Congratulations! You May Already Be A Wiener!

Powerball Jackpot Winning Ticket Purchased In Florida

Here’s the truth: One person is going to win the Powerball Lottery. The other hundred million ticket purchasers (or however many there were) have already gotten screwed.

I make no secret of the fact that I despise lotteries. For so many reasons, but this main one: Government sponsored “games of chance” engineered to sucker hapless victims out of their money? Really? Really??

The lottery is one of those things – like smoking, or beating your wife, or slavery – that seems perfectly normal until you seriously start thinking about it and discover it’s actually immensely disgusting and immoral.

Millions of us DO think it’s perfectly normal. And not only that, but good. Hey, you could WIN. Millions! (Or in this case, six-tenths of a billion dollars.)

But … look at the real picture. For all those who don’t “win,” they have really and truly gone and put money into the thing and gotten nothing back. Week after week, nothing. They literally give away their money. Day after day, week after week, THEY GIVE AWAY THEIR MONEY.

It’s “give,” not “buy,” because a lottery ticket has no value.

Yes, yes, yes, I know some people get those little “wins.” But they’re not “wins” if they’re less than you’ve spent on the game to date. They are wholly temporary lend-backs of your own money, made in the confident certainty that you’re hooked and will come back to regift it to the game in the near future.

Face it, would you “play” the lottery if it was just a box with a hole in the top of it, and the deal was you could just walk past periodically and toss $5, $10 or more into the hole? Yet this is almost exactly what millions of people do. The weakest among us, those incapable or unwilling to analyze what’s really being done to them, throw their money into a hole.

But because a myth is built up around this “game,” the myth of “You could win millions of dollars,” and because so many of us are suckers for a myth, especially one that tells us we will almost certainly win fantastic wealth (or immortality, or paradise), it works. We can be manipulated into GIVING AWAY billions of dollars of real money, money that could be spent on our own needs, or on real charity, or hell, on building a city on the moon.

I know what an idiot I am. But it’s when I see what idiots other people can be, millions and millions of us, that I really start to get disturbed. If the world is crazy enough to accept something like the Lottery, because “Hey, it doesn’t matter, it’s only a few dollars a week,” because “I only buy a ticket when the jackpot is really big,” I really do despair of anything good coming of us.

Fanboy Says ‘Oh Hell Yes!’ to Star Trek: Into Darkness

Warning: Profound spoilers below. If you don’t want to know major plot surprises, stop reading now. If you’re one of those who just CAN’T enjoy a movie if you know what’s going to happen before it happens (I’m not), I guarantee my poor telling can’t match what you’ll see in the extended journey of adventure the movie provides. Reading any further will cheat you out of the serious delights in store.

For the visual effects alone – the starships, the battles, hell, just the new version of going to warp – I would like this movie. But the visual effects played a very distant fiddle to the story. And a very good story it was.

A familiar story? Yes. But in this alternate-universe Star Trek setting, it takes on fresh life, with all the gritty brilliance of Daniel Craig’s rebooted James Bond, or Christian Bale’s rebooted Batman. Hollywood seems to have discovered a way to – occasionally – make sequels better than the originals.

I’m jumping around here because there’s just too much to like about this movie, and I can’t possibly describe it all without a word-for-word retelling of the entire story:

The interplay between Kirk and Spock, as they take in turns the saving of each other’s lives, is wonderful. In a totally believable “guy” way, you see the love between the two. Spock’s tears, as he stands watching Kirk die, bring incredible depth to the character, making him more than the laughable half-alien he was in early TV Trek.

The vulnerability of Kirk-Pine is very different from the swagger of Kirk-Shatner, one side-effect of which is that we get a believable explanation of why the CAPTAIN of a star ship would lead an away team.

I kept hearing this name from a couple of friends – Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Cumberbatch – and thinking “I’m not sure I even want to know this asshole with the too-British name.” But … he was good. Damned good, amazingly good, incredibly good.

Something I said to friends afterward: “You know how I’ve said Sam Elliott’s mustache should have its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I feel the same way about Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice.” His voice is indescribably rich, and the way he uses his mouth and face when he speaks … amazing. He also manages an unusually powerful portrayal of both the calm ally and the fantastically dangerous enemy.

In the quiet theater, I laughed out loud, a quick burst of “Ha!” when I figured out who he was just a moment or so before he told us: Khan.

But you BELIEVE he’s Khan, brilliant schemer and dangerous adversary. Even separated from his crew and fleeing capture, you can see him as an emperor, momentarily dispossessed of an empire but totally possessed of the ability to win one.

The two villains, the one a Starfleet Admiral and the other a 300-year-old genetically-enhance menace, worked very well. Peter Weller’s performance stopped just short of scenery chewing, and provided a believable explanation for the freeing of Khan.

Think of the dual villains as a multi-stage booster rocket, the megalomaniac and too-confident Starfleet admiral providing the initial thrust, burning out but simultaneously igniting Khan skyward. The firing of the third stage – with Khan and his genetically enhanced supermen free to bring their full ruthless potential to bear on an unready galaxy (with, thanks to the admiral, an advanced and massively militaristic ship) – is what Kirk and crew have to stop.

The business about Spock screaming Khan’s name as his friend Kirk dies inside the radioactive engine room chamber after saving the ship, I felt the hint of a protest welling inside me. Was there a cheat in this? A too-easy something the writers threw in because they couldn’t think of anything better? But it wasn’t like that at all. It WORKED, joining the new Star Trek universe with the old one as the changed timelines bled into each other with believable hints of alternate-universe symmetry. (Carol Marcus, daughter of the villainous admiral and the mother of Kirk’s son in the old universe, was another little bit of old-universe-new-universe interweaving, an unheralded delight for observant fans.)

I’d like to go on and on about the writing and the other actors, but I could write about 2,000 words here and not get it all out. I’ll just say this: I loved the acting; every single actor gives you your money’s worth. Special kudos to Simon Pegg for Scotty, the bright but slightly comical chief engineer struggling mightily in several scenes to make things come out right, and to Zoe Saldana for her Uhura, playing through a delightful lover’s spat with Spock at a moment of high tension.

Finally, a little side note: Less the fault of this movie and more a general plot device in science fiction, I am occasionally disturbed by the use of “genetically enhanced supermen” as villains. It’s part of the stock in trade of movie-makers, used many times in the Star Trek universe alone, but it builds on the mythos that “enhanced” must mean bad and never better.

As someone who truly believes humans-as-we-are lie a great deal south of where we must be intellectually to survive, I don’t rate our chances as very high unless we DO build some brighter versions of ourselves. And yet the fictional trope is that the bad traits are enhanced – ruthlessness, greed, ambition – and never the good ones. The murderous superman is a believable creation of human science, while the good, wise, compassionate superman can only come from outside, from mythical Krypton.

Speaking of which, guess who’s hitting the midnight show of Man of Steel on June 13? Oh, yeahhhh.

After I see Star Trek: Into Darkness at least once more, that is.

The First Music Video in Space … Rocks.

I know you’ve probably seen this already. But it’s special enough that *I* wanted to put it somewhere permanent. This is so cool it brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks to ISS Commander Chris Hadfield. (Hurrah for Canadian intelligence, talent and bone-deep class!)

Video below:



Beta Culture: Never Doubt the Power of Religion

The basic rationale for establishing Beta Culture is to provide a balancing force against three “social entities” that are the only current avenues into any sort of future.

As I say it: “There’s the future we might WANT, and the future we’re going to GET.”

The future we’re going to get is the one government, business and religion will get us to. You and I might want a cure for Alzheimer’s in ten years, but if government won’t help fund the research, if universities, hospitals, pharma companies and such won’t DO the research, and if religion blocks the research, there will be no cure for Alzheimer’s. Not ever, unless something changes.

Beta Culture would be a fourth social entity  force that would either act directly or act to exert force on the other three, to get us to a livable, likeable future. Think of these entities as boats on an ocean of possibilities. If the only boats we have are THEIR three boats, we will either not get where we want to go, or will arrive on their schedule instead of ours.  But if we had a fourth boat, our own boat, we’d have more of a guarantee of getting to the livable future WE dream of.

Even considering it’s me saying it, I always flinch just a bit when mentioning religion in the same sentence as government and business. Governments and worldwide corporations are the massive, powerful forces that run the world, aren’t they? By contrast, we generally see churches and religion as relatively powerless. We atheists are comfortable laughing at poor, weak, doddering religion, expecting it will die off any day now and leave us free of it.

And yet, here religion is, flexing its muscle, influencing the minds of the public and members of Congress to ignore climate change. From Raw Story:

Belief in biblical end-times stifling climate change action in U.S.

The United States has failed to take action to mitigate climate change thanks in part to the large number of religious Americans who believe the world has a set expiration date.

Research by David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado uncovered that belief in the biblical end-times was a motivating factor behind resistance to curbing climate change.

“[T]he fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76 percent in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them,” Barker and Bearce wrote in their study, which will be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly.

David Pakman talks about it.

(Apology in advance: I don’t know how to set this so you’ll only see the first segment, which is the one on global warming. You’ll have to shut the video player down manually at the end, or it will go on to the “bulletproof whiteboard” story and five others.)

We pretty much have to build this fourth boat.

Beta Culture: Big Funny Hats

If we’re going to be a real culture with a readily-identifiable visual identity (and a culturally innate sense of humor), we simply have to have our own Big Funny Hat.

My east Texas cowboy culture has them. The Catholics have them (for their leaders, anyway). The Amish have them, and so do Hasidic Jews. Even Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble have them.

I’ve been thinking there should be meetings every two months, where we gather in our respective home cities and display our efforts at choosing or designing a proper BFH, and then an annual meeting where we converse, confer and otherwise hobnob with each other, with a special session devoted to Big Funny Hat efforts. Probably there would be food involved in these meetings, and some sort of alcoholic beverage. Not enough to inspire Vogon poetry, you understand, but enough to lubricate the flow of ideas.

Now I don’t know if all that’s necessary. Jerry Van Amerongen has pretty much nailed it for me with a single Ballard Street panel.



I’m Ready for My Inheritance, Granny — Would You Kindly DIE??

I was talking to my friend Dirt Boy (he owns a plant nursery, and I never shake his hand that he doesn’t have to wipe it off first) last night about Beta Culture, and we got onto the subject of death.

If you’re an existing reader here, you probably know about my Cowboy Dad. For you others: I grew up in Houston, Texas, moved to a little mountain town in California when I was 22. I met this guy there who became my mentor, teacher and eventually, “Dad.” We were both mule packers and wilderness guides — cowboys, that is.

So: Cowboy Dad.  And I wish you could have known him. He was the greatest, kindest, toughest, most magnificent  single human I ever knew. Hell, he put up with ME for 35 years.

I sat with him in the hospital for the last four days of his life, sponging off his forehead, talking to him, telling him everything I needed to say: Your life mattered. The world was a better place for having you in it. I wish we were anywhere else right now, maybe reining in at Duck Pass and looking down at the lake, or setting up camp in Horse Heaven. I will never, ever forget you. I wish I’d been a better son. A thousand times: I love you, Old Man, and I always will.

Anyway, he died. He was conscious and in control for most of those four days, and he was emphatically clear that no tubes or wires were going to be connected to him. Though he couldn’t talk, the fury on his face when a nurse tried to sneak one in on him was eloquent as hell.

He was neither drinking nor eating by the time I got there, so essentially he was starving and thirsting himself to death. The peaceful breathing on the day of my arrival gradually ramped up over the four days to the rasping breath of a marathon runner, and he crossed the finish line as I sat with him.

Though they gave him morphine every few hours, I have no doubt that the whole thing was agonizing. Part of his end was some sort of septic reaction that made his legs and feet swollen and black — so painful they put a little arched rail down by his feet so the sheet wouldn’t touch his toes.

I asked a doctor, and later a nurse, flat out: Is there anything we can do to end this? Their eyes slid away from mine and they voiced standard platitudes: Well, we can make him as comfortable as possible in the time remaining.

Though his dying was no fault of anyone’s, he was still, by the nature of the situation, being tortured to death. And damn, I hate knowing that.

You know, there were moments when I would have liked a final hug from him, more than the one squeeze of his hand and the one smile that accompanied it. But I understood this was HIS time, that he was BUSY, and that I would have a whole lifetime more to see to my own needs. I was there for him, and him only, and so were the doctors and nurses.

Except in this one way: None of us had the power or the will to let him go painlessly.

I know for a fact that he didn’t want to be lying there in pain, dying in a bed. Hah — more than once I heard him reveal his ideal end: “I want to be shot by a jealous lover right after making love to identical twin redheads!” But he would just as well have wanted to die in his sleep while camping in his beloved John Muir wilderness.

I don’t want that sort of boundlessly-painful in-bed end for myself. Or for anybody who doesn’t choose it. But it’s what we’ve got, and there is no possibility of that changing.

I suppose some small part of the problem is our screwed-up language.  For the elderly person who seeks an end to intractable, never-ending pain, we have only the one graceless word, the same one we use for the vengeful adolescent who jumps off a bridge to get back at his parents for being grounded, or for the cornered killer who shoots himself to escape arrest.

He committed suicide. She committed suicide. Shameful. Disturbing. Bad.

And as we all know, “suicide” is ALWAYS wrong. It’s crazy, it’s sinful, you go straight to Hell.

As you might guess from the title of this piece, I know there really are people out there who would seek to quietly and conveniently do away with Granny, or even Mom, to speed their inheritance on its way. The thing is, most people WOULDN’T. But as Dirt Boy describes it, “We make the rules for the dumbest kid in class.” Or the meanest, the most evil, the most greedy. And everybody else, though they’ve done nothing wrong, suffer from it.

The result: For all those who might, with great love and compassion, assist in the death of a loved one, it’s just plain old murder. We’ll put your ass in prison if you do it.

We’ve all heard that old argument: We treat our pets better than we do our old people. But yes, in fact, we do. I’ve sat with two dogs, Ranger the Valiant Warrior and Tito the Mighty Hunter, hugging them and dripping tears into their fur, as they died. Tito died at home, on the grassy hillside of his own yard. Ranger died in a vet’s office, but I insisted he be given a shot of painkiller before he got the death shot, so I’d know he didn’t die in pain. And both times, I was talking to them, telling them what great friends they were: You’re the best, Ranger! I love you, good boy! I love you T-Buddy (Tito)! I’ll never forget YOU.

Oh, shit, I’m crying as I write this. But … it’s a good cry. Memories of those friends will be with me always, and damn, I hated to lose them. But I know I did the RIGHT thing to let them go painlessly.  Ranger lived to be 12.5 — a very advanced age for a pedigreed German shepherd. Tito, my big malamute-black lab mutt, lived to be 16.5. They were OLD. They’d lived their lives. And in both cases, we extended their time in every way we could, until we couldn’t do any more. Neither could walk. Ranger was bleeding internally and in pain, Tito had some sort of cancer and was finally too weak to stand up. It wasn’t murder; it was mercy.

When the “I can’t bear to lose him” inside me was finally beaten out by the “Don’t be selfish, he’s suffering,” in each case, I let them go — painlessly, peacefully, and with all the tear-soaked love in my body.

In ugly contrast, what we have for people — mediated by cops, courts, lawyers and distant legislators — is … well, LEGAL.

Not loving and compassionate and pain free. Legal.

I’d bet good money that if you could do a brain scan of almost anyone dying in a hospital of advanced age or serious disease, you’d find that they were suffering hellish pain — at least part of the time, and some of them the whole time.

But hey, on the bright side, the rest of us don’t have to feel it. And at least we’re keeping safe that small percentage who might otherwise be murdered by greedy heirs. Because screw the rest of those old gummers, right? We can torture them to death by default, then walk away and forget the whole thing.

Merciless. Ugly. Crazy. Uncivilized. And forever. Unless …

Speaking for myself, I’d like to live in a society, in a culture, that will treat me better when I’m close to death. I don’t want drugs, I want dignity. Self-determination. Freedom. I want to be in charge of my faculties and my life, and have some say in the moment and manner of my ending. I damned well demand it.

It’s one of the many things I think could be changed, if we create this new thing.


Beta Culture: Replies to Comments 1

Nolan, frequent and intelligent commenter here at Patheos (I’ve just discovered you can click on the name of the person leaving a comment, and see their many contributions here and elsewhere on the network), replied to my “13 Early Questions” post:

My initial reaction, even after reading your response in point 9, is that Beta Culture is more or less the same thing as humanism. Given the rarity of people who think like humanists, and the difficulty of starting new movements from scratch, I think it would be better to lend your support and ideas to Humanism, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

Humanism is close enough that even if you have some disagreements, joining that movement may allow you to influence Humanism (it does change a little each time a new Humanist Manifesto is released).

I started a reply comment, but ended up with more than 500 words, so decided to turn it into a full-length post.

I’m also realizing I’ll want to bring certain discussions out of comments and display them on the first page here so they can be seen by everybody, and addressed as the separate subjects they will be. So:


I have good feelings about Humanism. But I think what I’m picturing is something a bit larger, an active, growing Culture that goes beyond personal philosophy and occupies a more assertive place on the larger social stage.

When I picture this graphically as a Venn diagram, I think of a large circle with smaller circles inside it. Beta Culture is a social entity within which Humanism can take place, but also things like Atheism-Plus, the Occupy movement, feminism, etc. It’s a vehicle to supercharge the various kinds of  activism by making them the solid cultural values of every member of Beta. In other words, rather than having the current small groups pursuing Occupy goals, Beta Culture as a whole would be an Occupy activist, or a feminist, or whatever foundational values we choose to adopt. If we have 30 million Betas, we have 30 million feminist activists, 30 million take-no-shit environmentalists, 30 million people who refuse to have their children taught creationism in school.

Add to it the fact that Humanism includes numerous people who are religious, and I think there’s a clear difference. The bottom line to me as an atheist is that religion is a mind-poison that has unavoidable negative effects on the individuals who embrace it, as well as massive, still-largely-unseen effects on every society or culture based on it.

Look at the way we handle sex education and reproductive medicine in the U.S. The idea that young people shouldn’t have access to condoms, contraceptives, comprehensive sex and health education is INSANE … yet it’s a majority view which has all too slowly given ground to something more sensible.

Hell, we’ve even LOST ground in some crucial ways. See “Why Have So Many States Banned Abortions?” Ten states in the U.S. have a de facto abortion ban, and the movement to make it nationwide is gaining steam every day.

But if you establish your own culture, you can set sexual health and reproductive choice into it as core values, right from Day One. Every Beta kid would know how his/her body worked, learning not only HOW not to have babies at the age of 15, but WHY. And would have the physical tools to ensure successful application of the knowledge.

Beta is the product of a solidly non-religious mindset. Another mental picture I’ve had in my conceptual work is that of a stepped pyramid. Feminism, environmentalism, etc., would occupy higher levels of the pyramid, but the foundation of the thing, the several massive levels at its base, would be atheism — the uncompromising  rejection of religious, mystical or superstitious mindsets.

The need Beta Culture fills, as I see it, is to provide a place, for the first time ever in history, for uncompromising rational thinkers. A place for them to start fresh and build something new, based on rational thought, rather than to inherit this societal fixer-upper we’re otherwise going to get, with the active termite-infestation of religion and the powdery dry rot of irrational thinking all through it.

You and I may feel good about being individual atheists, but everything around us, including our language, social systems, entertainment, so much, much more, is tainted by thousands of years of religion. Yes, we have to live in this world, but nothing says we can’t establish a unique social enclave of our own, choosing our own path, creating unique new solutions to social problems rather than adopting existing ones and trying to make ourselves fit them.

Philosophy for Two?

Ten points if you recognize the Monty Python reference in the title of this post.

But seriously, here’s something you don’t see every day, and it might be something you’d want very much.

Fellow blogger (Camels With Hammers) Dr. Daniel Fincke is once again offering real-time online video courses in philosophy for atheists:

Hammer Out Your Philosophy Face to Face with Dr. Daniel Fincke This Summer

They are ideal for our ex-believing atheist readers who would like to piece together a positive philosophy on all sorts of matters that they used to rely on their theistic religions for.

From past classes:

I have found an extraordinary group of students who I love spending hours with every week talking about philosophy. A couple of the courses have discussions that are so engrossing for all involved that we regularly decide on the spot to do an extra hour or two long session rather than stop. One of the groups gets along so well that a couple of times when class has already gone over time and been declared finished, we have still just decided to hang around continuing to talk on and on about non-course topics.

If you’d like to know more about Dr. Fincke’s qualifications and experience, it’s here: Classes and Counseling.

Class scheduling is happening now through mid-May, classes start in June or July. It starts with the attached Admission Survey, where you tell the Prof what classes you’re interested in, and when you can fit them in.



Beta Culture: 13 Early Questions

1.  What is it?

Beta Culture is intended to be a novel cultural surround, crowd-sourced and deliberately-created, aimed at providing the broad social benefits and protections that other cultures – including religious cultures – enjoy, but without the disturbing shortcomings of religious belief.

Given that most atheists come from fairly close-knit religious cultures and families, and that a common result of the rejection of religion is the loss of much of the cultural surround that goes with it, Beta Culture is intended to replace the lost fellowship, family and social connections.

Given also that religious cultures enjoy special benefits in society that individual unbelievers can’t take advantage of – visibility, voice, special legal protections, and even certain freedoms from taxation, all of which amount to unusual social power – Beta Culture would serve to replace that lost power with a social structure that demands equal access and rights in society for its members.

2.  Why do we need it?

It could be argued that we don’t. Some of the social changes we desire are happening on their own. And certainly we as individuals seem to be managing to live our lives, to have careers and create families, to plan for our individual futures, and even to become outspoken atheists, all on our own.

As things stand, though, we also face both great negative social changes and a lack of progress on certain positive changes. There are larger forces in society over which individuals, however many of us there are with shared ideals and values, have little or no effect.

Really, this is all about the future. There’s the one we’d like, and the one we’re getting. In my view, three large social entities are the primary forces delivering us into our shared future – government, business and religion.

We might want certain good things for the future, might un-want certain bad  things, but we’re pretty much at the mercy of these three social forces when it comes to attaining those desires. We have no way of achieving the good things on our own, and we’re powerless to stop others from doing the bad things … except as these three entities permit. We’re at their mercy.

If the future you want includes flying cars, but these three entities have no interest in creating or providing them, you won’t get them. More practically, if you want a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years, but the steps to that reachable goal are unfunded by government, unpursued by business, and opposed by religion, there will never be a cure for Alzheimer’s.

If you want a future in which there is no war, but that goal is ignored by government, unprofitable to business, and passively uninteresting to religion, there may  never be an end to war. Until war ends us, anyway.

In my view, we need a fourth social entity, a solid organization of rational people, to exert our own social force. A culture – which encompasses ALL our shared values – might be the most effective way to do it.

Cultures can demand things individuals can’t, exerting powerful social and even legal pressure to make them happen. (For example, some Sikhs, including Sikh children in school, have won legal protection for carrying “ceremonial” knives, in places where zero tolerance of weapons is the rule for everyone else. Meaning: Some people obtain rights enjoyed by no others, and those rights are won on religio-cultural arguments.)

3.  Why is it called Beta Culture?

Basically, pretty much all previous Earth cultures and societies have this one thing in common: Religion. And not as some distant peripheral aspect, but as the core of the culture, the thing that holds it together.

Since that was just the way things always were, nobody thought to call it anything but History. But for the first time, today, we have the chance to build a society that does NOT have religion at its heart, a culture of reason and reality, something that actively rejects the poisonous influences of religion, mysticism and unreason.

Seeking a simple name for the massed aggregate of history’s religious tribes, communities and nations, I chose to call it Alpha Culture.

Beta Culture was the obvious choice for its successor. Beta Culture would be a first-ever on Earth. It’s “Beta” not because it comes second, but because it comes NEXT.

4.  Isn’t there a problem with the name?

Yep, there is. If we choose to worry about it, that is.

“Beta Culture” in the techie world refers to software manufacturers who release buggy software before it’s actually ready for the market, in effect making their paying customers the beta testers. In other words, there’s a “culture” in the software world that thinks this is the way to do business. In this sense, “Beta Culture” is a pejorative term.

On the other hand, EVERY word in our language is already well-used. You either use something that already exists, or you make up something totally new and hope it doesn’t sound like a new car model, or a prescription drug: Zephyre. Quoddro. Zeepinex.

Ditto for most phrases. Searching for completely unused phrases on Google, the best I’ve come up with is “Scuba Diving Laser Cats.” Given a choice of Beta Culture or the one that sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon show, I thought Beta Culture was a pretty good choice. Until something better is suggested (by the people who join in making it real), Beta Culture it is.

If Beta Culture resonates with enough people so that it becomes a real thing, or even if it’s just written and commented about enough, future Google searches will turn up more hits referring to OUR Beta Culture than to those that link to what appears to be little more than a footnote to the software industry.

5.  Isn’t it just another religion?


Lacking any religious belief structure and being operated as a social, cultural and legal organization to protect the rights of its members, Beta Culture would not be a religion.

Given that it would demand the same rights and protections for its members that religions and churches enjoy, it will certainly face accusations that it’s a religion. But that’s already true, isn’t it? NOTHING atheists do will lack some sort of angry response from the religious lobby. The answer is to not worry too much about what they think or say, but to live our own values and do what seems right to us.

We’ll know we’re not doing religion, because it will be us doing what we’re doing.

6.  What’s the difference between a religion and a culture?

Religion is a subset of culture.

Broadly, religion is the set of beliefs and practices related to a holy book, prophet, cult leader or priesthood. Culture is a set of common beliefs and practices of a specific people, a coherent, mostly uniform group bonded together by common lifestyle and outlook.

An obvious example of the difference is that there is a Jewish religion, but there is also a Jewish culture. The religion is practiced only within its containing culture, but not every member of the Jewish culture practices the Jewish religion. A certain legal and social conflation of the two ensure that both Jewish religion and Jewish culture enjoy broad general rights and protections in society.

A culture that contains no religious base is generally disadvantaged in relation to religion in that various kinds of social effectiveness, and certain legal protections such as exemption from taxation for its meeting places, are missing. However, in that atheism consists of certain convictions that might be legally construed as faith-related, unlike, say “Nascar culture” or even the other “Beta Culture,” it should be eligible for the same legal protections and rights.

Regardless, the coherence of the culture, the buy-in of its members, would create a powerful social entity all by itself.

7.  What are the values and goals of Beta Culture?

Progressive and humanist values. Any one of us could probably come up with a long list of values – values cherished, it sometimes seems, because they appear so unachievable.

The full equality of women, including expanded access to reproductive health care. Expanded and real environmental protection. Social justice. A powerful emphasis on science and science teaching. Government and corporate transparency. Freedom from religion at the level of society, but also for every individual who desires it. Fixing stupid drug laws. A massive national (worldwide) push to solar power. Here in the U.S., revolutionary effort to reform public transportation, with an emphasis on fast, efficient trains. Economic justice a la Occupy – serious prison terms for corporate criminals, and the insistence that the wealthy and wealthy corporations pay their taxes, and stop receiving government subsidies. Real sex education for kids, including ready access to condoms and contraceptives.

But also, in my view, certain other things: A free college education to any young person who qualifies. A living wage to seniors on Social Security. Funding for research aimed to end Alzheimer’s, diabetes, other big killers. An end to the right to lie and manipulate by broadcast media.

All of these things are worth pursuing as social goals; many or most of them face powerful resistance from the three other social entities.

The point of the crowd-sourcing is that Beta is fluid until we begin to refine and solidify it with our massed convictions. And even then, major changes should be able to take place.

8.  Will Beta Culture have some sort of “church” or meeting place?

Definitely yes! As formal religion contracts all across the U.S., and great parts of the world, countless big beautiful buildings will be sold off by their parent churches and re-purposed for other uses. (In the U.S., the same is true of post offices.) There’s no reason some of those – ideally, one in every community – shouldn’t become places for atheists and unbelievers to meet for social activism, fellowship, and countless other activities.

I think of this location as a community “Nexus.”

With a careful approach to legal issues, there’s no reason Nexus should enjoy any fewer rights in relation to taxation as any church, synagogue, mosque or other religious/social center. Given that there are already atheist “churches,” it would seem the point has been established as defensible.

9.  How is this different from Humanism? How is it different from Atheism-Plus?

For all I know, the heart of Beta Culture may be point-for-point the same as Humanism, and I have no problem with that. My experience of Humanism, though, is that it’s mostly focused on the convictions and choices of individuals. Though it carries larger social implications, I rarely see humanists organizing for greater social influence (It may just be that there aren’t enough of them!). One of the core implications of humanism as a personal choice seems to be that, as a matter of respect for the individual, other people have the right to make their own choices, other choices.

Of course I agree with that, but my agreement radically ends when the choices made by large numbers of others impact not only my life, but the lives of everyone and everything around me, for the worse. And that’s what we’re facing – not just a slide into a problematic future, but a zooming, rocketing race into it.

It’s long past time for a new social force to enter the game, an assertive culture of individuals who want to stop the bad stuff and quicken the good stuff. People who can’t wait for change to simply happen along, but want to exert pressure to make it happen now, or in the very near future.

Atheism-Plus, in my view, was a conceptual step along the way to Beta Culture — I joke about my blood type: “Hey, I’ve been A+ since 1952!” — but it fumbled the ball in its introduction by making enemies within what should have been its own camp.

One of the problems with atheism is that we’ve only recently reached a critical mass of social thinkers attempting to see its full social implications. One of the understandings coming out of that massed effort is the realization that atheism isn’t enough. After you’ve reached complete understanding that no such things as gods exist, you’re still faced with the rest of life, the problem of defining your non-religious values, establishing your non-religious social practices, pursuing your non-religious future.

Religion has this huge advantage over us there. Not only is all that stuff already worked out, religion provides automatic family, community and culture that enfolds and guides every member within it. Religious culture tells you how to be born, how to die, how to live in your daily life, how to find mates and marry, how to conduct family life, often even how to learn and work.

Atheism provides none of that. And yet we social beasts do need those things, or at least some of them.

Atheism-Plus was (or is) an attempt to define certain social values that atheists might hold, and make some progress toward pursuing them.

It suffers from two unfortunate stigmas, in my view. One is the definitional problem of trying to add meaning to a word already possessing a strong and definite meaning to people who self-identify under it. Initial opposition to the attempt to redefine it, even if only by adding a dash and a second word, was predictably fierce. The second problem was defensiveness on the part of those within the initial movement, a baldly stated exclusionary “with us or against us” mentality that instantly created an avid opposition.

It suffers from a third shortcoming, that it’s still only a partial answer to the underlying question. Religion has all this good stuff – influence and power on our social stage, but also that enfolding protection and guidance for its members – but what do we atheists have? Even with Atheism-Plus, the answer is still little or nothing.

But we could have something. A dramatically different, affirmative, energetic culture that gives us protection as individuals and demands social change as a group.

10.  Who can join Beta Culture?

The single basement-level requirement to joining Beta Culture is atheism or at least agnosticism. If you lack the basic real-world focus that allows you to escape the fantasies of religion and mysticism, Beta Culture is not for you.

This is not some exclusionary device meant to cheat anyone out of basic rights. It’s a way to define our OWN basic rights. Unbelievers have always been forced to live within and be subject to powerful religious cultures that have utterly controlled us. The cost has included us keeping our mouths shut, even when we knew things that would have been immensely helpful to our social fellows, but has also included not-rare death sentences … which continue today in parts of the world.

It’s time we had our own place, our own culture. Anyone can join, but they have to accept this entirely reasonable entry fee – they have to show they’ve reached the mental maturity of freethought.

I fully expect another of the core values of Beta Culture to be outreach or teaching. Proselytizing. In fact, I don’t see how it can survive or grow without it. I also can’t see how it can be successful at providing a social force for progress or backpressure if it doesn’t gain members rapidly, and worldwide.

Certainly there are those of us within the atheist movement who think we should be working with religious groups on common social challenges, and I see that as a worthwhile goal, but it would have to be clear that Beta would never allow religious people or religious proselytizing within it. If it becomes a harbor for the religious, internal stresses between atheists and religionists will almost instantly destroy it as any sort of useful social force of the type needed. Rather than a fourth social force, it would become just another church, and atheists would bail out in droves.

(As such, I fully expect there will be people kicked out of Beta for religious proselytizing or woo-pitching, and the thought bothers me not one bit. Godders and mystics have had thousands of years to run the world. We have the right to build a sanctuary for ourselves free from them and their poison.)

11.  How do you actually create a culture from scratch?

It must be easier than we think, because they pop up among us all the time. Most are fractional cultures, satisfying only small parts of the members’ lives. I’m thinking of Justin Bieber fandom, or the decades-older Grateful Dead or Jimmy Buffett fan phenomena. Nascar fans. The Harley Davidson culture, Apple culture, cowboy/western culture.

We have two huge advantages in our case.

One, we have the benefit of crowd-sourcing mediated by our online connections.

Two, we can steal from anyone. Every culture that exists today, and every culture from all of human history, is/was an experiment in ways humans can live and work together. There’s nothing proprietary or patented in any of those cultures. If we want to wear kilts or Sherpa hats, if we want to develop our own international sign language, if we want to all talk in 1980s CB lingo, good buddy, all of that is either doable on our own or available through guilt-free borrowing from others. And we can be as tame or as outrageous as we like.

Beta Culture itself is an experiment, a refinable one that can adopt and abandon lifeways, at will, and at the direction of its bright members.

12.  What can we do with it?

You tell me.

The first thing *I* want is a Beta meal when I fly, a meal that contains fresh fruit juice, a salad made out of wholesome fully-natural ingredients prepared without preservatives and additives, and a sandwich made with freshly-baked multi-grain bread and turkey roasted within the past two hours, plus mayonnaise prepared from scratch by a sweet little woman named Marge who used to make it just that way for her grandchildren.

Sounds crazy? But that’s pretty much the sort of specificity others get when they ask for Kosher (or Halal or Vegan) meals on flights. If they can command that sort of respect, I want US to command that sort of respect.

Yes, I really do want (someday, hopefully in my lifetime) authorized and incorruptible Beta inspectors checking the stuff I eat before I eat it, and giving it the Beta Approved stamp so I know what’s in it.

The next time a mass shooting happens and the memorial service includes a Rabbi, a Priest, an Imam, I damned sure want a Beta up there to convey the right of unbelievers to be equally represented in the community of grief.

After Beta Culture becomes more widely known, I want some mother or father to march down to the public school where their kids are being indoctrinated with other people’s religion and say “How dare you teach my kids your religion?! My whole family are Betas, we are shocked and horrified by this, and we demand you stop it this instant!”

I want at least one Beta community center, a Nexus, in every city in the U.S., and the world. I want it to contain The Darwin Café or Russell’s Tea Spot where atheists and Betas can gather for coffee and music and open mike nights of music or poetry contests or lectures (and where college students get reduced prices on coffee, hard-science majors get it free). I want it to include rooms  where traveling atheist speakers can sleep or freshen up before appearing at local events. I want an atheist library and reading room in every Nexus, and free web connections for members. I want Beta child care, and preschool. I want a large room for Beta ceremonies and meetings, and small ones for classrooms. I want a place for Rational Recovery meetings for alcohol, drug and gambling addicts.

I think I might even want a place where former priests and ministers can land as counselors and community helpers, after they realize they can no longer bear to live with the lies, but who have no other place to go because their entire career has been devoted to their church.

I want a huge Beta scholarship program to assist students in hard-science majors, and whatever else we can afford.

A great deal of this would be internal to the culture and eminently doable, but there are some things – the airline meal, for instance – that would require effort at external changes in the society around us. For that, as we grow, I want Beta lobbyists and watchdogs in Washington, working to secure our rights. I want Beta newscasts and Beta reporters.

I want … a lot. But that’s the point. So do you. There are an infinite number of things we could try.

13.  Why do it now?

Because … well, because I don’t think there’s a lot of time for we humans to rescue ourselves. Technologically, there are some things going right for us, but in so many other ways – not least of which is the environment – we are in some deep, deep shit. In all our 7 billions, we’re like a sledgehammer pounding daily at a very fragile little jewel of a world … and the oh-shit-we’re-fucked-ness may be greater than any of us imagine.

At the same time, there are powerful forces very interested in us remaining ignorant and weak rather than pitching in and recognizing and solving problems. (FOX News, for example, is a powerful corporation that spreads lies and turns so many of our countrymen into sheep who vote against their own interests.)

I could go on about this for thousands of words, but briefly: The community of reason is needed, and needed NOW. Both to save ourselves, and to help redirect larger society on paths that are survivable.


A final note here:

I’m interested in input of the brainstorming variety. Brainstorming, if you’re familiar with it, is the process of suggesting ADDITIONAL aspects of the core idea, rather than shooting down ones already suggested.

There will be plenty of time later for us to say “That won’t work because …” (in time, I’m 100% certain there will be plenty of that from actual opponents). Meaning: If you want to comment on some part of this (or comment on a comment) that you find ridiculous or unworkable – ESPECIALLY if you have no creative options or ideas to ADD to it – please-please-please save the comment for later. We’re looking for Possibility Thinking here, creative thinking, rather than critique.

From my own thoughts on the subject and input from other atheists I respect, I really do think there’s something good here, a growing WORKABLE concept. But sometimes the REALLY good ideas only start flowing after you establish a welcoming environment, which means the first ten or so ideas have to be heard and noted, even if they are obviously (or later turn out to be) insanely unworkable. I hope the community can take the concept and think about it in an atmosphere of generosity and open-mindedness.

Bear in mind that we – you and I – could really build this thing. You could be one of its creators; you could suggest the core idea that makes it work … or the silly little side idea that makes it FUN.

Or we could kill it right now and continue to take the crap the rest of the world is already shoveling at us.

Looking forward to hearing from you.