Why Sex May Be the Greatest Threat to Christianity

May 11, 2016

By Neil Carter

I recently tweeted something of an epiphany and I’d like to take a minute to unpack what I meant when I said it:

That statement reflects a growing conviction in me that talking about sex triggers something among the religious, something which no other discussion will provoke. There is a fierce protectiveness, a visceral knee-jerk derision which you won’t get when talking about any other topic. This touches a nerve.

Of course, everyone is interested in sex by nature. That’s nothing new. But I’m suggesting that an open and honest discussion about sex threatens something fundamental to the Christian faith. It may very well be that a whole blog about sexuality jeopardizes something which mere argumentation and debate could never touch.

Unless I am wrong (and I am never wrong)* the core of the Christian faith (and of most religions in general) is emotional, not intellectual. It originates with and draws its power from emotions like fear, trust, guilt, hope, ambition, the need to survive, and the need to belong. So try as we may to address the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this religious worldview, we don’t “get through” to them because they already have centuries of intellectual defenses built up against the usual criticisms of their belief system.

I’m not just talking about apologetics, though. I’m also talking about a personal, existential awareness among those of us who deconvert. Many of us, whether gay or straight, gender fluid, trans, or cisgender, encounter this same peculiar discovery: Our growing awareness of our own sexuality drives us further into discovering who we are, and simultaneously away from being able to identify with the Christian faith.

And no, I’m not suggesting that subjective emotional things like sexual attraction and the need to “get your rocks off” are an adequate basis—in and of themselves—for rejecting a worldview which makes claims as grave and consequential as Christianity makes. There are plenty of other, more substantial and objective reasons for doing that. What I’m talking about is more epiphenomenal, like a secondary layer of signals which our own psyches have been sending us, warning us that something about what we were taught just isn’t right.

The Story We Were Told

Put simply, the standard Christian narrative about sexuality is this:

God designed human beings to be heterosexual and sexually dimorphic (distinctively male or female). He designed sex to occur strictly between members of the opposite sex who have entered into lifelong, exclusively monogamous relationships. No other context for sexual intimacy is legitimate. All other contexts produce harm.

Furthermore, sex is either primarily for procreation (if you’re Catholic) or else it is for procreation and pleasure (if you’re anything else), but it still shouldn’t get too kinky, because that is a perversion of what God wants. And when done right, sex is great but it still should never be allowed to rival more spiritual pursuits like prayer, worship, evangelism, and service to others. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all of that, yada yada.

This is the narrative we were taught. It was, quite frankly, beaten into us from our youngest days. And I’m not just describing one or two outlying factions of the historic Christian faith. I’m talking about a standard narrative that has dominated every major stream of this religion since its inception. Anyone who suggests otherwise has not done his homework.

It may be true that today you will find people who have essentially left historic Christianity and are reimagining newer, more progressive ways to reframe their understanding of their religion. More power to them. They may very well find more sex-positive ways to embrace the rich diversity of natural, healthy human sexuality we discover when we aren’t so compelled to shoehorn everyone into this preconceived mold. But they will have to do so in spite of the rest of their Christian brothers and sisters, who will cry foul and label them heretics. These folks will probably feel more at home talking about sex with non-believers than they will with “their own kind.”

In the space that remains, I want to enumerate five different ways that a healthy view and experience of human sexuality creates cognitive dissonance within the mind of a devout Christian. I trust that as I work my way through the list you will see that these are the very reasons why an open and honest discussion about sex feels threatening to the defenders of this religion.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

61 comments on “Why Sex May Be the Greatest Threat to Christianity

  • …..sex is either primarily for procreation (if you’re Catholic) or
    else it is for procreation and pleasure (if you’re anything else), but
    it still shouldn’t get too kinky, because that is a perversion of what
    God wants. And when done right, sex is great but it still should never
    be allowed to rival more spiritual pursuits like prayer, worship,
    evangelism, and service to others. Seek ye first the kingdom of God

    Just look up Augustine of Hippo now a “saint” as proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church. Read what the philosophy of of this charismatic old bearded man was in 400AD. Read about “the original sin” and you will find out just how much he contorted Christian thinking at that time and now poisons the entire christian thinking today. The entire christian philosophy surrounding sex is based on the desire to control people and that is NOT a means to enable people to get to “heaven” in the afterlife. In the RCC prevention of the use of contraceptives is because they believe they must have the “moral authority” to do so. It is that philosophy that has caused so much sexual dysfunction among so many people.

    For the human species, the main function of sex is pleasure, not having babies. Sex is one of our most wonderful pastimes. After all, any species of rats or rabbits can give birth. It is the ability to have pleasure without becoming pregnant that is a human quality.

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  • Consider the world where Christianity was born. There were STDs. The only countermeasure was strict monogamy and no premarital sex. It was also the only way to ensure a man’s children were his. Christianity has not yet noticed there are other ways.

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  • “the core of the Christian faith (and of most religions in general) is emotional, not intellectual.”

    I could not agree more!

    When I saw a photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, standing, looking skyward, head thrown back, eyes closed, arms stretched out with his palms upturned, it immediately reminded me of a child wanting to be picked up by a parent; that a highly intelligent adult, who is a public figure, should adopt such a posture – in public – is, to me, rather strange.

    Then I discovered that he’d had a very difficult and unhappy childhood, because both his parents were alcoholics.

    That picture captured an emotional moment, not an intellectual one.

    I’m not in any way criticising him personally; he is a victim.

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  • to see all of life as an act of worship, even sex

    ‘Twould make a great chat-up line in a Christian environment. I wish I’d known it fifty odd years ago in the Catholic youth club I attended.

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  • I could put it another way. If you were a “normal” christian, happily married and completely straight, you’re left with a bit of a problem understanding sexual sin.

    Religion has since the story of Adam and Eve, conflated wrongdoing with desire. Modern xtians say it’s ok to “be” gay, just not to act on it. sexual desire is universal so everyone knows what it is but taking that happily married straight god-botherer, he’s expected to agree with the sin/desire conflation. that means sin is inately desirable and those commiting acts of homosexuality, or identifying a different gender to their sex, are acting on universal desires.

    This certainly explains why so often a preacher gets all hot under the collar about homosexuality and the rest of us count down the days until they’re outed, because to them it makes sense. their standard desire is sinful, therefore desirable.

    If “wrongdoing” is desirable, it’s natural. If acting in a prescribed manner is desirable it’s natural too.

    As an atheist I often have to explain why I don’t go round commiting murder, and as an atheist I reply in part because of the consequences of such an act both to myself and to those others who I feel empathy for, but mostly becasue I have no desire to. What I don’t get asked as an atheist is “so what stops you being gay or transexual?”. That’s weird when you think about it. I’ve often wished I was and as a young believer assumed as soon as I started thinking about it, I’d find it desirable. But I didn’t, just like with murder.

    So there’s your problem for a believer. Sin and Desire are one and the same. If you don’t have sinful desires there must be something wrong with you, even satan isn’t interested in you enough to inspire such desires so how can you even feel good about being a good christian if being “good” comes naturally? I imagine one might become jealous of those having impure thoughts, and start willing them, and questioning their own worth as a human for not having them.

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  • William #6
    May 12, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Sex and Same sex relationships are a threat to most of the worlds religions, and male dominance over women just read the bible and Koran.

    Controlling sexual relationships and children, is one of the ways religions promote themselves and ensure they are passed down the generations!

    Consequently their “devout followers” try to almost pathologically to victimise those who challenge their dogmas – motivated by their own sexual repression!
    For centuries, they monopolised marriage and inheritance in many countries, along with being arbiters of inheritance of aristocratic positions, annulling marriages etc. where there were disputes.

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  • The Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions divides creation into the sacred and the profane. Where these domains collide (such as when we kill animals for food, deal with bodily functions, display emotions, undergo processes of born and death), they have to be reconciled. These are the points where ritual, concern is over cleanliness, and making reparations through prayer come into play. Sex clearly belongs in the profane, and what is profane is often regarded as evil. But sex, always profane, is rescued from evil if it is specifically for the purpose of procreation, and then only within the sacred institution of marriage. Which explains why sacred Jesus had to have been born without the taint of sex and, because death is also profane, why he never died.

    This division, of course, is artificial. Before agriculture and the civilizations built around agriculture, the most natural way to think of the divine was that the spiritual inhabited every aspect of nature. Today we have come full circle when science demonstrates how all living things are interconnected to support an environment; that a missing part, particularly a keystone species, can upset the balance in nature. In addition, global warming shows how the whole world is interdependent, and natural history and cosmology show how we are connected to a vast universe and an incomprehensible infinity.

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  • As an ex- Southern Baptist deacon I can tell you that most Christian couples struggle with guilt in finding pleasure in sex. But the desire for sexual pleasure outweighs whatever prohibitions they may have, so they often have good sex anyway. Whatever they’re unable to sexually express together in the bedroom is experienced privately in fantasies. Of course, this kind of cheating is very sinful. So they live by the rule “it’s easier to get forgiveness than to get permission.”

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  • 11
    Cairsley says:

    To DNofree #10

    “it’s easier to get forgiveness than to get permission.”

    Yes! That rule works across the spectrum of Christian denominations. Think of the Catholics and their recourse to the confessional.

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  • SaganTheCat @ # 5.

    If “wrongdoing” is desirable, it’s natural. If acting in a prescribed manner is desirable it’s natural too.

    Not for the first time in my puff I’m confused; do you mean prescribed or proscribed?

    Incidentally, I agree with everything you say; in my early puffery I partook of a very wide range of options sexual, but only with those of similar bent – pun intended – , and then I fell in love with the most admirable person I’ve ever met, and all that sort of thing kind of lost it’s appeal, and despite my foibles, of which she’s always been aware, but has never been subjected to, because they are purely carnal, she and I are still married.

    I now have only one question concerning something existing which is known about: why is there any religion at all?

    It’s a Fairy Tale turned nightmare which has transmogrified into a waking catastrophe; it’s Frankensteinian.; maybe that was what Mary Shelley was getting at.

    I need another tipple.

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  • why is there any religion at all?

    Its moment of genuine use spanned 40,000BCE to 600BCE. After which its useful inventions were spotted and split off from the nonsense to become justice, politics, philosophy, science, art….

    It persists because it serve sociopaths. It facilitates effortless social control and fleecing.

    Without these parasites persistently exploiting these shortcircuiting switches on the back of others heads, it would wither away to an incongrous decency and an overly cosy aesthetic of a caring universe.

    Target the shamans before any other….

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  • Decency is never innocuous. The absence of it could be (“the innocuous indecency of religion”).

    Just thought I’d chime in. It’s been a while.

    Serious (and perhaps naive) question: the article is about the Christian faith and certain individual rights – but what about the Muslim faith? (We’ll continue to have our ups and downs, but I think things will continue to improve here in the US, presumably; climate change and economic inequality worries me more.) What would happen if women started educating themselves and then protesting en masse in certain Muslim countries like they did here in the late 1800s? Would they bring out the military and start shooting them? Even so, that’s probably the only solution: a grass roots protest movement à la the bluestockings or civil rights in the 60s, with boycotts, riots – the whole nine yards. Why can’t they take to the streets (men too) and demand equal rights and an end to their subjugation? Yes, there’ll be violence. But you don’t get instant equality, or equality without paying a large price. The first step would consist in an inciting incident; something has to rouse them into action and then there has to be the formation of an organized body, a real movement.

    This question probably reflects ignorance. The USA and Paris and London is not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Afghanistan. On the other hand Mississippi in the past was a fascist, violent state, etc. —Why can’t they revolt? Do they want to, and is there a streak of cowardice, in both women and men, that allows them to accept this miserable slavish existence, when they know it’s wrong?

    (We have social problems here too. A rigged economy, entrenched interests, growing disparity of wealth and opportunity, injustice… And no mass action.—Just people writing articles and making jokes, and an upcoming election that will do very little, even if Sanders were to win.)

    Sex poses no imminent threat. You can’t wait for tyranny to step aside.

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  • Dan #18

    Why can’t they take to the streets (men too) and demand equal rights and an end to their subjugation?

    I think there are the first signs of this happening in the Middle East. I would posit that the Arab Spring across North Africa was an example. Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt all went through what you describe. For political reform, not feminist reform, but a good start. Some were successful, some less so. I think Libya is a divided state. Egypt over threw the Mubarak regime but the conservative military reimposed the status quo.

    Syria descended into civil war. I suspect that revolutionary change in societies is a bit 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. In my region, we’ve watched the emergence of both Indonesia and the Philippines into democracies, shaky at times but still democracies. Thailand has been in theory an independent democracy since 27 April 1960, after being a French trustee… (I didn’t know that) But there have been 16 military coups. So a strong and civilized country like Thailand can’t get democracy right.

    I suspect what you call for will eventually happen. As Knowledge becomes available, it provides information and motivation for change. Like a pressure cooker, eventually it will let off steam, maybe quite a few times until the real democracy is cooked.

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  • Why can’t they take to the streets (men too) and demand equal rights and an end to their subjugation?

    Add a second thought. Can you have women’s right met, before you have a system of government that can cope with protest. Chicken and egg… I can’t see how any third tier rights like those discuss here, could be contemplated until the country in question had politically progressed to the point where even a discussion on this issue would be tolerated, let alone protest and civil disobedience.

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  • Good question, Alan. That was the very question I was raising or hinting at. Chicken-egg is right. Another problem is education as the answer, and for the same reason: people have to have a certain degree of knowledge in the first place in order to be amenable to the liberating effects of education.
    But action speaks volumes. As I said in another thread, a Rosa Parks like gesture over there could awaken the imaginations of millions. If a Muslim woman were to rip off her veil and shout out in the middle of the street that she is free and will not be dominated anymore, she’s be arrested or worse. And that might just spark something.
    So although it wouldn’t be tolerated civil disobedience would go a long way. I assume that there are many people contemplating this at this very moment. There has to be a large population of latent or potential or closet radicals and dissenters and atheists over there. (Sorry I am so vague. “Over there.” Not good.)

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  • Phil, innocuous means harmless. My point is that decency is a good and somewhat rare thing. It seemed strange to refer to it as harmless. It is harmless but is also beneficial, and should be appreciated.

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  • The article is probably correct in its assumption about the ridiculous inhibitions about sexuality that have christian origins. I’d submit however that the sexual freedom experienced in many societies nowadays would be catastrophic without contraception as many of the taboos and controls were attempts to limit unwanted pregnancy and to ensure paternity control. Some Catholic convents were a way of ‘removing’ unwanted daughters from society to limit the financial implications of having to support them and their inevitable offspring. In some societies in north africa, women are locked up in special huts during their fertile periods to ensure that they are not impregnated by the ‘wrong’ males. i have no evidence but I’d suggest that the fgm practised in much of Africa was originally intended to dramatically reduce female sexuality and sexual pleasure to either try and limit unwanted pregnancy or to ensure paternity control. The obsession of moslem men in hiding their females from other men with the birqua and the controls on their freedom of movement also are directly linked to controlling paternity.
    Paternity control in modern emancipated societies appears to be managed by having any number of sexual partners while using contraceptives and then specifically choosing a partner to produce a child. This clearly conflicts with outdated Christain mores but whether it will threaten the other imaginary beliefs of Christianity is doubtful.

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  • Dan #23

    My take is that Religion Poisons Everything and it is losing that noxious attribute that is the key thing to be celebrated.

    I don’t believe decency is to be celebrated. I think it is to be expected. We would not have made it to here without this Better Angel of our Nature. (I wrote extensively why I think this recently, but without any takers….) We will do just fine without such ideological poisons substituting for thought.

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  • I think that Man is basically good and basically bad. We are not one or the other. We vary. I hope that we will continue to be more creative than destructive, more decent than swinish. Decency is to be recognized and appreciated as a virtue, in my opinion. (I’d like very much to to read your piece on “our better angels.”)

    “My take is that Religion Poisons Everything and it is losing that noxious attribute that is the key thing to be celebrated.”

    Interesting sentence.

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  • Phil Rimmer #25

    We will do just fine without such ideological poisons substituting for thought.

    An extension of this thought. I am of the view that ideologies are not reliable bed fellows. Ideologies in general are a collection of thoughts, usually by one person but sometimes and evolved collection of thoughts, that is then shoe horned onto society. Ideologies are backwards thinking. Come up with an idea, then apply three times a day. Forward thinking is to examine the evidence, then develop a model that is in accord with the evidence.

    Socialism is a classic. The evidence is that it fails because the species Homo Sapiens has a couple of million years of evolution hard wired into its brain that tells it that altruism is limited to near genetic relatives and person in positions of power. So socialism in the broadest sense, is a failed ideology, because the evidence is humans won’t obey the requirements to make it work. Capitalism requires compound growth forever and that is impossible in a closed system. So the evidence, which should have been considered first, before the ideology was formulated, points to the failure of the ideology.

    When I deal with people wedded to an ideology, I find they’ve outsourced their brain and thinking. Put an issue before them, they go to the drop down box of responses to the issue, and parrot it out. They haven’t thought about the issue. They haven’t done a reasoned assessment of available evidence. They’ve become a slave or a sheeple to the ideology. Channeling Animal Farm. Ideology bad. Evidence good.

    So broad statement. Ideologies are an argument in the absence of evidence….. Or, Evidence doesn’t care what you think. An ideology tells you what to think.

    Religion is just the Grand Master Black Belt Third Dan (sorry Dan) of all ideologies.

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  • @ David, Phil

    Re: “The angels of our better nature”

    As I said above, human beings are both decent and indecent. We have been both. This is Man’s dialectical struggle, his existential struggle, if you will. It is a struggle between survival and extinction, between individual profit and the good of the whole. Is there nothing in-between however?

    What system of government are you advocating, David? What sort of capitalism are you defending? Are you defending it? Closed system? Compound growth? What does that mean? Capitalism has led us to the brink of ruin, will lead to our extinction. It is not more natural; it is just too natural for far too many, and that is precisely why it should be controlled, regulated.

    Capitalism is based on greed. Why do you suppose there is such lack of care for future generations amongst conservatives? Why do they deny climate science and allow themselves to be bribed by the big oil and gas companies that are polluting our planet with impunity, unrestrainedly? (That may have an evolutionary component to it. It represents the lowest stage in our development as social beings.) Lack of altruism in favor of personal profit is the norm among free market capitalists. Religion has been the norm. But we are thinking beyond that now. Capitalism is every bit as pernicious as religion as an ideology.

    Evolution does in fact support the idea that homo sapiens are capable of altruism beyond near relatives. As Richard Dawkins said (on a panel with Attenborough, Goodall, and Leakey), Man is absolutely unique in this one respect: we are capable of altruism, capable of thinking about what the conditions might be like two hundred years from now or fifty years from now or twenty years from now.

    What better angels could Phil be talking about if this were not the the case? He just said, a few days ago: “The USA due to its high societal inequality and the poverty of its welfare provisions is the only OECD country where IQ is actively depressed by poverty, i.e. does not have just the usual correlation of IQ and income earning potential. Before any of this social engineering, fix inequality at source.” (Hard Truths About Race, #3)

    Capitalist ideologues want to get rid of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the minimum wage! How is a controlled market possible without some form of democratic socialism, David?

    Ideology. Which socialism? What kind of socialism are we talking about? What exactly do you mean when you use the word socialism? What do you even mean when you use that word in “the broadest sense”? Anti-socialism is also a mask for ideologues and propagandists. It is a mask for something sinister in most instances. (Not in your case, I’m sure.) It is a dangerous ideology in itself; its proponents seek to comprehend something complex and reduce it to its most rudimentary elements, and in the process they distort, mislead, and render it meaningless and undesirable.

    What do we mean by socialism? What do we when we use that term? There are many forms of socialism. The Soviet variety, which had many difficult and burdensome and tyrannical elements to it, was one type. But there’s also social democracy of various kinds. — There’s also anarchism, there’s also cooperativism.

    Socialism has assumed many forms.—But I think it responds to a primary impulse in the human heart and maybe in the human mind.—I don’t know. I’ve always thought so.—But wouldn’t it be better to have a society organized along social lines than one based on private appropriation of the wealth of nations?

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  • @ Dan. #28

    What system of government are you advocating, David? What sort of capitalism are you defending? Are you defending it? Closed system? Compound growth? What does that mean?

    Be gentle Dan. My idea is that ideologies, all ideologies, are not reliable. They’re not reliable because the construction of an ideology is not based on evidence. That is, ideologies are the ideas of one person, or a collection of persons over time that posit certain behaviours and actions. In the process of constructing an ideology, the author decides what should be done, then tries to implement those actions. By legislation or coercion.

    I say that this is backwards reasoning. The author decides how things should be, then tries to force to world to comply with their ideology. I used two examples. Socialism (As the common man on the Clapham omnibus understands this term.) And Capitalism, ditto the common man. Not talking about fine distinctions here.

    My reasoning will probably not meet philosophical criteria, but socialism fails because it requires the population to sacrifice for the greater good. Homo sapiens, with rare exceptions, don’t do this. We are hard wired to put self interest ahead of the greater good. Therefore, the evidence is that socialism is a failed ideology. It can’t be forced onto the world and work. We will always cheat and scam the system.

    Capitalism requires grow, to satisfy the ideology. Compound growth. That is, growth on top of last years growth. Run your mind over headlines about world economy and see how the term Growth is the key descriptor of capitalism. The world’s economy is not growing fast enough. Greece’s economy is shrinking.

    Fundamental Rule of the Universe. Closed systems have limits. Petri dish with growth medium. Put a spot of bacteria in the middle and it will grow across the whole surface until it hits the edges, consumes all of the growth medium, and collapses. Mice plagues in a wheat field. Rapid exponential growth, until the food supply is consumed, then precipitous collapse in population. Every farmer on the planet understands this rule. A sheep farm with a responsible farmer who stocks his property in a responsible way, makes a living. His sheep thrive. His farm ecology will support his farming because he doesn’t over tax the system.

    He sells the sheep farm to a greedy new farmer, who increases the stocking rate, and makes a bumper profit in the first year, and thinks the old farmer a fool. In the second year, he’s still ahead, but not so good. In the third year, he has so over taxed his fields that the profit return collapses as his sheep are undernourished and diseased.

    The Earth is a Closed System. Obvious truth. (Layman’s understanding) It has limits. All sorts of limits. That means it can only support a limited population. If you exceed this limit, you become the greedy sheep farmer. Natural resources. Air. Water. Living space. Energy. Iron ore. Other species habitat. Et Al. Everyone one of these limits feeds directly into free market capitalism. Run the capitalism model forward, with growth upon growth upon growth. Keep going. It is an obvious fact that you run out of resources, space, food, environment, air, and everything else. Ergo, free market capitalism is a failed ideology. The model that fits the evidence, Closed Systems have Limits is a Steady State economy, that uses resources, that can sustain that activity for the next 1000 years. Mostly closed loop production and use.

    On government, all over the democratic western world, you have political parties of the left and right. The democratic socialists (Broad meaning) and the Free market capitalists, conservatives. Both of these ruling parties make their decisions about our future based on their prevailing ideology. Since both ideologies are not supported by evidence, both should not be voted for. No evidence. No vote.

    The value of democracy, is that the collective decision making of a group of people, should over the long term result in better evidence supported decisions than a despot or an ideologically homogeneous ruling cliche. (Spelling??) But if the people are ideologues, they won’t make decisions on evidence. What they do with any issue, is the go into their minds Drop Down Box of answers, preplanted by their ideology, select from the list and say this is the answer. That’s outsourcing of the thinking. That is sheeple. Wrong.

    I would have a democracy where the participating politicians belong to no party, and hold no ideology. All fiercely independent. Each and every issue that came before the legislature would be decided on the consensus of the group based on the prevailing evidence. That way, the decisions made would have some supporting basis.

    All of the above is a pipe dream, because the evolutionary hard wiring of our species means self interest will rule, right up until the very last two homo sapiens are standing during the next and imminent mass extinction event. Fighting over the best sleeping bay in the cave.

    In summary, I say that ideologies are not sound thinking processes.

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  • Hi, Dave,

    I just think that your conception of socialism is a bit narrow and that your conception of ideology is questionable. Here’s a very brief excerpt from a great essay that my late father wrote, comparing two of the most important Marxist thinkers of the past two hundred years. Much of what he says here can be applied to socialism.

    Antonio Gramsci and C.L.R. James: Some Parallels and Similarities

    Frank Rosengarten

    “From the late 1980s to the present, one of the most intriguing aspects of C.L.R. James studies has been the frequency with which various authors have compared James with Antonio Gramsci. Some of the reasons for this are fairly obvious, others much less so. In any event, it occurred to me that readers of the IGS Newsletter might welcome a brief review of writing on James in which Gramscian terms and concepts play an important role. But before doing that, let me indicate a few of the themes in relation to which parallels and similarities between Gramsci and James are especially noteworthy.

    “First of all, organicist imagery is pervasive in the writings of both men. They both sought to integrate it into their understanding of Marxism as an integral, comprehensive conception of the world. They were both disturbed by the tendency of many self-styled Marxists to apply Marxist theory in a mechanistic manner, which accounts in part for their frequent recourse to the word “organic.” Marxism for Gramsci and James was not a closed, static system unaffected by change. They believed that Marxism, like all bodies of thought rooted in human experience, must constantly renew itself, must draw from other currents of thought in order to remain relevant and viable. As a result of this premise, they were able in large measure to avoid the dangers of sectarianism and dogmatism. Neither felt constrained to reject automatically insights into historical, political and cultural problems merely because they did not conform to an established set of canonical doctrines and texts.” […]

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  • @Dan 31.

    I just think that your conception of socialism is a bit narrow and that your conception of ideology is questionable.

    I must be saying it wrong. My post is not a critique of socialism. I am arguing that adherence to an ideology is not a good thing. It is this artifact called an Ideology, which I argue, are not reliable bed fellows. I argue that individuals, making individual decisions based on evidence, is better than people out sourcing their brains to a third party and someone else’s ideas.

    Socialism. Capitalism. Environmentalism. Scientism. Mysticism. Anarchism. Masculinism. Fascism. Just about anything ending with ISM, except autism is an ideology. All systems of belief. I question this methodology. I say thinking ideologically is not sound.

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  • Yes, I believe it is a critique, and a repudiation. Anything that is an ISM is an ideology and therefore objectionable, according to what you said. That’s too black and white. Socialism is the very opposite of free market capitalism; to suggest that they are equally loathsome and repugnant is an over-simplification. That is like equating communism with fascism. —That is what the conservatives want you to think. —But that is all nonsense, distorted. They are both ideologies but are extremely different in the way that they function. They are two distinct ideological visions, diametrically opposed to each other; essentially, that is.

    Moreover, historically, many socialist revolutions have been of an organic nature, a reaction to an already existing and intolerable, repressive ideology baed on the ruling class’s ideology, class interests, class feelings of superiority. Not all ISMs are created equal.

    And socialized medicine (socialism?) would be an example of a socialist principle, and one whose efficacy is supported by an abundance of evidence. You mention universal health care and you hear “Socialism!” and that’s supposed to silence the speaker. Kind of like “Islamophobia” – but different and worse, more insidious.

    The problem is that we have became phrase slaves, are afraid of words. This is a result of being brainwashed by people who don’t want us to know what socialism can be. We have been beheaded, forced to understand such things as democratic socialism, for example (which is humane and just and can and has worked), too quickly; we then conceive of it as one thing only, reject it as dogmatic. Without understanding of context, or appreciation of the many varieties and forms, and appreciation of the history, associated with this complex principle, this noble impulse (and socialism and communism has indeed assumed many unpleasant forms), we will continue to revile that which we might otherwise embrace. —And we will remain fear-driven and slavish.

    “The people of that age were phrase slaves. The abjectness of their servitude is incomprehensible to us. There was a magic in words greater than the conjurer’s art. So befuddled and chaotic were their minds that the utterance of a single word could negative the generalizations of a lifetime of serious research and thought.”
    —Jack London, The Iron Heel

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  • @ Dan

    “Socialism is the very opposite of free market capitalism; to suggest that they are equally loathsome and repugnant is an over-simplification. ”

    I am not comparing repugnance ratings for socialism, versus capitalism. What I am saying is, that the very basic foundation of both ISM’s has a defect, an evidentiary defect, which is why they are both fundamentally flawed. With socialism, it is the demand of all citizens to self sacrifice for the greater good. Lots of versions work fine, but they can never achieve ideological nirvana, because of this evolutionary defect in homo sapiens. School children can defect Capitalism the moment they apply the Closed Systems have Limits theorem. Very simple disposal of capitalism.

    This is my point. Not the comparative merits of either system. My argument is with ISM’s in general, not the name of the ISM.

    And socialized medicine (socialism?) would be an example of a socialist principle, and one whose efficacy is supported by an abundance of evidence.

    Agree, but it is not the ideology of socialism that makes this efficacy, it is the end word of your sentence, evidence.

    I am of the view that their that there is more evidence in support of the top ten traits of socialism compared to capitalism. I am far more strongly attracted to socialism than capitalism, but that is no moral grounds, not because I believe in the ideology. I believe that if our civilization is to survive, then the evolutionary trait of personal greed over greater good must be overcome. This can only be done when the majority of humans on the planet are able to make rational evidence based decisions. One of the objectives of socialism, sharing, also happens to accord with my assessment of the evidence needed for civilization to survive into the future.

    Maybe I am not clear. While you feel your defense of socialism is a valid response to my theme, it is not what I am on about. Forget about socialism. Tell me about ideologies in total, and in my opinion, that they should not be followed, because following evidence results in better outcomes.

    I share your view though that socialism is on the whole, better than capitalism, but I make that assessment because socialism has more evidentiary ticks than capitalism, not because the Ideology of Socialism is sound.

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  • Dan

    we have became phrase slaves.

    Ironically excellent. I shall use this often.

    Aphoristic wisdom is a risk if it is an invitation to solve like thus or so a novel problem. Each problem has its own unique character and entrained sub problems. A pre-solution is cheating it of its due regard and analysis.

    Aphoristic wisdom as a caveat, an heuristic test for this or that risk, by adding to our precautionary armoury, is only to be welcomed.

    For me capaitalism is about employing idle wealth to create more wealth. Zero sum gambling to trick others out of wealth is no necessary part of what it is about. This can never be policed enough, in my view. As consumers a market economy is how we decide relative values between hip operations (or NHS costs) and say food. Wealth arises by finding problems and solving them. This need not entail material consumption. Indeed one of my current jobs is entirely to demonstrate how this can be done in a particular sector. Intellectual wealth is in no way limited by physical limits and indeed comprises an increasing fraction of our economy. Our hand gadget contains the same stuff that our phones ten years ago did and rather less than ten years before that.

    Socialism is like Buddhism has stumbled into a lot of the right ideas, but as my daughter discovered for herself, the danger is not knowing where the quicksand is.

    I am irredeemably pro-fairness and fixing whatever problems that folk suffer from the slings and arrows of outrageous whatsist. (Libertarian ideas of omni competence allowing personal self fixing is simply a self license for their own indifference and inaction.) Full welfare to maximally unlock everybodies’ talents.

    Reducing inequality and the causes of it maximise national performance and mutuality. The research done the evidence is in. I don’t want to work with fellow feelers only on this, but with fellow thinkers who are prepared to act on the basis of evidence and reason. I seek a broader consensus for change. We all have to live with it and make it work. I don’t want to put the effort in to see it all undone at the next general election. The NHS in the UK has been proven to deliver excellent value for money and adds greatly to everyone’s sense of security. The Equality Trust, the gatherers of evidence for why working against inequality works for everyone, engage with all parties and captains of industry etc. Feelings expire with us but evidence and reason accumulate down the generations.

    We are built for mutuality. There is no good/bad balance, except that homeostatic perception makes it so. Our problems and terrors here are First World Problems and Terrors. Our retuning to our clearly brighter and shinier lives so we have full access to our positive and negative emotions, simply means we remain motivated for better.

    There are a string of unique neurological reasons for our mutuality. The fact that this uniquely developed capacity is exploited by clever psychopaths for their personal gain is the source of most of the bad and our biggest challenge. Their major enslaving tool though is ideology.

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  • Just to cover this issue….

    Inequality has its roots in ancient crimes, The Enclosures Act, territorial thefts from natives. Some suitable rate of return of all material wealth to the commons is what I see needed. Absolute property ownership is in this sense theft. Owning land, say, is an idea that should give way to an idea of a temporary stewardship with hefty responsibilities.

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  • @ David, others

    I haven’t read these latest comments yet, but wanted to point out (before I forgot to) that there are democratic socialist countries that exist that have been successful in passing the test of providing evidence, and in meeting that middle ground between altruism and man’s instinct for greed. In these countries there are heavy regulations on the economy but there are large safety nets and a very high quality of life for citizens compared to America.

    I am sure that you are well aware of this. So why, I ask, would anyone want to denigrate this by grafting the label ideological on to these countries, which have incorporated socialistic elements to everyone’s satisfaction (but ours, the naysayers in the U.S.)?

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  • “Socialist” is a degraded term with regard to political parties. Some of the most famous examples have been uber rightwing.

    I’m certainly not persuaded to adopt the term for myself. Far too many unevidenced presumptions will occur. The devil is in the detail and the detail is always different.

    “Liberal” takes you all over the political map. These terms should be taken outside and shot as no longer fit for purpose.

    A very great poster here once proposed that we need a political party committed to evidence based policy making. He proposed “The Reason Party”. He now works for The Equality Trust.

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  • @Dan & Phil.

    In these countries there are heavy regulations on the economy but there are large safety nets and a very high quality of life for citizens compared to America.

    The key word here is “Regulations”. As Phil has often opined about psychopaths in business, a view I entirely agree with, the only way you can overcome our evolutionary foibles is to regulate, which in America, is akin to communism. Recently visited Denmark. 70% taxes. Free education and health. Thriving but regulated free market economy. Environmental in outlook and one of the happiest countries on earth.

    Social democracy achieves this, but only through the overriding of our evolutionary selfishness, through regulation. Problems identified through research. Evidence assessed. Solution implemented. Regulation. This is what I am talking about. The use of evidence to guide the future, not the ideology. They’ve taken social democratic ideology, and applied it, with evidence based regulation to force humans to behave. The ideology is not the cause of the success, it is the evidence based regulation.

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  • David 34

    I share your conviction that any set of rules about how to live or how to organize society, rules that are made out beforehand, and without any evidence to support it, is indeed “ideological” in your sense of the word, and is a first false start. — That sort of ideology is deeply repugnant to me as well – as an existentialist, and as a reason-based, evidence-based person.

    Sorry for the confusion.

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  • @ David and Phil

    “As Phil has often opined about psychopaths in business, a view I entirely agree with, the only way you can overcome our evolutionary foibles is to regulate…” D. Allen.

    That’s socialism!!! (kidding)

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  • That’s socialism!!!

    But I also observe that those with psychopathic tendencies are a resource we make use of to our collective advantage quite often. That kind of regulation needs pragma, not dogma. Our first problem is simply recognising the fact of and identifying the risks of different predispositions within people and building in systemic safeguards into businesses and institutions for the personal self regulation that may be underpowered in some. All sorts of ways this could happen but a new directorial role of Corporate Ethics Officer reporting to the board, conflating HR and Quality with an ethics education may become mandated for corporations above a certain size is an idea that could be developed into a desirable solution, with professional training and standards, fully contributing to the longterm safety of investments.

    There are so many possible levers. Why settle for a few?

    Too many politicians are crap problem solvers because they have a tiny intellectual tool set and no balls.

    That proposer of the Reason Party wanted to write a novel about the idea, until he discovered a better thing, The Equality Trust. I had offered to introduce him to a few MP’s for research purposes, as well. Myself, I wanted to write a TV series about a retired early business man cajolled into local politics by his bored wife. He fixed things by pragmatic problem solving and simply ignoring folks’ programmed political knee-jerk reactions, engaging them at the level of evidence and reason. One day…

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  • new directorial role of Corporate Ethics Officer

    Yet to be convinced by that Phil. It does not solve the problem of what to do with the psychopath when discovered. Employment rules, human rights etc….Giving some people a hole in which to moan usually fills up pretty quick. Recycling might be better?

    Do you think a more natural method can be perfected? On reading LaurieB’s recommended book “Quite” and identifying that part of the problem is between extroverts and introverts and how the world has gone more towards the loud mouth antics of the extrovert.

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  • Olgun

    It does not solve the problem of what to do with the psychopath when discovered.

    No single solution to personnel problems is ever likely. The board may choose to caution or replace him. They may risk losing their ISO9000 certification at the next inspection.

    Ethics officers exist in medical and research institutions. I see no reason why quality standards of management process cannot require an ethical consideration and that companies will have to publish an ethics policy which must be part of reporting. ISO9000 would be an ideal platform for this.


    When things like quality are put in the hands of executive directors, on matters of quality they have the authority to override say the CEO’s insistence that dubious goods go out. They are answerable to the board and not their day to day boss the Chief Executive Officer (our notional psychopath).

    Indeed a corporate ethics policy combining personnel, third parties and eco considerations, transparently policed and reported on in the media and planted on the ISO9000 quality management platform, may become quite a marketing tool. I hope so….

    Fully agree with team building, flat corporate structures, allowing autonomy, not micromanaging, having time allocation for personal projects food, fun, high informal encounters, few meetings.

    Steve Jobs was still a tyrant.

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  • As a victim of two attacks during my 31 year career, and they were not from organized crime, but fellow officers, I’ve taken an interest in the subject. There was a book I was prescribed, Working with Monsters, by Dr John Clarke, a psychologist who specialized in dealing with corporate psychopaths. From Clarke.

    The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers or rapists, they are colleagues, bosses and employees found in workplaces throughout Australia. Workplace psychopaths are predators who ruthlessly charm and manipulate the people around them, gratifying themselves without remorse. They are people who lack a conscience, living in their own complex world where society’s rules are broken at will. This course will examine what a psychopath is, their personality style, behaviours, interpersonal approach and thought processes. You will see exactly how they infiltrate companies undetected, the strategies they use to manipulate those around them to achieve power and promotion. The different types of workplace psychopath will also be explored. Dr Clarke will also look at what companies and individuals can do to minimise damage caused by the psychopath.

    In a chapter he provides companies with advice on how to deal with a work place psychopath, once discovered. You have to create circumstances such that the psychopath knows that transgression will lead to consequences, and good behaviour will lead to reward. You have to make their employment goals such that it appeals to their lack of remorse, no conscience and shallow glib personalities. Very hard to do, but in Australia, we have Wrongful Dismissal Laws, so you can’t just sack them if you find them. You have to manage them.

    While most of the population on the planet are not psychopaths, (1% of males and less for females) my arguments above about the evolutionary stone age hunter gatherers that inhabit this planet today, that make ideologies worthless, require the same management techniques. Through regulation, you have to limit the damage done to the planet, society et al through greed. You have protect homo sapiens from themselves, because like a psychopath, they will not do it voluntarily. You have to regulate against stupidity. In Australia, motorcycle and push bike helmets are compulsory, because their is strong evidence that they save lives. Regulation against stupidity.

    I would add to Phil’s list of management techniques, the need for HR people to be firstly informed that workplace psychopaths are real, will be present in your company, and will charm the pants off the HR people if ever another person complains about their behaviour. They will ensure their are no witnesses. They will recruit dumb people through charm to alibi them and back up their stories. But the HR Department must be prepared to administer the P Scan test at the slightest hint. In Australia, police recruits are now screen for psychopathy, because they are attracted to the power that a police officer can wield, both against the public, but also inside the office.

    My attackers almost killed me, and took away 15 years of my life.

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  • [….] I hope so….

    Being a member of the electrical NICEIC certification scheme was the only way I could carry on doing council work. I was already working in the business when the scheme came in so I sort of fell into it and only had to do a couple of weeks at college to catch up and qualify. For those self employed or small companies as newcomers, it was nigh on impossible to get in. We sort of dried up and numbers went down. With more and more certification needed, bigger companies being the only ones that could fully comply (by lying in some instances), we have been pushed further down the ladder. By rights, sub-contractors are not allowed but the bigger companies get around it somehow and are utilising the experience of sub-contractors who have been there for many years. Many other instances of rule bending has gone on throughout the years I’ve been in the business. These large companies are not really interested in these contracts, not enough money in it for their size, and use them to keep their employees working whilst trying for more lucrative contracts. My prices remained the same for nearly twenty years whilst material costs went up.

    I am not sure whether these events are for the better or not but a fully corporate world worries me!

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  • @ Phil 45, 47

    Not my area of expertise, but here are some thoughts, Phil.

    It sounds watery. “Corporate ethics policies, eco considerations…” In actual fact private business is set up to make private profits. It is not in the business of philanthropy or in the public good or in the quality and condition of culture, is not in the business of anything other than profits. What you’re suggesting might work on the micro level. But without oversight, without severe penalties, without powerful prohibitions from without, the big corporations will continue on their path of destruction. No other way to stop the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry, the prison industry, the military industry, the fossil fuel industry, etc.

    The CEOs and their operatives and abettors are not psychopaths. They are myopic and compulsive, but are not psychopaths per se. They are products of a system. They probably go home at night, turn on the news and say: “Gee, what a shame. So many people uninsured, so much poverty and mass incarceration, and they really should do something about global warming.” Then they go back to work and all that is left at home and the eternal bottom line takes center stage once again.

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  • David

    the need for HR people to be firstly informed that workplace psychopaths are real, will be present in your company, and will charm the pants off the HR people if ever another person complains about their behaviour.

    Exactly so.

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  • Dan

    EPA standards have not been repealed. I argue strongly for level but carefully defined market places. If you look at my comments on business (like US agribusiness, like gmo’s ) you will note I am the first here to argue for new legislated standards and ethical practises. It is I who have argued for additional levies on genetic engineers to pay for enhanced anti-monopoly measures, better funded seed banks, guarantees of access to generic seed or patent waivers for poor farmers as the quid pro quo for market access, etc.

    I have a BIG toolkit. And I’m adding to it.

    In conferences on eco matters that I and my colleagues attend, most of the biggest names in manufacturing and on the high street, are minded that consumers are increasingly ethically demanding. Kind, considerate, ethical brands (all other things being equal) sell better. The biggest names are making the boldest claims. We find them very interested in what we (and the many like us) have to say. Most have plans to move into services to achieve sustainable models and secure their future and proof themselves against the legislation that will inevitably come.

    Old businesses run by the old and the libertian right fight by buying influence rather than earning it.

    CEOs are often psychopaths or well on the way…I’ve met more than a few. Lovely people under the right circumstances.

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  • Olgun

    but a fully corporate world worries me!

    Our experience is that small businesses outside of banks, utilities, and back office service provision, and the like, will mushroom. Modularity of products demanded by creating sustainability opens up closed markets (like vehicles) to the smaller player. Wiring will continue to decline as it is de-skilled and control and monitoring move to wireless meshing. Most large businesses in tech (and outside of the military) use contracted individuals and companies and buy in small businesses as a means to innovate. This makes their lifespan shorter than of old as they are no longer in control of the technology….only the market access. Most conglomerates have long gone as horizontally sliced businesses don’t understand the full ecology of the vertical niches they transect and the management overhead is huge for each of the market segment bits they do get involved in.

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  • @dan @phil

    Not sure where to post this, but any thread with a philosophical bent would do.
    I tried another thread but it seems to have fallen into disuse.

    Have you seen this:


    An interesting read that I’d like to share with people who might also find interesting. Especially Dan, after the Philosophy 101 course of yours that I flunked. Peace.

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  • @Phil #52

    I argue strongly for level but carefully defined market places.

    This statement flashed an image into my mind. Free enterprise is the most creative thing we have for dealing with problems. Good thing. But unregulated free enterprise is likely to send us extinct. Bad thing. I imagined this football field, with a boundary of regulation to control bad behaviour, level and even for all, where free enterprise can go for it. Innovate. Inform. Create. But they can’t stray off the football pitch or they get a red card.

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  • @ David, Phil, Olgun, OHooligan

    David, regulated and free (enterprise) is a contradiction.

    Phil, maybe you’re onto something. You clearly have studied these issues very carefully, and are deeply involved with all of this. I hope you’re right.

    I just have a bit of skepticism about these reforms and solutions you are proposing. The corporation is like a multi-headed hydra.

    Corrected sentence (#50): It [private business] is not in the business of philanthropy, is not interested in the public good, or in the quality and condition of culture. —It is not in the business of anything other than profits.

    OHooligan, I will read that article. Thanks.

    [Phil, any thoughts about OCD? Is it a chemical imbalance? Is it neurological? psychological? or all of the above?]

    Hi, Olgun.

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  • Dan #57

    I’ve known a number of very bright people with OCD. It is a neurological problem (no different to my prosopagnosia and face reading and voice reading defecits). For some reason a loop is set up from the orbitofrontal cortex sending duff inferences to the anterior cingulate cortex which is our main error detector mechanism triggering a do-something resonse. The reward centre the striatum is implicated allegedly but ultimately the thalamus (a major switchboard ) routes the do-something back into the cortex where it is wrongly inferred to be something that needs to go to the anterior cingulate cortex. Possibly underlying the particular behaviours is a reduced access to semantic knowledge (bugs don’t come back that fast after washing your hands) or reduced access to biographical knowledge (I’ve recently washed my hands).

    The two that I knew gained good enough relief from CBT and tackling anxiety responses.

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  • @ Phil

    Thanks, you polymath you!

    I wish I had asked you about GAD. I was told recently that that is what I have. (It includes OCD, which in my case ebbs and flows. Mild to prominent. Mostly mild these days.)

    Have a good week-end. (Let me check for typos before I post this. Give me a few hours.)

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  • @OP – What I’m talking about is more epiphenomenal, like a secondary layer of signals which our own psyches have been sending us, warning us that something about what we were taught just isn’t right.

    I see the church of Scotland is trying to disentangle some of its tangled thinking, but seems stuck with fence-sitting fudge!


    The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted to allow ministers to continue to serve if they are in a gay marriage.

    The historic vote on the first day of this year’s gathering in Edinburgh draws a line under a row which has split the Kirk for nine years.

    It means that same sex civil marriage will be permitted for ministers.

    However, they will not themselves be allowed to conduct gay weddings within the church.

    Last year, the assembly agreed that ministers could enter into civil partnerships.

    This decision means the Kirk adopts a position which maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to “opt out” if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same-sex marriage or a civil partnership.

    Any wider consideration of the theological understanding of same-sex marriage will not take place until the Theological Forum presents its report to the Kirk next year.

    These latest changes will differentiate the church from the Church of England, which bans clergy from being married to partners of the same sex and does not allow gay church weddings.

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  • Dan

    Stepping back from OCD to GAD. The loopy (loop like!) behaviour is triggered in a bigger set of people who have insufficient real problems. First World problems (I can only afford McDonalds) expand in our privileged heads until they occupy the same space as Third World problems (if these crops fail my family will die). Our detectors like fight or flight etc. need to be forever re-scaled if we are not to lose motivation, always strive for better and build reserves in preparation for the bad times. It does though risk the hyper pro social, the “regressive left” (yuk term), like those the third wave feminists asking that folk don’t clap during their meetings because some women are “triggered” by it (made anxious), so please do “jazz hands” instead.

    My aspie traits lead to quite a lot of social anxiety in novel (unrehearsed) situations. A coping strategy is to take the hunter gatherer/Dr Pepper stance. Whats the worst that could happen? I push it and push it to quite silly scenarios then realise, at least, they are not going to kill me…

    Working to help people with worse problems is very therapeutic…

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