More Iconoclasm Please!

Given the short span of the history of human civilization, I think it's fair to say that anti-idolatry is one of the most vital and progressive intellectual movements around.

I'm reading a book about the history of Zoroastrianism, which, while it doesn't hold a lot of sway today, really had a huge impact on all the Abrahamic faiths as well as every other religious goings-on in that region for centuries, including Mahayana Buddhism. A recurring theme in the narrative is the problem of idol worship. The ancient faith founded by Zoroaster/Zarathustra was one based around a radical transformation of the taxonomic distinction between the the natural phenomena daeva and social and moral ahura groups of gods of primitive Indo-Iranian mythology into a much more abstract and recognizably modern cosmological struggle between the principals of asha and druj--truth and lies, good and evil—rejecting worship of the daevas and minimizing the importance of all of the later except for Ahura Mazda, the uncreated source of all good in universal struggle with Angra Mainyu, the ignorant and malignant god of evil. While Zoroaster's huge advancement in moral philosophy and metaphysics achieved great popularity and were accepted by many for centuries, the integrity of the beliefs were never completely safe from threat. A major role of conservative and orthodox believers throughout the tradition seems to be resisting the seemingly inevitable human propensity to introduce icons into worship as symbols of the gods, principals, rituals, etc. and thence to inevitably shift worship from the object of these symbols to the symbols themselves. The same process and response is readily apparent in the story of the golden calf and the “graven images” commandment in the Old Testament and Koranic prohibition of shirk, the sin of polytheism, and the prohibition in the Hadith against depicting living creatures.

Moses' response to the calf worship (destroying the commandments he had just received, burning the idol, grinding it up, and force-feeding it to the Israelites, and of course killing 3,000 men) seems weird to us; the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddha statues at Bamyan strikes us as downright devilish, and we shake our heads or laugh when we hear about things like the recent kerfuffle in Sudan over the English teacher who named a stuff bear Muhammed, but it's important to remember the source of these reactions: the relatively recent response from the intelligent and spiritual turned-on elements of humanity to resist the asinine human tendency to reify, hypostasize, and anthromorphize every abstract concept and process we can get our hands on.

While the yokels in Sudan are a little behind the times, the laudable efforts of the likes of Moses and Muhammad to smash Yellow Pages full of magical circus animal-style polytheism and the worship of handicrafts put them on the same team, in the grand scheme of things, as Darwin rejecting the willed creation of species by a man-like creator, Marx struggle to expose the reification of human relations, and Hayek working to replace the pervasive myths of conscious, planned order, behind law, economics, and other social phenomena, with an understanding of spontaneous emergent cosmos.

The advance of knowledge is marked by this process. A Druid would tell you that trees turn colors in the fall because the spirits in the trees decide they should. A modern biologist can tell you about the chemical sources and evolutionary reasons for this event. Instead of the Helios pulling the sun across the sky, it's now gravity and we realize that the motion is an illusion caused by our point of view. While our understanding is improving, but we're not out of the woods yet. Think about how many people you know who, for instance, confuse flag worship for patriotism or voting with freedom. Belief in false idols is still alive and well in the 21st century.

And don't think that empirical scientific types get off entirely scot-free. There's a tendency to go to far the other way, considering only the external, deterministic characteristics of phenomena and ignoring their internal existence and the aspects of reality that are beyond our standard framework of scientific perception. In our fashionably myopic “flatland” approach to knowledge, we think we have driven the conscious and subjective other back to it's last redoubt, the human mind, and seem on the verge of complete triumph over the uncertain and mysterious, only to find to our puzzlement that things like CAT scans and fMRIs are entirely inadequate to lay bare the complete nature of our thoughts and feelings. For this reason, I would include people like Alfred North Whitehead with his panpsychicprocess philosophy”, Henri Bergson and his “elan vital”, Tim Leary and his “reality tunnels”, and Korzybski and his “map/territory” distinction among the worthies mentioned above and would expect to see more of this sort of thinking in the future.

Human beings are depressingly literal-minded, tunnel-visioned, creatures. We think almost entirely in metaphors and concrete nouns—we can't help it—we have limited brain power and information and have to think in abstractions. The best we can do is recognize this tendency and do our best to keep in mind that everything has a context and a genealogy that shape what it is and does and that it is subject to processes that are transforming it into what it will become. We must also keep in mind that our own interpretations of phenomena are informed by our uniquely composed perspective which itself is the creation of time, place, context. We have to walk the thin line between a taoist primitivistic and quietistic rejection of all abstraction and the much more dangerous tendency to apophenically search for imaginary keys, techniques, or perspectives, of universal insight that promise to cut through the web of complexity--what Taleb calls “Platonicity” and Hayek called the “synoptic delusion”--as well as the chauvinistic scientist's tendency to reduce everything to threadbare, mechanistic, atomism and external features.

Dear distributed republicans and catallarchs who actually know something about philosophy, please correct me where I've got things wrong. If you'll excuse me for a bit, I have to go render obeisance to the Ludwig Lachmann statue in my basement. He gets mad if my peanut butter and jelly sacrifice and buga buga dance to subjectivist economics are late.

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Iconoclasm

I don't know anything about this, which is a key factor in my decision to reply. If I knew what I was talking about well enough to speak with authority, I would be too bored to bother replying. Take that as a warning.

the relatively recent response from the intelligent and spiritual
turned-on elements of humanity to resist the asinine human tendency to
reify, hypostasize, and anthromorphize every abstract concept and
process we can get our hands on.

That's one hypothesis about the underlying reason. Another is that it is destruction of the competition. Smashing idols is a way to smash belief in competing gods. Just because the competing gods happen to be anthropomorphisms doesn't mean that smashing the idols intentionally smashes anthropomorphism. The monotheistic God that commands the idols to be smashed is also an anthropomorphism.

Does monotheism represent a legitimate advance? It could be argued that it is not a genuine advance. On the one hand, it might be argued that a belief in one god is numerically closer to the reality of zero gods than is a belief in many gods. But if that one god increases in significance so that he outweighs even all the many gods put together, then that is arguably farther from the truth of no gods.

Meanwhile, the coercive elimination of the intellectual competition is not a practice that libertarians should be endorsing. Mental hygiene, mental housecleaning, may be a good idea, but coercive elimination of the competition is not only wrong, but can be expected to produce bad results.

Anyway, it is not wrong for our representations to stand in place of the represented reality. On the contrary, it is necessary, because this is how we think. The solution is not to smash the representations. All this does is take us back to square one. The solution is to improve the representations, or if they cannot be improved then to replace the representations with better ones. And whether God is an improvement on the Greek pantheon is debatable, as mentioned.

We take our representaitons seriously because they are all we have to work with. The porcelain idol stands in place of the represented god, but that is not fundamentally different from the god's name, which also stands in place of the god. And even if someone notices this and prohibits even the use of the god's name, this does not really solve the problem, because the very idea of the god stands in place of the god. There is no getting away from the fact that to think is to represent, and a representation is different from the original. Nor should we try to get away from this fact. What, really, is wrong with it? I would argue that it is probably bad philosophy which declares the difference between the representation and the represented thing to be some sort of defect. People need to get over it and move on.

Our representations can, of course, lead us astray. But this is parallel to saying that our eyes can lead us astray. The solution is not to smash the representations any more than it is to pluck out our eyes. The purity sought by the idol-smashers has only one endpoint, and that is suicide.

Were the Taliban part of a wonderful, progressive tradition? Or does the obvious evil of the Taliban's act suggest that the tradition in which they are acting is not, after all, so wonderful or progressive?

The monotheistic God that

The monotheistic God that commands the idols to be smashed is also an anthropomorphism.

Does monotheism represent a legitimate advance?

What you say about religous competition as motive behind idle smashing played (plays) a bigger role than I had allowed for but I can't bring myself to believe that it's the whole story. While there is a lot of "no other god before me" stuff there's also a lot of opposition to just images themselves, whoever they depict.

As far as monotheism representing an advance, I think you have to look at it as baby steps that had to happen first. I think a lot of atheists recognize enlightenment deism as positive development and recognize a kinship with those free thinkers even if they don't go as far as the atheist's would have liked. Like libertarian anarchists and historical classical liberalism maybe? Brooding super-cop in the sky seems like an improvement, as far as finding impersonal, universal, principals behind nature.

I go more for non-theistic religion rather than standard atheism. If you look at another unbroken spiritual tradition, Hinduism, I think the process becomes more apparent since evidence of every step of the development is incorporated in the modern form. They still use the Rig Veda as scripture which is hymns to the same vaedic pantheon I refered to in regards to the Zoroastrianism. At the same time, you can see monotheistic and tripart godhead elements as they reinterpreted their existing tradition without rejecting any part of it outright. In the same way, in the most advanced and esoteric forms "god" gets interpreted into things like "ultimate reality" and "emptiness." Buddhism, an organic outgrowth of this Dharmic tradition is more an atheistic phenomenological psychology than a standard theistic faith.

Meanwhile, the coercive elimination of the intellectual competition is not a practice that libertarians should be endorsing.

I agree of course. We have discovered better means, but for people who lived in a pre-freedom world I think it's fair to root (can you post-facto "root"?) for more correct bunch of people in a fight to cram their beliefs down each others throats. I feel sad when I hear about the Mongols conquering Muslim and Christian civilizations even though the only other historical alternative would have been Muslims, Christians, and others beating up on the Mongols.

Of course this mostly doesn't apply today. That's why the Taliban and the guys in the Sudan are morons.

I don't know anything about this, which is a key factor in my decision to reply. Take that as a warning.

Thanks
Constant for your thoughts! I think you raise some good issues. The
quality of your posts leads me to down play your caveat but I know what
you're saying.

 

Things we must avoid

the chauvinistic scientist's tendency to reduce everything to threadbare, mechanistic, atomism and external features.
What's so bad about that?

Well for one example that

Well for one example that might hit home for a libertarian, look at the difference between behaviorist neoclassical economics and the (vastly superior) Austrian method that recognizes that those "agents" economists study are just that, thinking and acting beings that we must talk to or whose shoes we must try to place ourselves in if we are to understand their behavior instead of assuming they're robots that have been programmed to crunch a set of unchanging curves which we can discover through statistical methods.

I would just extend this thinking farther. I'm ready to assume that even rocks have an internal realm, albeit, not a very interesting one for the most part.

Just because I'm a libertarian doesn't mean I'm an Austrian

The complete domination of Austrian economics by libertarians doesn't make me more confident in it, but less. It strikes me as a step above Objectivism (which strikes me as loony), although back in the early days of the Marginal Revolution it did make real contributions to the field. I find Bryan Caplan more persuasive than most Austrians. Behavioral economics is also contradictory to much of neoclassical economics, although it has since assimilated its insights.

Like Eliezer Yudkowsky and Aaron Haspel, I say if something doesn't help me predict what will happen, what use is it? Reductionism has given us cool things like rockets while holism has not. There are jobs for economists in the private sector. If Austrian economics actually works better they should have an advantage there. Do they? Unless that is the case, on what basis do you say that it is better other than that it provides a case for libertarianism?

Nothing new

Like Eliezer Yudkowsky and Aaron Haspel, I say if something doesn't help me predict what will happen, what use is it?

Not really an original idea. Both pragmatism and positivism are heavily prediction-centric.

I'm not really sure why you think Austrian economics does not help you predict. You may be referring to the claim of Austrians that their economics is apodictically true, irrefutable by experience. But this is not the same thing as not helping you predict. Mathematics is irrefutable by experience but can still help you to predict.

If an Austrian claims that Austrian economics will not help you to predict, he is himself making a prediction. If he is correct, then his prediction is not based on Austrian economics. If not, then on what is it based? In the case of such an Austrian, I hazard the guess that it is in fact based on nothing but his own confusion, possibly similar to the confusion between irrefutability by evidence and uselessness for prediction I've highlighted in the previous paragraph.

One thing I notice is that mainstream economists make a lot of predictions. This, however, by itself tells us nothing about the usefulness of economics for prediction. Admittedly, if you don't care whether your predictions are correct, then it is undeniable that mainstream economics will help you make predictions.

Does Austrianism help make predictions?

As Haspel points out, Austrians have made predictions. They just declined to give dates by which we could claim they were proved wrong. A prediction safe from disproof is not much of a prediction.

There are Austrians in the private market, at least according to the short bios from contributors to mises.org but if Austrianism was really better at making correct predictions I would expect it to have a large presence in the field or get better returns. Michael Gilson de Lemos has spoken of the Libertarian Edge, but according to Philip Tetlock there is no such thing. Experts who frame their predictions according to ideology, including libertarianism, underperform those who do not (I provide at my blog the issue of Critical Review containing Bryan Caplan's review/critique of Tetlock here). Math does indeed help make predictions, as I mentioned here, that is why it is ubiquitous. Austrians and ethical deontologists like to compare their study to math, but the reason their ideas are not as universally accepted as math is because they aren't as useful.

Pick a position

As Haspel points out, Austrians have made predictions. They just
declined to give dates by which we could claim they were proved wrong.
A prediction safe from disproof is not much of a prediction.

Here you seem to be saying that Austrians don't actually make predictions. In contrast to what? - you imply, minstream economists. So you set up a supposed contrast, and quite a vast one, given the importance you place on predictions. But then you write:

There are Austrians in the private market, at least according to the
short bios from contributors to mises.org but if Austrianism was really
better at making correct predictions I would expect it to have a large
presence in the field or get better returns.

Here you reduce your claim to the mere claim that Austrian predictions are not obviously better than mainstream predictions. But notice that you are taking two positions which are quite far apart. According to one position, Austrians do not make predictions (you make clear that the unfalsifiability of the predictions make them, in your opinion, null and void as predictions, i.e., not genuine predictions) while mainstream economists do, which is quite a contrast, a vast abyss actually, and your point about the centrality of predictions makes clear that you think this utterly discredits Austrianism (what other conclusion is one to draw from your comments). But according to the other position you take, Austrians are merely not obviously better than mainstream economists.

Pick a position.

My position

My position is the latter. Austrianism isn't utterly discredited (I don't consider Newtonian mechanics to be utterly discredited even though basically all scientists say relativity and quantum mechanics have replaced it and I might even say the same of Freudianism or, gasp, Marxism), it simply exaggerates its differences with mainstream economics and shies away from normal standards of social science because it finds the ideology it has imbued itself with too valuable to be risked something like falsification or doubt based on evidence. I never claimed it was worthless (because it shares a lot of insights with mainstream economics), but I disagree about it being "vastly superior" as you claimed.

As for whether they make predictions, Austrians like to say that economics only talks about logical outcomes rather than quantitative matters. So Mises' proof that socialism is impossible rests on an absence of prices ANYWHERE PLANNERS CAN VIEW THEM, and thus applies to no economy in recorded history (discussed more here). When the Soviet Union collapsed Rothbard later claimed that the Cold Warriors were fools for believing in such a mighty and nigh-unstoppable monster while they realized such a nation must inevitably collapse. However, he declined to predict when it would collapse in advance so it could have stayed around forever without proving him wrong and various other communist nations have persisted in stubbornly existing. In practice any person is going to make guesses based on their understanding of the world (as private sector economists must) but Austrians like to make them in terms that can't be falsified and avoid more in depth investigation of which factors are most important.

Sorry

I forgot that you and Theophanes were different people when I wrote about claims of vast superiority.

Yes we are

My position is similar to yours. In your first reply to Theophanes you seemed to me to be leaning too hard in the opposite direction, which prompted my reply.

Utilitarian theory of reality

You seem to be saying reductionism is true because it works and helps us do lots of useful thing. While this is a very pragmatic view of reality and truth, it bothers me a little.

Refutable assertions pass the test of usefulness because if we get reality wrong, reality comes back with a vengeance. But what about irrefutable statements ? Should we apply a utilitarian principle instead of, say Occam's razor?

There may be or may not be a god. If believing in god makes me a better happier person does it follow that god exists ?

Refutable statements

Refutable assertions pass the test of usefulness because if we get reality wrong, reality comes back with a vengeance.
Indeed.

But what about irrefutable statements?
Like "colorless green ideas sleep furiously"? They can be considered meaningless and ignored.

If believing in god makes me a better happier person does it follow that god exists?
No. Whether or not you should believe is a normative statement and has no objective answer.

I tried to avoid using

I tried to avoid using "should" because I didn't want the question to be normative at all. There is only one should in my comment, but it can easily be removed without losing the meaning. I am not saying: should I believe in god because it makes me happy but : does it follow from the usefulness of the belief in god that god exists (as an absurd implication of using a utilitarian criterion for truth)

Usefulness of false belief

Just watched a Twilight Zone episode called The Hunt.

It made this atheist all warm in fuzzy inside. How wonderful to kill coons in Appalachian paradise for eternity. No, I'm serious.    Was kind of ruined at the end when he found out his naggy wet blanket wife would join him shortly, and hilarious that he was gleeful at his wifes imminent and soon to be demise.

Problem is the feeling is a load of crap, and I get the same experience when the princess kisses the frog, or other happy endings to fantasy tales. Some more so than others.   Hell I cried watching the movie Gandi when the Hindu said he would raise the Muslim child he orphaned as a Muslim he killed as a Muslim even though that's a stupid idea.  Not a favor the prophet Mohammed ever returned and he made lots of orphans.   He did marry some of his victims widows at sword point.   I feel the tears welling.

Not sure of the usefulness of this kind of belief in the afterlife if it leads you to do stupid things like fly planes into buildings. I guess it could be useful if tied to something useful but it seems kind of random. Perhaps natural selection takes care of that in most cases.  People whose belief in the afterlife is tied to self destruction might just get weeded out of the meme pool, although their example may counteract this effect.

Besides is happiness an end in itself, and if so shouldn't we be working on the happy pill?

Happy pill

shouldn't we be working on the happy pill?
We've already got anti-depressants and various other mind-altering chemical substances. More are along the way.

I love my happy pills

I think a lot of the unhappiness of life really is nothing more serious than a mindset which can in principle be switched from unhappy to happy with "a happy pill".

Of course, other times our unhappiness is a genuine indicator that something is seriously wrong (other than the unhappiness itself) that we need to make right, and it would be a really bad idea to take a happy pill in this case, since this would mask the real problem and leave it unsolved.

But finally, there is no non-debatable way to distinguish between these two possibilities. The closest I can come to an "objective" difference between an unhappiness that indicates something truly wrong, and an unhappiness that does not, is biological - does the presence of unhappiness serve to correct some biologically relevant problem thereby increasing the organism's fitness? A lot of modern unhappiness is, I believe, biologically useless or even harmful. The closest I can come to a difference which I would tend to respect as an individual dealing with other individuals is the personal preference of the individual in question - that is, does the individual want to correct some perceived problem in their life, or does the individual want to make the hurt go away directly by taking a happy pill?

Happy Pills

Theoretically one could use a happy pill responsibly and correctly. You have noted examples.   Problem is that it allows for complete reinitialization of our base desires.   The happy pill can become an object of desire, and an end unto itself.    We really aren't by default wired to know our interests, but only a proxies for what evolution has discovered to be correlated with our interests.   I'm sure you are familiar with the example that 'sugar is sweet' example being good in natural environment but bad in modern society.    A pill that directly produces the sensation of happiness is a dangerous thing.

Even delusions and superstition can be rationally applied to overcome inherent biological flaws. Athough I think that the first trial should be made in seeing if believing the truth is sufficient to overcome the obsticle as it's less prone to side effects. 

I overcame my fear of the dark, or at least controlled it, as a child by imagining myself having super powers over monsters hiding in the dark via defocusing my eyes.   It sent a powerful sphere of distruction that rain havoc on any under the bed monsters.  An imaginary solution to an imaginary problem.   I knew rationally that they weren't there but that wasn't sufficient at that age.   I grew up and now it's not a problem.

Except for scary movies

I grew up and now it's not a problem.

Same here, with the exception that scary books or movies can trigger my normally-forgotten fears. My main defense against the dark was a blanket (any blanket would do). Monsters could not pass through it or rip it away. There were other defenses.

A pill that directly produces the sensation of happiness is a dangerous thing.

But inevitable, human ingenuity being what it is. We'll probably survive. For the known substances that take a shortcut to our reward centers, only a small subset of people have a seriously debilitating problem with it - sugar, alcohol, tobacco.

 

Praxeology

IMO, praxeology is a lot more reductionist and "atomistic" than neo-classical economics.  It gets down to the nitty-gritty of how supply and demand curves are generated rather than relying on simplifying assumptions like, "people are selfish".

I don't really see Austrian econ as competing with neo-classical economics.  Austrianism is very reductionist and skeptical.  Neo-classical economics is a layer of assumptions on top of this reduced based.  So neo-classical economics allows for more powerful conclusions but risks being very wrong when/if those assumptions don't hold. 

There's definitely some disagreement between the two approaches, but IMO, they have been unnecessarily magnified by the Mises Institute people. 

All in favor of Idolatry, raise your icons...

Given the short span of the history of human civilization, I think it's fair to say that anti-idolatry is one of the most vital and progressive intellectual movements around.

I might be missing something obvious, but how is choice good for economics but bad for belief? Idolatry seems a clear example of the human brain's tendency to overfit data. If this is indeed so, then idolatry can be viewed as a natural byproduct of the human condition. Modern examples abound. Modern technology may change the face of Idolatry, but it seems unlikely to disappear. (Disclaimer: I was the arch-pope of the Carnegie Mellon Discordian Society. Of course, all the members were)

More to the point, done right, Idolatry is fun. I thought we were in favor of fun here?

To answer some of the more specific comments:

Think about how many people you know who, for instance, confuse flag worship for patriotism or voting with freedom. Belief in false idols is still alive and well in the 21st century.

Well, yes, of course it is. The trick is understanding that they view your lack of belief in their idols with as much horror as you view their belief. It's always been my goal to try and conceive a social structure that can accommodate as many different beliefs on a given subject and still function.

So what's the harm they are doing? They're banding together and being coercive. The solution is two fold; first, more choices in education. Let them have their iconic school, it will make everyone involved happier. And more broadly, create a set of centralized social institutions that are more resistant to being wielded as coercive weapons.

The communists envisioned a perfect world order, all they had to do was change human nature. That's not a mistake to repeat, especially not here.


Human beings are depressingly literal-minded, tunnel-visioned, creatures. We think almost entirely in metaphors and concrete nouns—we can't help it—we have limited brain power and information and have to think in abstractions. The best we can do is recognize this tendency and do our best to keep in mind that everything has a context and a genealogy that shape what it is and does and that it is subject to processes that are transforming it into what it will become.

That recipe is ... a lot of work. I propose the alternative; that a few of us do the work you propose above, and the rest take the much easier path of picking who to follow. It has the advantage of being what we're already doing, and have been for a really long time.

ALL HAIL ERIS! Given the

ALL HAIL ERIS!

Given the short span of the history of human civilization, I
think it's fair to say that anti-idolatry is one of the most vital and
progressive intellectual movements around.

I might be missing something obvious, but how is choice good for economics but bad for belief?

I should have phrased this different. What I mean is that given the short history of civilization relative to other historical events, we should resist the urge to dismiss anti-idolators as backwards primitives. They played an important role in getting us where we are today.

That being said, we don't need them anymore and the people who get in a tizzy over religious "idols" today are doing as much good as people who don't eat pork for religious reasons. It made sense at one time (hygiene for pork) but now is just silly and backwards.

In regards to modern idolatry like "flag worship" I agree that violence is not the way to set these people straight but rather persuassion, ridicule, boycott, etc. I just don't think all ancient people had these means available in their toolboxes. Obviously the smartest way for ancient asians to get to North America would have been to build ocean going boats or even jet airplanes-they could have been here in hours!-but that's unreasonable for us to expect of them even if we believe they had all the ores, elements, etc. available to them--they didn't have the necessary knowledge. Same thing with idolatry, if our ancestors needed to use violence to suppress pernicious beliefs I'm willing to consider it as possibly acceptable since they lacked our spiffy liberal social technology. Maybe in the future will figure out something better than property rights, money exchange, etc. for coordinating people but I hope our descendents don't condemn us for using the best means available to us.

Fair enough

I should have phrased this different. What I mean is that given the
short history of civilization relative to other historical events, we
should resist the urge to dismiss anti-idolators as backwards
primitives. They played an important role in getting us where we are
today.

Ok. It's certainly very difficult to prove that we would have gotten here without christian monotheism, which is the other logical position.

In regards to modern idolatry like "flag worship" I agree that violence
is not the way to set these people straight but rather persuassion,
ridicule, boycott, etc.

Here I would disagree. I don't want to set them straight. I might be right and they be wrong about this and many other views, but I'd rather craft a social structure where the right outcome is reached without every member having uniform views. Then it doesn't matter if they believe in flags, or Frop, or the great Whatever, and it's not my job (or anybody else's) to change their minds.

Same thing with idolatry, if our ancestors needed to use violence to
suppress pernicious beliefs I'm willing to consider it as possibly
acceptable since they lacked our spiffy liberal social technology.

Here I'm not wise enough to agree or disagree. Certainly there was a lot of violence back then. Sorting the violence that was necessary from that which was simply permissible at the time is beyond my capability.

I hope our descendents don't condemn us for using the best means available to us.

I can't imagine but that they will be as quaintly horrified by our barbarities as we are of those of previous ages. History will pick out some of our crackpots and demagogues as being visionaries of the future; the first to speak out against the horrors of the prison industrial complex, or to act decisively in defense of immigrant rights, or whatever other causes move from the fringe to the mainstream as we progress.

I can't imagine but that

I can't imagine but that they will be as quaintly horrified by our
barbarities as we are of those of previous ages. History will pick out
some of our crackpots and demagogues as being visionaries of the
future; the first to speak out against the horrors of the prison
industrial complex, or to act decisively in defense of immigrant
rights, or whatever other causes move from the fringe to the mainstream
as we progress.

Quaint monkey me! Most noble future people that might read this in their archives. Think not harshly of me and mine in the future. We're doing the best we can we the information at hand. Abolish prisons! Eliminate borders! Only you can tell if we were ahead of the times or off the rocker in our prescriptions.

What's wrong with idol worship?

I most of the article but I got bored because it wasn't getting to any important points in my view. You seem to be railing against idolatry but I'm not quite sure why. I also found some stuff you wrote offensive like why would you praise the idea of fanatics blowing up ancient statues.

The few complains you have about idolatry, like the idea that idolaters might improperly explain why trees change color are just as applicable to Christianity.

For example the Christian nativity story about the how the robin got it's red breast. You see the fire set to keep baby Jesus warm was dying out, so the robin landed next to it to fan the flames with it's wings. The coals warmed his breast turning it red. From this day forward robins are red breasted.

In fact, Christianity was an enormous impediment to science, even more so than the polytheism of the Greeks.

then whence anti-idolatrism?

*We think almost entirely in metaphors and concrete nouns—we can't help it—we have limited brain power and information and have to think in abstractions.*

Then why did anti-idolatry movements emerge in the first place, if they're so against our fundamental nature? Wouldn't they lose in the marketplace of religious ideas?

I'm also not inclined to regard these as historical accidents: you listed Mohammed and Moses, and I'd add another in early Christianity: the evolution of "omnis" in the Christian conception of God. Of omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, only 'omnipotent' is in scripture, and in a highly metaphorical context - Rev 19:6. The God of the 'omnis' is bodiless, all-pervasive, etc etc: pretty bad from 'we think in concrete nouns' terms. Moreover, the 'omnis' concept isn't, is a Hayekian sense, a 'bad-for-religion-propagation' parasite free-riding on whatever good memes early Christianity had going for it - they were entirely an invention of theologians.

I'm just not persuaded it's so deep-rooted, if the three main Western religions (yes, the ones that won, but again these were probably the 'most fit' in a Hayekian sense) all had major, prevalent anti-idolatry strains.

Symbolic thinking

Idols are just a form of symbolic thinking. The person outraged at flag-burning obviously doesn't believe that flag itself - the threads, the colors, etc - is sacred, but rather takes offense at the denigration of what the flag represents as a symbol. So your argument (from what I can surmise) is that symbolic representation is a Bad Thing.

How far can we extend your argument? I'm not sure the human mind can function without symbolic thinking. Language is symbols. So are names. As are charts. "George W. Bush" is a conglomeration of letters that symbolizes a particular dude who lives in DC and controls a lot of things. Can we live without the conglomeration? Is it backwards to write more symbols such as "George W. Bush is a socialist"? I don't think so. Those symbols make it easier to express ideas. Similarly, I don't really see anti-idolatry as progressive. Idolatry is simply symbolic belief. The belief itself - now that may be stupid. But the idolatry is merely a way to communicate.

Besides since when is it a crime to make a mistake

Seems like he's bitching about confusing the idol with the thing it represents. Not sure why that is criminal or even important. If someone confuses their blowup doll with the actual lover it represents is that a crime? In fact, I don't really know how to separate the two.

Islam has the black rock and the Kabab and I've talked with Muslims about it. They seem to think it's not idol worship but from my perspective I don't see the difference.
They appear to be worshipping both the phallic symbol (the black rock) and the house of god (the Kabab). In fact they state they are worshipping Allah directly, but seem to alway bow in the direction of these inanimate objects.

They object that the idol worshippers are worshipping their rocks and they instead are worshipping the occupant of the Kabba, or the occupant of the house the Kabba represents. They violently hate the idol worshippers and will totally reject an identical claim by them that the idol is only representative. Hypocritically and falsely the Muslims claim to have a rational religion.

Note that the black rock is encased in a vagina looking opening on the side of the Kabba and is in fact a shiva linga. Some of which are clearly phallic but most of which are stylized. Shiva lingas are usually displayed in a base that represents the vagina. Again there are versions that are more or less representative of this imagery. When I found this out it was a LOL moment. Especially since the guy arguing the black rock wasn't a shiva linga because it was merely a oviod black rock. His opponent linked to a picture and said well that's exactly what a shiva linga is.

What a bunch of primitive stone worshipers. Some of their other hajj rites are just as ridiculous.