Randall Eades: On Beta Culture

Guest Post 2Randall Eades is a Facebook friend, and is responding to the four-part intro post on Beta Culture. He posted on Facebook, but is allowing me to echo it here.


I have to preface this by stating it is coming from an autistically wired brain, i.e., high intelligence and analytical skills, minimal social connectivity and a penchant for systemizing the world around me. So my opinions may be a bit atypical.

I am a Betan. I am an atheist. I am rational and curious. The most important thing I got from a four-year adventure in the military was the realization that I am not an American, probably not what they were going for. Everywhere I traveled I noticed the people were all just like me, going about their daily lives, trying to survive and raise their children as best they could, with little concern for the forces that sent me into their world. They didn’t want to kill me nor I them. I have no enemies anywhere. I am a Human, a citizen of the planet. We all breathe the same air.

Having said that, the other part of my autism kicks in. I don’t do community and culture. I don’t join groups. I am equally uncomfortable with rational people and raving rednecks. I don’t even see the world from that perspective. I am not traveling in a boat looking for an island of like-minded people. I am alone on a log, with no paddle, floating down an endless river, amazed at the scenery and random people I see along the way. I have little to no control over the system. I just enjoy the ride.

I don’t see the world as something I need to mold and shape to fit my ideals, but to understand. I have always seen it as this hugely complex role-playing game I awakened into at birth. I had no skills and no idea where I was or what I was doing here. Level 1, so to speak. My task, as I see it, was not to change the world, the game, but to adapt to and survive it. The conditions around me are irrelevant, a random roll of the dice. African desert, Arctic ice, Amazon jungle, Southern USofA, rural, city, rich, poor, democracy, dictatorship, it’s all the same — a given set of conditions I must adapt to and survive for as long as I can. Some conditions are obviously easier and more pleasant than others, and it’s nice when I find myself in those places, but self-development is always the point of the game. It is not a game for the faint of heart nor slow of wit. Those generally escape into comfortable self-delusion of one sort or another. But I have made it 67 years … so far. Along the way I have picked up some skills and game knowledge, I’ve advanced a few levels, and I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun.

But I understand that is not your point of view, and I’m not suggesting it should be. You are in the boat. You are a part of the group. You have a desire to leave the world a better place than you found it, to do what you can to solve some of the many problems. You are connected to your fellow Humans in ways I can never be. So while I don’t feel driven to personally be a part of Beta Culture, I do find it extremely interesting as a concept, and I hope you find a way to develop it. It would be a good thing in the world, an island of sanity in a sea going chaotic.

Okay, then. Some random thoughts….

I agree with you that atheists should be as aggressive in proselytizing their non-belief as religions do their belief. There is more to it than simply a lack of belief, that once you’ve achieved it you’re done. There is a long-running war between rationality and superstition, reality and myth, and until very recently we’ve been losing badly. It is a war for the minds of our children. Religions have no qualms about indoctrinating children even before they can form a rational thought, when they are most easily warped and shaped. Once a mind is formed as a child, it is very difficult to change as an adult. Anyone who has tried to argue rationality with a Christian fundamentalist knows they have an impenetrable Jesus Shield in place that simply deflects any fact contrary to their dogma. They not only don’t think about it, they don’t even hear it.

Religion is not just an alternative way of looking at the world. It is a controlled way of thinking. It is dictatorship over the mind. They are big on preaching free will, that their god allows us to freely choose to follow his will. But then they wrap that free will in chains of commandments and thou-shalt-nots so tightly their followers don’t dare think outside their box for fear of eternal damnation of their immortal souls. They aren’t even allowed to question whether they do, in fact, have immortal souls. It cripples the mind, then sells it a crutch. It is a form of slavery that should be fought with all the zeal with which we would fight against physical slavery. The goal of a Beta Culture should be to end this blight on humanity.

There is the notion among theists that Humans have an innate, almost instinctive, need for “God,” that everyone has always had gods. That’s not true. The early Chinese, one of the great cultures of the world, never invented gods. They had a Heaven, but that was a kind of system within which the dance of Life took place, not an Afterlife for the righteous. There was no capricious anthropomorphic deity that demanded worship in exchange for fair weather and good fortune. They worshiped, or at least prayed to, their ancestors, who they didn’t consider dead and gone, but simply transformed. They didn’t have gods until the Buddhists brought them from India. Then the Christians came and really screwed things up. But we can live without gods.

There is the notion that there can be no morality without the commandments of a god. True morality has nothing to do with a god. It is totally rational. It is about survival. Put in terms of the Venn diagrams you like, it is a set of concentric circles. In the center circle is Self. Our own survival, doing whatever it takes to stay alive, is basic morality. Any deliberate action that threatens that survival is immoral. The next circle is family. While I must strive to survive, to sacrifice my own survival for that of my family is a higher level or morality. I work at a job I hate to ensure their survival, and, if need be, I stand between them and the gun. The next circle is friends, to whom I have no blood connection, no genetic imperative, but only bonds of love. The next circle is community, some of whom I don’t even know, but still help when there is need. The next circle is nation, whose taxes I pay to care for the less fortunate among us, whose call for common defense I answer with my life. The next circle, the highest level of morality we know, is the Human species and the planet we live on. Morality is simply stated as, to quote the Vulcan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Or, for those who like the carpenter, “Greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friends.” Morality is not about how we worship a god, but how we treat each other.

Beta Culture is not without precedence. The Hellenistic Era is generally considered to be such a culture. Philosophers and poets and artists were the honored ones in society, wandering all over the place and performing like rock stars. Philosophy was debated in the public arena. Schools of philosophy competed like political parties now do. And even though there were many gods and goddesses who had to be consulted for every trivial decision, there were also major schools of atheism. Epicurus’s life lived for the sake of pleasure was a very popular school of rationality and atheism all the way up to the end of the Roman Era, until the chaos of the times inflamed religious zealotry that drove it underground. Perhaps there one might find the remains of a foundation upon which to build.

In trying to figure out how to start a culture, you might also look to the Hippie culture of the ’60s. It sprang up out of nowhere, in little enclaves here and there, and invited the world to live in peace, equality and brotherhood (though it might have been a bit short on rationality, with the psychedelics and weird religious cults). It spread around the world in a very few years. And though it has mostly faded over time, it left an indelible stamp on the world that is still with us. Its music is still popular. Every now and then you see a budding political movement in Russia or somewhere adopt the look. As mature adults, its members are still pushing the political spectrum toward the liberal side, as with drug legalization and LGBT rights.

While I really have no idea how to deliberately start a culture, most of them seem to just evolve out of seemingly minor events, I agree with you that it is a worthy endeavor and I wish you well with it. And even if you cannot save the world, perhaps you can push the Sisyphean stone a little further up the hill.

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.