Cannibalism, Abortion, and R/K Selection.

Reindeer herder, from "Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched... after Anthrax Outbreak" : "Serbian officials have demanded a huge cull of a 250,000 reindeers by Christmas over the risk of an anthrax outbreak. Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region."
Reindeer herder, from Quarter of a Million Reindeers to be Butched… after Anthrax Outbreak: “Currently 730,000 animals are being kept in the Yamal Peninsula and the rest of the Yamalo-Nenets region.”

In Hunters, Pastoralists, and Ranchers: Reindeer Economies and their Transformations [PDF,] Ingold describes the social distribution of food among hunter-gatherers. In normal times, when food is neither super-abundant nor scarce, each family basically consumes what it brings in, without feeling any particular compulsion to share with their neighbors. In times of super-abundance, food is distributed throughout the tribe, often quite freely:

Since harvested animals, unlike a plant crop, will not reproduce, the multiplicative accumulation of material wealth is not possible within the framework of hunting relations of production. Indeed, what is most characteristic of hunting societies everywhere is the emphasis not on accumulation but on its obverse: the sharing of the kill, to varying degrees, amongst all those associated with the hunter. …

The fortunate hunter, when he returns to camp with his kill, is expected to play host to the rest of the community, in bouts of extravagant consumption.

The other two ethnographies I have read of hunter-gatherers (The Harmless People, about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and Kabloona, about the Eskimo aka Inuit) both support this: large kills are communal feasts. Hunter gatherers often have quite strict rules about how exactly a kill is to be divided, but the most important thing is that everyone gets some.

And this is eminently sensible–you try eating an entire giraffe by yourself, in the desert, before it rots.

Even in the arctic, where men can (in part of the year) freeze food for the future, your neighbor’s belly is as good as a freezer, because the neighbor you feed today will feed you tomorrow. Hunting is an activity that can be wildly successful one day and fail completely the next, so if hunters did not share with each other, soon each one would starve.

Whilst the successful hunter is required to distribute his spoils freely amongst his camp fellows, he does so with the assurance that in any future eventuality, when through bad luck he fails to find game, or through illness or old age he can no longer provide for himself and his family, he will receive in his turn. Were each hunter to produce only for his own domestic needs, everyone would eventually perish from hunger (Jochelson 1926:124). Thus, through its contribution to the survival and reproduction of potential producers, sharing ensures the perpetuation of society as a whole. …

Yet he is also concerned to set aside stocks of food to see his household through at least a part of the coming winter. The meat that remains after the obligatory festive redistribution is therefore placed in the household’s cache, on which the housewife can draw specifically for the provision of her own domestic group (Spencer 1959:149). After the herds have passed by, domestic autonomy is re-establisheddraws on its own reserves of stored food.

But what happens at the opposite extreme, not under conditions of abundance, but when everyone‘s stocks run out? Ingold claims that in times of famine, the obligation to share what little food one has with one’s neighbors is also invoked:

We find, therefore, that the incidence of generalized reciprocity tends to peak towards the two extremes of scarcity and abundance… The communal feast that follows a successful hunting drive involves the same heightening of band solidarity, and calls into play the same functions of leadership in the apportionment of food, as does the consumption of famine rations.

I am reminded here of a scene in The Harmless People in which there was not enough food to go around, but the rules of distribution were still followed, each person just cutting their piece smaller. Thomas described one of the small children, hungry, trying to grab the food bowl–not the food itself–to stop their mother from giving away their food to the next person in the chain of obligation.

Here Ingold pauses to discuss a claim by Sahlins that such social order will (or should) break down under conditions of extreme hunger:

Probably every primitive organization has its breaking-point, or at least its turning-point. Every one might see the time when co-operation is overwhelmed by the scale of disaster and chicanery becomes the order of the day. The range of assistance contracts progressively to the family level; perhaps even these bonds dissolve and, washed away, reveal an inhuman, yet most human, self-interest. Moreover, by the same measure that the circle of charity is
compressed that of ‘negative reciprocity* is potentially expanded. People who helped each other in normal times and through the first stages of disaster display now an indifference to each others’ plight, if they do not exacerbate a mutual downfall by guile, haggle and theft.

Ingold responds:

I can find no evidence, either in my reading of circumpolar ethnography, or in the material cited by Sahlins, for the existence of such a ‘turning-point’ in hunting societies. On the contrary, as the crisis deepens, generalized reciprocity proceeds to the point of dissolution of domestic group boundaries. ‘Negative reciprocity’, rather than closing in from beyond the frontiers of the household, will be expelled altogether from the wider social field, only to make its appearance within the heart of the domestic group itself.

Thus the women of the household, who are allowed to eat only after the appetites of their menfolk have been satisfied, may be left in times of want with the merest scraps of food. Among the Chipewyan, ‘when real distress approaches, many of them are permitted to starve, when the males are amply provided for’…

In situations of economic collapse, negative reciprocity afflicts not only the domestic relations between husband and wife, but those between mother and child, and between parent and grandparent. If the suckling of children is the purest expression of generalized reciprocity, in the form of a sustained one-way flow, then infanticide must surely represent the negative extreme. Likewise, old or sick members of the household will be the first to be abandoned when provisions run short. Even in normal times, individuals who are past labour have to scavenge the left-overs of food and skins (Hearne 1911:326). In the most dire circumstances of all, men will consume their starving wives and children before turning upon one another.

Drawing on Eskimo material, Hoebel derives the following precepts of cannibal conduct: Not unusually . . . parents kill their own children to be eaten. This act is no different from infanticide. A man may kill and eat his wife; it is his privilege. Killing and eating a relative will produce no legal consequences. It is to be presumed, however, that killing a non-relative for food is murder. (1941:672, cited in Eidlitz 1969:132)

In short, the ‘circle of charity’ is not compressed but inverted: as the threat of starvation becomes a reality, the legitimacy of killing increases towards the centre. The act is ‘inhuman’ since it strips the humanity of the victim to its organic, corporeal substance. If altruism is an index of sociability, then its absolute negation annuls the sodality of the recipient: persons, be they human or animal, become things.

297px-world_population_v3-svgThis is gruesome, but let us assume it is true (I have not read the accounts Ingold cites, so I must trust him, and I do not always trust him but for now we will.)

The cold, hard logic of infanticide is that a mother can produce more children if she loses one, but a child who has lost its mother will likely die as well, along with all of its siblings. One of my great-great grandmothers suffered the loss of half her children in infancy and still managed to raise 5+ to adulthood. Look around: even with abortion and birth control widely available, humanity is not suffering a lack of children, but an over-abundance.

 

c08pnclw8aapot6Furthermore, children starve faster and are easier to kill than parents; women are easier to kill than men; people who live with you are easier to kill than people who don’t.

No one said GNON has a heart.

Before we condemn these people, let us remember that famine is a truly awful, torturous way to die, and that people who are on the brink of starving to death are not right in their minds. As “They’re not human”: How 19th-century Inuit coped with a real-life invasion of the Walking Dead recounts:

“Finally, as the footsteps stopped just outside the igloo, it was the old man who went out to investigate.

“He emerged to see a disoriented figure seemingly unaware of his presence. The being was touching the outside of the igloo with curiosity, and raised no protest when the old man reached his hand out to touch its cheek.

“His skin was cold. …

The figures, of course, were the last survivors of the Franklin Expedition. They had buried their captain. They had seen their ship entombed by ice. They had eaten the dead to survive. …

Inuit nomads had come across streams of men that “didn’t seem to be right.” Maddened by scurvy, botulism or desperation, they were raving in a language the Inuit couldn’t understand. In one case, hunters came across two Franklin Expedition survivors who had been sleeping for days in the hollowed-out corpses of seals. …

The figures were too weak to be dangerous, so Inuit women tried to comfort the strangers by inviting them into their igloo. …

The men spit out pieces of cooked seal offered to them. They rejected offers of soup. They grabbed jealous hold of their belongings when the Inuit offered to trade.

When the Inuit men returned to the camp from their hunt, they constructed an igloo for the strangers, built them a fire and even outfitted the shelter with three whole seals. …

When a small party went back to the camp to retrieve [some items], they found an igloo filled with corpses.

The seals were untouched. Instead, the men had eaten each other. …

In 1854, Rae had just come back from a return trip to the Arctic, where he had been horrified to discover that many of his original Inuit sources had fallen to the same fates they had witnessed in the Franklin Expedition.

An outbreak of influenza had swept the area, likely sparked by the wave of Franklin searchers combing the Arctic. As social mores broke down, food ran short.

Inuit men that Rae had known personally had chosen suicide over watching the slow death of their children. Families had starved for days before eating their dog teams. Some women, who had seen their families die around them, had needed to turn to the “last resource” to survive the winter.

Infanticide, cannibalism, and human sacrifice were far more common prior to 1980 or so than we like to think; God forbid we should ever know such fates.

According to Wikipedia:

“Many Neolithic groups routinely resorted to infanticide … Joseph Birdsell believed that infanticide rates in prehistoric times were between 15% and 50% of the total number of births,[10] while Laila Williamson estimated a lower rate ranging from 15% to 20%.[6]:66 Comparative anthropologists have calculated that 50% of female newborn babies were killed by their parents during the Paleolithic era.[12] Decapitated skeletons of hominid children have been found with evidence of cannibalism.[13]

400px-Magliabchanopage_73r“Three thousand bones of young children, with evidence of sacrificial rituals, have been found in Sardinia. Pelasgians offered a sacrifice of every tenth child during difficult times. Syrians sacrificed children to Jupiter and Juno. Many remains of children have been found in Gezer excavations with signs of sacrifice. Child skeletons with the marks of sacrifice have been found also in Egypt dating 950-720 BCE. In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”[11]:324  …

“According to Shelby Brown, Carthaginians, descendants of the Phoenicians, sacrificed infants to their gods.[25] Charred bones of hundreds of infants have been found in Carthaginian archaeological sites. One such area harbored as many as 20,000 burial urns.[25]

Picture 4Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD) mentions the practice, as do Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Siculus and Philo. The Hebrew Bible also mentions what appears to be child sacrifice practiced at a place called the Tophet (from the Hebrew taph or toph, to burn) by the Canaanites. Writing in the 3rd century BCE, Kleitarchos, one of the historians of Alexander the Great, described that the infants rolled into the flaming pit. Diodorus Siculus wrote that babies were roasted to death inside the burning pit of the god Baal Hamon, a bronze statue.

“… the exposure of newborns was widely practiced in ancient Greece, it was even advocated by Aristotle in the case of congenital deformity — “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.”[30]

“The practice was prevalent in ancient Rome, as well. … A letter from a Roman citizen to his sister, or a pregnant wife from her husband,[35] dating from 1 BC, demonstrates the casual nature with which infanticide was often viewed:

“I am still in Alexandria. … I beg and plead with you to take care of our little child, and as soon as we receive wages, I will send them to you. In the meantime, if (good fortune to you!) you give birth, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, expose it.” [36][37]

CgxAZrOUYAEeANF“In some periods of Roman history it was traditional for a newborn to be brought to the pater familias, the family patriarch, who would then decide whether the child was to be kept and raised, or left to die by exposure.[39] The Twelve Tables of Roman law obliged him to put to death a child that was visibly deformed. …

“According to William L. Langer, exposure in the Middle Ages “was practiced on gigantic scale with absolute impunity, noticed by writers with most frigid indifference”.[47]:355–356 At the end of the 12th century, notes Richard Trexler, Roman women threw their newborns into the Tiber river in daylight.[48]” …

400px-Kodeks_tudela_21“Philosopher Han Fei Tzu, a member of the ruling aristocracy of the 3rd century BC, who developed a school of law, wrote: “As to children, a father and mother when they produce a boy congratulate one another, but when they produce a girl they put it to death.”[63]

“Buddhist belief in transmigration allowed poor residents of the country to kill their newborn children if they felt unable to care for them, hoping that they would be reborn in better circumstances. Furthermore, some Chinese did not consider newborn children fully “human”, and saw “life” beginning at some point after the sixth month after birth.[65]

“Contemporary writers from the Song dynasty note that, in Hubei and Fujian provinces, residents would only keep three sons and two daughters (among poor farmers, two sons and one daughter), and kill all babies beyond that number at birth.[66]”

Sex Ratio at birth in the People's Republic of China
Sex Ratio at birth in the People’s Republic of China

“It was not uncommon that parents threw a child to the sharks in the Ganges River as a sacrificial offering. The British colonists were unable to outlaw the custom until the beginnings of the 19th century.[82]:78

“According to social activists, female infanticide has remained a problem in India into the 21st century, with both NGOs and the government conducting awareness campaigns to combat it.[83] …

“In the Eastern Shoshone there was a scarcity of Indian women as a result of female infanticide.[100] For the Maidu Native Americans twins were so dangerous that they not only killed them, but the mother as well.[101] In the region known today as southern Texas, the Mariame Indians practiced infanticide of females on a large scale. Wives had to be obtained from neighboring groups.[102]

Meanwhile in the Americas:

In 2005 a mass grave of one- to two-year-old sacrificed children was found in the Maya region of Comalcalco. The sacrifices were apparently performed for consecration purposes when building temples at the Comalcalco acropolis.[2] …

Archaeologists have found the remains of 42 children sacrificed to Tlaloc (and a few to Ehecátl Quetzalcóatl) in the offerings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. In every case, the 42 children, mostly males aged around six, were suffering from serious cavities, abscesses or bone infections that would have been painful enough to make them cry continually. Tlaloc required the tears of the young so their tears would wet the earth. As a result, if children did not cry, the priests would sometimes tear off the children’s nails before the ritual sacrifice.[7]

And don’t get me started on cannibalism.

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

It is perhaps more profitable to ask which cultures didn’t practice some form of infanticide/infant sacrifice/cannibalism than which ones did. The major cases Wikipedia notes are Ancient Egypt, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (we may note that Judaism in many ways derived from ancient Egypt, and Christianity and Islam from Judaism.) Ancient Egypt stands out as unique among major the pre-modern, pre-monotheistic societies to show no signs of regular infanticide–and even in the most infamous case where the Egyptian pharaoh went so far as to order the shocking act, we find direct disobedience in his own household:

3 And when she [Jochebed] could not longer hide him [the baby], she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

pharaohs_daughter-15 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.

6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

7 Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?”

8 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” And the maid went and called the child’s mother.

9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, “Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.” And the women took the child, and nursed it.

10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

–Exodus 2:3-10

I don’t know the actual infanticide numbers in modern Muslim countries (le wik notes that poverty in places like Pakistan still drives infanticide) but it is officially forbidden by Islam.

According to Abortions in America: • Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women. • 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites. • Planned Parenthood, ... has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods
According to Abortions in America:
• Black women are five times more likely to abort than white women.
• 69% of pregnancies among Blacks are unintended, while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% of pregnancies among Whites.
• Planned Parenthood, … has located 80% of its abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods

Today, between the spread of Abrahamic religions, Western Values, and general prosperity, the infanticide rate has been cut and human sacrifice and cannibalism have been all but eliminated. Abortion, though, is legal–if highly controversial–throughout the West and Israel.

According to the CDC, the abortion rate for 2013 was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births, or about 15% of pregnancies. (The CDC also notes that the abortion rate has been falling since at least 2004.) Of these, “91.6% of abortions were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; … In 2013, 22.2% of all abortions were early medical abortions.”

To what can we attribute this anti-infanticide sentiment of modern monotheistic societies? Is it just a cultural accident, a result of inheritance from ancient Egypt, or perhaps the lucky effects of some random early theologian? Or as the religious would suggest, due to God’s divine decree? Or is it an effect of the efforts parents must expend on their few children in societies where children must attend years of school in order to succeed?

According to Wikipedia:

In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity and quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment of r-strategists, or reduced quantity of offspring with a corresponding increased parental investment of K-strategists, varies widely, seemingly to promote success in particular environments. …

In r/K selection theory, selective pressures are hypothesised to drive evolution in one of two generalized directions: r– or K-selection.[1] These terms, r and K, are drawn from standard ecological algebra as illustrated in the simplified Verhulst model of population dynamics:[7]

d N d t = r N ( 1 − N K ) {\frac {dN}{dt}}=rN\left(1-{\frac {N}{K}}\right)

where r is the maximum growth rate of the population (N), K is the carrying capacity of its local environmental setting, and the notation dN/dt stands for the derivative of N with respect to t (time). Thus, the equation relates the rate of change of the population N to the current population size and expresses the effect of the two parameters. …

As the name implies, r-selected species are those that place an emphasis on a high growth rate, and, typically exploit less-crowded ecological niches, and produce many offspring, each of which has a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., high r, low K).[8] A typical r species is the dandelion Taraxacum genus.

In unstable or unpredictable environments, r-selection predominates due to the ability to reproduce quickly. There is little advantage in adaptations that permit successful competition with other organisms, because the environment is likely to change again. Among the traits that are thought to characterize r-selection are high fecundity, small body size, early maturity onset, short generation time, and the ability to disperse offspring widely. …

By contrast, K-selected species display traits associated with living at densities close to carrying capacity, and typically are strong competitors in such crowded niches that invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a relatively high probability of surviving to adulthood (i.e., low r, high K). In scientific literature, r-selected species are occasionally referred to as “opportunistic” whereas K-selected species are described as “equilibrium”.[8]

In stable or predictable environments, K-selection predominates as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial and populations of K-selected organisms typically are very constant in number and close to the maximum that the environment can bear (unlike r-selected populations, where population sizes can change much more rapidly).

Traits that are thought to be characteristic of K-selection include large body size, long life expectancy, and the production of fewer offspring, which often require extensive parental care until they mature.

Of course you are probably already aware of Rushton’s R/K theory of human cultures:

Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995) uses r/K selection theory to explain how East Asians consistently average high, blacks low, and whites in the middle on an evolutionary scale of characteristics indicative of nurturing behavior. He first published this theory in 1984. Rushton argues that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants. He theorizes that r/K selection theory explains these differences.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the article states, “Rushton’s application of r/K selection theory to explain differences among racial groups has been widely criticised. One of his many critics is the evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves, who has done extensive testing of the r/K selection theory with species of Drosophila flies. …”

Genetics or culture, in dense human societies, people must devote a great deal of energy to a small number of children they can successfully raise, leading to the notion that parents are morally required to put this effort into their children. But this system is at odds with the fact that without some form of intervention, the average married couple will produce far more than two offspring.

Ultimately, I don’t have answers, only theories.

Source: CDC data, I believe
Source: CDC data, I believe

On the Measures of Meaning

This post was inspired primarily by a liberal acquaintance–we’ll call her Juliet.

picture-6Since the election, Juliet has been suicidal. I don’t mean she’s actually tried to commit suicide; (suicidal women very rarely actually commit suicide, unlike suicidal men.) I just mean she’s posted a lot of angst-ridden things on the internet about how she wants to die because Trump is going to destroy everything in a giant fireball, and literally the only thing she has left to live for are her 3 dogs and 10 cats.

Juliet is one of those people who thinks that we are one heavy bootstep away from Holocaust 2.0 (despite such a thing never having happened in all of American history,) and that the US was an oppressive, horrible, quasi-genocidal place up until 4-8 years ago. (She’s the same age as me, so she has no youth excuse for not knowing what life was like 10 years ago.)

I think this is a side effect of really buying into the BLM narrative that the police have just been slaughtering black children in the streets and we are finally doing something about it, and the perception that gay people are a much larger % of the population than they actually are and assumption that forbidding gay marriage inconvenienced people far more than it actually did. (Buying the BLM narrative is understandable, I guess, if you aren’t familiar with crime stats.)

Poem by "ECC" http://ecc-poetry.tumblr.com/tagged/edited-to-reflect-my-latina-status
Poem by “ECC

Now, I have lived through elections that didn’t go my way. My side has lost, and I have felt quite unhappy. But I have never rioted, set things on fire, or decided that my life is meaningless and begun envying the dead.

So I got thinking: What gives people meaning? Why do many people feel like their lives are meaningless?

Meaning can come from many sources, but (I suspect) we derive it from three main sources:

1. Worthwhile work

2. Family

3. Religion

1. Worthwhile work is work that is valuable and inherently satisfying. Farmers, for example, do worthwhile work. Worthwhile work creates a direct relationship between a person’s efforts and the food on their table and their physical well-being, where working harder results in a better life for oneself and potentially one’s friends, family, and community.

Marx (who was not entirely wrong about everything) wrote about how modern industrial factories disassociate the worker from the product of his labor. No individual worker creates a single product, and the individual working harder than expected creates no appreciable effect on the end results. Workers have no control over factories, cannot (typically) implement creative ideas that would improve products or production methods, and basically live at the whims of the factory owners and broad economic trends rather than their own efforts.

(There’s a great irony that Marxism, as actually implemented, just scaled all of the problems of the factory up to the level of the whole society, making entire nations miserable.)

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that people desire to do things that result in eating and don’t really want to obey others in huge, impersonal systems where their actions don’t have any obvious impact on their personal well-being.

Due to technological changes, most of us have far nicer, healthier, well-fed lives than our ancestors, while simultaneously our jobs have become far less instinctually fulfilling, because we simply don’t need that many people producing food or hand-making clothes and furniture anymore. So few of us–my acquaintance included–are likely to have actually fulfilling work.

2. People live–literally–for their families. Throughout the entirety of human history, almost 100% of people who survived infancy and lived long enough to reproduce and continue the human line were people whose families cared about them and took care of them.

Yes, women post inordinately about their children and grandparents babble on about their “grandbabies,” but this is exactly as it should be; from an evolutionary perspective, your descendents are the most important thing in the world to you. All of our efforts are ultimately aimed at the well-being and survival of our children; indeed, many people would sacrifice their own lives to save their kids.

To give a personal example: having kids (well, one at a time, so kid) was probably the single most significant event in my life. Not just because of the predictable changes (less sleep, more diaper changes,) but also because of the not-subtle at all but somewhat difficult to describe complete and utter re-orienting of my entire “self.”

In real life, I am a very shy, retiring person. A few weeks into kiddo’s life, I became concerned that something was wrong, and at that moment, I knew that nothing and nobody would stop me from getting my child to the doctor. My normally shy, fearful personality was dust before the needs of my child.

People talk about “female empowerment.” This was empowerment.

(Luckily, everything turned out fine–colic is a very common problem and in many cases can be treated, btw.)

Perhaps not surprising, all of the people I know who are distressed because their lives lack meaning also do not have children. Indeed, the person I know who went the furthest down this road was a father whose wife left him and whose small child died, leaving him utterly alone. Without any purpose in his life, he stopped working, stopped interacting with the world, and became homeless: a kind of living death.

The devastation of loneliness is horrible.

And yet, despite living in the richest society in pretty much all of human history, we’ve decided en masse to cut the number of children we have. Gone are the days when children had 7 siblings and 40 cousins who all lived nearby and played together. Gone are the neighborhoods full of happy children who can just walk outside and find a playmate. We moderns are far more likely than our ancestors to have no children, no siblings, no spouse, and to live 3,000 miles away from our own parents.

Juliet, as you may have guessed, does not have any children. (Hence the cats.)

3. The power of religion to bring meaning to people’s lives almost needs no explanation. Religious people are happier, more fulfilled, and live longer, on average, than atheists, despite atheists’ strong concentration among society’s richest and smartest. I’ve even heard that priests/ministers have some of the highest work satisfaction levels–their work is meaningful and pleasant.

In times of suffering, religion provides comfort and soothes distress. It provides the promise that even horrible things are actually part of some grand plan that we don’t understand and that everything will be all right in the end. The idea that death is not permanent, your sins can be forgiven, or that you can influence divine powers to make the world a better place all make people happier.

Now, I am not saying this because I am a religious person who wants you to follow my religion. Like Juliet, I don’t believe in God (though I do believe, metaphorically, in GNON, which does let me attribute some “purpose” to the grand variety I see around me. Things do not always go my way, but unlike Juliet, I live in a world that at least makes sense.)

 

Work, scaled up, is the business of taming the land, building homes and cities and ultimately a country. Family, scaled up, is the tribe, the clan, and the nation. And religion itself is highly grounded in both land and family.

Juliet, being a very smart, sensible person, (who does not believe in sexist nonsense like evolutionary psychology,) looks at all of the things that give meaning to people’s lives and dismisses them as absurd. Religion is obviously delusional; having children is an inconvenience; and while she’d love a meaningful job if she could get one, these are hard to come by. Having rejected or been denied all of the things that normally give people meaning, she finds that life is meaningless.

We do have one source of meaning left: politics. As Moldbug famously noted, liberalism is neo-Puritanism is the religion of America, simply shorn of that Constitutionally inconvenient “God” business.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

cara-delevingne-support-the-bring-back-our-girlsWith nothing else to provide meaning to their lives, not even the mild nationalism of thinking their own country/society a generally nice place, lonely atheists with empty jobs have turned to politics to fill the void. If they can save the whales, or the refugees, or the gay people, then they will have achieved meaning. In reality, this dedication is often quite shallow, a fly-by-night concern with the lives of strangers that lasts until the next pressing hashtag pops up.

It’s as though the desire to care for one’s family does not dissipate simply because one is barren, but instead gets transferred to strangers (or animals) who are unlikely to return the favor.

I mean, take another look at that poem, which I’ve seen about a dozen SJWs post. How many of these women are going to have even one child, much less an army of them (mixed race or not)? How many of these women are already married and are effectively declaring that they intend to betray their own husbands? How many of them could, after having babies with a dozen different men, afford to raise and care for them by themselves, without depending on the horrible, Trump-run white-supremecist state for help? (Suing men for child support is depending on the state.)

No. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people posting the poem have no intention of acting on it. Someone else can do the actual work of making babies and raising the next generation of social warriors.

Juliet’s suicidality stems from the fact that she cannot achieve meaningful political change (or even just attach herself symbolically to it) because she lives in a democracy where the majority of people can just vote to do something else. Everything she has worked for, her entire identity as a “good person,” everything that provides meaning in her life has been destroyed just because some guys in Ohio are concerned about feeding their families.

 

This post is over, but I want to add a post script: Juliet is not even remotely Jewish. Her family is not Jewish; she has no Jewish ancestors; she has no connection to Israel. People blame a lot of stuff on Jews that I see Gentile women also doing, while plenty of religious Jews are perfectly sane people. The meaning deficit affects people of every religions/ethnic background.

Happy 500 posts! (We’re having a party) Open Thread

tjnsqlmNot counting a couple of guest posts, nor a few regularly scheduled posts that I haven’t written yet but will go up between the writing and the reading of this post, I believe I have just finished my 500th post!

(That means we are halfway to 1,000 posts!)

Since this blog would be a much duller place without my great readers and commentators, tell me about yourselves:

Where did you come from? (How did you find my blog?)

Which posts here do you like best? Like least?

What would you like to read more of?

Do you read any similar blogs (if so, which?)

Tell me something else about yourself!

In interesting links from around the web, we have:

The Oldest, most Complete Bible on Earth is in Ethiopia:

The world’s earliest known illustrated copy of the Gospels, the Garima Gospels, has been saved for centuries in a remote Ethiopian monastery.

Experts believe the Garima Gospels are also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages.

Experts believe the Garima Gospels are also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. …

Legend says he copied the Gospels in just one day because God delayed the sun from setting so the monk could finish his work. The incredible relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery, near Adwa, in northern Ethiopia at 7,000 feet.

Incidentally, Ethiopia also claims to have the Ark of the Covenant.

c2tuujzxeaamu3jMapping the Spread of Mounted Warfare, by Turchin et al.

Look at their map! Isn’t it great? Yes!

Does selection for short sleep duration explain human vulnerability to Alzheimer’s disease?

Compared with other primates, humans sleep less and have a much higher prevalence of Alzheimer ’s disease (AD) pathology. This article reviews evidence relevant to the hypothesis that natural selection for shorter sleep time in humans has compromised the efficacy of physiological mechanisms that protect against AD during sleep. In particular, the glymphatic system drains interstitial fluid from the brain, removing extra-cellular amyloid beta (eAβ) twice as fast during sleep. In addition, melatonin – a peptide hormone that increases markedly during sleep – is an effective antioxidant that inhibits the polymerization of soluble eAβ into insoluble amyloid fibrils that are associated with AD. Sleep deprivation increases plaque formation and AD, which itself disrupts sleep, potentially creating a positive feedback cycle. …

unicorn sheep
unicorn sheep

And A Meta-Analysis of the Self-Control-Deviance Link:

Results

A random effects mean correlation between self-control and deviance was Mr = 0.415 for cross-sectional studies and Mr = 0.345 for longitudinal ones; this effect did not significantly differ by study design. Studies with more male participants, studies based on older or US-based populations, and self-report studies found weaker effects.

Conclusions

Substantial empirical support was found for the main argument of self-control theory and on the transdisciplinary link between self-control and measures of crime and deviance. In contrast to Pratt and Cullen, but consistent with theory, the effect from cross-sectional versus longitudinal studies did not significantly differ. There was no evidence of publication bias.

c17gyrmuoaallvaOn to Comments of the Week! (Gosh, this is hard, because you guys have left some excellent comments this week!)

August Hurtel in Democracy is America’s Religion:

But I also think it is a true observation. Democracy is damaging to Christianity. it does function like an idol.

I would have trouble with a response to ‘convert me’ too, though. Much of evangelism you see I think is caused by democracy and a sense of free resources. This idea that a sudden revival would be great- meanwhile, the average local church doesn’t have enough of an economy to handle it’s own children. Kids need to grow up and see a productive path forward, get married, and continue the church in time. Modern Christians don’t understand this, for some reason. Churches shut down due to lack of ability to think inter-generationally. Of course, this is a problem for much of secular America too. …

imnobody00 in the same thread:

Very close, but false. Democracy is not our religion. Our religion is the Enlightenment religion, which is a polytheistic religion.

The main god of this religion is the Self. The highest good is doing what the Self wants to do (instead of doing what God wants, what tradition states, what the community wants). The next god is Pleasure (derived from Self).

There are a row of second-tier gods: liberty, equality, relativism…

I also liked the other comments in this thread, but that’s enough quoting.

Over in Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories, August Hurtel notes:

If we pay attention to the history of science, we would see that it includes a huge chunk of time wherein in Christians said ‘God did it’ and then they went about trying to figure out how God did it.

This really wasn’t much of an problem until the 1800s as the revolutions supplanted what was left of the nobility, and we became stuck with bureaucrats at the apex of our societies. Now, suddenly, what you believe or don’t believe is so ridiculously important. …

and Anon opines:

I think the “race is a social construct” people are 100% right, but for the wrong reasons. Unless you’re an essentialist (which is basically a type of creationism), categories do not exist in a mind-independent way. In other words, they are socially constructed. You may cleave at the joints, but you’re still cleaving. The issue isn’t social construction, it’s whether a the construct is arbitrary or based on reality.

You say the Answers in Genesis approach to species is unobjectionable. And it is. But this just highlights the socially constructed nature of the scheme. It’s easy to think of other approaches that yield different results and are also unobjectionable. A chihuahua and a great dane can’t breed (in vivo), but it’s not due to incompatible gametes..what do we do in that case? Depending on the situation, we may wish to group dogs and wolves together, or split each into their own group, or treat dog breeds separately. …

Democracy is America’s Religion

So I was thinking the other day–Why are Westerners (particularly Americans) so introverted about their religious beliefs? I have on occasion posted “Convert Me” open threads in which I invite people to give me their best arguments for following their religion, and gotten very few enthusiastic responses. Even the Jehovah’s Witness who visited my thread only made a half-effort just to humor me, not because she actually wanted to convert me.

(I can already hear you asking: Why would I post such a thread? To which I reply, Why not? I enjoy discussing religion. If the religious are correct and I am convinced to join them, then I gain something good. If I am not convinced, then I lose nothing, for I am already an atheist. I have no reason to fear discussion with a theist.)

Mormon missionaries occasionally ring my bell. I always make an effort to be polite and listen, and even they really just want to hand me a pamphlet and hurry on to the next house.

The only people who have ever really, seriously tried to convert me are Muslims (and I must note that they did so in an entirely friendly manner.) Where the Christians ask, “Why would you want us to convert you?” and the Mormons say, “Well, I think there are lots of religions because God gave each group of people their own religion best suited to themselves,” (actual quote from a Mormon missionary, I am serious) the Muslims will happily pester you with a whole slew of websites about why Islam is correct, how the Qu’ran is full of good science, how lovely the Qu’ranic poetry is, etc.

(Of course, you’re not going to get a Jew to try to convert you unless you tell him your mother was a Jew and you really wan to return to your Jewish roots.)

Frankly, I think Americans find the whole idea of being devoutly religious–much less discussing religion with the non-devout–vaguely embarrassing. Sure, maybe that elderly lady down the block who hands out Chick Tracts instead of Halloween candy would like to talk about Jesus with you, but can’t the rest of us please just talk about football?

This blog was practically kicked off with the observation that devout Christianity is low class, while a kind of vague, multi-faith “spirituality” is the religion–if you must have one–of the upper class. A quick look at some demographic data makes the picture:

From Pew Research Center, http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/income-distribution-within-us-religious-groups/
From Pew Research Center

Not a whole lot of surprises, though I will note that it does matter how you break down the groups, and I think I’ve seen different numbers elsewhere for Muslim-Americans.

Of course the flipside of Muslims being really keen on spreading their religion is that sometimes things go quite badly and violently.

And if you’re an American (or French, or Swedish, or German, or whatever,) this feels awfully unfair, because after all, when have we ever blown anything up in Mecca in the name of Jesus?

But then I got to thinking: obviously we have bombed Muslim countries. We dropped quite a few on Iraq–and for what? For Freedom? For Democracy?

We didn’t want to convert Iraq to Christianity (not the vast majority of us, anyway.) We wanted to convert Iraq to democracy.

You know, we destroyed a perfectly innocent country–killed thousands of people–and we barely feel a pang of remorse. Why? Because we did it to help them? We though they’d be happier if they just lived in a democracy, just like your office mate with the Chick Tracts thinks you’ll be happier if you just accept Jesus as your savior and Muslims think you’ll be happier if you become a Muslim.

Christianity and Islam (or certain branches of Islam) are not at war. They can’t be at war because Christianity isn’t fighting. Not in the West, anyway. Maybe in the Philippines or South America or somewhere, but certainly not in the West.

Now here I should stop to note that several Islamic countries are democracies, more or less, and many Muslims also believe in Democracy. So this is a conflict within Islam as well as without. But this post isn’t about Islam–I am not an Islamic expert and don’t feel comfortable writing about Islamic issues.

However, this is a post about the West, and how Democracy has become our chief religion, taking the place Christianity once occupied.

(I am sure my readers are split between “Well that is nothing new; Moldbug said that ages ago,” and “What a stupid idea. Democracy can’t be a religion.”)

Anthropology Friday: Emile Durkheim’s The Origin and Development of Religion:

Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917), Karl Marx, and Max Weber are the fathers of modern social science and sociology, so I decided to read Durkheim’s essay, The Origin and Development of Religion.
According to Wikipedia,

Much of Durkheim’s work was concerned with how societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in modernity; an era in which traditional social and religious ties are no longer assumed, and in which new social institutions have come into being. His first major sociological work was The Division of Labour in Society (1893). … Durkheim’s seminal monograph, Suicide (1897), a study of suicide rates in Catholic and Protestant populations, pioneered modern social research and served to distinguish social science from psychology and political philosophy. …

Durkheim noted there are several possible pathologies that could lead to a breakdown of social integration and disintegration of the society: the two most important ones are anomie and forced division of labour; lesser ones include the lack of coordination and suicide.[61] By anomie Durkheim means a state when too rapid population growth reduces the amount of interaction between various groups, which in turn leads a breakdown of understanding (norms, values, and so on).[62] By forced division of labour Durkheim means a situation where power holders, driven by their desire for profit (greed), results in people doing the work they are unsuited for.[63] Such people are unhappy, and their desire to change the system can destabilize the society.[63] …

In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Durkheim’s first purpose was to identify the social origin and function of religion as he felt that religion was a source of camaraderie and solidarity.[44]

Durkheim saw religion as the most fundamental social institution of humankind, and one that gave rise to other social forms.[60][76] It was the religion that gave humanity the strongest sense of collective consciousness.[81]

His work on Suicide is notable enough to have its own Wikipedia page:

Durkheim explores the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics, [in Germany] arguing that stronger social control among Catholics results in lower suicide rates. According to Durkheim, Catholic society has normal levels of integration while Protestant society has low levels. …Durkheim concluded that:

  • Suicide rates are higher in men than women (although married women who remained childless for a number of years ended up with a high suicide rate).
  • Suicide rates are higher for those who are single than those who are in a sexual relationship.
  • Suicide rates are higher for people without children than people with children.
  • Suicide rates are higher among Protestants than Catholics and Jews.
  • Suicide rates are higher among soldiers than civilians.
  • Suicide rates are higher in times of peace than in times of war (the suicide rate in France fell after the coup d’etat of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, for example. War also reduced the suicide rate: after war broke out in 1866 between Austria and Italy, the suicide rate fell by 14% in both countries.)
  • Suicide rates are higher in Scandinavian countries.
  • The higher the education level, the more likely it was that an individual would choose suicide. However, Durkheim established that there is more correlation between an individual’s religion and suicide rate than an individual’s education level.

Well, that is enough introduction. Let’s get on to the essay. (As usual, I will be using “” instead of blockquotes for Durkheim’s work.) I have excerpted what strikes me as the core of Durkheim’s argument:

“The really religious beliefs are always common to a determined group, which make profession of adhering to them and of practicing the rites connected with them. They are not merely received individually by all the members of this groups; they are something belonging to the group, and they make its unity. The individuals which compose it feel themselves united to each other by the simple fact that they have a common faith. A society whose members are united by the fact that they think the same way in regard to the sacred world and its relation with the profane world, and by the fact that they translate these common ideas into common practice, is what is called a “Church.””

EvX: Note that Durkheim is not limiting his use of “Church” to Christian denominations.

“In all history, we do not find a single religion without a Church. Sometimes the Church is strictly national, sometimes it passes frontiers; sometimes it embraces an entire people (Rome, Athens, the Hebrews), sometimes it embrace only part of them (the Christian societies since the advent of Protestantism), sometimes it is directed by a corps of priests, sometimes it is almost completely devoid of any official directing body. But wherever we observe the religious life, we find that it has a definite group as its foundation. …

“It is quite another matter with magic. To be sure, the belief in magic is always more or less general; it is very frequently diffused in large masses of the population, and there are even peoples where it has as many adherents as the real religion. But it does not result in binding together those who adhere to it, nor in uniting them into a group leading a common life. There is no Church of magic. Between the magician and the individuals who consult him, as between these individuals themselves, there are no lasting bods which make them members of the same moral community, comparable to that formed by the believers int he same god or the observers of the same cult. The magician has a clientele and not a Church, and it is very possible that his clients have no relations between each other, or even do not know each other; even the relations which they have with him are generally accidental and transient, they are just like those of a sick man with his physician. …

“Thus we arrive at the following definition: A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them. … by showing that the idea of religion is inseparable from that of the Church, it make it clear that religion should be an eminently collective thing.”

EvX: I find it interesting that all of the “social sciences”–anthropology, sociology, political economy, psychology, and possibly economics–became prominent at about the same time (compared to, say, History, which got its start with Herodotus in the 5th century BC.) As we’ve been discussing, the late 1800s was a time of great social turmoil due to the economic dislocations and changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution and mass movement of millions of peasants from their traditional homes in the countryside to ghettos and tenements of the cities.

Communism–most notably in its Marxist form–was one reaction to this dislocation.

Durkheim, while a socialist, was not an internationalist, and he seems to disagree pretty strongly with Karl “religion is the opiate of the masses” Marx on the importance of religion to society. To Durkheim, religion (as opposed to magic) was absolutely foundational to a functioning society, and believed that despite the increasing atheism of his age, nothing functionally similar to religion existed.

But–from an anthropological perspective–is Durkheim correct? Do the members of a “Church”–and note here the implication that for people to have this collective identity, there must be some homogenous thing that they all believe, not some hodgepodge of “individual interpretation–see themselves as a collective group, and do the believers in “magic,” inversely, fail to see themselves as similarly collective?

My personal experience with NeoPagans and the like suggests that they do see themselves as a collective thing, similar to other religions. So do, from what I have read, practitioners of Voodoo and perhaps other related animist religions. But these are modern (even “neo”!) beliefs, so perhaps these belief systems have been influenced by their practitioners’ familiarity with other “Churches.”

Wikipedia also notes:

Durkheim’s work on religion was criticized on both empirical and theoretical grounds by specialists in the field. The most important critique came from Durkheim’s contemporary, Arnold van Gennep, an expert on religion and ritual, and also on Australian belief systems. Van Gennep argued that Durkheim’s views of primitive peoples and simple societies were “entirely erroneous”. Van Gennep further argued that Durkheim demonstrated a lack of critical stance towards his sources, collected by traders and priests, naively accepting their veracity, and that Durkheim interpreted freely from dubious data. At the conceptual level, van Gennep pointed out Durkheim’s tendency to press ethnography into a prefabricated theoretical scheme.[84]

But perhaps we should let Durkheim defend his points.

Durkheim then runs through in the essay a couple of the more popular (atheistic) theories of his day on the origins of religion, such as “primitive man was amazed by nature and assumed therefore that natural phenomena must be the work of divine creatures,” and dismisses them on the grounds that they are inadequate to explain the fervency of people’s religious devotion. The fact that rain falls from the sky may be amazing, but even primitive man was not particularly wowed by this fairly regular and ultimately mundane occurrence.

(Personally, while I admire Durkheim’s quest for something deeper than “wow,” I think it might be adequate, at least when I look at the stars on a truly dark night. [Actually, I find being outside in true darkness with no lights and no other people pretty terrifying.])

Durkheim turns to Aboriginal “totemism,” deeming it the most “elementary religion,” from which animism and naturistic religions are derived:

“Finally, that which we propose to study in this work is the most primitive and simple religion which it is possible to find. … Not only is their civilization the most rudimentary–the house and even the hut are still unknown–but also their organization is the most primitive and simple which is actually known; it is that which we have elsewhere called organization on basis of clans. …

“At the basis of nearly all the Australian tribes we find a group which holds a preponderating place in the collective life: this is the clan. … the individuals who compose it consider themselves united by a band of kinship, but one which is of a very special nature. … This relationship does not come from the fact that they have definite blood connections with one another; they are relatives from the mere fact that they have the same name. … When we say that they regard themselves as a single family, we do so because they recognize duties toward each other which are identical with those which have always been incumbent upon kindred: such duties as aid, vengeance, mourning, the obligations not to marry  among themselves, etc.

“The species of things which serves to designate the clan collectively is its totem. The totem of the clan is also that of each of its members.”

So Durkheim goes on about totems for a while. Whether or not he is accurate I must leave to the experts–here is one take:

chyedaqwsaaiadw

I note that as we discussed in Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Folklore, William Ramsay Smith’s book  Aborigine Myths and Legends, published 1930 (that is, after Durkheim,) also discusses totems:

This totemism plays an important part in the social life of the aboriginals. If, for example, a person has committed an offense, or has broken tribal law, he becomes a fugitive. He may travel to some distant part of the country. … He creeps along stealthily, listening intently for any sound, peering through the dense foliage in every bay or cove to see whether his path is clear, noticing every footprint on the way, reading every mark on the tree-trunks and on the surface of rocks, and scanning every mark to see whether there is hope of protection and friendship. To be seen would mean death to him. By and by the keen eye of the fugitive catches sight of the figure of his mother’s totem. Casting aside all fear, he walks boldly along the beaten track that leads to the camp, and presents himself to the chief. He produces a string of kangaroo teeth, made in bead fashion, and a bunch of emu feathers… . This is a sign that he belongs to the Kangaroo totem tribe, and that his mother belongs to the Emu totem tribe. He is received into either of these tribes, and becomes one with them, and participates in all their privileges.

Ramsay recounts a number of folktales in which tribal membership (symbolized by the tribal totem) is important, including a number of tricksters tales in which a character cheats members of another tribe by claiming to be a member of their tribe via some ancient union between their peoples.

Totemism of some form was likely therefore important to at least some of the Aborigines. The totem itself operates, in my opinion a kind of flag (or mascot.) The totem represents the tribe and is carved on things to show that they belong to the tribe or to mark the tribe’s territory, just as a flag represents a country and marks the country’s territory. Likewise, just as tribes award their totem animals a kind of “sacred” status that makes eating (or breaking objects inscribed with their image) them taboo, so do most Americans abstain from eating bald eagles or destroying American flags (indeed, some people think that burning the American flag should be illegal!)

I must caution against overuse of the word “sacred.” For while we might not approve of hunting bald eagles for sport, we wouldn’t typically call bald eagles “sacred” in the religious sense.

Anyway, back to Durkheim:

“Thus the totem is before all a symbol, a material expression of something else. But of what?

“… it is the outward and visible form of what we have called the totemic principle or god. But it is also the symbol of the determined society called the clan. … if it is at once the symbol of the god and of the society, is that not because the god and the society are only one? … The god of the clan, the totemic principle, can therefore be nothing else than the clan itself, personified and presented to the imagination under the visible form of the animal or vegetable which serves as totem. …

“In fact, a god is, first of all, a being whom men think of as superior to themselves, and upon whom they feel that they depend. … the worshiper, in the one case as in the other, believes himself held to certain manners of acting which are imposed upon him by the nature of the sacred principle with which he feels he is in communion. Now society also gives us the sensation of a perpetual dependence. … It requires that, forgetful of our own interests, we make ourselves its servitors, and it submits us to every sort of inconvenience, privation, and sacrifice, without which social life would be impossible. …

“Since religious force is nothing other than the collective and anonymous force of the clan, and since this can be represented in the mind only in the form of the totem, the totemic emblem is like the visible body of the god. …

“We are now able to explain the origin of the ambiguity of religious forces as they appear in history… They are moral powers because they are made up entirely of the impressions this moral being, the group, arouses in those other moral beings, its individual members; they do not translate the manner in which physical thing affect our senses, but the way in which the collective consciousness acts upon individual consciousnesses. Their authority is only one from of the moral ascendancy of society over its members. … It is this double nature which has enabled religion to be like the womb from which come all the leading germs of human civilization.”

Evx: So, to summarize: the collective moral force of the community gives rise to the idea of the sacred, which creates religion, which in turn creates society, civilization, and all of the good things.

Which is circular, but so is gene-culture-co-evolution, so I suppose I can’t fault him on that count. The obvious critique here comes from religion: believers would likely object that their religion hails from an actual, real encounter between men and God(s). This explanation, though, runs into the difficulty of explaining all religions besides one’s own. Durkheim is attempting to create an explanation that applies equally to all religions, without appealing to any actual divine agents.

Leaving aside the reality of divinity, does Durkheim’s theory ring true? I am not convinced that he understands totemism, nor am I wholly convinced on the matter of magic, either. However, I his basic theory about the importance of religion underlying society, and possibly the importance of society underlying religion, seems on the correct track. Some form of common belief in the unity of the people of a society seems important to an actual society.

Let us suppose, for a moment, a society in which there are many ethnic groups, but they all believe in the same religion. This seems like a reasonably workable society where people can see themselves as having enough in common to work together. For example, Israel is a nation composed of many different ethnic groups which, nonetheless, all believe in Judaism and share an identity of themselves as “Jewish.” This works for them.

Let us also suppose a society with one ethnic group, but many religions. Since people prefer to marry within their own religion, creating the conditions for ethnic differentiation, we must suppose that the religions involved are sufficiently similar that people are still willing to inter-marry. This also seems like a reasonably workable society.

According to Pew, Taiwan and Vietnam are among the world’s most religiously diverse countries, but they are (as far as I know) ethnically quite homogenous. I confess that I don’t know much about civic life in Taiwan or Vietnam, but they seem to be holding together.

But suppose a third society, in which people belong to many different ethnic and religious groups: this seems in danger of becoming several different societies living in close proximity to each other.

The US is an interesting mix of forms. The initial founding stock consisted largely of Christians from northwest Europe and animists from Sub-Saharan Africa who quickly converted to Christianity. Most immigrants to the US have been Caucasian and/or Christian of some variety, eg, Mexicans, Quakers, Italians, Ashkenazim, Irish, Poles, and Puritans.

By contrast, when Malcolm X decided to convert to Islam, this was–at least symbolically–a way of breaking from the religious continuity of American Christianity. As a black separatist, he was no longer linked to white American society.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal for a country to have small groups of disparate peoples within their borders. A few Buddhists or followers of traditional Native American religions aren’t hurting me. But large groups of people who see themselves as having nothing in common with each other seem problematic to the large-scale functioning of civic life in a nation, especially a democracy. (Might be just fine in an empire.)

 

 

Cathedral Round-Up #16: Infiltration of the Church?

Disclaimer: I am an atheist, so I am in no position to tell Christians how to run their religion.

That said, it seems pretty obvious even to me that mainstream Christianity has launched itself off the deep end and bears little resemblance to “Christianity” as it has been practiced for most of its 2000 or so years.

The Pope is a really nice guy, from the Guardian
The Pope is a really nice guy, from the Guardian

The thing we have now is Niceianity. Let me emphasize that “nice.” Most of the folks involved are, as far as I can tell, very kind-hearted people. Take Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. Oliveto lead Glide Memorial, which I am familiar with because they serve nearly a million free meals to the homeless every year. (SF has a lot of homeless people.) That’s really nice.

Thing is, I’m not convinced that God is “nice.” The God of the Old Testament routinely acts in ways that the average modern person would probably describe as “not nice,” like killing the firstborn sons of the Egyptians or pretty much the entire Book of Job.

As a parent, I always have my kids’ best interests at heart, but I am often not “nice” from their perspective: I make them go to bed when they want to play; I make them do their homework when they want to play; I even make them go to the grocery store when they want to play, because I’m an evil person who wants to get food so I can cook dinner.

Parenting cannot be understood through a child’s understanding of “nice.”

And if there is such a thing as God, I don’t think it (he, whatever) can be understood via our particular current concept of “nice.” (Obviously I am not saying you should go out and be mean. Obey your notions of good behavior.)

One of the interesting things about Christianity is its history of schisms. For example, back in the late 1700s, the Shakers split off from the Quakers:

[Shakers] looked to women for leadership, believing that the second coming of Christ would be through a woman. In 1770, [Shaker leader] Ann Lee was revealed in “manifestation of Divine light” to be the second coming of Christ and was called Mother Ann.[6]

(More about the Shakers.)

Shakers, what with their communal lifestyle, female equality, female preachers, female incarnation of god, and near zero fertility obviously bear much in common with today’s feminists. The difference is that Shakers did not pretend to be Anglicans or Catholics or Methodists: they were just fine with being their own thing.

Let’s talk about infiltration.

Podesta email 6293, calling for a "Catholic Spring"
Podesta email 6293, calling for a “Catholic Spring”

According to Wikipedia:

Dr. Bella Visono Dodd (1904[1] – 29 April 1969[2]) was a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) in the 1930s and 1940s who later became a vocal anti-communist. After her defection from the Communist Party in 1949, she testified that one of her jobs, as a Communist agent, was to encourage young radicals to enter Roman Catholic Seminaries.[3] …

Dodd testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). She said: “In the 1930s we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within. The idea was for these men to be ordained, and then climb the ladder of influence and authority as Monsignors and Bishops”

Dodd told Alice von Hildebrand that:

“When she was an active party member, she had dealt with no fewer than four cardinals within the Vatican who were working for us, [i.e. the Communist Party]”(Christian Order magazine, “The Church in Crisis”, reprinted from The Latin Mass magazine).[7]

Dodd made a public affidavit which was witnessed by a number of people, including Paul and Johnine Leininger.

In her public affidavit, among other things, Dodd stated:
“In the late 1920’s and 1930’s, directives were sent from Moscow to all Communist Party organizations. In order to destroy the [Roman] Catholic Church from within, party members were to be planted in seminaries and within diocesan organizations… I, myself, put some 1,200 men in [Roman] Catholic seminaries”.

von Hildebrand confirmed that Dodd had publicly stated the same things to which she attested in her public affidavit.

(I don’t know anything about this lady. Maybe she was just a crazy person trying to get attention by crying “Communist ploooot!” But see also Operation Spectrum, Singapore.)

"The Bishop of Stockholm has proposed a church in her diocese remove all signs of the cross and put down markings showing the direction to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim worshippers." (Swedes.)
“The Bishop of Stockholm has proposed a church in her diocese remove all signs of the cross and put down markings showing the direction to Mecca for the benefit of Muslim worshippers.” (Swedes.)

About a year and a half ago, I posted excerpts from an article about Stanford University’s new Dean of Religious life, Jane Shaw, who is notable for being both the first woman and the first gay person to hold the position:

“Q. At Grace Cathedral and at Oxford, you led programs far afield from what might be considered religious: Hosting forums with politicians, activists and authors; bringing in atheists and believers; and commissioning artists-in-residence to create plays and installations. What’s your guiding light?

A. I don’t think I am a very churchy person, if that makes sense. I have always been interested in how you engage people in discussing questions of ultimate meaning, really—values, ethics, spirituality, all that stuff. …

Q. What new directions will you bring to Stanford?

A. …It is certainly my desire to make sure that Memorial Church is a place for extremely lively intellectual engagement, a place where possibly difficult issues can be discussed, a place where ethical and spiritual issues can be discussed. I am hoping we’ll have different sorts of people preaching here as guest preachers, not just clergy.”

That same issue of Stanford Magazine had another article focused on insulting people who believe in Hell. As I concluded back then:

According to Stanford, a gay woman who isn’t very “churchy” but likes discussing ethics is one of the country’s best religious leaders, and the 60% of Americans who believe in Hell are literally insane and make trouble for everyone else. …

Now, let’s try to imagine a contemporary article from any sort of respectable college or university… that conveys the inverse: respect for people who believe in hell; disrespect for gays, women, and people whose faith isn’t based on Biblical inerrancy.

Can you? Maybe Harvard? Yale? Oberlin? CalTech? Reed? Fine, how about BYU? No, probably not even them.

I can’t imagine it. A hundred years ago, maybe. Today, no. Such notions are completely incompatible with the beliefs of modern, upper-class people.

I know many perfectly decent folks who believe in hell, and think they should be respected, but “be decent to people who hold denigrated religious beliefs” is not actually my point. My point is that the American upper class, academia, and the people with a great deal of power and influence over the beliefs of others clearly agrees with Pastor Shaw’s religious beliefs (when it is not outright atheist). Upper-class liberals in America are their own ethnic group with their own religion, culture, morality, and endogamous breeding habits. Conservatives are the out-group, their religious views openly mocked by the upper class and banned from the halls of academic thought.

Wikipedia has an article on R. Guy Erwin:

R. Guy Erwin is a U.S. Lutheran clergyman. … He is also the first openly-gay bishop in the ELCA, and has lived in a committed same-sex relationship for 20 years. He and Rob Flynn were married in August, 2013.[2]

Bishop Erwin received the B.A.degree from Harvard College in 1980. He holds the M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University. From 1993–1999 he was Lecturer in Church History in the Yale Divinity School (YDS) where he taught History of Western Christianity as well as courses on Martin Luther, the Pietists and other specialities. During the 2006–2007 academic year he was Visiting Professor at YDS while on sabbatical from California Lutheran University where he has taught since 2000.[3]

And then there's this...
And then there’s this.

Note: I don’t actually think there is anything “wrong” with being gay–there might be, there might not be, I am agnostic on the issue. I favor letting gay people get married and am pissed that we’ve spent so many decades fighting over the issue when we could be dealing with real problems, like the heroin epidemic.

But I also respect the rights of religious people to think homosexuality is a sin to believe what they believe without me interfering or telling them not to.

500 Clergy support gay United Methodist Clergy who Came Out:

A letter from 500 openly LGBTQ clergy, future pastors and faith leader in a number of different denominations offered “much love and light” to the 111 United Methodist clergy and candidates who came out as gay on May 9.

“Though we come from different traditions, you are our family in Christ and our siblings in the common struggle to live fully and authentically into our God-given identities and callings,” states the letter posted on the website Believe Out Loud, an online community that empowers Christians to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) equality. …

“We are here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised,” the 111 United Methodists write in what they call “A Love Letter to Our Church.” The signers come from across the United States, and one signer is from the Philippines. They identify themselves as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex” in the letter. …

[Matt Berryman] is the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial United Methodist group that advocates for the church to be more inclusive. The network has coordinated publicity of this and other challenges to church law as part of the group’s “It’s Time” campaign.

“Since 2012, we’ve decided we would be the church no matter what,” Berryman told United Methodist News Service. The majority of delegates at the 2012 General Conference voted against a proposal to say United Methodists disagree whether homosexuality is against God’s will.

“Jesus came preaching a way that is narrow, and the way we live out that narrow way is to disrupt systemic injustice.”

Basically, official Methodist doctrine teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Disagree? Join a church that doesn’t tech that. For goodness’s sake, there are about 2,000 different Christian denominations. Surely you can find one that agrees with you. Or start your own church, and invite all of the gay people to come and worship with you.

But don’t go infiltrating a church whose doctrines you explicitly disagree with.

As Justin Martyr wrote in his First Apology: “No one is allowed to partake (of the Eucharist) but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

Meanwhile the United Church of Canada is actually struggling to remove a pastor who has outright declared herself an atheist:

One Sunday in 2001, she stood up in front of her congregation, as usual. But instead of a normal sermon, she declared that she no longer believed in God. …

Much to her surprise, neither the congregation nor the church board were bothered by this. Many even confessed that they, too, had their doubts. And so they carried on, without God.

But now, the church’s top brass say they’ve received too many complaints about Vosper and have launched an unprecedented investigation to determine whether she’s fit to keep her job. …

“I won’t bow out. Because if I leave, that ruling stands and my colleagues are at risk. It’s like I’d be running to safety, and everyone else gets blown up,” she said.

Vosper’s saga couldn’t have come at a worse time for the United Church, which is already hemorrhaging devotees. Its membership has shrunk more than 60 percent since 1965, when it included more than one million. 

Maybe there’s some kind of connection here between your church being run by atheists and hemorrhaging members?

Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’

I wanted a graph that went back further in time, but this is what I found.
Courtesy of Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape

More liberal Christian groups are hemorrhaging faster than the more conservative groups. Mainline Protestants, like Methodists, have lost half their members from the Silent Generation to Millenials.

Why exactly so many people are becoming atheists remains a mystery to me–I tend to blame it on electricity, but maybe I’m reaching. At any rate, I think that if you’re going to be religious, there has to be something that you actually believe. A doctrine. A theology. Just saying something like, “I believe in my heart in believiness and love and unicorns,” doesn’t seem to work.

In my personal experience, a lot of churches over the past few decades have been trying to take the Kumbaya approach, by which I mean stripping out all of the unpleasant-seeming parts of religion in order to attract new members. Latin mass? Gone! Fasting? Not necessary! Penitence? Hey, let’s sing about Jesus instead!

Ironically, I loved Sunday School as a kid, but was pretty meh on Youth Group. Sunday School was appropriately geared to a 5 yr old kid who found “Jesus Loves Me” comforting. Youth Group was an intellectual, moral, and religious wasteland. I wanted to read the Bible and discuss theology. Instead, we listened to “Christian rock” and ate pizza. There’s nothing wrong with pizza or Christian rock, but they alone don’t lead to god.

Had I received something resembling an intellectual religious guidance, I might have kept believing.

Anyway, back to schisming vs. combining, according to Wikipedia, the following groups of churches have arrangements for:

  • mutual recognition of members
  • joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist (these churches practice open communion)
  • mutual recognition of ordained ministers
  • mutual recognition of sacraments
  • a common commitment to mission.
  1. The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent Church.[23]
  2. The Churches of the Porvoo Communion.[25]
  3. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada[23]
  4. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and each of the following: the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,[23] the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church[26] and the Moravian Church in America.
  5. The Leuenberg Agreement, concluded in 1973 and adopted by 105 European Protestant churches, since renamed the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.[27]
  6. The Moravian Church and each of the following: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA.[23]
  7. The United Methodist Church with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church.
  8. The United Church of Christ and each of the following: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America.
  9. The United Episcopal Church of North America and each of the following: the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and the Diocese of the Great Lakes.
  10. The Anglican Province of America has intercommunion with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria.
  11. The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland have established full communion and are working toward interchangeability of ministry.[28]

Meanwhile most American Christians are, by their own admission, heretics:

Seven out of ten respondents in LifeWay’s survey affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity—that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons but one God, and six in ten agreed that Jesus is both human and divine. Their orthodoxy—and consistency—ended there. More than half went on to indicate that Jesus is “the first and greatest being created by God,” a heresy known as Arianism, which the Council of Nicaea condemned in 325 A.D. …

Rather, bizarre contradictions like this illustrate how many Americans don’t understand or even care what the Trinity means (although they say they believe in it, likely out of habits learned growing up in church).

The responses to other questions were no less heterodox or headache-inducing. Seventy percent of participants—who ranged across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds—agreed there’s only one true God. Yet sixty-four percent also thought this God accepts the worship of all religions, including those that believe in many gods. …

Over half said it’s fair for God to exercise his wrath against sin, but seemed to waffle about which sins deserved wrath (not theirs!). Seventy-four percent said the “smallest sins” don’t warrant eternal damnation, in contrast to Jesus’ brother, who when writing at the Holy Spirit’s inspiration taught that even one infraction of God’s law is enough to sink someone. But really, what did he know?

A full 60 percent agreed that “everyone eventually goes to heaven,” but half of those surveyed also checked the box saying that “only those who believe in Jesus will be saved.” So either these folks are saying everyone will eventually believe in Jesus, or they hired a monkey to take the survey for them.

13 Religious Women to watch in 2012 –most of these women are notable only for their secular endeavors (some of which are significant,) not for their theological, religious, or otherwise doctrinal work.

In many ways, I think Niceanity has been a central part of Christianity from the beginning. It is a reasonable interpretation of Christian theology (I am not really in a position to declare any Christian a heretic–that’s God’s job.) But I can’t escape the sense that mainstream Christianity is trying to shed entirely the notion of a Biblical God, of any kind of doctrine or belief beyond a vague belief that belief is good. And even if they’re right, I just don’t think religion works that way.

 

Re: Why does my fridge have a “Sabbath Mode?”

source
From the Geek Guide to Kosher Machines

So I got this letter from a reader: “I just got a new refrigerator, and it comes with a “Sabbath mode”–if Jews aren’t supposed to use electricity on Saturday, why don’t they just turn off the fridge? Isn’t this cheating?”

I may not be the most appropriate expert for this question, being not a Jewish lawyer, but it’s just too funny not to answer–but please consult with a real rabbi before making any important halakhic decisions about your fridge.

First, as you probably already know, there are basically 3 varieties of Jews: Atheist Jews, moderately religious Jews, and Orthodox Jews. About 2% of Americans are Jewish, of them, 10% are Orthodox–and as far as I know, only the Orthodox care about following all of the little Jewish laws and whether or not their fridges are sabbath compliant.

Noam Chomsky may be Jewish, but he probably doesn’t care what his fridge does unless it can prove the existence of universal grammar.

The Orthodox Jews are the ones who tend to dress most identifiably Jewish, with black hats, curly sidelocks, black suits, and beards. For this reason, I think people sometimes confuse them with the Amish.

Orthodox Jewish family
Orthodox Jewish family
Amish family
Amish family

Yes, they both wear beards, but there’s an obvious difference: the Amish live in PA and Jews live in NY.

From Time, "This Photo of Mark Zuckerberg's Closet is Ridiculous"-- I remember when Time was a respectable magazine and not just clickbait trash.
From Time, “This Photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s Closet is Ridiculous” (ugh clickbait titles)

(I do wonder if there is a connection between the Orthodox Jewish tendency toward identical clothes has something to do with Zuckerberg’s preference for only wearing gray shirts–but please note that many Orthodox Jews do not, in my experience, dress in the stereotypical way. Most I have met, while they dress modestly, are pretty much indistinguishable from everyone else.)

That business you’ve heard about Jews not using electricity is wrong. The Amish are the ones who don’t use electricity. Jews use electricity, even on Saturday.

However, some Jews (mostly Orthodox) try to refrain from turning electrical things on or off on Saturday. It’s just fine for an electrical thing to be on and stay on all day. It’s fine for an electrical thing to be off and stay off all day. It’s the flipping light switches on and off that’s a problem.

6df93d0c2319e0324710f55dcfcc5446But isn’t this cheating? Aren’t they supposed to not use electricity?

No. There is nothing in the Bible about not using electricity–not even in the Apocrypha. Nothing in the Talmud, either. I guarantee it.

The Bible does say, in the 10 Commandments, to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. In the Genesis account, God created the world for 6 days and then rested on the 7th, so traditional Jewish law proclaimed the Sabbath (aka Shabbat, aka Saturday,) a day of rest, when people went to synagogue or studied the Torah and didn’t do any work. “Work” is defined here in terms relevant to people in Biblical times, not today: agricultural activities like planting, plowing, reaping, and threshing; cooking: kneading dough and baking; clothes production: shearing, carding wool, spinning, weaving; animal-products: trapping, slaughtering, skinning, preserving; “creative” activities: writing, erasing, building, demolishing, kindling a fire or putting it out; and carrying around heavy stuff.

Yes, the law goes into A LOT more detail than this, like “Is it okay to trap a fly that’s buzzing around in your cupboard?” “What about a poisonous scorpion that’s in my shoe?” “What about a snail?” (IIRC, maybe, yes, and yes, respectively,) but this is the big picture.

Note that while there is a prohibition against lighting a fire (and against putting it out,) as this is considered a “creative” act and often involved carrying around large bundles of heavy wood, there is no prohibition against sitting near a fire and staying warm. Traditional Russian Jews would have gotten awfully cold in the winter if there had been. Instead they just built up a big fire on Friday afternoon and hoped it lasted until Saturday evening. There was never a requirement that they had to put out the fire and sit around and be cold.

The same holds for candles.

When electricity was first introduced, some folks decided that lightbulbs were an awful lot like candles and electricity like fire, especially electric sparks. So some Jews decided that turning lights on and off was analogous to lighting (or dousing) a fire, and thus shouldn’t be done on the Sabbath.

220px-refrigerator_sabbath_modeMost Jews who are concerned about the fridge light just take the easy route and unscrew it a little on Friday afternoon, but some people are now buying refrigerators with built-in display panels that let you program the ice maker or something. And these panels let you set the fridge to “Sabbath mode,” where the light and fan won’t turn on when you open the door.

(“Sabbath mode” is also available on ovens and other appliances.)

Note that, just as it is fine to leave the fire going overnight from Friday to Saturday so long as you don’t mess with it, it’s also fine to leave on an electric appliance. In fact, if the lights happen to be left on when the Sabbath starts, you’re not supposed to turn them off–you have to just leave them, even if you’re trying to sleep and they’re really annoying. Likewise, you are not required to turn off your refrigerator.

(Hey, don’t tell me I’m getting all Talmudic when the question was literally about Jewish law.)

I think you put the stylus in the holes and somehow it dials
I think you put the stylus in the holes and it dials.

Now, some people object that it seems like Jews are “cheating” by finding creative ways to circumvent the law instead of just obeying it. As someone who would never even bother about fridge lights, I don’t see how it’s “cheating” to turn it off by computer instead of unscrewing it. But perhaps more questionable is the old practice of hiring a non-Jew to show up on Saturday morning and make sure the fire is nice and warm or waiting for a neighbor to push the elevator buttons so you don’t have to walk up a bunch of stairs to your apartment. Or this telephone:

But the whole notion that Orthodox Jews aren’t being strict enough because they’ve developed funny work-arounds strikes me as trying to interpret Judaism as though it were a branch of Protestantism. Personally, I think they’re already over-thinking things and really don’t need to be encouraged to be stricter.

My impression of Judaism–and I could be wrong, because I’m mostly going off material on the internet–is that their attitude toward “the law” is quite different from the Christian attitude.

Christian theology teaches that because of Adam and Eve’s “original sin,” all humans are inherently sinful and destined for Hell–except that through Jesus’ sacrifice, they have been redeemed and can go to Heaven. (There are some variations on this throughout the many branches of Christianity, but this is pretty basic.)

Judaism–as far as I can tell–lacks this teaching entirely. Yes, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and got expelled from the Garden of Eden, but this does not translate into “original sin” inherited by all humans. Humans are not inherently sinful and are not destined for Hell–in fact, Judaism doesn’t really have the concepts of “sin,” “Hell,” or “Heaven.” There is kind of a vague, nebulous belief that there might be an afterlife and something similar to Purgatory for sinners. The have a belief that the “messiah” (or “moshiach”) is going to come someday, but I don’t think they think of him the same way that Christians do.

In short: Christianity teaches that breaking God’s law is sinning and sinning => Hell. Jews don’t believe in sin or Hell, and so do not believe that turning on the lights on Saturday => Hell. Following the law is supposed to make you happy because God made the laws in order to show you the way to a nice life, (hence why it would be really stupid for God to require you to put out your fire and spend Saturday shivering,) but it’s not required.

Again, this is my impression; I am not an expert.

So why even debate matters like whether one is permitted to trap a fly on Saturday? To be honest, I think they enjoy the debate. The same for all of these silly work-arounds: I think they just do it because they find it amusing to think about their laws this way.

(That said, I get the impression that some of the stricter Hasidic sects take a much more hardline view and can be real kill-joys.)

How exactly a sect originally founded on the idea that unlearned peasant piety and mystical connection to God is superior to the Talmudic study of wealthy Jews became so devoted to strict halakhic observance remains a mystery for another day.

Can one be a principled moderate?

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot! So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. — Revelations, 3:14-16

“No one likes a Jesus freak.” — Anon, the internet

From a memetic point of view, most ideologies would like their adherents to be strong believers. What good to memetic Christianity, after all, is someone who does not bother to spread Christianity? As a matter of principle, there is something hypocritical–intellectually inconsistent or dishonest–about people who profess to believe an ideology, but lay down some boundary beyond which they do not bother to follow it.

And yet, at the same time, we often feel a very practical aversion to ideological extremists. People who believe in social safety nets so because they don’t want poor people to starve in the streets may also genuinely believe that communism was a disaster.

Ideologies are rather like maps, and I have yet to encounter a map that accurately reflected every aspect of the Earth’s surface at once (Mercator maps of Greenland, I am looking at you.) The world is a complicated place, and all ideological models seek to illuminate human behavior by reducing them to understandable patterns.

Like any map, this is both a strength and a weakness. We do not throw out a map because it is imperfect; even a Mercator map is still a valuable tool. We also do not deny the existence of a sandbar we have just struck simply because it is not on our charts. Even religions, which profess perfection due to divine revelation, must still be actually put into practice by obviously imperfect human believers.

In extreme versions of ideologies, the goal often ceases to be some practical, real world outcome, and becomes instead proving one’s own ideological purity. SJWs are the most common embodiment of this tendency, arguing endlessly over matters like, “Does Goldiblocks’s advertising/packaging de-value girls’ princess play?” or “Asking immigrants not to rape is racist colonialization of POC bodies.” There are many organizations out there trying to decrease the number of black people who are murdered every year, but you have probably never heard of any of the successful ones. By contrast, the one group liberals actually support and pay attention to, “Black Lives Matter,” has, by driving police out of black communities, actually increased the number of black people who’ve been murdered.

Within the holiness spiral, actually denying reality becomes the easiest way to prove to be even holier than the next guy. The doctrine of transubstantiation claims that a piece of bread has been transformed into the body of Christ even though no physical, observable change has occurred. Almost everyone agrees that the police shouldn’t choke people to death during routine arrests; it takes true devotion to believe that the police shouldn’t shoot back at people who are shooting at them.

A holiness spiral is only useful if you’re actually spiraling into holiness.

The simple observation that extreme versions of ideologies often seem to lead their followers to lose contact with reality is perhaps reason enough for someone to profess some form of principled moderatism.

And yet, I know for certain that were I a religious person, I would not be moderate. (I base this on my childhood approach to religion and the observances of my biological relatives–I wager I have a genetic inclination toward intense religiosity.) Since few people convert away from the religion they were raised with, if I were a believer from a Hindu family, I’d be a devout Hindu; if I were a believer from a Catholic family, I’d attend mass in Latin; if Jewish, I’d be Orthodox Jewish. You get the picture.

After all, what is the point of going to Heaven (or Hell,) only a little bit?

To be continued.

 

Sticky Brains and Forgiveness

(Warning: this post is based on personal, entirely anecdotal observations of other humans.)

I interact, on a fairly regular basis, with people from a wide range of backgounds: folks who’ve spent decades living on the streets; emotionally disabled folks and folks who were emotionally traumatized but recovered; working, middle, and upper class folks.

“Functionality” may not be the easiest term to define, but you know it when you see it: people who manage to pick up the pieces when bad shit happens and continue on with their lives. Non-functionality does not automatically make you poor, (nor does functionality make you rich,) but it is often a major contributing factor.

I’m not going to claim that we all go through equal amounts of trauma; certainly some of us, like infants who were dropped on their heads, have truly shitty lives. Still, almost all of us endure at least some trauma, and there is great variation in our responses to the tragedies we endure.

Among the people I know personally, I’ve noticed that the less-functional tend to have “sticky brains.” When trauma happens, they gloom onto it and get stuck. Years, sometimes decades later, you hear these people still talking about things other people did to them.

For example: two people I know (we’ll call them Foxtrot and Golf, following my alias convention,) had rough childhoods.  Foxtrot is still quite bitter over things that happened over 50 years ago, committed by relatives who are long dead. He’s is also bitter about things that happened recently; I often hear about very minor conflicts that normal people would just be angry about for a day or two that Foxtrot is still losing sleep over a month later. Unsurprisingly, he is an unstable emotional wreck with no job, a string of divorces, and virtually no contact with his family.

Golf’s childhood was, by all objective measures, far worse than Foxtrot’s. But Golf doesn’t talk much about his childhood and is today a functional person. When bad things happen to Golf, he deals with them, he might get angry, and then he finishes with them and puts them aside. He has his bad spells–times when things are going badly and he gets really depressed. He also has his good times. But he has managed to keep himself together well enough, even through these bad times, to stay married and employed (to the same person and at the same job, for decades,) is in contact with most of his family, and enjoys a decent reputation in the community.

The homeless people I interact with also have “sticky brains.” When bad things happen to them (and, yes, being homeless is like a permanent bad thing happening to you,) they get really focused on that bad thing. For example, one homeless woman I know has worried for decades about a possible indiscretion she might have committed back in highschool–it is a very minor thing of less importance than copying a few answers on a math test, but she is still worried that she is a cheater and dishonest member of society. Another is fixated on a bad interaction with an aid worker that happened over a year ago. Most people would say, “yeah, that guy was a jerk,” and then stop worrying about it after a week or so; in this case, the hurt is reviewed and re-felt almost every day.

And, of course, I have many personal friends who’ve endured or dealt with traumas in their own more or less useful ways. (Not to mention the various ups and downs of my own life.)

Because trauma is common–some, like the death of a loved one, strike almost everyone who makes it to adulthood–societies tend to adopt guidelines for trauma response, such as a funeral for the dead followed by a six-month mourning period for widows, official days of mourning or remembrance for people who died in wars, therapy and anti-depressants, confession and forgiveness, head-hunting (among head-hunters), or sympathy cards among the less violently inclined. My own family has a tradition of visiting the graveyard where many of our older relatives are buried once a year and cleaning the gravestones. (The children have a tradition of pretending to be zombies.)

Anthropologists like to call these things “rituals” and “customs.” Different societies have different customs, but all of the ones listed exist for the purpose of helping people cope with trauma and grief. (Or at least, that’s what the head-hunters claimed.)

Watching people attempt to cope with life has made me appreciate (most of) these customs. “Six months of mourning,” may seem arbitrary, but it is also pretty useful: it dictates that yes, it is very normal to feel terrible for a while and everyone will be understanding of that, but now the time has passed and it is time to get on with life.

Christianity and Judaism (and probably other religions) command forgiveness:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. — Leviticus 19: 18

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” — Matthew 18: 21-22

This is ostensibly for practical reasons:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. — Matthew 6:14-15

On Yom Kippur, Jews observe a tradition of forgiving others and asking forgiveness for themselves. (It is not surprising that forgiveness should be handled similarly in two religions that share much of their scriptures; Christianity seems to differ primarily in making the institution of forgiveness a more personal matter rather than an annual ritual.)

I’m pretty sure forgiveness is a big deal in Buddhism, as well, but I don’t know much about Hinduism and other belief systems, so I can’t comment on them.

But why should God require forgiveness? It seems rather unfair to say to someone who was raped as a child and has done nothing worse than tell a few lies in their life, “If you don’t forgive your rapist, God won’t forgive you for lying.”

But this assumes that forgiveness exists for the forgiven. In some cases, of course, it does. But forgiveness also serves a function for the forgiver. I shall leave the concept of spiritual purity to the spiritual; as a practical matter, forgiveness allows the hurt party to stop focusing on their pain and resume life. Most people do this fairly naturally, but some of us need a bit of encouragement–and perhaps ritual focus and faith–to heal.

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. — Matthew 5: 3-12

I don’t think the point of this is that it is morally superior to be insulted or hurt or poor, but reassure and comfort those who have been.

The West has no Idea how to Handle Islam

ETA: more terrorist attacks have happened since I wrote this. I give up on covering them all.

Most of the world’s ethnic groups divide up pretty neatly–if not into countries, then into distinct groups spread across several different countries. Alliances between countries are normally formally announced, so that you know that if you attack, Japan circa 1942, you’re likely to be counter-attacked by Germany. You don’t have to worry, though, about being attacked by China, or random Chinese people living in your own country, because China isn’t Japan, doesn’t have an alliance with Japan, and the Chinese people don’t particularly care what you do to Japan so long as you don’t do it to them. (In fact, the Chinese were pretty pissed at Japan by that point.)

As long as two countries don’t have an alliance, you can normally attack one without worrying about the other.

Islamic identity seems to function somewhat differently (at least in some cases.)

Americans are used to thinking of religion as a set of beliefs, eg, “God made the world in 6 days,” or “Enlightened people move on to a higher plane of existence,” or “You shouldn’t turn on the lights on Saturday.” Religion therefore falls under our philosophical notion of freedom of conscience, enshrined in the First Amendment.

But throughout much of the world, religion functions much more like ethnicity than like belief. Yes, technically people from different religions believe different things, but as a practical matter, the belief that “We are people who follow the true religion and they are people who follow the false religion,” is more important than the specific details of the religions involved.

If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself what were the theological underpinnings of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland?

It’s a near meaningless question. Knowing that the Catholics have a Pope and the Protestants don’t because centuries ago because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce tells you nothing useful. You just need to know that Catholics and Protestants see themselves as different groups.

Judaism is the only religion Westerners have much experience with and are used to thinking of as operating like an ethnic group. Most Westerners I’ve discussed the subject with seem vaguely confused about what exactly Judaism is, but they understand pretty well that if you start massacring Jews in your country, you should expect a visit from the Israeli air force.

But Jews are a relatively small group, with only one official country which has clearly articulated alliances with others, so there is not too much confusion on the point.

Recent random terrorist attacks in the West have included a Pakistani couple who opened fire at a Christmas party in an Bernardino, CA; a Moroccan Tunisian man who drove a truck into a crowd of French folks celebrating Bastile Day; and an Afghan teenager who attacked a train full of Germans with an axe.

The US is not at war with Pakistan*, France with Morocco, nor Germany with Afghanistan. Random American, French, and German citizens abroad do not, to my knowledge, make politically motivated mass-attacks on their host countries.

*Or is the US? I know Obama has authorized drone strikes on targets within Pakistan, among other countries. It was easy under Bush II to keep track of America’s military engagements, because they were big, declared, and obvious. Under Obama, we are not exactly at war with Pakistan, but we do sometimes kill people who happen to be living in Pakistan, like Osama Bin Laden. It’s confusing.

At any rate, according to Wikipedia, the Farooks were motivated by the desire to be jihadis and allegiance to ISIL, not Pakistan. Riaz Ahmadzai, the 17 year old Afghan, also appears to have acted on behalf of ISIL (though probably not on ISIL’s instruction,) not Afghanistan’s. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the Tunisian armed with a 19-ton truck, also committed his attack on behalf of ISIL, not Tunisia. Fun fact: “A UN report from May 2015 shows that 25,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” from 100 countries have joined “Islamist” groups, many of them working for ISIL or al-Qaeda.[393]

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The US, France, Germany, Russia, India, and probably the majority of the world are, in fact, at war with ISIL, which makes it kind of incredible that it still exists–the rest of the world has forgotten how to conduct wars.

You might think that ISIL draws its supporters from the ranks of the super-devout, but the opposite is most likely true:

“I always thought the people most likely to join a terrorist group were the people praying five times a day with a beard and being very pious and going to a radical mosque,” says Usmani, who is Muslim and was born in Pakistan. He came to the U.S. to do his PhD at Florida Institute of Technology.

But what he found is that they are more likely to go from secular to radicalized. They are often educated online — among the 5,000+ YouTube videos from supposed Muslim “scholars.” Technology has enabled an explosion of content that is far from true Islam.*

Now, this is a rotten pickle. It’s bad enough to worry about about Japanese-Americans when you are at war with Japan; it’s another thing entirely to have to worry about anyone whose parents were vaguely Buddhist.

I am particularly saddened by all of this for personal reasons. This isn’t the world I asked for; I certainly don’t want this conflict.

I assume the solution is to actually defeat ISIL instead of pussy-footing around so that it stops being a problem. But look how well that went the last time we tried to take over a country in the Middle East and replace its government with a more favorable regime.

 

*Phrases like “true Islam” annoy me because as far as I know, there is no Islamic “Pope” who gets to decide what is and isn’t “true Islam.” Nevertheless, it remains a constant in my experience that really devout people (of whatever religion) tend to believe more in principles like “love everyone because we are all God’s children,” than moderate religious folks.