The Home-feeling — which I call “Place” — is only one of the assets of a home culture. Cultures also offer Values, Ways and Goals.
Values serve as the guides and arbiters of good behavior: Honor your mother and father. Be generous to the less fortunate. Never lie to a child for any reason (which apparently is not a widespread cultural value!).
Ways are all the outward physical displays of culture: Wear a cowboy hat and a big silver belt buckle. Quit school at 14 and work the family farm. Never eat pork.
Goals are the menu of personal aims, careers and benchmarks of success: Raise a big family. Go to college. Kill a lion all by yourself.
What would Beta Culture include?
Every culture has a set of core values — its basic concepts of who and what “we” are. What we hold dear, what we’re proud of in contrast to all other, lesser cultures. In building Beta Culture, the easy part would be finding things to include. The hard part would be making it work, deciding on the various traditions and values and making them stick.
Of course its most basic value is atheism. Rationality. A reason-based lifestyle and view of the world. In attempting to create a fully non-religious, non-superstitious, non-mystic-woo-woo culture, this is something on which it could not afford to compromise. Loosen that rule and you end with just another religio-mystical culture, and damn, it’s been done.
In Beta Culture, there would simply be no place for the faithful, the superstitious or the woo-woo mystical. Prospective members would be either firmly convinced the universe works by physics and chemistry—that there are no such thing as gods or ghosts, spirits or mystical forces — or not. Only one of those positions gets you through the door.
There are values that flow out of reason. I picture Beta as powerfully oriented toward education — not just school and college, but some degree of permanent, ongoing studiousness throughout life. This educational emphasis would be one part of a broad push toward empowerment and support for its individual members.
I see Beta as equalitarian, as post-racial and, necessarily, as futurist. It would also be basically activist — including a muscular humanism aimed at making the world a better place.
I imagine it as very much an international thing — not just in the culture itself, but in those who chose to be members. Every Beta — while legally remaining a citizen of his/her home country — would first consider himself a ‘citizen of Earth’ rather than of historic tribes and nations.
I picture Beta as a champion of evolution, not just the subject, but the broader implications — the interrelatedness of all life on earth. I also see it as a strong proponent of real sex education — including contraception, safety and permission from an early age.
I would expect it to be oriented toward health, fitness and longevity for all its members. Considering the opposition it will face, every member will be something of a warrior. Being healthy and strong helps not just us as individuals, but everyone around us.
In the U.S., we have two national holidays — Veterans Day and Memorial Day — honoring soldiers, nothing at all to recognize the other heroes of civilization. Allow me to float the idea of an international SALT Day, a day to honor Scientists, Artists, Librarians and Teachers.
How about Conscience Day to recognize the warriors of conscience and justice — the whistleblowers, war protestors, and fighters for social justice who have carried us forward into betterment, but who’ve been treated like traitors and criminals for their labors? —Hell, we could honor people who choose not to have children.
Superhero Day would remind us annually (quarterly?) to devote time to volunteering, cleaning up neighborhoods, assisting the elderly or handicapped. Memory Day would be an annual event to come together for remembering friends and relatives, sharing with each other the stories and pictures of the otherwise unheralded people who have shaped our lives and communities. I can even see some merit in a just-for-the-hell-of-it Aunts, Uncles and Cousins Day.
In place of Christmas, why not Krismas? Jokingly devoted to the fictional Kris Kringle, it could be a weeklong celebration at the end of each year, with gift-giving, visiting, gathering, singing, dancing, performing, formally honoring the accomplishments of friends and family over the year, with lots of eating and drinking included.
Speaking of joking, maybe humor should be a part of any deliberately-designed rational culture. The Flying Spaghetti Monster could be a permanent ‘patron saint,’ a gently sarcastic counterpoint to god-belief. To poke fun at the pompousity of priestly costumes and other church frippery, there might be a tradition of Big Funny Hats worn on at least one annual occasion. Rather than Easter we could observe Wester, a western-themed dig at the religious holiday, held on the same weekend.
More seriously, we would have our own ways to observe births and deaths, graduations and other milestones of life. We could have all sorts of daily and annual and special-occasion Ways that were not just secular, but that celebrated reason.
A sense of Place, the homey feeling culture provides, would happen simply by Beta Culture existing. But I’d like us to also have our own meeting place. Inevitably, the idiots will call it the “atheist church.” I call it the Nexus.
If my own small town can have nearly 80 churches, many of them occupying pricey downtown properties, there’s no reason why there can’t be one permanent meeting place for Beta Culturists. Every city and town of any size should have a tax-free Nexus. It might contain a freethinker library and reading room, a coffee house or networking center (free coffee for math and science majors!), plus rooms for meetings, discussions and classes. I picture a media center and digital lab, maybe a room for a visiting speaker to stay the night, or even safely secular child care for working Beta parents.
Addressing the theme of empowerment, I’d want the Nexus to offer regular classes in leadership, public speaking and assertiveness — not only to advance the atheist cause but to enhance and strengthen individual members in their own personal lives.
Considering what I said earlier about asking for a Yankees meal on an airplane — when it comes to Beta Culture, I do want a Beta meal on an airplane. For myself I want a sandwich made in the past two hours, with whole-grain bread and a couple of slices of fresh-roasted free-range chicken breast. I want it to have a fresh salad alongside, with unwilted lettuce, crunchy croutons, tasty avocados and fresh, flavorful tomatoes — all of it made with no artificial ingredients.
That meal is an assertion that Beta Culture must have at least the same sort of determined impact on the world as Jews and Muslims — with every public act a statement of “We exist, we demand others honor and respect our customs and traditions.”
There would be both initial and ongoing World-Café-type sessions to iron out details and values of the culture and the goals of the people within it, including gender ethics, dietary observances, the focus of activism in broader society. Beta Culture might include integral side projects such as media watchdogging or issue activism — possibly a flatly stated opposition to genital mutilation for both girls and boys.
I imagine a Book of Good Living collected online with non-religious guidance for daily life, for anyone who chose to read and consider it. It might include tidbits such as “Take pictures of your parents, lots of them, something to keep you company in the long years alone.” Or perhaps “Live your life in such a way that nobody has to pick up after you.” Or maybe even “Never leave your dog in a hot car.” But definitely, “Hey, dummy, if you’re on the freeway and people are passing you on the right, get the hell out of the left lane.”
I’d like there to be deliberate efforts at recruiting and youth outreach, at least as aggressive as that done by churches in every city and town in America. I go further in picturing religion-superstition detox classes for young and old, for those interested in discovering and removing the last remnants of religious unreason out of their heads. I’d like to see such things as Beta Scouts (possibly arising out of Camp Quest) and Reason Riders (a motorcycle group already poised to go national) as public aspects of the culture.
Beyond local efforts, I want us to undertake a worldwide push for increasing the numbers of “out” atheists — 10ex9 by 2029 — one billion atheists by the year 2029.
More than any other goal, I’d like it to be a culture of strength, empowerment and independence rather than one of weakness and fear.
The Way of the World
In the era of mass communication, which has pretty much reached maximum saturation with the Internet, most of what we and our young people internalize comes from someone else — corporations, pundits, professional liars and manipulators. The persuasive pitches are everywhere. And everything in them, every word and musical note and motto, is aimed at gaining profit or power. Helping anyone live a better life is a distant second.
Which means: If you don’t teach your kids your culture — your values or ideas or wisdom — someone else will come in and teach them theirs. If you don’t have your own culture, other people will decide the way you and yours live large parts of their lives, often to the very thoughts that occupy your mind.
With no home culture, you yourself won’t be immune to it. Sooner or later you’ll fall for one of those seductive pitches for inclusion and coolness and victory. If you do this thing, buy this thing, wear this thing, you will win, you will succeed, you will belong.
I might feel fewer reservations about all of this if the world was full of good people, generous and compassionate, interested in your welfare and the welfare of your kids, but the fact is, much of the content of U.S. Overculture is exploitative rather than supportive.
Already in the Pipeline
To repeat, there’s the future we want, and the future we’ll get. As literally nobody but freethinkers give a damn about a specifically rational future, the future we most want Will. Not. Happen. Churches, other cultures, broadcast media, corporations, and even governments will pursue their own self-interests, with no concern for your needs and desires, but worse, no long view of human survival on planet Earth.
For those of us in science fiction or tech fandom who happily imagine the Technological Singularity, that moment when advances take place so rapidly the rising curve of change goes completely vertical and all predictive models break down, let me present this alternate concept: The Dark Singularity.
The curve of negative change accelerates until it goes vertical in the other direction — downward to chaos. Human population continues to rise, human appetite and carelessness finally outstrips the ability of our planet to recover, all the elephants and rhinos, lions and wolves, whales and dolphins and mountain gorillas go extinct, shortages of energy, food and clean water spark riots, war breaks out pretty much everywhere, martial law is declared everywhere, and those few sitting pretty in an ugly, diminished world are either government officials and billionaires in fortified retreats, or survivalist fanatics dug in with guns and Bibles.
You think that can’t happen? Point to one coordinated worldwide social force aimed at preventing it. Hell, the main issue causing a lot of this — still-rising human population, with 62.5 million extra people per year, a city the size of Los Angeles added every 3 weeks — is a subject we can’t even bring up without being shouted down with cries of “Genocide!” and “Baby killer!”
If we were 200 years in the future, looking back for details of the fall of civilization, I’m convinced we’d see people of this time as very much in the midst of it. The drowning of New Orleans, the decay of Detroit, global warming, extinctions and invasive species, broken ecosystems, the rise of global terrorism, the electing of messianic figures to public office rather than competent public servants, damaging technologies used to pursue progressively scarcer petroleum, on and on.
Continue to Part 4