Beta Culture: The Long Shadow of Forgotten Gods

So you’re an atheist, and you’re totally free of religion, right?

Oh … maybe. And maybe not.

Say one of your ancestors learned this thing in church a thousand years or so ago:

The Book of Bob 9:17 — Verily, God saith that all men shall roll down the tops of their socks, or they shall never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but shall instead be bound screaming in a pit of flaming scorpions, which shall rend them even unto the ends of time.

It’s safe to say that still today, somewhere in the world, someone would be diligently, faithfully, even fiercely, rolling down the tops of their socks. Considering the verse mentions “men,” it’s even possible that whatever little sect was doing it would be crystal clear that only MEN were allowed to roll down the tops of their socks, and that if women did it, it would be an abomination.

We atheists want to think that when we give up the central idea of religion — that a god or gods exist — that we’re immediately free of all taint of religion or faith. But the thing is, both as descendants and residents of this society, which grew up on thousands of years of equally silly but nevertheless solemn pronouncements, a lot of that stuff is still with us. Orders from God, given in a time when nobody knew anything BUT gods, sticks with you. We humans REMEMBER shit. We pass it along.

This remnant religion, because it seems normal to us, having been born into it and started learning it before we could talk, can be out in plain sight and yet still invisible to us. Rather than seeming faith-related, it’s just plain … the way things are.

The abortion debate is a good example. I’ve always believed that every argument against abortion – even those of the “secular anti-abortion” upstarts – springs from the religious idea of ensoulment. If a soul – the “self” part of you – enters the person-to-be at the moment of conception, that person-to-be BECOMES a person at that instant. Terminating an embryo at any stage after ensoulment would be killing a PERSON.

Also, if you believe the implanting of these ghostly inner selves is overseen by God, ending a pregnancy is the equivalent of destroying some of God’s holy property, probably the hell-deserving worst of sins. The condition of the mother – her age or health, desperation or poverty – wouldn’t even come into it.

You don’t actually even have to have an abortion to be guilty. If all you do is stand by and let it happen, you’re every bit as hell-bound. If you know about it, you have to intervene.

Furthermore, if you believe in a blanket fate regulated by an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise God, even preventing fertilization would be the same sort of sin. You’d be thwarting God’s will, preventing the arrival of a soul pre-ordained to land on Earth.

And damn, until this moment, I never really thought about the actual mechanics of this nonsense in the heads of believers. But from their point of view, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? They’d oppose not only abortion, even in the case of a mother who’d die without it, but would adamantly oppose contraception as well. As they DO.

But abortion is the easy one, isn’t it? It’s right out where we all can see it. Let me toss a few phrases at you to illustrate the less obvious example of stuff hidden in everyday language.

She’s gifted.
You’re blessed.
You just get the one life.
Everything happens for a reason.
It was meant to be.
Things will work out the way they’re supposed to.
What goes around comes around.

If you have a “gift” of intelligence or beauty or athletic ability, just the word alone says you have a thing that’s been GIVEN, by a god or other supernatural force. It came from somewhere, from someone. You might never examine the deeper meaning of what’s being said, but if you use that linguistic formulation, you’ve unconsciously bought into the idea of a god at work in your life. Even more so if you’re “blessed” with that gift.

“You just get the one life” implies there’s a “you” somehow separate from that life, suggesting you enter into that life, and then exit it at some later point, after which you are denied a second shot at it.

“Everything happens for a reason” and “It was meant to be.” Oh, yeah? So what reason is that? From whom does it come? Who “meant” it? Oh, right: God. You may not know what that “reason” is, but it has certainly been arrived at by some superior being, right? If you fall across the tracks and have your legs cut off, there’s a REASON for it, and it’s something good. No matter how much you suffer, it’s surely something good.

“Things will work out the way they’re supposed to.” At the drug and alcohol rehab facility where I work, I saw this on a poster one day: “If things aren’t working out according to your plans, trust that this is the plan.” Whose plan? God’s plan.

“What goes around, comes around.” Karma. Some superior force for balancing the universe – might be God, might be “the universe” – is at work. If the bully beats you up, he’ll get his … somehow, someday.

The point of all this is that some level of religion – or its baby brother superstition – is in us in ways not easy to see. It’s in our language, in our thoughts, and it continues there effortlessly as it is passed along from generation to generation.

It doesn’t have to rise to the level of god-belief – hell, the idea of Luck drives apparently limitless love for the various lotteries and casinos here in the U.S.; if we didn’t believe in luck, we’d never buy a ticket to these games which are so obviously engineered to make most “players” lose.

But by being in our language, religion and superstition infect us with irrational, poorly-considered thoughts and actions, on a everyday basis.

If the human mind was a can of white paint and ancestral religion was deep red pigment poured into it, the fairly secular society we like to fancy we live in would still be fairly reddish. You’d find red-hued religious effects blended into language, law, commerce, medicine, psychology, drug policy, culture, art, government, philosophy, the way we treat animals, how we interact with the environment, and even – or so I sometimes suspect – in science.

Even the most freed of atheists would still carry a faint hue of pink. Not because we’d want to, but because the only way to get that red pigment out is to find it one microscopic particle at a time – one hidden religion-biased belief or assumption at a time – and to inspect, judge and eject it.

When you’re talking the deepest unexamined parts of your mind, or whole societies, that’s a pretty tall order. It would take a lot of people working together to ferret these religious effects out, and help people evict them, both from their own private heads and from larger society.

This would be one of the prime goals of Beta Culture. Not just being atheists as individuals, but removing religion from EVERYTHING … in our own community at the very least.

Beta Culture: A Citizen of Earth

I don’t think I ever really got around to explaining the title of this blog. So why “A Citizen of Earth”?

When I was still in elementary school (grades 1-6, here in the U.S.), my oldest brother graduated to high school (grades 9-12). I’d been hearing him cheer for his junior high school (grades 7-8) football team — the Catamounts — for two years, but here he was suddenly backing his new high school team, the Eagles.

Something about being a Catamount supporter felt natural and right. The Catamounts WERE the best team. My brother had been telling me for two years, and I believed him. But now suddenly the Catamounts were forgotten in this new fervor for the Eagles.

“Why don’t you like the Catamounts any more?” I asked him, but he gave me his look that meant “That’s one of those Stupid Little Brother questions,” and that was the end of it.

I must have been all of 10 years old, but I remember wondering “Can you really care about something so much, fanatically cheer and support someone, and then just … not?”

Apparently you could. But I remember being disturbed, feeling something dark that said love, allegiance, whatever it was, was not something that just flipped from one thing to another, one tribal team to another, like a switched being flicked on and off.

Certainly I couldn’t do it. If I loved something, cared deeply about something, it was pretty much forever. Possibly as a result, love and allegiance came to me very slowly, very cautiously, like a forest animal checking the terrain before committing.

I sat out as many of my high school pep rallies as I could. While the rest of the school was in the auditorium, stamping their feet and shouting on cue, I was in the library reading. On those occasions when I got caught and sent to the auditorium to participate, I looked around at friends and classmates and wondered. I tried shouting and clapping, stamping my feet, all of it, and I’ll admit there were moments when I was caught up in the MUSIC of it, the thundering percussion of it all, but for the most part I sat quietly and watched.

More than team spirit, I felt suspicion. Learning to cheer and wave and stamp our feet on cue, were we being programmed to like this team, and then the next team? Trading whatever developing independence of thought we might have for this knee-jerk belief and allegiance?

Did all this have some goal in mind, maybe a goal that wasn’t even for us, but for the people asking us to do it? Were we learning to be excited and passionate – and sometimes angry and defensive – for somebody else’s benefit?

And after we were programmed to respond with this sort of instant allegiance, would we be switched to something bigger and more demanding and even less helpful to our own personal welfares?

Part of the answer – the Vietnam War – wasn’t long in coming.

For those of you who weren’t around back then, the Iraq War is an even better example. The type of pep-rally-devotion I’m talking about, national allegiance, at a level that ignores justice, reason, and even self-preservation, is right out there in plain sight. Not just for the prosecution of the war, but for the blind, loving, passionate support of it. During the Bush years, to question the war, to express one single word of doubt, was to be a traitor to every American ideal.

To question the war was to waste the patriotic, freedom-loving sacrifice of all those who’d died in it – almost as if you’d killed them yourself. To question the war was to hate America itself, the proud nation which bleeds to give you freedom, safety, wealth, family, God, EVERYTHING. If you doubted the justice and necessity of the Iraq War, you commie traitor bastard, you should definitely go live with Saddam … perhaps before one of your former countrymen, proud patriots all, took you out and shot you.

Well, that was just one of the more recent eye-openers that nationalism, team spirit on a national scale, was something so easily bent to irrational ends that it seemed designed for it.

“My country right or wrong” sounds good as a patriotic quote from American history. But if you THINK about it, think about what it means to support wrong-doing, to back unjustified, senseless war or smaller scale black ops, without thought or guilt or regret, it automatically makes you a bad person. To the extent that you support killing strangers off in some distant country, for no good reason you know, to that extent you are guilty of the killing.

To put it mildly, I don’t like that. I don’t want to be a part of it.

In fact, I don’t want to be a part of ANY automatic tribal or national action. I’m not a “national” person. Meaning, I don’t like to believe I’m owned or ordered by the concept of one nation or another.

I recently had a bit of an epiphany about giving and getting in the modern world, enough that I see that libertarians have some fairly selfish ideas regarding what the world owes them, and what they owe back. But the thing is, I’m willing to give, and give a lot. In fact, I think you MUST give – to family, to friends (human and animal), to some of those others who share the earth with us, in fact to Planet Earth itself.

But not to the people who see themselves only in terms of nations, and not to those nations.

Arguing with conservative friends, I’ve said many times that the “America” we US-ers get so soppy and poetic about is not a place or a flag. It’s a body of ideas. And when I think of myself as an American, my respect is to those ideas, and not to the land contained within these specific geographic boundaries, or to a symbolic flag.

Truthfully, it’s not even allegiance to all of the ideas. When the goddy faction starts in saying this is a Christian nation, they’re instantly disincluding me. I’m not a citizen of any Christian nation, and there is no exclusively Christian notion I hold with.

I’d even argue there are a lot of Christian ideas that are impossible to square with this American body of ideas. Hey, if your biggest Big Guy is a king, you ain’t living in any democratic republic I ever heard of. You’re LESS of an American than I am.

Legally, I’m a citizen of the United States. But ethically, and rationally, my allegiance is to this body of ideas – ideas of equality, justice, reason, individual freedom, fairness, strength, friendliness, community, generosity, charity, education, peace, privacy, intelligence, curiosity, a caring for nature, and a great deal more.

To the extent those ideas or ideals are at the foundation of the United States, I’m wholly on board. But to the extent they aren’t – which, lately, we seem to be diverging from rather radically – I’m less a supporter of the NATION and more a supporter of the IDEAS.

I’ve been headed this way since Vietnam, I suppose. I didn’t support that war, and I still think it was a catastrophe for all concerned.

The Iraq War of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was not only a catastrophe but an vicious betrayal of some of the deepest ideals of Americans. It was not just a war in the middle East, it was a war right here in the U.S., a manipulative war on U.S. citizens, a campaign of blatant, casual lying and brainwashing, which has yet to end and probably never will.

I can’t be a part of that. If the U.S. is redefining itself to be THIS – a corporate-military-media (and religious) machine that cares about profits and power more than the lives of people – my allegiance necessarily diminishes. I’m a citizen of something larger and better, I like to think.

My fellow citizens are not the people who just happen to live next door, but those who share my ideals.

I have more in common with the man who crosses a border in hopes of a better life than some of the “citizen militia” thugs who patrol that border. More in common with the people in other nations who protect women’s rights to reproductive health than the screaming fools who block access to Planned Parenthood doors here in the U.S. More in common with environmental activists on the Sea Shepherd than with American big game hunters who pose with dead African wildlife. More in common with the conscientious objectors of the Vietnam era than loudmouthed idiot hyperpatriots like Ted Nugent. More in common with foreign scientists than American creationists.

And more in common with the people who share my idea of a citizenship in something bigger and more inclusive, something that ignores and supercedes national boundaries and tribal identifications … than with the flag-waving “patriots” who think their country can do no wrong.

I’m A Citizen of Earth.

I know I’m not alone in this. I hope there are more and more of us as we move into our difficult future.

This is the kind of society, the kind of culture, I want to help build. I think it’s the only survivable one.

Please Don’t Plan to Picket Fred Phelps’ Funeral

Word is that Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, is dying.

His estranged son Nathan Phelps, reported on Facebook:

I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the “church” back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

There’s been a lot of talk about protesting at his funeral, and I approve of the sentiment but not the action.

Funerals are private family affairs, in my view, and I’d never show up at one to cause some kind of fuss. Of course I can’t advise the ones who have been directly harmed by his funeral protests; it may be those people — the families of deceased gays and dead soldiers — have every right to come back at him and his family in like manner. But I sort of hope they don’t, and I don’t think any of the rest of us should.

I want to say clearly that I limit this sentiment of non-interference, non-commentary, to the funeral alone. The shitty human being who created the cesspit that has now cast him out — Ha! Apparently some turds are so bad even the toilet rejects them! — is fair game for replies in every other avenue of speech. Whatever general “don’t speak ill of the dead” respect one might normally owe a person simply doesn’t apply in some cases, and this is one of those cases. (For instance, I don’t mind saying the world will be better off without this creepy, hateful bastard in it. )

His public actions and attitudes SHOULD be replied to … but in public places (Twitter, Facebook, TV interviews, talk shows, podcasts, blogs!) rather than in the private space of a funeral. The fact that he gleefully breached the privacy of so many during a time of grieving was one of the things we so hated about him, wasn’t it?

I have a hard time imagining anyone actually loving him, and that seems to be borne out by reports that he’s dying alone in a hospice, unattended by family members. But however they want to play it, the time before and after his death is his family’s private choice.

As for me …


Grieving Mother Mistreated by Heartless Atheists

Here’s this article: Atheists Fight With Grieving Mom Over Roadside Crosses.

Son dies in a auto accident at the age of 19, grief-stricken mother erects a memorial of crosses and flowers on city property, humanist group asks city council to disallow it.

Good call? Bad call? Commenting on Facebook, Sinis Tergrin weighs in:

I think it’s pretty mean spirited to target a grieving mother. What kind of person complains about this based on the “separation of church and state”?? I thought we in the atheist community were supposed to uphold certain values, compassion being one of them.. Ridiculous. I can think of better fights to take on than this.

Yeah, nice Christian mom puts up a religious monument on public land, and the wicked mean atheists ask for public land to NOT be used for religious monuments. How could they be so SELFISH?

But another commenter agrees with Tergrin:

For sure. This is the sort of thing that makes people hate atheists before they even know them. I don’t like all the wind blown half ass memorials thrown around, but I would never remove one out of consideration to the family.

As someone who has experienced death of beloved family members, I understand grief. Oh boy, do I understand it. But look, people die every day, in horrible ways. EVERYBODY you know is a family member of someone, EVERYBODY you know feels such grief at one time or another.

And as far as I know, every single person in the humanist and atheist community respects the rights of family members to express that grief in any way they care to, and as long as they care to, privately, among their friends and family, and on their own property. Additionally, they can carry out ceremonies in their church ranging from simple to extravagant.  They can participate in funerary processions along public roadways, and most of us will respectfully give way. They can place monuments in cemeteries that will last hundreds of years. They can even travel to the public site of the loved one’s death, and linger there in respect and sadness.

We all understand that every grieving person, mom or not, shares those same rights. But no matter how much you’re hurting, your private grief is not acceptable justification for using public land for a private religious display. No single one of us, not a hundred of us, not even a million of us, can eclipse public land for permanent, visible expressions of our own private grief. As the story says:

The council conceded that the large, handmade plywood crosses violated the separation of church and state.

The principle at stake here is bigger than one grieving mother. It’s about equality, equal protection on the public stage. The fact is, the mother has no legal right to put a cross there. She never did. It was against the law from the beginning. It was only because this was an expression of the Christian faith, and because of our innate respect for mothers, especially in this tough situation, that it got a pass as long as it did. The authorities deliberately looked away … until they were reminded that we can’t afford to allow our government to play favorites based on private religious principles, even those of grieving mothers.

… Ann Marie Devaney [mother of 19-year-old Anthony Devaney, killed while crossing the street], tearfully removed the crosses white crosses (sic) she had placed near the spot where he was struck after the decision came Thursday.”It’s like I’m losing my son again, pretty much,” Devaney said. “It hurts when you lose a child.”

“It’s so petty and sad that they have to complain over removing a cross,” she said. “It’s his personal preference that he was Christian. What’s wrong with having a cross up?”

I think I’m as compassionate as the next guy, and probably more compassionate than most. Speaking just for myself, I’d be inclined to look away too. Hell, what’s one little cross given a pass to salve the feelings of a grieving mom? But the thing is, it never stops with just one grieving mother. It never stops with just one cross:

Immediately after she removed them, another group came and replaced the crosses with six more.

In your face, hateful atheists! Screw that separation of church and state that benefits people of every faith, and no faith at all. These are Christians we’re talking about, and THEY have a right to have crosses on public land. They will dang-sure demonstrate that to the entire world.

This time because it’s a grieving mother, next time because a vocal majority of Christian locals agree, the time after that because they damned well feel like it and the rest of us can just shut the hell up.



An Epiphany on Road Rage … Online

I had to do a silly damned “defensive driving course” at work. It was this SIX HOUR LONG online thingie, where you have to read a short screen of text, and then wait out a timer before you can click to the next short screen of text, and read that.

Argh. If you were ever a student and had a writing assignment that included a necessary word or page count, and you used up your facts or thoughts halfway through that assigned length and had to pad things out with extra words, you can imagine what this “course” was like. Padded as hell, and tedious because of it. But also, in this case, containing a SMALL amount of useful information. It’s a state-approved thing, and whoever was on the approving board thought that to get that useful stuff into the course-taker’s head it had to be the full SIX HOURS LONG, rather than, say, three, or even two.

There are four “modules” you have to work your way through, and there’s a “test” at the end of each module, a series of 5 to 8 questions that are so lame they’re obviously designed for an easy pass.

The way the course works, you take it to get penalty points (for a past ticket) off your license, and it reduces your insurance. As I haven’t had a ticket since roughly 1985, I had to take it so (I imagine) the drug rehab hospital I drive for could get a better rate on insurance. All the drivers were required to take it, or get suspended from driving.

It’s one of those “for the sake of appearances” things, mostly. The easy-pass test is a clear indicator that nobody really cares whether you can actually demonstrate knowledge of, for instance, the 8 different colors and 8 different shapes of road signs, or the significance of yellow stripes on the road as contrasted with white stripes, or what to do when you see a school bus stopping. They just have to know you’ve been exposed to the SIX FULL HOURS of knowledge.

But, as I say, a couple of things were useful. Useful to me, personally. One was the section on road rage.

I’d seen some of it just the day before. Driving north on Interstate 87 out of New York City — I was in the left lane of the 4-lane highway and going slightly faster than the traffic around me — when a pickup truck literally whooshed by me on the right and moved into the lane just 50 feet ahead of me. He was followed by a pursuer, a car that did the same maneuver, only faster, missing my front bumper by perhaps 18 inches as he moved into my lane. He whipped up behind and then to the left of the truck.

To give you the clear picture of what happened, remember that I was already in the left-most lane, right next to the dividing wall between the north- and south-bound lanes. This car rocketed into the narrow space between the truck and that wall, paused there briefly while the obviously furious driver shouted or gestured at the offending (?) pickup driver, and then seemed to lose it for a moment so that he bounced between the wall and the truck like a loose pinball, contacting both with sparks and crunches.

Truck and car both slowed, and all the traffic around them gave them careful distance. This is New York after all, and who knows what might happen in today’s gun culture. There was a moment of uncertainty in which the car driver looked liked he was thinking of fleeing the scene, then truck and car both meekly moved to the right and off at an exit. I could see the car driver as I passed him, pounding the steering wheel and bobbing his head in frustrated anger — at himself this time, for the damage to his car, for the probable arrest and loss of license — his lips clearly forming the shouted words “Son of a fucking bitch! SON OF A FUCKING BITCH!!”

The two vehicles and drivers passed out of my life in that moment, but they reminded me that road rage is a real thing, and clearly dangerous to everybody within range.

Changing gears for a second, let me quote a comment submitted on my recent (and not yet complete) GMOs-and-sociopaths series:

I’m not quite sure what your demented raving is about. I assume it has something to do with GMOs and Joe Camel.

If I am correct, I assume that you feel that GMOs are a force of Satanic evil in today’s world. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. It is anti-scientific kooks like you who are seeking to starve humans and destroy the environment. See

If I am wrong about this, please accept my apologies. Your gibberish misled me, unfortunately.

So here’s me, near-sighted nebbish driving my keyboard along the Internet highway, typing in my little essays on this and that, and then here’s this guy — someone named Robert Kelley, and I assume not one of my regular readers (who generally seem to take me as the well-meaning doofus I imagine myself to be) — zooming onto the scene and attacking me with pure, spitting anger.

Demented raving. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. Anti-scientific kook. Starving humans, destroying the environment. Your gibberish.

This would have bothered me just a short time ago, but I suddenly realize what it is. Road rage. In online form.

It’s not a personal attack against me, it’s an expression of the writer’s own world-directed frustrations and anger. Just as the two drivers in the highway incident likely didn’t know each other, weren’t reacting to each others as individuals, this writer is not reacting to me specifically. He’s just venting built-up steam.

This is not to say he may not have a point, of course. It is to say the point was probably delivered with wholly unnecessary ire, and that in itself is an indicator that the POINT isn’t the POINT.

I’ve seen it in plenty of places online. I got invited into a Facebook group a while back, something from the Pharyngula crowd, and made the mistake of saying something unflattering about face-covering tattoos and mods. Whew. You’d have thought I sodomized Mother Teresa. Road rage.

I’ve been in a few tiffs with online feminists, and oh boy, you do NOT want to piss those people off, even a little bit. A single wrong word will bring a howling mob after you, accusing you of hating women, of wanting them to be beaten and raped, of being a misogynist and mansplainer, an assault that will pretty much never end until you grovel and agree, or shut up and vanish. It doesn’t matter what you think of women, or want for women. Once you trigger the built-up anger, you’re suddenly the target of the online version of road rage. (Some of the most ardent attackers are men, by the way.)

Any blogger — hell, anybody online in any form, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — can tell you online road rage exists. You can be writing about the pleasures of cuddling kittens and someone will show up to accuse you of being Hitler. WHY DO YOU HATE THE KIDS WITH ALLERGIES, YOU SONOFABITCH??!!

Online road rage is just US, venting life’s frustrations at any convenient — and safe — target. The anger is real, and has real roots. Further, it seems fully justified to the people expressing it. To begin to understand it, you have to respect that fact.

But the thing about real road rage is that 1) we know it exists, 2) we know what it is, and 3) we do something about it.

We campaign against it. We fine the people who get caught at it. We require those who exhibit it to get counseling — anger management classes — or lose their licenses. We do that to make the roads safer, and to make sure life on the road, or just life generally, stays within some tolerable zone.

Nowhere in that counseling is there the assertion that the anger isn’t justified by real-life events, or that it doesn’t need to be expressed. Life in every era has its frustrations and digs, and this life-moment is … well, not only no exception, but possibly extra-super frustrating (you know, with mandatory “defensive driving courses” and such), beyond anything people not actually in a war zone have ever known.

Hell, I sometimes think it would be deeply satisfying to just trip one of those jackwagons walking around with his pants hanging down below his ass, and then kick him a time or two while he was down. In the vein of real road rage, I’ve wanted to shout at slow-driving man-grannies on the highway, “Get off the frickin’ road, you ancient fart!”

But in the building or continuation of online communities — something I’m definitely working on here in the background —  some of us have not yet grasped the necessity of civility.

We have to recognize that rage is not the best way to deal with each other. That the people who most exhibit the signs of online road rage — just for the helluvit, I’m going to call it ORR — while they may have a very good underlying point, are not doing themselves or the rest of us any favors in the way they express it. And note that in the road version, at least, we don’t let the ragers set the standard that defines the entire driving community.

We’re going to have to figure out ways to help each other learn to deal with the rage — which, again, may well be justified — in useful, positive ways.

Because rage itself is counterproductive to any discussion into which it is injected. One of my Wise Old Sayings is “Under the lash of strong emotions, humans become less intelligent.” Rage enters, reason exits.

So: Say anything you like to me in the comments. Make any argument or assertion. But keep it cool enough that we’re not simply screaming back and forth at each other for no good reason.

Let’s keep it peaceful, and just TALK.

Also: Robert (and Lausten), I’m getting to my point in those posts about GMOs. It’s a useful point, I think, and one left out of most of the polarized flame-fests that always seem to attend the subject. Stick around.


The Dark Side of the Sun

I belong to a couple of Facebook groups on Transhumanism and the Singularity, and I avidly read the articles and posts. But I don’t buy into every one of them. Yes, I want fantastic things to happen. Hell, I fully EXPECT fantastic things to happen. But … a lot of the articles are more about possibilities than realities.  For instance, I think we’ve been predicting safe, abundant fusion energy — any time now — for the past 50 years. I’ve kinda begun to wonder “What if it just isn’t possible?”

As to the idea of uploading human consciousness to computers, even I can think of some serious challenges to the idea: Considering that most of us isn’t exactly conscious, I have my doubts you could get a real person, warts and all, shifted over into an electronic domain.

The truth is, in the midst of my hopeful positivism, there’s a healthy helping of the negative. Because there’s some bad stuff coming too. A surprising amount of it is already happening.

If you take a fragmented view of the world, as so many of us do (most of us are so caught up in the noise of our own private lives we don’t even bother to pay attention to larger matters), you see a lot of little individual things going on. But if you look for patterns … oh, boy they’re there. And some of them are scary.

Here’s a couple of things, Little Scary instead of Big Scary, but also part of a pattern that, to me at least, appears related to human numbers. And what if, once you click together all the Little Scaries — like Dark Legos — you find you’ve built a Big Scary?

Little scary: Where Have All the Orange Roughy Gone?

As the following graphic shows, the orange roughy arrived with a bang and is now leaving with a long, drawn-out aquatic whimper.  The first sizeable catches were recorded in 1979.  A decade later the world catch peaked at a massive 91,000 tons.  And then, just as quickly, catches plummeted and now they linger around 13,000 tons a year.

The problem is that the orange roughy is a deep-sea species that cannot sustain the level of exploitation that our technology and policies have made possible.  It simply reproduces too slowly.  Orange roughy typically don’t start breeding until they’re 30 years old and can live up to 150 years. So catching orange roughy is much more like mining than fishing.  In effect, it’s more like a non-renewable resource!

Little scary: How the global banana industry is killing the world’s favorite fruit

During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they’d been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: [picture]

Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana plants into this rotting, fibrous mass in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Since then the pathogen, known as the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease, has slowly but steadily ravaged export crops throughout Asia. The fact that this vicious soil-borne fungus has now made the leap to Mozambique and Jordan is frightening. One reason is that it’s getting closer to Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s $8.9-billion-a-year worth of exported bananas is grown.

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And we don’t need to imagine what that would mean for banana exports—the exact scenario has already happened. Starting in 1903, Race 1, an earlier variant of today’s pathogen, ravaged the export plantations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within 50 years, Race 1 drove the world’s only export banana species, the Gros Michel, to virtual extinction. That’s why 99% of the bananas eaten in the developed world today are a cultivar called the Cavendish, the only export-suitable banana that could take on Race 1 and live to tell.

One of the strong possibilities of human transcendence has to do with human population. Yes, I’ve heard all the cool assertions about what educated, empowered women do: they have fewer children. And I’ve read that human population is even now leveling off. I sure do hope it’s true.

But what if, as I suspect, we’re already well over the carrying capacity of the Earth? What if we’re at 7 billion and still headed skyward (to 11 billion!), when the sustainable population is more like 5 billion? Three billion? Less?

What if we TRANSCEND our own homeworld’s welcome?