07-30-16 8:01  •  Religion vs. Gods

SlimtoNone: I am not nor have I ever been a religious person... there have been times in my life that I thought maybe just maybe there might be some type of superior being up "there" looking out for us... But now, not so much... I question it.

There's a lot going on here, but religion is a pet subject of mine so I will try to dissect it.

First of all, "religion" here could be conflated with "belief in God" and I think those two things are separate.

For one thing, many people believe in gods, or the supernatural, etc., who are not religious. For another, religion does not necessarily have to concern gods. For example, Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.

Now I would say that I am actually a fan of religion. Religion serves a lot of important purposes in people's lives. Religion serves to provide a story, a cosmology, about what we are and where we come from, which connects the world of facts - how things are - to the world of values - how we should be. Bringing together facts and values around a common story works for both the individual and the society, providing personal wholeness and social cohesion. It's a very advantageous survival strategy for human groups.

Except, the religions we have now are mainly those we inherited from ancient people. The reason this is now problematic is because what the ancient people thought isn't true.

The difference between what the ancient people thought and what we know now is huge, and this chasm is creating all kinds of problems. And unfortunately, the reason the ancient religions are still around is because they are forbidding people from facing the truth, actively working to make sure that people never, ever consider it, and the ancient ideas just keep getting handed down without ever getting checked.

So what is this "truth" that I refer to?

It is the reality, as apparent to examination. And the reality is that this world holds no, zero, exactly none, not one tiny shred of evidence for gods, afterlives, souls, or any other supernatural conjecture upon which the ancient religions are based.

Does that mean no gods exist? Of course not. What it does mean is that every suggestion, every single one, every single claim that every person has ever made about the existence of gods, what they want, what you have to do to get a good afterlife, everything...it is all just so much talk. Humans, in fear and ignorance, projecting into the void.

Nothing, not one thing, is known of gods. That is the truth.

This universe, upon amazingly close examination, appears to be naturally occurring. There is nothing remotely suggestive of gods, or which cannot be explained without gods. There is not a single shred of evidence to suggest divine intervention in any circumstance.

So, even if gods "exist," completely undetectably, nothing is known of them and they don't do anything. Therefore, they are not important.

That is the truth that no one wants to face, the truth that the ancient religions are working so feverishly to obscure.

So by way of summing up I would say that I am very much pro-religion. However I don't see any need to use old religions which are clearly wrong about many things, just because they are old. The ancient "beliefs" are ridiculous and obviously not correlating accurately with reality. And reality is what we really need to understand. That is why we evolved brains, because understanding reality leads to prospering.

I think we could have the personal wholeness and social cohesion of religions without supernatural conjecture. Buddhism is pretty close, and I have even attempted to craft a "new" religion, based entirely on understanding what, exactly, is the case. I gave it a story, a cosmology, which reflects our understanding of the truth about what we are and where we come from, as closely as possible, with requirements to stay current.

So, I think it's possible.

07-20-16 11:12  •  Equality in Islam

Cassa: If you think women are not treated well in Islam, you just don't understand it. Women are given many rights in Islam.

Nell: What about equality?

Cassa:In our day-to-day roles we don't need equality because God made us each better suited for different roles.

I disagree that all women and all men fit into these "roles." Equality is necessary so that when the roles don't fit the individual, they have freedom to choose roles that fit better.

Cassa: In general yes the majority will fit within those roles.

So what? Some don't.

Self-determination for ALL is needed, so that those who like the traditional roles can assume them entirely of their own choice, and those who don't want the traditional roles also have the full freedom to give full expression to their own proclivities.

Cassa: There are different rules for men and women because men and women are different and face different societal roles.

The different societal roles are largely dictated by the different rules. The last century has shown that as the rules change for more equality, the ambitions and abilities and achievements of men and women grow more comparable.

I disagree that simply having the biology of childbearing dictates any necessary difference in career or lifestyle choices. Having a womb doesn't disqualify Sonia Sotomayor from serving on the Supreme Court or Hilary Clinton from running for President. It should not dictate the limits of any woman - or any man.

Nell: In the mosque, women cannot be imams. They even make you sit in the back! That's supposed to be equal treatment!?

Cassa: We do not sit in front of the men because of modesty. It is not because of inequality.

How many women have experienced thier husband looking at hot young womans behind as she walks by. Men are easily distracted by womens bodies and so we pray behind them to avoid distractions. I don't want anybody distracting me during my time with God and I wouldn't want to distract anyone else during theirs.

As far as holding a position of Imam on a regular basis it wouldn't work well for a woman since she cannot perform prayers during menses. This would mean she could not consistently do her job with out taking one to two weeks off a month. She also would be required to be in front leading the congregation which would put her in front of men and therefore be a potential distraction.

Wow. If this is supposed to be making the case that Islam is actually good to women, well...it doesn't. "Of course men and women are not equal, because women are dirty."

Ritual pollution is used in many cultures as a means of oppression. This crap about how you can't lead a prayer during your menses is no different than the rules for the Untouchable caste, who were only allowed to go into town at noon, so that no one of a higher caste might accidentally be "soiled" by their long shadows. It is no different than making you drink from the "colored only" drinking fountain.

Calling you dirty is a means of shoving you down.

I thought Christianity was pathetic but at least they don't ritually ostracize women on their period. The fact that you think this is somehow "good" makes me feel ill.

The men make you hide yourself because they fear you. They sound like a bunch of pathetic jerks! Their "distraction" is their problem, not yours.

I am a super hottie, and yet I worked in an office with men for years. Somehow they managed to get their jobs done in the presence of me and other good-looking women in attractive attire. Muslim men must be no more than beasts if they cannot manage the same thing.

So, maybe you have equality in Islam after all - both sexes are considered to be totally lame. Charming.

07-12-16 11:12  •  Driving While Black

Nettie: Neil DeGrasse Tyson blogged that he and some other physicists were discussing how they get pulled over by the cops and grilled about where they are going all the time. It seemed weird, because I didn't think cops targeted physicists! Then, he explained that they were at a meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists. That made more sense, lol.

RedsFan: The problem with some people is that they come across with a big attitude. I got pulled over once and the officer asked me where I was going. I politely told the truth, and he said because I wasn't being a jerk he would let me off with a warning.

That's the real problem, jerks. Cops do not hunt down black people. Cops do not just pull over black people because they are black.

I think people are overly sensitive.

Nettie: I love how you expect us to just accept your personal story, while dismissing the personal stories of black people.

RedsFan: Nope, not the case at all, nice try.

It is the case that you are counting your personal story as representative of what occurs and dismissing the stories of black people as being not representative of what occurs. Your story demonstrates your point that cops don't pull people over because they are black. On the other hand, the stories of black people being pulled over because they are black demonstrate nothing. Except, that they don't understand what's really happening, because they are too "overly sensitive" to see the truth.

Maybe the truth is that police do abuse their authority more with black people, and you are just not sensitive enough to see it.

07-10-16 4:47  •  The Long Con

Relgia: Have you read the Bible? What kind of God would do such things?

LilTexasGal: I read the Bible and I don't believe God is this vicious, evil, hypocrite that so many think he is. I just don't see that side of him.

You should look at the side of Him where He divided the afterlife into two separate compartments and made belief/acceptance of Himself the deciding factor for getting the "good" one. Weak.

LilTexasGal: It's a great deal! Look at it this way. If I'm wrong and Christianity is wrong, I don't lose anything, but if I am right, I gain everything. What do I have to lose if I am wrong?

You could spend this entire life as a rube, taken in by a con.

LilTexasGal: It isn't this life here on earth that I'm concerned with.

That's a shame. The hucksters have conned you into trading away the only thing you know you have.

LilTexasGal: I don't believe that my beliefs are wrong, and even if they were and the other theory is correct, as in there is no Heaven or Hell, then how would I even have anything to regret?

So, it's either Christianity or "the other theory"? Why don't you tell that to the 900 million Hindus in this world.

Humans are capable of coming up with more than two options. God should be able to figure it out too.

LilTexasGal: Most people that I have talked to that don't believe in Heaven or Hell, simply believe that when you die, you rot and there is nothing else.

You should expand your horizons a bit. For all you know, perhaps the ancient Greeks were correct and only human souls who can pay the ferryman get to cross the River Styx to get into the land of Hades. Perhaps the Vikings were the correct ones and you have to have slain many enemies to earn a seat in the Halls of Asgard in Valhalla. Perhaps the Dabo people of the upper Amazon are correct and you already missed out on Heaven because you did not hunt a wild boar before you reached the age of fourteen.

What makes you think Christians are right and the Greeks, the Vikings, and the Dabo, not to mention the Hindus, the Muslims, the Jews, the B'hai, and everyone else are wrong?

Hedril: Oh yeah, right. Christianity was nothing but a big con! And goodness, what a horrible con it was too!

A con is a con.

Hedril: The worst! Christianity in its purist form: they give to the homeless, help their neighbors, take care of orphans and the sick...

Our government does all that too, and it is entirely secular. The con is not necessary to get people to share and help. They will do that without the con. The end does not justify the means.

Hedril: If any faith encourages more people to do good things, it cant be all bad, even if the reason behind it was a "con".

I disagree. A con is a lie, deliberately perpetuated by those who know better in a effort to trick people into believing something that is not true. As the basis for a religion it sucks.

Hedril: SOMEBODY will have had to be taken by a con somehow in history.

It doesn't have to be you. There are steps you can take to make sure it's not.

Hedril: Life in general is a HUGE con if you think about it.

Mine's not.

Hedril: Everybody is a salesman who trys to con you into believing so many things that are only half truths or outright lies.

Religion should be above that. Obviously it's not. However it's easy enough not to be taken in by half truths and outright lies.

Hedril: You just gotta work through what makes the most sense to YOU, and go with it.

Are you saying that born of a virgin, tortured and died a horrible bloody death on the cross to redeem human sin - but not all humans, just the "believers" - makes the most sense of the available explanations?

Hedril: And some christians believe the ONLY people who are not in heaven are the ones who dont WANT to be there.

Christians can believe anything.

Hedril: You wouldnt MAKE your kids come to dinner if they didnt want to would you? (I mean adult children.) God's not going to MAKE us go to heaven if we dont want to.

As usual, the big Christian conceit is to equate "doesn't accept Jesus as savior = doesn't want to be in Heaven." Sorry, they are not equivalent. For the intellectually honest, just wishing to have a good afterlife doesn't automatically make them able to believe in the unbelievable.

People are not refusing to believe in Jesus because they just don't "want" to be in Heaven with God. It's because there is nothing about the Jesus story that is believable, there is no evidence for it, and the story is clearly derived from other Mediterranean prophet/savior myths of the time.

Jesus as savior is rejected on its own merits, not because people are using disbelief as a "get out of dinner with God" card.

Hedril: According to MY belief, and many others, it WONT be unbelievable when you have to make that choice.

Of course. It's very convenient that you can just make it be however you like.

Hedril: Well, I'll miss ya at the party, but have fun where you are (if you can.)

There is no reason to think that "hell" is actually a thing that happens. It's no more than speculation. But even if it were real, Hell is nothing to fear for one who has learned to transcend suffering.

LilTexasGal: How do you know I'm being conned?

I checked.

LilTexasGal: Maybe my beliefs ARE right and YOU are the one being conned.

Since I don't believe in things that cannot be verified, it's unlikely. However I'm always glad for correction. If you think there is something I believe which is not true, why don't you just point out what it is?

LilTexasGal: ...and how do YOU know that Christianity is the con?

Any system which asks you to believe in a bunch of stuff which is 1) physically impossible and 2) completely unverifiable is suspicious. Let's just say it sure looks like a con.

LilTexasGal: But that's the beauty of a con, you don't know till its over.

You don't have to fall for a con. You can check and see if it's true. If it can't be verified you don't have to believe it.

LilTexasGal: When people tell natives in Africa about things like telephones and computers, and cars, and that kind of stuff they probably think they are being conned also - but they are real.

They don't have to believe it on our say so. They can check. Checking will confirm that phones are real. It's not a con. It can be shown not to be.

LilTexasGal: Well, some day we will be taken to see what is a con or what isn't. It's just a waiting game.

So why believe something now?

LilTexasGal: Only those that truly want to be separated from God will be.

It's nice you believe that, but there is no reason to think it works that way.

LilTexasGal: There is no reason to think it doesn't.

I think the fact that there is nothing at all to support the idea, and the fact that the idea is one of a million explanations which are all completely different, are reasons to be suspicious that perhaps it does not work that way.

LilTexasGal: Some people believe that ALL go to heaven.

There is no point in believing anything about it.

LilTexasGal: There are a few things in the Bible that are laid out in black and white, most are not. Most we can only guess.

Why bother?

LilTexasGal: Isn't life a journey? I am eternally going to be searching for truth.

You don't have to believe anything at all to have a journey and to search for the truth. In fact having fixed unconfirmable belief can be a real hindrance in that search.

Hedril: So Christianity is based on a "con" because you say it is??

It looks like one. There is NO evidence to the contrary.

Hedril: Ive noticed that your predominant debate strategy here is to present your opinions as fact with little in the way of facts to support them.

If you would like to debate the efficacy of any statement or any fact I present please do. Be specific.

Hedril: Are you a theologian? A theology scholar?

Theologians do not know more about God or the afterlife than I do.

07-08-16 4:47  •  American Hero

MilkMaid: America still has heroes. What about Bill Gates? He is American, and he practically invented the computer single-handedly. He changed the world. Without him, we would not be talking right now.

MM, that is not correct.

Bill Gates was hired to provide an operating system. He did not invent or create one himself...he just bought one, MS DOS. DOS was clunky and stupid and not superior in any way to the other operating systems of the day, but it just happened to be the one chosen by IBM, which already had a huge business market, so it became a standard by default.

Bill Gates just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was nothing more than lucky.

If you have never heard of the true early innovators in the computer world - Jobs & Wozniak, Dan Bricklin, Andy Hertzfeld, Conway & Mead, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Andy Bechtolsheim, and the team at Xerox Park, it is because Microsoft has endeavored to crush all memory of the people who invented and created our computer world under the weight of the monopoly who contrived to sell it to us.

Cora: No way could I consider an atheist like Bill Gates to be a hero! Our core value systems are going to be polar opposites.

I seriously doubt it. I have no clue what your values are but if they include not murdering people, not stealing, telling the truth, treating others as you want to be treated and showing compassion to those less fortunate, those are exactly the same values that most atheists have. You have far more morally in common with atheists than not.

Cora: You are crazy if you think there are no differences between believers and atheists, SMDH.

Way to backpeddle, but "differences" don't make atheists the moral "polar opposite" of you. If you are American, you probably have more values in common with American atheists than with Middle Eastern Muslims - your fellow theists.

07-07-16 4:47  •  Other Than

Jetta: I find atheists and religious people equally intriguing in that neither have any proof.

Religious people are the ones making claims. Most atheists are not claiming "Gods do not exist." They are looking at posits made by theists, like "Gods exist," and saying, "Yeah, right."

Jetta: What makes you so sure that a God does not exist?

"Existence" of gods is not the issue. The issue is that no claims about gods can be substantiated. None.

Jetta: Lack of evidence does not mean something does not exist.

It means that all claims are unwarranted.

Jetta: But WHY do you believe you are correct? What makes you correct, in your mind?

That is what it looks like. No claims about gods can be substantiated. No gods are apparent.

Jetta: I don't care what other people believe. Why do atheists care?

What people believe matters.

Jetta: If people believe in god, cool. If they believe in thor, wonderful. If they believe in the flying spaghetti monster, fantastic. Why would that be a problem?

It would mean that people are believing claims which are very different from observable reality. That causes a lot of error.

07-04-16 7:27  •  Meditations on Moloch

Domo: I don't understand why we humans just can't seem to get it together. What's our problem?

Claire: This guy has thought about it a bit: Meditations on Moloch

Thanks for the link, Claire, I am in your debt.

I really enjoyed such a fresh and keen perspective. Particularly compelling was his interpretation of Moloch, which deepened with each line of his pen. I can now see the problem of multi-polar traps and the race to the bottom, where every individual is incentivised to optimize for competition, and competition eventually strangles out all other values. From the Prisoner's Dilemma to the Two-Income Trap, his examples were clear and stunning, and I have recognized even more since - like John Oliver's recent expose on doping.

Domo: I clicked the link but it was much too long and I didn't read it. Can you maybe summarize?

I would be honored. It's complex, but I'll try to catch the flavor of it in a million words or less. :-)

Beat poet Alan Ginsberg wrote a poem. Here are a few lines:

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

What is "Moloch"? Biblically, it refers to a Canaanite god, and to a giant metal idol of the god with a fire burning in it, and to the apparent practice of child sacrifice, by throwing babies into the idol to burn, in hope of earning the god's favor.

Metaphorically, Ginsberg obviously means something more. If you read the Ginsberg Wiki, it says that Moloch has been widely taken to mean "America" or "Capitalism." But, it doesn't explain how or why, and there seems to be something more to it.

Moloch is the answer to a question. The question is, Why?

The author introduces another parable:

Malaclypse complains to the Goddess about the evils of human society. “Everyone is hurting each other, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war.”

The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”

Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”

Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”

The question is, the Earth could be fair, and all people wise and happy, but we aren't. What keeps us from this?

Scott Alexander, the author of the article, says, "Moloch does it."

He means, we are trapped in a system which does it. We inherited a myriad of systems which incentivise individual, uncoordinated actions which produce the worst outcomes for everyone overall. Scott Alexander (SA) lists ten examples of these traps to illustrate how it works. A few notables from the list:
Many other examples exist. Corporate welfare, doping, even global warming - all systems where individuals are incentivised, if not required, to make the entire system worse for everyone in order to individually survive. In intense competition, only competitiveness survives. All other human values get thrown under the bus.

SA points out that in each case, what is missing is coordination between the players. He calls them "Multi-polar traps," meaning that the players are each pulling in their own direction. From a "God's Eye View," an agent from above and outside the system could coordinate the players, to require them to act in ways that work better for everyone. But from inside, the individuals are disadvantaged by coordinating or helping the system, so no one does.

Observing this, SA notes, "So we have all this amazing technological and cognitive energy, the brilliance of the human species, wasted on reciting the lines written by poorly evolved cellular receptors and blind economics, like gods being ordered around by a moron."

He further suggests that our current situation of excess resources (like cheap, easy fossil fuel) is the only reason we haven't had to abandon every value except competitiveness - so far - but the process is obviously underway, and inevitable.

On the other hand, SA envisions the opposite of the Multipolar Trap as a Garden, with a God's-Eye-View Gardener, able to coordinate and organize along lines other than individual incentives. Currently government serves this role, and democracy is working ok at the job.

But, even democracy will eventually succumb, because when good policy is different from electability, good policy gets thrown under the bus like everything else. Only competitiveness survives. Nobody wants democracy and all our values destroyed, but Moloch makes the rules.

Enter technology. This accelerates our races along every vector - including the race to the bottom. For example, humans have scads of limits that make them undesireable employees. SA elaborates:

"Once a robot can do everything an IQ 80 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ IQ 80 humans. Once a robot can do everything an IQ 120 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ IQ 120 humans. Once a robot can do everything an IQ 180 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ humans at all, in the vanishingly unlikely scenario that there are any left by that point."

When that point is reached, humans have no value as employees, and consequently, none as customers either. Capitalism has passed them by. SA can even imagine a world where artificial intelligence and robots don't need humans at all, and dispense with them entirely, going on about our business without us. In AI communities this is called a "Disneyland With No Children."

The upshot is, technology and change are continually offering up new opportunities to throw more and more values under the bus for increased competitiveness. Coordination is the one thing that can prevent multipolar-traps, but sufficiently intelligent AI will have sufficent power to prevent it having to coordinate with us. It will instead compete. At that point we could throw all our values under the bus, and still be out-competed by our own creation.

SA is pretty pessimistic about our chances of avoiding this, even if some people try to do better.

"Suppose you make your walled garden. You keep out all of the dangerous memes, you subordinate capitalism to human interests, you ban stupid bioweapons research, you definitely don’t research nanotechnology or strong AI.

Everyone outside doesn’t do those things. And so the only question is whether you’ll be destroyed by foreign diseases, foreign memes, foreign armies, foreign economic competition, or foreign existential catastrophes."

In other words, no matter how enlightened your Walled Garden, there is no beating Moloch. Those whose only value is competitiveness will eventually outcompete you.

So what's to be done? Alexander says:

"In the very near future, we are going to lift something to Heaven. It might be Moloch. But, it might be something on our side. If it is on our side, it can kill Moloch dead."

What Scott Alexander seems to be recommending is that, since we will inevitably be ruled by AI, we should start now making sure AI rules us well, and values human values other than competitiveness. If we do, we can be free of multipolar traps in a kind of well-organized, coordinated Shining Garden. The alternative is an empty Disneyland eating the cosmos forever.

His final paragraph sums it up:

"The question everyone has after reading Ginsberg is: what is Moloch?

My answer is: Moloch is exactly what the history books say he is. He is the god of Carthage. He is the god of child sacrifice, the fiery furnace into which you can toss your babies in exchange for victory in war.

He always and everywhere offers the same deal: throw what you love most into the flames, and I will grant you power.

As long as the offer is open, it will be irresistable. So we need to close the offer. Only another god can kill Moloch. We have one on our side, but he needs our help. We should give it to him."

Lavander Libertarian: The American public is far from selfish. "Social services" are the problem. The government is not the best means of distribution.

There is no other way to make sure help is distributed to your outgroup.

Lavander Libertarian: Oh yes there is, it would just require hard work and sacrifice from you. Step up. Do what you claim you care about.

It already does.

Beige Bystander: I think Lavender has a point about social services. The government is enabling the large corporations to underpay employees, by providing all these backup systems.

Once social programs are drastically cut, Wal-Mart will have to shut its doors or pay people what they are worth.

Claire: Or they can invest in more automation.

Beige Bystander: They could. But then there would be producing fewer customers.

True, but each store or company will only act to boost their own shortest-term profits to compete against others who do the same. The degradation of the entire system is not their concern.

Beige Bystander: With diminishing returns with each passing year, I suspect. All while their automations break down and grow obsolete.

Yes. But there is no incentive for the individual in the system to do otherwise.

Some companies might have enlightened owners, who feel a sense of public responsibility, who might try to run a fairer shop. However public responsibility has already been competed out of the culture. Enlightened companies will be out-competed by companies who throw public responsibility under the bus. It is a race to the bottom.

In the Artificial Intelligence community there is genuine concern that we humans might soon invent computers smart enough to get rid of us, a la Skynet. They imagine computers spinning along doing stuff we started, without us, for eternity, and call this a "Disneyland with No Children."

But your description of empty robotic Walmarts makes me think capitalism is a Disneyland with No Children already.

Claire: Article Headline: New McDonald's in Phoenix Run Entirely By Robots

You know I ate at one of these in France and it was a very pleasant experience, at least as pleasant as having a person do the waiting.

What will we do for jobs when robots can do everything better?

The answer is blindingly obvious. We have to move to post-scarcity a la Star Trek. But, the posessors are not at all interested in having posession be meaningless. Even though it is.

Time for a paradigm shift.

Beige Bystander: Like what?

Outdated concepts like "hard work" and "sacrifice" to get by are part of the problem. We are hard-work-and -sacrificing our ecosystem to death.

There is only enough real work left for about six people and an army of robots. So, do we keep pretending that even with electricity and computers and robots that life is still as hard as it was back on the farm, or in the jungle, and spend all our lives hardscrabbling for survival of the fittest?

Or, do we admit it's mostly just make-work bullshit at this point and let the robots get on with it, freeing ALL of us to compete for things that are actually scarce, like prestige?

Lavander Libertarian: You bring up Star Trek, where you obviously know nothing about it, and then say hard word is outdated?

Hi Lavander, so great to speak with you!

If you read the sentence more thoroughly, you will see I said, Hard work and sacrifice TO GET BY. The people on Star Trek are not working to get by. Their getting by is provided for.

Their hard work and sacrifice is to explore, to create, to discover, to write, to study, to paint and sculpt and compose, and to uplift the human condition. WAY better than wasting hard work and sacrifice just to "get by."

If you had bothered to read all the way to the end, you would also have seen where I said, without "getting by" to get in the way, people could direct their hard work and sacrifice to achieving the truly scarce, like prestige in one of the above pursuits.

Claire: Picketty has suggested that American capitalism has moved beyond the state where the old "get educated, work hard and get rich" paradigm is successful. Runaway inequality means we have returned to the era where inherited wealth is now the dominant factor in wealth acquisition.

American capitalism is guaranteed to become the only capitalism unless it is checked. Private wealth is growing at a faster rate than economies. (R > g, for you Piketty fans out there! )

Beige Bystander: The thing is, capitalism isn't such a bad idea.

It's a pretty good idea for awhile as long as you understand its limitations. It does not work by itself. Capitalism and socialism can only work together.

Beige Bystander: But what we have now isn't it. It's artificially regulated and inflated and subsidized. It bears little actual resemblance to capitalism.

What does resemble capitalism? Like, what country's system?

Beige Bystander: I can't give you an example of any ism working oh-so great anywhere.

What is working, where anything is, is capitalism and socialism together, including here in the United States. People in countries which dare to have a smidgen more socialism, like national healthcare, are doing even better.

Beige Bystander: I think capitalism and socialism are pretty much equally desirable isms, each having pros a d cons, but all in all being fairly moderate systems.

Neither equals a system that will work by itself. Capitalism without socialism is a race to the bottom, and socialism without capitalism has no way to pay for itself. Both are required and have been since the Industrial Revolution, which is why you can name no pure capitalist systems. They don't exist because they are impossible.

Do you remember what John Nash won the Nobel Prize for in A Beautiful Mind? Adam Smith was wrong. The system works best when everyone works for themselves AND for the group.

Capitalism is the working for themselves part. Socialism is the working for the group part. Both are required.

Claire: For how long? Think 3D printers.

The technology isn't here yet. But Raver is right - we need to start planning now, or we're going to be hit by chaos when the transition comes.

06-28-16 11:16  •  Bible Study

Lydia: So many people claim to believe the Bible but they never even read it and don't know what it says! That is why Bible Study is so important. Study becomes us. Deep, intense, ongoing study.

I'm not sure I agree that the Bible in particular warrants "deep, intense, ongoing study." If a person really enjoys ancient literature, it might be fun, but it's no different than studying Beowulf, or the Iliad, or any other transcription of ancient folktales. Sure, there are some gems of human wisdom there, but it's nothing you can't get anywhere else.

There is no reason to think that the Bible is any more of a guide to what "Gods" want, or to how humans "should" act, than the Upanishads, or Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces, or King's The Stand, or something I happened to write myself yesterday morning.

Considering the Bible to be some kind of "authority" seems to create a lot of error. It's nothing special. It's a human book, one of a very great many.

Lydia: I understand you consider it to be nothing special, but a great many people do not take that stance.

It's not a matter of opinion. Upon examination, there is no evidence that the Bible is something special, regardless of what "stance" people take.

Regarding "scripture" as something special is unwarranted and is creating a lot of error.

Lydia: The "specialness" of the Bible is determined by the reader.

I am using the word "special" specifically to mean "different from other books in that it is the Word of God where other books are not the Word of God." That is not determined by the reader. Either it is or it isn't.

There is no evidence that it is.

Lydia: Unfortunately there is simply a lot of error in the world with or without scripture.

There is far less error now than previously. For example, we have abandoned traditional Christian notions like geocentrism in favor of more accurate descriptions of reality like heliocentrism. As we study reality and apply error correction, the error becomes less.

Lydia: There is no way of telling if scripture, or considering some writings holy, would increase or decrease the error in the world.

It is possible to tell that the further we have moved from biblical descriptions of reality to observable descriptions of reality, the more we have been able to understand and do. That is what the Renaissance was all about.

It is also possible to tell that more secular societies are measurably healthier than more religious societies.

Error is decreased by reality checking.

Lydia: But I love the Bible.

That's why I said, unless you happen to really enjoy it. I seriously doubt that most people in history have studied the bible for the sheer joy of it. It is a traditional requirement of the religion, like it or not.

Lydia: I think that the Bible is clear about what God wants from humans.

You may be clear about what the people who wrote the Bible said God wants from humans. That doesn't mean that they were right about what God wants from humans. They could be wrong. There is no way to check.

Humans cannot even agree what day God wants them to take off of work. Muslims say it's Friday, Jews say it's Saturday, Christians say that it is Sunday. Which is right? Is the Bible description of what God wants more accurate than the Quran, or the Upanishads? Whose understanding of what God wants is the most accurate? How can you tell?

Lydia: I would be dismayed for people studying anything they didn't really want to study.

Well, that's what happens when people are told that studying the Bible will help them understand God. They are not there for the brilliance of the literature. They are after something specific and there is no way to tell that they are even getting it. There is no reason to think the Bible is any more related to what God wants than Watership Down.

Particularly, recommending "deep, intense, ongoing study" of the bible could be sending people on a deep, intense, ongoing wild goose chase. There is no evidence that they will understand God any better afterwards than when they started.

Lydia: There is far less scientific error nowdays, that is true.

There is less error in understanding what reality is and how it works. However declaring some books to be "scripture," and therefore mandated by "God," creates error by giving people other reasons to justify claims about reality besides the claims being accurate descriptions of reality.

For example, for centuries the biblically-sourced but unsubstantiated claim that God thinks gay sex is abomination was used to support legislation and mores which reduced gay people to second-class citizenship, or worse. The biblically-sourced but unsubstantiated claim that God designed human beings is still used to support presenting non-scientific information in science class. The biblically-sourced but unsubstantiated claim that God only allows sex within marriage is used to justify "abstinence-only" sex ed which drives up pregnancy and STD rates. Etc.

Our society could use a lot less of this kind of error.

Lydia: Religions are not in competition. They can all be right.

Or, they can all be wrong. Perhaps God doesn't care what days people take off, and the seven-day work-cycle is an entirely human invention. There is no way to confirm that what people said God wants is what God actually wants.

Lydia: And my understanding of all the religions you named is that compassion and love are high values. Which makes them all correct in my eyes.

Not about everything. They could be right about compassion and love being high values - that's fairly obvious from a pragmatic standpoint - but still wrong about plenty of other stuff. Particularly about unsubstantiated supernatural claims.

For example, the central tenet of Christianity is the claim that all humans are born with original sin and must have faith in Jesus Christ to receive salvation or they will not go to the good afterlife. But, other religions do not even mention this requirement. It cannot be verified. So is this what God wants humans to do or not? How can you tell?

Just because the people who wrote or interpreted the Bible say that this is what God wants doesn't mean they are correct. People can say anything. They could be wrong.

Lydia: What do you mean, there is no evidence?

Are you aware of any evidence that people who study the bible understand more about gods than other people? What is the evidence?

Lydia: These are errors in the way people think. But there are other errors that are bad that are not driven by religion/Bible.

So what? This doesn't mean that it is okay to claim the bible is the Word of God or claim that it says what God wants. Other errors do not justify this error.

Furthermore, if we didn't have to promote widespread acceptability of unreason to make these claims stick, many other kind of errors of unreason could be avoided also.

Lydia: So, if we take away "scripture" it won't change people's thinking.

It would change the fact that people are making this one particular unwarranted and unsubstantiated claim. It would promote the use of reason by illegitmizing an unreasonable claim.

The idea of "scripture" belongs on the scrap heap of history along with alchemy and astrology. There is no evidence of "scripture." There is just human books.

Lydia: I live in a part of the US where 80% of the population are non-religious. There is plenty of error to go around.

That does not excuse repeating this particular egregious error when we know better.

Lydia: Actually, it is probably they are all right and they are all wrong.

All the more reason to separate the wheat from the chaff with the seive of reality.

Lydia: If a "central tenet" bounces against "compassion and love" and fails to be compassionate and loving, then it should not be a central tenet no matter what the church says from a doctrinal standpoint.

This is exactly my view on it. The majority of Christians I talk to say that they don't truly believe that some people really go to Hell after death. If that's what people believe, it's time to change the doctrine so that it at least aligns with what people think. Christianity needs a New Reformation.

I also believe that if a central tenet bounces against reality and fails to be real, it should not be a tenet. The tenet "The bible is the Word of God" fails this reality test.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying and learning from ancient myths as long as we see them all for what they are.

Lydia: The point being, religion doesn't have a corner on being wrong (or being right).

No one ever suggested it did. But again, that is no excuse for continuing to make unwarranted or unsubstantiated claims which cause error.

It doesn't matter if religious errors are not the only errors. We should still not make those errors if we can avoid it.

Lydia: I didn't bring up evidence, you did. You said, "evidence shows..."

No, that is not what I said and it's a different claim entirely. I said, there is no evidence to support the claim that studying the bible reveals information about God. Therefore, the claim is unwarranted.

Lydia: It speaks to me of the divine and it speaks to me of humanity. But so does the beautiful blue sky over my head.

All the more reason for us to quit acting like the Bible is any kind of authority. Why rely on the words of any other person to tell us what is, particularly ancient sheepherders who did not understand reason, when we can directly apprehend the reality for ourselves?

Lydia: That is to say, it is not the "word of God" per se, but it is words about God and humans in relationship with each other to the best understanding that humans can give expression to given their historical and social constraints.

First of all, what is so special about their "understanding"? Why those people, at that time, and not every set of words about gods by every culture who ever wrote about gods?

Secondly, what could people from thousands of years ago possibly know about gods that you yourself cannot directly apprehend?

06-27-16 7:20  •  Brexit vs. NHS

'Merican: Can you believe those dopes over in the UK fell for that "Brexit" talk? They were claiming that this would mean more money for their stupid "National Health Service." Socialized medicine, ha!

That trick never works. I'll take my private insurance any day!

EnglandsRose: I think you underestimate how bad America's health sector is. The waste and over charging are appalling. You don't get anything like value for money for the amount you spend on it, compared to other countries. There is a lot of room for improvement.

'Merican: No way do I want to be forced onto one big public system! I would worry about keeping our great doctor and getting care when we need it rather than waiting (like in Canada), or dying (like in the UK).

EnglandsRose: Do you realise that in England people are not *forced* to rely on the National Health Service. There is no law against getting private health insurance and, indeed, busy business people often do (so they can schedule appointments for their own convenience, not because the quality of care is better).

A less capitalistic system would serve more of your people.

'Merican: You are brainwashed. The solution is making the system more capitalistic, not less. Giving info and power to the people - NOT the gov't.

Where has this ever worked?

'Merican: Where hasn't it? It's the invisible hand of the marketplace. The law of supply and demand.

What I mean is, what country has a healthcare system like the one you want, and how is it working? What are their health statistics like?

'Merican: Why would giving power, control and information to the people rather than the gov't ever be a bad thing?

The government is the people. The insurance companies are not the people.

'Merican: Okay, so no one is using the free market properly for healthcare. But you can't exclude an idea just because it's never been tried.

This is an extremely specious argument for actually doing it. Especially because it hands the real power in health over to profit motive, and the decisions to those who care only for having more money for themselves. Considering that capitalism is exploitive, disenfranchising and amoral at best, having a billionaires make healthcare policy based on what benefits them doesn't seem capable of delivering good health to anyone, let alone everyone.

There is no evidence that what you are describing would result in better healthcare. The United States, with the most capitalistic healthcare system in the developed world, has some of the crappiest actual health.

If you want to do something that works, why not do what already works in other places? There are places that do it better, and have better health, and their systems are not more capitalistic than ours. They are less.

'Merican: We have a good system for giving most people awesome care - the best care, I'd say.

Well, you would simply be incorrect. Americans have some of the worst health in the developed world, and we are getting the least amount of healthcare per dollar spent out of our system. It is terribly inefficient and ineffective. And, it is disastrous for every person who does not have financial resources sufficient to their illness. Even if they get well, they are destroyed financially.

U.S. scores dead last again in healthcare study

Americans spend twice as much as residents of other developed countries on healthcare, but get lower quality, less efficiency and have the least equitable system, according to a report released on Wednesday.

Read more in the Archives.