Friday, June 13, 2008

Are we alone in the Universe? Yes, we are

Imagine a UFO lands in a football stadium. A humanoid creature walks out onto the field. A television reported breathlessly states, "Finally, proof that we are not alone in the universe!"

Microphones are raised to the creature. He begins, "Sadly, we are alone in the universe. Only humans and aliens exist -- just us two, and nobody else. We are alone."

What does it mean to be alone? Are 4 billion humans not enough for you? How many conscious beings does there need to be for us not to be alone? Enough so that the annihilation of a couple of suns or planets does not wipe out conscious life everywhere?

Religion is not inherently violent.

It's probably true that most people have been killed in the name of religion, but that's not the real reason they were killed. Religion was just the cover story to motivate people to go out and kill. The really underlying cause of all of these deaths is the political power of the state.

It's true that there are violent and deadly religions ( such as Kali's thugee devotees, or child sacrifice to the gods ), but religion isn't necessarily the cause of war and violence. Power and politics, almost by definition, are. You find plenty of examples of totally peaceful, pacifist religions ( just as a few examples, the Mennonite and Amish churches ). The early Christians were pacifist to the point of being regularly martyred. Then, when Roman Christians started gaining positions of power in the Roman government, and Christianity eventually became the official state religion, that's when you see Christians persecuting others. It wasn't religion or Christianity that caused the violence -- the violence only came about after power entered the picture. On the other hand, you never find a peaceful government or country. It's a contradiction in terms. The state ultimately enforces its rule through violent coercion. So, religions may or may not be violent; but governments, by definition, are. In the case of Islam, Mohammed was also a political leader ( he was basically a tribal chief, responsible for the defense of his tribe ) as well as a prophet.

So yes, people have been killed in the name of religion, a lot. But I argue that more people have actually been killed by governments.

But, some might ask, if religion is a cover story that governments use to kill people, why not go ahead and suppress religion, to prevent governments from using this powerful cover story? It's because you're not really addressing the real cause of the violence. If you take away one cover story -- a religion -- government will simply come up with another cover story -- another religion, or a mystical super-state, like Hitler's 3rd Reich, or Stalin's communist revolution.

If you're serious about addressing war and violence, religion is not the culprit. If it's just another reason to bash religion, well go ahead; religious people certainly deserve the criticism of going along with violent, evil state powers.

A penny costs more than a penny to make

A penny costs one-and-a-half-cents to make. What a perfect example of government waste in spending. Why, we'll surely go broke just minting money, before we even have a chance to use it!

Well, it really doesn't matter if a penny costs 5 cents, 10 cents, or a dollar. A penny's job is to transmit value, and after repeated uses, you can see that it easily pays for itself.

Say you buy a car for $10,000. You drive it to work the next day. Congratulations! You just spent $10,000 to drive to work. What a waste of money.

But hold on. Tomorrow, you drive to work again in that same car. Now, you've spent $10,000 to drive to work twice, or $5,000 per trip. In fact, if you drive to work and back every day for a year in your new car, it will have cost you $20 per trip* for the car. Now that's starting to sound more reasonable, eh?

So imagine how many times a penny changes hands in its lifetime. If you have a two pennies in your pocket, chances are one of them is from the 80s or the 90s. You, like most people, do not hoard coins. That penny has probably changed hands thousands of times. If a penny has changed hands 28,743 times, it's done $287.43 worth of money transfers. If this little money transfer device cost even a dollar to make, I'd say it was a pretty good deal, wouldn't you?

* $10,000 / ( 2 trips per day * 50 work weeks * 5 work days in a week )