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A short guide for non-believers

November 11, 2012

Disclaimer

Some readers may find the following blog post as boring, others as too complicated. Some readers may regard it as philosophical table talk, others as pure nonsense. If any of this applies, skip this post, the next post will be different. If this is still not satisfactory, forget about the blog. This is not a commercial operation and nobody is hurt, if you never again visit this page.

Religious persons may find the content of this text offensive, annoying, or disturbing. Skip this post.

Proceed at your own peril.

Intro

Regular reader of this blog know already that I keep my belief system lean and are ready to question even the most basic beliefs which are normally referred to as “common knowledge” or “established facts”. People with such an attitude are called skeptics.

Skeptics are usually not liked and viewed as difficult characters and as spoilers, the authorities consider them to be trouble makers, to be dangerous and rebellious.

The main reason for my skepticism is the realization, that our limited senses and our limited cognition (processing capacity, acumen, imagination) doesn’t allow us to see the world around us as it is. What we consider as reality is only an abbreviated and grossly simplified picture of the world reconstructed by our brain from the incoming sensory signals.

If the picture reconstructed in our brain is incomplete, the incoming sensory signals are even more incomplete because of severe sensory limitations. We hear only a small spectrum of acoustic waves (16 to 18,000 Hz), we see only a tiny spectrum of the electromagnetic waves (the visible light), we cannot see, hear, or feel molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, anti matter, and what else may be around us, invisible and imaginable and only existing as assumptions of various scientific speculations.

We also cannot grasp the size of the earth or the sun or the distances between the planets and solar systems and galaxies, everybody who claims that he can imagine this is not serious. We even don’t know if other solar systems or galaxies really exist and if the solar system is built exactly as we envision it now.

All we have as evidence are the incoming electromagnetic waves (radio waves, light, x-rays, gamma rays) and scientific theories. Gravitational waves, which according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity could be emitted by supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes would be a strong prove of the existence of this cosmic objects and also a validation of several scientific theories but until now the various gravitational wave detectors that were built in the USA, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, and elsewhere have failed to clearly ascertain this physical phenomenon.

All this is only mentioned to make the point that our view of the world is primarily based on scientific theories which one could also call rightfully scientific speculation. If a theory works (meaning that it is validated by yielding useful results) it is widely accepted till another theory delivers even better results.

This happened with Aristotelian mechanics, which was replaced by the theories of Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, which were then amended or replaced by classical (Newtonian) mechanics, which in turn was in certain areas amended or replaced by Einstein’s relativity and quantum mechanics.

Classical mechanics, relativity, and quantum mechanics are not completely compatible with each other, which consolidates the suspicion of skeptical persons, that these are indeed scientific speculations and not “the real thing.”

Back to our limited senses and our limited cognition: If our senses would have a wider reach, another limitation would be our brain, which is already overwhelmed by the comparatively small and incomplete data samples provided by our limited senses.

Our brain has to check the signals of audition (hearing), vision (sight), gustation (taste), olfaction (smell), tactician (touch), equilibrioception (balance), thermoception (warm, cold), proprioception (kinesthetic sense), nociception (pain). Various other sensors inside our body (stretch receptors, chemoreceptors) are processed autonomously or in dedicated parts of the brain.

The brain can only cope with the immense amount of sensory data by checking for familiar patterns in the incoming data stream and setting aside or simply ignoring data groups which are assumed to belong to a familiar occurrence around us.

When we enter a room, our brain doesn’t check every single item and every detail, it searches for familiar shapes (tables, chairs, windows) and puts these data aside, processing only the areas that cannot be easily classified. When we go to a place that we know well, our memory of this place is compared with the incoming data and only the differences are more closely scrutinized.

As it is impossible to pay attention to every single input that is presented, the brain skips whole areas and works with predictions, which can result in an effect known as  “perceptual blindness.” The “invisible gorilla test,” is a well documented and often repeated study where a short video of baseball players is shown. The viewers are asked to count the number of ball passes. In this video suddenly a person wearing a gorilla suit walks through the scene, completely ignored by the baseball players. More than half of the viewers don’t see the gorilla, they are too busy counting the passes.

Which proves, that we often see, what we expect to see, and not what our senses report.

The closing point at the end of this preface is the cognitive limitation of our brain. Our working memory (also called “central executive”) can only compare, correlate, equate between 8 and 16 items, which is not much when the world around us is, as many scientist now speculate, a nonlinear dynamical system with an infinite number of forces/vectors/movements influencing each other in the big flow of matter/energy that constitutes our universe.

It is my supposition that the universe in not only queerer than we imagine, is queerer than we can imagine.” (J.B.S. Haldane)

Pattern recognition is more capable and can discover, compare, merge, blend complex structures which our rational thinking (reasoning) with its 8 to 16 item limit never would be able to even detect. Intuition, vision, and creative phantasy are based on pattern recognition, they are certainly powerful cognitive tools to understand the world, but they only go that far.

This introduction should make clear, that we cannot necessarily rely on our senses and our cognition, which are both inadequate and unreliable. We have to accept, that our knowledge of the world is based on assumptions, speculations, beliefs and we have to be ready to change these assumptions at any time.

The hierarchy of beliefs (assumptions)

The term belief in this context could as well be replaced by the terms axiom, assumption, guess, speculation, theory, hypothesis, conjecture, presumption, supposition, opinion.

 Antonyms would be: truth, fact, reality, proof.

The leading paragraphs wanted to make clear, that there is no absolute proof possible because of our sensory and cognitive limitations. There is also no absolute truth and what we experience as reality is the working of neurons inside our brain trying to make sense of the incoming sensory signals. Reality is always our personal reality and the realities of two individuals can significantly differ, as they have different life experiences and accordingly interpret the incoming sensory signals in different ways.

About the facts: One just has to follow news reporting for a longer period to find out, that the “facts on the ground” are twisted, debated, contradicted, ignored, turned on their head, or simply fabricated. 

Everything what is written here is of course an assumption as well, this text will be critically reviewed and corrected every time new data contradicts the here presented assumptions.

To get an idea of the assumptions that constitute ones belief system it can be helpful to draw a map or a graphic chart where the main assumptions and their interconnections and dependencies are shown. Many assumptions are based on other assumptions and if one follows the chain of assumptions there should be one at the end of the chain that is not based on anything.

This underlying primary assumption (axiom, belief) which is not based on anything was maybe thought out by somebody ages ago and taught to generation after generation. It maybe was created intuitively by an individual and tried out and as it worked it was presumed to be true.

The beliefs which constitute ones belief system will often be not clearly shaped and they may morph into each other. The borders and interconnections between beliefs will also be fluid and changeable, in the end it may turn out, that any belief is related to and connected with any other belief.

To keep things clear and simple the visual presentation in a map will make it necessary to create categories where several assumptions/belief are united. The categories may be split or fused if the necessity to create a clear and concise picture demands it.

The following map is a template which suits my personal needs and I publish it because it could be usable by interested readers of this post. It is presented to demonstrate one possible method that the reader could use to get an overview of her or his own belief system.

The foundation of all beliefs in the map are two core beliefs, the belief in the scientific method and in empathy.

The scientific method (trial and error)

According to the dictionary, the scientific method is a bundle of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

The weak points in this definition are 1. the terms “measurable evidence” which leaves out the possibility of a faulty test setup and a biased interpretation of the results, 2. the term “reasoning.” Reasoning (logical thinking) is done by our working memory and has, as was laid out in the introduction, its limits.

The wise man regulates his conduct by the theories both of religion and science. But he regards these theories not as statements of ultimate fact but as art-forms (J.B.S. Haldane)

Despite these weaknesses, the scientific method has proven throughout the history of mankind to be the most useful tool to overcome obstacles, adversities, threats, and improve living quality.

The basic steps are: Formulating a question, making an assumption, developing a test, analyzing and interpreting the results. Replication, peer review, data recording and sharing are additional measures.

Empathy (love, compassion, affection, sympathy, understanding)

This category points to an array of feelings that morph into each other and which most people experience as satisfying, elating, joyful, energizing, and most beneficial for ones health. The term empathy was picked as title because it is used in neurology.

Cogito, ergo sum — if Descartes phrased the foundation of his personal belief system this way it should be appropriate to conclude: I feel empathy, therefore empathy must exist.

Neuroscience says, that responsible for the feeling of empathy are special cells in our brain, called “mirror neurons,” which enable us to imitate other creatures and also to some extent comprehend and understand their feelings. Mirror neurons are present in many species and they have the clear benefit that fellow members of the same species are treated more kindly, an approach that overall increases everybody’s chance of survival.

The existence of mirror neurons and the resulting feeling of empathy can easily be explained by evolution and natural selection, even the cross species feeling of empathy can be explained that way: When species, who have to live together and share a common ecosystem, don’t threaten each other or even support each other, they will all together have an easier time, they will more likely survive.

There are several secondary beliefs which can be deduced from the two main beliefs. 

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (an essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky)

The body of scientific theories by Darwin, Wallace, Haldane, Gould, Hauser, Dawkins goes a long way to explain nature, and the principle of natural selection is strikingly simple and easy to understand. Natural selection is of course only a part of the evolutionary process and Darwin himself stated, that the complex and comprehensive phenomenon of evolution could not be fully rendered by any single cause. He wrote: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.”

But even Steven Jay Gould, a fervent critic of “Darwinian fundamentalism” acknowledged, that “Natural selection is an immensely powerful idea with radical philosophical implication.”

Natural selection and feedback loops are the main functions of self organizing/self regulating systems. The (negative) feedback loops will emerge accidentally and create stable parts in the system, the unstable parts will decay and disappear. 

Neuroscience, linguistics, psychology

If one subscribes to a belief system, that is based on the assumption that our senses and cognitive abilities are limited, knowledge about the working of the sensory system, the brain, and the whole nervous system is obviously very helpful to get an idea about the scope and nature of the limitations.

This knowledge will not allow us to break out of our cognitive cage, but it will help to sort out faulty impressions, postulations, beliefs that were caused by the limits and flaws of our senses and our brain.

For instance: The realization that words are memory clusters in our cerebral cortex will prevent us from assuming that words, a combination of words, or phrases are a solid basis for conclusions, are the absolute truth, and necessarily represent reality.

Words can be viewed as link-lists that include the acoustic and visual representation of the word, links to related words, links to episodic memories, to pictures, to emotions, even to muscle reflexes.

Linguistics and psychology can be understood as phenomenological branches of neurology and can be very helpful tools to document and explain neurological/psychological conditions/penomena. They also connect neurology with other human sciences.

I do not agree with Patricia and Paul Churchland, that psychology (they call it “folk psychology”) will be gradually replaced as neurology matures. Neuroscience includes microbiology and network theory, both areas which allow a deep insight into the working of the brain, but use a special terminology that is difficult to apply in a non-academic environment.

A phobia, an obsession, a trauma can be easier explained in psychological terms than by elaborations about the imbalances of certain neurotransmitters or about the “neural code”, network loops, and short circuits.

Psychology can draw from a big body of accumulated knowledge and it would be a shame to discontinue it. There are of course efforts underway to synchronize and cross-link neurology with psychology and in future many scientists will work bilingual, using the terminologies of both fields.

Mathematics (probability theory, chaos theory, information theory, mathematical statistics) 

In fact, words are well adapted for description and the arousing of emotion, but for many kinds of precise thought other symbols are much better (J.B.S. Haldane)

Mathematics can be viewed as a language that is using symbols instead of words. Many of these symbols are representing very complex structures of thought and all symbols are clearly defined. The meaning of mathematical symbols is not debatable.

The use of geometry makes it possible to include visual representations, which contain more information as a combination of words or symbols ever could transport (complex dynamics for example is a vibrant blend of chaos theory, complex analysis and fractal geometry).

Mathematical logic has emerged out of grammar, which is the system used by our brain to organize words. Logic has its limitations but mathematical logic has been enhanced by introducing abstract theoretical constructions, for instance imaginary numbers (i x i = -1).

Mathematician Shinichi Mochizuki, who has proven extremely deep theorems and now seems to be on the verge of solving the riddle of prime numbers uses new mathematical objects, which are abstract entities analogous to more familiar ones such as geometric objects, sets, permutations, topologies, and matrices.

I have included mathematics in my list of secondary beliefs because the mathematical theories of complex nonlinear dynamical systems come very near my intuitive understanding of the world.

Nonlinear means that one variable has an exponent other than one and the output is not proportional to its input. In practical terms: the output becomes less predictable (especially in complex equations), because even the smallest inputs can cause enormous (non-proportional) outputs. In complex equations with many not exactly defined or unknown variables (inputs), the output is indeed unpredictable, the system appears to be chaotic (hence the term chaos theory).

Art and meditation

Art and meditation can be viewed as systematic fitness exercises of the nervous system and the brain, used to increase discipline of the thinking process and to improve control of the body by the nervous system. 

Art, especially music and visual arts, is also an important communication method which complements language and is able to express emotions more intense that language ever could.

A recently released study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, suggests that meditating for just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy. These brain changes suggest that meditation improves people’s ability to regulate their emotions, control their stress levels, and feel empathy for others.

Meditation can be viewed as a combination of three neurological functions:

1. Quieting the brain chatter. 

Brain chatter is the uncontrolled flow of associations leading from one idea to the other. In neurological terms it is a chain reaction of groups of neurons activating another group of connected neurons which in turn activate a third group and so on. Brain chatter is normally going on all the time when the brain is idle and when we are conscious, it is a part of our consciousness and a necessary brain function, but it can be tiring, can be distracting, can slow reactions, can make focusing and systematic work more difficult.

When we are busy processing incoming sensory signals from outside or inside our body, brain chatter stops. Involved are either the glial system via calcium wave signaling, certain inhibitory neurotransmitters, or the fact, that the parts of the brain, which are processing the sensory signals use so much blood supply, that not enough is left for the other brain cells to become active.

As with many other neurological functions, it is likely that the brain chatter is diminished by a combination of all three methods.

2. Focussing

This can mean either focussing on parts of the body or focussing on continuously repeated activities. Focussing on the body starts usually with the area below the belly button and with the activity of breathing, extending later to the spine, to all limps, the facial muscles, certain brain areas (for instance the “third eye,” meaning the working memory/central executive). 

Focussing on parts of the body strengthens the nerve connections to this parts, which subsequently improves control of body functions and movements.

Focussing on continuously repeated activities can mean: chanting mantras or prayers, focussing on breathing, focussing on continuously repeated movements (Tai Chi Chuan, dancing, walking), practicing skills with a continuously repeated sequence of movements in music, sport, and other activities.

3. Balancing or increasing certain neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, endorphin, melatonin)

Paramahansa Yogananda writes in his book “Autobiography of a Yogi,” that “the Master/devotee relationship involves fifty percent the blessings of God.” I was not able to translate this into my atheistic worldview until I found out, that feelings of peace, bliss, elation, are caused by a special combination of neurotransmitters.

Matthieu Ricard, a french buddhist monk, who works as aid, advisor, and interpreter for the Dalai Lama, is often called “the happiest man in the world.” He tells his audience to quietly sit down every day and practice happiness.

Nonviolence, peace, disarmament

To feel peace inside undoubtedly has health benefits and to have peace outside provides security and reduces the risk to get injured or killed by stray bullets. To have peace and no drones flying in the sky reduces the risk of becoming “collateral damage,” meaning getting accidentally killed in a drone strike.

My desire for peace doesn’t mean that I would not fight for my life with all means available, but averting dangerous situations and trying to reduce divisions and tensions in society seems a better way to avoid harm than arming up to the teeth.

There is ample evidence that more weapons mean more violence. The international community acknowledges this by imposing arms embargoes in conflict zones — which are unfortunately most times ignored or only selectively applied to give one party an advantage.

The USA has the highest gun ownership rate in the world (an average of 88 firearms per 100 people), US Americans possess between 240 and 260 million firearms, roughly 40 percent of all globally civilian-owned guns. The homicide rate by firearms is 2.97 per 100.000 people. In 2011 violent crime in the USA rose 18 percent, with assaults increasing 22 percent.

China’s weapons laws are among the world’s toughest and private ownership of rifles and pistols is banned. The rate of homicides by firearms is zero.

Human rights and animal rights

As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields (Leo Tolstoy)

Human rights and animal right cannot be viewed as separate issues, because if the suffering of animals is acceptable the suffering of humans (or certain not well liked humans) becomes more acceptable too. 

As long as humans regard it as normal to slaughter animals for food they will regard it as normal to use violence or go to war when important issues are at stake. As long as humans exploit animals and regard them as property, they will exploit and enslave their fellow humans too.

I live together with a family of cats, a situation that of course significantly shapes my opinion but also gives me critical insight into the similarities and differences between humans and cats.

The physical structures of human and cat brains are very similar; both have the same lobes in the cerebral cortex. Cat brains have a hippocampus, amigdalas, a pineal gland, corpus callosum and anterior commisure, just like the human brain, and they use a very similar set of neurotransmitters. 

Due to this similarities cats feel very similar to us, they experience joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, they moan and rejoice. The cats in my life were all strong and distinct personalities, often so similar to human personalities that it was disturbing and frightening. It was disturbing and frightening because I had taken responsibility for them and had become their custodian.

The cats are my friends and I feel obliged to do everything to make their life worth living.

Friendship, cooperation, social interaction

A deep and lasting friendship can be a wonderful experience, providing security, meaning of life, happiness.

No man is an island. Everybody depends on relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, on the grocery down the street, on the general physician, on the postman, on water and sewage piping systems, on electricity, a functioning internet connection, on garbage collection.

There are people who try to be completely independent (survivalists) and they prepare for a possible future breakdown of civilization. They are hoarding, stockpiling things (that they most times didn’t produce by themselves), yet their supplies will run out one day and then they will parish in the wilderness, if civilization indeed seizes to exist.

We live in a specialized and task-sharing society for 10,000 years or longer, we always were depending on the cooperation and the goodwill of our fellow humans. Our specialization and ensuing dependence has steadily increased in sync with the technical and scientific advances and more complicated social and economic structures.

The belief in friendship and cooperation defies the core believes of capitalism, which sees competition as the natural process to sort out the unfit. Only the strongest and most efficient (meaning: most ruthless) competitors survive and pass on their superior genes. Cooperation, altruism, charity only dilute this natural process.

8 A short guide for non-believers b

Determinism, reductive materialism

The notion of “free will,” is the main incompatibility and the key friction point between a metaphysical/theological and a materialistic/deterministic view of the world.

In our daily life we assume (and hope) that our fellow human beings act reasonable and predictable, which means that they follow their ambitions and behave according to their experiences, their education, their intellectual capacity. We try to find out the motives for certain actions and if someone behaves erratically we usually don’t consider this as a manifestation of free will but rather as a sign of mental illness.

If somebody behaves irresponsible or commits a crime we normally don’t just shrug and define this as his or her free choice. We will search for the motives of the misbehavior or crime and most often we will find an explanation in the past of the perpetrator. 

The notion of free will is not applicable in our daily life! If everybody really could decide either way, if everybody indeed could defy the instincts, emotions, influences, experiences, there would be chaos, there would be no predictability, no planning, no concerted communal activities, no social system.

Free will is a metaphysical concept and is incompatible with science, logic, and common sense.

Scientific and technological progress

As much as I despise the present unjust, exploitative, and unsustainable system, I would very much like to preserve useful infrastructure (electric power, communication, public transport, public education, health services, manufacturing of indispensable goods) and seamlessly integrate it into a new system. This is only possible with specialized knowledge, this is only possible using the newest findings of science and technology.

For example: Advanced methods of logistics would make it possible to build a perfect supply chain with optimized material flows using standardized containers, railways, and vans to bring the goods from the railway station to the end user.

New technologies would make it possible to produce products in small numbers and market them locally (more about this later in the text).

New developments in medicine and telecommunication would make it possible to close big hospitals and care for the patients in small local clinics or at home.

Computer technology and the internet would make direct democracy possible by placing computers in the meeting rooms of “neighborhood committees” to be used in weekly voting about pending issues. 

Well proven scientific theories like classical mechanics and thermodynamics

Classical mechanics describes the motion of macroscopic objects, from vehicles, falling trees and stones, to parts of machinery. It is also useful to predict the behavior of gases and liquids. Classical mechanics provides accurate results as long as it is restricted to large objects and the speeds involved do not approach the speed of light.

Thermodynamics is important for engineering (engines, phase transitions, transport), materials science, chemistry and chemical engineering, cell biology and biomedical engineering, to name just the most important fields.

Thermodynamic systems are theoretical constructions used to model physical systems which exchange matter and energy in terms of the four laws of thermodynamics.

Discipline, planning, tidiness, well organized and systematic work

The belief in discipline, planning, tidiness should be self evident, they have proven as useful throughout human history. Most communities have emergency plans, most working environments require discipline, without planning and discipling there would be inefficiency, duplication, waste, chaos.

When one builds a road, one first has to know the direction, one also needs to have knowledge about statics and material sciences and one has to map the terrain and consider how to bypass hills and how to bridge rivers. One has to come to an agreement with the landowners and if this is all done one finally can start to organize the workers, machines, and building materials.

Without extensive planning infrastructure projects, governing on any levels, and preparation for emergencies would not be possible.

Environmentalism, habitat protection and rehabilitation

Thousands of chemicals in our daily life are contaminating our food and unsurprisingly the chemicals are potentially harmful. These compounds are synthetic, they are created by human technology, they were not there before and the creatures of this planet, including humans, didn’t have a chance to adapt their biological processes to the new substances.

The organ systems of animals or humans mistake many of these chemicals for other, familiar substances, resulting in the disruption of important body functions with unforeseeable and often severe consequences (allergies, general weakening of the immune system, cancer, and various organic diseases).

The biodiversity of the rainforests is severely threatened because the forests have been subjected to heavy logging and agricultural clearance throughout the 20th century. Rainforests once covered 14 percent of the earth’s land surface; now they cover not more than 6 percent and experts project that the last remaining areas could be consumed in less than 40 years.

Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers, and fires (an estimated number of 2,700 million acres are burned each year), the destroyed areas are used for farming and ranching operations, attracting corporate giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Georgia Pacific, Texaco, and Unocal.

As the area covered by forests around the world is shrinking, large numbers of species lose their habitat and are driven to extinction. The destruction of virgin rainforests causes between 200 and 600 species extinctions per day. 

The oceans are in distress by acidification (with pH levels as low as 7.7) and warming waters, resulting in coral reef bleaching and coral die-off. The oceans are further threatened by the devastating effects of oil spills (Ixtoc, Gulf War Kuwait, Deepwater Horizon), by steadily expanding dead zones caused by fertilizer runoff and other pollutants, and by the great pacific trash vortex (garbage patch/garbage gyre).

Plastic debris continues to kill marine life and commercial over-exploitation of the world’s fish stocks has resulted in the exhaustion of half of global fisheries. Between 30 and 36 percent of critical marine environments — such as sea grasses, mangroves and coral reefs — are estimated to have been destroyed.

In addition to overfishing, pollution, acidification, and warming waters, navy sonar blasts, algae blooms, and other human induced disturbances contribute to population declines and extinctions.

Humans have caused the greatest mass extinction since the annihilation of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet began about 11,000 years ago. Main causes beside predatory killing are habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. The present rate of extinctions is estimated to be 140,000 species per year. 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans have disappeared, 20 percent of vertebrates are endangered. If present trends continue, half of all species on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years.

Equality and social justice

If empathy and compassion alone are not sufficient motivation to distribute the available resources justly and help everybody in need, the social tensions and aggressions, that result from inequality should be reason enough to close the income gap and keep the difference between the richest and the poorest members of society small.

The picture of homeless persons, of families relying on food stamps, of people who cannot afford medical treatment, of people who ruin their health because of overworking and bad working conditions while on the other side the super-rich frolic on their super-yachts, this picture is disturbing and such a situations is not worthy of an advanced civilized society.

Equality and social justice can be achieved through progressive taxation, income redistribution, and property redistribution (land reform).

Local based small scale economies

Conventional wisdom holds that capital cost per unit of capacity decline with increasing unit size and for decades it was the universally accepted dogma that bigger factories and bigger distribution networks are more efficient. Food once grown on small family plots now comes from factory farms. Vessels that carried 2,000 tons of cargo have been replaced by modern container ships that routinely move 100,000 tons and more.

New technologies (computing, better sensors, advanced communication) yet make it possible to produce products in small numbers and market them in small areas, small-unit production provides significant flexibility and makes it possible to offer customized products and services to a limited number of local customers.

In addition to the mentioned advantages the material flows of small local productions for local markets are radically reduced, which means less pollution and fuel consumption by transport. Small local workshops are also more likely locally owned or community owned and the temptation to contaminate the production site with toxic chemicals is reduced.

Shop-in-a-Box from Re-Char is a fully functioning, off-the-grid factory inside a shipping container. The unit contains:

A CNC table capable of running a plasma torch or wood-cutting router, 2 plasma torches — one for CNC use, one for hand operation, full MIG, TIG, and oxyacetylene welders to join a wide variety of metals, electronics prototyping, focused on through-hole components and arduino microcontrollers, a 3D printer, a desktop aluminum-capable CNC router, Computers and software. There are of course also various small hand and power tools — everything one would expect in a well-equiped garage.

For use in developing countries the unit can be outfitted with:

Solar panels plus batteries and inverters, adequate to power the shop’s computers and hand tools, a generator adequate to power the shop while the welders and plasma CNC do production work, transformers for smoothing irregular grid power. A DVR with 4 cameras to easily record and document all details of a project.

I wrote already enough about gardening and small scale farming in this blog, so I leave that aspect of small scale economies out for now.

Culture, cultural diversity, and tradition

Culture and tradition are a backbone of every society. They provide the familiar surrounding that any human being needs to feel at home, to feel secure and at peace. Culture and tradition help to transfer knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation, they provide basic social rules and moral frameworks.

Culture and traditional values can become detrimental if they are not adjusted to social and environmental changes and are not anymore reflecting the current situation. Because tradition and culture can be a hinderance to social change every progressive social movement has to develop its “counter-culture” in time to replace the old cultural norms and traditions.

Most prominent non-beliefs

If beliefs are selected by their usefulness, than ”non-beliefs” have to be defined by the harm and waste, that they cause. Primary harmful beliefs are religions, ideologies, superstitions, myths, secondary harmful beliefs are racism (white supremacy), nationalism, exceptionalism, speciecism, and the allegiance to cults, political parties, and other organizations who depend on the exploitation of their membership. Tertiary harmful beliefs are for example the belief in the benefit of global trade and free markets, the belief in a green economy as the ultimate solution (silver bullet) to all environmental problems, the belief in the power of mass protests, the belief in representative democracy, the belief in the inevitability of a proletarian revolution, the belief in the second coming, the belief that good will prevail against evil and justice will be achieved in the end.

One has to distinguish between hope and belief. To hope, that good will prevail against evil and justice will be achieved is legitimate, the hope of impoverished, suppressed, exploited people in the possibility of a proletarian revolution is legitimate. The belief in the possibility may sometimes be justified, the belief in the inevitability could be a dangerous and misleading illusion.

Further tertiary harmful beliefs are the belief in UFOs, alien abductions, conspiracy theories (new world order), the belief in political promises, the belief in the integrity of journalism and the truthfulness of news reporting, the belief in consumerism, advertising claims, and the chance of winning a jackpot.

About religion (more to come later)

Religious beliefs undoubtedly have their benefits. They alleviate the fear of death, they sometimes help to stabilize society by declaring rules and laws (Decalogue), they can be a framework or vehicle for mind-body interventions (praying can be meditation, art can be embedded in religious practices). Religion can also be a bearer of cultural traditions and the wisdom of the elders.

There can be no truce between science and religion (J.B.S. Haldane)

But all these benefits are far outweighed by the damage that religion causes.

Jjihadists wreck Middle Eastern countries, Hindu mobs ransack Muslim and Christian villages, pedophile Catholic clergymen abuse children in their care, US evangelicals are supporting right wing causes and are promoting homophobia.

Religion is misused by the ruling classes to oppress and exploit the population, to stifle dissent and preserve the status quo. Religion is used to divide people, to breed sectarian strife, to justify the stigmatization and castigation of minorities, to legitimize imperial conquests and genocide.

Religion turns people into obedient servants of the rulers and into stolid cannon fodder for wars. Examples:

The Crusades

The religious wars in Europe following the Protestant reformation (Thirty Years War, French Wars)

The dissolution of colonial India into India and Pakistan (Hindus – Muslims)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Jews – Muslims)

The Northern Ireland conflict (Catholics – Protestants)

The civil wars in Lebanon and Sudan (Muslims – Christians)

Religious leadership is always hierarchical and all major religions strengthen and protect the patriarchal order. Women are discriminated, suppressed, marginalized in all major religions.

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I didn’t want to end this blog post that abruptly but I just realized that I again have surpassed the 6,000 words mark and that I should stop writing. To the reader who has progressed until here: My admiration for your endurance. Consider this as a cliffhanger — if I survive the next days there will be a sequel.

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