Monday, 25 January 2010

On the Brink : Between Gut and Mind

Humans are in a quandary. Until relatively recently in our history, evolution has made us a creature capable of surviving in climates and situations normally inhospitable to any creature incapable of thought. But here's the problem: technological advances, and the excessive riches generated thereof, have eliminated any need or even motivation to use the tool — thought — that allowed us to survive thus far.

What separates us from animals is our ability to analyse our perceptions and memories, and constantly return to them and re-analyse them at will, thus making it possible to return to our mistakes and successes again and again and try them against every new tool we learn. Yet this 'second level' is only a layer added to the basic functions we share with animals — functions that, in my opinion, could work on an animalistic scale quite well on their own — perception-based instinctive behaviour and our empirical memories of our experiences with the same. From here on I'll call our thought ability 'mind' and our more animalistic tendencies 'gut'.

Our minds are a funny thing, as they can even work against us: not only is it possible to relive certain experiences through our memories, it is also possible to arrive at any conclusion we want based on the same, or in other words, re-invent our past (or ignore parts of it or all of it altogether). In our primitive environment, still tightly entwined with the rules and dangers of nature, such tendencies would most likely mean certain death. Yet today such dangers no longer exist: the enemy most present in our minds is 'discomfort' and the (armed) irrationality (in our opinion) of other (groups of) humans.

Comfort is a state that has no dependence at all on thought; in fact, I would say that it is a 'gut' state of satisfaction whose continuity would be destroyed by any notion of thought. Take our sexual practices for example, and try to sum and predict our pleasurable sensations in a rational way: doing so would distract from and dilute the very sensations we take such pleasure in.

I'd almost like to think of the interaction between gut and mind to be something like computer and program(mer): new routines, once imagined and 'proven', can be fed into the machine and thus modify its function. In short, our lives are an ever-evolving computer program fed into a base and never-changing hardware: push certain physical buttons and certain things happen, but with time and new routines, the base reaction would be modified by later-added sub-routines.

So basically our problem is this: we are a species whose wiring, made for a harsher environment and direct confrontations, is at odds with the programming dictated by the status quo of today. Today's status quo is an education that is still partially based, in many ways, on the 'dangers' of years before — dangers that, for most of us, only exist in our imaginations. This is the reason for the irrational and self-contradicting behaviour that is so widespread today.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Pure at the source - The Human Idea - Religion

There's a common thread through many subjects that I am interested in - religion, politics, inventions, economy: an original idea conceived with the interests of the many at heart. Unfortunately, with time and the failings of human nature, that idea across almost all topics has often been corrupted or eradicated beyond all recognition. There has to be some way of both recognising and impeding this process.

Christian religion began with a group of people who really did believe that Jesus was 'the anointed one', a claim that was punishable by death under then Judaic law if the pretender was not found 'fit' by the religious elders to fill the role of 'chosen by god' that was 'King' then. Jesus' "left wing" views were even more undesirable to the elders because the region, almost the Jewish people as a whole, were under the Roman boot (sandal) then; yet it is understandable that his teachings made a rather marked break with the tyranny of the times, almost as the 'hippy' movement was to the Vietnam war era. In any case, this movement preaching humility and peace had to spend its first years of existence in seclusion and hiding. The Christian doctrine in its first years followed Judaic law (Jesus in his entire lifetime had never a thought about starting a new religion), but the writ of Jesus' followers (real or 'spiritual'), and the follower's followers, soon became a sort of bible of their own. Jesus' reputation as a Ghandi-like resistant to the Roman occupier made stories of his life popular to an almost enslaved people; with this popularity came the corruption and the purposeful exploitation and misinterpretation of the original idea.

Even before the Christian religion had conquered a failing Rome seeking to regain the support of the already-converted masses, confusion had already set in. With the masses came political leadership, and the differing political views and motives of the christian leaders divided the faith into several factions: the Messianic Jews, for example, retained most everything from Judaic teachings in retaining their belief that Jesus was indeed the real messiah; Catholicism, the most aggressively political Christian faction, created a marked break with the rest of Christian teaching (while attempting to retain its followers) by adopting Mary Magdalene as the figurehead of their religion (although their real teachings, compared to those of Jesus' - hardly mention her). The latter faction was also responsible for effacing most every Pagan holiday under a 'new' Christian celebration (sometimes even blatantly 'invented' from other popular religions, such as the largely undocumented story of Jesus' birth being a carbon copy of that of Mythra - or even Moses'), and replacing every existing Pagan (or other) temple on Christian 'territory' with a temple or church.

I want to underline the fact that the source of the 'Christian fracture' was political motive, as was the corruption. Although many will contest the above (through 'deconstructionism' and arguments using selective facts), the pattern holds true to one recurring through all of humanity's history: the few leading (and reaping from) the many, and their efforts to keep their privileged position.

This tendency doesn't apply only to religion: once any sort of movement at all develops a leadership that depends (or counts on) those following a status quo of their dictate, and the leadership corrupts/perverts/adds to the the movement's original message to further their own ends, the idea behind the movement's origins take on much less importance. In fact, after a movement and its corrupted dogma conquers the majority of a society loathe to think outside of the status quo, any discussion about the 'original idea' hardly matters at all.

This leads in to economics. More later.

I'll add this here because it is in the same line with the rest - but it is a bit of a rant, as I was biting my tongue as I wrote the rest. I'd like to express my dismay - and disgust - that all that's done, 'positive' and negative, in religion's name.

First off, there are thousands of people today preaching exactly what Jesus did thousands of years ago. In fact, I'd say that most of his teachings are the moral status quo for most civilised society. Set that aside, and what do we have? Miracles. Miracles that are not only incredible (read the latter word in the "not credible" sense), but never seen by anyone but the most fervent of 'believers'. In short, religion today to most of us is as useful as a magician's mumbo-jumbo, as it might as well be all illusion.

So look at what is done in 'religion's name' today - persecution, wars and charity. Persecution and war are easy enough to condemn, but charity should be a much harder target to criticise - if it wasn't such a large source of income for many churches.

I of course subscribe to aiding the lesser privileged/resourced, but not if part of my donation will be taken as 'profit' - that is to say, for uses other than providing the resources needed to transfer/transform my donation into a place and form usable by the person I'd like to help. If any church takes part of a donation destined to an underprivileged one for funding the teaching/upkeep of their political domination, they are in fact exploiting the underprivileged, and treating them almost as hostages. This technique has been used many times in the past by many organisations, and condemned as the crime it is when discovered, but religion has been mysteriously exempt from a similar examination.