Class Warfare Blog

February 7, 2019

Finding Meaning in Life

Many theists argue that without their god(s) life would have no meaning. This, of course, belies the efforts of many to establish their bona fides in their lives for themselves.

The current era of plutocracy in the U.S. shows the wealthy over and over acting upon the belief that they are rich for a reason, that their wealth makes them worthy, worthy of providing guidance (by funding philanthropic endeavors … of their choice, of course), and in funding political movements, e.g. the Koch brothers, because they know what is best for us.

All of these efforts bring to mind a quotation from a giant of social commentary: “The fortunate man is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he ‘deserves’ it, and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others … good fortune thus wants to be legitimate fortune.” (Max Weber, 1915)

In this I am reminded that for those “fortunate” enough to make over one billion dollars per year (there have been as many as over a dozen in recent years) that making a billion dollars of income in one year equates to making $532,000 per hour for every working hour of the year. This means one of these “worthies” made more in one afternoon than I did in almost 40 years as a college professor. I do not think of this as compensated labor as no one’s labor is worth that much. The only way one can “make” such an income is by scamming the system. If we need a name, we could call it “legitimized theft.”

So, if the theists are right and the meaning of our lives is granted by their god, why are these plutocrats scurrying around “cementing their legacies” or “managing their brand” or all of the myriad things they are doing to legitimize their wealth? These legitimized businessmen all claim that capitalism is based upon competition, but have acted to reduce the amount of competition in their area of business like beavers (think Bill Gates and all of his European monopoly law suits). I guess saying one thing while doing the opposite comes easy to those “of wealth” which is what they seem to have in common with the theists who support them.

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October 12, 2017

The Meaning-Driven Life

I have been reading so much lately about finding meaning in life that I am now wondering if the term has any meaning at all. I am pretty sure they aren’t referring to the meaning of vegetable life (Why Portobello mushrooms?) or life in general (Is a planet with life somehow alive and are there others which form a giant constituency?), but rather lives in specific: your life, my life, a friend’s life. To many people finding meaning in their lives is a very, very (very) important quest.

I have to ask, though, whether you can state the meaning of anyone’s life, say from your family. Every person has a direct line of descent. I, for example, had a father and mother and each of them had a father and mother (my grandparents), and they each had fathers and mothers, and so on for thousands of generations. (None of the people in your direct line of descent died in childhood, or didn’t live to reproduce. All of those people broke their lines of descent.) Just to supply some distance, let’s use a gap of five generations, so from you we would be talking about your grandparent’s grandparents. Do you know the meaning of any one of their lives? Do you even know their names? If you could trace them down (I can on my mother’s side but I cannot get past my grandfather on my father’s side), do you think you could research any of their lives and find out what the meaning of their life was? I suggest not.

There is something called the Great Man approach to history, namely that great men often make history. In this country George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are considered as such. All, of course, were framed by great and terrible wars because without great challenges, we don’t even recognize great men. And people often say things like: “Without <fill in the blank> the world would be quite different,” or “without Churchill (or Washington or Lincoln), we would have lost the war.” This is actually impossible to say because, for example, since Washington was general of the Continental Army, the position wasn’t open to anyone else. If it had been, his replacement may have done better, worse, or about the same. People do rise to the occasion. So, saying that the meaning of Lincoln’s life was the preservation of the Union is, at best, glib.

If you ask a child where would we find “meanings” they would probably answer “in a dictionary.” Leave it to children to give the wrong answer. They would probably say the same if you asked them how to find the spelling of a word. Dictionaries are not spellchecking devices per se; to find a word, you have to already know how to spell it. If you are looking for the spelling of “zebra” and start reading on page one, it will be a long search. The best you can do is take a stab at it and hope to confirm your tentative spelling. If you guess that dog is spelled d-o-g and find at dog “a small hairy mammalian pet that turns dog food into dog shit” you will know you had it right. If you are dyslexic and spell dog g-o-d and find “a supernatural being who can’t even turn dog food into dog shit,” then you would have to guess again.

And the dictionary certainly doesn’t supply meanings. What it supplies are alternate sets of words that say the same thing, so “dog” and “a small hairy mammalian pet that turns dog food into dog shit” can be used interchangeably. The more expansive set of words is more definitive (note the clever use of words), showing us that a dictionary supplies definitions, not meanings.

Meaning and purpose seem to be comingled in many people’s minds. When Christians yammer on about how a woman needs to “cleave to her husband” and otherwise shut the fuck up, I can’t imagine any women sighing wistfully and thinking “At least I now have meaning in my life.” In the Christian dictionary, the definition of woman includes many important titles: Vessel of his Seed, Mother of his Children, Keeper of his House, Cooker of his Food, Changer of his Children’s Diapers, Wiper of his Children’s Snotty Noses, Fetcher of his Dry-Cleaning, etc. The purpose of women is clear. So, for Christians, I guess, that takes care of just over half of humanity. But what about the important half, you ask? (Yes, I am being sarcastic …. jeez!)

There is a reason that Rick Warren’s best-selling Christian book The Purpose-Driven Life uses the word purpose, not meaning. I suggest that anyone who claims to tell you your purpose in life is a con artist. I tried to read the book but the arguments are tortured, the scriptures cherry-picked and misinterpreted, and the writing not at all good, so I gave up rather quickly. I suspect this book enriched Mr. Warren because it is the ultimate Christian coffee table book. They all have a copy prominently placed on the coffee table but none of them actually read it. But I digress….

What does it mean to say your life has “meaning?” The dictionary says that, in this context, meaning is: a significant quality; especially implication of a hidden or special significance. So, to acknowledge that one’s life has meaning is to acknowledge one is special. (I think the Church Lady would have an opinion about that.) People want to feel they are special. Gosh … wait for it … wait for it … isn’t that special! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

If you have read any of my diatribes about religion you may know that I think religion is a mechanism to exert control. If you buy it, you give up control of something to other people. I think it is a dishonest means of control as nothing is really given in return for what you give up, as all of the rewards come after you die, safely out of anybody’s ability to confirm. (For people who claim that religions offer hope, and solace, and … think again. You are the creator of all that. They supply the hope and you imagine all of the rest.) As a member of various teams in my life I have willingly given over control over parts of my life to team leaders to accomplish important goals. In religion, there are threats, promises, and “words, words, words” but all are false, so this is a dishonest method of control. I think the promise that a religion will “give your life meaning” is one of the false promises. It is part of a con. It actually has no meaning that you yourself do not create.

* * *

It’s time to play Truth™ or Con!

Our first contestant is Steve! What do you say Steve?

Steve: I think all of you should worship me.

Well, what do you think studio audience? Is this the Truth™? Or is this a Con and we all should grab our wallet and back away? So, Steve, why do you think we should all worship you?

Steve: Well, I created all of this … and all of you.

What the …?

Steve: Yep. About 20 years ago now, I created all of this.

But, Steve, honestly, I am older than 20 years old and I have memories going back well past 20 years.

Steve: Yeah, I thought of that, so I created false memories for you when I created you. Then I realized that it would be really upsetting if you had a memory of grandma’s funeral but there was no grave, so I started filling in all of your back stories and, well, I kind of got carried away. I even went so far as to supply back stories for all of the animals. I invented this really cool process, called mineralization, that if an animal died and was covered with, say, mud really quickly the animal’s body would be turned to stone (no magic required!). I knew you would be mightily impressed when you found these details.

Okay, even if we grant that is true, why would we want to worship you? I mean what would that entail?

Steve: Well, for starters, I do have a personalized plan for each and every one of you, that will give your lives meaning, a very special meaning, and it starts with everyone would give me 10% of your income every month and then …

Okay, okay, studio audience? Oh, I see you all have grabbed your wallets and purses and are running for the exits. I guess this is a Scam! Stick with us, after the commercial we will …

 

 

 

April 9, 2017

Inquiring Theists Want to Know!

Theist apologists are always coming up with questions for atheists, kind of like the questions Catholic kids come up with for their Catechism teachers, e.g. “If God is all-powerful can he create a rock so big even he can’t lift it, Father?” Here is one of the latest:

Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?”

Gosh, as an announced atheist, this makes me want to go slit my wrists, but I am laughing too hard to undertake that task with any skill, so I will just tackle this question first.

Underneath all of the snark embedded in this “question,” is a feeling of superior knowledge, that the questioner knows that without his creator god, life is just futile. (None of the other creator gods will do, don’t you know.)

So, “a coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature,” hmm. Well, I can’t be a miscarriage because I actually was born, but coincidental, I’ll own up to that. My parent’s believed in planning their family and I was the third of the two children they planned, so, coincidental I am.

Now, “spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space.” I can detect no spinning. There is a gym nearby that offers spinning but I do not subscribe for that. The planet is “lonely,” that I do not get. The solar system has eight major planets, some minor planets, and myriad moons, etc. This guy makes it sound like there is the Sun and the Earth and little else. He must be reading his Bible. Maybe he means that I am lonely. Well, if I am, then I am very picky regarding having friends with over seven billion other humans to chose from, plus myriad other non-human companions I could entice to come live with me (for free room and board). No, I am not lonely; he got that wrong.

“In the blackness of space?” We seem to be quite well adapted to the light-dark cycles on our planet. The Scandehoovians who experience almost no “dark” during the winter go a little batty behind that, so “dark” is apparently a good thing for us. I like looking up at the dark sky and seeing all of the pretty lights, so not really dark at all, so he got this wrong, too.

But, yes, in a little while (littler all of the time) I shall die and kinda-sorta be forgotten. I still remember my parents and grandparents and other deceased relatives, so I expect to remain in memory of my younger relatives for some time. I am named in a family genealogy that goes back to the 1700’s and am recorded in a number of diverse histories, so will be “remembered” that way to some extent, and I have written close to a dozen books, which will remain available for a very long time, possibly many decades, but really I will not give a shit as I will be dead.

I have to ask, are all of those people supposedly in Heaven and Hell enjoying their immortality? Are they “remembered” by the living? Is not everyone remembered by your God who cannot forget anything (otherwise He would not be all-knowing), so is not everyone, in your world view, remembered forever and ever? Very puzzling attitude then for for you, a believer, to have.

And “your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness.” I am looking forward to the endless blackness, far preferable to the Lake of Fire you promise my kind. But where do you get “futile,” and “pointless,” and “meaningless” from? Are you saying that because you are a Christian, your life is automatically not futile, not pointless, and not meaningless? If so, you are going to have to provide some details. What is your purpose in life? If it is to end up in Heaven at the side of your God, isn’t that a little self-serving? It sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” Many of your ilk tell us that good deeds will not get us into Heaven, but faith will, so you exalt people who do not do good deeds by have faith over people who lack faith, like me, who do good deeds. Sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” It also sounds as if you believe that your God has a plan for you. (He believes in family planning, unlike our current GOP.) Can you tell me what your plan is so I can see whether or not you are meeting your quarterly goals? No? Another thing I just have to take on faith, I guess.

And, last, regarding “meaning” as applied to one’s life. Meaning is something that is created in the hearts, minds, and words of others. You can read about the meaning of people’s lives in Wikipedia, for example. These meanings are divined, if you will allow the use of that word, from others observing our deeds. So, one creates the meaning of one’s life by doing. I can live with that.

And, I can die with that.

 

May 16, 2016

Ow, Ow, Ow, It Hurts My Head

I have written often enough about the poor level of thinking I see, often associated with religion. I have recently been reading Sean Carroll’s new book The Big Picture, which I heartily recommend, in which Dr. Carroll addresses issues both scientific and philosophical (including the meaning of life!). Last night I read a principle I had forgotten about, created by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), as stated by Dr. Carroll:

The Principle of the Best according to which God always acts in the best possible way, including in the creation of the world.

Leibnitz made the usual arguments that God is all-powerful, all-good, etc. and therefore he argued, essentially as an axiom, that everything God did was perfect and good, including His Creation.

So, if I understand the Book of Genesis right, God creates a great many animals, one of which is designed to be both his gardener and to worship him. The being and his helpmeet become disobedient quite quickly and incur God’s displeasure and banishment from his direct presence, so apparently God did something less than perfectly. Not only did he lose his worshipers but also his gardener. Then, his created beings went forth and populated the planet with animals of all “kinds” as well as people, but God was so disappointed in the behavior of the people that he decides to kill all but eight of them with a massive flood, incidentally killing the vast majority of the innocent animals at the same time. After doing that, he repents his action and promises not to do that again.

This is a shocking number of changes of mind from someone who can see the future like we can see the past. And the only reason we can think of for such actions is he looked at His Creation and thought “This is not good.”

Now, Leibnitz was no idiot. He also knew that the lifespan of an atheist in the 1600’s could be counted in days if that fact became known, so he had to espouse some sort of faith in the existence of a god. But, his Principle of the Best, seems irrational in the extreme and certainly is not supported by scripture. Did he design it as protection from potential critics or did he believe it to be true? If he believed it to be true, he must have had a very unusual reading of the first book of the Bible.

It also seems that a great many people still believe this Principle of the Best, even though it is irrational in the extreme. And while people are capable of wishful thinking, I know I am, this is massively counterproductive thinking, if one could call it thinking in the first place. If I may paraphrase Einstein, we cannot solve our problems using the thinking that got us into them in the first place.

May 11, 2016

Be Careful What You Ask For

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:42 am
Tags:

Many of the religious state that without their god, life would have no meaning … and we would no longer have a reason to live. (Really!)

Snidely I would respond that most people find the unpleasantness of dying sufficient reason to continue living (I mean our bodies have autonomic process hardwired into them to avoid dying. Isn’t that a clue?), but what if we take this question seriously? What is the meaning of our lives?

To date, the answers to this question are either incoherent or are quite different from one another, with no way to distinguish which of the possibilities are true and which are false.

I feel the problem with the question is it is a wrong question, a question that doesn’t need to be asked or answered, but once one has asked the question, one must be prepared for an answer.

I have discovered the true meaning of life and I will share it with you now. Humans were deposited on this planet by an advanced alien species as a self-propagating and self husbanding food animal. We grow our own food and distribute it and have expanded our population immensely, all without the aliens having to lift a finger or assign a shepherd or veterinarian. They will arrive shortly in spaceships to harvest their crop.

There, are you happy? You now know the meaning of your life.

Preposterous, you say? Compared with the Christian “reason” we are alive … that we were placed on this planet by an alien power to stumble around with almost no guidance and when we die we are taken to a place of torture for the rest of all time. That makes more sense to you?

Be careful what questions you ask; you may not like the answer.

May 6, 2013

An Imaginarium of Meaning

A recurring topic in this blog is the rabid thirst we seem to have for meaning. We have created tens of thousands of gods to be responsible for myriad things we could not describe at the time. We have had a god of lightning, a god of the wind, a good of good luck and one for bad luck, a god of a spring (not all springs, just one in particular, actually many of these). When the ground shook from an earthquake, we attributed it to some god’s message which had a particular meaning. “Uh, the ground god is unhappy with us. We must mend our ways.”

There seems to be no limit to this thirst for meaning. I remember a New Yorker magazine cartoon in which one psychologist passed another in the hall and said “Hello,” while a thought balloon over the second psychologist said “I wonder what he meant by that?” At the time I thought it was a comment about psychologists but now I realize it is a comment about human behavior.

Where did this desire to find meaning everywhere come from? I can’t know whether anyone will be able to prove this but, as Bob Newhart used to say, I suspect it went something like this: when we evolved our big brains we found a use for them while out hunting. There were distinct advantages to having multiple hunters working in concert. The problem involved how to coordinate the hunt, how to turn a bunch of individuals into a team. Presumably grunts and hand signals worked up close and louder vocalizations worked from farther away. The question, though is what did that particular grunt or whistle mean? So through pantomime they eventually developed a vocabulary of hunting instructions. You can see the modern equivalents in any action-adventure movie when a group leader, moving his group in silence, stops the group in its tracks by an upheld clenched fist. Then moves them again with a hand wave.

The greater the communication, the greater the success of the hunt and the greater the demand for more communication. You could also substitute plant gathering as the activity (Ugh, this one poisonous. Mmm, this one okay but tastes bad.) or a number of different things. Such ability to communicate became very important on those occasions in which one family group encountered another. The encounters, as archeoanthropologists have determined, could be quite deadly. A larger group of males may decide to kill a smaller group’s males and take their females, for example. So communication was very helpful to prevent misunderstandings and possibly to negotiate bribes.

The central issue, always, was what did those grunts, clicks, and other vocalizations mean. One tribe’s grunts might be another’s whistles.

And as we developed language, it became a more and more valuable tool, so we developed nuances. We could agree with somebody sarcastically, indicating we do not agree. This meant that the words themselves didn’t carry all of the meaning. Some linguists state that the words themselves carry less than 10% of the meaning of any statement now. Tone, inflection, affect all carry more meaning.

So when frightening occurrences happened, it became natural to seek meaning as well as inherent dangers. Lunar eclipses, thunderstorms, herbivore stampedes, all had meaning sought for them.

So, at least this tendency is imaginable.

But there is no limit to it. It is like a three-year old asking “Why?” The question cannot be answered.

One critique of atheism is that without a god, life would have no meaning. So, people who believe this have created an all purpose answer to the question: what is the meaning of life? Their answer is “God has a plan for you.” But you can’t question the mind of God, so that is the end of the question.* (Whew, I didn’t think there was one!)

Well, there is a answer to “what is the meaning of life?” That is: if you want your life to have a meaning, you must live it so that it does.

* According to the Catholic Catechism “He created us so that we would know, love, and serve him.” So God’s plan is that you be an informed infatuated servant.” It pays to not ask too many questions.

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