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.

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.

DARVO in India and Cyberspace

edit: In this post I utterly trivialize the horrible condition of being a woman in India. I am but a fool and I write in part to learn.

In this post I’m (eventually) going to talk about the Women’s liberation movement growing in India, and the sexism entrenched in hacker culture.

Egalitarians, who confer power temporarily and based on merit, and Authoritarians, who feel they deserve it intrinsically, are always fighting. Americans might recognize this as the ‘culture wars’. Recently the Egalitarian side has been becoming stronger in many places, including the one where I live. At times the fight has come to blows, but more often it is a slow process of vigorous argument in the media and condemnation on the streets. One of the interesting things about this fight is that both sides make arguments that superficially appear similar. Why is this?

We all know that abusers, who are obsessed with power and control over their victim’s lives, react furiously to the possibility that their victims might escape them. A common tactic they use to deflect unwanted attention from the authorities is called DARVO. This stands for ‘Deny, Attack, Reverse victim and offender’. The abuser first denies that their crimes ever happened or were severe enough to warrant investigation, then attacks the integrity and intentions of the person or people trying to escape them or bring them to justice, and finally plays the part of the innocent victim while alleging that they are being persecuted by an abusive enemy.

This tactic can be successful primarily because it allows the abuser (both in their own mind and to a public that doesn’t look at the evidence too closely) to sound like the victim. When it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, grievances are frequently not settled.

The theory of DARVO can also scale upward to interpret the narrative spun through an entire culture. For example, the people who decide to fight against women playing a truly equal part in government and industry frequently claim that they are being punished unfairly, that they are the ones who are truly looking out for womens’ best interests, that they are the victims of (haha) Feminazis. And they say this continually, all the while trying desperately to retighten their grip and reassert their privileged position in society.

Yesterday, a hacker wrote about a recent experience she had. For several months she had been trying to organize a free cryptography conference. She had experienced increasing levels of abuse, harassment (and on one occasion, fraud) and had resigned from the project. And yesterday she published a long document of what happened. You can read it here.

Both the article and the comments beneath it are illuminating, particularly in the above context. By some strange coincidence, she is also withstanding a DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) attack – a common trick of skript kiddies who do not have the capacity to organize anything more sophisticated. Sexism has long been a problem in the field of technology for a variety of reasons, but the biggest is that even if you work in a basement and decide not to bother developing your social skills, you will still want a mate and the only way that will happen is if your potential target feels obliged to be with you no matter how disgusting you are. This is why some techheads are willing to fight very hard for a world with a subservient gender.

Indians should take note – even if their society retreats from open oppression of women on the street, the people who loved exercising unjustified power will pull back to other areas and take root; they will in turn need to be sponged, and purged, and if necessary blasted from their fortifications.

I wonder, is the DARVO tactic also being deployed in India? I’m sure that conservative figures are trying to divert attention from themselves and pretend that the values they have always defended is nothing to do with the terrible assault that became a murder two days ago. Maybe you could let me know.

My creed

When any person finds another, a battle takes place within their mind between two opposing forces. These are: the desire to empathize with and cherish the other person, and the desire to see them humiliated, abused and subjugated. Most people are less likely to feel empathy for people from a different social class, and many latch onto complex moral philosophies to justify the winner of the subconscious battle. Few have the courage to recognize their own motives.

All art requires empathy in order to function, for if you do not viscerally feel the plight of other people, how can you hope to create art that makes an emotional connection to them? Science, as a collaboration, is just as dependent on empathy, and the rewards of science do not empower the original scientist so much as they empower everyone who hears of and can apply those scientific discoveries.

And so, empathy brings us everything that our big brains are capable of bringing, everything unique to us as a species. The desire to dominate and feel power over others makes us brutal and terrible beasts.

I am an atheist and am compelled by absolute morality to fight against the lust for power, triumph and abuse within myself and in the world.