Flood Control

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Sense of History

Before you ask, my New Year's wasn't especially exciting. I went out with some of my housemate's friends, and subtlely bailed when it turned out they were only interested in talking about their favourite drugs.

I have many beefs with drugs, but honestly that's one that never occured to me.

While I was bailing, I happened to walk past a park in which about twenty magpies were standing, all spread out, all looking in the same direction. It was like they were waiting for the fireworks. (Stupid birds were standing the wrong way. The fireworks were behind you, idiots.)

Around New Year's, it's hard not to start thinking about where one has been, and by extension where everyone else has been. Thinking about history is almost encouraged at this time of year, and so I'd thought I'd share some thoughts. Which is why we're going to cut to gay people.

In the opening of Cryptonomicon, the POV character wonders how homosexuals evolved. Surely, if a person's sex drive wasn't geared to producing children, wouldn't natural selection kick in? The answer arrived at is that, perhaps societies can support non-breeders if they contribute to society in other ways. It seems like a throwaway idea, but think carefully: essentially, what it suggests is that a society doesn't need to have the individuals at their genetic peak so long as the society is running efficiently.

Now this is a lot more interesting! Not only does it suggest that eugenics, the idea of perfecting individual genetics (usually by killing off the undesirables and controlling breeding patterns), is unnecessary and possibly even dangerous because it's the society that determines survival more than the individual; not only does it explain what has happened to human natural selection (it's just shifted up a gear - it's societies competing, not individuals); it suggests that societies have a 'genetic code' in their laws and memes, and that the features of societies today emerged, at least in part, due to natural selection. (Of course, it's not evolution as we know it because the laws aren't randomly chosen, those ones about not feeding ducks on Saturdays notwithstanding.)

Still, it suggests that perhaps in the more competitive areas, such as Europe, the cultures that flourished were the ones with the most favourable genetic code, which were probably adopted by other countries. (In less competitive areas, no pressure, so no need to change. There's a strong suggestion that for these areas, geography played a much greater part than the cultures which eventually formed.) For all of its (usually unfair*) maligning, Christianity is a religion that's well-crafted to stay in as many minds as possible. There is, by design, something for nearly everyone in the Bible, and it plays off the old notion that people will disregard what they won't accept. Much of religion, however inappropriate it may seem now, was probably crafted to ensure its survival at some point in time.

I'd guess that we'll see some new major religion crop up soon - perhaps we already have. I'd doubt it, though: I think the point of religion is that it reminds people that there is something greater than what they normally deal with, and a lot of the moments I've heard people describe as 'spiritual' seem to have this element of outside the self to them, even when they're not really trying to be. I don't really think any more recent religions really fit the bill in that regard - Wicca probably comes the closest, but it's got a real individualistic streak in it that goes against the traditional religious thingie. Scientology is right out - it's got the lock in, but it doesn't teach people how to deal with that information, and it doesn't concern itself with the idea of humanity as a group and how to deal with that. It doesn't even preach, and while less preaching is good, you have to wonder about a 'religion' in which the members don't want to get out there and get the word out any way they can.

On a less cosmic note, I resolve to do work on DROD; I resolve to start and maintain my webcomic idea, , which you will hear things about shortly; I resolve to have a working, playable game (I've sort of planned it out, and for now I'm calling it Ochre Dreaming - it will be a console-style RPG, but I'll be using it to play around with interactive storytelling and to smooth out all those little irritations that have always bugged me about console RPGs, like chests) by the end of the year; and I resolve to lose ten kilograms. I'm overweight, though I carry it well enough that usually you can't notice, but I want abs, dammit.

Also, I think Technorati would like to hear about , and .

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