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What is Hinduism really?

Once in a while I get to trying to explain how a guy who read and understood Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn as a teenager wound up as clergy in one of the world’s weirder cults, the Nath Sampradaya.

I’ll try and explain. Grounded in the scientific method, raised very slightly Christian-agnostic (remember I’m half-Indian, half-Scottish) what happened to me was that I got bushwhacked by Science(tm). I started to meditate for reasons still obscure to me, and after six years the narration or conversation with myself inside my head stopped. Permanently. This wordless state dramatically changes one’s experience of living and I discovered a cognitive framework which really helped: the belief system of my father, Hinduism.

What Hindus really believe is so different from the folk understanding of Hinduism in the west that it’s hard to be both a hardcore rationalist and a Hindu in public. This post is an attempt to remedy that.

The foundation of Hinduism is rationalist observation of the universe. Nothing is believed to exist without evidence gathered by repeatable observation. Where this parts ways with science is that all objects of experience – including thoughts and feelings as well as sights and sounds – are equally objects of observation.

This is the critical fork in the road: subjective and objective are classed as two kinds of experience, and maps are built of the entire system. Of course this means that you sacrifice objectivity for completeness, but hello Godel.

From this theoretical base come four truths based on long observation.

* consciousness itself has three properties, sat-chit-ananda (knowingness, beingness, bliss)
* the universe is only real to us as our experience of it – beyond our experience there is nothing we can say
* everything that is alive experiences itself as “people” or “person”
* everything seems to be one

Note that these are observed. Any substantial Hindu practitioner is expected to do enough investigation of the mind to verify this stuff for themselves. You have to go out there and get the data or you’re just propagating superstition.

On top of this philosophical cognitive framework come The Gods. There are an arbitrarily large number of these. From a western perspective we can lump the “gurus” in with the gods also. All of these beings have no special philosophical status – although they are called “gods” and credited with doing things like creating the universe, they are philosophically in the same category as your taxi driver. They experience themselves as People, they live a long time (if they exist at all), but they are not above us. They do not punish, they judge much as individuals would judge, and there is no hell. Gods-as-big-People is continuous with th Greek or Roman way of seeing things, but they are embedded in a context of radical philosophical equality between all beings as having the same underlying consciousness. If they exist, they may know more stuff and be on a different plane of existence, but they may or may not be in a better position than we are. The Free Market could fairly easily be divinized in a Hindu setting, for example. Nobody would blink an eyelid.

As Ganesh Baba once said “oh god, if there is a god, please help us, if you can help us.”

Reincarnation is the other big attribute of the tradition. In theory enough meditation lets one see time differently, including future and past lives. More meditation reveals that a single consciousness experiences the entire universe, not just your future and past lives, but the lives of everybody around you and everything that ever existed: the whole universe is experienced by consciousness, and all consciousness is without attribute other than sat-chit-ananda, leading to the equality of all consciousness. The awareness of reincarnation is training wheels for seeing the big picture, basically. It’s not seen as finally and literally true at any absolute level in any branch of the tradition that I am aware of.

So what we’re saying here is that consciousness is fungible: everything that has awareness has awareness of the same fundamental quality, and so it’s the same wine in a billion billion different bottles. The closest thing we have to “god” is the Wine Lake – the reserve of consciousness without form – but guess what? Sat-chit-ananda: it exists and feels good, but has no thoughts or opinions on your sex life. And you’re supposed to experimentally verify its existence for yourself before telling people it’s real.

Everything on top of this is folk culture. Caste, purity laws, local deities and superstitions, all of that is understood to be local “games” (lilas) built on top of the fundamental operating system of the universe. Beings “amuse themselves” by doing whatever they feel like with their lives, sometimes in complex interlocking arrangements. The status of these arrangements – the state of the pieces on a chess board, say – is karma. Karma can be completed by finishing the game and putting the pieces away, or by quitting the game and doing something else. It’s just game state, there’s no metaphysical reality to it.

Suffering originates from being an idiot. Avidya – not knowing or false knowledge – causes people to do the wrong thing and suffer unnecessarily as a result. For years I searched for a good metaphor for this which really captured its essential qualities, and I found one, the wasabi theory of suffering. You have a sushi platter. Muggins picks up the green lump of avocado paste and pops it in his mouth and chews to discover that it is wasabi. Ignorance has led to suffering. If there was a god that made the sushi, the wasabi is part of the meal, but you are not supposed to eat it that way. Most religious law in Hinduism is based on trying not to eat the wasabi whole.

Note there’s no paternal god who runs the whole show. There’s no maternal god who made it all. Metaphors like Brahman exist explaining how the universe arose from the non-universe before it, and suggest it’s cyclical, but that’s all understood to be mythology by the practitioners. No split exists between our Aristotle, Kant and Descartes and our saint-worshiping peasant villagers – it’s all called Sanatana Dharma (“eternal truth”) so they all share a brand and common symbols, but with substantially different activities, although there’s a surprising congruence of the folk and intellectual ends of the tradition. Even the peasants generally know that it’s all a big game built on top of the equivalence of the consciousnesses which exist in everything which has self-awareness.

The categories of science, religion and philosophy never came to exist within Hinduism. The unification of material and religious authority never privileged orthodoxy and unitary truth. As a result the tradition meanders, contradicts itself, mutates without restraint, has little or no concept of heresy or bad-truth, is polyvalent at every level and acknowledges no single author. Even the Vedas are the opinions of very clever people, and even if they were “Gods”, so what?

The solvent of the tradition is the equivalence of all consciousness. Enlightenment consists only of really knowing what makes you feel like you, and realizing that other people feel much the same way about themselves.

Finally, we get to miracle stories. They’re myths. Maybe there are Secret Lineage Gurus who can fly or teleport or live for 20,000 years. Maybe there aren’t. It’s quite possible that the entire Nath tradition is a game of let’s pretend based around the social agreement that the mythological heads of the tradition exist and I think we’d all be fine with that.

All we know for sure is what we have experienced. That’s the first thing that meditation teaches you. Everything that hasn’t happened lives in the same land of “maybe.” All the myths ground in “this guy said.”

And that’s the final piece. The ability to make good stories is the ability to make “lilas” – games in creation. Science fiction and fantasy carry that load in western culture – cyberspace jumps from William Gibson’s novels into our lives through the power of inspired technologists. This function is also incorporated into the framework of the religion as a creative activity. Santoshi Ma starts in a feature film and thirty years later has become a mainstream canonical goddess.

That’s why we say nothing is real unless you have experienced it yourself.

As far as I can tell, this is what Hindus really believe. This is the philosophical engine of the tradition at the bones-deep level, the deep esoterica at the same sort of level as the nuts-and-bolts of apostolic succession. I’m fairly sure that it barely meets the criteria of “religion”, it’s too broad for “philosophy” and it’s definitely too vague and tolerant for “science.”

But you’re stuck with it. There’s a billion of us, there’s no fundamental agreement on most of the things you’d expect there to be, and there’s nobody in charge. And don’t let anyone tell you different.

Jurisdiction through binding arbitration

I believe that the critical bit of legal infrastructure for all Seasteads and parastate entities like WSLEs is binding arbitration.

Right now, binding arbitration is being used by assholes to get away with heinous crimes. However, it seems fairly clear that if a substantially libertarian group were to incorporate, retreat to some extraterritorial location, and all sign employee contracts specifying binding arbitration to resolve internal disputes, perhaps relative to a law-like code of conduct, we might see meaningful private law. Having everybody involved be employed – even if for a dollar a year – by the Seastead in question may be key to getting a solid legal lock on the situation. Season with biometrics and cryptography to assure privacy-and-authentication (see details on the biometrics/crypto privacy package I designed for the US govt) and you may have something quite useful.

Jurisdiction is the key. Sovereignty is a spook, it’s all tied up in messy international balances of power and international agreements. Jurisdiction, on the other hand, exists inside of a TAZ, or a mafia, or a tribal court, or a ship, or even a corporation. It’s the ability for a society, small or large, to make some of its own law. Jurisdictions nestle with each other like Russian dolls, and sometimes overlap like Venn diagrams.

Sovereignty is not necessary to the establishment of a jurisdiction. Nobody would suggest that the Mafia is sovereign, but to a substantial degree they have made their own law and their own rules, based on running from the big dogs, and coopting everything else through threats and infiltration. The upper level figures are judges more than kings by my reading. So I think that for seasteads, getting to a meaningful jurisdiction starting with, say, contract law is probably a lot easier than getting to anything resembling sovereignty. One can then imagine this jurisdiction being exported by the medium of contracts which state they are to be enforced by the law of the seastead involved, in the same way that some US contracts state they will be using Delaware law. This then becomes a service – sane law at a fair price – offered to businesses and individuals the world over.

Of course, substantial criminal malfeasance in the eyes of any nation state with a gunboat may still bring down the law of other nations, but a functional sane jurisdiction doing contract law for enterprises that are not really seen as problematic anywhere in the world may be as viable a business model as libertarian tourism.

That sane contract law by administered by a reasonable court which sits on a concrete platform where fish and shrimp are the dietary staples looks like a plausible commodity tells us something about the shape of the world we live in: we live in the future.

On the real nature of sovereignty

The endgame problem with seasteading is that your “alternatives to government,” your pelagic argosies, will either become sovereign, or not. Sovereignty, like virginity, being boolean.
Mencius Moldbug on Seasteading

Will Chamberlain replies briefly but doesn’t, I feel, hit the nail on the head.

Sovereignty is about as far from boolean as you can imagine. It’s real.

As I point out at some length in the infamous “Winning the Long Peace” (which examines the Global War on Terror from a technoutopian perspective) sovereignty is actually acutely compound. Minor states have US special forces popping in and out to do WMD policing work or shoot innocent civilians without much say-so, drug policy is substantially a global order regardless of local customs, however well established, and so on. High level frameworks like UNDHR and WIPO bind nations in all kinds of sovereignty-bending ways.

The fact that sovereignty is not absolute frees up all kinds of terrain for margin plays of one kind or another. The neoliberal dream of a single global jurisdiction with them on top is dying as fast as the dollar, and the messy real world patchwork of overlapping influences – closer to an astrological chart than to a map – takes over again.

All old kings knew that sovereignty depended on good relationships with your neighbours. Absolute power over the terrain inside a map boundary is a semantic spook, a dream of reason. Whether one is on a Seastead, or in Vancouver, the US exerts influence. Sovereignty in this sense is a semantic spook, a proxy word for the ability to maintain your own jurisdiction.

Upon which more later.

You may also enjoy Free Guptastan

FREE Guptastan is a piece I wrote on my old blog about starting a country (well, strictly a Weakly State Like Entity (WSLE pronounced weasel)) based on patent-free production of anti-HIV medications. I’m also known for bringing open source design to the humanitarian world in the form of the Hexayurt open source refugee shelter.

A Pirate’s Platform (@leashless)

A Pirate’s Platform

an attempt at a fundamental rights based platform for the Pirate movement.

1> Our goal is freedom, particularly creative and expressive freedom, for all.

2> We are not aligned with traditional left/right politics, and are substantially not a form of Libertarian because of our emphasis on the social construction of property.

3> All rights arise from within individuals. The machinery which implements or denies rights is socially constructed in some cases.

4> The right to property arises from within individuals, but the machinery which creates property is a social construction. Throughout time new forms of property have been developed, starting with nomads settling on land and continuing through shares in limited liability corporations, copyright and patents. Not one of these forms of property was an inherent right before the form of property was created: rather they are socially constructed expressions of a fundamental right to property, in the same way that a newspaper is a socially constructed expression of the right to free speech.

5> We do not know the perfect forms of property, if such things even exist. There are substantial reasons to believe that good property laws vary depending on culture and technology, among many other factors.

6> The Libertarian ethos of self-ownership as the foundation for all property rights does not adequately address the role of the State in creating many of the forms of property in society. Although anarchocapitalism attempts to address the role of the State in creating property there is a substantial lack of clear consensus of the role of “might makes right” in the implementation of rights in an Stateless ancap society. These are examples of systems which are clearly reasoned from strongly stated axioms, but which demonstrate the potential for severe problems in practice. This is not our way because it is biased too much towards theory.

7> The Pirate ethos is not one of reasoning from fundamental axioms and damn the torpedos. Nor is it purely utilitarian, arguing for the greatest good for the greatest number. Rather, it is scientific, evolutionary, experiential and experimental. Pirate politics are learning politics. If we succeed in one nation in implementing radically sane laws around property, and the result is cultural disaster because the laws inhibit creativity rather than freeing it, we will change our minds. However, we will not abandon principles based on failed experiments, seeking always to find the correct social machinery to express our inherent individual rights.

8> In the long run, no form of property or rights is beyond our ambition. Copyright and patent are relatively young laws, in a state of flux because of new technology, and therefore are our first targets for radical sanity. However, it is not beyond imagination that Pirate policy may extend to all fundamental human rights and the environment given time. A learning approach to politics gives us time to work on what we are sure of now and develop a wider mandate in time.

9> Electoral politics is only one part of a broad-based effort to encourage dialogue and creative engagement at a cultural level, including discussing the role of law in freeing us from various forms of inconvenience, oppression and danger. Where individuals and society require no assistance from the State, no law should exist. A strong practice of individual and social self reliance can reduce the scope of State power.

10> The international export of European and American property rights norms does not constitute sustainable development, particularly in the areas of patenting lifeforms and denying access to life-saving drugs based on patents. International organizations like WIPO need coordinated international response to combat, not just from nation states, but also from individuals and society. They are our most dangerous foes and need to be engaged accordingly.

11> The privatization of knowledge by copyright and patent denies the fundamental openness of the human quest for understanding in general, and the scientific method in general. Knowledge is a fundamental commons, in the same general manner as air is, and while there may be temporary practical exceptions for social utility (like patent) the enclosure of knowledge as property is fundamentally in error. We must align with what is good for science, and for the open spread of knowledge. Education may be a natural area to make allies.

12> We are making policy for a future which likely includes technologies like gene therapies and elective genetic modifications, nanotechnology, self-replicating machines and artificial intelligence. Substantial progress in at least some of these fields, of a kind which creates a strong need for updating laws, is certain within a generation or less. Correct understanding of individual rights and the social mechanisms to implement them will require substantial technological competence and sophistication among policy makers. We can provide that understanding and competence.

13> The Green movement has failed to take effective action on the substantial issue of its day. We must learn from the failures of previous parties with a narrow focus particularly when it comes to linking effective action in our main area of interest to broader social agendas. Many are for copyright reform who are against, for example, drug reform. We must remain true to our goals above all subsidiary agendas.

14> We need to identify and respect historical figures and contemporary heros who support our cause. This is made more difficult by the role of the media, a copyright-centric enterprise, in shaping culture. Many who might support us privately, as they bittorrent their favorite British TV shows, would never personally admit that our positions make sense. I personally start the heroes list with Richard Stallman and Trent Reznor.

#vgppv1 is the hash tag for this document.

The Friedman Interval

We do not influence the course of events by persuading people that we are right when we make what they regard as radical proposals. Rather, we exert influence by keeping options available when something has to be done at a time of crisis.
–Milton Friedman

(as quoted by the E language homepage)

The “Friedman interval” is the gap during a crisis in which new thinking has a chance to be adopted during a crisis. A lot of my work on resilience and redefining land rights as ecosystem shares is as part of a strategy of having a package of options (the Gupta Option) available to offer to individuals, organizations and governments in the event of situations which make the current approaches they have untenable.

What’s your Friedman interval offering?

Woe, my America

((at times I cannot think properly in anything but bad poetry. it might take me two years to articulate this in an essay form and mean it. by then events may have overtaken this line of thought. published here for those few who pursue my thought to the edge of its most tenuous branches.))

Oh my America, my new found land,
in whom the world’s hopes were invested
I’ve seen your police on the streets of Pittsburgh
seen those who dare to speak for peace
beaten and arrested

under Bush and Reagan, we knew you stood for war
the time is now, the cry is change!
but those with age, we watch and wait,
we count and keep the score
the police are the face of the state

Change! Change! Change!

Jose Padilla is a citizen held without trial,
tortured! then convicted for dreams of vengance
a citizen cannot be an enemy combatant
a citizen cannot be held without trial

where is the hope for this man?

the political process in America has failed
new boss, old boss, same boss,
black, white or grey, the same masked hand grasps

generations of lies have split the nation
tattered the flag
no constitution without jail for torture
no constitution without jail for torture

what you don’t see, on the streets
is that what started in Guantanamo is a virus
every lie told and law broken to hide those crimes
reflects into the soul of the front line beat down police
hopeful of salvation for their own illegal acts
as above, so below
as in Guantanamo, so in the streets

sonic and chemical weapons are tools of war
made for controlling occupied populations
who speak against an economic order
made to another’s specifications

with liberty and justice for all

there is no more America

not to praise, but to bury
the dream has died
in the secret cells
in the black sites
they killed America

hoist then the flag,
cry havoc
are we to let one nation’s fall
end freedom for the human race?

we do not need America

for the era
of the Soviets
of MAD
of one global deathcamp
oh, yes, this sword governed

two edged, two edged
the concentration of power
in the hands of the few
on behalf of the millions
now cut to the bone!

to each and every heart returns
the secret flame, once held aloft
not one nation, but all
not one Constitution, but natural law
they cannot hold the dream for us all any more

your liberty
our liberty
will be fought for
in our own lands

The Americans are not coming
The Americans have not come
The Americans are at home
Beating each other in their cells
Covering up their crimes
Torturing their own and ours

Each of us now is an America
A caped crusader, a man of steel
A superhero, vira, astride
Soldiering forwards in the name of peace
A thousand thousand unwritten Constitutions
A human face

I am America, the dream lives. So are you.

What’s happening in America?

It’s a collision of four factors.

1> Race. It was never healed, it was never cleaned up, there were no “truth and reconciliation commissions” for generations of racism.

2> Standard of living reset. Americans set their standard of living expectations during the 1950s, when they had the only undamaged high tech manufacturing base in the world and American workers were incredibly productive because of it. As the rest of the world has caught up, they can no longer maintain the gradient between American standards of living and, say, European standards of living. They have been borrowing for generations to make up the difference.

3> Military supremacy. The US won the cold war and has been left with an arsenal and military which are suited to yesterdays war. The culture is burned out from 60 years of spending 50% of their tax dollar on war: the damage done from generations of neglect in education, health care and infrastructure is everywhere.

4> The American Dream. Generations thought it would be their kids. The generation of the 1970s probably got closest. But it just never came, and like Israel, one can only wait for one’s forefather’s dreams to happen for so long before having to make one’s own peace with reality as it is. America crossed this threshold at 9/11/2001.

The dollar’s questionable status as an international reserve currency is probably the key external threat to the current status quo. Huge national and personal debt, doubts about the political stability of America and the rationality of its foreign policies, the loss of the “leader of the free world” position based on the irresponsible and criminal military adventurism of the past decade… all these factors combine to make storing one’s wealth as a share in America an untenable position for many nation states.

The situation is not stable until these fundamental factors are addressed. The external pressure of the USSR kept the lid on for generations, and now the lid is off and the threat of terrorism is not enough to hold the old American narrative together any more.

I do believe that America will be better after this phase is begun and over: renewed diversity and distribution of political power, and a peaceful future as a post-Superpower nation state. Let’s hope that all parties involved can agree a cooperative approach to making the necessary changes as the current equilibrium collapses.

Draft of my intro to an Engineers Without Borders course document

R. Buckminster Fuller, a great 20th century engineer and activist, stated that his goal was “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

In preparing this module Engineers Without Borders hopes to educate and encourage students of engineering to embrace a global awareness of the significance of their work, and the scope of engineering to address many of the world’s basic problems.

Right now over three billion people (nearly half the human race) are poor farmers growing most of their own food. Another billion live in the slums. Out of these four billion people, around one billion know regular hunger. The rest of the world’s population, about two and a half billion people, live at a much higher standard of living in the world’s towns and cities.

There are two main ways of thinking about poverty. The first is to see poverty as an absolute lack of money, represented by metrics like the “dollar a day” threshold invented by the World Bank. By this metric, things are improving slowly, but in straight financial terms the massive inequalities between the poor and the rich continue to worsen.

The other perspective is to see poverty not as access to money directly, but as access to human welfare. What do we mean by this? One definition of absolute poverty is that people are so poor they die from being poor. By this metric the meteoric rise in global life expectancy is bringing people closer and closer to the same lifespan wherever in the world they happen to be born. More and more people living are into their 70s even in countries which are often thought of as “poor nations” and over-all this basic “access to life” is increasingly equal.

Picture 39

These graphs show that financial inequality has increased, while the inequality in life expectancy has sharply reduced. Most of the human race now clusters between 70 and 80 years life expectancy, while income is all over the chart. These two metrics show different ways of understanding inequality. In the most fundamental sense – access to life – we are increasingly equal. In another sense – access to money – we are increasingly separated.

Our planet has finite natural resources. Every human activity which requires some raw materials, or emits some carbon, uses a fraction of our planetary reserves of wealth, stored up for our own use, and the use of future generations. As we all know, the amount of natural resources currently used by humans exceeds what the planet can sustain. Citizens of wealthy countries often consume dozens of times more resources each than citizens of poor countries. How are we to ensure a better standard of living for everyone while reducing our impact on the biosphere to a level which allows future generations to thrive?

One approach is to disconnect economic growth from environmental impact. As manufacturing technologies and energy generation go cleaner, as less polluting forms of wealth generation become an increasingly large part of the global economy, the hope is that we can continue our economic growth within the constrains of the natural environment. It remains to be seen how this approach will go. However, the 50% reduction in the energy required to produce each dollar of US GDP in the 25 years from 1973 to 2008 gives significant reason for hope that in the future we may be able to live within our ecological means.

Another approach is to increase human welfare without greatly increasing the amount of economic activity. A simple example is a technology like solar water disinfection (SODIS) which costs very little money to implement but greatly increases the quality of life of those who now have access to safe drinking water. Increasing human well-being without requiring significant new investment offers hope to the cash and capital starved poor of the world: that they may be able to pull themselves out of the worst consequences of poverty within their existing financial resources, and perhaps to build stronger economic access on this improved base of health and food security. For example, the Indian state of Kerala has literacy, life expectancy and infant mortality right in line with European countries, on an average income of around $1 per day. Kerala has effectively produced substantial human welfare increases without corresponding economic growth.

Together, these two trends may allow us to see a world that works for everyone.

The role of appropriate technology in this picture is twofold. First, appropriate technology can enable people to make a better livelihood, increasing the value of the products they make and reducing their labor and costs, increasing their economic well being.

Secondly, some appropriate technology systems can directly provide essential services like sanitation so inexpensively than even the poorest can afford them. Whatever the level of need, from absolute poverty through to those fortunate enough to be gaining access to education and opportunity, appropriate technology can be a less politically encumbered way of working on some of the world’s most fundamental problems.

There is hope for the world. Our rapid increases in the last fifty years in global standards of living in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy are laying the foundations for a good chance for everybody to live better lives in future. Even with the new challenges raised by the global environmental crisis, there is hope that good will and good engineering can combine to make a world that works for everybody.

Twelve Wembley’s of Fabergé Eggs

The US Government end of the bailout is $12 trillion.

Wembley Stadium seats about 100,000 people.

Fabergé eggs sell for on the order of $10 million.

Therefore, the bailout cost the same as 12 Wembley Stadiums filled with Fabergé eggs.

And that, my dear friends, is what real money looks like. The cost of four Iraq wars went into the banking system, from the taxpayers, in the last year or so, in the US alone.

Think about this.