Sunday assorted links

1. Do earthquakes make people more religious?

2. Interview with Yan Lianke.

3. Why are books so long right now? (contra common claims about the shortening of attention spans, I would sooner say the variance of attention spans has gone up).

4. Alone with Elizabeth Bishop.

5. “John McDonnell said Labour would set up Public Ownership Unit in the finance ministry “immediately” on entering government, and that in some cases investors might not be compensated.”  Link here.

6. Which tech tools do you need for travel? (NYT)  I would add to the list an eye mask and a reliable, very portable umbrella.


item 5. And yet, claims that socialists will seize industries are false. riiiiight

McDonnell and Corbyn are some serious, serious socialists. McDonnell actually read from Mao's Little Red Book in Parliament one time.

It's truly scary to think what these two would do if they had the power to implement their preferences. Fortunately, they won't (Corbyn may well become prime minister, but he won't have the support to implement a hard left program). Still, the amount of grassroots support they have in Britain is worrying.

3. I suspect it's a combination of two things: (1) technology has made it easier to pen longer books, and (2) good editors are hard to find.

I always assumed that for the successful authors at least, it was a growing power imbalance with the editor - take someone like Stephen King - I would think the default for the editor is that every word of the 1000+ page draft of the next novel is a "gem." But maybe if all books are getting longer, that's not it...

I'm sure for the superstar authors, that plays a part. And not just in page length. I remember reading one of Tom Clancy's later works, "The Bear and the Dragon," in which he mixed up the Interstate numbers of the Baltimore and DC beltways, and this from a guy who lived in the area most of his life. And given the number of other similarly easy-to-find errors, I surmised that no one at the publisher actually read the thing before having it printed. Either that or they intentionally sabotaged it.

I know I read author(s) around 20 years ago talking about editors forcing them to be shorter for purely physical reasons, but I forget what exactly they were.

My guess is to save on the cost of printing the book. This is another area where technology has reduced the need to cut words. Although the book industry is not nearly as far down the digitization track as some were predicting at the beginning of the decade, a hefty number of books are sold that way. I imagine the cost of selling an ebook is substantially less than the cost of selling a physical one, and that's not even taking into account unsold returns.

Not to mention that a thinner book takes up less space on the shelf, so the book seller can fit more product in the store.

#3 - the trend towards longer books was 'started' or at least mentioned in the books by Ron Chernow, who's 2005 best seller on A. Hamilton was huge. Perhaps people were motivated by him? Trying to get rich like the pulp fiction master James Patterson, nearly a billionaire writing for his obsessive fans, Rowling-style ("In 2016, Patterson topped Forbes's list of highest-paid authors for the third consecutive year, with an income of $95 million.[3] His total income over a decade is estimated at $700 million")

5. What's the lesser of two evils: public-private partnerships that impose the costs on the public while giving the profits to private individuals or public-private partnerships that impose the costs on the public while sharing the profits with the public?

What profits with public ownership?

Labour should nationalize crime. That way crime won't pay!

Who is going to pay for the separate right of way that will be necessary to make autonomous vehicles feasible (i.e., safe) and who will profit from autonomous vehicles?

Maybe a separate right of way will be needed because being exposed to the level of danger caused by human drivers will no longer be acceptable.

1. How does one explain the prosperity gospel, or any gospel for that matter that favors one person over another? I am inclined to the explanation of the authors: that religion is a form of insurance. It's a miracle when prayer diverts a hurricane to ruin the lives of somebody else.

4. And all these Hollywood guys laughed at his fondness for virgins. They called it an old guinea taste, square, and look how long it took make a virgin give you a blow job...

Mr. Long was dismissing their methodology in his quest to support Mr. Trump’s tale of political victimhood. [bohemian statehood]. just think "that's exactly what I'm saying." That's not reality NYT editorial staff.

4. A sadly reductionist take on Bishop. William Boyd's 2010 essay provides a much more nuanced, factually accurate, detailed, and appreciative account.

Thanks for that link. I enjoyed the NYRB essay, but am grateful for another view.

I always love the hubris of atheism. Somehow, in the thousands of years of recorded history we have had precisely zero societies that have recorded multi-generational disbelief. And yet we have thousands of examples of whole societies changing their religious beliefs on both short and long time scales. Modern atheists have not been the first to doubt that god(s) exist, it just seems like disbelief has been selected against every time it is has ever been tried.

From my perspective, it is cripplingly difficult to be an atheist when severe life hardships arise for many reasons. Religious communities allow for resources to exist that cannot be amassed by an individual; other social groups have a hard time maintaining inter-generational stability to build such deep resource banks. Religion itself provides a narrative and purpose that people can have a hard time finding, let alone articulating when they are suffering. Religion provides externally validated heuristics to which suffering individuals can turn when their ability to process information is already overloaded. And virtually all religions provide a means by which you can correct your mistakes.

It is only with the most overt abundance in history or the most intrusive repression in history than atheism can survive. For the vast bulk of the world's population it is not sufficient to meet community needs, which is why atheism is slowly dying out in the world.

In the U.S., atheism rose from 1.6% of adults in 2007 to 3.1% of adults in 2014. The percentage of agnostics increased from 2.4% to 4.0% over the same period.
The "net unaffiliated" rose from 16% to 22%.

Also from Pew:

In 2030 "unaffiliated" deaths will outnumber births in China. In 2035, it will cross threshold in Europe. By 2060, in spite of gaining 70 million people from religious deconversion, "unaffiliated" will have had virtually no absolute growth in 40 years and massive relative decline if present trends continue.

Depending on which data you want to trust for China, atheism proper may already be in free fall.

Which is exactly why I talk about inter-generational trends. We know atheist thought is ancient, if only because it is described their opponents, but none have managed long term inter-generational transmission. Charvaka, the Atomists, Al-Mar'arri ... somehow atheism thus far has yet to manage stable transmission for a few hundred years.

Conversely, multiple religions have managed it for ten times that length.

Looking at the data, atheism seems to be heavily selected against, likely because religion provides real benefits to adherents that become more important over long time scales.

Barring new trends not observed in current data, the world of tomorrow will be less atheistic than the world of today.

'somehow atheism thus far has yet to manage stable transmission for a few hundred years'

You do realize that Hindu commenters here have noted that Buddhists are atheists. Which seems at least somewhat true, even if to someone with a Western religious background, that seems hard to imagine (or vastly overstated by people with that background).

It seems fairly odd to talk about a religious tradition that has Devas that commune with celestial realms and the suffering here below as being "atheist".

Whatever one wishes to call Buddhism, it is fairly antithetical to modern materialism which is typically the matter under discussion for "why doesn't religion die".

You can play the same games with Daoism and plenty of other belief systems. Yet few of them are particularly close to a strict disbelief in the supernatural.

Disbelief, from the Atomists onward, has had an abysmal track record. And not only in major civilizations. Every island of the Polynesian diaspora, every tribe of the interior Amazon ... somehow 100% of human environments have been supportive of long term religiosity and supernaturalism.

Why exactly are modern atheists, with their strict materialism, the first to ever find these new truths to not only be useful, but universally useful and compelling?

'Why exactly are modern atheists, with their strict materialism, the first to ever find these new truths to not only be useful, but universally useful and compelling?'

See below - I consider those Western materialist atheists to just be another group of believers.

"I mean, people really were into slavery (Jews, Romans, early Christians, the Founding Fathers). How you know you are right opposing it?".

Odd, if you actually read the Torah, Jews were required to manumit their slaves after seven years.

If you actually read the early Church fathers you find Christians who were literally sainted for manumitting slaves in their lifetime to the point of beggaring wealthy converts. Or you might read St. John Chrystostom who literally wrote "the church knows no distinction between master and slave". Somehow chattel slavery was destroyed throughout Christendom before the 1400s.

Even the Founding Fathers, sure many of them were hypocrits, but in their own words, slavery was "a lamentable evil" (Patrick Henry), "diabolical" (George Mason), "a national evil" (James Madison), and that "every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual extirpation of slavery" (John Adams).

We have many societies that were historically formed in opposition to slavery (e.g. the Jewish account of Exodus) and we have many people who not only spoke against slavery but actively sought to undermine the institution. At worst we can say that these efforts were half-hearted or insufficient, but societies of ex-slaves and without slavery have survived for generations. Which is orders of magnitude more success than atheism classically managed.

I know opposing chattel slavery is wrong because places that most recently had chattel slavery (and places that still practice it) have abysmal indicators across multiple domains (not unlike how all the atheist societies of the 20th century were massively repressive).

Sorry, but no slavery is not batting anything close to religion here.


I wonder if religious people actually read their holy books.

"We have many societies that were historically formed in opposition to slavery (the Jewish account of Exodus)"
Apparently, it did not prevent the enslavement of Canaanites.

"the church knows no distinction between master and slave".
Except of course for Christians being allowed to own people. But I guess freedom vs slavery is not a distinction.

Why, yes the proper account is to judge everyone for not instantly adopting modern morality in spite of the surrounding culture and customs.

There is a difference between that which is allowed, that which is encouraged, and that which is mandatory. Slavery was very often allowed, but not terribly often encouraged by the early Christians, the Founders, or halakic Jews. This was a major departure from the surrounding societies, but there are only a few places in the Bible that actively are positive commands (and then in contrast to killing).

Regardless, we have a lot of societies that have managed to live for centuries without slavery. We have none with atheism.

And yet you yourself do not sound very religious. I suspect you are a 'theism is good for the masses (but not for me)' type. Does that count as hypocrisy?

Sure, are you religious personally?

So that is. Who cares about the difference between Truth and a convenient lie (a thousand of them, actually)? YHWH, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Moloch, its all the same. Who cares?

Anyone who wants a functional society. Current empirical evidence suggests that the only thing worse than religion for societal stability is the lack thereof.

The USSR abandoned religion, and millions were murdered. China abandoned the indigenous religions and the Christianity of Sun Yat-sen, and millions died. Cambodia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen ... societies of atheism have not fared particularly well.

Maybe it is all effect and no cause. Maybe it is all confounding with communism. Maybe we don't have a clue.

But it is an awful big leap to just assume all the historical evidence away.

Frankly, I think a bit of humility is good all around. Grand epistemological truth is bloody hard to prove so I am willing to entertain skepticism about something that has bad empirics and just so happens to align so neatly with elite preferences for having no constraints on their social interactions.

And again, this is all in response to ever popular "why does Religion survive" question. The simple hypothesis is that it survives for the same reason it always has - it provides positive benefit to society. Why exactly it is earth shattering that something everyone has said for thousands of years helps people cope with difficulties appears to ... still help people cope with difficulty. I mean in other news, water is wet.

Evidently, nothing bad had ever been done to or by Chinese people before. Funny how the name China keeps coming up in the lists of atrocities. Mao (unlike, say, Stalin or Pol Pot) was fairly typical of his countries' rulers.

But maybe things went downhill because the Chinese gods (I mean, who cares, Jesus, Allah, the Jade Emperor, it is all the same) did not like a Christian leader (hey, the idea is not more stupid than the Medieval Catholic Church believing in people making love to Satan or the Japanese believing in a divine Emperor). Time to ban Christian missionary efforts around the world lest funny gods get angry and make rain guava at us.

'The USSR abandoned religion, and millions were murdered.'

Germany didn't, and millions were murdered. A touch polemic, but accurate - 'The incestuous relationship between church and state in Germany was authored by Hitler—and persists to this day.

German constitutional principles of separation of church and state run contrary to the country’s antiquated financial arrangement, but still it continues.

In 1919, the Weimar Republic mandated that the state subsidy of churches should cease. But, in reality, this mandate was breached before the ink used to write it was dry. Only fourteen years later, the arrangement was a matter of law.

In the years leading up to Hitler’s assumption of total state power, the most serious potential opposition to his mad solutions were those within Germany’s Catholic and Lutheran churches who objected to the excesses of National Socialism.

Historically, churches and religions have, more than once, played the role of society’s only check against political oppression. Accordingly, governments have often harbored hostility towards them - particularly since they postulate a higher authority than the state.

But Hitler circumvented that problem in 1933. In return for maintaining state support for the churches, Hitler secured an agreement that the churches would not oppose the National Socialists’ rise to power.

Practically overnight, both churches developed active participation in advancing the goals of the Nazis. The Lutheran press began to talk of the Jews as the “natural enemies” of Christianity. The Catholic Church even agreed to an oath of fealty to be taken by all bishops, agreeing “Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise—as becomes a bishop—loyalty to the German Reich and to the state ... and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honor it.”

In accepting Hitler’s deal, the churches sold any role they held as Germany’s moral lightning rod.'

This is where another important definition questions arises - church as different from religion. Clearly, it was the church as an institution that was subverted, not individual religious believers. Yet it was also clear that a large number of church goers were subverted - no true religious people in church during that time is not tenable, however.

If you love the real God, please support Representative Captain Bolsonaro and tell your Representave and Senators to do the same. He is a born again Christian and his motto is, "Brazil above everything, God above everyone". Red China is interfering with Brazil's electionsmto defeat him.

I really love the ignorance of the typical theist. "Hey, some peoples believed Zeus became an ox, others believe that God became man. Others believed the Japanese Emperor was divine. Don't you see there must be sua mething here? After all, otherwise, how would Moses know the world was made in six days and the Japanese would know their islands were made by the gods? How would medieval popes know that demons have sex with women and African healers would know that witches can steal a man's penis through magic? Obviously, there is something here." Every single superstition (even human sacrifices for the gods) becomes proof that superstitions are good. It is só stupid, it is cute.

So you don't believe in natural selection, or are human societies immune to its effects for some special reason?

Many people were avowed atheists over the centuries. Many people abandoned the religion of their youth. Yet we still have no majority atheist society until the 20th century.

Depending on your perspective of certain varieties of Buddhism, that is. (Big subject, often wildly mishandled by Westerners - but the debate between whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion is not completely irrelevant when making such a sweeping statement.)

"Yet we still have no majority atheist society until the 20th century."

I knew believing in witches and sex with Satan was awesome. So many people believed in it. Germ theory or Relativity, not so much.

Why it is almost like when we tried Germ theory we got antiseptic, vaccines, and massive life improvements. When we tried relativity we got GPS.

When we tried atheism we got some of largest mass killings ever seen when we made it official. Where we have made it unofficial we have seen large rises in suicide rates, depression, and other mental health problems.

I see. Buddha is the solution. Or voodu. Or Vishna. Why not Allah? Who cares? Or maybe we should try not to start world wars that destabilize entire societies and allow the communists and nazists (Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Rome while persecuted Protestants and closed down the German Freethinkers League) to take over. An imperialist war led to Lenin and Stalin in Russia (and in 1917 they seemed a much less crazy option than "let's keep being crushed by the Germans") and eventually gave the world Hitler. Another one put Stalin in charge of Eastern Europe and Mao in charge of China. Almost as if wars (no matter how much holy water you sprinkle at cannons) could have bad consequences.

'Buddha is the solution.'

Buddha is not the solution. At most, Buddha is a man who advocated various practices, none of them based on a deity or divine inspired revelation.

And yet the Christero war somehow managed to spring up in Mexico which was also violent and deadly with Mexico being not substantially involved in the proceeding world war.

Places where atheism becomes official social doctrine have a massive rate of repression and death.

This could, of course, all just be confounding from something else. But whatever it is, it is not just being involved in a world war. After all such nice places as Cambodia and Yemen also managed to go atheist and develop massive death counts (particularly on a percentage basis).

I have a deep and abiding belief that you don't know what the term natural selection means.

The term "spandrel" might be what you are looking for

Anyone who describes themselves as an atheist is taking a bold (and in some ages, dangerous) position.

I would say that in many more ages it was acceptable to say "I'm not very religious."

And in many ages there were many people who are not very religious.

Really? I would submit that is was no more dangerous than proselytizing for a new religion. Christianity, Sikhism, Mazdakism, and all the rest show that it was inordinately risky to rise up with a belief in a different god and certainly all the heretics showed the danger of even suggesting a different interpretation of a god.

Why exactly is it more dangerous to denounce all gods, than to denounce all gods but the new one? History has plenty of people who did the former (e.g Al-Mar'arri), yet only the latter ended up sustaining for many generations.

What you say is undoubtedly true, but that wasn't my focus.

I'm saying "not very religious" is a soft form of atheism and much more common than the overt kind.

And the idea that "Individuals become more religious if an earthquake recently hit close by" implies that sort of loose attachment in the background.

True believers would already be living god centered lives.

'we have had precisely zero societies that have recorded multi-generational disbelief'

The Czechs just might be an exception -

Not yet.

Per your own source, the Czechs became majority irreligious in the early 2000s. Multi-generational disbelief would then be something we might observe in 60 years (give or take).

Atheism suffered fairly dramatic declines in a lot of other post-Communist societies. If the Czechs or Estonians manage it later this century it will literally be the first recorded instance in history. I am still not convinced that there will not be major conversion or migration that disrupts the present trend there (e.g. Estonia has a growing Neo-pagan movement and heavily Slavic immigration).

'Per your own source, the Czechs became majority irreligious in the early 2000s.'

A bit more complex than that, as Christians became a minority by 1991. Further complicated by Czechoslovakia - the Slovaks are a different group - and a generation of government supported irreligion before that.

However, the trend is of continual decline in Christianity till now. Whether the fact that roughly 88% of Czechs today claim no religious affiliation means they are atheists is a broader subject - a continual decline in stated belief in religion is notable.

But full disclaimer - I consider atheism a religious belief in the sense that atheism is also a statement of faith. To put it a bit differently - all those who claim to have no religious faith/belief in god(s)/higher powers/etc, should be in included in the 'believer' category.

The real group of non-believers are those who when asked about such things say 'Who knows? And who cares? Not me.'

So question then, if "Who knows/who cares" is the most beneficial answer, why have so few, if any, societies embraced it throughout history?

The numbers of folks who espoused such sentiments throughout the ages are an order of magnitude higher than the formal atheists ... yet it seems to have only caught on seriously in the last hundred years in even smaller amounts than atheism which at least had a few world powers buying into it for a few decades.

'the most beneficial answer'

It is not the most beneficial answer, it is merely the one that reflects a lack of belief.

'why have so few, if any, societies embraced it throughout history'

Chinese folk religion is not irrelevant in this regard, where many questions that are considered important by those with a Western religious background are answered with a shrug.

'yet it seems to have only caught on seriously in the last hundred years'

Chinese folk religion is a bit older than that.

We can dance around this in any number of ways, but framing is critical in this discussion. Such as what is the distinction between superstition and religion? (Relevant in regards to Chinese folk religion, for example). Or the fact that humans love stories - we do not really consider Beowulf a religious tale, but clearly it is not based on a modern understanding of material reality. For which one can be thankful, actually.

But as must be obvious by this point, I consider all of these 'beliefs' to be story telling essentially, and not reflecting some deeper truth about the divine or creation. All societies have stories they believe, as it is their stories that define them.

If you want more believers in America, you can allow more Catholic immigrants from Latin America or Muslims from the Middle East and Africa. The current President seems to have contempt for those who have faith.

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor
No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one's laughing at God
When it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from the party yet
No one laughs at God when their airplane start to uncontrollably shake
No one's laughing at God
When they see the one they love, hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they're mistaken
No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door and they say we got some bad news, sir
No one's laughing at God when there's a famine or fire or flood

When you are in a hospital
remember you have a friend in Jesus
when people are shooting at you \/./,// --- :( :(
remember you have a friend in Jesus

and so on. I almost froze to death hiking once (near Canada, lost in a woods that I thought was bordered on one side by a highway, on the other side by a large lake - the lake was not as large as I thought and where the lake was there were just more trees and more potentially fatal depths to the cold woods - well, fortunately, after walking uphill for an hour through the Northern woods I heard the sound of autos on the highway, and I laughed at God, just as he had laughed at me: as friends laugh at each other, from pure joy ...., we had been through so much together, and we both seemed so surprised, each of us, at me finally being safe)
None of my medical tests are routine, I am older than my chronological age and I do not expect good results on any test ....
I don't have kids because I had PTSD so bad when I was young (20-28) no decent and attractive and kind woman would think of having a child with me, if I were honest, and one thing I always am is honest, and I had the PTSD because people hated me when I was a baby and a toddler just because I existed ... through no fault of my own ...
Me and God laugh about that, because he showed me his love later on, and we had a good laugh at the power of God's concern for all of us, even if we had a crazy first 10 years surrounded by haters ...
The woman I loved most in life (before 2011, to be accurate) left me and I was happy a couple years later to hear that she had found someone else to love I did not want her to be alone...
Who wants someone they love to spend the rest of their life sad and alone? not me

Remember, God is a Person too (that is simple theology).
As A Person, he wants friendship.
I have not had as many friends in life as I would have expected (more than 50, less than a 100, I think I should have had thousands in a better world)
but we all laughed at each other from time to time

We have a friend in God. Laugh at anyone you want. Just remember not to be proud and not to forget you were born to be kind to those who need it, remember, if you don't remember a single other thing from the thousands of comments I have written, that it is no small thing to be a friend to a creature who never had a friend in this world. Even if it is a dog or a cat or a sad little rabbit who just wants a comfortable place to live, and even if the creature you laugh with is an archangel or Someone even more impressive than that, relatively speaking, remember, it is no small thing to be a friend to a creature who never had a friend like you in this world

Romans 5:11

Philippians 1:3

most translations of each verse, by necessity (one language is not like another) leave out the implied word that would be obvious if each verse had been written in English .... friendship

the life of a translator is not easy but on the other hand either poetry is real or it is not if it (poetry) is real it does not matter that it can not be translated if it is not real it does not matter that it can not be translated

ditto for anything worth saying

if you think the "Friend" meaning is just a figment of my imagination -
read the Matthew Henry commentary on Romans 5:11 - written about 250 years ago .... by someone who understood English, the English we still speak ....

as for Philippians 1:3 -- try and imagine Paul would not have spoken the same words to God as he said to his Phillippian friends, all 800 or so of them (just keeping it real)

5) So only imbeciles will now invest in the UK, because no party stays in power forever and they are promising to steal the fruits of your investments.

Chilling stupidity.

Amazon is forcing authors to pen heavier books, because cheap shipping is their comparative advantage. It's an obvious result of monopsony.

The umbrella I differ on - small umbrella’s especially can’t cope with any wind, which is when you really need them.
A light, breathable rain jacket (eg patagonia torrentshell) does most of the job and very well, and stuffs into one of its own pockets.

1. Didn't the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 trigger widespread doubt about the goodness of God among intellectuals like Voltaire, and contribute to the secularism of the Enlightenment?

3. In an earlier post a commentator brought up Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age to talk about how it predicted charter cities... what about Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) predicting the bifurcation of attention spans? In a trilogy of doorstopper novels...

Wait no... The Baroque Cycle was the historical one... Anathem is the book about the bifurcation of attention spans. The intellectual elite live in monasteries without access to many new technologies while the masses are bombarded with advertisements and communicate in pictograms.

1. Arrow of causation. God smites the ungodly. They increase in zeal and faith. Simples!

Seriously, we know 1 is true because bad weather and firestorms subsequently increases the faith of liberals in AGW.

Besides an eye mask, carry ear plugs, always. I started when I was traveling a lot to Montreal. One night, after arriving late, I was just falling asleep on a high floor of the Sheraton when a burst of machine gun fire rang out. At first I thought, "So, the Québécois have finally gotten serious." Then I got up, looked out the window, and there were all kinds of lights and people on the roof of a parking garage below. I called down to the front desk, and it turned out they were filming a movie's night action scenes there. I asked if I could be moved to the other side of the hotel, but no, they were full. So, for the next six hours, until dawn, there would be an outburst of automatic "gunfire" every hour or so, then they would have to break, re-set up the shot, and it would repeat. So, ear plugs.

1. Some notable religious figures cited earthquakes as major events in their lives of faith. Dorothy Day with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 comes to mind.

Comments for this post are closed