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Wednesday, 30 June 2021

WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

 Here is the third chapter of the book currently being drafted by Clinton Smith. Enjoy.

 

What do we believe? Generally, just about anything we're told.

We can fervently believe any piffle, poppycock and balderdash. 

We can believe in atheism, spiritualism, cargo cults ─ in literal interpretations of the devil, heaven, hell. We can believe that God is on the side of our armies, that he notes the sparrow's fall, that human sacrifices placate him, that killing infidels is his wish.

Once we believed that the sun moved around the earth and that we were the centre of everything. 

In 1492, clerics believed that an all-loving, all-forgiving God hated heretics. So, they stretched them on the rack or burned them at the stake. 

Today, Muslim martyrs wearing bomb-belts believe that, if they incinerate a crowd of non-believers, they'll go to paradise and be pursued by 72 concupiscent virgins. 

But even fanatics can't believe in a purposeless universe and still believe in 'God'.
When science dumped understanding for knowledge, it sabotaged religion. And when religion abandoned insight for belief, it became equally uninviting. Science can't see the wood for the trees and religion can't see the trees for the wood. So, both now inhabit a wasteland of blowing paper and dried bones. 

It wasn’t always this way. 

Long before the Dark Ages, the knowledgeable ones were, at once, priests, scientists, alchemists, natural historians and philosophers. Whatever we now think of their notions, their search was integrated by the striving for a single world view. 

In ancient Egypt, Greece, India and medieval Europe, science was an aspect of religion and psychology — and remained an integrated study even as late as the 1500's.

For instance, Descartes, was an engineer as well as a philosopher. He studied optics and analytical geometry. He formulated the First Law of Motion before Newton did and repudiated magnetism, gravity and action at a distance. He thought that inertia made bodies persist not in a circular but a straight motion and that planetary orbits were the result of vortices in ether. He reduced the world to particles whose only reality was extension in space and motion in space and time — a sally at physics that so pleased him that he hoped to complete it entirely by himself. As a philosopher, he believed that the idea of god implied his existence. Today, despite his flawed assumptions, we would call him a Renaissance Man.

The Cartesians (those with notions deriving from Descartes) saw animals as machines. They believed that the human animal, however, was fitted with an appendage called mind. And that God was still around somehow, tacked onto the system.

Then Newton worked out that planetary orbits were governed by gravity and centrifugal force. His billiard-ball universe was accurate enough to be a benchmark for 200 years. His Laws of Inertia, Acceleration, Reciprocal Action et al banished mystery from the cosmos. But he was still unable to account for the precise movement of the planets. So, he considered God a corrective force guiding the worlds. He was, in fact, a Deist — believed that a divine mechanic governed the machine. 

Darwin, who wrote The Origin of Species was also vexed by a meddlesome god. In 1860, in a letter to Asa Gay,  he wrote, 'I cannot think that the world as we see it is a matter of chance, and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of design. ...I am, and shall ever remain, in a hopeless muddle.' The whole point of his thesis was that variations were not directed. In a letter to Hooker in 1856, he cited, 'the clumsy, wasteful, low and horribly cruel works of nature.'

Although Darwin hardly used the term 'evolution', the dumbed-down popularisation of his theories has become the non-thinker's mind-worm — the vaunted 'theory of everything'. We now believe in progress, the continual advancement of knowledge, the progressive refinement of politics, conduct and social systems. Even though bald evidence shows the futility of these views.
Take progress, for instance. Are things really developing, getting better, or merely becoming more complex? Every innovation creates six more insoluble problems. Technical advances are matched by an increase in generalised stupidities. Such as the scores of SSBNs (Ballistic Missile Submarines) lurking in every ocean, ready to vaporise the world's cities. 

As for the advent of social media, the internet and instant communication, its data gathering and manipulation is deeply destructive. It creates multiple problems such as identification and information theft, scams, bullying, fake news, propaganda, and increasing slavery to IT technology. And incites an abnormal world-wide reaction to a single local stimulus. 

Everything is designed to be engaging, to grab and keep our attention — to commodify our love of gossip, sensationalism and hyperbole. To waste our time and dumb us down. To manufacture compulsion. The need to click produce an instant dopamine hit. If we engage with social media for ten minutes, our oxytocin level soars. 

At last count, forty-eight countries have at least one government agency engaged in placing blatant falsehoods on social media and engineering consent and dissent. Shady media outlets on corporate payrolls fabricate doubt, disorientation and distraction. They control information through the censorship of outlet-swamping or 'noise'. This promotion of mistrust, fear, disinformation designed to manipulate thought and behaviour is now a profitable market using the methods of advertising and PR. The appeal is emotional, compulsive, addictive and amplifies negative traits. Advertising, of course, is propaganda. Not truth but hype.

This destructive digital gully-trap promotes conspiracy theories, outlandish claims, deep fakes, confusing 'facts' and fiction. The constant bombardment of tainted 'leaks' makes us question the validity of all media. 

With the internet now manipulated by pressure groups, multinationals and state autocrats, the upshot is social divisiveness and public chaos. Monopolies such as Facebook and Twitter pay lip service to removing tainted accounts, but are acutely aware that this cramps their bottom lines. So, as long as gathering subscribers is their business model, malicious actors will continue to thrive.

Meanwhile adolescent girls are given the chance of indirect aggression, the ability to shame and belittle with 'who's in, who's out rants. Adolescent boys are fed first-person war games that have been found by psychologists to promote callous indifference.

Everywhere you see agitated, self-promoting zombies shackled to their cell phones, compulsively micro-managing their profiles. Long before such technology was invented, Reich was already talking about, 'Compulsive, contactless sociability.'

The 'evolution' mind-worm also prompts us to believe that life started from inorganic matter, or arose spontaneously from amino acids in the oceans of the primitive earth. This assumption fits a barren cosmos devoid of sagacity or purpose because it negates all semblance of design. It means our presence here is incidental and reduces us to sophisticated apes.

The materialist, Hobbes, prompted this comment from a complaining theist: 'The root of all atheism consists in making senseless matter the only existent thing.' 

Despite such protests, God is no longer 'needed on voyage'. Knowledge and reasoning are enough. We believe in appearances only and believe that life can be organized through science alone.

Scientists believe that the whole can be understood by examining its parts. Their method isolates things from their surroundings. It separates items that can be weighed, numbered and measured from things that can't. It works in stricture of useful abstractions and finds in these fragments no meaning or design. But the layman, believing the analysis inclusive, accepts that view automatically, no matter how much clerics argue that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 

But can one really explain anything in terms of itself? Is it credible that nature created itself — was self-derived? That matter created matter? Can we, for instance, by dismantling a radio, extract the music and voices it emits? Or extract thoughts by dissecting the brain?

So, as the gap widened between science and religion, the inner and outer aspects of cosmology became progressively opposed.

As science began to learn more and more about less, the less it understood. But it knew enough to shred believers in benevolence from above. It reduced the hierarchy that had guided our values and equated religion to a childish fiction equivalent to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. 

In a godless world, we became governed from below — by isolated objects, genes, atoms, blind laws of attraction, random forces... By an automated cosmos and closed system. Meaning became meaningless. 

Meanwhile, the remnant of religion, still convinced that 'design' required a vaguely anthropomorphic deity, closed its cage of thought in defence of its beliefs. 

Now, the literalists who still attend its temples are well-meaning people with conventional minds snared by self-comfort, establishment and routine. Or those having a bet each way. Or doing it for the kids. Or emotionally cathartic happy-clappers swaying to the rants of money-motivated 'prosperity theology' evangelists.

But beyond the churches, mosques and synagogues are still a reticent few who covertly believe that there is 'something out there'.

Is