Class Warfare Blog

April 11, 2021

The Justifications of Preaching

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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In the early days of Christianity it seems that Christians met in houses as there were no church buildings (a congregation is the people coming together, and this was the first meaning of the word church, which had nothing to do with the building in which the congregating took place). To hold even a small congregation took a house of some size, so the houses used for this purpose were usually owned by the more well-to-do members of the community.

The primary activity at such meetings was the reading of important documents. Since the owner of the house was well-to-do, he was also probably better educated and was, presumably, often the “reader” of these documents to the congregation. Since most of the congregation were poor people, it was quite unlikely that they could read themselves, so they paid rapt attention to the readings because it wasn’t as if they could just “look things up” if they were confused later. These documents were precious to these people and were in the form of copied documents. A letter would be sent by some prelate with instructions to copy the letter (for the congregation) and then pass along the original. Of course this soon devolved into a game of “Telephone” and the documents became more and more corrupted. There were complaints as early as the second century that many of their primary documents were corrupted almost to the point of incomprehension.

The task of copying probably fell to the same house owner, he being one of the only members of the congregation who could write. And, as well, the house owner was not an expert at reading, copying, or any of these other tasks that required professionals to do elsewhere, e.g. temple-trained scribes, for example.

So, the first “office” of a congregation was that of “reader, copyist, host.” No one got up in church to “teach” or “preach.” If anyone spoke it was to share testimony, that is share experiences they had in which they felt Jesus influenced their lives.

It wasn’t until the Romans adopted Christianity as the state religion in the late 300’s that they impressed many of their cultic practices on Christians. It was at this time that the office of preacher began to evolve.

If you are a member of the atheist community, you are probably aware of how woefully ignorant many Christians are of their own scripture. Yet, in many of the churches attended by these Christians, a preacher spends much of the assembled time leading songs (a Roman “innovation”) or delivering a sermon. This is how we got speeches decrying the evils of secular music, short skirts on women, and Democrats worship the devil. Most recently we were treated to one “preacher” who claimed that the “Blood of Christ” would protect us from the ravages of COVID-19. (He died from COVID-19, an example of divine displeasure if there ever was one.)

There has been a substantial brain drain acting upon the clergy. It was not that long ago that intellectuals had three choices of profession: medicine, the law, or the clergy. But many a practice has muscled up in the brain department and now scientists, engineers, education, finance, business types, etc. all have drawn people away from the historic professions. In general there has been a brain drain away from all of the Big Three Professions and one consequence is that we now have preachers who are as smart as a sack of rocks.

These people go to “divinity schools” to take courses in how to preach, and achieve credentials that facilitate them seeking jobs in churches. They all pride themselves in being able to write rip-snorting sermons.

So, they stand in front of congregations ignorant as to what their scriptures actually say and deliver lessons on the evils of atheism, abortion, and Democratic politics. In other words, they consider the wisdom they have to “share” is more profound than the scriptures from which they get the backing for their “opinions.”

Consider what would happen if a church leader were to announce that they would be getting rid of their musical program, skip the preaching and group praying, and engage in a studied reading of the New Testament to deepen the understanding of all of the members of the church of their particular variant of Christianity. I will tell you what would happen—attendance would drop like a rock.

From this we can see what sermons really are. They are entertainment, preferably supporting the biases and positions of those assembled. So, people come to church, they get a little entertainment, their position in their community and their thoughts and prayers are reinforced as being righteous, rinse and repeat.

I do not think “sermons” can be defended on the basis of being a form of teaching, supplementing what people can now read for themselves, because it is clear that most apparently do not read scriptures themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t be so ignorant of what they contain. (Yes, I am painting with a broad brush and yes, I have known Christians who diligently read scripture, but I argue that these folks are nowhere near being a majority of most congregations.)

In addition, these “sermons” have no quality controls over them. A pastor writes up a sermon, delivers it on Sunday and his only fact checkers are his audience. There is no peer review, no organizational review of these sermons and many are just woeful, lacking almost any value to the recipients.

Most attenders of Christian services find them comforting in their reconcilability, their mundaneness, and think that they had to have been this way from the beginning. Actually, most of the structure of our “church meetings” are gifts of pagan Romans. Clerical garb is very close in design to the clothes worn by Roman administrators. The elevated pulpits, the choirs and music, all gifts of the Romans and having no counterpart in early Christianity. (If you are interested in learning more, consider the book “Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices” by Frank Viola and George Barna, two practicing Christians.

Cancel Culture, Just What Is It?

Filed under: Culture,Race — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am
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I used to pay no attention to this as I thought it another form of conservative made up nonsense, which it is partly but I had a realization of why it is not.

I have mentioned before that we were well on our way, as a society, to removing overt racist comments from general conversation. It was becoming less and less acceptable for people to make racist jokes, or racist comments of any kind because of the social backlash that those would trigger. And then along came the Internet, with anonymity for “commenters” built in, and the ability to build almost private spaces for groups of any kind and overt racism made a strong comeback, so strong that some people of weaker character, e.g. Congressmen, would blurt out racist comments while being videoed.

This is our new reality.

Recently, this “thing” called “Cancel Culture” has been bandied about. I think the name came from speakers who were invited to speak at places, like college campuses, but when their views became known would result in protests, which would result in speaking engagements being canceled. Currently however, this new form of societal interaction has been pumped up on steroids. Someone who blurts out something racist, and anti-Semitic, or misogynistic can find themselves punished with fines, public humiliations, redemption/apology tours, and even loss of jobs.

The right-wing elements in our society blame this “new” element of our society on the left and those on the left point out that the right has engaged in this activity for decades if not centuries (burning books, rock ‘n’ roll recordings, Colin Kaepernick, etc.). Ignore them, they always blame the others and neither is correct in this case.

My realization is that Cancel Culture is our culture’s “The Empire Strikes Back” moment. Since we no longer are within earshot of those social miscreants to chastise and shame them in person, we do it through Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. We “flame” them and defame them through their employers, advertisers, and other financial supporters. This can result in, for example, professional athletes groveling in front of cameras for making anti-Semitic slurs, people packing their things and looking for another job, people leaving public office, and even people leaving a community in disgrace.

Here’s the problem. Yes, our society has recovered its ability to shame members toward better behavior, but because we are doing it remotely, we have lost a major channel of communication: mostly affect. When a mother is upbraiding a wayward son, she can sense whether his contrition is sincere and can tailor a “punishment” to the degree of the infraction and the observed sincerity. If no sincerity is detected, things escalate (“Make that two weeks of being grounded” or “I’m not done with you, yet” or “Wait until your father gets home.”) If the miscreant is actually sincere, a lesser punishment can be applied in the form of a corrective, apology tour, etc.

Since remotely we do not have this connection and the feedback it provides, things can go overboard, quickly. Piling on can be extreme. Parents have to take turns reaming out a child done wrong, otherwise they won’t get the message, but hundreds if not thousands of complaints can be sent to someone’s social media account or, worse, someone’s employer’s social media account in minutes.

This social check can morph into forms that are more restrained, but are their forces in society to make that happen? I wonder.

Someone calling the police regarding black people in a park barbecuing can only do so because of mobile phones. In my youth you would have to find a phone booth or wait until you got home. Anyone behaving as a Karen back then would soon be ostracized by our small community. Technology has altered all of this things.

Some say that we are evolving socially faster now than biologically. I’ll believe that when it happens. Cancel Culture is old wine in a new bottle, something we have done for a very long time, but which seems new. In thinking about it, why would we have “emotions” like shame, embarrassment, and whatnot unless they played a positive role in our social species? Do these things exist in species that are not social? I don’t think so. So, we have evolved these mental states because they help us correct one another without killing one another, the goal being to survive long enough to reproduce (which is why we have the stereotype of grouchy old people who say what they think and let others be damned).

April 9, 2021

Now I See Where He Was Going (C.S. Lewis on Moral Laws)

I have been re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and in my first post on that topic (The Moral Law of Right and Wrong) I addressed his claim that our sense of right and wrong was something other than a set of socially transmitted compact rules. Now that I have finished three chapters I see where he is going. In Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law) Lewis writes “When you say that nature is governed by certain laws, this may only mean that nature does, in fact, behave in a certain way. The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe. But in the case of Man, we saw that this will not do. The Law of Human Nature, or of Right and Wrong, must be something above and beyond the actual facts of human behavior. In this case, besides the actual facts, you have something else—a real law which we did not invent and which we know we ought to obey.”

Lewis, here, is using a bit of legerdemain as well as dishonest language, mixed in with a bit of ignorance. His statement “The so-called laws may not be anything real—anything above and beyond the actual facts that we observe.” confuses man-made laws (e.g. traffic laws,. tax laws, etc.) with natural laws which are indeed “the actual facts we do observe.” When people started looking for the “rules” behind natural behavior, they observed behaviors which were dependable without fail, for example, unsupported objects fall (straight down). These were and still are, only a set of dependable behaviors we can observe in nature and use to make predictions. It is not the case “that nature is governed by certain laws,” there is no governor, and the “laws” aren’t obeyed. Instead of the “laws” of nature, we might well have said the “behaviors” of nature.

Also Lewis’s use of the phrase “above and beyond” as a source for such laws is disingenuous. He is making a case for his god being the source of the law to which he refers and where does this god reside? Above and beyond our experience, is commonly used to describe his location (yet it is everywhere at the same time, hmm).

And why might dependable behaviors in nature “not be anything real”? In order to be observed, they have to be real, no? Again, language is being used to undermine natural laws as possibly not being real, a criticism used against Lewis’s god, but rarely about observable nature. If observations of nature are not real, then what is? Lewis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too, as he went to great lengths to paint “The Law of Right and Wrong” as a “natural” law, yet he argues that the law comes not from nature. (Is great puzzlement.)

Lewis is contrasting physical laws (law of gravity, etc.) with the moral law of right and wrong. His argument is that a rock dropped from a height has no choice to “obey” the law of gravity, it just drops. But a man, contemplating an action can consider a rule such as “Do not steal other people’s things!” and can choose to follow the law or not. He is building the case that moral laws have an existence separate from whether or not people obey them, which means they weren’t constructed by nature or even those people, otherwise they would follow their own advice. Rocks are affected by gravity, always, no exceptions. They have no choice. But we do. Natural laws are always exhibited. If a “law” is not, then you know you are dealing with a man-made law, not a natural law.

I think there is a fundamental mistake Professor Lewis is making here and strangely enough, it involves language, which is his field of expertise. Professor Lewis is looking at only the short versions of these moral laws, which appear to be commands, and therefore like man-made laws (being full of “shalls” and “shalt nots”), rather than agreed upon observable behaviors.

When these moral “laws” were negotiated, they were in some sort of form like “we will all be better off if we, as individuals, all pledge to not steal the possessions of others.” (Imagine this stated by a wizened elder when a tribe was in convocation, with the heads of all of the others bobbing in agreement.) But for the simple-minded and the very young, longwinded rules don’t stick in their tiny brains, so we shorten the rules. “If I have told you once, I’ve told you twice, don’t steal!” Parents turn an agreed upon behavior into a command for their children to obey. Why? “Because I am the Mom, that’s why!”

To Lewis, moral laws sound like parentally-shortened rules. So, instead of “Don’t be late for supper, son, it really irritates me and makes extra work for me besides” they get “Don’t be late!” And since these moral laws are universal, which parent model is available to all? Why God, of course. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explain why all of the different gods provide very similar sets of rules, almost as if there were just one source, but there is not such a source. There is absolutely no reason Shiva would create the same moral laws as Huitzilopochtli. But human beings are quite the same the world around so the rules they would come up with would be similar, no? Same source: human beings, same result: common moral precepts.

And were Lewis to argue that there is only one set of rules because all of the others are false gods; there is only one true god, then he would have to explain the differences. The Aztecs tore out the beating hearts of human captives and allowed their blood to run down the sides of their temples as a form of worship, but the Hebrews were told (eventually) that human sacrifice was immoral. If there were only one god, why the variations?

Clearly, even sincere apologists use dishonest language and argumentations because of their beliefs. Assuming ones beliefs to prove ones beliefs is circular reasoning, but also a surefire way to get an outcome you desire. An axiom of argumentation is that the surest way to get a particular conclusion is to get its existence stated as one of the premises. Faith can lead one into making such errors.

April 7, 2021

The Moral Law of Right and Wong

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 11:15 am
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I am re-reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and now that I am better educated, it resonates differently from when I first read it. I just started but Professor Lewis, one of my all-time favorite authors, starts by advancing the idea of moral laws. (You can guess where he is going with this, but I haven’t re-read that far, so I will not comment on that.)

What I will comment on is where we learned the vast majority of the moral and fairness rules that we abide by now. We learned them by interacting with others, almost always this was when we were young and playing a lot.

I remember playing touch football and arguing about something vehemently after every other play. I remember a playmate, named Peter, who was not a gifted athlete by a real asset to our team. Peter was Arguer in Chief. I can see him still, in my mind’s eye, bending forward from the waist, arms extended backward and screaming loudly, so much so that his face turned red. A fearsome sight was Peter in full throat and, I suspect, the reason we won many, many arguments when Peter was . . . deployed.

In schoolyard and community playgrounds, hordes of kids were left to work things out on their own. And we did. And we learned that many things are negotiable, few things are absolutes and our moralities reflect that. For example, if Christians really believed in Christian morality, why would one ever commit a crime? Either they thought they could negotiate their way out (get forgiveness by confessing, etc.) or they felt those rules didn’t apply to them, because a life sentence in the Lake of Fire seems like something to be avoided in the extreme.

Remember the book “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. Clean up your own mess.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—Look.”
―Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Obviously for most of us, religious indoctrination has barely begun by the time we exit kindergarten (many evangelicals actually are at full throttle at this stage with children’s books, Noah’s Ark toys, etc. but they are in the minority in this).

Clearly, we learned much of this through interacting with other children. Teachers general teach “moral lessons” when there is a context, typically a dispute, that needs to be settled. Since the tykes are both upset, they soak up the lesson quite well, onlookers as well as they probably prefer not to get in the teacher’s crosshairs for doing something “wrong.”

So, Lewis’s “Natural Law of Right and Wrong” need no gods to prop it up. It is negotiated over and over by children in communities with some direction from adults who learned the same lessons, the same way.

This is also, by the way, why “remote learning” is not a good idea as a general method for educating youths. Education is a social process in which people learn how to work with, from, or just in the presence of others. The illusion that it is a process of acquiring factual knowledge needs to be buried, more than six feet deep. (It is, of course, a zombie idea that seems not to die.) This is exposed, if it really needs to be, by intellectuals who look down their noses at manual arts training courses (learning how to care for hair, weld, fix cars, build with wood, etc.) Those courses involve the actual transmission of knowledge and physical skills and, if one believed that education were a transmission of knowledge, should be held in higher esteem than those course that only provided abstract mental ideas, like mathematics.

And Now You Know Why the Rich Defend the Status Quo

This blog was named the Class Warfare Blog for a reason. I will be renaming it because that war is over . . . and we lost. If you weren’t paying attention, the status quo ante just prior to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that is threatening millions of jobs and millions of people’s lives has resulted in tremendous wealth gains for the very rich.

Form an article in The Guardian on Forbes magazine’s latest list of billionaires:

“Forbes annual billionaire poll includes a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once again topping the list. Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago, when he ranked No 31 and was worth “just” $24.6bn.”

“Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago.”

“Together the plutocrats added $5tn to their wealth for a combined fortune of $13.1tn, up from $8tn on the 2020 list. A record 493 people joined the list this year – one new billionaire every 17 hours. The majority, 205, were in China. But the gains were widespread with gains across the world.”

“But it was the incredibly wealthy who made the biggest gains. The 0.001% did even better than their lesser peers. The top 10 richest people on the list are worth $1.15tn, up from $686bn last year.”

Gee, do you think the time is ripe for a wealth tax? Well, that won’t happen because the very rich own our Congress. Every fat, white ass in a seat in Congress knows which side of the bread the butter is on and will not betray their rich paymasters.

“ . . . up $126.4bn from a year ago.”

And as I continue to remind you, to spend a billion dollars in any year, one has to spend $532,000 per hour of every working day, of every work week of that year. For Elon Musk to spend off half of his gain from the past year, he would have to spend $33,000,000 every working hour of every working day of a year.

The flaw of capitalism is that there is no limit upon greed. The only check on greed is from governments and people power (labor unions, mostly) and the rich have defanged labor unions and captured the government. So, Gordon Gecko has proved to be a prophet: Greed is Good, at least for now.

April 6, 2021

Another Look at Dennis Prager’s Biblical Values

I am still pondering Dennis Prager’s take on Judeo-Christian values in his column entitled “The American Civil War Is Over Judeo-Christian Values.”

The next thing to strike me are these two: 3. Just as morality derives from God, so do rights. All men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” declares the Declaration of Independence. 4. The human being is uniquely precious.

This idea that their god has given each of us gifts: physical gifts, mental gifts, and now human rights is laughable. This is a bald-faced power play. By claiming I have given you gifts (You can’t prove I didn’t!) then I create in you a sense of reciprocity, implying you should give something back. (They accept cash and credit cards.) If their god has given us all of our abilities, then why are we so broken? Why are we sinful abominations who can only be saved by investing in Jesus Stock. (Really, would you invest in a stock that only paid dividends when you died? Really, would you?)

And Old Yahweh taught that our role is as his slaves and we have no rights as slaves; we have obligations, especially an obligation of obedience to Yahweh and his priests, but rights? No.

And when is a secular document like the Declaration of Independence used by Christian apologists to make their arguments? Has the Declaration of Independence been made Christian scripture?

And “uniquely precious”? Is that why all Christians are against the death penalty? Oh, they aren’t you say? Most are for it? I don’t understand. They think it is fine that we destroy god’s creation and scatter all of his magnanimous gifts before they can be fully employed. Surely such people should be proselytized, not euthanatized.

And if we are all “uniquely precious” we should be making titanic efforts to feed those thousands of children who die from starvation every damned day, right? Am I right?

How is it that people like Dennis Prager can spout such nonsense with no recognition of the apparent contradictions with actual behavior of Christians. Even the Bible tells us to look at what others do and not just what they say.

Getting Shot in Chicago

Filed under: Medicine,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:37 am
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Claudia and I walked a couple of blocks to a local field house today and got our first vaccine shot (Pfizer). I have read a couple of people’s experiences but mine seemed different. We were greeted by the ward alderman himself (he is the one responsible for setting up the event) and every volunteer, paid or not, was cheerful, efficient and helpful. Lines were long but moved along smartly. There was a volunteer every few feet to answer questions. It was nice to feel a community coming together to help one another. (I wonder how that felt to staunch Republicans or Trumpsters?) No fights, no squabbles, just good vibes and gratitude flowing.

We can do this, so why can’t we do it more often?

Also, I wonder how many of you had a first thought that “getting shot” meant by a gun?

April 5, 2021

Why Are the Rich So Hot For School Choice?

Everywhere in this land the rich, the 1%, are finagling for more charter schools, more vouchers, more support for private schools and less, ugh, public schools. Why?

I think the answer is multifaceted.

Back when I was a youngin’ it was an unvarnished truth that free public schooling was a pillar of our democracy. What would we have if citizens went uneducated? By this logic we accepted public schooling as a “collective responsibility,” not just an individual responsibility. But, also in my childhood, I heard from people arguing: “I don’t have any children, so why should I be paying school taxes?” This argument confused individual and collective responsibilities. We all benefit from the education of the citizenry, so we all pay for it (unless you are a church). Some of the rich expanded upon this argument and asked “I pay a great deal of money to have my children educated in the finest private schools, so why should I also have to pay for the public schools. Again, this argument confuses individual and collective responsibilities. I do not actually think they were confused on that issue, I think they were just making an argument, any argument, that might reduce their taxes. (It is interesting that those with the most money, worry about how much money they have more than others do.)

Some of the very richest consider all taxes to be “theft.” These extremists got their wish when a town out in the boondocks (of Montana? Idaho?) voted in a cadre of people who thought like that. They thought being a low tax zone would attract all kinds of businesses, but when they reduced or eliminated the vast majority of taxes, they lost their police department, their fire department, their road maintenance department, and even their city hall. (The town council, in fact the whole city government, now works out of a single wide trailer.) Businesses not only didn’t flock to their city they ran, screaming, the other way.

More recently, the filthy rich have recognized that they have cornered almost all of the sources of wealth in this country: mineral extraction, construction, communications, financial “instruments,” etc. and then turned their gaze upon the pile of money spent every year on public schools. This amount of money dwarfs the revenues of many of the other wealth sources in the US combined. So, there was money to be made in supplanted the “public schools.” They even figured out how to extract large profits from “non-profit charter schools.” It was ridiculously easy. First create a school. Then hire a “management company” to run it, a company which has no restrictions on making profits at all. Often the two entities were the same people. Have you ever wondered why there are so may charter school scandals? The answer is easy: the founder’s motivation was greed and with little to no oversight (aka guvmint regulayshun) greed overwhelmed any restraint every time.

It is somewhat amazing how it is that ordinarily intelligent business people can decide to create a business in a certain place because it has a “large pool of quality workers” and then turn around and undermine the process that produces those workers.

I think all this is based upon the rich man’s fallacy: namely that their wealth is a sign of their superiority. That they were able to become rich is their qualification. The “other people” are lesser beings, not worthy of their attention. This meme is so entrenched in the minds of the rich that they all consider themselves to be “self-made men.” I laughed at Mitt Romney making this claim. You see when Mitt graduated from college, his father gave him $2,000,000 of seed money and access to all of his contacts (his father was President of American Motors and a heavy hitter in the Republican party). Do you know how much money I made in my almost 40 years as a college professor (at about the same time span)? It was $2,000,000. Mitt Romney was given, in effect, the amount of my career earnings to “get started” in business. But Mitt Romney did it all himself. He even dialed his own phone from time to time, I am sure.

Who Wants to Think? Really!

I have been reading a revealing and fascinating book of late (They Thought They Were Free, The Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer). The author interviewed ten ordinary Germans right after WW2 and came to think of them as friends. Many of the conclusions I had come to about the nature of the German people have been severely corrected. And, I have spent more than a little time reading about and viewing works on WW2, particularly about the Germans (I am also reading a new bio of Hitler).

Consider the following quote from a colleague of the author who was a German college professor.

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There is no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated by the machinations of ‘national enemies,’ without and within that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?”

Who wants to think?

This was an intellectual speaking, right after WW2, so things were fresh in mind.

Who wants to think, indeed?

I was immediately reminded of Richard Hofstadter’s book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (published in 1964, so also not long after the war). In that book, Hofstadter points out that there has been a large streak of anti-intellectualism in American culture from the beginning. (You may observe it in action right now: anti-vax, flat earth, chem trails, climate change is a hoax, etc. All of these are anti-expert and anti-intellectual efforts which find fertile soil to grow in our culture.)

Thinkers, bah, what do they know?

Of course, what I want to write about is . . . what the heck are they talking about? What is “thinking?”

At present we have no idea where conscious thoughts come from, and even less about subconscious mental processes. So, a conscious thought pops into your mind, what do you do? In most people, with most thoughts, we just ignore them and they go away. We need do nothing to make this happen. We don’t have to “shoo” away these thoughts (although I teach my archery students to do just that as there is no time to think non-helpful thoughts while trying to perform at archery). If a thought is important and ignored, it may come back. I tend to think that this is because whatever stimulated that thought in the first place (The house is on fire!) still exists and continues to stimulate that thought. Most thoughts just “go away” and they do not “come back.” And, since we don’t know where they come from, we certainly don’t know where they go to.

So, what distinguishes thinkers from those who do not want to think? Multiple things, I suspect, primarily thinkers are way more likely to grab that thought and examine it, which reinforces its existence, by injecting it into memory, first short-term memory and even long term memory (later). We consider that thought, as I am doing with “Who wants to think?” For intellectuals this is pleasant experience, or failing being that, at least stimulates one’s curiosity. I think it is in this “one thing leads to another” making of connections that much of this pleasure arises. By fitting a new thought in amongst the storehouses of ones memories, one is making that new thought part of what one “knows.” One is learning.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” Albert Einstein

Of course, we are not all alike. I remember a conversation I had while I was in grad school. It was over our backyard fence with a neighbor. She asked what I did and I said I was a student at the nearby college. (One doesn’t volunteer one is a chemist casually. Most people’s eyes glaze over then any conversation begun ends.) She responded with “Oh, you must have read a lot of books.” And I said, just “yes,” not the “thousands upon thousands” that was the truth of the matter (I was an avid reader from age 5.). She looked at me, smiled, and said “I read a book once.”

This natural ability to “let thoughts go” is the core of meditative practices. If you stop accepting thoughts, they come less and less frequently and finally, you get the dial tone of your mind. (I used to think of it as the empty TV screen static but that no longer exists for most people, so that metaphor is now dead/dying.)

Remember this?

If you have a mind like mine, you recover “normal programming” when a meditation is over rather quickly.

So, what do you think? (Do you see how cleverly I worked up to this question; neat, huh?)

PS I had an afterthought! It is clear to me that people who like to think, often have specialties: hobbies, topics, academic disciplines, etc. in which they exert their thinking and then other parts of their lives in which they think as little as possible. So, thinkers are rarely generalists. They choose what it is they will think deeply about, possibly creating a refuge from others. (Intellectuals often have poor social skills and retreat into mental pursuits as a way of escaping the bewildering nature of interpersonal relations. This is why scientists are often considered to be geeks . . . because they are.)

April 4, 2021

Not Quite Done with Prager’s Objective Morality Claim

In the third post in this series I address Dennis Prager’s #1 on his list of Judeo-Christian values: #1 Objective moral standards come from God. In this post, I continue on that topic.

I argued in the prior post that the concept of “objective moral values” was invented as a prop to help define out a god. Otherwise it has no meaning.

In my view, all moral standards and values are subjective. This drives people like Mr. Prager bonkers. Let me explain.

We have collectively come to the conclusion, around the entire globe, that murder is unacceptable. Every culture around the world has a precept or law that says that “thou shalt not murder” and if you do, we will find your ass and if convicted, we will stake it out on an anthill, string it up in a tree, or burn it to a crisp in an electric chair, etc.

So, why is this universal? There are two social tools that all members of a social species need to some extent: empathy and sympathy: empathy being “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” and sympathy being “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune or possessing a common feeling with others.” Any one possessing neither is a sociopath, e.g. Donald J. Trump, and considered “not normal.” (Actually I knew someone who lacked empathy entirely and learned to fake it to get along, so whether real of fake, getting along requires this.) In this manner members of social species are connect emotionally. If someone is murdered, the outrage, pain, sense of loss, rage, etc. are felt, probably to a lesser degree but felt, by everyone on the community. It is not just about how we are hard-wired (by God or evolution) but that we also share such emotions.

Now there are some organizations who have a different “thou shalt not murder” rule, e.g. Murder, Inc., the Mafia, etc. There are rules like, “you don’t hit no one without a sanction from the Capo.” Capisce? In essence, murder is okay when directed by someone high above. This is not at all far from what the Biblical Hebrews experienced. When “hits” were sanctioned, they murdered men, women, children, the aged, goats, you name it. It was sanctioned so, murder away!

And what is objective about a value based upon the subjective god of worship. In the OT is was a god who was, according to Richard Dawkins: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. But if you appeal to Jesus, you are appealing to the gentle God of Love. (And, oh, by the way, Yahweh and Jesus are the same guy, don’t you know.)

Objective my ass.

By having a subjective moral code, it is capable of being upgraded. At one time in this country, human slavery of the most abominable sort was legal and morally acceptable to many, many people. We decided that was not right and made slavery illegal and morally unacceptable. That, I think, is an improvement.

But an “objective,” god-ordained morality is not capable of revision. The Bible says that slavery is fine by God, so it should still be acceptable and legal now, no? So says Dennis Prager . . . no?

I am done for now. Whether I am done . . . done remains to be seen.

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