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The idea that human familial relationships are tied strongly to a dawinistic need to propagate a genetic line is false on its face. If this were the driving factor behind familial relationships, then we would have no adoption, we would provide no support for in-laws, we would in fact have no reason to provide support for parents or grandparents (since their genes have already been passed). The theory of genetic determinism is far too limited to explain the ways that humans form altruistic relationships (and is starting to be shown to be false in other animals, specifically vampire bats).

If we argue instead that altruism is based on enlightened self interest and that we are charitable to others in the hope that we may later be the recipients of such charity then we have a much more defensible argument, though I still don’t believe that it holds up. If it were so, then we would expect the most charity from the least secure, and we would expect charity to be doled out in ways that we would expect to need it. There is some weak evidence of this, but very weak in my opinion. The very wealthy under this argument would have ever decreasing altruism, but we tend to see just the opposite.

Instead I put forward the following theory of human nature. It seems deeply set in human nature to divide the world into “us” and “them.” Who is “us” and who is “them” is incredibly arbitrary. While there is a natural inclination towards genetic bonds, in various cultures we see “us” extended to unrelated companions (“friends”), nationals (even of varying races), legally adopted relatives, those of similar beliefs (particularly religious), those who have gone through similar ordeal such as war, those who have been initiated into the same organization (fraternities), etc.

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Locality in time and space is becoming more important to me. Gandhi speaks a lot about buying local (as part of swadeshi or self-reliance). I originally understood that only as it relates to economic independence. For India, it was important that they stop exporting their cotton to England just to buy it back as finished good. Not only did they lose the substantial markup, but they also lost much of their ability to be self-sufficient. But as I’ve been reading Spiral Dance, I’ve grown to understand locality on another level.

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I’ve been reading Spiral Dance recently. Some stuff annoyed me, until I got to this:

Younger Self–who can be as balky and stubborn as the most cantankerous three-year-old–is not impressed by words. Like a native of Missouri, it wants to be shown. To arouse its interest, we must seduce it with pretty pictures and pleasurable sensations–take it out dining and dancing, as it were. Only in this way can the Deep Self be reached. For this reason, religious truths have not been expressed throughout time as mathematical formulas, but as art, music, dance, drama, poetry, stories, and active rituals. As Robert Graves says, “Religious morals, in a healthy society, are best enforced by drums, moonlight, fasting, dancing, masks, flowers, divine possession.” — The Spiral Dance, p 46

Oh, well that changes everything. Really, it did. It solved several problems for me. Most importantly, it helped me understand the real purpose behind ritual. I’ve been very interested in ritual of late, and I’ve been trying to better integrate it into my life, but I haven’t known why. Why go through productions rather than look the Universe right in the face? Why deal with Aspects? Because we need these things to approach the divine. We need to tear down rational thought to reach understanding. For many of you, this may seem obvious, but as a long-time rationalist, this is a radical idea. And Star Hawk doesn’t wait a page before reassuring my instantly rebelling skeptic: “But a trained awareness has no quarrel with ordinary reality; it flies further, in the spirit, and gains insights and perceptions that can later be verified by Talking Self [the rational mind]” (emphasis mine). So I can embrace inspirational revelation without having to accept so much of the hocus-pocus fantasies that pretend at magic.

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