About Death By Trolley

Well hello, there! Have you been waiting long? No? Good. Please, do come inside.

(Pro-Tip: Given that this is the blog of a Canadian, social etiquette dictates that you remove your shoes upon entering.)

Welcome to Death By Trolley! You’ve entered an oddly though explicably named corner of the Internet devoted to issues of interest to the author. The direction of this blog has changed since its original creation as a consequence of changes in the interests and perspectives of the writer.

A bit about the author. I’m an early-30s Canadian transplant to Tucson, Arizona. I work in healthcare. I was formerly quite active in the atheist movement, was also a committed academic, was a proud progressive, and considered myself to be a feminist. Today, I continue to be an atheist, I continue to place the highest value on intellectual inquiry,  my values remain left of centre, and I continue to be a very strong gender egalitarian. However, I no longer have any real involvement in the atheist community, I am deeply concerned with several aspects academia and campus life, I actively distance myself from much of progressivism, and I most certainly do not identify as a feminist any further.

I am also working on developing a companion YouTube channel for this blog.


5 thoughts on “About Death By Trolley

  1. Hi there!

    I stumbled across this blog from your old one called the frame problem. It sounded like you’d taken a course or two with John Vervaeke but I didn’t see an obvious mention of him. Was wondering you’d seen his videos on youtube nowadays:

    Why don’t we have AI yet:

    Or just this short (humourous) video on zombies:

    He’s also got some stuff at his website: http://www.johnvervaeke.com


  2. RT Wolf: I took several courses with John, including a few intensive independent study courses. John was my all-time favourite professors and I’d readily list him as one of the three people that I most admire. I try to meet up with him for lunch each time I’m back in the GTA, but it doesn’t always happen because he’s always so busy.

    I don’t think I’ve seen the videos that you posted, but I’ve watched a few others.

  3. That’s great to hear! I’ve taken a bunch of courses with John, too and am helping him become better known outside uoft/academia. You might be exactly the right person to help expand his wiki pages, actually, cause you’re prolly more familiar with his theories:


    You may also be interested in his upcoming talk on neuro-enlightenment. It’s a very interesting change in his thinking. I’ll send it to you when it’s finally available to share with your readers:

    Know any other Vervaekians that have blogs/websites who might be interested in his new stuff?


  4. Hi,

    That’s great about John at TEDxUofT.

    As for other people who have been fans of John: Najam Tirmizi, Stephen Emrich and Andreea Bostan. The latter two went onto get PhDs in the cognitive sciences. I don’t know that any of them blog – Najam used to. Don’t know if he still does.

    I wouldn’t be an appropriate person to contribute to John’s wikipedia re: his theoretical work. I understand and am conversant in many of his big ideas, but I’m not so acutely versed in it that I could do a quality Wikipedia write up.

    Please do forward me video of his talk on neuro-enlightenment when it is available!

    I just sent John an email. I’ll share some of it here. It pertains to his Meaning Criss project.

    “I see that your Meaning Crisis project is coming along nicely. I wanted to STRONGLY recommend an author for you: Daniel Quinn. I believe I recommended his book “Ishmael” to you a long time ago. Quinn, in addition to having blown my mind and changed my worldview more than any other author, speaks about the meaning crisis directly and at length.

    I’ll give a summary of some of his more relevant views. PLEASE READ!

    Humanity, for the grand majority of our time on earth, has been organized into independent tribes. Tribes that had lineages stretching back countless generations (presumably to points in time when the beings wouldn’t be recognized by us as humans, but as an evolutionary ancestor – that’ my speculation). Ways of life – i.e., tribal cultures – evolved. Ideas that were helpful to internal tribal affairs, surviving in nature, dealing with conflicts with other tribes, and enabling the mental health of members such that they would want to go on and continue supporting each other would be more likely to go on than other ideas.

    Then came the agricultural revolution. This method was usually much harder work for humans than hunting and gathering – hence, some sociologists referred to a certain segment of hunter-gatherers as the “original affluent society”, and estimated that they only had to “work” about 3 hrs a day 7 days a week. While it was much harder work than hunting and gathering, it produced a surplus. It also involved staying put, abandoning nomadism. Because of the surplus of food, there was continual population growth by practice of total agriculture. This necessitated expansion into neighbouring lands. This caused conflicts with neighbouring tribes. Agriculturalists had huge competitive advantages over tribes given their higher population, food surplus, and ability to stockpile battle-relevant supplies given that they’re not constantly on the move. So neighbouring tribes were steamrolled. At some point, some of them begun imitating the agricultural methods of the steamrollers or even entering into cooperation.

    Why this matters for the meaning crisis: 1) entire ways of life (including the meaning systems) were being abandoned or exterminated; 2) the agricultural revolution represents a fundamental change in humanity’s place with respect to the world. Humanity used to be apart of nature in a way parallel to all other species. With the agricultural revolution, humanity switched from participants in the community of life to would-be directors of it. They went from doing what all organisms do – competing to the best of their abilities for food, mates and other supplies need for survival, to *eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil* and making themselves the deciders of which enter species will get to live and die (ones that we value will live, ones that get in our way will die – all of them; wheat lives, coyotes die; cows live (in our bars), lions die).

    Quinn’s reinterpretation of the stories of The Fall and Cain and Abel are stunning. When I first read them, my jaw just dropped.

    He pointed out the gross inconsistency between our cultural views (which developed in the time and place of our Great Western Religions) and what the Bible says. Our culture strongly values knowledge, human ascendancy over nature, and morality. All of this would stand in favour of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But when Adam and Eve at from this tree, God banished them. Not only did he banish them, but he *punished* them by forcing them into *farming*. Farming is punishment? Wasn’t it supposed to be one of humanity’s greatest achievements?

    In Cain and Abel, Cain was the farmer. But God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice. He accepted that of Abel, the herder who lived a more nomadic lifestyle. In Quinn’s view, Cain and Abel were not literal brothers. They were symbolic representations of two groups – the Caucasians who were agriculturalists, and the Semites, who were nomadic herders. By this thinking, the Mark of Cain is racial whiteness.

    So, why is our longest standing religious text decisively NOT on our side? If it was, we would have been encouraged to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we would have been rewarded with farming rather than relegated to it, God would have accepted Cain’s sacrifice, and the Mark of Cain would be have been a far more dignified mark.

    Quinn’s idea – which is original to him – is that the best explanation to make sense of all of this is that the stories of The Fall/Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel were not the stories of our cultural ancestors, the Caucasians. They were the stories of Semites speaking of the Caucasians as these farmers were taking nature out of God’s hands and into their own, and killing Abel (i.e., nomadic tribes) – “watering their fields with the blood of herders” as Quinn put it.

    Quinn is not surprised that meaning crises exist. He actually speculated that the birth of modern religions stemmed from earlier meaning crises that resulted from people abandoning or being ripped from their generations-old ways of life and being put into a fundamentally new position with respect to their peers, their new non-tribal peers, their environment and their destiny. And he’s not surprised that it’s not working out well for us. The tribal ways of life that were lost evolved gradually and piecemeal over countless generations. The agricultural revolution was more-so a product of intelligent design and it was introduced much more rapidly. Quinn also argued that the tribal cultures were presumably more holistic cultures – they were about what was good for the tribe, which takes into account tribal cohesion, satisfaction of individual members, successful defense against and dealing with conflicts with outsiders, and surviving in nature. Agriculture was more about efficiency and large yields.”

  5. Found this site by way of another, and it appeals to me. I’m an Atheist and have been searching for additional resources regarding the subject. I was a bit taken aback when I didn’t find a “sign up” link on the page, but I believe that’s not going to be an obstacle. Here’s hoping for a good association.

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