Without Ceremony, Religion is Meaningless… (part 1)

Without ceremony, religion is empty.

Without children, it’s pointless.

Without a strong sense of ethnicity, religious identity disappears.

 

Part 1:

So continuing my reflections on why religious belief has decreased so much in the past few decades:

I theorize–this was originally someone else’s theory, so I can’t take credit for inventing it–that the feeling of the divine presence that people feel at worship or festivals is due to the feedback effects of watching everyone around you experience this at the same time–those “mirror neurons” at work, making you experience inside your head the emotions you’re reading on other people’s faces.

This is the power of crowds–the same power that makes grown men willing to pay actual money to sit in a big stadium and watch other grown ups play a children’s game of keep-away, and feel absolutely exhilarated by the experience instead of mortified. The power that makes peaceful people in big groups suddenly torch cars, or feel suddenly patriotic after singing the Star Spangled Banner together.

Once, totally randomly, I happened to park in the middle of an anti-Fred Phelps rally and had to walk along with it to get wherever I was going. (Probably dinner.)

The rally was fun. There was this great sense of togetherness, this electric excitement running through the crowd. A sense of being united in a common cause, something bigger than oneself.

“This must be why people liked the Nuremberg Rallies so much,” I thought. Only those involved half a million people instead of a few hundred. (As fun as they are, I think I will continue to generally avoid political rallies, because I’m not so keen on thinking other people’s thoughts.)

I have also experienced charismatic religious events, back in the days when I was a religious kid. That was an interesting Episcopal church, I gotta say. Anyway, so you know that thing you do with the laying on of hands and praying for the person in the middle of the hands and then you all feel the Power of God and the person in the middle faints (and maybe is healed or whatever)? Yeah, that is pretty fun, too. I mean, I don’t think it works if you don’t believe it–if you don’t believe in god, you’d probably just stand there feeling very uncomfortable while everyone else around you is falling over or making weird noises. But if you do believe, then you get to partake in the experience with everyone else.

And this is where ritual and ceremony come in. It probably doesn’t particularly matter what kind of ritual you have–you can wave around lulavs and etrogs or dance around the May pole or sing hosannas together–the important thing is that the ritual be meaningful to you and involve other people who also find it meaningful. Then every time you do it, you can access both your previous mental states from the past times you did it, and also the mental states of all the people around you, creating the collective experience of deep religious feeling.

It is no accident that many religions encourage their members to worship and study together, rather than apart. For example, Judaism requires a minyan–a group of ten people–for prayer, worship, reading the Torah, etc. It’s not wrong to do these things alone, it’s just seen as superior to do them together. “It was the firm belief of the sages that wherever ten Israelites are assembled, either for worship or for the study of the Law, the Divine Presence dwells among them.” (From the Wikipedia page.)

From Christianity: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

I bet other religions have similar calls to group worship, since group worship is a pretty common occurrence. Individuals of great genuine religiosity may be able to function this way, especially if they spend much of their time reading religious literature and praying and the like, but for the average person who isn’t inclined toward reading, this is probably the fast road to atheism. Luckily for Protestantism, the denominations quickly figured out how to have group religious experiences that rival or exceed Catholicism’s in effectiveness.

These days, however, the same intellectual impulse of, “Why do I have to be around other people to be religious? I can be just as religious at home as at church!” is probably leading a great many people to drift away from religion, leading inevitably to non-belief, since the emotions of others were a critical component of faith all along.

(What’s that, you thought you knew more about how religion works than thousands of years of religious tradition? You thought you could defy Gnon with your “logic” and “reason”? Gnon does not care about logic. Defy, and you will be annihilated, whether you like it or not.)

And as the number of atheists grows, even religious people are increasingly surrounded by people who do not believe, and the amount of belief they can access is thus decreasing. We’ve gone from a society where virtually everyone was Christian and religious expression was seen as a totally normal and welcome part of everyday life, to a society where close to half of young people (the people I typically am around,) are openly non-religious and want nothing to do with that (and even many of the people who claim to be religious make no regular signs of it.) This makes it hard to take religious belief seriously, as people increasingly associate genuine belief with low-class out-groups they don’t want to be part of. (Unless you are part of a prole out-group, in which case you’re probably proud of your religion.)

 

(This might make aspie people particularly bad at religion, because they are [speculatively] less capable of using these feedback structures to internally experiencing other people’s emotions.)

Stay tuned for Part 2: Without Children, Religion is Pointless.

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Is the Internet Making us Worse at Spotting Scams?

For a long time, I’ve believed that the internet was significantly decreasing peoples’ vulnerability to scams, mostly through the power of search engines + sites like Snopes and Wikipedia. So if your uncle says, “Hey, I heard about this rock in New Mexico with ancient Hebrew writing on it from the time of Moses,” you can look it up in Wikipedia and confirm that it’s most likely a fraud.

But maybe we’re just changing from believing one set of dumb ideas to another set of dumb ideas.

For example, my [relative] has mentioned a plan to colonize Mars a couple of times now. Apparently they’ve been talking about it on “The Big Bang Theory,” which “just goes to show (relative’s words, not mine,) how up-to-date the show’s creators keep their science.” I’ve heard nothing about this from anyone but them, which makes me rather skeptical. Yesterday they were complaining, “Why are we going all the way to Mars, when we haven’t even colonized the moon?”

IDK, why go to the moon when we haven’t finished settling Nebraska?

Anyway, today I happened across this article: Mars One Finalist: It’s All a Scam

Now, I know nothing about this; I don’t know whether it’s all a scam or not. But a private organization is not a “we”; it’s just people claiming they’re going to do stuff.

My relative gets their news these days largely from Yahoo, which isn’t terrible but probably isn’t the greatest. Not that yahoo necessarily intends to deceive, but a lot of their information is just as inaccurate as its ever been. (Yes, Bush won by the biggest margin ever, you keep repeating that.)

Of course, if you are misinformed about something, it’s rather hard to tell. So how could we figure it out?

(The perspective of an older-than-me person who has been observant long enough to have a good idea of how prone people were to being taken in by scams in, say, the ’80s as opposed to today would be valuable.)

Immigration

There’s been talk recently about how Europe (with its negative fertility rates) needs to do more to assist immigrants from countries where women have been having 7 children apiece and are suddenly running out of room. (These countries haven’t had enough food for decades.)

Perhaps I’m missing something, but why should Swedish citizens have their taxes raised to build more housing for non-swedes who chose to come to Sweden? Why should Brits have to send people down to fish boatloads of migrants out of the Mediterranean when their boats collapse? Shouldn’t the people who sent the boats be responsible for the people in them? If I have children, aren’t I responsible for my children? Why does all of this suddenly become Europe’s responsibility?

Ethiopia had 38 million people in 1983, at the beginning of the famine. By the end of the famine, in ’85, they had 41 million people. Today, they have 94 million people. No, they have not simultaneously doubled their ability to feed their people.

Where will those people go? Where will the food come from?

You cannot double the population of Ethiopia without expecting disaster. Yet this is what the Ethiopian people have chosen to do. Who will pay for it? The French?

The usual excuse here for self-destructive behavior is “colonialism.” Ethiopia was never colonized.

Next door, in can-totally-afford-it Somalia, women are having an average of 6 and a half children each. In Nigeria, 7 and a half. The DRC, one of the most dysfunctional, impoverished countries in the world, the kind of place where cannibalism still happens and you can’t even buy Coca Cola,* comes in at a modest 6 children per woman.

*You can buy Coca Cola almost anywhere on the planet except the DRC, because the roads there are just so bad that even capitalism cannot triumph.

Europe is, of course, already massively over-populated. Negative fertility rates are perfectly sensible until Europe, India, China, Japan, and the US populations drop to sustainable levels (unless you really like the idea of living in a post-apocalytic global wasteland.)

The planet cannot handle exponential growth. Even accepting all of the excess people from the places that cannot handle their own current growth levels will not solve the problem in either location. More food will not suddenly appear in Europe anymore than it will suddenly appear in Africa; we will not destroy the planet any slower by shipping people around–this will just speed it up.

We don’t need to stop having children. But we must be sane; countries cannot go having more than 3 per woman. The first step to preventing worldwide famine is birth control. Countries that have not been acting in good faith to not produce more children than they can feed have no basis to ask for international aid or to send out massive numbers of migrants and expect anyone to accept them.

Europe did not create Africa’s overpopulation problem and Europe cannot solve it. At best, Europe might solve Europe’s problems, but I haven’t a ton of hope for that.

Autism Exists Because Math is a Recently Evolved Ability

This is a theory.

We know mathematics is a recently evolved ability–all human groups can talk and compose stories, (even groups without written language,) but many groups do not even have words for numbers over three.

Out of the 200,000 years or so that anatomically modern humans have been around, no one bothered to invent written numbers until about 6,000 years ago; algebra didn’t really take off until about 1,000 years ago; calculus was invented about 400 years ago.

The ability to do any kind of abstract mathematics beyond the four basic operations is most likely a very newly acquired human skill–selection for higher math ability would have been virtually impossible prior to the invention of math, after all.

The thing about newly acquired skills is that evolution tends not to have worked out all of the kinks, yet. Things your ancestors have done consistently (including your parents) for the last 100,000 years will probably involve some decent genetic code. Things your ancestors did for millions of years will involve even better code. Things humans have been doing for only 400 years will probably involve some very kludgey code that might have some shitty side effects. Avoiding malaria comes immediately to mind–sickle cell anemia might help you avoid malaria, but it’s a pretty crappy adaptation overall. By contrast, animals have had circulatory systems for a long time; the code that builds circulatory systems is pretty solid.

Since math is a recently acquired skill, we’d expect at least some of the genes that makes people better at math to be a little, well, wonky.

It is probably no coincidence that people with extremely high math abilities have a reputation for being total weirdos, while people with very high verbal abilities–say, published authors–are regarded as pretty normal.

There are a few obvious ways to make people better at a particular task. You could take some neural real estate away from other tasks and assign it to the one you want. We know we can do this “environmentally,” (Phantom Limb Syndrome appears to be caused by the missing limb’s brain area being re-purposed for other tasks, such that when you do those other tasks, your brain simultaneously registers the activity as information coming from the limb); it seems reasonable that some sort of coding could do it genetically. Alternatively, you could increase neural speed or density or something. Or perhaps the overall size of the brain.

Each of these possibilities could also have some negative side effects–bigger brains kill mothers; re-purposing mental real estate could leave you unable to do some other function, like fine-motor control or talking.

Autism appears to basically do some set of these things (it seems to increase neural density, at least.) People with a small amount of autistic traits end up better at math than they would be otherwise. People with too many, though, suffer negative side effects–like struggling with verbal tasks. (It’s no particular surprise that autistic people tend to come from families with high math ability.) Autism is probably another mental trait that makes sense in a Sickle Cell Anemia sense.

Theory: Americans are fat because we don’t eat enough

I’ve long had a theory that dieting makes people gain weight. Just think about it for a second: at the very least, the correlation is tremendous.

Lots of studies have shown that diets are pretty useless–people tend, on average, to lose little to no weight on them. The whole diet industry, from diet sodas to lite beer to Weight Watchers, is, of course, basically a fraud.

The reasons are probably simple: One, humans have evolved no mechanisms to resist eating whenever possible. Your ancestors are people who ate when they could, not people who were indifferent to food, especially not tasty food*. And two, we live in a society with abundant, cheap, delicious food. Chances are good you’ve never even lived through a famine, much less had to go without for significant periods every few years of your life.

*Or have we?

I have watched people try to diet (mostly relatives.) The process goes something like this:

1. Relative declares, “I am going to lose weight for sure this time!”
2. Eats meager breakfast of oatmeal and apples.
3. Eats more apples for snack.
4. Comes over to my house, devours all my chips.
5. Weight-loss fails.

(A lot of people claim that you are supposed to feel “full” using various diet methods, but I’ve watched this happen enough times to enough different people to suspect that it’s a pretty common scenario.)

So tonight I was getting a bowl of icecream for a sick kiddo. Normally when getting icecream, I sneak a bite at the end. I can’t eat a full bowl of icecream, because hypoglycemia, but the taste is very tempting. But tonight, I looked at the icecream, and said, “No, I don’t want icecream.” What the hell was wrong with me? I’d just eaten a bowl of beans + cheese. I was full.

I suspect that our willpower, our ability to resist the kinds of foods that we can basically all agree aren’t really great to be eating, goes completely down the drain when we are hungry. And people are most likely to be hungry when they are dieting. So if you eat nothing but apples for breakfast, then somewhere along the way, you’re likely to eat nothing but cookies for dinner. But a solid breakfast of eggs, toast, and even a little bacon will probably leave you feeling full and happy, rendering temptation less, well, tempting.

My theory of the day: Feminism is not about men vs. women, but popular people vs. unpopular men

“The problem with the war between the sexes is there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.” — attributed to Kissinger.

You may wish to refer back to my post about dorkiness and assholes, and how popular movements get overtaken by popular people who may have very little interest in whatever the movement was originally supposed to be about. Instead, the movement becomes yet another way of reinforcing the status quo of popular people, which is why, of course, virtually everyone babbling on about other peoples’ “privilege” is insanely privileged. To be perfectly frank, I don’t hear any of the homeless people I talk to complaining about privilege.

So if you’re trying to avoid people who talk about privilege, try volunteering with the homeless. Besides, they actually need the help.

Anyway, back on track. As I was thinking about all of these things, I had another of those little moments of clarity. Feminism is framed as a females vs. males thing. It is very literally about raising up women, as a group, and fighting the “patriarchy”, symbolic of the all-male power structure.

Perhaps at some point it was that.

But this runs into an obvious problem that Kissinger himself articulated: men and women live together. You can’t tear down men without tearing down the women who live with them (and you can’t build up women without building up the men who live with them.) My [male relative]’s bad divorce outcome will have a direct and measurable effect on my material well-being; money going to his ex-wife is money that will not go to me. Since both of us are female, there is no net gain in female well-being. (Technically, it’s a net loss due to legal fees.) This is only an anecdote, of course. Let’s not overthink it.

If feminists were really serious about tearing down the patriarchy, we’d see different behavior. They’d block-vote for female political candidates, not vote for male candidates, set up all female communities and businesses, etc. In reality, feminists spend a lot of time arguing about whether some character in a popular movie or video game is sexist or posting on Twitter about how much they hate creeps. This doesn’t make any sense, until you realize that the whole notion of Males vs. Females is bunk and not even what feminists are trying to achieve.

We do not live in a society where females exist physically separate from men and desire to act as a single block in opposition to a single block of men. That is not how we live and act. Rather, we live in a society where males and females are intricately linked–as are their social statuses. Popular politicking, then, is about asserting the popular people’s dominance over the non-popular.

Popular men and women unite behind a common moral facade in order to assert dominance over unpopular men.

To the extent that this raises up women generally, it only raises them up relative to already unpopular men, not so much relative to men generally, and not so much relative to men who are actually the prime movers of the “patriarchy” (though earlier or more genuine forms of feminism may have had such effects, and there may be un-intended “trickle up” effects.)

Overall, feminism doesn’t seem to have many direct effects on unpopular or low-power women, except inasmuch as these women are generally connected to low-status males. Unfortunately, our society’s notions of popularity and status are pretty darn worthless, leading to the denigration of sincerity, hard work, and intelligence.

This suggests a big difference between the dynamics of feminism and the critical race theories it is so closely associated with these days: most members of different races actually don’t live with each other. So arguments about one set of group dynamics probably aren’t valid when applied to the other set of dynamics.

This theory doesn’t seem great for easily quantified predictive value, but someone else may be able to think one up.

The Spoils

Someone else’s theory, with my own reflections:

Let’s assume most of politics is actually people arguing over political spoils–who gets to eat the gov’t pie.

When Gov’t is small, there’s not a lot of pie to argue over. It might be corrupt pie, with all of the pieces going to the family of whoever’s in charge, but there’s just not much to fight over.

When gov’t is big, there’s a lot more pie to fight over. The bigger the pie, the more fighting we should get.

With gov’t spending somewhere around 40% of GDP, that’s a fucking HUGE pie. No wonder people fight so much over politics. It doesn’t really matter if you think “privilege” is a dumb or brilliant word; it does matter if you get free healthcare, a job building drones, or food stamps, and as a result, you will probably fight pretty hard to keep whatever part of the gov’t pie you are and fight pretty hard against people you don’t like getting more of the pie.

At 40%, it’s not even meaningful anymore to talk about the benefits of socialism vs. libertarianism; our system is socialist and it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Most likely, it will only become more socialist (and btw, it’s the Republicans who actually do the most to push us in the socialist direction by increasing the % of GDP that’s gov’t spending–they just like to spend it all on bombs.)

At its most extreme, the problem with socialist systems is that if one group of people effectively captures the political system, they can just decide that they don’t want to give any resources anymore to those guys they don’t like, and the result us Holodomor, because 0% of 100% is death.

At its most extreme, the problem with libertarian systems is also death, though in a much less organized way–see the Great Depression, or whatever example you’d like to supply.

We might for amusement try to calculate which kind of system kills more people, fail, and argue endlessly. (I charge you with doing this for me, so I can skip straight to discussion.) We’re not at a point where we really need to worry about the extremes of either system, but I do think we are at a point where we should worry that the size of the gov’t pie is simply too big for a peaceful society.

Should we, as a society, attempt to scale back the size of the gov’t pie simply for the sake of a more peaceful society where growth is driven more by innovation and economic activity? Or should we embrace the robot economy and head even further down the socialist path, just keeping in mind the importance of getting everything comfortably divided now, rather than later, when it will be much harder?

Your thoughts and opinions?

Assholes Gonna Asshole

You know when you have a moment of revelation, and at that moment, everything snaps together and seems so remarkably crystal clear, but later, you’re like, well duh, of course it’s like that, that’s the only way it makes sense!

Like gravity or evolution. Or little things that aren’t really a big deal.

I realized today that a lot of stuff that had formerly been confusing about internet interactions between groups of people (mostly, the whole “why do feminists hate ‘nice guys”?” thing) actually boils down to: all of the assholes back in elementary school who hated the dorks are still assholes and they still hate the dorks.

Now that we’re all grown up, of course, we’ve advanced to grown-up language. It’s been a while since anyone called me a “fatty retard”. But plenty of adults see nothing wrong with, “LoL short men should kill themselves #creeps.” Not to mention the internet’s vehement hatred of “nice guys”. Or guys in certain hats.

Dorkiness is a combination of physical non-domiance and sincere interest in just about anything. Intelligence is inherently dorky, because intelligence leads to knowing more things than other people. Morality is dorky, because moral people are sincere. Dedicating yourself to developing actual skill at playing a musical instrument or an intellectual pursuit like writing a book is dorky. (Dedicating yourself to sports is not dorky, because sports lead to physical dominance.) Being actually religious is dorky, too, because it entails sincere belief.

As someone I almost considered a friend once said, “No one likes a Jesus Freak.”

Really?

Thanks a fucking lot, you asshole.

Most of the anti-dork sentiment on the internet is aimed at men. This may just be a side effect of men being subject to harsher behavioral control than women–they’re more likely to end up in prison, too. Perhaps dorky female behavior just isn’t as annoying to other people as dorky male behavior. Maybe adult female dorks have learned not to stick out. I’m not sure. Either way, I probably escape a lot of hate at this point simply because I’m female.

But if I were male, I would be one of these people I have often confusedly wondered why everyone but me seems to hate.

Truth is, the assholes I went to school with never disappeared and never stopped being assholes. They’re still here, just using slightly different language.

Live Fast, Die Young: The amazing correlation between self-control and not dying

Impulsive people die younger than non-impulsive people, so much so that how your teacher rated you as a student back when you were a kid is actually a decent predictor of your later mortality.

. The first two probable reasons for this are obvious:

1. They do risky things like drive too fast, hold up conbinis, or take drugs, all of which can actually kill you.

2. They engage in behaviors with potentially negative long-term consequences, like eating too many donuts or failing out of school and having to do a crappy job with bad safety precautions.

But the third reason is less obvious, unless you’re Jayman:

3. There is no point to planning for the future if you’re going to die young anyway.

Some people come from long-lived people. They have genes that will help keep them alive for a very long time. Some people don’t. These people live fast. They walk earlier, they mature earlier, they get pregnant earlier, and they die earlier. Everything they do is on a shorter timeframe than the long-lived people. To them, they aren’t impulsive–everyone else is just agonizingly slow.

Why save for retirement if you’re not going to live that long?

Impulsive people are like normal people, just sped up.

Vaccines

I’ll cut to the very predictable chase and say that I am pro-vaccines. Quite pro-vaccines. My dad had fucking Polio as a kid, and it gave him permanent nerve damage. Heck, I know people in wheelchairs from Polio. And people who’ve had other lovely diseases we now vaccinate against.

Did you know the mumps can make you infertile?

Needless to say, my kids are vaccinated.

But I also understand the anti-vax perspective. I mean, I think it’s wrong, but I understand where these folks are coming from: it is difficult to trust a medical establishment that has treated you crappily in the past.

Doctors get plenty of stuff wrong. Doctors are human, and humans make mistakes. But when your doctor makes a mistake, it can have rather severe consequences.

And somewhere around the 50s, despite some wonderful, astoundingly great advances in medicine –actually, perhaps because of those astounding advances–doctors started doing some really dumb stuff to pregnant women. Thalidomide comes immediately to mind, but we can throw in unnecessary c-sections and encouraging them to use baby formula. Maybe this all started before the 50s. Behavioralists in the 20s were writing best-selling baby care books that advised parents to never kiss their children, keep their babies on a feeding schedule, and other such crap. (We here at EvolutionistX would especially like to point out that this advice is very evolutionarily unsound.)

Well, guess what. Having an unnecessary c-section is really fucking shitty. Taking a medication that gives you a deformed kid is really fucking shitty. Baby formula is not shitty, (unless you are in the third world, and then mixing it with the local water supply is may be a really bad idea,) but it is kind of pricy.

So I understand how people can come away from all of that and say, “my god, the medical establishment is completely full of horrible, unethical, hideously painful and unnecessary interventions!” and then might look at vaccines and say, “No fucking way.” When you lose peoples’ trust, you lose their trust.

Before we go any further, I would also like to note that, IMO, epidurals are awesome. EvolutionistX does not have it out for any currently practicing doctors. A lot of the bad stuff, as I noted, was going on in the fifties. Hospital practices related to maternity and childbirth have changed a lot since then. Please, do not make any kind of medical decisions based on “well, I heard some horror stories from the 70s.”

For that matter, don’t make your vaccine decisions based on horror stories from the 70s. And for the love of god, don’t read a bunch of junk science. That shit makes my head hurt. Find a doctor or medical information you really trust, and ask them.

But please, people, let’s not have a return of Polio. Polio fucking sucks.