A new generation reinvents Catholic guilt

From Dutch News:

Young adults are less likely to adopt a climate-conscious lifestyle than older people and are more likely to display less environmentally friendly behaviour, such as travelling by air.

At the same time they are not under any illusions about their behaviour, giving themselves an average score of 6.2 out of 10 for living in a more climate-aware way.

In total, 22% of the young adults said they felt guilty about the impact of flying on the planet, but 40% felt no flight shame at all.

Many of the things we attribute to religion, both negative and positive, including this European obsession with guilt (but then doing whatever you feel guilty about anyway) is far less tied to Christianity than modern secular types would like to admit. And of course, you can’t but help see the woke and the MAGA crowds as descendants of the Puritans. Distant cousins, but an obvious familial resemblance nonetheless.

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The arc of r/conspiracy

Before 2020, r/conspiracy was a fun sort of place. A large chunk of the discussion was of the Graham Hancock flavor of conspiracy. While most of this stuff was pretty outlandish, mainstream academia routinely makes findings that were previously considered impossible. Thought provoking but mostly harmless entertainment.

Then 2020 rolled around, and r/conspiracy was flooded with normal people looking for a place to discuss COVID. It was easy enough to ignore the minority of whackos talking about 5G and Bill Gates. People championed the lab leak hypothesis (remember, you could be banned from Facebook for mentioning it), pointed out that previous flu-like epidemic protocols specifically advised against lockdowns. It was a refreshing break from the monotonous groupthink going on pretty much everywhere else.

At some point this all changed. Questioning the overreaction to COVID became acceptable in mainstream conversations, so the normies left. What remained was a toxic mess of the Mossad killing babies with Covid vaccines, run of the mill MAGA, and unhinged nihilism, which curiously never really painted Russia or China in a bad light, even the lab leak and lockdown frenzy were Fauci’s evil plot with increasingly less mention of China.

Lately, there’s been an absolute stupor over the British royal family. Which, fair enough, it is odd for all of the senior royals to vanish from public view with little in the way of explanation. But come on, they’re not that interesting or powerful.

Lo and behold, the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together as the Telegraph reports China and Russia spreading slurs against Princess of Wales’:

China, Russia and Iran are fuelling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to destabilise the nation, Whitehall sources believe.

Senior Government figures fear that hostile states are behind the spread of wild conspiracy theories and online rumours surrounding the Princess’s health.

A government source told The Telegraph: Part of the modus operandi of hostile states is to destabilise things — whether that is undermining the legitimacy of our elections or other institutions.”

Something has certainly changed about the quirky corners of the internet. The general vibe used to be fun, a bit goofy, not too serious, and interested in a wide range of topics. Now there’s a dour, malicious mood about these places and only a narrow breadth of topics and opinions to discuss.

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On blogging and saying less

Hat tip to Evan for highlighting Seth Godin on Tim Ferris’ podcast. It’s an enjoyable listen in large part because Godin is one of my key inspirations to do frequent, short-form blogging.

I also struggle with saying too much, which Godin points out is a fear of being misunderstood. Short-form blogging has helped me make a point with less overhead. But listen to me ramble in real life, and it’s not pretty.

There’s a real leap of faith in saying just enough, and it takes a lot of practice to get right. I know this because I’m terrible at it.

When I think about people I’ve known over the years, I don’t have a lot of respect for people who talked all the time. Saying less, but still enough, commands respect. Yammering on about any old thing does the opposite.

This holds true even in the world of fiction. Powerful characters like the Mandalorian, Kaladin, Aragorn, or Atticus Finch don’t incessantly blabber.

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Gell-Mann Amnesia and ChatGPT

I thought ChatGPT would be a great tool to help hunt down obscure references in Pali and other more academic type stuff surrounding Buddhism. An LLM should excel at this sort of thing, which is fetching answers from a ridiculously large textual corpus.

Alas, I get laughably bad results. Even worse, there’s no indication of the confidence level of the results.

An example is that I asked chatGPT to fetch where the phrase Upanīyati loko” comes from in the Pali canon. The answer:

Upanīyati loko” is a phrase from the Pali Canon, specifically from the Dhammapada, which is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form. The phrase is found in verse 174 of the Dhammapada. Here is the verse along with its translation:

Pali: Upanīyati loko, upanīyati lokasmiṃ; upanīyati jīvo, upanīyati jīvasmiṃ.”

Translation: The world is led by the mind, the world is led by the world; the mind is led by the mind, the mind is led by the mind.”

Luckily I caught this as being completely out of left field because the translation, which is (sort of) the first verse of the Dhammapada was so off. I went and looked up verse 174. No match.

Using a conventional search engine, I eventually found that the right reference is MN 82.

I keep getting this sort of non-sensical, but entirely confident answer from chatGPT about more technical Buddhist questions. Maybe Theravāda Buddhism is just too obscure; I’d be curious if others doing Christian research run into similar problems.

This gets me thinking about Gell-Mann Amnesia. We’ve really got to be careful trusting this contraption, and it’s concerning just how quickly people are turning to chatGPT for very citical things.

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Politicization and consequences

Vaccine uptake and public health are widely studied with decades of research and practice in countries like the Netherlands and Scandinavia yielding consistent results. Don’t politicize public health, don’t coerce, focus on increasing access, aim to educate, don’t shame people.

This led to the Netherlands having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world despite not actually requiring vaccines. The government published clear and honest information about all of the standard childhood vaccines, including rates of adverse effects. Lo and behold, it worked.

Then came COVID. Public health became embroiled in partisan politics, thereby eroding people’s trust. To anyone following, it’s clear things didn’t go as planned with the COVID vaccines considering that multiple vaccines are no longer offered due to safety concerns.

And here are the results:

  1. Child vaccination rate in The Hague dangerously low”
  2. Measles outbreak in Eindhoven, 14 children and one adult ill
  3. Whooping cough killed four babies in last six weeks: RIVM

These are illnesses for which safe and effective vaccines exist, but because the waters have been so muddied parents are confused.

It’s all too easy to blame this entirely on right wingers. But that’s not the full story. When I talk to woke” people and casually mention that prominent Democrats played up refusing to take the Trump vaccine”, people think I’m delusional. I show them videos. They change the the subject. Groupthink is a powerful drug.

For example: Kamala Harris and Andrew Cuomo. And here’s Donald Trump praising the vaccine.

To be clear, none of this is meant praise the right wing, Trump, or absolve parents not getting their kids the standard childhood vaccines. My point is that the climate that has made this very real vaccine crisis possible is the rabid polarization of vaccines and virtue signaling thereof by the left. And given the influence of American politics everywhere these days, kids in Holland are suffering because of partisan politics in the US.

I don’t have any solution. The toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak. There’s no going back to 2019. It will take public health authorities decades to regain the trust they lost during COVID.

Incidentally, one of the right wing parties in the Netherlands is proposing a law that would give daycares the right to refuse unvaccinated children. Unfortunately, this is probably the only reasonable way forward.

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Sacrilege

The marketing of Buddhism and Buddhist mediation practices makes me both sad and uneasy. The latest one is a company promising to teach you have to get into jhāna in a day, and then also gives you the ability to pop into it at will.

And what’s jhāna, you might ask: it’s a highly energized series of meditation states that are absolutely central to the practice of traditional Theravāda and other ancient strands of Buddhism. The practice is largely not talked about for a few reasons. It’s highly individual and usually requires the help of a teacher. It’s also a serious offense for a monk or nun to claim a jhāna attainment before lay people, and even among lay people the details of actual practice are best left unsaid in most contexts.

I have no idea if the state which the company, with the cringe-inducing name of Jhourney, purports to send people to has any overlap with the meditation practice of traditional Buddhism. For the sake of conversation, let’s suppose it’s the same thing. It would still be missing the point.

The real value in learning traditional jhāna practice is the slow trial and error of this works, that doesn’t. It’s learning patience, building a community with other meditators, and learning in a sort of apprenticeship from a teacher. The slow pace is critical for learning how to then integrate mediation attainments into daily life intertwined with insights.

My guess is that this Jhourney” thing will be something like psychedelics. For some people they were the thing that first opened their eyes to possibilities beyond a materialistic worldview, but for perhaps most people LSD is just another form of entertainment.

For more, The Atlantic has a rather optimistic take on this whole thing.

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