Saturday, 5 November 2011

Organised Religion Vs Neoliberalism

Please note: I make no judgement on any individual, no matter what their beliefs. It is the systems themselves I criticise, as is my right. Not believing in free will (what we have today is a long way from deserving that term), I cannot condemn any individual that has had to live life through these systems.

I want to ask something of all the skeptics out there regarding religion and Neoliberalism. This is a sincere plea; I am a long-time skeptic and would genuinely be thrilled if anyone can spare the time to explain what I hope I am missing. I just want to know peoples thoughts on why I cannot find a single skeptic speaking out specifically on the issue.

See, there are plenty of discussions about religion in the skeptic community, despite it's rather glaring similarities with the political system the majority of skeptics lives are governed by, my own included.

BOTH are doctrinal ideologies conceived by the few and imposed upon the many. Rather than priests etc we have politicians, economists and CEO's. Having "power" to vote politicians into office does not make a difference, morally, in this analogy; would it have made a difference if the Church chose two candidates and asked you to pick? Nor does the fact we have different political parties make a difference; show me which one does not accept Neoliberalism.

BOTH make claims of salvation/prosperity for all those that participate (to the extent they decree), based not on evidence but on outdated books and ideas of human nature. Apparently a "rising tide raises all ships". I think that's the technical terminology anyway for the justification for deregulation in the 70's and 80's. "Trickle-down effect" was another. Yet no one really seems to care that after 30-40 years, not only is there no evidence to show it's true but it has laid the foundation for the ideology to get even more extreme; it has made a virtue out of extreme wealth and managed to convince many people that Greed is Good. I thought extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence? Corporations are people? Now we are just getting ridiculous...

BOTH believe in trying to attain a utopian fantasy. For Heaven read Free Market, a creed which ignores the role of inheritance, ignores the use of money in securing and retaining power through politics, ignores that for the free market to be theoretically feasible, we would need to start from scratch on a level playing field with complete transparency and a public right to corporate data.

BOTH used their monopolies on cultural production to shape peoples identities. Our culture has become suffused with the messages of Neoliberalism, no less so than religious culture pre-enlightenment. We are assaulted from dawn till dusk, day-in-day-out with aspirational images and messages specifically designed to exploit our lack of free will and to manipulate us into spending money (even when we have none). Live through this culture and the chances are you will not ever question it. That's called indoctrination, same as it ever was.

BOTH are quite capable of inflicting massive amounts of suffering on 'others' not of their ideology. We seem well aware (and happy to remind those who claim religion is needed for morality) of religions involvement in the history of warfare . Well, guess what? Need evidence? Oh Dear... I think the bigger question is why you've not come across any yourself.

BOTH govern with a moral code defined and controlled by those in power, which in turn favours those in power disproportionately. Perhaps if they did a swap, and a CEO of Goldman Sachs turned out to be a child molester and a group of Priests brought down the global economy, then we might see some accountability (at least you would hope so)?

BOTH target heretics who dare question their doctrine or authority. Although, to be fair, the lions share of the violence and power in this regard the last few decades hasn't been Religion. Certainly women have been coming under a fair amount of fire regarding reproductive health issues, but religion isn't the one with an intelligence agency employing millions, a police force brutally targeting peaceful protesters, a CIA agency kidnapping people of the streets and detaining them without charge for years in secret prisons, an army that requires further racial-indoctrination so that the soldiers can do as the rulers bid and a national media establishment under it's direct ownership and control. Funnily enough people also get accused of not speaking out because to do so would make their careers, shall we say, difficult? Something to think about.

BOTH prey on the weak, with all the good intention in the world, in order to spread their power. Religion had missionaries; Neoliberalism had the Chicago School of Economics. Graduates moved into the ranks finance ministries of whichever country that found itself on the IMF's agenda. Once there, often by virtue of Neoliberal-backed dictatorships, they would oversee mass-privitisation of state assets (much to the profit of US companies), rocketing unemployment, slashed public spending, and exploding inequality (with all the misery it brings). Naomi Klein and Joseph Stiglitz, among others, have written extensively on this.

So, like organised religion, Neoliberalism is a all-encompassing doctrinal ideology promising salvation it cannot achieve, one that causes immense suffering to others whilst not tolerating any dissention, without any scientific evidence to back it up.

Let me ask you this. We skeptics want a world based on reason and evidence, correct? Then why should politics be excluded? It is based on questions of human nature, and area of study that while particularly contemporary (pre-MRI? Pfft, forget it) is nonetheless now adequate to dismiss these Neoliberal fantasies. How can it be physically possible that an ideology born decades ago could even be remotely accurate?

The one major difference between religion and Neoliberalism is that, in Western democracies at least, religion is responsible for an ever decreasing amount of suffering comparatively speaking. Neoliberalism is the dominant fundamentalist ideology of today; that is what should be skepticism's top priority were we to honestly apply criteria consistently

Change is coming. I don't want people to look back and ask where we were as a community. Don't we pride ourselves on being objective, being consistent? You know what I see in the Occupy movement? The recognition that individuals dont have the answer, that answers only come from evidence and discussion. I see natural skepticism... this movement has emerged around the world with a shared identity already there and it is not the product of an ideological few. It is a crowd-sourced identity, inspired by people around the globe, who have all come to the same conclusions regarding Neoliberalism based on the evidence. It has gotten so bad that they have spontaneously come together in over 900 cities, giving up their lives temporarily to say enough is enough. How have things gotten this far without the matter being given serious attention by the skeptical community?

Imagine if thousands were occupying against the immorality of religions place in the public sector... we would be all over it. I thought I would find support,yet all I hear is cynicism from my peers when I'm merely trying to be consistent, cynicism largely indeterminable from Neoliberal trolls that pester me for having a conscience.

Skepticism isn't just for hard science. It should be for everything that has impact in our public world. Besides, there is data and evidence out there, there is knowledge about how we have evolved and what is good for the mind. Our relative nature is but one piece of evidence not only ignored by Neoliberalism but actively opposed, all for money. Are concerns about empiricism enough to justify not lending our voice against this dangerous ideology?

I can only conclude that were the skeptical community living in the 16th Century, they would ignore the Church and instead focus all their energy on the relatively harmless fortune-teller. A week ago even I would have dismissed this as absurd. I'm not going to go through the possible objections yet because the type of answers I get are integral to the question itself, so I will answer any replies below the line. Also, before you post your reply, just consider 1) what the answer might be were you talking about religion instead of neoliberalism and 2) where the answer comes from and is that the equivilent of taking the Church's word on the matter?. I have found that often sheds light on the matter.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

An open letter to skeptics.

I have been a skeptic for a number of years now. Skeptic's Guide to the Universe hooked me away from any esoteric leanings I might have had in my youth, and since then I've come to see that the rejection of ideology inherent in the community can itself be a uniting factor in a vanguard for evidence-based change. Now however, I am no longer as sure as I once was.

As skeptics, we try to use a set of evidence-based rules to evaluate information. But what do we use to objectively pick which information to evaluate in the first place? I'm sure many would reply that aim of skepticism's public face is to try and educate others and counter some of the many falsehoods that have the potential to cause suffering. Huge amounts of energy have gone into tackling Power Balance bracelets, anti-vaccers, climate-change deniers, homeopaths... any number of people that abuse reason and science. Well, I put it to you that if you really care about miss-information causing suffering on a massive scale, we have one massive elephant in the room.

The Neoliberal capitalist system the majority of us live under is founded upon false premises that have absolutely no evidence to back them up. Where else would we countenance such power on the scientific basis of a couple of slightly intuitive but evidentially lacking phrases (trickle-down, rising boats etc)? It causes misery to billions. We are real, society is real, the economic system is real... surely that's all we need to be skeptical? Where are the guests at TAM speaking out about the falsehoods inherent in the Neoliberal economic model, or their views on human nature? Is politics off the table, and if so why?

Scientific consensus is adequate to assure that the skeptical community trusts scientists regarding climate change. Why then do we patently ignore the consensus regarding the relative nature of the human mind? Both are conclusions born from complex systems. Both have deniers yet we go for the crack-pot and not the powerful. Have we all lost sight of what is most important in life? How else to explain the silence while a psuedo-scientific ideology structures societies in ways that are completely counter to what the consensus suggests makes humans happy.

Any other pseudo-scientific, profit-driven endeavour that caused this much suffering would be brought up all the time, on multiple podcasts and proportionately represented at TAM. Glancing through The Amazing Meeting line-up from London, I see one person, a blogger Greta Christina, who has politics among their interests. This is just wrong.

I have long thought that the skeptical community will grow and usher in a new age of (actual) rational, ideology-free thought. But the ideology-less taking on the BIG skeptical issue of our times are not the skeptics but the people of the Occupy Movement. Their courage to speak truth to power while rejecting ideology has made me question why the skeptical community seem content to tackle the little fish. As a community we have to discuss this glaring blind-spot and ask, honestly, why it is there. I sincerely hope that it is not to avoid controversy. If you don't feel like me, then all I ask is that the next time someone asks why you do what you do, just consider saying "mainly it's because I don't like the direct affront to the science I care about" instead.

Because people ARE suffering, and if we do not challenge this ideology and reverse this explosion of inequality, the science says it's only going to get worse if nothing is done to reverse this trend toward greater inequality.

I'm struggling to reconcile this now I've thought about it. Would sincerely live to hear your thoughts.

Yours sincerely

Ben King

If you would like to read more on why Neoliberalism is the new organised religion, here's my take on it.