The Meaning of Thanksgiving? Hint: Not Supernatural Superbeings.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Hope you’re having a good day with friends and family, or finding something equally nice to do on this cold wintery day here in the Northern Hemisphere. (To those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, why haven’t you invited me down and sent me a plane ticket, you stingy bastards!?)

Weird Family Memories sparked by Thanksgiving:

I had an Aunt Esther on my mother’s side who had an entire room of her house in which children were not permitted. It had a big velvet rope across the arched entryway, like a museum or something. In her normal living room, she had a bowl of candy on the coffee table that was inedible. Real hard candy, but weird tasting, and deliberately chosen so that us kids wouldn’t eat it. It was just there to look at. She DUSTED it. And her middle name was Vendetta. Really.

Another aunt, on my father’s side, just oozed greed. When my father died, I learned he’d transferred the property of our home to his sister, dear Aunt Winona, in order not to lose it when my parents divorced. We three brothers, who would otherwise have been his heirs, met her at the old house to tie up some details. My older brother said “We’re going to honor Daddy’s wishes and not contest this,” and Aunt “Winnie” snapped “Well, if you did, the lawyers would just get it all.” You could practically see her ugly claws digging in. To this day, I remember her as being a dead ringer for Cruella de Vil.

I had a cousin who messed his pants until he was about 13. We’d be playing with him and suddenly smell it. “Tommy, do you need to go to the bathroom?” “No.” His own mother fondly referred to him as “Tommy Shit-In-The-Britch.”

In a reference to the oversized ears which I would later grow into, my Aunt Merle conceived the notion that I loved being called “Mickey Mouse.” I didn’t, but I heard it anyway, until the day she died.

My mother’s brother lived with us off and on for a few years. He had multiple sclerosis and diabetes and walked with two canes. At night he was unable to make it to the bathroom for his frequent urination and so every night filled up a gallon jar next to his bed. It was called Uncle Joe’s Piss Jar. I was in charge of emptying it every morning, and had a horror of accidentally spilling it. He had a room full of boxes of books, and on rainy days I’d be in there looking at that fantastic collection, digging out things to read, esoteric books on science and philosophy, classic novels, all sorts of wonderfully arcane stuff that nobody else in the family could appreciate. Uncle Joe was very probably an atheist — but that was something that could get you thrown out of someone’s house in the Texas of the 1960s (and probably still today), so he never said it — and was the only person in my young life that I could talk to about ideas. He also bought me my first typewriter, a Royal “Safari” portable. (Wish I knew what happened to that thing. I loved it.)

Years later when Uncle Joe died and I was living in another state, my Wicked Stepfather went to Joe’s cabin and pulled out all those books, hundreds of them, and threw them into a big steel burn-barrel. It was an unquestioned fact in his head that nobody would want those books because they were useless trash, and the best thing to do was just burn them. Which he did.

Whew. Family.



Reason Riders Followup

Couple of pics of Pierino Walker, the originator of the Reason Riders patch, with bike and jacket. I really, really REALLY want a motorcycle again.

If you want one of the patches, or want to ride with him in northern California, contact Pierino at ktown1213 [at] gmail [dot] com.

And if you start up a local chapter of Reason Riders wherever you are, I definitely want to hear about it!


Dying to Escape Hasidic Judaism

Tambor and Weiss

Generally I aim my verbal volleys at the Christian world, with the occasional whack at Islam. But this caught my attention after my recent riff on Hasidic Jews in Beta Culture: To Not Be Owned:

Outcast Mother’s Death, and Questions About Jewish Sect’s Sway Over Children

A women who left an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect committed suicide in September.

Ms. Tambor, 33, had forsaken the Hasidic Jewish world in which she was raised and married, a decision that undermined her relationship with her children. Her Skver Hasidic sect in Rockland County, N.Y., was concerned that Ms. Tambor’s freer lifestyle might be a subversive influence on the children, and whether it swayed the children to keep their distance and limited her opportunities to visit has become an emotionally charged question in wider Jewish circles.

Articles in The Forward, The Jewish Week and the online magazine Tablet and on blogs run by Hasidic defectors, like Failed Messiah, have detailed the agonizing challenges facing those who leave the insular world of Hasidim, where dress is austere, the language is Yiddish and religious obligations structure each day.

Former Hasidim seeking child custody arrangements find that rabbis, community leaders and Orthodox Jewish family therapists line up with money and witnesses behind the Hasidic spouse. Such influence is especially powerful in a place like Rockland, a county near New York City where one-third of the residents are Jewish.

Descriptions of her forced estrangement from her children are heartbreaking. Though her ex-husband refused to comment, the husband’s cousin laid her death off on mental issues somehow related an automobile accident.

“She became unbalanced,” said Mr. Melber, who is Hasidic. “Her husband tried everything in his power to hold things together. She started going in a bad direction. There was a feeling the kids are not safe with her because of mental issues.”

Okay, crazy woman. Right. Protect the children. And it might be so. But another wrinkle comes in when you follow the links.

Weiss, her live-in boyfriend, said her family had disavowed her earlier, when she told family members that she had been sexually abused by a member of the tight-knit New Square community as a child and they denied it.

Driven by her depression, Tambor checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, said Weiss, which is when family members in New Square moved to block her from seeing her children, who are now 11 and 13.

“Her depression started when she decided to leave the community and was threatened with losing her kids,” Weiss told The Forward. “Her biggest issue was that no one cared for her, everyone blew off all her issues.”

The sordid story ends with family members — apparently “shamed” by her taking her own life — denying Weiss and 40 of her other friends the right to attend her funeral. One of Tambor’s uncles even called the police in an attempt to force them to leave the area near the funeral home.

Finally, there’s an interesting light shed on the cultural community itself. Footsteps is an organization that assists those desiring to leave the ultraconservative community for the larger world. From the “Challenge” page — “Why is Footsteps Necessary?”:

“There is one particular gole that I want to achive. That gole, is getting a hier education. By a hier education, I mene going to college or university for sevrel years and excelling in the particular subjects that I think I’m good at” (Benny, 19).”

This is a 19-year-old AMERICAN, remember. From the Jewish cultural community, widely respected for its strong emphasis on education. Except in this case …

Ultra-Orthodox communities are insulated from the contemporary secular world and keep outside influences from challenging their basic beliefs or affecting their highly structured way of life. Education is carefully controlled — for boys it consists almost entirely of religious subjects. Girls are given a limited practical education and for many men and women Yiddish is their first language. Exposure to radio, television, movies, secular newspapers and literature of any kind is officially prohibited.

Footsteps aims to assist with  “educational, vocational and social support” for those escaping “the insular ultra-religious communities in which they were raised.” This bit, from their “About” page, is eye-opening (emphasis mine):

People from the ultra-orthodox and Chasidic communities who choose to enter mainstream America currently do so AS NEW IMMIGRANTS IN EVERY SENSE. They face cultural disorientation and isolation coupled with a lack of practical and marketable skills.

Finally, from the “funeral chaos” story: The village of New Square, Rockland County, NY, about 50 miles north of NYC (emphasis again mine) …

… is considered one of the most culturally isolated towns in America, with SEX-SEGREGATED streets and FEMALE RESIDENTS WHO, in obedience to the town’s rabbis, DO NOT DRIVE.

The “sex-segregated streets” bit apparently means women are required to walk on the opposite side of the street from men. Gah.

Christianity Facing Extinction? Wow. Cool.

An article in The Telegraph warns:

Christianity at risk of dying out in a generation, warns Lord Carey

I know this is disturbing and serious from the point of view of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, but from mine, it’s heartening and funny.

Christianity is just a “generation away from extinction” in Britain unless churches make a dramatic breakthrough in attracting young people back to the faith, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has warned.

Clergy are now gripped by a “feeling of defeat”, congregations are worn down by “heaviness” while the public simply greets both with “rolled eyes and a yawn of boredom”, he said.


As I have repeated many times in the past we are one generation away from extinction. We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them.

That’s gonna be difficult, sir. We’ve seen what the Christian faith has done in the past and, well, we have other things on our minds now. Like, you know, reality.

Is Handling Poisonous Snakes a Constitutional Right?

Pentecostal Pastors Argue ‘Snake Handling’ Is Their Religious Right

Is it? I’m going to say yes, with certain reservations.

1) The snakes should be protected.

2) Anyone handling them should be experts licensed by the state in which the church exists.

3) The church offering the activity has to have insurance that covers accidents and liability — just as fireworks displays and rodeos have to have insurance — so that if the snakes escape, or if someone is injured or killed during the service or at any time when snakes are present, they’re covered.

4) The right should be an ordinary RIGHT, and not a religious right. No special favors for churches in the possession and handling of wildlife.

Other than that … I think this is a stupid practice, and the people doing it are complete fools. But hell, let ’em.

I’m going to suggest that if the practice is banned, or some of these nice people are prevented from “worshipping” as they wish, they go blackberry picking in East Texas. They’ll have plenty of chances to meet up with diamondback rattlers, and they can just grab up anything that slithers.

Do Atheists Have the Right to Offend Muslims?

The question was posed in an article from The Muslim Times (which features such articles as A challenge for Dawkins: Where did carbon come from? and Conversion of Mr. Bean to Islam?)

Recently some atheists at the LSE Freshers day were asked by university authorities to remove T-shirts depicting the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) sharing a beer together. Well, to be more exact, they were asked to remove “Jesus and Mo” cartoon t-shirts, where “Jesus” is depicted as a cartoon caricature of the real Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and “Mo” is ostensibly a ‘body double’ of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Such conflicts are proliferating, and present an interesting challenge to our democratic society in the UK: do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?

On the face of it, this may seem a simple question, and most people probably will start reading this article with a fixed opinion on the issue. But it’s actually a rather complicated question!

That’s pretty much the meat of the article, and it trails off into a few more bland paragraphs. The author shies away from giving any suggestion of an answer, I suspect because reasonable people already know the answer: First, it’s the wrong question, and Second, when you ask the REAL question — “Do Muslims (or any other religious group) ever have the right to use ‘I’m offended!’ as a clinching argument to restrict the freedom of expression of others in public spaces”? — the answer is No, or at least, They Apparently Do But They Damned Well Shouldn’t.

The original incident was described on the website of the  National Secular Society:

A row over free expression has broken out at the London School of Economics after members of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society were told they would be physically removed from the annual Freshers’ Fair unless they covered up t-shirts deemed “offensive”.

The group’s response was right on target:

We reject in the strongest possible terms that by wearing a non-violent, non-racist t-shirt we would harass other students or create an “offensive environment”. We reject completely that we were not behaving in an “orderly or responsible manner”. In fact, when faced with the entirely unreasonable request to change or cover up our clothing, we remained calm and asked for clarification on what rules or regulations we were alleged to be in breach of. Even though we completely disagreed with the instructions of the LSE, we still complied, making clear that we would challenge this decision through the appropriate procedures.

As much as we respect and defend the rights of others to wear whatever they choose to wear, we claim this right for ourselves. Our right to free expression and participation in the LSE student community is being curtailed for no other reason than that we are expressing views that are not shared by others. The t-shirts worn are harmless satirical depictions of fictitious religious figures and certainly cannot be considered intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive to anyone by even the most stringent standards.”

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society is in the right here, and in the just world they’re working to create, the deeper question of freedom of expression — whether it involved Muslims or some other religious group — would never come up.

But in this case, a religious group complained of supposed intimidation and the university rolled over and REALLY intimidated this other, non-religious, group.

On a side note, The Muslim Times, which calls itself “A Blog to Foster Universal Brotherhood,” says on its About Us page:

We want to applaud the good writings of all the Muslims, the Christians, the Jews, the agnostics and the atheists and others, by sharing them with our readers.

So, hey, maybe I’ll be published on there someday.  Because they’re all over that brotherhood thing.

Reason Riders Are Really Real

You know about my horseback career, I’m sure. But way back when (and still more in the future, I hope!)  I also used to ride motorcycles. Had three of them and rode year-round, as my sole transportation, for several years.

Remember this post? Hey, Where’s OUR Motorcycle Gang?

I posted my mockup of a possible back-patch for atheist riders, and demanded that I be given a charter membership if anyone ran with it.

Someone did!

Pierino Walker sent me an email a while back (I’ve been a while getting to it; sorry Pierino):

It all started with the concept that you came up with initially and I count you as one of the founders. If you would still like some patches let me know where to send them. I just want show the world that we, as atheists, agnostics and non-believers of all types occupy all facets of life. I am starting this club to show that we enjoy fun, the outdoors, adventure and riding just like other people do, but without Hell or Angels or skulls blazing across our backs.

I just want fellow non-believers to come together as a group and ride down the coastline or ride out to Reno or wherever we as a collective decide to go. I feel it’s necessary to show that freethinkers aren’t just a bunch of angry people sitting around plotting to somehow overthrow religion. I look forward to riding with my fellow like-minded bikers.

If anyone outside of my general area would like to be a part of Reason Riders in their own location, they are free to use the Reason Riders emblem. Anyone can get the patches through me, and if you ride with us, all the better! We’ll keep track of the numbers wearing the patch, wherever they ride. There are only five of us right now but that’s enough to get things started and I hope it grows beyond that.

As Pierino notes, my original design with the Darwin inset would have been too expense and complex. His design is a great improvement.

These are small, 4 inches across, more suitable to an arm or front patch than a big back patch. I sort of wish the name line  was a bit bolder, readable from a greater distance. But still, pretty sweet, yes?

If you want one, or want to contact him for more information, email Pierino, who lives in northern California — really GOOD riding country — at:

ktown1213 [at] gmail [dot] com

On my end:

Patches – check. Pierino sent me TWO.

Motorcycle … still working on that little detail. (But then, I have the entire winter to get it worked out.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a spring ride together in your area? Cruising down the highway, proudly displaying your colors? Oh yeah, count me in.

Beta Culture: The Stench of Royalty

I’m convinced there are two major classes of people on Planet Earth, with a very sharp dividing line — almost a species division — between them.

The two classes are:

1) Real People.

2) Cattle.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the second category. Just as I am.

Writing the most recent post Beta Culture: To Not Be Owned, I came across this rather annoying article from the 2011 Business Insider, The World’s 15 Biggest Landowners.

Here they are in reverse order, the owners and their total owned area (If it helps, one square mile equals 640 acres, or 2.59 square kilometers.):

15) Ted Turner, 3,124 square miles
14) Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa of Qatar, 4,375 square miles
13) James, Arthur and John Irving, 5,625 square miles
12) King Mswati of Swaziland, 6,704 square miles
11) Emir of Kuwait, 6,875 square miles
10) King Letsie 111 of Lesotho, 11,718 square miles
9) King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, 15,000 square miles
8) King Abdullah II of Jordan, 35,637 square miles
7) King Gyanendra of Nepal, 57,000 square miles
6) Sultan Qaboos of Oman, 119,498 square miles
5) King Bhumibhol of Thailand, 200,000 square miles
4) King Mohammed VI of Morocco, 274,375 square miles
3) Pope Benedict/Catholic Church, 276,562.5 square miles
2) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 830,000 square miles
1) Queen Elizabeth II, 10.3 million square miles

Granted a few of these seem largely ceremonial, and not all the “owners” are hand-rubbing, cackling Mr. Burns-type evil landlords, but … Holy Skettymon(*)! Really? REALLY??

The area of Texas is only 270,000 square miles, which means the top four on this list, royalty every one, each own areas larger than Texas.

Two of these are U.S. billionaires, one is a church, the remaining dozen are royalty.  Between the lot of them, they own 12,146,493 square miles of the surface of the Earth. As the total land surface area of this planet is only 57,308,738 square miles, these FIFTEEN rich bastards own 21 percent of our planet.

To which I say: Well … CRAP.

And here I thought royalty was an amusing relic of the past.

As to Beta Culture: This business spotlights a continuing problem with where and when we live — that we are classed and outclassed by certain social forces, and that it might be appropriate to become a bit more assertive about that.


(*) In case you wonder, I love the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I’ve often wanted some easier way to speak His Holy Name in informal usage.  I’ve decided that for me, at least, “Skettymon” is that easier way. It’s short, has a nice punchy sound, and in its final syllable even lightly graces the Pasta with Rasta.

It came to me in a vision, I swear.

Beta Culture: To Not Be Owned

One of the prime motivations of my life has been independence. I have a deep, passionate sense that my life is my own. Mine, and nobody else’s.

I want nothing to be able to claim any part of me, not by force, not by lies, not by clever manipulation. I want to be owned not by churches, not by corporations, not by the government or the military, not by television, not by addictions, not by sports, not by drugs, not by bullies, not by fads or fame or glorious leaders.

On the other hand, I do like giving of myself. I’ve donated blood, money, sweat and time to others. I’ve cooked for sick friends. I’ve given lengthy rides to hitchhikers. I’ve helped people move, watched their pets or house-sat while they were on vacation. In my cowboy life, I’ve helped at brandings, feeding, and hay-hauling without pay. For a long time, I really enjoyed taking food to work — crock pot dishes, or things I had baked. Just as a gift to the granddaughter of some good friends, I wrote what started as a short adventure story with her as the heroine … but which ended being a 50,000-word novel. I’ve visited with people in the hospital. On more than one occasion, I’ve stopped on the side of the highway and helped change a tire, or called a tow truck. Hell, I get a good feeling when I open doors for people, which I do every day. Also every day, I give people sincere compliments.

So I enjoy giving. Giving to others, helping others make their lives work, sometimes helping them just to get through their day, may be one of the chief pleasures of life.

It has to be me making the decision, though. The second I’m ordered to give, controlled to give, manipulated to give – like in one of those “everybody in the office must donate to this worthy cause” campaigns – the lid of my generosity snaps shut.

Examples of the type of unpleasant “ownership” I’m talking about?

A few days back, as I returned to my work van at a highway rest stop, I saw four young women, early-to-mid 20s, standing about 8 feet away. As far as our society is concerned, all four were genetic lottery winners — slender, blonde, beautiful of face. Grouped in a cozy circle and chatting, all four were standing right elbow on left hand in that ancient posture: Woman Smoking.

Key in the ignition and ready to go, I grappled briefly with the impulse to say something to them about it: “For the time you spend smoking, you’re giving up your Self. You’re owned by a tobacco company.” Decided, no, it would probably only irritate or embarrass them. I drove away and left them to their lives.

But smoking is definitely an issue of ownership. Over the years I’ve watched too many friends and family wrestle with the habit not to know this. Considering the cost, impacts to your health, the fact that it produces a lingering distasteful odor on your clothes and hair and possessions, for the time you spend at it … you are OWNED. You’re not yours, you’re theirs.

It’s pricelessly perverse that tobacco companies have managed to convince generations of victims that smoking is a way to express one’s INDEPENDENCE.

Another example I’ve written about in the past:

Years back, I came across a book titled “Ask the Coupon Queen!” that showed a smiling woman holding up a fan of coupons. The author apparently spent hours each day poring through newspapers and newspaper inserts to find coupons for groceries and such, more hours traveling to the stores that doubled coupons or offered daily specials. For her, coupons were a CAREER. So much so that she was able to write a book about it. Gah. Creepy.

And just imagine the happy day you get to MEET the Coupon Queen: You’re standing behind her in line at the supermarket, as she sorts and searches and fiddles with an inch-thick stack of coupons. Yeah. That lady.

And again, there’s that paradox: By using the coupons you can “save money” on your groceries … but you wouldn’t need to do that if the stores charged less for what they sell.

It may be that you won’t get the distinction. I’ve said this to a number of people and gotten blank looks. “But you’re really saving money!” they chirp.

But follow me on this: THEY set the coupon-savings price of the product, but THEY also set the original price. So YOU are not “saving” anything.

They set the price both times. Where’s the savings? They could simply set a lower price, and you wouldn’t need a coupon. But they don’t. This is pure manipulation – by the supposed savings of a few cents or a few dollars – to get you to come into their store, buy their brand. Worse, they rotate the “savings” week by week, forcing you – if you want to “save money” – to look for the newspaper ads, forcing you to spend time on them, reading, clipping, calculating, figuring out your route from one store to the next to get the best “bargains.”

They compete to keep you hooked on their store, or their products. They CONSUME some of your limited, precious life time, and they do it with the lure of pennies.

Speaking just for myself: Hey, I might be a whore, but I’m not a cheap one. If you want ME to spend all that time and effort digging around in the newspaper, and then shuffling those damned coupons every time I go shopping – if you want several hours a week of my all-too-limited life – you better at least give me a car.

I don’t use coupons. At all, ever. I don’t get the “savings” my friends get when I go into the supermarket. But I also don’t have to spend two seconds of my time – MY time – thinking about coupons. At least in this way, I’m not owned.

So why is it that I, Mr. Independence, keep talking about Beta Culture? Something people would have to join, to give up something of themselves in order to become a part of?

Ha. Glad you asked that. Here it is:

My view of culture, from my own experience of my native East Texas Cowboy culture, is that it both TAKES something from you and GIVES something to you. Your culture owns you, a little bit or a lot, but hopefully it also empowers you in some measure.

Of course, the home culture you grow up in, you barely notice what it takes from you. However uncomfortable you might be in your home culture at any one moment, you think that’s the way things are supposed to be, and you just accept it and make the effort. Witness various Earth cultures’ continued devotion to un-anesthetized surgery, poking, burning, slitting, shaving, braiding, scarring, dyeing, tattooing, binding, beating, shrouding, cloistering and all sorts of other physical and behavioral control. (Not to mention forcing you to show up for Thanksgiving dinner so you can be grilled by your aunts about why you’re not married yet, or if you’re still dating That Loser.)

It’s only when you view it from the outside that you can see how painful and unnecessary – and SILLY – most of this stuff is.

What your culture gives you is a place to belong. Friends and family, and familiar ways of doing things. Traditional stories and myths. A roster of acceptable career aspirations, and – sheepskin or lion skin – the clearly delineated pathways into them. Home. Favorite foods. Acceptable clothing, hats, footwear.

The question is: Is it worth it?

At some of those same highway rest stops as the one where I saw the young women smoking, not far from New York City, I also frequently see Hasidic Jews. You may know who I’m talking about – the guys with the long side curls. Not long back, I saw a couple of young men sporting side locks that hung almost down to their shoulders. Both of them also had short-cropped, almost shaved heads, with little islands of foot-long hair on each side of their heads, like a limp, curly version of Pippi Longstocking pigtails. Even to my eyes, they looked faintly ridiculous.

I admit, not being from New York, the first time I saw these Jewish ultra-conservatives, I thought they look funny – straggle-bearded men in black coats and odd little flat-brimmed hats, accompanied by mousy women herding wide-eyed waifs peering at strangers as if every one might be a melodramatically nefarious child snatcher. The nearest match in my head was a comically-costumed Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall.

But it took me all of 30 seconds to see it in terms I could understand: “Oh! This is their version of cowboy hats!”

My cowboy hat might look funny to others – from the number of times people have joked about it, I know it does – but I could wear it to the White House and feel perfectly at ease. To you, it’s a funny costume; to me, it’s a wearable piece of Home. Cowboy is what I am. It’s what MY people do and say and wear.

Ditto for Hasidic Jews. To them, their clothing and manners are not funny. They’re homey. Comfortable. Safe.

And yet I differ from them in this way: I can take off the hat, I can leave the boots and big buckle at home, I can remove every visible evidence of my western persona, and just be Joe Anybody.

In fact, in my everyday life (in New York State, remember), I seldom do wear any of that stuff. Oh, I’ll put it on for visits out West. I’ll proudly wear my gear to rodeos, or just for the hell of it when I’m out socializing. But mostly, you’d never know I was a cowboy.

And when I’m not wearing that stuff, I don’t miss it. I don’t feel lost, or uncomfortable, or somehow less ME. I’m comfortable being who and what I am, no matter what I wear.

So: For each individual within it, culture pays off. But it also carries a cost which can vary from middling expensive to the cost of life itself.  (Families in the U.S. pro-military subculture sometimes pay this highest of prices.)

A foundational goal in designing Beta Culture, first as a way to create something new, but second, to make it more likely that people will actually buy into it, see the possibilities, is to make sure it gives more than it takes.

How might one do that? I have some ideas.


First, I’d expect Beta Culture to place a very high value on education, both the college-degree kind and the continuing-life kind. Betas learn things, all their lives, and it pays off.

It’s not that other people – even other cultures – don’t place a high value on education, it’s that we very specifically DO. Not just as random individuals embedded in a larger culture that doesn’t value education very much (cough*Texas*cough), but as a full-on culture of education, every person of which values it immensely. Every person within Beta understands that education is something you MUST get, MUST continue. If you don’t continue to learn, there’s something a little bit wrong with you, and this place is not a good fit for you.

Does that sound a little bit off-putting? Maybe it is, but as I’ve said before, this isn’t going to be for everybody. There’s already one hard edge in Beta, one absolute gateway, and that’s atheism. As I’ve said elsewhere, if you’re not able to free yourself from the fetters of religion, Beta is the exact wrong place for you.

Likewise, as I imagine it, if you don’t read books, don’t maintain an interest in the workings of your world, don’t understand science, don’t develop new skills or hone existing skills throughout your lifetime … you’re probably better off somewhere else. There’s an entire world out there where you’ll fit right in, and be none the worse for it.

However! What downside is there to education? I can’t imagine any. Education empowers you, empowers the people around you. Empowers the entire culture in which you live … far beyond those which think reading your last book as a senior in high school is an acceptable way to laze your way through the world.

Being encouraged to educate yourself throughout your life, considering the returns to you and yours, seems a very small price to pay.

Further, if Beta Culture grew big enough to swing it, I’d hope it would aspire to even grander goals, such as a FREE education to its young people. Every graduating senior would get a full-ride scholarship to the college of his choice. I can imagine several scenarios that might make this affordable – one would involve a large endowment by generous existing members, another would include some sort of agreement with grads that they would eventually donate some percentage of their adult income back into the program.


I see Betas as anything but pacifists. I don’t mean they’d be war-mongers; decidedly the opposite. But I don’t think they’d shy away from protecting themselves – or their loved ones – against threats. Whether receiving training in self-defense or the handling of weapons, or just the willingness to file a lawsuit against transgressors, I envision a culture-wide air of assertiveness that doesn’t ask or beg for, but DEMANDS respect from the larger cultural surround.

Community Center and Beyond:

I’ve referred several times to the Beta Nexus, a meeting place and house-of-all-purposes in each sizable city. Every time I think of that place, I imagine more that could be done with it. Meetings, classes, temporary lodging for speakers, child care and kindergarten, a place for non-religious weddings and memorial ceremonies, so much more. Hell, it could even house its own coffee house, a nice place that welcomed – and gently proselytized to – local college students. (Free coffee to hard-science majors!)

Eventually, I see no reason why the Beta community shouldn’t own hospitals, publishing houses, web servers, resorts, real estate, all sorts of mainstream businesses just as existing churches and religious organizations currently own. (Did you know the Mormon Church is now – pending certain approvals – the largest private landowner in Florida? Or that the Catholic Church is the third-largest land owner on Earth? Whoa. We’re starting damned late, people.) All of this aimed not solely at profit, but at enlarging the lives of the people within Beta. As well as – and this is important – the surrounding natural world.

With some serious forethought, there are endless possibilities to build huge empowerment into the culture, at the cost of small amounts of personal dedication on the part of those opting – and this is all very much optional, I stress – to become part of it.