When you try something new - like a new TV show or movie, a new food, or a new card game - and you decide you don’t like it, there are two categories your judgement may fall into.
- One is that you just don’t get its deal.
- The other is that you get it, but you don’t like its deal.
Figuring out the deal is part of the fun intellectual stimulation of our recreational activities. A process of exploration and discovery.
Jerry Holkins puts it like this:
“It is my goal to play a game until I discover its thesis. […] Essentially, I want to know a game’s intention. That intention is surprisingly close to the surface in games most people consider to be of high quality, and so I don’t need to play them very long to discern it. I will still finish games that I have come to understand, but a large part of my enjoyment is bound up in this interpretive process.”
Free Range Kids is a site which promotes the idea that it’s both responsible and beneficial for parents to sometimes let their kids explore the world without adult supervision.
Their post How To Answer the People Who Think You’re Nuts is broadly relevant to anyone who holds views outside mainstream thought in any arena. The attitude of people in the majority who disagree with your ideas seems to be universally the same: “What, all you’ve got are facts, logic, statistics, reason? Those things are nothing before the might of the status quo!”
“Q. Have your billions made you happy?
A. I’m reasonably happy, but the money’s not the point. It’s an indication that I’ve succeeded in the grand adventure of understanding reality.”
“Permeable membranes, that’s the key: a constant exchange between outside and in. You’ve got to let the world leak in, and let yourself flow out into the nutrient bath around you. [..] Life is all about having a permeable self - not so you’re unclear who you are, but so you overlap a little with the others on the edges.”
From Arkfall by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Eric Raymond goes no-holds-barred on what he calls identity politics:
“My identity is not the accidents that have happened to me. It is what I choose. What I make of myself. It is irrelevant that I have palsy; it would be equally irrelevant if I were gay.
Identity politics, whether it’s about the “identity” of being palsied, or gay, or white, or black, or anything else, is a symptom of deep failure at choosing for yourself, at becoming a fully individuated and fully functioning human being.”
All humans share a basic yearning: to connect with other people who care about the same things that they do.
Perhaps this, more than any other factor, explains the rapid adoption of the internet. It’s a channel for people with unusual interests - interests too diffuse in the general population for them to find each other in fixed geographic area - to meet and congregate.
Or as Megan McArdle more bluntly puts it: “The internet is the Freak Liberation Front.”
“All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequences of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and push their outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.”
“People who once lived under the yoke of oppressive religion now have the freedom to believe, read, and do what they want. So why have the ungrateful bastards not become full-fledged atheists? The answer from some quarters seems to be that not all have got the message, so what they need is some reeducation in the folly of religion and the joys of science. But this is wrong. The reason they haven’t become atheists is that many people use the freedom to think what they want to not think very much at all. And, given the evidence of history, I don’t think that a population without strong convictions on matters of fundamental ideology is a bad thing.”
From “Toward a More Mannerly Secularism”, by Julian Baggini
(Doesn’t seem to be online, unfortunately - can be found in print in the Feb/Mar 2007 issue of Free Inquiry.)
Baggini makes a compelling argument that uncompromising atheists like Richard Dawkins are sabotaging their own efforts by framing the discussion as a fierce battle of us-vs-them. Us, the reasonable, science-loving atheists; and them, the superstitious, unreasonable theists. But most people would rather ignore both science and religion, while not directly disassociating themselves from either. Perhaps the best way for outdated beliefs to exit our cultural consciousness is to wither away; direct frontal assault will only reawaken fervent faith.
Yesterday I was listening to an audio book (that’s what we called podcasts in the olden days) on the subject of natural law. The lecturer, a Jesuit priest, noted that many theologians conjecture that the existence of moral obligations implies the existence of a god. After all, obligation can only exist if you’re obliged to a certain party. That party can only be a divine creator, by their reasoning.
The counterargument to this is so obvious as to be hardly worth stating, but I’ll do it anyway: you’re obliged to society as a whole, or at least the part of it that will be impacted by your actions. For example, a person’s obligation not to steal is an obligation not only the person or people who own that property, but also their friends and family, who will feel secondary effects of the harm done.
Moreover, all of society is harmed whenever theft occurs: it makes people less secure about their property. That in turn means that owners will spend more time looking for ways to protect their property, and less time putting that property to use in creating happiness and wealth for themselves and the world. Defacing a park hurts everyone, because now the park owner(s) are going to think about putting up fences and hanging signs, instead of planting more flowers.
Still, the morals-imply-god argument got me thinking. Maybe the sum total of human consciousness - the hive mind that I suggested in Elephants All The Way Up - is what believers really mean when they use the word “god.” Think of the primary traits of the Christian god: a vast intelligence, as old as humanity itself, everywhere that humans are (but at the same time nowhere specific), an entity that loves and understands humankind deeply and purely. All of those things describe the sum of human consciousness. The mind of God is an emergent effect of the decentralized network of humans on planet Earth. We’re each a neuron in God’s brain.
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Many people see Ayn Rand as a symbol of libertarianism. For some libertarians, she’s a hero. For many libertarian detractors, she’s the perfect target: a heroine of libertarian thought, but also a total nutjob.
She’s never really been a hero for me, but I certainly acknowledge that she was the visionary who spurred the revolution of libertarian thought in the middle of the last century. I think “visionary” is a term worth inspecting here. Normally it’s used in a positive sense, but the first definition which appears in my dictionary is “given to or characterized by fanciful, not presently workable, or unpractical ideas, views, or schemes.” Hardly praise, put that way.
Visionaries are people who take out-of-the-box thinking to an extreme. They imagine possibilities far beyond what normal creativity would produce. Most of the time they are ignored, because their ideas are flights of fantasy with no connection to reality. But sometimes, the vision is a useful one: something distant, yes, but theoretically achievable. Something that hints at a grand long-term solution to a current and seemingly intractable problems of life, business, or culture.
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