Religion Is A Purpose Engine

Builds Upon: A Formal Mental Science,
Loopholes In Evolution

Superstition, darkness, the inquisition, the opiate of the masses.

This is religion in polite ‘rational’ society.

Yes, religion has been used as a control mechanism and to help keep people docile under oppression but to focus on this only is to think very small.

Religion is a purpose engine for human societies.

The same type of thinking that allowed humans to plan for the winter or the dry season enabled us to become aware of our mortality and the impermanence of all things. This awareness allowed us to arrive at the logical conclusion that the universe is indifferent and our petty struggles pointless.

Humans require some means of fixing this bug. We must have some way of establishing meaning and purpose.

Nihilism is fatal to the continuity of the human species.
No nihilistic human society has ever survived. Societies that lose their sense of purpose are quickly subsumed by their neighbors and forgotten.

A well-established reason to exist better determines a society’s competitive success than sheer numbers, force of arms, or abundant natural resources. Meaning comes before all else.

This does not mean we all ought to try to revive traditional Christianity or any other religion. The old ways have failed for a reason in our own age and we are naive to suppose there ever was a golden age.
Systems of absolute morality have always been a clumsy way of regulating human behavior.
Absolute morals must self-contradict in countless unforeseen ways. A whole science of apologetics is required to keep the system afloat. Absolute morals set a standard that’s impossible to emulate in real life. Most people just ignore The Rules because absolute morality lays out an abysmally poor model of human reality.
In a highly religious society the payoff for clever, hypocritical defectors is very high while those who naively follow the rules are easily exploited. This is the problem that irks critics of religion to no end.

Despite all these shortcomings, however, religions kept thriving societies alive for millennia.

If a traditional religion is no longer suitable as a purpose engine, it must be replaced.

Secularism, a philosophy that favors a lowest common denominator that offends no one is not the answer. It provides a legal basis for a society of many factions but it cannot provide the power of purpose and meaning.

The ‘humanism’ set forth by atheists is not a viable answer. It is Christian ethics without Christianity to support it, a foundation fancifully suspended in mid-air.
Strong atheism reduces to nihilism. It can never uphold or produce a system of social values derived from a system of absolute morality.

There are two main functions that must be performed by a replacement purpose engine.

1) Avoid nihilism.

Traditional religions perform this function by assuming the existence of an eternal, omniscient creator(s) that cares about its creation.

I would propose that a post-religious thinker must assume a higher purpose.

This higher purpose ‘exists’ precisely because we perish without it.
The possibility of a pointless existence self-eliminates.

The higher purpose is pragmatically self-evident from the very laws of our universe.

2) Establish purpose.

In traditional religions the omniscient creator(s) gives us some kind of mission in life.

I have my ideas on how this problem might be approached. I hint at these ideas throughout this blog and will continue to develop them in new posts.

Conclusion:

The old religions arose spontaneously from societies operating wholly in a state of nature.

If Western civilizations continue on their present course, they will be engulfed by the old religions as they falter. The cycles that led to the rise and fall of our civilization will repeat. Better luck next time.

For now, there is a brief window of time to experiment with creating a deliberately engineered purpose engine; a construct superior in function to those that arise by chance and which can never develop beyond a bare minimum required by natural selection.

The fatal flaw in Western enlightenment thought is its relentless obsession with the material and the empirical.

After centuries of technological breakthroughs, methods of social organization, the use of belief systems, the power of human consciousness have remained in an uncultivated, pre-scientific state.
Indeed, it is precisely this lopsided mode of development which now brings the West crashing down.

3 Books That Inspired This Heretic

I’ve been influenced by dozens of sources, but some books have exerted unusual influence.

This does not mean I’ve become a disciple of the authors of these books. Nor does it even mean I interpreted or used these works in a way the authors would have ever intended. Nor does it mean that they would in any way approve of my views.

The important thing is that they propose models of reality that make sense.

1) Diplomacy – Henry Kissinger

If you want to learn how a shepherd of the human herd sees the world, this book is a useful resource.
Kissinger not only gives us an entertaining history of the powerful men who drew all the lines on maps in grand conferences, his role as one of these men makes his narrative resonate on another level.
His envy for the truly powerful monarchs and nobles of Napoleon’s day is transparent – as are his own frustrations with having to placate the public while negotiating with North Vietnam.

Whatever we may think of Kissinger, his ideas boil down to one coherent concept: Power.

Kissinger cuts right through the veneer of diplomatic ceremony and tells us exactly what each side seeks to gain with every cordially worded dispatch.

One of the most important lessons that this book can teach is how even the herders are mere slaves to the macro trends. In a three hundred year slice of European history we repeatedly see how the rulers are impotent as their kingdoms careen toward a tragedy of the commons.
The balance of power determines outcomes far more than kings.
He contrasts the conference of Vienna that changed Europe by decisively altering the balance of power to the treaty at Versailles that failed to make any fundamental changes.

Many of us tend to blame the troubles of the world on an omnipotent cadre of elites. This book is a primer on just how small elites are next to much larger forces.

2) The Culture Code – Clotaire Rapaille

By gathering randomly selected sample groups and asking them questions, Rapaille distills their collective concept of anything down to a single word.

He asks them how they feel about a certain topic or he might ask them for childhood memories about it.
For instance, he might ask a group to brainstorm whatever words come to mind about ‘luxury’ or ‘peanut butter.’

There are patterns that are consistent throughout samples of hundreds of people from the same cultural bloc.
If you talk to hundreds of Americans from all ages and both genders you will find that:
Food = FUEL
Money = PROOF

The key is not in asking any single person what they want, but in learning what is in the mind of the collective.
Products that give this collective subconscious what it wants are the products that sell. They are ‘on code.’

Reading this book, I realize that I’ve never quite been ‘on code’ with the collective will. Many of the difficulties I’ve had in life make a lot more sense. It has little to do with individuals I’ve met. It’s about the collective.

This book explains how the American hive mind sees the human body as a machine and cares mostly about status climbing.
He spells out everything I’ve always felt down in my gut. I’d always felt a deep contempt in my birth culture for the needs of the flesh and perceived that no matter what people say, income is the truest measure of our worth.

This book is potentially an excellent survival guide for a heretic. It allows one to consciously avoid ‘off code’ opinions and behaviors in public.

One can predict with remarkable accuracy how people will really judge in their heart of hearts and who can really be trusted:

-If you don’t have a ‘career’, the ‘on code’ person will see you as a loser no matter what they tell you.

-If you eat a delicious goat cheese instead of a bland plateful of spaghetti, they will secretly hate you. Food is fuel! Expressing more than contempt for our bodies breaks a powerful taboo.

If you look inside someone’s pantry and see Jif or Skippy peanut butter, the dissident ought to tread lightly. This mass market gooey peanut butter is the ambrosia of those with warm and fuzzy feelings for mainstream American culture.

3) Class – Paul Fussell

Fussell exactly predicted most of the decorations in my maternal grandmother’s house – apparently she was a textbook example of a high prole.

It became painfully apparent as I read this book that both my parents began as high proles and spent a lifetime trying to be middle class.

Thus growing up, I got a double dose of the stifling anxiety that defines all things middle class. My life practically stood explained and there was nothing cool or extraordinary about it. In many ways, between nature and nurture I was set up to be a prime candidate for heresy.

This book really strips away illusions and reveals the truth about your place in society in its full banality.

It’s also hilarious. The author includes illustrations of the stereotypical dwellings, dress, facial features, and facial expressions of each class.
He associates furry toilet seat covers and garden gnomes with proles.
He sets forth airports as high temples to middle class mediocrity, pointing out how terms like ‘flotation device’ cater to ridiculous middle class notions of gentrified language.

Most importantly, Class is a manual for escaping the class rat race.
No matter how much one might want out, one inevitably repeats patterns of behavior learned early in life.
This brutally honest look at the class structure can help us break the cycle.

I would of course invite readers to suggest books that shaped their own world view.

Why Tyrants Stand in the Way of Progress

An ordinary modern person enjoys luxuries ancient kings couldn’t have dreamed of.

Yet throughout history, we see kings standing in the way of innovations that raise the standard of living for everyone.
If absolute monarchs still ran things, we surely wouldn’t have a shower and microwave in every house.
For short-sighted despots, having an abject, beaten population incapable of organization or resistance serves their interests.
It does not cross their minds that loosening their stranglehold on their own people could enrich them far more.

Yet people in power aren’t in power because they are enlightened visionaries. They are in power because they are good at staying in power.
The system gets exactly what it selects for.

These despots have always understood on some level that they cannot possibly anticipate all the complex changes brought about by a rampant stream of invention and innovation.
The same technology that allows everyone to communicate instantly across hundreds of miles or cook a meal in a minute might also undermine the ruler’s power.

We might think of the story of the town mouse and the country mouse. The country mouse enjoys the riches of the city but finds he must live in constant fear and uncertainty. He ultimately chooses to return to a secure life in the country.

Thus, an overwhelming desire for security becomes the poverty of the rich.

I’ve seen the tombs of the rich and famous of medieval Europe, I couldn’t help but notice that none of them lived past age 60.
I’ve imagined what modern medicine could have done for an older, ailing Henry Tudor.
These winners of the social game lived sickly lives alongside those they’d beaten. In some ways, they had not succeeded in being truly prosperous but only in becoming less wretched than their counterparts.

And so long as they were less wretched than anyone else and were secure in their power, any uncontrolled change was more likely to be a threat than an asset. In their circumstances crushing new ideas was rational.

But to really understand the conservative tendencies of the powerful down to the present day, we have to be honest about human nature.

How much does an i-phone or a television really improve our lives if everyone has one?

The ruler loses when one of his prized luxuries becomes commonplace amongst the seething masses. He will soon turn his attentions to some other thing that is still inaccessible to most people.
The more ways he can distinguish himself from his peons, the happier he is.
As humans, we tend to perceive our wellbeing not by an absolute barometer but by the capriciously shifting circumstances of others.

Might not the farmer who makes a decent living while his neighbors are starving feel a greater swelling of satisfaction than a modern millionaire who owns the same i-pod as the commonest of peasants?

It’s all about relative status and power.

Does a television or a hot shower change the fact that most of us are impotent corporate cogs?

On the other hand does dying young while ruling over a neolithic cave change anything if you can mate with anyone you want and wield ultimate power over life and death?

Does ‘progress’ then really change the way we experience life and our place in society?

Do ‘conveniences’ and ‘entertainment’ do anything more than make our lives as tools and slaves slightly more palatable?

If not, can we blame tyrants who prefer to die in filth as the absolute rulers of starving peasants to living in a wealthy society as mere ‘representatives?’

Physical Training for Heretics

In late November I signed up for a 4 mile New Year’s run in the town I was living in.
I hadn’t done a competitive run in several years, not since I’d been a college student with a secure place in suburbia.

I’ve been an endurance athlete since I was an 8th grader and over the years I’ve learned a few things about what works.

Growing up, I spent years on cross country and track teams putting in a high volume of training every week only to be drained on race days and burnt out by the end of the season.
Experience has taught me that it pays to be strategically lazy.

In preparation for this race, I went out running no more than 4 times a week, often less. I kept the distance pretty short for most workouts but pushed my limits with sprint intervals every time. I’ve learned the hard way that high mileage at a steady pace just wears you out while yielding relatively low returns.

I also had some weights to work with that I used about 2 times per week. I focused on intensity in order to get the most out of my time.
In between workout days I’d enjoy some cigars, sip some brandy, and go out for leisurely walks.
I never bothered to time myself or chart my progress.
Every two weeks or so I’d go out for 10+ miles. On one of these trips I went about 16 miles and loafed the whole way through breathing mostly through my nose. However, for these runs I’d wait until it had been 18-24 hours since my last meal.
These runs were about teaching my body to use its glycogen stores efficiently and to cope with sustained stress.

I barely worked out at all the week before race week, I was busy hanging out with someone I hadn’t seen for a long time. When he was gone, I went back to training with just a few more days to go before the race. I realized I had definitely gotten a bit out of shape and did what I could with the days I had left.

On new year’s I ended up finishing the 4 miles in about 25 minutes, around an average of 6:15 per mile. I was pretty pleased with the result. It was comparable to the pace I’d been running at when I was 8 years younger and putting in 10 times the effort. I was pleased because I realize I could have easily done better.

And this leads me straight to an older experiment in heterodox training.
Most endurance coaches discourage extensive weight training.
When weights are involved at all, it’s always low weight at high reps. But 8 years ago as a college sophomore I decided I wanted some muscles so I started hitting the gym, often right after cross country practice.

I normally would start out a season at about 6:35 pace on an 8k(5 mile) course and plateau around 6:15 pace. Even at a very small college I was pretty mediocre at the competitive level(Not sucking begins below 5:30 per mile). Yet even as I worked myself to death trying to run and lift at the same time, my race times started to plummet. I was constantly sore and exhausted but I kept getting new PRs. Finally, around mid-season, I broke 6 flats.
At the same time, I was benching more than my body weight and heavy squatting about twice my body weight.
It was soon after this point that exhaustion finally started to catch up with me. I had to choose.

I quit cross country and ceased to be a specialist. Ever since then, I’ve focused on reaping the benefits of multiple types of physical activity.
I’ve found that approaching the Pareto point in different types of exercise:

-Is easier, less time-consuming
-More fun
-Feels better
-Causes much less wear and tear

Than trying to compete in just one.

I often wonder what I could accomplish if I had the rare combination of leisure and resources to pursue a serious program making use of everything I’ve learned.

But the real payoff, perhaps, is having an enjoyable hobby that doesn’t eat up tons of time and effort while keeping me in pretty decent physical condition.

Above all, my move away from the micro-specialist philosophy of sport was a formative experience in shaping the way I think about societies and nations.
In time, I was applying the same principles I used on my own body to much more massive bodies.

Longevity Outliers: People To Watch

HaastBill Haast died at about 100 1/2 years of age. He was old enough that it doesn’t seem like dumb luck or genes. He wasn’t even ill until the last few years of his life.

His life long career was running a snake venom bank. He was bitten by snakes 172 times. One of his fingers was withered away from the snake bites. He survived bites that were not supposed to be survivable. His blood was a medical treasure that was used successfully as an anti-venom on numerous occasions. He saved dozens of lives just by being maxed out with anti-bodies. Even better: he injected himself with snake venom for decades until his death.
More than a few, including Haast himself, supposed his unexpected longevity was because of, rather than in spite of his constant exposure to venom. The idea: venom was like a set of dumbells for his immune system that kept him resilient against all kinds of stressors well into old age. Where most of us might atrophy in the absence of significant challenges, Mr. Haast’s body seems to have kept up the fight long past his genetic expiration date.

As with with many complex systems, the workings of the human body might seem counter-intuitive and contradictory at first. But everything has a way of making sense once we understand the key principles.
If we are to understand these principles that determine our health and longevity we do well to keep our eye on outliers.
These people are likely candidates to become major movers and trend creators. Finding them is how one discovers undervalued ‘stocks’ in the world of ideas.

Alan KurzweilRay Kurzweil:
He’s a successful entrepeneur in speech recognition software. (He custom made some of his stuff for Stevie Wonder.) He takes a couple hundred supplements every day and undergoes vitamin injections at a longevity clinic. His plan: delay death and allow technology to give him progressively better life extensions until finally he can be uploaded into a machine with plenty of backups of himself should anything ever happen to the master copy.
He’s a guru in his own right and makes millions from giving talks every year. He’s in his sixties and going strong.

Ron Teeguarden:
A white American practitioner and merchant of Chinese herbalism in his sixties. This man has access to both detailed knowledge and the best herbs from the most exclusive sources.
If indeed this tradition is even a fraction as effective as it is purported to be, its effects must surely manifest in him.
This man stands out because his specialty is tonic herbs. He focuses on making healthy people healthier. He talks extensively about slowing aging and guarding against age related illness.

Kurzweil with his no-nonsense pills and anti-oxidant injections seems like a natural nemesis. I’m very interested to see how they(and their followers) will compare to one another in ‘performance.’ Time will surely tell.

Jack LaLanne:
Fitness guru who died at age 96.
He serves as a barometer to demonstrate the limits of exercise as a longevity strategy. His case demonstrates that there is a critical point where we hit the wall no matter how diligent we might be.
On the other hand, he nearly made it to the century mark without any history of centenarian family members and enjoyed a life more or less free of illness up to the day he died.

Winston Churchill:
Lived into his 90s despite disavowing physical fitness, smoking, drinking, and having an extremely high stress job as prime minister(the second time while in his 80s).
Demonstrates: Maybe genes are just that powerful, maybe a determined attitude towards life makes a huge difference.
OR the smoking and drinking in some sort of moderation served a similar role as snake venom by keeping his immune system constantly on its toes.
Also, maybe toxic substances in the blood stream within range of tolerance keeps otherwise lethal infections and parasites away? This would be especially important when we’re nearing that final wall established by genetics and could explain numerous nona and centenarian smokers/drinkers.(George Burns, Jeanne Calment)

The Bau Clan:
There’s a historically isolated town called Stoccareddo in Northern Italy where a few families of red haired Germans were intermarrying for centuries. The result is a town where everyone lives to be a centenarian.
Implications: Many possible eugenics programs have already been pursued. Just not intentionally. One could learn a lot about human genetic potential by searching out isolated communities.
Lesson: Inbreeding in a population is not necessarily bad. As with animal husbandry it potentially allows the distillation of desirable traits. Though any distillation might also magnify undesirable traits, OR the distillation of a desirable trait might have certain undesirable side effects.(Tay-Sachs?)
As with all traits, there are tradeoffs.

Calorie Restriction Adherents:
Though they follow the results of scientific experiments, they don’t necessarily grasp the principle they are relying on: extending the body’s resilience by keeping it on the defensive.
They’re the logical result of a mass society with its philosophy of micro-specialization. However, their strict focus makes them ideal outliers. Their philosophy is young and to my knowledge not many of them have yet reached advanced age.

I would invite commenters to contribute additional longevity outliers.

Shelters From Planned Obsolescence

Builds Upon: Living On A Keynesian Playground

Many an old aphorism tells us that human desire is limitless.
Yet not so many tell us that human imagination is quite limited.

Humans can desire only what they already know of or are capable of imagining.
Thus kings in ancient times never had any desire for personal computers or i-pads.

Markets are like a genie that grants the wishes of a collective—anything that people want tends to manifest—but like a typical Arabian Nights style narrative, the moral of the story is the banality and short-sightedness of the wish-maker.

Somehow, we never see the ‘experts’ factor in shortcomings in human knowledge and imagination when they discuss the workings of capitalism. The theoretical customer seems almost like a Laplace’s demon with perfect knowledge of the universe.

In real life, imperfect consumer knowledge and foresight plus the influence of emotion makes planned obsolescence a more lucrative strategy than making high quality merchandise.
Furthermore, planned obsolescence is in part merchants’ response to increasing abundance. It is just one of many mechanisms that reinforce artificial scarcity.
Consumers, especially the millions living from paycheck to paycheck, buy the cheapest products available only to have them break in a short while. Over years, they actually end up paying more than if they had invested in a single high quality item.
This tactic works brilliantly for the sellers because most people do not have the critical thinking ability, requisite curiosity, or knowledge outside their narrow specialty to understand how they are actually being ripped off in the long term.

Ironically, quality merchandise that won’t break has become a rarity. Most products we find at major retailers have devolved into junk as consumer expectations have steadily eroded over the decades.
If the parents could be sold a toaster that broke after 8 years, perhaps their kids could be induced to buy a cheap toaster that breaks in 4 years…and so on. Now after several generations have grown up in our modern capitalism we see the market in its present state with the process of decay actually accelerating.

If we know the nature of the wish-maker we can predict the nature of the product. Thus we can predict that we will get ripped off if we shop in the same venues frequented by ignorant and apathetic consumers.

How do we shelter ourselves, then, from the nightmare market wished into existence by the tyrannical masses?

Why not find and follow those wish-makers who have a stake in getting the highest quality merchandise possible?
For instance, businesses that are very much motivated to look out for their bottom line:

Exhibit 1
Any more, a pair of jeans wears out very quickly. In particular, I notice that it’s usually the knees that give out, often within just a few months. Even sooner if there’s any actual physical work or rough handling.
Yet we still buy them just because we have a cultural memory of jeans as durable work clothing and all purpose casual wear. We keep coming back to get ripped off because we’re unthinkingly following the crowd.

Meanwhile, work clothing stores sell high quality pairs of pants that can absorb years of constant abuse. The knees are actually reinforced with an entire extra layer of thick fabric.
I think someday, I may well choose Dickies over Dockers and although unfashionable, it will be my fashion statement.

Exhibit 2
Most kitchen appliances any more break like cheap toys, even if the consumer buys a shiny tin-plated version of the same garbage that costs 25-50% more.
The only real solution: Find out what blenders, toasters, and mixers restaurants are using.
For in our present world, if it’s not ‘industrial grade’ it’s probably not worth buying.

Or, one might plug leaks by only keeping the most useful appliances. After all, couldn’t one toast a piece of bread on a stove or in an oven? In your average home how often does one actually need an electric mixer?
To be worthwhile each additional appliance must not add to the hundreds of financial thumbtacks of Damocles hanging over one’s head.

Exhibit 3
As if by royal decree, schools and instructors create a monopoly for text book companies. Not only are prices exorbitant, the publishers keep their cash cow alive by frequently ‘revising’ their books. ‘Revision’ of course mostly consists of changing the page numbers, the order of the chapters, and the assignable homework problems. Thus, everyone has to buy each new edition and discard the previous one.

Given absolute power, these companies create as much artificial obsolescence as they can. So advanced is the decay of this market, that all pretence has been dropped and the vendors overtly, ruthlessly, and arbitrarily milk their precious captive consumers.

As quality merchandise becomes less available in the wider market, we can expect an increasing resemblance to the monopolistic text book industry.

Conclusion:
For those who sing praise unto capitalism, the principle of planned obsolescence invites us to reflect on one of the most glaring paradoxes of free markets.

The perfect product that never breaks puts its manufacturer out of business.

This conundrum shows us that capitalism alone cannot be a foundation for a society that works in the best common interest.

A better society clearly must be animated by some kind of higher legitimacy and intrinsic defining purpose that encourages every item to be made in the best possible way.
We’re often told that modern production is very efficient. Yet needless waste on a mass scale is a defining trait of our system.
Surely the enlightened society is one that makes every single effort, whether by worker or machine count for as much as possible—not to perpetuate slavery of the masses but to open up increasing amounts of leisure time and emancipate the human mind.

Final Note: I would invite readers to contribute their ideas for Obsolescence Shelters in the comments section.