By Ezra Niesen, founding member of Occupy! Phoenix
(This was called Why the Occupy Movement Needs to Identify a Central Philosophy back in October 2011, and later The Search for a Unifying Philosophy for the Occupy Movement. This is the March 2012 update to meet our changing situation. We’ve passed the test of whether or not the Occupy movement can endure. Now what have we started and where can we go from here? How can we combine our broad foundation with specific actions? In this book I show how ideas of the Civil Rights Movement and environmental science have come together and created the foundation of the Occupy! Movement. All of those ideas are so basic a person doesn’t need to belong to the Occupy! Movement to believe in them. That means there are many simple, but powerful, things people can do to support us without identifying themselves with us. This book is free for all non-commercial reuse.)
Declaration of the Occupation of New York City
As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians supposed to be regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantive profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
These grievances are not all-inclusive.
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!
The Occupy! Movement is part of a fundamental change in human consciousness.
This change has been building up from many different direction for a long time.
From some directions it has been years, from others, decades, and from others, centuries.
The Occupy! Movement has been the next step in the changing consciousness of humanity as a whole, and this change in consciousness has also been building up further in the Occupy! movement since it began.
This change in consciousness is easy to describe.
People think differently about what they should do when they perceive themselves to have an abundance of resources, versus when they perceive themselves to have limits on their resources.
When the United States was founded, its population was about 3 million people, they had a pre-industrial technological level, and North America was full of forests, animals, and minerals.
That basic economic situation lasted for about 200 years.
When people started using up the resources in the U.S. territory, they started bringing in resources from other countries, so they still had an abundance in the U.S.
People made their economic and political plans based on their perception of abundance, and wrote laws to help them carry out those plans.
The 1% figured out how to get to the top of those economic plans and use them to get a lot of wealth and power.
But today we’re running out of oil, farmland, drinking water, other vital resources, and environment to absorb our pollution.
As resources become more and more scarce, the law of supply and demand drives their prices up.
The 1% are using their laws to force us to keep using the old economic plan, and it’s pushing us all into poverty.
We have started the Occupy! Movement because we have all agreed that we need to start putting a lot of serious thought into the allocation of resources.
There’s a lot more to thinking seriously about the allocation of resources than writing new tax laws.
This goes all the way down to the simplest, most personal things people think about.
That’s why we’re trying to rise to a new level of consciousness instead of just writing new tax laws.
How does the shift from abundance to limited resources affect things like people’s self esteem?
When you look at a can of soda, do you see a tasty drink waiting to refresh you, or do you see a piece of aluminum that was taken out of the Earth and that a lot of energy went into processing?
Whether you see the soda or the aluminum as more valuable depends on how much aluminum and energy you believe there is in the world compared to how much people need.
You can hold the underlying concept of the Occupy! Movement in your hand.
We’re trying to move beyond consumerism, beyond the attitude that we can use things up any way we want, and into the attitude that we should use our resources in ways that produce the greatest long-term benefits.
That begins with people ceasing to think of money as something they can always get more of from the bank, and instead making good long-term investments.
A lot of societies have already been through the transition from abundance to limits.
Some have succeeded in making the transition without disaster, and many have failed.
Either way, there’s always a lot of political upheaval, because some people try to develop, and then put in place, ideas to deal with the new situation, while other people try to hang onto their old plans.
The big difference this time around is that we’re all in the transition together, all over the world.
We can do it, but it’s not going to be easy.
The Occupy! Movement so far has been Step 1 and a belief that if we take Step 1 we can find Step 2.
Step 1 was bringing people together in public to talk about what we don’t like about our political system.
Step 2 in any social movement is for a relatively small group of committed people to struggle for changes that a larger group of people will support and an even larger group of people will accept.
Our Step 1 has been a big step in the right direction toward that.
* * *
I need to take a moment here to say a few words about my presentation style.
The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City is a powerful statement because it’s very clear.
It’s as clear as the orders the police are given, but it expresses far bigger goals.
After September 11th I trained as a civilian helicopter pilot with the goal of working in law enforcement, because I believe democracy is worth defending.
Ten years later I’m on the Occupy! Side because I’ve never changed my mind about democracy.
Eight years ago I realized something like the Occupy! Movement was coming, so I’ve been trying to help start it ever since.
Some of my ancestors were German.
I probably still had relatives living in Germany in 1939.
It’s been a tradition in my family that, when you expect to be given orders to kill people who hate your government, you need to be very clear why you are being given those orders.
That’s why my dad chose to go to jail as a draft resister during the Vietnam War.
(He got out of the draft on a medical deferment instead.)
My grandfather, who was half German, thought about that too, although he didn’t like to talk about it much.
The first opportunity he got to do anything about Hitler’s rise to power was to help design airplanes that would drop bombs on his own relatives.
He helped design more bombers during the Korean War because by then he’d worked as an airplane engineer for almost 20 years.
Now his employers were telling him they wanted more bombers, and based on what my grandfather knew about Chairman Mao, he didn’t have a problem with doing what he could to help stop him too.
But in 1953, the year the Korean War ended and Joseph Stalin died, my grandfather, at the age of 40, with 6 children, left his career and his passion forever, moved the family to a village in the mountains of the coastal Pacific Northwest, and built a house on a road that wouldn’t get electricity to it until four years later.
He and my grandmother came to a big decision about what they cared about most in life.
This is an amazing, beautiful world, full of amazing, beautiful things and amazing, beautiful people.
Life is creation.
Creating things is a lot harder than destroying them.
(If you don’t believe me, think of everything you’ve done in your life and who you have become as a person, and think about how one bullet or car accident could put an end to it all.)
Creating things is always a challenge.
The coastal Pacific Northwest, as a rain forest, has more patterns of life in it than any other place in the continental U.S.
(Hawaii has rain forests too.)
When my grandparents decided to pursue what they cared about most, they chose life, creation, challenges, and the search for a higher level of consciousness.
Training to fly helicopters means training to make life or death decisions on a second by second basis, like anyone who serves in law enforcement or the military.
That’s why you need clear orders.
That’s why you train to think in clear terms.
There’s a certain purity of purpose you feel when you decide something is important enough to put your body in the line for it.
I bet a lot of people in the Occupy! Movement feel that way.
Eight years ago when I started expanding upon the clarity of thought I’d trained to use in carrying out my orders to understand why I would be given my orders, I realized we had a serious problem in the U.S.
People in the U.S. believe in democracy, but our government obviously doesn’t.
When they say they’re intervening in other countries to help spread American values, they’re not talking about democracy; they’re talking about wealth acquisition for themselves.
My flight school was in the Phoenix area.
Arizona is the epicenter of the immigration crisis.
I live closer to southern Mexico than I do to Wall Street.
Years before September 11th another group of people started their own revolution against U.S. imperialism.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, by their Spanish initials) started their uprising in southern Mexico on New Year’s Day, 1994, the day the NAFTA went into effect.
As indigenous farmers who had already endured 502 years of imperialism, they could recognize imperialism when they saw it.
They’ve been fighting for democracy for 18 years now.
Lots of people have been searching for clarity of thought in different aspects of life.
By now those efforts overlap enough that the clarity of the Declaration of Occupation can be followed all the way down to biochemistry, physics, and math.
My personal challenge these past eight years has been to talk about life with the clarity of the police’s orders, but with a scope that doesn’t compromise any of the values that I could see were building up to the Occupy! Movement.
Democracy can’t be defended with anything less.
If you don’t identify a clear course of actions to take to succeed at your goals, the police are going to follow their clear course of actions and stop you.
If you can’t follow your course all the way to a political system that includes everyone, your political system won’t be a democracy.
My family is a multiracial family of engineers, scientists, artists, philosophers, and about a dozen teachers.
On my dad’s side of the family the generation after mine is roughly 1/4 White, 1/4 Black, and 1/2 Native American.
I have traveled and lived all over the United States and I have lived in South America.
In South America, on the foreign exchange program I was on, I lived with a 1% family for a year.
Later, back in the U.S., I was engaged to a 1% lady for three years.
(I helped her through some really bad times in her life, and in the end she broke up with me because she decided she cared more about having matching furniture than she cared about me.)
I have education and experience in several different careers.
My flight training and flight instructor certification training included a lot of psychology training.
(Human error is the leading cause of aviation accidents by far, so pilots and flight instructors get a lot of training in why people misinterpret their situations.)
People in my family have been talking about people broadening their horizons and strength through diversity from long before I was born.
To me the Occupy! Movement looks like a worldwide family reunion.
What this means for this book is that my writing style will seem strange to a lot of people.
I’ve seen a lot of statements people have written that express clear goals.
When they talk about defending diversity they talk about the need to find common ground, but when they describe the diversity they talk poetically about our differences.
That leads to a lot of people’s assumptions that a political movement can’t be both diverse and coherent.
But the two are not mutually exclusive.
With these pages of straight talk about the origins of our diversity, I’m trying to show how we are all different manifestations of the human race.
If you want to make this book more poetic, I suggest reading it aloud at your nearest Occupy! Park.
I believe you’ll get a lot of positive response from people of all backgrounds.
That’s what usually happens when I read parts of it at Occupy! Phoenix.
* * *
Two ways the consciousness of the Occupy! Movement has been rising these past few months has been clarifying what we’ve started, while we’re doing it.
With a better understanding of what we’ve done so far, we can better understand our goals.
The Occupy! Movement started with Occupy Wall Street.
The idea of Wall Street isn’t really a place, but of big economic decisions being made.
The idea of Occupying it is the idea of people ceasing to be shut out of decisions that affect them.
That idea spread all over the world within a month.
Occupy! Movements started attaching the word Occupy to the names of their cities and states.
But a lot of Native Americans don’t like the word Occupy, since their traditional lands have been occupied for 520 years.
Part of the change in consciousness that has been happening within the movement is the debate about whether we should keep the name Occupy and the momentum that has built up behind the idea, or if we should change the name.
Meanwhile another part of the changing consciousness in the movement has been the recognition that the original idea of getting the money out of politics is just one aspect of the more general struggle against our exploitation.
The 1% exploit us in many ways, so for us to struggle against only one of them won’t help us.
The Occupy! movement outside of Wall Street began with the Occupation of public spaces to bring together people and their ideas.
But Occupying public spaces as if this is some sort of worldwide picnic or camping trip is not the goal.
The goal is for us to Occupy all the aspects of life that we feel we should participate in, instead of letting other people make all the decisions for us.
Self-determination, in other words.
So I see a simple solution to symbolizing both of these changes in consciousness by putting an exclamation point after the word Occupy!
* * *
Toward the other end of the spectrum from debating the meanings of words is what to do about the 2012 elections.
Should we endorse a candidate?
Should we oppose all candidates by voting for Not Applicable?
Some Occupiers have now come to the conclusion that we don’t want a new president, we want to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Or maybe we want a new U.S. Constitution.
We aren’t struggling for our change in consciousness so we can think happy thoughts while we continue to participate in the political system that’s oppressing us.
We’re struggling to make our new consciousness the basis of decision making in the U.S.
Any constitution is a formalized plan for how to make and carry out decisions in accordance with the consciousness of the people in the group.
The old U.S. Constitution was the formalized plan for carrying out decisions in accordance with the consciousness of the people who wrote it.
Now a growing number of people in the U.S. feel that using an 18th century plan in the 21st century just isn’t good enough.
If the Occupy! Movement is to become the political force we’re trying to be, we have to force the presidential candidates to react to us.
If all we do is to give the presidential candidates the choice of ignoring us or taking advantage of an opportunity we’ve created, then our movement doesn’t mean anything.
If we are really going to change anything, we have to create a situation in this country that the presidential candidates will have to adapt to in a way that isn’t convenient for them.
* * *
The main sources of the rising tide of our consciousness have been the Civil Rights Movement and environmental science.
Those were both culminations of ideas that had been building up for thousands of years.
The Civil Rights movement was a struggle against oppression.
Environmental science is the search for a stable relationship between people and the environment.
In 1968 Dr. King was working on his Economic Bill of Rights, right before he was assassinated.
That was the same year a biologist named Paul Ehrlich and a team of scientists and mathematicians called the Club of Rome, working independently, both discovered the global environmental crisis.
They discovered that the level of consciousness people were using in 1968 was resulting in economic choices that would lead to global environmental and economic breakdown in the 21st century.
Resources would be spread thinner and thinner among people.
That would lead from widespread poverty to a global famine that could kill millions or billions of people.
That would mean a lot of oppression, as powerful people tried to force less powerful people to suffer the consequences.
Preventing that would depend on radical social change.
Now here’s the Occupy! movement, struggling for radical social change in the 21st century.
For more than 40 years we have all lived among growing bodies of ideas about large-scale grassroots struggles against oppression.
So has everyone who grew up in the U.S.
A lot of people agree with the Occupy! movement.
If we can clarify our ideas further, we can win a lot more public support because more people will believe we have a solution.
This book is a step in that direction.
Broadening your horizons begins with recognizing the limitations of your perceptions.
No one person or group of people has seen the entire truth.
We have all seen part of the truth from different directions.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle of what each of us has seen.
We can all see the truth more clearly by learning each other’s points of view.
That’s why there is strength in the diversity of the Occupy! Movement, if we can figure out how to use it.
* * *
To start with, something the Occupy! Movement doesn’t need to change is the content of the main body of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
* * *
I don’t like cluttering up my text with footnotes, so I’ll list all my reference sources at the end of this.
We don’t use footnotes in General Assemblies, we come to agreements by building up from ideas everyone already knows about.
* * *
Also, seven months into the Occupy! movement some Occupiers are beginning to understand why philosophy is a profession, not just a hobby.
We’ve all talked a lot about our ideas, trying to find reliable patterns among them.
Some of those ways of talking have been helpful and many of them haven’t.
In my family and most of the artistic, professional, and social groups I belong to, we use the same style of debating ideas because that’s the one that produces the constructive results.
Some people in the Occupy! movement have figured it out, but many people haven’t yet.
To debate philosophy without marginalizing anyone you have to:
Recognize that everyone is roughly as intelligent as you are;
Believe that everyone is worth being friends with;
Believe that discovering the truth is more important that proving you’re right about everything;
Recognize that everyone has limits to their perceptions and everyone makes mistakes, which includes you and everyone you talk to;
Recognize that you know more about some things and other people know more about other things;
See disagreements as opportunities to expand your horizons, rather than as reasons to try to put people down;
Talk in words other people understand, about things they can see happening, and about ideas they can apply, instead of talking about ideas completely in the abstract; and
See what our situation is and what we should do about it as two separate questions.
In other words, to debate ideas constructively our goal has to be to figure out how all of our ideas fit together and how they fit with real life.
People in majority groups agreeing with each other doesn’t prove they’re right, because they could all be making the same mistakes.
The people in a minority group might’ve figured out the truth from their point of view.
Or it’s possible that everyone is making mistakes and nobody in the group knows the truth about some topic.
Usually everyone is partly right and partly wrong and by working together we can figure out what we were right about and what we were wrong about and we can all understand our situation better that way.
The better we understand our situation the more effective action we can take.
When people jump right into taking action, believing their understanding of their situation is good enough, they often come into conflict with other people who have the same goals but a different understanding of their situation.
In order to work together as well as possible, we have to agree with each other as much as possible on what we’re trying to do.
We can’t struggle effectively by working against each other.
* * *
Your personal philosophy, whatever it is, you have built up over the course of however many years you’ve been alive.
In the first third of this book I’m going to outline the structure of a different philosophy.
This builds up to the overall philosophy of the Occupy movement, but does it in a way that’s probably different from your personal philosophy.
In these pages I’m trying to make the structure of environmental science philosophy as coherent as the structure of your personal philosophy feels to you after 15 or 20 or 30 or 50 or 70 or however many years you’ve been developing it.
That means the next 14 chapters are really dense.
It’s a lot of straightforward ideas packed tightly together.
If you try to read it all at once, you will probably get overwhelmed.
The fact that you can’t see how to apply it to your entire life instantly doesn’t prove it’s wrong, but a lot of people jump to that conclusion.
Or you can skip ahead to Chapter 16 and read from there.
In the first 15 chapters I focus on the science philosophy and show how it supports Occupy philosophy, and in the rest of the book I focus on Occupy philosophy and show how it’s supported by science philosophy.
A lot of people have heard of some of the science, but most people haven’t heard all of it, even though a lot of scientists have been trying to tell people about it for more than 40 years.
Secular philosophy is the foundation of both science and democracy. All that leaves is to define what secular, philosophy, science, and democracy are.
Philosophy isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. All the word philosophy means is a bunch of ideas connected to each other. We all do this, whether we realize it or not. Every body of ideas has an underlying philosophy, whether it’s an art, a culture, a science, a religion, or an occupation. Understanding a body of ideas depends on understanding the structure of how the ideas fit together. Understanding the structure of the ideas depends on understanding which ideas people started with and how they developed further ideas. (Philosophers call founding ideas metaphysics and the process of developing further ideas epistemology.)
The Occupy! Movement has an underlying philosophy. It’s made up of the connections among ideas each individual Occupier has made, which are connected to each other through our mutual interests.
Democracy isn’t as simple as people voting for stuff and the majority rules. That would just be an easy excuse for majorities to marginalize minorities.
Democracy is an agreement that the majority rules except when people in a minority position can prove their side in the argument is right. Then the people in the majority will admit they were wrong and change their minds. That will probably still take a lot of debate, but that’s the idea.
Proving ideas as either true or false is the purpose of secularism. That’s the difference between using evidence in court instead of having the Salem Witch Trials.
Everyone’s individual perceptions are subjective, but we can discover objective truth by knowing how our subjectivity leads us astray and not falling into those traps. Reliable information always stays the same no matter who looks at it.
Everyone knows how to do this. Some people are just exceptionally good at thinking this way, so they make good scientists and secular philosophers.
* * *
Imagine going to your doctor for some tests.
Imagine him telling you that the results show that you have a terminal disease.
Think of the five most important questions you would want him to answer before you would believe him.
(This isn’t a trick question, but it seems that way.
The questions are hard to think of without being in this situation because they’re so simple.)
1: What symptoms did he see in your results?
(What did he observe?)
2: Do all of the symptoms indicate the terminal disease, or do only some of them indicate it and some of them indicate something else?
(Are the test results self-consistent?)
3: Do those symptoms always indicate a terminal disease, or do they indicate something else sometimes?
(Do the results show a universal pattern?)
4: Would another doctor get the same test results?
(Can the results be reproduced?)
5: Could you and the two doctors talk about the test results to refine your understanding of the situation?
(Can the results be debated?)
Imagine what you would think if your doctor gave you straight answers to all five of those questions.
Now imagine what you would think if he didn’t give you a straight answer to one or more of those questions.
If your doctor wouldn’t give you straight answers to all five of those questions, you wouldn’t believe him.
* * *
Secular philosophy is this applied to everyday life.
Science is this, applied formalized experiments.
Life is an experiment.
We are in it.
Controlled experiments are easy to use for studying small events.
You run some process multiple times and change one factor at a time to see how the changes affect the outcome.
But some things in life are way too complicated to repeat.
There’s no way we can make the year 2011 happen again and see how it would turn out differently if we change one thing.
Instead we have to find reliable information on the go and apply it to real life.
Secularism is no stretch of the imagination in the Occupy movement.
We do it every day.
Every day, in every Occupation in the country, a lot of people get together to talk about the facts they know about and try to figure out how they fit together.
* * *
Compare this to dogmatism.
This is the philosophy trap.
You and your group of people, whoever they are, live in certain conditions, whatever they are.
In those conditions you think of certain ideas.
You use those ideas to develop further ideas.
Are those further ideas the truth, or not?
If your own group of people is the center of your attention, and you don’t care what anyone from outside your group thinks, you can assume your further ideas are the unconditional truth.
Then you can try to marginalize or eliminate anyone who disagrees with your further ideas.
That’s the simplest choice.
But it’s not the only one.
You can decide that your further ideas might be the truth, but that you also might be mistaken about something.
You can try to figure out why you had the original ideas that your further ideas are based on.
You can also get to know people from outside your group to find out what original ideas they thought of in their situation, and what further ideas those people developed.
Then you can use your expanded set of original ideas to develop further ideas that might be right.
Then you can repeat that process over and over.
Dogmatism is the attempt to assign absolute truth to a set of ideas.
Secularism is the methodical search for absolute truth no matter how long it takes.
Some people believe that it’s an absolute fact that Jesus was the only son of the creator of the universe.
Other people believe it’s an absolute fact that he wasn’t.
Other people don’t care.
It is an absolute fact that art, music, singing, dancing, and poetry are universal to the human race.
Anthropologists discovered this by going out and meeting people from every part of the world and then compiling their discoveries.
These things seem like ideas because they’re things people thought of.
But as it turns out they aren’t just ideas, they’re inherent parts of humanity, because all over the world, without exception, people have thought of these ideas.
Anthropologists have made hundreds of discoveries like these.
Instead of jumping to big conclusions, why don’t we build up to big conclusions one reliable step at a time?
A lot of activists have talked about White Skin Privilege.
Being White in the U.S. is very different from not being White.
Some people say that racism is really racialized classism.
Some people say that can’t be right, because how did Barack Obama get to be president of the United States?
Some people say that racism is everywhere.
It affects racial minorities in ways White people often don’t notice.
Both of those ideas are on the right track, but neither one of them is completely right.
Racism is racialized classism in the sense that classism is a way of putting people down and racism is a way of trying to keep people down permanently.
Regardless of the various reasons people have for their racist feelings, the goal of the actions people take based on those feelings is always to try to reserve better living conditions for one group of people by permanently forcing another group of people into worse living conditions.
It is true that racism affects some people all the time, and it is true that some people have racist attitudes all the time.
It is also true that everyone is naturally xenophobic, so we are all capable of racism.
Nobody can afford to trust everyone they see unconditionally.
To keep ourselves safe we have to look for clues about who we should trust and who we shouldn’t.
Institutionalized racism teaches people to look for the wrong clues.
We’re all capable of misinterpreting clues on our own.
That means the struggle against racism is ongoing.
However, to jump from those facts to say the generalized statement that racism is everywhere isn’t very helpful overall.
If racism was everywhere it would be unsolvable, because none of us would ever have any way of seeing what an absence of racism looks like.
If racism is not everywhere, then we must be able to find some way to break human activity down into activities where racism happens and activities where racism doesn’t happen.
Then we have a starting point for counteracting racism, because we can figure out how to make the non-racism stuff happen more.
Psychologists have been working on puzzles like this for decades.
The one place where racism is guaranteed not to happen is in general childbirth.
If two healthy parents conceive a child, and have healthy living conditions from then until the child is born, that tells you nothing about the mental abilities the child will be born with.
If you compare several babies who were born this way, there’s no scientifically verifiable reason to believe that the differences in mental abilities between two babies of different races would be greater than the differences in mental abilities between two babies of the same race.
We’re all members of the same species.
We’re all human beings.
Africa contains 90% of the human gene pool.
A woman of any race can have a healthy baby with a man of any race.
Genes don’t segregate each other by race.
We’re born with various skin colors, we’re born with color vision, and we’re born naturally xenophobic.
But provided that racism doesn’t damage our parents’ genes or affect us in our prenatal environments, all the effects racism have on our lives happen after we’re born.
That means we can look at which things lead children to develop racist attitudes and which things lead them to develop non-racist attitudes, and then we can make as much of the non-racism stuff happen as possible.
(It is important to recognize how racism can affect parents’ genes and children’s’ prenatal environments, because those can affect how a person is born.
For instance, affluent women tend to have healthier diets than poor women.
Toxic waste gets dumped around poor neighborhoods a lot more than it gets dumped around affluent neighborhoods.
And a disproportionately high number of men of racial minorities serve in the military, which means a disproportionately high number of men of racial minorities are being exposed to the depleted uranium that’s used in ammunition, which causes birth defects.)
White Skin Privilege looks a lot different to me than it does to most people, for a couple of reasons.
First, as I’ve said, I’m from a multiracial family where the White people relatively soon are going to be in the minority.
Second, I grew up in the rural north, which has very few racial minorities.
Where I’m from, the people who grow up to be the farm laborers are born looking like the people who grow up to be the bank managers.
We go to the same schools and shop at the same grocery stores.
My brother started out as a farm laborer, and now he’s in business for himself growing medicinal herbs.
The way race has been used to amplify divisions among groups of people looks really stupid to me.
Basically racism is the decision that you won’t get along with your neighbors no matter what.
At the same time, because of racism some people in the U.S. have centuries of cultural development at resisting oppression, both individually and as groups.
Some people in the Occupy! Movement have a lot of practice at dealing with situations like the one we’re all in now.
* * *
A big obstacle to the discovery of a unifying philosophy is the White majority in the U.S. The whole idea behind the racialization of our economic system was to give White people the choice in which parts of life they wanted to experience and which parts they didn’t. That creates limitations in people’s perceptions of the world.
I’ve noticed that White people from most of the rest of the U.S., whether they wanted to or not, and whether they realize it or not, have a lot of absurd ideas that a lot of other people have very good reasons for not agreeing with. But those people who disagree get drowned out by the White majority. The White majority still agree among themselves that they have the right to think the way they do, and that it must be right because so many (White) people agree with them. Even if you call that the freedom to think for yourself instead of White supremacy, the rule of the more powerful, uninformed majority is still imperialism.
In the rural north White people don’t have the luxury of having an endless supply of people in worse living conditions available to suffer the consequences of the White people’s avoidable mistakes. A lot of the criticisms that racial minorities have had about White people, I’ve thought of too. Because where I’m from, I’m one of the people who do the hardest, most dangerous work for the least money.
(A lot of people have noticed how much of people’s culture is made up of proving they’re better than the next lower social group. I didn’t realize until just recently that’s why my own culture is so full of references to our being better than farm animals, with sayings like, “Were you raised in a barn?” Where I’m from, the main reason we’re told people eat with silverware is because animals don’t.)
* * *
As a rural working class White person, I would like to point out how the idea of White Skin Privilege is being used against working class White people.
The idea of White Skin Privilege is on the right track as the recognition of a way that people develop different perspectives on life.
But how people treat you because of your racial group is only one of many factors.
The critical factor is the life expectancy of the people in your group.
Groups that have lower average life spans live in more dangerous conditions, by definition.
People treating you one way or another because of your racial group is one of many reasons for that.
But from what I’ve seen the idea of White Skin Privilege is used mostly by middle class White people to lump all White people into the same category as themselves.
The real division is what I call the Middle Class Low Death Rate Privilege and the Working Class High Death Rate Adaptation.
Those are two points on a spectrum.
This is not an either/or distinction like the idea of White Skin Privilege.
Whatever the death rate is for your group of people, people with a lower death rate seem superficial and have a lot of absurd ideas, and people with a higher death rate are cruder people but have some sort of admirable inner strength.
Look at animals in the wild and you see the same thing.
When a species has a low death rate its diversity flourishes but a lot of those variations won’t survive when times get harder.
When the death rates increase, a lot of the variety gets wiped out but the animals who survive are the toughest at surviving in those conditions.
The only difference between class relations and animals in the wild here is that the differences between classes are caused by the evolution of ideas instead of genes.
The study of the evolution of ideas is called memetic evolution, and it’s a new branch of psychology where a lot of valuable discoveries are being made.
Now a lot of people refer to pictures on the internet as memes, by which they mean they’re ideas they’re trying to spread.
This is where the word meme came from.
Some people in the Occupy! Movement have pointed out that a political movement against oppression that’s made up of a disproportionately large amount of White people obviously is doing something wrong, because not many people who have lifetimes of practice at resisting oppression are bothering to join it, and therefore, their ideas aren’t being put to use in the struggle.
(Just in case I need to point this out, the death rate comparison doesn’t apply to differences between men and women who otherwise belong to the same social group.
Between one complete community of men, women, and children compared to another, oppression = harder living conditions = shorter average lifespan.
Which means shorter average lifespan = harder living conditions = opportunity for oppression.
Between men and women of the same social group, women always have longer average life spans than men because women are generally better than men at staying alive.
So the oppression of women within a social group doesn’t show up in their death rates.)
* * *
The whole idea behind the racialization of the economic system in the U.S. was to reserve the managerial class for White people.
Today we still have that basic division, but it isn’t determined by race directly anymore.
Now it’s determined by educational levels, which are affected by economic levels, which are affected by race.
Nobody goes to college to learn how to be a farm laborer.
If you’re White you might not have noticed this, but take a moment to think how this looks to other people.
Listen to how college educated White people talk; especially people whose families have generations of college educations and white-collar jobs.
Compare that to how people who aren’t college educated, aren’t White, or both, talk.
The people from cultures that have developed for centuries around the opportunity of getting a managerial job if they can prove they’re intelligent spend a lot of time talking about their unique ideas, or talking about other people’s ideas that only a few people support.
You belong to a group of people who live in a situation where you have to prove you’re smart so you can get a managerial job, so you can get the most wealth and decision making power, and also the most recognition of success from other people in that situation.
As a member of the managerial class, facing life-threatening danger is not part of an ordinary day.
Or to put it another way, people in harder living conditions than yours have shorter average life spans because we have more ways to die.
That means you don’t associate serious danger with your ideas not working.
That means in your ongoing cultural struggle to prove who’s smarter than who, you can afford to take bigger chances on thinking of different ideas.
That means your goal is to think of unique ideas, not to think of ideas that you, personally, can stake your life on applying.
The managerial class doesn’t gamble with their own lives; they gamble with other people’s lives.
* * *
For a specific example, I’m from a farming town.
I meet a lot of activists who obviously aren’t from farming towns, who insist that there’s more to life than food production and drinking water.
There’s art and music and emotions.
Food production isn’t all there is to life, but if you don’t get any food to eat for a year you’ll die and then you won’t feel any emotions anymore.
Whether you call it Christianity or New-Ageism, conservativism or liberalism, 99% or 1%, a bunch of White people sitting around talking about their unique ideas that they can never figure out how to act upon still looks like a bunch of people who expect someone else to do all the hard work.
I don’t mean to put anyone down here.
But that’s how a lot of people interpret it when people who previously have had lower positions in society start talking about themselves as if they’re equal people and they don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of mistakes the people of the dominant group could’ve avoided making if only they’d thought a little harder about what they were doing.
Activists from the suburbs have made a lot of valuable insights about the psychological oppression of the advertising industry that I wouldn’t’ve thought of.
But getting enough food and water to stay alive is still a prerequisite to feeling positive emotions.
This isn’t Disney Land.
This isn’t Saturday morning cartoons.
This isn’t shopping at the mall.
This is political struggle for the fate of the world against the most powerful people on Earth.
If we treat this like a hobby we aren’t going to win, because the 1% don’t consider this a hobby.
* * *
The other side of that is that people from high death rate cultures often don’t think about new ideas because so much of their safety depends on the support of their immediate communities.
A lot of racist, sexist, ethnocentric, homophobic, and every other type of prejudiced attitudes are the result of people not daring to undermine the trust of their prejudiced neighbors.
If you work on a fishing boat in the north Atlantic, you don’t want anyone in your crew to hold grudges against you, and they don’t want you holding grudges against them.
If you can’t see the point of view of some other group of people because theirs is too far outside your own point of view, or you can’t afford to go far enough outside the safety of the shared point of view of your neighbors to try to see the point of view of some other group of people, you can feel like you have unsolvable conflicts with the other people.
Once you feel that you have unsolvable conflicts with someone else, the simplest solution is to hate them.
If you feel that you’re in a permanent state of conflict with someone else, the only solutions you have are to ignore them, eliminate them, help someone else eliminate them, or not intervene when someone else tries to eliminate them.
Hating the people is how you make yourself feel like they deserve those things.
How many people throughout history have volunteered for a war against some group they thought they had unsolvable conflicts with, only to get to know the people after they’d invaded their country, and realized then that their conflicts hadn’t been unsolvable after all?
* * *
There are six basic ways I’ve seen of talking about differences between groups of people.
The first is to believe the dominant group is always right about everything and everyone else just isn’t smart enough to see that.
The backlash against that is to believe the other people have magical powers the stupid dominant people just don’t understand.
The backlash against that is to feel sorry for the poor misguided dominant people who just don’t know any better.
The backlash against that is to ignore groups altogether and talk to each other as individuals. That’s the stage most people I’ve met in the Occupy! Movement seem to be on.
That would be good enough if our goal was to hang out in a park and congratulate ourselves on being so diverse.
But that’s not our goal.
The 1% are trying to win.
Whatever that means, if they do win it will be bad for us.
If we are going to win, we need to figure out how to use our diversity to our advantage.
Throughout these four stages, people have felt different ways about different groups.
They’ve used different tones of voice for talking about people to try to get other people to feel the same way about the different groups.
They do that to get people to treat people of other groups in whatever way they themselves feel that group should be treated.
But we have other choices.
* * *
The fifth stage is to leave ideas about good and evil, superior and inferior so far behind that you forget them altogether.
If I can see that a person is Black, I can conclude from that the person has some ideas about the Civil Rights Movement that I hadn’t thought of.
So why can’t we all just admit it and say what we think?
A lot of people in minority situations try to talk without offending people in the majority.
Everyone feels themselves to be important.
People in majority situations also have a lot of political power on their side.
They can use that to force other people to recognize them as important.
People in majorities have ideas, and people in majorities can force other people to recognize them as important.
But a lot of people in majority groups misinterpret that and equate having their particular ideas with those ideas resulting in their importance.
Then when someone says something that undermines their important-seeming ideas, they feel threatened by it.
Then they start arguing against facts just to try to maintain the importance of their own ideas.
For instance, I’ve been in conversations with people who say things like, “Rich people invented banking,” as if that proves rich people are the smartest and deserve to rule the world.
To which I reply, “Yeah, but poor people invented rock ‘n’ roll.”
I’m not here to talk about why one group of people is better than another, I’m here to talk about why one group of human beings thought of one set of ideas and another group of human beings thought of a different set of ideas.
Then the other person says, “Yeah well rich people could’ve invented rock ‘n’ roll.”
To which I say, “Yeah, but poor people did invent rock ‘n’ roll.”
There’s more to life than having good intentions.
You also have to produce results.
Are we all supposed to sit around feeling sorry for rich people?
Are we supposed to pretend nobody invented rock ‘n’ roll just because rich people can’t take the credit for it?
If you want to invent a musical genre, you have to work for it!
In other words, we’re all important.
We just have to agree on that.
We all have to agree that we aren’t trying to put each other down when we talk about why some people have had ideas that other people didn’t think of.
* * *
The sixth stage is to admire everyone.
Everyone who is alive today knows something important about life because they’ve figured out how to stay alive this long.
Everyone you meet knows some things you don’t, because we’ve all led different lives.
But people who are still caught up in ideas about good and evil, superior and inferior, misunderstand this a lot.
If you assume everyone is either superior or inferior, then if you see one person admire another person, you assume they must be putting everyone else down.
But for me to admire your good qualities doesn’t require me to believe everyone else is worse than you.
We shouldn’t ignore each other’s bad characteristics, but shouldn’t focus on them either.
We make ourselves more powerful as a group by fitting our strengths together.
We make our situation turn out positively for us by focusing on positives, not on negatives.
Why should we push and pull each other down?
Why can’t we push and pull each other up?
We can talk about our belonging to different groups as our reasons for having seen different parts of life.
We have all developed the perspective on life we have because of what we have perceived and misperceived or overlooked.
Talking about what each of us have seen is a good idea, but it can only get us so far.
One reason the people of another group think differently from you is because they’ve seen things you haven’t.
But another big reason is because they haven’t seen things you have.
People can’t tell you what they haven’t noticed about life because they haven’t noticed it.
By recognizing how people develop their perspectives, you can recognize how people from living conditions other than your own have developed their perspectives because they’ve overlooked or misinterpreted something you’ve seen.
And you can recognize how you’ve made mistakes too by overlooking or misinterpreting something someone else has seen.
Like I’ve said, expanding your horizons depends on recognizing the limitations of your own perceptions.
* * *
There will be dancing in the revolution.
But there will also be a lot of hard philosophical work.
We can’t solve the problems we’re trying to solve if we keep causing them ourselves.
The trick to what I call constructive listening is to recognize why someone else knows more about something than you do, and to recognize possible limitations of their understanding of their situation also.
That way you can learn from other people and also resolve disagreements constructively.
Environmental science philosophy is a great equalizer.
We’ve all seem part of the picture.
White people have had advantages in getting through the education system, so they’ve had opportunities to learn a lot of complicated things, but have also had their attention diverted from a lot of simple things.
All the Native Americans I know believe that we’re just one part of the world and people are related to all the other animals.
Everyone from an inner city knows about the law of the jungle.
Everyone from an agricultural society, like all those Mexican people who are immigrating here, has seen all the parts of the cycles of life happening on their farms.
All of those are good starting points.
We just have to stop getting bogged down disagreeing about our “unique” ideas.
We are trying to develop cohesive ideas, and everyone has a path to success at that goal.
A lot of people have debated the definition of wealth.
People have seen the idea from different directions.
Wealth affects all of us, so we need a clear understanding of what it is in order to see how it affects both ourselves and each other.
Everyone has a bare minimum of stuff they need to live.
Everyone has whatever amount of stuff they have right now.
That bare minimum is a lot less than most people realize.
Dropping below the bare minimum means certain death.
Until your death is inescapable, you still have choices you can make to try to improve your situation.
What a person needs depends on their abilities and skills, meaning, what they can do and what they know how to do.
What a person perceives themselves to need depends on their personal history and cultural background—what they’ve learned on their own to feel they need and what they’ve been taught by other people to feel they need.
The stuff a person needs is also affected by the stuff they have now, because they can use some of the stuff they have now to get stuff they will need later.
For instance, everyone needs a lifetime supply of food, but no one has one right at the moment.
The future looks a lot different to people who have money, or fishing poles, or gardens and tools, or whatever they need to get the food they’ll need tomorrow, than it does to people who don’t have anything they can use to get food tomorrow.
Wealth is the surplus between what a person needs and what they have.
We still need a definition of stuff.
One idea about wealth that I hear from Libertarians a lot is that the market gives people the choice in what to buy, and having choices means self determination, which is the goal of Libertarianism.
But as an Anarchist pointed out in a discussion with a Libertarian at Occupy! Phoenix, people don’t really have choices in what to buy until their basic needs are met.
People who don’t have enough money to buy the food they need buy the cheapest food they can get.
More generally, nobody chooses to be unable to meet their basic needs.
Poverty is not self-determination.
So money does not equal wealth.
The surplus between what you need and what you have is your safety margin.
That’s where you can afford to experiment with ideas.
That’s where you can afford to be patient.
That’s where you can afford to be generous.
That’s where you can afford to have a sense of humor.
That’s where you can afford to be idealistic.
That stuff is anything you can use.
Whenever you decide to use anything you decide to use it in whatever way you think is best in your situation.
One definition of capital is wealth that you use to create more wealth.
But that brings us right back to the question of what wealth is.
That definition is only useful in a money-centric view of the world, which is what we are struggling against.
Whatever you use, you use in the attempt to make the best of your situation, according to whatever your idea of the best is.
From a non-money-centric point of view, all wealth is capital, so we don’t need to distinguish between the two.
The non-money-centric definition of wealth shows many more choices people have made, and that we can make.
The Zapatistas rose up in armed revolution because as indigenous farmers they could see the NAFTA was a new and improved form of the colonialism they and their ancestors had already endured for 500 years.
They saw it as a death sentence for them, so they decided to fight back while they still could.
The Zapatistas’ explanation for their decision fits everything I just said.
They saw the NAFTA as certain death for them if they cooperated with it, so they decided to use what they had to fight against it before they lost everything.
In an agricultural society, economic, and therefore political, self-determination depends on the control of farmland.
That’s central to the Zapatistas’ struggle.
But another form of wealth is the communities they have built up around their farmland.
They and their ancestors have lived on the same farms for thousands of years.
If they were to be driven off their farms and relocated to cities to take jobs in factories, their communities would be broken up.
They would lose the patterns of trust they have with their neighbors, and with it their patterns of cooperation.
Their communities—and any communities—are a form of wealth.
Another form of wealth we have within the Occupy! movement is what various people call soul, spirit, or strength.
Soul is the opposite of consumerism.
Consumerism is the attitude that you’re supposed to get what you want, when you want it.
Dominant groups of people in societies get a lot of practice at expecting to get what they want when they want it.
People who don’t belong to dominant groups get a lot of practice at not getting what they want when they want it.
But everyone always tries to succeed at their goals in life.
When you frequently don’t get what you want when you want it, you have to expand your perspective on your situation, to see this moment as some part of long-term success at your goals.
This thing people call soul that, as the saying goes, Black people have and White people don’t, is the unshakeable feeling that they’re right and they’re going to win someday, somehow, no matter what.
Dr. King turned that attitude into a political movement.
That’s a form of wealth because it’s something people can use to help them get what they want, and it’s something we can all learn.
Education is a form of wealth, because that’s another thing people can use to help them get what they want.
A lot of the things the 1% invest in that don’t produce direct financial returns are still wealth, and therefore, capital.
Lobbying politicians to pass laws that benefit international corporations, donating money to colleges with conditions that they spend it in ways that benefit the donors, and deciding how the Occupy! Movement will be represented in mainstream media outlets are all ways that people use stuff to try to get what they want.
Buying mansions, limousines, yachts, and private jets are ways they use stuff to make themselves feel satisfied with their lives, and also make good impressions on their friends, colleagues, and neighbors, which are other ways to get what they want.
These ways of people using their stuff to try to get what they want are not separate from straightforward investments in factory machinery and advertising slots on TV, so there’s no reason for us to pretend they are, even though the 1% try to get us to believe they are.
This is not a question of morally appropriate ways to make investments versus moral failures.
If your only goal is to make yourself more powerful, anything you do that helps in that is a victory.
From a non-money-centric point of view, the difference between working class and middle class is harder to define.
Where I grew up my family fit into what people there considered the middle class, but compared the U.S. as a whole we were actually working class.
Some movie, music, and sports stars start out life as working class people, then make enough money to get into the upper class, but hang onto their working class values, so what are they now?
For that matter, 500 years ago some of my ancestors made good livings hunting with stone tipped arrows, so which class were they?
As I said before, the difference between working class and middle class is a difference between death rates.
Now I can say that above the point of having enough stuff to live is a point of uncertainty.
This is a simple question:
From where you are now, do you feel you will be able to provide for your basic needs for the foreseeable future?
People who answer yes to that question act very differently from people who answer no.
This is soul wealth or poverty.
If you feel that life is hopeless and you get so depressed that you kill yourself, it doesn’t really matter how much money you have.
If you have a positive outlook, even if you have nothing else, you’re going to try to make a living and you won’t see any reason you can’t succeed.
The relation between homeless people and people who have homes has been important to the Occupy! Movement, and these distinctions between class relations work there too.
I have a section on this later in this book.
People who don’t have homes make different decisions form people who do have homes, in many, many ways, more than people with homes generally realize.
For one example, some of the stuff that people need in life is the opportunity to see their children.
One homeless Occupier in Phoenix hasn’t seen his children in two years.
He clowns around a lot to try to keep his mind off it, but sometimes he gets depressed and sometimes he gets short tempered.
Those three things he does don’t make any sense if you don’t know why he does them, but they all come from the same source.
Trying to make himself feel better about not seeing his children is hard enough.
Trying to make himself feel better with the stuff he has as a homeless person is even harder.
For another example, I’ve heard that in some Occupations a lot of homeless people have turned their lives around.
I have a homeless friend living with me right now, and I’ve seen the same thing.
When you have a safe place to eat, sleep, relax, bathe, and keep your things, and where people respect you, life looks a lot different than when you don’t have those things.
The conflict between religion and secularism is a lot simpler than a lot of people believe.
This is playing out the same way every conflict between two positions plays out.
A few very vocal people strongly support each side, and the much larger number of reasonable people in between get drowned out.
A lot of people have a lot of misunderstandings about Atheism.
Since the War on Terror started, a lot of Atheists have started speaking out against religious fundamentalism.
There are a lot of ways the 1% use religion to keep people from learning new ideas.
Secularism is somewhere in between religion and Atheism.
Most people I’ve met in the Occupy! Movement have figured out this trick from different directions, whether they realized it or not.
* * *
Religious fundamentalism is the philosophy dogma trap word for word.
Some group of people sees that they know more about their own ideas than they know about other people’s ideas, they feel that proves their ideas are better than everyone else’s, and they decide that proves they’re their god’s Chosen People.
A religion is a philosophy that assumes the existence of supernatural powers.
Some things in the world happen for reasons we know about.
Other things happen for reasons we don’t know about.
The idea of supernatural is the idea that there’s some sort of line between the things we know about and the things we don’t know about.
So what is the line?
It depends on the religion.
A fundamentalist religion sees the known reasons and the unknown reasons as two completely separate categories.
Religious fundamentalists claim to know (somehow) that the causes that are unknown to us will forever be unknown to us.
In other words, that some causes originate from a level of the universe that is separate from our own and that we can never reach in our lifetimes.
A progressive religion sees the supernatural as things we don’t understand now, but they don’t have to stay that way forever.
Maybe we will be able to figure those things out someday, or maybe we won’t, but either way we should try to understand as much about the world as we can.
* * *
A lot of people have thought of religion as a category of thing that’s separate from everything else people do.
But that isn’t true, because religion is the result of a lot of factors in how people think.
All religions share belief in the supernatural.
A lot of factors that people equate with religion are actually just factors of Christianity, which some religions share, but not all.
For instance, some religions have an equivalent of the Bible, but not all do.
This goes both ways.
Some philosophies that haven’t been considered religions fit the definition of religion because they depend on supernatural forces even though the people who use them don’t realize it.
This is the dogma trap again.
Everyone has ideas about how things are now.
Everyone has goals.
Everyone tries to use the ideas they have to reach their goals.
But if there’s something in between your ideas and your goals that you misunderstood or didn’t know about, when you try to use your ideas to reach your goals, you won’t reach them.
Without realizing it you’re depending on supernatural intervention to make your ideas lead to your goals.
* * *
In aviation psychology this is called a sensory illusion. If you drive a car on the freeway at 70 miles an hour for a few minutes, you’ll get into a sensory illusion.
When you accelerate at first, the acceleration will shake up the fluids in your inner ear, so you’ll feel yourself moving.
But when you stay at the same speed for a while, the fluids in your ear will settle down.
Now you won’t feel yourself moving anymore.
You can’t see yourself moving compared to your immediate surroundings, because your immediate surroundings are the inside of the car.
If you have the windows rolled up, you won’t feel the wind.
So if you don’t feel like you’re moving, why do you need to wear a seatbelt?
If you feel like there’s no reason to wear a seatbelt because you don’t feel like you’re moving, without realizing it you’re depending on supernatural forces to save you if you get into an accident.
Consumerism is the same problem on a bigger scale.
The advertising industry surrounds us with the idea that there’s lots and lots of stuff we can buy.
If we assume there’s an endless supply of stuff to buy, we’re going to get into trouble, because there isn’t an endless supply of stuff to buy.
The Earth is only 25,000 miles around, so there can’t be an endless supply of stuff to buy on the Earth.
If we get tricked into making plans that don’t match reality, we end up depending on supernatural forces to make our plans work.
A lot of people planned on there being an endless supply of oil in the world, and now their plans aren’t working.
Some people believe some sort of divine intervention is going to solve the problem.
Other people believe that there must be an endless supply of something else that will be as good as, or better than, oil.
Other people have recognized the problem with both of those assumptions, so now they’re focusing their thoughts on what we can do if there isn’t an endless supply of oil or an equivalent in the world.
Secularism is the attitude that we shouldn’t depend on supernatural intervention to make our plans work.
Some people who consider themselves Atheists are still depending on supernatural forces in effect, without realizing it.
Some people who consider themselves religious are actually using secularism without realizing it.
* * *
The criticism of religion by Atheists has been directed toward the dogma trap part of religion.
But the dogma trap isn’t the entire religion.
The other part of religion is the holism part, where people try to connect all their ideas about the world together into a coherent body.
Holism is not unique to religion.
Everyone tries to connect their ideas about the world into a coherent body, whether they call it a religion or not.
The choice we get in holistic thinking is whether we build it up with reliable information one step at a time, or try to guess about some things and make mistakes.
To this point the only choice we’ve had is to guess at some things, because some connections among branches of science haven’t been made until recently.
To this point every religion has started with holism and run into the dogma trap, because to this point there has been no way for anyone to think holistically without running into the dogma trap.
Religion has just been one of many ways that has happened.
The critical difference between a fundamentalist religion and a progressive religion is the goals of the people practicing it.
Is your goal to prove that your religion is the unconditional truth?
Or is your goal to use the ideas you have now to try to figure out what to do in life, and you know that you don’t know everything, and you’re willing to learn more, and you’re willing to change your mind about things when you realize you’ve been wrong about something?
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One argument against religious fundamentalism says that all forms of Christianity will always be a fundamentalist religion, because the founding tenant of Christianity is that Jesus is the only begotten son of the creator of the universe.
Once you accept that Jesus is the only son of the creator of the universe, without realizing it you have automatically rejected any idea that depends on Jesus not being the son of the creator of the universe.
So you’re right into the dogma trap, because you’ve accepted an idea as unconditionally true even though other people disagree with it, no matter what reasons people have for disagreeing with it.
But that doesn’t automatically make all forms of Christianity fundamentalist religions.
The critical point is what ideas you use to make your decisions.
You could believe that Jesus is the son of the creator of the universe, and believe in some ideas that are connected to that, but not actually use any of those ideas to make your decisions.
You wouldn’t realize you’d done that though, because there are some ideas that are basic to Christianity that are in fact universal to humanity.
A person could stop making their decisions based on ideas that are unique to Christianity, while continuing to make their decisions based on ideas that are universal to humanity, including Christianity, and in effect become a Christian Agnostic without realizing it.
I consider myself a Pagan, and this is exactly what I’ve done.
This is a cultural tradition that connects me to my ancestors.
They figured out some stuff about life and they told stories about it to pass the ideas on to their descendants.
To me the most important part of that tradition is the search for a coherent body of ideas to understand the world.
I believe that if my ancestors knew I would have the choice between learning reliable information and adapting my interpretation of the world accordingly, or holding on to their beliefs and making avoidable mistakes, they would want me to learn the reliable information.
When I was young I once drank some hydrogen peroxide because I mistook it for water, and I got sick.
I wouldn’t want my children to drink hydrogen peroxide just because I didn’t know any better.
There is a big, big difference between praying to your god to give you the strength to endure another day of people treating you like you’re trash just because of where your ancestors were from or because of where you live, versus praying to your god to tell you how you should use your nuclear missiles.
The decisions you make in life become other people’s business when they start affecting other people.
When your decisions affect other people, those people expect you to use the most reliable information available.