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deletedJul 19, 2022·edited Jul 19, 2022
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Jul 19, 2022Liked by Freddie deBoer

This is just what a Gemini would write. Air-sign motherfuckers.

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As a Unitarian any debates I'd get into about the existence of God would become tediously semantic... but I'd like to think a lot of people use Tarot as a storytelling tool, effectively.

I think irrationality's often good for art. Most socialist realist art was kitsch at best.

The problem comes when people try to make arguments for political or ethical positions based on hookum, rather than hookum per se.

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I suppose this is an unusual position, but I do not think the existence of god matters even a little bit.

If god is not real, then life carries on as it does now. If god is real, it also carries on as it does now. God's reality wouldn't spring into existence the moment we make such a discovery (assuming such a discovery were possible), and so we've been living as a species for 100,000 years under the same supernatural conditions.

I don't see why that would substantially change because we discovered that there is proof of a god or gods.

Belief seems to be the real aspect that influences behavior. And the believers will never be convinced by evidence that god is not real. They would also always be convinced that their god is the god that got proven to be scientifically real. And their belief and behavior would likely look identical to how it currently is.

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Jokes aside, once a tarot card reader at an insufferable hipster party in Bushwick accused me of stealing her money, CALLED the police on me, and then when I was like, "Dude. Why would I steal your $25, I have a job (this was when I had a job) and she was like, "ARE YOU SAYING TAROT CARD READING ISN'T A JOB!?!?!?"

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I went 30 years on this earth without ever hearing anything about Mercury being in retrograde and somehow have heard it dozens of times in the last 2. I would like to go back.

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Unfortunately a lot of today's mysticism comes not from evangelicals, but from the academy (power posing, priming) and the workplace (mindfulness, non-big 5 personality tests).

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Looking back at the Bush years (the earliest era that I was politically self-aware enough to follow the rhetoric, since I was too busy playing in the sandbox at recess to care about the Yugoslav war or the fall of the Berlin Wall), it does kinda seem like most of the Atheism vs Christianity arguments and polemics were proxy wars. Arguing whether or not God exists was what people did instead of arguing about gay rights and the War on Terror. Obviously, the best argument against gay marriage and lifestyle is that it is a taboo, aka, God Said So. Likewise, the justification of invading Muslim countries in self-defense was best done by crusader rhetoric, aka, God Said So (it certainly wasn’t justified by rational self interest).

So New Atheism was never (at least in my conception of it) about the metaphysical question of where the universe came from if not from a Creator God. It was an attack on the justifications that underpinned the whole ethos of neoconservatism at home and abroad.

And the moment the Bush era was over, the sword of New Atheism was beaten into a plowshare and abandoned, because who cares about debating theology now that gays can marry and Obama now justified the War on Terror by claiming it was just rational self-interest to drone strike Afghan rednecks and Iraqi gangbangers?

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Politics are basically fashion with a veneer of gravitas slapped on it. Around 2008 when you wrote that piece atheism was talking out of fashion. It became profoundly uncool, people were as embarrassed about it as they were about Von Dutch. People want these things to be deep when they are not. Now astrology is in and to a lesser extent so is "tradcath" LARPing. It's a fad as much as pogs and slap bracelets and will end up the same way.

I don't want to have such a contemptuous tone, but it's hard. We are social creatures and want to both fit in and thrive in whatever social milieus we inhabit. No one is immune, this is simply how it works. You could even see (rightly) see the restriction of all kind of hokum and nonsense as the inevitable overreacting, a way to make sure everyone knows you have nothing on common with new atheists. A little like the transition from massive, baggy pants to skinny jeans.

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This is a bit askew from your point, but I enjoy astrology. I tend to think of the human brain’s propensity towards ritual, magical thinking and superstition as like water: it will always find someplace to go. Most (not all) people have an inclination towards wanting to do little things in their life that make them feel better despite no factual evidence - that leads people to religion, and also leads towards woo, and I think mild woo is less damaging.

In my mind, receiving essentially a daily writing prompt to think about my behavior (a horoscope) is less societally damaging than aligning myself with a religious body that pushes regressive legislation and covers up sexual abuse, and it scratches that itch for ritual and superstition. I’d honestly rather the majority of people believe in star sign nonsense than in Jesus, because aside from your typical capitalist commodification, astrology is pretty harmless in comparison. But it has to be mild woo! As soon as you’re using a star chart to determine whether to give your kid chemotherapy, you’re in the danger zone.

Basically, imo, most woo is mild. Most religion is mild, too, but it fortifies a very powerful cultural and political arm, and that makes it worse. To me your piece begs the question that it’s “unhealthy” to entertain the idea that your date of birth influences your mood (especially when there’s evidence that the season of your birth influences your early childhood educational attainment - maybe there’s some underlying truth to December babies being hooligans on the playground). Maybe silly horoscope rituals are a healthier outlet for some common human impulses than the alternatives.

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On Saturday I attended my uncle's memorial service. It was the first time I've been in a church building in 5 or so years. I felt comforted by the gentle support of the believers, and I felt their sincerity deeply. The old songs and scriptures (selected for the sombre moment) were beautiful. But their belief felt alien, incomprehensible as literally true, even though I used to think the same as them.

During the service, a huge storm rolled in. Loud thunderclaps shook the chapel. While the preacher shared a word of encouragement, a water leak suddenly burst through the ceiling in the hall. Later, when the Spanish-speaking church minister was talking of hope, everyone's phones started loudly beeping with a flash flood warning.

The religious could take all of those facts and discern the presence of God. The woo could take all those facts and discern the movement of spiritual energy. To me, they were just things that happened. Proof that life on the surface of this planet teems on, that the tadpoles in our backyard wouldn't dry up, and that my ephemeral grief is real, if not invested with any universal meaning.

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I have an otherwise intelligent friend who was using Astrology to pick stocks in the 90's. It was 'working' for a while, so he bought on-margin. When the reckoning came, he had to sell basically everything he owned to cover. I sold a guitar back to him later.

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Unfortunately, I don't think we are going to get a reinvigorated skeptical movement any time soon. Instead, I think that we are going to see a splintering of it over transgender issues, as there seems to be a growing divide in the movement over which side is really following the science.

Maybe the Kennedy v. Bremerton School Dist. and/or Dobbs will refocus things.

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Jul 19, 2022·edited Jul 19, 2022

"This is frequently chalked up to living in an increasingly stressful era; I have never seen satisfying proof that there’s anything more stressful about now as compared to, say, George W. Bush’s United States, but thus the story goes."

That wouldn't be unprecedented. WWI and the 1918 pandemic are often credited with a big uptick in spiritualism.

As for comparisons to W's America, you had a quip a while ago that I liked so much I wrote it down: "In recent decades it's felt like everything has been undermined and nothing has been built. We churn out college graduates who can critique everything but create nothing." For whatever combination of reasons--polarization; disinformation and social-media echo chambers; America's weakening economy and obviously declining influence in the world; formerly revered historical figures being (rightly or wrongly) rejected as racist monsters, etc--the feeling that everything is falling apart and circling the drain is, to me at least, much stronger than it was during W's tenure. Back then, if you thought we should go to war with Iraq, you had a cause to believe in, and if you didn't, well, you had a cause to fight for as well. Now we all seem to hate each other (online, at least), and institutions like legacy media, the public health establishment, and the police have all lost the more-or-less default trust that most people once placed in them.

When everything in the visible world seems to be slipping through your fingers like sand, a lot of people will turn to the invisible world, which conveniently can be anything you want it to be. It's probably related to the decline of traditional religion as well--people generally need to believe in something, and if they stop going to church they will still fill the hole with tarot or Q-anon or politics.

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I think what’s more interesting is what Freddie identified - that irrationality is a deep and persistent tendency of humans. And that’s interesting - why would it benefit a human to be irrational? Wouldn’t more rational humans have out competed the ones who looked for the rising of Venus as being an auspicious time to hunt deer?

My guess is it’s three factors:

- The ascribing of motivation. That was probably a great evolutionary advance, the ability to assume that other humans had motivations, and being able to guess the future based on modeling those motivations. It was probably such a great advance that it goes a little too far, and we ascribe motivations to the rock you stubbed your toe on, the sky for raining on you, and it’s a short step from there to rock and sky gods that you didn’t propitiate that morning.

- Being over-biased toward correlation. Maybe deer really *did* come out more when Venus was rising. A little extra light, time of the year… finding correlations, subtle ones, was probably very advantageous. But when you’re looking for correlations, you are naturally going to ‘find’ some that aren’t so - and thus, boys born under the light of Venus are foretold to be great hunters.

- The tuning of reality. Meaning, our sense of reality and reasoning is probably best when life is short and brutal, particularly if we get to observe it happening to others. Those with kids will sympathize with the observation that one incident of a burned finger on a stove is more effective than a hundred warnings not to play around the stove. By making our day-to-day lives so much safer and nicer, we’ve inadvertently set up an environment where believing in woo woo is mostly harmless. You don’t melt your fingertips off believing in a horoscope.

I don’t see us being able to alter the first two factors to get us more rational humans. And the third… I don’t want a miserable, cruel life to “educate” people. Civilization is all about making life less brutal and unfair. Perhaps more woo woo is part of the price of civilization?

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