… aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades getimmert werden.
I. Kant (1784)

epicurism and lust
Make it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a grac'd palace.
Shakespeare (King Lear 1:4)

The greater the ignorance, the greater the dogmatism.
William Osler


The buddha could smile only after arriving in China:


Believe nothing ! Belief is a confession of ignorance !
Therefore do not even believe what even I tell you !
All I can do is to teach you to enlighten yourselves.
Your first duty is to abolish your ignorance,
and only you yourselves can do this.
Buddha (Kalama sutta)


If these writings of the Greeks agree with the Koran, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed.
Caliph Omar

… there are few things that so shake belief as seeing, clearly and precisely, the object of that belief. Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.
Terry Pratchett

Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation or creed.
Bertrand Russell



Liu Xiaobo

Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy.
Liu Xiaobo


Can materialism replace idealism?

Yes and no. No because a peaceful attitude is always superseded by an aggressive one. Yes, because materialists only are able to repair what ideots destroy. The successors of tribal alpha males are our priests, bosses, leaders, ministers, generals, commissars, and bankers; all card-carrying platonists. They prescribe that we have to obey them, how much we have to pay them, who we have to oppose, and what we are allowed to think. Because they are endured and even supported, perennial inequality and hunger results. 'Allahu akhbar' crows a believer when his bomb explodes in a wedding party. 'Survival of the fittest', sighs a banker who speculates a country into bankruptcy. Perfectly fine for faith and the market but less so for the victims.
But victims are less impotent than they think because idols are made by agreement so by them as well. They can reject them if they want to. Toppling all idols would mean the end of islamists, financial product designers, party secretaries, and boat immigrants.



Email us at:

info AT epistylion DOT org

Replace AT by @ and DOT by .

Materialism for a change?

Organisms like to experiment and a wide variety of species exist, nice ones and brutal ones. Arguably, the nicest social primate is also the most lethal one in conflicts. Part of the source of that paradoxical behaviour of humans can be found far back before prehistory: the first organisms fought for survival or resources whenever those were scarce. Competition, is the source of all enmity between individuals, it generates misery but it is a basic feature of evolution.

At the start of biological evolution another habit developed besides robbing other organisms: collaboration with others to defend against predators. In multicellular organisms cells in the individual collaborated and specialized. In swarms individuals with the same genes helped each other. Cooperation became as crucial for survival as fighting. They became powerful instincts, easily ignited. Collaboration transcends mere personal survival: truly great things are performed only by groups, never by isolated individuals.

As humans are social animals, they have a dilemma: what to do with a potentially beneficial or harmful stranger they meet. Assuming he is an enemy is a slightly better survival strategy in the absence of sufficient information than helping a possible killer; hence ubiquitous xenophobia and hatemail. However, humans cannot survive without helping each other so their ignorance poses a problem. Tribalism is the easiest solution: support the members of their own clan and kill, subject, avoid, or ignore outsiders, even if those strangers are also humans. The tribalistic instinct, which is rather pessimistic, combines the other two conflicting instincts in a neat package so that they do no longer conflict so much that the species dies out. The combination of the competition and collaboration instincts led to different kinds of society as termites, gnus, bonobos, and humans show.

Biologists suggest that humans have developed a stronger consciousness than other animals as a result of an inflated brain. The neocortex that grew on top of their animal brain like a peacock's tail developed to construct and maintain the exosomatic part of the individual. Ironicaly the top-heavy brain was very likely evolved to support complex physical motion of its body. All sorts of hereditary connections between neurons are formed by experience and selection during evolution. Those complicated connections enabled invention of virtual worlds and myths as a by-product of novel physical skills such as language. The combination of the new consciousness and the effects of adaptation in our ancestors was explosive, it opened their eyes, inspired their technology, and started the arts. Unfortunately, increased consciousness did not seem to attenuate the aggressive side of their instincts but activated it with ideas. Even now, tribalism in human behaviour is as strong as ever and easily activated as shown by soccer hooligans, flag-waving patriots, religious fundamentalists, and racists. Human history is an endless list of tribalistic orgies at every scale, inspired and justified by idols and even by simple ideas, fictive enemies, or empty words. Violence is the only subject of the most watched motion pictures because people are addicted to it. With their fabulous social intelligence they have honed their skills in plundering, eliminating, and torturing others. Weapons and financial transactions are top products in the economy and robbing others, our main activity, is institutionalized in banks, armies, the IMF, insurance companies, churches, hedge funds and advocacy.

But manifest aggressive behaviour is not the norm, usually it is activated by something; the first preference of social primates like humans is collaboration since during the first 95% of their existence they have learned that sharing food, resources, and services with all members in the clan serves the genes and internal conflict does not. The default state was and still is peace, not war. The lifestyle of our ancestors changed radically when they started agriculture. Relative mortality resulting from conflicts decreased because clan sizes increased. Daily life became more difficult because property, slavery, poverty and plunder expeditions became advantageous. Initially there were a few large communities such as the cycladic and anatolic cultures and those along the Indus and yellow river, that were still more or less materialistic and non-violent but all were ultimately replaced by patriarchic warrior societies that introduced vengeful gods, strong male elites, genocides and massive slavery. All holy scripts recommend the sort of antihuman behaviour that was customary when they were written. Those sacred books are still taken seriously and actually obeyed.

There have been some efforts to soften the antisocial features of tribalism. Increasing the size of the clan had some effect because states forced the clans to collaborate: Mohammed pacified the Arab world by uniting the warring tribes and Yugoslavia had no tribal wars under Tito. It is therefore to be expected that solidarity with everyone will stop our addiction to fight. It happens when our clan fuses with all other clans. That means there will be no more clans left to fight and mondial cooperation will replace competition. This was suggested by the utilitarist Mo Zi (470 - 391 BCE) with his jian ai (which means concern for everybody), a principle also held by the Greek cynic Antisthenes (445 - 365 BCE) with his 'brotherhood of all men' and 'the universal empire of men'.

Increasing clan size as in urbanization actually favours cooperation and lowers homicide. Relative mortality by violence decreases with increasing civilization, when more people are involved in their clan. However our we-groups do not seem to grow with increasing globalization and better communication. A growing clan tends to split into competing subclans; Europe is a recent example. A known obstacle to a peaceful life in the clan is the internal battle for power which is part of the small-scale competition instinct. Power obtains by using a combination of idolatry and fear. All hierarchic structures (nations, companies, churches, football clubs) rely on the wish to belong for fear of being lonely; those hierarchies need obedience within the group and opponents outside to fight. The aggressive part of the tribalistic instinct is exploited, enemies keep being invented and perennial war results.

Is the situation past hope and do people have to repeat history, including all crimes of their ancestors? Is there no alternative to setting up new ineffective ideologies to replace old ineffective ideologies until humans finally die out together like all those species that they have eliminated since they started to populate the world?

Materialism is not a formal system

At least not according to the materialists who from the axial era to the present have patiently pointed out how to neutralize factors which trigger antisomatic instincts, the source of all man-made misery. They were vindicated by statistical analysis of anthropological data. Their advice based on Democritus' materialism is simple: consider all idols and myths mere word games and start a life. In other words, stop taking doctrines seriously and see the world as artists and engineers do. Look around, play, listen critically to what your body tells you, review your aims, be pragmatic, avoid mindnumbing rituals, and especially, stop bullying others because it is pointless. All this does not eliminate any harmful instincts that we inherited but at least it does remove the ideological motives that trigger them.

Nice try but that hardly worked as history shows; democritism is not an ism, a school, doctrine, or church and therefore has never been a serious contender of platonism. Certain points of materialism could only survive disguised as part of some faith. Platonism dominates because it is based on sacred ideas, it has hijacked religion: holyness evokes reverence and obedience. A certain amount of emancipation must already be present before platonism can be contested by democritism and a consensus to do so is unlikely in a society that brainwashes its children into obedient ideots. All societies do that, not only for alleged reasons of stability but also because people actually like it: illusions are too attractive to give up. Fictions that people prefer over hard facts are their honour that makes them important, their fatherland that makes them proud, their theory that puts them in the right, their capitalism that promises riches, their hereafter that makes them immortal, their leader that protects them, and their spirits that compensate their impotence. It is too much to ask to give up that wonderful virtual world, full of toys, in exchange for a nice life here and now. People gladly pay the bill for platonism and waging war has after all a positive effect on the winners; and winners were all our ancestors.

During 2500 years, materialists have been trying to cure people from their addiction to platonism. Apparently achieving little. But recent increased awareness of the worlds materiality in technology and the sciences may help to make ethics and politics more philosomatic if their aims and methods are adjusted accordingly. Something of the sort has happened in the axial era when materialism affected religious myths and made their gods more interested in humans. A simple material technology, book printing, made the humanitarian revolution in Europe possible, a feat no utopean ideology was capable of. In some places mini-enlightenments now occur that show an increased awareness of the materialist point of view as there are some protests against recent excesses in banking practices, religious fanaticism, and corrupt tyrannies. Environmental catastrophies that result from ideological requirements are now also frowned upon by some. Perhaps, ultimately, a modest improvement of life is possible if the public begins to understand what the inescapable effects are of its ethical choices and of the available alternatives.