The Dead’s Goat

“But don’t pity the dead. They have time on their mouldering hands, and all they do is think of ways to vex us. They watch we living go about our dirty business—lying and cheating; penis-pumping; pirating pop music—and smile, amused, cool, indifferent, they’re like high-functioning heroin addicts, or cats. You want to get their attention, make them notice, shine a laser pointer on the ground and watch them scramble out of their graves. But that wouldn’t work, because nothing, no matter how you try, gets the dead’s goat. They’re the natives. We’re the tourists.”

-Paul Ford, “Just Like Heaven.” The Morning News. January 6, 2010.

I don’t know what exactly it is about this piece about whether there is an afterlife that works for me, but it may very well be all of it. Weird and lovely. I too wonder why I haven’t been uploaded into some kind of forever hell described by Iain M. Banks yet. But, there’s still hope!

Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption

“A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” while the vast majority of Americans (82%) disagree with this statement. Republicans (23%) are significantly more likely than independents (14%) and Democrats (8%) to agree that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.

Similarly, one in five Americans (20%) agree with the statement “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” while a majority (77%) disagree. Nearly three in ten Republicans (28%), compared to 18% of independents and 14% of Democrats, agree with this secondary QAnon conspiracy theory. Trends among demographic groups are similar to those of the core QAnon conspiracy theory.

Fifteen percent of Americans agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while the vast majority (85%) disagree. Republicans (28%) are twice as likely as independents (13%) and four times as likely as Democrats (7%) to agree that because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence.”

-PRRI Staff, “Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption.” prri.org. May 27, 2021.

I think the most interesting thing about this polling information is in Table 1, Factors Contributing to QAnon Beliefs:

  • being a White/Hispanic who subscribes to evangelical/Catholic religion
  • being a person of color
  • young, less than 30 years of age
  • no college
  • being Republican/Conservative
  • a media diet of Fox News, far-right networks, and not much else
  • lower income
  • resides in a rural area

When you read the quote above, it’s pretty tempting to just leap to the conclusion that 20% of Americans are morons. But, when you look at the list of factors contributing to QAnon beliefs, it’s pretty clear that these beliefs are partly a reaction to limited opportunity. If you look around and notice that you don’t have any prospects, the political and religious belief systems you subscribe to are waning, and there’s media offering the perspective that it is not your fault, but the fault of evil actors that will soon be overthrown, then it’s an attractive belief system. It gives you hope that your circumstances will change and that you’ll be returned to a better, your rightful, place. It’s certainly easier than looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking: “Perhaps, I’ll have to do something to change my environment or myself.”

On one hand, systemic exploitation is a problem. If you are poor, a person of color and/or live in rural area, your environment acts as a serious constraint on your opportunities. And, if you are struggling to make ends meet in a rural community, is it really possible to just move to a urban area that is more expensive and where you don’t have social connections? So, aspects of this are immutable and are a function of historical trends, systems of exploitation and other factors. If these can be changed, it can only be changed on the timescale of decades or longer.

And, there’s a social dimension. People go to churches, subscribe to political ideologies, and so forth because they want to be accepted as part of a group. A shared belief system binds together groups. One of the most common beliefs people have is that the problems they have are caused by someone else, The Other. It’s evident in every kind of X-ism. You can see it in commonly expressed ideas like:

  • Women: can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
  • Poor people are poor because they don’t like to work.
  • Stereotypical views of ethnic groups, e.g., Shylock as an archetype for Jewish people.
  • Rural people are hillbillies.

And, the funny thing is there is truth to the belief. If someone thinks you are a hillbilly, they tacitly don’t think you are as good as they are or their circle of friends and might exclude you from opportunities. So, you are being oppressed. But, at the same time, there’s also some truth to the stereotypes. If you haven’t had the same educational opportunities, then it is likely you don’t have the same kind of skill sets either.

But, what is to be done? Adopting a belief like QAnon is to hope for a savior. Sadly, this savior is never going to come, but perhaps, the hope for one is enough to get through today, which, for some, might just be enough. It is certainly easier than changing our social milieu, our friends, our church and our sense of self. But, as is frequently the case, the harder path is probably the better path. When what you stand for is dead, there’s no choice but to resurrect yourself as someone different.

Two Religions

“There are two religions in the world the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.”

—Garrett Bucks quoting his pastor in an interview with Anne Helen Petersen, “when you realize you’re on the wrong side.” Substack. October 22, 2020.

Advice across religions:

(1) You should make it clear where you stand from the jump, but they need to know that your goal isn’t to “win” a single conversation, but to keep them coming back to the table with you

(2) The point isn’t to hear why or how the other person justifies their beliefs, but to get an understanding of what fears/wants/desires/needs are behind those beliefs and

(3) Offer them alternate baby steps “out” of their current belief system that are still rooted in fulfilling or satisfying those same needs.

ibid.

Abdiel’s Party

“In my case, I found that my interest was most vividly caught by the meaning of the temptation-and-fall theme. Suppose that the prohibition on the knowledge of good and evil were an expression of jealous cruelty, and the gaining of such knowledge an act of virtue? Suppose the Fall should be celebrated and not deplored? As I played with it, my story resolved itself into an account of the necessity of growing up, and a refusal to lament the loss of innocence. The end of human life, I found myself saying, was not redemption by a non-existent Son of God, but the gaining and transmission of wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent, and if we are going to do any good in the world we have to leave childhood behind.”

-Phillip Pullman, “The Sound and the Story Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.” The Public Domain Review. December 11, 2019.

I read Milton’s Paradise Lost over two decades ago. And while I loved it, my interest was most vividly caught by the scene of Abdiel, a single voice among the infinite host of the rebelling angels, who rose up to answer Satan’s arguments, and stood alone against him:

"Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind
Though single. From amidst them forth he passd,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he susteind
Superior, nor of violence fear'd aught;
And with retorted scorn his back he turn'd
On those proud Towrs to swift destruction doom'd."

Everyone imagines that they would stand up, as Abdiel did, against the mob in the cause of what is right. Everyone wants to believe that they are, or could be, the guy who refused to join in the Nazi salute:

But, maybe there can be only one. Or, they are only few and far between. Like the appearance of a Buddha or a Bodhisatva living in limbo, trying to save everyone.

I like to imagine that Abdiel, in a scene not in Paradise Lost, arguing against God, his Son and the heavenly Host about throwing Satan and the other rebelling angels into Hell, and just as he resisted the rebelling angels, he remained as the only rebelling angel in Heaven, a loyal Opposition.

Note: Standard Ebooks has a good epub edition of Paradise Lost. There is also a BBC Paradise Lost audio drama from 1993 available via Archive.org.

When ‘Angels in America’ Came to East Texas

“‘Don’t get chuffed-up and fill the play with anger, which attacks on your work may have generated; part of the strategy of the enemies of art is to create toxic environments in which the art, even if on display, can’t be properly received,’ the letter read in part. ‘Trust in the play, in your work, in your talent, in the audience.’

…I had no idea what that meant, but in that moment, the fears of the protesters had come true. Dark magic hadn’t turned me gay, but a work of theater had cracked the Pine Curtain, stirring in me the first inkling that gay people deserved to be treated with dignity and love rather than cruelty or cold indifference. Forced to choose between the hate-filled protesters outside the theater and the searching, brave people inside, I knew which side I wanted to be on. The messenger had arrived.”

—Wes Ferguson, “When ‘Angels in America’ Came to East Texas.” Texas Monthly. October 14, 2019.

This article made me cry.

Embassy of the Free Mind

Eventually, the Embassy of the Free Mind will consist of digital copies of the core collection of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica of the The Ritman Library — which is ~5,000 early printed books and manuscripts in the fields of Hermetica, Alchemy, Mysticism, Rosicrucians, Gnosis & Western Esotericism, Kabbalah and other “free thinkers”. The first 1,500 books are already available online. The digitisation was made possible thanks to Dan and Blythe Brown, who used this collection to write The Da Vinci Code.

As you can see from the front page, there are some wonderful illustrations and even some of the writing is beautiful.

Larry Wall on Role of Religion

“Role of Religion?
by Anonymous Cowdog

I remember reading at some point that you are a Christian, and there have been suggestions that some of your early missionary impulses (a desire to do good, help others) are perhaps part of the zeal you have put into Perl over the years.

Preferring a scientific view, I am not religious, and have no desire to be. Perhaps there is a God, but if there is, I think he/she has no opposable thumbs; in other words, has no power to change anything; reality is just playing out according to the laws of physics (whatever those are).

Please tell us how in the world a scientific or at least technical mind can believe in God, and what role religion has played in your work on Perl.

A:

Well, hmm, that’s a topic for an entire essay, or a book, or a life. But I’ll try to keep it short.

When you say “how in the world”, I take it to mean that you find it more or less inconceivable that someone with a scientific mind (or at least technical mind, hah!) could chooose to believe in God. I’d like to at least get you to the point where you find it conceivable. I expect a good deal of the problem is that you are busy disbelieving a different God than the one I am busy believing in. In theological discussions more than any other kind, it’s easy to talk at right angles and never even realize it.

So let me try to clarify what I mean, and reduce it to as few information bits as possible. A lot of people have a vested interest in making this a lot tougher to swallow than it needs to be, but it’s supposed to be simple enough that a child can understand it. It doesn’t take great energetic gobs of faith on your part–after all, Jesus said you only have to have faith the size of a mustard seed. So just how big is that, in information theory terms? I think it’s just two bits big. Please allow me to qoute a couple “bits” from Hebrews, slightly paraphrased:

You can’t please God the way Enoch did without some faith, because those who come to God must (minimally) believe that:
A) God exists, and
B) God is good to people who really look for him.
That’s it. The “good news” is so simple that a child can understand it, and so deep that a philosopher can’t.

Now, it appears that you’re willing to admit the possibility of bit A being a 1, so you’re almost halfway there. Or maybe you’re a quarter way there on average, if it’s a qubit that’s still flopping around like Shoedinger’s Cat. You’re the observer there, not me–unless of course you’re dead. 🙂

A lot of folks get hung up at point B for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don’t want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don’t take the position so much because they don’t know, but because they don’t want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there’s no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

Let me admit to you that I came at this from the opposite direction. I grew up in a religious culture, and I had to learn to “unswallow” an awful lot of stuff in order to strip my faith down to these two bits.

I tried to strip it down further, but I couldn’t, because God told me: “That’s far enough. I already flipped your faith bits to 1, because I’m a better Observer than you are. You are Shroedinger’s cat in reverse–you were dead spiritually, but I’ve already examined the qubits for you, and I think they’re both 1. Who are you to disagree with me?”

So, who am I to disagree with God? 🙂 If he really is the Author of the universe, he’s allowed to observe the qubits, and he’s probably even allowed to cheat occasionally and force a few bit flips to make it a better story. That’s how Authors work. Whether or not they have thumbs…

Once you see the universe from that point of view, many arguments fade into unimportance, such as Hawking’s argument that the universe fuzzed into existence at the beginning, and therefore there was no creator. But it’s also true that the Lord of the Rings fuzzed into existence, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a creator. It just means that the creator doesn’t create on the same schedule as the creature’s.

If God is creating the universe sideways like an Author, then the proper place to look for the effects of that is not at the fuzzy edges, but at the heart of the story. And I am personally convinced that Jesus stands at the heart of the story. The evidence is there if you care to look, and if you don’t get distracted by the claims of various people who have various agendas to lead you in every possible direction, and if you don’t fall into the trap of looking for a formula rather than looking for God as a person. All human institutions are fallible, and will create a formula for you to determine whether you belong to the tribe or not. Very often these formulas are called doctrines and traditions and such, and there is some value in them, as there is some value in any human culture. But they all kind of miss the point.

“Systematic theology” is an oxymoron. God is not a system. Christians are fond of asking: “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Unfortunately, they very rarely come up with the correct answer, which is: “Something unexpected!” If the Creator really did write himself into his own story, that’s what we ought to expect to see. Creative solutions.

And this creativity is intended to be transitive. We are expected to be creative. And we’re expected to help others be creative.

And that leads us back (finally) to the last part of your question, how all this relates to Perl.

Perl is obviously my attempt to help other people be creative. In my little way, I’m sneakily helping people understand a bit more about the sort of people God likes.

Going further, we have the notion that a narrative should be defined by its heart and not by its borders. That ties in with my linguistic notions that things ought to be defined by prototype rather than by formula. It ties in to my refusal to define who is or is not a “good” Perl programmer, or who exactly is or isn’t a member of the “Perl community”. These things are all defined by their centers, not by their peripheries.

The philosophy of TMTOWTDI (“There’s more than one way to do it.”) is a direct result of observing that the Author of the universe is humble, and chooses to exercise control in subtle rather than in heavy-handed ways. The universe doesn’t come with enforced style guidelines. Creative people will develop style on their own. Those are the sort of people that will make heaven a nice place.

And finally, there is the underlying conviction that, if you define both science and religion from their true centers, they cannot be in confict. So despite all the “religiosity” of Perl culture, we also believe in the benefits of computer science. I didn’t put lexicals and closures into Perl5 just because I thought people would start jumping up and down and shouting “Hallelujah!” (Which happens, but that’s not why I did it.)

And now let’s all sing hymn #42…”

—Larry Wall. “Larry Wall On Perl, Religion, and…Slashdot.org. September 6, 2002.