Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sociopathic Power Elites, Beta Herds, and Omega Watchers

Modern skeptics often assume that because there are obviously no supernatural gods, theists must be borderline insane and their scriptures vacuous. Indeed, there are embarrassing delusions that sustain theism in modern societies. However, this line of criticism betrays a delusion on the skeptic’s part: that of scientism which in this case takes the form of literalistic narrow-mindedness, or what’s traditionally been called Philistinism. In short, skeptics treat theistic religion as a protoscience and so they read scriptures as being failed theories of the objective facts. These modern Philistines give short shrift to nonscientific questions and modes of inquiry. Again, there are, of course, no supernatural gods; however, there are natural ones, and both monotheistic and polytheistic scriptures have always been oblique, metaphorical references to the autocratic human rulers who identified themselves with the gods to gain their populations’ obedience.

To focus on the question of whether supernatural gods exist is to utterly miss the point of religion, which is to unite society with myths that rationalize the injustices endemic to the default organization of most social species, including ours. Indeed, being likely fans of science fiction, modern skeptics should appreciate how fictions like the religious scriptures work: they only pretend to refer to strange, distant times and places, whereas they actually speak to contemporary conditions. Note how we’re loathe to dismiss the characters from our favourite novels, plays, or movies as entirely unreal; we know they don’t exist as historical figures, because they’re more important than anything so ephemeral. They instantiate our archetypes and provide frameworks for how we interpret our experience.

Gods, Autocrats, and the Megamachine

If you’re looking for an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator of everything, look no further than the human king, emperor, pharaoh, sultan, kaiser, rajah, czar, or dictator. The human autocrat is all too real. Myths of gods were modeled largely on the Neolithic rulers in Egypt and Mesopotamia who actually controlled armies, so that they were thousands of times more powerful than any average person; who had spies and gang bosses in their chains of command to inform them of all that transpired within their land's borders; and who were effectively or symbolically present in the underlings who represented them and in the magnificent structures they had built. Autocrats don’t create the universe, but most religious people have had no modern conception of the outer cosmos because they’ve been preoccupied with their homeland.

Their local territory was indeed developed by what Lewis Mumford calls the megamachine, which was the human machine assembled by autocrats who used religious myths to galvanize the masses to create what we now call civilization. As Mumford writes in Technics and Human Development, civilization historically rests “in varying proportions” on a megamachine, comprised of “the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes” (186). The human machine is a social system in which people are forced to occupy dehumanizing roles so that they literally work as mechanical parts. Indeed, this megamachine is “composed of a multitude of uniform, specialized, interchangeable but functionally differentiated parts [i.e. human bodies], rigorously marshaled together and coordinated in a process centrally organized and centrally directed: each part behaving as a mechanical component of the mechanized whole” (196).

More precisely, the myths of supernatural gods are two-sided since they have two sources, the biological parent and the autocrat. The idea of the gods’ benevolence is drawn from the parent or guardian who is biologically compelled to care for his or her children, due to love hormones like oxytocin. There’s no such bond between sovereign and subject; instead, there’s the megamachine. Contrary to Mumford, though, the megamachine does have a biological origin, as opposed to being an invention based just on greed or bloodlust. The population that functions as a giant mechanism to build the rudiments of civilization works with the default social divisions, found in any dominance hierarchy, between roughly the alphas (leaders), betas (followers), and omegas (outsiders). Instincts of aggression are genetically tempered to maintain the integrity of the bodies that host the genes. Thus, instead of a chaotic war of all against all, we instinctively engage in symbolic competitions which establish our ranks in a pecking order. In addition, there’s the pragmatic Law of Oligarchy which operates at the level of rationality rather than instinct. To efficiently manage a larger and larger group, power must be centralized. Finally, there’s the psychological principle that power corrupts. (Note this study, "Does endorsement of hierarchy make you evil? SDO and psychopathy," which shows that a social dominance oriented personality, which is to say a politically conservative one, "is correlated with interpersonal dominance in the form of Machiavellianism," which in turn is strongly associated with psychopathy. Moreover, the correlation strengthens over time so that as you become more socially dominant, you become more psychopathic, and vice versa.) Combine those three factors and you have the essence of Mumford’s megamachine.

Paleolithic and early Mesolithic hunters and gatherers were likely more egalitarian, because they were still learning to be people rather than animals and so they hadn’t yet hit upon extravagant ways of exacerbating or of making the best of natural inequalities. Likewise, social democracies may not be autocracies, although they do tend to degenerate into oligarchies which better reflect the disparities that make for the default social order. In any case, we modernists don’t need theocrats to enslave us, since we dehumanize ourselves to adapt to our increasingly artificial environments. We don’t need preposterous myths to persuade us to trust in the magical power of our godlike elites, since we can see for ourselves the high-tech machines that testify to our elites’ inhumanity. We want to respect and admire our leaders, but can we afford to do so, given how they likely perceive the rest of us? We want to believe that those with the most power and influence have our best interests at heart, but is that assumption hopelessly naïve? How do the default power dynamics play out in modern, so-called enlightened societies?

Sociopathy of the Power Elites

Whereas parents are genetically driven to care for their offspring, those with merely more power than others are biologically, pragmatically, and psychologically compelled to dehumanize themselves and to become monstrous tyrants, in the limit cases; in their more sustainable form, the elites are likely high-functioning psychopaths. Robert Hare, the psychopathologist who originated the Psychopathy Checklist, calls the latter “subcriminal psychopaths.” “These individuals,” he says in Without Conscience, “are every bit as egocentric, callous, and manipulative as the average criminal psychopath; however, their intelligence, family background, social skills, and circumstances permit them to construct a façade of normalcy and to get what they want with relative impunity” (113). Psychopathy is best thought of as an array of personality dimensions found throughout the general population, but which becomes psychopathic when the characteristics are aggravated in certain combinations. However, the term “psychopath” is nebulous because there are different theories as to which characteristics are central. We can speak, then, of different kinds of psychopaths, depending on which of the relevant characteristics dominate their personality.

According to the triarchic model, there are three characteristics which are observed to varying degrees in psychopaths: boldness (low fear and high self-confidence), disinhibition (low impulse control, demand for immediate gratification, thus minimal foresight resulting in antisociality), and meanness (low empathy, use of cruelty for the sake of empowerment, defiance of authority). Notice that boldness is praised in Western societies. Workers are often encouraged to be assertive and to show initiative, and heterosexual men are advised to be self-confident, above all, in their attempts to attract women. Disinhibition would make for a poor strategist, but most power elites would have delegated planning to experts and used religious myths to explain their recklessness as evidence of the gods’ mysterious intentions. (Remember that these elites were thought to have inherited their right to command from their association with some divine power.) Meanness has fallen out of favour in feminized, postmodern societies, but it’s still praised in the military and in Machiavellian circles. Fictions like House of Cards and Game of Thrones show that, regardless of their rosy public rhetoric, we suspect that our power elites behave in more or less reptilian ways when out of the spotlight. Certainly in premodern societies, meanness would have counted towards the autocrat’s masculine heroism.

In any case, it’s the combination of varying degrees of such characteristics that makes for a psychopathic character. Some combinations would produce ineffective power elites while others would be ideal. Unfortunately, the term “psychopath” connotes the out-of-control, criminal type, so instead of speaking of subcriminal psychopaths, I’ll refer to the latter as sociopaths. My point, then, is that if someone is an alpha in a dominance hierarchy, who has power heaped upon her so that she can efficiently manage some social system and who is inevitably corrupted by that power, that person will likely turn into a sociopath if not an outright monster. Some autocrats have in fact been monsters (Caligula, Nero, Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao Zedong) and their inhuman deeds are the true inspirations for the myths of hell. Indeed, the monstrous tyrants are just those we’d think of as criminal psychopaths. But most power elites have been only sociopathic.

Alphas, mind you, are found not just in positions of political authority, since they become military or economic oligarchs or stars in any of the professional classes. Observe how the training for professional status as a soldier, doctor, lawyer, or businessperson, for example, rewards sociopaths. Soldiers are obviously taught to be fearless and mean, and while they must also respect authority, Hollywood’s jingoistic stereotypes of the antihero reveal the Western willingness to forgive soldiers or police who take matters into their own hands and disobey mere moralistic orders. Thus, we implicitly understand that those elites are bound to be sociopathic. Modern physicians are notorious for their narcissism and God complexes. After all, they’re entrusted with people’s lives and they have firsthand experience of the impersonal physiological mechanisms that sustain life. Those characteristics are consistent with boldness. Lawyers are trained to be hyperanalytical and to disregard social context as they follow the letter of the law. This is consistent with meanness. Businesspeople are taught the social Darwinian market logic which is explicitly egoistic and thus consistent with all three aspects of sociopathy.

We should expect, then, that the highest echelons of any of those disciplines will be occupied disproportionately by sociopaths. There will be exceptions, but the structural causes I referred to will make for what Nancy Cartwright calls a nomological machine, which is in fact nature’s prototype of Mumford’s megamachine. When conditions allow for emergent orders, nature develops complex systems that fall into patterns which we explain in terms of models, principles, and laws. One such pattern is the tendency for the monstrous strong to rule over the benevolent weak. Sociopaths have the ambition, the recklessness, and the lack of moral constraint to outcompete the humbler betas in most walks of life, and once they do succeed the worst in them will be brought out by their powerful positions so that perversely they’ll end up honing their vices. In fact, in so far as any civilization is defined by the above three principles, it’s a gigantic system for rewarding the unjust and punishing the just. This is because civilization originates from undead and thus inhumane evolutionary processes and from the conniving of ancient megalomaniacal rulers. Nice guys really do tend to finish last, and why would the meek want to inherit the ruins?

Domestication of the Beta Herds

As to how the power elites regard the rest of us, their public rhetoric overflows with kind words for the average, hard-working citizen. Even in the ancient world, kings publicly spoke of their subjects in glowing terms and held themselves to an altruistic standard, as if their power were more of a curse than a blessing since they had dreadful responsibilities rather than just the license to do whatever they pleased. But sociopaths are manipulative, so none of that rhetoric ought to be trusted—at least not if we’re interested in preserving our dignity. If we are, we ought to err on the side of caution and treat every single public statement made by anyone in a position of great power as self-serving if not as a shameless move in some sociopathic amusement. Psychopaths want to live as gods, and sociopaths (the high-functioning, subcriminal psychopaths) are just those who are best equipped to achieve that goal. How do gods live? Precisely as most of us live in relation to lower species: as predators. As we prey on animals (enslaving or slaughtering them as we see fit), sociopaths prey on the rest of us. Sociopaths are the most distinguished alphas, the highest dominators in our dominance hierarchies (in our “civilizations”). Thus, when I speak of “the rest of us” I’m referring to the followers and the outsiders.

To put the question more sharply, then, how do the distinguished alphas feel about the betas and omegas? The vast majority of people are betas, and betas and omegas may be further subdivided into gammas and deltas and so on, depending on the pecking order’s complexity. But all of those who aren’t leaders or outcasts in the evolutionary process which underlies our social interactions are effectively followers (betas, roughly speaking). Sociopathic alphas use the betas, then, as fodder in their schemes to aggrandize themselves. The power elites’ goals are selfish and hedonistic, and they're ruthless in pursuing them since they have no higher human feelings to project onto others; thus, they objectify people, using them indeed as tools they can manipulate. Slavery would be ideal, but highly regulated behaviour suffices if the regulations fall out of the power elites’ ideology, as they often do even in modern liberal societies that prohibit physical oppression. Betas, then, are the most useful servants, since they’re not sociopathic alphas themselves, who are repulsed by the prospect of submitting to anyone, and they’re not omegas who condemn the entire social enterprise. Betas follow either because they want eventually to lead as alphas or they’re content with their station and so they prefer not to upturn the system. These are the alphas’ cattle, the domesticated pets that support the power elites’ lofty projects and godlike lifestyles. From the sociopathic alpha’s viewpoint, betas are subhuman. Of course, from the genes’ “perspective,” we’re all members of the same species, since our sex organs are compatible, but sociobiologically, practically, and psychologically we’re divided into classes that alienate us from each other. And the alphas run civilization, largely because they control the beta herds by rewarding or punishing them in their official capacities.

Moreover, the power elites may assume that they’re doing God’s work, as Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs said, quite revealingly. This hearkens back to the ancient presumed partnership between human and divine (fictional) autocracies: earthly rulers used religious fictions in their scheme to dehumanize the masses, literally turning them into cogs in a megamachine. But the deeper logic here is the same as that of most con artists, as depicted in the movie Matchstick Men. In that movie, the con artist character, played by Nicholas Cage, explains to his daughter that he doesn’t steal from anyone since he convinces them to voluntarily give him what he wants. Likewise, Wall Street only led the middleclass into temptation, arranging for the punishment of those greedy beta materialists who bought houses they couldn’t afford. The arcane world of finance has been created by distinguished American sociopaths; more specifically, that world was designed by the mathematicians and computer engineers who have replaced the astrologers and theologians in the modern autocrats’ court, but those experts merely filled a niche opened up by the demands and the resources of the infamous one percent. When you enter that shadow world you’re at the predators’ mercy. The Western financial system is rigged by the Ponzi-like schemes with which the plutocrats reinforce their domination of the conned masses. But the point is that it’s arguable that the masses deserve to be crushed and the too-big-to-fail alphas deserve to get off scot free. The alpha occupies the satanic role of our tempter. Recall that in Job, before Satan was demonized he was God’s partner as he helped to settle their wager. Likewise, the American plutocrats are able to live with themselves not just because they’ve been trained to subdue their conscience, but because they glorify their shenanigans, interpreting the cons as just deserts for the selfish, xenophobic, bigoted, gullible, clueless American peasantry.

The Vocational Objectivity of Alienated Losers

Clearly, these power elites are undeserving of respect on moral grounds. The angel that tempted Job was ennobled by his association with God. There is no God, however, so the power elites have no such excuse. The appeal to the divine right of kings, even when made by a postindustrial plutocrat like Blankfein, is just part of the old con to reinstitute the default social order of our species that should, and perhaps once did, know better. As stunningly constructive as the megamachine is, the deification of sociopaths and the brutalization of the scrupulous lower classes are grotesqueries made possible, indeed, by God’s absence. Those grotesqueries would only be perfected were the beta masses logically prevented from rebelling and compelled instead to submit and even to welcome their abuse. And that’s just what happens, of course, because, by definition, betas want to play the alphas’ game. To protest is to remove yourself from contention and to expose yourself as an omega. Again, betas can’t afford to condemn the alphas because they want to climb the dominance hierarchy or else they don’t want to lose their present status. Condemning the civilized social order would be instrumentally irrational for betas.

Thus, it falls to the omegas to speak truth to power, and that’s how it’s always been. The prophets, philosophers, introverts, artists, bohemians, alienated outsiders, outcasts, fools, misfits, and madmen who choose not to remove themselves entirely from the game, through suicide, are forced to take up the view from nowhere, to look squarely at the world as it really is, without deferring to conventional wisdom or falling prey to the prevailing cons. These omegas include the cursed skeptics and radicals who perceive society as all the more absurd because they’re not part of it. Everything seems strange or frivolous when viewed with cold detachment, since emotional bias and the imagination are needed to provide the metaphors that contextualize the phenomenon and make us comfortable with it (typically, by personifying what we observe). Of course, many omegas are bitter because they’ve failed to succeed in the sociopath’s megamachine. Perhaps even every radical social critique is due, in the first place, to sour grapes. However, to dismiss the critique on that basis is to commit the genetic fallacy. Failing in civilized terms is plausibly the means by which you acquire the social scientist’s objectivity—by way of discovering your vocation rather than your profession. Some scientists and philosophers may be omegas, but there’s a difference between being professionally objective, only to play the social games after hours when you can ignore what you’ve learned from dissecting those games, and being almost permanently detached and thus alienated from the mainstream competitions and pastimes.

Omegas are paradoxical in that they’re both the lowliest among us and the most heroic. Conventionally speaking, they’re miserable weaklings and losers. Again, it’s just that sort of person who would become vocationally objective, a professional outsider, as it were. But omegas are also existentially authentic. Being well-adjusted and normal in conventional terms is the mark of an animal, not a person. If you’re a happy individual, above all, you’ve actually betrayed your humanity to live as an animal; for example, you might be a domesticated beta, playing your part in the sociopath’s megamachine. Animals are content with their limitations because they don’t comprehend what’s happening all around them. They react effectively to their environment, because they’re biomachines with traits honed over ages of evolution, but their knowledge is mostly subjective. By contrast, all people should be running for the exits and screaming for salvation from the curse of objective awareness. You know you’re dealing with an authentic person and not just with a bovine functionary occupying a human body, when that individual demonstrates some appreciation of the tragic aspect of human life. Omegas are all-too familiar with that tragedy. They live as failures and so they’re forced to the margins to observe society without the emotional varnish. They’re left to know that society is absurd, that we tend to be ruled by sociopaths who are more or less monstrous and who exploit us as herds of cattle so that they can live as the gods that most of us unknowingly worship via theistic fictions. There is little functional difference, for example, between the medieval peasantry and the modern mass of consumers. 

As for how alphas and omegas interact, the paradigm is provided by the Gnostic, omega figure of Jesus Christ. Jesus probably didn’t exist in history, but that’s irrelevant. In the Christian story, Jesus was ignored or ridiculed by the power elites of his day. Then he was crushed by them. But the throngs of former betas whom he converted into fellow radical omegas rose up and moralized the Roman megamachine. Rome converted to Christianity and centuries later the Americas are still predominantly Christian. If we look closer, though, we see that Jesus’s religion has been coopted by the sociopathic elites, so that the Church’s representatives have given Jesus’s blessing to every form of mass monstrosity, including war and capitalistic exploitation. In the New Testament, Jesus says to give God and Caesar what they’re respectively due. In Jewish circles, that would have been interpreted as a bold preference for moral and spiritual obligations over matters of political expedience. Unfortunately, the Gospels were written after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, when the early Christians were dissociating from Judaism and trying to ingratiate themselves with Rome. Thus, the Roman interpretation would have prevailed, which was that God and Caesar are one. The esoteric reading is thus the sociopathic autocrat’s, which is similar to the omega’s: theism is a fiction that rationalizes the godlike autocrat’s enslavement of the beta rabble, so we should pay our taxes and respect the secular authorities because they’re the creators of the divine ones. Indeed, the Roman elites were involved in the selection of Christian scriptures and in hammering out official Christian doctrines.

The lesson is that even when omegas rise up against the horrors perpetrated by the alphas in charge, the omegas’ radicalism is coopted for the conning of the beta herds. There is no underestimation of how blind the betas can be in their submission to the power elites, since even when God is identified with an omega male, as God is in Christianity, the betas still suspend their disbelief as the power elites use Jesus as their ventriloquist’s dummy. The alpha and the omega are equally objective in their thoughts about society, since the alpha lacks emotional attachments to others, owing to his innate or learned sociopathy, while the omega is driven to objectivity as the penalty for her comprehensive failures. Both, then, are alienated outsiders, but there’s an obvious difference: the alpha reigns at the apex of the dominance hierarchy, while the omega is banished to the wilderness. That difference in environment produces a crucial difference in character: the sociopath is trained to be monstrous, to perfect his vices in a Machiavellian play with slaves, subordinates, or other automated betas, while the omega stews in angst, becoming an authentic member of Homo sapiens, one destined to emerge from the decadent civilizations produced by the ancients’ pragmatic wisdom.

Our ancestors were wise compared to the animals, because they could learn how to exploit natural mechanisms for their survival. Their wisdom was instrumental, not spiritual. (The mythopoeic mindset was a hangover from our prehuman ancestors’ animalistic naivety.) But as that mechanistic knowledge produced civilization, thanks largely to the mechanization of humans in the megamachine (the massive theocratic dominance hierarchies), old knowledge was taken for granted as it was embodied by our self-regulating artificial environments. That left us with time to philosophize as well as to push scientific objectivity to the limit. In the prehistoric world, omegas were merely the slowest in the hunt or perhaps hobbled by some disease which led to their being ostracized. But postmodern omegas are afflicted with hyper-awareness. We late modernists don’t have the same practical knowledge of how to survive in the wild, since our survival has been guaranteed by our modern microcosms which have replaced the wilderness. Instead, we know what it means to exist as a human being. Betas ignore the existential questions in their pursuit of material success in a dominance hierarchy, climbing the ladder to reach the pinnacle of sociopathic evil. Alphas and omegas equally well know the naturalistic answers to those questions, but whereas omegas are horrified by them, because their conscience is intact, the most distinguished, monstrous alphas view those answers as so many opportunities to prey on the unenlightened herd. For these reasons, civilization is a tragicomedy.

24 comments:

  1. Awesome summing up, Benjamin. Kudos!

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    1. Thanks! This article is indeed meant to draw together a number of other articles I've written. It's the sort that you can write only after you've written a lot of other stuff.

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  2. From some of your earlier pieces I would have said I fit in with the Omegas. But given this graphic posted here, I now feel I fall more squarely in the Gamma sector. It's not so much that I can't fit in with society, I just find the whole exercise repugnant.

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    1. Yeah, when I speak of alphas, betas, and omegas, I'm really generalizing. I doubt I'm using the terms exactly as biologists do. This is because I'm applying the hierarchy to humans and I don't know whether that's commonly done in sociobiology. Also, there are popular definitions of those terms, such as you find in movies like Greenberg and in Roissy's evolutionary psychological dating blog. I'm trying to encompass all of that material instead of sticking with the biologist's technical definitions, which apply mainly to nonhuman mammals. Still, I put up that graphic to show the other side of it.

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  3. I'm curious why you never talk about Gammas or Deltas, Gammas in particular. I'm not certain you can so easily lump Gammas and Deltas together as subdivisions of Betas. I don't find every aspect of your analysis to be coherent. I respect Omegas as outsiders who reject the system, but I don't think they're the only ones who can or do strive for mystical asceticism or rebel against society. And I think it's disingenuous to suggest that Omegas are the only ones who see society clearly.

    Is it a Gamma's ability to fit in that precludes her from having the necessary distance to correctly observe society? What if this Gamma goes into a protracted Omega-like state, say with the help of an entheogen like marijuana? What if after a period of non-engagement and Omega-like observation, the Gamma reintegrates to engage with the ruinous beast she has observed?

    For example, you've mentioned characters and people like Gandhi, MLK, Jesus, and Batman as being Omegas, but this seems to somewhat create too heroic of a character out of the Omega. Each screams Gamma much more strongly to me. Take Batman. He's incredibly dominant psychologically, but he rejects his culture, thus he fights it. Same with the other three.

    This is not to say that they were definitely Gammas, or that Omegas do not engage culture, or that Omegas cannot be revolutionary. All I'm trying to say is that it seems that you bring up the dominance hierarchy, but then collapse some of its complexity to make way for your own cultural, biological, political critiques. And this seems to easy to me. Obviously everything we speak about is metaphorical, and you're using a schema that works for you (or you're using the schema that is you). But I think it may be a bit self-justifying to say that Omegas are the only ones not duped by the system, and to suggest that their take on resistance is the only coherent worldview. I think revolutionary Gammas, while perhaps only transforming the detail and scope of the megamachine, have transformed it nonetheless. So to ignore their contribution, even if they are a Beta sub-type, even if they are caught up in bullshit myths more than Omegas, is at best a willingness to limit your metaphor and at worst an egregious oversight.

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    1. The reason I don't talk about gammas and deltas is partly an oversight and partly an intentional simplification. It began as an oversight, when I first thought of combining the pecking order analysis with my other ideas, some years ago, and when I didn't read deeply enough to learn the subtle distinctions between the categories. As I read more I decided to simplify the analysis for my purposes. I'm interested mainly in the difference between leaders, followers, and outsiders.

      However, you're certainly right that there are interesting gray areas between them and indeed it was misleading for me to lump the deltas and gammas in with just the betas, since those two have connections with both betas and omegas. I've now changed the "egregious" sentence above where I said that betas can be subdivided into gammas and deltas. Now it reads that we can divide betas and omegas into those other groups, depending on the complexity. I'm still simplifying matters, but hopefully now I'm not oversimplifying them. All models simplify, but they shouldn't mislead.

      This is partly a semantic issue, though. I don't care about giving so-called omegas all the credit for radicalism/enlightenment. What matters to me are the conceptual differences between leading from a powerful position, following that lead, and being outside of the competition and looking in. I think it still follows that all those who aren't leaders or outsiders are, roughly speaking, followers and thus betas. But the nuance is that there are intermediary groups that share some beta and omega attributes. That's the part I've been leaving out for the sake of simplicity.

      So as you say, gammas can temporarily stand outside the system, say by smoking some weed, and can then re-enter the system and change it from within. In that case, they're similar to both betas and omegas, in different respects. Batman is a very special case, since he combines aspects of alphas and omegas as well as perhaps the others. I have talked about Batman but I'm not sure I called him simply an omega.

      Anyway, thanks for raising this important issue. I should really read more about the differences between all of these groups and maybe write something specifically on the deltas and gammas and where they stand in my account.

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    2. Given what you're looking at (leaders, followers, outsiders), it makes sense that you would focus on naming those groups, rather than perhaps getting lost in semantic labyrinths that have nothing to do with your original purpose. Your clarification of your intent is helpful: that you understand there is greater complexity, but you're going for the big picture in broad strokes (and quite a bit of detail too, as this blog shows). I'll be keeping my eye out for a post on the interactions between omega and beta.

      One last thing that occurred to me while reading. While alphas are inevitably on top, and though many revolutionaries (of whatever group) often wish to simply usurp power, it seems also true that some kinds of improvements have been introduced over time. Feminism, modern medicine, etc. For political improvements, one could say that oligarchies simply subsume dangerous elements, as you showed with Christianity and Rome. Same with the hippies and American culture. And one could easily make the case that Americans still live in a highly sexist culture. However, I would still argue that Feminism has had a positive impact on the free expression of many people, and not just women. Modern medicine has benefited those who can gain access to it.

      I recognize society is highly unequal, highly stratified, separated, subdued. I recognize that the pyramid structure has existed as long as civilization has. I recognize that material improvements are largely illusory, in the sense that the structure stays the same no matter the number or type of persons.

      So I guess there is not much of a question in here. It's more to say that I agree with pretty much everything you've said with the potential caveat that I might be willing to venture to say that things are substantively different. The fact that you and I can have this conversation and will likely never meet. The fact that you and I can think and are not mindless peasants, as we likely would have been if we had been born only slightly earlier in human history. I guess my point is that while I agree with your sketch, and don't expect human nature itself to change, I suppose I put some hope in posthuman ways of being, as you seem to.

      I don't know. It's late and I'm out of it. I think I just wish I could see the structure disappearing, but even if some techno-utopia were to pop up through mass political action, there'd be a catch. Someone would be on top, no matter how many people thought they were happy.

      Keep it up

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    3. Yes, the question of social progress is a confusing one. Progress in relation to whose ideals? Even technological progress isn't entirely obvious, since the ideals or standards don't fall purely out of the science and engineering that produce the smaller and faster machines. Why are smallness and fastness ideal? There are philosophical reasons here having to do with how we prefer to live. Do those questions have objective answers? If not, is progress entirely an illusion?

      I agree there's a difference between how dominance hierarchies are expressed in nonhuman and in human societies. We're freer from the instincts that drive that primitive behaviour. Thus, our societies are more experimental. I speak of the power hierarchy as our default social order, meaning not that our social relations necessarily reduce to the primitive pecking order, but that when our experiments fail or subside, we tend to fall back on our animalistic side and so we succumb, as it were, to the power hierarchy. That is, we allow ourselves to be divided in terms of alphas, betas, and the rest. It's our default setting, but not our only setting.

      Are feminism and liberalism progressive? Again, it seems obvious that ending slavery in the US, for example, was entirely progressive. Slavery was good for the slave-owners perhaps--or at least for their bank accounts, since they must have been dehumanized in the process (as the movie 12 Years a Slave shows). In any case, it was bad for the slaves.

      But there are deep, politically incorrect questions here. If Lewis Mumford is right, there would have been nothing like modern civilization without the ancient megamachine which depended on slavery. The American slave-owners made a lot of money from their slave labour. It was the megamachine all over. Again, the megamachine is the dehumanization and instrumentalization of the masses by the power elite for the purpose of mass-producing goods.

      What's happened in postindustrial societies, of course, is that machines are rapidly taking over the need for human slaves or even for "wage slaves," as liberals and socialists call them. This is the much-discussed increase in productivity, which puts a lot of people out of work. The megamachine remains, but it's become literally nonhuman. It's the Rube Goldberg machine that mass-produces items without much need for human labourers.

      Science fiction speculates that machines will become more and more intelligent, in which case we'll face the old question again, about slavery and the megamachine. Anyway, is there progress in replacing human slaves with literal machines to drive the megamachine? What good is the megamachine if it dehumanizes all of us, by forcing us to adapt to an environment that's fit for literal machines? Are we losing touch with our emotions, becoming desensitized to violence and more sociopathic, just by having to be around so many machines? Is this progress? Again, progress in relation to which ideal?

      I see the hollowness of postmodern liberalism in these terms (see my articles on Canada and Obama's centrism, i.e. his effective nihilism). Liberals aren't shameless enough to fall back on archaic myths to forestall the rise of sociopathy brought on by our competition with our machines. They cling to their liberal values but can no longer justify them, because they've lost their faith and become disenchanted with nature (the new Cosmos show attempts to reverse that trend). Liberals are technocrats who see populations as vast machines that have to be socially engineered. Is this dehumanizing view of society progressive? And again, is there an objective answer or at bottom do we face merely the existential choice I keep coming back to? Are we forced to take a leap of faith when addressing these normative, philosophical questions?

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  4. Dominance hierarchies are like the weather; everybody complains but nobody ever does anything about it. Given the social organizing principles you describe is it possible for a society not lead by sociopaths to come into existence? That having been asked, wage labor is not as unpleasant as serfdom or chattel slavery. Modern production methods have differed from previous methods in ways that require less overt brutality in alpha-beta relationships. That is progress of a sort. It's possible that at some point production will be so mechanized that humans will be eliminated completely. If the alphas build machine intelligences they may find the machines outstrip them in intellect and sociopathy. Perhaps all divisions between humans will become moot.

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    1. I do think that less primitive societies are possible. As I explain in my comments to M. Steinbergs above, I think the social order I lay out in the above article is only default, not our necessary social structure. We fall back on our animalistic side when our creativity wavers or when we lose faith in our bold ideals (in Spengler's sense).

      See my comment above about progress, modern labour, the rise of the machines (the literal megmachine), and so forth. I agree there's a threat here of mass sociopathy when we have to compete with machines for jobs, because we adapt to the environment we're given. These are all fascinating questions.

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    2. I do agree with Anonymous that at some point (soon) the human being won't be necessary for the production of goods. There's growing talk of Universal Basic Income. There are potentials for the future that are emergent based on the current economic order, not a linear continuation of its trends. I'd be curious to hear more of your thoughts on these. So far, I see much critique of how things are, but even the rate of technological prowess is accelerating. We can do things now we didn't think we'd be able to do for decades (self-driving cars). I think its plausible that through machine-labor we could furnish everybody on the planet with a comfortable amount of the necessities of life. Now, if you're willing to concede that our current state of affairs is better than a state built on abject slavery, surely you'd be willing to concede that a world in which wage-slavery was obsolete would be preferential to our current situation. In fact, I see the potential for a lot of social ills evaporating if people weren't forced to labor and had the necessities of life taken care of. In addition, in this state we wouldn't be competing with machines for jobs. I take that view to be a very short-term conception of machine capabilities. I'm not certain that fully automated production could be implemented without mass social unrest. Sure, the alpha sociopaths could just kill everybody when that happened. But I'm also not certain that sociopathic alphas are the only people running society.

      Of course there are problems with this potential view. But I'm not sure your account can adequately explain it away as part of the myth of progress. I respect your point of view, and even agree with it roughly. It's your answers that get to me. You give us existentially noble ways of living, but what about society as a whole? Surely there are societal or civilization-level problems that if properly addressed would make life generally better for everybody. As the universe is in constant flux, and as we have lived through several iterations of the megamachine throughout history, I see no reason why it can't be made more humane again. I see no reason why current levels of demunanization and sociopathy can't be reversed.

      Anyway, stuff to consider.

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    3. If we're talking about biology, psychology, and sociology, the regularities are only conditional necessities, corresponding to ceteris paribus "laws." So Mumford's megamachine or the version I speak of in terms of the three principles (dominance hierarchy, etc) is an instance of what Cartwright calls a nomological machine. This means just that certain conditions have to come together to sustain the pattern. Other conditions can intrude and break up the pattern or support a competing one.

      Since that's how I see order in these higher domains, I'm open to there being different kinds of societies. What I maintain is that the tragicomic social structure I describe is the default one. Thus, when presented with a purported alternative, we should check whether it's not just the default social order in a new disguise. If we don't change our biology, we're still going to instinctively define our personal worth by contrasting it with the outward signs of the worth of others. There's a kind of mass sadomasochism that plays itself out, so that the dominators need the submissives and vice versa.

      Assuming machines take over most low-level jobs, freeing up the majority to do whatever they like, we might be looking then at a deification of the masses in relation to that literal megamachine. That is, the masses would define themselves as dominators of the machines that would thus play the role of the new slaves. What would happen, though, to the sociopaths who prefer to dominate other people? They'd suddenly be made equal to the betas in this society of plenty.

      Iain Banks's Culture novels depict this sort of society in which heaven has pretty much come down to earth. One of the problems he talks about, though, is decadence. Another is that the artificially intelligent machines become the new dominators, since they become vastly more intelligent than humans. It's hard to see how they could have the same sort of emotions as biological creatures, so they could easily become the new sociopathic power elites as well. These are just some of the ways in which the default social order can change its form but not its substance, given technological progress.

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  5. This comment doesn't quite pertain to this article but rather to the entire site itself, as this is the current article among many of yours that I am going through. It's kind of a confession really, from a big fan of your work so far.

    A note on myself: I spent two years, after an existential, moral crisis, being an agnostic originally, looking for God. I prayed in Christian churchs, with all my heart, nearly baptised, able to nearly overcome all the horrible shit with looping, paradoxical logic. I sang with the Hare Krishnas, meditated on the wisdom of Buddha's and Daoists, examined with Science, and somewhat experimented with drugs and mysticism (Various perspectives of Pantheism, Panentheism, such as Gnosticism. Exegesis of Philip k. Dick? The soothing voice of Alan Watts) to understand the nature of the consciousness.

    Being a skeptic at heart, every-time a new perspective or view point was obtained, I attacked it with research and reason as much as I revelled in my new epiphany, each truth crumbling after another, until I finally hit nihilism, which has withstood all attacks so far.

    My method of finding Truth, truth being a reality/force we connect ultimately reject or deny no matter how hard we try (Gravity), was taking the three perspectives of Man (Science, study of the physical. Philosophy, study of the mental/logic/idea, Spirituality/Mysticism, study of intuition, meaning, soul, human relation to cosmos) and finding where they intersect, there being a closer truth then any of the three separately could attain, although that too could just be pattern recognition, another quirk of the user interface shows a symbol of reality rather than reality itself.

    God doesn't exist, afterlife doesn't exist, objective morality doesn't exist, even the soul doesn't exist. Love is a lie, authority is a lie, compassion and altruism and spirits and hard work and all that we valued as children is a lie. Human reason and free will and anatomy and intelligence is more base and constrained than we intuitively think, our consciousness seeming to be ultimately an illusion, a thousand masks of a user interface interdependently adding up to a greater whole, unifying whole (Buddhist concept of interdependent arising. Trinity could be a metaphor for human sense of self. God arises out of interlock of three masks for different contexts of existence. Remove a mask and the greater whole is something else entirely, remove the greater, unifying whole and one has multiple personality disorder, a disconnect between regions of the brain. Kant's theory of the consciousness?) to perpetuate the survival of a kingdom of cells, Life in turn seeming nothing more than a constrained box of reactions that slows down the chaotic current of existence. (Are fish in the sea truly separate from the sea?)

    I found your website very shortly after I hit nihilism and the conclusion your blog so far has drawn me to, about the meaning of life, is like what Rorschach said at the end of Watchmen "No compromise, evil must be punished." Or, in other words, the more virtueous meaning of human life is to realize the horrible meaninglessness of life and struggle to disprove that view for the rest of existence, refusing to be content, to always fight against the inhumane nature of reality, and always hope, knowing though, tragically, or in a kind of Doublethink that comes from trying to prove to oneself that one doesn't have Free will, that that hope is futility itself.

    Life is a tragedy, but we can make it a good tragedy. Is this conclusion off?

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    1. Thanks for your confession. ;) And I'm glad you've gotten something out of my blog. Yes, your summary of my disagreement with nihilism is accurate. (I’ve got an article coming out soon on how aesthetics defeats nihilism. It’s in Scott Bakker’s hands and it should come out near the end of this month on his blog or mine.)

      My answer to nihilism is that we should make the best of the worst-case scenario (naturalism). One way to try to do so would be to retreat to a self-reinforcing delusion, such as theism or even consumerism. This is what most people do, sacrificing their intellectual integrity and their existential authenticity. To use the language of the above article, they become automated betas, followers of our sociopathic leaders and victims of their cons. They just want to be happy, but happiness is unbecoming for those who are enlightened.

      Enlightenment used to be just for the elites or for the omega dropouts, but as Leo Strauss says, the whole point of modern enlightenment is that it's for the masses. Science is spread far and wide and economists make the best of the resulting egoism--thanks to our identification with the other animals, due to Darwin--with something like Adam Smith's theory of how competition between so many raging assholes magically adds up to great prosperity. This wouldn’t work, though, if all of the competitors were true individualists. They must be conned and bred to follow some demagoguery or other. In Strauss’s terms, noble lies are needed to save a mass enlightened society from itself, since many people prefer happiness to knowledge. Thus, capitalism should be mixed with democracy, where demagogues flourish, although in China and elsewhere in the East, the noble lies are more centrally controlled.

      Anyway, those who are on the social margins don’t have the luxury of fitting in by subscribing to conventional wisdom. Thus, the omegas must be creative in their handling of the accursed knowledge of nature. We need a viable, ennobling religion, an eye for the art that’s literally everywhere, and a refined sense of humour, to avoid giving in to despair when faced with the grand tragicomedy.

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    2. Thank you for responding, I was actually quite eager to hear your words ^_^.

      I think, if we had to make a mythology, it would be...

      Well, human beings have always realized the hellishness of life, just look at the theocratic-monarchy empires of the Hindu-Indians in the past. Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc, all these faiths know life is hell, every thought that could be contemplated in the human mind has been thought, science doesn't discover anything original, rather proving null hypothesis on what is, for certain, complete bullshit we never have to revisit. The folly of these faiths was that, they thought there was a way out.

      There is no way out. The only fundamental (summary) difference between a rich man and a poor man, a genius and a retard, a charismatic alpha and a dropout omega, is a few micrometers of bonded amino acids (DNA) and the time and place of conception. Lady Fortune and Mistress Chaos.

      Everyone is born with the chains and strings of the cosmic void from which they came, born into prison, and, somewhat like Dr. Manhatten (Watchmen is very nihilistic I'm just remembering, after reading it only at 15), our only true freedom and choice is to become hyperaware of our chains and scream, refusing to let it win over us, despite the fact that we'll never break them.

      Our mythology should be one of a prison colony/existence on the corpse of a decaying god that committed suicide after it realized it's own futile existence in the great Void.

      Most people, if confronted with such a bleak view, the view that life is hell, immediately object on moral grounds.

      Yet, in actuality, to view life metaphysically as the best possible scenario, to believe there is a way out, to make happiness and peace the purpose of life, is actually the most amoral thing you could do.

      Most of the horrors people commit they are capable of doing so because they believe they have a way out, that death is not the end. But if death were the end, and furthermore, existence was hell, if we started from the worst possible position, we would have every reason to climb out of the hell. No longer would we only be obligated to be good out of some cosmic bullshit justice system, which actually makes it irrelevant, but out of rebellion, and human beings are nothing if not rebels. We will always fight against that which defies our demand for virtue.

      So, yes, I completely agree with you :). I think you should write an article on a mythology of this existence, what it would look like and perhaps if we could even craft it now! You could start a parody religion of sorts like Discordianism, except more dark humour.

      If your a gamer, I know a few that really click with this post-nihilistic view. Look up The Void, Pathologic, Dark Souls (it's atmosphere), and... hm, I think Stanly Parable but more because it's a post-modern game on the illusion of gamer's freedom.

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    3. Also, as a sort of a dark humour giggles, look up the song the gypsy bard :3 and it's lyrics.

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    4. Speaking of a way out is a little tricky. If you're talking about a supernatural afterlife, I doubt there's any such way out, so the best we can do is tragic heroism. But there are natural escapes that bring heaven down to earth, at least for a time. This is what optimistic science fiction is all about. Pragmatists and transhumanists look at nature's undeadness as a gift, since they see so much raw material that we can use to perfect the world. We can use science to enhance the human body, to make us immortal and otherwise godlike. This gets at the point of my article "Mythopoeia and the Consolation of Technology." It's possible that all the theistic speculation about a spirit world and a supernatural afterlife was just a muddled premonition of our high-tech future in which undead nature will be transformed into a virtual heaven that ironically fulfills the theist's vision. This is also the thesis of the book The Religion of Technology. See also Techgnosis.

      Anyway, thanks for the recommendations. The article I'm working on now, actually, is about how we should mythologize the Great Recession. I want to use the recession and the American plutocracy as case studies of what mythologization (myth-laden interpretation) adds to our worldview. Can we do without myths? Which myths are ideal and which should be abandoned?

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    5. Actually, think back, I think the reality/concept/context of videogames/computer interfaces provides a perfect metaphor/myth for how to view our lives.

      I mean, from what I've gotten out of your articles, our entire perception of our external world is a simplified, symbolic user interface for interacting with the actually highly complex working of the real world, similar to the user interface of a operating system or the interface of a videogame character (we can't perceive our innerworking like we can our external world, but we can hold up a mirror of sorts and peer into our inner workings, thereby dispelling the intuition interface illusion of a self, or at the very least a rational, free self).

      Underneath all those colours and names and sounds is a complex interdependent network of binary code, much too complex for us to actually deal with at a fundamental level. We need a simplification/metapor/symbol system, in the same way we still use Newtonian Physics to deal with the macro world despite knowing that beneath all that lies complex quantum mechanics which we couldn't calculate due to the sheer size and complexity of what's happening (hence, quantum, we only deal with it in small sizes).

      Likewise, imagine if, while playing a videogame, your avatar became aware it was nothing more than a puppet, carrying the experience of some external entity, similar to how we're puppet of our DNA in your Matrix article.

      You could still fully control it and tell it what to do, but, by the virtue of this self awareness now, it can comment on what you do and it's situation (seeing as speech of the character is often controlled by programming/audio files and we don't actually tell the character what to say directly, just a direction of conversation (dialogue wheels?). Although, even in games where you text chat through your avatar, it could still possibly comment? We have an automatic self that acts when we're with others, but what we are like by ourselves is more... independent and less reactive, as much).

      And by this self awareness/observation feedback loop, the character could then influence your actions, which then correlates to a change in it's situation. It indirectly changes it's situation by the sheer act of observation and reflection, which I think is ultimately the only freedom we realistically have in our life, similar to how when we drive our body moves the car in the direction of our eye focus.

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    6. I've been meaning to write something on the simulation theory, which does indeed say that the universe is a simulation, possibly running on a computer in another universe. Here's an intriguing article on it:

      http://brianwhitworth.com/BW-VRT1.pdf

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    7. Your writing solidated my views on the absurdity of life. Doing some research on free will and consciousness, I've concluded that not only is life absurd, meaningless and aesthetic, but our own free will... We're machines, puppets, the only thing we can really say is us per say is that we're watchers.

      We're the great third eye of the human mind. The watchers at the gate of the mind. We the awareness of the input of the world, the output of the mind, and the awareness of this awareness, awareness of self.

      This interrelated trinity of awareness creates the Consciousness. This is the nirvana of Buddhism, the ending of thirst, when one realises that they are not ego or desire or feeling, but the awareness of it, which can be made pure and simple, not tangled up in the river of thought.

      Consciousness serves the purposes of essentially providing a greater perspective, which the machine then takes in and examines, but we are not the machine, the thinking, the doing, the speaking, the seeing. We are the awareness of these processes, the camera in the movie, in the video game character, but not the character nor the computer behind the character. Life.... truly is absurd.

      We are the great third eye. We are the eye of the universe, seeing from itself, through itself, and at itself. It's... it's kinda mind fucking ._.;

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    8. Interesting! This ends up being dualistic, though. Do you think consciousness is supernatural? Are you into Eastern mystical traditions? Their religions are more sophisticated than the Western monotheistic ones, I think, but I can't quite swallow the dualism or the immaterial monism. Spinoza might be the bridge for me, meaning that it's pantheism that inspires me.

      I'm glad my writing helped solidified your views, though.

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    9. See, that's the thing though, it's not dualistic as that would imply a separation. Consciousness arises from the universe, the universe is conscious but not completely, or maybe we're the blind ones.

      Break down the universe into it's simplest, smallest, basic units, and it's essentially energy and information, a quantum field sea with very little actual matter and even then that's an interrelated tension. And as you note, the universe paradoxically seems to be striving towards greater complexity.

      We arose from this universe, and what could be more complex than the unified consciousness of 90 billon neurons, which is possibly a greater number than there are stars in the universe. The interconnection, the jungle, of the brain, the network, it mirrors trees and galaxies.

      I think unified consciousness is the next progression in universal complexity. We are a natural phenomenom, we are no different then animals or the waves of trees, all natural processes. We have no free will, we are merely so. We observe, but our awareness becomes entangled with the sea of thoughts, we create an "ego" that is mentioned in all the eastern and fundamental faiths, a primitive illusion of synchronicity of the brain or a curse of our culture. In truth, when we realize we are only awareness, we become more harmonious with the natural flow.

      Pantheism. There is no God, no greater conscious mind... but there will be. I think God will be born within the greater network of humanity. That will be our final stage, our greatest stage, as human beings. We are the disjointed, soon but not too soon to become, Great Consciousness of the universe.

      Consciousness provides a needed perspective loop to the natural brain, and even though the brain changes, does our consciousness truly change? It is neutral. It simply observes, we are observers. The only true, constant part of us that never quite changes. Everything else is more transient.

      We are not our thoughts, our emotions, beliefs, our reflection, our calculation, our intelligence, that all occurs regardless of our awareness. All our motor functions and speech and behaviour, it happens regardless, and science has shown we run on autopilot most the time. All physical parts, and therefore mental, are replaced and rebuilt every year, every cell. however, consciousness arises from the overall pattern and network of the mind, it is not any sole area of the brain. It's holistic. We think we are our personality, but that's a persona that arises out of societal interaction, a mask for various situations, and that would happen regardless of our greater awareness, animals do this too.

      When we sit in meditation, when we "observe" our behaviour, if we are not the stream of thoughts, if we are not the ego, who is watching?

      But when we become aware, without becoming entangled, we realize.

      We are the great third eye of the growing brain of the universe, and we will become the natural force that will unify it all. But that'll be millions of years later.

      For now I'm just watching the world fall apart, hopefully for the last time, before we rise into the new age of technology as we truly should. There is no death because we were never alive nor dead, we simply were. Consciousness arises briefly from this phenomenon, and continues in the greater culture. Humans have a form of group consciousness, we just havn't refined it yet like we know how to refine an individual awareness. We rise up briefly, but one day the consciousness will transcend the temporary existence of one body and encompass many. Everyone will still be an individual, but the awareness will be of many. Or many it already is?

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    10. I meant to say "dualism or metaphysical idealism." Consciousness is still pretty mysterious. There's a worry, then, about the god-of-the-gaps argument, of hiding our fantasies in the phenomena that science hasn't yet explained in impersonal, mechanistic terms. This is what Scott Bakker would say about this kind of Eastern mysticism.

      I try to take an aesthetic view of myths, religions, and even metaphysical systems. I view them as artworks that work mainly if they inspire greater creativity or if they're emotionally moving. The process-theological view of God coming as the endpoint of evolution is interesting. Dawkins says that's more plausible than putting God at the beginning, because the beginning has to be simple rather than complex. (But that kind of logic is badly out of place when engaging in the art, not the science of religious speculation.) This kind of religion is optimistic and comedic rather than tragic--unless we think of unified consciousness as a disaster like communism, the Borg, or some other sort of collectivism.

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