Succinct

That’s the best description, though ‘slick’ works pretty well too. Professor Ceiling Cat brought these to my attention: four new short videos from the British Humanist Association, each addressing one of the main philosophical issues of life, if I may be so dramatic; to be more specific, issues that humanism handles a hell of a lot better than religion does. Simple, direct, and surprisingly complete – and, moreover, narrated by Stephen Fry, which is like getting extra provolone on the pizza. All four are quite good, but I’m featuring the one I resonate with best, a message I’ve made efforts to communicate numerous times before.

Underlying this question, and the other three addressed in the videos, is a simple concept: that we evolved to consider these important, because they all affect our survival. Confidence in our senses and surroundings, the fear (and thus avoidance) of death, the interaction with our fellow tribal members in a mutually-approved way, and naturally, the general improvement of our well-being. There’s really nothing complicated, or even deep, about it at all. It’s just that centuries of religion and philosophy have embedded in our culture the idea that these must be much bigger than all that, that there is some rule to the universe or intent from a creator that reflects the strength of our feelings about them. But that’s just ego, the importance of the individual, coloring our perceptions – another evolved trait.

Part of the reason I chose this particular video as the one to feature is because it also addresses the frequent reaction to this information. Very often, people really don’t like hearing that they’re less transcendent than they believed, that their lives and emotions are just an emergent property of thousands of years of evolution, rather than a part of something important. The feelings are too strong to be dismissed so cavalierly. But emotions aren’t really proof, are they? They’re capricious and remarkably easy to manipulate, which we can recognize when we stop to think about our reactions when we watch TV or read a book or, bitch please, worry about who won what vapid sporting event. Useful answers are the ones that explain and predict the circumstances of our world, and the analogs of these emotions that appear in other species, the portions of the brain that alter how these emotions appear and are expressed when triggered by drugs or damaged, and just the bare logical sense of traits that reflect survival skills, all point to us being on the right track with this simple explanation. Thousands of years of revelation, of philosophy, of scriptural pronouncements, all together did not produce the amount of useful information that the last fifty years of empirical science has.

And I have to point out something directly, because it’s surprising how many people miss it: this does not change anything about our lives except for our own attitudes. We did not suddenly become lesser beings, god did not suddenly vanish, the superimportant meaning to the universe (that nobody seemed to know anyway) did not just fall apart. Nothing’s changed – life still goes on as before. But now, perhaps, we’re a little bit closer to not wasting quite so much time and effort on vast misconceptions fostered by our egos. As that paragraph above implies, we can actually do more important things when we stop trying to reinforce how important we are.

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