Path of Least Resistance

Nothing expends more energy than it absolutely has to, the path of least resistance is the reasonable default setting needed to conserve energy and resources against an unknowable but often predictable future.

This can be characterized in the 80-20 rule – in any business, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Achieving 80% of a task or thing is often good enough, because the effort required to achieve the final 20% exceeds the energy and effort needed to achieve the 80%.

Perfectionists, who seek to achieve 100% of a thing, end up achieving fewer things and expend more energy to do so overall than those of us who minimize effort for maximized outcome/output. Work smarter, not harder. Working smarter, is working less to achieve the same or good enough result.

There is also a cascade of folded 80/20s to consider when accomplishing a task – to deal with all aspects is too much, when dealing with 80% of items and 20% of people is sufficient – take care of the larger aspect and the smaller parts fall into alignment of their own accord. Remember that each of us has a span of control, and when we move beyond, the centre does not hold, leaving you on the stable edge, with a collapsed centre ring.

In concrete terms, if two movies have an opening box office weekend of $10 million dollars and one movie cost $5 million to make and the other cost $1 million – while they achieved the box office, the cheaper movie made more profit: nine dollars per one dollar spent, while the more expensive to produce, made only two dollars per dollar spent. Of course, the formula becomes more complicated when you also factor in how many screens each movie played on, the fewer screens, the lesser distribution costs and the profit margin increases – there’s always a second simple formula to complicate the original simple formula.

In terms of people and our energy and effort, our brains use approximately 20% of the energy used to operate our bodies. That’s a very expensive organ to operate, energy wise 20 for the brain and 80 for everything else. Well, not the full 80, some is held back in reserves, be it in fat cells which are energy storage bins, or in less than total exertion, so that when we need to run a little faster, that there is still something to draw upon, when absolutely needed. It’s this reserve energy that is misunderstood as the 10% when we say give 110%. We can only give 100% and normally, we are giving no more than 80%, so giving more effort is to push the output to 100% of total possible energy and effort, not excess of the total available.

Much of the energy the brain uses works on an autopilot, operating our lungs, digestion, hormones and processing inputs (audio, visual, smells, tastes, tactile touch), all folded into awareness of our environment and everything and everyone one, including ourselves, in said environment, but also our waking and dream states, memories, our variable perceptions (why time feels slower or faster depending on circumstances, our understanding of the environment, drawn from experiences, cultural values and personal preferences).

It’s the understanding of our environment that is of particular interest and concern, because we are at a time in our history where we are having to decide between competing views of understanding the world, and the view we collectively or at least as a majority hold, will determine the future of our species.

It comes down to which view do we hold of ourselves and our place in the universe – a religious view or a naturalist view.

If we cling to any religious views, we are simply doomed to continue on as we are, until we’ve overpopulated and polluted the earth so badly that it won’t sustain any form of life that includes humans – or at least, not humans in our present form.

If we move to a naturalist view, and understand that we are part of the natural world and order of things, then we can begin to set nature back to a balance, with sustainable energy sources, sustainable economies and with growth offset by reduction. We would not continue on the collision course of civil strife, but we would intentionally be changing direction toward a balanced sustainable existence, harmonized within nature.

But this, is going to take commitment and effort of a majority of people to make the switch from a religious worldview that posits that there are deities or a deity who rewards and punishes based on conformity to particular behaviours or not.

The attractive quality of religion, is that embracing (fundamentalists), accepting (moderates) or at least not questioning too hard (apologists) the premises of any given religion, is that your thinking about a worldview and your place in the world, has already been done for you. You don’t have to think, in fact, you explicitly can’t think about it, otherwise, you’ll notice all the flaws, inconsistencies, and sheer ridiculousness of the idea and understand that religion is largely about soothing fears of dying while providing a rationale for taking life (other people’s usually, but martyrs and saints hold a special place among the special group of believers).

Religion takes away all personal responsibility and replaces it with an obligation to follow a set of rules that benefit a ruling elite and keep the impoverish masses poor in life in exchange for an afterlife reward – so overthrowing the ruling wealthy elite is a no-no if you want to get to the rewarding afterlife, and to add insult to injury, we’re supposed to believe it’s harder for a rich man to obtain afterlife reward than a poor man. Yet, every few rich people trade their material wealth for poverty, so one has to wonder, how much can the wealthy religious elite truly believe in heaven and its rewards when they hedge reward and have it now and later?

Proponents of religion often cite that more people believe in a religion than who do not believe in any religion. As if by sheer numbers, or first past the post voting if you will, religion wins the mantle of being correct as opposed to merely being more popular. And, as anyone who went to high school knows, no one really likes the popular kids – which always made me wonder, how is it that they are popular?

That more people believe than don’t isn’t relevant to the quality or correctness of religious belief, but rather to that path of least resistance. Not that long ago, to declare yourself a non-believer was a death sentence, socially if not literally. In some countries – theocratic ones – it still is in some parts of the world.

So that most people believe is partly owing to personal safety and social pressure, a preference for conformity – the social application of the path of least resistance, and because religion is a social mechanism of being a stabilizing influence in a society. There is a beneficial role that religion plays in society, otherwise, religion would have died out and been replaced by something else – but religion is merely a social construction of organizing and sorting people into groups and hierarchical structures – that it provides a social framework validates religion as social organizing mechanism, it does not validate the beliefs or ideas of religion, nor does it confer a measure of goodness, only functionality.

Goodness is a measure determined by sustainability and outcome – the staying power.

What I look to as hope for humanity is, shockingly enough, China. Not as the current corruption of communism regime in charge, but as China the civilization. China is the oldest continuous civilization in human history – many civilizations have risen and fallen, through conquest, dispersal or disaster. China, because of their long standing xenophobia, has resisted the influx of migration and limited the emigration of it’s peoples and retained a core identity and characteristic.

China, long ago, abandoned the shamanistic, spirit and deities centered religions, in favour of mystic rationalism. They have community rather than individual focused moral and ethical system, with old time mysticism used to understand the  forces  of nature. They are neither good nor bad, but rather, all things in balance.

China is out of balance and in disharmony, allowing the mystical to override the rational in some regards, and these leads to ideas of saving face (honour) as more important than continued existence – but, I can see the case to be made that existence without honour, is not an existence worth having.

So what the world need is more rational thinkers, mysticism sifted out – and to shift to a rational – naturalist framework, there does need to be a critical mass to where clinging to the religious ideas cost more energy than switching to the alternative – science, the study and understanding of nature.

In a way, when believers cite that there are more people who believe in one religion or another than non-believers, they are resisting the critical mass and basically admitting that they change their thinking when the majority changes. People will change when following the majority means following something else.

The effort to make naturalism attractive is huge, it means universal education. This is why fundamentalists seek to control education, to prevent their own ousting and to reinforce their narrow values and ideas.

But, before we can implement education, people need to have their basic survival needs met – clean water, food, security of their person and shelter. Again, this is where religionists – missionaries and their alleged charitable endeavors have the edge, by doing outreach and provided access to or these things, they create an obligation of gratitude, they obtain converts, who then  would be resistant to education in opposition or in exclusion of religion.

Before rational naturalist thinking can forge a new direction for a sustainable communally global future, we have to undo all the unsustainable outcomes of the past millennia of religionist thinking and doing. A daunting task indeed.

But the call to the greater good of long term sustainable existence, complete with individual human rights, and avoiding the pitfall of scapegoating groups of people and avoiding genocidal reduction in global population, improving the quality and quantity of life through education and sustainability, means having to overcome the path of least resistance.

It means confronting said resistance head on, unflinching, to stare into the abyss and declare yourself to not be a monster and then turn your back on the abyss, roll up your sleeves or tug on the bootstraps and get to work.

5 thoughts on “Path of Least Resistance

  1. The Falun Gong? You live close to Vancouver. You should, drop by the Chinese embassy on West Broadway where they have a standing protest set up. They’ll be happy to give you some of their handouts. They make the John Birch Society look like left wingers. Rabid anti-communist wingnuts and dangerous, the kind of people who can talk teenagers into setting themselves on fire to make a political point. Of course your Canadian politicians love to grab headlines with sensational stories and China bashing, so the Falun Gong get a great reception in your country. But be careful who you believe. It’s really hard to tell the bad guy these days.

    • In cultures that puts the community – be it the collective family on up through the various groupings to the larger society – suicide that is to say, self sacrifice, is the noblest act a person can do. It restores honour at worst and raises the bar on commitment for others – it is an act to enlighten other people as to the meaning and seriousness of the matter you are sacrificing yourself over.

      Westerners, who value the individual first and the community second, do not share these ideas and it’s a mystery to us why people would strap a bomb to themselves and suicide bomb, be a kamikaze pilot or spent 40+ years alone on an island and refuse to beleive that your nation lost in WWII, why buddists monks set themselves on fire to protest and the falun gong are just another group in this same tradition.

      You are right, politicians will and do associate themselves with any group that they think can deliver block votes – it’s why Jim Jones was so popular with politicians in the 1970’s – he could deliver instant crowds at any event or thousands of letters for write in campaigns – politicians who blur the line between church and state – in seeking state positions, they give access to the church to state power; and then to keep that block of votes, they have to vote on legislative mattes how that block wants them to vote.

      So we have politicians who generally don’t understand science, and who, like their voters, beleive the world is 6000 years old and natural disasters are divine punishment for behavior, and they are voting on federal or state or provincial budgets that allocate funds to mitigate disasters that they think are deserved punishment.

      In individual focused nations, assassination is more likely the expression of protest than self-immolation.

      I think that threats to the self are not effective forms of protest, because being a martyr is to take the easy way out, and hunger strikes and other such actions are really self-solving problems. It’s easy to raise the stakes and quit, it’s hard to stay in and fight for genuine change and social improvements.

      I think people/groups who seek power and influence from a position of self or narrow interest are all bad guys of varying degrees.

  2. excellent points, I did only consider a very narrow view of China – mostly from a national geographic or BBC documentary series about looking at empires through their engineering works

    I should have been clearer that I hadn’t meant a blanket approval of China – given that I beleive the Falun Gong claimants that they are being murdered to support China as a medical transplant tourist destination.

    And that my parent’s lost their dog as a result of the food ingredient contamination a few years back.

    The current regime is corrupt and repressive by many measures, and my bigger picture view lost some that that detail.

    Thank you for bringing these points up.

  3. A Random, I hate to tell you this, but your misunderstanding of China is huge. Colossal. Far from being a rational place, it is one of the most superstitious cultures in the world. There is nothing rational about their mysticism.
    It’s history is no longer than any place else, as a civilization, if you consider Skara Brae and the indoor plumbing from five thousand years ago. Their claim to a continuous civilization is based on having written records, but those can’t be trusted because ever dynasty rewrote history to vilify the previous rulers and explain why heaven favours the new comers. Got that? Heaven favours the new comers. Religion. Right now China is about to shut down all foreign Internet sites that don’t apply for permission to be seen by Chinese people and hand over control to the commies. They were surprised when Google neglected to apply. They are blocking sites like The Khan Academy, that teaches basic educational subjects, thus denying a huge benefit to Chinese children.
    “but, I can see the case to be made that existence without honour, is not an existence worth having.” Oh you can, can you? If there is one thing I detest more than religion is is an honour culture. That’s the culture that sends a kettle full of dynamite to the bride because she dishonoured the family and married somebody her father did not choose. Please understand, there is NO existence that isn’t worth having for some stupid emotional reason based on honour. Honour is bullshit. Integrity has nothing to do with honour. Sheesh.
    Egypt had a stable civilization for seven thousand years. The Spynx was ancient when the Romans invaded. China pales by comparison. Don’t buy into the tourist hype.

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