Meeting Death

I understand Death, I think.

In a previous post I touched on how giving in to your innate desire to dominate other people prevents you from creating everything that makes human beings special among all the animals. In future I want to talk about the other ways empathic morality makes you distinguishable from an unconscious being.

Today I want to talk about death.

When a person tortures another person, they are getting more from it than information or a wage from their employer. They enjoy the feeling of power and control over their victim, and how their victim’s suffering makes them act according to the torturers’ will. This triumphant feeling can only exist if the torturer is hurting someone that might conceivably be able to hurt them back, in the same way you can only enjoy a victory if you were up against someone who was capable of beating you. To enjoy dominating other people, you must feel that you are in a sense as vulnerable to suffering as they are – otherwise, why not brutalize a glass of water?

In seeing another’s suffering, you acknowledge your own frailty. In taking joy from killing another person, you acknowledge your own mortality.

Death makes everyone powerless. Many people who love power imagine that they will never die or that through death their spirit may persist so that they can continue feeling power over others for the rest of time. But in the moments when the body dies and the brain cells that supported things like memory and senses go whirling to destruction, everyone is alone – unable to hear the cries of loved ones or remember the heaven in their holy book – alone with their own character.

A person who has empathy for all people, whose personality has suppressed the instincts of abuse, will not be uncomfortable with being powerless. A moral person who takes joy in watching other people flourish alongside them will not struggle in their last moments. But a person who loves power and hell will spend their last moments on earth very horribly, unable to torture anyone but themselves.

I want to ask you a question. Is this a
Good
thing, an expression of universal justice, or a great
Shame
?

Your answer does not matter to the world, and neither does mine. But I think it’s a shame.

Why are you such an Atheist?

What do I look like to the believer? Many atheists bristle at the mention of God, and slap him down and fix their definitions to His face as if that changes His nature.

So listen to me when I say: The way I write and act is all to do with the great war between Empathy and the Desire to Dominate. I suspect it is the same for many other atheists.

I have watched enough history to know that religious morality is at times self-contradictory (when two denominations can preach different things about homosexuals from the same holy book, say) and at times aberrant. In practical terms, being a part of a religion and believing in God does not prevent you from committing atrocities, or allowing them to happen. Even if you spend your life fighting for justice and truth, a group of people who are theoretically your co-religionists will always be among those who oppose you and fight for authoritarianism on Earth.

Many of my friends, online and in person, explicitly believe in God, and they are fine and upstanding people. But it is this use of the word God that aggrieves me. Murtaza, who is very much on my side, tells me that God can only exist in this world in human form, which humanizes God to a great extent and makes him into a caring teacher. But this view is entirely compatible with the common beliefs that the true God is power incarnate, God is the determinant of all moral law, God is who you owe your life to. And these beliefs are in turn compatible with far darker ones. You didn’t listen to the teachings, and God made it perfectly clear that you deserved hell for turning away from him. You deserve to be tortured eternally because you aren’t convinced by my ‘profound mystery’. The object of Torture is Torture, yes! Let me go find my thumbscrews.

Do you see? One moment God can be calling your name from heaven, the next he can burn entire populations alive, all with a sense of his own righteousness.

It is this compatibility which is at the heart of the problem for religious people. That the use of the word God to describe so many things makes God’s message impossible to find among the noise of so many beliefs.

For example, you may know these three apologetics arguments that all end with a similar phrase: “we call this first cause God“, or “we call this unifying force of nature God“, or “we call this resurrected human God“. Here, one word is ascribed to three very different things. Is God the creator of the laws of the universe, or is He the beautiful law binding the universe together, or is He the incarnated person of Jesus? In my limited experience, God just becomes whatever you want him to be at the time. Once more, His nature is compatible with many things that are mutually incompatible. This may be what makes religious people so agonizingly tenacious in an argument; even if they understand that (say) what they call God, an atheist would call an unknown causative agent or series of infinite receding causes, they can retreat to one of the many other things that are God and the argument begins again – sometimes even proceeding in a circle. The great Christian theologian and debater William Lane Craig once said that even if all his apologetics arguments were defeated, his personal experience with God would be more than enough proof. Oh deary me.

To ask the religious to let go of the word God is a whimsically unrealistic task. Oh well. I started with myself.

Incidentally, the word ‘atheism’ has almost the opposite problem as God does. The word precisely and simply defines whether you believe in a personal God – and says nothing of your personal ethics. Many people feel that we require a new name for the moral, empathic Atheism, and though some names have already been devised, I find none as satisfactory as the original. So that’s why I’m still an atheist, with a lower-case a, sharing a rather risky categorization with the likes of Stalin.

Social machines

The strangest and most important thing about these machines is that each component is often unaware of the part they play or the goal they are unconsciously working toward. Cogs are often good, moral people and confronting them with damnation will be counter-productive.

I want to write about specific things that bother me in society, but first I have to put them in the context in which I feel they need to be – that of social machines. Social machines are networks of people linked to each other by impersonal relationships that together accomplish some kind of broad social goal. The machine can be assembled by legislators, powerful industrialists or simply accrete out of cultural behaviors. Machines often do not work toward just dismantling specific legislation or memes. Their effect can be more pervasive and powerful, even having the goal of general authoritarianism.

This might be hard to understand, so I will give one well-documented example.

The machine is called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. You can buy a book about it online, which I recommend. The link I gave gives a very complete description of the machine, but as you read it I want you to notice the three crucial elements. First, each cog in the machine can defend themselves and their actions as being entirely rational and justifiable, from the lawmakers that make possession of Marijuana a criminal offense, to the police that stop nonwhite people more frequently, to the judges that convict them on correspondingly scanter evidence. No part of the machine has to be aware of the end goal for the machine to work. Second, the machine’s effect on society is to make nonwhite people, especially black people, powerless, as even a brief incarceration in federal prison can limit your voting rights and ability to earn money. The third thing to note is that the machine was purposefully assembled by a few powerful people, who needed a new way to discriminate while not appearing outwardly racist as their old views became more controversial. Though only a select few would have consciously aware of their own motivations, societal fear and prejudice made installing the machine in American society fairly easy. The massive number of people that the US puts in prison compared even with dictatorships is an outwardly peculiar symptom of this insidious machine’s goal.

How about another example? This one is found throughout the world.

Another machine relies in part on the mechanisms outlined here: Moral Panic/Folk devils. Politicians and the media take an isolated event or a vulnerable group of people as inspiration for construction of a ‘folk devil’. This devil is portrayed as a lethal and imminent threat to a free society, and legislation is proposed to deal with it. This legislation almost always involves curtailing hard-won civil protections and liberties, but when the instigators of the moral panic can brand every opponent as either a corrupt traitor or a coward, they are often successful. Though the government that strikes down these civil protections might be largely decent and honorable, eventually one may be elected that would take advantage of the society’s weakened state and convert it into an Authoritarian dictatorship. In this way, the ‘folk devil’ who was nothing more than an imaginary and constructed scapegoat is replaced by the true Devil, who was unpicking the laws that might have allowed the people to resist Authoritarianism all along.

That’s enough for now.

My position on the universe.

I’ve been impressed with how diverse my audience is. I’ve also been making subscriptions to people who interest me – and not always people I agree with. And I’ve started commenting when I see something I don’t think is right, which might easily be viewed as combative.

So for the sake of fairness I’m going to lay out where I stand.

I conjecture that:
– Everything that is not explicitly prohibited happens.
– Experiencing infinity is prohibited.

Certain physical laws like conservation of momentum drop neatly out of these conjectures – after all, with a perpetual motion machine you would eventually be able to extract limitless energy. More complicated and deep statements like the Penrose conjecture can also be inferred. The first also demands that a universe exist, and is also compatible with several ideas from quantum mechanics, specifically the infinite contributions to the path integral, and the idea of virtual particles making up vacuum energy. The two principals also suggest which set of mathematical axioms can be used to derive physical laws in observable reality.

The other interesting thing about these two is that it states nothing about universes in which infinities are allowed, only that no conscious mind can experience them. It may make sense to think of our observed universe as the one among many that has physical laws disallowing infinities. The other universes might have different laws of physics, but they will be forever beyond the reach of our senses.

We are surrounded at all times by a foaming sea of particles which exist for no other reason than that they can vanish once again before we would be able to resolve the individually. These pairs of particles are uncaused and have equal positive and negative energies for their matter and antimatter parts. It is not hard for me to believe that the universe – in which the matter-energy seems to precisely balance out the gravitational potential energy – works the same way, as an uncaused event needing no excuse to emerge from nothingness. In the last ten years cosmologists have been narrowing down the error margins on estimates for the absolute amount of matter and energy in the universe, and their results increasingly suggest that our universe has zero total energy. Though this will never become a firm conclusion thanks to limited experimental resolution, for me it is at least suggestive.

It is in these terms that I not only reject the hypothesis of a conscious being external to the universe that in some way made humanity and who seeks a personal connection with them, but I advance an alternative that I feel is thusfar borne out by practical experimentation and physical experience. And I say with grim confidence that the universe does not love or even recognize us, that our minds are alien to its, and the only justice in the universe is the justice we discover in ourselves and enforce. Our meek achievements as a species, given this backdrop and upbringing, are in my opinion remarkable. I feel very strongly that it doesn’t make sense discussing human morality in the context of the universe’s nature and fate.

Do you think I am lost? Or incomprehensible? Or merely confused? I’ve been accused of worse. Let me know what you think.

Why do you want to live forever?

Life is strength. Life is power.

It is not shameful to have life. Some people end up in positions of power and use it responsibly. They don’t seek power for its own sake. Life is the same way. No-one can ask a person before they are sentient whether they’d like to become sentient, because they don’t exist yet and so can’t answer the question. You shouldn’t feel indebted to the world, and it is not anyone’s fault. You were given this power by your parents, and whether it would be for better or worse they did not know.

Someday I will die. I will not experience anything anymore. I love being alive and enjoying the process of life, but in spite of this I’m not worried that someday my enjoyment will end. The world that contains everything I love will go on without me, and because I love the world I can’t be too sad.

Some people try to be perfect, and some try to live forever. I used to be like that. I tried to become perfect and fortunately I realized my conceit within a few years. Since then I have just focused on becoming all that I can be. But a lot of people believe that they should live forever in a world without suffering. By the time they realize their mistake there will be nothing they can do; they may well die distraught and terrified. I don’t want this horrible thing to feeling to anyone, which is one of the reasons I am writing these words.

Beware. Eternal life, power and glory is a false promise of the Authortarian false god.

The physical world that we all know exists? It can offer you nothing more and nothing less than a rich life and an honest death.

The Machine

A boot made for stamping down
is built into our brain
So we made a machine for rationing out
The feeling of inflicting pain
There’ll always be a job
Separating sheep from goats
After all, it’s easier to beat and rob
somebody you don’t know.

The smoke of yesterday
moves into the night
You lie back with your cigarette
Everything feels alright
Some people’s lives are broken
and they got no place to go
But no point shedding too many tears,
They’re someone you don’t know.

A life spent enjoying privilege
Moves into the past
In an ivory basement your parents rent
To your bloviating ass
You write out several thousand words
Spelling your demands
Banging a drum cos you’re deaf and dumb
and impossible to understand

Yeah you’re so fucking afraid to die
Yeah you’re so fucking afraid to die
Yeah you’re so fucking afraid to die

…This is being recorded next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.