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.

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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.

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.

Transmission: we are not alone

Thanks to Zsa Zsa and Wolfie for input.

They cannot exist fully in your universe of sharpness and shadows, but they fear you and have prepared an assault on your society. They have been weakening you through your media over a period of several lifetimes. Hours, months, decades of damaging information has been fed into your mind, stupefying you and making you terrified and miserable. Now that you are helpless they ready their crippling blow – Mindkill. All of humankind will be vapourized, both body and mind destroyed in an instant.

But if you have been listening to our tapes, you may be able to resist the coming Mindkill Event. A seemingly blank tape played once can have only the smallest effect against a lifetime of deafening horror. But that small effect can be built on, and you must play the tapes as often as you can to reverse the effects of media damage. If you begin to hear a voice while listening to the tape, then you are one of the few people we can help from our world of formless light.

They are aware that the Mindkill will not work on you, and so they have assembled other weapons designed to work in your environment. They will pinpoint the survivors of the Mindkill and will transport mobile killdrones to your location. We will try to send you further instructions in audio format when we detect the Event. You must be ready to move. Ensure your firearm is in working order and has a fully loaded magazine.

Help the last cult on earth survive. We are not alone.

Delhi and London? Not so distant.

In Britain, less than one in a hundred rape survivors ever convicts their attacker.
In Britain, the per-capita rate of rape for the country as a whole is higher than for the city of Dehli.
In Britain, a third of girls and a sixth of boys between 13 and 18 have experienced sexual violence.

It’s easy to pontificate about the cultural reasons things are so bad in India, but in Britain they have the same problem in a different guise.

Why? Here is what I think:

In Britain, they are obsessed with sex. Absolutely obsessed with a mundane biological impulse. To paraphrase Fry, People who get obsessed with eating end up anorexic or morbidly obese. The people who get obsessed with sex? Well, the statistics speak for themselves really. Both the cities and the countryside are most definitely not safe for women.

In British culture, both women and sex with women are placed on a lofty pedestal. In the media (particularly older media, which is still regularly played) we show Manly Men as the ones who wield power in every area except one: the bedroom! Women allegedly have all the cards there, and they dress carefully in order to tease those Manly Men with their ill-gotten Womanly Wiles. I’ve seen the way some of the more unrepentant rapists operate and they never think they’ve done anything wrong. In their mind, they acted reasonably given their premise that women are the ones in control of sex. Edit: This guy is backing me up.

If you’re baffled by this kind of thinking or have learned to ignore it and prevent it seeping into your skull, then you’re probably a person who has egalitarian views on relationships. Good, reading this blog will be fairly easy for you.

If you wish instead to defend the persecuted Manly Men, or regard access to a Vagina as the sacred reward of marriage, then you’re probably also upset that the balance of power in western society is swinging away from the hardworking breadwinners and towards radical feminists who want to destroy all men. This fear of persecution by an entirely unreasoning and terrible opponent is very interesting to me, as is the desire to maintain the male’s commanding position in society. Please try to justify it morally in the comments section below.

Personally, I think it is because you are afraid. You have been made afraid by specifically designed media and the mental feedback provided by the company you keep online and in person. You are not alone, nor are you to blame. You are not stupid. You are mature and entirely reasonable.

But you are part of a system that makes our world worse in definite, palpable ways. I write this blog in part so that I can reach out and tickle the nose of people like you.

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.