Beta Culture: New Intro — Part 4

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Beta-Culture-JPGThe Flaw in Unbelief

Compared to religion, atheism is really rather fragile. It has sprung up and died out several times in the U.S. alone. Its recent resurgence is probably due to the existence of the Internet. Outside that, there’s really not a lot to support and preserve it.

Here’s the eye-opener I realized a few years back: Under the lash of strong emotions, humans become less intelligent.

Scary, right? But true. If the Internet goes down for some reason — a solar flare or some such event — if there is an incident of nuclear terrorism anywhere in the world, if even some small version of the imagined Dark Singularity happens, a majority of our panicked fellow humans will leap toward the certainty of religion and churches and authoritarian government, utterly supported by a pliant, uncritical corporate-owned media.

Churches will gleefully snatch up these new devotees, telling them to clasp their hands and close their eyes, to read their Bibles and chant its magic verses, to get down on their knees and pray, to give and give and give in order to bribe that Big Magic Juju Guy in the sky into letting them and their loved ones live.

Anyone casting the least doubt on that mindset will be the enemy, unAmerican traitors to all things good, and a lot of scared, angry fellow citizens will jump in to intimidate them into silence.
That would be the end of the noble mind-adventure of atheism. Bye-bye, outspoken atheists, hello religious fascism.

You’re sitting there right now, intelligent and educated, and you probably can’t imagine a mob coming to your door and dragging you out, or a riot that sets your home or business on fire. But I can imagine it, because I grew up in the Deep South among people who were not all that far advanced from the lynchings and murders of the KKK’s worst days. The witch burnings of yesteryear are absent today not because we humans have evolved beyond them, but because our culture disallows such acts at this moment.

But that culture is maintained by humans. It can be abandoned and replaced by humans, sometimes in days. You saw what happened after 9/11 — suddenly we were discussing the merits of torture, arguing whether we had too much freedom in public places, and launching off into a war that killed and terrorized hundreds of thousands of real people who also thought nothing bad would happen to them on any near-future day.

The more afraid and desperate we are, the crazier it will get.

Making It Happen

Here’s the rub: How do you create an entire culture?

I suspect it would take very little effort. Cultural creation already happens, and on a near-daily basis. At the least prompting, people take on actions and beliefs that become cultural traditions, perpetuating them indefinitely. Some years back the song ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ made a splash on the radio, triggering a sudden leap onto the public stage of ribbon-tying as a way of welcoming returning soldiers. Now ribbons and ribbon-shaped magnets are everywhere, tasked for every social cause.

The way attendees at Reason Rally 2016 reacted with smiles and selfies to a strolling Flying Spaghetti Monster, it was obviously already a much-loved icon of the movement. Yet it arose sheerly out of a sense of fun.

We figure out the basic framework and put it out there. If it’s a good idea, people will show up and be part of it, commenting, contributing, coming up with fun or useful things to include, arguing over the details and the aims, and one day there it would be. The short-term challenge might be in laying down the foundation, the basic concepts, before its growth outraced the underlying goals of reason and reality.

The larger challenge would be in creating something that was livable long-term, and paid off on the promise of enhancing the lives of people who join in it.

For years and years, evangelism was a taboo in the atheist community. Deliberately trying to get people to give up religion was seen as a self-thwarting shortcut. If people were seduced into atheism simply because it was the latest fad, without working it out for themselves, they’d be no better than religious people, right?

But in this case, that’s not a problem. People coming into it would either want to be there, or they wouldn’t. Besides which, we’ve already started selling atheism. We know we have the right; our problem is in believing we have the duty.

Moreover, considering that religion and religious observances are such an integral part of even modern cultures — Catholicism for example — and that most prospective atheists will come from such cultures, by inviting them into atheism we’re basically asking them to give up not only their religion, but their home culture, and often even the loving closeness of their families. To offer them none of the same tribal inclusion in return seems both morally shabby and counterproductive. How many who might otherwise be open atheists stay where they are in order to enjoy the continued safety and warmth of their home traditions and tribe? For millions, especially the weaker and more vulnerable among us, atheism by itself might seem a poor trade.

Where and how do we get the features and attributes of our own culture?

Two ways: 1) Make them up. 2) Steal them.

Make them up: If we decide every Beta middle schooler should go off every morning with Great Humanist Quotes fortune cookies to share with other kids, that’s doable. If we want every partner bonding (wedding ceremony) to include a traditional bat’leth fight with designated champions to determine who cleans the bathroom for the first five years, nothing would stop us. The limits are human nature, and our own imaginations.

Steal them: The entire world, now and for all its history, is a mine of ideas for designing our own unique cultural environment. We can borrow, copy, or shamelessly expropriate customs and lifeways from any and every culture on Earth, past and present, real and fictional. So yes, we could all wear Star Trek uniforms. Or sporrans and black plaid kilts (with underwear, my people, please!). Or leather jackets with flaming skull insignias and embroidered patches saying ‘Born To Raise Questions.’

Borrow cultural goodies from the Amish. Steal from the Catholics. Copy good stuff from the Romans, the Mormons, the Japanese, the Italians, the Navajo. Borrow, copy, steal … and make it ours.

Cultural appropriation? —Eh. No. Nobody has a copyright on culture, and borrowed traditions take nothing away from the source. I wouldn’t expect the group to flaunt yarmulkes, feathered headdresses or dreadlocks, but cultural appropriation is a moot issue, it seems to me. Lots of people wear cowboy hats, and—as someone who grew up with real cowboys, a group no less fiercely proud of our cultural apparel than Hasidic Jews or Sikhs — I find some of them fairly annoying. But I would never tell people they have no right to wear a cowboy hat, that I’m somehow mortally offended by it. I wouldn’t join in any screaming chorus of thin-skinned offense junkies, demanding those people instantly cease all cowboy-hat-related activities and apologize to us delicate, sensitive cowpokes.

Other than registered trademarks (which might be an issue with the Star Trek uniforms), nobody owns body decorations, hats, clothing or customs. What one or more groups in history have done, others can do, and the original doers lose nothing.


We face two hazards already in our own psyches — complacency and misplaced optimism.

Rich and safe and well-fed, we’re prone to be complacent about dangers. Hey, nothing could really go wrong, right? We went to college, we know how to read and think and figure out this atheism stuff, and pretty much everybody else is just like us — same values, equivalent intelligence, same fearless approach to life. All we need do is be patient and rational, and explain things to them, and they’ll come around.
Living in the modern age, we’re optimistic that someone else — Brighter People Out There in the World — will work out all the problems. Scientists will solve the challenges of food and water and energy; educated, Empowered Women will spontaneously have smaller families and solve the population problem; Environmental Activists will save the whales; and the coming generation of smart, engaged Youth will burst out into the world and fix everything else that’s broken. Yeah, and all those public-spirited multi-national corporations will pitch in and help, even if it means reducing their bottom line.

Riiiiight. All we have to do, we happy optimists, is sit back and live our lives, go green and recycle, pick up our litter, continue to drive our SUVs to the grocery store to buy organic fruits and vegetables, and it’s all going to work out.

Except it isn’t. Complacency and optimism, when you have real problems, can kill you.

Forging ahead, we’ll make mistakes. Not every bright idea that pops into our heads for inclusion will be viable. Not everything we add at the beginning should stay forever. Continuous discussion and self-checking has to be a part of it. But hazards and all, we shouldn’t be afraid to make the experiment.

Target for Tomorrow

Sooner or later, there has to be that civilization that embraces science and reason and rejects superstition, don’t you think? I mean, really, shouldn’t we have that at some point?
But we don’t have it yet. We do not live in that civilization.

Get that? You do not live in a rational society. No, it’s not a living hell. Not for you. But for a lot of other people, and the planet itself, it’s pretty bad. Rather than casually accepting this status quo, I think you have to reject it almost violently. Every one of us has to reject it, to establish some bare minimum for being humans on Planet Earth. And until we start figuring some of this stuff out — for instance, “What is the basic intellectual and moral set every person must be required to have?” — we’ll continue on as we have been.

On a planet of diminished resources, radical human overpopulation, vicious inequality and mistreatment of women and minorities, all that, there’s a demand for this basic human society. But we don’t have it yet. Considering present-day politics and media, we may even be moving away from it.

Some of us might say “People have the right to believe whatever they want.” And I’d say yes, that’s true — if they stay home and don’t buy anything, don’t participate, don’t vote, don’t have kids they will subject to their idiot beliefs and behaviors.

In a real world, we can have a civilization based on reason and science and reality in which everyone participates, or we can have one based on fantasy and suffer the very real consequences. So far, we’ve had one based on fantasy and — in my opinion — it’s been an utter disaster. And it’s going to get worse, probably quickly.

I want a society that survives the disaster-in-progress, that picks up the pieces afterwards with this new way of thinking. What I don’t want is a society that reboots using all the old software. I want something that kicks us out of the cycles of mystical thralldom, something that allows us to live on this planet into the distant future, without wrecking it or ourselves.

Who do you want at your side in the midst of a civilization-wide disaster, working to live through it and later repair it? Goddy mystics who will react with screaming panic, or fall to their knees and pray for the Rapture? Or people who will look at the falling bits with, yes, deep regret, but also with calm determination and say “Let’s fix this, and then find a way to never let it happen again”?

I know who I want. I want a community of cooperative, rational individuals. What I emphatically don’t want is a bunch of faith-professing strangers telling me I need to get right with Jesus or, equally poisonous, a bevy of “Don’t tell them the truth; they might panic” government officials.

We’ve already taken a step back from the negative religious fantasy culture. Now we need to take a step forward, with a positive reason-based culture of our own making.

I expect the movement to have enemies. There are people — even a lot of atheists — who will instantly hate the idea of creating an atheist culture. But it’s a club you don’t have to join. Nobody has to be a part of it. It’s also not some sort of horrifying nightmare that needs to be stomped with lug-soled boots. It is one option among many in response to an uncertain future.

But reality-based thinking and living is not just a luxury to be possessed by the few, or some flickering candle that can be allowed to go out every few years. It’s important. It’s a light that must be kept burning, that must grow.

In the end, I believe atheists have a lot to offer the world. I think people would see that. If we did this thing, we might be surprised at the number of people who’d want to be a part of it.

Onward …

So here’s this airy-fairy fantasy someone had, right? This impractical utopian dream. Probably best to sneer and turn away. Get back to the real world.

Except the real world — as it really is — is why we should be thinking about this. Look around and tell me everything you see is all peachy-keen with you, and all we need is more lovey-love-love, kumbayah. That things will all work out in the end because of fate or something. Because stories always have happy endings, and because somewhere out there, the smart, rich people are working out all the problems. Hey, any day now we’ll all have flying cars and robot housekeepers, immortality and world peace.

Except sometimes — too often, as every mom and dad knows — the person who has to fix things, or pick up the mess, or be the grownup, is you. Or it doesn’t get done.

Someone has to be the responsible party, the person or the group with an eye on the future of Planet Earth, a planet that could be unburdened by irresponsible consumption, irrational beliefs, blithe lies and destructive craziness.

It could be you.

It could be us.

It could start now.


Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Randall Eades: Culture and Chaos

Guest Post 2This guest post by Randall Eades follows an online conversation about Beta Culture. 


Okay, I’ve read enough of your Beta Culture to get an idea of where you’re going with it. It’s interesting. But before I get into that, I’d like to back up a bit to where we began — the end of the world as we know it— to fill in a little history of my point of view.

Twenty-five years ago I read a piece by some science fiction writer in which he described some predictions for the future he’d made years before, about our society, our lifestyles, our technology, and how they’d turned out. His point, based on his many failures, was that it is damned difficult to predict our future. On a whim, I thought I’d give it a shot, just to amuse myself for awhile. It wasn’t like I would ever tell anyone, so failure wouldn’t be an embarrassment.

I started with the proposition of prediction itself. Is it even possible? It occurred to me that, of course, it is. We do it all the time. We are designed for it. We take in sensory information from the world around us, predict the future based on that information, and modify our behavior accordingly. The whole game of baseball is based on our ability to accurately predict the ever-changing location of a small ball in space/time. Our transportation system is possible only because of our ability to simultaneously predict the trajectories of multiple masses moving at variable rates of speed in multiple directions. Our agriculture system is only possible because of our ability to predict weather. On and on, ad infinitum. No problem. I can do this.

Prediction is the projection of current trends from the past into the future. Accuracy depends on the length of the trend line and the number of variable forces affecting it. Since I wasn’t doing a scholarly dissertation, for my purposes I thought it best to make the timeline as long as possible and keep the number of variables small and rather broad.

I started out 200,000 years ago, give or take, back to our roots. At the time the only variable creating significant change in human society was population growth, and that wasn’t much. Resources were plentiful and renewable. Every individual could know everything necessary to survive. Indeed, if a small tribe wandered through a time portal and came out the other side 150,000 years in their future, they might not even notice the difference. The climate might be a bit different, but within the range of normal variability. The topography might have changed some, because of floods, earthquakes and such, but as wanderers they wouldn’t have noticed. The only thing they might notice, eventually, was that they seemed to be running into more people than they used to, and in larger groups. And the new people had slightly better tools and weapons, and more complex chatter. Still, the tribe could have continued their lives as they always had, if they so chose, or join the new people and quickly adapt to the new ways.

Eventually, over more thousands of years, those growing groups would have created another variable — resource exploitation. Herds of migrating animals were becoming smaller. Choice plants were becoming scarcer. Their wandering was curtailed as tribal territory was marked off. They had to start managing their resources. And I had to start tracking that variable.

As they settled down into communities and started domesticating their plants and animals, the rate of change was becoming noticeable from century to century. New variables were introduced — politics, religion and economics. Those had to be tracked. Then communities became cities, which became states, which became empires. As the complexity of the society grew, the knowledge an individual needed to survive became more specialized and incomplete, which created a new information variable. As the economic and political variables became more complex, a communication variable had to be tracked, how long it took to move an idea from one point to another. As we developed and became dependent on machines, a technology variable had to be tracked. And the length of time one passing through that time portal could jump into their future and still fit in became smaller and smaller.

I spent several weeks playing with this, plugging in real data where I could get it and filling in with general information I’d picked up here and there. I soon noticed that the rates of change for all my variables were tracking together and they were all accelerating. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I knew it was important. Though I didn’t yet know I was autistic (I’d never even heard of it at the time), I knew I’d always had an affinity for systems. And I realized that human civilization was acting like a gigantic, complex system.

Along in there somewhere, about the time I was reaching the end of my timeline, I happened to read James Gleick’s book, “Chaos: Making a New Science.” At that point, my autism kicked in big time, with every analytical circuit in my “disordered” brain firing, and I “saw” what I was looking at. It all fell into place and it all made sense.

Civilization is a non-linear, chaotic system. But it isn’t just “a” system. It is a fractal, with systems within systems within systems, way too complex for any human mind to comprehend. A set of conditions, a system, is set in motion, changes over time until the rate of change hits infinity, it goes chaotic, the conditions are shuffled and the whole thing starts over. The little systems are accelerating up and going chaotic all around us, every day. All these mass shootings are chaotic systems, building up over time, then exploding. Every war is a major system popping, taking years or decades to develop, each one setting up the conditions for the next. But the system I had been tracking, the one that really began with the first hominid, was a humongous mother of a system that has never reached the moment of chaos, and every variable I was following indicated that the rate of change was likely to reach the point of infinity within my lifetime, if I was careful. And when it explodes, it is going to be big. Everything is going to change. Life as we know it is going to end.

Once upon a time, I could have time jumped thousands of years with minimal adaptation to my skill set and the stuff I surrounded myself with. If I had jumped from the date of my birth to today in one jump, only 67 years, I would be totally lost and likely go insane. I have had to make major adaptations to my lifestyle several times in one life span. I look around my home and I am amazed by how much of the stuff I have collected, that defines my life on this planet, not only did not exist, but the very materials it is made of did not exist in the wildest dreams of anyone on the day I was born. I am stuck inside the time portal, with changes coming faster than I can understand or adapt to them. I look around the world and I’m reminded of the old saying: Everyone is crazy expect me and thee, and I’m not so sure about thee. Frankly, I’m not even sure about me.

I had set out to predict the future, and I did. It was not what I expected. It is not a guess that I might chuckle about in a few years, when it is proven wrong. I am as certain of our future as an all-star center-fielder plucking a lazy fly ball out of the air at precisely the right time. It’s a system. It works how it works. It does not have an OFF button. It does not have a rheostat that can be dialed back. It has been chugging along for more than a million years, doing its thing. The only variable of any importance is the accelerating rate of change, and it’s right there for everyone to see. Plotted on a graph, it is the hockey-stick curve familiar to everyone who deals with non-linear systems, and we are clearly well up the short end of the stick.

Chaos is coming. That is certain. What is not certain is when or how. Chaos is, by definition, absolutely unpredictable. From here on out, we can only guess.

The first thing to really hit me was that, when humans get involved with chaos, somebody usually dies. With a system of this magnitude, with this level of complexity, best guess is that a lot of people are going to die very quickly. Possibly everyone I know. Possibly everyone. That threw me into a bout of depression for months. But in this case, the hope and the fear are the same thing — unpredictability. Playing the probability game, there is an equal chance that everyone will survive and no one will survive, but the most likely outcome is somewhere in the middle. When the system goes down, a lot of people are going to die. We have no way of guessing how many until we have some idea of the how. And in the nature of chaos systems, the how is likely within the system itself. In other words, getting wiped out by an asteroid or attacked by aliens, while remotely possible, would not have anything to do with the system. We are going to do it to ourselves.

Chaos is coming. Then what? Can we prepare for survival and affect the starting conditions of the next iteration of the system? My guess is probably not. Preparing for the future requires predicting it to some degree; you can’t prepare for the unpredictable. We can’t train hand-picked survival groups, because we don’t know who will survive or what they will need to know. At any rate, such groups would become targets for every nut who resents being left behind.

One thing we might be able to do. All around the world, we could build knowledge repositories, structures that might survive every conceivable possibility of chaos. Fill them with books made of plastic or ceramic, something that could last for millennia, that contain what we have learned over our long trek, including lots of pictures. We could also throw in some seeds and basic tools.

But even at that, a good portion of the knowledge we pass on will be useless to them. One thing we can be sure about, whatever comes next, it will not be anything like our world. Even with all our knowledge, they can’t rebuild our infrastructure and technology. We didn’t leave them enough resources in the ground to do that. For example, they will never have oil, because what we have left is so hard to get to, they will never be able to build the equipment to reach it. All the metals they will have will be what they can salvage from our dead civilization. We’ve dug up most of what was in the ground, and again, what is left will be impossible from them to get to. Their world will have to be based on renewable resources. And in the end, they, like us, will have to adapt and evolve to fit the conditions they find themselves in. The best we can do is to make the best of the days remaining to us, and wish them well with theirs.

Beta Culture: Culture Itself

Beta-Culture-JPGIn pursuit of my Beta Culture concept, I’ve been thinking a lot about Culture over the past couple of years, and I’ve recently been making some interesting connections. I like to think I’m getting close to understanding the meat of it. Here’s a recent thought:

Your culture offers you Values, Ways, and Place.

VALUES are obvious: Honesty is the best policy. People are suckers and deserve what they get. Hard work is the stuff of life. Honor your mother and father. Family above all. Never stop learning. Being gay is an abomination. A wife must meekly obey her husband.

WAYS are all the things your people do, and the way they do them: Wear boots, a big silver buckle and a cowboy hat. Volunteer to serve your country. Every funeral must include a lengthy sermon about Jesus. Cut the end off your little boy’s dick. Go to school only until you’re 14, then work on the family farm. Hold your fork with your left hand, your knife with your right. Shave your hair into a Mohawk and braid feathers into it.

PLACE is the home your culture provides you. It’s where your People accept and welcome you, protect and defend you, and where you do the same for them.

There are “full cultures” that provide Values, Ways and Place for every aspect of life. You could live on an island with a full culture, totally isolated from the rest of the world, and still live a full life. Think of the Amish, or Hasidic Jews, who actually create isolated social islands for their people.

There are “fractional cultures” like Nascar culture or Star Wars culture, gamer culture or Jimmy Buffett fandom, which offer Place, but not a great deal in the way of Ways and Values. In other words, they offer some specialized Ways and Values, but not the full set for all of life. Most of the people in Nascar culture, for instance, wouldn’t have a Nascar wedding, and few Star Wars fans would consider a Star Wars funeral. But on the plus side, there’s the Place: You feel comfortable — you feel HOME — when you’re with your fellow enthusiasts.

Then there’s something I call “U.S. Overculture,” which provides a huge Chinese menu of Values and Ways, but almost no Place. You can live in it, as most of us do, but it includes no welcoming “tribe” of your own.

U.S. Overculture has two very significant features to it:

1) It contains a blended mess of pieces from all the cultures and fractional cultures within it, but ALSO contains a very high percentage of artificial features, Ways and Values which are created by the marketing departments of big corporations, or faddish movements that sweep through the population somewhat spontaneously. —No proposal is complete without a diamond ring. Collect all the Pokemons! Wear your pants sagging below the curve of your butt. Cigarette smoking is what the really cool people do. Take the grandkids to McDonald’s. Oh my GOD, you have to see the TWILIGHT movies! They’re, like, SEW KEWUL!!

2) As it contains no specific People for you to belong to, no Place to welcome and protect you, you’re pretty much on your own as far as figuring out what’s good and bad for you and yours. Standing full in the blasting fire hose of stuff thrown at you every day, you’re at such a loss to evaluate it all, you end up thinking nothing is all that bad, everything is pretty much okay. Sugary sodas, cigarettes, heroin, tongue piercing, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, throwing garbage on the sidewalk, Donald Trump for President, joining a street gang — it’s all just a matter of personal choice, right? And there’s nobody, no wise elder or more-experienced cultural peer to tell you any different.

It seems to me Culture is a need roughly as important to us as breathing, but without Place, the need for Culture can, in the modern world, be easily diverted and perverted to serve the needs of corporate parasites.

But Culture itself can control you to your detriment. Full cultures buoy you up in times of difficulty, but they also cut off all your wild flights of creativity. For instance, though artistic and musical talent is probably evenly distributed in every race and people, there are no Hasidic Jewish rock bands, or internationally known Amish photographers.

Regarding which, I know of no specific culture that focuses as strongly on empowerment of its members as it does on control of those members.

Even my own East Texas Cowboy Culture was pretty strict on what you could and couldn’t do, and in a fairly repressive way. For instance: Cowboys don’t read books, or if they do, it darned sure isn’t science fiction. Cowboys drive pickup trucks and not, Lord save us, Volkswagen Beetles. Cowboys don’t fly on planes, and Cowboys would never, ever eat sushi.

Another thing most cultures do not seem to have is goals — other than the obvious one of keeping people in line, or serving as that protective Place. Some of my recent thoughts about where Culture sits in the world, though, have it as something of an equal social force — in the sense of how much effect it has on our lives — with Government and Business. But Government and Business DO have goals. And I want Beta Culture to have goals.

So: In the design of Beta Culture, two more topics to think about — Goals and Empowerment.

Anyway … still thinking.

Beta Culture: Movement Cuckoos

cuckooI’ve said many times that every time atheists put up a billboard or other public display, they should absolutely expect it will be vandalized, and should set up cameras to record the vandals in the act. Anytime we think “billboard,” we should also think “vandalism preparation.”

It’s probably impossible to prevent the vandalism, but we could start a YouTube video collection to argue that nice Christians vandalize atheists’ property about a thousand times more often than evil atheists target Christian properties.

But I really want to talk about something else at the moment. Rather than enemies and backpressure forces outside the atheist movement, I want to talk about enemies WITHIN atheism. Or indeed, within any new organized social movement.

You’re probably aware of the European cuckoo, a “brood parasite” which lays its eggs in the nests of other species of birds. It’s a pretty creepy little bastard, actually. After the cuckoo chick hatches, it shoves the smaller eggs or nestlings out to die, and then obliges the hapless instinct-drive parent birds — which can be a fraction its size — to feed it to adulthood.

I bring it up to make a point about movements, which is this: Every movement or social justice organization which presents any sort of challenge to the status quo — or, indeed, a new idea of any sort — will inevitably end up with cuckoos. Or so I suspect.

The FBI in the J. Edgar Hoover era was notorious for infiltrating all sorts of organizations. The civil rights movement, anti-war protesters, environmental movement, hell even major political parties, had FBI plants within them, gathering information and sometimes actively sabotaging the movement from the inside.

Some years back, I had an extended conversation with an undercover cop, a massively-muscled man covered in tattoos, who’d spent more than two years inside a motorcycle gang. He worked his way into the post of second-in-command, not only gathering incriminating evidence, but assisting in, and even instigating, criminal acts. (The personal price of it, he said, had been damned high, as he necessarily alienated himself from his wife and children, but also because he developed a great deal of sincere liking for the men he would later betray.)

I watched the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement gather momentum and then diminish into apparent insignificance, a progression helped along by people I suspect were cuckoos. At a major demonstration in Washington DC, a drum circle sprang up, an extended effort that did nothing more than vigorously and monotonously bang on drums, but which disrupted and destroyed the thrust of the movement.

I’m not CERTAIN these weren’t all well-meaning drum enthusiasts, there to present their own attention-getting version of protest, but the fact that they could not be moved to stop leads me to think some part of the incursion was deliberately staged. Add in this data point from the linked Gawker article:

Unfortunately there is one individual who is NOT a drummer but who claims to speak for the drummers who has been a deeply disruptive force, attacking the drumming rep during the GA and derailing his proposal, and disrupting the community board meeting, as well as the OWS community relations meeting. She has also created strife and divisions within the POC caucus, calling many members who are not ‘on her side’ “Uncle Tom”, “the 1%”, “Barbie” “not Palestinian enough” “Wall Street politicians” “not black enough” “sell-outs”, etc. People have been documenting her disruptions, and her campaign of misinformation, and instigations. She also has a documented history online of defamatory, divisive and disruptive behavior within the LGBT (esp. transgender) communities. Her disruptions have made it hard to have constructive conversations and productive resolutions to conflicts in a variety of forums in the past several days.

A plant sent there by the FBI/Wall Street/some other government agency? It’s not all that hard to believe, is it? Yes, this is a conspiracy theory, but … conspiracies do exist. If you don’t believe that, in the age of tobacco and petroleum, Fox News and the GOP, you haven’t been paying attention.

Cuckoos don’t necessarily arise from enemy camps. They can spontaneous spring up from within the roll of faithful members, and perhaps completely unintentionally create major rifts in the solidarity of the movement.

The atheist movement was early-on a very friendly club of people discovering the pleasures of freethought and reveling in the newfound freedom to think and express themselves. I was one of those early celebrants, writing and commenting variously in Yahoo chat rooms, on my own GoatOnFire and Hank Fox blogs, on Unscrewing the Inscrutable, in my book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist, and finally on FreeThought Blogs, taking a rather meek place alongside PZ Myers, Ed Brayton and other notables. The excitement of atheist solidarity eventually led to the first Reason Rally, and I never felt so HOME as on that one drizzly day in Washington DC.

And then Atheism-Plus came along. The idea was atheism PLUS social justice causes. I was already working on my concept of Beta Culture, and didn’t immediately jump in, but I was sympathetic at least as far as not offering vocal opposition.

I wanted to believe in it. I disagreed somewhat with atheist purists whose response to Atheism-Plus was pointedly negative, insisting that atheism was this ONE thing — atheism — and nothing else. One FTB blogger responded with the equally pointed “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” In my view, that statement was the tipping point for creating a major rift within the movement, where we became “these atheists” and “those atheists,” rather than just “atheists.” FTB was suddenly presented with a seeming tidal wave of hate — not from religionists, but from other atheists.

Add in the fact that the major fraction of Atheism-Plus was an aggressive feminism which came to actively target other atheist bloggers — I got to see this from the inside at FTB, and I can tell you it could be nasty as hell (I seem to recall one astonishing declaration that no man should speak or write about feminism unless a woman was present, essentially to check his work!) — and we soon had a situation where you couldn’t be an atheist in good standing unless you were FIRST an ardent feminist. You might agree on every point in the feminist cant, and yet become an enemy with a single “wrong” word. And whoo! They would COME AFTER YOU.

I talked to other bloggers and commenters around the atheist web, and eventually had something like a dozen writers who said they would never again engage with the issue of feminism, because the price of making a mistake — which, again, could hinge on a single, often deliberately-misinterpreted, word — was too high.

Cuckoos. Feminists in the atheist nest, shoving out other atheists. It certainly worked on me! I moved to Patheos and largely stopped reading FTB, because I couldn’t bear all the heat and light of victim-feminism. (I find it interesting that Ed Brayton, one of the founders of FTB, also eventually joined Patheos, possibly for much the same reason I did.)

[ Side Note: Typically, any male blogger who addressed feminism in any even slightly critical way would preface every post with immense protestations of agreement and solidarity with the feminist cause. But I’m not going to do that for two reasons: 1) It never helped. You could be 99.95% in favor of women’s rights, equality, safety and choice, but that 0.05% disagreement would bring attacks which could be literally vicious. And 2) If you don’t know me by now … eh. Go read some other blog. ]

In the end, I think I have to agree with the atheist purists.  Social justice issues, no matter how greatly worth pursuing on their own, dilute and poison the ATHEIST movement when they are shoved in as part of it.

But to conclude with what is really my main point: Too often, those of us working toward progressive social or political goals are naively unprepared for the sophistication of opposition, or even the fact of it. Some level of opposition will likely come from outside, but it can also come from inside and be no less destructive.

But just as with the strategy suggested for atheist billboards (go into it with the absolute expectation of vandalism), every social justice movement should START with the expectation of aggressive, often deceptive, opposition and consider how to deal with it.

Definitely expect opposition from outside, but don’t neglect the possibility of enemies of internal origin — cuckoos — and plan some sort of approach to their potential arrival.


Thinking Tools: Weather and Will

BGL copySome of what you work out — hopefully, anyway — as you go about your daily life, are what I call “thinking tools.” These aren’t just facts, they’re ways of viewing or understanding the world around you  in a way that allows you to deal with life in a more productive, or less painful, way.

I wrote about something I call “Nailing” quite some time back, and that concept is one of my own thinking tools, something that helps me understand a bit of seemingly irrational human behavior. (Such as why people can be MORE supportive of war after their kid gets killed in one.)

I often have these things in my head for years before I finally sit down and think about them, much less commit them to paper. One such idea is something I call “Weather and Will.”

“Weather” as I’m using it here is meant to represent natural forces as distinct from human ones. It’s all the stuff we have no control over, and have to just be aware of and careful about.

“Will” is what humans do, and it’s subject to, well, human will.

Anytime there’s some sort of incident involving Weather — say Bob gets hit by lightning while playing golf during a thunderstorm — we tend to think it was Bob’s fault, if anybody’s. He should have taken into account that standing out in the open during a storm — and holding a long metal rod aloft — was a bad idea. It’s no fault of the weather itself, which was only doing what weather does — be weather.

We might generously call the event an “accident,” but if there’s any blame to be leveled, it would definitely go to Bob. Recognizing that one of the factors involved has no human volition and the other does, we’d never say the weather should have done something different, but we would definitely say Bob should have done something different.

You challenge Weather, or ignore Weather, or forget Weather, you better expect a bad outcome.

But “Weather” is not always WEATHER. It’s all those other uncontrollable, non-volitional forces too.

If a man lies down drunk on the railroad tracks at night — even through trains are human-made and human-controlled — whose fault is it if he gets hit by a train? We tend to think it’s the drunk guy’s fault. Trains are Weather in the sense that they have this sort of inevitability about them: They can’t be stopped quickly, but even if they could, the train engineer might not be able to see the guy lying on the tracks at night.

Besides which, it’s not like trains leap out of nowhere, or chase you down and kill you. They’re not stealthy, or malevolent. Not only do trains run on tracks which are unmistakable for anything else in civilization, their crossings are always clearly marked, AND a train makes a noise like … well, like a locomotive. Civilization has been SO careful to make trains safe, it’s extremely rare that we could say “Yeah, that whole family was killed after stopping their RV on the clearly-marked rail crossing, but it wasn’t their fault.” No, most of the time it IS their fault, or at least the driver’s fault, and not that of the train or its engineer. There’s really very little about it which is accidental.

But there’s a confusing idea out there about Weather and Will. We see situations — both in fiction and in real life — in which one person gets blamed for something another person did: “The bank robber wouldn’t have shot Bob if Bob had only done what he said. It’s his own fault, really.” “He wouldn’t beat her if she didn’t provoke him.”

Both of those formulations make the bad guy’s actions out to be Weather — as if he’s some sort of unstoppable natural force, something nobody, not even he, could do anything about — when they’re really completely about Will. It’s NOT Bob’s fault for getting shot, not even a little bit. It’s never the woman’s fault when she’s hurt by an abusive boyfriend.

In both cases, the injury done to the victim was 100 percent the doing of the aggressor. There is no element of Weather about the thing. That guy shot Bob because he wanted to. He might have set up this bogus choice for Bob — “Obey me, or die!” — and in truth it might be good in that specific case for Bob to just obey, but nothing in the situation says responsibility for any later shooting rests with anyone but the guy with the gun.

An abusive boyfriend might say “I wouldn’t hit you if you’d just be quiet when I tell you to!” but at no point does that become Weather. It’s his CHOICE to hit her, and he can choose not to. We might say “My gosh, woman, get away from the bastard! Leave now and go as far and as fast as you can!” But this is more in the way of a avidly suggested precautionary measure. At no point does the physical abuse become her fault.

We tend to see large-scale human things like government or war as Weather, and in the sense that they’re big and unpredictable, or take on a Weathery life of their own independent of the human wills within them, it certainly can seem to be true. But it’s important to continue to think of them as the result of Will. Government is a thing humans do, and they can do it differently. War is a thing humans choose to do, and can choose not to do.

There are statistical effects from massed human behavior — actions or effects that arise from our own unconscious nature — that we tend to consider as Weather. For instance, we might say that anytime large numbers of humans gather together — for an outdoor event, say, or just crowded together in cities — there will be masses of litter left to pick up. We expect it, grimly resign ourselves to it, as if there’s nothing that can be done but hire people to try to keep up with the deluge of garbage.

This is certainly true in New York City, where I travel every day in the course of my work. But a half day’s drive to the north, Ottawa, Canada, is the fourth cleanest city in the world. The streets and sidewalks are spotless. Not because the Weather is any different, but because the people of Ottawa CHOOSE to act in a different way.

I think the point is, only Weather is Weather. When it comes to human behavior on any scale, even when you’re dealing with what appears to be unavoidable results, it’s still Will.

Meaning it can be changed. Altered. Done differently, and better.

When We All Grow Up

adults2Every major change in life — and probably a lot of the minor ones — is accompanied by something I call Turbulence.

New job, turbulence. New baby, turbulence. Loss of a loved one, MAJOR turbulence.

It’s that period of discomfort and confusion that happens between one steady life state and another. Eventually you get used to new conditions of life — the new job is as familiar and comfortable as the old one — but meanwhile, you suffer the bumpy ride of the necessary transition.

I bring up Turbulence because I think we’re in it, society-wide, worldwide, right now. I suppose the people of every era feel their discomforts, but this one is a one-of-a-kind, first-ever-in-history discomfort, the sign of a BIG transition.

I’m thinking about Humanity on Planet Earth, and the changes in store for us, major ones, some of which are already taking place. What will be the end result of those changes? Where are we going?

Up til now it’s like we’ve been living through the human species’ childhood, where we could explore and play and fight and kill and burn and break and do pretty much anything we pleased, without any very serious repercussions. We could reproduce without limit, experiment with weird beliefs, exotic ways of living, silly fantastic ideas, and see what happened. All the while, we were rich enough in room and resources that our failures made only local differences. We could try out this thing and that thing and the other thing, and no matter how much we broke or burned, we could just walk away from the wreckage and try something new.

But there’s that time to come when we won’t be doing that stuff anymore. The time when we will practice restraint and finally become grownups, comfortable with ourselves and with life on Earth, living more or less gracefully and successfully, into the indefinite future.

I don’t say we’re GOING to make it. But if we do, it will be because we did this other thing, and so became able to survive. It’s like our doctor has said “Your heart is laboring, your liver is shot, your cholesterol if through the roof and your diabetes is getting worse. You’re going to lose 100 pounds or you’re going to die in a matter of months. There is no third choice.”

In the only good future imaginable, in the single survivable scenario, we change. Non-change, or half-assed change, will bring either extinction or something few of us today would want to live through.

The in-between time, the turbulence-riddled NOW, is our teen years. We’re still experimenting, playing and fighting and stumbling and living our rich fantasy lives, but with global warming, Peak Oil, so many other real-life realities being forced upon us, we’re discovering we can’t do just anything. Not forever. We’re finding out some things have uncomfortable, even deadly, results, both to ourselves and to the planet. We’re living in the midst of the transition from carefree childhood to … something.

I’m thinking about that “something” — the full adulthood of humanity, hanging out there in some hopefully not-too-distant future.

What will things be like when the human species is all grown up? What will be necessary? What will be necessarily avoided? How will we live? How will we relate to Planet Earth, and each other?

Humanity’s adulthood is a way off, sadly, and none of us will live to see it. It’s going to require generational changes; more than a few generations will be necessary before a critical mass of grownups appears on the world scene. The lot of us are unfortunately stuck back here in adolescence.

Doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. The fine details of that era are impossible to guess at — there will be arts and careers, entertainments, technology, unimaginable to us today — but I think we can predict something of the bigger picture, because some conclusions are pretty much unavoidable.

There’s a lot of stuff we simply can’t afford, or afford to do, anymore. For instance, we won’t be using fossil fuels in that future, because most of them will just be gone. Used up by we human children in a burning, partying, indulgent spree.

And some things, we just have to hope will be a part of the picture, because otherwise, that future won’t be anything those of us today could enjoy.

So here are some of my guesses about what it will mean for us to be sane and successful grownups on Planet Earth.

Population and Energy

First, like I said, we’re going to give up petroleum, and maybe even nuclear energy. Solar’s the way to go. Everything in our adult future will be powered by the sun.

Or yes, some “might be” futury energy source. But having gotten to 2016 with no sign of widely-available flying cars, which I’ve been reading about since the 1950s, I’m not counting on the rescue of out-of-the-blue science-fictiony solutions. I’d love to see fusion power perfected, but a question I’ve asked myself over the years is: What if it’s just not possible? What if it takes an actual star to keep a fusion reaction going? I’d like to see the research continue, but I don’t think it’s something we can count on.

There are going to be a lot fewer of us. Idiot optimists notwithstanding, Planet Earth just can’t support 7 or 8 or 12 billion humans. My guess is that somewhat less than a billion humans, maybe only a few hundred million, can live on the planet without eventually eating it down to bedrock. And why would we want more? If there are resources enough to allow 500 million people to live like royalty, or 12 billion people to live like slaves, cramped and poor, what good argument is there for NOT living comfortably within our means?

The question for me — and I think grownups in the human future — isn’t “Do people have the right to have as many kids as they want?”, it’s “Do children have the right to be born into a family, or a world, that can support them?” Note that I’m not saying some draconian governmental edict will come along and nix human population growth. I’m saying the real world will enforce some sort of solution, either voluntary on the part of Homo Adultus, or involuntary via any of a number of mass die-off scenarios.

There will be fewer of us.  How we get there is up to conscious decisions by us might-be grownups, or due to the already-in-progress default course set by the equivalent of idiot teenagers refusing to accept responsibility in a world of real consequences.

Education and Equality

We have to have full equality of every human, everywhere on the planet. Everyone has to have the right to vote, to medical care, to an education.

Speaking of education, we’re going to stop treating our kids like they’re children, and start treating them as if they’re going to be fellow adults expected to shoulder the load of making the world work. We’re going to give every one of them a full, free education — which we will expect them to actually work at and benefit from — up to and including college or trade school.

Speaking of medical care, we’re going to live a lot longer than we do now. Think about it: What’s the real goal of the field of medicine? To cure everything. Pretty much every disease is going down, and life extension will become a major focus of research. Because what is aging but just another disease? The end result of that research is going to BE life extension. How much? I like to think it would be well into the hundred-and-somethings.


We’re going to learn to live on Planet Earth without damaging it. Our smaller population will allow us to abandon large areas and allow them to go back to nature. We’ll have a reverence for life, with absolute protection of endangered species with no regard to national borders. Those mountain gorillas, for instance, are not Africa’s mountain gorillas, they’re everybody’s (and nobody’s) mountain gorillas, and we’ll feel they must be protected no matter what.


We’re going to stop tolerating lies. One of the things we haven’t yet understood is that Freedom of Speech has to have this other freedom attached to it, Freedom From Lies. Every person (and corporation) has the right to say whatever they want to say, but that freedom is limited by every OTHER person’s right to hear the truth.

I can lie to you in person and you and I will deal with that privately, but on public airwaves or wires, where millions might hear and be adversely affected by it, there can be no “right” to lie, to incite others to believe falsehoods, and the penalties will be severe.

Lying is a form of pollution, when you think about it. Lies are a poison that destroys human understanding of the truth. It’s like secondhand smoke — when the lies flow over your metaphorical property line and into my life, your right to lie has ended.

(In my view, there is already no right to lie to a child, about any subject or for any reason.)

We’re going to have a common language. English? Probably. Doesn’t mean all the others will go away. Does mean we’re going to talk to each other, all over Earth, in this common language.

We’re going to have a LOT more public transportation, a lot fewer cars. We’re going to spend a LOT less money on wars and weapons.

We’re going to end racism and sexism. Skin color is about the stupidest, most superficial way of judging people, and we — all of us — will eventually realize that. As to sexism, we’ll eliminate the prejudices and limitations based on gender, but we’re also going to accept that men and women each have their own specific needs, and figure that more into the balance.

Our lives are going to be a lot more transparent, but we’re also going to become a lot more comfortable with our own nature and the inevitable foibles which attend it.

We’re going to come to understand that not all cultures and cultural practices are equal. That some are good for human freedom and dignity, some are simply not, and we’re going to abandon the not-goods. Speaking of which:


We’re going to do away with religion and mysticism. Goodbye Islam — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. But also: Goodbye Christianity — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Schools will teach evolution with gusto, and every kid will grow up knowing he’s connected as family to all life on Earth. The idea of the universe being poofed into existence by a great big guy in the sky is going to seem like a fairy tale straight out of the Dark Ages.

We’re going to end genital mutilation of babies. Sorry Jews and Muslims, snip off the end of your own dick if you want, cut out your own clitoris once you’ve achieved the age of choice, but you can’t do that to kids anymore. They don’t BELONG to you, they belong to the adults they will one day become, and it’s that adult — and only that adult — who has the right to choose to make permanent changes to their bodies. You would no more cut healthy body parts off a baby than you would install garish permanent tattoos on their bodies. In both cases, it’s a trespass on THEIR right to choose.

We’re going to stop being ouchy about sex education for young people. Every kid on Earth is going to receive the full, unaltered Handbook of the Human Body in classes taught from kindergarten onward.

Business and Politics

We’re going to push corporations out of the driver’s seat of government. We’re going to end tax evasion by corporations and the wealthy, and the huge income inequality that flows out of corporate culture. In the coming era of transparency — particularly in international banking — I suspect most organized crime is going to go away.

Science and Technology

We’re going to use space, but probably not move into it. The minimum necessary life support system for humans is probably the size of a planet, and we only know of one. We’ll have robots out there, or humans for short periods, but we’re never going to have humans like you and I living on other planets.

Every person on Earth is going to have full, unfettered access to the Internet, and they will carry it around with them.

It’s almost inevitable that we’ll tinker with our own genes, improving ourselves in countless ways and ushering in an age of transhumanism. Not everyone will change, but everyone will have the chance. Overall, average intelligence is going to go up — we’re going to be a lot smarter.

Speaking of intelligence, we’re going to have Artificial Intelligence. It’s not going to be just like us, but one way or another it’s going to exist. It’s also going to be friendly, an intellectual partner rather than some horror-story master or adversary.


I doubt that nations will go away. Local units of government are better at handling local issues. But a worldwide community of individuals — and yes, I’m thinking Beta Culture — who agree that certain things must happen can make those things happen. Not by undercutting government, but by convincing a critical mass of people in each country that certain things — women’s equality, for instance, but also all this other stuff — absolutely must happen.

Here’s hoping.

Lefty Pet Peeve

mass hangingThis picture was shared on Facebook with the caption, “Americas (sic) largest mass hanging of Indians.”

Hey, I’m in. I’m on board. The LEAST you can say about the alleged incident is that it deserves to echo through history as one of our most shameful moments. It deserves to be remembered, reflected upon, regretted.

As a compassionate, reasoning being — or so I like to think of myself — my first impulse is to find out more. This is something that needs to be a part of my thinking, right?

But … no further information is attached. No link. No explanation. No date. No location. Nothing.

I can’t tell whether this incident was perpetrated by forces of the newly-minted United States, by the pre-Revolutionary British, by Mexico, France, Texas, some pre-1776 state, or just generic “white people” acting on their own. I can’t tell whether it was even on this continent.  Might it have been India? Australia? Feudal Japan? China?

We don’t know. Not only do we not know, we can’t even guess. (Okay, from the architecture, I’m going to wager it’s probably not Japan or China.)

I’d think it would be obvious why this pisses me off, but I’ll tell you anyway:

In my mind, there’s a stark difference between INFORMING and MANIPULATING.

Informing is when you introduce a subject and tell me the full details. Or at least give me a start and then point me to somewhere I can (without, say, flying to England and digging around in historical accounts) find out the whole story.

Manipulating is when you project a knee-jerk emotional appeal with NO FURTHER INFORMATION.

Here’s the pisser: I’M ALREADY SYMPATHETIC TO THE MESSAGE. I’m on the “this is truly terrible” team. I don’t need to be manipulated, I need to be informed. He who informs me is on my team, he who manipulates me is not.

I’m willing to do a little research to find things out for myself, but it would be peachy if the original assertion contained SOME sort of clue as to where or when to start looking.

But whoever posted the thing didn’t do that. Is it that they couldn’t be bothered? That it was enough to rile people up in righteous anger? Was this aimed at evoking pure emotion, with no action or understanding necessary?

Was it meant only to inspire the lame-ass conclusion that White People Are Evil? Because THAT conclusion I’m  not on board with. It’s as racist as any other race-related generalization.

Actually, I have no trouble believing this act happened, and was carried out by “Americans.” But I can’t AUTOMATICALLY place that blame any more than I can automatically blame fresh graffiti on my fence on the first random teenager who walks by.

In both cases, you have to KNOW.

Projecting an emotional message at me, a message which I am already inclined to sympathetically consider, but which contains zero facts, is either the act of a careless idiot, or someone deliberately manipulating his/her audience — me. Either way, it’s a betrayal of the faculty of careful thought and reason I like to think sets me apart — sets US apart — from those people who make up the crazy, excitable rabble who so vividly fill the ranks of the teabagger movement.

Two conclusions:

  1. The person who would do this is no friend. He/she is, in fact, my enemy.
  2. I have no need to look any further into the claim. The bullshit level is high enough that I can ignore the thing entirely, and suffer no loss.



Beta Culture: Legacy

Beta-Culture-JPG[I’m afraid I’m not going to explain this very well. I have the idea in my head in a way that makes sense to me, but this post runs long because I’m having a problem getting the concept into words. I’m hoping readers can help me refine the idea into some simpler form that will be more easily understandable. Collaborative comments are welcome!]

As I think I’ve said here in the past, I believe atheism is, in some ways, rather fragile. Give us one good civilization-wide scare and I fear we’d jettison it like a broken anchor, leaping for the illusion of safety with churches and fascistic leaders. (No, it wouldn’t be you and I giving in and joining up. But if a majority of others did so, and saw atheism as a danger to their safety, you can bet we’d be back in the shadows, keeping our mouths safely shut, pretty much instantly.)

This is the main reason I continue to think we need a little something more than atheism. We need a durable permanent vehicle for atheism, a cultural container within which it can flourish.

But that cultural container can’t contain JUST atheism. In order to be a complete self-perpetuating culture, it has to have a great deal more — traditions and ceremonies, holidays and ways of living that go beyond the mere rejection of religion.

Speaking of which …

Say there’s this thing called Legacy.

And say we define it as something like “cultural wisdom that helps you live better.”

The “live better” part might include things like coexisting more comfortably with others, being better within yourself FOR yourself — stronger, more productive, more confident, more loving — and, oh, living on the planet without consuming too much of it.

The “wisdom” part implies useful lessons that can only be acquired as a result of 1) being passed down by a thoughtful elder, or 2) you yourself living a long time, having a great variety of learning experiences — including lots of painful mistakes — and thinking deeply about life and how to live it.

The “cultural” part includes that material maintained and handed on to you by your People.


Your father teaches you how to treat a woman in order to create and maintain a strong, lasting relationship. That would be Legacy.

A rap song teaches you to Fuck Dat Bitch. That would not.

You learn in school how to read and do geometry, how to have a scientific mindset and conduct a debate. That would be Legacy.

You learn on TV to buy lottery tickets and to “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.” That would not.

You develop an intense love of ham radio with the help of a retired music teacher who lives in your neighborhood. That would probably be Legacy.

You develop immense expertise in Pokemon from watching episodes on YouTube. That would not.

Hopefully you have Legacy in your own family. If your grandfather tells you “My grandaddy told me this when I was a boy. ‘Horace, you stick up for family. Don’t matter what they done, you stick up for ’em.’ ” you have a Legacy lesson four generations deep about family solidarity.

On a larger scale, Culture, when you think about it, is all about Legacy. Most of the time it operates without conscious direction, but it is nevertheless a body of deliberately-taught lessons about The Way Our People Do Things. You might learn to build a waterproof hut out of banana leaves or birch bark, the safe way to gather and shuck oysters, or how to bargain sharply so as not to be cheated.

Not all Legacy is good. People might intend for it to be good, they might think it’s good, but there are cultural practices handed down that are useless or even harmful. I’d consider circumcision to be a harmful Legacy. Ditto for the mandatory wearing of burkhas.

Culture and Religion and Legacy, Oh My

Religions are all about Legacy. As I think I’ve also said here in the past, religion itself is a subset of culture, which means the larger container is culture, and religion exists within it. Thus all religious acts and rituals are culture, but there is quite a lot of culture which is not religion.

There is even a great deal of what we consider religion which is actually culture. For instance, Christmas, which is technically a religious celebration, is in large part merely cultural. For most Americans, I would wager, the religious part of Christmas takes a distant second place to the secular, cultural part of it. We might pray with the family at dinner, go to church on Christmas morning, delight in each year’s Nativity, but mostly we enjoy the gift-giving, the music, the decorating and shopping. And of course all of this gets passed on as Legacy.

How important is Legacy? I’d consider it the true core of human civilization. Legacy is the civilized part of civilization. If you’ve ever read the book (or seen the movie) Lord of the Flies by William Golding — in which a group of British boys stranded on an island without adults descend into savagery — you’ve witnessed a scenario of people deprived of Legacy. Lacking any better ideas on how to survive as a group, they form a primitive, violent, superstitious tribe, and the results are not very pretty.

Atheism and Legacy

I bring up Legacy mainly to relate it to atheism.

Atheism has almost no Legacy. It’s been passed on either in a somewhat surreptitious fashion, or learned from books. A few of us figure it out completely on our own, which becomes Legacy only when and if we pass it on.

Think of the civilization around us. It contains ways to live and die and everything in between — celebrations, holidays, cultural costumes, foods to eat and not eat, the details of how to pursue and acquire a mate, a great deal more.

Civilization is a complex web of all sorts of Legacy. Historically, the people within each culture inherited the Legacy of their own culture and very little else, but today, in the mixed bag which is western overculture, we’re now exposed to a big Chinese menu of cultures, and can take from one or the other at will. But we’re also exposed to a great deal of other stuff which is neither culture nor Legacy, but is instead … marketing. The tidal wave of sales pitches and suasions, propaganda and lies washing over us daily leaves in the dust whatever lessons we might learn from our parents or teachers.

(For some of us, say city kids raised in single-parent-with-two-jobs homes and immersed in street culture, life can be almost devoid of Legacy. One’s entire view of life and how to live it could be shaped by advertising, song lyrics and whatever you picked up on the street today. There are young people in New York City — I’m pretty sure I’ve met some of them — who really believe beating and robbing elderly people, as long as you can get away with it, is a GOOD thing.)

Again, atheism by itself has almost no Legacy. We atheists have no holidays, no ceremonies, no meeting houses, no characteristic clothing or foods, no ways of dating and marrying and family-making. We have no atheist-inspired life GUIDANCE.

And, mostly — immersed in the near-infinity of western overculture — we don’t yet have any feeling that we might need something like that. After all, we seem fully able to conduct our lives, right? We live, we go to school, we get jobs, we marry, have kids, go on vacations, all the stuff of day-to-day life. And we still get to be atheists.

Atheism vs Predators

But the fact is, we live inside cultural conditions just about 100 percent borrowed from others. Some of it is religious, and we make an effort to avoid that part, but a great deal of it is irrational without being religious, and goes unnoticed. As I said, when I talk about “western overculture” I’m also talking about all that non-Legacy stuff, the churning mix of in-the-moment messages and ideas that come from mass media and business marketing.

Who among us doesn’t know “A Diamond is Forever”? Picture generations of young men and women absorbing that assertion, spending thousands of dollars on little clear rocks as a way to express true love. Considering that we defined Legacy as “cultural wisdom that helps you live better,” what is there in “A Diamond is Forever” that does that? Nothing. “A Diamond is Forever” is, in fact, not only non-rational but almost purely predatory. Rather than adding to the lives of those who accept it, it takes from them. It’s a statement deliberately engineered to benefit diamond merchants, a way to suck money out of hopeful youngsters seeking a way to express love and permanency, youngsters who lack Legacy to assist them and who are thus helpless against the clever marketing.

The difference between Legacy and marketing is that the one is a body of ideas worked out over centuries as a way to (mostly) help people, while the goal of marketing is to USE people. If I work for Del Monte and I put an ad on TV about green beans, I’m not there to tell you to eat green beans, any green beans, for the sake of your health. I’m there to tell you to eat DEL MONTE green beans. I might accompany the message with a rhyming jingle to help it stick in your head, or a Mr. Whipple-like character to make it fun and memorable, but the amount of help I give you in the living of YOUR life is close to zero. And there is nothing in my advertising that lends itself to passing on to help any future generations you produce.

Whereas a strong home culture might give you tools for protecting yourself from the predatory parts of overculture — picture the Amish or Hasidic Jews as extreme examples — we atheists have nothing like that. Having rebelled against the brainwashing of religion, we feel all safe and free and smart. Yet we are still subject to the great  mass of other non-rational, sometimes even anti-rational, influences that permeate overculture.

How many atheist men buy diamonds for their wives-to-be, and how many atheist women happily accept them? I’ll bet the number is lower than the general population, but still unfortunately high.

And just how free are we on a holiday like Easter? Free to celebrate it in private as we ourselves choose, but given a traditional family event, there many of us are, joining hands around the table for the family prayer. Given a Christian funeral with a minister, goddy eulogy and prayerful observance, few of us are going to raise our voices in rejection.

The point is, we fancy ourselves outside “it” all, but we’re often on the edges of it, and sometimes even in the heart of it. Because we have nothing of our own, other than individual atheism, to protect and guide us.

But we COULD have something of our own.

Yes, some will say atheism speaks to this ONE point — a lack of belief in gods. But the PEOPLE who espouse atheism, the atheists themselves, are free to create any sort of social structure they want. Something distinct from western overculture. Something that self-regenerates. Something that defends and maintains itself even in the face of extreme social pressures. Something that provides a home, a safe place, for both the people and the philosophy. Something — a Legacy — that can be passed on to following generations.

I continue to believe we must.



Gender Asymmetry, Again

I had a post a bit more than a year ago titled A Third Approach to Gender Equality.

The heart of the post was the assertion that male and female humans have certain distinct characteristics separate from each other, and that taking those differences into account — through an overview that admits of something I call “gender asymmetry” — is necessary to develop approaches to equality.

Men have advantages over women. For instance, men’s naturally greater strength and athletic ability. Which means, yes, women are disadvantaged in relation to men, IN SOME WAYS.

Women have advantages over men. For instance, women’s greater social and emotional intelligence, and the protection afforded by having two X chromosomes (helping women avoid hereditary diseases such as color blindness, hemophilia, etc.). Which means, yes, men are disadvantaged in relation to men, IN SOME WAYS.

Here’s a video from PragerU that makes a point about the powerful visual link to men’s sexuality.

Some significant number of people reading this will instantly leap to think I’m suggesting that women need to dress more modestly in order to avoid being sexually assaulted by horny men (which will be quickly followed by that annoyingly common oh-my-god-why-do-you-hate-women thing).

But in fact, there’s another conclusion possible: That in designing a future culture fair to both female and male humans, the real facts of male and female nature — their real advantages, disadvantages and innate traits, must be taken into account.

If we leap to the victim-feminist conclusions at every point being made, or attempted to be made, we can never have the necessary discussions that will lead to lasting fairness.

Annoying Thoughts on the Verge of Christmas

The world around us – through holiday stories, songs, animated movies, TV shows, sweet little homilies delivered to us daily in every medium — teaches us about automatic happy endings, happily-ever-afters, free gifts delivered for the price of being “good,” all sorts of magical happy inevitabilities, all of which will come to us as we relax and live our lives.

But it never teaches us those things AREN’T automatically true. We’re left to figure out on our own that there’s no Santa, no Care Bears, no Tooth Fairy.

So we’re ACTIVELY programmed to believe in magic and happy accidents, but at no point ACTIVELY taught to stop believing in it. With our untrained young minds, we have to muddle through that lesson on our own.

The result being that many of us never really figure it out. Sure, we stop believing in the actual existence of Santa, but few of us can resist continuing to believe “something good will happen if I just think happy thoughts and Be Good.” If we all just love, and smile, and treat each other with compassion and understanding.

I suspect the reason immigrants excel in America is not specifically because they’re willing to work hard and save money and expect their kids to do well in school. They do well because they come out of a different culture. They don’t believe, as we do — they were never taught, as we are — that good things automatically happen. They don’t have our cultural tsunami of friendly talking teddy bears and magical wishes. They know the truth – that success of any sort comes only with unrelenting, hard-ass work.

And they’re HAPPY to do that work, because it DOES bring success. They can see it working around them and, unblinded by messages that say you don’t have to try very hard, you just have to wish and believe, they work, and think, and plan, and never stop.

I’ve wondered many times if anything good really came out of the 60s, and the only thing I can think of is that all that “Give Peace A Chance” business MIGHT have had something to do with stopping the Vietnam War. But following that … nothing. No peace. No better vision of the future. No new direction. A legacy of drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and the eventual social idiocy of tattooing, piercing and sagging pants.

(Yes, some good music came out of that era’s musical experimentation. But there was also a HUGE amount of musical garbage, and a great deal of sloppy, crappy, talentless art, both of which continue to this day.)

(Another MIGHT be: The environmental movement MIGHT BE related, remotely, to the 60s “revolution.”)

Worse, we ended up with a disdain for older cultural beliefs, such as the value — the necessity! — of education and hard work.

Worse again, the “good things will happen” mindset – which certainly led into both the Vietnam and Iraq wars, both of which disappointed us with failure – made us draw in and indulge in even more fantasy thinking. Hey, we didn’t lose those wars, we WON them. Those were great VICTORIES. We kept the world SAFE. Our brave warriors were triumphant HEROES. We SUPPORT the troops! Anybody who disagrees is a TRAITOR. (And of course George W. Bush was a GREAT LEADER.)

Worse again AGAIN, it made us even more susceptible to mass manipulation, paving the way for the lies of FOX News and company. Hey, if people refuse to see the real world, why not make some money off their fantasies? Don’t stop believing, people! Just tune in and we’ll keep feeding you!

So here we are in the years 2000, facing a great mess of challenges. Such as the fact that there are 7.4 billion humans out there, eating and burning their way through Earth’s remaining wealth. Ocean ecosystems are collapsing. Species are vanishing at an accelerating rate. The very atmosphere is changing for the worse.

And we’re thinking our happy, hopeful, magical thoughts. Something Good will happen, if we just earnestly and fervently WISH and PRAY for it. Frosty the Snowman will appear under that magical top hat, Santa will fly in on his sleigh, and wrapped presents — Labor Saving Robots! Immortality! Artificial Intelligence! Saved Ecosystems! A World Full of Fat, Happy Babies! Infinite Free Energy! — will fall down the chimney and land under the tree.