lot of power. Often bosses are narcissists. … Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”
 
“The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: Can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.”

“I believe … that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. … I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”

Thoughts on the essence of his belief:

“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God; there is no Catholic God. There is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.”

“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good. … Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”

Not what we are used to from the arch conservatives who have attended to the throne of Peter for the last several decades. This pope’s utterances have been enough to upset doctrinal conservatives and others of a more fundamentalist Christian stripe who are eager to see in Francis’s ascension the “Petrus Romanus” allegedly prophesied by St. Malachy.

Among the contingent that lights their own farts, we have the “Petrus Romanus” cock-and-bull story. In sites like these, where banner ads announce , “Fear No Man- Learn to Fight” targeting their audience of mom’s-house-basement-dwellers, there is this sort of thing, appealing to those whose daily  sustenance requires a steady dose of fear and loathing-

Petrus Romanus rising: Pope Francis at the Vatican to revise the church’s constitution-

Conservatives and traditionalists, however, have reacted with dismay and downright alarm at the direction Francis has taken, particularly in the interview with the Jesuit-run La Civilta Cattolica, in which he bemoaned the church’s obsession with “small-minded rules.”

If these are the people that Francis is upsetting, this gives me all the more reason to approve of what he’s doing.

 

In an interview conducted by the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal,  Francis doubled down:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

 None of this goes to change church doctrine or church policy, but it marks a sharp departure in tone. For the first time in many decades, liberal Catholics, long an endangered species in the American Church, found  room for optimism.  Charlie Pierce asked if the runners-up in the Clan of the Red Beanie might not be asking the Holy Spirit for a recount:

Faith without works is dead, and I’m not seeing HMC actually budging on some of these issues very soon. But, still, if you think this isn’t shaking some of those guys all the way down to their red socks, you’re fooling yourself. This guy may turn out to be the biggest curveball since the Blessed John XXIII.


Some will talk about Bertoglio’s possible past collaboration  with the Argentine junta during its era of repression. We’ll leave that discussion for better scholars, and another time.  For this writer, it is enough that this ostensible “authoritarian,”  who has openly called for “a poor church for the poor,” is prepared to meet with Gustavo Gutierrez:

Francis… will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology. The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez. It’s a remarkable about-face for a movement that swelled in popularity but was later stamped out by the conservative pontificates of John Paul II and his longtime doctrinal czar, Benedict XVI.

And on this matter, it is enough for me to give the last word  to Charlie Pierce:

Creeps.

One of the great disservices that JP The Deuce [John Paul II] did to HMC  [Holy Mother Church] was to squash the liberation theologians, some of whom were actually martyred, not that it mattered to the bureaucrats in the Holy Office. If this pope is willing to let them back into the general theological life of the church, that’s nothing but a good thing, if only because it will piss off all the right people.

In Praise of Pantheism

Off the keyboard of Ray Jason

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Published on The Sea Gypsy Philosopher on September 30, 2013

moonbow

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ray-at-new-transmissionIt has been 23 years since a mystical experience jolted my consciousness. But the memory of that event remains so vivid, that it could have been only 23 seconds ago. AVENTURA and I were Westbound in the immense Pacific. There was no land within a thousand miles in any direction.

AVENTURA under waySeveral dolphins had surrounded us, but they were behaving in a strange manner. Instead of frolicking in the bow wave as they normally do, they were repeatedly circling from bow to stern. I tried to decipher this, and guessed that they were pointing out the majestic full moon looming directly ahead. Or perhaps they were agitated by the powerful rain squall that had just ended.

Suddenly, a particularly large dolphin approached to within a few feet, pivoted its body, and actually looked me in the eye. Mesmerized, I followed its path as it circled back behind the boat. And there, emblazoned across the sky in shimmering magnificence, was a moonbow! Bands of luminous silver, opaque white and misty lavender arched across the eastern horizon.

I shouted my thanks to the dolphins for alerting me to this phenomenon that very few people ever witness. And then a staggering awareness jolted me. I realized that of the billions of humans on Planet Earth, because of my mid-ocean isolation, I was probably the only one witnessing this exquisite spectacle.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4e/Panth%C3%A9isme.JPGSoon the moonbow dissipated and the clouds dispersed. The universe dispatched its million twinkling messengers to remind me of its incomprehensible vastness. Lying on my back, on the deck of my tiny boat, in this gigantic ocean, on a small planet, in this immeasurable cosmos, I received my baptism as a pantheist. It was at that moment that I excommunicated myself from human-created gods, and embraced the sanctity of Nature and the glory of the Universe. This majesty – this mystery – this miracle – seemed truly worthy of human reverence.

https://si0.twimg.com/profile_images/2603968105/0nkqyhmgbdarsdyw07mc.jpegAnd as I now peer at our world, 23 years later, the value of pantheism is even more evident, since humans continue to slaughter each other in the name of their multitude of “one true gods.” Whether it is muslims against christians or shiites versus sunnis or tamils battling hindus, our planet is awash in unnecessary bloodshed.

And yet it is all so easily avoidable. Name one war ever fought in the name of pantheism!!! But if I asked you to list some of the evils directly linked to human-spawned gods, the catalog would be long and horrible. It would include:

  • Religious wars and crusades
  • Witch-hunts
  • Persecutions of “infidels”
  • Torture
  • Jihads
  • Fostering the terrifying myth of Hell
  • Burnings-at-the-stake
  • Rejection of scientific discoveries
  • Suicide bombers
  • Demonization of our natural sexuality
  • Claiming that innocent babies are born “soiled”
  • Forcing unwanted children on poor, overburdened parents by threatening eternal hellfire
  • Justification for slavery
  • Reducing females to a subservient status to males

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/WondersoftheInvisibleWorld-1693.jpgWhat a dreadful cavalcade of atrocities has been visited upon the world and its creatures in the name of organized religions. The defenders of these faiths often justify these horrors by claiming that churches are necessary because they provide a moral foundation for the world. The absurdity of such a claim would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

Look again at that litany of terrors and ask yourself this. “Could any of them be committed in the name of the love of Nature or in the name of basic human decency?” Of course not, but they ALL have been committed in the name of somebody’s favorite god. And this continues right up to this very moment. In fact, as I type this sentence, somewhere in the world an innocent child is probably being killed or mutilated because of religious fanaticism.

Let us consider the roots of religion. Our early ancestors were surrounded by inexplicable, terrifying forces such as thunder, lightning, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes. Because of their limited knowledge, they suspected that these horrors were caused by invisible gods. And in order to obtain the mercy of these gods, they paid homage to them in various ways. So the original “religious impulse” was a survival strategy.

But with the arrival of what I call Conquest Agriculture about 10,000 years ago, religion changed from a survival strategy to an “exploitation strategy.” Food surpluses eliminated the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, and led to social hierarchies, divisions of labor and the disastrous emergence of rulers and priests. These early religious tyrants realized that if they claimed to be intermediaries between the gods and the frightened people, that they could gain enormous power and wealth.

But when reason and science were able to prove that thunder, lightning, floods, etc were not unleashed by unknowable behind-the-scenes gods, but through very knowable natural laws, the priests should have disappeared. After all, there was no longer a need for human emissaries to non-existent gods. But the bishops and mullahs and rabbis were not willing to surrender their wealth and power. So, in order to keep the “con” going, they played the “enemy” card. As long as the people could be convinced that other religions were a threat, then the need for priests could continue. It is a vile charade forced upon us by power-junkie psychopaths.

Allow me to demonstrate how pantheism can break the spell of these conjurers. But first I will clearly define what pantheism is for me. It is not the “god is everywhere” version. On the contrary, it is the “god is nowhere, but Nature is everywhere” variety. It permits me to exhibit reverence towards something that is indisputably authentic and evident as opposed to worshipping a being whose existence cannot even be proven. Now let me describe its many positive and powerful aspects.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-8hGOzB5XokY/UZklg2Up0WI/AAAAAAABA2Y/9cmqOkcJw28/s1600/pantheism8.jpg

There is no “enemy” in pantheism. People don’t go to war over who has the most beautiful waterfalls. There is no need for all of the trappings of institutional religion. Who needs cathedrals and mosques on a planet lush with redwood forests and pristine shorelines? All of the money spent on such prideful glorification could be allocated to far more important needs such as universal clean drinking water or birth control that does not diminish pleasure.

Pantheists do not dictate how people should conduct their lives. There are no commandments from invisible sky bosses. Caring deeply about the planet and all of its creatures is a far wiser ethical foundation than rules supposedly imposed by a dictator in the clouds who is paranoid that his human pawns might worship false idols.

Pantheists enjoy fuller and richer daily lives because they don’t view this existence as a dress rehearsal for some heavenly paradise. This is it, so we embrace it with vibrant enthusiasm. We are also not obsessed with the “How did this all happen?” issue. The wonders of the Cosmos are no less magical and amazing just because we cannot fully comprehend them. They are still holy, and worthy of our reverence.

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Pantheism also provides a fulfilling alternative for the many borderline atheists out there who recognize the absurdity and evil in organized religion, but are troubled by the lack of spirituality in atheism. Although Richard Dawkins is a pre-eminent atheist, when I hear him speak about the wonders to be found through the microscope and the telescope, he sounds to me like a pantheist poster boy.

Finally, let me revisit the title of this essay – In Praise of Pantheism. I have tried to convince you that pantheism is the ideal spiritual practice for our present, troubled era. It eliminates all of the horrors of institutional religions that I listed earlier, and yet it fulfills our need for something outside of ourselves that is extraordinary and worthy of adoration. At a time when human activities are destroying our very life support system, how can we not turn to a sacred path that reveres our great mother, the Earth, and worships her great mother, the Universe?

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Perspectives on Faith & Science

Off the keyboard of Ashvin Pandurangi

Published inside the Doomstead Diner on August 1, 2013

Discuss this article at the Spirituality & Mysticism Table inside the Diner

 

Finding the Proper Perspective on Faith and Science:

A Rebuttal of John Michael Greer’s, The Quest for Common Language

*All quotations attributed to John Michael Greer in green are sourced from the following two articles, and all emphasis on such quotations are mine – 1) Held Hostage by Progress ; 2) The Quest for Common Language

In two back-to-back articles, John Michael Greer of The Archdruid Report has strayed away from his general rule to avoid making arguments about specific religions. Here is a clear case, in my opinion, in which rules are NOT meant to be broken…

In Greer’s view, conservative Christians who interpret the Bible “literally” are not accurately representing the Faith. Instead, they are inserting scientific assertions into the Bible where, in fact, there are none. I understand that this is a very common view among “liberal/progressive” Christians and religious non-Christians. BUT, I have yet to come across ANY Biblical evidence to support such an ahistorical and simplistic view of the rich Biblical traditions that have been preserved for posterity.

While denigrating the Christians who find scientific truths in THEIR religious traditions (i.e. the Bible), Greer seems to take great pride in alleging that HIS religious tradition promoted biological evolution before Darwin even came on the scene. Apparently, what’s good for the goose is not what’s good for the gander. As support, Greer quotes “part of a ritual dialogue” that features prominently in his religion:

“The traditions of modern Druidry, the faith I follow, actually embraced biological evolution even before Darwin provided a convincing explanation for it. Here’s part of a ritual dialogue from the writings of Edward Williams (1747-1826), one of the major figures of the early Druid Revival:

“Q. Where art thou now, and how camest thou to where thou art?”

“A. I am in the little world, whither I came, having traversed the circle of Abred, and now I am a man at its termination and extreme limits.”

“Q. What wert thou before thou didst become a man in the circle of Abred?”

“A. I was in Annwn the least possible that was capable of life, and the nearest possible to absolute death, and I came in every form, and through every form capable of a body and life, to the state of man along the circle of Abred.”

Greer then explains that this ritual continues on, but the above is enough to “give the flavor and some core ideas”. OK… now compare this ritual dialogue with the opening verses of Genesis Chapter 1 (NIV, 1-13):

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.”

(like Greer’s Druid ritual dialogue, this descriptive narrative continues on at some length…)

Can anyone look at these two sources of religious tradition and honestly claim that one contains scientific assertions while the other does not? It strains all reason and credulity to claim that the author of Genesis did not INTEND to make positive assertions about the origins of the Universe, the Earth and life on Earth; assertions that are clearly within the remit of scientific inquiry. Contrary to prevailing opinion, the principle of “Biblical literalism” has always been centered on the INTENDED meaning of Biblical texts rather than a wooden interpretation of specific words used. Greer attempts to sweep away this centuries long-tradition of interpretation with the following claim:

“Third, the value of the Bible—or of any other scripture—does not depend on whether it makes a good geology textbook, any more than the value of a geology textbook depends on whether it addresses the salvation of the soul. I don’t know of any religion in which faith and practice center on notions of how the Earth came into existence and got its current stock of living things. Certainly the historic creeds of Christianity don’t even consider the issue worth mentioning. The belief that God created the world does not require believing any particular claim about how that happened; nor does it say in the Bible that the Bible has to be taken literally, or that it deals with questions of geology or paleontology at all.”

The loosely constructed straw-man used above claims that the Bible is not a “geology textbook” – the implication being, anyone who finds scientific assertions in the Bible is treating it as such a textbook and failing to notice its primary theological purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any serious and considered reading of the Bible reveals that Biblical theology cannot be artificially separated out from culture, politics, history, science or anything else. While the theology may not “center” on how the Universe, Earth and life came into existence, those issues are certainly featured FRONT AND CENTER, and the Biblical authors make no qualms about doing so.

JMG wrote the following in his first foray into the hypocritical bashing of “conservative” Christians:

“Nonetheless “Thou shalt not evolve” got turned into an ersatz Eleventh Commandment, and devout Christians exercised their ingenuity to the utmost to find ways to ignore the immense and steadily expanding body of evidence from geology, molecular biology, paleontology, and genetics that backed Darwin’s great synthesis.”

Although Greer is specifically dealing with Darwinian evolution here, the implication is that Christians are going way beyond the scope of the Bible’s intended message when they make scientific debate a part of their evangelical ministry or mission. It makes you wonder, when is the last time JMG actually read the Ten Commandments??

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 8-11)

Who can read the above and yet still claim there is no connection between the origin narratives of Genesis 1 and the theological discourse of Exodus, specifically Moses’ interaction with God on Mount Sinai. Regardless of whether you believe any of what is described in the Bible actually happened, it’s nearly impossible to deny that the author(s) of Genesis and Exodus intended to communicate a great intersection between God’s creation of the Universe and God’s personal relationship with humanity. We find this intersection between God’s creation of the Universe and DELIVERANCE of humanity repeatedly reinforced throughout the traditions of the Biblical prophets:

It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness. I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward” (Isaiah 45:12-13)

On top of ignoring such clear assertions in the Bible, Greer, in what can only be best characterized as a gross neglect of Christian history, cites the “historic creeds of the Christian churches” as evidence that the Bible was not intended to contain scientific truths which reflect on core theology. He claims that conservative Christians should get back to the primary message of these creeds, but fails to mention the wealth of historic Christian theologians and scientists (usually both) who read their Bibles and concluded the exact opposite of what Greer professes. After all, the rallying cry of the Christian Reformation movement was sola scriptura – that core Christian theology is not based on the Creeds of any church, but rather on scripture itself.

Leading “natural philosophers” of the Reformation era, with increased access to scripture and confidence in God’s word, confirmed that the study of the natural world is not distinct from the study of God’s glory and love revealed in scripture, but instead that the pursuit of both studies are INEXTRICABLY linked together as we ask the basic metaphysical questions about human existence, nature and purpose. The following are quotes by some of those courageous Christians who were at the forefront of the Scientific Revolution.

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)
“To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1627)
“It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it needs fly to Providence and Deity.”

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
“Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to humans is one of the reasons that humanity is the image of God.”

Gelileo Galilei (1564-1642)
“It seems to me that it was well said by Madama Serenissima, and insisted on by your reverence, that the Holy Scripture cannot err, and that the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable. But I should have in your place added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways”

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
“Therefore, those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate, and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human, and useless for salvation.”

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
“The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
“The human mind is placed above, and not beneath it, and it is in such a point of view that the mental education afforded by science is rendered super-eminent in dignity, in practical application and utility; for by enabling the mind to apply the natural power through law, it conveys the gifts of God to man.”

Robert Boyle (1791-1867)
“shewing that, being addicted to experimental philosophy a man is rather assisted than indisposed to be a good Christian.”

The quotes above only scratch the surface of what these men believed about the role of God’s word in science and vice versa, and obviously the list of people and number of quotes could continue. The point here is not that the Bible is inerrant when it deals with scientific matters, but that, contrary to Greer’s assertions, it DOES deal with scientific matters. As proof of fact, we see that all of the scientists above relied heavily on Biblical assertions when conducting scientific investigation – i.e. that the material Universe had a distinct beginning, was created by an Intelligent Mind and therefore it was governed by fixed, uniform and intelligible laws that humans could use to understand its workings and, more importantly, personally relate to its Creator.

It was only the Modernist era which gave rise to the widespread (and dangerous) belief that science and religion must be kept in separate “containers” of consideration and discussion, where never the twain shall meet. Greer, perhaps without knowing it, is simply reinforcing this artificial dualistic or “binary” mode of thinking that he often laments when discussing other topics. The question is not whether conservative Christians are right or wrong about Darwinian evolution based on modern scientific evidence, but whether there is any Biblical basis for them to argue that certain scientific theories are in tension with Biblical theology, and therefore make such arguments a part of their Christian ministry or mission in life.

The answer to this question from Greer’s perspective is a resounding NO. His only support for this answer, however, is the artificial duality that he imposes on the Bible and those of faith. It is true that many Western conservative Christians ignore proper scientific inquiry and simply attack theories on the basis of what they have been taught to believe. That fact is clear enough from the widespread conservative Christian critique of Big Bang cosmology. This critique is just as harsh if not more harsh than attacks on evolutionary theory, despite the fact that Big Bang cosmology supports the Bible’s claim of a beginning to all space, time, energy and matter!

Many of them have simply been taught to equate the Big Bang with “evolution”, thoroughly mixing up the sciences of cosmology and biology in the process. So it’s true that such ignorance and blind passion is prevalent, but Greer’s assertion here is also trite and irrelevant. He is trying to base an entire argument about historic Christianity, Biblical interpretation, science and theology on this one trite observation. Therein lies the binary mentality he fails to recognize in his own thinking (the following is MY take on his thinking):

“Either you are ignorant and blindly impassioned like THOSE Christians, or you are ‘progressive’ and well-versed in modern science like US”…

“Either you read the Bible ‘literally’ like THOSE Christians, or you read it metaphorically and allegorically like US”…

“Either the Bible is a scientific TEXTBOOK or it has ABSOLUTELY NO relation to science at all”…

The truth about the Bible is not so dualistic and simple. Like most good literature, it contains many different genres and literary devices – historical narratives, biographies, apocalyptic writing, military accounts, love stories, poetry, parables, metaphors, allegory, etc. The intention is not to create fiction or obscure reality but to convey truths about reality in brilliantly impactful ways. There is no reason to say that these truths are limited to “theological” truths rather than historical or scientific ones, or that those fields do not overlap and complement one another in the Bible. Such an argument presents an artificial and unnecessary duality, one that was NEVER incorporated into the historic Christian faith.

On the contrary, and as the evidence above makes clear, the historic Christian faith held to by many “conservative” members of the Church today has made no qualms that its theological messages are deeply intertwined with its historical and scientific assertions (or data points, if you will). Nowhere is this Biblical truth made more evident than in the very heart of Christian doctrine – the incarnation, ministry, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in the region of Palestine during the first century AD.  Christians assert that the entire Bible from front to back revolves around and points to this one God-man – the divine Logos, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), through whom “all things were made” (1:3).

Greer asserts that the core of Christianity is faith and grace, which is TRUE, but then requires Bible-believing Christians to greatly suspend their disbelief when asserting that the Christian faith is not compatible with, or cannot be based on, intellectual and rational inquiry into other fields of knowledge.

“This, of course, is what a great many religions have been saying all along. In most of the religions of the west, and many of those from other parts of the world, faith is a central theme, and faith is not a matter of passing some kind of multiple choice test; it’s not a matter of the intellect at all; rather, it’s the commitment of the whole self to a way of seeing the cosmos that can be neither proved nor disproved rationally, but has to be accepted or rejected on its own terms”

The above is an exceptional encapsulation of Modernist dogma regarding religion. Greer has now thoroughly associated himself with the thinkers and pundits of the last few centuries who have attempted to quarantine spirituality from logic, reason and empirical evidence. It should be readily apparent how absurd this dogma really is when stripped down to its bare essentials. But, seeing as how I stand on the shoulder of pre-modernist giants, I will conclude this rebuttal by quoting Paul’s famous argument in 1 Corinthians 15, which flatly contradicts much of what Greer has asserted in his recent articles. Paul takes Greer’s grossly misleading, ahistorical caricature of Christianity and puts the Faith back into its proper historical perspective.

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (12-19)

On the Far Side of Progress

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

Published on The Archdruid Report on July 31, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Spirituality & Mysticism Table inside the Diner

The pointless debates over evolution discussed in last week’s Archdruid Report post have any number of equivalents all through contemporary industrial culture.  Pick a topic, any topic, and it’s a pretty safe bet that  the collective imagination defines it these days as an irreconcilable divide between two and only two points of view, one of which is portrayed as realistic, reasonable, progressive, and triumphant, while the other is portrayed as sentimental, nostalgic, inaccurate, and certain to lose—that is to say, as a microcosm of the mythology of progress.
According to that mythology, after all, every step of the heroic onward march of progress came about because some bold intellectual visionary or other, laboring against the fierce opposition of a majority of thinkers bound by emotional ties to outworn dogmas, learned to see the world clearly for the first time, and in the process deprived humanity of some sentimental claim to a special status in the universe. That’s the way you’ll find the emergence of the theory of evolution described in textbooks and popular nonfiction to this day.  Darwin’s got plenty of company, too:  all the major figures of the history of science from Copernicus through Albert Einstein get the same treatment in popular culture. It’s a remarkably pervasive bit of narrative, which makes it all the more remarkable that, as far as history goes, it’s essentially a work of fiction.
I’d encourage those of my readers who doubt that last point to read Stephen Jay Gould’s fascinating book Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle. Gould’s subject is the transformation in geology that took place in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when theories of geological change that centered on Noah’s flood gave way to the uniformitarian approach that’s dominated geology ever since.  Pick up a popular book on the history of earth sciences, and you’ll get the narrative I’ve just outlined:  the role of nostalgic defender of an outworn dogma is assigned to religious thinkers such as Thomas Burnet, while that of heroic pioneer of reason and truth is conferred on geologists such as James Hutton.
What Gould demonstrates in precise and brutal detail is that the narrative can be imposed on the facts only by sacrificing any claim to intellectual honesty.  It’s simply not true, for example, that Burnet dismissed the evidence of geology when it contradicted his Christian beliefs, or that Hutton reached his famous uniformitarian conclusions in a sudden flash of insight while studying actual rock strata—two claims that have been endlessly repeated in textbooks and popular literature. More broadly, the entire popular history of uniformitarian geology amounts to a “self-serving mythology”—those are Gould’s words, not mine—that’s flatly contradicted by every bit of the historical evidence.
Another example? Consider the claim, endlessly regurgitated in textbooks and popular literature about the history of astronomy, that the geocentric theory—the medieval view of things that put the Earth at the center of the solar system—assigned humanity a privileged place in the cosmos. I don’t think I’ve ever read a popular work on the subject that didn’t include that factoid. It seems plausible enough, too, unless you happen to know the first thing about medieval cosmological thought.
The book to read here is The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis—yes, that C.S. Lewis; the author of the Narnia books was also one of the most brilliant medievalists of his day, and the author of magisterial books on medieval and Renaissance thought. What Lewis shows, with a wealth of examples from the relevant literature, is that nobody in the Middle Ages thought of the Earth’s position as any mark of privilege, or for that matter as centrally placed in the universe. To the medieval mind, the Earth was one notch above the rock bottom of the cosmos, a kind of grubby suburban slum built on the refuse dump outside the walls of the City of Heaven. Everything that mattered went on above the sphere of the Moon; everything that really mattered went on out beyond the sphere of the fixed stars, where God and the angels dwelt.
The one scrap of pride left to fallen humanity was that, even though it was left to grub for a living on the dungheap of the cosmos, it hadn’t quite dropped all the way to the very bottom. The very bottom was Hell, with Satan trapped at its very center; the Earth was a shell of solid matter that surrounded Hell, the same way that the sphere of the Moon surrounded that of Earth, the sphere of Mercury that of the Moon, and so on outwards to Heaven.  Physically speaking, in other words, the medieval cosmos was diabolocentric, not geocentric—again, the Earth was merely one of the nested spheres between the center and the circumference of the cosmos—and the physical cosmos itself was simply an inverted reflection of the spiritual cosmos, which had God at the center, Satan pinned immovably against the outermost walls of being, and the Earth not quite as far as you could get from Heaven.
Thus the Copernican revolution didn’t deprive anybody of a sense of humanity’s special place in the cosmos; quite the contrary, eminent thinkers at the time wondered if it wasn’t arrogant to suggest that humanity might be privileged enough to dwell in what, in the language of the older cosmology, was the fourth sphere up from the bottom! It takes only a little leafing through medieval writings to learn that, but the fiction that the medieval cosmos assigned humanity a special place until Copernicus cast him out of it remains glued in place in the conventional wisdom of our time. When the facts don’t correspond to the mythology of progress, in other words, too bad for the facts.
Other examples could be multiplied endlessly, starting with the wholly fictitious flat-earth beliefs that modern writers insist on attributing to the people who doubted Columbus, but these will do for the moment, not least because one of the authors I’ve cited was one of the 20th century’s most thoughtful evolutionary biologists and the other was one of the 20th century’s most thoughtful Christians. The point I want to make is that the conventional modern view of the history of human thought is a fiction, a morality play that has nothing to do with the facts of the past and everything to do with justifying the distribution of influence, wealth, and intellectual authority in today’s industrial world.  That’s relevant here because the divide sketched out at the beginning of this essay—the supposedly irreconcilable struggles between a way of knowing the world that’s realistic, progressive and true, and a received wisdom that’s sentimental, nostalgic, and false—is modeled on the narrative we’ve just been examining, and has no more to do with the facts on the ground than the narrative does.
The great difference between the two is that neither medieval cosmographers nor late 18th century geologists had the least notion that they were supposed to act out a morality play for the benefit of viewers in the early 21st century. Here in the early 21st century, by contrast, a culture that’s made the morality play in question the center of its collective identity for more than three hundred years is very good at encouraging people to act out their assigned roles in the play, even when doing so flies in the face of their own interests.  Christian churches gain nothing, as I pointed out in last week’s post, by accepting the loser’s role in the ongoing squabble over evolution, and the huge amounts of time, effort, and money that have gone into the creationist crusade could have been applied to something relevant to to the historic creeds and commitments of the Christian religion, rather than serving to advance the agenda of their enemies. That this never seems to occur to them is a measure of the power of the myth.
Those of my readers who have an emotional investment in the environmental movement might not want to get too smug about the creationists, mind you, because their own movement has been drawn into filling exactly the same role, with equally disastrous consequences.  It’s not just that the media consistently likes to portray environmentalism as a sentimental, nostalgic movement with its eyes fixed on an idealized prehuman or pretechnological past, though of course that’s true. A great many of the public spokespersons for environmental causes also speak in the same terms, either raging against the implacable advance of progress or pleading for one or another compromise in which a few scraps are tossed nature’s way as the engines of progress go rumbling on.
According to the myth of progress, those are the sort of speeches that are assigned to the people on  history’s losing side, and environmentalists in recent decades have done a really impressive job of conforming to the requirements of their assigned role.  When was the last time, for example, that you heard an environmentalist offer a vision of the future that wasn’t either business as usual with a coat of green spraypaint, a return to an earlier and allegedly greener time, or utter catastrophe?  As recently as the 1970s, it was quite common for people in the green end of things to propose enticing visions of a creative, sustainable, radically different future in harmony with nature, but that habit got lost in the next decade, about the time the big environmental lobbies sold out to corporate America.
Now of course once a movement redefines its mission as begging for scraps from the tables of the wealthy and influential, as mainstream environmentalism has done, it’s not going to do it any good to dream big dreams. Still, there’s a deeper pattern at work here.  The myth of progress assigns the job of coming up with bold new visions of the future to the winning side—which means in practice the side that wins the political struggle to get its agenda defined as the next step of progress—and assigns to the losing side instead the job of idealizing the past and warning about the dreadful catastrophes that are sure to happen unless the winners relent in their onward march. Raise people to believe implicitly in a social narrative, and far more often than not they’ll fill their assigned roles in that narrative, even at great cost to themselves, since the alternative is a shattering revaluation of all values in which the unthinking certainties that frame most human thought have to be dragged up to the surface and judged on their own potentially dubious merits.
Such a revaluation, though, is going to happen anyway in the not too distant future, because the onward march of progress is failing to live up to the prophecies that have been made in its name.  As noted in an earlier post in this sequence, civil religions are vulnerable to sudden collapse because their kingdom is wholly of this world; believers in a theist religion can console themselves in the face of continual failure with the belief that their sufferings will be amply repaid in heaven, but the secular worldview common to civil religions slams the door in the face of that hope.
The civil religion of Communism thus imploded when it became impossible for people on either side of the Iron Curtain to ignore the gap between prophecy and reality, and I’ve argued in an earlier series of posts that there’s good reason to think that the civil religion of Americanism may go the same way in the decades ahead of us.  The civil religion of progress, though, is at least as vulnerable to that species of sudden collapse. So far, the suggestion that progress might be over for good is something you’ll encounter mostly in edgy humor magazines and the writings of intellectual heretics far enough out on the cultural fringes to be invisible to the arbiters of fashion; so far, “they’ll think of something” remains the soothing mantra du jour of the true believers in the great god Progress.
Nonetheless, history points up the reliability with which one era’s unquestioned truths become the next era’s embarrassing memories.  To return to a point raised earlier in this sequence, the concept of progress has no content of its own, and so it’s been possible so far for believers in progress to pretend to ignore all the things in American life that are blatantly retrogressing, and to keep scrabbling around for something, anything, that will still prop up the myth. In today’s America, living standards for most people have been falling for decades, along with literacy rates and most measures of public health; the nation’s infrastructure has been ravaged by decades of malign neglect, its schools are by most measures the worst in the industrial world, and even the most basic public services are being cut to Third World standards or below; the lunar landers scattered across the face of the Moon stare back blindly at a nation that no longer has a manned space program at all and, despite fitful outbursts of rhetoric from politicians and the idle rich, almost certainly will never have one again. None of that matters—yet.
Another of the lessons repeatedly taught by history, though, is that sooner or later these things will matter.  Sooner or later, some combination of events will push cognitive dissonance to the breaking point, and the civil religion of progress will collapse under the burden of its own failed prophecies. That’s almost unthinkable for most people in the industrial world these days, but it’s crucial to recognize that the mere fact that something is unthinkable is no guarantee that it won’t happen.
Thus it’s important for those of us who want to be prepared for the future to try to think about the unthinkable—to come to terms with the possibility that the future will see a widespread rejection of the myth of progress and everything connected to it. That wasn’t a likely option in an age when economic expansion and rapid technological development were everyday facts of life, but we no longer live in such an age, and the fading memories of the last decades when those things happened will not retain their power indefinitely. Imagine a future America where the available resources don’t even suffice to maintain existing technological systems, only the elderly remember sustained economic growth, and the new technological devices that still come onto the market now and then are restricted to the very few who are wealthy enough to afford them. At what point along that curve do the promises of progress become so self-evidently absurd that the power of the civil religion of progress to shape thought and motivate behavior breaks down completely?
It’s ironic but entirely true that actual technological progress could continue, at least for a time, after the civil religion of progress is busy pushing up metaphorical daisies in the cemetery of dead faiths. What gives the religion of progress its power over so many minds and hearts is not progress itself, but the extraordinary burden of values and meanings that progress is expected to carry in our society.  It’s not the mere fact that new technologies show up in the stores every so often that matters, but the way that this grubby commercial process serves to bolster a collective sense of entitlement and a galaxy of wild utopian dreams about the human future. If the sense of entitlement gives way to a sense of failure or, worse, of betrayal, and the dreamers wake up and recognize that the dreams were never anything more than pipe dreams in the first place, the backlash could be one for the record books.
One way or another, the flow of new products will eventually sputter to a halt, though at least some of today’s technologies will stay in use for as long as they can be kept functioning in the harsh conditions of an age of resource scarcity and ecological payback. A surprisingly broad range of technologies can be built and maintained by people who have little or no grasp of the underlying science, and thus it has happened more than once—as with the Roman aqueducts that brought water to medieval cities—that a relatively advanced technology can be kept running for centuries by people who have no clue how it was built. Over the short and middle term, in a world after progress, we can probably expect many current technologies to remain in place for a while, though it’s an open question how many people in America and elsewhere will still be able to afford to use them for how much longer.
Ultimately, that last factor may be the Achilles’ heel of most modern technologies.  In the not too distant future, any number of projects that might be possible in some abstract sense will never happen, because all the energy, raw materials, labor, and money that are still available are already committed twice over to absolute necessities, and nothing can be spared for anything else. In any age of resource scarcity and economic contraction, that’s a fairly common phenomenon, and it’s no compliment to contemporary thinking about the future that so many of the grand plans being circulated in the sustainability scene ignore the economics of contraction so completely.
Still, that’s a theme for a different post. The point I want to raise here has to do with the consequences of a collective loss of faith in the civil religion of progress—consequences that aren’t limited to the realm of technology, but spill over into economics, politics, and nearly every other dimension of contemporary life. The stereotyped debates introduced at the beginning of this post and discussed in more detail toward the middle will be abandoned, and their content will have to be reframed in completely different terms, once the myth of progress, which provides them with their basic script, loses its hold on the collective imagination. The historical fictions also discussed earlier will be up for the same treatment. It’s hard to think of any aspect of modern thought that hasn’t been permeated by the myth of progress, and when that myth shatters and has to be replaced by other narratives, an extraordinary range of today’s unquestioned certainties will be up for grabs.

That has implications I plan on exploring in a number of future posts. Some of the most crucial of those implications, though, bear directly on one of the core institutions of contemporary industrial culture, an institution that has derived much of its self-image and a galaxy of benefits from the historical fictions and stereotyped debates discussed earlier in this post. Next week, therefore, we’ll talk about what science might look like in a world on the far side of progress.

The Quest for a Common Language

Off the keyboard of John Michael Greer

Published on the Archdruid Report on July 24, 2013

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Discuss this article at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

It was probably inevitable that my comment last week about the pseudoconservative crusade against Darwinian evolution in today’s America would attract more attention, and generate more heat, than anything else in the post. Some of my readers abroad expressed their surprise that the subject was even worth mentioning any more, and it’s true that most religious people elsewhere on the planet, even those who revere the same Bible our American creationists insist on treating as a geology textbook, got over the misunderstandings that drive the creationist crusade a long time ago.
While it’s primarily an American issue, though, I’d like to ask the indulgence of my readers elsewhere in the world, and  also of American readers who habitually duck under the nearest couch whenever creationists and evolutionists start shouting past each other.  As a major hot-button issue in the tangled relationship between science and religion, the quarrel over evolution highlights the way that this relationship has gotten messed up, and thus will have to be sorted out as the civil religion of progress comes unraveled and its believers have to find some new basis for their lives.
Mind you, I also have a personal stake in it. It so happens that I’m a religious person who accepts the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. That’s not despite my religion—quite the contrary, it’s part of my religion—and so I’m going to break one of my own rules and talk a little bit about Druidry here.
The traditions of modern Druidry, the faith I follow, actually embraced biological evolution even before Darwin provided a convincing explanation for it. Here’s part of a ritual dialogue from the writings of Edward Williams (1747-1826), one of the major figures of the early Druid Revival:
“Q. Where art thou now, and how camest thou to where thou art?”
“A. I am in the little world, whither I came, having traversed the circle of Abred, and now I am a man at its termination and extreme limits.”
“Q. What wert thou before thou didst become a man in the circle of Abred?”
“A. I was in Annwn the least possible that was capable of life, and the nearest possible to absolute death, and I came in every form, and through every form capable of a body and life, to the state of man along the circle of Abred.”
Like most 18th-century rituals, this one goes on for a good long while, but the passage just cited is enough to give the flavor and some of the core ideas. Abred is the realm of incarnate existence, and includes “every form capable of a body and life,” from what used to be called “infusoria” (single-celled organisms, nowadays) all the way up the scale of biological complexity and diversity, through every kind of plant and animal, including you and me. What the dialogue is saying is that we all, every one of us, embody all these experiences in ourselves. When Taliesin in his great song of triumph said “I have been all things previously,” this is what we believe he was talking about.
There are at least two ways in which all this can be taken. It might be referring to the long biological process that gave rise to each of us, and left our bodies and minds full of traces of our kinship with all other living things. It might also be referring to the transmigration of souls, which was a teaching of the ancient Druids and is fairly common in the modern tradition as well: the belief that there is a center of consciousness that survives the death of one body to be reborn in another, and that each such center of consciousness, by the time it first inhabits a human body, has been through all these other forms, slowly developing the complexity that will make it capable of reflective thought and wisdom. You’ll find plenty of Druids on either side of this divide; what you won’t find—at least I’ve yet to encounter one—are Druids who insist that the existence of a soul is somehow contradicted by the evolution of the body.
Yet you can’t bring up the idea of evolution in today’s America without being beseiged by claims that Darwinian evolution is inherently atheistic. Creationists insist on this notion just as loudly as atheists do, which is really rather odd, considering that it’s nonsense. By this I don’t simply mean that an eccentric minority faith such as Druidry manages to combine belief in evolution with belief in gods; I mean that the supposed incompatibility between evolution and the existence of one or more gods rests on the failure of religious people to take the first principles of their own faiths seriously.
Let’s cover some basics first. First of all, Darwin’s theory of natural selection may be a theory, but evolution is a fact. Living things change over time to adapt to changing environments; we’ve got a billion years of fossil evidence to show that, and the thing is happening right now—in the emergence of the Eastern coyote, the explosive radiation of cichlid fishes in East Africa, and many other examples. The theory attempts to explain why this observed reality happens. A great deal of creationist rhetoric garbles this distinction, and tries to insist that uncertainties in the explanation are proof that the thing being explained doesn’t exist, which is bad logic. The theory, furthermore, has proven itself solidly in practice—it does a solid job of explaining things for which competing theories have to resort to ad hoc handwaving—and it forms the beating heart of today’s life sciences, very much including ecology.
Second, the narratives of the Book of Genesis, if taken literally, fail to match known facts about the origins and history of the Earth and the living things on it. Creationists have argued that the narratives are true anyway, but their attempts to prove this convince only themselves.  It’s been shown beyond reasonable doubt, for example, that the Earth came into being long before 4004 BCE, that animals and plants didn’t evolve in the order given in the first chapter of Genesis, that no flood large enough to put an ark on Mount Ararat happened during the chronological window the Bible allows for the Noah story, and so on.  It was worth suggesting back in the day that the narratives of the Book of Genesis might be  literally true, but that hypothesis failed to fit the data, and insisting that the facts must be wrong if they contradict a cherished theory is not a useful habit.
Third, the value of the Bible—or of any other scripture—does not depend on whether it makes a good geology textbook, any more than the value of a geology textbook depends on whether it addresses the salvation of the soul. I don’t know of any religion in which faith and practice center on notions of how the Earth came into existence and got its current stock of living things. Certainly the historic creeds of Christianity don’t even consider the issue worth mentioning. The belief that God created the world does not require believing any particular claim about how that happened; nor does it say in the Bible that the Bible has to be taken literally, or that it deals with questions of geology or paleontology at all.
What’s happened here, as I’ve suggested in previous posts, is that a great many devout Christians in America have been suckered into playing a mug’s game. They’ve put an immense amount of energy into something that does their religion no good, and plays straight into the hands of their opponents.
It’s a mug’s game, to begin with, because the central strategy that creationists have been using since well before Darwin’s time guarantees that they will always lose. It’s what historians of science call the “God of the gaps” strategy—the attempt to find breaks in the evolutionary process that scientists haven’t yet filled with an explanation, and then to insist that only God can fill them. Back in Darwin’s own time, the usual argument was that there weren’t any transitional forms between one species and another; in response to the resulting talk about “missing links,” paleontologists spent the next century and a half digging up transitional forms, so that nowadays there are plenty of evolutionary lineages—horses, whales, and human beings among them—where every species is an obvious transition between the one before it and the one after. As those gaps got filled in, critics of evolution retreated to another set, and another, and another; these days, they’ve retreated all the way to fine details of protein structure, and when that gap gets filled in, it’ll be on to the next defeat. The process is reliable enough that I’ve come to suspect that biologists keep an eye on the latest creationist claims when deciding what corner of evolutionary theory gets intensively researched next.
Still, there’s a much deeper sense in which it’s a mug’s game, and explaining that deeper sense is going to require attention to some of the basic presuppositions of religious thought. To keep things in suitably general terms, we’ll talk here about what philosophers call classical theism, defined as the belief that the universe was created out of nothing by a unique, perfect, eternal, omnipotent and omniscient being. (There’s more to classical theism than that—you can find the details in any good survey of philosophy of religion—but these are the details that matter for our present purposes.) I’ve argued elsewhere that classical theism isn’t the best explanation of human religious experience, but we’ll let that go for now; it corresponds closely to the beliefs of most American creationists, and it so happens that arguments that apply to classical theism here can be applied equally well to nearly all other theist beliefs.
Of the terms in the definition just given, the one that gets misused most often these days is “eternal.” That word doesn’t mean “lasting for a very long time,” as when we say that a bad movie lasts for an eternity; it doesn’t even mean “lasting for all of time.” What it means instead is “existing outside of time.” (Connoisseurs of exact diction will want to know that something that lasts for a very long time is diuturnal, and something that lasts for all of time is sempiternal.) Eternal beings, if such there be, would experience any two moments in time the way you and I experience two points on a tabletop—distinct but simultaneously present. It’s only beings who exist in time who have to encounter those two moments sequentially, or as we like to say, “one at a time.”
That’s why, for example, the endless arguments about whether divine providence contradicts human free will are barking up the wrong stump. Eternal beings wouldn’t have to foresee the future—they would simply see it, because to them, it’s not in the future.  An omniscient eternal being can know exactly what you’ll do in 2025, not because you lack free will, but because there you are, doing it right out in plain sight, as well as being born, dying, and doing everything else in between. An eternal being could also see what you’re doing in 2025 and respond to it in 2013, or at any other point in time from the Big Bang to whatever final destiny might be waiting for the universe billions of years from now. All this used to be a commonplace of philosophy through the end of the Middle Ages, and it’s no compliment to modern thought that a concept every undergraduate knew inside and out in 1200 has been forgotten even by people who think they believe in eternal beings.
Now of course believers in classical theism and its equivalents don’t just believe in eternal beings in general.  They believe in one, unique, perfect, eternal, omnipotent and omniscient being who created the universe and everything in it out of nothing. Set aside for the moment whether you are or aren’t one of those believers, and think through the consequences of the belief.  If it’s true, then everything in the universe without exception is there either because that being deliberately put it there, or because he created beings with free will in the full knowledge that they would put it there. Everything that wasn’t done by one of those created beings, in turn, is a direct manifestation of the divine will.  Gravity and genetics,  photosynthesis and continental drift, the origin of life from complex carbon compounds and the long evolutionary journey since then: grant the presuppositions of classical theism, and these are, and can only be, how beings in time perceive the workings of the eternally creative will of God.
Thus it’s a waste of time to go scrambling around the machinery of the cosmos, looking for scratches left by a divine monkeywrench on the gears and shafts. That’s what the “God of the gaps” strategy does in practice; without ever quite noticing it, it accepts the purely mechanistic vision of the universe that’s promoted by atheists, and then tries to prove that God tinkers with the machinery from time to time. Accept the principles of classical theism and you’ve given up any imaginable excuse for doing that, since a perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent deity leaves no scratches and doesn’t need to tinker. It’s not even a matter of winding up the gears of the cosmos and letting them run from there, in the fashion of the “clockmaker God” of the 18th century Deists; to an eternal divine being, all of time is present simultaneously, every atom is doing exactly and only what it was put there to do, and what looks like machinery to the atheist can only be, to the believer in classical theism or its equivalents, the action of the divine will in eternity acting upon the world in time.
Such a universe, please note, doesn’t differ from the universe of modern science in any objectively testable way, and this is as it should be. The universe of matter and energy is what it is, and modern science is the best toolkit our species has yet discovered for figuring out how it works. The purpose of theology isn’t to bicker with science over questions that science is much better prepared to address, but to relate the material universe studied by science to questions of ultimate concern—of value, meaning and purpose—which science can’t and shouldn’t address and are instead the proper sphere of religion. To return to a point I tried to raise in one of last month’s posts, not everything that matters to human beings can be settled by an objective assessment of fact; there are times, many of them, that you have to decide on some other basis which of several different narratives you choose to trust.
Step beyond questions of fact, that is, and you’re in the territory of faith—a label that properly includes the atheist’s belief in a purely material cosmos just as much as it does the classical theist’s belief in a created cosmos made by an infinite and eternal god, the traditional polytheist’s belief in a living cosmos shaped by many divine powers, and so on, since none of these basic presuppositions about the cosmos can be proven or disproven.  How do people decide between these competing visions, then?  As noted in the post just mentioned, when that choice is made honestly, it’s made on the basis of values. Values are always individual, and always relative to a particular person in a particular context.  They are not a function of the intellect, but of the heart and will—or to use a old and highly unfashionable word, of character. Different sets of presuppositions about the cosmos speak to different senses of what values matter; which is to say that they speak to different people, in different situations.
This, of course, is what a great many religions have been saying all along. In most of the religions of the west, and many of those from other parts of the world, faith is a central theme, and faith is not a matter of passing some kind of multiple choice test; it’s not a matter of the intellect at all; rather, it’s the commitment of the whole self to a way of seeing the cosmos that can be neither proved nor disproved rationally, but has to be accepted or rejected on its own terms. To accept any such vision of the nature of existence is to define one’s identity and relationship to the whole cosmos; to refuse to accept any such vision is also to define these things, in a different way; and in a certain sense, you don’t make that choice—you are that choice.  Rephrase what I’ve just said in the language of salvation and grace, and you’ve got one of the core concepts of Christianity; phrase it in other terms, and you’ve got an important element of many other religions, Druidry among them.
It’s important not to ignore the sweeping differences among these different visions of the nature of existence—these different faiths, to use a far from meaningless idiom. Still, there’s a common theme shared by many of them, which is the insight that human beings are born and come to awareness in a cosmos with its own distinctive order, an order that we didn’t make or choose, and one that imposes firm limits on what we can and should do with our lives.  Different faiths understand that experience of universal order in radically different ways—call it dharma or the Tao, the will of God or the laws of Great Nature, or what have you—but the choice is the same in every case:  you can apprehend the order of the cosmos in love and awe, and accept your place in it, even when that conflicts with the cravings of your ego, or you can put your ego and its cravings at the center of your world and insist that the order of the cosmos doesn’t matter if it gets in the way of what you think you want.  It’s a very old choice: which will you have, the love of power or the power of love?
What makes this particularly important just now is that we’re all facing that choice today with unusual intensity, in relation to part of the order of the cosmos that not all religions have studied as carefully as they might. Yes, that’s the order of the biosphere, the fabric of natural laws and cycles that keep all of us alive. It’s a teaching of Druidry that this manifestation of the order of things is of the highest importance to humanity, and not just because human beings have messed with that order in remarkably brainless ways over the last three hundred years or so. Your individual actions toward the biosphere are an expression of the divide just sketched out. Do you recognize that the living Earth has its own order, that this order imposes certain hard constraints on what human beings can or should try to do, and do you embrace that order and accept those constraints in your own life for the greater good of the living Earth and all that lives upon her? Or do you shrug it off, or go through the motions of fashionable eco-piety, and hop into your SUV lifestyle and slam the pedal to the metal?
Science can’t answer that question, because science isn’t about values. (When people start claiming otherwise, what’s normally happened is that they’ve smuggled in a set of values from some religion or other—most commonly the civil religion of progress.)  Science can tell us how fast we’re depleting the world’s finite oil supplies, and how quickly the signs of unwelcome ecological change are showing up around us; it can predict how soon this or that or the other resource is going to run short, and how rapidly the global climate will start to cost us in blood; it can even tell us what actions might help make the future less miserable than it will otherwise be, and which ones will add to the misery—but it can’t motivate people to choose the better of these, to decide to change their lives for the benefit of the living Earth rather than saying with a shrug, “I’m sure they’ll think of something” or “I’ll be dead before it happens” or “We’re all going to be extinct soon, so it doesn’t matter,” and walking away.
That’s why I’ve been talking at such length about the end of the civil religion of progress here, and why I’ll be going into more detail about the religious landscape of the deindustrial world as we proceed.  Religion is the dimension of human culture that deals most directly with values, and values are the ultimate source of all human motivation. It’s for this reason that I feel it’s crucial to find a common language that will bridge the gap between religions and the environmental sciences, to get science and religion both to settle down on their own sides of the border that should properly separate them—and to show that there’s a path beyond the misguided struggle between them. We’ll talk more about that path next week.

Economics & Moral Philosophy

Off the keyboard of Brian Davey

Published on FEASTA on September 10,2012

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Cafe Economique Talk

Presented in Nottingham, UK on 30th August 2012 The talk is presented below with its accompanying slides. Click on each slide to see a larger version. Please note that the notes that go with the power point were written up after the talk had been given and thus differ slightly from the audio version. The arguments in the written version are slightly more detailed and the written version includes references and sources whereas this is not fully the case in the audio presentation.

Audio file of talk (free registration required) Powerpoint slides


In the late 1960s and early 1970s major university economics departments in the USA and major economics journals decided to take the history of economic thought out of the economic syllabus and stop accepting articles on the subject.Thus it is that many economists are pretty ignorant about the history of their own subject. They probably think that Adam Smith, in the 18th century, was the first economist.
In fact writing, thinking and study about economics goes back to the ancient Greeks. It was taught in universities in Europe from 1250. This early scholastic economic was a part of the moral philosophy. Its leading thinkers, St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, drew upon the writings of Aristotle and sought to unify his ideas with that of Christian theology.
But why was it a part of moral philosophy? The answer is that economics was considered to be all about the use of means to attain ends. Nowadays economics is a topic that I would describe as studying the use of intermediate means to provide for intermediate ends. However, it typically neglects the integration of the economy in the physical and natural world on the one hand while at the same time ignoring the study of what structures and determines our intermediate ends , namely the study of our ultimate ends. What are these ultimate ends?

To Aristotle you could not even consider this question without having a view of what is particular to human beings. For him the end of all human activity is sometimes translated as “happiness” but this can be misleading to a modern understanding of that word – because what Aristotle meant by happiness was a very specific idea of living a virtuous life in accordance with reason. The virtues included personal characteristics like integrity, honour, loyalty, courage and forthrightness. Ideally life meant developing oneself and flourished in and through ones dealings and particularly through participation in the community.

This did involve some need for provisions, and if fortune was on your side your women and your slaves could take of your needs in this respect, but Aristotle did not think that happiness involved accumulating lots of possessions.

To Aristotle the amount of property needed for a good life was limited. Taking this standpoint he saw there being two kinds of exchange and trade: exchange in order to satisfy a genuine need; and exchange in order to make money and accumulate possessions. The latter Aristotle thought of as unnatural, as he did usury, because it involved money growing without limits which violated the laws of nature – since everything in nature has limits.

Well, fast forward to Augustine and Aquinas. No doubt they too turned a blind eye to the power structures of the feudal society in which they lived but, as monks who had taken vows of poverty, they thought the reason for living was firstly, as it says in the Ten Commandments, to love God and also to love your neighbour. Life involved transcending yourself. Well, of course, this is very different from calculating your individual interest as assumed by modern economists. Instead it was assumed that you gave to and provided for the people that you loved and that you exchanged with strangers – in order, at the next stage, to have the things needed for the people that you love and for oneself.

To Augustine every person has a choice – to provide his or her goods for himself or to provide them for other people. This depends on the love people feel for themselves compared to the love they feel for other people. Thus distribution at the local and personal level, as economists describe it, involves a moral choice. With Aristotle there was also an idea that you shared wealth with a wider community, which in his case was the polis, the political community (of men and non-slaves).

Even when we exchange with people we do not love we had ethical obligations. For Aquinas exchange involved a just price – the price that emerged through haggling that cleared the market – but, and this is crucial, a just price is not imposed or experienced by some parties under conditions of duress. To charge someone high prices because there was a famine was most definitely not charging the just price.

So the context prevailing in the market is an issue too – indeed we can extend this idea to include monopoly control of the market and other conditions. Later in this talk I’ll argue that if you take away from people their means of support, like access to the commons, this is also putting them under duress.

The early medieval period was characterised by power structures somewhat akin to protection rackets where militarised hierarchical gangs effectively imposed themselves on the people and extracted labour and products, claiming that they had their authority and rights from God, but in effect having their power from their ability and preparedness to act as ruthless gangsters operating out of heavily fortified castles.

The church was no doubt complicit in all of this but it also acted as a form of social welfare agency in difficult times when the aged, sick and poor could turn to the monasteries. In addition, in England, the ordinary people had certain rights to use the forests, the wastes and commons lands for their own maintenance that were protected in the Charter of the Forests (the companion statement of rights adopted at the same time as the Magna Charter).

The rise of the merchant class and of commercial society in towns, and along trade routes outside the power of the military elite, changed all of this over a number of centuries. With the Reformation in England Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold them to his courtiers dismantling welfare provision for ordinary people.

Economic theory changed with the times. According to Aquinas merchants did fulfil a useful function of bringing goods from where they were abundant to where they were scarce. However, that’s not all that they did. For example they helped create economic conditions where it paid the elite to take the commons land from the commoners to enrich themselves (with sheep for the wool trade). And trade could be in slaves or the goods from slave plantations – or from products extracted by taxes in colonies. In other words under conditions of duress.

Increasingly economics reflected the technical issues of the time, rather than being a theorisation of the morality of the market.

Over several centuries the commons land was enclosed and the people using it lost their rights to sustenance. These processes meant they had to work for the emerging capitalist class as wage labourers or pay rent to the landowners on onerous terms. The price of labour and the price of land was the result of an institutionalised form of duress in that the ordinary people had no other options but to work on terms set by employers and landowners.

Elite theorisation of economics turned a blind eye to these processes, including in the ideas of Adam Smith in the 18the century. Smith was a professor of moral philosophy and was no doubt aware of scholastic economics. However for several centuries economic thinking had been changing from the ethical reflections of monks into more hard bitten ideas about how merchants and the aristocracy made money and accumulated wealth.

Thus Smith did not mention the Atlantic slave trade and plantations which created the wealth that flowed into places like Glasgow. Nor did he consider pillaging of India by the East India company. This international trade involved economic arrangements nothing like his cosy picture which he wrote about, although he must have been aware of it as the source of the riches of people in his own world.

Smith’s inquiry into the Wealth of Nations was not concerned with ethical issues about distribution and looking after the poor. He regarded himself as living in a different kind of age, an age of improvement – the commercial society had changed the game as far as economics was concerned. So Smith wrote about how more primitive societies might be more equalitarian – but, in his own society the labouring classes had their needs met and the more important thing was that the division of labour, specialisation, was making possible a continuous improvement in production . Thus everyone was much better off, even if unequally so.

Not for the first time or the last Smith was another economist who ignored less uplifting aspects of reality and chose to describe the further development of specialisation and of the market as the future for commercial society.

Note that in this respect the monkish idea of progress as moral progress had slipped into an idea of improvement as technical progress which produced more wealth. Scarcity was the chief problem facing humanity and overcoming scarcity was the chief task. This meant resources were to be used as efficiently as possible and technological progress would allow for more to be produced.
If you like scarcity became the original sin of the new economic religion and efficiency and technological progress became the new means of salvation – with economists functioning rather like a new priesthood, a role that they still enjoy. Indeed, for the contemporaries of Smith in this period the production and use of this greater wealth, would bring about better people directly and indirectly – because the commercial society had its own virtues and rewarded hard work, discipline, thrift, delayed gratification etc.

Of course, people still realised that human and social relationships were not always just, and that the ends that people pursued were less than perfect. However, it was increasingly assumed that these problems too required economic and technological progress. It would be when people were all much better off that they would be able to get to grips with these problems.

The slide on the right quotes philosopher David Hume, a contemporary of Smith. This idea is still with us today and has been shared by many subsequent thinkers. Karl Marx thought that the highest phases of communism would be prepared by the ability of capitalism to create an economy of abundance. In this context all sorts of problems between people would “wither away”. Without believing in the need for revolution Keynes also believed that in the distant future humanity would overcome its scarcity problem and thus its psychology of self interestedness. (See his essay, “The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” published in Essays in Persuasion). The problems for humanity were no longer problems between people and God (or between people and Nature) nor between people – they were problems of inadequately developed technology.

Even more important was Smith’s abandonment of the ideas of Augustine and Aquinas, about an obligation in economic activity, towards loving your neighbour. For him a properly working market delivered socially beneficial results even though people were pursuing their self interests – or perhaps I should say, because people were pursuing their own self interests.

The famous quote from Adam Smith on the slide illustrates this idea.

Having abandoned considerations of distribution which were rooted in ethical considerations of love for one’s neighbour and ones obligations to a wider community, the new economics asserted that by pursuing one’s private advantages – and self love – the market would in any case organise a social outcome in the interests of everyone.

In this theory people got what they wanted through the “invisible hand” of the market because if they decided they wanted more beer and less bread they would seek to buy more beer and less bread, the price of bread would fall and that of beer would rise. Some bakers would switch to brewing and some farmers would switch from wheat for flour to hops and barley for brewing…Prices would act as signals that resources needed to be re-directed. As long as there were no restraints to resources flowing from one use to another there was no need for the state to intervene.

This was not a revolutionary new idea in his day – these kind of ideas that the market activities motivated by self interest, delivered what people wanted, can be found over a hundred years before Adam Smith. Moreover we should try to understand it as contemporaries would have understood it. Humanity had fallen – we’re sinners. And yet God had a providential plan for the world and he realised his plan through the self love of people operating through the “laws of the market”, that Smith described. At the time of Smith it was big thing that Newton had showed that things did not happen because of continual interventions by God. So instead people now thought that God set up the basic design of the universe and then it ran itself. In a similar way, the market and the “social physics” of economics worked through the predictable self interested behaviour of people giving rise to economic laws. As the poet Pope put it: “Thus God and Nature formed the general frame, And bad self-love and social be the same”.

Later economists assumed that the famous invisible hand of the market meant the operation of the price system and competition so that, without any central plan, the market self-organised the allocation of resources. If there were too much bread and not enough beer the bread would remain unsold and its price would fall whereas the price of beer would be bid up. So then resources would switch from bread production to beer production quite spontaneously, as long as markets were competitive and the beer producers could not prevent others from brewing to keep beer prices up.

It’s a nice parable but what economists are well aware of is that prices and the allocation of resources depends on the prior allocation of rights to the different factors of production. What was being ignored and relegated to the small print was what Aquinas had been aware of – the issue of duress. Smith was an apostle of the market and commercial society at a time when labour and land were being forced into becoming market commodities by land enclosure and when the state, by attacking the poor law for the support of destitute people, was ensuring that the poor worked on terms that can be dictated by their employers.

Neither land nor labour are originally “produced” with the explicit purpose of becoming commodities. Land is part of the living natural system and labour is people who have been forced to work on terms dictated by the owners of the means of production.

In this context the market does indeed produce according to the wishes of those with purchasing power – but how purchasing power is distributed, reflecting the economic and property system, was the deeper question.

As is usual the new economic priesthood avoided these questions and, as the 19th century progressed, devoted themselves instead to a deeper study of how people, motivated by self love and self interest, behaved. What determined their choices? This they did by using another framework from philosophical ethics, namely the utilitarian philosophy developed by Jeremy Bentham and then by John Stuart Mill. (The picture is of the corpse of Jeremy Bentham, with his head at his feet in a glass box at the London School of Economics).
Let me briefly compare Bentham and Mill’s moral philosophy to other schools of moral philosophy. Whereas Aristotle had an ethics based on developing ones virtues as a person, and the church an ethics based on explicit and written codes and principles and duties, the utilitarians had an ethics based on consequences. This consequentialist view was grounded in the idea that what mattered was whether actions gave rise to subjective states of pleasure or pain (utility or disutility).
The idea of utility was to be found in scholastic and early economics but to this school the utility of an object meant its fitness for its intended purpose. Now utility was given a different meaning – it was the ability of an object or service to give rise to a sense of subjective happiness, satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The criteria for an optimal decision then became the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. But how did you measure this subjective state?

Economists came up with a solution – there were no absolute measures of utility but this did not matter because in choosing between options people demonstrated in practice what their comparative utilities were between different goods. They demonstrate their relative preferences by what they are prepared to pay as they allocate their limited purchasing power between different purchasing options for goods and services. What people are prepared to pay is a proxy measure of their utility for the last unit of a good that they purchase.

This idea of willingness to pay (or willingness to accept in payment) is then used by economists as a proxy measure for how much people value things that do not normally appear on markets. It is thought to be a convenient idea too because the same situation can involve losers as well as winners, and here is an idea here that this can be solved by cash compensation payments. If an action involves increased welfare for one person and decreased welfare for someone else then it still might involve a greater happiness overall and one can tell that is so if the gainer can compensate the loser and still be better off. (This is the so called Kaldor Hicks principle. Note that winner does not actually have to compensate the loser, they merely have to be able to in theory).

What people are prepared to pay thus measures how much things matter to them – their ethical values were reflected in their monetary values. Economists are enthused with this idea as it appears to them to give a common measuring rod that can be used for all sorts of situations, including policy decisions about issues that do not normally appear in an ordinary market at all – for example, environmental decision making.

Thus the importance of protecting a species threatened with extinction is measured by what people are prepared to pay to protect it – or prepared to accept in compensation if it goes extinct.

This is actually nonsense because it assumes informed preferences and most people do not have preferences about such natural things as they live separated from the species anyway. What’s more it leads to a beauty contest where pandas and popular animals would score highly but the creepy crawlies or snakes that are crucial parts of eco-systems get no offers to pay at all. If people are then informed about the species and the ecological issues the obvious point to make is that value is created by being informed about the things, highlighting a need for education, not by spontaneous preferences.

So this point of view is highly challengeable and it has been claimed that economists are involved in corruption – see right.

This leads me on to what it is economists actually do – and why these things matter. And the answer is that economists are actually there as advocates for a particular kind of value system. They are not unlike priests whose job it is to argue for their belief system.

This is a quote from economist Robert Nelson who describes what it was like to work as an economist in the US Department of the Interior which was and is responsible for the upkeep of national parks and landscapes in the USA:

“If economists had any influence—which they sometimes did, if rarely decisive—it was seldom as literal ‘problem solvers.’ Rather, the greatest influence of economists came through their defence of a set of values. Much of my own and other efforts of Interior (Ministry) economists were really to persuade others in the department to act in accordance with the economic value system, as compared with other competing priorities and sets of values also represented within the ranks of the department.” Robert Nelson Economics as Religion Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001 p xiv

What is involved here is actually an implicit theory of how human beings are, what makes them tick. Using this approach it seems reasonable to economists to theorise human beings as if they act in a predictable way – calculating their individual self interest to maximise their utility and then acting accordingly. This makes possible a deterministic view of human action that allows economists to model markets. Of course, markets are places where there are lots of actors but the assumption is made that to get a collective picture of what happens you add up the actions of all the separate individuals as if they do not influence each other. There are no group dynamics in this situation. This is called methodological individualism and diverges a lot from the assumption of the scholastics – that people are providing for others too, including those that they love.Then you make a whole load of other assumptions, the effect of which is to make market behaviour completely predictable in a way that can be modelled in mathematics and diagrams. Such assumptions include the idea that people have all the information that they need about now and the future, do not change their preferences, act only out of self interest and yet act honestly, act in competitive markets, that there are no transaction costs…Most of these premises were nonsensical. Not only were markets not competitive, but people do influence each other when it came to market actions – which accounts for the collective irrationality of market bubbles, for example, when people look to each other for the way the market is evolving and their collective optimism becomes self reinforcing.In fact the market is always shot through with a lack of information and/or information asymmetry. People make mistakes, operate without enough knowledge and so on. This is not to mention that fact that if people really are only motivated by individualistically calculated self interest it is difficult to know why they should not resort to various types of crime. There’s often an implicit assumption of honesty in these models but in real life markets are prone to fraud and opportunism, to secrecy and misleading accounts of product quality. All of these things mean market outcomes are often far from the ideal pictured in the theory.

So how do economists actually do this?In fact economists mostly create models from assumptions that are assumed to be self evidently true…or claimed to be true enough for practical purposes.. and then analyse the logical consequences with mathematic symbols and diagrams. With enough simplified assumptions it then seems possible to show that competitive markets deliver efficient outcomes defined in the way economists want.
Of course, if you assume away the real world in your models then, surprise surprise, these models deliver ideal allocation outcomes – or they do on the blackboard and in the lecture theatre in the groves of academe, if not in real life. But what has happened is that conclusions are manufactured based on premises initially assumed. This may happen in very sophisticated mathematics so that mere muggles don’t understand it but that’s what the wizards are doing. (Today’s leading economic textbook writer, Greg Mankiw, has described non-economists as ‘muggles’, the ordinary people without magical powers, described in the Harry Potter novels. His implication is that economists are like wizards.)
As I have said the key to all of this is based on an idea of what people are like. There is an implicit modelling of human beings here. Certain types of behaviour (the type that allows economists to model people and markets predictably) is called “rational”.

You may think that this description of how people are and how they behave is meant by economists to be applicable only to economic and market activities. But if people are calculating their individual self interest in their economic dealings why should one assume that they do not do the same thing in their political, their social and their interpersonal dealings? Should we not also assume that government officials are calculating their interests too? At the very least, why should contact between business and government not lead to a cosy relationship, particularly if people can leave government posts and get lucrative jobs with industry? What about bribes and kick-backs from business for special favours?

When I studied economics at the end of the 1960s the textbooks, for example by Paul A Samuelson, pictured a world where the state was essentially benevolent and independent from business. A democratic process determined the policies the state would adopt and economists were just technical advisers about the options. They could regulate markets without being contaminated by the self interest motivations of markets. The idea that the state could be captured by business interests and the majority of the people were effectively excluded from real influence was not there.

This began to be replaced by another view of the relationship between business and the state spearheaded by the Chicago School.

The idea that the state could be captured by interest groups led to a kind of market fundamentalism by the Chicago school. The ideal was to go all the way and for the state to be driven out of market activity altogether if at all possible.To the Chicago economists the rational calculating individual was a description that could be applied to the understanding of all human behaviour, not just that in the market place.
So, what framework do you use to explain racial discrimination? To Gary Becker at Chicago, racism is a preference choice of who you want to live near and employ. Note, he does not endorse or condemn Becker merely sees himself explaining and drawing out the consequences.
The model of rational economic behaviour is then used by Becker and another theorist, Richard Posner, to explain “love” , marriage and prostitution in a utilitarian framework. Marriage is a relationship involving reciprocal service provision which saves on transaction costs like pricing each service that a couple provide for each other, or keeping accounts for these services. In this framework prostitution is a “spot” sexual transaction where it is “more efficient” to pay for the service in money.
It is used to explain crime too. Most people don’t steal because it would not be profitable but in the life circumstances of criminals the rational maximisation of costs and benefits of crime does make it pay according to Becker. This is another form of the redistribution of income in the same broad category as government welfare programmes.

The trouble with this view is that it is at best tautologically true in a sense that is banal – people do things because they want and thus they must get satisfaction or utility from doing and deciding what they do. However this banality makes little sense of the many actions and people who do things where they are conflicted – where they act in ways that involve self sacrifice for moral reasons, where there is genuine anguish about their difficult decisions, where they do things because they think they ought to, not because it gives them any satisfaction at all.

At the same time this way of analysing things has important aspects of being a toxic self fulfilling prophecy and contributes to the ethical degradation of society.

In fact psychologists have looked at what motivates people all around the world in different cultures and have come up with a picture of the varieties of motivations. This picture includes the ideas of the economists in values in the bottom left hand quadrant but makes no sense of the many other motivations that people have demonstrated in this diagram by Common Cause. http://valuesandframes.org/handbook/

Many of these are not simply different self interested “preferences” in a utilitarian sense. For example many of the spiritual and community and environmental motivations involve serving a higher purpose which involves transcending or going beyond the self. These are intrinsic motivations which can involve a different “life game” in the sense meant by the critic of psychiatry, Thomas Tzsas; purposes to give meaning and direction in life. http://www.bgmi.us/web/bdavey/Life.htm

If the assumptions of what “rational economic man” are like do not accurately describe many people, they probably do accurate describe many economists and those trained by them. There is a saying in the Talmud, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are” and this probably does describe how many economists actually think and decide.

There are important respects in which the economic viewpoint functions as a belief system which is now shaping how things are in the form of a self reinforcing or self fulfilling prophecy. The point is that the economist’s view of the world actually serves to create the very mindset that it describes.

For example, a study of economic and non economics students in 1993 by Frank, Gilovich and Regan found that most people learn to be more co-operative as they get older – but that learning economics slows this process of social maturity. While students in other disciplines learn to be cooperative over college years, students majoring in economics learn the same fact much more slowly.” It seems that micro-economics teaching over as little as 4 months can have a noticeable effect:

“They picked three classes at Cornell University. Two of these were introduction to microeconomics. The third was introduction to astronomy. In the first microeconomics class (class A), the professor was a game theorist with interests in mainstream economics, and he focused on prisoner’s dilemma and how cooperation might hinder survival. In the second microeconomics class (class B), the professor’s interests were in development economics and he was a specialist in Maoist China.

To the students in all these introductory classes, the authors posed simple ethical dilemmas, including questions such as “If you found an envelope with $100 with the owner’s address written on it, would you return it?” The questions were asked twice, first in September, in the beginning of the fall semester and once again during the final week of classes in December, not even a full four months apart.

Comparing results against the astronomy control group, students in economics class A became much more cynical and gave less ethical responses at the end of the semester. Students in class B grew to be more unethical, yet not by so much compared to students in class A. The results clearly show that no matter what their initial ethical tendencies were, students who were exposed to a mere four-months of “rational” reasoning became less cooperative.” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-decision-lab/201104/why-does-studying-economics-hurt-ethical-inclinations

In important respects there is evidence that departments of economics have become departments for the promotion of anti-social behaviour.

An early Chicago economist called Frank Knight made the observation that one requirement for markets to work efficiently is that people are honest. If they are not honest then things get more complicated – the transaction costs start to rise. You need to spend time checking out your suppliers or customers, you need to work longer on creating water tight contracts. You need to take court action more often with huge costs involved. In the small town world of Adam Smith if the butcher, the baker and the brewer ripped each other off the dishonesty would soon get noticed and eventually they would be likely to lose out from their dishonesty. Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan and the de-regulators of the 1990s and the early 21st century clearly did not see the world they lived in like that.

Yes, Adam Smith’s market self organised the supply of the goods that people want. But markets can self organise criminal activity and anti social behaviour too.

And this can be on a massive scale. When the American banks created financial instruments out of loans to people with no income and no assets, got them judged to be AAA quality they then sold these toxic fraudulent instruments victims all over the world. The financial victims that purchased them had no easy way of checking if they were safe investments and assumed that if rating agencies said that they were AAA then they were. All told there were probably up to a half a million criminal felonies that took place in this period.
So economics has come a long way. The ideas of the scholastics were compatible with what could be found in the Bible in the First Epistle to Timothy in the New Testament, that “The love of money is the root of all evil”. In the 17th and 18th century the idea was that God worked through individual self interest to create a society delivering in the interests of everyone. This has now morphed into economics becoming a virtual religion in its own right with theology for rich people who love money.

Related posts:

  1. Economics is not a social science
  2. Economics Unmasked : Review
  3. The Economics of the Great Hunger rules the Eurozone!
  4. Frank Rotering: An Economics for Humanity
  5. The launch of FEASTA, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability

Infinite Regression Analysis of God

Despite the fact I have been attempting today to get back to questions of Economics and put the Existential Questions of life on the Back Burner, my fellow Diners have NOT been cooperating with me here.  LOL.  Further debate in the Out of this World thread led me to leave my work on my Manufacturing Money article and address once again my Belief Structure as pertains to God.  My initial stuff on this topic can be found in the On the Existence of God  article I wrote some time ago, originally on The Burning Platform. My initial response in this portion of the debate was to Diner EndIsNigh, and I am including a few further exchanges.  For a complete reading, follow the link to the OOTW thread inside the Diner.

RE

From RE

What is an uncreated intelligence, if not something from nothing?  Perhaps the concept of nothing is itself false.  Physics supports the concept that even where there appears to be nothing, there is indeed something.  Can there even be an “outside” of the universe?  Interesting to ponder.  The problem is, we don’t seem capable of separating the observer from the observed.

You work your way into an Infinite Regression problem once you discuss the Big Bang, where the Universe we can perceive sorta Popped into Exitence from Nothing, beginning as it were as a Point and expanding from there.  Expanding into WHAT though?

So you then postulate there is another Bigger Multiverse of which this one is just a part, but of course then you could have a whole other tier after that, ad infinitum as it were.  Where you wish to stop this Navel Contemplation is up to you, but in the end you have Non-Existence vs Existence, and the Existence is GOD.  God just represents the Existence of all things, all universes, everything outside of Nothingness.

Next step is to look at Existence itself.  Is Existence Random?  Is the Universe Random in organization?  Is Matter Random?  Is Life random?  None of these things are Random by any definition of the word, we can perceive even just on our own plane of existence all sorts of Laws which govern interactions, they are not random at all.  In fact most things are highly predictable because of a lack of randomness.  The sun rising and falling in the sky as the perceived from the Earth as it spins is pretty predictable stuff of course.

So, we have Existence, and Existence is not Random.  It has Organizing Principles, a “Thought” process behind it if you will, and that OP is God.  If you want to Anthropomorphize God you jump out on a much more fragile limb of course, then you make the case that God will sorta consolidate Himself into a Package and appear on Earth in a variety of forms He chooses to take at any given time.  In general I do not think that is highly likely, but not impossible.

I do think though that it is possible to forge a closer connection to God by grasping hold of more of the OPs the Universe we can observe obeys. Less possible but still not impossible would be accessing the Power of God to perform what might be called Miracles.  Miracles would be localized suspension of the typical Laws we observe around us in operation.  Parting the Red Sea, Walking on Water, that sorta stuff.  I don’t consider either of those as highly likely to have really occurred, but I don’t discount the possibility either.  However, to BELIEVE in a Miracle, I would definitely have to see it with my own eyes.  I could not believe such a thing merely from Stroies in a Book, anymore than I believe the Starship Enterprise could travel Faster then Light. None of these thing obey laws I am familiar with in my observation of the Universe.

Far as Jesus Christ is concerned, He seems like a Good Guy who was quite in touch with many of the OPs of the Universe, but not all of them of course, limited as He was by the overall Knowledge base of the time.  IMHO, He misperceived many things about the nature of biological organisms, dominance issues, population dynamics and overshoot, etc.  This stuff just wasn’t inside His sphere of knowledge.  As to whether He was able to perform Miracles, its POSSIBLE, but not PROBABLE.  Far as being the personification of God on Earth is concerned, EXTREMELY unlikely.  By no means though does that mean God does not Exist, He certainly does, because God is all around us.  God is EXISTENCE.  God is the ONE AND ONLY SOMETHING THAT CAME FROM NOTHING.

The End of the Infinite Regression analysis, as it were.

RE

From Tao Jonesing

So, we have Existence, and Existence is not Random.  It has Organizing Principles, a “Thought” process behind it if you will, and that OP is God.  If you want to Anthropomorphize God you jump out on a much more fragile limb of course, then you make the case that God will sorta consolidate Himself into a Package and appear on Earth in a variety of forms He chooses to take at any given time.  In general I do not think that is highly likely, but not impossible.

So you’re basically a modern day Deist.

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Far as Jesus Christ is concerned, He seems like a Good Guy who was quite in touch with many of the OPs of the Universe, but not all of them of course, limited as He was by the overall Knowledge base of the time.  IMHO, He misperceived many things about the nature of biological organisms, dominance issues, population dynamics and overshoot, etc.  This stuff just wasn’t inside His sphere of knowledge.  As to whether He was able to perform Miracles, its POSSIBLE, but not PROBABLE.

You assume (1) that there was an historical Jesus Christ, (2) that JC taught what he was alleged to have taught, and (3) that those who conveyed what JC taught had no ulterior motive in conveying what they conveyed.

I will spot you (1), even though I don’t believe it myself.

I can’t spot you (2) because (a) none of the texts were written while JC allegedly lived (i.e., they were all pseudo-epigraphical, a polite word for forged),  (b) the Roman Catholic Church decided which texts were canonical four centuries after JC allegedly lived, and (c) the New Testament was subject to numerous interpolations (another polite word for forgery) after the canon was formed.

I won’t spot you (3) because what was conveyed formed the foundation of a super state, the original “New World Order,” which nowadays is known as the Roman Catholic Church.  The RCC conveyed JC’s alleged teachings in a manner designed to assume control over the masses, and they managed to do so for over a thousand years.  NWO v2.0, aka Classical Liberalism, didn’t manage half that span, and NWO v3.0, aka Neoliberalism, has run out of gas (literally?) in less than fifty years.

From Roamer

Re: Out of this World

RE, So in your view is God still evolving??  In mine I tend to think that God is an ever evolving organizational principle that arose from a sea of nothingness and that is refined over the creation and destruction of countless multiverses.  I also do not think that the sea of nothingness that God arose from is nothingness per say, its just the most subtle fabric of all of existence and it happens to be continually ordered through the OPs God has discovered in countless multiverse experiences. So there never was nothing and never will be, there just is this basic fabric or stuff of existence which through ever evolving organizational principles undergoes successive arrangements as universes and multiverses.  More less a never ending kaleidoscope of ever changing existences…no begining no end.  The whole beginning and end thing seems to be unique to western religions and IMO was a really key notion on getting people to jump aboard key principles of extractive economics (easier to get people to rape planet when they believe an end rapture is going to save them when TSHTF).
From RE

So you’re basically a modern day Deist.

I think the precise term is Pantheist.

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You assume (1) that there was an historical Jesus Christ, (2) that JC taught what he was alleged to have taught, and (3) that those who conveyed what JC taught had no ulterior motive in conveying what they conveyed.

I think there is sufficient evidence that there was a Charismatic Preacher walking around the Roman Empire of the Era to accept the historical existence of Jesus.  Anyhow, you spotted this one.

Far as #2 goes, these may or may not have been all His teachings, but they do have a pretty coherent theme runing through them, so I would not be surprised if they all came from one guy.  Whether the Words you find even in the oldest Latin or Hebrew texts were precisely as they came out of the mouth of Jesus, that I doubt.  They didn’t have Tape Recorders back in those days, and I don’t think there was a Stenographer out there when JC gave his Sermon on the Mount.

For #3, there is no doubt that all of this stuff was taken and manipulated for Control by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and still further forms of control by later denominations, like our Mormon friends of course. (Did you read about the Mass Resignation of 150 Mormons in Utah a few days ago?)

However, taking somebody’s ideas and then developing a control structure around them in and of itself doesn’t show the ideas were not his to begin with.  You could take Karl Marx as a good example of that, or the Founding Fathers and their “Constitution”.

The main issue with Christianity is the same one that Islam and Judaism have, which is that so MANY people believe them blindly.  Religions become a tool of Mass Control in this way, and it really doesn’t matter what the underlying principles are at all really.  They can always be manipulated to the ends of whoever is running the show.  The vast majority of the population does not think in detail about any existential questions at all, they depend on their Pastor or on Biblical Scholars to tell them what the “truth” is.  I’m not like that of all at course, I only came to understand God in the way I do by observing the Universe around me and how Nature and People operate inside this corporeal world we inhabit for a while.  Christ or Reptilian Aliens don’t appeal to me as good Expalantions for what I observe, so I reject both ideas on First Principles.  Doesn’t make sense to me.  Josey Wales makes sense.
RE

From RE

RE, So in your view is God still evolving??  In mine I tend to think that God is an ever evolving organizational principle that arose from a sea of nothingness and that is refined over the creation and destruction of countless multiverses.  I also do not think that the sea of nothingness that God arose from is nothingness per say, its just the most subtle fabric of all of existence and it happens to be continually ordered through the OPs God has discovered in countless multiverse experiences. So there never was nothing and never will be, there just is this basic fabric or stuff of existence which through ever evolving organizational principles undergoes successive arrangements as universes and multiverses.  More less a never ending kaleidoscope of ever changing existences…no begining no end.  The whole beginning and end thing seems to be unique to western religions and IMO was a really key notion on getting people to jump aboard key principles of extractive economics (easier to get people to rape planet when they believe an end rapture is going to save them when TSHTF).

Evolving?  Not really.  Evolving would have the sense of Time in it as linear.  As you say in your response, “no beginning and no end”, it all Exists, all times all places.  God is sort of a Guardian of Forever idea from Star Trek there.

Anyhow, the set of Laws we observe as True in this Universe may or may not hold true in others.  Inside this Universe, while you are trapped inside your corporeal being there is not really “Free Will”, you are constricted by the Laws and have only limited room for maneuvering about them.  Depending on circumstances some folks are more constricted than others of course.  For instance, a poor child born in Libya in the midst of a Civil War is far more constricted than a child of the Rockefellers born with a Silver Spoon stuck up his ass.

So, while your soul is in its corporeal host, you pretty much have to operate according to the Laws of the Universe, which include the way social animals behave, and Homo Sapiens is of course a Social Animal.  You can’t artificially make Laws that don’t conform to the way Social Animals truly behave, and Christianity tries to do that in numerous ways. This to me is what makes it highly unlikely that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.  A REAL Son of God would have come to Earth preaching principles that actually conform to what God created here.
RE

Son of God: Jesus Christ or the Outlaw Josey Wales?

Religion and Censorship remain the Hot Topics inside the Diner in the Guerrilla Free Speech thread, the Fun with Fundies thread and the Christians Debate Christianity thread, amongst others.  Below are a  couple of my comments on both topics to follow up on the progress in the Guerrilla Free Speech Project.

Anyhow below you will find further thoughts on the Censorship issue in the Blogosphere, followed by a comparison of the relative merits of Jesus Christ and the Outlaw Josey Wales as Saviors for Mankind.

               OR      

 

I think it’s funny anyone is shocked at ilargi’s claim to authority at TAE. I also think it’s funny that ilargi had to assert his authority ’cause no one was sure who was in charge. But someone has to draw the line. Even though it was badly handled IMHO. As WHD says: Let the cannibalism begin!

RE you have chosen to accept all the contrarians (cannibals) on your side of the line. Kudos to you for having the genitalia to invite them all in. I salute you. Warning: It’s really a lot like forming a club out of people who wouldn’t join a club that would have them as a member. Personally I think this is great and admirable. But how are you ever going to reach consensus? Is it going to be the opposite of the scene from Monty Pythons The Holy Grail where everyone screams “We’re all (not) individuals!!”

I doubt we will ever find solutions to all problems. However, by bringing many people together with many different POVs, you see more sides of the same Elephant.  You get a better concept of the whole Elephant rather than just its Trunk or its Asshole.

You also do occassionally come up with stuff most people do agree on, like for instance it’s a wise idea to be as self sufficient as possible and not dependent on the Matrix.

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I respect Surly and you attacking Group Think 100%.  But calling for a higher standard of thinking while still allowing hits below the belt, is that really a higher standard? I agree that professional bloggers like yourself are far and few. Who can maintain a blog these days? To all my twitter twits: ‘Just farted. part of my self immersion in the #NewMethaneAtmosphere. Stinky, but adapt or die!’

You have to be a very dedicated writer to maintain a Blog.  I’ve been at it a long time, since before Blogs were even Invented, on the Message Boards that go back to AOL days.  Not always on Collapse of course, prior to 2007 and the Failure of Bear Stearns my interests were in other areas.  The Collapse wiped out all other interests for me.  It makes just about everything else besides your family unimportant, and of course I don’t have a family.  Divorced, no kids, live alone.  So I am free to spend all my free time writing about the Collapse, and if I’m not out practicing with the Guns or Fishing, that is what I do.

Anyhow, my writing has almost always been done in Dialogue with others, on Message Boards where there was ALWAYS conflict.  Give people the anonymity the net offers (at least to each other if not TPTB), they’ll drop the nicities of Polite behavior faster than you can say “Religion” or “Politics” or “Sex”.  So if you can’t handle the Low Blows, you just can’t have an Open Debate on the Internet.  It’s NOT Robert’s Rules here.

Because I learned this fact of life over about 15 years of Internet writing, I am more comfortable than most people with the Napalm that gets pitched out all the time.  You also CANhave good intelligent conversation going on while at the same time over in another Room there is a a Barfight in progress, the Diner is irrefutable evidence of that.  So to me, there is no excuse whatsoever for Censoring your Board.

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And yet again, as you have mentioned, it comes down to STYLE. On some level people who may have very similar outlooks end up getting into a battle over style.

Case in point, myself and Watson, Gonzo vs Academic.  With the exception of the Religious stuff and the Inquisition, Watson and I agree on just about everything else economically speaking.  So we occassionally got into arguments just on the basis of our disparate styles here and on TAE.  They reach different audiences though, and that is all to the good.  Long as the information gets disseminated out to more people this way, it is beneficial.

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Apparently Karpatok is upset over grammatical errors in ilargi’s posts. Huh?! Oh yeah, and the Patriarchal Christian tendencies of TAE. Double Huh?! Judeao-Muslo-Christian tendencies is what the modern world is all about. It all goes back to that set of crazy contradictory stories collected from 2000 or so years ago. The same stories you get to pick and chose are true. Is it the part that says ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ or this one: (Moses) stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the LORD’s side, come over here and join me.” And all the Levites came.  He told them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Strap on your swords! Go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other, killing even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.”  (Exodus 32:26-29 NLT)

Always good to have somebody well versed in Biblical contradictions Lurking on the Board. ;)

Quote

Karpatok why so serious? Who are you smoking out? I respect your feminist anarchic tendencies but really, is smoking ash and ilargi and stoneliegh out the best you can do? Get a real target. Do you figure that taking pot shots at people on this side of the fence is the best way to show your independent thinking? Reminder to self: Can’t trust those closest to you. I understand you have rage. So does everyone else. Watch UFC. Two guys pounding the shit out of one another should assuage your rage. The patriarchy punching itself. Sounds like a win win. And as a woman aren’t you at least a bit concerned that you’re attacking a site with one of the clearest FEMALE economic voices out there: Stoneleigh? Ah, but you can’t turn it off. Attacking TAE is really just clucking for a fix.

My perception is that Xena has her own Windmills to Slay and her own Axe to Grind, which is fine.  I have though recommended to her on at least one occassion so far to Put a Lid on it!  This is part of my Job as Chief Mod of the Mod Squad here.  Because I do command a bit of respect from Xena, she did in fact calm down her rhetoric some.  Her recent stuff I haven’t found objectionable really, it’s mostly been provoked anyhow.

Far as Stoneleigh as a Female Voice haunting the halls of Testosterone here on the Internet is concerned, her presence has been EXTREMELY thin for quite some time here, predating even the Jet Setting Globe Trotting adventure she and Ilargi went on to Oz.

Stoneleigh had some very perceptive insights to offer, most notably her Tag Line of “Multiple claims to underlying Wealth” idea which pops up regularly in her stuff.  She’s also quite knowledgeable in the Energy department.  However, she no longer writes regularly enough to be called a “Blogger” anymore.  You gotta drop on at least one decent article a week to be a real Blogger.  She is more like Blogger Emeritus now, occassionally dropping back onto TAE to drop down a new Pearl of Wisdom, but it is quite rare.

Even Ilargi can’t be called a Blogger anymore.  How many articles has he authored since they got back?  I think I could count them on the fingers of one hand.  The only True Blogger on that site now is Watson.  Many people in the Commentariat of TAE noted that the Flavor changed some with the passing of the Blog Torch to Watson.

Far as Ilargi is concerned, rather than turning into Blogger Emeritus like Stoneleigh, he’s become Dean Wormer, a Blowhard who pops into the Commentary to Swing around his Tube Steak as the Big Cheese on TAE.  He’s made it impossible for me to continue in the Commentariat over there, because I know he will Delete any commentary I make which criticizes him, which of course would be about all of it. LOL.

Anyhow, this is why the Diner exists at all.  If it was not for the fact that I have been Banned from so many OPBs, I’d still be out in the Commentariat where I am most comfortable, writing in dialogue with others.  In fact here in the Diner, I put up way more stuff every day in the Forum then I do on the Blog itself.  I cannot possibly accept the idea of Censorship here, the whole reason for the Diner’s existence was because *I* have been Censored so many times before.

So instead of Censorship, I am a Manager of Napalm.  I know every kind, and I am a first class Napalm Artist myself.  When the Barfight breaks out here, I shuffle all the folks throwing punches into the Back Room and shut the door while they break the chairs over each other’s heads.  It always calms down eventually, though you do sometimes lose some patrons because of it.  Can’t help that if you want Free Speech.

Quote

But RE some of your best writing yet:
‘My goal is to get all these folks into one Bar and Duke it Out, Mano-a-Mano on the Keyboard so maybe won’t have to resort to using quite so many rounds of Live Ammo, which is going to be in exceedingly short supply down the line here.  You can’t do that if you Exterminate anyone who shows up in the Bar with an opposing POV, even if that person has really bad Halitosis and has been off his Meds for  few weeks and is ranting on incessantly about the dangers of 2 ply Charmin Toilet Paper.’

Yea, I thought that one was pretty good too.  El Gallinazo brings out the best in me.

Speak Free on the Doomstead Diner!

RE

————

God’s solution was to have his own Son, in human form, be killed on the cross for the collective sins of mankind (past, present and future), and have His righteousness transferred to every human being (past, present and future).

HTF does sending your own Son to Earth to be Crucified fix any Sinfulness?  Back in those days, people got Crucified as often as J6P gets Foreclosed on today.  If Jesus got Foreclosed on today, would this stop any Banksters from further Foreclosures on the rest of Humanity?  I hardly think so.

Again, like delivering a set of Principles you can PREDICT people won’t follow and will just end up with a Final Battle for All the Marbles between Good & Evil, this is just a really BAD Plan and not worthy of God.  A REAL God would come up with a Better Plan than having His Only Son Nailed to Cross.

A REAL GOD who wanted to solve these problems would have Armed Good People to the TEETH and told them “Go Forth ye Good J6P and SMITE the Evil Pigmen amongst you with your Glocks and AR-15s and Barrett .50 Cals!”  In fact that line was in the original Dead Sea Scrolls but was excised when it was translated into Latin.

But Noooooo, instead God sends down a really skinny undernourished Namby Pamby who tells everybody to Turn the Other Cheek to Evil!  WTF do you think happens then?  Evil People start slapping Cheeks EVERYWHERE!  Really Good Plan you got there General God!

I don’t think so.  Jesus was a really Good Guy who was preaching a Message of Hope to people experiencing a first class Civilization Collapse of that Era.  Sadly, this message doesn’t WORK in the real world and He PREDICTED it wouldn’t work and would just end up with a lot of suffering and a Final Battle for All the Marbles!  Son of God though?  Poppycock.  No Son of God would be such a WIMP and come up with such a Plan DESTINED for Failure.  A REAL Son of God would have arrived on Earth Packing some SERIOUS HEAT and armed J6P with enough Firepower to actually DEFEAT Satan and His Minions.

A REAL GOD would have sent the Outlaw Josey Wales to Earth, not Jesus Christ.

RE

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