Friday, March 19, 2010

The World according to Sugarfoot, or What I learned from the Dalai Lama & Yoda

In which I describe a concept of the true nature of religion and the usefulness and dangers of fear and anger.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”
- Yoda and the Dalai Lama

It is my contention that all of the “great religions”, the faith-based religions, are a strain of lingually transmitted virus. This could explain such phenomena as mass conversions, the “Moonies” and “finding Jesus.”
We have all seen it. Some perfectly normal, rational human being we have known for years will start spouting scripture. Their eyes glaze over and they become incapable of logic in certain areas of their consciousness. This seems to me to happen most frequently to adults, and less so with “school-age” children. I’ve never heard of it being observed in babies.
This virus, (let’s call it the R virus), acts like any other virus. It gets into your nervous system and propagates itself. Unlike some viruses, it doesn’t kill you or give you a fever. Instead, it targets certain areas of your brain, specifically your speech-centers, and induces you to spread it to other hosts via what you say. You begin to “believe.” You spout dogma. You proselytize. In specific ways you become irrational. How does this work? Let’s explore.

When babies are born, they are intelligent, aware and inputting a stream of sensory info as wide as a freeway. They are inexperienced in dealing with the new reality they’ve landed in, but they’re present. They are conscious – but they are non-verbal. They process and react to their environment, but since they haven’t acquired language, they don’t do it with words. They can experience fear. Fear has been documented in newborns. They can experience anger. Ask any mother. A pre-verbal child starts shrieking, and you can bet that child’s mom can tell whether that shriek denotes fear or anger.
Now, babies learn to recognize words long before they use them. Even dogs learn to recognize words. If I say, “Hungry?” to my dog, she licks her chops and bounces around in anticipation of food. But she never replies. (At least not verbally.) She can input language; a word is a part of a language. But she doesn’t process it any differently than any of the non-verbal sounds which she receives. So we can’t really say that the dog or the baby have acquired language per-se. A word is a sound, or a group of sounds, which carry a specific meaning. If the dog has learned to associate that sound or combination of sounds with an object or event, then it will attach a specific meaning to it. But that meaning will exist in the dog’s consciousness in a non-verbal format. The dog does not have a developed speech-center in its brain, so it’s not vulnerable to a virus that wants to live in one.
The pre-verbal baby and the dog are in a similar boat. The baby extracts meaning from incoming sensory data. But it does not give precedence to words, because it hasn’t acquired language. It is absorbing all the sound around it and attempting to derive meaning from it, but its speech center is not yet totally “on line.”

Now for a side trip into the concepts of fear and anger: let’s look at pre-historic, or rather, pre-verbal man. Fear and anger have survival value, both for the individual human and for the species as a whole.
When a cranky rhinoceros comes charging at our pre-verbal human, the human experiences fear. He gets a big shot of adrenalin and goes haring off and climbs a sturdy tree. He not only survives, but he preserves the possibility of propagating his species by surviving.
As for anger, let’s suppose our rhinoceros-fleeing human comes down out of his tree and successfully knocks down a rabbit. He carries it off to his cave and builds a nice fire. He puts the bunny on to roast, and waits with eager anticipation to quell the rumbling in his tummy.
But along comes another pre-verbal human and decides roast rabbit sounds like just the thing. He snatches it off the spit with every intention of gobbling it down as fast as he is able. Here is where anger comes in handy. Our hunter leaps up and flies into a towering rage. He’s hungry, dash it all! He needs those bunny calories to get through his day. He roars. He shakes his hairy fist at the interloper. He gnashes his teeth and strides forward, with every intention of doing bodily harm to the rabbit-thief.
The rabbit thief begins to feel that catching his own rabbit may be safer than risking a thrashing from this snarling character. He drops the rabbit and beats a hasty retreat.
So this anger thing can be pretty useful. Well, you say; if our rabbit-hunting chap of the first part had acquired language, he could have said, "I say, old bean, I really need that rabbit for my own as I’m famished and simply won’t have the oomph to get through another hunt successfully if I don’t dine on it.”
But the other hairy fellow might just as easily have answered, “Sod off, Shorty. I’m hungry too.” So our fellow might still have needed the anger shtick to keep his meal. Of course he could have shared the rabbit with the interloper, but hairy brutes that go around snatching other hairy brutes’ rabbits usually don’t make pleasant dinner companions anyhow. I’d have given him the heave-ho as well.
So we see that fear and anger have their uses. Now let’s get back to virus R and the pre-verbal baby.

Here’s our little one. Shall we call her Susie? Ok, here’s Susie lying in her crib all pre-wired with potential linguistic abilities, and the right sort of larynx and what-not to produce the complex sounds that make up language. But Susie doesn’t know that she’s “Susie”, because “Susie” is a name, a sort of word, and she’s experiencing herself and everything around her in a lot of ways, none of which is verbal.
But here comes mom. Mom begins to make these patterned sounds in a repetitive manner because she has language. She relies on it almost exclusively to relate to all the other humans she knows, (and machines like computers, and even animals like dogs.) Mom is hell-bent on passing on her linguistic ability to Susie. And, not surprisingly, she does. Then a very sad thing happens. Susie gradually stops paying attention to all the non-verbal components of her sensory array and begins to rely on her linguistic ability to do most of her communicating. This is sad because as wonderful as language is, it has severe limitations. You know this if you have ever tried coming to a complete understanding of what your significant other means when he/she says something like, “I’ll be ready in just a minute.” or “I love you.”
All the complex information that Susie had about how wonderful mom smells goes out the window because mom has no vocabulary for the complexities of smell, of if she does, it has mostly negative connotations. So Susie stops accessing that input and begins to tune it out, until not only her ability to have feelings or (non-verbal) thoughts about those complex smells begins to atrophy, but also the very ability to smell fluently gets tuned out, and eventually ceases to exist.
This process is simultaneously going on with most of Susie’s other potentially useful ways of relating to her environment and the things and people in it. Her native telepathic abilities, her proximity sense, and a host of other ways of perceiving reality just become stunted or die. In fact, Susie puts up mental filters to prevent all sorts of information coming in. That freeway of information becomes, (compared to what it once was), a goat-path.
The older Susie grows, the more her non-verbal communications fade and become inaccessible to her. By the time she is an adult, she is doing nearly all her person-to-person communicating with language. Simultaneously, more and more of her brainpower is diverted to dealing with language.

Then along comes the R virus. Susie is exposed. Will she be infected? A number of variables will affect whether or not she is. One of the more interesting ones is whether or not Susie has dabbled extensively in psychoactive drugs such as LSD or THC. These kinds of drugs have the effect of lowering the “filters” that Susie has in place to eliminate input which is not useful in a population doing most of its communicating with words.
The R virus may be less effective in the case of a brain that uses other forms of perception and/or communication as well as language. These mind-altering drugs may leave behind them a chemical “memory” which acts as an anti-virus, or stimulates the body’s immune defenses against the virus.
Another factor is age. If Susie is exposed to the virus before her speech-center becomes the dominant force for communication in her brain, then her body may be able to defend itself against the R virus as easily as it does against the common cold.
In some cases, a young person may be exposed to the virus and experience an incomplete “conversion.” The vestigial remnants of non-verbal communication skills may allow the R virus to implant religious notions in the brain of the affected young person, but block the virus-propagating proselytizing. These people could become “carriers”, or non-proselytizing religious. They would not be motivated to spread the virus; but un-infected people could unwittingly expose themselves by asking about the beliefs of the “carrier.”
It is possible that the R virus may be able to stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain. When infected people “preach” (i.e. propagate the virus) they experience a rush of pleasure. This insures that the host will perform effectively. If the virus is able to stimulate adrenalin along with endorphins, it has the added advantage of being able to make converts by force as well as by persuasion. In effect their host humans will be eager to engage in “holy wars.”
This becomes especially dangerous when the R virus infects a person who is naturally more prone to anger. The cocktail produced by combining a low threshold for an anger response, and the adrenaline plus endorphins could produce intense anger, metamorphosizing into hate. This infectee would be extremely dangerous, and he/she could easily and with enjoyment participate in hate crimes such as were experienced during the religious inquisitions of the middle ages.

It is important to distinguish between religious and spiritual people. In many ways they may appear similar. But there are crucial differences. The spiritual person will tend to control their own destiny, while the religious person will feel that their destiny is in the hands of a Higher Power, and seek not only to placate that Higher Power, but will try to convince others to do so.
Spiritual people may align themselves to some degree with larger groups of organized religion, but will be likely to be viewed as “fringe” elements by their “parent” religions.
Examples are the Sufis, the Rosicrucian’s, the Kabbalists and other “mystical“ sects. The more “faith-based” religious types are the classic examples of R virus infectees.
In the Buddhist religion there are those practitioners who engage in meditation, self-discovery, and strive for individual spiritual evolution. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the members of the Nichiren Shoshu sect who chant feverishly in the hope of attracting monetary, material and other kinds of rewards from a benevolent deity.
It is interesting to note that more “primitive” tribal peoples of the world may practice a sort of spiritual discipline, often with the assistance of hallucinogens, fasting, feats of endurance and trance-states. These practices are usually aimed at achieving harmony with their larger environment, which may be misconstrued by the uninitiated as a form of worship, rather than a merging process. These people are often immune to the R virus as long as their society remains intact. This is because they do not rely so heavily on linguistic forms of communication, so that the other forms of perception are allowed to co-exist within their brains, protecting them from the R virus.
With these simple people, fear and anger remain in proportion, and do not frequently expand to levels which produce hate and suffering. They may be viewed as impoverished by the more “enlightened” religious groups, but in reality may live in much richer interior landscapes.

In these troubled times the more prudent members of the population would be well advised to protect themselves against the R virus. There are a number of ways to do this. Pet owners sometimes have a higher resistance. This is especially true if they have a relationship with their pet that does not consist of merely issuing one-word commands to their dogs or cats, expecting to be understood and obeyed. The pet owner who has a non-verbal two-way communication going with their pooch or puss, and isn’t phobic about a dog smelling like, well, a dog, has a much better chance of having a high resistance to the R virus. Show me a pet owner who is constantly spraying air-freshener to drown out any hint of the scent given off by a clean, healthy dog or cat and I’ll show you a potential convert putting out the welcome mat to the teeming hordes of Fundamentalist microorganisms.
But what if your condo association or landlord doesn’t allow pets? Be creative! Volunteer at an animal shelter. Dig in the yard, (without a talk radio blathering in your ear) or spend some time in a floatation tank. Try meditation in a natural setting. Smell things. Once a month try going through a day without speaking. If all else fails, you might consider firing up a fat one – or putting a dent in a bottle of Merlot. Just shut up and exercise your senses. Practice communicating without words. Hey, if a dog can do it, so can you. Get in touch with your inner child and get some immunity. What have you got to lose besides control of what goes on in your mind? Wouldn’t you like to be in charge of your own thoughts instead of a bunch of fanatic, dogmatic germs? Take my word for it, if you don’t watch out you could find yourself suddenly spewing all kinds of irrational claptrap and getting up a war on somebody or other because they’re spewing a different brand of claptrap. Look at the newspaper headlines if you don’t believe me. We’re in the middle of an epidemic. As if global warming weren’t enough, we’ve got the R virus charging around. And it’s making all sorts of people who are supposed to be making rational decisions for us act like fools.

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