04-28-16 2:30Political Sides

PhioGal: I do not find myself to be as conservative as I once was due to the hate that the right espouses. I still feel strongly on at least a few issues to the right but I just cant see how hate could possibly make America great.

VeeBeeDee: See, lefties do nothing but hurl insults! Talk about hate!! Lets stop pretending its only conservatives or the right that does this.

PhioGal: I'm not talking about personal behavior. Many of the issues I have found myself in opposition to are full of hate in and of themselves. I submit that torture, segregation, racism, and this whole gender identity issue are all topics peppered with hatred.

Are there issues the left supports that you find as hateful as these?

VeeBeeDee: You are lumping conservatives into one and saying that they support hatred and are hateful. You are doing what you claim that you hate.

PhioGal: Well I get that but thats not what I am asking. Torture is a hateful thing in itself. What are the left's hateful issues?

VeeBeeDee: Now you want me to generalize like you? No way.

PhioGal: You refuse to answer the question? Do you know what I am asking?

I understand what you are asking.

The right supports tough, law-and-order stability. This makes them support stronger torture and more brutal militarism, which could be seen as hateful. The right supports traditional marriage ideals. This makes them skeptical and nervous about any variations, which can seem hateful. The right supports stable class relationships. This makes them support traditional views of ingroup / outgroup division, which seems hateful. The right supports overwhelming might. This is undermined by terrorism, which seems like it comes from Muslims a lot, which the right converts into tough-on-Muslims policy. This policy seems hateful. The right supports unfettered accumulation and laissez faire. This makes them support business-friendly deregulation and tax evasion, which radically increases the distance between the classes and fundamentally disenfranchises almost everyone, and then they blame the problem on a lack of merit in all who experience a shortfall. This seems hateful. The right supports externalizing costs and unlimited valorization, or turning every resource into units of production value. This leads to rejecting oversight and rapidly despoiling the environment at the massive expense of future generations. This seems hateful.

Is the left just as hateful as this?

The left supports peace and working out conflicts without resorting to violence, warfare and torture. This is seen as weak and effete by the right, but not necessarily as hateful. The left supports an end to the traditional discrimination against people with orientation and gender differences. This is seen as reckless, stupid and unnecessary, but not hateful. The left sees cooperation as being as important as competition in social economies, and supports strong social safety nets. This is seen as misguided and making the problem worse, but not hateful. The left supports inclusion of Muslims without social barriers. This is seen as soft on terrorism and suicidally reckless by the right, but not as hateful. The left supports careful stewardship of the environment and acknowledging our role in climate change. This is seen as caring more about owls than people and getting in the way of prosperity, but not really as hateful.

The left sees the expansion of enfranchisement as a positive. The right often sees this as undermining the enfranchisement of the traditionally privileged. Those having their enfranchisement diluted do sometimes see this as hateful. So there is that.

Overall, the policies of the right are of militarism, exclusion and exploitation, while the policies of the left are peace, inclusion, enfranchisement and sustainability. So the left seems at least a bit less hateful in terms of policy.

Of course, others might make a different case completely, and that would be really interesting. In any case, this is the kind of discussion that needs to be had. It's much more interesting than arguing who has less manners online.

VeeBeeDee: So, it figures someone would rise to the bait and list off what you like about your side and hate about the other side.

I'll be over here,-----------> hoping for a more unified country.

Hope is not a plan. Unifying around which policies?

PhioGal: RaverLady, as always you are incredibly well spoken, I bow to your skills, in all seriousness.

You are very gracious, thank you.

PhioGal:I would add that much of the perceived hatred from the right is rationalized by the concept of sin and that is the basis on which people make these decisions.

I agree, and this is why I keep saying that, in every case, the answer is reason. We do not need to go by what others from long ago have said is good or bad. We can look ourselves, all the time, and make the determination from what is apparent.

I don't know if you recall, but years ago on HD I proposed a political philosophy called Workonomics, or doing what works. The only way to determine what works is reason.

Every idea can itself be tested for its merit on the scales of harm and well-being, on what actually works and what actually doesn't. Not every plank in the platform on "the left" or "the right" is reasoned. Which are? Which aren't? What really works? How can we tell? Are we willing to find out?

Being willing to discuss the details of the policies is a necessary first step.

Thanks again Phio!

04-18-16 2:30Sybil Exposed

Relatively: I was thinking my sister-in-law might be a multiple personality. You know, like Sybil in that book. Is anyone else here old enough to remember when that came out?

Sparkling: I remember that, it was a movie too I think. Wasn't it supposed to be based on a true story? What was it again?

I read Sybil back in the 70's. It was a real page-turner, and I remember I was simultaneously horrified and intrigued by the story of a little girl so terribly abused by her mother that her consciousness shattered into sixteen separate and distinct personalities. It was a best-selling book and also a made-for-TV movie starring Sally Field. Field won an Emmy for the role and introduced "multiple personalities" to the popular lexicon.

According to the book, "Sybil" (a pseudonym) was raised by a bizarre schizophrenic mother who subjected her to daily torture. To escape this horror, at an early age Sybil began to dissociate, or "turn into" these other personalities. For example, at the trauma of her loving grandmother's death, Sybil was reported to have "turned into" a firey, assertive alter called Peggy, who could express the grief and anger Sybil was forced by her mother to suppress.

The tale followed Sybil as she grew up, leading a fragmented existence where she "lost time" whenever an alternate personality came to the forefront. For example, after dissociating at the grandmother's funeral, Sybil was reported to have "come to," seemingly instantly, in a classroom two years later. Her alternate personality Peggy had learned the multiplication tables, but Sybil had not, and now she could not do her math.

When she reached adulthood, Sybil entered psychoanalysis with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. According to the story, Dr. Wilbur diagnosed multiple personality, and through brilliant psychoanalysis, she was able to identify each of the personalities and work out all the memories of trauma that caused Sybil to dissociate. About halfway through this process they started working with Flora Rheta Schrieber on the book.

At the end of the story, Dr. Wilbur returns all the missing memories and emotions to the original self, and Sybil rejoins the world as a healed person. A happy ending. A bestselling book. And a cultural sensation.

Multiple Personality Disorder and repressed memories soon became the new psychological fashion. Several more books about bizarre MPD cases came out. Psychologists suddenly began reporting lots of suppressed traumatic childhood memories. Therapy was unearthing, not only tales of physical and sexual abuse, but of bizarre satanic cults, strange rituals and blood sacrifices.

This trend continued until it hit a wall of reality.

As a result of these unearthed memories, people were filing criminal charges and lawsuits against relatives and others who had supposedly abused them as a children. But, in case after case, it was found to be impossible - the accused was found to have been out of the country, etc. at the time when the abuse allegedly occurred. Counter-lawsuits were launched, and patients came forward to say that they felt the false memories had been induced by their therapists.

Insurance companies stopped paying for this kind of therapy. And what do you know, the repressed memory/multiple personality diagnosis craze faded.

More recently, Debbie Nathan has written a book called Sybil Exposed. In it she examines the life of Shirley Ardell Mason, the real woman on whom Sybil is based.

According to Nathan, Shirley was a bright, interesting but troubled and naive waif who was manipulated by Wilbur and Schrieber into convincing herself that she had these personalities, and playing them out accordingly. In particular, Nathan points out that Dr. Wilbur was using extremely high doses of psychotropic drugs on Shirley, particularly sodium pentothal, or as it was known, "truth serum." Dr. Wilbur also made extensive use of hypnosis. Both these methods put the patient in a state of extreme suggestability, and are known to create wild imaginings and fantastic tales.

Also, Nathan investigated Shirley's home town and family, could not find any evidence at all of the terrible abuse or bizarre behavior that Shirley was supposed to have been subjected to at the hands of her mother. And, after Dr. Wilbur's death, another psychotherapist who saw Shirley during those years came forward and said he had seen no indication of multiple personalities, and he felt they had been coerced out of Shirley by Dr. Wilbur, who spent the rest of her career touring as an expert on MPD.

Oddly, there is even a chapter in the book where "Sybil" writes a letter to Dr. Wilbur, saying that she just can't go along with the charade anymore. She confesses that she was just faking the personalities and exaggerating her mother's abuse, and begs Dr. Wilbur not to abandon her.

In Schrieber's book, this letter is presented as proof that Sybil is in denial, and is said to be a "classic case of resistance," supposedly a normal phase of the psychoanalytical process, which Sybil soon recants.

However, according to Nathan, at this point Shirley was highly addicted to the drugs Dr. Wilbur was prescribing for her. Upon receiving the letter, Dr. Wilbur threatened to end their relationship - and her injections of sodium pentothal - if Shirley did not cooperate.

So of course Shirley recanted her confession.

Suffice it to say, I had begun to suspect years ago that the Freudian psychology on which this psychoanalysis is based was a bunch of bullshit. And I always wondered about that confession letter. I now think Sybil was likely a hoax.

But, "multiple personalities," or as it is now known, Dissociative Identity Disorder, is still listed in the DSM as a legitimate diagnosis. Some psychiatric professionals insist that there really have been people who are multiples. I don't think there is really strong evidence to support it, though.

04-17-16 9:08Bible Mis Understanding

Bandicoot: I know you don't value the Bible, but it is a useful guide. It is the beginning of the human conversation about the Divine.

I'm not saying I believe their explanation, just that I see it as their attempt at understanding.

So, their "attempt at understanding" has about as much relation to actual gods or actual happenings as the story of Little Black Sambo has to actual butter. It other words, none. It is a misunderstanding.

Hi, Bandicoot, always a pleasure! I appreciate that you are willing to have an intelligent discussion with me even though we disagree. Thank you so much!

Bandicoot: It represents their understanding at that time...

This is like saying that getting an F in chemistry represents "your understanding of chemistry at that time." It represents your lack of understanding chemistry. Supernatural attribution shows no understanding of real cause and effect and appears to be completely wrong.

The bible represents their NOT understanding at that time.

Unless you are trying to hold it up as an example of what not to think, this huge pile of NOT understanding isn't a good or useful guide to anything in particular.

Bandicoot: We've since learned that weather, for instance, isn't controlled by God.

So, the herders were wrong about weather. They were wrong about illness. They were wrong about what causes things to happen. They were wrong about what works to order a good society. They were even wrong about gods, according to you, when they claim gods are jealous, inflicting illness, destroying cities, causing genocides, etc.

And yet, somehow you trust these ignorant herders for their insight into the "divine". Why?

Bandicoot: I don't have an issue with seeing the Bible as a collection of texts written by peoples trying to understand humanity, Divinity, society, and so forth.

It is a collection of texts by people completely failing to understand divinity, and failing to understand humanity and society in big ways too.

First of all, there is not one single thing that the bible suggests about "divinity" which you can confirm to be true. Nothing at all. Every single word of that could be - and seems to be - utterly false and inconsistent with observable reality. Plus, the god depicted therein is thoroughly horrible. How is this deplorable character in any way related to anything Divine?

Secondly, the bible is loaded with plenty of wrong stuff about humanity and society. Using the understanding of the people who wrote the bible would have us holding fellow humans in slavery. Using their understanding of society would have us in monarchies instead of democracies. Using their understanding of sexuality would have us vilifying or stoning gays. Using their understanding of illness would have us - and does have some of us - casting spells instead of going to the hospital.

If you don't want a bible guy telling you how to serve your king or how to treat your slaves, or how to cure your illness, then why do you want him telling you how to "relate" to the divine?

There is no evidence, none, that their "understanding of the divine" was any less wrong and ignorant and error-producing as their misunderstanding of everything else.

People are trying to learn to drive a car by reading a manual on how to fly a horse. Massive error is the result.

Bandicoot: I believe that every human has "god conciousness," if you will, through which we can learn to access the Divine. It helps us, in shaping our own ideas and beliefs about Divinity, to see how others have understood It and how beliefs have changed and evolved over time.

Only if you are using it to show how wrong people used to be. There is no basis for holding it up as an example of people "understanding" the divine.

And even if you are correct, that humans have "god consciousness", you should be able to use it yourself, to go straight there. Routing your perception of the divine through this ignorant book and this cruel, exclusionary religion is an unnecessary detour through hell.

They do not have more "god consciousness" than you. You do not need to shape your ideas about the divine on what other people said about it. Least of all those people.

Bandicoot: I believe the Bible reflects a development from the many tribal gods of the earlier times to a Universal God...

On what are you basing your conclusion that the universal god idea is a more accurate description than the multiple god idea?

Bandicoot: I believe that by the end of the New Testament the Bible points to a universal God of love and that we are all "children" of God, "created" in "His" image and born with an inherent dignity, potential, and worth.

On what are you basing your conclusion that humans were created by god(s)?

Bandicoot: Again, it shows the way humans in general have developed and cultivated belief about God over time.

Does it show that human understanding of god has become more accurate?

Bandicoot: Now all this is just my personal belief...

That is the problem.

Bandicoot: ...especially since I believe...

Everything after "I believe" is meaningless. So you believe it, so what? That does not make it true. You care nothing for the truth. That is the problem.

Bandicoot: But I honestly don't care whether the Divine is one or many or even just metaphor.

I know. As I said, you care nothing for the truth. But it matters.

You have no basis AT ALL to claim that the bible represents some kind of spiritual "development." You have no basis AT ALL to suggest that human understanding of god has become more accurate over time. This is just what you want to think about it, but no development can be shown.

In your desperation to find some kind of relevance for Christianity and the bible, you are pretending to see "development" on a subject you actually know nothing about.

You are doing exactly the same thing the tribesmen did - constructing a fantasy they liked on a subject they knew nothing about and enshrining it as "faith."

So, not a development.

Bandicoot: I am comfortable with God being merely a metaphor - my beliefs wouldn't change much, if at all, if I were to conclude that to be the case.

It doesn't matter what you decide to believe about god this week. The problem is belief. Belief is the system that doesn't work. As long as you are still believing you are ignoring the truth.

Bandicoot: I'm not a literalist. If God created the world, I believe He/It merely set things in motion to be self sustaining and is no longer actively involved in the world's affairs.

Or, as Kathy would say, "Oh yeah? But who made the carbon atoms?"

This is god of the gaps, and my response to you is the same as to her. If you have to go back so far in time to find a gap for god to exist in, why bother cramming Him in there at all?

For someone who knows exactly nothing about "god" or "the divine", jamming these words into every other sentence comes off as extremely forced and unnatural. It adds nothing to the meaning of what you are trying to express about the human capacity for good.

Bandicoot: You ask if the bible shows that human understanding of god has become more accurate?

I personally believe it does.

But, you have no basis for this and it doesn't seem to be true. So, whatever.

Bandicoot: Those who are involved in moving forward in faith, at least, and not holding on to outdated dogma and doctrine or fundamentalism.

The bible is outdated dogma and doctrine and you are holding on to it for dear life. Desperately trying on different interpretations to wring something relevant out of it, and pretending that "the conversation" actually knows something, is holding on.

Bandicoot: Religion might change in name or in interpretation, but I do believe that humanity is still in the process of developing and cultivating our understanding of humanity, Divinity, life, and so forth.

You can only develop and cultivate understanding with information. You have no information about Divinity. If you understood this it would up your understanding of humanity, life and so forth considerably.

Hello Bandicoot! I think this is an important conversation and I appreciate you sharing it with me.

Bandicoot: You see my belief as a problem. But I'm not demanding anyone else adopt my belief.

By promulgating Christianity and the bible, and by acting like you have information on a subject that no human knows about, you are giving legitimacy to belief and enabling the blood cult. Yes, I see that as a problem. Unreason is the problem and it is a big problem.

Bandicoot: Truth should never be a stagnant arrival at a claim, it should be a constant search.

Truth is not a "stagnant claim." It is descriptions of reality that correspond to reality, based on information, with a demonstrable arc of increasing accuracy via error correction.

This is why your stuff about gods and the divine is not truth or part of the search for truth. It has no information. Nothing is known of gods or the divine and nothing has ever been known of them and there is no known way to acquire information about them. Since there is nothing there to examine, what, exactly, is there for you to search?

Bandicoot: The Bible DOES reflect the development of mankind, man's ideas, and so forth.

First of all, it reflects the mythohistorical account of one tiny tribe, not humankind. It represents a miniscule slice of human ideas.

Secondly, if you looked at the bible without the bias of "scripture," you would see that it is 99% hideous. Deeply studying it for information about the divine, or even about good life, is consulting an ancient manual by ignorant people preoccupied with dominance.

And thirdly, that is beside the point, because the bible does NOT reflect any kind of development in knowledge or relation to the divine, which is the point I was making. It does not in any way represent human understanding about gods becoming more accurate. I know you "believe" it does, but there is no evidence of this and that unsubstantiated belief is what I am disputing.

Whatever the bible is, it has nothing to do with "the divine."

Bandicoot: I also don't see thinking it is possible - yet not claiming it is absolutely true - for there to be a God or some sense of Divine is incompatible with truth.

Truth requires information and correspondence.

Bandicoot: If there wasn't a person named Jesus it doesn't change the truth of the MESSAGE, the truth of the virtues.

First of all, that one group's opinion of what constitutes virtue is not "the truth" about virtue. It is just what they thought was virtue, and in many cases what they thought was virtuous clearly isn't. Modern virtues, acquired by error correction, are not "the truth" of virtue either, but at least they are a vast improvement.

Secondly, the bible is only a good source of virtues if you ignore 99% of it. Then, the few actual virtues that can be tweezed from its pages are simple ideas which are known universally, in almost every culture, and permeate all literature. The bible is not a source for these ideas any more than anything else - they are everywhere.

Word for word, there is less virtue in the bible than there is in Shakespeare, or Star Trek, or in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Your obsession with wringing virtue and "non-literal truth" from this book and this primitive, violent culture from thousands of years ago shows your overriding concern for "the divine."

Bandicoot: I believe He exists today just fine.

Yes, I know. It is obvious that you believe this and that it is important to you.

04-17-16 10:55Rid the World of...

Rama: If you could rid the world of one thing - hate, suffering, crime...religion? ...what would it be?

Unreason. That would take care of most everything else.

VeeBeeDee: Money.

"The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." - Captain Jean-Luc Picard

It was the vision of Gene Rodenberry that money would not exist in the 24th century. However, this really tied the hands of the script writers. It is very helpful to be able to drive plots by placing relative value on objects and assigning acquisitive motives to characters.

So, after Rodenberry passed, they found ways to get around his edicts, mainly by having other species besides humans still massively concerned with money and acquisition. Early Star Trek does not have currency, but starting in later TNG they introduced "gold-pressed latinum," which could be counted and eventually came in denominations like bars, strips and slips. Still, humans and most advanced Federation types were not at all concerned with latinum, except maybe to occasionally gamble with. There was no need to deal in latinum for necessities since all needs could be easily met.

I think this represents a fair vision of post-scarcity. Some people can think of nothing better to be concerned with than objects and acquistion, and there will always be markets and money for them to play with. However people who are concerned with what they can be, instead of what they can get, will at last be free to "work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."

FifthEl: How on earth not getting paid with money will improve anyone's life!?

It would be an improvement to reach post-scarcity, where there is enough to meet everyone's needs without having to scramble for it, and subsistence is disconnected from financial accumulation. "Money" could still exist for those who like it, but people who are able to think beyond the need for accumulation could dedicate their lives to uplifting the human condition.

FifthEl: And get rid of religion? Why?

Traditional supernatural religions are the last big bastion of unreason. Because they do not seem to be true, and because they are mutually exclusive, they create a huge amount of error and ingroup / outgroup division in society.

The world is definitely a better place now that we have less ancient supernatural religion, and the trend can be expected to continue. Less ancient superstition is resulting in more equality and more ability to use accurate descriptions than ever before.

But, religion has important functions in society, so we need not abandon it altogether. We just need to use reason to create a system of moral rubrics and trancendence technology based on accurate descriptions of reality. In other words, relgions that are true and based on reality instead of wishes and fear.

So, it would not be necessary to "rid the world" of money or religion, but through reason, we could remove them from the pedestals they now reside upon.

Rama: Religion based on reality? What would that look like?

Hi there Roma, I'm happy to describe it.

First of all, religion has traditionally been the home of a society's morals. This usually meant claiming that the morals were supernaturally derived, ie, mandated by the gods.

However, it's not necessary to use the supernatural to derive moral standards. They can be derived directly from reality, by seeing what arises as a result of what we do. Religion can also be a home for non-supernatural moral standards. Rubrics like "Treat others as you would be treated" or the Buddhist 8-fold Path are not supernatural, they are just observations of what works in human interaction.

Reality-based religions would have rubrics for moral action based on real-life evaluations of what works to minimize harm and maximize well-being, rather than on commandments supposedly from the gods.

Secondly, religion has traditionally been the arena for transcendent experience, so when humans experienced altered states of consciousness, trance states, etc, they thought the origins were supernatural, ie, "talking to God."

However the technology to induce transcendent states of consciousness is not supernaturally derived. It consists of fairly straightforward techniques which anyone can use without having to have beliefs that there are gods or spirits involved.

Reality-based religion could teach techniques and create spaces for exploring altered states of consciousness without pretending that supernatural beings are responsible.

Lastly, religion has been the traditional go-to for creating meaning and personal attainment. Supernatural religions make this mainly about about pleasing the gods and getting the good afterlife.

However, the techniques for creating meaning and personal wholeness are not supernatural. You don't have to implore gods through prayers or burnt offerings to get them, and you don't have to merit divine intervention to see results.

Reality-based religion would focus on achieving meaning and attainment through practical techniques for transcending suffering, like focused attention and non-attachment, which don't involve supernatural beings.

So, by abandoning fears of gods, the afterlife and the supernatural, and focusing on realistic understanding of what is true and what works, religion of the future could serve an important role for personal wholeness and social cohesion while being entirely reality-based.

FifthEl:Lol so instead of getting rid of cancer, or other debilitating diseases you want to live in an "all equal" Europa world. How interesting!

"All equal"? Not at all, so thanks for the opportunity to clarify. I do not expect humans to stop arranging themselves into hierarchies anytime soon. It is very natural behavior for a social species. However our current system, arranging our ranking by wealth, is not working, and is far from the only possible way.

If you recall, I entered the discussion on VeeBee's quote from "Captain Picard." Star Trek described a future without money, but certainly the people on the Enterprise were not "all equals". Some were leaders, chosen by merit based on their experience and demonstrated good judgement, and put in charge of telling other people what to do. Others, less experienced or skilled, were rank-and-filers and had to follow the orders of their superiors. It could hardly be less equal in terms of social ranking.

Yet, all were equal in some significant ways - every sentient was equal under the law, and all had equal access to subsistence and enfranchisement. This kind of equality is important. Also, people did not have to participate in the heirarchy of Starfleet if they didn't want to, and there were other avenues of attainment - sciences, the arts, scholarship, etc - which people could pursue and, if able, excel at.

So, even in a world without money there would not be "all equal," but you could hope the ranking would have some touch on actual merit.

Additionally, setting a reasonable bottom does not mean no one can reach higher. It just means the bottom is not starving.

FifthEl: I believe in financial rewards.. To strive for something better.. Nicer car, better bigger home, better schooling.. And yes nicer things do cost money...

Sure. Remember, I said that people who want to play the money game and use their winnings to get expensive booty should be able to do so. However people should not be forced into playing the game by the threat of starvation. People who want to dedicate their lives to poetry, or art, or science, or gardening, should be able to do so without having to worry about whether it is remunerative.

FifthEl: PS, your religion point of view is just that. Other will disagree with you.

I'm really only concerned about points of view which are reasonable. The unreasonable wash away in the tide.

FifthEl: And like I said to take away people's beliefs in God or superior being is just down right selfish! I will guess you are an atheist.

No, and I said nothing at all about "taking away people's beliefs." Such a thing is not possible. However we didn't have to "take away" people's beliefs in geocentrism. As the evidence for heliocentrism mounted, geocentrism dropped away naturally.

Using reason would allow people's description of the world to come to match the world more accurately. Gods mean nothing compared to accuracy.

FifthEl: Like I said I rather get rid of diseases!

Reason has already cured and contained so many diseases, either by prevention or effective treatment. Modern antibiotics and hygiene and medical technology means you will likely live twice as long as your great-great-great uncles and aunts. That is a huge acheivement already under our belt.

The only thing that can continue to cure diseases is the advancement of reason. As I said, this one thing would take care of practically everything else.

Thanks again FifthEl!

04-13-16 10:55Karma Explained Again

Jolene: Religious beliefs give strength to our morals, as well as giving support, courage and comfort when dealing with the unavoidable challenges and heartaches in life.

It is not necessary to believe in the supernatural to have morals, support and courage. Religion does not need to be based on pretense. Buddhists do just fine even though basic Buddhism does not posit a god, a devil, a soul, an afterlife, or any other made up thing. Studies have shown that Buddhists are measurably happier than people in other faith categories.

Jolene: No supernatural or made up things? What do you call karma? There's no proof that the idea of karma is any truer than the idea of a god or gods.

This is a common misunderstanding of what karma is. It is not a supernatural or magical concept. Karma just means that effects arise from causes. For example, if you jump onto the tracks when a train is coming, you will be crushed. If you treat people with cruelty, they will dislike you. There is nothing about this concept that requires "faith." It can be discerned by observation.

Jolene: The various concepts of karma in Buddhism reduce down to an essential belief that some unseen, unfelt, unheard, unmeasurable, undetectable, non-physical (i.e. SPIRITUAL) force returns to a person equal balance of whatever actions, thoughts or emotions that person originates.

Wrong. The Buddha never said anything like this.

Jolene: Can you prove that if a rock falls so that it hits a cow, it is because that cow, in this life or in some prior life, did something that merited being hit by a rock?

Of course not. I would never posit anything so ridiculous.

Here is a quote from the Dalai Lama about karma:

Some people misunderstand the concept of karma. They take the Buddha's doctrine of the law of causality to mean that all is predetermined, that there is nothing the individual can do. This is a total misunderstanding. The very term karma or action is a term of active force, which indicates that future events are within your hands. Since action is a phenomenon that is committed by a person, a living being, it is within your own hands whether or not you engage in actions.

Here is what a Zen teacher wrote about it:

Karma isn't a thing, which could be accumulated, it is an observation, that effects have causes. There is no one doling out paybacks or keeping score. Furthermore, since there are many players and the exact nature of cause and effect is not foreseeable, it really is more of a tendency.

All things being equal, right actions lead to good consequences. The more right actions and the more insight with which they are applied, the more likely one is going to see them bear fruit. But no guarantees - this is life.

Jolene: How do you PROVE it?

I really don't see anything here that needs to be "proved." Karma is an observation that effects arise from causes. It seems pretty straightforward and doesn't depend on anything magical or supernatural or miraculous.

However if you simply disagree that effects rise from causes, that's fine too. Nothing in Buddhism should be accepted on faith. Here is a quote from the Buddha himself which addresses this:

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

Jolene: So what kind of cause and effect, precisely, does it describe?

It describes how the results you get in your life arise, at least in part, from how you act.

Jolene: What are its limits?

Some things arise in your life which are not a result of how you act.

Jolene: You say it is observable. What, exactly, does that mean?

It means that you can look at your actions and see that some of the results in your life have arisen from them. For example, if your action [karma] was going to college and studying hard, the the fruits of your karma would be your degree. If you walk around in a snit all the time, the fruits of your karma would be people not liking to have you around. If your action was jumping into the pool, the fruits of your karma would be that you would get wet.

Do your observations about cause and effect differ from this?

Jolene: Why then believe in it or act upon it?

If you don't want to, then don't. It's just an idea.

Basic Buddhism is not claiming that karma is a "thing" which exists, the way religious people claim God is a thing that actually exists, or hell is a thing that actually exists, or the devil is a thing that actually exists. Karma is just a way of looking at things.

You are not required to have faith that the Buddha's take on karma is "Truth." You could reject it entirely and still practice Buddhism.

04-13-16 10:55Holiday Rip Off

AgentO: I know that the majority of "Christian" holidays we celebrate today are actually rip offs of older Pagan holidays.

Marilyn: Certainly, the Christian church did a lot of co-opting of pagan celebrations, symbols and customs, turning them and giving them Christian meanings. As long as it didn't corrupt the doctrine (which it didn't) there is no harm.

Why not allow people to reinterpret their familiar customs in a way that supports the religious truth?

Why not allow people to keep their familiar customs as they were, without reinterpretation?

Marilyn: Someone may say, "I'm glad I'm now Christian, but I will miss the solstice celebrations." Someone else may respond, "Well, you know, Jesus came and brought light to the world, that is what we should be celebrating." They talked it over with the Priest and he said it was okay and viola!

If people want to celebrate the solstice just for being the solstice, there is no reason to pretend that "Jesus" has anything to do with it.

Marilyn: The goal was to encourage the replacement of wrong beliefs with what was now understood to be the truth.

How do you know their previous beliefs were wrong and the new ones are truth?

Marilyn: If a person believes (a matter of FAITH) that their belief system is the one and only truth, then it is demanded of them, as an act of caring for others, to share that truth with others - especially when that truth is seen as a necessary understanding in order to enjoy eternal life and bliss.

Since there is no way to confirm that this is actually true, perhaps they should not take it for granted. They might be wrong.

Marilyn: Of course they might be wrong. Any belief might be wrong. Only agnosticism - the statement that "I don't know" - is likely to be correct.

I don't disagree, but then why bother with anything else? Why make up a bunch of stuff when you know no one really knows?

Marilyn: As for the Pagans, I think it is a good thing to allow people a way to keep the celebrations and customs they enjoy. Don't you?

I think it is lame to assume the authority to "allow" or "disallow" people to celebrate what they want.

04-12-16 10:55Libertarian Traffic

I was conversing with a fellow who claims to be a Libertarian. We were discussing the economy and I mentioned a need for regulation in the financial markets. He said no, regulation was what ruined the economy, if we wanted it to recover and prosper we needed to do away with regulations, which violate our rights and only serve to limit success and prevent prosperity.

I said I thought regulations on the financial markets were kind of like traffics laws - meant to protect the safety of all in a system we were all using together.

He said, "That's my point. We shouldn't have traffic regulations either. They are a violation of our right to make our own decisions about how we drive." He said speed limits and stop signs are often unnecessary, and really slow down your ability to get where you are going, just like regulations on money markets.

I said, those regulations are there for safety.

He replied that it is incumbent on every driver to learn how to drive at a safe speed for the conditions and to stop when necessary, but it was a personal responsibility to make those decisions, not the responsibility of the state.

He also said that in "free driving," there wouldn't necessarily be insurance either. If there was an accident, people would be responsible for paying every penny to repair any damage they caused out of their own pocket. He said the possibility of such great financial loss would serve to make everyone drive as safely as possible.

Two questions. One, does this make sense? Two, is this Libertarian?

TreeLing: Comparing traffic to economics is apples and oranges. For one thing, unlike the economy, traffic can't take care of itself.

Actually, to an extent, it can. There have been many places in the world, at least until very recently, where cars have been introduced without any real effort at traffic regulation. In many small villages in China, Europe, Africa, etc., you have streets which are always packed with cars, pedestrians, livestock, wagons, bicycles, etc, all weaving in and out of the space between the buildings. Sometimes the cars yield to let the pedestrians go, sometimes the pedestrians yeild to let the cars go. When a space opens up to walk a sudden wave of pedestrians will surge forward to take advantage of it.

You can observe this kind of traffic moving for hours on end and never see a single accident.

However, this only works for a couple of reasons. One, the vehicles in that kind of traffic are generally very small, and two, they are moving very slowly. If that village was on an Interstate, the first huge Mac truck that blew through at freeway speed could kill thousands at one go.

So, traffic can regulate itself when it is small, slow and personal. When it is big, fast and dangerous, traffic can no longer regulate itself, and needs to be deliberately regulated.

TreeLing: The economy can take care of itself.

When the economy is small, slow and personal, it can regulate itself to an extent. However when it is global, fast and massive, it needs regulation. There are people driving financial vehicles whose relative size makes them cruise ships on the freeway, except fast. When they steer wrong millions of other humans on the road are crushed.

TreeLing: It's called supply and demand.

When financial might is huge, "supply and demand" become meaningless. Financial might can manipulate supply and demand in whichever direction serves their profits.

AgentO: While I agree with Libertarian Traffic in theory, I realize that it just would never work. There are too many people on the road these days and too many of them suffer from road rage, self entitlement, asshole-ese... etc.

I would say the same would hold true of the financial world.

04-11-16 2:28Knooooowing

Patricia: I don't know why Marilyn keeps saying "God is Love". Has she ever even read a Bible? God is depicted as vengeful and wrathful.

Marilyn: It makes me happy to see God as a caring, compassionate, omnipotent being. Why should that bother any one else?

I don't know about anyone else but I can tell you why it bugs me:

1) There is no reason to think that God IS caring and compassionate and ISN"T vengeful and wrathful. Both are 100% speculation, based only on what other people have speculated. The various speculations are in conflict, with nothing to recommend one over the other.

2) There is no reason to attribute any particular traits to God at all, except that everybody just picks what they happen like and declares them to be that. However there is no way to confirm any of it. "God" does not display any actual traits which can be evaluated. "He" is just a big empty screen onto which people can project - and then claim - whatever they like.

3) It lacks intellectual rigor. People who just believe whatever they like, without requiring evidence or confirmation, can be led to believe anything that is made to sound like what they like.

4) Once you start down the road of believing your own speculation, you can just make shit up all day. You can speculate that monotheism is closer to the truth than polytheism, or that Jesus gives you a second chance after you die, or that God prefers blondes, or any other thing you care to sit and manufacture because you like the sound of it. How do you know when to stop making stuff up?

5) It appears to be a Big Lie, and those always bug me.

Marilyn: God has been at work and present in my life all along. His presence, for me, is undeniable. I have no reason to question his existence or his word.

Patricia: Can you explain this to me? How do Christians know this is one specific God that is at work and present in your life, or that it's his word you've been reading?

Marilyn: We just knooooow. A person that does not want to believe will never understand. When you know, you know...when you don't know, or don't want to know, don't care to know...you can be atheist. It feels good to know, it feels safe and it makes sense.

There is no evidence that you "know" anything that other people don't.

Marilyn: People that need "evidence" will never know.

Or, you could just be wrong. Perhaps people who don't comprehend the relevance of evidence are incapable of understanding the true nature of reality.

Marilyn: What is the true nature of reality?


Patricia: Good question. I don't think anyone can truthfully answer. Nobody really knows that.

We don't know everything about it. But that doesn't mean we know nothing. We know a lot about reality. One thing that seems pretty well understood is that everything which is known to be real has evidence, and ideas with no evidence can be delusions.

But hey, I'm not an atheist. I'm just saying, the people who claim to "knooooow," but cannot show, can easily be wrong. They often are.

Marilyn: Let me explain. The Bible says that....

The people who wrote the Bible were just people. People can say anything.

Marilyn: ....God put us in this earth for a battle of good against evil. If we defeat evil, we can be a part of another life where death does not exist, nor suffering or pain.

That is what some people say. Other people say that unless you slay a wild boar before the age of fourteen your spirit will never join your ancestors in the Great Otherland. There is no evidence that the "defeat evil" people are correct and the "slay a boar" people are wrong. This is all just stuff that people say.

Marilyn: So that is an explanation to our purpose here on Earth and to us that believe in those words, it is our reality.

Saying it does not make it reality. Reality precedes the saying of this.

Marilyn: God put us here, and there is something more in store for us than a big bang, evolution and then death.

I am so sorry that you are not able to appreciate the incredible beauty and magnificence of the big bang, evolution and death. Reality, exactly as is apprehendable by observation without any made-up add-ons, is a wonderment to behold. If I live my whole life, and see no more of it than can be apprehended by my direct attention, I will still be utterly amazed and bedazzled, grateful for my tremendous good fortune, and able to die a happy and satisfied person.

Marilyn: I'd rather be this than be an atheist, thinking, "God doesn't exist and I don't care why I am here or where I am going, life sucks and then you die."

If you think that "God doesn't exist" = "I don't care why I am here or where I am going, life sucks" then you fail to appreciate the elegance of the cosmos, the intricate symmetry of our natural world, and the greatness of our history, our accomplishments, and the human thirst for life, love, and discovery. Plus I don't know any person who actually thinks what you ascribe to the non-believer.

But, yes, you do die. So, at least that seems accurate.

Marilyn: Religion gives us a better understanding of what our reality is...

It doesn't appear to. If it was actually reality it could be verified. If it was truth it would not be completely different in any other given religion. What religion gives us is mere speculation.

Marilyn: ...otherwise, we would wander the planet not knowing...and me personally, I'd be in a psych ward wondering WHY and what for????

Most people who lived before the modern era did wander the planet not knowing. It didn't kill them or drive them insane. They managed. It often drove them to investigate and to find out. We still don't know everything about why and what for but it doesn't kill us. We can try to find out.

Marilyn: You can ignore the Bible and the Quran and live in ignorance...I chose to use the only reference tools we have instead of believing nothing.

The Bible and the Quran are not "the only reference tools we have."

First of all, what about the Vedas and the Sutras? They are even older than the Bible. However they say a bunch of stuff that is completely different.

Second of all, if you want to know how long your car is, you can look up the specs for your make and model on the internet...OR, you can just go outside to the driveway and measure it yourself. We don't have to read what people said about reality to find out about it. We can examine reality itself, directly. Reality itself is the ultimate reference.

Marilyn: You are choosing to live your life not wanting an answer.

Wrong. I am very interested in answers. However I am interested in accurate answers, not innaccurate ones. I willing to accept that many things are unknown and seek to discover accurate answers instead of making up pretend answers.

Marilyn: Maybe you think our answer is made up, but at least we have one.

Your "answer" is just one of many made up answers and there is no reason to think your made up answer is better than any other made up one. There is no evidence to support it. It could very well be completely false.

Marilyn: You will seriously die happy to have the amazing brain and body that you have and these hundred years of pain are the end of it?

If that is the reality I am willing to accept it. I am not afraid to face it.

Marilyn: Science can not describe most of the things about us and our planet.

Science has described enough about us to develop amazing medicine and technology that works. It's not perfect but it is pretty good at describing things, and it is a system that is designed to continually produce ever more accurate answers over time.

Marilyn: One answer is better than no answer.

A completely inaccurate answer is not better than no answer. For one thing, the wrong answer can make you stop looking for a more accurate answer. For another, if the fact is that the answer is unknown, making up a wrong answer just to fill in the blank is fleeing in fear.

The years Western civilization spent in the thrall of your "answer" are called The Dark Ages for a reason. That "answer" was not producing anything that worked. The time when people threw off the pretend answer and started looking for real answers is called The Enlightenment for a reason. The real answers worked better.

Marilyn: What answers do you think you will find with science?

How things work. What things used to be like. What they are like. What they will probably be like. Those are very interesting and useful things to know.

Marilyn: There may be different "made up answers" from different religions but they ALL point to a higher power.

First of all, no they don't. There are religions which do not have gods.

Second of all, so what if they did? For one thing, I have never attempted to argue that there is no such thing as a "higher power." I'm not an atheist. For another, just because a bunch of people are pointing doesn't mean they are all pointing in the same direction, or that the things they think they are pointing at actually exist and do what they say they do.

Third of all, even if there is a "higher power," there is no evidence that Christianity has any special insight into what it is, what it does, or what it wants. Even if there is a "higher power," it in no way validates "You must believe in salvation through Jesus Christ or else you will spend eternity in Hell" or "God turned a woman into salt" or "Homosexuality is against God" or any other Christian-specific piece of dogma.

Marilyn: Completely ignoring thousands of answers that all point to a higher power, is debilitating yourself to "proven science."

I am not ignoring them. I have examined them. They do not all point to a higher power, the higher powers they do point to are not similar, there is no evidence that any group has a valid description of a higher power, and lastly, I never said "proven science" knows everything. I said it works, which it does.

Marilyn: I am pretty sure you were making it seem as though you did not believe in a higher power because there is no scientific proof of it. That has been your whole argument.

I never said I was an atheist. I said that there is no reason to think that just because somebody claims to "knooooow" that there is a higher power doesn't mean there actually is one. People can be wrong about what they "knooooow" and often are.

04-11-16 11:30Creative Visualization

Wednesday Adams: I heard that thinking positively will attract positive things to you. Conversely, negative thoughts cause bad things to happen. Have you heard of this?

There were a few different New-Agey trends in the 80's and 90's that focused on this kind of thing. Richard Bach wrote a book called "Illusions," describing how your could put your needs and questions out into "the universe," with creative visualization, and "the universe" would be sure to answer you. Not as a little voice in your head, but just as some kind of occurrence or sudden insight that was too uncanny to be just a coincidence.

The Celestine Prophesy was another of this type, describing how "the universe" loves you and listens to you and is here to help when you need it. (New Agers don't always like to say "God" so sometimes they say "Universal Intelligence" or just "Universe.")

There was a Christian book out around this time that said that no matter what your question or difficulty, you could open a random page of the Bible and the answer you need would always be on that page. The New Agers extrapolated this even further and said that you could open a random page of any book and the answer would be there, waiting for you. It was "the universe" telling you what to do.

Another 90's trend that sparked a few books was Synchronicity - the idea that the coincidences and strange occurrences of your life are not random happenings but actual evidence of the patterns and currents of non-physical reality manifesting as instructions for your life.

Some people with a (very) slight understanding of quantum physics also extrapolated the Heisenberg uncertainty principal, which peripherally states that you cannot observe a subatomic particle experiment without affecting its outcome, to mean that your entire existence was in fact determined by your thoughts and attitude about it.

These ideas were recycled in the 00's for the movies "What The Bleep" and "The Secret." Both of them described how visualizing your wants and your quandaries put them "out there" to be answered and solved by various mystical "energies."

People are often very excited about these "spiritual tools" when they first learn of them. Humans seem to have a tendancy to assign agency to coincidence and see contrivance or benevolence in the patterns of their experiences. However most of the people I knew who got very into "creative visualization," etc. eventually abandoned it because it never paid off with the big results that were promised.

Read more in the Archives.