Monday, November 28, 2016

Tennessee, Land of Crazy People

* * * * * RANT ALERT * * * * *

I am of course extremely depressed by the election result. I am trying to ignore it as much as possible. I'm definitely taking a few months off. I've unsubscribed from maybe 50 political mailing lists - my inbox is much smaller now - and muted most political tweeters for 30 days.

Only time will tell whether this election will be the turning point in history which puts us on a direct line to Hunger Games, or maybe a good correction in the US as the world's only superpower, or who knows what. Meanwhile ...

My wife had some time off work, so we decided to spend a couple of nights (November 17 & 18) in Nashville. We stayed at the Hermitage Hotel downtown - very nice, old detailed architecture that my wife loves. The first afternoon there we walked around downtown and wound up at the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall State Park. We were taking a rest sitting in front of a fountain feature when we were approached by 2 women. They were in their 30s, white, attractive, well groomed and well dressed. The younger 1 was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. Here's the gist of our conversation.

Older of the 2: "Can we talk with you?"

Me: "Sure."

Older of the 2: "We wanted to share stories of faith and spirit with you. We are both ministers."

Me: "Arrggghhh! I'm an antitheist, I definitely do not want to share stories of faith with you."

Younger of the 2: "What's an antitheist?"

Me: "It's someone who believes that religion harms the human race - that we would all be better off if people quit including nonexistent supernatural beings in their decision making. Please go away and leave us alone." I was at this point making "go away" motions with my hands.

Older of the 2: "OK, well then, where are you from?"

My wife: "Lexington, KY"

Older of the 2: "OK. Have a nice day."

These 2 women's affects were both very laid back and spacey - kind of like they were stoners. I guess they were high on religion. My wife and I were both annoyed at this intrusion of unreality into what had heretofore been a pleasant afternoon.

That evening we had dinner in the hotel's restaurant, the Capitol Grille. The dinner was OK but nothing special. We were eating at 6:30 and the place was pretty crowded. Our server told us that it was because there was a 7:30 performance of "Book of Mormon" at the Tennessee Center for the Arts, which was 2 blocks up the street.

A few tables over, a couple in their late 30s or early 40s came in. The couple was fairly attractive. The woman had very expensive looking thick curly blond hair past her shoulders and was wearing an evening dress. After a while they were joined by another similarly aged and dressed couple. The woman in this couple was a brunette.

My wife and I both noticed that both men seemed to be totally focusing in on the blond, who is expounding vivaciously. We kind of felt sorry for the brunette. Then during a lull in other conversations, we hear some of what she is saying: "with Jesus's love", "ephesians" ...

At that point, I'm like, crap. Are these people all crazy? This is what is important to them???

And I immediately flashed on this behavior as evolutionary sexual selection. I usually characterize sexual selection as "because chicks dig it", but here we have a woman, proudly flashing her peacock's tail of all the brain cycles she apparently can afford to waste on theories of imaginary superfriends. She was doing it in what appeared to be a courtship / mate selection environment. And the males seemed to be eating it up!

A "peacock's tail" is the archetypal example of a feature of a species that is an extravagant waste of energy, which serves to demonstrate how fit the individual is to be able to waste that much energy, implying that they are obviously superior breeding stock.

Year's ago, I got really discouraged and cut way back on following evolutionary psychology and cognitive science as I kept seeming to find that so much of what we hold dear - our minds, language, music - were all peacock's tails. They were all sexually selected. They may have had some species survival value but that was overwhelmed by the "because chicks dig it" aspect. So it really is all about who are the cool kids in middle school. I found this very depressing. So I think we can add religion to this list.

I have speculated in the past that religion may have species selection effects, in that it increases the survival potential of a group by creating a mechanism which allows for the justification of killing other humans. This may be more or less significant than the sexual selection effect.

This was particularly painful after the presidential election. 80% of white evangelical christians voted for Trump, who appears to be mostly amoral and completely lacking in common human decency. So these same people wanting to share "stories of faith and spirit" and expounding on "Jesus's love" probably voted for this evil man. If I ever had any doubts about evangelical christians being full-of-shit hypocrites, they are all gone now. I'll also bet that most of the audience at this performance of "Book of Mormon" were evangelical christians, who would laugh uproariously at this completely blasphemous play. Blasphemy, the victimless crime.

For many of them, the abortion issue overrides all else. This is yet another example of the harm caused by delusional thinking based on religion rather than facts. Driving in the south, you see the billboards with a fetus thinking, "My heart is beating at 14 days." Well, in pretty much every animal with a heart, it starts beating fairly early in development. So what? The question about development that has meaning is, when is there enough brain to support a human personality? The answer to that question is, around 20 weeks, which is around the time that abortion decisions do indeed become harder.

Oh wait, I'm forgetting the soul. Once the zygote? blastula? fetus? has been given a soul by god, then terminating the pregnancy is murder. I believe Steven Pinker has pointed out that is a totally slippery slope. Who exactly can identify the time of soul implantation? If you take the extreme case and posit that is at the time of fertilization, you still have problems. The genetic material of sperm and egg does not fuse instantaneously. And once it has fused and formed a zygote, a large percentage of zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall or otherwise spontaneously abort. So I guess god wasted those souls? Or murdered them? Well, we know god does not have any problem with letting children die in countless horrible ways.

My overall conclusion is, believing in nonexistent beings and nonexistent souls makes it much harder to make rational decisions. It reminds me of my older brother, who was an officer in the US Navy for 20 years. He is a bright guy, but at other times seems to be somewhat of a doofus, which I have always attributed to his time in the military. When you belong to an organization where refusing to follow the orders of a superior, no matter how stupid or irrational, can lead to imprisonment or death, I don't believe you form the best problem analysis and decision making skills. Religion is 10x worse than that.

I generally avoid being stridently antitheist. Of me and my 6 siblings, only 1 of us still practices religion, despite having been raised by a devoutly catholic mother. But I have cousins and a few friends who are religious, and, overall, I try to avoid poking sticks in people's eyes. But this election really drove home to me how harmful religion mostly is. The good news is, Pew Research says that 20% of Gen Xers are unaffiliated religiously, and 26% of millennials. So once again, it's on the youngsters to save our old white butts. Come on kids, you can do it!

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