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Saturday, September 22, 2001

Adaptive Religion

While to the common man religion is about self and god and spirit, the real evolutionary force behind it is politics. Religion is the device that enables our feeble brains to survive and make the right choices in an environment that has become too complex and abstract for our hard-wiring to keep up with.

That is, fundamentally we're not smart enough to get along in large groups -- cause and effect are too dissociated for us to understand the ramifications of what we do. But evolution discovered a short-cut (to having to make everyone really really smart): the god module--faith. It's nature's firmware, a port in people's heads through which you can upload new emotional programming.

And as such, religion is far from arbitrary -- it is part of evolution, and it is shaped by the needs of society. Each religion is tailored to its time and place, to the economics, climate, geography, resources, and population... it is an eigenvector of the societal context.

And I was reminded of all this when reading about the Taliban. The war with Russia threw Afghanistan back to the stone age, and shortly thereafter the Taliban swept through and took over with its stone-age religion. We have plenty of examples of societies and religions marching forwards through time together, but the marriage between the two is not really apparent until we see them march backward together as well. The Taliban is what works there, now, the way things are. Steal a piece of bread, your hand is promptly removed. The sad truth is it is better to have people starving than fighting, or even stealing, because starvation destroys less capital. The Taliban is Afghanistan's inoculation against the tragedy of the commons--in a context where the resources simply cannot support the population. It is barbaric by today's standards, which do not apply.

The Taliban will be overthrown when and if Afghanistan moves forward in time again. It's too bad so much of the world (the international drug trade, in particular) has such a vested interest in keeping them in the stone age. Funny to think, in a round about way, that the WTC may be just another casualty of the War on Drugs.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com