The 3 Unmentionables
If you are ever at a dinner party and have the audacity to mention 1 of the 3 ‘unmentionables’ you risk being thrown out onto the street or worse – embarrassed and shamed by all, perhaps even put in the stocks! So, what are these 3 ‘unmentionables’? Sex, religion and politics or in environmental catastrophe jargon population, culture and ideology. Dangerous stuff.
Ever tried pouring gasoline onto a fire? Puff! Yup, you can blow yourself to kingdom come. However, here’s the rub: without gasoline most of the world’s ‘fire’ [read energy] is gone. Vanished in a puff of smoke. All of us back living back in the good pre-industrial age when the poor got to go to heaven and the rich to hell – but on the way did they ever have a good time!
That contradiction of danger and importance that we see with fire also applies to our 3 ‘unmentionables’. We, being rational and wanting the fit in socially, of course never mention the 3 ‘unmentionables’ but, of course, the consequence of avoiding these uncomfortable topics is that we never get close to even being able to reach first base as we attempt to grapple with environmental catastrophe. Or to put it more bluntly, perhaps we are all cowards? Of course, I include myself in this pejorative statement as I too want to be liked and not thought of as a loony.
Yet for those of us immersed in reading the most up to date climate data and who understand that this train wreck called human civilization is heading towards a canyon with no bridge over it to reach tomorrow, it is perhaps the time to make a stand and be courageous. I just hope that we don’t end up like Caesar, shown as he is being assassinated. Forget about hope or despair – both, alone, lead to inaction. What we need instead is courage. What the world needs today is people who are brave enough to be ‘abnormal’ and live in ways that are noticeably different that their neighbours. So when you are brave enough to confront 1 of the 3 ‘unmentionables’ here are some ideas to help you begin a provocative conversation.
One of lads above said: “Is the train getting a wee bit crowded or is it my imagination?
- Sex & Overpopulation
“How far the human population size now is above the planet’s long-term carrying capacity is suggested (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis. It shows that to support today’s population of seven billion sustainably (i.e. with business as usual, including current technologies and standards of living) would require roughly half an additional planet; to do so, if all citizens of Earth consumed resources at the US level would take four to five more Earths. Adding the projected 2.5 billion more people by 2050 would make the human assault on civilization’s life-support & 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. systems disproportionately worse, because almost everywhere people face systems with nonlinear responses , in which environmental damage increases at a rate that becomes faster with each additional person.”
If that was not provocative enough here is another lovely ice-breaker:
“I argue that controlling population growth and its main engine in rich countries – namely, immigration – must be central to future environmental and social campaigning. I also argue that the best way to achieve this control will involve replacing the current model of globalization (with its emphasis on ‘free trade’ and ‘free markets’), with a return to less open borders – a model which I call ‘progressive protectionism.”
I am pretty sure you are going to upset somebody in the room if you say this! Well done! Now that you have done the easiest topic let’s move onto religion, a subject sure to infuriate even the atheists in the room.
Punchline: Population and Immigration both must be reduced significantly,
the only debate must be about how it is done.
Should I buy that sexy gas guzzling SUV or the pathetic teeny-tiny electric smart car?
- Religion: It’s all about Belief & Values
Religion, like any powerful force, can be directed for good or evil. As a matter of fact, it is so powerful that it defines what good and evil are! This makes it a very, very dangerous power that drives human civilization to the heights of the sublime but also the depths of depravity. Quite frankly, I consider it like gravity – we wish we could ignore it but we do so at our peril. Many of us are seek to be like the yogic flyers who think they can by ignore gravity. However, religion is a force, that when ignored by atheists, gives them the same results as these yogic flyers: you cannot defy it because gravity always wins.
How dare I make such a bold claim? (besides the fact that this entire writing is purposely written to be provocative) I say this because my understanding of the biology of the brain has led me to the understanding that the brain, as an organ, functions by dumbing down the over-whelming information sent to it by the senses into two simple categories: 1. Helps me to survive 2. Does not help me to survive. So, given that humans have survived as a species for millions of years we clearly have a well developed sense of differentiating between 1 & 2 above. Religion affects this process in a substantial way, a social way, by creating values and meaning within a culture so that cooperation is enabled via a shared understanding of what really matters, eg. 1, not 2. The problem is, of course, given that the average civilization lasts 200 years, these simplifications of reality that groups of people must make to cooperate are always well, simple, and thus, eventually wrong. Another way of thinking about this is to admit that humanism and atheism and even science are religions if thought of in this way: they give meaning and purpose and allow people to talk a common ‘language’ so they can cooperate – and this is a good thing! In other words, we are all religious. The only problem with all ‘religions’ is that if they do not continuously evolve and change to meet the changed world situation, as all species must do to survive as per Darwin, they disconnect that social group from the latest world reality and then the usual extinction process (in this case social) happens like it does in any ecosystem.
Thus, given that having no religion is not an option the only question which we one we choose and which we help evolve so it can help us connect to the world reality. A ‘successful’ religion may by thought of as having these characteristics: it enables an increase in cooperation, intelligence, trust, learning (especially to the admitting of mistakes), improved gender relations, sharing of wealth and power, and the hardest of all: humour. So, is there a religion that is trying to change and improve these social characteristics needed for group survival? If not, is there one that has within it the demonstrated potential to evolve and change and be re-invented? If you cannot find that characteristic, it may be time for you to found a new religion to bring us all to the promised land.
Perhaps we can look at religion in a different way that is not so loaded? Religion is supposed to help people to trust each other to get through the challenges of life with, as the Buddha put it, less suffering. Therefore is a form of social emotional therapy, as described below. When we look at things through this lens this most challenging of dinner conversations has the potential to be civilized and productive.
Emotional therapy is the animating heart of religion. Social bonding happens not only when we agree to worship the same totems, but when we feel affection for each other. An affective community of mutual care emerges when groups share rituals, liturgy, song, dance, eating, grieving, comforting, tales of saints and heroes, hardships such as fasting and sacrifice. Theological beliefs are bloodless abstractions by comparison. Emotional management is important because life is hard. The Buddha said: ‘All life is suffering’ and most of us past a certain age can only agree.
My punchline makes a big jump from the above musings. It is based upon the idea that our perceptions of God have evolved over time to include more and more of ‘the other’ in its message. Now is a good time to jump from our narrow vision of justice for all humans to include all living beings. Our man made 6th mass extinction now underway is showing us that we as a species do not live in isolation and that without including all life in our decisions we risk dooming ourselves.
Punchline: Religious people must include in their ideas about justice and salvation
all living beings
Justice in Action on a British Schoolyard
- Politics is the wielding of Power to Achieve Justice
I have been a Green Party candidate multiple times and really enjoyed each election. Clearly, this is not because I am interested in power. And yet politics is all about the exercise of power that usually gives advantage to one group over another. However, it is supposed to be about the implementation of justice [as defined by our values/religion] for all, but if I remember rightly the French Revolution was supposed to be about justice – but what happened instead is shown in the picture from a British schoolyard: I think a few heads rolled when ‘justice’ was done. Perhaps you don’t see a problem here, but I do. Because the result of this ‘justice’ was the installation of Napoleon, a greater dictator than any of the Kings had ever been. Furthermore, in administering ‘justice’, manipulation of facts, blatant lying or even worse, total bullshit is what grabs power and also wins elections. What I saw on the campaign trail was that we actually get the politicians we deserve. Most of the electorate does not try to truly know and understand any issue more complex than “I want the speed limit reduced on my road” or “My — needs free services/drugs/— from the government [but I don’t want my taxes increased to pay for this]” or my favourite: “I wonder why politicians lie to us – it’s as if they think we are too stupid to notice.” Well, sorry to shatter your false belief in your native intelligence, but yes, that is exactly why they lie, or even worse, dumb the conversation down to such a level as to be meaningless and in no way able to grapple with the complexity of our societal issues or as this ethicist puts it:
Saying stupid things to would-be voters is a very smart thing to do. Politicians say dumb things because they expect voters want to hear dumb things. Trump’s popularity is an indictment of democracy. Democracy may make us dumb,
We are dominated by political parties whose ideology blinds them to the reality of the climate change and species extinction crises (I think that they should therefore be taken to court for crimes against humanity, but that is a story for another day) because people don’t want to really know the truth for the truth would force them to confront the fact that they will have to change how they live, and, quite frankly, they don’t want to because we enjoy all the perks of our current rich, but short-lived, industrial ‘civilization’. So, when you bring up the dirty word politics remember, at issue is not the worthiness of Party A or Party B but the fact that we have a political system that is unable of making tough choices by saying ‘no’ to some special interest group until it is too late to avoid a lot of avoidable pain and suffering. Think of it this way; it is 1938 and Churchill, the drunk, is ranting about how dangerous Hitler is, but nobody is listening… until Poland is invaded. I envision a similar dynamic with Climate Change – once it gets really, really bad for several million people politicians will react, but we all know that by this time it will be too late.
Punchline: Our Current Form of Democracy is dead and must be replaced.
Now that I have filled you with knowledge and courage it’s time to take action. In true Canadian fashion I recommend following the example of these two fine fellows: take a friend outside to talk about sex or religion or politics – climate change be damned – to out to drink some beer and get a tan!
Caveat: If you do the above and get thrown into the lake please don’t blame me, consider it a swimming lesson.