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A working hypothesis

I'm back home. The flights from Melbourne to Edinburgh were mercifully tolerable — at least as such things go (helpful travel tip: on really long flights, pack spare underwear in your carry-on and schedule a 4 hour stop-over, then use the time to have a shower and shave: you'll feel much better for it). However, the hangover is dreadful. It's not just the nine hours of time zone difference you'd expect; crossing the equator (from 40 degrees south to 60 degrees north) adds an extra chunk, so that it feels more like 33 hours of jet lag than 9. If I ever do this again, I'm going to see if I can schedule a 2-3 day stop-over at the halfway point in each direction ...

But I digress.

Yesterday (9/11, as Americans call it), was widely touted as International Religious Tolerance Day, for reasons which should be obvious. To a first approximation, this seems like a good idea; a lot of the most unpleasant news of the past decade has been generated by the actions of the religious and intolerant, from Al Qaida to Pastor Terry Jones. But is more religious tolerance the answer?


I don't propose to use this blog entry as a bully pulpit for bashing the intolerant religious (despite temptation; the Pope is visiting my town next Thursday, and he's not exactly a poster child for ecumenical liberalism). Rather, I'd just like to note that the past decade or so seems to have been marked by a worldwide upwelling of bigotry and intolerance. And it's not only the extremist fringes of every religious creed that are to blame here, although they're part of the picture (and no religion seems to be free of turbulent loons around the edges). We have extremist, eliminationist rhetoric in American political discourse, combined with a hair-raising outbreak of ethnophobia directed at muslims. We have France and Italy deporting Roma (illegally; they're EU citizens and have an absolute right of residence), in a move fuelled by a wave of xenophobia that bears unpleasant echoes of 1940-45. A wave of petty authoritarianism in the UK has led to the installation of all the well-oiled machinery of a police state — now in disarray due to an epochal political upset, but deeply alarming to anyone concerned for civil liberties in the past decade. Australia had its great firewall debate. Russia's government is increasingly authoritarian, harking back to the Soviet era in methods and goals (now with less revolutionary ideology).

This stuff is pervasive; you can come up with alarming news of authoritarian excesses in every corner of the globe.

What's going on?

Reading Robert Altermeyer's The Authoritarians gives one or two pointers, but the narrow focus — on authoritarian followers in politics — begs the question of where all this authoritarianism is coming from.

The term Future Shock was coined by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in the 1960s to describe a syndrome brought about by the experience of "too much change in too short a period of time". Per Wikipedia (my copy of Future Shock is buried in a heap of books in the room next door) "Toffler argues that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a 'super-industrial society'. This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving them disconnected and suffering from 'shattering stress and disorientation' — future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of the future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he also popularized the term information overload."

It's about forty years since "Future Shock" was published, and it seems to have withstood the test of time. More to the point, the Tofflers' predictions for how the symptoms would be manifest appear to be roughly on target. They predicted a growth of cults and religious fundamentalism; rejection of modernism: irrational authoritarianism: and widespread insecurity. They didn't nail the other great source of insecurity today, the hollowing-out of state infrastructure and externally imposed asset-stripping in the name of economic orthodoxy that Naomi Klein highlighted in The Shock Doctrine, but to the extent that Friedmanite disaster capitalism can be seen as a predatory corporate response to massive political and economic change, I'm inclined to put disaster capitalism down as being another facet of the same problem. (And it looks as if the UK and USA are finally on the receiving end of disaster capitalism at home, in the post-2008 banking crisis era.)

My working hypothesis to explain the 21st century is that the Tofflers underestimated how pervasive future shock would be. I think somewhere in the range from 15-30% of our fellow hairless primates are currently in the grip of future shock, to some degree. Symptoms include despair, anxiety, depression, disorientation, paranoia, and a desperate search for certainty in lives that are experiencing unpleasant and uninvited change. It's no surprise that anyone who can offer dogmatic absolute answers is popular, or that the paranoid style is again ascendant in American politics, or that religious certainty is more attractive to many than the nuanced complexities of scientific debate. Climate change is an exceptionally potent trigger for future shock insofar as it promises an unpleasant and unpredictable dose of upcoming instability in the years ahead; denial is an emotionally satisfying response to the threat, if not a sustainable one in the longer term.

Deep craziness: we're in it, and there's probably not going to be any reduction in the prevalence of authoritarian escapism until we collectively become accustomed to the pace of change. Which will, at a minimum, not happen until the older generations have died of old age — and maybe not even then.

(It was at this point in the pub conversation where I was coming up with this blinding flash of insight that Peter Watts announced that he's basically a lot more optimistic about humanity than yr. hmbl. crspndnt ...)

Anyway, back to my earlier question: is more religious tolerance the answer?

I'm going to give it a qualified thumbs-up, for now. Thumbs-up, because religious intolerance is clearly not the answer — but a qualified thumbs-up because I don't believe we should give a free pass to all religious doctrines in the name of tolerance. Some beliefs can kill, when they are translated into action. They can kill directly, as when the Taliban stones women to death for adultery, or they can kill indirectly, as in the Catholic Church's opposition to the use of condoms (which makes it harder to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease holocaust is killing two million people a year). We should, in my view, not seek to accommodate those religious doctrines that would impose restrictions on people — especially non-co-religionists — through the force of law. (If you're a Hassidic Jew and don't want to eat pork products, that's fine; campaigning to ban pork products from sale to anyone at all: not so fine. And so on.)

But ultimately, religious doctrines aren't the source of today's social problems. The taproots run deeper, and religious extremism is only one manifestation of the underlying problem: widespread future shock. And I've got no easy answer to how to deal with it, unless it is to apply a little humanity to our fellow sufferers when we meet them.

294 Comments

1:

Charlie

Welcome back! I agree that equatorial jet-lag is a lot worse than east-west kind (I spent a goodly part of a year 'commuting' from Toronto to Sao Paolo, with some transatlantic trips thrown in for balance! The resultant jet-lag was a primary reason for me finding a new job with merely 'continental travel'!)

Regarding future shock - I agree with your hypothesis. Most people seem simply unable to cope with change, in any meaningful way. I think that religious adherence exacerbates (or highlights?) their difficulty, since dogmatic response (at the core of most religion) is antithetical to change.

Personally, I don't think that meaningful change will be possible (as measured by societies ability to manage and adapt to that change) until religion is essentially eviscerated as a core philosophy.

It's not tolerance, nor intolerance, of religion that is the problem. It's the existence of religion.

Just my $0.02

2:

I suspect your list of symptoms is a bit too long, as it includes some things (e.g. the 'petty authoritarian' excess of some local government officials) that have been true since more or less before there was such a thing as a government distinct from the local Baron.

Just look at the UK government response to the startup of the 1970s IRA campaign, let alone anything earlier.

Not that those things aren't bad. But any change in them seems to me to be one of perception, not fact. So it might just be interesting to ask who gains from the increased reporting of them now?

The US anti-government Tea Party movement is supposedly largely the creation of a few rich people who don't want to pay tax. And they are starting to push their money around this side of the pond too.

One possible response to Future Shock style symptoms is doctrinaire and simplistic faith in the Free Market to sort everything out. In particular, the belief that it can do so, in a perfectly optimal way, without anyone involved having to think about or understand anything new.

Which, in economic terms is obvious nonsense, as markets only work with information, that has to start in people's heads. Classification of the goods on a market, regulation and enforcement of those categories all requires real understanding.

3:

But there's a question here-- I'm personally more anti-intolerance than pro-tolerance-- bigotry is evokes a 'this is not debateable' gut response from me. But the bigots respond "Well, you're bigoted and you have no positive beliefs." I beg to differ, but 'tolerance' doesn't quite describe my views.

4:

Minor pedantry: pace means "contrary to the opinion of X", not "according to X".

5:

Such intolerance tends to come with a desire for authorities to tell us the Right way. (I think of Righteousness as a type of evil, not good. (Of course, people will respond that it's "self-righteousness", not righteousness, but I haven't been able to tell the difference in others.))

The desire for an authority may come from rapid change, but IMHO, it's more about helplessness. During the Great Depression, people voted for fantasists to tell them how to gain control over their lives - by blaming the other guys. When people's long term plans for ever increasing wealth don't work, when people don't feel in control, when new risks pop up - we demand a solution. And since we don't see any solutions, we're more and more willing to accept what others tell us.

6:

(As I've written before)

I think perhaps all current religions are past their "use-by" dates. They made sense, once, in their time and place. In 1796, Georges Cuvier argued that extinctions had occurred, thereby showing us deep time. In 1828, Wholer synthesized urea, thereby showing that living systems were not required to synthesize organic chemicals. In 1838 Bessell determined the distance to 61 Cygni, showing us deep space. But prior to those discoveries and their acceptance, for all we could prove, we were living in a universe with one solar system that was created in 4004 BCE. (Yes, philosophical belief came earlier. But experimental proof waited until the 19th century.) That is not so very long a time in terms of the history of ideas: two centuries only. We are still responding, transforming our institutions and creating new ones. But the discoveries have not stopped. The press for change is enormous: as 20th century philosopher and anthropologist Gregory Bateson observed, our new technologies in the hands of our old institutions acting on our old philosophies are terribly dangerous.

7:

It seems possible that the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy ( http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/09/11/the-texas-sharpshooter-fallacy/ ) is an underlying driver for the sense of shock: something wrong will always be happening, and it can always seem to have an obvious cause, even if it's just random chance (or neither beneficient or maleficient if not).

8:

I find it telling that no one thinks to slow the rate of change. Think about this reasonably: we have a social policy which causes negative symptoms in a large portion of the population, which causes at least occasional discomfort in almost everyone, and which causes serious, dangerous levels of craziness in a few. If "change" were an environmental toxin or a medical treatment, we would have banned the hell out of it years ago.

Of course, you can't actually ban change. But a reasonable, humanist, compassionate policy would be to rate-limit change to something that humans can more easily cope with, rather than making it a prime good.

9:

From what I can tell, this sort of thing comes in waves in the United States. The 19th century had periods of very similar events. Just replace Muslim with Catholic. And as for weird cults, we got the Mormons, Adventism, and all sorts of weird little groups. The 18th century too...

10:

I tend to favor compassion, which isn't quite the same as religious tolerance. It's one facet of religious tolerance, though.

To me, tolerance is metaphorically the springs, shock absorbers, and oil in the system. It keeps things from overheating and breaking down.

As for why we're seeing this, I would offer an alternative hypothesis: what we're seeing is the toxic consequences of the British (and other) empires, up to and including the Cold War. I would argue that the rapid rate of technological "progress" that we're seeing now is an outgrowth of empires in conflict, not the major cause.

Sidebar: "Progress" is in quotes because there are enough toxic waste pits and oceanic garbage patches that future geologists will see our sediments as a very distinct marker layer of sheer worldwide short-sightedness.(/Soap Box)

The conflict is about resources and status, and military conflict is part of it, not the whole. Think the Cold War, or America's relationship with China currently. Or the fights to control energy and resources.

Anyway, the problem with all this conflict is that, once the fight's over, people get to rebuild their lives, and often they have to fight for what's left. The conflicts may pushed people together in relationships of convenience that are now unraveling. Just as often, current conflict is exploiting existing fault lines for their own gain.

Speaking as an American, I would argue that the bigotry has always been there. It's just louder right now, in part because a few businessmen and politicos are using groups like the Tea Party to try to get their industries deregulated and their taxes lowered. I suspect that if you look around, most of the outbursts of intolerance around the world will have similar roots. As I said, it's conflict about resources.

Nonetheless, I think tolerance is the answer. Not that tolerance is going to win, but that it's necessary to keep the system from overheating and shaking itself apart. Or exploding.

El-Andalus serves as a good example of what happens when tolerance loses.

11:

Your idea of slowing down change would be about as effective as King Cnut. To talk about it from a perspective that I have some involvement in, take the progression of knowledge through science. Every time a new edition of a journal comes out (of which there are hundreds containing dozens or articles each time) it contains a wealth of knowledge.

That knowledge can then be taken to create technologies i.e. a piece of research which reveals the role of an enzyme involved in a disease pathway could lead to the creation of a drug that inhibits that enzyme.

This is a simple idea and there comes a problem when we say "slow down change". At what step should we and could we slow down? should we stop funding research? Ban the development of technologies based on this research? And how can a society survive without continuing technological progression? Can we justify the suffering of millions due to famine and disease because we didn't allow the research of better agricultural and medicinal technique?

And that's just scientific change, what about the arts and media? can you order that no book/tv/film/painting/sculpture can contain themes seen before? can roads/buildings/bridges only be build with existing methods and no innovation?

A society cant function without technological progress, its intuitive to see something, recognise a flaw or imperfection and innovate around it.

And how exactly could this all be enforced?

12:

"I find it telling that no one thinks to slow the rate of change."

On the contrary, the religious reactionaries think exactly that. But the only way to achieve it is through authoritarianism.

There is another Scarabus, btw, who has a picture of the Republican hypnotic wave generator.

13:

While it doesn't invalidate the "Future Shock" hypothesis, the symptoms have occurred many times in history including times of stability. Therefore while instability may be a cause, it is neither necessary nor sufficient as an independent variable to explain the current upwelling that we are seeing.

In the smaller context, we have seen swings between centralization and decentralization of control in the corporate setting, mimicking the the authoritarian/liberalism axis in political systems. It is hard to see that instability is the underlying cause in this case.

An alternative hypothesis might be something that is similar to that underlying Paul Kennedy's hypothesis for empire dynamics espoused in the "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers". Perhaps we are in a period where projection of ideas is cheap and traditional ones concerning religion and authority are more "concentrated" that the larger space of possible liberal ideas.

14:

I think the term "future shock" is a misnomer. Religious intolerance stems from fear and paranoia and blaming some particular social group for all your problems. This is usually a result of some sort of horrible economic problems (see World War II and the rise of that which brings about Godwin's Law).

Now, there's a strong argument that the current go round of horrible economic problems stems from future shock, as innovations in financial manipulation outstripped regulation and common sense so quickly that large institutions were able to create massive bubbles and pop them in short order. But the actual changes weren't at fault until a set of very swift, NEGATIVE changes kicked in. Had we stuck to the Internet and hybrid cars, we'd all probably still be okay.

15:

Your idea of slowing down change would be about as effective as King Cnut.

But David Earle@14 sez:

innovations in financial manipulation outstripped regulation and common sense so quickly that large institutions were able to create massive bubbles and pop them in short order.

Sounds like he wants to "slow down the rate of change" in financial innovation. And this is a pretty mainstream view these days, though alas it takes a major flame-out like the global economic crisis to make the reactionaries briefly respectable.

In a more general sense, reducing (not eliminating!) change is mostly a matter of eliminating the subsidies to the agents of destruction, esp. corporations always eager to strip mine a good thing for a quick buck.

16:

@8:

I find it telling that no one thinks to slow the rate of change. Think about this reasonably: we have a social policy which causes negative symptoms in a large portion of the population, which causes at least occasional discomfort in almost everyone, and which causes serious, dangerous levels of craziness in a few. If "change" were an environmental toxin or a medical treatment, we would have banned the hell out of it years ago.

I don't think slowing down change is really possible unless our social institutions drastically change (and probably for the worse.) However, technologically speaking, it's possible that there's an upper limit to the amount of change we can expect. I also suspect that we're a lot closer to the upper bounds than a lot of people would like: A TOE that's derived in late 21st Century that says ftl isn't possible, ditto for table-top antigravity. Nanoassemblers and nanofactories that aren't much of an improvement on the biological kind. Robots that may be able to mix a drink or vacuum, but which cannot hold more than a very basic conversation, let alone stand in even temporarily for the inestimable Jeeves. No real life-extension technologies that let anyone live more than 200 years, and those affordable only to multi-billionaires (120 may be doable for most folks.) Stephenson's idea expressed in "The Diamond Age" that while a tremendous Synthetic Intelligence may be possible, genuine Artificial Intelligence is not (except, perhaps, the old fashioned-way, either through bottom-up slavish imitation or long evolution.)[1]

In fact, it's quite possible that it's not us, but our parents and grandparents who have already lived through the age of the greatest technological change - a rather singular epoch in Human history.

[1]Just so that no one sneers that I'm part of the Mundane movement or some sort of Luddite - I would like very much to have all of the above not only possible, but happening within my own lifetime. And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.

17:

Bravo. I think you nailed it.

18:

The hominid brain was not "designed" by evolution to easily cope with the current level of change and instability. As the novelty in the human environment goes asymptotic, so will the corresponding maladies you describe, including every form of fundamentalism, paranoia, and fact-free thinking. We may be skirting the fringes of what the human brain can cope with. A large portion of the population is becoming "reactionary" in the literal sense of the word. It is interesting to me that, in general, there have not been more Unibomber (violent Luddite) movements. So far (in America, at least) it's not about getting rid of technology, but about somehow finding morals-values that can cope with (i.e. give guidance in the face of) new technology.

I suspect that the rise of the world wide web (or common home internet access, or whatever you want to call it) and the mass of information it brings has radically inflamed what was already an acute condition. People are exposed to a deluge of contradictory facts (and lies); facts which not only contradict their worldview, but which contradict the many other facts available. Under these conditions the need for something to "believe in" becomes acute -- even if it is total nonsense.

19:

Peter Watts announced that he's basically a lot more optimistic about humanity than yr. hmbl. crspndnt

Oh my. Charles Stross - The Pessimist's Pessimist? :-D

20:

-innovations in financial manipulation outstripped regulation-

Innovations in any field outstripping regulation is a big problem these days. We're already seeing a good example of this with copyright laws and here in the UK the legal high problem. People are buying and using drugs sold on the internet which are legal to sell. It takes over a year (at the quickest!) for parliament to become aware of a drug, order an investigation and finally ban it. But the time it takes to make one and get it imported from china is minuscule.

-In a more general sense, reducing (not eliminating!) change is mostly a matter of eliminating the subsidies to the agents of destruction, esp. corporations always eager to strip mine a good thing for a quick buck-

I'll side step the political discussion of corporatism and address the point about subsidies. Your statement suggests that it is Government subsidies (or in general government encouragement/allowance) that plays a large part in change. I would say that government plays a small part in creating change and more in directing it. Its a subtle point im trying to articulate but the state does not create the majority of change in the business/science/public world, instead it reacts to it.

At the end of the day people can hold the view that slowing down change is the best thing til the cows come home, theres still no practical way of doing it without crossing severe ethical boundaries leading to a crazy strict authoritarian regime. instead we should invest in creating administrations and practices capable with governing and placing regulation as fast as any change

21:

Reading through the comments - methinks we're living in Heinlein's crazy years

22:

The hominid brain was not "designed" by evolution to easily cope with the current level of change and instability. As the novelty in the human environment goes asymptotic, so will the corresponding maladies you describe, including every form of fundamentalism, paranoia, and fact-free thinking.

This.

Even if all of the change that happens is good, you can still do too much, too fast, and overheat human psychology and society. It is not happenstance that the "progress" of the 20th century coincides with the rise of Stalinism, Nazism, etc.: the superheated engines of change that produce one also produce, as a byproduct, the monstrosity of the other.

23:

@10:

I tend to favor compassion, which isn't quite the same as religious tolerance. It's one facet of religious tolerance, though.

To me, tolerance is metaphorically the springs, shock absorbers, and oil in the system. It keeps things from overheating and breaking down.

Well-spoken! There's nothing new under the Sun; the Greeks had a fine vocabulary for this sort of thing already: Agape, eros, philia, storge.

Speaking as an American, I would argue that the bigotry has always been there. It's just louder right now, in part because a few businessmen and politicos are using groups like the Tea Party to try to get their industries deregulated and their taxes lowered. I suspect that if you look around, most of the outbursts of intolerance around the world will have similar roots. As I said, it's conflict about resources.

Hmmm . . . I would say it's a way of handling the opposing drives of Civilization and Wanting Other People's Stuff without a massive cognitive overload. You can't live in even moderately-sized groups with more than a bare-bones technological base without imposing the meme that grabbing other people's stuff (at least in the in-group or kin-group) is dèclassè. So you have to layer on top of that some semi-plausible pretext that allows you to think that you can do this in certain situations and still feel that you are a virtuous person. What's that bit from the Jungle Book, where Mogli's adopted parents are condemned to death for his supposed transgresses?

Buldeo said that nothing would be done till he returned, because the village wished him to kill the Jungle Boy first. After that they would dispose of Messua and her husband, and divide their lands and buffaloes among the village. Messua’s husband had some remarkably fine buffaloes, too. It was an excellent thing to destroy wizards, Buldeo thought; and people who entertained Wolf-children out of the Jungle were clearly the worst kind of witches.

For a really chilling difference in how some people seem to be beyond this need of self-justification, read this account in "His Master's Voice":

The volunteer -- need it be said? -- had moved the bodies of the executed, and those still alive were finished off with the revolver. As if to see whether he was right that I really had not understood a thing about his story, Rappaport then asked me why the officer requested a volunteer and had been prepared, in the absence of one, to kill the lot of them, though that would have been "unnecessary" -- on that particular day, at any rate -- and why, moreover, he did not even consider announcing that nothing would happen to the volunteer. I did not, I confess, pass this test: I replied that perhaps the German had acted thus from contempt, scorning to enter into conversation with the victims. Rappaport shook his birdlike head.

"I understood it later," he said, "thanks to other things. Although he spoke to us, you see, we were not people. He knew that we comprehended human speech but that nevertheless we were not human; he knew this quite well. Therefore, even if he had wanted to explain things to us, he could not have. The man could do with us what he liked, but he could not enter into negotiations, because for negotiation you must have a party in at least some respect equal to the party who initiates it, and in that yard there were only he and his men. A logical contradiction, yes, but he acted exactly according to that contradiction, and scrupulously. The simpler ones among his men did not possess this higher knowledge; the appearance of humanity given by our bodies, our two legs, faces, hands, eyes, that appearance deterred them a little from their duty; thus they had to butcher those bodies, to make them unlike people's. But for him such primitive proceedings were no longer necessary. This sort of explanation is usually received metaphorically, as a kind of fable, but it is completely literal."

You'll know when things get really scary when an authority like the POTUS can address his fellow Americans in complete candor on national TV and say things like "We need to invade Saudia Arabia so that we can take control of their oil" with absolutely no other justification required.

24:

Does change create good and bad things or does it just give another avenue for those things to pursue?

Im interested, do you think that rapid social change created nazism and stalinism? Bad episodes of history such as the dark ages, imperialism etc all happened with a less rapid pace of change but were just as abhorent

25:

It isn't surprising that the author of Accelerando should be informed by the Tofflers... Manfred embodied the cause of future shock. The future-shocked themselves (the anti-Manfreds, if you will), don't get much space in the book. But perhaps their role is (almost?) as important.

If only there had been another pet (but not, obviously, a transcended robotic one). You could tell a second story about the same events, told from the perspective of those about to be left behind. Who, now that I think of it, amounted to little more than pets by the end of accelerando anyway.

26:

So, should we teach Shockwave Riding at school?

I would add to the list of symptoms the urge to travel, the traditional way for a hominid to get away from an area that was changing too much. Move until you find somewhere that still has nuts on the trees and game to hunt. Unfortunately, the nuts will be failing everywhere.

27:

So, if future shock is the problem, what's the solution? Or cure in this case? Besides slowing the development of new ideas that is, that's an unworkable solution as several others have pointed out.

How do you 1) raise kids to be future-shock proof, or at least resistant? And 2) what social policies do you follow to help adults handle this without doing idiotic stuff like trying to burn some people's holy books publicly.

Empirically, I'd think that reading science fiction regularly is one good way to do #1. It's practice and vaccination at handling new ideas. Teaching critical thinking skills is another method. Exposing kids to new ideas and teaching them how to handle them is directly useful.

So what social policies are useful? Should we create enclaves for people to hide in? Like gated communities that fence out new ideas? I'm thinking of something like a Army base in a foreign country that keeps things comfortable, just like home. Or would enclaves be counter-productive?

Or is immersion the best idea? But that doesn't seem to be working right now either.

28:

Its an interesting idea teaching kids sci-fi and philosophy of science might be an idea. actually teaching them about future-shock maybe

The gated communities may even happen, an increase of ludditism as the younger generation becomes more and more distant due to technology than the elder. Already kids growing up with social networking have a completly different ideas of privacy and socialisation.

29:

"You'll know when things get really scary..." scentofviolets.

I think it is scary enough when Supreme Court Justice Scalia can say that torture is not cruel and unusual punishment because it is not punishment, just a tool to extract information.

30:

Have you read George Lakoff's The Political Mind? My way of describing his hypothesis is that US political thought is a N-dimensional dipole space. That is there are hundreds of dimensions, but two points in each dimension, which he labels the "strict father" and "nutritive parent" modes of thought. We are capable of applying either mode of thought to any issue, though we have a tendency to stick with one mode on each axis of the N-space, though this can be flipped with appropriate use of language. The Republican core tends to use the strict father model for most axises, while the Progressive core tends to use the nutritive parent model for most. So-called centrists have independent alignments on the axises, with the net result that no two centrists really agree with each other (the fallacy of the so-called "political spectrum", which is the bogus attempt to simplify N-dimensional space into 1 dimension).

Anyway, the relevance of this to your post is to your observations on authoritative impulses. People are increasing employing the strict father model of thought on more of N-space, perhaps as the result of future shock.

31:

Hey Charlie, I think you're about half-right, and the part you've gotten wrong lies in not making some very concrete connections between "rapid change" and things that really, legitimately concern all governments.

Consider, if you will, the rapidly declining cost of becoming a super-villain, and how the authorities respond to this trend. I know the phrasing is kind of trite, but consider what's available: The most obvious issue is the declining cost of building your own supercomputer. I can head down to the electronics store, spend a 3-4 thousand dollars, and have 20 cores, 20 gigabytes of memory, and 5-10 terabytes of storage working on whatever villainous plan pleases me - like an Open Source physics simulation for building anti-armor mines. (Or something much worse.)

Calculating the exact shape of the copper cladding that's melted/propelled by the shaped charge in an anti-armor mine is very difficult, and then of course you have to build the thing once your calculations are complete. Or if you don't have a physicist on the team and you're willing to take some risks, you can buy just one anti-armor mine on the black market, take it apart, make careful measurements, and use CNC Linux to control some milling machines, and build as many copper claddings as you want. The OS is free and it will run happily on a Pentium 3 with 512 megs of memory... Either way, this kind of thing must make the authorities very, very twitchy.

I suspect that some Arab hacker working for Hezbollah or Hamas will wire a GPS into one of their cheap missiles within the next year or so.

Or consider the American company Target, which recently gave $150,000 dollars to an anti-Gay politician. For starters, merely consider the real-world response of boycotts and generalized Internet mockery, which has probably cost Target far more money than they hoped to make via the original donation. (I won't shop there any more. Ever.) Now imagine that a pissed off Gay programmer purchases some time on a botnet and decides to obliterate Target's computer systems. If said programmer used a stolen credit-card and made the purchase through a TOR router, the purchase would very difficult - maybe even impossible - to trace. And I'll give you very good odds that minor, stupid, attacks against Target's online infrastructure have increased significantly. Or consider a script to use stolen credit-card numbers to order random, expensive items from Target's website for shipping by next-day air to randomly chosen addresses. (I wonder how many Gay people are already on Target's IT team? Do any of them plan to sabotage their employer?)

Then there's Wikileaks. And the Maker Movement. And what happens when someone really nasty has both a 3D printer and a cheap, computer-controlled machine shop?

The potential for very cheap disruption just goes on and on. This simple fact must make anyone in every government as twitchy as can possibly be imagined, and the natural impulse is to crack down on everything in sight. (The other natural response, building a just society and increasing the legitimancy of government doesn't occur to these people for some reason.)

Now I'll point out something really, really scary: I wrote the whole piece above without even once referencing John Robb.

32:

#27 brings up something I've agreed with for years- the ability of SF to help make you future shock proof. For example, when the i-pad came out, I was going "about time too, I remember reading about them in SF stories 15 years ago". My grandfather stopped reading SF in the 70's because it kept coming true.

Others above have already mentioned it, but I think that the future shockis worsened by the fact that somuch of it is out with our control, and this is due to the rapid rate of change, old style political/ legal structures, and the sheer gigantic complexity of the world. Too many people find it easier to retreat to accepting whatever some authority figure says since to do otherwise is rather hard work and they are already working hard earning money to survive and bring up children etc. Not to mention the fact that the rich do want to get richer and are prepared to do whatever necessary to do so, including desyoying any hope ofa free and independent and informative press.

33:

I did a quick search on the treatment of shock:

Preparation
1. Scrub hands thoroughly with soap and disinfected water. (((Develop and maintain infrastructure)))
2. Put on latex gloves to prevent the spread of infectious disease. (((Condoms: Still a Good Idea)))

ABCs
1. Check the injured person's airway, breathing and circulation. (((Are they babbling incoherently with hateful wrath? Begin by turning off Fox News[or local equivalent]. Consider listening to something else for a bit, like the stillness around themselves.)))
2. Stop any bleeding.
3. Splint any fractures.
{{{2 and 3 have their own set of metaphorical extensions and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis}}}

The list goes on and includes such things as "Calming and reassuring the injured person", and "Insulate the injured person from cold, cold ground...", and so on, along with the regular warning about not substituting this type of care for that of a professional's. But it all seems to come down to compassion as the beginning of making the situation better.

34:

Future Shock was an interesting read and I can't but agree that much of it remains relevant. It's one of those pieces that should have been required reading for high schools were it not that the imposition of reading often prejudices students against the content. The quality of our education systems and their ability to produce individuals who can make intelligent or well-reasoned judgements is the subject of a whole different discussion however.

Religious tolerance is another matter entirely. Religion is probably not the problem. Most religions preach some degree of good behaviour to one's fellow man (and even women sometimes). It's the petty tyrants who assume the mantle of religion to promote their personal flavour of fear and hatred who are the problem as are the fearful and hateful who follow them.

35:

Larry Niven has explored the theme of slowing down change and innovation in a lot of his novels and short stories. Some of it is quite interesting, he had a UN agency tasked with suppressing and recording research. I have never thought that that is a realistic way to do it, theres profit in being efficient and using new and better technology. As long as we live in a capitalist society innovation will find a way.

36:

And How would you do that?Banning ideas doesn't work. Especially not profitable ideas in capitalist society. Not to mention that it is a perfect example of the cure being worse then the disease, IMO.And that's the only possible tool I can see that might slow change to some appreciable degree.

37:

Of course, you can't actually ban change. But a reasonable, humanist, compassionate policy would be to rate-limit change to something that humans can more easily cope with, rather than making it a prime good.

Speak for yourself. I can cope with change, and it should go faster.

38:

Everybody: you might not want to be so quick about accepting Charlie's premise.

Charlie: I wouldn't be that quick about accepting the premise. The recent outbreaks of intolerance, irrationalism, and authoritarianism seem small beans compared to living memory.

I'm a resident of the Western Hemisphere, so I naturally think about the 1950-75 period in the United States, or the fact that modern politics in our hemisphere's other nations appears more tolerant and rational than, well, ever. (That applies even to Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, where authoritarianism has been recently on the rise.) But there is also the leftist-nationalist terror wave in France, Italy and Germany of the 1970s, the reign of the Colonels in the 1960s, the Turkish oppression of the 1980s, and many other examples.

Recent events may seem large because the expectations of tolerance and rationality outpaced the reality. In other words, the observed effect may be the result of slower-than-expected change affecting the expectations of observers like yourself, rather than faster-than-expected change causing fellow citizens to react in unprecedented ways.

(It could also be observer bias --- "things are worse than in 2001" is more salient than "things are better than in 1968," no?)

I'm curious what data I should be looking for to reject the above hypothesis.

39:

Charlie, I don't quite agree with your hypothesis. But perhaps I agree with a variant of it.

The areas that are now experiencing the greatest change in absolute terms (Chindia) are not the same places where 20-30% of the population are raging into extreme intolerance (USA and some European countries).

In fact, the rate of change in the USA and Europe was arguably much greater a century ago. In many ways the essence of the American lifestyle has been rigidly static since 1960 or thereabouts. The biggest change since then has been a general social trend toward a greater diversity of lifestyles, not intolerance.

In addition, positive changes can come very fast indeed and not be experienced as shocking. Positive change is experienced as relief from hardship. Only negative change is going to cause the list of symptoms that Toffler set out.

So what is responsible for rising intolerance? Maybe news overload is one cause. In the USA, the first wave of communications technology that busted up provincial monopolies was cable and satellite TV in the 1980s. In the 1990s the internet further displaced traditional media. In the 2000s Web 2.0 unleashed the voice of individual comment and extended the reach of grassroots political organizing. Also, the news pundits abandoned all pretense of fact checking and adherence to truth. Political discourse has become segregated and solipsistic.

There is relatively little change that is fundamental, but there is an enormous amount of news blaring about terrorism, disaster, corruption, greed. We hear endlessly about environmental decline and resource depletion. USA and Europe are undergoing major changes in demographics that threaten the long-established citizenry (or tribes, if you will). People with tendencies toward authoritarianism and bigotry receive this shocking discourse and mash up their own reactions and contributions of cultural toxicity.

Science fiction plays into this zeitgeist with almost perfect consonance. What was the most recent upbeat or utopian science fiction book that you read? The field of science fiction overall (movies, games, comics, etc.) is projecting an unmitigated future of misery, brutality, and decline.

40:

capitalism didnt create innovation, it just marketed it with exceedingly beneficial results. to be tool-using is to innovate and we've been tool using for tens of thousands of years.

Humans have evolved to innovate, its a fundamental part of us. That's the biggest reason why we can never stop change (or even slow it down). I dont think societies which choose to give up technology (be they fictional or otherwise) are sustainable. Even if all the settlers of a community vow to live a pre-industrial revolution life all it takes is for one person at some point down the line to say "that plow would work better if i built it like this" and bang your back on the curve of technological and social change.

Ludditism is interesting in this respect. Some people cant cope with how their society has changed and so seek to create these closed communities where change is not allowed but without being able to fundamentally alter the psychology of the communities present and future members its impossible to maintain a society with no innovation.

As for slowing down change id ask anyone to come up with a practical way of slowing down the sum total of change globally. The US is finally emerging out of a decade of repression in stem cell research but in that time Europe and Eastern Asia were plugging away discovering masses of information. You might be able to slow down change in one neighbourhood with regulation but someone somewhere will be working on it

41:

"To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world -- and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind. But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, 'all that is solid melts into air.'

"People who find themselves in the midst of this maelstrom are apt to fell that they are the first ones, and maybe the only ones, to be going through it; this feeling has engendered numerous nostalgic myths of pre-modern Paradise Lost. In fact, however, great and ever-increasing numbers of people have been going through it for close to five hundred years. Although most of these people have probably experienced modernity as a radical threat to all their history and traditions, it has, in the course of five centuries, developed a rich history and a plenitude of traditions of its own."

--Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity

42:

Scent of Violets.

The quote you gave from "His Master's Voice" was very interesting.
Forgive my ignorance but could you tell me the author- I would like to read more.

43:

Charlie,

I disagree with your working hypothesis. Yes, fast change might be a cause for the recent surge of authoritarianism, but it is certainly not the kind of change that we call progress (that is, change in the sense of "our children will have a better life than we did").

Places like India, China, Vietnam and large swaths of Africa currently change fastest and while they aren't poster children of democracy and libertarianism, they certainly tend to develop *away* from authoritarianism and not towards it. The same goes for quickly developing former Eastern Bloc countries of Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Baltic Countries ... arguably also Poland) but certainly not for Belarus, Moldavia or Ukraine that experienced much less of a development than the former.

Compared to those countries, the rate of change in Western Europe or the USA is glacial, yet they *do* tend towards more authoritarian leaders. What is my working hypothesis?

People tend to be more liberal when they *see* a possibility that their own future or that of their children will be better than the present or recent past. And people will tend to support more authoritarian leadership, the more they *see* those possibilities vanishing. And they both hinge on the perception of security and economy. Both have taken a major turn for the worse in a lot of the most developed, most liberal societies in the world - and it shows.

Similar things could have been observed in the economic troubles of the 1930ies or the more authoritarian Ronald Reagan or Marget Thatcher coming to power after the 1970ies destroyed just about all the dreams of the 60ies (Oil Shocks, Inflation, "Limits of growth", a threatening ice age, no more flights to the moon, huge arsenals of nukes, Vietnam war ...).

There is also the curious incident of a relatively peaceful decade in Ireland, when economic prospects got better. Whether or not the more radical elements of IRA will get more traction now, is anybody's guess.

I think that the hypothesis of future shocked societies developing into authoritarian countries cannot be observed.

44:

"anti-intolerance" and "pro-tolerance" are very close to the same. Please define them.

45:

There are several other hypothesis, although I accept your implicit use of prior prediction.


One of them is that authoritanism relies on seperating people from one another, and that authoritanism has a greater preponderance because of the collapse empathy within society. I think it's a little more plausable to have the collapse of more abstract forms of empathy, leading to the increase in religion and authority as substitute social structures. Also, quite a few of these "petty" laws seem to have net positive effect, and to have moderately thought through arguments that they are not all that iliberal.

46:

The Spanish Inquisition tried to slow down change. It told printers that they couldn't publish anything that was not approved by the church. As a consequence printers moved to the Protestant countries where they flooded Holland and England with pornography, broadsides, primmers, how-to books, business books, playing cards and all manner of junk.

As a consequence of that ordinary people in Holland and especially in England learned to read. The weavers, barrel makers, tanners and brewers who knew their trades from birth now knew how to read and do sums. They started the "putting out" system that was the father of capitalism.

Spain's ordinary people stayed illiterate, did not change the way they produced goods and hence Spain's economy was ruined - they went from being the richest country in Europe to the poorest.

The result of religious intolerance, suppression of information technology, trying to slow down change and suppress free thought.

This from Winning: Information Revolutions from the Ice Age to the Internet previewing at http://information-revolutions.com

47:

If that is true, then it does invalidate the future shock hypothesis.

48:

Charles, have you read "The Evolution of God" ?

It is a great book up until the last chapter, where he backpedals so fast from the obvious conclusions that whiplash is a serious risk. (I suspect the editor insisted on that chapter, it is totally out of character for the book)

But until that point, the book gives a very detailed view, as fact-based as possible, of how the three abrahamite religions has coped with near constant future shock by opening up and becoming more tolerant.

If nothing else, you should read it to see how you can get the three concepts "game-theory", "jet-set" and "Paulus Letters" into the same sentence.

If his thesis holds, the long term prospects are good, in the sense of "The Catholic church is totally screwed if they don't get on the casual sex bandwagon soon."

That does not diminish the damage that religions can do in the short term, but I think the most important thing we can do about that is make fight for a precise vocabulary, so words do not get fudged.

A good place to start is to get "christian fundamentalists" labeled "christian terrorists" when they are.

Poul-Henning


49:

Ummmm.
Cough.
*Crusades*
Cough.
*Andalusia and La Reconquesta*
Cough.
*30 Years' War*
Cough.
*Witch Trial*
Cough. Cough. Cough.

I won't even include other religions' idiocy, but I don't think either of the three Abrahamic religions demonstrate an evolution towards tolerance.

They have had wonderful moments of tolerance (El-Andalus is a great example, as was Jerusalem prior to the Crusades). There are also lethal spasms of vicious intolerance.

Conversely, the Renaissance was borne into Europe on the backs of refugees fleeing the destruction of Moorish Spain by a combined mix of fanatical Christians and fanatical Muslims from North Africa.

Where are we now? I don't know. However, as someone who espouses a vaguely rationalist and humanistic point of view, I think it's amazingly stupid to assume that my worldview will ultimately win, just because it's, you know, evolutionarily better and stuff.

Technology doesn't check your politics, and I, for one, don't want to be living in a refugee ghetto somewhere, praying that my kids will find enough to eat.

As I noted above, though, I think tolerance is the answer. The reason is simple: if the system is well enough lubricated, it can't destroy itself through friction. Metaphorical, naive perhaps, but true.

Thing is, even though we don't get medals or get to wear fancy uniforms like TSA guards, all us peaceful little lubricators have to keep working, at least as hard as the extremists. It's not like society will lube itself, after all.

50:

I must comment, briefly, that when you say that "We should, in my view, not seek to accommodate those religious doctrines that would impose restrictions on people—especially non-co-religionists—through the force of law," the very precise distinction you're making here not only is one I agree with, but shows an outlook that explains why libertarians . . . at least, those of us who belong to the Libertarian Futurist Society . . . think you have enough in common with us to merit an award, even though there are other things we disagree on. At a very basic level, we both share the values of the Enlightenment and want to preserve them; disagreements on how best to do this are less fundamental than disagreements over whether it's desirable in the first place.

51:

Did the Catholic Church become more tolerant when faced with the shock of the New World? I suppose they did react better than to the shock of the beliefs of the Cathars. They let some native Americans live.

52:

If you really want to dive into the futureshocked worldview, see Fringe TV Series.

But be careful: it contains a set of neatly packed poisonous memes (such as "all scientists are evil freaks"). And your have to make some efforts to not laugh from its "science" too loud. Given you can cope with mentioned issues you receive a pure distilled experience of future shocked human being.


Speaking about Accelerando, somewhere from Part 3 the story _is_ told from the perspective of those who left behind compared to inner Solar system regions.

53:

@42:

The quote you gave from "His Master's Voice" was very interesting. Forgive my ignorance but could you tell me the author- I would like to read more.

That would be the late great Soviet of Soviets, Stanislaw Lem. One of my all-time favorite sf writers, and arguably one of the heavyweight thinkers in genre. If you haven't read it yet, get the Kandel translation of "The Cyberiad".

54:

I'd wish Al-Andalus wasn't mentioned so often as some sort of tolerance poster child. It wasn't so at all.

55:

I suspect that Peter Watts, as a biologist, simply has more faith in our hardware: From your posts I gather you don't hold a lot of stock in the capabilities of biological systems, all that talk about fragile ecosystems, meat probes, humans and the biosphere dying out in Saturn's Children, etc... Just an impression, but it may explain the counter intuitive assertion that the author of Blindsight is more optimistic than anyone else :)

56:

@Earl Killian:

"No two centrists agree".

You just made my day. It's really funny when viewed from Italy, where centrists are Masters of Disagreement. Thanks.

57:

Scent of Violets.
Thank you- I shall.

58:

One thing we can do is watch for the signs in ourselves. In particular, our amazing ability in times of stress to forget that people outside our own group are intelligent, moral humans.

And our ridiculous belief that you can somehow separate the ends from the means.

59:

Charlie, I don't think it's illegal for France and Italy to deport Romanians. During the last enlargement, which admitted Romania, immigration restrictions were placed on both Romanian and Bulgarian people in a number of EU countries (including yours, and mine).

60:

I disagree.

First of all I'd question whether religious extremism and state authoritarianism is more of a problem now than it has been in the past (if this sounds absurd then read my point 3 below).

Secondly: people in the UK, the USA, and most of Europe have been experiencing extraordinary levels of social, cultural, and technological change for several centuries now. We've had industrial revolutions, political revolutions, the Enlightenment, and World Wars. If "future shock" is a real problem then it is one that has existed for most of the last three centuries in Western Europe and for at least the last century in most of the rest of the world.

Thirdly: one way of looking at the history of the 20th century is the history of authoritarian ideologies seizing control of powerful states (c.f. Russia in 1918, Germany in 1933 etc) and using that power to wage aggressive war and exert power over their neighbours. Nowadays most states are varying shades of liberal and democratic, and (most of) the tyrannies have been defeated or otherwise subverted. The war of political, ideological authoritarianism is over and has been won by the liberal democracies.

It is only now that we've dealt with the big beasts of authoritarianism that we have had the breathing space to look and observe a smaller, fuzzier, and altogether less threatening sort of authoritarianism loosely associated with some of the old religions.

This lot are thin beer compared with the old lot, and as such will have to be dealt with more obliquely, but they are not a major threat[1].

Basically, Charlie, I disagree that much of what has happened over the past ten years has been a story of increasing bigotry and authoritarianism. (I suspect that the salience heuristic is playing a part here - the salience of 9/11s and Pastor Joneses are amplified by the media, but is there any rigorous statistical evidence to back up the proposition that the world is becoming more bigoted or more authoritarian?).

You only have to shift the focus back an order of magnitude to take in the last hundred years and observe that the world of 2010 is (for very many people) a far more pleasant and liberal world than at most periods over the last century.

To a first approximation all Muslims, Catholics, atheists, and agnostics are well balanced people who are just getting through life one day at a time. But there are always some criminals and fckwits. Ascribing their criminality and fckwittery to "future shock" is a bit steep.

[1]: Yes, condemning condoms is stupid, dangerous, and irresponsible. Yes 9/11 was a monstrous crime. But the Pope is just an old moron, not Pol Pot. And 9/11 was a crime, not the opening volley in a titanic war of the West vs. Islam, whatever GWB wanted us to think.

61:

@39:

In addition, positive changes can come very fast indeed and not be experienced as shocking. Positive change is experienced as relief from hardship. Only negative change is going to cause the list of symptoms that Toffler set out.

That's pretty much my thought; change that's supposed to make you healthy, wealthy, and wise is held in high regard by all. It seems quaint now, those mid-century futurist visions of things to come. But one thing they had going for them in retrospect was the high degree of wealth everyone would experience: Joe Sixpack would have a flying car, and would either be vacationing at a domed undersea resort or in a zero-g suite aboard space station VIII. He'd also be living longer as well as younger, and enjoying a four day work week to boot. Of course, he'd still be smoking either a pipe or cigarettes and drinking martini's . . .

The change these days doesn't look so good for us Western types. Now the prevailing opinion says that the future is one of vast change, only it's not no matter what happens, change will leave you better off. No, now there's something in the air that makes everyone believe that the only sure thing about these changes is that you're pretty much guaranteed to be worse off. And that is what leads to existential anxiety, contrary to the Schumaker quotes on my box of Celestial Seasonings tea.

62:

Summary: We haven't got our eternal youth and workless work-week yet, so we're going back to hoping for Heaven instead---at least its promoters never failed in delivering what we were to expect in this life, even if it were pain and toil and death.


Why call them forward to Heaven?

The Enlightenment made everything contingent; this can make one feel good
     Things might be better!
and/or bad
     Things could be better, but they aren't, and there's no good reason why not.
---the second is, for many people, much worse than the older standby
     Things really couldn't be better, but this makes sense within
     the context of this story everyone believes, and which shows
     that this is all to the best.

(example: "Your baby died because it was God's Will, and she's with Him now.")


"When my heart is aching...."

In addition, the Enlightenment, being human activity has a tendency to over-sell itself, in effect even if not by intent, and this tends to create dissatisfaction when it appears not to be delivering. For example, consider the brief period in which it looked as if we would soon ("speedily, and in our days") conquer all disease. In fact, the Enlightenment is particularly prone to over-selling itself, as it was largely about the idea that what's good for us is much more consonant with what we want than other visions would have us believe---the Mr Stoddard super is exactly right in this wise---so it should not be ashamed of trying to sell itself on its merits.

This isn't helped by the Enlightenment'd bias toward the widest possible dissemination of information (if only out of filiopiety), making many more people able to know that the Future is here than can afford it or even get to it, yet. That is, as a corollary to Gibson's proposition,
    The news that the Future is here is much more widely distributed than the Future itself.

63:

El-Andalus was relatively benign, compared to what was going on north, south, and east of it. It was also a place where many of the rulers tolerated all three Abrahamic religions in one spot. Admittedly, I'm not an expert.

The real point is what happened to it. Being smart and multi-cultural does not exempt any group from being over-run, nor from turning to extremists (in their case, Berbers) to battle extremists (Christians from France).

Conversely, the fact that we aren't guaranteed to win doesn't mean we shouldn't practice tolerance. Most of the time, after all, it works pretty well.

64:

@39:

So what is responsible for rising intolerance?

And this too has a simple and straightforward explantion: I am sorry to say that most people, while they aren't evil incarnate are also, when it comes right down to it, not very good human beings either. They won't go out and kill and rob for profit on their own initiative, but they won't exactly stand up for what's right either.

See, when I talk to even the most rabid right-winger who's of working age (the older folk are a different story), it's pretty obvious after a while that they know they're being rogered, and they know it ain't the poor, the minorities, the unions, or the immigrants that are doing the rogering. The problem is, the guys who are actually responsible for their plight are the big boys, and while these stalwarts of the Real America got no problems badgering and harassing people even more impotent than they - blacks, immigrants, and the poor in general - going up against GE or Walmart or General Foods is another thing altogether. They've got no stomach for that sort of fight. No guts.

So in a wretched bit of face-saving, right-wing "patriots" and loyalist will pretend that the problem is other, littler people, and the elites will happily go along with this. After all, who cares about those guys?

As I said, this ain't a pretty picture. But after hanging around enough of these kinds of people, I'd have to say it's a pretty accurate one.

65:

I'd suggest the problem isn't so much future shock, as it is the widening chasm between those comfortable with the pace of change and those who've futureshocked themselves into a desire for it all to stop.

On the one hand, we have generations that crave the latest toy, memes that grow and fall in a week and media that now cannot take time over building a scene, but instead has to fast cut into the action, least the audience disappear.

On the other we have a hankering for a illusionary past - full of haywains and fields of corn, or simpler or direct answers to life's troubles (Life on Mars et al).

These two conflict, if the pace of change means telephone boxes are an anachronism, there will always be a sizeable group looking to 'preserve' them. Worse, if people want structures that are suited to dealing with the complexities of the modern world and freedoms that are associated - there are always that luddite group who will stop it.

In fact, in can be argued that its the luddite grouping, formed from the 1960s on, that have dumped us in the mess we are currently in. By trying to kill off nuclear power they have ensured that we now face a FF energy crunch that wouldn't have existed if we had continued transitioning as we were in the 1950s. Think of a world where nuclear power was the norm, wind turbines weren't prevented by the nimbys, solar panels were on every roof rather than prevented by planners, and the Severn was crossed not by a bridge, but a tidal barrage.

That's why @8 Bangs we can't slow everything down, we are in a red queen race for our survival and to stop means to lose.

But since we have a semi-united europe with no borders, maybe we can use it to our advantage? Turn Spain, Greece, etc. into a 'home for the bewildered', where those who've futureshocked themselves into a desire for mythical past age can go and live at the pace they feel comfortable with - complete with all the religion they can dream up. Then the rest of us can get on with moving forward at the pace that's needed, and free to dump the trappings of a past that's acting as a dead weight about us.

66:

what we really need, is a vaccination against religion

67:

Won't do any good. Most people don't actually know what's in their religion and just make up their own ideas of it based on cultural norms and their personal biases.

Get rid of religion, and they'll find another ideology to fill the rationalization gap. Evangelical Capitalism vs. Orthodox Environmentalism vs. Hard Materialist Cults.

68:

@scentofviolets,

In the UK, many ordinary people feel overwhelmed by waves of immigration. The elites have tended to dismiss this fear as racism in the past, even while they held their noses and paid lip service to setting up controls. Politicians now realise that they cannot get away with this any longer.

(Actually, we did very well out of the Polish diaspora. For a glorious decade, you could actually get a competent plumber or builder reasonably quickly. Now many of them are going home to rebuild their own country: we can only thank them and wish them well.)

I do rather like your assertion that the problem is that we are too tolerant, though. Perhaps we need a stronger moral imperative: more religion, perhaps? :o)

@Charlie,

Careful, now. I seem to recall that someone who said something similar got nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem.

An interesting analysis, but I think the lesson from history is that we have always been vulnerable to this tendency to fear and despise "them". With the power of the media, it has been getting harder for governments simply to ignore our baser instincts.

The great challenge is for us to break out of our little internet chat rooms and get our message of tolerance to the wider population. Ideas, anyone?

69:

I think the cause is fear - authority is a cure for fear because it provides comfort that someone is dealing with what scares people.

Authority figures are parental figures and there's never a shortage of people wanting to capitalise on what will deliver them power. We see an excess of fear mongering because there is fear to leverage.

I don't agree that the fear is Future Shock. People don't feel scared because of nebulous concern at change in their circumstances - a change can be good but today the changes people see are bad.

It isn't the change that is scaring them, it is the losses in the change that is occurring to them which frightens them.

Day to day expert media assualts us with claims that the Earth is dying, we arte killing it, our future is blerak because we are ravaging the world. Hand in hand with economic doom and gloom we are threatened with health and ecological disaster.

People are scared because they are experiencing real economic pressure, real tangible concern for their circumstances, while simulataneously being force fed existential crisis.

Doesn't seem to me there's much of a mystery to it at all.

70:
what we really need, is a vaccination against religion

That would require... rewiring the primate beast.

There's (unfortunately, for some p.o.v.) a wired tendency in us Homo Sapiens to get religious.

First, we have that fascinating pattern matching ability. We find patterns. It's a good evolutionary advantage: if you can deduce that if X and Y aligns, then Z fits in the frame (you have a big bush, and it rustles, then there should be a big animal hidden in it), you're better off. However, evolutionary speaking, if you deduce Z from X and Y, even if they're random, you're usually not much worse off than if you didn't. So, we find patterns everywhere.

Second, we antropomorphise a lot. It's usually apparent with animals: we project on our pets a lot of human emotions. But it's extremely generic. Look at a small child drawing the sun. The sun is good, it warms us and shine on us. So the child draws it with a big benign smile. Almost all children instinctively make the sun "someone". Even if they haven't discussed with it, met it "in person". They immediately make it "someone", not "something". It's innate.

Add all these intrinsic quirks, and you get religion ("someone's behind all of this").

Then, the organized bit sets in...

71:

Nestor, I have a lot of faith in biological systems.

I just have a lot less faith in us.

H. Sapiens Sapiens is an incredibly recent evolutionary development, the product of a very rapid process of change among one branch of the primates. As a species, we've only been around for about 100Kyears, and evidence of cultural activity only goes back about 70Kyears.

In that time, we've already triggered the kind of mass extinction event that normally crops up every 100My or so, at our current rate of geological resource depletion we're going to hit the buffers within a handful of centuries unless we drastically improve what we're doing, we seem to already have had a macroscopic impact on the planetary climate ... and there is no guarantee of long-term viability for species occupying our particular niche because we appear to be unique.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if tool-using meme-exchanging extended phenotypes like ours are grotesque maladaptations that render themselves extinct in the very short term, in geological/evolutionary time. (Admittedly, that may be tens or hundreds of thousands of years from our perspective.)

72:

Long post, apologies, bu here's the start of an essay of mine, suggesting that religion is THE problem:

Unreasoning belief, and the believers.

The believers, in all the monotheistic religions, and even that religion-without-a-god, communism, seem to have common characteristics, as do those religions.
All seem to suggest that religion is a very bad idea, and that religions, and especially their believers, will do certain unpleasant things.
In order to combat this pernicious mind-rot, I’m proposing some falsifiable tests for religions, and some suggestions as to what rational people should do about it.


A set of testable Propositions


1. No “god” can be detected - OR - "god" is not detectable
2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
3. All religions have been made by men.
4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
What do those religions (including Marxism) actually DO?
How are they structured?
Never mind what they claim – what are their real, testable parameters?
For example, Marxist governments murdered millions in the name of their patent version of Marx’s holy truth – which was wrong, because the revolution was going to come to the most developed countries first – which was completely wrong …… Which sounds like a religion in its operating parameters to me.
......
I'll add part of my support for proposition 5 here:
....
5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
To verify this, one need only read a very little history, or contemporary newspaper reports.
At this point, an excuse is always presented by the 'believers':
"They are ( or were ) not PROPER Christians / Muslims / Marxists / etc. …. We're different!"
Oh, yeah?
O.S.D. is still part of the Roman Catholic church, isn't it? Is Ian Paisley a Christian minister, or not? Are the Persian and Taliban ayatollahs clerics, or not? Were Stalin, Mao Zhedong and Pol Pot Marxists, or not?
Besides which, if these, and similar cases, are, or were not "proper believers", why do those proper believers never, ever do anything about it, except whinge?

So, we have another Corollary:
5a ] The bigots are the true believers.
....
And we only have to look around us, to see that it is so.

Religions should be tolerated, in the way that ESN people are cared for in this society, but we should pay no attentiona at all to what they say.
What they do, of course, should be closely monitored, since they can be dangerous, as we already know.....

73:

#58 Brian, Charlie didn't say "Romanians", but "Roma" (you may know them better as "Romanies" or "Gypsies"). They may hold Romanian passports (I don't know if they do or not), but they don't see themselves as citizens of any single modern European nation. They see themselves as wanderers, roaming pretty much all of continental Europe.

74:

You bring up eliminationism, the purest and most concentrated form of intolerance imaginable, and then you ask if less tolerance is the answer? You can't get any less tolerant than genocide.

Clearly, we can all think of a lot of people who we would like to be more tolerant. And if xenophobia and religious hatred is indeed spreading (and it does seem to be, from where I'm sitting), then speaking out against this tendancy amounts to the same thing as making society in general more tolerant.

Whether you, personally, should be more tolerant, is a different matter.

(Arguments of the form "but stopping A from oppressing B shows intolerance of A's beliefs" were complete and utter bunk the last time I checked, no?)

75:

The most extreme examples of this future shock seem to be fairly recent, kind of suggesting it's got a lot more to do with the economic depression than any kind of inability to cope with rapid change (unless the change you're talking about is losing your job and livelihood). Lots of the stuff that caused this financial crisis had been a long time coming since the 80s BTW. It's not that the governments couldn't adapt to change, it's just the age old problem of governments being run by people too dumb to run a government (i.e. the deregulation will solve everything people actually getting elected).

It is pretty discouraging that the first comment to this post simply preaches intolerance against all religion. If you're holding your breath till we eliminate religion, you can keep doing so for ages to come. Fundamentalism isn't limited to religion at all, any way.

76:

As an atheist, I'd like to distance myself from the idea that all religion is "the enemy" and inherently harmful.

Of my circle of friends, some of the most vocal and active against fundamentalism are themselves religious. I am happy to stand with these people as part of a united front against intolerance and bigotry.

Remember also that most of the major progessive periods of history, including the Enlightenment, occured in religious cultures.

Nor do I believe that moderate religion 'weakens' you or your children to fundamentalism. The history of modern cults have shown us that less religious societies are just as likely as more religious ones to fall victim to fundamentalist thinking — just of a different type.

The growing tendancy of atheists to lump all religion together as a single entity only brings us down to the same level — yet another group of people convinced that we're right, everybody else is wrong, and that therefore ours is the only opinion that matters.

77:

I'm late to the party but this piece from last week caught my eye.

http://www.salon.com/life/since_you_asked/2010/09/08/what_next/index.html

Key quote from the columnist's response:

"But I followed the rules! I paid my bills, I worked my job, I saved! Where is my bailout?"

It got me to thinking that maybe part of the problem with the current zeitgeist is that most folks actually do respect authority, and when it fails they get angry.

78:

>>>>There is also the curious incident of a relatively peaceful decade in Ireland, when economic prospects got better. Whether or not the more radical elements of IRA will get more traction now, is anybody's guess.

Oh god. Someone is wrong on the internet.

The relatively peaceful 16 years we've had since the first PIRA ceasefire of 1994 occurred in the Six Counties/North of Ireland/Northern Ireland/Ulster.

The improved 'economic prospects' to which tp1024 alludeswere, if I understand his/her allusion, confined to the separate jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland.

The boom in the Republic (which has since ended with an ignominious and catastrophic bust) did not spill over into the North in any significant way, and political progress in the North was not related to the RoI's economic boom in any significant way.

79:

There's a problem with seeking to slow change. That goes against the memplex that guides far more people in the West than any single religion, and is spreading rapidly to the rest of the world. Viz, that new shiny products are intrinsically good and should be consumed as fast as they come along.

This is, of course, a memeplex that is largely created by advertising and marketing, for the benefit of those who seek to get rich (or richer) by creating new products. It's fascinating that the social changes wrought by advertising don't get criticised, but are accepted as natural and inevitable.

On tolerance, it's important to understand that quite a few religions consider tolerance to be an actively bad thing. They are, of course, the ones who take Augustine of Hippo seriously, and are absolutely sure that only through their own church is there any chance of salvation; that all the fairly similar ones are distractions of the devil.

80:

One question:

Why do so many people here seem to think that the rate of change in people's lives has been in any way extraordinary in Europe and the USA in recent decades.

As someone who left kindergarten in the GDR and went to school in the FRG, which means that I saw technological developments of over three decades compressed into one and people turned out to be quite capable of dealing with it. Sure, not everyone got *all* the developments to the same extend that people elsewhere did. (I don't know how to program a video recorder - because I never had had one. I got a DVD drive in '99.)

But now? The last qualitative change was broadband internet 8 or 9 years ago, when Eastern Germany had mostly caught up with the European level from a technological point of view (that is, better than most of the US and worse than most of Japan/South Korea/Singapore).

Nothing else since then. Changes today are glacial - nothing like the drumbeat of vinyl records being replaced by tape in 1990, by CDs a few years later, bordering on obsolete not that much later. Getting a telephone, a microwave, home computer, game console, 'real' personal computers, a modem, wide distribution of ATMs, cellphone reception almost everywhere, East German cars getting replaced by old, used cars from the west of the 60ies and 70ies, then 80ies, finally more recent ones etc. all in quick order, usually compressing a decade's worth of change in the US or West Europe in 2-3 years.

If you think that times are changing fast these days, you don't know what fast means.

81:

Religion is no different to any other life choice. If I choose to be a murderer or rapist then that isn't something that society should tolerate, so similarly if I choose to adopt a religion that encourages rape and murder, that should also not be tolerated.

I'm happy to support anyone's right to eat what they like or wear what they like, but I don't support parents' right to circumcise their daughters because in any other circumstance that would be regarded as the most barbaric torture and mutilation of children, and the cover of religion doesn't change that in the slightest.

Unfortunately it's not possible to define what we do and don't tolerate without making some moral judgement. Attempts to abstract religious morality from societal morality are doomed to failure because they both claim jurisdiction over the same areas.

Abortion, circumcision, adultery, forced marriage, divorce, wife burning - these are all topics where different societies and different religions will inherently clash. You cannot adopt a position of "tolerance" for these things - if you don't agree with them then they are intolerable.

Within our own society we can define what is and isn't acceptable and then tolerate anything that doesn't clash with that (that's effectively what we mean by religious tolerance). But what happens when we look outside our own society. If we see ritual slavery, mutilation, rape and murder taking place in Africa or the Middle East in the name of religion, how do we define what we should allow to happen and what we should intervene to prevent?

I think we should just do away with the whole concept of religious tolerance. We don't need it. As a modern, secular society we define what we think is morally acceptable or neutral, and we define what we think isn't. If it falls into the former category we tolerate it, if it falls into the latter we don't. No justification should exist for anything in the latter category - trying to treat behaviour differently depending on the religious framework that lead to it just confuses the issue.

So no, I won't tolerate Christianity or Islam. But if people want to wear funny hats and chant strange things in oddly-shaped buildings then I'm fine with it as long as they don't try to cut off anybody's genitals or throw stones at each other.

82:

paws4thot@73: If I read the reports correctly, then my understanding is that the Roma that the French and Italians are deporting are indeed from Romania, and they are using precisely the transitional arrangements for that country as a legal justification.

However in the original post Charlie is wrong to state that EU citizens have "absolute right of residence" in other EU states. Essentially the treaties allow EU citizens to reside in other EU countries for the purposes of work (including as a self-employed person) and study. They also allow residence for retirement and other non-economical active purposes subject to not being a burden on the member state the citizen moves to (this requirement can only be applied for a transitionary period though).

Member states also have a right to refuse entry to citizens of other EU on the grounds of "public policy, public security or public health", which is pretty nebulous. I think that was the let-out that the British government used to refuse entry to the far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders last year.

So it's really a "qualified right of residence". Doesn't make what the French and Italians are doing any less despicable of course.

83:

You mentioned Altemeyer's The Authoritarians - curiously enough, I think I first heard of that book when someone mentioned it in the comments here on your blog a couple of years back.

That book really took me back to when I was doing my degree in Sociology. It was just brilliant. A lot of things make more sense after reading it. I should mention for the benefit of anyone else reading this that the book is free to download directly from the author in a PDF format (or at least it was last time I looked).

84:

I think what the French are concerned about is that if they allow a sufficient mass of external culture to gather within their borders then its influence may cause them to lose the ability to determine what they will and won't tolerate.

Their banning of the Burka and expulsion of Romanians may seem despicable to us, but it is a response to a legitimate concern:

A culture's ability to decide what it will and won't tolerate depends on a critical mass of people who share the same ideals. Welcoming other cultures into a cosmopolitan society is a great way to learn and grow your culture, but a sufficient bulk of non-integrated foreign immigrants can lead to a cancerous subculture where people don't learn from and share their experiences with the host country, but instead create a ghetto in which people have no exposure the the society they've entered.

We have the same problem in the UK - there are areas where the population predominantly don't speak English and don't follow English culture. Inside these areas we lose the ability to enforce the British sense of right and wrong and religious or cultural practices that we would consider criminal are commonplace (female circumcision, forced marriage, etc).

Of course the legitimate fear of these subcultures pushes people towards xenophobic organisations like the BNP, and it bcomes hard to define where protecting the culture ends and persecution begins.

I think the solution is not to expel people but to force foreign nationals to learn the language and participate in the culture instead of forming ghettos. I don't know how to do that though, which is why I'm reluctant to be too quick to spring to judgement on France and Italy for their actions.

85:

Nick@84: The Roma have been in Europe for the best part of a millenium. How much longer do they have to stay here to become accepted as a European people? They've been here about as long as the Hungarians, who are accepted, it's just they made the mistake of spreading themselves around the continent rather than claiming a bit for themselves.

86:

#82 - I'm not suggesting that these particular Rima don't posess Romanian passports (I didn't know either way, and it's not actually relevant to my argument, which is that their passports are a McGuffin rather than a statement that they are citizens of a specific nation).

I'm saying that they (Roma in general, not just these ones) don't perceive themselves as being citizens of a specific geographically defined nation, just because they happen to have been born within ints borders.

87:

It's not a question of legitimacy as a culture - the Romanians are undoubtedly an established European culture - they just aren't the French culture, and France doesn't want its citizens to be Romanian - it want them to be French.

The European right to travel is intended to allow individuals to travel between European countries and find work and soak up the culture and share their unique perspectives and knowledge by integrating with the locals.

Gipsies, generally move together as a single cultural unit, a sort of portable micro-country that occupies space in a host country but doesn't integrate with it.

There's nothing wrong with that - a culture isn't any less legitimate because it doesn't own land - but it's arguably not unreasonable for France to decide that it doesn't benefit it as a society to play host to such people.

I expect they feel the same way about British expats who go and live in Brittany, don't learn the language and bring their British pubs and culture with them. In the latter case though they tend to be retirees who don't commit crimes, don't take French jobs and don't breed, so they're less likely to attract the outrage of the local populace.

88:

How about this rather depressing thought?

The reason for the rise in authoritarianism is because we're getting further and further away from a common understanding of what it actually means, and that counterbalance is diminishing. In other words, it's not a rise in the number of people looking for an easy answer, it's a decrease in the number who will argue against it.

Western Europe is now sixty years away from a war which touched "our" civilian populations. The USA is 150 years away from war on its own soil, and fifty years away from HUAC. Wars are now largely fought by professional militaries in far-off lands (unless you're in one of those far-off lands).

Is authoritarianism possible because we've collectively forgotten how badly it always seems to end up? And if so, will the next "readjustment" cost less lives than the last few?

89:

Nick@87: I said *Roma*, not Romanians (who, incidentally are culturally as close to the French as the Italians and Spanish say, perhaps more-so as there were very close cultural connections forged between France and Romania in the 19th-century: Bucharest is not called "the Paris of the East" for nothing.)

"The European right to travel is intended to allow individuals to travel between European countries and find work and soak up the culture and share their unique perspectives and knowledge by integrating with the locals."

Oh yes? Show me the lines in the relevant treaties or directives that say that. You can't. There's *nothing* in EU law requiring a duty to "integrate" (whatever that means), simply a temporary requirement not to be a burden.

"Gipsies, generally move together as a single cultural unit, a sort of portable micro-country that occupies space in a host country but doesn't integrate with it."

As I said before Roma/Romany/Gypsies/whatever you want to call them have been in Europe for *centuries*, at least as long as one of the accepted settled "nations" of Europe. Isn't it about time they got accepted for what they are? Hint: try repeating what you just wrote with "Jews" instead of "Gipsies" and ask yourself if you're still comfortable with it?

90:

Your reading comprehension is deficient: they're not Romanian, they're Roma. Not the same thing at all.

91:

@ 81
WRONG
Religion is NOT like "any other life choice"
Religion changes the whole prism through which you see life and the world, and everyone in it, distorting and poisoning.
Unbelievers are wrong and evil, and must (usually) be converted to the one true way [insert appropriate mumbo-jumbo here] or killed

92:

Greg @91:

As opposed to your world view, which is unique in being completely without observer bias.

93:

Roy@89: Clearly you've pegged me as a closet racist which is going to make it difficult to continue this discussion to any productive end, but I'll try anyway.

From Wikipedia:

"Since 2007 members of this ethnic group have migrated to Spain, Italy, and France, where the failure of some Roma to assimilate has become a contentious political issue."

Jews have historically integrated with other cultures and found that this didn't save them from persecution because people hated them on racial/religious grounds, not because of their failure to integrate with society. They've now mostly found a balance, with those that wish to live in a Jewish culture taking residence in Israel and those that wish to integrate with other cultures doing so (which is possible now that European anti-semitism has fallen to a level where they no longer have to fear for their lives).

The Romani have (in many cases) made themselves unwelcome by failing to integrate with the countries they've adopted. There is of course also still significant xenophobia and intolerance for them based on racial prejudice which is regrettable. What I am suggesting though is that France and Italy are not ejecting them purely out of prejudice, they're ejecting them because they won't integrate.

I think it's fine for a culture to choose to move around, but I think that it should be the choice of any given sovereign state to choose to host them. They aren't joining that culture, they're effectively just squatting there. On the other hand, as a collection of individuals looking to visit or integrate they should be treated like any other EU citizens.

The only place that I think should be obliged to host the Roma is Romania, where they've lived for long enough to legitimately claim residency (or at least they could if it didn't contradict their own cultural believes). It's a shame that they are unwelcome there, but it's a relatively common problem for dispossessed peoples, and one that the EU can no doubt use it's clout to help resolve amicably.

94:

You don't need an old-style religion to duplicate the kinds of Righteous abuse that we associate with religion.

95:

@Charlie

My reading comprehension is okay but my knowledge of Romani history is deficient. I was under the impression that they originated in Romania, and upon further investigation it seems that that isn't really true. How embarrassing.

I don't think it makes any difference to my argument though. Not least because I'm pretty sure you could substitute "Flying Spaghetti Monster worshippers" in place of "Roma" and still get the same conclusions.

96:

Have you met anyone from the Church of England?

97:

I don't think SF has been coming true - at least not the good stuff. We don't believe in our old space travel stories anymore. Maybe that's why fantasy is more popular.

98:

Legally speaking the Roma being expelled are either Romanian of Bulgarian citizens as under the transitional arrangements existing EU member states can restrict the settlement of citizens of new EU member states. Roma who have citizenship of existing EU states have residency rights.

99:

Greg@91

Religion is just a meme like any other. Science colours your whole world view as well and can lead to irrational hatred of people who don't believe as you do (just look at Richard Dawkins).

Religion can lead to extremism and murder but so can other non-religious doctrines like communism or fascism.

Trying to outlaw bad memes doesn't seem to work and can have the opposite of the desired effect (the Romans threw a lot of Christians to the Lions but they still won in the end).

Ultimately it's easier and more effective to just outlaw immoral behaviour and let the slow, patient application of reason kill off all the stupid ideas over the fullness of time.

100:

Or SF fans, they tend to have a culture that excludes others. Send them back to where they came from.

101:

You miss the point by about 2000 years, by comparing religions behaviour against your expectation, rather than against how they used to react.

Try to compare how ancient israel reacted with the crusades, and you will find that the crusades were incredibly civilized by comparison, they seldom murdered civilians for instance.

Read the book, it will open your eyes, just don't try to discuss it with any religious fundamentalists, their brains don't have the concepts necessary for comprehending it.

Poul-Henning

102:

Nick@93: "Clearly you've pegged me as a closet racist which is going to make it difficult to continue this discussion to any productive end, but I'll try anyway."

Not necessarily, but I do think you're failing to see my point. Why is it necessary for the Roma to "integrate" into French society, and what is that supposed to mean? Do you mean "conform to French laws" or "become indistinguishable from the French" or somewhere in between? If the Roma being deported haven't done the former, then France is indeed entitled to deport them, but the reports seem to indicate that that's not the case, but that the French are deporting Roma en masse *for being Roma*.

103:

@Pat

If there was a village of SF fans who refused to teach their children English and would only let them speak Ewok, refused to let them go to school but instead home-schooled them in the ways of the Jedi, teaching them that instead of maths or science they should exclusively practice use of The Force, and then occasionally these people killed each other because they had "succumbed to the dark side", I think you'd find the government would be pretty intolerant.

It's funny really how we're so obsessed with being tolerant that we fall over each other trying to demonstrate how everybody's less tolerant than we are.

You have nothing to prove. I get that it's bad to persecute people or single them out and I know it makes everyone uncomfortable to talk about a particular race or religion as if they were different from anybody else.

But culture is not the same thing as race or sex. It is possible for a culture to be bad or have bad aspects even if everybody in it is perfectly lovely as an individual. That's why it's good for cultures to integrate and share their experiences, so everyone gets the benefits of the positives without being at the mercy of the negatives.

If a member of any culture comes to your country to work and meet people and learn your language and traditions and teach you theirs, that's a 100% positive thing.

If they come and bring their extended family of 500 and take over your town and refuse to talk to you or let you check that they're treating their kids okay and occasionally they steal from you and then refuse to help the police when they investigate, you're entitled to be pissed at them.

104:

@71:

Nestor, I have a lot of faith in biological systems.

I think it was Sinclair Lewis many years ago who first came up with the meme that everything living today is descended from an unbroken line of winners. Considering that the lines of descent are billions of years long, these are some pretty tough critters! Other people have made the same point with respect to animal behaviour, that the billions of successful creatures with their clever habits and cunning stratagems are only a slice of the millions of trillions of others that got it wrong. It's not surprising the best of the best of ... of the best are so robust.

To put it another way: my best friend (who looks and dresses like a hick, and likes his booze and cigarettes) makes a very good living working for a company who produces authentication software for over-the-wire high end banking and credit transactions. His sole and only job, something that pays him in the comfortable six figures a year, is to try to break those applications, or spoof or otherwise subvert them. Imagine how good authentication systems would be if they had development cycles stretching back billions of years and subjected to such selection rigors. By contrast, our machinery now is not even at the single-cell stage, more like sacks of fatty acids containing nucleotide polymers. (Yeah, I know, a just-so story. But a semi-plausible one that connects the degrees of complexity and also makes the point that, like Smolin's black hole reproduction theory, something doesn't have to be alive to evolve.)

I'll have more faith in the robustness of our complex machines when they've been around for a few hundred thousand or a few million years, instead of less than one hundred or five hundred or so years.

105:

Charlie... I would love to see how your attitude would change if an eighteen strong Roma family moved to a flat in your housing block.

I could go on and on about my personal experiences with them*

So, read this reddit discussion:

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/d3hax/why_does_europe_hate_the_roma_so_much/

Sure. All of those people are either sock puppets or lying racists, out there to tarnish the Roma image...

The whole affair is pretty tragic, and the way I see it, turning them into at least a semi-civil minority is going to take at least a century of earnest effort by government and NGO agencies. And I doubt Europeans will have that kind of patience or financial resources. Money is running out.

*
,which involve mostly being beaten by, having my stuff stolen (that was before I attained my present height of 6'6") or trying not to smell them (they don't bathe much). True, I've had some good interactions with them, but the negative ones are far more numerous. By a factor of ten at least.
And I'm lucky. People who live in areas where the Roma make up a significant part of population have far worse tales to tell.

106:

@71:

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if tool-using meme-exchanging extended phenotypes like ours are grotesque maladaptations that render themselves extinct in the very short term, in geological/evolutionary time. (Admittedly, that may be tens or hundreds of thousands of years from our perspective.)

Ah, that one was used by Sterling in his Swarm setting. I kind of like it (and it makes a stab at explaining the Fermi paradox as well.) I also like Watts' notion that you can have intelligent tool-using species who exist on geological time scales provided they don't have much in the way of what we call consciousness or self-awareness.

107:

@Roy,

I mean conform to French laws. That's pretty much it.

The only caveat is that laws are often drafted on the assumption that people behave in a reasonable way, where "reasonable" is defined by the local culture.

There may not be a French law that says every citizen has to speak French, but that's because it doesn't harm France if a few citizens don't speak the language. It does harm them if a few thousand don't and they all live together.

This comes back to authoritarianism. Modern cultures don't like to define every aspect of people's behaviour in law because they benefit from a bit of flexibility and diversity. But that only works if the diversity is spread out. If it's concentrated it ceases to be a strength and becomes a threat.

If a few thousand people across France raise their children to believe in say, communism, or some other ideal that runs counter to French culture then that's fine - that's just freedom of belief. If those few thousand are all in one place they become a cult and that might be dangerous because they'll have the strength of numbers to commit and cover up acts without the French authorities being able to intervene.

108:

#102 - I'm specifically not commenting on anyone else's views, but that's what I understood too; that the French were deporting the Roma en masse "for being Roma".

109:

@103:

If there was a village of SF fans who refused to teach their children English and would only let them speak Ewok, refused to let them go to school but instead home-schooled them in the ways of the Jedi, teaching them that instead of maths or science they should exclusively practice use of The Force, and then occasionally these people killed each other because they had "succumbed to the dark side", I think you'd find the government would be pretty intolerant.

What's that line from Chinatown? "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough." Add to that list religion. The Mormons passed through my bit of the country once and were driven out for being the wacky lunatics they are. Nowadays, they're in the rotary, and contribute to the Widows and Orphans fund. Scientology looks like it might make the cut as well. Or Libertarianism or Randism, which look like they already have ;-)

110:

@107

Playing devil's advocate, that may just be because it's very hard to find a better definition of what they are opposed to. France doesn't want to draft laws that dictate where people live or what language they speak or how they raise their kids. It's easier to ban a people based on race than based on behaviour because if they just ask Roma on entry "do you intend to live together with other Roma in a ghetto", of course they'll say no.

France also banned the Burka, not as a fashion statement but because it's an easily identifiable symptom of Muslim women being oppressed by their husbands and fathers and prevented from participating in French culture. They know that some Muslim women will now feel that it is the French authorities that are oppressing them, but that's a tradeoff they've decided is worth making.

And yes, part of the reason why they were able to do both of these things, and the reason why it probably wouldn't happen in the UK is that the French people are just slightly more xenophobic and racist than we are on average.

But oh no - now we're stuck in a loop. If we criticise the French because their culture is racist, are we now not guilty of prejudice against the French because of their culture?

Here's a question: Which do you think is the more culturally xenophobic people, the French or the Roma? And which of those do you feel more moral outrage about?

111:

One fault in your assumptions here regarding religious intolerence may be that you assume that all persons in the world are working from essentially the same intelligence levels. This is manifestly not true; there is a tradition in parts of the north-western Indian sub-continent ranging through to the middle east of marrying cousins together. This probably came about because that environment is harsh and ecologically patchy; if a family glommed onto a good spot, it then wouldn't want to share said good spot with another family and because of rules on inheritances in the general society, marrying inside the extended family would be a good idea in economic terms.

In biological terms, this is genetic suicide (more of this later) through inbreeding. In societal terms, though, it means that a substantial portion of the population are going to be severely inbred and thus not playing with a full deck, mentally speaking. Such individuals are known to be fairly poor at coping with societal rules and tend towards dogmatism and religion, since it offers a reasonably sane way of coping with a world that they simply don't understand. If you combine a society with a lot of pretty literal-minded but decidedly stupid individuals with Western mass media and instantaneous news transmissions, this explains how one minor moron in the USA can infuriate hundreds of thousands of otherwise peaceable if dim people in the middle east.

The other thing to know about the middle east's dirty little inbreeding secret is this: they've been at this game for centuries, literally hundreds of generations. If you look at the effect of line-breeding on dogs (Crufts dog breeds), then you can see that even if you start with a much more genetically diverse animal than us humans, then you see a lot of severe genetic problems after only a few dozen generations, and that with some fairly draconian culling of defective dogs going on. This raises the question of how these societies haven't died out.

The easy answer is that as in pretty much all species that pair-bond there is a level of extra-pair breeding going on. Most estimates put the number of non-paternity children (those whose father isn't the "official" father) at about 2% in Western societies, but in these middle eastern societies I'd guess that due to genetic problems causing early abortions and so on, the non-paternity rate is going to be a fair bit higher than that. So, this is probably why these societies haven't imploded.

That brings us to an early warning of the next big human catastrophe in waiting: genetic testing. When cheap and easy paternity testing becomes available in these countries, then a lot of the non-paternity children are either going to be abandoned, killed or unfaithful wives in some way punished. This will destroy the mechanism that is preserving the genetic diversity in these populations, and following on from this something unpleasant will occur; either a generation of idiots followed by decline, or civil unrest, and this is before sex-selection procedures do the same thing to these populations.

112:

Dan@109,

Even if I were to buy that there was a substantial difference in intelligence between inbred yokels and the rest of us (that can't be attributed to being raised and educated by other inbred yokels - I'm a nurture versus nature man) - how would that affect anything?

Some of the very brightest, most educated, most intellectually challenging people I know are deeply religious. Nothing I can say can persuade them otherwise - catch them in a contradiction and they either utter gibberish or get upset, but you can't touch their beliefs because the rational part of the brain and the bit that contains the meme are firewalled from one another by an unbreakable barrier in their mind.

So how should we treat an imbecile differently versus a genius? You are presumably saying that we can't treat them as equals because they lack the brainpower to listen to reason - but clearly brainpower isn't the issue. Memes span the intelligence divide. If anything I would think that it's easier to blind an imbecile with logic than a genius - easier to persuade them to your point of view than someone who has invested years of careful thought in shoring up their beliefs.

People have already tacitly accused me of racism for suggesting that it's okay to ostracise people because of their culture, so I won't do you the same disservice, but trust me, treating people differently because of their genes or their perceived intellect is a very dangerous road to go down.

113:

Nick@99 says "Trying to outlaw bad memes doesn't seem to work".

Yes, that's what I've seen as well. There seems to be quite a lot of history of attempting it, with uniformly unsatisfactory outcomes. (Of course that could be argued about just about every aspect of history; hence the lack of a functioning utopia on earth.)

I personally consider religion to be one of the worst human inventions ever. Probably many of the proponents have been motivated by "good reasons", but what I've seen from the late 20th Century and read about from earlier has convinced me that the outcomes are very consistently highly negative. I even think I know why -- the sky-god religions, which are the ones most in evidence around me, make it very easy for people to raise nearly anything to a trans-human peak of importance. This tool seems to do more damage among those with bad goals than it does good among those with good goals, by a lot. It may even help subvert those starting out with good goals.

But, regrettably, I don't think it's productive to directly oppose it at least at a governmental (as opposed to personal) level.

So for me the goal attitude towards religions is definitely "tolerance". Certainly not any kind of support or enthusiasm. But tolerance, I think, is necessary; people are just like that.

114:

Dan@111: Speaking as the grandchild of a first-cousin marriage (and no I'm not of South Asian descent) I'm not sure I'd buy your low intelligence assertion at all.

I may have an inherited dangerously-high chloresterol level, and wonky eyes (although that was probably as much to do with maternal contact with rubella and being born a month premature during the very first generation of incubators when they hadn't got the oxygen levels *quite* right), but I was bright enough to pass the 11+ and be the first of my family to ever go to university.

115:

Goodness me, such ravening hatred spouted against "Religious" intolerance.

By the way, O militant atheists, what is the definition of God that you're so against? One of my favorites is that God is the observer who enables quantum physics in the universe.

Are you talking about some Superman archetype (plus beard), perhaps? White dude up in the sky? If so, I would agree with you. I don't believe in (H)im either.

But getting all vitriolic about something that one hasn't attempted to understand is what any militant of any faith does. It's usually a good idea to find out something about Them, whoever they are, first. If only in the interest of good intel.

You'll probably find most of Them have degrees and mortgages, just like you do. Probably even shop at the same stores.

116:

I oppose the definition of God that defines him (or her) as a being that exists.

To be fair though, I'm also pretty against the definitions that describe him as an abstract concept, something within all of us, or a symbol of something.

I'm not prejudiced, I'm equally intolerant of all religions.

117:

the 'mental firewall' concept I'd agree with. I know a few clever guys who are also god-naggers, quite rational and erudite , but you start talking about deep time or evolution and instant wall.
They start , almost chanting, repeating verbatim the spoutings of some hairy desert nomad.
It seems to cause a refusal to think, maybe yhats the draw of religion- you don't have to do any of that tiresome thinking business - some old man has already done it for you.

118:

Dan @111, inbreeding for dozens of generations is a very good way to eliminate homozygotic genetic disease. If you want the best chance of your children not having a genetic problem mate with someone who is the product of inbreeding. Somerset is famous for it, of course, not just the Near East.

Nick @107, I am quite hopeful that our culture can corrupt any other culture or religion.

scentofviolets @109, is Randism for followers of the Great Randi? That's a cult I might be happy in.

119:

Randism is for followers of Ayn Rand.

If you're posting here and you haven't heard of her you're probably safe from that particularly virulent memetic infection.

120:

To support my statement about Somerset I should offer the Cheddar Man for evidence. When the DNA of this 9000 year old skeleton was checked it was found that three people from the nearby Cheddar village were probably descendants.

121:

I have heard of her but I am safe from infection, thanks for clarifying.

122:

"I am quite hopeful that our culture can corrupt any other culture or religion."

So am I, in the fullness of time.

In the meantime though, we sometimes have to rely on law and war because culture clashes often lead to violence, not debate.

Also, for a culture to be corrupted, they have to be exposed to us. If they isolate themselves whilst leeching from our economy, they can maintain themselves indefinitely without ever being exposed to our "corruption".

123:

@ 92
I have not claimed to be without bias - you are putting words into my mouth.
However, look at the record.
What do religious believers DO?
What have they done in the past?
Judge your actions towards them according to that criterion, not on their mealy-mouthed blackmailing lies about a "loving god".

@ 96
I was brought up CofE - the local vicar and rural Dean was a hot semi-fundie "evangelical", whi couldn't cope with Darwin ......
So there!

@ 99 Aplogies to Charlie, for saying this on your blog, but I call you @99 ("Nick") LIAR on this one.
What irrational hatred is shown by Richard Dawkins? Come on, produce an example, or apologise. Come to that produce an example of irrational hatred shown by me!
You have obviously not been around here much before, either, or you would know that communism is a classic religion - it has all the distinguishing marks of one.
And who said anything about outlawing bad memes?
The best weapon against religion is ridicule and deliberate "offence" - why do you think the muslim extremists are so hot about the Jyllands-posten cartoons?

SoV @ 109
Jack Chalker said that the difference between a "cult" and a "religion" was that religions had more than (IIRC) 15% of the local population following their loonie precepts .....

Heteromeles @ 115
I repeat.
What do the religious DO?
Not what do they say?
Think about Ratzinger's visit to this country (ugh) in a week or two, for instance, and the unspeakable crimes of the RC church over the past 2000 years.
Or is it really intellectually repectable to believe in:
a] Bronze-Age goatherders' myths?
b] Dark Ages camelherders' myths?
c] 19th C economists myths?
d] None of the above?

I'll take [d], thank you very much.

124:

The restrictions were for a limited period and have expired.

125:

Future shock seems to be very profitable for certain people considering the massive amounts of nostalgia marketing going on, whether it's the obsession with World War II on the History channel that serves to comfort Americans and allow them to believe that they only fight just wars (lol), or if it's Glenn Beck talking about the paranoid, negro-lynching 50's as "the good old days when everything was simpler and people were honest" (despite the fact that the social tensions and nuke paranoia of the 50s led to the upheaval of the 60s- sorry newt gingrich) or if it's just Volkswagen having people in their commercials play pretend to remind generation Y of the good old 70's and the bigass vans they'd take to drive to woodstock, or even the fact that 96% of Hollywood's most recent films were remakes, nostalgia and future shock run strong, at least here in the USA.

126:

"@ 99 Aplogies to Charlie, for saying this on your blog, but I call you @99 ("Nick") LIAR on this one.
What irrational hatred is shown by Richard Dawkins? Come on, produce an example, or apologise."

I can't be a LIAR for expressing an opinion, I never claimed something specific happened that can be disproven, like "Richard Dawkins burned down my church". I believe that RD's detest for religion has become all-consuming and has interfered with his objectivity. He has very interesting and important insights into memes (he coined the term) and evolution, but instead of talking about that he spends every public appearance bashing religion. To what end? Religious people ignore or despise him, atheists already get it, and agnostics see him as an extremist to be pitied.

And then there's that "there's probably no God" bus banner?! So religious choice is a matter of probability now is it? It's not any kind of principle like Occams razor or treating absence of proof the same way as proof of absence - no it's just a coin toss. If we found a couple less fossil records then the balance would tip and we'd all have to switch to believing the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world from a meatball?

Never mind that it undermines the whole basis of the Scientific approach and makes it sound like atheists are fundamentally no different from Christians except that we just took option B in Pascal's wager - it was bashing God so Dawkins was all for it.

"Come to that produce an example of irrational hatred shown by me!"

I never accused you of irrational hatred, my use of "you" in that sentence was a placeholder for "a person" Although an ALL CAPS PRONOUNCEMENT THAT I'M A LIAR!!!1ELEVEN FOR CRITICISING THE ALL-KNOWING DAWKINS might count.

127:

Charlie,

I think the chimps would really complain about being called humans under the "tool-using, meme-exchanging, unique" category. So would the ravens for that matter.

As for resource depletion, I suspect we're not looking at a handful of centuries, but perhaps a century at the most. Fortunately, repurposing trash is already a way of life for many in the Third World, and I suspect it will be the dominant way of life for everyone in not very many years. For example, on a recent Beyond Survival, I was amused to see that the sea gypsies ("most aquatic people on the planet") get many of their supplies simply by scavenging trash off the beaches and ocean.

Really. You can have fun with the heroic figures who are dismantling the Manhattan skyline to make room for farm arcologies, and provide the steel for the new kitewinged clipper ships. Jet travel may become more problematic, if every city is festooned with tethered dirigibles carrying wind turbines and cell phone aerial relays.

In the long run anyway, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle has proved quite durable. Don't forget, Homo erectus was doing it long before we came along. Million years or so. It may be that, when the dust has settled, our descendants will be chipping window glass arrowheads and hunting rats. And they'll probably be less conflicted than we are, too.


128:

> What do religious believers DO?
> What have they done in the past?

Oh, I don't know; concertos, mathematics, the theory of evolution. Philosophy, chemistry, The Lord of the Rings...

The reason I'm pointing out your bias is because it's clearly driving you to focus purely on the negative effects of religion. You can show me the dangerous religious loonies of history, sure, but jumping from this to saying that every religious person sees life through a "distorted, poisonous prism"? Laughable. Just as laughable as those who point at Stalin in order to decry all atheists as evil and twisted.

129:

"a hot semi-fundie "evangelical", whi couldn't cope with Darwin ......"

It is, as they say, a broad church.

"What irrational hatred is shown by Richard Dawkins?"

As an atheist skeptic I was embarrassed by Richard Dawkins when he appeared on a programme to confront David Icke. Dawkins was irrational in repeatedly insisting he could argue against Icke's ideas without having read the book in which he expounded them. Icke was left looking reasonable when he just asked that Dawkins read his book before arguing with him. Yes, his arrogance and irrational behaviour made David Icke look rational and reasonable and left me screaming at the telly.

130:

Somehow this didn't pass the smell test...and while AIDS is a terrible disease, if there is one thing I try to do well is get the facts straight. (Simon Singh just went through this, didn't he?)

"(which makes it harder to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease holocaust is killing two million people a year)"

The correct figure, while indeed showing that sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the highest cost in terms of human life is 1.4 million. The other 600,000 deaths are from the rest of the globe.

http://data.unaids.org/pub/Report/2009/JC1700_Epi_Update_2009_en.pdf

That's my future shock lesson for the day. The internet is chock full of half-truths. Best to review and question the source data whenever possible.

On a brighter note, a recruiter from Oracle called and asked if I wanted some contract work for 4+ months doing what I did before I got laid off...I believe $100/hr is a fair price, since I'll be needing to cover my own health care.

131:

I feel for the most part, religion, like many other social institutions exist to provide at least the guise of certainty. I agree that future shock provides uncertainty to many people thus also leading them to religious zealotry or general bigotry. But so do many other things; famine, resource depletion, sickness, strife, Aunt Rosa's tuna casserole. Intolerance comes from many different places and many different memes and experiences that occur just at the right time. Memes can act a lot like harmful chemicals, we are more or less affected by them depending on when in our lives we are exposed and for how long. Sometimes ideas stick sometimes not. But in general people tend to more easily swallow intolerance when they feel more safe or certain by doing so. As far as accepting religious tolerance I am split. Like other commentators have already stated I think it is very important to respect differences we have, including religion, but it should not be held up as shield protecting intolerant behavior, ie. FGM, misogyny, caste systems. The real trick I feel we must achieve is to blend the best parts of all meme systems, like religion and ethnicity, while shucking the bad parts. For example, as an American, I like all the food choices I have, the relative freedom of travel and ideas, but dislike the senseless consumerism and horrific corruption of the political system by money. So in my life I try to adopt the good I see while rejecting the bad no matter where it comes from. How do we get more people to do this? Well like I wrote earlier memes needs to spread in the right amounts at the right time. But Karma is not just and idea it's a probability. The more good each one of us does directly increases the probability more good will be done down the line.

132:
There may not be a French law that says every citizen has to speak French
Actually, there's "sort of" such law.

Article 2 of the french constitution says "La langue de la République est le français" (The language of the Republic is the french"). Which means that, while a citizen is not required by law to speak french, the republic itself is required to do so: laws are written in french, civil services are exclusively available in french, and the requirement was extended to private services and goods, which must be available in french (you can have a good or service in english - or even javanese - as long as the french version goes along wih it).

In other words, you're not required to know french to be a citizen by law, but you're required to know french to be a functional citizen in practice.

133:

@ 126 & 128
Really!

You are still comparing "miltant " atheists who make a few well-chosen and concise remarks about the absurdities of believers in various sky fairies with real miltants who kill people, and don't even notice the disconnect in your own complete failure of reasoning.
You seem to be reacting in the usual way of any religious believer, including a devout communist, to even the mildest pointing-out of the total irrationality of said belifs with a total lashing-out and condemnation.
Which is something of a give-away.
Oops.

Similarly, Darwin, famously, was not a believer, so ascribing the theory of evolution to a believer is, shall we say, being economical with the truth.
Please do not do that agian here, or you will be ridiculed, just like the rleigions.

I must admit to a certain prejudice, just to be honest aboit it.
A semi-disused chapel at the end of my street was taken over by as US-based (and partially-funded) Fundie/evangelical church ("Potter's House" - don't ask). Having them, and their belifs and bahaviour shoved in my face between 5 and 7 days a week tends to make me not like them, or christians, or believers generally.
And DON'T come back with "but they're not proper christians!", either - that's what the prods and the RC say about each other, and the Sunni & the Shia, etc (ad nauseam) .....

Come on religious believers:

1. No “god” can be detected.
{ - even if that god is supposed to exist. }
Not detectable directly or indirectly. No events or causations exist that are not explicable in the normal course of natural causes and random occurrences. This includes, most importantly, the information-flow that must pass to and from any "god", so that he, she, it, or they can themselves observe, or intervene in "their" universe. If there is any god around, then that information-flow will also be detectable. Where is it?
Please note, even if only for the point of argument : - NOT "God does not exist". That is the viewpoint of the committed atheist, who believes an unprovable(?) negative, with as much evidence, or lack of it, as any deist believes in any sort of god.
This applies equally to any god at all: Marxist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc….
Religions fulfil certain criteria. One of the most obvious is that of unalterable belief in the holy words of the prophet(s), whose word may not be questioned, and whose sayings must be learnt. People who do question these teachings will be persecuted, and possibly killed.
Monotheistic religions, in particular, are mutually exclusive. A maximum of one of them can be "true". Their central beliefs and tenets make this so. The attempt by ecumenicals to blend or blur the distinctions between major faiths and sects, or to say, as they do: "We worship the same god under different aspects", will not wash. This is because the central core beliefs of each religion in the divinity or the divine revelation of their own leader(s), and the secondary nature of "other" prophets make them incompatible. For example: "There is no changing the Quran. The Quran is a perfect guide for humanity. Human law nor science is above Allah". What the relatively enlightened, but deluded people of “faith” are looking at are the common ethical rules that should govern any civilised society. It is not a good idea to kill, lie, steal, or otherwise make one's self obnoxious. But, one does not need any god, or religion, to have these rules.

Believers appear to derive comfort from the statement that science cannot prove the nonexistence of god. They describe any attempt at such proof as an arrogant mistake. We are supposed to infer that an equal weight is assigned to the alternatives of existence and nonexistence, and that a believer is no less reasonable than a non-believer. It is amusing to extend this line of argument as follows by examples. Can a scientist, in his laboratory, perform an experiment demonstrating that there is no such creature as the mystical invisible pink unicorn? No. Can he deduce that conclusion from quantum mechanics, relativity, or the theory of evolution? No. Thus, is a belief in the mystical invisible pink unicorn intellectually respectable? No. Advocates of the science-cannot-disprove gambit are opening the door to an unnumbered host of unwelcome guests. The mystical invisible pink unicorn is only one example; don't forget the tooth fairy, or the Ming-period vase orbiting the Sun in an oppositional orbit, or …

134:

Wow, great call, nice hypothesis.

I read "Future Shock" when it 1st came out. I have over the years referenced it I think mostly with regard to the "they will be done working on the roads soon" cognitive illusion that I think readily illustrates some of the book's essence.

Given that I am 59 YO, I hate to admit that I agree (and have blogged) that a lot of the problem won't be solved "until the older generations have died of old age". I get an exemption tho, I still play in a blues/rock band.

135:

Chris,

I think you only get a pass if you upload your music. Otherwise, you've got to make way for the vile offspring same as the rest of us. This includes not maintaining their bedrooms while they're trying to figure out how to make a living. Oh, and they don't need college either. Or training on how to drink, drive, and shave, and not all at once. (/humor)

136:

"Similarly, Darwin, famously, was not a believer, so ascribing the theory of evolution to a believer is, shall we say, being economical with the truth.
Please do not do that agian here, or you will be ridiculed, just like the rleigions."

Lamarck and Lyell were believers and to disregard their part in the development of the theories of evolution would be welcoming ridicule for your ignorance of scientific history. Do it again and I will laugh at you behind my hand.

I am sorry you suffer the attentions of religious nutters. I used to live within a hundred yards of a nest of Jehovah's Witnesses. My friends and I had good sport with them when they dared to bother us but I can see how they could get under your skin. Mormons have been around in other residences, hilariously deluded and easy to play with. Try to remember that people need a story to tell themselves to keep the reality at bay. Too much reality is bad for our primate brains. Scientifically proven.

"Religions fulfil certain criteria. One of the most obvious is that of unalterable belief in the holy words of the prophet(s), whose word may not be questioned, and whose sayings must be learnt. People who do question these teachings will be persecuted, and possibly killed."

The religious have changed a lot. Most people don't subscribe to the full works of any prophet, just taking the bits that fit. Quite tolerable, most of the ones I have met.

137:

I'm fascinated by the demonstration that one can be a fundamentalist atheist.

Admittedly, I've seen similar but less...vehement... statements of non-faith from other atheists, but it is a good reminder that a belief in the divine is not required for fanaticism and never has been.

One vitally important question is about teaching. We cringe when a professor makes a stringent statement about faith (for example, when a biology teacher at a large university espouses Christian creationism at a school board hearing). How do we feel when a teacher makes a similarly stringent statement of atheism? Is it reasonable to ask science students to follow their teacher's atheistic beliefs? Or are science and religion separate, period?

138:

Greg @133 "You are still comparing "miltant " atheists who make a few well-chosen and concise remarks about the absurdities of believers in various sky fairies with real miltants who kill people, and don't even notice the disconnect in your own complete failure of reasoning.
You seem to be reacting in the usual way of any religious believer, including a devout communist, to even the mildest pointing-out of the total irrationality of said belifs with a total lashing-out and condemnation."

Like someone insisting that "they are not proper atheists" just because their militant atheism led to the deaths of millions of people?

@126 & 128 seemed perfectly reasonable rational arguments that you are taking very badly for reasons that have little to do with what was said. They certainly did not compare Dawkins and Osama bin Laden, just pointed out that such militant antitheism can be embarrassing to those of us who like to think we are rational atheists.

The word for your belief is antitheism and I wish it were more often used and less confused with mild-mannered, tolerant atheists.

139:

I actually HAVE read David Icke's book.
he is as mad as a horse on a skateboard.
you read on chapterescribing a world-spanning secret plot of some description, you think.'hmm, ok.maybe'
then in the next chapter he goes on to describe another plot on the same sort of scale. surely there isnt enough room for this much occult stuff? youd end up tripping over royal shapeshifters while investigating ufos.
nutter.
now the point is, given time and enough addherants we would have to respect these views- not threaten to burn a copy of 'royal space-lizards from beyond time' because it would cause unrest.
silliness, be it mormons beliving in bronze age submarines to scientologists beliving in xenu needs mocking ,not respect.

140:

I'm kinda late to the party but it appears that a lot of people leading and following in the "Tea Party movement" are actually some form of government welfare or support, which makes me go "Dur?"

They have support from Social Security Disability, etc. or are farmers that 2/3rds of their incomes from USDA support programs to 'not plant' stuff, etc.

They express displeasure strongly if this is pointed out.

Just a small 2¢ worth of comment.

But if they got their way, the U.S. would soon become a Third World country where major roads aren't maintained, children don't get educated, the elderly have to beg on the street or starve, etc. Welcome to it, but I'd have to live here too. Don't want to.

There are a lot of stupid people out there. I've been poor. but I also don't think I pay enough taxes for stuff.

141:

(1) The current generation of the Darwin family (and who am I to argue with them?) assert in writing that NO Darwins have been Atheists. All, they say, have been either believing Christians, or Agnostics.

(2) Paula Helm Murray's warning: "children don't get educated" -- already the case. I've been in high schools that send more kids to jail than to college. I just had 9 interviews (which I thought went well) for Math teaching jobs in Los Angeles Unified School District (USA's 2nd largest) secondary schools. Not one made an offer. Today was the first day of class for a half million LAUSD students. I sat at home waiting for phonecalls back to my messages, and wrote 4,450 words of a Science Fiction novel. And wondered what was going on.

142:

Serious question: What would be evidence that God in one flavor or another exists? Because off-hand, I can't think of anything that would qualify as good evidence.

I'm covered, btw, I'm a UU :-)

143:

A message, encoded in the x thousandth decimal place of Pi, in ASCII, saying "Yep, I'm God, I'm here, Would you like fries with that".

At least that was good enough for Carl Sagan.

144:

Too bad they already looked at pi for quite a ways further than Sagan looked.

I'd also add that first, you have to demonstrate that you exist as an individual, with a single genetic code and well-defined boundaries. This is quite difficult to do as well.

There are a couple of ways to "prove God exists."

One is to look for evidence that the universe was created. No dice there. Ditto with human creation. The problem with this is it's a bit like looking for a frumious bandersnatch. You don't really know what that looks like either, and it's similarly hard to find.

Another is to look for phenomena that is consistent with descriptions of God.

That's why I like the idea that God is the observer that makes quantum physics work. This matches some parts of the definition of God: omniscient, omnipresent, and immortal. Not quite omnipotent, because not everything depends on quantum phenomena, but there you go.

Assuming this observer is the same thing as consciousness, you also something like an immortal soul. The observer inside you is a bit of the divine, and since it's part of the universe, it will exist forever.

This is fairly consistent with Buddha's teaching, and some people feel it's what Christ was trying to teach.

Obviously, this is a pile of assumptions, but it's a little closer to testing and proof.


145:

Until this post I'd never considered the pro-tolerance initiative so patronizing. This thread reveals a kind of 'let the crazies have their wine & crackers just tell 'em not to kill each other or blow anything up....'

I think Future Shock is a ridiculous concept, either that or the natural state of man for the last 400 years. I can't think of any generation in 'modern times' (i.e. post printing press, firearm, etc) that could make a case for future shock. Yet in modern times, even many in the 3rd world have access to food, medicine, and potable water, on a more reliable basis than the vast majority of people in every country had as little as 100 years ago. But somehow everybody was perfectly healthy back then but scared witless by big bad global warming or project landfill-earth?

Intellectuals tend to think the answer is making everybody else as educated/informed/smart as them. Yet most intellectuals I know are just as guilty of the foibles, intellectual dishonesty, and 7-deadlies they are hoping to cure for the uneducated or ignorant.

People are people, they tend to look out for themselves, and since the world is, has been, and most likely always will be an unpredictable mess.... there will always be the 'economic roadkill', the 'transitional workforce' the 'collateral damage', the 'unwilling soldier', not to mention famine, disease, and personal tragedies of losing children/family/etc to horrible accidents and the like.

So most seek the comfortable illusion of predictability. Movies, professional sports, mass-marketed music and fiction, escapism, something to fill the idle hours (a luxury again that was rare before recent times).

I would argue the biggest move in modern times politically (starting with the use of film and television in WWII propaganda worldwide), is the move to style over substance, sound-byte over depth, and the illusion of competence instead of actual elected officials looking out for the best interest of anybody.

In modern times, (some) people have the luxury of being depressed, taking an anti-depressant sponsored sabbatical from life, or worrying themselves silly over whatever they choose, whether it be 'rational fears' like our dying planet or irrational fears like the Mayan doomsday.... There is no 'safety', only the illusion of safety, whether on the individual/family level, where cancer, car accident, or aneurysm do not care how rich you are or where you live, or on the regional level, where war, famine, acts of god can make things ugly on tragic scales. Of course people want the delusion of safety, the comfort of predictability, a life spent overwhelmed constantly by the plight of my fellow man would leave me paralyzed, depressed, and useless.....

146:

I recall a neighbor in my teens who was highly educated and a writer telling me she had tried reading sci-fi and couldn't handle the way it made her see the world. She saw things differently and questioned things she thought were absolute. She warned me my voracious reading of sci-fi would change me forever.. which even at my age of 14 was way too late. But not much else to do out on a farm out west..

The future cannot arrive fast enough as long as it brings technological change: memresistors in circuitry (for better neuron emulation), sub-22 nm geometries common in embedded processors (I want linux based smart dust to play with :p ), maker bot improvements (full build of all components needed to create its descendant), answers to why the 'fine-structure constant' varies in an axis across the universe:
http://www.physorg.com/news202921592.html
and more...
Most of all I'm intrigued by the tantalizing glimpses we are getting of a universe that is not quite what we have confidently exclaimed 'nearly described except for the details' multiple times over the last 100 years. Perhaps 'black swan' discoveries do await in the future... But to see the answers in our lifetimes we have to continue to progress.

I disagree that change brings fear... its the negative things we perceive awaiting us that really bring the fear of change.

If we can just hold on to the way things were a bit longer....
... that feeling stems from negative perceptions of the future. My fear would be that we do not progress fast enough to let me play with these new inventions, or answer the big questions of what universe am I in.
Sci-fi provides the exploration of ideas and introduction of those ideas to minds that on their own might not have thought of them. It changes you forever if you read enough.. so I guess my neighbor was right to warn the kid down the road to stay away from sci-fi. But I gotta say the farm sure was boring as hell and would have been intolerable without my books.

147:

"answers to why the 'fine-structure constant' varies in an axis across the universe"

It probably doesn't. The same authors were claiming that it varies in a quite different way just a few years ago.

http://motls.blogspot.com/2010/09/variable-fine-structure-constant-is.html

The quality of published scientific work is extremely uneven, and there is no particular correlation between its quality (likelihood of being right) and its popularity (likelihood of being reported).

148:

That is correct... however the claim now is that the older data was from a different hemisphere and they didn't realize it varied the other direction in the other hemisphere. They now have shared datasets from both telescopes showing the variation, which reduces likelihood of instrument error.

So I'm calling it a hopeful sign...

149:

That's easy, if we weaken the criterion from "absolute omnipotent invisible creator of everything" to "can make a plausible claim to same"; just have $GOD send us a sales rep who can repeatedly, and in front of any test instrumentation we choose, fold, spindle and mutilate the laws of physics. Added bonus points for messing with complex systems deterministically (reanimating the dead), violating the laws of thermodynamics, and so on.

Note the word REPEATEDLY. Jesus allegedly demonstrated his miracle-working in front of a less than skeptical bronze-age audience and has declined to show up for a re-run, much less waltz through the door at CERN and offer up a Higgs Boson on a plate.

If such an entity comes to visit, I'll credit it with weakly godlike powers (and conclude that the simulation argument is almost certainly correct).

"Creator of everything" is a rather harder bar to rise to given the current state of cosmology, and I never cease to be appalled that followers of established religions have the hubris to imagine that anything capable of creating such an unimaginable complexity would be interested in the bedroom practices of naked plains apes.

150:
What would be evidence that God in one flavor or another exists?

I just got out (a week or so ago) from a discussion on this topic, on a quite different forum.

Never argue with a logician, by the way.

Anyway, based on a logic system that's considered as fundamentally sound (the S5 system of modal logic), it sounds like one can demonstrate the existence of god. Of course, after picking apart the layers of definition (beware: english words aren't english when you're talking about that), you end up with the fact that what's proved is that there's a concept (G, or God, or whatever) that exists in the absolute (it exists anywhere, anywhen, even in the absence of the universe), but has no discernible properties beyond existence (you can't attribute any form of sentience, it's not apparently involved in the creation of the universe, and so on).

Is that god enough for you? :)

151:

There is no 'safety', only the illusion of safety,

Nonsense. Consider mortality statistics today for automobile accidents (per passenger mile travelled), plane crashes (per passenger mile), or bacterial disease (population unit/year) in the developed world with the corresponding figures seventy years ago and you'll see a drastic change in all of them. You, personally, are right now vastly less likely to die or be maimed in an automobile accident, plane crash, or from a fulminating infection.

This is not to say that we're immortal. But improvements in safety can be achieved, if we seek them energetically and eschew your "shit happens" fatalism.

152:

@ 136
Lamarck was WRONG
Lyell may have been a a believer, but that was then, this is now.
And are you seriously suggesting that our knowledege of the non-existence of any big IF(Invisible Fairy) showing up in our sophisticated detections systems (netrinos-to-Galaxy superclusters) is not worth anything?
Oh, the religious, most emphatically have not "changed a lot". This shows you are just not observing, or are in de Nile (sorry, denial!).
Look at the visit of the revolting Ratzinger to this country, or the insanities of the islamicists. And you seriously claim that the religious have changed?
Not so.

JvP @141
Agnostic is a polite way of saying atheist, so as you won't get accused of being "militant".
Education.
Sigh.
It's happening here, too, though we are not so far down the road as the USA (yet)

@ 142-144
I suggest you read my original post including the bit about detectability....


I'm with Charlie @ 149.
Physical, detectable proof - just like everything else has to satisfy.
And the religious ALWAYS try to wriggle out of.

153:

There's an ongoing high-level discussion of the paper here. One of the authors has just joined in. If you dig through that thread, you can find some good reasons to be skeptical, IMHO. I am reminded of the recent blog discussion of Deolalikar's "proof" that P does not equal NP. When everyone was done, they agreed that the discussion was educational, but that the proof doesn't work. Getting to the bottom of a spectacular claim like this may lead to an astrophysical discovery, or just a methodological clarification, but in the end it's not likely to ratify the original interpretation.

154:

My father was born in 1903. He and mother used to tell me stories about "horse and buggy days" -- before their area had cars. Or radios. Or ... you know.

They lived through two world wars, a depression, the International Communist Conspiracy, fallout shelters....

I don't know what your baseline for future shock is, but compared to the changes their generation saw, my generation hasn't seen much, yet.

155:

Lamarck was also RIGHT in many ways. Lamarck was a brilliant scientist who developed the concept of taxonomy hugely. His contributions helped the development of Darwin's theory. Your shallow understanding of the history of science means I am laughing at your ignorance as promised.

"That was then this is now."

Duh? The particular argument was what believers had done for us, not what they are doing for us in this moment.

Perhaps you could do with a little denial? I also agree that there is no proof of God's existence. However, I believe that people can choose what they want to believe if they want to. Like Sherlock Holmes choosing not to know about the heliocentric theory as it was irrelevant to him. It would be very boring if everybody was rational.

Your irrational denial that communist bastard killers were atheists is an example of your own desire to change reality to fit your own story. Like all humans do.

How many people are going to be tortured and killed by the Pope or his minions during their visit to Britain? That is what I call an improvement. If you can't see that that is an improvement who is clinging to the bottom end of the nilometer at Elephantine?

156:
I think what the French are concerned about is that if they allow a sufficient mass of external culture to gather within their borders then its influence may cause them to lose the ability to determine what they will and won't tolerate.
Crap.

What the French are worried about is the economy.

What the French Government are worried about is distracting everybodies attention from their complicity in running the economy for the benefit of the rich.

Look at how all this "deport the filthy gypsies" crap started.

The government is trying to reform the pensions system by increasing the retirement age. This is pissing people off. At the same time a scandal breaks about the relationship between the minister handling the pensions reform and the richest woman in France (non sexual, he appears to be operating as her personal representative to the French state, in return for which he and the president get big envelopes stuffed with cash).

What to do? Oh look, two "faits diverse":

After an armed robber is shot dead by police some friends of the robber riot.

After a gypsy is shot dead by gendarmes in mysterious circumstances his family trash the gendarmerie and cut down some trees in the village square.

The government reaction?

Remove French nationality from naturalised citizens who kill policemen! (No police were killed, no naturalized citizens were involved in either the armed robbery or the riot).

Kick out the Roma! (The gypsies who trashed the gendarmerie were French citizens, their families have been French for generations).

The reaction of the French to all this? When polled the "security situation" is #8 in their priorities. The first 5 things that worry them are the economy, the economy, the economy, the economy and retirement reform.

157:

@Greg

"Lamarck was WRONG"

So was Newton. His laws of motion didn't account for what happens when velocity approaches the speed of light. Einstein solved that with General Relativity.

But Einstein was also wrong. We know for a fact that Relativity is flawed because it contradicts Quantum Theory. We don't know what the right answer is yet of course, but we know that E=MC2 isn't the whole story.

Being a scientist doesn't mean being right, it means trying to follow a course towards the truth instead of settling on a falsehood and defending it.

Atheism is not the same as antitheism. I don't believe in God but I don't not believe in God more strongly than I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy or unicorns. I don't define my life by things I don't believe in. Not believing in God is not a big deal to me, and I feel no compulsion to go around harassing people who do.

The need to harass people with other beliefs is actually a very religious attitude. It's the feeling that somehow their beliefs pose a threat to yours.

158:

Sorry Feòrag, but you're wrong.

The restrictions on working in France for Romanians and Bulgarians will expire in 2014 (source: http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/F13526.xhtml).

This is of course part of the problem - an often heard complaint is that the Roma are all shiftless beggars - of course they are, they are not allowed to work!

159:

The Roma (non-French ones anyway) don't take French jobs. They can't, they're not allowed to work without special permits (that are almost never issued).

160:
If a few thousand people across France raise their children to believe in say, communism, or some other ideal that runs counter to French culture then that's fine
Zow! Not only do you know nothing about the Roma you know nothing about France.
161:

How many people are going to be tortured and killed by the Pope or his minions during their visit to Britain?

Well, According to Amnesty International, around 16% of maternal mortality in Nicaragua since they implemented a total ban on abortions (under pressure from the Catholic church) is due to botched back-street abortions. (More here.) And that's before we even start looking. (Ireland, Italy, and Poland all have church-driven abortion bans; however, they're a lot richer than Nicaragua and have neighbours with relatively liberal abortion laws.)

Then there's the Belgian child abuse scandal in which it appears children were sexually abused in every single parish in Belgium.

And do I need to mention the use of stoning as a form of capital punishment in Somalia, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Nigeria?

162:
France also banned the Burka, not as a fashion statement but because it's an easily identifiable symptom of Muslim women being oppressed by their husbands and fathers and prevented from participating in French culture. They know that some Muslim women will now feel that it is the French authorities that are oppressing them, but that's a tradeoff they've decided is worth making.
Please check your calendar, your time machine appears to have taken you to the wrong date.

France has not yet "banned the Burqua". The law has been passed by the chambre de deputes, and comes before the senate today I think.

Theres a pretty good chance the conseil constitionelle will chuck it in the bin.

"Article 10 - Nul ne doit être inquiété pour ses opinions, mêmes religieuses, pourvu que leur manifestation ne trouble pas l'ordre public établi par la loi."

So the only way they can ban the Burqua is by claiming that wearing it "troubles public order".

This gives Chirac and D'Estang a great chance to kick Sarko in the balls again.

163:

I like the modern Japanese attitude to religion. They know full well that its purpose is social glue, and to provide rites of passage. They pick the most appropriate religion for theirs, so it's pretty much normal to have Shinto baby-namings, Christian weddings and Buddhist funerals. They'll go to the shrine for luck before exams, and for the rather fantastic festivals and yet they don't appear to actually believe a word of any of it. Nor do they see anything wrong with this sort of thing.

And yet, even there, as the stushie over the war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni shows, there are people there willing to use and politicise religion for negative purposes.

164:

> Similarly, Darwin, famously, was not a believer

Almost, but not quite, true. Darwin, famously, was driven to unbelief by a dogmatic, combatitive church. At the time of his voyages on the Beagle he was a believer:

"Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality" — Autobiography of Charles Darwin

Hence the theory of evolution can indeed be attributed to a religious mind.

Also: I have to call you out on your "reacting in the usual way of any religious believer [...] with a total lashing-out and condemnation" comment. How, exactly, do you think you've conducted yourself in this debate? A paragraph or two into your first comment, and you've already used the words "pernicious mind-rot". Charming.

You're making atheists look nasty, hypocritical, and worse, stupid. Please stop.

165:

Don't forget the approximately 15,350 people who will die of AIDS in Africa during his visit to the UK - many of which can be directly attributed to the policies and influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

166:

What on earth is a religious mind? I don't believe you have defined one properly. And what Tingey's ranting reminds us is that people can take all sorts of things in a religious fashion, even politics and philosophy. Moreover much science has indeed been done by atheists, so what on earth has a religious mind got to do with it?

167:

Guthrie: sorry, that was perhaps lacking in clarity. Darwin was religious at the time he came up with the theory of evolution, is all I was saying.

168:

@ 155
It would appear that the Atheist = communist religious loonies have invaded.
Atheism != communism
communism != atheism
GOT IT yet?


How can you tell if it (whatever it is) is a religion?
1: The body-count. If a large number of innocent people are killed in the name of the “holy cause”, whatever it is, then it is a religion, no matter what that particular set of true believers aver to the contrary.
2. Does it treat a sizeable section of the population as inferior? It is usually women who get this one in the neck, but not always or uniquely so. Think of “unclean” or “low-caste” or “kulak” as well.
3. Does the mention of Darwin or evolution send the fundamentalists into paroxysms? It is not just the more obviously brain-dead ( and therefore more faithful) christians who fulfil this test. Fundamentalist muslims will have no truck with evolution, because of the passage in the “Recital” about god creating man from drops of blood. (Blood origin, species, type, etc are unspecified.) The teachings of the priests of Krishna also try to rubbish evolution, and the ultra-orthodox jews believe in a “recent” creation. Marxism passes this test as well – the torture and death of Vavilov and other Darwinian geneticists in the Gulag being the example.

I believe Bertrand Russell was the first to note this, but the behaviour of both individual Marxists, and marxist organisations, and the construction of their internal power organisation and heirarchies conforms to classical religious behaviour. For example: people read a set number of Trotsky’s saying each day, just as if he were Jesus, or Mahmud. Or appeal to “the historical inevitability of the revolution” etc …
And, they have competing sects and heresies, where the heretic communist is more evil than the mere "capitalist", and "god" is replaced by the infallible party.
Really doesn't make any difference if you're on the recieving end, of course.

Nick @ 157
Except that Lamarck was completely wrong - acquired characteristics are NOT inherited.
Nweton wasn't wrong in that sense. His laws turned out to be special cases, included inside General relativity, which reverts to Newtonian mechanics for "low" masses and velocities.
You plead the cause of religion much too strongly for me to believe that you are not a secret beliver in some sort of fairy ....
NO
We DON'T know that Relativity or QM theory are wrong.
We do know that they don't agree (the renormalisation problem). We know there is missing information. It may turn out they are BOTH wrong, or are special cases of a wider theory. Given the repeated validation of both Rel & QM in their own fields, this is going to prove interesting.....

@ 163
Religion is a pernicious form of mind-rot. It certainly is in the ones that infest my street, believing in the "inerrancy" of the bible, and that the world is only about 6000 years old and that "god" intervenes in people's daily lives with "miracles".
I have the living examples right in front of me, and you have the arrogance to say otherwise?
As for nasty, hypocritical and stupid, we WERE discussing the pope's visit, were we not?

165
What ranting?
I put up a portion of a reasoned essay.
I point out that religions have a very bad track record where human rights are concerned.
I point out that there is no objective evidence, anywhere at all for the existence of a big IF.
I get accused of being a "miltant" - when all I have done is write a few words. I have issued no threats, nor committed any violence.
And I get accused of all sorts of things.

This is, of course standard behaviour for the believers, when cornered, they resort to lies, abuse and exaggeration.
As they are doing here - a most inappropriate venue, may I add.

Incidentally, I think THIS GUY has entirely the right idea!

169:

Maybe this is as simple as a Fundie arms-race? Groups that have been more moderate in recent decades now have more notice of other parts of the world getting their fundie on, and think "Shit, if we let them out-crazy us, then we'll all be ."

170:

er... that should read
"Shit, if we let them out-crazy us, then we'll all be /INSERT HYPERBOLIC DESCRIPTION OF OTHER BELIEF SYSTEM HERE/."

171:

Greg, you're [a little bit] wrong about Lamarck; you might want to go read up on epigenetic inheritance and the recent work on siRNA and RNA interference in general -- modifications to the genome aren't the only way we inherit traits.

Please note: there are loads of corrupt characters in your postings. Please don't use smart quotes; if you want accented characters use the HTML entities directly.

On the "ranting" front, you're being a bit too confrontational. That's no way to win converts (hah!) or influence opponents favourably. You might want to ask what you're trying to achieve here ..?

172:

Oh, wow, nice display of the No true Scotsman fallacy.

You don't like the fact that communists killed loads of people? Never mind, just redefine them out of being atheists and into being religious. Job well done!

Accusing your enemies of being closet theists is just the paranoid icing on a very fallacious cake.

> As for nasty, hypocritical and stupid, we WERE discussing the pope's visit, were we not?

Err... congrats, you're... umm... comparable to the Pope?

(Sorry Charlie, I know I should leave well enough alone, but I can't... resist... silly... drama.)

173:

How can you tell if it (whatever it is) is a religion?

Consider free market fundamentalism.

1: The body-count. If a large number of innocent people are killed in the name of the holy cause whatever it is, then it is a religion, no matter what that particular set of true believers aver to the contrary.

We could count the Vietnam War that was to contain Communism. We might consider any geopolitical conflict for resources, like oil. We can include the deaths caused by lack of health insurance in the USA.

2. Does it treat a sizeable section of the population as inferior?

The poor. Those on welfare.

3. Does the mention of Darwin or evolution send the fundamentalists into paroxysms?

Not usually, although we had "social Darwinism" in the C19th that was used by some to justify the structure of the economic system.

Close, perhaps?

174:

Could we ask the same question of aliens to SETI?

There is no evidence of any life off earth today, let alone intelligent aliens. As the evidence of alien signaling stays absent, SETI proponents look for ever more different ways to explain why we don't receive the signals they could be sending and adapt their instruments accordingly. We are now at picosecond laser bursts.

Despite the scientific aura that surrounds SETI, it is hard to discern much difference between their philosophy and those who we define as religious and looking for signs of $GOD.

[Heteromeles is suggesting a $GOD as a the observer in quantum physics. Nice idea, but how does one falsify it? ]


175:


This may be just another version of future shock, but my own diagnosis for the cause of cults and authoritarianism is more specific: the disintegration of human communities, the loss of a basic ape need.

In our origins, a human family was an extended family, dozens or even hundreds of people living their entire lives in continuous relationships. As a group they had a chance of error-correcting each other when confronted with new information. There were down-sides, but the strongest man would pretty much have to know the hungriest child personally. Empathy stood a fighting chance against hierarchy when the pyramid was still small.

Nowadays the demands of the travelling labor market have reduced our very idea of a family to the so-called nuclear family, which is a skeleton crew.

So add on top of that the rise of 'electroculture', TV and radio, which are all hub-topologies. Not only are people isolated, but they get their whole view of the world from a single top-down source.

We modern apes are so lonely we'll follow almost anything if it promises us some kind of love and membership. And we don't even understand what we are missing; it's probably just some consumer item we haven't bought yet, right?

176:

I think the logic behind the Roma deportations etc may have less to do with distracting the electorate from pension reform or the Woerth/Bettencourt scandal, and more to do with basic electoral arithmetic. Sarkozy and the UMP won in 2007 by bringing in a biggish chunk of FN voters, and they'll need to do the same thing in 2012 to stand any chance of getting back in. To do this they need to press the law-and-order button as often as they can. Their gameplan seems to be to get Brice Hortefeux out in front proposing absurd/clearly unconstitutional legislation in response to any racially connected disorder, while Sarkozy makes supportive noises and racaille-style dogwhistle comments without ever actually getting his hands dirty.

Shorter me: I will see your cynicism and raise you.

177:

The need to harass people with other beliefs is actually a very religious attitude. It's the feeling that somehow their beliefs pose a threat to yours.

Not wishing to pick out Nick specifically, but this thread includes a number of people who claim to be tolerant, yet cannot see that they are not. Given we all read SF which should be mind broadening this is a shame.

Put yourself in the shoes of the Fundamentalist Christian and you should see that western society is very harassing to your beliefs, including forcing your children in public schools to accept evolution as a correct. How much more in your face is that?
In the US supposedly, polls show that the majority of the population believes the earth is less than 10,000
years old. If true, it is hard to even fall back on the concept that evolution is an accepted fact and should be part of the fabric of our social norms.

178:

"Zow! Not only do you know nothing about the Roma you know nothing about France."

Well, I know they're a democracy, and that when they last strayed significantly from the middle it was to the right not the left.

Perhaps it wasn't the best example of counter-Frenchness that I could have picked, but I was short on ideas and it didn't actually matter.

Of course neither that detail, nor my inaccurate knowledge of Roma history has any bearing on the point I was trying to make, but it's much easier to pick apart factual details than argue philosophy isn't it?

I don't suppose you feel like substituting $COMMUNISM or $ROMANIA for $WHATEVER_YOU_WOULD_BE_HAPPY_WITH and then reading it again? No, didn't think so. Sigh.

179:

"Put yourself in the shoes of the Fundamentalist Christian and you should see that western society is very harassing to your beliefs, including forcing your children in public schools to accept evolution as a correct. How much more in your face is that?"

Parent in the US and the UK are permitted to home-school their children if they aren't happy with the state school system.

"In the US supposedly, polls show that the majority of the population believes the earth is less than 10,000
years old. If true, it is hard to even fall back on the concept that evolution is an accepted fact and should be part of the fabric of our social norms."

Your second paragraph contradicts your first. If children are forced to accept evolution then how can the majority not believe in it? It's because children aren't forced to believe anything in school, they are simply taught whatever the current most accurate understanding of the society is and they are free to disbelieve it if they want.

Plus you get things like the Alabama Insert, telling them so explicitly (not that I approve, since it's intellectually dishonest to claim that Creationism is a theory of equal weight to Evolution, but it contradicts your assertion).

Tolerance doesn't mean presenting all ideas as equal in merit, it means not oppressing people who choose to believe in things you don't. Democracy doesn't mean everybody gets and equal say in everything, it means you get an equal choice in picking a leader and then you follow them. Our leaders, for all their faults, are smart enough to consult the leading experts when deciding what to teach our children - they don't put it to a public vote. That's why we aren't all taught about astrology, homeopathy and other mumbo jumbo at school even though half the population believe in them, and thank God for that (so to speak).

What tolerance means is that we teach kids about science and evolution and reason and when they turn around and say they actually want to believe that the world was created by a sky fairy in seven days we say "good for you" and turn our attentions to the next child, who might actually be capable of rational thought.

In an intolerant society we'd tie them to a stake and burn them to death unless they repented their heretical ways. Do you see the distinction?

As somebody pointed out before, a militant atheist is someone you pokes fun at Christians. A militant Christian is someone who kills people. They aren't really the same kind of intolerance.

180:

John: that sounds a lot like The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris.

Not only does Morris explain a number of social ills as resulting from the replacement of "tribe" by what he terms "super-tribe", but he also goes on to explain the spread of monotheistic religion — with a God as a "super-chief" for the "super-tribe".

To Morris it was the movement from country to cities which was the cause of future shock. In your comment you posit the growth of TV and the internet as the culprit. In both cases the idea is that we're being simultaneously isolated and forced together, which is something our primitive ape brain can't be comfortable with.

It's an interesting conjecture, though a little hand-wavey. (As well as overapplicable — Morris tried to explain away homosexuality as one of his "social ills"!)

181:

Late to the party, as usual.

Have read a good number (but by no means all) of the comments, am gobsmacked (I hope that's the word) by the willingness of commentors to conflate the religion vs no-religion story with the god vs no-god discussion.

These are 2 different things, people. Some commentors have alluded to the socializing aspects of religion so all I would add is that religion is a lovely group-think enabler that seems to attract that which is most dark in humans. The god/no-god thing is better adapted to lonesome meditation, can be high and noble, and only gets dangerous when the lonesome one decides he/she needs followers to achieve greatness/dominance/someone-to-wash-the-dishes.

182:

Charlie @ 170
The corrupt charaters appear all to have come from standard double-quote - the char above 2 on the normal querty keyboard. Which is starnge, unless that happens when I pick something up from somewhere else, and then it corrupts.
Odd.
As for confrontational, I think all I'm doing is pointing things out.
Seriously, this is what the religious do all the time
The moment one makes the mildest of criticisma, they go into scream-overdrive. The NSS and Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels have long noted this phenomenon.

@171
Ididn't say the communsts were theists, I said they were religious believers. They don't have an all-seeing omipotent big IF, but they do have an infallible party, and the forces of historical inevitability (of the revolution) are on their side and (their version of) pure virtue will triumph in the end.
Is it that you can't see it, or won't see it?

@ 172
As you say, close, but not quite close enough.

@ 176
Interesting.
One slight problem, of course.
The Earth is proven to be (approx) 4.5*10^9 yeards old.
Shouting "We don't like the facts!" cuts no ice.
And that is the fundamental (ahem) difference between religion and the rest. The religions have pure, proven-wrong bullshit in their beliefs ( like communism should have taken place in the MOST DEVELOPED countries, first) and no amount of reason will usually shift them, until something else happens.
How does one reason with the insane, especially if their insanity is compartmented?

183:

Greg, you're using a Microsoft operating system, aren't you? Microsoft "smart" quotes aren't -- you've got a setting somewhere to smarten quotes automatically, replacing straight ASCII " with “ or ” depending on context. Except rather than inserting the correct ISO 8859/15 or UTF-8 character codes it's inserting the code for those characters some bletcherous Microsoftian excuse for a character set. Which is then being translated into gibberish in the bowels of Movable Type.

Solution: switch off automatic smart quotes in your browser or control panel or whatever, or type “ and ” respectively.

184:

It was nearly every diocese in Belgium not nearly every parish, the difference in size is considerable. The diocese is the area of responsibility of a Bishop while a parish is the area of an individual church. Given the size of a diocese and the number of priests in a diocese there can't be many anywhere where there wasn't at least once incidence of child abuse by a priest.

185:

@Greg,

I believe I understand the basis of your frustration: You define religion differently from most people:

Most of us here have been using religion to mean "Meme that centres around worship of an omnipotent being, or equivalent irrational faith-based belief system"

You use it to mean "Fanatical, irrational belief in a cause"

I think your definition is perfectly reasonable, but it's not the conventional definition, which is why people who basically agree with you keep disagreeing and making you angry.

For example:

When we say "communism isn't a form of religion, communists are atheists" you think we are saying "communists aren't fanatics, they're rational philosophers just like other atheists"

Similarly, when you say "communism is a religion" it sounds to us like you're saying "anyone I don't like can't be an atheist" but actually you're just syaing that their fanatic belief in their cause makes it more similar to a religion even though they don't believe in God.

And then when we say "we should tolerate religion as long as they aren't fanatics" it sounds like nonsense to you because it seems we're saying "we should tolerate fanatics as long as they aren't being fanatical right now" which would just be silly because if people threaten to murder and kill you wouldn't just ignore them until they've actually killed someone.

We aren't using "religion" as a catch-all term for "dangerous fanatical philosophy" and we aren't using "atheist" to mean "rational, scientifically minded person", but I believe you are and that's why we all seem like idiots.

In our definition, irrational, fanatical atheists and calm, rational religious worshippers are not oxymoronic concepts.

Does that make sense?

186:

Even if the word "religious" is vaguely defined, that doesn't mean that everybody's free to redefine it to suit their particular point of view.

Large numbers of people self-identify as religious, and you can't just blaze in using it in an entirely perjorative sense and expect not to cause an argument.

Unless you want to imply that being a member of the Church of England (for example) makes you a violent, racist, dogmatic creationist, you might want to rethink your definition.

As for confrontationalism, the fact that you're being called on this not by the religious, but your fellow atheists, should set off warning bells. Your criticism is not as "mild" as you seem to think it is.

187:

It is true that you can home school in the US. It comes with an economic cost and you still have to adhere to a curriculum that you may disagree with.

I was definitely using the wrong words "forcing to accept". I should have said "forced to sit in classes about evolution, and a required to take exams whose questions require regurgitating the expected answers to pass". That applies in the Bay Area in California. I don't know about elsewhere, like Texas or Alabama.

Tolerance doesn't mean presenting all ideas as equal in merit, it means not oppressing people who choose to believe in things you don't. Democracy doesn't mean everybody gets and equal say in everything, it means you get an equal choice in picking a leader and then you follow them.

You are social norming. Democracy is about the majority determining how things are run. The US Constitution even puts legal limits on that. Unless you have missed the "culture wars" there are battles being fought over the boundaries of where the local population ends. An anarchist of extreme libertarian would even argue over the whole idea of elected leadership.

In an intolerant society we'd tie them to a stake and burn them to death unless they repented their heretical ways.

I haven't seen any Darwinists threatened with stake burning, but I have seen Middle School Biology teachers being very "ahem* circumspect in discussing their evolution curriculum with parents. But we do see oppression through denying people their constitutional rights, use legal means to make life difficult for minorities to enjoy their rights, denial of work, etc. etc. In an economy that requires earning a living to survive, that is oppressive.

Democracy, however tolerant its citizens, is not THE solution. The extreme conservatives with their fears of world government do have a point - a single democracy with majority rule means that minority beliefs will be subservient. How we resolve that at the national level without exiling people with conflicting beliefs is still open.

Back to Charlie's original post, I'm not sure it is getting worse today than in the past. I well remember the queer- and paki- bashing that went on in the UK in the 1970's. For all the rhetoric about UK muslims wanting Sharia Law and only Halal food served, I don't read about the same sort of violence to counter it.
In the US, despite the inflammatory rhetoric of the "culture warriors", we don't see the large riots that we saw as late as the LA riot in the early 1990's. Even the "million man" march to protest about unemployment was a bit of a bust.


188:

Most of us here have been using religion to mean "Meme that centres around worship of an omnipotent being, or equivalent irrational faith-based belief system"

Well, you're wrong, then.

Buddhism doesn't fit that definition but is clearly a major world religion (and has inspired holy warriors, too). Ditto Taoism or Confucianism. Or Shinto.

The various polytheisms, both extinct (Norse, Greek, Roman, Upper and Lower Dynastic Egyptian, etc) and living (Hinduism) don't fit the "worship of an omnipotent being" insofar as the multiple gods in question are powerful but not omnipotent or omniscient.

I wouldn't go quite as far as Greg, but certainly militant communism -- with the personality cults of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, and so on -- bear many functional similarities to religious creeds, and it's especially visible in the application of North Korean Juche. There are other non-communist totalitarian cognates: Ba'athism in Iraq in the 1970s and 1980s, Nazism, Fascism, and so on. These creeds don't feature gods but they do have secular prophets and utopian/romantic doctrines and narratives of identity that seek to justify legal and/or moral codes of [mis-]behaviour.

189:

"use legal means to make life difficult for minorities to enjoy their rights, denial of work, etc. etc. In an economy that requires earning a living to survive, that is oppressive. "

You keep bringing up Evolution (Descent with modification + natural selection) as if its a clear and obvious tool of oppression. And if the above sentence is talking about denying teachers work because they don't want to teach evolution (as I think it does), I don't see a problem with that, if they're supposed to be teaching science. It's science. That would make it "not hiring someone who refuses to the do the job or is unqualified to do it" instead of "oppression of a minority". So "denial of work" with respect to evolution seems wrong. With that said, why don't you unpack those two "etc"s, otherwise all you seem to be saying is that people have a right to work jobs they're unwilling to perform.

190:

Not necessarily:
http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=466&langId=en

Countries may still place restrictions after the initial two years, as long as they had placed restrictions during the initial phase. These can last until 2014.

191:

With regard to France and the Roma: "Enough is enough. No state can expect special treatment when fundamental values and European laws are at stake"

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11301307

Sorry, I was wrong about the Pope's visit.

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/arts-%26-entertainment/pope-promises-live-witch%11burning-201009143086/

192:

@Charlie,

It's a pity you chose that particular nit to pick, because I expect we're actually more in agreement with regard to this than we are in agreement with Greg.

Yes, my definition of religion is not sufficiently precise to include Budhism, which is a bit of an edge case religion-wise. But would you not agree to my actual point, which
was that Greg is taking the term "religion" to mean any fanatical belief system, whereas most people do not consider communism to be a religion, and do not consider all religious people to be fanatics?

It's hard arguing with such a bunch of intellectually honest and pedantic people - I love that you don't miss a trick but it does make it difficult to make a complex point without everyone jumping on a nit :-)

Thank God my grammar's ok, or I'd really be in trouble!

193:

What's a good term for ''I believe in X as a fundamental tenet and will aggressively reject without examination any evidence that challenges X.'' Dogmatism? (Googles - seems about right.) For the rest of this post I will call it dogmatism.

To me, this is the thing that theism, communism, nationalism, and many other isms have in common that makes them so toxic.

Now certainly, a some of this is true for everyone - for example, where X = 'My senses are not lying to me' most people rarely question it. You can't question everything all the time. However, it is very common for the resistance to contrary evidence to be way stronger than is IMHO justified.

This could be because in the seething evolutionary (ironic, innit?) cauldron of the memecology, dogmatism is a strong and simple defense for almost any meme. It seems to come along instinctively. It also tends to join itself to ideas that didn't originally have it, or are even in theory hostile to the concept. Scientific dogma is contradictory, certainly, but it certainly exists, right alongside the dogmatic atheists. (Not that all of either are dogmatic.)

I suspect that dogmatism rises like an immune response as well - if things around you are changing a lot, you start to become more dogmatic in an attempt to reduce the rate of change. Might be a good survival trait for an overly curious plains ape, come to think of it. Some change is good (explore, learn), but too much is bad (don't leave your support base.)

TL;DR: Dogmatism is necessary, but addictive, and too much of it is annoying. If you don't agree with me, you should get lost.

194:

You keep bringing up Evolution (Descent with modification + natural selection) as if its a clear and obvious tool of oppression.

I hope not. What I am saying that seen through the eyes of those who don't accept evolution, it is oppressive.
This is purely a Devil's Advocate argument to suggest that our "tolerance" isn't as neutral or benign as many suggest.

And if the above sentence is talking about denying teachers work because they don't want to teach evolution (as I think it does),

No I was referring to other minorities denied their rights and ability to work based on social norms. I had in mind the gay community, and of course racial and ethnic restrictions have been common in almost country I have lived in. In the US, supposedly avowed atheists are unlikely to be elected, and in some states, IIRC, prevented by law from running.

As far as biology teaching goes, I think evolution should be the core of the subject, and should permeate all parts of the subject, given its explanatory power. That is my position when not playing Devil's Advocate.

195:

The shower is a good idea. Not sure I can see the need to shave.

196:

I think you've got the the crux of it, but dogmatism is not a defence that people use to defend a meme, dogma is part of the meme itself.

Memes are very much like genes or viruses - self serving organisms that propagate themselves by subverting their hosts to act as carriers. One of the most evolutionarily successful traits for memes is to encourage dogma - that's the sole purpose for the concept of faith, to act as a defence against reason that would be harmful to the meme's replication and survival.

But not all memes are harmful. The scientific approach is also a meme, but it spreads through being true and so immunises itself against critisism by allowing the host to come up with sensible counter-arguments, rather than dogmatic hand waving.

And many memes are both dogmatic and true/beneficial. The desire to behave ethically/morally is a meme that drives most people to varying degrees (concience) but very few can come up with coherent rational reason to behave morally, they just have faith that it's the right way to behave and feel dogmatic anger towards people who suggest otherwise (by behaving morally I mean things like not murdering or stealing, not the more arcane religious definitions like not eating pork).

And in this sense religion can be positive in that religious dogma often carries a set of positive sub-memes that encourage people to behave well towards one another. Ideally, reason is a better basis for determining morality but given the choice between an atheist sociopath and a religious neighbour-lover, I know which one I'd rather meet in a dark alley.

197:

Wait, what? Charlie, what?

Nobody is "touting" September 11th as "International Religious Tolerance Day" except you! If you search for that phrase in Google, there are eight results. Five of them are either this blog entry or people reprinting this blog entry. One of them does not specify a date, and the other two are from a couple of years back, one pointing to a date in February and the other to a date in October.

Going farther afield, there's an "International Day of Tolerance," but that's in November. There's "Religious Freedom Day," at the end of October. There's "Religious Tolerance Day," in February.

So, no, I don't think so.

198:

''I think you've got the the crux of it, but dogmatism is not a defence that people use to defend a meme, dogma is part of the meme itself.''

Yes, I get that. I was referring to the way we tend to double down on dogma when change happens fast. *That* is a defense against rapid change, and may well be useful.

199:

I was at the oral surgeon today and he has two bibles in the waiting room along with "People." Nobody talked religion to me, so I stayed.

200:

@143:

A message, encoded in the x thousandth decimal place of Pi, in ASCII, saying "Yep, I'm God, I'm here, Would you like fries with that".

At least that was good enough for Carl Sagan.

We already know that string is in Pi somewhere, as well as "help, I'm trapped in the base-10 representation of Pi!" written in Etruscan and coded in EBCDIC and the 80-hour Lord of the Rings 3D film released in 2137. So Sagan, notwithstanding, that doesn't help us.

202:

@149:

That's easy, if we weaken the criterion from "absolute omnipotent invisible creator of everything" to "can make a plausible claim to same"; just have $GOD send us a sales rep who can repeatedly, and in front of any test instrumentation we choose, fold, spindle and mutilate the laws of physics.

And you make my point for me. I can be persuaded that there exist beings that are HPLD (more Lem), that their mastery of the sensible world extends to modifying basic physics with a snap of their tentacles, etc.

But why is that evidence for some sort of God?

203:

"It is true that you can home school in the US. It comes with an economic cost and you still have to adhere to a curriculum that you may disagree with."

The purpose of the curriculum is to ensure that children are not prevented from knowing about certain things that would put them at an educational disadvantage in society and make them unemployable (e.g. maths, english).

There's nothing in the curriculum that says you have to teach that any given thing is true. I'd be perfectly within my rights to teach my children that 2 + 2 = 7 as decreed by the great sky fairy, just so long as I also taught them that in the heathen mathematics they believe that 2 + 2 = 4, and that this is the answer to use on exam papers or when calculating their taxes.

There are a very small set of belief systems for which even teaching children about the existence of other beliefs is verboten, but that would be one of those cases where it's impossible to be tolerant because to tolerate one set of beliefs would require you to allow intolerance of another.

Our society is fully tolerant of every belief system that is willing to tolerate our own society's beliefs. You don't have to agree with science, but you have to coexist with it and not use your influence as a parent to censor your children from hearing about it.

204:

In the US, many public schools also teach creationism. I lived in a fundamentalist christian family and I can accurately say that they harassed people who were not only non-christian, but people who weren't as fundamentalist christian as they were.

205:

I wouldn't call Buddhism an edge case. They're the sixth largest religion in the world.

206:

Our society is fully tolerant of every belief system that is willing to tolerate our own society's beliefs.

Interesting use of the word tolerant.

Webster's definition is uselessly self referential, but the synonyms help:

forbearing, long-suffering, stoic, patient, uncomplaining

Substitute any of those words and it is easy to show counter examples to falsify the statement.

207:
And you make my point for me. I can be persuaded that there exist beings that are HPLD (more Lem), that their mastery of the sensible world extends to modifying basic physics with a snap of their tentacles, etc.

But why is that evidence for some sort of God?

We can look at human cultures past and present to assemble an encyclopedia of behaviors, powers, and teachings associated with various gods past and present. The abilities attributed to gods throughout history and across cultures range from the now-mundane (like curing leprosy) to the still-inconceivable (like the merely physically impossible act of resurrecting someone cremated 10 years ago, or the logically impossible act of creating "5 sided triangles" or other contradictions).

If an entity meets me and demonstrates a set of attributes that precisely corresponds to a historically established god, even just mundane stuff like ensuring that my fields are fertile and provide a good harvest, I think it is fair to call that entity a god. Still doesn't mean I'm going to start making traditional offerings to it, unless that's cheaper than the market rate for agrochemicals. It also isn't any proof, in and of itself, of any larger mythological tradition that the god is found in. If it walks like a god and quacks like a god, it is a god, but that doesn't mean I have to get religious about it. In other words, I think the Discworld atheists have got it right.

If an entity appears and claims to be the Christian god believed in by, say, the LDS, the bar is set a lot higher because that god is supposed to be able to do physically, perhaps even logically, impossible things. I don't have to *believe* in that god the same way its natural constituency does, but if it demonstrates 10 kinds of impossibility and then reminds me that I either worship it or face an eternity of torment, I'm probably wagering like Pascal in a hurry.

Are there any two deities that promise an eternity of torment for transgressions and define mutually incompatible rules to live by? I'd sure hate to be visited by both if so, regardless of whether said gods "really" exist or are merely cruel time traveling transhuman pranksters.

208:

Many people (including students of theology I have known) regard Buddhism as a philosophy with deities rather than a religion.

209:

Is creationism taught alongside biology as in "teach the controversy" or as a religious class?

I'm in two minds about creationism or ID. I sometimes think it would make sense to add sunlight to it and add it to the biology class to show why it fails as an explanation of what we see. At other times I worry that this will be the wedge that ID'ers will use to try to teach it as the "best" theory and undermine the teaching of biology.

210:

@ 162:

I like the modern Japanese attitude to religion. They know full well that its purpose is social glue, and to provide rites of passage. They pick the most appropriate religion for theirs, so it's pretty much normal to have Shinto baby-namings, Christian weddings and Buddhist funerals.

That's pretty much us UU's. A 45-minute sermon followed by more than an hour of socializing with coffee served out of the church's kitchen. I'd imagine that any religion would have to offer something of the same kind of glue if it's going to have any staying power.

211:

Just a small bit of lunacy from the US government's stimulus program...

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/75198

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spent $823,200 of economic stimulus funds in 2009 on a study by a UCLA research team to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex.

(I can't help but wonder if perhaps the idea was floated to have them wash both before and after having sex...)

The genitalia-washing program is part of a larger $12-million UCLA study examining how to better encourage Africans to undergo voluntary HIV testing and counseling – however, only the penis-washing study received money from the 2009 economic stimulus law. The washing portion of the study is set to end in 2011.

Save me from this madness!...it would have been easier to spend the money buying condoms in bulk at a quarter apiece for a whopping total of 3,292,800 condoms...if I had the entire $12million slated for the study, that's 48 million condoms...a far better value for Africa than an overpriced study...

212:
It is true that you can home school in the US. It comes with an economic cost and you still have to adhere to a curriculum that you may disagree with.

That is not actually true. It varies from state to state; Washington (state), for example, requires testing, but the tests don't go to the government.

213:

I don't think any single word is a good replacement for "tolerate", but the meaning I had in mind was something like "allow to happen without actively condoning or supporting". It may not be Webster's definition but I think it's close to how most people use the word.

214:

Charlie at 182
Arrgh!
Sometimes, if I'm typing in directly, the char-above-2 works OK, but if I pick it up from somewhere else, even a "Word" document in my own system, it often produces rubbish.
You're saying I should type the char-stings you suggest, or re-edit the cut-and-pasted inserts, then?
Grrr.
I can see why you don't like MShaft....

@184
No.
I'm picking on those believers, those I call the true believers - the bigots are the true believers ... but:
I recognise that there are lots, often the majority who are CofE believers, if you see what I mean.
Except.
These people are about as much use as a bicycle is to a fish. They get in the way, and do nothing at all except whinge when one criticises religion. There are the other minority, the quietists - people like the quakers and the sufi, for instance.
If you look at the comment sections of many papers, you'll find people going on about "where are the moderate muslims, why aren't they doing anything about the fanatics?" Well, this applies to the christians as well - friends of mine who claim to be christian get all exited when I remind them of the loonies in my street, and do the usual thing: "Oh, they're not proper christians!" - well then, why are you not doing something about it?
Etc ad nauseam as Private Eye would say.

@ 185
But there are individual members of the Cof E who are irrational anti-evolutionists - I've met them, they exist.
Now what?
Please note, everyone:
I have no objection to people having religious impulses and beliefs - it is a private matter.
The moment they bring it onto the street, and start frightening the horses, that's different.
It is the latter I'm objecting to.
Perhaps I did not make that clear.

@191
No
I'm not defining religion as a fanatical belief system - see my answer to 185 immediately above.
It is clear that I have not made that clear, if you see what I mean.

Nick @ 195
Except that the fanatic religious (see my strictures above) is much more likely to be the sociopath.
Both the bible and the koran contain many strictures on not associating with, and/or positively persecuting various forms of unbeliever.
Oops.


Finally, in this post at least....
Can I ask people to re-read Charlie @ 149.
Being an author, he does it much better than I.
There is your test for a big IF, and unless and until a positive result is obtained from said test, I'm an atheist - and so should you be, if you are rational.
A positive test-result, would of course, make us all deists. Until then ....

215:

You seem to be using a definition of "God" that is (a) monotheistic and (b) has succumbed to feature creep.

I'll credit anything capable of messing with the laws of physics intentionally and drastically enough to pinch off a new bubble universe as being, de facto, capable of having created our universe. The question of whether anyone intentionally created this one, and if so, where are they, is orthogonal to this issue and is best considered in the same frame of mind as SETI and the Fermi Paradox. (Consider the Fermi Paradox, "where are they?" and then apply it to gods. Hmm. Was Enrico Fermi a closet atheist?)

216:

#214 @ 184&191 - Perhaps http://progressivescottishmuslims.blogspot.com/ partially answers your point about "what are moderate Muslims doing about radicals?"

217:

"Except that the fanatic religious (see my strictures above) is much more likely to be the sociopath."

I think that is the key point that you have failed to justify and that is why most people disagree with you. You seem unable to read "religious" without seeing "fanatic religious". In my example I explicitly made it clear that I was referring to a non-fanatic, neighbour-loving religious person, but you still say that they are much more likely to be a sociopath than an atheist is. There's simply no basis for that;

The vast majority of religious followers are calm, rational (if you steer clear of certain conversation topics) and moral. A subset of them are fanatical murderous nut-jobs, but then a sub-set of atheists are also fanatical murderous nut-jobs. The two things are orthogonal - atheism and religion have little correlation with moderation and fanaticism.

You cannot just go around saying that everyone who believes in supernatural deities is poised for a murderous killing spree. Religious memes generally don't encourage this in the same way that viruses try to not kill their hosts - it's bad for their survival. Extremist religions are an aberration - a genetic mutation in the religion's DNA that is usually self-destructive and short-lived (on an evolutionary scale).

And whilst I totally agree with you that fanatical, dogmatic communists are little different from religious extremists either in their behaviour or openness to reason, they still aren't actually a religion. Fanatics come in many flavours, and religious fanatic is just one of them.

At this point in time, the most dangerous fanatics in the world seem to be of the religious variety, but go back 30 years and it was the Communists and go back 60 and it was the Fascists - both of which were secular organisations.

Religion has many flaws but it cannot be held to account for all human suffering and evil - it is simply one of many types of dogma (political, philosophical, ethno-centric) that can lead to fanatical behaviour, and atheists are not immune to their own fanatical dogmas (although nobody is claiming that atheism itself leads to fanaticism).

218:

Nick @ 216

How about (exuse me) ACTUALLY READING what I wrote in post 213?

Huh?
I sad: "I have no objection to people having religious impulses and beliefs - it is a private matter.
The moment they bring it onto the street, and start frightening the horses, that's different.
It is the latter I'm objecting to."
If you want to be a religious believer, with your family, as consenting adults in the privacy of your own home - good luck to you.
You may be a demented fuckwit, but that's your problem and privelige.
Just DON'T bring it on the street, and shove it in other people's faces, and demand "respect" like some moral-mafiosi.

Now, will you please stop doing what all the other religious believers seem to do in discussions of this sort, and stop ascribing statements, motives and actions to me, that I have not written, said or done.

219:

@Greg,

setting aside that you don't seem to extend anyone else the same courtesy, I have been desperately trying to understand your point of view, but you make it somewhat challenging and unrewarding to do so.

You appear (no doubt you'll disagree) to be saying that religious people are entitled to believe what they want in private as long as they don't parade it in public or try to convert anyone, but that isn't tolerance and it isn't the correct way to run a society.

Science is not about using logic to determine who is right and then preventing anyone who disagrees from speaking. If people who disagree with the status quo in our society are gagged then we'll never make any scientific progress because only ideas that are already mainstream will ever be permitted to be voiced.

Much of what we "know" to be true (evolution, quantum theory, relativity) may eventually be superseded by something better, and that better idea may sound like nonsense when we first hear it. If we decide that any idea that seems like nonsense must be kept indoors for fear of frightening the horses then we'll never have the opportunity to realise we were mistaken.

So let the religious nutters spout their nonsense, and maybe eventually they'll stumble upon some truth we hadn't previously considered. The more monkeys we allow to type, the quicker we'll get Shakespeare.

Of course if their ramblings turn to threats of murder and violence then that's different. But we already have laws against preaching hate and making threats, we don't need to invent new ones to address religion as a special case.

220:

Greg: Once again, confrontational. You're being very rightly accused of blurring the line between "religious" and "fanatical"... and describing the former as "demented fuckwits" isn't helping your case.

Your tactic of creative definitions is intellectually dishonest, because your artificial definition of "religious" (in terms of violence, bigotry and creationism(?)) inevitably slides towards the more natural usage — members of some church or sect — and thence to imply theism.

Your own comments show evidence of this mental shift: most noticeably @133 (where you refer to a god of Marxism — what?) and @167 (where you heavily imply that you don't consider communists to be atheists).

This is a classic exercise in sophistry, and you're fooling yourself more than anybody else. You are angry, you are (by your own admission) biased, and this is not helping you reason rationally.

221:

"Replying" to myself in #215 :-

for #214 @ 184&191 please read #213 @ 184&191. Something has been deleted and what I said in #215 has nor relationship to Charlie's comment in #214.

222:

Desmond Morris sounds interesting, but otherwise you really mangled what I said.

223:

@scentofviolets

"And you make my point for me. I can be persuaded that there exist beings that are HPLD (more Lem), that their mastery of the sensible world extends to modifying basic physics with a snap of their tentacles, etc.

But why is that evidence for some sort of God?"

I think Charlie's point was that if such a being were to claim to be God, you wouldn't have any solid grounds for doubting them; They would have demonstrated that they are capable performing miracles and of having created the Universe, even if they would not have proven that they had actually done so.

224:

Peter Watts had some great posts on evolution and religion a while back. One of them summarized some new reasearch that theorized "fanatic/dogmatic" religious communities survive better because they have higher buy in costs and weed out parasites and troublemakers. That is, the more you have to do to belong, the less likely a nonbeliever will ape proper behavior to get accepted. Such nonbelievers will often include people who got kicked out of the last village for various unsociable or manipulative behviors. When they find out how much it "costs" to fit in, they will either move on to the next town or buy in completely enough to sustain the system (as the next generation of manipulative sociopaths.) Nasty, but a lot of evolutionarily derived systems are.

225:

@ 218
But we already know what a lot of religions (even in their "moderated" forms) spout is utter drivel, to say the least.
Virgin births and riding up to "heaven" from the dome of the rock, and mankind being created by a bif IF are WRONG.
And will remain wrong.
Whereas any changes in scientific understanding will have to INCLUDE what we already know.
The classic example is the reduction of Einsteinian mechanics to Newtonian, as the velocities and masses decrease.
This is what is going to make any solution to the renormalisation problem so interesting ......

226:

Absolutely, but the challenge society has is to come up with a system that allows progress without needing to define truth in absolute terms.

Do I think that religion will lead to any useful improvements in our understanding? No.

Do I know of a good way to ensure that only people who have something useful to contribute are granted freedom of speech? No.

It's easy to say that now we are living in a secular society that we are safe to gag the infidels because they've got nothing useful to say; But if our (moderate) religious predecessors had had the same attitude to scientists then the rationals would never have been allowed to take over in the first place.

And besides, religion is not an all-consuming dogma. Many great scientists and philosophers in history have been religious (I know you don't believe that, but it's a fairly well-established fact) and still made useful contributions to areas of human knowledge that didn't contradict their faith.

If they'd been locked indoors or ostracised for their beliefs they might never have made the contributions that they did.

227:

@214:

You seem to be using a definition of "God" that is (a) monotheistic and (b) has succumbed to feature creep.

Well, it could be more than one God, or many in one like that Jewish weirdness. But yes, I am suggesting that (perhaps just for people who read sf and are apt to be religious), there has indeed been more feature creep in the definition than we otherwise suppose.

I'll credit anything capable of messing with the laws of physics intentionally and drastically enough to pinch off a new bubble universe as being, de facto, capable of having created our universe. The question of whether anyone intentionally created this one, and if so, where are they, is orthogonal to this issue and is best considered in the same frame of mind as SETI and the Fermi Paradox. (Consider the Fermi Paradox, "where are they?" and then apply it to gods. Hmm. Was Enrico Fermi a closet atheist?)

Consider that the Lords of Farmer's "World of Tiers" series could rather casually create entire universes, in fact, had created the Earth - and on a timescale of a mere ten thousand or so years ago. Hardly Gods, or indulging in what I would consider Godlike behaviour (us UU's have a rather high bar in that regard as well.) Or what about the Baxter/Clarke reboot "Light of Other Days" where it turns out to be quite possible to resurrect people long dead with relatively human level technology. Finally, in Sagan's "Contact", Eli encountered beings whose powers were every bit as Godlike as most people require from their deities, who but admit quite frankly that they are anything but and are still searching for the Godhead themselves. All of these are good examples of standard sf high tech.

And so this is what I am suggesting: feature creep has gone on long past what stone age people would have required good and sufficient reasons to label a being a God. Us sf types (well, some of us), don't think that Amazingly High Tech is necessarily enough to clear what has become a very, very high bar. If little green men landed in my back yard and informed me that they must be worshiped as Gods, and to prove this, they used their time reconstitutor ray on a few old graves to bring forth someone long dead (Ah, another one: van Vogt's "The Monster"), I'd congratulate them on their mastery of the physical universe, but I certainly wouldn't consider them Gods.

Iow, I'm suggesting us discerning sf types require a little bit more than amazingly high tech from the local superbeings before we consider them Gods, as opposed to merely beings with amazingly high tech :-)

228:

@scentofviolets

"If little green men landed in my back yard and informed me that they must be worshiped as Gods, and to prove this, they used their time reconstitutor ray on a few old graves to bring forth someone long dead (Ah, another one: van Vogt's "The Monster"), I'd congratulate them on their mastery of the physical universe, but I certainly wouldn't consider them Gods."

This just comes back to the religion versus God thing. There are many aspects to atheism; Personally I not only question the existence of a deity, but also the premise that if such a being existed that we could presume to know his/her/its will, that he/she/it would care about our sartorial or sexual habits, and that if a being created our world and then demanded that we wear floppy hats and only mate in an authorised fashion that we should declare our allegiance to such a being instead of declaring defiance of it.

You say that a being who demonstrated the power to create worlds would still not qualify as a god, but I think you are just arguing semantics. I would say that perhaps they are a "god" according to some definitions, but so what? Creating the universe doesn't earn them the right to dictate how we live our lives, and wouldn't necessarily imply that any of the nonsensical mythology we've invented about our supposed deities is any truer than we think it is currently.

Aliens exist who can bend space-time; ergo, women should all wear Burkas?

I don't think so.

229:

@Nick 202 Our society is fully tolerant of every belief system that is willing to tolerate our own society's beliefs.

@Nick 212 tolerate: "allow to happen without actively condoning or supporting"

Not clear who "our society" refers to. In the US society is very definitely intolerant, to the point of voting state and federal constitutional changes. For example California we had Prop 8 passed, which was argued in court by the opposition that it violates the US Constitution's 14th Amendment. I don't believe gays were intolerant of US, or more specifically, California's society's mores. So I will chalk this up as one example of the falsification of your statement, at least as it applies to California.

230:

This is the basic flaw in Pascal's wager incidentally. The choice is not between

a) worship God and if you're wrong lose nothing
b) don't worship God and if you're wrong go to Hell

He forgot about

c) worship God but accidentally worship him according to the Catholic faith, when it turns out that God is actually a Muslim and you're just making him even more angry

I've seen many a semi-reasonable argument for the existence of God or truth of creationism, but I've never heard a compelling reason to believe in one deity or way of worship over another, and since many religions are fundamentally incompatible, proving the existence of a God without having a way to determine which one wouldn't actually get you very far.

231:

Sorry, I meant that's what our society aspires to, or at least what the liberal intellectuals in our society aspire to.

And of course we aren't a uniform society. By society I generally mean the so-called western world, Europe and the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, others that I've no doubt forgotten and in so doing deeply offended, etc. but of course I recognise that that's a non-uniform collection of cultures, each with their own distinct prejudices.

Naturally we actually regularly fail to show tolerance to everyone, with various ethnic, sexual, religious and other groups being discriminated against to varying degrees.

But we do it better than most other cultures throughout our planet's history, and I think the trend is generally towards doing it better rather than doing it worse.

232:

@ 227:

You say that a being who demonstrated the power to create worlds would still not qualify as a god, but I think you are just arguing semantics. I would say that perhaps they are a "god" according to some definitions, but so what? Creating the universe doesn't earn them the right to dictate how we live our lives, and wouldn't necessarily imply that any of the nonsensical mythology we've invented about our supposed deities is any truer than we think it is currently.

Something along those lines, yes. One extra attribute seems to be how to behave morally. God says it's okay to own slaves - does that make it right and moral? What if after demonstrating their amazing control over the laws of physics these LGM's said it was open season on homosexuals, that it's perfectly okay to mock, torment, persecute, torture, and kill them? Would those actions be right and proper because "God" said it was? Or is it the case that if God says it, it must be true, so that conversely if there is no God, there is no real notion of good and evil?

What's scary to me is that there are some religious types (I know a few personally) who actually believe this. Me? I don't care if these can LGM's resurrect the whole Old Testament pantheon from the oldest patriarchs to Jesus himself; if they tell me that it's a sin against "God" to refuse to sacrifice my first born to their appetites for human flesh, well, like I say, I'll applaud their mastery of the physical, but I certainly wouldn't acknowledge them to be "Gods".

233:

If it's taught, it's usually either as equal to evolution, or as better than evolution.

234:

They've refused to use condoms (lots of first world men do), so if they'll wash up, it's better than nothing.

235:

You forgot case

d) God only allows atheists into Heaven.

After all, we have to presume that such an entity would be very intelligent, it must know what the reasonable position to hold is, considering the facts of life.

236:

@234 wrote ...

Wouldn't it have been easier (and far cheaper) to print up a large number of pamphlets and air drop them with a pictorial depicting proper methods of bodily hygiene?

Look at it from my viewpoint, I was also trying to point out the lunacy of the current American government. Tea party victories are mounting, which are showing that people are fed up. The citizens already know our government in it's current form is going to waste taxpayer money on fool's errands and other assorted idiocy, and yet the current talk coming from Washington is to raise taxes. If the money they took in actually was spent on some internal infrastructure fixes or something actually worthy that put people to work, I might not be so ticked off. (rant mode off...my apologies to Mr. Stross)

237:

@ 225
REPEAT
How about reading what I've actually written?

Who said anything about locking them (the believers indoors, or ostracising them for their beliefs?
I certainly did not.
What I said was:
I have no objection to people having religious impulses and beliefs - it is a private matter.
The moment they bring it onto the street, and start frightening the horses, that's different.
It is the latter I'm objecting to.
If you (I will add here, not you personally, it is an impersonal "you" - a fault of English as oppesed to say, German as a language) want to be a religious believer, with your family, as consenting adults in the privacy of your own home - good luck to you.
You (again the religious) may be a demented fuckwit, but that's your problem and privelige.
Just DON'T bring it on the street, and shove it in other people's faces, and demand respect like some moral-mafiosi.

There, is that clear now?

@ 229
How did you do it - you got it right!
Quating from elsewhere again:

Monotheistic religions, in particular, are mutually exclusive. A maximum of one of them can be true. Their central beliefs and tenets make this so. The attempt by ecumenicals, and or other purveyors of spiritualistic woo to blend or blur the distinctions between major faiths and sects, or to say, as they do: We worship the same god under different aspects!
Really, this will not wash. This is because the central core beliefs of each religion in the divinity or the divine revelation of their own leader(s), and the secondary nature of other prophets make them incompatible.
For example: T
There is no changing the Quran. The Quran is a perfect guide for humanity. Human law nor science is above Allah.

238:

I don't think it's future shock, exactly. Twenty years ago, if you had a loon in LA, and a loon in
London, and a loon in Lisbon, and a loon in Lusaka,
they remained five disconnected loons, their ranting lost in the general noise. Now, with much wider and faster communications they can form a political party to connect with loons unLimited (couldn't think of a synonym for everywhere which began with L ...)

I think it's the speed of communication, and nothing much else, that's driven ordinary social feedback loops into instability.

Will

239:

Greg @236. In English we have "one" for the impersonal. As in "One could remember one is talking to atheists, unless one restricts the definition of atheist to oneself and Richard Dawkins."

"Don't ask, don't tell" appears to be your suggestion. You are still making any expression of heterodoxy from your dogma impossible. Is it to be enforced by law, disapprobation, instant execution or being talked at IN CAPITALS!?. Your views are not the commonly held ones of our society, should you be muzzled? Should we be outdone in courtesy by the religious mainstream?

240:

[quote]That's why I like the idea that God is the observer that makes quantum physics work. This matches some parts of the definition of God: omniscient, omnipresent, and immortal. Not quite omnipotent, because not everything depends on quantum phenomena, but there you go.[/quote]

Doesn't that contradict experiment ?

If there was an omniscient observer... wouldn't that remove the interference patterns in the two-slit experiment ?

I.e. if all photons are observed, the "unobserved by humans" results of the two-slit experiment would equal the "observed by humans photons" result and there would be no intereference pattern in either result set as BOTH would have devolved to the observed, non-intereference pattern, state.

If anything, the two-slit experiment such as we understand it today rules out an omniscient observer. Actually actively rules out this version of god, or at least his omniscience.

I suppose you could shoehorn one back in by saying "he uses his omnipotence to make it look like he hasn't observed the photons, when in fact he did" (i.e. using his ominpotence to hide his omniscience) but then quantum theory offers no support either way for a god. (and neither can any other experiment).

If god's doing that.... he's not the "universal observer who makes quantum physics work" you want to make him as he's deliberately "unpicking" all his work. If you make this defence, he can't be "the being that makes quantum physics work"

Sounds to me you started from "I want there to be a god" and glommed onto something scientific as being a "respectable" scientificy sounding way to allow you to do that and sill claim rationality.

Disclosure: I am firmly in the "There is no evidence, allowing me to adopt the reasonmable beleif that god doesn't exist" camp. In the same way I am sure most people are in "There is no evidence for magical pink unicorns, allowing me to adopt the reasonable belief they don't exist" camp.

Functionally an atheist, but open to new evidence.

TGP

241:

A thought occurred to me:

If the God of the New Testament were to suddenly show up, wielding his spacetime-bending abilities and blowing bubble universes from his holy peace pipe, he'd actually have a much tougher job convincing the religious followers than the atheists:

As atheists, we've got a pretty good idea what it would take to prove that you were a god-like entity. Demonstrable ability to alter the laws of physics for example.

If this God wanted to prove to atheists that homosexuality is or isn't okay morally, all he'd have to do is frame a convincing argument in terms of moral truths that we already hold to be self-evident. Hardly a challenge for an omniscient being.

But religious believers only have their existing beliefs about God and their faith that those beliefs are true - they don't have an external frame of reference against which to validate those beliefs. Christians claim to await the return of Jesus, but if he showed up and failed to exactly meet their (2000-year-distorted) expectations, they would dismiss him as a charlatan or the Devil in disguise.

So there is clearly no possibility that Jesus can return and prove all the Christians right. Even though the Bible documents several incidences of God changing his mind about things within the space of a few hundred years, if God's current views about homosexuality, extra-marital sex or abortion differ from the last version documented, he's got no other means to prove that he is who he says he is.

And if he tried to change people's views about morality, again he's in a difficult position. Atheists (except for moral relativists - I hate those guys) tend to define morality as a set of universal truths, supported by logic and subject to reason and debate, much like mathematics.

But religious believers think that morality is whatever God says it is, and by that definition God is inherently good. So then if a demonstrably supernatural being disagrees with something that God has previously said they must be evil and therefore can't be God but must actually be the Devil.

Of course if God showed up and agreed word-for-word with current Christian doctrine then he'd be okay, but since Christians don't actually agree with each other on more than a handful of issues, I don't see how that's possible.

So what would actually happen is probably the same thing that happened when Jesus and Mohammed originally made an appearance - half the existing Christians would declare Jesus had returned and break off to form a new religion that worships him (The Christ-is-Backians), and the rest would say the new guy was a charlatan and carry on waiting for the real Jesus to show up.

242:

"Atheists (except for moral relativists - I hate those guys) tend to define morality as a set of universal truths, supported by logic and subject to reason and debate, much like mathematics."

Probably not. There are some interesting experiments that show that not only is morality not fixed, nor universal, but that our own perceptions are that it must be different at different times in history. If you think that it is subject to reason and debate, ask yourself whether siblings having sex with each other while using suitable protection is OK or not.

243:

"It's not tolerance, nor intolerance, of religion that is the problem. It's the existence of religion."

I have a rather different "genes view" of religions.

I think religions and other xenophobic memes of that class are the evolutionary outcome of millions of wars between hunter gatherer groups.

The model is that perception of a bleak future turns up the "gain" on circulating xenophobic memes. Most of these are in the category of "religions." The memes then sync the tribe's warriors for a do or die attempt to kill the neighbors and take their resources to get through the next winter or dry spell.

I ran a simplified model of this situation from the view of genes in the warriors. It turned out that the critical element was the human practice of taking the young women (offspring of the warriors) as booty and making them into wives.

This mitigated the worst downside from the viewpoint of genes because even if all the rest of the tribe was killed, the genes lived on in the booty wives and their children.

The model showed a 37% advantage to the genes in these circumstances for going to war. On the other hand, going to war when not faced with starvation resulted in a 45% disadvantage. If the model is anywhere close to a correct representation, then there has been intense selection both directions.

The irrationality of people caught up in religions and related makes sense because going to war is doing something that is not rational to them, but is from the viewpoint of genes. Genes win and people do the irrational.

If you want to stay out of wars, then every group on the earth needs to have a rising income per capita. That's impossible in the long run for fast growing populations.

Talk of peak oil and global warming just makes things worse by promoting a bleak view of the future.

I developed this more in "Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War."

244:

"ask yourself whether siblings having sex with each other while using suitable protection is OK or not."

I might as well ask you if it's okay for a man to fire a gun at another man?

Both questions have too many unspecified variables to be answered in their current form, but in any real-world cases where that arises there will be a right and wrong answer, and I suspect that it's not always the answer that we'd all be most comfortable with.

Universal morality isn't the same thing as all similar situations being the same. Morality can be affected by many variables, making the attempt to solve moral debates by the use of simplistic similes or analogies to be extremely unreliable.

For example to properly answer your question above you'd need to know the age of the siblings, their feelings about each other and the situation, whether they had a history of being abused that might imply an unstable mental state, etc. any of which might impact the answer.

That may seem like the same thing as moral relativism - what happens in vegas, etc - but it's not.

For example, murder is wrong whether it's a mugger knifing a grandmother for her pension in London or a cleric sentencing a woman to be stoned to death for being an adulteress in Iran. What makes it wrong is not the location, or the culture or beliefs of the society, it's the circumstances and intentions of the participants.

But not all killing of human beings is murder, and not all illegal or disturbing sexual acts involve an abuser and a victim - it depends on the circumstances.

Also, be careful not to confuse the fact that sometimes moral behaviour is icky with proof that morality isn't universal. A person cutting off their own penis and using it to have sex with themselves would be comparably icky, but (probably) not immoral.

245:

@237: couldn't think of a synonym for everywhere which began with L ...

L. Ron Hubbard?

Just a quick question for the audience...
Why is it that pseudo-religions (Scientology, etc.) and conspiracy theories (New World Order, etc.) always have an alien presence lurking somewhere in the background.

The Laundry needs to get on this asap.

246:

In an effort to shortcut what could possibly become a long and off-topic discussion about the nature of morality and the meaning of universal, I'm willing to redefine the distinction between religious morality as being:

Religious believers think that morality is defined by God and can be changed at his whim, whereas atheists believe that morality (relative or universal) is independent of any individual's opinion, and cannot be decided or changed by mere willpower, even the willpower of a someone who created the universe.

There is of course an interesting caveat to this though. Whilst I don't believe that The Creator could snap his finger and suddenly make homosexuality evil, it's possible that if morality is determined by the nature of the universe then it could be changed by manipulating the universe itself.

We're assuming that this creator has the ability to alter universal constants to change the laws of physics, so what if they could vary moral constants as well? - not arbitrarily, but according to some higher set of laws. Could they find an alternative stable moral state where the rules are still, self-consistent but different?

Perhaps they could reshape the universe so that totalitarian communism actually does lead to a more prosperous society, so that cheats always prosper, and you always catch fewer flies with honey, and the stick always gets better results than the carrot, and nice guys always finish last.

How horrifying would it be to discover that you lived in a universe where the only way to survive or grow as a species was to be bastards to one another because being nice to people just leads to slow, gradual cultural decline, starvation and death?

It would make the Lovecraftian horrors lurking just outside our perception waiting to eat our souls seem pretty tame by comparison.

247:

#244 - "Perhaps they could ... starvation and death?" Pretty horrifying if you were used to a universe where being nice to other people was the way forward. But equally I think someone from that universe would find outs pretty disturbing, for instance, when they found themselves being hounded through the streets for mugging a little old lady.

248:

Atheist contingently is the same as irreligious in the context of some religions (such as the Abrahamic religions, Hinduism and other theistic religions) but a/theism and religiosity are orthogonal.

One could believe in god(s) and support no existing religion, finding them all absurd. One could follow a non-theistic religion such as Confucianism.

Several modern religions substitute aliens for supernatural gods (Raelians, Scientologists) and there are quasi-religious atheist beliefs like Humanism or Stalinism.

I'm against all forms of religionism, theistic or otherwise. I also oppose political parties :-)

249:

WRT deep craziness, and authoritarian escapism, for those of you that follow, or are interested in American local politics, the republican primary is Delaware has been won by Christine O'donnell against incumbent Mike Castle. This is significant because Mike Castle is historically extremely popular in Delaware, while Christine O'donnell has historically been the opposite. If you're even remotely moderate, let alone liberal, she's a nasty piece of work whose list of policy stances reads like a recipe book for some kind of libertarian theocracy (I know, I'm not sure how the hell that works, either).

She should have had no chance in this race, and if things weren't progressing more or less as charlie is arguing, she wouldn't have. Deep crazy, indeed.

250:

i got an idea for the whole bubble universe thing. If the universe was budded off, then whatever did the budding must forever remain outside it.


this whole good / evil thing, Ive had debates with the naggers of Jesus on the matter. they do indeed claim that whatever God says is Good.
its a false concept, you cant have a 'good' on its own.
its a scoring system, an act is designated as good if it positively impacts the perciever.
the problem we have is that the religions have a concept of good as an absolute thing, with the settings for a bronze-age goat herder.
they of course try to gloss over bits of it.
like where smashing childrens heads against rocks is a good deed.

like the part in the bible where some kids make fun of a guys bald head, so god sends some bears to eat them.also , god did it = good
its full of stuff like that,

this 'bastardworld' concept- didnt Thatcher try to bring that one about in the 80's. obviously the stars were not quite right...

251:

this whole good / evil thing, Ive had debates with the naggers of Jesus on the matter. they do indeed claim that whatever God says is Good.
its a false concept, you cant have a 'good' on its own.
its a scoring system, an act is designated as good if it positively impacts the perciever.
the problem we have is that the religions have a concept of good as an absolute thing, with the settings for a bronze-age goat herder.
they of course try to gloss over bits of it.
like where smashing childrens heads against rocks is a good deed.

like the part in the bible where some kids make fun of a guys bald head, so god sends some bears to eat them.also , god did it = good
its full of stuff like that,

this 'bastardworld' concept- didnt Thatcher try to bring that one about in the 80's. obviously the stars were not quite right...

252:
In an effort to shortcut what could possibly become a long and off-topic discussion about the nature of morality and the meaning of universal, I'm willing to redefine the distinction between religious morality as being:

Religious believers think that morality is defined by God and can be changed at his whim, whereas atheists believe that morality (relative or universal) is independent of any individual's opinion, and cannot be decided or changed by mere willpower, even the willpower of a someone who created the universe.

That doesn't really head it off either. "Religious believers think that morality is defined by God and can be changed at his whim, whereas atheists don't" is more like it. There's every imaginable difference of opinion/moral codes among atheists. There's no Higgs Altruon or Rawls Constant that we can measure experimentally to assemble a more correct moral model. Moral axioms, like their mathematical counterparts, precede logic and are unassailable by it. People can adopt new axioms over time, but the process doesn't seem to have a lot to do with formal reasoning.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't follow and promote your own moral code with however much passion you feel for it. It does mean that you shouldn't expect a universal morality to be handed out by gods or by the natural world. We acquire moral axioms one way or another, and the most consistency you can ask thereafter is for conclusions to follow logically. Unfortunately the reverse seems to happen a lot; people pick a conclusion then work backwards to socially acceptable axioms. This appears to be why (e.g.) the "religious vote" will turn out in droves to oppose gay marriage but not to support aid for the poor. Religious tradition is just a convenient hook for hanging a foregone conclusion on. This is why I'm also not hopeful that eradicating religion is an effective way to fix the social ills currently associated with it.

253:

I hope everyone here has been singing along today with this Antipope Anthem from Tim Minchin? Second video down,

http://www.timminchin.com/media/

254:

Yes, your slightly shorter definition is better than mine (by I which I mean less controversial, which is what I was going for).

You then go on to give a better explanation than I did of my original definition, which is more likely to be controversial that the shorter one, but also has the advantage of being true (in my opinion).

Nice work ;0)

So yeah, to recap, I think that moral axioms, like mathematical axioms are something to be discovered rather than determined by consensus. And like mathematics, you can't change a few of the rules to suit society and still expect the whole thing to hang together.

But I also wonder if we aren't simply lucky that morality works the way it does and allows for harmony and happiness in our universe. In much the same way that a universe with slightly different mathematical or physical properties would be unable to sustain life (or even solid matter), a universe with slightly different moral properties might be unable to sustain happiness, or hope.

255:

I think you might not realize 1) that dropping pamphlets rarely gets them to the people you want to have them, b) actual paper is likely to be used for something else, even if they can read it, and iii) teaching in person works better than teaching at a distance.

256:

We (various posters) have finally arrived at one of the fundamental religious questions.
Originally posed by Socrates (wasn't that a suprise!)
Is something good because "god" says it is good, or is something good, because it is intrinsically good. (or bad, for that matter)

If it is intinsically good/bad, then we don't need "god" anyway.
If it is good/bad because "god" says so, then what happens when "god" changes it's mind? And the latter happens, as careful study of the jewish/christian bible shows ...
OOps....

257:

She's almost certainly going to lose the general election. This is something that the tea party folks don't think about -- they may win in the primary, but many people, not just Democrats, will never want them in office. The tea party folks who are winning primaries are likely to hurt Republicans.

258:

if morality is an arbitary scoring system based on what is beneficial to the persons experiencing the act / etc. it will always look like this.
only in some odd masochistic alternate world would it be any different. and because they liked it like that- it would be good for them.
there is no good and evil in nature- black holes arent 'evil', sunlight isnt 'good' .man eating lions arent aligned - theyre just doing something we dont like

259:

With regard to communism's enourmous body count how is it that these deaths are not attributed to the Russians or the Chinese? Why do these nations get a free pass while the genocide of American peoples is usually attributed to the USA, or Spain or Britian or Portugal or whoever?

Conversely why is Marx responsible for all those deaths but genocides committed by liberal democracies get attributed to the nation concerned, leaving John Stuart Mill's hands clean?

260:

A followup - why do both the Germans and the Nazi's get blamed for the shoah? Something to do with the Germans tendency to storm across the Elbe and sack Rome maybe?

Anyway, given some of the claims made for liberal democracy (fighting evil anywhere in the world, requiring power to impose infinte justice) and for the sovereign rational individual (always ready for violence) doesn't this belief system also lend itself to fanaticism?

261:

Jocelin: Yellow card time.

One more peep hinting at holocaust denial and your sorry ass is banned for good.

(I know where you're coming from with the "communism's enormous body count ... not attributed to the Russians or the Chinese" shtick as well. Hint: veiled anti-semitism does not go down well in these parts.)

262:

#248 and #256 - Yeah, my thought was that that almost certainly means that that district? will return the Democrat in November?*

* "?" marks denote uncertainty over the individual choices of noun in the proceeding word.

263:

Yikes, I'm going to go and try to work out what you're getting at myself. I'm a little afraid to ask for fear of further derailment.

Excuse me.

264:

I've been too clever for myself, I thought I was asking questions pertaining to belief systems and how they're treated and discussed. I really thought I was in-the-ballpark on topic. If I ask for clarification its too much like trolling.

I do not deny the holocaust.

265:

"there is no good and evil in nature- black holes arent 'evil', sunlight isnt 'good' .man eating lions arent aligned - theyre just doing something we dont like"

Morality doesn't apply to inanimate objects or natural systems, that's true. Destruction isn't good or bad unless somebody has an opinion about it.

But once the thing being destroyed is capable of having an opinion, or someone else has an opinion about it, morality comes into play.

You could say that this makes morality subjective, but I don't believe so, because it doesn't actually matter what any idividual opinion is, it's the mere fact of having one that matters. In other words, something isn't bad because any given person doesn't like it, it's bad because it causes suffering or hardship to beings who are capable of suffering or experiencing hardship.

So a black hole isn't bad, but a black hole destroying a civilisation full of people who had hopes and dreams that didn't include being crushed into oblivion is bad. And it's not evil, because a black hole isn't conscious and so isn't a moral entity, but if someone were to intentionally cause a civilisation to be destroyed by a black hole, that would be evil.

So morality could be (perhaps rather poorly) defined as the set of moral axioms by which intelligent/conscious beings should interact with one another to minimise the amount of suffering and maximise their collective happiness.

At this point people say things like, "if I steal your goat that maximises my happiness, so why is that wrong?", etc. but one of the axioms is that the rules should be such that everyone should be able to apply them to maximise (or at least optimise) their own happiness - you might gain happiness by stealing my stuff but we can't both gain happiness by stealing each other's stuff, there would be no net gain.

You also have other edges cases like irrational suffering: What if my wearing a red hat causes you suffering - does that make me wearing red hats an immoral act, etc. The short answer to that is that it doesn't, but my intentionally wearing a red hat just to torture you probably is immoral - we should try to find a way to let the conflict between my right to wear red hats and your right to not see them coexist.

Which brings us nicely back to the original topic of tolerance. Some people are made miserable by other people "wearing red hats" (homosexuality, in case you can't read between the lines) and other people are miserable if they can't wear their red hat. Tolerance is finding a way to let these people coexist with minimal suffering on both sides, and where conflict occurs, deferring to the more rational viewpoint (that red hat wearing is victimless, and that the suffering caused to people who disapprove is self-inflicted).

266:

Your very first paragraph is a red flag for far-right Kool Aid: "With regard to communism's enourmous body count how is it that these deaths are not attributed to the Russians or the Chinese? Why do these nations get a free pass while the genocide of American peoples is usually attributed to the USA, or Spain or Britian or Portugal or whoever?"

Nobody is actually denying the existence of those body counts -- not since the early 1950s in the case of the USSR and the 1970s in the case of China -- but asserting that folks to the left of, say, Richard Nixon are doing so is a hallmark of wingnuttery (said wingnuts then going on to use "GENOCIDE DENIAL!!!111!!ELEVENTY!!!" as a stick to beat on their left wing straw man).

Your second sentence then parses as an attempt to draw a false equivalence in order to exonerate the colonizing powers for what they did to the first peoples in North America.

Add on top a second posting, shortly afterwards: "A followup - why do both the Germans and the Nazi's get blamed for the shoah? Something to do with the Germans tendency to storm across the Elbe and sack Rome maybe?" fits the slightly incoherent rhetorical pattern of J. Random Neo-Nazi apologist, and the final proposal "given some of the claims made for liberal democracy ... and for the sovereign rational individual ... doesn't this belief system also lend itself to fanaticism?" Sounds like the run-up to denouncing modern liberalism and hailing fascism as the One True Way.

If that's not your intention I apologize; but I've seen a lot of fascist blow-hards on the internet, and your two postings in rapid succession triggered my neo-Nazi recognition filter.

267:

Charlie, as a neutral 3rd party in this, I'd just like to say that I see your point of view, and agree with the idea that Holocost deniers should be banned from the "broadcast end" of all forms of media, but but I'd read the 2 comments from Jocelin in pretty much the way they say the comments were intended.

268:

Firstly this serves me right making a contribution as a series of questions, it's better to make an argument.

Well I suppose I was building up to a deno--critique of modern liberalism, and its crimes. If thats a red flag for nazism then we are in trouble. My impression of the thread was of semantic arguments in which people were attempting to attach culpability for crimes to belief systems as if perpertraters were literally possessed by god or Marx. I thought it legitimate to ask about why crimes are attributed to ideas and when.

Infinite justice was a reference to Iraq, and the totalising tendency of modern liberalism - whereever there is injustice the liberal democracies will have cause to intervene. The armed-to-the-teeth rational individual is always ready for violence. I was trying to show that If religion as such or Marxism can be made culpable for crimes so can liberalism or even modern liberalism.

I had no intention of excusing colonialism, just the opposite, I think colonialism is excused too much, particularly with the subsidence of the Vietnam syndrome and the revival of humanitarian missions. Anyway, that colonial genocides are attributed to states and not belief systems seems like a slight of hand to me. States are considerably more sovereign than most entities and as predicted, they're all armed to the teeth.

I regret godwining it - I could have stayed with the many genocides already mentioned in the thread. However the remark about the holocuast being attributed to both Germans and Nazism was meant again to draw attention to the ease with which culpability can be attributed to a state, to an ideology, or to, yuk, a "race". I think I was confused at this point. Clearly the Elbe was not the river I wanted. Probably should have chosen the Rubicon for extra layers of meaning nom nom although probably that would've tripped your triggers again.

Lesson learned - open-ended questions are just asking for trouble.

269:

There are claims that colletivization was a back door route to genocide of Ukranians. The great thing about Stalin is that he left much fewer records for people to paw through than the Nazis did; so it is hard to make the same kind of systematic studies of his atrocities than those of Hitler's bureaucratically conscientious mininons.

As for dekulakization, I have often wondered if a genocide is any less a genocide just because its target class is defined by convenient political fictions. (Not to say that the targets are any less real people or that national/ethnic identities do not partake of narrative self justification; quite the opposite in fact.)

How far back are we allowed to grandfather a genocide into legitimate historical foundation myth? Does Japan belong to the Ainu? Come to think of it, the Book of Josue is one of the creepier things millions, billions? of children have been introduced to over the years. Even as a kid, you have doubts, but everybody is nodding there head along; so it must be OK for some reason.

270:

Everybody seen Ratzinger godwinning himself with the speech in Edinburgh that segues from nazism to atheists? Clearly he has decided that atheists are the biggest danger to the church, which is odd, because they havn't done anything, have little media presence, few organisations and no control of major media outlets. Come to think of it aren't most major media outlets owned and controlled by people who profess some sort of religion?

271:

The Pope:

"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”

Yay Britain! Yay a weakly operating secularism!

Yay "the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world."

Add Nazisms toll to the Atheism column.

272:

#269 - Oh yes, and I've already observed somewhere that if the Pope fear aetheism, what he's really scared of is losing the people that are supporting the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed!

#270 - "recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives". I think the point I've emboldened had more to do with the murder of Christian religious in that time and place than the mere fact of them being Christians did.

273:

Jocelin: a more to-the-point lesson might be: mention of the holocaust is not something to be thrown around lightly.

274:

A Catholic commented that they needed to step up their physical social networks to continue entrapping victims. If any here want to combat that they should take part in secular social networks, join or start clubs for whatever you like - SF book discussion, cookery, gardening, Mormon-baiting - anything that promotes that feeling of belonging to a pleasant little troop of hunter-gatherers.

I'm sorry but Daily Mash has summed up my opinion far better than I could.

******************************************************
He [The Pope] said: "The Nazis wanted to destroy all religions. That's why they focused on killing Jews. And homosexuals and gypsies and intellectuals and communists and people who didn't like Nazis. Thank Christ I wasn't on that list.

"I would stress that there's absolutely no need for anyone to go looking any of this up in books and such like. The great thing about my infallibility is that it means you have more time to spend on your hobbies."
******************************************************

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/pope-congratulated-on-size-of-his-balls-201009173095/

As someone pointed out on the PM programme, if it wasn't for aggressive secularism we wouldn't be letting a Catholic Bishop of Rome into our country. The Queen would run him through with a sword herself as Defender of the Faith.

275:

"The Queen would run him through with a sword herself as Defender of the Faith."

Oh, I'd pay good money to see that.

ER II!
ER II!

276:

No, no, I'm sincere, not just looking for laughs.

The French deportations of state-less Roma show that "assimilation of minorities", to use the blandist and most abstracted language possible, remains a "problem" for "the West", a problem for which there are apparently no (new) solutions.

277:

Ooh, BB has a link to Fela Kuti's Zombie. I'm sure Fela would have some interesting things to say about Western Civilization, were he still alive.

278:

Finish him!

FATALITY!

But no, the Vatican and the Brits have a working accomodation it would seem.

279:

I assume you're being irionic here?

(Given that Hitler was an observant Catholic, and the pope of the day didn't exactly go out of his way to condemn nazism ...)

280:

ah, thats something they always gloss over.
Hitler, Matthew Hopkins, Rasputin there has been quite a few famous catholic baddies.
and at no point did the sky-fairy or his minions ever turn round to these men and tell them to stop.

281:

ah, but mormon baiting is so much fun.... tightly sealed like unto a dish = bronze age atlantic crossing submarines..
the book itself- the whole damn story -they cant see its a scam, but xtians see that its a scam, and dont seem able to make the connection.

282:

Jocelin etc ...
The Nazi/communist=EVIL atheists trope is one of the favourites of religious believrs, especially US rightwingnuts.
It isn't true, in fact it's a deliberate lie, so please don't do it here, as our gracious host has also pointed out.
Reminder #1: Communism is a classic religion, right up to the point of having god-kings (Stalin) and hereditary god-kings (the Kim dynasty)
Reminder #2: Nazism was a (very) perverted form of christianity, when it wasn't being a perverted form of Norse mythology.

There's plenty of evidence for this, try
Here and here and here for starters.

There's plenty more, but some people won't be told ....


@ 274 et al ...
It still says in the Book of Common Prayer: "The Bishop of Rome hath no dominion in this realm of England".

@ 280
Wasn't Rasputin Russian Orthodox???

283:

Yes, underlining the Pope Benedict's words "a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society..."

God has a defective memory. (sci fi idea!)

Also see how God is used as a synonym for compassion for humanity which the Godless lack. We're being demonised! This is how it begins!

Also more irony for his closing salute to the english speaking peoples. Mortified to be congratulated by the Pope.

284:

I think 'future shock' is one of the things that make us modern.


285:

Mormons consider themselves Christians. (A number of fundamentalist Christian groups don't consider Catholics to be Christians, either.)

286:

If anyone was Russian Unorthodox it was Rasputin, surely?

287:

Although I've enjoyed the spectacle of Greg disproving his thesis that only the religious are dogmatic with every single word he types, I thought I'd throw in a practical suggestion for letting people deal better with future shock - or at least, how it affects their beliefs.

Teach folk how to use E-Prime. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime

If more folk could reformulate their beliefs in E-prime, just for a while, remove that insistent "this Is The Truth" from their statements... maybe it'd make a dent in their certainty.

(Probably not, but I spend a lot of time thinking about meme-inoculation and brain-change methods and defences against them - E-Prime's pretty robust, easy to explain... though admittedly hard to use on a daily basis!)

Though the oft-mentioned method above of reading a lot of different SF helps a whole lot. It doesn't always make more tolerant people (as anyone in a flamewar can attest) but it does make dealing with multiple points of view/ideas about reality habitual, and even pleasurable.

288:

#282 R1 - I'm sorry, but did you just say that that the former USSR and North Korea were communist states!? I had hoped that you knew better!! I'm not certain about North Korea, but the former USSR was most assuredly a state capitalist society (the state, rather than the people, own the means of production and distribution).

289:

Completely right on.

Back in the 1990s I predicted that Robert Heinlein's "crazy years" would actually occur when those creepy double zeroes crept into the date.

Far worse than the "Y2K effect on computers" would be the underlying (but seldom expressed at the surface) anomie of millions of people toward a world undergoing change.

The simplest litmus? The decline in popularity of science fiction literature! The "War on Science" would be weaker if sci fi were stronger.

Good 'un Charlie. And drop by http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ any time.

With cordial regards,

David Brin
http://www.davidbrin.com

PS... will you be in London October 6? Write to me separately.

290:

Charles, you wrote at post 161:
Ireland, Italy, and Poland all have church-driven abortion bans

No, sorry. Duuno about Ireland, and the abortion law in Poland was a very hot point in their politics, but in Italy there is no church-driven abortion ban.
The current law leaves great freedom to women, who can have abortions in the first three months of pregnancy, and the law was confirmed by a popular referendum. Its application is monitored by a parliamentary committee (showing the odd fact that said freedom led to a sharp DECREASE in abortions, year after year.) Yes, the law, known after its number as "the 194" in our politics, is often criticized by the Church, and ob-gyn docs are often pressured into boycotting it by claiming conscientious objector status, and a big row arose about allowing usange of RU-486 pill, but there is no ban and no case of physical attack against abortionists, as it happened in the US.

291:

Which will, at a minimum, not happen until the older generations have died of old age — and maybe not even then.

Mr. Stross, may I assume you're not excluding people our age from this cohort that needs to die out first?

292:

The term transcendent is defined as beyond the limits of normal experience,or beyond the present environment. Transcendent exceeds the limits of perception. For example, a wolf in sheep's clothing, might appear to be an observant sheep, while actually the wolf was just observing sheep in order to not be noticed as a wolf, which isn't to say that a wolf could not become more sheep-like than wolf-like, as a result of imitation might cause a conversion. Of course this could be the basic premise of a MAD world. SPYvsSPY, where sheep in wolf's clothing must occasionally kill their own kin before a wolf in wolf's clothing would be completely fooled or convinced.

293:

My apologies, I did not mean to imply fatalism, I guess the points I was trying to convey how ridiculous a statement like this looks:

"I think somewhere in the range from 15-30% of our fellow hairless primates are currently in the grip of future shock, to some degree."

If that percentage is meant to apply to the billion people in China or the other billion in India that are living in 3rd world conditions.. I might believe that figure if applied to modern/civilized/first world population - but again, I think it ignores the very point you made - that even the poor, destitute are on average, vastly better off today than at any point in ancient or recent times... and that most people suffering from the afflictions mentioned - "despair, anxiety, depression, disorientation, paranoia, and a desperate search for certainty in lives that are experiencing unpleasant and uninvited change" got there the same way people always have - through natural or man-made disasters on a larger scale, or through personal tragedies, or for the people caught in the economic churn, whether its the 'Grapes of Wrath' types or the dot-commers and derivative-bankers who can't afford their McMansion payments...

I was trying to convey that most of this is the nature of life as far as human civilization is concerned. Yes, we 1st-world civilized types have much better odds, and a pretty great quality of life. As is human nature, many take such things for granted, roll along with the mass-market entertainment, predictable careers, and totally go sideways when something 'real' happens in their life... divorce/disease/lose of loved ones/loss of job/etc. And in those situations, its a natural/normal/understandable reaction. I really don't think 15-30% of the world's population is suffering manic depression because they miss the comfort of their slide rules and typewriters....

the nature of human intelligence involves some form of personal-belief system for every unique intelligence. whether theist, atheist, or shrug-nostic, whether a believer in aliens or chtuluists or people who live their life by the Tao of Winifred Pooh. it is human nature for such personal actions and personal beliefs to be internally inconsistent and often remarkably so.

the danger comes when individuals go neurotic/psychotic/sociopath - but scales in ugly ways when political/religious leaders fall in love with their own cult of personality and raise an army for whatever personal crusade they feel called to. its easy to target the name brands - whether the its the spanish inquisition or a jihad on all infidels, but its a human nature problem - civilization doesn't work if everyone is a nonconformist - we thrive on peer pressure and collective beliefs - we tend to assume all 'right-thinking-people' see things the way we do - and signing up for a 'team' political, religious, or otherwise, satisfies our desire for family, safety, community etc... one of my favorite of Herbert's lines, that 'power attracts the corruptible' ties in because it all comes down to who the leadership of any given group is, and what is their focus/goal/motivation - and very rarely is there a focus on 'the common good' that will pass the bullshit test....

294:

In a way, I think I may be suffering a kind of future shock.
Not as a result of changes in technology, but as a result of incontrolable, negative changes in my life.

If there's currently a kind of shock, I think this is it: Having bad things happen to you, more than you can handle, knowing and/or fearing more will happen, yet feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Specials

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