This blog is in response to Fear of One Another
Which is a follow up to the debate started in the posts
I will also admit that I was writing/am writing in a provoking manner.
My primary thesis is that humans throughout history have created institutions, which have created ‘make believe’ identities (differences) between humans. These institutions have ingrained themselves into human culture and have created deep division between humans and other humans; nationalism, religion, and race are probably the most divisive. I will posit that the institution of ‘country’ is (nowadays) the single most damaging (identity) institution to the human spirit. These institutions have become very powerful forces that justify negative actions against humanity. As these institutions are effectively made up, the goal would be to eliminate justifications for ones actions with statements like, “I did it for America,” “I did it for (insert your favorite religion)’s God,” and “I did it for my race.” I argue that humanity needs to reshape how it uses its institutions and how we endow them with power, because their influence can be so strong.
The start of this post is responses to your comments on the movie Religulous and then I go on to make an more in depth argument about science, religion, and institutions.
You will also notice that I kept on using the example of virgin births, which Bill Maher uses a lot in his movie, which is why I think you had a lot to say about wholesale arguments against religion. Although, I agree with many of your points about the movie I think I should defend the position of a human society and culture without religion.
I thought that Religulous was good so I first want to go through your points and comment on the one by one. I will then go into a more in depth discussion of the real topic at hand (which is brought up in the movie, but is not the point of this post.
1) I agree that certain things about Bill Maher are very irritating and he is full of double standards… namely his lack of interest in the structure of our society as it pertains to the discrepancy between Beverely Hills Bill and the progressive liberal Bill. From this point alone, I could not agree more that, “Bill Maher does not have the intellect… to carry the progressive movement in America.” However, I agree with many of his view points and I think that overall I am glad his doing what he his doing as much of what he brings up is about bettering the world (being progressive). Put another way, I would rather have Bill Maher be popular than Bill O’ Reilly.
2) “It’s a bit like picking on the retarded kid.” Now I know you used the words, “a bit,” but surely you don’t think that religious people are actually retarded, but the fact that you drew any sort of comparison is kind of the point of Religulous. Don’t you think that we can come up with something better, so that we won’t be picking on the retarded kid, but rather debating the smart kid?
I also certainly agree that, “religions has been dealt a severe enough blow in the realm of logic… (and) it’s not like Bill Maher is going to turn the tide.” Of course he won’t, but that is also the message I got from the movie. Isn’t about time we gave up the religion of the scripture and came up with a more appropriate ‘religion’ (active-philosophy for humanity, that is based on the aspirations and history of the human spirit rather than nonsensical myths that can distort the meaning of life? We are starting to “grow up” and I think it’s time we take a better approach (than believing in a supernatural religions).
3) On Maher getting owned. There are points in the movie in which he may have to conced that religion is not “all bad”, but I really don’t think those views were inconsistent with his message/viewpoint, that he just “doesn’t know.” In reality people like the primary astronomer of the Vatican and the other priest are much more consistent with what we (you and I) would think about existence. This, however, does not mean that believing in virgin births and heaven/hell is good for our condition here on earth. Furthermore, we create an identity by arguing over which supernatural event is correct, which also creates separation, which I think we both agree is the fundamental problem.
I also take issue with you perception that the Syrian Jew owns him. That guy babbles on for nonsense the entire time… I and would argue that Bill does let him speak. (Maybe I just need to rewatch it). I really don’t blame Bill for the way he handles the interview. The Jew is very rude and doesn’t let him get a word in edge wise. “Stop interrupting me, can I finish?..” You say this is because the Jew was “rhetorically over Bill’s head.” If that is the case then he was over my head, because all I interpreted from the interview was bullshit from the old testiment. Maybe it is just the editing, but I could not pick up a single valid point from the Hesdic Jew (whether or not he visited Iran or not). It is also true that Bill leaves the interview as the Baptist guy leaves at the start of the movie, but I think the two situations are not very similar. Maher tries to open a discussion where the Jew tries to dominate the discussion (i.e. the Jew is explaining things but not asking questions). For the most part Maher does just ask questions. I don’t remember the scene with the young Muslim woman very well so I can’t comment on that.
I just have to say this (about a scene in the movie) because I think that this made an important point about how inane supernatural religion can be. He shows how ridiculous the orthodox Jews are about Sabath, by letting the guy explain how he uses the “Sabbath-Safe-Phone,” which is obviously full of technology and is patently inconsistent with the nonsense of that tradition. I know I am being harsh here, but how using a pencil to dial a phone is different the using your finger just baffles me; does he really think he is not using technology?
4) I see what you are saying in your second point and I think that it pertains to my more detailed discussion of institutions below. However the point I don’t understand is how you view the institution of America and capitalism as a problem but not religion as both lead to an us and not them worldview; they both create separation identities that lead to war and suffering. When there is a problem you have to present a solution. That is why I think that both things need to be fixed, not just one.
5) On your fourth point. I am not sure you said that correctly, but you may have meant to say “overly religious and overly non-religious people alike do not understand our condition on this earth very well.” Are you saying that nobody understands the condition very well? Or there exists some third category?
Now to the meat of my post.
Firstly, I would like to defend history, facts, and science. I think that is important that we come up with a starting point, a first assumption, which naturally must be taken on faith. That assumption for me is that you assume humans live on earth, which is not a bad assumption in my opinion. Secondly I will go on to discuss the notion of make believe identity institutions (mostly religion and nations) and the distinctions between the various types. Then I will talk about your notion of “the other.” I will then wrap it up with a brief discussion of religion, existence, and god.
Unfortunately it is difficult to have a discussion about science with somebody who doesn’t study it and think about it every day. I think one of the problems is that you interpret science to be something it is not. Science IS NOT a substitute for religion and it does not try to be and this is a VERY important distinction. In fact the two should not even be considered in the same realm. It is not a make believe institution that gives people identity. It is a method we use to try and understand nature and the things in it. It does not make any qualitative judgments about humans; in fact, if done properly aliens would do the same science as humans. Furthermore you assume that scientists think that science is, “absolute.. because it is slightly closer.” No! that’s not the point… it is just close enough to make it work (see below).
The most common perception of science by society misconstrues both its goal and its method. Your question reveals what I believe to be a lack of understanding on your part as to what science actually is (and can be used for), “Because no right triangles truly exist we need to define parameter after parameter but how do we know that this is enough? That this scientific approximation is close enough to feel certain about.” In many ways the entire point of science is NOT to seek out the correct answer (although I don’t like to admit how many scientist actually believe that we can truly unveil, “the answer”). Rather, the goal is to be able to describe existence well enough so that you can apply it (e.g. send a man to the moon or build a computer).
In reality a good scientist would agree that you can never test something “enough” to truly know it is correct. For instance we build a lot of things that require high precision machining (e.g. a ‘perfect’ equilateral triangle). Thus we will ask a machinist to build us a part, but we have to specify the degree of accuracy. The degree of accuracy we need depends on the application, and the degree of accuracy the machinist can achieve is limited by the tools. For instance if we need an equilateral triangle to be machined to be 1 meter on a side to within 1 millimeter, we have preset the parameter to a value that is “enough.” So when the machinist comes back and says here is your 1 meter triangle, we may measure it and find that its sides are 1.0005 m long, which is up to our standard however. In reality the stick is not exactly 1.0005 m long, it is could be 1.00051 meters long or 1.000534280900234 meters or 1.005000000000000000000000001 meters (I could keep adding digits indefinitely). However, to the scientist all three triangles are the same size. We acknowledge that we don’t have absolute knowledge of the actual length of the stick, but we don’t care because it will fit properly into our experiment.
So to answer your question, a (good) scientist would tell you that “good enough” depends on what you need or want to know. In more advanced applications we define the level that we need to know it and forget about the uncertainty beyond that. This is a common misunderstanding of science; it is not truly exact but it is exact enough. “Enough” really just means that it works, it is not a philosophical statement at all. This is why your statement, “Events are real and happened. A scientific method can hone our comprehension. But at the same time this comprehension must be recognized as limited and also dependent on our influence,” is the closest to an accurate interpretation of science. However, when science is done properly it should be independent of our influence. On an absolute scale in means nothing, but if you assumes humans live on earth it works pretty damn well. For example, I’d like to you see you argue away the computer you are typing on now.
As for repeatability, (i.e. how many times do we need to repeat something until we are sure about it). The answer is simply until it works. How many times does science get replicated in technology and work? Whether or not we know the exact amperage running through a TV set is irrelevant, because the TV set turns on and displays a picture. The scientific standard is a self-contained standard to the particular application; we never need to feel we know something exactly, we just need to know it well enough so that it works (i.e. actually does what we want it to). The feeling of certainty is moot and is not even part of science, because the experiment will work or it won’t and that is basically the end. Whether or not science is certain or absolutely true does not matter, because it still produces results, the most obvious one is technology, which allowing us to do this blog in the first place.
On the quote, “I merely ask what is enough to be satisfied? We know from all of our years of human experience this and that thing…wikipedia tells me this…there are records of this…we have performed experiments in xxx amount of conditions. But there are a million more variables to be determined that perhaps we don’t understand.” You are right we don’t understand the millions of hidden variable but we do understand the couple of variables well enough that we can build something that works (like that computer you are typing on).
On the quote, “Can’t I say well it is true in this theoretical world which may exist or even our own with the right conditions where a virgin could actually give birth. Why is this approximation wore than the approximation than the one that says given everything we know about science we feel very confident that virgins do not and never have given birth. Now, one may prove more useful.” Come on… really? Is that really hanging you up? Listen to difference in words between the first and second sentences,
“In this theoretical world that may exits… virgins could give birth.” First you have to come up with a theoretical world that you don’t know anything about to explain something that might (but has never) happen in this world…
“Given everything we know.. virgins do not give birth.” Here you start with knowledge (achieve through observation IN THIS WORLD) to confirm what you already observe (virgins don’t give birth). I am not sure why this hangs you up.
Finally, you say, “In an absolute sense, we know nothing. (The absolute is God in Spinoza’s thinking). In a relative sense, we know everything.” That is what science really is. It is not absolute, but if you put it relative to humans living on earth it is pretty fucking powerful. Again, you are typing on a computer.
At this point I feel I am trying way harder than I have to… so I think I need more time to develop this explanation, but really I think you are misinterpreting how science actually works).
On the quote, “Now, if history is the most important subject for building a society, how can you be certain that anything has happened?” I am really actually surprised that I have to spend so much time defending this postion. Physical evidence exists. When something happens it leaves a mark that persists on to a point where it can be perceived in the now. For instance if I cut my hand today, I still have a wound tomorrow which will exist it the ‘now;’ hence I know the cutting happened. I guesse if I had to put a standard of certainty on whether or not somethign happened is that if a byproduct of it exists right now. Really this is just Spinoza’s third and fourth axioms. Do you really not believe in evidence? Do fossil records not indicate deceased animals, does DNA evidence not confirm that a killer was at the crime scene, do two smashed up burning cars on the side of the road not indicate a car wreck? How much faith do you need to accept that these things happened based on the evidence they leave behind? In reality you know how much evidence you need to know that something happened otherwise you would have gone insane a long time ago, because you would have doubted everything that you have ever done, (did I send that work email? Did I fill the car with gas? Did I remember my wallet?) Those things happened and you know (or at least assumed) they did, because otherwise you would be constantly scrambling to redo things your were uncertain that they actually happened or not.
Finally, “From whose perspective do we tell it? Do we assume a journalistic, neutral voice, invented by the greatest historian Herodotus.” The answer, of course, is all of the above. In order to form the best possible version of history it must be told and accounted for in many different perspectives. This is essential to our ability to accurately learn from the past so that we can repeat what we have done right and change what we have done wrong.
Shifting gears to the discussion of institutions.
Firstly, I would like to concede that America is just as make believe as God, even though both have physical manifestations in this world (e.g. borders and churches). I think your quote sums it up well, “they are concepts that guide the actions of others.” I think that this will be a focal point for future discussions, because on some level I think that many of the institutions that humans have created for themselves are the single most damaging thing we submit ourselves to. The two worst in my opinion are the institutions of countries and religion (except you pointed out the institution of race, which is also very damaging). In the specific context of religion, I do not feel that moving to eliminate it is counterproductive as it is subject to the pitfalls of creating an identity through following a particular religion that allows one to separate themselves from everybody else. I must say that I take issue with you contention that (superstitious) god is somehow more real than America. How do you justify this? They are both obviously created by humans.
On the quote, “Now they were convinced that this thing called America existed and wanted them to murder hundreds of thousands of people. But it was just a few guys in a plane with a bomb inside.”
This is the quote that made what you were saying click. I agree there is some fucked up notion in our heads of “country” that will drive us, in extreme circumstance to murder hundreds of thousands of human beings. This is similar to the institution of Religion causing people to think that they had to go on the crusades. The fucked up reality of the situation, however, is that all theses notions the institution is what justified the killing, there was still a human making that decision on the forefront. I think a major goal toward fixing the problem is understanding what makes these institutions so powerful. Although institutions are technically made up concepts, they still cause people to and justify outrageous and grotesque actions against humanity.
This is similar to people blaming those ‘evil cooperations.’ In effect they are not real if you just consider the cooperation itself. However, the evil decisions (i.e. not recall a dangerous product because you’ll lose less money by settling lawsuits) are made by actual humans… their justification being the institution itself, which is why allowing these institutions to exist in the first place is so dangerous. This in effect address your comment, “If religion is a problem, we need to define what makes it problematic.” What makes it problematic is that it gives human justifications to commit acts against humanity and cause suffering. This is equally (if not more so) valid for institutions like countries and racism.
At the same time, however, I think that institutions are essential to the development of a progressive human culture (more on this in the conclusion). I also agree that “people don’t think thing through enough” to understand exactly what the institutions they let guide their lives are actually are. This is why I will go on to posit that education (school), is most of the most important and successful institutions that humanity has constructed for itself. The fundamental purpose of education is not to each facts and knowledge, rather it is to teach people to think critically and make them, “think things through enough.”
I also want to briefly say something on your defense of religion as an institution. You say that, ” But I don’t think going out of our way to counter religion matters much now. It’s an old battle and people who resisted it thought it through for a much longer time than we possibly could… most of the first world is secular now.” One, this leave the entire non-first world out of the equation and any proper active philosophy must include all people… not just the first world. Furthermore most of America is still religious. And although religion is losing ground it is still a very powerful and damaging institution, because it creates the “us and not them separation,” which you scorn yourself. To somehow say that it is gone or not important or shouldn’t have any time spent on is dangerous. This is like saying the lesser of two evils is not evil, simply because it is not as evil.
I think that you, in your attempt to separate/define things are falling into your own trap (which is seemingly impossible to avoid given how ingrained make believe institutions are in our culture)… “All these things need to be reevaluated and we can help both the religious and nonreligious alike come to a better understanding.” In a literal sense a dichotomy between religious and non religious populations exists. The goal would be to have everybody be religious and non-religious (Zen) not some people one way and some people another way. What I advocate really am advocated for is basically a Bible 2.0 a new (non)religion accessible to everyone. A (non)religion appropriate to today. Why must we put so much stock in 2000+ year old scripture… What’s worth saving about it? Although certain things from scripture will stand the test of time, it is about time we revamped philosophies of religion and tailored them to the current human condition.
This is where I think we start to converge, “The devaluing works through identity, and this identity is formed through knowledge and faith… race, gender, age, species, alive, dead, pretty much anything and everything.” The only part I disagree with is the identities you chose to list out… because those are pretty much given to us when were are born/are living. In fact it is these types of identities that I think we should cherish and develop in a progressive human culture. The identities that we should do away with are, “religion, nationality, race, political affiliation, …” the ones that we made up… not the ones that were given to us.
Slight aside/segway. In response to your (rhetorical) question, “I mean who the fuck is America and where is he?,” I thought I should respond (just for laughs), “well who the fuck is that pussy France?” This made me realize that I have an ingrained sense that America is better and my natural instinct was to call France/the French pussies even though I was just trying to make a joke. This is why I really like your discussion of “the other” and not pitting humans against one another, whether it be non-religious and religious or christian vs. muslim or western vs. middle eastern. This, I think, is the goal of creating an active philosophy. We seek to come up with a universal paradigm to which all humans can collectively contribute to and benefit from.
At this point I must defend/clarify science again. You say, “science has succeeded in creating a useful system that works for us now.” In my opinion this statement is simply a misunderstanding of what science actually is. It is not a useful system that “works for us now.” Science is not an institution that is designed to make you identify with something or think a certain way. Rather it is a tool that we have developed as humans to better understand and use the world we live in. It gives us technology but not an absolute knowledge. It helps us heal wounds faster and clean drinking water, but it does not tells us how to live (nor will it ever). Again the utility of science is what I am advocating. I am not advocating that it is somehow going to solve the identity problem. I also must repeat the fact that science, by design, sis not supposed to be associated with a human identity. It doesn’t matter if a Afgani woman or a Sudanese man or a Tralfamadore times the how long it takes a ball to drop to floor, they all measure the same time (if they use the same method); science is (supposed to be) independent of who is doing it, which is another common misconception.
The only way that science is a more correct faith than others like religion is that it is constantly producing results where as the other do not. But again science as perceived in its purest sense should not even be put into the same category as religion. Their goals and methods a very different and the seek to answer/describe different things.
Now for the discussion on God, Religion, Zen, and (Non)Existence
On the quote, “I think Zen is the religion for the West, which is built upon the fundamental goodness and understanding of Buddhism. I compare Buddhism to Spinoza and Zen to Wittgenstein. One defines and one expounds by deconstruction.” Why only the West? I thought the whole was to not separate our identities into (made up) categories like East and West?
I also must admit that I am unable to understand the above analogy, because of my lack of understanding of all four components involved (Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Buddhism and Zen).
On reincarnation, I definitely agree with the notion of our essence living on, but this is not what is meant by reincarnation in the supernatural sense, so I think we are talking about two different things. Furthermore, I thought that I said something to the effect of, “if you think about it we identify more with somebody our own age than we do with ourselves as a baby.” Meaning I have more in common with you than I do with myself as a baby… Maybe I am remembering it wrong, but that is my sentiment now.
On god being everything or nothing (or in the Zen way both). What I am really trying to say is that there is no separability between the god and non-god parts of the universe. As in the analogy of a song, no one note would be more godly than another. Similarly there is no region of space where god is and another where it isn’t. This, I think, would even be contradictory with Zen, which would state that god is both exists and does not exist at all points in space. Which is much different than saying it exists here, but not there. This is what I am saying about the god being the construct, there is not piece or part that takes a special meaning to it. It is all the same everything/nothingness, there is no gradient from godliness to no godliness. This is why “angles can’t swoop in and instantly cure aids,” because somehow the angels would be the godly part surrounded by the non godly part. That is really all I am saying here.
I need a separate post to talk about consciousness, because this one is already getting too long. But in a nutshell, I would say that consciousness does and does not exist.
On the quote about faith, “If consciousness does exist and it all requires faith generated from response to this or that stimuli then maybe faith is a priori because it is a necessary material for building a foundation in experience.” I actually had a similar statement in my post on faith, where I say that it actually an evolutionary artifact. Moreover, I actually (more or less) posit that faith is more of a tool that we develop to build “foundation in experience.”
One thing that I very strongly disagree with, and actually hope that I can convince you otherwise, is that school is definitely not the same as going to church. In fact I am going to contend that education is one of the best institutions that humans have developed for themselves. I certainly agree than most of its manifestations have been damaging, I believe with a proper goal in mind education is both essential and powerful tool for positive change.
I do agree that age discrimination is important, especially when it comes to education. The most important example is indoctrinating religion and patriotism into children before they have choice to decide on either issue. However, in an ideal education system I think it makes sense to have a curriculum. For instance the skill learned in math class can be applied to problem solving in general. Solving that world problem is pretty fucking useless, but the skills you developed to solve it are extremely useful as they can be applied to building a more complete understanding of the human condition. Furthermore education avoids the need to take time to “convince someone that the earth is not 6,000 years old [and] get them to understand how their tax dollars kill others or instilling egalitarian principles.” Education will teach critical thinking skills that will allow people to reach these conclusions on their own.
Finally, your last question is inherently contradictory, “But given the that no knowledge is absolute why should young people not get to decide what they want to be taught?” One one hand you essentially contend that there is no knowledge, while on the other hand you contend that somebody can teach them knowledge once they have made a choice of what the want to learn. Education is very important. I want to go much deeper into this concept. I want to discuss the practical applications as a well as the philosophical implications of education, but I think I must quit the post now.
Finally, I like your last paragraph on defining certain things that will allow us to move forward. Maybe after a couple more rounds of debating, I think we can really apply what we have been talking about in a real way. It is important to develop an understanding how and why we created institutions, how they can justify the degradation of humanity. Yes I think it is very important that we acknowledge that the institution of race exists, because it is one of the biggest identity barriers that we have as humans. Without breaking down these barriers that we (humans) have already created we will not be able to unite to form a more perfect existence here on earth.
I think the identity institutions humans have created for themselves are the problem and whether or not you’d like to admit it, religion is one of those identity institutions. We may not need to completely write it off, but we certainly need to revamp it. Furthermore religion is still one of the most powerful identity institutions of the modern human existence, and to pretend that trying to reform it is useless or even counter productive, I believe, is contradictory to your desire to change other institutions like nationalism, race, and capitalism.
I also think that you are starting to construct a starting point for changing all of this. “the concepts are as powerful as we endow them to be.” We can come up with much better institutions… namely active philosophy and endow them with power, which is the whole point of what we want to achieve.