PETH

There’s a group of extremists who practice guerrilla warfare against those they feel treat animals unethically.

They throw blood on those who wear fur.  They terrorize researchers who run experiments on mice.  I’m sure there’s many other things that they do, but that’s not my point.

My point is that we have to get these guys to expand their horizons.  People are animals, too.  Hasn’t anyone taught them that?  People, according to most people, are even more than animals.  We have souls.  And bank accounts.

If the people who are against the unethical treatment of animals are truly on the side of animals, then why don’t they include people in the mix?

Here’s their dilemma.  If they DON’T include people under their protective umbrella, they are then admitting that PEOPLE are special.  People are different than animals, perhaps even better.  That explains why animals need a special militant arm of defenders.

If they DO include people under their ethical treatment umbrella, then they have a whole ‘nother dilemma.  THAT dilemma would mean they have to start DEFENDING people against unethical treatment.  This would include harassing people based on their own research.  It would include children who are being slowly tortured by people who should never be allowed near them.  It would mean that they could even target politicians who put personal gain ahead of their constituents.

Will this happen?  Will there ever be an organization that is dedicated to the ethical treatment of people as well as animals?  It’s a nice thought, but I doubt it will happen.

There’s a good chance that the members of such groups are in them only because it gives them a mission that seems righteous.  Talking to one of them and challenging their belief system amounts to challenging someone about their religion.

And I’ve already learned, no one likes to be challenged.

Maybe that would be unethical.

 

Heaven Can’t Wait

There’s a whole lot of smart guys telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.  Let’s not worry about that.

Instead let’s dwell on the good stuff religion does.

Keeps us together.  Helps maintain some level of respect for each other, and reduce the amount of violence we heap on each other.  Those are all good things.

There’s one big problem every big religion faces.  Getting members motivated to do good, and avoid doing bad.

In psychology this is reinforcement, positive and negative.

In many judeo-christian religions, the biggest positive reinforcement is called heaven.  It’s a place good souls go after the body dies.  Other religions have happy places as well, all with slightly different amenities.

As far as I can tell, way back in the beginning, christianity didn’t emphasize the negative aspects.  It was some centuries before they began talking about hell.  Even more centuries to imagine the idea of purgatory, hell’s waiting room.

Heaven.  Hell.  Whatever you want to call them, you can’t have a good religion without them.  If people believed that there was no heaven or hell, then they would damn well do as they pleased.  We’d be living in anarchy.

Therefore heaven has to exist in order for a religion to work.  Hell also has to exist in some form, but not as importantly as heaven.

Here’s the fun part.  Heaven and hell already exist.  They are real.

And they are both right here.

My actions, your actions, everyone’s actions create ripples throughout society.  They create a disturbance within the force of nature.  They slightly alter the course of humanity’s future.

If you’re a good person, your memory, your actions, your “soul” does remain among the rest of us in the form of what you’ve left behind.  You exist in the sense that we all remember you, respect you, and retain a small part of you long after you are physically gone.

Heaven is right here on Earth.  You live on in the sense that part of you lives on within me.

So the next time you hear someone say religion is bad, or argue that religions shouldn’t exist, remember this.  You’re already in heaven, and they aren’t.  Sit back, be good, and enjoy eternity.

 

Religion, Guilty or Innocent

There’s a whole lot of holier-than-thou smart guys running about, telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.

They might be right.

Then again, what’s their problem?

My guess is that they are blaming a whole lot of badness on the fact that religion exists, and a whole lot of people claim to be religious.

First off, I don’t think you can actually blame religion itself for much badness in the world.  Sure, Daesh and Taliban claim to act for religious reasons.  Religious states such as the Vatican or Israel also claim to made their decisions based on holy texts.  Political demigods such as Erdogan and Trump are in the same category in that they have based much of their public appeal on religious grounds.

Wait!  There are so many examples where religion is the basis of great evils in the world.  Doesn’t this mean that religion must be the bad guy here?

No, definitely not.  It’s not logical, it’s not scientific, it’s not fair.  Only because all these players use religion to further their own selfish purposes doesn’t mean that religion itself is the bad guy.

Religion is a device that helps holds groups together.  I talked about this earlier.

I was going to talk about heaven here, but this point is probably more than enough for now.  So, heaven is just going to have to wait.

See you next time!

 

Pardon my disturbance of THE FORCE

Conspiracy theories can be fun, but often they may point the way to something more fundamental.

The President of the USA pardoned a man recently, ostensibly because the sentence he’d already served was sufficient to meet the crime.  This sounds reasonable enough, and isn’t interesting for our purposes.

What’s interesting is that we are getting a peek at what went on BEHIND that action.  One of the early paragraphs states that many lawmakers from both parties were advocating for this pardon, including the most powerful members of Congress.  How could the President refuse?

Exactly.

Imagine this “imaginary” scenario.

The USA gives a lot of money to Israel.

In order to make people in the USA happy with their generosity, Israel spends a lot of that money right back in the USA.  USA gives, USA gets back.  Kind of.

Israel gets to decide how and where to spend that money.  So they can work with companies that indirectly benefit their own goals, Israeli goals.  There’s a very good chance that a large percentage of money spent by Israel is going to companies that are friendly to Israel.

In turn, those companies are able to help Israel in many ways.  Their owners can make donations to Israeli causes.  The companies can contribute to lawmaker’s campaigns.  They can fund action committees, subsidize education, loans, grants, and many other ways of furthering another country’s agenda.

This pardon is an example of something that went wrong.  This is a man who, on the face of things, is a friend of Israel.  If he’d done his job legally, he would have made a lot of money and never been in the news.  He didn’t.

Getting caught meant that he had to get punished.  But he was still a friend to Israel.  And that’s when THE FORCE became apparent.

“Pardon this man, our friend,” they said with one voice.

No other great influential special interest could muster the kind of overall pressure necessary to convince such a wide variety of powerful people to argue for the exact same thing.

Are these the meanderings of a closeted foil-hatted lunatic?

Or is this a glimpse of great forces at work?

Be a student of behavior, great and small.  You decide.

 

Yoga is not Religion

Way back when I started learning yoga, there were no conflicts with religious types.

Then there was a flurry of religious types who were worried that their kids were being secretly converted by public schools into heathens.  Why?  Because those heathen school-teachers were teaching kids to do yoga.

Oh no!  Down dog in the classroom.  Tree pose in the gym.  Half-moons in the hallways.

What’s next?  Bloody sacrifices in the principal’s office?  Perhaps cannibalistic rites of eating flesh and drinking blood?

Hardly.  Getting kids moving in a non-violent, self-centered way makes for better kids, better community, and better learning.

A quick search this morning reveals that most of the religious voices have reached the same conclusion.  Yoga is not a religion.

Hooray!

Then what’s the problem?

The problem is that there’s nothing in those articles that comes out and says exactly what a religion should contain, such that yoga is NOT religious.

Sure, the Christian types refer to saviors and gods and the such, but as we have pointed out a while ago, religion doesn’t have to have these things.  A religion is a shared set of behaviors that helps keep a group together for a long time.

That means if you’re going to a yoga class with a bunch of people you like, with an instructor you like, and this goes on for a long time, you truly CAN consider yourself part of a religion.

The whole point of this exercise, and indeed, the whole point of us studying ourselves, is learning where to draw the line.  How long is a long time?  How many people should we include in our “bunch?”

A bunch of bananas is easy; Nature defines that for us.  But as people we appear to be super-natural.  So drawing those lines isn’t going to be as easy as if we were bananas.  Although there are many people I feel may be bananas.  But that’s another story.

 

Evolution Devolution

155,615 words in something called Origin of Species.

Of those words, “evolve” is mentioned only once.  You heard it right.

As for “evolution” or “evolving” or some other variant, zip.  Nada.  Nothing.

Isn’t that funny?

Now, the word “variation” comes up 188 times.

And the word “selection” comes up 414 times.

Here’s the reason why.

As a methodical man, Charles Robert Darwin was most interested in convincing lots of good, smart people, in this radical idea that the thing we call “species” was changing over time.

CRD also knew that a lot of those same people were big on the Big Guy, the big light in the sky, the ultimate authority, GOD.

CRD had no interest in taking on religion, that wasn’t his aim.  His only goal was to show people that species weren’t sitting still.  Some species had walked the Earth long ago and disappeared.  That implied that new species were being created.  CRD had to figure out how to show people what he’d learned.

Law of Nature Number One: Each one of your children is different.  And attached to this law is another: Each of your children is different from all other children.  It’s another way of saying all of us are unique.  Even identical twins stop being identical the moment they are born.

Any problems with this?  Do you disagree?  Then check out a worm, and another worm.  If you look long enough you will see differences.  That’s a Law of Nature.

Law of Nature Number Two: Some differences help you have more babies.  Do you know any couples who have trouble making kids?  What about race horses?  The owners of famous stallions who win big races make lots of money selling that horses baby-making bits.  As long as horse racing is a big sport, there’s a good chance lots of fast-horse babies are going to be born.

Any problems with number two?  If not, we’re ready for the big finale.

Putting both of these Laws of Nature together creates a process of change.  Every individual is unique.  Every individual has a different number of babies.  And so on.

Biologists thought they were doing everyone a favor long ago when they applied the term “evolution” to the process.  It seems harmless enough.  What they didn’t realize was that they were making it harder for us non-biologists to follow along.  Bad marketing.

As a result, we have arguments with GOD over whether or not evolution exists.  Here’s the funny thing.  Evolution doesn’t exist, just like “falling” doesn’t exist.  Falling is a process of being up, and then suddenly being down.  We don’t have schools teaching “falling” as a subject.  Instead we have physics and gymnastics.

Similarly, we shouldn’t be teaching evolution in school.  We must stick to the laws of nature: we’re all unique, and we’re all going to have different numbers of children.

That’s a horse you shouldn’t bet against.

 

 

Religion. Defined.

Fasten your seat belt, this is going to be a fun one.

It wouldn’t be necessary except for two things.

One: There is a lot of religion-tossing going on with our politicians, as they use it to get elected, and also use it to justify their ongoing war with “terrorism” and religious zealots.

Two: We don’t agree on what religion is.  This wouldn’t be a problem if every culture on Earth would simply sacrifice a bowl of leaves (in season, sprinkled with olive oil and salt) on the altar of the Earth Mother.  Preferably only upon the rising of the full moon.

So, because of number one, and because we DON’T do number two, we have to do number three.

Three: Religion is.

It’s a start, isn’t it?  You see, that’s the problem.  There is no good definition of religion.  I’m going to give one before the end, but it won’t create universal agreement, let alone happiness.  But it’ll work for our purposes.

As a young human, chances are you were exposed to some kind of religion.  Do this on a certain day.  Dress up.  Act nice.  Say these words.  Meet with all these strangers and chant.  Sacrifice this goat.

Well, maybe not that last item.  Animal sacrifice went out of fashion some time ago.  Mostly.

However, that’s the point.  Our practical application of “religion” has changed, because we as a species have changed.

A good definition isn’t going to change.  We invented religion, and it has stayed with us for a long time.  Therefore it must be good for something.  Perhaps if we ponder its positives, we can define it more easily.

Religion is good for:

  • managing and leading groups of people, even very large groups;
  • helping “young” minds comprehend their place in the kosmos;
  • maintaining behaviors (a culture) ensuring group survival.

That should be enough for our purposes.  You’ll find that when you add more, it really becomes part of one of these big three benefits.

So, what’s the definition?

Religion is:

The explicit expression of a set of behaviors that keep an individual as part of a group.

Now for some explaining.  Notice there is nothing in the definition about one or more deities, a higher power, an afterlife, a pre-life, or anything about buildings or prophets.  Nothing.  That’s because some religions don’t have these things.  Yet people belong and worship and propagate their set of behaviors.  They have religion.  It just doesn’t look like yours, or mine.

There is nothing about managing the group, or leading it using priests, mullahs, or rabbis.  Because not all religions have these administrative components.  There’s a good chance that any priesthood, by any name, arose out of necessity.  Like symbiotic parasites, they continue to infect any major religion with the few benefits they provide.  Let’s face it, they can also be the cause of many of the abuses we currently see.

Finally, nothing in my definition says anything about long term survival.  It doesn’t have to, the religion takes care of that for me.  If the set of behaviors don’t account for current selective forces, then that religion won’t be along very long.  It’s okay, this happens.  Today’s current count of judeo-christian religions is somewhere in the thousands.  This includes all the variants of islam, for you islamaphobes out there.  Yes, it’s a modern religion based on the same precepts as Christianity.  Get over it.

And out of the many thousands of religions practiced today, I’m confident that many more have come and already gone through the ages.  It’s how we as people handle things in the natural world.

So there you have it.  Religion is expressed behaviors keeping YOU (or any individual) part of a group.

This means that your social club is a kind of religion.  This means your academic department or university class is a kind of religion.

It also means that sacrificing that bowl of leaves to the tree goddess is also a religion; as long as you aren’t doing it all by yourself.

That would be weird.

Comments?

 

Earth Stands Still Day 3

There were several elements in the classic sci-fi movie that were made due to censorship.  The movie is The Day the Earth Stood Still, and it’s from 1951.

One of those elements was the fact that the great robot servant of Klaatu brought him back to life.  Klaatu tells the young woman that the ability to create life is limited to the Almighty Creator – God of course.  Censors of the time were sensitive to the fact that most Americans are God oriented, and suggesting that something else could create life itself would be blasphemy.

SPOILER ALERT!

If you haven’t read the original story, do it now.  Because here comes the punch.

Klaatu was the servant.  The “robot” Gort was the master.  Creating life was just another thing that Gort could do.  In fact, he was able to create life using a voice print.  And if that seems far-fetched, think about the fact that today’s forensic investigators can finger a perp using a drop of bodily fluid or a shadow on a video camera.

The original story is great science fiction because it pushes up against our envelope of understanding.  Why do we think life is so special, so unique that it can’t be created in a lab?  In fact, that’s exactly what Gort does on his space ship.  He builds a lab so that he can recreate the murdered Klaatu.

The insights of this fictional story are far deeper than this.  As behavioral scientists, we must first wrestle with the fundamental question of where humanity sits within the natural universe.  If we are somehow distinct from the universe, imbued with supernatural qualities that no current understanding can ever penetrate, then all our attempts to better our nature will fail.

On the other hand, if we admit that our lives as humans are fundamentally the same as all other life on this planet, and that being of nature, we are also confined to the same natural laws, then there is a chance we can use the tools of science to create laws and theories of behavior that will improve our chances of survival into the far future.

I love the original story because it forces us to face that question.  I’m frustrated by the censors, and by the movie producers, because Harry Bates’s original insights have been suppressed.  If I am successful enough, and live long enough, I’m going to correct that omission.

Thanks for reading.

 

Brilliant Suffering

I finished Larry Brilliant’s autobiography today, and enjoyed it immensely.  If you read his book, you know what I mean and can skip the remainder of this paragraph.  If you haven’t read this, I recommend it highly.  His life truly begins as he joins the love of his life in pursuit of the meaning of life.  Germinating at the feet of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, nourished by the Summer of Love and hardened by the abuses of that era, Larry becomes a radical doctor helping those no matter who they are.  His soul-mate decides their shared paths go through India, and to India they go in pursuit of enlightenment.  Guru Maharaji determines that Larry’s dharma lies in helping others, and that his karma yoga is through work.  The ultimate prize is eliminating killer smallpox, a disease that killed over half a billion people in the 20th century alone.  That’s more than all the wars and famines and tragedies all put together.  The adventures, the successes, and the failures are enjoyable told and hold many lessons.

Larry asks the ultimate question that every compassionate soul has asked through the ages: Why does suffering exist?  He typically pondered this while holding the body of a dead child.  I am going to answer this question in terms that rely on what we know of biology and ecosystems and philosophy.  I’m going to keep it as short as possible, so that much detail may be lacking.  And I’m going to answer it in such a way so that it addresses a related question: What is the best way to relieve suffering in the world in the long term?  Most recently, Jeff Bezos has asked this question, inviting his twitter followers to submit their suggestions as to how he focuses his charity.

However, neither Larry Brilliant or Jeff Bezos, or even most people are going to like the answer here.  For the truth is raw and uncompromising, much as Mother Nature shows Herself to be when in her full glory.  We tend to forget that to Mother Nature, all forms of life and death and joy and suffering, are all aspects of a single existence.

Moreover, when you look closely at the holiest of all holy texts in every religion, you see that they agree on that fundamental truth.  Life and death, joy and suffering, are all part of the same thing.  You can’t have one without the other.  A Tibetan monk explains to Larry, when he asks the question yet again, that suffering will always be part of the human condition as long as ignorance and obsession exist.  In the same scene, Larry is blessed for the simple fact that he is fighting a great scourge of humanity, and to alleviate any suffering is an act to strive for.

This is not an argument against charity, but an answer to the question “How can I be most charitable?”  At the same time, I hope to explain why suffering exists in any form, and why our best charitable efforts may in fact not appear to be charity.

Suffering may come from many sources, from outside ourselves, but also within.  We generally agree that some suffering is good for the soul, for it makes us tougher, makes us more willing to take risks.  But when is suffering too much?  Who is to decide?

Nature decides, using the most fundamental rules possible: life and death.  When she unleashed smallpox upon humanity, a third of its victims would die a gruesome and painful death.  Another third would be permanently handicapped.  The remaining third?  Survivors.

Now that we have eliminated smallpox, we will not know what made those survivors different from the rest.  What kind of world would this be if smallpox still existed?  Would it be a better world?  We simply don’t know.

And that’s the point.  For those of you who are spiritual and wish to second guess God, you can feel angry about the death of an innocent baby to such a gruesome disease.  But if God is playing the game for all of humanity, and not only that one baby or her family, then who are we to be critical?

Suffering exists, and we must learn from it.  As long as ignorance exists there will be suffering.  Such is the wheel of life.  No matter what your religion or how you talk to your God, fundamentally they all say the same thing.  Sub ek, all one.

Which brings us to the final point, how then do we best spend our precious charitable resources?  If you are moved to help someone read a book, buy groceries, or weed their garden, then you should.  However, if you have access to billions more resources, then consider this.  You should be pushing mankind further, higher, faster.  For Jeff Bezos, every last bit of his energy should be directed to making his dream of colonizing space a reality.  Spending even a few moments on any other endeavor may make him more popular, but only increases the risk of getting humanity off the ground.

Improving humanity means greater knowledge, and that automatically means less suffering.  It’s not the same thing as putting silver into a beggar’s hand, but it is far more lasting.

Namaskar

 

May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

 

Boo. You.

Boo!

Not scared?  You will be, by the end of this story.

YOU should be scared because this is all about you.  It’s all about WHO YOU ARE.

You see, once you know who you are, you will also know who you aren’t.

Let’s start off easy.  And since this is Halloween, let’s start off imagining that you are chained to a classic rack of the Inquisition.  Scared yet?

First off, as your Inquisitor, I will clip your long fingernails.  Now I’ll give you a nice manicure.  Look at those fingernail clippings.  Are they you?  Are you they?

Of course not!  You are not your fingernail clippings!  You don’t care if they go or come, do you?  And look at how nice your fingernails look!

Is the nail polish dry?  Good.  Let’s go to step two.  I’m now pulling out all your fingernails.  The whole thing.  Don’t worry.  It won’t hurt.  Much.  I’ll wait for the crying to stop before we continue.

Now, here are your fingernails in a box.  Here are your fingers, without any nails.  A bit bloody, but that will heal.  Are YOU still YOU?  Probably.  People will recognize you.  You can sign your name on checks and play with your smart phone.

Can you guess what step three is?  Step four?  Do I need to elaborate?  I hope not.  If I remove your hands, your feet, your arms, your legs, and so on, when do you stop being you?  If you were to be deprived of everything except your brain, and if we knew how to keep your brain alive and even still be able to communicate with you, would that be you?

A story was written a long time ago about this very sort of thought experiment, called “Johnny got his gun.”  It was meant to be a statement against war, but it serves equally well as a question about where YOU end, and the rest of your body begins.

The next time you’re clipping your fingernails, think about what would happen if the nail clippers suddenly became possessed and began clipping away at your body, out of control.  At what point would they have stopped clipping body, and started clipping you?

Boo!