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Friday, October 12, 2007
  We are building a Religion
Here's an idea... How can atheists be more successful at converting the masses? By learning from religion, by taking the elements that have made religions so successful and using them... Let me explain...

Religion can be thought of as a very successful collection of Memes. Richard Dawkins & Susan Blackmore have described in this way before, and I think looking at religion this way is very useful.

Religion has been historically, is even today is arguably the most powerful shaper of beliefs and therefore actions.

The most popular monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have themselves evolved over centuries and through various iterations based on their fitness as a collection of memes. The documentary film The God Who Wasn't There goes into detail showing how many elements of Christianity are actually repurposed myths and concepts from earlier religions.

When speaking of Evolution, this requires elements of change and a way to guage fitness. In the case of religion, fitness would be measured in the religion's ability to be spread to others and encourage new believers to not only believe, but to further spread the word. This element of religion brings comparison to the behavior of a virus.

So this helps us to understand how and why religion has been so successful, it's got very little to do with it being true. Now, centuries after these religions were created, the knowledge of humankind has advanced exponentially beyond the primitive understanding of the world. Science and education, technology, the enlightenment, modernity, transitions through the industrial revolution, yet despite all of this change, the infectious nature of religion means that these very old, very outdated religions and associated belief systems continue to exist and in some cases continue to grow.

Despite all of the social, cultural and technological progress and changes we've seen, our brains themselves are still essentially unchanged, they work the same as they did 2,000 years ago.

If we want people to move beyond religion, we must accept that the best and perhaps only way to achieve this is to essentially create a better religion, create a better virus, create a better collection of memes. Frame the message of belief in science in such a way as to make it as attractive, as contagious, and as addictive as religion.

We need to take the whole grain bread of scientific naturalism and make it taste like a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

What I'm saying is that even if we're able to conclusively prove the claims of scientific naturalism, humanism, etc, that's not really the point, and while that may be a compelling reason for highly intelligent, well educated, intellectuals, that only accounts for a small percentage of the population. In order to change the word, that message needs to be reframed and sugar coated if we actually want to sell the masses on it.

That is the challenge that stands before those of us that want to promote reason and secular values...

BTW - I had this train of thought launched by the song Comfort Eagle by Cake.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
  More Thoughts on the Ontario Election Results
What Lessons Can Learned from the Provincial Election?

Ontario voters are conservative in nature

I was shocked at the result of the electoral system referendum... This clearly shows that the average Ontarian citizen either didn't understand the question, didn't understand MMP or is just uncomfortable with changing the status quo. There were so many good reasons to make the change. The current electoral system was designed at a time when people who lived in a particular geographic area shared similar concerns... When you look at the popular vote and the spread of vote within ridings that is clearly no longer the case. Therefore, it makes so much sense that if a particular party - Green for instances, gets 8% of the popular vote, shouldn't they be entitled to 8% of the seats in the parliament? Instead they get 0 seats..., while the Liberals who rec'd 42% of the popular vote get 71 seats (66% of the 107 seats), how does that make any sense?

As a result, we're stuck w/ Liberals despite the constant attack on McGuinty and his broken promises. This begs the question... Given the situation, what, exactly were citizens they voting FOR?

Clearly McGuinty can't be trusted to do what he says he is going to do, which means that essentially most people were voting AGAINST John Tory's "Faith-based Education" fiasco... Meanwhile, McGuinty DOES still fund a faith-based school, it's called the CATHOLIC SCHOOL BOARD.

Some interesting links & facts & figures regarding education funding

The latest census reports available on the web (2001) show that of the 11.2 million citizens of Ontario, 3.9 Million are Catholic, that's 34% of the population. (as an aside only about 13,000 self-described as Agnostic, Atheist or Humanist).

The 2006-07 Ontario Budget has 11.7 Billion dollars for Education... Want to know where that's going? Yikes, take a look at this web page -> it's a disclosure of all 6 figure salaries in the school boards, that's a big freaking scroll down isn't it? 3,001 staff all together! Not too shabby... That's over $300 million...

Ontario Schools fall into 72 district school boards, of which 35 are Public and 37 are Catholic. That's right, just over half are Catholic, to support 34% of the population...

4,002 Elementary schools and 884 secondary schools.

Looking at a detailed breakdown of funding (amazing how much info is available on the web!) on a school board by school board basis, and analyzing the public and catholic school boards of Toronto, finds these interesting stats:

06-07 Estimates
Toronto District School Board
Total Funding: $2,263,415,354 (yup, 2.2 billion)
Total Students: 248,544
$/student: $9,106

Toronto Catholic District School Board
Total Funding: $794,992,770
Total Students: 86,631
$/student: $9,176

Well that's fair, that gets back to the Education Funding Formula, at least there is parity there, and we're not paying MORE to fund the smaller school boards...

You'd have to wonder, though, if there wouldn't be some more economy of scale, and/or consolidation of administrative functions by consolidating the public & catholic school boards...

Being married to your ideas

Looking at John Tory's Funding for Faith-based schools, I guess you can give the guy credit for trying to stick to his guns, but when everyone (even some of his more honest fellow party members) are telling you the idea stinks, LISTEN! It's so dangerous when people get married to their ideas and then completely ignore contrary opinion. I recently learned about Cognitive Dissonance, if you've never heard of it, read this article, it explains a lot about human behaviour...

Leaders seemingly unwilling to admit mistakes and admit bad news

I was really frustrating hearing the various political people being interviewed on election night, in particular Conservatives, NDP and Green Party folks, who all should have been miserable, frustrated, disappointed, angry at the results, both of their own parties relatively poor showing and the failure of MMP and yet they all seemed to be living in a dream world, going on about how pleased they were, how they'd fought so hard and made good progress and blah blah blah bullsh*t. Tory should have stood up and admitted that he'd completely f*cked up w/ his faith-based school initiative (if he was smart, he would have done this a month ago). I think people are smart enough to be able to forgive people for mistakes. Admit you were wrong, you're allowed to change your mind (especially when you're WRONG!). Move on! No sense putting blinders on and ignoring the evidence.

52% voter turnout - worst ever = apathy

Seems voter apathy is at an all-time high... Generally speaking when things are good, people can't be bothered to make a change, and dispute McGuinty's mistakes, things generally do seem to be going pretty well... If I were a Green candidate, I'd be knocking on doors and the first question I'd ask would be, are you planning to vote? If the person says No, that's a person to spend time with... If you could convince some of those people, who don't really have a strong opinion to bias them, I think you're on the road to victory as opposed to trying to change the minds of people who already have them made up and will likely just dismiss your arguments.

Review of Statistics of Popular Vote - Green

Despite not having won a single seat, I suppose Green does have something to be positive about, their considerable growth in popular vote. I suspect this # would be even higher if anyone thought they actually had a shot of getting into power, and I suppose that similar to the NDP, you need to hit a certain critical mass before people start taking you seriously... Looking at this table from Wikipedia:

Party Party leader Candidates Seats Popular vote
2003 Dissol. 2007 Change # % Change
Liberal Dalton McGuinty 107 72 67 71 +6.0%
42.2% -4.2%
Progressive Conservative John Tory 107 24 25 26 +4.0%
31.6% -3.0%
New Democratic Howard Hampton 107 7 10 10 -
16.8% +2.1%
Green Frank de Jong 107 - - - -
8.0% +5.2%
Green Party actually show the large % gain in popular vote, +5.2% from 2003. If you look at the #'s a different way, looking at the actual # of votes that Green rec'd... In 2003, they rec'd just 126,651 votes out of 4,497,244.

In 2007, 4,421,628 votes were cast, with Green getting 8% of the vote, that's approx. 353,730 votes, or a 358% increase! So if they can continue that momentum heck they'll quite possibly overtake the NDP next time around... To be honest though, I hope they recruit a better leader, I can't say I was overly impressed by De Jong...

Ok, this is the most time and energy I've spent on politics in my life! I think I'll get back to doing something useful, like playing FIFA 07 on my XBOX... :)
  Ontario Election Thoughts...
Well, I have to say that I'm disappointed at how the Ontario Election went... I felt that Dalton McGuinty got absolutely destroyed during the debate, felt that there would be a significant swing to the Conservative Party, but in the end Tory's pledge to fund faith-based schools ended up being 'the issue' and I think, clearly, was a major screw-up.

The last few elections I've voted Liberal, but this time out, I took a bit more time to explore my options, and ended up reading more about the Green Party's platform and felt that it best suited my ideals, so I voted Green.

I had no illusions that they'd be elected, but that's where my vote went.

I think what disappointed my most about the election is that the referendum for electoral reform failed to go through... Pretty much everyone I spoke with agreed with it, so I was shocked when I saw that it only recd about 30% of the vote... Wow! This has to be a real disappointment to the Green Party, who rec'd about 8% of the popular vote, but unfortunately didn't win a single riding :(.

Oh well... What can you do?
A personal blog by John Walter.

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I think a lot. Some people say I think too much... However, I don't want to be seen as being aloof or pretentious, it's just that I really enjoy philosophical questions and deep thoughts. That's not to say that I don't find pleasure in more down-to-earth or trivial things, like beer and soccer :) I'm happily married with 3 wonderful children. I'm a partner in a technology services company based in Toronto. Myers Briggs says I'm an ENTJ

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