I was reading some rather sappy posts by Dusan Writer and Grace McDunnough, and it suddenly hit me what it is that I find disturbing about what they both do. (I'll have to come back and try to address some of Dusan's actual goofyness about SL as a "hard" and "disruptive" transformative experience -- it's actually more in fact a soothing and validating experience, as people use it to recreate their real lives, not make new ones). In a nutshell, as secularists (I'm going to assume they are secularists as they don't write about being religious), they are filling the religious place in life -- that God-shaped space of their consciousness, if you will -- with "science" -- but science not only misused as a religion, science that is actually pseudo-science, and actually more of a marketing gimmick. This was very clear in both their gushing about a TED video from Simon Sinek with his cult of the Golden Circle.
And thinking about all this really put into perspective for me a lot of what is wrong around the SL discourse -- it's almost always taken on by secularists, even the more radical Transhumanists and Extropians and Singularists and whatnot who take the religious place in the being of the human person and fill it with virtuality -- a kind of mechanical heaven that we get to build with prims. Software salvation. Computerized communion.
For me, as an American, the chief feature of religion in public life is that it is separate from the state -- there is separation of church and state. And before you go off spouting about prayer breakfasts and politicians and the religious right and "guns and religion" as Obama put it (and he's supposed to be religious and goes to church). And in that context, with that built-in wall, so to speak, you come to consider religion as "having its place". I have a set of beliefs, about God, about what you should do in life, in families, in personal relations, but I think of these as being "my religion" and not necessarily "the truth," as someone else in some other place might have arrived at some other set of truths. This body of data, so to speak, is in one column, and other things in life -- public affairs, science, evolution, politics, whatever, are in other columns. They aren't mutually exclusive. They don't cancel one another out. They exist in other realms.
If I want to be inspired about truth or beauty or the eternal and to ponder about God, and the growth of the spirit and man's place in the universe and such, I would go to church. The homilies from our priests are sturdy enough for what they are, perhaps too liberally sprinkled with sports metaphors for my taste, but enough to do the job of soul-searching and awareness of the larger issues demanding of compassion in the world. If I wanted something deeper, I could read my dog-eared little book of Thomas Aquinas, although it can be awfully dense and archaic in places. I could go read a book by Bishop Fulton Sheen of Rochester, who confirmed me, a charasmatic figure who was also famous for his anti-communism -- I recently read of an incident where he coooperated with the FBI, who waited to eavesdrop in an adjoining hotel room while he received a penitent leader of the American Communist Party for a meeting.
Or for that matter, sample any of the other sorts of preaching on Youtube. One of the figures I recall watching on TV some years ago was Dr. Eugene Scott, who I also once startlingly saw ambling down Park Avenue in New York, startling not only for his freaky cigar-smoking and horse-racing, but his bizarre theories of pyramids, of course based on his vast double Ph.D. knowledge and a lot of kooky lore on the megachurch circuit. Or I could just watch any of the TV evangelists, or a child preacher, for that matter, with the congregation chanting back to him.
I lived in the part of New York State called the Burnt-Over District historically -- it had so many revivals and tent meetings and altar calls and conversions in the last centuries that all the people who could be converted were converted, and the place was "burnt up," and they had to move to another state. The Burnt-Out areas still thrive today. You can still see the Hill Cummorah Pageant of the Mormons, which I used to go to as a child, only 20 miles up the road from our house. I wonder if they still have the tent meetings in these areas today.
And then there were the secret societies -- the Masons, the people who went to The Grange, and other local offshoots of Freemasonry. I remember once as a young child riding my bike and stumbling on a curious meeting in a large shed with locked doors behind a telephone utility building and a wrecked car lot. Through a window opened on the hot summer night, I could see adults staging some kind of elaborate ritual -- I stood up on my bike and watched. They were dressed in costumes, and enacting a sort of morality play, or religious pageant with the symbols of the Ancient Egyptians -- I tried to make sense of what I was seeing as something like the Mass or a Nativity play in school. I watched, fascinated that the adults were playing dress-up in such a solemn and secret fashion -- and occasionally chanting something in strange languages. I suppose I had a glimpse of one of the Mason meetings or something like it, and I knew that I had to keep it a secret, too.
Thirty years ago, I remember loading up hampers of food into a big car, piling in lots of people, and driving through back roads to the tent meeting, where there'd be supper with a "dish to pass" and then hearing the preacher, sometimes late into the night, and sometimes at a "camp meeting," which would be a longer session of 3 days camping out or staying in cabins and listening to preachers and going around and collecting their booklets and tapes. Cassette tapes were just starting to be popular then, and I would collect the tapes of Brother Williams or Brother Cornwall or other speakers from the Elim Bible Institute. As a Catholic, I had a formal training and education in the Catholic school, and going to the Pentecostal or Baptist meetings was a sort of teenage rebellion, I guess -- there was a group of us that did this.
We used to go to the Faith Tabernacle, later named Faith Temple, to hear Pastor Kenneth Edlin, a firey New Zealander who put on a kind of theatrical performance, cajoling, pleading, firing-and-brimstoning, then softening, speaking almost in tears, as he asked a young teenager named Gary to come up to the organ, and play one of the tunes for the Lord. One day Pastor Edlin was preaching furiously, and then suddenly called for "three cheers up here". The congregation praised Jesus harder, and some started cheering "hip, hip, hooray!". "I need three cheers up here," he said, more insistently, and the congregation whooped and holler "hooray" for Jesus. Finally it developed that in his accent, he was saying he needed *three chairs* for some visiting preachers to sit down on up on the alter dais.
The people in this church, unlike my church, raised their hands to pray, rocked back and forth (they didn't shake), and spoke in tongues. They had full-immersion water-baptisms, and although I had already been baptised as an infant (the first sacrament) and had Confirmation from Bishop Sheen, which was supposed to be our Catholic version of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I decided to get water-baptised just in case -- dressing in a long gown, and lining up with others to be plunged backwards in a near-drowning, to emerge cold and shivering and saved.
Another thing fascinating about this church was that people prophesied. They would be suddenly moved to speak out -- perhaps they would speak in strange tongues, but then more often not they would either translate this, or speak in English, or another would, and it would be a kind of uplifting message. The church still thrives today apparently with the son and wife of the preacher known for building up this church to a larger size. You can watch their videos to get an idea of what this sort of service is like, and while it may seem homely and even goofy to the secular, the music is inspiring, the prayer is uplifting, and the preaching is like a balm to the soul, if you are schooled in this experience, if it is your *religion*.
For some reason, the people in this church and others 30 years ago nformally read the works of Watchman Nee, sometimes preached about from the pulpit, but also held in a kind of disregard by some of Christianity's experts and even declared as "dangerous". Nee was a Chinese Christian who was jailed by the communists. I found the writings too starkly ethereal and ascetic to actually find them useful, the way the works of C.S. Lewis, or Maurice Nicoll, feel much more useful for the experiences of daily life and the great questions as they might actually occur in real life.
Then, all through my life, even continuing in the Catholic tradition and going to Catholic college and continuing to go to Mass and take part in the sacraments and Catholic school, there were many other places of worship I visited, whether a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Russia or a Zoroastrian fire temple in Azerbaijan or a shack built by persecuted Baptists in Belarus or the various ashrams and communes and hippie sort of communities that people created mixing Buddhism and Christianity. Today I sort of recreate that by running the Sacred Places server in Second Life where I have a regularly updated list of all kinds of religious places in SL.
If you click on any of those links I just gave you, and think about it, you will see the rich North American traditions upon which the British-born New Jersey resident Simon Sinek draws upon in his TED presentation, and you realize: oh, I get it. TED is a tent revival meeting, with preachers. SXSW is a camp meeting. GNOMEDEX is an altar call. Engage! Expo is a time of prophesying. SLCC is a water baptism. And so on. All religious. And all built around the religion of technology in the Burnt-Over District of Silicon Valley.
But here's the thing. I wouldn't generally think of boring people by discussing a prayer I said or a religious book I read or a service I went to or a religious bookstore I browsed. This is a part of life I think of as private, not in the sense that it has to have a Facebook opt-out slider on it, but just one in which is not only uninteresting to the secular person, even hateful (there is such a riotious backlash against religious believers these days), but one which will inevitably clash with whatever other religious person you happen to encounter from another faith with different rituals, different books, other ideas.
So it's perhaps for the reasons of the American "separation of church and state," the sense of privacy where religion is best kept (remember how the Bible tells you to wash your face and brush your hair when fasting, and not put on sackcloth and ashes), and that backlash of the secularists so filled with rage about religious belief, that I and others have a very well-developed sense of "where the miraculous goes" or "where the spiritual goes" or "where the woo-woo stuff goes," if you will. It goes...somewhere else, not in the public space (of course, fundamentalists disagree about this.)
So when Dusan (his name has the Slavic root for "soul" in it) has these fits coming on where he is moved to speak in tongues about avatars and virtuality, I feel a little embarassed. Maybe if he would just quietly say a novena to Our Lady? Perhaps merely take communion? Or go to a charismatic prayer meeting and lift up his hands to the Lord. Maybe attend a meditation circle in the Adirondacks some weekend? Something...else. Not this wacky-ding-hoy stuff about...software.
Grace is merely gullible. This gushing about a guy with an idea that is about as deep as a tract about St. Jude in the back of my church. This rhapdosizing about an idea for...selling stuff...that is about as persuasive as the idea that St. Jude was actually Jesus' brother, which is why he has an "in" and can "get stuff done" -- even for the desperate cause. I'm happy to pray to St. Jude when somebody's house is in foreclosure or they have cancer. But I wouldn't imagine that to be a plan for paying for groceries.
So precisely because I have had not only a religious education, but have a place that is separate where I put religion, and distinguish it from science, and label it differently, and don't expect out of its doctrines and revelations ideas for fixing national economies, and precisely because of that notion that tolerance of diverse religions is based on -- that no one has a monopoly on the truth, that there are multiple paths to the truth, even if you pick one that you feverently believe in -- that I can look at this TED thing and say to myself:
What a load of crap.
It's particularly fashionable now on the metaversal circuits to make elaborate analogies and metaphors and "science" about the structure of the brain, the biology of the human nervous system and perception and such, and various software systems or economic models. In the 19th century, philosophers talked about man as a "machine," because they were just creating machines and learning how they worked, and suddenly they had a metaphor for what man "was". Man was something else in another century, a divine creation, and in an earlier one still, perhaps a type of animal. In the 20th century and totalitarian philosophies, man was made a cipher or a number or nothing, merged in the collective or killed in World War I or II or the mass crimes against humanity. Now in the 21st century man is a computer and a network.
The mapping of this fanciful analogy of the "golden circle" to the actual brain is as fanciful as the idea of some centuries ago that a perfectly little homonculus sat inside the sperm. Oh, except now, it's "science," and then it was a "myth". And...what makes it so? Er, the "fact" that "all knowledge resides on the network".
"None of what I am telling you is my opinion. It is grounded in the tenets of biology, not psychology but biology"
Oh? You did a double blind experience and had it peer reviewed and published in a scientific journal? It's always just three circles? Not four? There is always just one, more important than the other?
Yes! Did you know, the schematic drawn by this non-scientist, non-biologist, er, guy who has a lot of marketing experience is "correlates PERFECTLY with the golden circle.....it's all happening here in your limbic brain".
Isn't that where it *always* happens?!
Snake oil, indeed.
Or the rest of the huckersterism. There is only the "why" of products or achievements that is important -- dramatically ecstatically important. I don't imagine that the people who get up every morning and run the machines to make toilet paper feel as if they are driven by some deep "why" that is more authentic than the other toilet paper maker's "why" but for the stuff Simon is selling -- technology, iphones and computers and whatnot, there has to be a legend.
If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, looking from the top down, What you see is the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle. Our newest brain, our homo sapien brain, our neocortex, corresponds with the "what" level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains. And our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It's also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, and it has no capacity for language.
Wait. Wasn't it only about 20 years ago that it was...just two halves. The Right Brain. And the Left Brain. The Right Brain was where all the creative stuff happened. The Left Brain was where all the math stuff happened. Say, where did *they* go? Did they get superceded by the circles?
Er, our "newest" brain? So that millions of years of evolution that went into making this "newest brain" was all working to the day when this message would be delivered, "scientifically":
"Sell to people who believe what you believe".
Actually, that's not how modern markets work. The real free market of real life and daily life doesn't work that way. I buy bananas and toner cartridges and magazines all from people who have profoundly different worldviews and beliefs than me. Even if we just limit ourselves to social media and virtual worlds as "products," I'm a consumer of something made by people with whom I share little more than an identical chemical composition, given how wildly different their worldviews and experiences are. Or look at the average encounter in SL. I think that having a marketplace with things for sale in it and some houses for rent is not incompatible with also having a place with a temple and a meditation spa and room in it. Commerce does not sully this spirituality. Someone else will call me "a swine, a Jew, a faggot, a pedophile" (!) because I...charge $550 a week for 350 prims lol?
"People don't buy what you make but why you make it".
I'm sorry, but my own personal experience doesn't track here. I made a Finnish sauna robe for $5 out of a simple Internet-found linen texture to recreate the feeling of Finnish saunas I used to visit but more to the point, to make *something* that I *could* make, and to see -- marvel, really -- whether people would buy $5 sauna robes made by incompetents like me -- buying something out of sheer thin air.
I'm a simplified and more sincere version than Zuckerberg, who has made this big thing and gotten all of these people to come use it not because he's a nice guy and they "buy not what he makes but why he made it," but because they want a social utility that seems cool, and he wants to control them. Little else but control over people -- manipulation, really -- is motivating him, like other giant software coders who made some cool thing attracting millions (Craig Newmark). You don't *get* control over that many millions unless you seek it. To be sure, perhaps young Zuckerberg is conflicted at times (Craig Newmark isn't) about whether he wants control, or whether he wants to be loved. That might explain why sometimes he is controlling, and other times appearing to let the butterfly go to see if it will fly back if it loves him -- but then stomping out there and killing it later...No matter, perhaps the machines are bigger than their makers. Perhaps users, not robots, are the Singularity!
But then Simon Sinek tells a misleading -- even false! -- story.
He contrasts the Wright Brothers with Samual Pierpont Langley, claiming that the Wrights made their inventions out of love, from some deep place in "the gut" or that "gets it" (as the tekkies are always saying), these wacky bros who merely had a bicycle shop in Ohio, unlike this *other* guy, this FIC, who gets $50,000 from the government, because "he only cares about money" and yet he doesn't manage to get the machine up and flying.
Well, wait a minute. Um, what tripe? There is nothing to suggest *even in Wikipedia* that Langley is some money-grubbing soulless drone, who couldn't get his plane working because he didn't connect the golden circle of his limbic system with the "why" of his invention-building. In fact, if you read up on Langley, you realize he did all these amazing things. First of all, teaching many others. And last of all, making the first thing to measure global warming -- now if that shouldn't be politically correct for the TED types, I don't know what is!
He made one of the first attempts to measure the surface temperature of the Moon, and his measurement of interference of the infrared radiation by carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere was used by Svante Arrhenius in 1896 to make the first calculation of how climate would change from a future doubling of carbon dioxide levels.
Trust one of the technocommunist devotees to make the utterly false point that because Langley got a $50,000 grant from the government to work on the plane, that he was somehow heartless.
Simon, ahistorically, non-scientifically, unprofessionally (he's no historian; he's no scientist; he's a marketer), insists that the Wrights succeeded and Langley failed. (Actually, there's Glenn Curtiss, and as someone who also, aside from Hill Cummorah, lived near the Glenn Curtiss museum, I have to say, Simon's version of history isn't the only one).
Simon even tells an untruth about Langley, claiming that this supposed money-bags, who was supposedly a rich stiff and too proud to work with others the way Simon portrays him, wouldn't call the Wrights and congratulate them on getting their flying machine working, and offer to cooperate, saying "let's build your invention."
But in fact, he did. Says Wikipedia:
"When Langley received word from his friend Octave Chanute of the Wright brothers' success with their 1902 glider, he attempted to meet the Wrights, but they politely evaded his request."
Maybe the Wrights were the arrogant geeks here?
Like the story of the Virgin Birth...like the laying out of fleeces to catch the dew and hear the Lord's instructions...like Veronika, who Wiped the Face of Jesus...like Jesus' personal plan for my life...so the Golden Circle. A teaching, a preaching, a story people tell themselves to reinforce Belief.