Uncommon Sense

April 1, 2023

He Who Is First Into Print Wins!

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:59 am
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This maxim holds a kernel of truth. The first person into print creates a weaker position for his opponent, that of the criticizer, but also being in print means you leave a record for future folks to be able to see. (Donald Trump is a master of this calling his opponents all kinds of names and making baseless charges which reporters then ask the people targeted to respond to. Most of Trump’s targets make the mistake of responding to the claim/charge; they would be better off asking “Why would you take his word for anything? He is a known liar. Come back when you have some evidence backing up his ridiculous claim and then I will respond to your question.”)

As a prime example of being in print means you leave a record for future folks to be able to see, take the ancient Greeks. They are credited for having invented Western Civilization: they invented science, medicine, philosophy, etc. This is, of course, bullshit. The Greeks, like every other civilization before and since built upon what came before. (In fact they made that claim themselves but racist Europeans of the nineteenth century couldn’t abide with Egyptians and Indians and Chinese being the sources of such things because well, they were mongrel races, some were even Black!)

The ancient Greeks had an advantage though, the written Greek language. That language became the written language of much of the Mediterranean area, whether you spoke Greek or not (written Greek was the lingua franca). For example, much of the Christian New Testament, written by Jews and people who spoke Aramaic, was written in Greek.

This didn’t guarantee your ideas would survive, but it sure helped. We have enough references to lost manuscripts to back up this contention, and the works of Aristotle, one of the finest Greek scientists, were almost lost, but a student of Aristotle had written down most of his ideas and those scrolls were later unearthed and Aristotle took his place in the annals of science. (Whew, that was close.) Were it not for those notes, Aristotle would be a footnote in history at best.

But the people who left no written records are not as well represented. Take for example the wonders of vaccinations. If you look up who invented the idea your source will likely say it was Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796. This, of course, isn’t true. Vaccinations were being done in Africa centuries earlier than that. We have advertisements for slaves who were vaccinated, making them more valuable, earlier than that. But Jenner had a better PR agent apparently. Oh, and he was white, of course.

Greek philosophers did not invent philosophy. Greek astronomers did not invent astronomy. Mariners were navigating by the stars for centuries before Greece existed. In Polynesia, many hundreds of stars were given names before any white astronomers showed up. Similarly medicines were known and used long before the Greeks invented “medicine.” Pharmaceutical companies are still trolling the knowledge stores of “primitive peoples” for new drugs to exploit.

Getting into print first had many, many advantages, but if you are wise, you should ask yourself: from where did they get their knowledge to begin with?

March 27, 2023

The Tower of Babylon and Biblical Sucking Up

I watched a documentary (from 2019 I believe) about the Tower of Babylon last night. The Bible was mentioned on and on, even though other records, records more reliable, exist. As it turns out the tower in question seems to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar, a ziggurat to be specific. As the narrator droned on addressing various archeologists trying to “research” the topic, the Bible was mentioned quite often. I put research in quotes because the research mentioned had already been done, the on screen archeologists were just pretend researching for TV.

So, the tower was built. The documentary went into how it was constructed, that they had to use fired mud bricks because sun-dried mud bricks were not up to the task. An engineer calculated that a tower constructed as described (in the Bible!) could be as tall as 300 ft. There is no evidence that it was 300 feet tall, but it was referred to as the 300-ft tower from that point onward. (This is an ongoing problem with this entire series of documentaries—assumptions become facts in the mouth of the narrator.) Details of the building process were provided from the Bible! Look, there was an entire group of Israelites in Babylon at the time, due to the conquest of Babylon over Israel, and they were writing the books of the Torah down at that point (including the Book of Genesis, which contains the story of the Tower), having only oral knowledge to rely upon. Details of the construction were hardly secrets. The Babylonians were very proud of their constructions and all of the innovations involved.

So, the construction was addressed in the documentary, including how it could be thought of as being tall enough to “reach the heavens” (river mists made it appear as if it reached the clouds and, as we all know, the clouds are in the Heavens).

The Bible clearly points out that the heavens are much farther up than 300 feet, because every mountain worthy of the name was taller than that and so people could walk or hike up to the Heavens were they that low. But Yahweh gets pissed and instead of moving the Heavens up higher he confounds the workers languages and then blows the tower down with a giant wind. (However, the Tower was finished, so confounding the languages of the workers didn’t prevent that, and no wind knocked it down. I know, details, details.)

Then the documentary pointed out that local historians told how when Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Persians knocked a hole in the tower! The Babylonian god’s temple was not the Persian’s god, so defaced the tower must be. (Another example of toxic religious thinking: Step 1 Kill or Destroy, Step 2. . . . The Persians could have reconsecrated the temple on top of the tower and then had a magnificent temple for their god, but no.)

Later Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and Alexander dismantled most of the Tower, intending to reconstruct it, but Alexander didn’t live long enough to direct that task and, well, things got complicated. The Iraqi people, being nothing if not pragmatic, saw a huge store of building materials just sitting there so up the wheelbarrows came and away went the Tower’s bricks went with them, to be incorporated into roads and buildings nearby.

So, at this point, one would think that the Bible’s story of Yahweh screwing with the workers and creating a big wind to destroy the tower would be debunked, yes? Of course, no. No mention of the rest of the Bible story being complete fiction was uttered. In fact once they got to the facts of the destruction of the tower, the Bible was not mentioned again.

Now, I can imagine in their production meetings that someone stated that mentioning the Bible over and over would boost ratings and pointing out that the Bible story was wrong could result in a backlash. But the blatant sucking up to religionists leaves one thinking, “So, the Bible was right.” Yes, it was right about the construction of the tower, the facts were clearly available, but dead wrong about the theological parts. Bible thumpers often gloat about all of the truths of the Bible, which validate it. But those truths are not theological truths. They are historical truths available to any witness alive at the time and their veracity does not reflect at all on the veracity of the Bible as a source of theological truths.

Postscript If you are wondering why not “The Tower of Babel,” the word Babel is Hebrew for Babylon.

March 20, 2023

Follow-up to “War Criminals to the Left of Me . . .”

The Architects of the Iraq War: Where are They Now?

March 18, 2023

War Criminals to the Left of Me . . .

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:53 am
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According to trustworthy news sources, the International Criminal Court said Friday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. (Source; AP).

Tonight I also watched the movie “Shock and Awe” which delineated the efforts of just one small newspaper syndicate, Knight-Ridder, during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, which was the only news outlet that uncovered the truth about the criminal actions of the Bush Administration.

The appalling thing is that neither President Bush, not Vice-president Cheney, nor Condoleezza Rice, nor Donald Rumsfeld, nor any other of the known architects of the false war on Iraq was ever held to account for their actions. Also, the mainstream media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the major TV networks were selling their souls for access to “high government officials” by published stories they hadn’t confirmed.

Over 2 trillion dollars wasted, tens of thousands of U.S. dead and wounded, a hundred thousand Iraqi dead, and not one day spent in jail for the lying assholes who started an unnecessary war.

None of these miscreants has served a day in jail.


March 14, 2023

Pantheism, Why?

I am reading a wonderful book on the religious stances of the founders of the US. In that book it is claimed that many, probably most, of the key players in the American Revolution were deists, which should be shocking because to those in mainstream religion, that is almost all other Americans, considered deism a form of atheism, which was a punishable crime in many places in the Colonies.

The deism most popular at the time would probably called pantheism today.

pantheism (noun) the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The book’s title by the way, is “Nature’s God, The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.”

This post is about pantheism (I will report on the book later). I can’t help but wonder why anyone would even bother. It seems that nature has already been labeled and calling it “god” doesn’t change anything. At first I was supposing this equation was because people were brought up with a concept of a god or gods and they just could see the universe without a god in it (or of it) somewhere.

Then I thought that this could be a form of weapon used against traditional religion. There are some advantages. The Abrahamic gods were claimed to be omnipresent, which makes no sense as I have written before. (A god which is omnipotent and omniscient need not be anywhere anywhen to observe or act. It already has seen and heard all there is to see and hear and can act from anywhere.) But if nature is your god, you can make a good argument for omnipresence, because it just is. No matter where you go, there you are, as the saying goes. Omnipresence is a brute fact of pantheism.

The book’s author, however, makes another argument, which seems plausible. He states “Radical philosophy really begins with the intuition that the great problem with the common religious consciousness is not that it thinks so highly of God but that it thinks so little of nature.”

Clearly we are completely dependent upon nature. Were major natural systems to collapse, whether any of us could survive is a real question. The Judeo-Christian religion gives nature to us as “something inherently inert, passive, mechanical, and therefore unable to give life meaning, and it congeals its nihilism in the hallucination of an otherworldly God.” We are told to go forth and multiply and nature is there to do with as we choose. And our exploitation of nature’s “resources” is unbridled and, we now see, doing real damage to our ability to survive.

Were we to consider nature to be god and therefore sacred, would we treat it differently? Possibly the Native Americans have shown us that we would have, as they did.

I am uncomfortable with this as it seems a form of self-delusion—“Hey, guys, I have an idea, let’s pretend nature is God!”

As you can see I see pantheism as an unnecessary complication, but it may be a useful interim weapon to use against traditional religion’s rape of nature. Obviously if we do not survive any fine points in this argument are moot.

What do you think? Are you a pantheist? (How about you, John?)

March 11, 2023

Parsing Love Thy Neighbor

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:23 pm

Hey, it is almost Sunday . . . and you know what that means. Steve

Since so many people have used the Ten Commandments as a club, I want to expand upon what they actually meant. I am just picking on “Love Thy Neighbor” because at least it has some social utility.

This “commandment” shows up first in the Book of Leviticus, namely Leviticus 19:18 – Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

It is instructive, however to provide a little context, for example the previous five verses:

13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.

17 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

The “speaker” keeps saying “I am the Lord.” Now this may be an affirmation or a signature. Some claim “I Am” is the holy named of their god, so this could very well be “I AM, the Lord” there not being any commas in ancient Hebrew.

In any case, most Christians and others see this as Yahweh, Lord of the Hebrews instructing “his people,” his “chosen people.” This is a key point. These are instructions to those Hebrews, which were not given to any other people. So, for “you shall not defraud thy neighbor,” it is assumed that his neighbor is a fellow Hebrew. This is well understood. Those Hebrews were instructed to not mingle with gentiles, nor live in neighborhoods with them, not break bread with them, and certainly not to marry one! All references to “neighbors” are “to other Hebrews.” These are rules of how these people were supposed to behave toward one another in the group of “thy people.” So, when the commandment “thou shalt not kill/murder,” the words “other Hebrews” is implied. It is perfectly alright to kill non-Hebrews, and Yahweh orders the Israelites to do just that, by the thousands. (It is also important that the scouring of the Promised Land is a fictional back-story, written to bolster the spirits of the oft defeated Hebrew nations. The genocides described in the Pentateuch did not happen, at least as described, and the fictitious descriptions were supposed to not only make the Israelites proud of their past, but also to fear and love their god. So, these were written as compliments. If killing all of those Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites involved violating a commandment of Yahweh, why would that make the Israelites proud of that past?

So, clearly, these “commandments” were directed at Hebrews and were with regard to how they should act toward other Hebrews.

“This will only stop when we are all in the same in group: a group in which it doesn’t matter what religion you follow, what color your skin is, what country you reside in, what language you speak.”

Now, some claim that since their god made these commandments, they are not human creations and they are objective. Without their being sourced in a god they would be “only” subjective and relative. (It is a poor argument, but I will leave that to another time.)

Charles Darwin had something to say about this (and I am paraphrasing): if two tribes entered into a conflict or competition and one tribe included a greater number of courageous, sympathetic members who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, then this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere and without coherence, nothing can be effected.

Hmm, “courageous, sympathetic members who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other” sounds a lot like they loved one another, no? People like me contend that our social behaviors were shaped by evolution to be what they are, not by religion, and I will go further in that the behaviors existed before the religions and therefore could not have been created by them. (Another example of religions co-opting preexisting behaviors and claiming them for themselves. I am fine with religions codifying these rules, but not with their claiming they invented them.)

Please note that the “Rules Hebrews Follow” did not extend to other groups. If you told a first century Roman that Love Your Neighbor was a commandment that applied to them, so they should follow it, they would laugh and probably respond with “You don’t know my neighbors!” Since those rules were based upon pre-existing social mores shaped by evolution, they only applied to the tribe. Those admonitions did not apply to those in the enemy camp, couldn’t go around loving them, no way.

Such is the case currently in the Russian and Ukrainian war camps. Each group is bolstering their coherence, “one for all, all for one,” is the watchword. To warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other only applies to those on your side, on your team. So, even this “objective” moral code does help anyone in such a conflict, we are still addressing only the others in our “in group.”

This will only stop when we are all in the same in group: a group in which it doesn’t matter what religion you follow, what color your skin is, what country you reside in, what language you speak. This is a universal trope in Science Fiction: aliens attack and we come together as humans and survive (or we don’t and die like dogs).

March 9, 2023

Systemic Racism? Never Heard of It

Right-wing Republicans (Are there any other kinds any more?) are fond of denying that there are no after affects of black slavery in this country and pooh-pooh that claim that systemic racism even exists.

An article in The Guardian yesterday stated:

“When Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin had their home assessed by an appraiser in 2020, they learned it was worth $995,000. So the Black couple, who purchased their home in December 2016 and spent thousands in renovation costs over the years, decided to get a second opinion. They “white-washed” their property and had a white friend pose as the homeowner. Weeks later, a different appraiser assessed the house’s value at $1,482,500.

“The couple sued for discrimination.”

We certainly wouldn’t want those black folks to have enough money to buy into another white neighborhood and we want to make it easier for a white couple to replace this black couple . . . wait, WTF?

Anyone doubting the existence of systemic racism is exposing willful ignorance. The federal government has admitted to creating a red-lining program that prevented black and brown people from even securing federal or even private loans on houses in white neighborhoods, for Pete’s sake.

And I assume every denial of systemic racism begins with a prologue starting with “I am not a racist, but . . . “ This should be a clear sign the speaker is a racist, because if you feel you have to deny it, you are about to utter some racist bullshit.

Oh, and the Austins won their case.

And, if you still have doubts The Guardian article went on to state that a pair of researchers “analyzed more than 47m appraisal reports collected from licensed appraisers between 2013 and 2022. The data had been made public for the first time, a decade after Howell and Korver-Glenn (the two researchers SR) first pursued it.

They found the gap between the home values of white homeowners and homeowners of color widened over the last decade. When unpacked by race, the results were staggering: appraisers valued homes in white neighborhoods two and half times more than homes in Black neighborhoods. For homes in Latino neighborhoods, the gap is larger, despite the fact that the value of the Latino residents’ homes were bigger than Black residents’.

Systemic racism doesn’t exist my ass.

March 7, 2023

The Mystery of Consciousness

Human beings have been debating the concept of consciousness since there have been debates. So, how far have we come? Initially, the first few thousand years or so, speculation dominated. Lately we have developed tools which can address the problem from the other end; brain scanners and the like are allowing us to get actual data as to how the brain works, which may lead to an understanding of how consciousness works.

I am not competent to follow the leading edge of consciousness research (which is still highly speculative) but it seems to me the pathway to it is not entirely unclear.

I think the first step toward consciousness is the development of memory. The core of the value of this faculty is summed up in George Santayana’s aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Any animal which cannot remember that that other animal over there is a predator or eating that fruit will cause sure death, is less likely to survive and breed than those that do. Research shows that many animals possess the ability to remember, down to microscopic level animals, so its utility I think can be assumed.

Once memories are available, then I think imagination becomes a next step. For this purpose I equate imaginings as the creation of synthetic/fictional/hypothetical memories. Having this capacity allows us to game plan for threats. We know that the human brain spends a great deal of its energy in threat assessment. We look around and instead of having to go through any process of threat assessment, our brains do it for us, not always all that well, but safety first is our watchword. I and others have mentioned the development of agency through the predator in the tall grass scenario, which goes we are surveying our surroundings and there is disturbance in the tall grass nearby. Is that a predator swishing its tail, which is stalking us, or was that caused by a zephyr of wind? Our imaginations allow us to “picture,” that is create a false memory of, what happens if (a) we think it is a predator and it is not and (b) we don’t think it is a predator and it is. Each of those scenarios can be extended with possible solutions: (i) we move away and (ii) we do nothing. Even if we are wrong about it being a predator, moving away is the most prudent path. Obviously combinations of (b) and (ii) do not end well for us.

So, once we have caches of actual memories and synthetic/fictional/hypothetical memories some system of organization/categorization/ability to recall of those memories would benefit us. A memory that we died by predator, which we imagined, could cause problems if we thought it really happened. And since false memories are unreliable (being based upon what?) we definitely need to distinguish those from real memories. What developed is what I believe most people refer to as “mind.” Once the thing began, it grew like Topsy, because it was flexible and was applicable to many tasks.

Then, because we are a social species, our social nature taught us that as individuals we were quite limited but in groups we were much more capable. As our ability to communicate increased, prodded by learning to hunt and gather in groups, the ability to communicate and think collectively, which we call consciousness, developed. Our “minds” kept running in the background, and I think we refer to that as a “subconscious” mentality, our ability to focus on specific thoughts and develop them with others became what we call our consciousness mentality or our conscious mind.

Again, this is just more speculation, but at least it is testable. There are other social species. We can test other species for their ability to memorize and recall. So, this might be a framework that could help us organize out thoughts about consciousness.

Since I can’t imagine that I am the first person to come up with this, I assume others have already and those of you more steeped in the topic can comment on that.

A Concluding Scenario
Imagine a stone age man knapping stones to make tools. A boy comes nearby and watches him work, several days in a row. Finally the man gestures to the boy to come closer (coming closer without invitation invites a cuff of the head) and the man grunts, shows the boy how he is holding the knapping tool and how he is striking the piece of rock he is shaping.

Later the man finds the boy trying the task on his own, woefully poorly of course. So the man cuffs the boy on the back of the head and shows him that the rock he chose to work on was not a shapeable rock, a piece of flint, chert, obsidian, or other conchoidal fracturing stone. So, he gets him working on a shapeable stone and walks away.

Think about this process. Learning to shape stone tools would be of no value if one could not remember the process. One would have to reinvent the process anew each time a stone tool was desired. Once the process could be memorized, then it could evolve through brute experimentation or imagining other possible process steps. And evolution would require mind to organize the steps, possible new steps, steps that worked and steps that did not. And, then socially, the whole family group or tribe would benefit if those techniques could be shared/taught to others.

All of this could happen before the development of language, but each collaborative process pushes the development of language, which would be enhanced by the development of language. Hunting would be more efficient with better communication, teaching would be enhanced by the ability to ask questions and answer them, etc.

It seems as if the chain undergoes positive reinforcement every step of the way.

March 5, 2023

A Heresy Resolved

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:56 am
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A major heresy troubled the early Christian (orthodox) church. It was called the Arian heresy after Arias of Alexandria ((born c. 250, died 336), the point man for the effort. The brouhaha lasted five plus decades but actually has stewed on until now.

One crux of the matter (that they didn’t believe in the Trinity was also part of it) revolved around the claim that Jesus and “the Father” were “consubstantial,” that is made from the same stuff. Arias didn’t buy this because, well it is ridiculous. Jesus is often referred to as being incarnate, 100% human, etc. and I can’t image old Yahweh putting on a meat overcoat for anyone.

Arius suffered much from his stubbornness, and was excommunicated (more than once, if memory serves). Reportedly he collapsed and died while walking through the streets of Constantinople but others claimed that Arius’ death was the result of explosive gastrointestinal problems he suffered in the city of Constantinople while he was attempting to negotiate admittance to the church there. I am sure his enemies would have been pleased were he to have died in a shit storm.

Well, we now know that Arias was wrong. Jesus and “the Father” were made of the same stuff, namely whole cloth, fully imaginary.

It is hard to believe, but ordinary people debated the merits of many of these positions, often vehemently and occasionally violently for the better part of a century, and the controversy drags on today, often out of sight (just ask any Unitarian if they believe in the Trinity). Also, the people who hounded Arias to his death were the same folks who invented the fiction which is now holy doctrine of so many Christian churches. (Arias was first declared a heretic and excommunicated because he refused to sign on to the created fiction.)

March 3, 2023

It Is Never Ending

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:05 am
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Cartoonist Scott Adams (Dilbert) has gotten into hot water, deservedly, for telling white people to stay away from black people because they, well, aren’t grateful enough for all that white people have done for black people. He had to twist the knife a bit, calling black Americans a hate group and portraying white people as victims.

So, black people are supposed to be grateful for centuries of slavery, followed by centuries of institutional racism that have disadvantaged them significantly (and which continues today)?

It isn’t mentioned often but the churches have supported much of that discrimination and still do. Adam’s church for example, Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons, has a long history of excluding blacks from their religion., for example. For example, during the New Deal’s efforts to offset the impact of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt’s administration came up with the idea of giving money to the poor who were out of work. Laws were passed, people hired to dispense the money, but the progress was glacially slow. Roosevelt sicced his trusty troubleshooter, Harry Hopkins, on the problem. Hopkins quickly found out that the dispensers of the money, instead of filling out forms and dispense the cash were spending a great deal of time ensuring that those with their hands out felt guilty about needing charity, as if they weren’t embarrassed enough already. (Some left before going through the process because of it.) When that idiocy was nipped in the bud, the money flowed.

In all of these cases, good Christian people were at the heart of it all. If the Christian Nationalists want to make a case for the nation being formed a Christian nation and having been a Christian nation all these years, they need to acknowledge their support for slavery, racism, and prejudice against the poor. How the heck they can tie all of those behaviors to Jesus, I just don’t know, you know the “blessed are the poor” guy.

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