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Why Humanity Destroyed Itself

I'm currently reading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt where he uses the metaphor of  the elephant and the rider.  The elephant is instinct, the rider is consciousness.  He talks a lot in the early section about how the rider often spends it's time justifying and excusing the snap decisions made by the elephant. I completely agree that this is what happens and even that it might be part of why consciousness evolved but he seems to argue that this is right and proper and I completely disagree with that.

The elephant is instinct.  It's a super fast pattern matching machine that's purpose built for for making snap decisions on limited information.  On the African savannah that was probably a really good thing. In the modern world it's a recipe for global destruction.  The elephant is always going to make that snap decision, that's it's job, and the rider is always going to feel an impulse to back up the elephant, but that's what a clever animal would do.  A human would feel that impulse, then set it aside and examine the elephant's decision, perhaps do a little research, and take a serious look at whether the elephant's choice, made in a second without benefit of logic or reasoning, was really the best decision for the modern world.

Haidt says that research shows that education doesn't improve the ability of the rider to control the elephant but I don't think the kind of education we do is likely to. I think that to control the elephant, or rather, to disregard the elephant, the education would need to be aimed at that specific skill. I think meditation might be part of that training.  My limited experience with meditation is that's all about disregarding your impulses.  Observing them but not getting caught up in them.  That seems exactly like the training you'd need to disregard the elephant.


The Wisdom of Night Vale

  • It was a simpler time. Because I personally had less memories and so less to superimpose upon the world, and so it was much clearer, and also I was younger. Thus, the world was simpler.
  • Fear is a reasonable response to life.
  • ...what are people but deaths that haven't happened yet?
  • He'll be what he'll be. And we'll all learn to be okay with whatever that is.
  • “I mean I would never do that. I just think it. Does this make me a bad person?”
    “You are only a bad person if you do bad things,” said the second anchor.
    “Thank you.”
    “That’s not an acquittal, Diane. The counterpoint is that you are only a good person if you do good things.”
  • A good person is a person who does good things. It was a deceptively simple prescription because it implied that she or anyone else knew what good things are. What could she do in this situation that was good, and by what standard?
  • Jackie sighed but let her talk. She knew that messages were for the sender, not the receiver.
  • Of the stages of grief, Diane had already gone through denial, sadness, and despair. Now she had been on the verge of the final step, vengeance.
  • These possibilities and all other possibilities remain . . . possible.
  • Please know that our station exists because of donors like you. It also exists because a long and terribly improbable series of galactic events over the course of billions of years conspired to bring us to this very moment in our station’s existence. And we thank you for your support. Again, we apologize for the delay in receiving your items, and also for the absurdity of time.
  • You have helped many people with your many skills, but also you’re an irresponsible little shit. Both of those are true. Truth can be contradictory. You are not forgiven your lapses by your nonlapses.
  • I’ll always be a mother, she thought, but I’ll always be a lot of things. I wonder what the next of those things will be?

You Are Not So Smart and You Are in Very Good Company | Think Tank | Big Think

I very much liked this quote...

I take great pleasure in accepting this because I feel a unity in the humility, in the recognition that we are a community of messy, stumbling, fumbling beings tumbling through space wrestling with a confusing gift of consciousness. For me, that has led to a sense of empathy I never knew until I saw my own flaws reflected in the species as a whole, and the flaws of the species reflected in myself.

via You Are Not So Smart and You Are in Very Good Company | Think Tank | Big Think.

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Litany Against Fear — Litany Against Anger

From Dune, obviously. If you haven't read it go do it now, it's awesome.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

My conversion to a litany against anger...

I must not submit to my anger.
Anger is the ravager.
Anger is the destroyer, sowing chaos and pain.
I will face my anger.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has passed I will turn to see its path.
Where the anger has gone there will be nothing.
Only I remain.

Not sure I like lines 2 and 3 but I'm better with two after reading the definition of ravager. I like "sowing chaos and pain" as it indicates what you do to others. Also not sure about line one, it was originally "give in" and I can't decide which I like.

I've never really liked the last line.  I always thought "will" was unnecessary.

BTW, the litany again anger is useful for me but really needed by others in my life.  My own anger has always been brief and then set aside with apologies where needed.


My own edit of the litany against fear.  I just chopped out anything I felt wasn't useful and made one substitution.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings oblivion.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has passed I will turn to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I remain.



Tom Ehrich asks if we really live like Christians


What he said.

Note: I should add that I'm an atheist but every time I read about Jesus I seem to get the same message Tom did while most "Christians" seem to get the message that God is on their side so they can do whatever they want.

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I do not fear death

I do not fear death. I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

-- Roger Ebert


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