Exercising my right of Free Speech and also your right to leave this site if you disagree.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I have a meme. And so do you and you and you...

There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about the decline of western civilization. Whether western civilization is actually in decline or is merely changing, is debatable. The perceived decline however is without question. A Google search of news and opinion pieces since 2001 will bring up a stagger variety or theories and viewpoints on the subject. They nearly uniformly agree however that western civilization is not as strong as it once was. This begs the question, why do so many people see their own society as failing? Can it all be just written off as a natural tendency to look back to the “good old days” or for every generation to be convinced that the children of the next generation are degenerate? No, I don’t think so. The theory of memetics, (for a succinct rundown of the theory - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memetics) offers an interesting possible answer. Memetics posits that ideas, beliefs, skills etc are transmitted through society much the same way genes are transmitted within a population. On this foundation, it’s easy to see why the current state of western society would be worrying to a lot of people. Our society used to be based around communities, churches, regions etc that all held if not identical then fairly similar overlapping histories, beliefs and cultural norms. The individuals that came and went from these in groups did little to upset the whole and there was continuity over generations.
Fast forward to today, we have had the upheaval of two world wars, the rise and fall of western communism, and the social revolutions of the 1960s bringing entire classes of society onto more even footing. Following this we have experienced the technological explosions of the information age and the breaking down of geographical barriers by the internet. We are, without a doubt in a unique stage of human societal development. Western society in particular has seen the cultural equivalent of the Cambrian Explosion. Instead of the few long standing traditional memetic pools that characterized society in the past, we now have uncounted new smaller isolated memetic pools. Some still try to hold onto remnants of the tradition and belief structures of their origins but others create their structures out of whole cloth as can be witnessed in some of the neo-pagan communities that pick and choose belief structures from any ancient religion they come across or simply make up what they can’t find. We also have groups, united be behavior, considered to be aberrations in times past coming to forefront and creating their own communities with their own memes. Now, instead of a few pools of cultural norms, we have a large number of smaller, rapidly changing ones. These pools are necessarily shallower and form a less cohesive population.
When put up against societies that have for one reason or another warded off some of the affects of modernity and retain a larger and deeper memetic pools, western society will seem weak. And from a Darwinian standpoint, it is because it is being out competed. Like genes, memes are only as valuable within the pool as they are good at getting themselves replicated. Religion, which can act as societal glue is a subset of the overall meme pool that is particularly good at self replication. Religion also makes a good example for how western civilization is being out competed.
Compare the solid social driving force of millions of Muslims with a fairly close matched belief in a god that encourages the destruction of the infidel and punishes the faithful who fail with a loosely knit group of communities who tacitly believe in a broad spectrum 'gods' who go by the same name but barely compare in actuality. Throw in all of the communities and individuals who believe in all of the diverse neo-pagan religions; add the agnostics and atheists and you have a meme pool that is very broad but shallow. It is easy to see how a more cohesive group can pass on its values more easily than a diverse grouping of subgroups. The values of the diverse subgroups are only getting passed to a small number and may well get absorbed into another completely different group via marriage a deliberate change of lifestyle.
It could be argued that western society is falling victim to its own enlightenment; that the supremacy of the individual as the rightful unit of memetic transmission is not a positive adaptation. Without the community at large to uphold set standards, we will be out-competed by less individualist and more dogmatic societies.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Five Reasons for My Lack of Religious Faith

1. The concept of the sacred - Do I think that nothing is important or to be revered or take the nihilistic approach? No. I do however take objection to the idea that anything is inviolable to the point that is cannot be questioned. My immediate reaction to anything that cannot be questioned is to wonder why. Can it not stand up to the scrutiny? If not, how can it be true and if it isn't true how is it worthy of its status? I also find it to be extremely arrogant to claim that anything cannot be questioned. Nothing should be too sacred to be examined on its merits.
2. Original Sin or ancestral sin - I find no other doctrine of the Christian faith more repugnant. I fought for years as a Christian with this concept. It offended every single fiber of my being and caused me more doubt, more frustration, more anger than any other single thing. I cannot imagine how anyone can be at peace with the idea that the transgression of one person (and it was a minor one at that) could possibly be the justification for the condemnation by default of an entire species. The very notion that any transgression, even by the individual themselves, is worthy of eternal torture (and that is what the idea of hell is) is absurd. There is no person in human history deserving of that. Not even the great bugbears of history, Hitler, Stalin et al, deserve that. Eternity? Think about it. Assume for the moment that the original sin thing is true, can you even wrap your mind around the staggering arrogance and vindictive malice required of god to carry it off. No being capable of even conceiving of the idea is worthy of contempt let alone worship.
3. Inaccuracy- The 'sacred' texts that underpin religion are riddled with holes. I admittedly have not read the Koran cover to cover and have not examined every religious writing but I have read enough both on my own and the analyses of those who make life's studies of them to conclude that the there is no consistency, no accuracy either to history or science. This, of course, goes back to the first point. Don't question because it might find the holes in the tissue of lies. It boggles my mind what people steadfastly believe. I was raised on the bible so that is the one I am the most familiar with. I tried for years to reconcile what my observation and education told me with what the bible said. I could not do it. The mental gymnastics that the theologians go through to try and prove the historical and scientific accuracy of the bible would be funny if so many people didn't believe it. The simple and observable truth is that the bible was written by and for people who had a very primitive understanding of the world and the universe. Their cosmology was no more advanced than the isolated tribes of the Amazon have today. To base your life around the writings of people who believed that killing goats would influence the weather should be shocking...
4. In-group morality - Religion as a whole tends to engender in-group thinking. Human creatures do not need anything to add to the tribal tendency, the us versus them mentality. Religion does nothing more than add another layer to this and insulate the practitioner from feeling of guilt or remorse for the greatest atrocities. It's ok if we rape and murder and burn and torture because our victims are no us. They are them, the out-group; the enemies of god. No one stops to consider whether or not a god who would permit such things would be worthy of worship. Religion, across the board tends to this by its very nature. Even the most 'peaceful' religions can be moved to violence... anywhere the fundamentalist mindset lives, there will be violence.
5. History - Any organization has its past rolled up into what it is now. The history of religion, and Christianity (regardless of flavor) is no exception, is riddles with violence persecution, injustice and all natures of social evils. I recognize that this is inescapable in any organization over time, be it a nation, a professional club or religion, but there are limits and measures. The United States has, in a number of circumstances, been guilty of horrific acts. Whether these acts were openly sanctioned by the nation as a whole or simply committed by its agents is irrelevant. No honest person will claim that the nation is spotless and blameless. Knowing this I whole heartedly proclaim my love for my country. Why? The United States, despite its flaws, is still one of very few nations in the world or in the history of the world that has ever tried, truly tried, to correct as many failings and injustices as it can. We, by internal means, freed the slaves and gave women their equal status. We seek to do the right thing and give freely to make it happen. This is rare and wonderful. Do terrible things happen? Yes. But the overall aspect and nature of the country is good.

If the Ku Klux Klan started selling cookies door to door and promoting the welfare or orphans I would still not join them. They have a history and overall aspect that is bad. I see it as being the same thing with religion as a whole. (I am not saying that all religious people are akin to Klan members, far from it) Religion, for the reasons stated above does nothing to free people, to correct injustices, to make things better. It traps people in ignorance and makes them revel in that ignorance. It motivated the worst kind of atrocities and is unrepentant about it. The very concept of jihad or 'holy war' taints religion to the core. I find it repellent.


About Me

I am a husband and a father of two. I work as a network administrator. I am interested in religion and philosophy, though mostly from an external perspective.