Saturday, March 28, 2015


For centuries now, Euro-thinkers -- some say influenced by Arabic thinkers who developed mathematics -- have struggled to be “rational,” to stick to facts and logic.  This was the marker for being “better,” “smarter,” superior to more primitive people.  In fact, we are thrilled to admire the evolved skills of ethics and restraint that are managed by the pre-frontal cortex.  It’s “cool,” apart, a “male value,” objective and therefore unselfish, represented by professions like theology, medicine, law, that require learning a canon of technical and historic materials.  

When people like this are asked about “religion” they will talk about ethics, institutions, demographics (or anything else graphable) and theological systems or (in case they have no theory of theos) philosophy. (They can’t “see” anything but organized religions -- it is the organized part they respect.)  They want to know how the hierarchy is organized and they want to know how to be at the top.  A Major Thinker.

I’ve been following, a participatory “Beta” website meant to be an idea “hatchery.”  One can post questions, one can answer the questions or comment on other people’s answers or submit alternative answers, and one can make short statements to a “forum.”  It deliberately turns to readers for content.  Since I greatly admire the online parent magazine called “Aeon,” I was full of enthusiasm and jumped right in.  Somehow I expected the content to be as eclectic as the magazine, but slowly I realized that the stories about artisans or small sub-cultures or nature, were mostly represented by videos.  (The magazine is half essays and half videos.)

The categories offered on are “Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Health, Society, Technology, and Culture.”  There are no categories for religion or nature but I have the impression -- not tested by a realistic accounting -- that the majority of questions hinge on religion v. science but, more than that, there is an obsession with the traditional religious questions addressed by institutional dogmas.  It’s not that people are arguing with some particular named and organized religion, but that they simply cannot get outside the idea that religion is a box and does not exist outside that box.  They can’t escape the terms of known institutions.  No free range religion.  To them, it’s a contradiction in terms.

It’s quite transparent in naming the actual writers and their main professional tags -- they all have these tags -- so it’s easy to see that they are almost all academic, male, culturally European (a few from India), and evidently rather liberal and politically correct in their sympathies.  Also, many of the posts are by the staff.  Clearly this site is a consolidation rather than an exploration.  I do not know quite where to look for exploration.  I begin to think it is not represented on the Internet, where most people must have at least a minimum skill level, though smart phones are letting a lot of less monied folks get access.  Education is more likely to be an exercise in conformity than in exploration. 

“Religion” is an array of phenomena, formed as  survival guides out of the substance of human experience, meaning distilled from interaction with specific ecosystems, but also layered in terms of human neurology, desires, physical well-being, and participation in society. Christian denominations formed from ethnic and economic enclaves and try to maintain that identity, resisting different races, but transporting ideas from one part of the planet to another.  The Bible itself is a jumble of assumptions, some of which plainly don’t fit or are damaging.  (Mixed fibers, indeed!)

A dance about slavery.

Something as historically specific as Native American or African tribes, carefully adapted for survival in their places of origin, are half-missionized and half-reactionary, with much subversive resistance to the modern state of idea-soup.  Strangely, in America the once-distinct tribes have become Pan-Native-American which insist that NA’s have a distinct culture separated from whites, but uniform across the continent.  (Sioux bonnets, dream catchers, sweat lodges, grass dances, potlatches, or whatever else is dramatic and appealing.  They rarely pick up on the near universal starvation monsters who eat humans and often live underwater.)  Something similar happens in the way we think of African-American religions: they are either elegant Baptist ladies with hats or voodoo witches.  Either way, they are Other.

Aeon itself says:  “Since September 2012, Aeon has been publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. It asks the biggest questions and finds the freshest, most original answers, provided by world-leading authorities on science, philosophy and society.”   But this is in their own opinion.  They are actually choosing what THEY like best. 

Bioneers are more appealing to me.  They are more experience-based, more world-wide, more open to surprises, much more open to indigenous or minority thinkers.  There are three ways that environment-focused organizations usually lose me -- one is that they can get all wrapped up in laws and rules and consequently politics.  Or they can slip over into nature mysticism and go all woo-woo.  The third is the capacity to become elitist when they start creating reserves for only certain wealthy people.  Ted Turner might be an example, or Boone and Crockett as a local example.  Bioneers is, it must be admitted, just a little woo-woo.  Or maybe Kumbaya. looks interesting, since in the end all organizations have to choose some kind of specific ground and form.  I keep notes on the development of this small town and its infrastructure, so this is useful.  Almost all these above named groups tend towards a lack of humor.  Some fan the flames of “change-dread” that make it unbearable to think about the losses already.  It might feel like some of these ideas are powering change, but the plain fact is that it’s sometimes paralyzing.

Paul Hawken  Can you bear to watch Paul Hawken’s talk?  “Justice is the public face of love.”  Testimony is religious -- well, spiritual.    But then, AAAAACK -- they want money.  (The church joke goes, “Let’s do something religious -- pass the collection plate!”)

If the internet collapses due to a sun flare that finally fries all the satellites and connecting fibers -- which happens now on a small scale -- or maybe due to governmental or corporation domination of the rules about what can be posted to whom, these Internet-dependent organizations might end.  Bioneers is reality and terrain-related enough to survive.  Aeon won’t.  It is what they call "horizontal" thinking, which is good sometimes but not always.


I sometimes think that in my lifetime I will see the collapse of academia -- maybe already am.  Certainly every academic connection I have -- including public elementary and high schools as well as grad schools -- is frayed at the edges.  They are dependent on convictions about what is worthy and useful, just as religious organizations are.   (Degrees mean you’ll make more money; being "high church" means making more money.)  But the cannibals are nearby.  I can smell them.  I don’t think Aeon can.  As for Bioneers, they’ve gone vegetarian.  I wonder what the Evolution Institute has to say about anarchy.

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