Illustration for the first edition of Utopia

Welcome to Utopia

Until very recently nearly everyone lived in abject poverty. Most people had barely enough food to survive. In 1651 the philosopher Thomas Hobbes depicted the life of man as poor, nasty, brutish, and short.1 Yet, a few centuries later a miracle had happened. Nowadays more people suffer from obesity than from hunger while the life expectancy in the poorest countries exceeds that of the Netherlands in 1750, which was the richest country in the world in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. And we may soon have nuclear fusion providing us with unlimited energy for free. That may be the end of poverty as poverty is basically a lack of access to energy.

In 1516 Thomas More wrote his famous novel about a fictional island named Utopia. Life in Utopia was nearly as good as in the Garden Of Eden. The Utopians worked six hours per day and took whatever they needed. Utopia means nowhere but the name resembles the word eutopia which means a good place. The pun may have been intended. His book inspired a lot of writers and dreamers to think of a better world while leaving the hard work to entrepreneurs, labourers and engineers. Today many of us have more stuff than they need. So why do we work so hard and feel insecure about the future?

The answer lies within the dynamic of capitalism. The capitalist economy must grow. It is not enough that people just work and buy the products they need. They must work harder to buy more otherwise businesses will go bankrupt, investors will lose money, and people will be unemployed and left without income. To forestal this disaster, we are made to believe that buying stuff makes us happy. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind2:

To make sure that people will always buy whatever new stuff industry produces, a new kind of ethic appeared: consumerism. Most people throughout history lived under conditions of scarcity. Frugality was thus their watchword. A good person avoided luxuries, never threw food away, and patched up torn trousers instead of buying a new pair.  Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression.

In the affluent world of today one of the leading health problems is obesity, which strikes the poor (who stuff themselves with hamburgers and pizzas) even more severely than the rich (who eat organic salads and fruit smoothies). Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over.

Most previous ethical systems presented people with a pretty tough deal. They promised paradise, but only if they cultivated compassion and tolerance, overcame craving and anger, and restrained their selfish interests. This was too tough for most. The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist-consumerist ideal.

Capitalism brought us prosperity so most of us won’t ask questions like why are there still poor people or are there limits to our desires? It might feel like biting the hand that feeds you. Answers aren’t easy to come by either. Alternatives to capitalism weren’t successful. Perhaps capitalism helped to reduce poverty more than anything else. But the capitalist dynamic of growth appears to be slowly halting. People are going into debt to buy stuff so they can’t buy more in the future.

And there is something else. Before long we may live inside our own make-believe fairy tale virtual realities writing our own life’s stories. In that case we won’t need a lot of real stuff any more. Finally there could be enough for everyone, and perhaps far more than we desire. Machines may do most jobs in the future so most people might become unemployed. That may require a new ethic. In the future there may not be an economy or money but for the time being we may need an economy that can flourish without growth and Natural Money to facilitate this economy.

Featured image: Illustration for the first edition of Utopia by Thomas More.

1. Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes (1651).
2. A Brief History Of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari (2014). Harvil Secker.

Slums in Jakarta

From scarcity to abundance

At some point we may not need more products and services, and even if we believe we do, we may not be able to go deeper into debt to buy everything we desire. As a consequence businesses will find it more difficult to make a profit. Perhaps enough is enough. The writing is on the wall. The financial crisis of 2008 was a warning sign.

The crisis happened because some people couldn’t pay the interest on their debts. This nearly brought down the entire world financial system as well as the world economy. If there had been fewer debts, and if interest rates had been negative, the financial system as well as the economy would have been safe.

Interest rates have gone down in recent decades. In wealthy countries they neared zero in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Most people think they will go up again. But what if the opposite happens? What if negative interest rates become the new normal? That will turn economics upside down. Scarcity is at the basis of economic thinking. It is the belief that we need more stuff and more businesses to make all that stuff available to us.

The Justification Of Sufficiency
Title page of The Justification Of Sufficiency by Stohalm Foundation

So what has this to do with interest rates? If we need more stuff, we need investments. To make these investments possible we need savings. And to have savings, we need interest. Consequently investments need to be profitable to pay for the interest. But if we don’t need more stuff, a lot of things change. There would be abundance instead of scarcity, and interest rates could go negative as many investments make no sense.

Negative interest rates may happen first in wealthy countries where people already have enough. Investment money will then look for more profitable alternatives and move into poorer regions so that poor countries can build their economy too. To make that happen, interest rates in wealthy countries must be allowed to go below zero, and people in wealthy countries should not be lured into taking on debt they can’t afford.

Not allowing for negative interest rates could be a mistake. The alternative may well be an economic crisis like the 1930s. Scarcity will then become a self fulfilling prophecy. The era of abundance could then be pushed a few decades further into the future. That is, if the economic crisis is not followed by another world war.

Featuring image: Slums built on swamp land near a garbage dump in East Cipinang, Jakarta Indonesia. Jonathan McIntosh (2004). Wikimedia Commons.

Dazu wheel of reincarnation

Death: the final frontier

Quite a few people have experienced near death. In most cases they saw a bright light at the end of a tunnel. Often they had a feeling of absolute peace. Others travelled outside their own body while hearing doctors discussing what to do. To some people this is proof of an afterlife but most scientists are not convinced. These experiences could be hallucinations of a dying brain lacking oxygen. Drugs can produce similar effects. Some psychologists contend that people who believe in an afterlife try to cope with their fear of dying.

People who experienced their consciousness making a trip outside their body were fully aware of it. Their memories were vivid. Is this a hallucination of a dying brain? Those who have survived such an experience beg to differ. Scientists often claim that there isn’t any evidence for the idea of a consciousness independent of a body while the evidence to the contrary is abundant. That is why pills can cure a depression or a psychosis.

A psychiatrist named Ian Stevenson proved them all wrong. Stevenson searched for evidence of reincarnation, and he did so thoroughly. What he discovered should have raised some red flags in the scientific community, but it didn’t, possibly because his findings never helped to cure diseases, while the idea of the consciousness residing in the brain proved to be much more useful in this respect. Stevenson’s research started off in 1960 when he learned of a child in Sri Lanka who remembered a previous life. He questioned the child, its parents and the people the child named as parents from its previous life. Stevenson worked through thousands of similar cases.

It is possible to plant memories in someone’s brain so that he or she will see no difference between real memories and fake ones. But many of those memories of previous lives were spontaneous. Stevenson hired a sceptic to join him on his investigations to verify the way he conducted his research. Soon the sceptic became a believer. There were cases of people speaking languages they never learned and children having birthmarks corresponding with wounds inflicted upon their alleged previous reincarnations. In many of these cases it was very unlikely that anyone close to these children knew anything about the deceased person the child claimed to have been in its previous life.

The YouTube film below shows five incredible reincarnation stories:

Stevenson’s research generated a lot of criticism but his critics failed to prove him wrong. They could only question his integrity or make outlandish suggestions, so that the most obvious explanation of the facts, the existence of reincarnation, remained unchallenged. But if we reincarnate then why do so few people remember a previous life? The answer might be a bit discomforting. If this universe is a virtual reality created by an advanced civilisation, reincarnation may be rare. You may not have a soul that can return. Memories might be stored in a computer and put into another consciousness.

Featured image: Relief from the Dazu Rock Carvings in China outlining the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation. User Calton (2004). Wikimedia Commons.

Lucretia Garfield. Library Of Congres

The identity of God

Jesus was one of the end time prophets travelling around in Israel and Palestine at a time when the Jews began to resist Roman occupation. Yet he stood at the cradle of Christianity, a global religion with more than two billion followers, an enigma that baffles many historians. Six centuries later, in an equally astounding turn of history, a small band of Arab warriors created an empire that stretched from the Atlantic to India. They spread a religion called Islam. These historic turns made the God of Abraham the dominant deity on the planet, a promise allegedly made to Abraham.1

This universe might be a virtual reality created by an advanced civilisation for the purpose of entertaining someone we call God. If that is true then God might use avatars and appear as an ordinary human to us. The Gospels state that Jesus had a personal and intimate relationship with God so Jesus may have known the avatar of God personally. Scholars agree that the Gospels have been edited.2 Apparently God is a ‘Father’ who can give birth.3 Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom and Son of God. So who was his Bride? And why do Christians call Jesus Son of God? There is a possible answer.

Mary Magdalene could have been the Bride and the Gospels may originally have stated that Jesus was a reincarnation of Adam and that Mary Magdalene was a reincarnation of Eve. Eve may not have been made out of the rib of Adam but Eve may have given birth to Adam. Eve is called Mother of All the Living,4 Adam is named Son of God5 while Jesus is the firstborn of all creation.6 Initially Christianity might have been about the marriage between Mary Magdalene and Jesus representing the Kingdom of God.

It makes little sense that a woman was created from the rib of a man. It makes more sense that the woman gave birth to the man. Mary Magdalene may have convinced Jesus that Eve was the mother of Adam. The Quran mentions the creation of Adam extensively but tells little about the creation of Eve. The Quran states that Jesus’ creation is like that of Adam and that they were both created from dust.7 It may indicate that Adam was born as the first son of the virgin Eve and that God can perform such miracles as the Quran also contends that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin.8

The Jewish scriptures allow for the idea that Abraham was a husband of God like Joseph, Moses and David. Muhammad might have been God’s husband too. At the age of twenty-five he married his boss, the forty year old merchant Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid. She was the first to convert to Islam and her support was invaluable to his mission. Muhammad didn’t marry other women until after she died. Avatars of God may have played a significant role in history. And God could still be dwelling amongst us like an ordinary human.

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home?
Just trying to make his way home
Like back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the Pope maybe in Rome
And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
And yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

– Joan Osborne, What If God Was One Of Us

Featured image: Lucretia Garfield. Library Of Congres.

1. Genesis 12:3 [link]
2. Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Saviour. Bart Ehrman (2016). Harper Collins Publishers.
3. John 1:12-13 [link]
4. Genesis 3:20 [link]
5. Luke 3:38 [link]
6. 
Colossians 1:15 [link]
7. Quran 3:59 [link]
8. Quran 3:47 [link]

Christ with Mary Magdalene

Who was Mary Magdalene?

Who was Mary Magdalene? This question has been asked many times before. A Pope in the Middle Ages proclaimed she was a prostitute. If you think about Mary Magdalene this may be the first thing that comes to your mind. Negative slurs stick far better than positive ones. Evidence doesn’t matter much in this respect. The Gospel depicts her as the most important person in Jesus’ life. She witnessed the crucifixion from the foot of the cross after the male disciples have fled. She was also the first to see the resurrected Jesus.

There has been some speculation as to whether or not she was Jesus’ wife. The official position of the Church is that Jesus was, and still is, married to the Church. There is no evidence in the Gospels to be found on this matter. Jesus is referred to a the Bridegroom several times. A few Gospels that are not recognised by the Church suggest that Mary Magdalene may have been Jesus’ wife. One passage names her as Jesus’ companion.1 Another mentions that Jesus loves her more than the other disciples and kisses her often.2 A third notes that Jesus loved her more than the other women.3

The Gospels state that Jesus had an intimate and loving relationship with God. It seems that he knew God personally. There is an explanation for this. Mary Magdalene could have been an avatar of God. Jesus may have thought that she was a reincarnation of Eve and that he was a reincarnation of Adam. She may have married Jesus after convincing him that he was her eternal husband. Jesus hay have believed that Eve was not made out of the rib of Adam but that Adam was born as a son of Eve so that Adam and therefore Jesus were a son of God. This can explain why Jesus thought that he had an eternal life and that he would return.

The pieces of the puzzle don’t fit perfectly and assuming this idea to be true gives rise to new questions. Still, the evidence for this position, also in the official Gospels, is too substantial to be dismissed out of hand. However, the most important argument in favour of this idea is logical consistency on a higher level. Let’s start out with a joke to get you in the mood. Nothing happens by accident as the licence plate on Franz Ferdinand’s car suggests. Hence, the following lyric from Queen is a bit curious:

Here I am, I’m the master of your destiny,
I am the one the only one, I am the god of kingdom come

– Queen, Gimme The Prize

These lines come from a song named Gimme The Prize. Freddy Mercury had a good time when he was performing his act. He probably didn’t realise that he had become part of a queer joke. “I am the God of kingdom come,” became a line sung by Queen. Some Christians believe there are Satanic messages hidden in pop music. The joke may be on them too. That shouldn’t surprise us as this universe might exist for entertainment.

Possible avatars of God can be identified in the Torah, the Jewish part of the Bible. The idea can also shed some new light on the origin of Islam. Muhammad married his boss Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid. Only after she died he married other women. Khadijah may have been an avatar of God too. Avatars of God may have played a significant role in history. The idea doesn’t contradict science as this universe could be a simulation of a real world that is billions of years old where life emerged by accident and evolution.

Featured image: Christ with Mary Magdalene, West Nave, Kilmore Church, Isle of Mull made by Stephen Adam. B. Galbraith. Victorian Web.

1. Gospel of Philip: There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, who was called his companion. His sister, his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
2. Gospel of Philip: And the companion of the saviour was Mary Magdalene. Christ loved Mary more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her?”
3. Gospel of Mary: Peter said to Mary, “Sister we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Saviour which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them”. Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you”. And she began to speak to them these words: “I”, she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision”.