Dec 20 2011

Positively Eschatology


In the 1850’s Auguste Comte (famous now as the father of sociology) worked out an elaborate system of religious observance based on humanism, positivism, and rational scientific progress.

If it was just a phase, it would be Comte’s last.  He died in 1857 — but his influential ideas about the application of reason to cultural and religious matters would soon lead to “Temples of Humanity” built in France and Brazil.

It was all founded on Science and Progress and Liberty — but to manage our humanism, this new religion did indeed install priests, prayers, saints (including Isaac Newton), and even a manner of “crossing” oneself that stimulated the phrenological points for Good Works (see John Gray’s Al Qaeda and What It Means to be Modern, Faber & Faber, 2003, for much more — and details on how the very many flavors of fundamentalism issue directly from idealistic moderns).

The Church of Virus (apparently still active at least as late as May, 2011) dresses up similar notions in religious trappings – but does so in blatantly and unapologetically transhuman style.  How many cults (we could name a few: Raelism, Scientology, Heaven’s Gate) take it as their mandate to re-educate people in the name of some sloppy imagining of “scientific progress”?  The trend has worked down deep into many mainstream religious groups as well.  The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, in “reaching the world for Christ,” is still pushing a modernist agenda to convert the pagan and prepare the world for unity under their own “rational theology” and systematic doctrines of salvation. 

But the “social physics” of Comte’s Positivist religion sits somehow simultaneously in two opposing camps.  On the one hand, it is clearly a religion (rites, churches, an eye toward “progress” through the spread of values).  But on the other, it is anti-religious, or at least atheistic.  The principles were that Humanity itself, not gods, would develop and push rational moral systems across the earth to all peoples — and all of it would be based on science, order, and reason rather than inherited beliefs, myths, or superstitions.

In a different time and place, and under different economic pressures, Positivism could have become something a lot more like Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

The New Atheists are fond of citing religion (crusades, jihad) as a cause for blood and terror; their critics are fond of citing the terrors atheists brought down on millions under Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.  Both sides miss the point.  The point is that violent ideology causes blood and terror, and that violent ideology can be religious, anti-religious, or psuedo-religious.

The eschatology of transhumanism, past militant statements, by transhumanists, and the overly simplistic dismissal of history (dull, dirty, dumb) in favor of a cartoonishly idealized future (fun, sexy, smart — hey, no war & no worries!) should give us all pause. It sounds familiar.

It sounds like crows calling.

More Links

Positivist Church of Brazil

John Gray

Jul 04 2011

Saying ‘Maybe’ to Drugs


I’ve been floating a template law (called “Sustainable Opportunities for Rural Afghans Act”) for over a year now.  I’ve sent copies to my representatives in Congress, to the President, and to various NGO and para-governmental acquaintances.  I expected silence from the chief executive, a form letter from my representative (Hello, Joe Barton), and a bit of bubble (if not action) from my think tank type peeps; but action has been nil and talk has been quiet.  I know I’m no kinda “big deal” on Capital Hill, but what I don’t know is whether or not my proposal is taken by these high-rollers as a bad idea or as just a dot of signal in fields of noise.

Before discussing further, here’s the text of the the thing:


Title: Sustainable Opportunities for Rural Afghans Act of 2010
An Act To Cripple the Taliban and Help Afghan Farm Families

PREAMBLE: Whereas we now face a global shortage of opiates for the production of morphine and other important medicines, and whereas the Taliban in Afghanistan use the illegal trade in Afghan opium to finance terrorism, and whereas the production of opium in Turkey and other countries is clearly not enough for legitimate medical need, and whereas granting rural Afghan farming families an economic ally other than the Taliban is good for the national security of the United States and secures global economic stability.

SECTION 1: Allow American pharmaceutical companies to buy from Afghan opium farmers.

SECTION 2: Levy no tariffs on Afghan-derived morphine or other opiate medications.

SECTION 3: Offer aid to Afghan opium farmers through The Office of the United States Trade Representative, United States Department of State Undersecretary for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs, USAID, and/or other bodies as appropriate.

SECTION 4: All Afghan farmers who are demonstrably cooperating with these new efforts by the United States after 1 year shall receive a bonus of $1000 US. This money shall be a reward for their cooperation, and shall deter farmers from cooperating or rejoining with Taliban interests.  Proven cooperation will result in a “bonus” each calendar year of an additional $100 of to be distributed before the holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

SECTION 5: Any farmer found cooperating with the Taliban, or selling opium to the Taliban will lose his bonus for that year and all other aid until he can again demonstrate that he is cooperating with the United States.

SECTION 6: Afghan farmers will be trained in the production of other crops as may be negotiated by the stakeholders and farmers, and farmers will be aided by the organizations outlined above  (SECTION 3) in finding markets for the new crops so that, at such time as the global opium market no longer requires high levels of sustained production from Afghanistan, the farming families will be equipped to supplement their income with the alternative crops without falling back into interdependence with the Taliban.


Clearly this law would be bad business for major pharma players (of which there are a mighty plentiful lot in Washington), because an increase in opiate supplies drops prices.  And this could potentially be very good for the narcotics black market, because the United States government would be buying up supply that traditionally wended to heroin dealers — driving up prices in already expensive underground economy.

But on the face of it, this law (or something much like it) would help in the stated efforts to “defeat, disrupt, and dismantle” al Qaeda and its allies.  As we press our advantage after the death of bin Laden, it seems reasonable to use every available tool toward our stated goal.

Unless our stated goal is not our actual goal.

Am I missing something?