We are Dancing Bears: An argument for why our cause is hopeless

If you want to understand a species, observe the behaviors of it's members over time. Bears have specific behaviors that have been exhibited throughout bear history. Bears forage, hibernate, are omnivorous, and so on. While the reactions of one bear in a particular situation may be unpredictable, the general behaviors of the species are extremely predictable.

Likewise, observation of the human species yields similar understanding. Throughout history humans have always organized into groups, aspired towards moving up in social pecking orders, developed religious systems, fought with groups having opposing views and with groups having desired resources, and so on.

It is possible to train a bear to dance and do tricks. A bear can learn to rise above its nature to do things beyond the scope of the average bear. However, training a bear to dance does not change the behavior of the bear species. The dancing bear is an anomaly and will likely be rejected by other bears in nature.

Individual humans can also rise above their base nature and, using the highly complex human mind, learn to live as enlightened, rational animals. But, an enlightened individual does not change the overall patterns of the human species. Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Gandhi, the Buddha all demonstrated varying levels of enlightened understanding... but they were anomalies and were ultimately rejected by their species.

The species did not become enlightened by the efforts of enlightened individuals. Instead, the human species simply incorporated concrete aberrations of abstract, enlightened messages into the same human systems that perform the same human functions and behaviors that have always existed in humans (i.e. forming groups, moving up in social pecking orders, fighting with groups that have opposing view points, etc.).

I postulate that enlightened beings are no more than dancing bears. They are an interesting anomaly having little impact on the species at large. Bears behave like bears. Let them be bears. Humans behave like humans. Let them be humans.

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Comment by Edward Teach on December 6, 2013 at 2:44pm

Thanks, Loren. I agree. I think social media has played an important role in exposing people to information that helps the cause. 

Comment by Loren Miller on December 5, 2013 at 12:20pm

I think it's possible, Edward.  Lately, I have been very impressed with the work of Dr. Peter Bogdossian and the strategies he's posited for introducing doubt to believers.  I think he may be on to something significant ... and I think we have to remember that, as I said before, we're at the very beginning of the transition curve from religion to rationality.  Transients are frequently unpredictable and rather rough ... but I see it as being worth the ride.

Comment by Edward Teach on December 5, 2013 at 12:07pm

I think I have switched gears. I disagree on the basic premiss of this one. While dancing bears don't change the nature of the species, they may have an impact on the culture of the species. So, the enlightened individual won't be able to eliminate natural human tendencies, but they could impact on cultural norms in a positive way. 

We have natural tendencies toward murder, rape, and theft. For the most part, cultural norms (including laws) do a good job of discouraging folks from acting on these tendencies. Likewise, while prejudice (another natural tendency) continues, the efforts of enlightened thinkers have helped to discourage people from acting on these impulses.

Comment by Edward Teach on December 3, 2009 at 12:09pm
my generation can boost atheism to at least 20-30% though

I hope so. I think at that level we would probably at least be less demonmized.

Thanks for the props Johhny ;-)
Comment by Johnny on December 3, 2009 at 11:16am
ya gotta realize that opening these closedminded kids' minds is EXTREMELY important. Think of all the parents who won't teach their kids to HATE atheists because of it. All the people who won't HATE gays. Religion can be worked around too, ya know. Don't trivialize your efforts.

Think of it like: You're simply teaching racists not to HATE blacks. they may not get rid of all their prejudice, but maybe they can see why they deserve rights. It's a good step.

Also, be comforted that LOL that's not where society is going to change. It has been changing in the more liberal, free-minded states slowly but surely and society will evolve around them and they'll eventually catch up.

The Bible Belt is backwards. We can't help that. I suspect that in select areas there's still groups of racists. No change will ever start there, but at least you are lessening the impact of change when atheism does start to trickle down through the south.
Comment by Johnny on December 3, 2009 at 11:10am
It may not be in your lifetime, Rusty. I really think that my generation can boost atheism to at least 20-30% though. People get more and more pissed at religion (Catholics throw the WILDEST parties. It seems like they really aren't scared of hell).

I think there's hope. I just hope that self-fulfilling prophecy doesn't cause Revalation to come true though.
Comment by Edward Teach on December 3, 2009 at 10:48am
Boy, I re-read my last post and came to a conclusion:

the flu + THC + sleep deprivation = awkward sentence structure

It is definitely true about public school teachers here not teaching the principles of evolution. The basic concepts are so simple, logical and OBVIOUS that I cannot believe anyone of any "faith" would argue against it. What they actually argue against is a "straw man." Because, they have "learned" about evolution from folks who never bothered to learn about it themselves. Every semester, I give a remedial lecture on the principles and how the "theory" of evolution is as solid as the "theory" of gravity!

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to interact with other atheists. Especially the caliber of intellect I have run in to on A/N. I'm tellin ya, Joe/Jo six pack (at least around here) is sooooo deep in the cave, and soooo deficient in the skills required for critical thinking, and soooo unmotivated to explore alternatives, I just can't imagine atheism becoming prevalent in my lifetime. While we debate quantum physics and relativism, those folks are wrestling with the Catholic/Protestant thing. The idea of evaluating their religious beliefs seems insane to them!

The first time I came out about my atheism in class, I had a student look confused and say, "Let me get this straight now. You DO believe in God and the Devil though, right?"

The abortion thing IS horrifying! That is another issue here. NOBODY gets abortions regardless of age. So many of my students were teen mothers and/or daughters and sons of teen mothers. They have their babies because abortion is a sin. Then, they drop out of school and marry ignorant, abusive men. Poverty, ignorance and all kinds of social ills run rampant as a direct result of their religious beliefs. The cycle is endless. The Southern Baptist minister is not required to have an education, only to be "called by God." So, you have an ignorant, delusional, narcissist dictating "morality" to a bunch of ignorant, gullible parishioners.
Comment by Edward Teach on December 2, 2009 at 12:53pm

I love your idea of planting seeds. I think it is the best we can do. The positive changes that do occur are the result of passionate folks sowing seeds.

Also, you are absolutely right about the benefits to humanity that we have to offer. The benefits are HUGE to all oppressed people and to humanity in general... I still don't know if that is enough to sell Joe/Jo Schmo. Appeal to fairness and the plight of the oppressed is highly motivational for some of us... But clearly not to most humans.

Like I said earlier, there are HUGE benefits to our species if all of us adopted strict health/diet/exercise/meditation regimes. Decreased medical expenses, possible life extension, definite improvement in quality of life for all. Plus benefits to the planet.

And, our belief system has some "catches." Folks would have to actually take responsibility for their lives. They would have to dramatically decrease the natural human tendency towards egocentrism and ethnocentrism. And, we take away their pleasant dream of eternal bliss and replace is with the reality of eternal non-existence.
Comment by Edward Teach on December 2, 2009 at 11:45am
Ok, so if the Xtians have had 2000 years , using their aggressive tactics and the inherent rewards/punishments offered in exchange for conversion.... what do we have to offer? Objective truth? Objective truth is piss in the ocean to most humans. If the average Joe/Jo truly valued objective truth, superstition would have been completely eradicated directly after the advent of science. OJ would be in jail and so would those cops that beat Rodney King. People would live in fascinated wonder at the opportunity to experience life as a human (this should result from the objective truth that we are severely time limited). There would be no need for "white lies."
They can't handle the truth The truth requires great effort, openness and ego flexibility (that term is mine... Ego Flexibility: the ability an individual has to examine issues without allowing ego defenses to blur understanding)

Also, I hope you all are right. I would love to think there will be sweeping change... And you've made many valid arguments.
Comment by Edward Teach on December 2, 2009 at 10:03am

Maybe you all are right. The internet has made it much easier connecting with folks from all over. So, we are able to mobilize in ways that we have never been able to in the past.

Still... Christians have been extremely aggressive (I know that's an understatement) in converting other humans to their way of thinking. And, they have incentives that we will never offer (eternal bliss/eternal damnation). But, in spite of all of this, while most of the planet is religious, most of the planet is not Christian.

I'll post more in a bit. Gotta boogie. Thanks you guys. I am very much enjoying exploring this stuff!



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