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General Discussions => Religion / Philosophy Talk => Topic started by: superdave on April 19, 2017, 11:26:41 AM

Title: Secular Karma
Post by: superdave on April 19, 2017, 11:26:41 AM
Anyone here believe in this?  I sorta do in the sense that I think trying to be a good person, doing what you think is right, works to your benefit in the long run through non specific ways.  (For example, maybe a friend refers you to a job opening he might might otherwise not have if he thought you were a jerk).

I think this is unassailable logic.  But on the other hand, there's so much randomness in the world, that the effect of random luck might overwhelm whatever benefits such karma might give you. In that case, even karma is a matter of luck.

I used to believe more in the first one, but after reading "thinking Fast and Slow" I'm starting to lean the other way.  Turns out humans way underestimate the role of randomness.  In that case, there are severe implications.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Harry Black on April 19, 2017, 11:30:07 AM
I see absolutely no reason for this to be true.
The world does not care how good you are, it cares what you can give it. Or rather what you are seen to give it.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Johnny Slick on April 19, 2017, 12:12:45 PM
In the sense that if you do good things, it'll come back around to you? No, the universe doesn't work that way. Sometimes random things happen that help or hurt and there's not a lot that you can do about them. In the sense that if you generally behave like a jerk when it doesn't hurt, it'll be harder to avoid behaving like one when it does hurt? Yeah, absolutely, that's a thing I believe. On top of that, Richard Wiseman noted in 59 Seconds that people who are generally optimistic and confident are generally better poised to take advantage of good random events that come along, and so I'm *trying* anyway to make that a part of my life as well.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: The Latinist on April 19, 2017, 12:26:33 PM
My experience suggests to me that consistent good behavior does tend to have the kind of non-specific rewards that you talk about.  I don't see any reason to think that it wouldn't, and there's no magical thinking involved.  If you consistently help me, for instance, when I am in need, I'm much more likely to help you when I'm in a position to.  This is not because of any sort of cosmic balancing act, but because of simple psychology and the reciprocity of relationships.  My experience may be different from that of others in that I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other, and I work in and live in a small community today.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Harry Black on April 19, 2017, 12:43:12 PM
I see absolutely no reason for this to be true.
Previous good deeds cant be taken into consideration by the world unless they are known, so immediately there will be a disparity between those who do good deeds and those who give the impression of doing good deeds. So I dont find a logical reason to think its so.
Anecdotally,Ive noticed that kindness gets rewarded in good regard but when it comes to reciprocation, people tend to be really sorry and have an excuse.

Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: The Latinist on April 19, 2017, 12:57:01 PM
Your experience is different from mine.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Drunken Idaho on April 19, 2017, 01:18:29 PM
Superdave, I get your comparison, but ultimately karma means something too different for it to withstand skeptical pedantry. I do think that there are statistically significant consequences to being kind (for example) which could at least plausibly lead to an increased chance of good things happening. Random luck is still the primary factor, of course, but here's what I mean:

A person who is frequently kind to others may be more likely to have a higher number of positive social relationships and interactions. This could plausibly lead to a higher frequency of social introductions, which may occasionally have significant professional, emotional, or financial consequences to the person's benefit.

or

A person who lives by a strong moral code may be more likely to live a lower-stress life, with its associated health benefits.

But living positively clearly isn't the only way to obtain such ends. Joseph Mengele's seemingly happy and peaceful later life is really the only nail in the karma coffin I'll ever need.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: daniel1948 on April 19, 2017, 03:14:46 PM
We are social animals and we tend to behave well towards those who behave well towards us. If you do someone a favor, they are more likely to return the favor. If you refuse to do a favor, the person that asked probably will refuse you when you ask. But this is not karma. This is social behavior in a species that has evolved it because each individual is better off when all help each other. In a social setting, a person might do you a favor because they observed you doing someone else a favor. This is also part of being a social animal.

But the idea that if you do good, good will come back to you is pure magical thinking, and can be refuted by observation, and the fact that bad things do happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. That's assuming that you can even come up with rational, objective definitions for "good" and "bad."
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Harry Black on April 19, 2017, 03:25:13 PM
Your experience is different from mine.
I guess so!
Ive noticed some people who do nice things and do get rewarded, but they usually tend to be likeable people anyway?
I have seen enough nice people get the shit end of the stick that I have no faith in the concept as a way to predict likely outcomes.
And as Drunken Idaho says, Ive noticed so many utter shitbags do well that it seems meaningless as a concept.

Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: superdave on April 19, 2017, 04:07:44 PM
I think using the phrase Karma might have poisoned the well here..
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Jeremy's Sea on April 19, 2017, 04:11:32 PM
This idea has no relation to Karma as understood and practiced by traditional Buddhists.

This version is a very "western" way of thinking of it, more like good deeds and sin. Karma is simply the practice to cease suffering. Nothing about it suggests it balances anything, and nothing good is supposed to come of doing good. The end benefit is enlightenment. Outside randomness isn't anything more or less special than human acts.

To try to put it briefly, by practicing compassion you attempt to lessen suffering. All karmic lines can be ended by compassion towards suffering. You cannot just go out into the world and end others' karmic lines, but you can end them when they pass to you.
If a dog bites a mailman (randomness), and this pisses off the mailman and he shreds important mail for the homeowner, who then becomes angered and slaps his kid for a minor offense, and that kid comes to your classroom and disrupts the class because he was slapped by his father, you now have the choice to find compassion for the child to help lessen suffering by the very least of not acting it out and passing it on, and even perhaps by not making things worse for the child, who could then enrage his father and mother all over again and on and on... you can see it spiral out. Your own attachment to things can cause this suffering. If your ego is bruised you will likely act in a shitty manner to someone else and they then have the choice to get pissed and be shitty, or to end that karmic line in themself and not pass it on.

If you do not incorporate the practice of compassion to end suffering, then you're not actually talking about karma, you're discussing some other concept of a positive energy bank.

And yes, I think karma can be perceived secularly, but not with the end point being some kind of nirvana, though I could argue a person who can end suffering is enlightened.  :laugh:
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Mr. Beagle on April 19, 2017, 05:38:38 PM
My view is a probabilistic one. The more "good" contacts you make, the better the odds that one of those contacts will recommend you for a job, donate blood when you are sick, etc.

That is "sorta kinda" karma, and I have been known to use the negative form of that word when a nasty guy gets a comeuppance. "Karma is a bitch." But I am not Buddhist, and the casual use of the word might well offend a serious Buddhist as misappropriation.

That said, Buddhism is probably the least "theological" of the major religions.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Drunken Idaho on April 19, 2017, 06:06:53 PM
I think using the phrase Karma might have poisoned the well here..

Indeed. I think I know what you were orginally getting at (using karma as a simile), but it's kinda hard to get past it.  ;)
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Jeremy's Sea on April 19, 2017, 06:25:57 PM
My view is a probabilistic one. The more "good" contacts you make, the better the odds that one of those contacts will recommend you for a job, donate blood when you are sick, etc.

That is "sorta kinda" karma, and I have been known to use the negative form of that word when a nasty guy gets a comeuppance. "Karma is a bitch." But I am not Buddhist, and the casual use of the word might well offend a serious Buddhist as misappropriation.

That said, Buddhism is probably the least "theological" of the major religions.
I'd be shocked if most cultural Buddhists understood it either, much like in other religions scholars tend to understand it better than practitioners.
I also use the term Karma incorrectly, but use it more to denote poetic justice or dramatic irony.  ;D
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: daniel1948 on April 20, 2017, 10:20:02 AM
This idea has no relation to Karma as understood and practiced by traditional Buddhists.

This version is a very "western" way of thinking of it, more like good deeds and sin. Karma is simply the practice to cease suffering.
(click to show/hide)

Thanks for that explanation. Clearly very different from the way it is commonly used here.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Mr. Beagle on April 20, 2017, 10:33:19 AM
Correct me if I am wrong, but is not the Buddhist concept of Karma an adaptation from earlier Hindu conceptions? In my understanding, Hindu Karma gets more into reincarnation, where it may take your next life to see Karma's effects.

Like much/most of Christian theology (after many years of my study), Karma is, to me, like one of Lewis Carroll's "Humpty Dumpty" words, in which it means whatever I want it to mean.

http://sabian.org/looking_glass6.php

Quote
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

(I did not mean that as a slam - simply an observation of my Christian mentors.)

Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Johnny Slick on April 20, 2017, 12:29:22 PM
This idea has no relation to Karma as understood and practiced by traditional Buddhists.

This version is a very "western" way of thinking of it, more like good deeds and sin. Karma is simply the practice to cease suffering. Nothing about it suggests it balances anything, and nothing good is supposed to come of doing good. The end benefit is enlightenment. Outside randomness isn't anything more or less special than human acts.

To try to put it briefly, by practicing compassion you attempt to lessen suffering. All karmic lines can be ended by compassion towards suffering. You cannot just go out into the world and end others' karmic lines, but you can end them when they pass to you.
If a dog bites a mailman (randomness), and this pisses off the mailman and he shreds important mail for the homeowner, who then becomes angered and slaps his kid for a minor offense, and that kid comes to your classroom and disrupts the class because he was slapped by his father, you now have the choice to find compassion for the child to help lessen suffering by the very least of not acting it out and passing it on, and even perhaps by not making things worse for the child, who could then enrage his father and mother all over again and on and on... you can see it spiral out. Your own attachment to things can cause this suffering. If your ego is bruised you will likely act in a shitty manner to someone else and they then have the choice to get pissed and be shitty, or to end that karmic line in themself and not pass it on.

If you do not incorporate the practice of compassion to end suffering, then you're not actually talking about karma, you're discussing some other concept of a positive energy bank.

And yes, I think karma can be perceived secularly, but not with the end point being some kind of nirvana, though I could argue a person who can end suffering is enlightened.  :laugh:
This is actually really fascinating, more in line with what I think of as karma, although I kind of always thought I was silently co-opting the word to mean what I preferred it to mean. There was a website made by a guy about zen freeway driving a few years ago that gets at this as well: basically his philosophy was that no matter what the conditions of the road were, *he* was going to be the person who didn't tailgate, who let people in on merges, and so on. In there he made the claim that just by doing this he actually *did* see results from this on the road: the ripple effect from one person trying to end suffering sometimes led to rather quick results.

WELP NOW I GOTS TO GO READ ME SOME NEW AGE THINKING BOOKS
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: The Latinist on April 20, 2017, 03:28:11 PM
The true nature of the concept of Karma in Buddhist/Hindu thought, while interesting, is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, in my opinion. The OP was obviously using Karma in the way most Westerners use the term: as a shorthand for the idea that good things happen to those who do good while bad things happen to those who do bad.  I don't think anyone here had any trouble understanding what he meant, especially as he clearly explained it in his post.  This is the kind of pedantry that really irks me, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: superdave on April 20, 2017, 03:50:16 PM
The true nature of the concept of Karma in Buddhist/Hindu thought, while interesting, is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, in my opinion. The OP was obviously using Karma in the way most Westerners use the term: as a shorthand for the idea that good things happen to those who do good while bad things happen to those who do bad.  I don't think anyone here had any trouble understanding what he meant, especially as he clearly explained it in his post.  This is the kind of pedantry that really irks me, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

slow clap.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: arthwollipot on April 20, 2017, 09:38:20 PM
I see absolutely no reason for this to be true.
The world does not care how good you are, it cares what you can give it. Or rather what you are seen to give it.
The world does not care, but people do.

If you are nice to people, there is more of a chance that people will be nice back. If you are nasty to people, then they will be less inclined to be nice to you.

You could phrase this as "what goes around comes around" if you like. But it's pretty disconnected from the religious/spiritual idea of karma.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Henning on April 20, 2017, 09:50:56 PM
I had an IRL discussion today that was relevant to this.

In the case of Bill O'reilly finally getting taken off the air:
-my "no worries, man" friend is happy to attribute his come-uppance to Karma. See? Just give it time and the bad guy will get what's coming to him. They can't help going too far, getting too greedy. As if the universe is fair and we just have to sit back and wait for it to dole out justice. Fuck that idea of Karma.
-my 'Bert friend is happy to attribute his come-uppance to the invisible hand of the market. Advertisers withdrew from his show, FOX listens to money, eventually the market punished the bad guy. Fuck that. Far too slowly and inadequately. He gets to stay rich, losing a job is less than a slap on the wrist.
-I said... both these invisible force ideas don't appear to take into account that WE are responsible for shaping the social environment that delivers whatever justice there is. By nature the universe is random, and it takes work to enforce karma or move the invisible hand. Our work.

We are Karma, bitch.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Gerbig on April 20, 2017, 10:12:14 PM
I think life is too random and arbitrary for generally nice people to be rewarded because if their niceness
Ditto for generally not nice people being punished for being not nice.

Its true in some circumstances, but not enough for it to be a general rule about life.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: The Latinist on April 20, 2017, 10:22:08 PM
You all seem to think the world of social interactions is a lot more random than it has ever appeared to me.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: arthwollipot on April 20, 2017, 10:30:54 PM
You all seem to think the world of social interactions is a lot more random than it has ever appeared to me.
Ditto.

As I said, the world might not care if you're nice, but people do. And it's interactions with people that matter.

That said, if you throw trash all over your house, you get to live in a house full of trash. That will cause problems for you later, but it's not the world getting back at you because you're nasty to it, it's just a physical consequence of your decision.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Caffiene on April 20, 2017, 11:47:35 PM
You all seem to think the world of social interactions is a lot more random than it has ever appeared to me.
Ditto.

As I said, the world might not care if you're nice, but people do. And it's interactions with people that matter.

Yeahhhh... I think people have positive feelings about people who are nice to them, but im pessimistic that those nice feelings carry over into interactions enough to change the outcome in many cases.

Many people in the middle of the spectrum are selfish enough that they simply ignore social "obligations" such as favours and karma - they will only be kind to the extent that there is no sacrifice or effort on their part, which mostly includes only interactions that would already be positive regardless of previous "karmic" acts. And for those who do genuinely repay kindness im not sure that it outweighs the other end of the scale - the malignant personalities who will actively take advantage of kindness.

I dont know that being good is a detriment, but Im also not sure that it benefits interactions enough to be noticeable above the background noise of the types of people who you randomly happen to interact with.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Jeremy's Sea on April 21, 2017, 12:47:42 AM
The true nature of the concept of Karma in Buddhist/Hindu thought, while interesting, is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, in my opinion. The OP was obviously using Karma in the way most Westerners use the term: as a shorthand for the idea that good things happen to those who do good while bad things happen to those who do bad.  I don't think anyone here had any trouble understanding what he meant, especially as he clearly explained it in his post.  This is the kind of pedantry that really irks me, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
omg lol you of anyone is going to pull the pedantry card and actually give leeway on the usage of a word... holy shit, I can't believe it.
I mean fuck me for providing clarity to or nuance right?
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: arthwollipot on April 21, 2017, 02:13:25 AM
You all seem to think the world of social interactions is a lot more random than it has ever appeared to me.
Ditto.

As I said, the world might not care if you're nice, but people do. And it's interactions with people that matter.

Yeahhhh... I think people have positive feelings about people who are nice to them, but im pessimistic that those nice feelings carry over into interactions enough to change the outcome in many cases.

Many people in the middle of the spectrum are selfish enough that they simply ignore social "obligations" such as favours and karma - they will only be kind to the extent that there is no sacrifice or effort on their part, which mostly includes only interactions that would already be positive regardless of previous "karmic" acts. And for those who do genuinely repay kindness im not sure that it outweighs the other end of the scale - the malignant personalities who will actively take advantage of kindness.

I dont know that being good is a detriment, but Im also not sure that it benefits interactions enough to be noticeable above the background noise of the types of people who you randomly happen to interact with.

Put it this way. If you're nasty to someone, they're going to remember it. They're going to tell other people that you were nasty to them. And the next time you interact with that person, that's going to affect the interaction.

People might not notice if you're being good to them, but they'll definitely notice if you're being nasty.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: The Latinist on April 21, 2017, 08:16:56 AM
The true nature of the concept of Karma in Buddhist/Hindu thought, while interesting, is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, in my opinion. The OP was obviously using Karma in the way most Westerners use the term: as a shorthand for the idea that good things happen to those who do good while bad things happen to those who do bad.  I don't think anyone here had any trouble understanding what he meant, especially as he clearly explained it in his post.  This is the kind of pedantry that really irks me, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
omg lol you of anyone is going to pull the pedantry card and actually give leeway on the usage of a word... holy shit, I can't believe it.
I mean fuck me for providing clarity to or nuance right?

I believe that I am very careful to limit my pedantry to distinctions that actually affect clarity of expression or that are directly related to the topic at hand.  Do you really think anyone failed to understand what superdave was saying in his original post or what anyone else was saying in their subsequent posts?  I did not say that I do not appreciate pedantry; I said that I do not appreciate this kind of pedantry.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: superdave on April 21, 2017, 11:01:33 AM
The true nature of the concept of Karma in Buddhist/Hindu thought, while interesting, is pretty much irrelevant to this discussion, in my opinion. The OP was obviously using Karma in the way most Westerners use the term: as a shorthand for the idea that good things happen to those who do good while bad things happen to those who do bad.  I don't think anyone here had any trouble understanding what he meant, especially as he clearly explained it in his post.  This is the kind of pedantry that really irks me, because it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
omg lol you of anyone is going to pull the pedantry card and actually give leeway on the usage of a word... holy shit, I can't believe it.
I mean fuck me for providing clarity to or nuance right?

I believe that I am very careful to limit my pedantry to distinctions that actually affect clarity of expression or that are directly related to the topic at hand.  Do you really think anyone failed to understand what superdave was saying in his original post or what anyone else was saying in their subsequent posts?  I did not say that I do not appreciate pedantry; I said that I do not appreciate this kind of pedantry.

yeah this.  While I may not have used the best word, my intended meaning was clear.  I apologize to practitioners of Buddhism for using the word incorrectly. 
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Nosmas on April 21, 2017, 01:29:23 PM
I think it's true barring supernatural factors. So I believe good deeds done increases the chance of you being on the receiving end of good deeds from others. The same is true for harmful actions. It's not guaranteed though. I do not believe that things that happen to you are necessarily the result of some other things you did previously.

I don't think there's anything controversial about this other than to what degree the chances of doing good/bad things effects the chance of those choices impacting you later in life.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Knightrunner on May 17, 2017, 09:24:15 AM
I had a discussion on this topic recently. I was asked “If I believe in Karma”. My response was something like this:
I do not believe in Karma as any sort of magical, invisible or meta-physical force. I see it as the consequence of a series of linked events that are complex enough to be very difficult to track and/or are often overlooked. I believe Karma, as I use the word, is nothing more than statistical probability resulting from social interactions.

I have always found profound wisdom in my grandfather. He once took me along with him to help an acquaintance of his move. I asked why we were going as I did not think he liked the person very much. He responded, “I’m not doing it because I like him. I am doing it because I might need to move someday.”  Now we all know the world is not fair and that such acts have no guarantee of a return. But I think we can all agree that the more people you help move the more likely you will have people show up the day you need to move.  This is obviously a simple and specific example, but one that I think illustrates the larger point.

So yes I do believe in Karma, though my definition is unlikely to satisfy that of others. Some people might get hung up on the word believe. I use it simply because I cannot point to much evidence to support my claim. Just a long series of anecdotes that have served me well.  I do attempt to adhere to this philosophy in my daily life.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Mr. Beagle on May 17, 2017, 09:31:02 AM
Knightrunner describes this well.  "Statistical Karma" existed before there was language to describe it. And the first language available to describe it was not math, rather God-language. Thus religious Karma emerges.

I have studied a lot of theology and only late began to see much of theology this way. Ethical choice, for instance, existed before there was recognizable human language, and the first available language was "God-language."
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: Johnny Slick on May 17, 2017, 01:41:25 PM
Wow i am fantastically dumb.
Title: Re: Secular Karma
Post by: daniel1948 on May 23, 2017, 12:56:39 PM
I had a discussion on this topic recently. I was asked “If I believe in Karma”. My response was something like this:
I do not believe in Karma as any sort of magical, invisible or meta-physical force. I see it as the consequence of a series of linked events that are complex enough to be very difficult to track and/or are often overlooked. I believe Karma, as I use the word, is nothing more than statistical probability resulting from social interactions.

I have always found profound wisdom in my grandfather. He once took me along with him to help an acquaintance of his move. I asked why we were going as I did not think he liked the person very much. He responded, “I’m not doing it because I like him. I am doing it because I might need to move someday.”  Now we all know the world is not fair and that such acts have no guarantee of a return. But I think we can all agree that the more people you help move the more likely you will have people show up the day you need to move.  This is obviously a simple and specific example, but one that I think illustrates the larger point.

So yes I do believe in Karma, though my definition is unlikely to satisfy that of others. Some people might get hung up on the word believe. I use it simply because I cannot point to much evidence to support my claim. Just a long series of anecdotes that have served me well.  I do attempt to adhere to this philosophy in my daily life.


While I would not, myself, use the word karma, I agree with the above. It has to do with the fact that we are social animals, evolved for social interactions. While not perfectly 1:1, people are inclined, via evolution, to help those who help them, and deny help to those who deny help to them. Thus if you regularly help people when asked, you are more likely to receive help when you ask for it.

We see altruistic behavior in other species as well.

I think that most people, however, interpret the word karma to be a magical influence whereby the universe gives rewards for good behavior and punishes bad behavior, which is why I'd have said, "No, I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that among social animals, including humans, individuals often reciprocate the treatment they receive from others."