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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Recently, Parapsychologist Dr. Barry Taff posted a rant about how the world of parapsychology is full of crazy people. That mental unhealth is a big and growing problem in the subculture of people who believe in psionic powers or in ghosts or aliens. But is this really true? Blogger Keir Liddle posted a reply that denounced this theory.

However, Liddle’s argument for why there wouldn’t be any link between parapsychology and insanity seems to be focused on an the alternative theory: The theory that Taft is a bad unethical person who just want people to feel sorry for him. Such a defense is extremely weak: Even if these accusations were justified, they still wouldn’t rule out that Taff is also right.

Reading Taff’s post, I assume that he isn’t trying to prove anything. (I also assume that he faked names and such for his example cases.) Rather, he’s merely ranting about a problem that worries and frustrate him. If he actually did try to prove anything, it failed: Even if the cases he presents are entirely accurate, they are still merely a few individual cases. Surely there are some unbalanced individuals within every subculture, every system of belief, every group of people who share mutual hobby, or whatever.

Anecdotal evidence is weak, even if we don’t take into account the phenomenon that I have previously named Professional Bias: As a professional compared to an experienced private person, he is more likely to encounter the crazy ones and less likely to have good counterweights to those experiences.

Lets take five hypothetical persons. Andrea, Betty, Caroline, Dana and Erica. A, B, C, D and E for short.

A. has some mysterious experiences, which cannot easily be explained by science. They seem unlikely to be dreams or hallucinations. However, her own memory is all that remains of these experiences, and she know she can’t reproduce them in a laboratory.
B. has some clearly supernatural experiences, usually at night or when she’s high. These experiences might be be dreams or drug-induced hallucinations, or they might be something else.
C. is a mythomaniac, a habitual liar who will tell any story that will get her attention. She is not insane in any way. Merely insecure and starved for attention, hoping that people will like her more if she make up stuff to make herself seem more interesting. Over time, she may even come to believe her own lies, having internalized them in her identity. She might not even tell any outright lies: If she has an experience, she will simply interpret it in the way that will make her seem most interesting.
D. is Schizophrenic. She can not distinguish any clear line between dreams, fantasies and reality. She may be hearing voices and seeing things.
E. is a manipulator who make things up in a calculated way, designed to maneuver people into positions where she can use them. She may tell them whatever she think they want to hear, or whatever she think will give a reaction that is useful for her.

Of these five characters, which one is most likely to seek out a doctor of parapsychology? Surely not A! It is extremely likely that a lot of people in the parapsychology subculture has a lot in common with one or several of these five fictional persons. How common each of them is, we can only guess. But it is likely that a parapsychologist will get more and more frustrated with encountering case after case of C, D and E, as well as with his own inability to distinguish between these five kinds.

Doctors are not the only one’s who are vulnerable. Anyone can be sucked in by the destructive sides of of D and E, or reinforce the self-destructive sides of C and D. Therefore, such people have every reason to flock to such subcultures, where their grandiose claims cannot be disproven. However, this does not mean that we should assume that every person who has “supernatural” experiences is delusional or lying. The question is if we dare to let the unexplained remain unexplained?

Finding answers
It is part of human nature to want answers. In the few centuries it has existed, science has already given us more answers than anything else in the history of mankind. It keeps giving new answers, but it also keeps raising new questions. And it is often slow with providing the answers we seek. Religion and pseudoscience is much quicker to provide an answer that feels good although it is empty or inaccurate or both. To simply reject the question fills the same function.

The reasonable answer to our fictional Andrea is that we don’t know for sure what her experience was. If it wasn’t one of the options we already know about, then it is something we will discover in the future. The pseudoscientist, the priest or the magician will be able to quickly give her a definite answer to exactly what her experience was, but there is no guarantee that this answer is anything but nonsense. It might even be dangerous nonsense, if a part of the answer is that she need to give them her time and money or that she must reject mainstream society or be shamed of herself.

If we demand a quick answer to what to think of her, we cannot stick to reasonable science. We can pick some unreliable answer from pseudoscience, fiction, or belief in religion or magic. If we don’t want to do that either, all that remain is to decide that she simply must be delusional or lying. It might not be fair, but it is easy for us.

One basic thing to understand about science is that it has room for things called supernatural or magical. It is only “supernatural” and “magical” as concepts it doesn’t have room for. In a scientific worldview, the laws of reality are descriptions of how reality does work. Not edicts of what reality ought to be. Breaking the laws of reality is not forbidden, but merely impossible. If someone breaks the laws of nature as we know them, then our knowledge of the laws of nature is proven to be incomplete. Therefore, the concepts of “supernatural” and “unnatural” are nonsense concepts: If something exists, it’s very existence proves that it can indeed exist and must thus be considered natural.

Science keeps finding new natural things that we didn’t know about yet. There is no reason to believe that this process has suddenly stopped, so that all unexplained experiences from now on deserves to be categorized as lies or delusions. Throughout history, these discoveries have often surpassed our wildest fantasies. There is no reason to believe that this will change in the future. However, the discoveries so far has never (or at least hardly ever) proven discredited pseudoscience to actually be right after all. There is no reason to believe that this will change either.

As my final word on this subject, I would like to tell about when my mother saw a UFO. She had seen a flying object that looked truly alien. She was convinced it came from another solar system. My father was convinced that she has imagined the whole thing. The truth was revealed a decade later, as the US government admitted the existence of the stealth bomber.

Hem ljuva hem. Och vattnet har börjat dra sig tillbaka. Observera den förbipasserande indonesiska tjejen klädd i vit klänning. Hon har hittat något exotiskt att fotografera. Inte översvämningen, (sådana är de vana vid,) utan mig, :-)

Hem ljuva hem. Och vattnet har börjat dra sig tillbaka. Observera den förbipasserande indonesiska tjejen klädd i vit klänning. Hon har hittat något exotiskt att fotografera. Inte översvämningen, (sådana är de vana vid,) utan mig, 🙂


Det gågna året har vait mycket spännande och lärorikt för mig. Mitt halvår i Indonesien lider nu så sakteliga mot sitt slut.

Här i Jakarta finns det två årstider. Torrbastu och våtbastu. Så här i juletider är det våtbastu som gäller. Just nu har det regnat och blåst så mycket att det inte ens är särskilt varmt, utan mer som en vanlig svensk sommar.

Idag är det söndagen den 23:e december. I förrgår var det fredagden den 21:a, slutet på mayakalenderns långa år. Dagen till ära hade jag en liten nylångårsfest, för att fira att ett långt år är slut och nästa börjar. Festen hade inget med jordens undergång att göra: Undergångstemat sparar jag i en dryg vecka, till den 31:a december. Då slutar nämligen vår egen kalender, så jag funderar på att ha en liten fest på temat att kalenderns slut måste innebära Jordens Undergång.

En av festdeltagarna var en universitetsstudent som är ateist och bisexuell. För ett tag sedan berättade hon detta för sin pappa, vilket ledde till att hon blev utkastad hemmifrån. Att hon blir kär i tjejer kunde han smälta, men inte att hon förnekar Allah och Koranen.

Tyvärr var hon tvungen att gå tidigt. Den släkting hon bor hos ville inte att hon skulle vara på fest med folk som inte är troende. Därmed missade hon tyvärr en annan gäst som jag hade velat presentera henne för, en av ledarna för gayorgaisationen Arus Pelangi. Organisationens namn betyder ”Flödande Regnbåge” på Bahasa Indonesia.

En av mina närmaste vänner sov över efter festen. På lördagen försökte vi åka och handla mat. Det regnade rätt ordentligt, så vi försökte beställa en taxi. De svarade att de inte tar några beställningar, att vi kan ringa igen om några timmar. Sålunda gick vi istället ner till swimmingpoolen. Jag bor i en byggnad som består av två skyskrapor med en liten park med pool mellan sig. Vi simmade en stund i kompakt ösregn, med åska och dunder i bakgrunden. Detta var det i särklass värsta regnet hittills denna regnperiod.

Efter badet gick vi ner till gatan och vadade till Pizza Hut för lite middag. Vadade, eftersom vägen för första och kanske sista gången i år hade förvandlats till en flod. Diverse barn och tonåringar simmade längs gatan. Själva valde vi att promenera, eftersom vattnet var rätt smutsigt och eftersom vi ville ha torra kläder när vi satt på restaurangen.

En av mina andra indonesiska vänner (som jag chattade med på smartphonen) tyckte att jag borde simma på gatan, bara för att ha den historien att berätta för mina vänner i Sverige. Hon har en poäng. Att vada fick räcka för mig. Sistnämna kompis är för övrigt också ateist från en muslimsk familj. Hon är öppen inför familjen, och de accepterar henne till fullo som hon är. Dock är de rätt oroliga för att någon skall ge sig på henne. Tjejen som sov över och var med och vadade är däremot praktiserande muslim.

Bjällerklang i köpcentrat!

I dessa juletider är det fär övrigt gott om granar och snö här i Jakarta. Dock mestadels inomhus, och i första hand koncentrerat till shoppinggalleriorna. Snön är ofta gjord av bomull, granarna av metall. Jul är en populär helg här, inte minst bland den muslimska befolkningsmajoriteten. Detta helt oavsett att vissa konservativa grupper är rysligt irriterade över julen, och gnäller om den varje år. Precis som på den gamla goda tiden! Julfirandet verkar mest handla om presenter och exotiska tomtar här, precis som i Sverige. Den stora skillnaden är att man i det här landet inte firar julen till åminnelse av Kalle Anka.

Med dessa ord önskar jag er alla en riktigt god jul!
Varma julhälsningar från Xzenu

Only good in good context

Only good in good context


Pretty much everyone would agree that some sexual behaviors are destructive and immoral and that some sexual behaviors are not. But that is where the global consensus ends. There are many disagreements over what is destructive and what is not, what is immoral and what is not.

What is immoral depends on what you base your morality on. If your only moral norm is…
1. …consent, then anything done against the other person’s will is immoral, while everything that everyone involved freely agrees on (without coercion, deceit or similar) is good.
2. …utilitarism, then anything that create more harm than happiness is bad, while anything that creates more happiness than harm is good.
3. …Culture or religion, then those who can enforce their own interpretation of the culture or religion on others get a free license do anything to anyone while condemning anyone for anything.

The principles of consent and embracing happiness while avoiding destructiveness are two very different principles, but they go very well together. As I have argued before, respect and maximization of outcome should always be combined with each other, and also with empathy.

As for culture and religion, they can be used to argue for good moral standards, not only for bad ones. But it is very important that actual morality comes first: That the interpretation of culture or religion conform to what is respectful and non-destructive. It is not okay to define something as a priorirespectful and non-destructive, no matter how it affects people. It is not okay to misuse culture or religion to justify oppression or abuse.

However. Culture and the social norms aspects of religion can greatly affect to what extent a certain situation is destructive or not. Three factors are fairly simple: Stigmatization, and two phenomena derived from stigmatization – internalized categorism and secrecy.

1. Stigmatization: It is harmful for a person to be viewed by others as being dirty, defiled, broken, sinful, worthless, or some shit like that.
2. Internalized Categorism: The above problem becomes much worse if the person internalizes such stereotypes and make the a part of his or her self-image.
3. Secrecy: To make something a secret is to make it dangerous. Lets say that two women are on a date. One of them have friends and family who knows about the date. The other does not. The first woman can discuss the date beforehand, get good advice and so on. If something happens to her, her friends know where she is. They can call the police or whatever the situation demands, and they can support her afterward. The other woman gets no support and no safety net. If she ended up with a guy who seemed nice but turned out to be a rapist, she can’t even talk with anyone about it afterward. She must keep it secret, thus adding to the trauma. In some cases, this even adds a risk of extortion: The rapist can threaten to expose his victim as someone who is no longer a virgin.

These problems are pretty straight-forward. But there’s also a more complex interaction between social norms and the effects of sexuality. When a sexual interaction (or other social interaction) happens between individuals, on what terms does it happen?

Yesterday, I read an interesting BBC article about a sexual minority organization in India. The article mentioned an Indian doctor who argued for an opinion that used to be popular among western doctors but is now rapidly falling out of fashion in the west. The opinion that it is inherently destructive if you need a certain form of sexuality to function sexually. In other words, it is destructive to be homosexual but not bisexual, or, as in this case, destructive to be a sadomasochist if it is an integrated part of your sex-life but not if it is just a little spice. Heterosexual man-on-woman intercourse was not mentioned, but one can assume that the doctor would not consider it unhealthy to need that particular sex act to be part of one’s sexual life.

If a certain couple live our their sexuality in a way they both enjoy… a way that they are happy with and have chosen together… why would this be inherently destructive, even if their particular way doesn’t happen to be mainstream? No good reason whatsoever. However, this doctor had some examples. And they were not that kind of examples at all.

His examples were of couples where one was a sadomasochist and the other was not. A couple where one was a sadomasochist who was trying to make his wife (or her husband) participate in sadistic sexual acts that this person really didn’t want to participate in. He didn’t say anything more about this. He didn’t say if there was coercion involved. He left this to our imagination. And my imagination is this…

A man and a woman gets married. They don’t know each other, they didn’t chose each other. It was an arranged marriage. A divorce would be a social disaster. The wife not getting pregnant would also be a social disaster. And so would her getting pregnant with anyone other than her husband. They are trapped. Stuck with each other. It suddenly becomes very important that they by pure chance just happens to be sexually compatible with each other. And their best chance for that is if they are both as mainstream as possible. Average heterosexuals who’s sexual needs are focused on the very act of producing children.

But lets say that one of them is an exclusive sadomasochist. A person who can only experience sexual pleasure through expressions of sadomasochistic sexuality. This would be horrible for at least one of them, most likely the woman. The culture does not value her pleasure and her needs as much as it values the pleasure and needs of the man. But more importantly, she can get pregnant even if the sex is joyless or outright traumatic. The man must experience pleasure. Without his erection, without his orgasm, she will not get pregnant. Without her lubrication, the intercourse is likely to be painful in a bad way for her. It might also damage her vagina. However, she can still get pregnant.

Therefore, they can just skip doing any BDSM if she’s the one who is an exclusive sadomasochist. The will just have to submit to “normal” sex that is boring at best and traumatic at worst. She is likely to become very unhappy and resentful, she is likely to start hating sex and sexual feelings. But she will have the child that society requires her to have. However, if he is the one who is the exclusive sadomasochist, her situation is even worse. She will have to accept getting whipped or whatever – If he doesn’t get it up, there will be no pregnancy and no child.

Of course, I he’s an exclusive homosexual then their situation might be even worse. The popular television series Game of Thrones had such a scene. A wife making futile attempts to seduce her husband. She’s doing everything right, and doesn’t show any resentment for the fact that he is gay. But there is really nothing she can do to solve this problem and get the pregnancy they both so desperately need. This particular scene is fictional, of course. But lots of similar cases are bound to have happened in real life throughout history. Many traditional cultures harbor a huge resentment against male homosexuality, while female homosexuality simply isn’t taken seriously. I used to believe that this was primarily because of the risk of venereal diseases that comes with unprotected intercourse promiscuity – combined with a society that doesn’t know about viruses and bacteria, instead interpreting diseases as evil spirits or divine retribution. I still think this is one of the major reasons for oldschool homophobia. But the impact male exclusive homosexuality has on the production of children in arranged marriages might be an even bigger source of resentment.

However, categories such as heterosexual and homosexual are somewhat artificial. A man who fits in the category of “exclusive homosexual” is still usually capable to make a woman pregnant. He can think about men while having sex with er, or he can have a threesome with her and a man he finds attractive. However, both these options depend heavily on how he view himself and how he view sexuality. The second option also depend on the social control in the society he lives in. In many societies, it could be devastating to his “honor” to invite another man to share his wife’s bed. Thus, when society regards sexuality and shameful and sinful, that is when male homosexuality really becomes the most problematic for reproduction. It is hardly surprising that the societies that are most repressive against sexuality as such also are the ones that are the most repressive against homosexuality.

When a person doesn’t fit into the social norms, this can be seen either as the norms being wrong or as the individual being wrong for not fitting in.

When two people doesn’t fit together, this can be seen as them being a bad match for each other. That they should both get new partners that they fit together with better. Or, it can be seen as one of them being a bad person who is wrong for not fitting together with the partner. You can assign one gender to be the good gender and the other to be the bad gender. So that it is always the woman’s fault, or always the man’s fault. Or, you can assign an arbitrary social norm, and blame the one who deviates the most from this norm. There will always be “deviations” to blame, since nobody is truly “normal”. So you will have to keep competing about who ca be the most judgmental, and who can establish the latest list of excuses for condemnation.

For a society to be healthy, it needs to be free and open. On all levels. What is regarded as acceptable or unacceptable must be built on reality and respect for each individual. Not on someone’s “right” to another person. And not on the idea that everyone must fit into the same mold, so that those who don’t fit must be squeezed into that mold by the force of social, psychological or physical violence.

In a post published a month ago, I argued that we should not see people as evil. This post sparked some debate on facebook and other web communities. One of the first questions I got was “X isn’t evil?”, where X stands for a derogatory label. My response was that we should not reduce a person to being seen as only such a label. And also that we should be careful with how we label behaviors in the first place.

There are at least three kinds of labels here: Labels for behaviors we don’t like, labels for emotions we don’t like, and labels for opinions or beliefs we don’t like.

Using such labels is not necessarily wrong, but we need to be careful with them. In this particular case, the person was flinging around an ambiguous label that applied to another member of the discussion group. This time, the label was “sadist”, and the first person meant it only as a slur for individuals who enjoy bullying. But the word can also mean “Person who is into BDSM, taking the role of top”, which applied to the second person – who naturally felt attacked. The first person quickly clarified that he only meant the word in the other way. A more common variant of the same situation is when someone use “gay” or “jew” as a slur, without actually intending to refer to real life homosexuals or individuals who are born into a Jewish family or embrace the Jewish faith. When you don’t intend to stigmatize sexual, ethnic or religious minorities, it is better to not use such words that way.

Replacing the ambiguous word with the more unambiguous word bully… Is a bully evil? Well, bullying is very bad. “Evil” may or may not be a too strong word, but I’m sure we can agree on the general idea. However, bullying is a bad action. That a person does a bad action does not mean that the person who does it is bad and only bad. Being a bully is bad, but no person is only a bully and nothing but a bully.

When you express dislike more than just disagreement, when you argue that something ought to be stigmatized… there’s a huge difference between doing this against a behavior, an emotion, a belief or an opinion, and on the other hand doing it against a person.

To some extent everybody do bad things and feel bad things. This doesn’t make them outright bad persons, since everybody has both good and bad in them. Arguable, everybody feel really awful things sometimes, as well. Arguably, since many will deny – even to themselves – that they ever have feelings or impulses that it would not be socially appropriate to talk about in public. Regardless of whether or not they actually do. In either case, most people are capable of keeping any bad or unaccepted impulses under control, and chose to do so. We should not have the Orwellian concept of thoughtcrime: We should not condemn people for thinking and feeling things that would become very bad things if they were made real. Condemnation should be reserved for when people actually DO really bad things – including advocacy in favor doing really bad things. Even then we should show restrain in our condemnation, avoid reducing people to being only their bad sides.

As for opinions and beliefs, we must always fight to maintain a balance. Having an opinion or a belief usually include believing that those who doesn’t share the opinion or belief – especially those who negate or invert it – are wrong. This disagreement is something we have to accept. On the other hand, this should not mean that we accept any behavior just for the sake of “agree to disagree”.

We should assume that all humans exists and that all humans are equally human. Reality is real, and it is not a conspiracy. Other people are just as valuable as you are, they are not illusion in your own head or some kinds of machines pretending to be human. Thus, we must give everyone the basic respect that comes with being persons, and acknowledge their Human Rights. This means that our beliefs and identities does not give us a right to have power over other people. Neither within the group or outside of it.

Sadly, it is common to build an identity on dividing people into “us and them” and then argue that the people who are “us” are superior while the people who are “them” are inferior creatures who should not be treated as equals. And then demand respect for this identity. Of course, this is worth nothing but contempt. While such supremacist notions should not be accepted or respected, a word of caution is needed: Identities are usually complex. We can accepts some parts of a person’s identity, while condemning others.

If someone identifies with a certain nationality or religion, encourage them to focus on the good sides of that culture or religion. But don’t let them get away with oppressing or stigmatizing other people for not being them.

An absurd argument that is sometimes voiced is that gay marriage would oppress conservative Christians by denying them their right to discriminate homosexual couples. Or that policies against bullying based on skin-color would oppress white nationalists by denying them their right to trample “der untermench” beneath their feet. Of course, they usually don’t call it oppression, justified or otherwise. They call it “daring to say the truth”, “standing up against the political correctness”, or simply “having a bit of harmless fun (never mind that it is at someone else’s expense, and often doesn’t feel so harmless for those targeted)”.

Categorism against Christianity and nationalism, of course it exists. And we need to stand up against it. For starters, most Christians and most people who love the country they were born in does not base their identity on “us versus them”. They do not consider people inferior for not sharing their religion or geographical origin, and they do not behave in ways that are reasonable to interpret that way. We need to remember this when standing up against homophobia and racism. We must not blame all Christians for homophobia done in the name of Christianity, and we must not blame everybody who have sentimental feelings about their country for racism perpetuated in the name of nationalism.

In my youth, I helped organizing some anti-racist rallies. Back in those days, there was trouble with neonazi organizations. These organizations was hated by pretty much everyone, and some people expressed their dislike by lashing out at symbols the neonazis were using. The Swedish flag. The Swedish national anthem. Thor’s hammer, an ancient symbol in our culture. Claiming these symbols for themselves as copyrighted private property, changing their meaning into expressing hatred for Jews and everyone who is not white. Those who lashed out at the symbols unwittingly helped the racist Hitler-worshippers to establish their ownership over the symbols.

The rallies I participated in organizing took a different path. We waved Swedish flags, and sometimes UN flags too. We sang the Swedish national anthem, among other songs – Swedish and otherwise. Some of us was wearing the Thor’s hammer necklace. We made our point, that Swedish culture belong to all swedes – including new swedes and all those who welcome them. Hating those you don’t consider Swedish doesn’t make you more Swedish, and it doesn’t give you any special right to our mutual heritage.

Today, the same mistake of lashing out blindly is being repeated. People are righteously outraged with the barbarism of Islamic dictatorship and totalitarian Islamist groups. To show their outrage, they fight to give these very dictatorships and groups ownership over all Muslims and over Islam itself.

Meanwhile, the whining about skin-color continues. Recently, the festival known as “Lucia” was celebrated. It is an pagan festival originally known as “Lusse”, later using the catholic saint Lucia as it’s excuse to live on in a culture where Christianity was the only permitted religion. One Swedish school put a girl of African heritage in the role of Lucia, and of course there was a lot of outrage and hatred from the “You have no right to call us racist, you should call us brave instead” subculture. Some bullshit about how this celebration oppressed their right to live in a country where only white people are included in the ancient traditions.

Sorry guys. The right to oppress is not a human right. On the contrary, the final paragraph of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights is: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

The fact that you don’t get to oppress others don’t make you victims of oppression.

earthWhen you ask yourself what is meaningful in your life, you should start with asking to whom it is meaningful. Is it meaningful for yourself, meaningful for other people, meaningful for some kind of higher power, or meaningful for life itself? Or perhaps a balance between these different levels of meaning?

Meaningful for yourself
Your life is your own, and it is full of whatever you fill it with. If you find something meaningful, then this something is meaningful. So develop your interests and desires, make your life emotionally rich. However, please remember that the live of any other person is his or her own, just like your is yours.

Meaningful for other people
You can find meaning in other people. Either directly, or through what they create. Likewise, others can find meaning in you, through emotional relationships with you or through what you create. Being good to other people and create emotional bonds with them makes your life more meaningful. So does creating art, science or whatever that other people can appreciate.

It is very easy to find meaning in other individuals close to us. However, we can also embrace a greater unity, by realizing that every person who can think and feel is meaningful in themselves and that their thoughts and feelings matter. We are all one family of mind. A family currently consisting of all humans, in the future perhaps also including artificial intelligences or aliens from other worlds. To some extent we could also include pure emotion without advanced thought, thus including all mammals and perhaps some other animals as well.

Meaningful for a higher power
Many believe that at some level of reality, there exists a higher power that cares about them and assign meaning and value to their existence. While there are many different ideas about the identity and preferences of such a power, certain moral principles are almost universally attributed to it.

Meaningful for life itself
One could also say that life as such has it’s own meaning and goal, regardless of humans and also regardless of any kind of higher power. Throughout billions of years of evolution, the biosphere of planet Earth has continuously expanded in two directions: Upwards, towards more and more complex forms of life, and outwards towards new horizons.

Mankind is in a unique position to push both these developments forward. Upwards, we have added cultural and intellectual evolution to the purely genetic one. And through genetic engineering, we can take the genetic development itself to new heights. Outwards, we are the only species that ever managed to leave the planet. We have visited the moon, and our machines have visited Mars. Step by step, we are getting ready to plant the seeds of life on other worlds. To boldly grow where no plant has grown before. One might say that the humans are the acorns of the tree of life.

To fully embrace the meaningfulness for life itself, we must understand that we are not separate from nature. We share our genes not only with the monkeys, but also with all other forms of life in this biosphere. Even mushrooms. All life originating from this world is one big family of life. A family that is currently stuck on one single planet.

The concept of human behavior being “unnatural” is a nonsense concepts. The cities of humans are as natural as the anthills of ants. In fact, there has never been a human that id not use technology: Primates used tools long before they evolved into something that could be called human. Our civilization is a part of this biosphere. The most important part, in a good way, since it is the biosphere’s only chance to expand beyond this planet. And also the most important part in a bad way, given that mankind is the only species with the power to destroy itself and to destroy all other life along with it.

Balance
To embrace the meaningfulness in yourself, the meaningfulness in the family of mind and the meaningfulness in the family of life gives you a solid base to stand on.

With meaningfulness only in other people or in life itself, you risk losing yourself. With meaningfulness only in yourself, you risk losing your connection with other people and with life itself. Such egocentrism is ever at risk of becoming destructive. Even when it stays benign, it is weak. What if you lose faith in yourself, like most people sometimes do?

I therefore strongly recommend developing meaning both in yourself and in at least one of the three other anchors of meaningfulness: Other people, a higher power, or life itself. Preferably two. Or all three, although believing separately both in God and in life itself might be redundant for some people, since these concepts are so often used as metaphors for each other.

One good thing about life itself is that we know for a fact that it exists. We know that it expands upwards and outwards whenever it gets the chance, and we know that we are it’s only chance to expand beyond this planet. Whether or not we see this as meaningful or not is up to each one of us, but to deny it’s reality would be pointless. Meanwhile, most people deny most versions of God. This is gradually changing, as the religious people of the world are coming together in interfaith dialogue. But in the meantime, the typical Muslim, Hindu and Atheist agree with each other that the typical Christian is flat out wrong about God. While the typical Christian, Hindu and Atheist agree with each other that the typical Muslim is equally wrong, and so on.

If your sense of meaning in life relies on your version of God being the right one and everyone else in the world being wrong, then this makes your faith more fragile and prone to violence. You are more likely to be easily insulted, viewing any disagreement with your views as a “blasphemy” or “heresy”. Hating other people for being wrong, while trying to tell yourself that there is no doubt: That you don’t have any reason to fear that you might be the one who is wrong. Yet, when people make mutually exclusive claims, they can’t all be right. Either they are all wrong, or all but one of them are wrong.

With so many different religious groups believing in different things, chance is not on your side that yours happens to be the one and only true faith. Without statistics or evidence on your side, you are left with pure egocentrism: The belief that you are right and everyone else is wrong, because you are you and they are not you. Please note that “you” can be plural just as well as singular: The egocentrism of an individual, or the egocentrism of a group. “This is the truth and the only truth, because it is what my daddy told me when I was a child.”

If your meaning in life depends on such egocentrism, the risk of spiritual backlash is imminent. You need to find a more stable ground to stand on. You may find this in yourself, in other people, or in life itself. Some people leave their old faith. Other develop it into something more enlightened and inclusive than it was before. Finding meaning not only in their own traditions, but in all visions of the divine. Either for themselves, or simply by recognizing the valid meaning they hold for other people. Unity in diversity.

We individuals are all one family of mind.
We Earthlings are all one family of life.

When a person want to treat another person in a way that someone might consider objectionable, a justification is needed. In modern society, the most basic justification is freedom of choice combined with consent. “We are both okay with this, we are adults who know what we are doing, so mind your own business”.

There are many cases in which one can argue about how free a choice really is. That can be a good discussion. There is lot to be said about a person’s socionomic situation, access to knowledge, and so on. These arguments never really invalidate the principles of consent and freedom of choice. On the contrary, they build on them.

However. When there is obviously no consent (at least not any meaningful consent) and no freedom of choice, people will still come up with justifications. Often based on categorization. “I am an X, thus it is okay for me to behave this way. She is a Y, thus it is okay to treat her this way.”

For example, a man who is sexually harassing a woman might argue that he is a (heterosexual) man, and that his victim is a woman. Often adding some pseudoscience or low quality theology arguments for why evolution or his scripture of choice make his behavior okay. Another example, a mother who hit her children may invoke her ethnicity or religion. Please note that these examples have nothing to with sexual orientation, gender, evolution, religion or ethnicity. Instead, they are all about using these categorizations as excuses for abusive behavior.

A new problem arises when we accept these excuses. When such categories are given the power to oppress, the need arises to oppress against them.

The man who forces himself upon a woman would not want to be forced upon in the same way. And thus he becomes very afraid of gay men. If it is a valid argument that a man must impose his sexuality upon others because he gets horny, then this apply to gay men as well. Thus the heterosexual man need to somehow limit the justification to his own kind, so that he don’t gime men license to treat him the way he treats women. Cue the arguments about homosexuality being “unnatural” or whatever.

Hardly anyone would accept treating children in ways that he consider to be abusive. Thus, the more ethnicity or religion is accepted as justification for treating children in ways that would otherwise be unacceptable, the harder it becomes to accept other cultures and religions. Where we should have had “This behavior is okay because it isn’t harmful, while that behavior harmful and thus not okay”, we instead get “this behavior is okay, because it is accepted in the culture I happened to grow up in, while that behavior belongs to another culture and is thus not okay.”

There is a third option, of course: Deny the very basis for human rights – deny the fact that we are all humans who all share the same basic needs and all deserve the same human respect and consideration. If you make such a denial, you can proudly proclaim for example that only white people (or people born in Europe/USA have the right to grow up free and healthy with good education and everything. A right to grow up to freely participate in democracy and freedom of speech. While people who are born in developing countries, or are simply not white, have a cultural right to be beaten, genitally mutilated, getting an education that teaches that science and human rights are the lies of devil-worshippers. A right to grow up to be the property of the local dictatorship, a right to be “protected from heresy and blasphemy” or whatever.

These three options can be called:

1. Humanism. Seeing to the needs and rights of each human being. Embracing cultural diversity, but without letting one’s own cultural background or any other culture justify abusive and/or oppressive practices.

2. Cultural chauvinism. Seeing one culture of choice as the one true culture. The traditions of this culture must not be questioned. On the contrary, the very idea that this society could be improved is taken as an insult. In sharp contrasts, other cultures are seen as bad. Inherently bad, not merely having some baggage and some customs that need to be modernized. It is all us versus them.

3. Cultural separatism. Cherished by right-wing extremists as well as left-wing extreme cultural relativists, cultural separatism tells us that cultures are “separate but equal”, and that each culture has some kind of ownership over each human who lives in or comes from a country or group identified with that culture.

Cultural chauvinism and cultural separatism are very similar to each other. While the humanistic viewpoint understands that all living cultures are always changing and developing, undergoing constant renegotiation, chauvinism and separatism both see cultures as monoliths. They both put cultures on a pedestal while denying the rights or even existence of the individual – at least outside their own culture. They both identify “other cultures” with social patterns they would never accept for themselves. The main difference is that when they say that people in other cultures deserve to be mistreated, the cultural chauvinism mean “deserve” in a negative sense (they had it coming for not denouncing their background in favor of mine) while the cultural separatism mean it in a positive sense (they ought to be proud of their culture and embrace whatever it gives them). In other words, cultural chauvinism and cultural separatism are both destructive. We need to stay clear of both of them.

For the last few years, there has been a lot of debate about cultural relativism. Often in the form of being for or against. But relativity of culture should not be seen as an either-or. It should be seen as a sliding scale. Having too much cultural relativism is dangerous. It may land us in the cultural separatist position, or otherwise make us blind to oppression within other communities than our own. Having too little cultural relativism is also dangerous. It may land us in the cultural chauvinism position, or otherwise help us to produce bad answers to questions we don’t understand. It may encourage is to be blind to problems within our own culture as well as to partially or completely misinterpret problems in other cultures.

Cultures do not have any existence of their own. They exist within human beings and between human beings. A culture is a kind of relationship. A big relationship with many participants, who are constantly renegotiating the terms of their participation. Customs and traditions always change over time. The exceptions are cultures that are dead-and-no-longer-practiced, as well as cultures that are held stagnant by force – often as a tool to uphold a dictatorship. Saudi Arabia is a good example of the later.
A culture can be of any size, and it can be more or less intertwined with other cultures of various kinds. Cultures that are not national are sometimes called subcultures. But this term has become misleading over the last few decades, since these “subcultures” have gone global. Many of them have members in almost every country in the world.

A week ago, I saw a fictional example of a very small culture. The movie “Dogtooth” features a very small culture in the form of one single family that has chosen to seclude itself from the surrounding world. More to the point, the parents has chosen to seclude their children from the outside world, taking every precaution to stop them from being a part of society. Their behavior is very abusive, in the sense that it harms the children on many levels. And also in the sense that withholding knowledge of alternative perspectives is a kind of dishonesty that can be seen as abusive in itself.

However, their way of treating their children is entirely within the cultural norms of the little culture the adults have made for themselves. Or the husband has made for himself. It is indicated that the wife may also be a victim. In either case, a completely relativist viewpoint has no honest way of condemning what goes on in this family. Their culture, their norms. Their children have a right to be kept in the context that they grew up in.

Later that same day I visited an interesting seminar on interfaith dialogue. One of the speakers presented a thought experiment. What if a Christian baby and a Muslim baby are swapped by mistake at the hospital? By pure chance, the child that was about to grow up as a Muslim would grow up to be a Christian instead, and vice versa. My spontaneous reaction was that wait a minute, how can a little baby have a certain faith at all? How can you say that a newborn baby is a Christian or a Muslim?? She was right, of course. Because religions have more in common with ethnicity than it does with scientific theories.

Science is about facts. Religion is, to a very large extent, about belonging to a social group. When you consider a certain scientific theory to be true, it is because you see that evidence supports it. When you belong to a certain religion, it is usually because you were born into it. If you joined it, you dud so because you wanted to belong to this group or because you had a very special emotional/spiritual experience.

The speaker didn’t mention that throughout the history of Europe, variants of her thought-experiment has been used to confiscate the children of Jewish families: “What if the child was actually a Christian, one of us?” However, she did mention that she is Jewish. So she might have had this background in mind. Her own conclusion, much wiser than the one of the medieval Christians, was that we shouldn’t have such strict barriers between “us” and “them”. You are who you are, but you could just as well have been one of them. This is the way to go, really. Breaking down the barriers rather than building them up.

This doesn’t mean that we have to stop belonging to various groups. Two other good things she said about dialogue was that it is about taking turns listening, not just taking turns talking… and that it is about understanding each other, not about becoming each other.
Your identities of culture and religion and whatever… Keep them or discard them, whichever suits your mind and life best. If you do keep them, keep them updated. Don’t misuse them to diminish yourself or oppress others. Don’t let others chain you to outdated norms, just because it is their interpretation of your identity and of what it means to belong to your group.

eu_roppOnce upon a time, the known world was dominated by two great city-states. Rome and Carthago. The balance of terror between them eventually led to the total destruction of Carthago, at the hands of the Romans. Nothing else was destroyed this time. Mankind had not yet invented weapons of mass destruction.

Much later, the rivalry between (primarily) Germany and France led to a bitter world war with many millions dead. Germany was defeated, with a peace treaty designed to keep the German people down. Naturally, this led to yet another bitter world war, even worse than the first. Dividing people into faction and balancing these factions against each other only lead to more violence. It works this way on the world scene, just like it does at smaller scales.

After the second world war, we got a new balance of terror, this time between “the western world” and “the communist world”. For decades, this balance of terror held mankind at the brink of apocalypse – the third and final world war, the one that would end all life on Earth.

Dualism. A struggle between two factions. If not good versus evil, then at least black versus white or blue versus orange. We have it on every chess board, and in most other games. We have it in most books and films. It is in our culture, and it is deeply entrenched in our minds. It is so easy, comforting in a way, to see the world as one big conflict. As one big story, with one big plotline. However, this dualism is a comfort that mankind can no longer afford. We have grown to smart for our own stupidity.

Balance of terror has always been destructive. The destructive capabilities we have at our fingertips these days, however, are greater than ever. And they keep growing. We are gradually transitioning from a world with reason to fear great empires launching nuclear missiles to a world with reason to fear individual suicide bombers carrying nuclear bombs.

In this world, there are many who try to build up a new dualism. This time with “Islam” being redefined from being one religion of many, into suddenly being some kind of force destined to either be defeated or rule the world. This destructive fantasy is being perpetuated not only by those who who have totalitarian dreams of a global Islamic Caliphat ruling the world, but also by a lot of western non-Muslims who long for a new enemy – either for themselves or, in the case of former fans of the Soviet block, for the USA.

Today is the international Human Rights Day. It is also the day when The European Union receives the Nobel Peace Prize for creating lasting peace within Europe. While some critics point out that it was NATO that kept Europe safe from Soviet and that Europe kept clinging on to colonialism well into the sixties, this criticism is really beside the point. What EU did accomplish, and this is what it did get the nobel peace price for, is to defuse the whole concept “France versus Germany”. Eradicate it from the way people think of the world, probably once and for all.

Here in Jakarta, the local representatives of EU celebrated the award by holding a seminar on what regional organizations (such as EU and ASEAN) can do for promoting peace. The details was mostly about economy, but the main point was about overcoming antagonism. Moving on from a world where we fight each other to a world where we fight together for democracy and human rights.

I think the environment also got a brief mention. Could have been more. Because if people need common enemies to unite against, then global warming and other threats to the biosphere are surely among the prime candidates. Mankind need to move on from dividing itself into categories and then having these different categories of people trying to slaughter (or simply oppress) each other. Move on to facing more abstract opponents. enemies that can’t be defeated by labeling someone an enemy and then punch him in the face.