The Book of Good Living – Preface

I wish there was a Book of Good Living.

Someplace where a lot of useful lessons about Life were collected, something you could read at your own speed, and that would help you figure out how to be the best possible you that you could be, and how the society you live in could be the best possible society.

It would be a book full of general rules about how things should run for the best result. Short rules, but also stories illustrating them, all of it written in a simple, easy-to-understand style.

Stuff like “Get some exercise every day,” or “Never put complete faith in the person trying to sell you something.” Or …

Open doors for older people. Never walk on the roadside facing away from traffic. If two people come to a narrow passage or doorway from opposite directions, the one with the larger/heavier load has the right of way. When driving on the highway, always stay in the right lanes unless you’re passing someone. Loud parties should end at 11 p.m. Never make important decisions while under the influence of strong drink or strong emotions.

(Heh. Maybe the rule “If you kill it, you eat it,” would have the accidental side effect of ending the death penalty, or yes-kill pet shelters.)

Or how about “When people in positions of trust and authority – especially those trusted to enforce the laws – break the law, they should automatically be punished twice as severely as normal people for the same transgression.” Or “During a trial, when a witness is sworn in ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ the judge and all attorneys should simultaneously take the same legally-binding oath.”

And maybe even “Any architect designing a building to be used by the public should put in at least double the number of restroom stalls for women as for men.”

There would be separate sections for children, I’d imagine – lessons that every child should know, and written appropriate for the understanding of each age group, from toddlers to adolescents to teens. “Don’t put strange things in your mouth.” “Eat your peas so you’ll grow up big and strong.” “Having sex without a condom – even once – is a Very. Bad. Idea.”

And maybe even there would be separate lessons for men and women.

It’s kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think? A book of lessons and rules designed not to control you or lessen your freedom, but to help you grow and become complete. And to help in building a society of justice, equality, and opportunity.

It would be the handbook, the basic operating manual, that should come with every human life.

And yet we don’t have one.

Why?

Maybe it’s because we’re not advanced enough to think we might need one? Maybe because we’re TOO advanced? Because it seems impossible to create a Book of Good Living, considering how complex life is?

But then again, maybe that very complexity is the best reason for doing it? If everyday life is an ever-quickening storm of new stuff that you have to struggle to deal with, a basic operating manual for you yourself as a human would at least give you a firm grounding in one of the systems involved.

I think the real reason we don’t have this book is a simple one: It’s because of the Bible. Well, all holy books, really, but the culprit here in the West is that one.

First, because you could never write the Book of Good Living without raising a tidal wave of Christian opposition: “It’s the Atheist Bible! They’re trying to usurp God! Look, this proves it – atheism is a religion!”

I’d bet even full atheists would chime in with pungent critique: “No, we don’t need a Bible-clone full of rules and stories! That’s not what atheism is about! Besides, people should have the freedom to figure that stuff out on their own!”

And yet so many of us don’t, do we? Figure it out on our own, I mean.

Hey, I DO figure some of this stuff out on my own, coming up with a few rare insights out of my own life experience, but I still feel like I don’t really know shit about living. And I hate how long it takes to figure out the really good stuff – like “Have an adventure every day, even if it’s a small one.” Or “After you lose half your hair, you can stop worrying about it.” Or “If you overuse words like ‘fuck’ in speech or writing, you devalue them so that the day you REALLY need a shocking epithet, it won’t draw as much notice. Besides, if you hold back on fuck, it helps you develop more imaginatively florid insults and constructions.” – so that I’m left to fumble my way through every damned day on all the things I haven’t yet figured out.

Second, possibly, because even non-Christians would assume that all this stuff should come from your parents or your cultural elders, and that it impinges on parental authority to attempt to teach such things to kids. To which I ask “Who said only parents have good stuff to teach kids? And what does it matter who provides the lesson, if the kids get it from somebody?”

And third, and probably most important, because the niche is taken. Taken by the Bible. Even if you could convince a volunteer team of wise men and women to get together and write the thing, there would be resistance just because a supposed “Good Book” already exists. (I’ll bet even you reading this right now probably aren’t seeing the value in the thing.) And certainly huge numbers of Christians, and those raised under Christian influence, would refuse to read it. “I’m not readin’ that evil book! The devil wrote that book! All I need is my Holy Bible!”

Even many of us who weren’t Christians would feel that the thing is uncool. If the Bible, which supposedly teaches about good living, is uncool – and it is – this new offering in that (apparently) same niche would be tainted with that same uncool image.

But think about it: If great numbers of people already read the Bible as if it was this Book of Good Living … it means there’s already a demand for it. Among great numbers of people.

And if the thing lacked all the fluff, all the idiot Christian mythology about heavens and hells and such, and all the shit-silly stuff about who begat who else several thousand irrelevent years ago, or that it’s okay to (holy fucking shit!) bargain your daughters to a rape-minded mob or kill your kids if they sass you, it would immediately start to out-compete the Bible on effective wisdom for daily living.

And damn! I’d read it. Hell, if the Book of Good Living wiki came together in an attempt to write one, I’d feel privileged just to be a proofreader.

It would be something like a thesaurus, indexed so you could find things by subject, and versioned so kids could read the kid version and adults could read the adult version. And it would be freely available online, or in printed versions you could carry around with you.

Anyway … I’d like to write a few contributions to it. Some of the general stuff I’ve figured out on my own. Just to toss the idea out there, maybe see if it catches on.

 

[ Uber-cool illo by Human Born on Mars ]

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Good idea! :)

  • judykomorita

    Start collecting, Hank. You’ll find people here who will help. Ask your fellow FTBers to put out the word, too.

  • Randomfactor

    I’ve started doing this–realized that since I had no need of the first commandment, I could do them in nine (which, supposedly, would generate the rest.)

    One of my minor rules is: When you come in from the parking lot, bring a shopping basket with you, even if you don’t need one. Pick one that’s been left blocking a parking space or in an unsafe location.

    • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

      Randomfactor:

      One of my minor rules is: When you come in from the parking lot, bring a shopping basket with you, even if you don’t need one.

      I do this! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one. My wife accuses me of being obsessive/compulsive. I am not. I just can’t help myself.

    • chakolate

      One of the best parenting tips I ever heard was to park, not near the door, but near the cart return. The child/children get out of the car and into the cart and they are already corralled. The reverse process at the end is equally neat, as the cart return is right there, close to you. :-)

  • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

    bookofgoodliving.com and .net are now registered. I have a VPS where I can set up a site. I’m technically proficient, though quite terrible at web design.

    Does anybody have a preferred engine? Drupal? Mambo? Joomla?

    • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

      Sorry — I guess that should be Wiki software. Nevermind.

      I will get it installed post haste.

      • http://sheilacrosby.com Sheila Crosby

        WordPress is rather nice to use.

    • Hank Fox

      Fantastic!

      Seriously, I think this might be well worth doing.

      Now … where the heck do we start?

      • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

        Well, the names are registered, and will hopefully propagate out soon. I’m working on the infrastructure (DNS, webserver, and so on) hosted on a VPS. I doubt it can handle a whole of traffic right now, but I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

        There are two domains registered:

        bookofgoodliving.com, and .org.

        I’m installing WordPress, as we should be able to figure out how to use FTB logins, maybe. There are some Wiki-like plugins. I don’t know how well they’ll work, as I’ve never used them, but it’ll be a good start.

        Once the site is up, I reckon it might act as the hub for figuring out what it’s supposed to be when it grows up.

        To get it started though, here’s what I was thinking:

        Each entry will have several sections. A “Wisdom” section with the core bit of advice; a “Parables” section, with stories employing the wisdom in various styles; a “References” section, with references to songs, research, or other media related to the wisdom (if applicable); and illustrations.

        I thought perhaps the items in each section could be tagged, with things like “adultsonly” or “kids” or “fantasy” or whatnot, to help create custom books. A “kids.bookofgoodliving.com” might only employ elements with the “kids” tag, for instance. Then if I preferred the fantasy-like illustrations for the parables, I could set that up in my profile as a preference.

        Those were my thoughts, anyway. I’m not wedded to them in any way. It’s just an outline to get people thinking until I can get a site up and running, where real planning might happen.

        That should happen in the next couple of days, I hope.

        • Hank Fox

          I’m in!

          Let’s think about a mission statement. I’d like to present the thing as having a clear goal. This post should provide some idea of what the thing should be, but it might need to percolate in our heads for a few days. And maybe we need a LOT more input in laying the basic groundwork for it.

          I see it as a wiki, with multiple contributors. On the other hand, I’d hate for it to be hijacked by conservative or Christian-fanatic types who’d have some radically different idea of what it should contain.

          Still, considering how relatively well Wikipedia does at dealing with factual distortions, maybe that’s not a big worry.

          • anthonyallen

            Hijacking could be circumvented, in part, by crosschecking WordPress logins on FTB. I’m sure there’s an API for that somewhere. If there isn’t, one could be written easily enough, it’s just XML.

            Another way could be to require a specific phrase from an obscure atheist-type book (such as Red Neck Blue Collar Atheist, for example ;)) at registration-time. Something that Fundies aren’t likely to read.

  • Anon

    Have you checked out A.C. Grayling’s ‘The Good Book: A Secular Bible’? It’s a bit difficult to read, but it’s got lots of ideas from the Stoics, Buddhism and other secular philosophies for good living. It isn’t as practical as your idea sounds, but it might be worth a look for inspiration:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Book-Secular-Bible/dp/0747599602/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328112371&sr=8-1

    • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

      I have Grayling’s book, and while I haven’t read it through yet what I have read disheartened me greatly with its male default pronouns and other language.

      • Phledge

        Tabby, I had the same reaction, as well as sensing that the non-Western contributions were pretty token. Still, it was a grand undertaking. Not exactly what Mr Fox is going for, I think; I do like the idea of a book to teach you how to adult. (I could use it right about now.)

  • cassmorrison

    I think this is a great idea Hank and was going to suggest a website and/or ebook as they’ve really taken off. I’m glad that NigeltheBold has taken a step with registering s website. Perhaps each tip could be short and people could add stories to illustrate.

  • Randomfactor

    “Give blood.”

    I’d really like to see a nationwide push for a May 3 atheist/freethinker blood drive as Hank brought up earlier. I’m trying to organize one locally.

  • rikitiki

    Fabulous idea! There is SO a need for this book.

    Here’s mine -

    New Parent or expecting? Carry your keyrings on a carabiner (regular size, not a small one)…it’ll be the most useful thing ever when bringing up kids. (Easily hooks diaper bag straps over small tree limb instead of putting bag on wet ground…becomes teether / play toy…no seat-belt on restaurant high-chair? loop diaper bag straps around waist from back-of-chair, link with carabiner…etc.

  • chakolate

    The ‘If you kill it, you eat it’ rule has some of those nasty unintended consequences. As in the case of rabid dogs, tarantulas, and someone who runs in front of your car when you can’t stop.

    Eww!

  • athena

    Is anyone familiar with The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian? It was written 300 years ago but is amazingly modern. Add stories to each of his 300 aphorisms and you’ve got a book of good living.

    • hauntfox

      This is on my to-read list now.
      Bonus: it’s available free online!

      • http://cornelioid.wordpress.com/ Cornelioid

        Here, for example, for others who come across this thread in the distant future. : )

  • anthonyallen

    Don’t shit where you eat.

    This covers things like dating people you work closely with, people in the same class as you, your boss, teachers, etc. It also covers betrayal of close friends, relatives, partners.

    It also means that you shouldn’t treat the servers like crap at your favourite pub. Learned that one the hard way.

  • Robert B.

    Yeah, I think you’re right that the existence of the Bible corrupts the idea of competing “good books.” For example, I think we’ll tend to wrongly assume that such a book must be singular and authoritative. What about having lots of books of good living? How about they compete, debate, revise and extend? Print them with expiration dates: “Best if read before 2022; we will probably have better ideas by then.” Start a custom that the first piece of advice in each such book must be “Do not put faith in things you read in books. Do not put faith in anything. Think for yourself.” And the last piece of advice should be, “If you agree with everything you read in this book, you are not thinking hard enough. In addition to whatever mistakes I made because I am human, I have told you one deliberate lie. Find it.”

    I actually like this idea. But if we go to do it, we have to be very careful, because as a society our habits regarding Good Books are not nearly critical enough. If you don’t include countermeasures, you risk trapping people back into their old bad habits.

    • ttch

      How ’bout “The Unauthoritative Good Book”?

      “The Mostly Good Ideas Book”?

      Oh, “The Pretty Good Book” !

  • kennypo65

    This is one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever read. I would definitely read that. How about this one: Always be honest, especially with yourself.

  • kennypo65

    I got another one: Never sleep with someone crazier than you are.

    • Randomfactor

      Not a problem for me.

      But I’ve also seen this stated as “never sleep with anyone who’s got more problems than you do…”

  • geocatherder

    Good Idea… though it’s always helpful to build on existing knowledge. The Tao Te Ching, for example; for awhile, when Husband and I traveled using motels a lot, I would pick up cheap paperback copies and leave them on top of the Gideon bibles. :-)

    • ttch

      Sadly, the motel staff would likely discard any such books. They check all drawers when preparing for the next guest (ideally).

      Did you ever return to the same room and found your book was still there?

  • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

    bookofgoodliving.org is up. It’s nothing fancy at the moment, just a barebones MediaWiki install. I tried WordPress, but the Wiki extensions were insufficient.

    Here’s how I see this working: the .org will be an editor’s hangout, for folks who want to help decide the direction of BOGL. The .com (which is not yet installed) will be the actual book itself, once the editors have outlined exactly what BOGL is, and how it wants to operate.

    I’ll create some pages to start the process, with some of my ideas. However, this is not my project. I’m just a geek who impetuously decided to set up a couple of websites. I will try to be a responsible support dude, but that’s about as much as I can promise.

    That said, I look forward on a book of enlightenment.

  • judykomorita

    Thank you, Nigel! And thank you, Hank, for the idea, and for taking us seriously.

    I’m starting a list of entries.
    Hope I can figure out how to submit.

  • Rick Schauer

    Hank this is a great idea. Have you been to:

    http://www.criticalthinking.org/

    I think the writings by Richard Paul and Linda Elder are a must add guide to any kind of organized, rational, thinking or writing project as a catalyst to focus effectual actions by many different folks.

    And the one guide I recommend (I have a bunch of their stuff) is called the Critical Thinking Competency Standards which oulines 25 standards and outcomes to achieve intellegence via critical thinking success. It is brief, sound and could serve to center and focus further actions by many swiftly.

  • Hank Fox

    Nigel, judy and others: I’m going to be in contact with you soon. I’m excited about the idea, and I don’t want YOUR excitement to diminish either, but I’m caught up in a new job right now and haven’t had much time in the past few days.

    I’ll have more time to think about this over the weekend, and will get back to you very soon.

  • judykomorita

    No worries, Hank. Good luck on the new job.

  • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

    Take your time, Hank. We’ll continue on talking amongst ourselves.

    Have as much fun as you can at the new job.

  • Kevin

    I’ve tried. Honest and really, I’ve tried.

    But for the life of me, I cannot find those “Rules for Good Living” in the bible that Christians speak so highly about.

    There are a couple of good phrases: the whole “do unto others” thing is nice, if unoriginal.

    But the rest of it? Meh.

    The entire OT is a mess of authoritarian primitive superstitious nonsense.
    * Don’t eat shellfish. (Probably good advice for people with no ice, but we have the recipe now.)
    * No mixing of fibers (I’ve never understood this.)
    * If your brother dies childless, you must marry his wife and get her pregnant. (Patriarchal polygamy, anyone?)

    And on and on.

    The NT is worse:
    * If someone hits you, let him hit you again.
    * If someone sues you, give him both compensatory and punitive damages without fighting.
    * Don’t arbitrate disputes in secular courts.
    * Women: shut up.
    * Slaves: shut up.
    * It’s better to be handless than to masturbate; better to be blind than to look at an attractive woman and think natural, normal, perfectly reasonable thoughts about mating with her (whether or not you act on them).
    * It’s better to believe something without the slightest whiff of evidence than to believe in something with mounds and mounds of evidence.

    And on and on.

    How in the world can these be considered “Rules of Good Living” by any rational person today?

  • Elevyn

    I’d been playing with this idea for a while and taking it nowhere.
    But I’d been thinking of it more as a workbook, to help people (children) to develop / understand their own moral structure.
    For example:
    Where do you think the cutoff point for justifiable terminations is? Why?
    Is it ever ok to hit someone. Why?
    Is it ever ok to lie? Why? When?
    What secrets are good, what secrets are bad.
    Is it ever a good idea to meet a stranger from the Internet.
    why is it a good idea to be nice to people.

    That kind of thing. With short stories and memorable sayings to help it stick. Reuse from traditional culture if possible, nursery rhymes, aesops fables, fairy tales, Shakespeare, even the religious texts if it can be cleaned up a bit.

    But then I decided it needed a strong leader to drive it through and that was all kinds of bad things right there.
    But a wiki is a GREAT idea. Diffused responsibility. Diffused power.

  • c2t2

    Oooh. A combinaion of the “Chicken Soup” and “for Dummies” series. With rule #1 being “Don’t believe everything you read… even here.” I would buy the shit out of that book.

    Though it occurs to me that the book form would have to be highly condensed, while the online version can have things like oddly specific shopping cart etiquette.

  • dgrasett

    I realize that Mr. Fox is off at his new job – but – I delight in his short stacks. And could we ask Cuttlefish for the occasional bit?. If we all collect/contribute for it, all that would be needed would be an editor – and this group is sufficiently savvy that editing could be done on the wiki system. I would really love such a book – although at my age [70] I wouldn’t be using it for long.
    It would also be a joy if I were able to download it onto the Kobo Vox given to me for yulemas by a daughter and which same I haven’t figured out yet.

  • Grendels Dad

    I can see a chapter on risk/reward assessment titled: Never fry bacon while naked.

  • Chakolate

    I’ve given this considerable thought over the last few days and I think a book, a physical book, would be a mistake. The bookstores are filled with books that tell you how to live your life.

    I think we should take advantage of the web. Set up a site, and have a GoodLifeWiki, where people are invited to share things they’ve learned (usually the hard way) and share the story of how they came to the conclusion they did.

    It would be a site you’d visit often, reading over the latest contributions. Commenters could offer suggestions or congratulations or condolences, as appropriate. It would be a community.

    What does everybody else think?

    • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

      Chakolate:

      What does everybody else think?

      I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think you should go to bookofgoodliving.org and volunteer to help us set this thing up. You’ve got good ideas, and we could use those right now.

  • Hank Fox

    NigeltheBold, anthonyallen, randomfactor, etc., I really want to talk to you. Give me a shout on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hankfox or via email: hankfox1 [at] gmail [dot] com.


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