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Conspiracy Theories
I find this an entertaining topic. Michael Shermer, in Why people Believe Weird Things, asked why people believe that invisible agents control the world - and he included invisible agents such as secret superconspiracies alongside gods. Now this might be going too far, for high level people in corporations and government surely do plot malicious things, BUT I think Shermer had a point: that a narrative with a giant bad guy (conveniently invisible) is so tempting, for people - especially surplus males, as economists are describing these days.

I don't believe in "conspiracy theories" many of them are about up there with the idea of alien abduction, but I think the culture which produces them - and is getting more and more mainstream - is interesting (if troubling).
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Arnold J. Toynbee 
I have been researching his ideas lately. He was British historian and economist who died in 1975 and had some interesting insights on the rise and decline of civilizations.


His key thesis is that civilizations decline when they cease to combat their problems. 
education is a huge issue, in my personal experience, the less educated someone is, the more they believe in conspiracy theories like chemtrails (god this one is hilarious), 2012, aliens (lol the whole reptoids thing makes me nostalgic for the days when the alien conspiracies were less ridiculous and could make a cool show like x-files - imagine if they made reptoid files what a shitty show that would be), etc.

I basically think that education and propaganda/advertising are two fundamentally opposed cultural forces, one based at least in its ideals on seeking truth, the other based in principal on lying in pursuit of some interest.

one frustrating thing is that comedians I really admire like Bill Hicks (check out "Marketing") and George Carlin ("Education") actually believed in conspiracy theories, respectively JFK and 9/11 truth.

Occam's razor and science are the best tools for critical thinking, I think. People like Hicks and Carlin were so rightfully pissed off at propaganda and high-level corruption that they let emotion cloud their critical faculties imo.

It's true that these problems aren't as bad in terms of short term standard of living for rich or rising countries, as the world has been in the past. Still, some real bad shit could be coming (climate change, environmental disaster, nuclear war, population explosion/starvation/resource shortage etc). Given what it is possible to convince some people of, I'm hoping that one day the minority of scientists/smart people will arrive at genetic engineering, an entire generation's IQ and empathy will spike, and the efficiency of propaganda will plummet, and then things will be less shitty, people will be smarter and there will be no need to believe in conspiracy theories (or religions - creationism is a huge conspiracy theory for example). 
To Each, His Own 
Carlin was a funny guy. "The world plus plastic", his talk about "stuff" and subsets of stuff with the minimal set being your wallet.

Genetic engineering: Will make us obsolete. But eventually that will happen.


A legitimate scientific possibility. For example, is the following list of numbers random: 9, 9, 9, 9, 9, 9?

Stars have a strong bias towards producing carbon. Most estimates of when life started on Earth place it a mere billion years after formation and we discover amino acids on comets.

Really the problem is that humans excel at finding conflict when there is none. What many actually object to with creationists isn't the idea that perhaps the universe was made on purpose, but rather that organized religion has a tendency reject common sense scientific findings like <insert dinosaur bones, Earth is not center of solar system, fossil records, bacteria strain mutations, etc> in favor of unhealthy lowest common denominator thinking.

Likewise, what is objectionable about some conspiracy theorists is that they so strongly want to believe in a specific conclusion that they will ignore facts to get there.

I mean, I guess I CIA really did try to kill Fidel Castro with poisoned cigars and such. Not all conspiracy theories are wrong, and part of the ideas of conspiracy theorists are healthy: do not accept what you are told by the powers that be at face value.

Reality is what we perceive it as, and there is a danger of becoming too comfortable with "what you think you know". We could wake up tomorrow to discover to find out something wild and crazy by conventional standards.

One time last year I was arguing with a "Obama wasn't born in Hawaii" person and I said "Ok, let's say everything you say is true. Now what? What's the next step?" This individual was so caught up in the idea, he didn't know what to say back to that.

[Tron Legacy had a great quote: "The thing about perfection is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us all the time."

^^ If the world were perfect, we wouldn't have anything to do. Therefore, since the world isn't perfect, the world is perfect.] 
Re: Science 
The scientific method is sound, but the ethics of science are sometimes not. Science is just a tool and can be abused - I don't like science that creates remote controlled animals for surveillance purposes, for example. I don't like science that creates H-bombs. There needs to be an ethical factor to science wherever it's applied. And bam! as soon as you have ethics, you have something that's not entirely within the realm of science.

I'll say that I'm religious. However my religion has no simple good/evil scheme and no absolute truths. It is a collection of traditions more than anything.

Spirituality is something human, as long as it doesn't turn into a system of absolute truths. I just want to encourage people to differentiate. Religion isn't just TV preachers and suicide bombers. Would you tell a bunch of Amazonian Indians that their spirits and shamans are "crap" and science will save them?

Just be careful with this religion vs. science thing. Roll some ethics into it. Where you find those ethics is your problem; there might be good and true stuff in some religious texts or traditions just as well as in modern philosophy.

The problem with some religions (not all) is their inability to learn and evolve (usually because some holy book is regarded as the inalterable truth). 
Re: Baker. That is an AWESOME response to the birther conspiracy. So Obama should be booted, and McCain/Sarah Palin put in? The democrats should have run someone else? It's a good point that the conspiracy here, is just an excuse for really disliking someone and their politics.

Re: gb. I agree that science has been and continues to be applied in unethical ways. My statement was a giant generalization and thus I shouldn't have made it. creationism is a conspiracy theory, in that involves believing that almost all scientists are deliberately deceiving the public. but, sure, lots of religions have good traditions that can stimulate ethics. I just think of them as literature, though, which can do the same thing. When they start making metaphysical claims, that's when I think they're straying into science's territory. but yeah, good point.

and re: both. creationism could have been true, it could still be true, but the evidence has always, in my view, pointed away from the monotheistic worldview (copernicus/galileo, newton, darwin, einstein, etc - whatever they believed personally, the scientific discoveries they are each famous for contradicted the theistic worldviews of their time and forced theists to give ground - or, in darwin's case, not. actually I've heard there are some geocentric fundamentalists out there lol). 
Ah, I'm not a creationist. I still enjoy looking at creation myths as something people tried to explain the world with, back when there was no science, only long cold winters and no food.

I love the story of Ask and Embla for what it is, because I empathize with the people who came up with it and told it to their children to scare away the dark. Utterly human. I can reconcile that with the Big Bang theory perfectly because I don't take it as ultimate truth...

As long as one does not take their respective old literature to be the only absolute truth, especially if said literature says to "slay the infidels" or "stone to death the witches", then it can be a nice part of your tradition.

Sadly the "book religions" are all rather zealous about it. It's more sane to view it as literature, tradition, or historical sources. This is a step that is way overdue for Christianity, for instance. They should just say "ok, not everything in the Bible has to be taken literally" but apparently they can't. It's even worse with Islam. Book religions.

Btw I didn't mean to sound harsh, I was just asking rhetorical questions if you know what I mean. 
I didn't mean to imply that you were a creationist. I find creation myths beautiful, and myths in general. one of my major criticisms of scientists arguing against religion in its more harmful forms right now, is that several of them seem to have no understanding of the appeal of mythology whatsoever.

yeah you're right, it's even worse with Islam. I saw an interview on TV in the middle east, with one guy arguing the earth was round because they had pictures of it from space, and the other guy saying it was flat, because the Koran said that. lol.

PS I personally think the Old Testament is awesome, it's so fucked up. I'd never take morality from it, but parts like the Passover are really powerfully creepy. God's abilities and motivations are weird, it's like he hasn't evolved (heh) yet into this abstract moral deity and is instead like a sexually repressed schizophrenic version of Zeus. 
Hah. I should read it sometime, unfortunately I have only a very rough understanding of all things related to book religion.

But we're really OT now. 
A Cry For Help 
I always interpreted the 9/11 attacks as a desperate plea for help from a part of the world suffering in neglect and abuse that the rest of the civilized world was more than content to ignore their woes.

Many of the "problems" with Islam as perceived by the West are -- at their root --- an act of assertion to the rest of the world that "we matter".

Not in a hostile way, but in a way that they want to be accepted as part of this world. That they wish to participate in it, that they want us to care about their problems.

Sure weird assertions like a key spiritual leader in Saudi Arabia saying the world is flat seem funny, but careful observation points to the fact that their part of the world does not want to be isolated, that they want attention, that they want their culture to be acknowledged. These are not acts of isolationism, certainly no globally broadcasted TV can ever be an act of isolationism.

China was remarkably primitive in the late 1980s, astonishingly so.

Ten years later, they had changed dramatically.

Twenty years later, they have exceeded the West in capitalistic means not unlike Japan by 1970. Islamic countries have dramatically changed in the last 10 years.

Give it 10 or 20 more years ... 
Something To Think About 
Cited From The Above 
In 1966, the U.S. Army released the harmless Bacillus globigii into the tunnels of the New York subway system

I mean, wow. That's crazy. Small wonder conspiracy theories exist. 
The thing is, all kinds of really crazy paranoia-inducing things HAVE been done, like the above. But I guess it's just occam's razor and science to separate reality from fantasy, as always.

In the Middle East, some groups want democracy, while others support Islamism. bin Laden and his fellow Islamists, were in my opinion acting against westernization - the flow of western culture into the Middle East, especially freedom of speech and women's rights affecting the outlook of the younger generation. Sure this is accompanied by economic exploitation, but if exploitation and oppression were enough to cause targeting of mass civilians in terrorism, where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers killing hundreds or thousands of Chinese? What the Islamists want is not to be connected to the west, or to India, or China or Israel, or anyone else, one terms of multicultural give-and-take. They are backwards fundamentalists who are terrified of women and want to impose theocracy on every part of the world once conquered by Islam. bin Laden did not want help from the West, in my view, and if Islamists could destroy the west (and India, and Russia, and Israel), they actually might. Islam, as one historian put it, "has bloody borders."

None of this justifies US foreign policy, but Islamists are the ones melting women's faces with acid for going to school. That's not a cry for help. That's backwards fundamentalism. 

Although maybe China just doesn't tell you about Tibetan suicide bombers. ;-) 
Really when you say "Islam" you mean modern Islam.

The France and Great Britain had half of those places as colonies a century ago and they were no better or no worse than most other third world countries they colonized.

A lot of Islamic countries are experiencing the painful (and often initially bloody) transition to modern times.

East Asia went through this period 20-50 years ago (Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.) and South America went through this transition half a century ago (Pinochet, etc.).

Just because Europe made the transition a few centuries ago for the most part doesn't mean that as human the ones living in Islamic places are lesser people.

It just means their culture is experiencing an identity crisis that much of the rest of the world encountered long ago.

It sucks to be at the tail end of a curve, but things like cell phones and internet and independent broadcast stations like Al-Jazeera mean that the genie isn't going back in the bottle.

They will change. Change is inevitable and it only goes a single direction, although some times it goes two steps forward and one step back as part of the transition. 
personally I don't feel like I know enough to make any judgments on "direction of history" arguments. Was the industrial revolution inevitable, was democracy inevitable, are "developing" countries including theocracies moving toward a western model? I have no idea and I'm kind of skeptical that anyone really could have solid ideas on these things. I'll bet if I read a book on this subject (and there seems to be no shortage of really ambitious books about it), I could be convinced one way and then exactly the opposite way by another book, because the subject is so massive. I suspend judgment on it thus. may be of interest to you, Tronyn. for at least one side of the argument. :) 
Interesting man, but meh, his views and his logic are marred by his idea of Christianity IMO.

Pretty brutal religion, with the idea of original sin and all. I don't think there is any sin (and I also think the world and everything in it is "good" by default; that includes conflicts or the food chain). And I think Christianity would do good to forget that concept.

Just MO as usual. I agree with him on the notion that humanity has always been inherently - not religious - spiritual. I agree that it is part of being human. It all depends how you handle it and what the details of your religion or spirituality are. I's not automatically bad or harmful - need to differentiate.

I recommend reading "His Dark Materials". Pullman gets a lot of things right. 
I subscribe to Marx's view of religion. The heart of heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions. It's a painkiller. People who turn to religion are not necessarily stupid or ignorant, but desperate. I think religion causes great damage and suffering in the world, but it is a symptom of a greater problem, that of human suffering and inequality.

Despondent people sold a panacea by snake oil salesmen, or some other pithy comment :p 
I know several people who claim experiences similar to what Jacques Ellul claims. Reasonable people, academics, students, firefighters. Not poor, hopeless people.

The same thing can be said about UFO abduction encounters. My take on it, is that the brain can generate some intense and bizarre experiences, in some cases positive in some cases negative. I just think that no matter what one's intelligence level, subjective experience doesn't make good evidence for objective claims about the nature of reality.

Organized religion is different, more of a social phenomenon, that I agree tends to be more pronounced in societies where things generally suck. 
I just think that no matter what one's intelligence level, subjective experience doesn't make good evidence for objective claims about the nature of reality.

These claims don't need to be objective. This is what most people don't get. If someone has a god-experience like that, they shouldn't try and make it into something objective and go try and convert people. Similarly, others shouldn't automatically assume they're somehow wrong. To each their own. 
Live and let live, basically. 
Peace To That Brother 
The problem lies in the definition of the word 'Know', and 'Must', combined.


"I know that what they are doing is wrong and unethical, so they must be stopped"

Then war happens. 
I actually disagree. Giving up the idea of knowledge (ie relativism, no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's, often motivated by multiculturalism/good intentions) isn't necessary for tolerance. Rational, respectful debate is better - especially on culturally sensitive issues. Certainly some ideas are superior to others, whether we're talking truth claims (history, science, etc) or more culturally infused things like ethics (ie almost every culture agrees that slavery is wrong). Holding a belief, one inherently believes that the belief is correct, and therefore others ought to hold it if they weren't in some ultimate way, mistaken. This is why all but the most liberal religions have a problem getting along - and even some uber-hippie pacifist person ultimately thinks other people should do what he (or she) does and believe what he (or she), this person is simply not willing to use coercion (though they may use persuasion) to achieve this. 
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