21st century religious wars?

April 4, 2021 at 2:04 pm (By Amba) (, )

I’m hiding this here because some of it will be rude to say in public on Easter morning.

These Daily Beast headlines (I’m not bothering to link, they will be paywalled) . . .

. . . together with much recent commentary on how the tribal, zealous, and transporting aspects of religion seem to have migrated over to politics, coalesced in my mind into the realization that we are actually fighting a religious war, just like those that have racked the West throughout so many other centuries.

For the right, “socialism” IS Satan. For the left, science IS gospel. The right has specialized in the crusade of conquest. The left has a lock on penitence. Both practice conversion and excommunication. Each is sure they hold the truth and the other is demonic.

This in turn brought me (by a winding path, admittedly) to the thought that the world would be unimaginably different if the Abrahamic religions had never arisen. And that they may have been the single most toxic and warping factor in human history.

They have certainly been a key to our species’ “success” in the short term—the whole globe having been dragged into this juggernaut by “the West”—but success down a wrong path is mega-failure waiting to happen.

Polytheism, pantheism, nature worship—are they more live-and-let-live, or am I romanticizing them? The impulse to conquest (as opposed to just tribal rivalry and territorial skirmishing) comes with civilization (and its nomadic pastoral predators), which arises from agriculture. But somehow Abrahamic monotheism supercharged it.

It’s fascinating to see how ideas mutate and hybridize, taking on new power and sometimes monstrosity in the process. Neither communism nor democracy would likely exist if not for Christianity. Western Communism x Eastern Confucianism spawned particularly deadly strains.

It’s enough to make your head spin.

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“Retrospective inevitability”

April 1, 2021 at 9:43 am (By Amba)

from 2017

It only just struck me that “Que sera sera” needs a counterpart for later in life. “Que fue fue?” How would you say “What was, was” or “What has been, has been”?

It’s the sense in which the events of your life were, not by any means inevitable, but … the dominoes fell as they did. If you could go back and change any one thing, it would change everything downstream. The meeting of a particular sperm and egg being as contingent as it is, the same people wouldn’t even be here. Dependent co-arising leads to something like “retrospective inevitability.” “It has to have been that way.” If you could erase the bad it would also erase the good. Regrets rot the harvest.

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Creative destruction?

March 30, 2021 at 10:15 am (By Amba)

(Cross-posted to A Cold Eye)

I was thinking about how anything that escapes regulation, coöpts its environment, and grows unchecked, heedless of its place in a whole, is cancer-like. Wealth in late capitalism. The human population.

But there’s no escaping a larger whole. Even cancer plays its part. It creates opportunities for worms. And funeral directors. And pharma companies and cancer centers. Wealth creates opportunities for merchants and crafters of luxury goods, for services and servants, and for thieves and revolutionaries. The growing human population creates opportunities for pigeons and sparrows, parasites and viruses, inventors of ways to extract more, and now maybe even to extract more while destroying less.

It’s a free-for-all. Everything’s eating and competing, hijacking and hitchhiking on everything else. Don’t be so moralistic. Join the party.

As if you had a choice.

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No Map to the Post-Enlightenment

February 22, 2021 at 9:09 am (By Amba) (, )

A friend who lives in Israel (though US-born) wrote to me worried about how the ultra-Orthodox may be taking over Israel, even as some Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics here seem to be angling to turn the US into a theocracy. I wrote back to him that they seem to be “out to repeal the Enlightenment.” He asked if I had any thoughts about how to counter that. These were the thoughts that came up in response to that question. Some of them surprised me.

I don’t have any very good ideas about what to do about the fundies of all stripes. I suspect we’re at a fork in our evolution where the ability to tolerate uncertainty is the next step, and we may not take it. We’re a very fearful animal, and we’ve learned just enough to begin to realize how tiny we are, how little we really understand, and how little control we have carved out, though it is much more than we’ve ever had before (to our own detriment as well as benefit). The solution, for a sizable chunk of the human population, is to just junk the whole enterprise and go back to absolute authorities and simple stories. The solution for another chunk is to put a quasi-religious faith in science and scientists—in both cases, driven by the longing for authority to keep us safe. The idea that we have to take our fate into our own hands at precisely the moment when we realize we don’t know shit is pretty overwhelming, but it’s the next step and if we refuse it, as we well may, we won’t survive. I guess it’s Existentialism as well as the Enlightenment, except the Existentialists thought life and the universe were meaningless. It’s probably saturated with meaning and potential meaning, and we have allies, one of whom you would call God—not an authority but the guarantor that this isn’t Hell and that it can be navigated and is brimming with promise, not just pain. The part of us that is made in this Great Spirit’s or Holy Ghost’s image is intuition. Although intuition may be more easily fooled by our hopes and fears than reason (or maybe not—reason can easily be pressed into service as rationalization), it’s also a direct way of knowing the score without knowing how you know. Trust is involved, and not the trust of a child who needs the illusion of being safe.

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A sweeping vision

January 8, 2021 at 11:34 pm (Uncategorized)

is what I’m being inundated with, of European domination of the world through its various empires, of which the U.S. is just the latest extension, and its massive twin engines (picture those two suckers on the back of a mother of a motor yacht): technology, which equipped it to dominate and exploit both other humans and nature; and religion, which gave it the justification and the sense of superiority and entitlement to do so.

Domination is not a European impulse, it’s a human impulse. Think of Genghis Khan and Moctezuma and the Aryans who rode down into India from the steppes, etc. What has been uniquely successful and destructive about the European version is those twin engines. It’s because of them that there are too many of us humans (I myself am spun from petroleum and nitrogen fertilizer) and that a minority of us live lives of comfort and safety and plenty and diversion our ancestors could never have dreamed of, to which the majority aspires, all at staggering cost to the rest of the biosphere.

I’m not saying this is bad or good—it’s too big for that, too done a deal. It is not even possible to imagine other ways the world might have gone. This is it, what we’ve got. Other cultures with different or even similar aspirations and priorities were invaded, conquered, colonized, or allied and traded with, and became hybridized with European culture by force, or to survive; in self-defense, or out of curiosity and envy and opportunism. Some of these hybrids are more malignant than either parent, the way the monster of alcoholism isn’t lurking in the bottle or in the subconscious but is the product of a chemical reaction between the two. Pol Pot (“Politque Potentielle”) and Al-Wahhab studied in Paris. And from where did China get communism?

I can’t go all the way into this in one blog post. What I’ve been thinking about tonight is the role of one of Europe’s twin engines, Christianity, with its presumption of having the only right, real ,and powerful god, and therefore the right and the duty and the power to convert others or, failing that, kill them.

And Christianity’s peculiar relationship with the Jews.

How Christianity morphed from a universal and redemptive religion of the humble to a chauvinistic and warlike religion of the conqueror is another fascinating story. Maybe it had to do with its merger with Rome, the early prototype European empire. But it has its roots in the Hebrew bible, whose early chapters are horrifically bloody. Basically, there was believed to be a contest among gods, and Jahweh, the new god, and (a new claim) the only real god, sought to defeat the other gods by empowering his people, the offspring of Abraham, to defeat the peoples who believed in those gods, seize their lands, and slaughter their children. This may have provided the template for the Crusades, and for the conquest of the “New World.”

So jump ahead a millennium or five, and I’m thinking about Israel, which leftists call an outpost of the American empire. But really, Israel, settled by so many European Jews (who still dominate it culturally if not numerically) both before and after the Holocaust, is an outpost of Europe in the Middle East, culturally and militarily a promontory of the long European empire. And I thought further about the Jews’ uneasy status as Europeans, but not; serving the empire as financiers (not so exclusively now as at the end of the Middle Ages, when Jewish bankers financed the exploration and colonization of the New World because Christians were not allowed to charge interest), but also as scapegoats. If you entertain Freud’s equation of money with shit, then the Jews were a little like the Dalits of India, who traditionally handled sewage and garbage (though the Dalits were and are much more numerous, and poorer, because finally, money ain’t shit). The Jews were, and still are, cousins yet heathens, prodigal sons of the same god, necessary but mistrusted, dealers with the dark side so Christians didn’t have to, and subject to periodic exorcismic spasms of “convert, expel, or kill.” A semi-disowned, secret part of Europe that it has never been able to absorb or excise, a sort of parasitic twin. And suspected of being not quite white.

Ugh, I feel like I’ve just coughed up a parasitic twin myself. Enough for now.

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It’s a Vast Oversimplification…

November 12, 2020 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized)

. . . but let’s entertain it for a moment: there are roughly two kinds of people in the world:

  • Those who are interested in power, money, and glory; and
  • those who are interested in something else.

Of course there is some apparent overlap, because plenty of people who are interested in, say, making scientific discoveries or writing novels, would like to get some glory, money, and power for it. But you’ll find that those also divide along the same lines: those who are primarily interested in the glory, money, etc., and those who are principally interested in what they’re doing and know that some power/money/glory will free them to do and share more of it. The latter tend to have a sense of “enough.” The absence of that sensor is an identifying characteristic of the former.

The first group of people is much smaller, but has in its favor

  • motivation, and
  • the command of material resources and the labor and “loyalty” of others. (Scare quotes because it’s the stomach kind, not the heart kind.)

The second group of people is much larger, and that’s all it has in its favor: numbers. But it’s very hard to rally those numbers, because these people are interested in a million different things and just want to be left alone to pursue them.

But the first group will not leave them alone.

Oh, one other thing the second group has in its favor: evolution. Their interests are infinitely more conducive to the long-term survival of our species, if not to its short-term bang-pow-dazzle success.

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Mom Sounds Off

November 8, 2020 at 1:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

on the post-election mood—9 days before her 97th birthday.

Hey, Annie! What doing? Got an Election Hangover? Are you – as I am – a MishMash of emotional Cross-currents: a schemear of elation, exhaustion, anxiety spread across my breakfast pumpernickel?  Am I afraid that sulking Trump will hang in the air over us like a noxious fart? Are we doomed to suffer his indelible presence because he will intone neither the magic release: “I quit”, nor choke to death on the fatal promise, “NEVER!”?

🍷♥️

Sent from my iPhone

She’s like the nonagenarian Rachel Maddow.

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Why capitalize “white”?

November 2, 2020 at 5:01 pm (By Amba) (, )

The Washington Post does it, and it drives me crazy.

Why? Why kowtow to the belief of white nationalists such as VDARE that “White” is an identity, a people?

Suppose it were an identity, what would define it? World domination?

European culture, you say? That’s pretty funny considering that European peoples fought each other tooth and nail from prehistory up through 1945 (and didn’t stop then). Here’s a list of European wars, starting only in 1112 BC. I literally don’t have the time to count them. You’ll be amazed.

You may argue, with reason, that Black people too descend from many diverse peoples and cultures—some of whom unquestionably fought each other as well. African people would have been harder to enslave had local enemies not captured and sold one another. Where there is a buyer, sellers appear. Europeans exploited traditional rivalries among Native Americans in similar ways.

Conflict and bids for dominance are a proud and shameful part of our common “human potential” (“one in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan“), but it’s a part that Europeans magnified to an unprecedented global scale, with a fevered drive to expand and exploit, more-advanced technologies for doing so, and a conviction of entitlement based on divinely bestowed superiority. In 2020, you still wanna base an identity on that? Basically, on “might makes right”?

Technology is only one field of achievement, the one that confers material power and enables its possessors, if so inclined, to overwhelm, expropriate, and even obliterate other peoples’ achievements. It’s far from Europeans’ only achievement, but technology of one kind—the technology of extraction, manufacture, and domination—is the only one in which they were inarguably superior. Technology has its wonders, but it’s a two-edged sword that eventually wounds its wielder. It makes life both better and worse. The balance sheet is a work in progress.

Ironically, “Black” is an identity Black people didn’t ask for. It was welded together out of diverse materials—genetic, linguistic, cultural—by slavery, discrimination, and a disdainful lack of discrimination in the other sense. Just as white police and passersby often can’t tell Black people apart, slave traders and owners couldn’t tell Black peoples apart—didn’t bother to.

But that capital letter is earned. It’s recognition and reparation. It’s Black Lives Matter in one letter. White people, meanwhile, need to retire from their implicit capital letter. What bad timing to make it explicit just as growing numbers are growing sick, really sick, of having the world on their shoulders and their knee on its neck. White people need to explore the freedom of being generic, of losing themselves in the crowd, of being among, not above. Capitalizing their name, meanwhile, is not placing Black people above white people. It’s shining a light.

Maybe a day will come when we can see and speak to each other as individuals with a whole palette of skin tones and a whole panoply of ancestries and influences. We’re just not there yet, but it’s a good place to be going.

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The case that COVID-19 was lab-created …

September 27, 2020 at 11:52 am (By Amba) ()

. . . has moved from the fringe to the center of the argument. It’s getting stronger, and harder to suppress, by the day. Here is the latest analysis.

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To be as objective as possible…

September 27, 2020 at 11:24 am (By Amba) ()

  • Amy Coney Barrett is a good judge, as was Robert Bork, if you take ideological wish lists out of it.
  • If you believe that there needs to be a balance between right and left, between business and government, between striving and caring, etc., etc. (and that too much imbalance opens the Pandora’s box of corruption and cruelty), this is the WRONG time to tilt the balance further to the right.*
  • What Democrats are experiencing is the incredible frustration of watching Trump make a good move at a bad time for an evil purpose.

*The pendulum is never in more danger of swinging to one extreme than when it is at the other extreme. Those of you who dread violent revolution above all—you are guaranteeing it.

UPDATE

  • Barrett is GOING TO be confirmed.
  • For Trump to set up a Supreme Court that could then stop vote counting and reinstall him as president is using the US Government for criminal self-dealing. The confirmation MUST NOT take place until after the election. This should be the laser focus of the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
  • The best outcome that’s possible at this point: The Republicans decisively lose the presidency and the Senate. The lame duck Senate confirms Barrett. Conservatives get the Justice they most wanted; the two other branches are in Democratic hands. Some balance is restored.

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