Friday, December 28, 2007

Don't Philater Yourself

Yesterday, December 27th, 2007 -- a date which will live in infancy -- saw the creation of the most important organization in the history of the world: the Aphilatelists of the Planet Earth Societies, more commonly referred to as APES.

Why is it that APES is the most important organization in the history of the world? Well, that's a question, and as a question it is best answered in its proper place, the FAQ. So rather than answer the question, I will refer you to the FAQ.

Since this is the first ever post of the APES there is nowhere to find the FAQ, so I will put them here in the post:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
As with all organizations and things with names, it is best to have a list of Frequently Asked Questions, along with answers to most of them, to help clarify where APES came from and details. And continuing with the standard method for generating a FAQ list, these are questions that nobody has ever actually asked, but that I'm pretending are very common questions.

Q: Where did APES come from?

A: I created the APES shortly after writing a letter to the Economist in response to an article they wrote on religion in U.S. politics, and particularly the lack of organization of atheists. The full text of the letter is as follows:

SIR - You ask what accounts for the failure of atheists to organise or wield influence ( “Believe it or not”, December 11th). The answer is easy. Atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby. When you understand why there are no 'aphilatelist' conventions, you will understand why atheists don't congregate.

We don't want power and influence as a group. We don't care if a government member is an atheist any more than we care if they collect stamps. What we do care about is that government officials can separate their personal religious beliefs from their governing duties. A philatelist government that pushes laws favouring stamp collecting at the expense of those who don't collect stamps is a bad government. The same is true of a religious one.

The separation of church and state is a fundamental principle of a free society. Failure to embrace this principle is to the eventual detriment of the church, the state, freedom, and society.

See you at the next non-meeting.

I received some email kudos and a reference in at least one blog, but it seemed to me that perhaps my message was not coming across properly. Well, I think the literal message was very clear, but as with any good writings, nobody should take the meaning that the authour intended. After all, how can anybody know that for sure? Instead, writings are meant to be interpreted to meet one's own agenda. Often writings are meant as parables to demonstrate a principle and aren't meant to be interpreted literally. Once I came to this realization, I re-interpreted my own writings. After all, I know that the authour of the letter personally and he can be quite ambiguous at times. On my first read of my own words, I had thought I meant to suggest that atheists organizing and wielding power didn't make a lot of sense and likewise that religions should not hold any political power. I had written this point in an analogy to stamp collectors versus non-stamp-collectors using that often quoted line about not stamp collecting as a hobby.

Upon re-interpretation, I realized that I probably had meant the analogy the other way. Religious zealots have it right that atheism is a faith and a religion and that religious beliefs should be competed in the political sphere to determine who gets to put their beliefs into laws and education. This competition for belief survival and reproduction will ensure that only the best beliefs will survive and those with less successful beliefs will be weeded out of the belief-pool through oppression and hatred. That's the way to ensure the best society. If it works for building a better mousetrap, why shouldn't it work for beliefs?

This reinterpretation then brings a question about the 'aphilatelist' analogy then. If it's true that atheism is a religion and/or faith, and that religious beliefs should be openly endorsed by governments, then aphilatelism must indeed be a hobby. More importantly, to the point of the original Economist article, aphilatelists need to organize themselves quickly and start weilding some power because the philatelists are already organized with groups and societies and hold some power. For example, just look at the list of philately organizations on Wikipedia. This point is made even more important by the subversive means by which philatelists are infiltrating the government. Unlike religion, which is openly displayed by many politicians running for office, stamp collecting fundamentalists are infiltrating the government covertly and without publicity.

It was this realization from my re-interpretation that made it clear that we aphilatelists need to organize quickly and begin to compete our hobby against that of the philatelists to make sure we get fair representation so that we don't get weeded out of the hobby-pool.

Q: Did you really create the APES that quickly?

OK, you caught me. It's not true that I created the APES as quickly as I described. The APES were not created in a single day like I suggested in my opening notes. Rather, the APES evolved over time. The order actually went something like this: First the earth cooled. Then the dinosaurs came. They got to big and fat and then they died and turned into oil. And then the Arabs came, and they all bought Mercedes Benzes. Then Prince Charles started wearing all lady Di's clothing. He took her best dress out of the closet and put it on. I couldn't believe it. Then the movies Airplane and Airplane II were released. Then the Economist wrote the article. Then somebody Dugg the article. Then I wrote the letter. Then somebody in India blogged it. Then I received email kudos. Then I took a break for Christmas. Then I ate a whole box of Turtles. Then the APES came.

If that's too long to follow, just remember that the APES evolved from the Turtles and dinosaurs somewhere in India. It's not exactly right, but if Christians can get away with mangling their own history and biblical writings so horribly, like thinking Jesus came before ancient Greeks and Romans, then you're still doing pretty good.

Q: Don't you know that philately is the study of stamps, not stamp-collecting?

Yes. And now I know you're a pretentious douche. But just to beat you at your own game, that is why I named it the Aphilatelists of the Planet Earth Societies and not just the singular Society. This is also why I typically refer to the APES in the plural sense, as in the "APES are" instead of "APES is".

Things are a lot more complicated than face value. I learned very quickly that groups need to super-organize. For example, there are many individual religious denomenations that are groups in themselves, and they have created larger groupings. For example, Evangelicals, Baptists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Puritans, Lutherans, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses, among many others, are all Protestants, a super-group for them. Then, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox religions are grouped into the Christian super-group. Then Christians, Muslims, and Jews are grouped into the Abrahamic Religions super-group. Similarly, the singer Lisa Lisa, her backup band Cult Jam, and the band Full Force organized themselves together into the super-group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force . Nobody said the name of the super-group had to have much thought put into it.

Sometimes the different levels of organization are called by names like branches, denominations, sects, and even cults. In order for us to wield the most power I wanted the APES to be as inclusive as possible. I wanted to include those who don't study stamps, those who don't collect stamps, those who don't buy stamps in bulk, and those who never buy stamps at all. Technically speaking, it is only the group who don't study stamps that are true aphilatelists by definition. But the other groups don't have really cool or catchy names and we all have the common goal of competing our various versions of our non-stamp hobby against those who do use, collect, and stamps. It is a fundamental principle of memetics that easy to remember and catchy names and phrases are what sticks and allows memes (ideas) to survive and out-compete other ones. Hence the use of aphilatelist and APES to lump these multiple groups into one catchy name.

There is precedence for this too. As is presented in the original Economist article that sparked the creation of APES (or rather, the eventual evolution of APES following the Economist mutation of the dinosaur-Turtle lineage), there are many groups that get lumped under the name atheism. Often these include true atheists (no belief in a god), agnostics (godly claims are unknown or unknowable), humanists (morality and value can be derived from rationality), secularists (separation of church and state), and even those who profess no specific religious affiliation. Arguably some versions of Hinduism and other Eastern spiritual belief systems are atheistic since they have no theistic belief in a supernatural intelligent being who created and/or oversees our existence.

Q: Don't you have it backwards? Didn't the religious denominations split off from each other rather than join as super-groups?

Well, that only appears to be true if you read the history of religion chronologically from the past to the present. If you do that, then it appears that the ideas of one religion get passed down and eventually variations appear, some that get weeded out quickly but others that catch on and spread and survive in the minds and writings of the followers that get passed down from generation to generation until the religions appear quite different even though they had a common origin. This approach fits quite well in the field of memetics, makes perfect sense, and follows the written record chronologically.

There are two problems with this characterization though. First, that description sounds an awful lot like evolution. In fact, it is, except using memes (reproducing information through ideas) in the place of genes (reproducing information through protein structures). To make matters worse, memes and the field of memetics were essentially kicked off by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Evolution, Dawkins, and religion don't mix well.

Second, the implication is that complex sets of beliefs across different religions developed from simpler beliefs of common ancestor religions. As we all know from common sense, complexity can't evolve from simplicity. Sure, one can argue that micro-evolution has lead to a few small changes in beliefs in already existing religions, but there's no credible evidence for macro-evolution that could lead from one religion to another. That would require some form of "transitory religion" with half a belief of one religion and half a belief of another religion. There's no evidence of the existence of these missing links. Besides, a belief is irreducibly complex. Of what good is half a belief?

Q: Isn't this silly? Doesn't this all imply that everyone who doesn't belong to a certain group -- whether religious belief, hobby, or some other grouping -- should just add the prefix 'a-' to it and consider that part of another group?

That's two questions. Can't you do math? I'll answer them separately.
(a) Isn't this silly?

(b) Blah, blah, blah, add 'a-' and call it a group.
Yes, it does imply that. And they'd better get started, otherwise these a-groups are going to be weeded out of existence by the existing groups through competition and lobbying of government officials.

I can understand your confusion though. See, you think that not belonging to a group just means you aren't a member of that group. But that would mean that atheists (in the 'no religious affiliation' use) aren't a group unto themselves simply by not belonging to a specific religion, which can't be. That would mean religious zealots would be wrong.

It's very simple if you understand Set Theory. (Technically, what we've been describing aren't 'groups', they are 'sets' in mathematical nomenclature. 'Groups' are sets combined with a mathematical operation.) Unfortuanately you've already demonstratred that you can't do math, so I'll try to dumb it down for you.

Suppose you have a set P, and P contains the subsets, A, B, and C that may or may not intersect. (That means that members of A might or might not be members of B and/or C also.) Now, there is inherently a fourth set, D, made up of all the members of P that are not members of A, B, or C. In mathematical terms, D is defined as P not intersecting the union of A, B, and C. That is, D is all of the members of P that are "left over". You could call D the "clean-up" set to put all of the "leftovers" in a set.

Let's take a specific example of this proof. All real numbers that can be expressed as a ratio of two integers are known as rational numbers. There are different types (subsets) of rational numbers, such as simplified (or irreducible), but they can all fit under the set name of rational, often given the symbol Q. The remaining real numbers that aren't described as rational are then lumped together as irrational. The only property they have that lumps them together is that they are not rational. Hence the analogy.

Similarly, we can use natural numbers, N, sometimes known as whole numbers. These are counting numbers. All of the numbers that are not natural (or whole) numbers, such as negative numbers or non-integer fractions, can make up a set. Typically these numbers aren't given a name but in mathematics it would be written that such a number does not belong to N. These might be called unnaturals, or using the 'a-' naming convention to negate, perhaps awholes.

Thus, the entire point for aphilatelists existing as a group (or set!) can be blamed on these irrationals, unnaturals, and awholes.

Q: Do APES have any natural enemies?

Of course. In today's age of "us vs them" it is important to define yourself through a common enemy. For example, the Western World versus the Terrorists, Christians versus Muslims (and the Terrorists), Republicans versus Democrats (and the Terrorists), Conservatives versus Liberals (and the Terrorists), Shia versus Sunnis, Protestants versus Catholics, and let's not forget Godzilla versus Mothra (who is so evil that he doesn't even have 'God' in his name).

The obvious natural enemy of the APES, and aphilatelists in general, are the philatelists. But to avoid confusion in who this includes, we mean those who study stamps, those who collect stamps, and even those who buy stamps in bulk. The latter group might seem odd because they are a much milder form of stamp ownership and are often used for forces of good, such as sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes for charities. However, they can't be trusted because, even if they are not buying these bulk stamps for the enjoyment collecting or studying them, they are enablers of the philatelists.

We have other enemies as well:
1. Many politicians
As the original Economist letter pointed out, a philatelist government that endorses laws favouring stamp collecting at the expense of those who don't collect stamps is a bad government. It should be no surprise that many elected government officials are corrupt in this area then. Not only do they often cater to the religious lobbies, groups, and voters by expressing their religious beliefs publically during elections, attempt to introduce education reforms to include clearly religious dogma in the science curriculum, and endorse morality laws that are clearly based on religious beliefs, they also often openly buy stamps in bulk. If you don't believe me, have your representative's expenditures audited. I'm sure you'll find that they spend quite a bit under something they will euphemistically refer to as "postage", or something like that. In reality, this usually means stamps. And if you really want to catch them in the act, check their spending on stamps around election time. I bet you find they increase their stamp purchasing. This is typical politicking, putting on a show leading up to election time to demonstrate their adherence to a particular religion or hobby to win votes.

Not all politicians are corrupt in this manner. In the U.S., Ron Paul is excepted from this list because his support has grown from an online grassroots movement, and as we all know 'online' means email, websites, YouTube videos, and blimps, none of which use stamps. On the Demoncrat side, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel have much of their support generated online as well. Some would say it has to do with online people being more intelligent on average than the general population and therefore learn about the real integrity of individuals instead of the spoon-fed mainstream mass-media. However, we APES know better. It is because these candidates have enough integrity to spread their message through means that reduce their use of stamps.

2. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
OK, this one might surprise you. You might ask, of all the great religions of the world, why be enemies with the one true one and the greatest of them all? You might point out that the CoFSM spreads its word online mostly, and partly through sales of books and T-shirts. It doesn't mail out letters and there are no self-addressed stamped envelopes. Of all the major religions in existence today, the CoFSM uses the least number of stamps. So why are they the enemy?

If you did want to point out all of the above, you can go stamp yourself. It's not that the CoFSM uses a lot of stamps. It's the ONE stamp. In this case, it's not that the stamps of the many outweigh the stamps of the few, or the one. It's that the ONE stamp outweights all others.

See, I used to be a true FSM believer myself until I did a little research. All other major religions started through some great supernatural methodology. Islam was brought to us through a guy in cave, Christianity from some dudes writing down stories of cool tricks like walking on water and rising from the dead (without the side-effect of desiring to eat brains -- depending on your views on religious brainwashing), Judaism from a really, really, really, really old guy (who must have been super-wise since wisdom increases with age), Buddhism from a fat guy who breathed heavily, and Hinduism through some apparently really good drugs. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster stands alone as the single major religion that started through a letter -- a letter mailed with A STAMP!!!

All other major religions existed without the need for stamps. It was only the modern corruption of these religions that infested them with stamps as a means of spreading their words. The CoFSM, on the other hand, owes its existence to a stamp. It is fundamental to the origin of that religion. Philosophically, that alone should make it a swore enemy of the APES. But it is the future that brings the biggest threat to aphilatilism. Just look at the effort that has gone into finding and studying religious artifacts in recent history. Now imagine what sorts of artifacts future CoFSM scholars will study and argue about. Is there any doubt that the ONE true stamp won't become the most sought after stamp in the world? Won't there be claims by many, particularly descendents of the Kansas City School Board members, that they have the one true stamp? Won't there be fights for centuries or millenia amongst scholars over which is the one true stamp?

Just as Islam split with the sons of Mohammed, won't FSM also split into the followers of different stamp experts who claim to know the one true stamp? These stamp experts will become all-powerful over the CoFSM followers. The will wield social and political influence and control the direction of our societal order. And what do we call these stampe experts? That's right, philatelists.

There is no single greater danger to our existence as aphilatelists, and to the unification of the human race, than the CoFSM. It will turn philatelists into messiahs of the future CoFSM sects and be the major division of our society. One sect might wear stamps on a chain around the neck. Another will tattoo theirs on their temple or forehead. And once that has happened, the money-lenders will step in to fund stamp wars. Commercialism will mean stamp-placement in movies, on your car bumpers, and what do you think the kids will be getting at Christmas to play with? That's right, stamps.

I hope it's clear from this apocalyptic prediction why the CoFSM must be stopped at all costs, and why they are our enemy. Also, pasta is made from simple carbs instead of complex carbs so isn't really very good for you. Oh, and they have a nicer website than me. I just have this simple blog.

3. Charleton Heston
For that "damn dirty APE" comment.

Q: Do you have any more wise things to say, or are you just going to post this one FAQ as your whole schtik?

There you go again with your two questions at once. I'll address them individually.
(a) Do you have any more wise things to say?
I doubt it. Instead I'll steal somebody else's. Alexandre Dumas Pere once said, "All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope." That pretty much describes what you should do if you want me to say something wise.

(b) Are you just going to post this one FAQ as your whole schtik?
I'll post more things, but I can't guarantee they will be wise. I'm thinking of starting a gallery of stamps that I'm not collecting and if there's enough interest then maybe I'll get some sort of member area going. I should also do up an org chart for the APES.

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