What I know so far
These are, in no particular order, some important things I have learned.
The meaning of life and the purpose of life are two distinct things.
The purpose of life is to live, grow, reproduce ourselves and, with luck, be happy.
The question of the meaning of life is itself not a meaningful question. To assume that life has meaning is to assume that life itself has something to communicate. There is no evidence that this is the case.
Life offers neither punishments nor rewards, only consequences.
Finding the good in people isn't a matter of faith but the result of observation.
Although humans have evolved a certain degree of intelligence, we are still more stupid than smart. We are likely to stay that way as long as civilization exists. The process of natural selection is thwarted in the context of civilization. Great pains are taken to see that all people, regardless of ability have a chance to succeed. Its hard to imagine a society which would be thought of as morally responsible which would do otherwise, yet this behavior effectively halts the process of evolution.
Being right for the wrong reason is the same as being wrong.
There is evil in the world. It is the willful prevention or attempt at the prevention of others, through action or inaction, from the pursuit of life and happiness. This can take a number of forms, including many which appear benign on the surface. Evil must be kept separate from morals in order to adequately understand it. What a society considers moral, or at least socially normal may still be evil. Our societies have set different standards for this over the years.
Religion, with rare exceptions, uses different metaphors, depending on the particular creed, to describe the same things which are mostly anthropocentric falsehoods based in nothing more than wishful thinking.
There is a basic difference between positions of accepting the world on faith and studying the world via the methods of science.
If one takes faith as a premise then one abandons prediction based upon observation. the two world views are mutually exclusive. Faith and science are opposites.
In spite of the fact that it is wasteful and often leads to great evil, war can be an effective method for the resolution of disagreements between groups. I would not expect its eradication until such a time as it becomes ineffective or wasteful to the point of uselessness. Over time we have found better ways to achieve some of the goals which in the past might have been sought in wars.
Some goals may only be achieved through war. For example, the total elimination of an entire people or nation has been the stated goal of several wars. As long as such desires exist empowered by military might, wars will continue to exist.
The negative effects of racial, religious and national bigotry are not so much that they are a basically evil (although I believe this to be the case) as they are a horrendous waste of time, particularly when assessed in terms of the rewards of such behavior over time regarding their impact on the lives of individuals, both victims and oppressors, and on civilization in general.
victimization does not ennoble the victim. anyone, even the most morally depraved can become a victim.
There is an appearance that in Western civilization there might be more profit, at least in the short term, in obscuring the truth rather than promoting it. Incidentally, facts and truth are two distinct concepts. Facts are a presentation of conditions or events to the extent that they have been observed. Truth is the underlying
condition or event as it exists including that which goes unobserved.
Truth is most cases remains unknown. There will be a great number of people who will find this state of affairs desirable.
The true result of ethical behavior is the removal of distracting contradiction from the lives of people who practice it. Those who behave ethically tend to think more clearly because they are mostly free of internal rationalizations which unethical behavior creates the need for.
Falsehoods, that is assertions which are known not to be representative of the truth as understood by those who promote them either by omission or fabrication, are the basis of most common knowledge. Poor scholarship accounts for some of this, however, simple self serving lies account for the majority. The resulting shoddy world view possessed by most humans is not the consequence of a great conspiracy but puffery of little men. Those who see a great conspiracy in the world vastly overrate human abilities at cooperation.
The natural tendency in human relations is for one to attempt to redirect the other toward an intellectual path more closely resembling their own. Humans are reflexively xenophobic. The tendency is to seek what one has in common with another because the differences are automatically threatening. All human relationships are power struggles, the goal being to inject the maximum amount of one's own personality into the relationship. The most peaceful romantic relationships are the ones in which the partners become the most effective mirrors for one another. The most peaceful political relationships are the ones in which a single person or party controls the direction. True autocracy should yield true peace. True autocracy, like true anarchy, does not exist in the real world.
ALL world views which depend on outside sources for the correction of human behavior or the "salvation" of the human soul are false. The belief that the destiny of mankind is dependent on a messianic force, be it Jesus or "Space Brothers" or anything else of that nature, marks the believer as a fool. Such persons should not be trusted with fire or sharp objects. It represents a staggering degree of intellectual sloppiness. The effect of these beliefs in the human mind can only result in a kind of chain reaction which leads to a general failure of logic. The reason for this is that it inserts a basic interruption into the path of causality. My mistrust of people who hold such beliefs cannot be overstated.
Debate is an art form, not a method of unbiased inquiry. arguments are won by those who are better arguers. The level of objective truth in the argument plays no role whatsoever.
Human history is mostly the story of ambitious men seeking short term results. There have only been a very few people in history who have thought really big. Of those few only a tiny percentage have had realistic agendas. No person with a secular long term vision for humanity has ever achieved a great amount of power. The reason for this is that the explanation of plans for major change without invoking the authority of some deity are a hard sell. God is useful shorthand authority for a public which would rather not think for itself.
The majority of humans rarely extrapolate the consequences of a decision beyond the first iteration.
The reaction of society to an increasingly educated public is to make a virtue of stupidity. It is a common belief that society runs better when not examined too closely. Most people react to close scrutiny of social mechanisms with hostility. Although we are a highly dynamic as a species, that dynamism seems to rest with a comparatively small number of individuals at any given time. The vast majority crave some sort of status quo. Resistance to change is one of the most persistent of human qualities.
What most people hold up as essential human qualities are qualities which few humans have or , at least, cultivate within themselves.
Humans have traditionally perceived history as a succession of struggles against various things. Few humans have a proactive view of progress. Societies do not tend to be goal oriented. Many individuals try to be goal oriented, but the majority have difficulty defining personal goals or find the process of doing so too boring to pursue. For most people, the quest for food, friendship and family is enough.
What I don't know yet
I am aware that this is a shorter list. I site the difficulty in cataloging one's own ignorance as an explanation.
If individuals can learn from experience, why can't societies? Is it possible that for societies the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts?
I have been unable to resolve the apparent conflict between the idea that the world is basically knowable through observation and the apparent fact that the observation of a system alters that system thus making its unobserved state unknowable. This is my basic intellectual "loop".
There are things which I "know" must be utter hogwash and yet are observed and experienced by to large a segment of the population to just discount out of hand. Claims of "mass hallucination" do not seem to provide adequate explanation. I haven't even a clue as to what might cause these "miracles".