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04 December 2011 @ 02:41 pm
New Age individualism is dangerous  
I honestly cannot believe that somebody on OKCupid said this in a message:

So my answer to your moral question is thus- I CANNOT improve the lot of people, unless they CHOOSE improvement. Teaching a man to fish, is better than giving him a fish certainly, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee that the man will GO FISHING on his own. And I am not required to keep him stocked with fish if it threatens the livelihood of my loved ones or myself.

I choose to seek improvement, so it's easiest to improve myself. I do what I can to improve the lives of those who choose to be improved. For everyone else, they have their role in the universe and one day (maybe) when they're ready, in this existence or the next, they may someday choose, too. But as far as I am concerned, I let nature take care of the lives of those who choose not to improve themselves.

Let's see that again, shall we?

I let nature take care of the lives of those who choose not to improve themselves.



I almost refused to write back, I was shaking with rage. But then I decided, since he seems genuinely interested in what I have to say, it would be best that I at least try to explain to him why his views are so dangerous and destructive:

Your moral views are what I see a lot of in the New Age movement. A very pure form of egoism or self-absorption. Not only do I find these views to be dangerous, but I feel that they entirely go against human nature.

This is why I think that evidence is so important, and that people shouldn't believe things that don't have evidence to back them up: There is absolutely no evidence that the only reason that some people are in a bad way is because it is their choice. There are mountains and mountains of evidence, however, that our world is royally screwed up, that powerful people and organizations are hurting entire nations of people for their own gain, and that the reason this is allowed to continue is because so many average people have no desire to help or change the system.

Human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures. The reason we evolved to have such large, capable brains is because we form complex social networks to survive, which require a strong capacity for communication (language). We are strongly empathic creatures, and there are plenty of studies to back this up, especially regarding children. We care about other humans because we need to. Not only does it help other humans when we help them, but it helps us. It is literally good for us, on a physical level, to show compassion towards other people...and other creatures. This is because it is evolutionarily advantageous.

After millennia of cultural evolution (btw, "evolution" is not synonymous with "betterment"), we have adapted a mass culture of exploitation and destruction. This is a logical adaptation to a period of scarce resources. We know that the most important part of our brain development is during the first few months of our lives. The attachment between the primary caregiver (usually the mother) and the child actually stimulates brain growth. The way that the primary caregiver acts around the child has profound effects (e.g., if she acts scared a lot of the time, the child will develop an anxious personality; if she acts detached, the child will become detached, etc.). This in turn can mean the difference between an emotionally healthy individual and a psychopath. 

In times of scarce resources, everybody, including the primary caregivers, is filled with fear and putting their energy into surviving, not thriving. Food and shelter are the focus. Children are not the focus, and those children grow up with what is known as "attachment traumas." This is the most comprehensive and logical theory for how the human culture of violence and exploitation developed.

Trauma in childhood causes something called dissociation: it's complicated, but essentially it is a psychological separation from mind and body, and from yourself and others. It is a result of psychological damage. Our culture now passes this damage from one generation to the next. It effects parents, siblings, and peers. We have a culture of apathy and self-absorption. The easiest way to deal with the horrors that are being wrought upon people all over the world is to tell yourself that it is not your problem, and you don't even need to think about it. Because it is truly painful to acknowledge these horrors and even harder to acknowledge that there is actually something you can do about it.

It's similar with spirituality. It is easier to believe that something comes after death, than to believe the much more likely scenario that your consciousness is just gone. I believe the latter because I try to believe what is true, not what is convenient. I do not believe I am brave. I am absolutely terrified of dying (though I know some atheists who are not). I think about it every day. But I will not make something up just to comfort myself. I believe this is a dangerous road to take, as I explained before. 

I understand this may seem very confrontational, but that is the only way I know to react when somebody tells me that they prefer to just "let nature take care of the lives of those who choose not to improve themselves." There is nothing natural about being complacent about your fellow human beings suffering due to unnatural horrors that have been wrought against them by other human beings.

I am feeling: angryangry
Music of My Soul: "Killing in the Name" by RATM
mathieumoksha on December 4th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
i don't think that was confrontational, on the contrary, it was very patient and articulate and well-argued. i have the opposite problem, i tend to believe that i personally must build big airplanes and dirigibles to drop food on starving populations, and humanoid robots to revolutionize the world economy, so i fantasize about this regularly. neurotic people tend to take collective problems personally, according to jung. meanwhile, in the real world, i don't have airplanes and dirigibles, so i just make my modest monthly contribution to doctors without borders. as a buddhist, i do believe in reincarnation/rebirth, so if i am reborn in sub-saharan africa, i hope that there will be plenty of medicine available by then. of course i hope to be reborn on a different planet altogether, where the inhabitants have overcome the growing pains of their civilization...

Sandysitakali on November 8th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC)
Sorry to take so long to reply. I don't know why I didn't initially.

I'm a lot like you - I take human suffering personally, and anybody who is apathetic about it, I react like they're being apathetic about me. I feel partially responsible for everybody - and yes, I am a privileged person, so I so have some responsibility - but I don't believe that torturing myself every day until I feel helpless is a good way of taking responsibility. There's an activist term called "burn-out," and I think I have it, even though I haven't really taken much action, except inside my head.

Your belief in reincarnation doesn't seem convenient, especially if your concern about becoming a destitute person in your next life drives you to action. As long as you don't believe (like some do!!) that unfortunate people deserve what they get because of their past life actions.
(Anonymous) on December 4th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
Confrontational but very compassionate
Hope it got through.
Sandysitakali on December 5th, 2011 07:02 am (UTC)
Re: Confrontational but very compassionate
He said he didn't feel it was confrontational at all, and asked for the research that I was referring to. I sent him dozens of journal article links, so hope that was enough.
Cobre Azulcobre_azul on December 5th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
Well said, woman. It's wonderful to read such a thoughtful response to a thoughtless sentiment. I found myself feeling angry at his post, too.
Sandysitakali on December 5th, 2011 07:03 am (UTC)
Thanks, I actually wrote, "I'm sorry but this made me so angry I can't respond," and then deleted it and wrote the above, because I thought maybe there was a chance I could get through to him. He seemed interested in what I had to say and asked for links to the research I was referring to. He's going through it right now, I hope it helps him change his views.
Cobre Azulcobre_azul on December 5th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
I hope so too, and that he's not one of those dweebs who searches for flaws in research as "evidence" that it's weak and therefore his own, opposing views are "supported." >_