Beta Culture: Preliminary Musings

How about some random thoughts on what I have in mind for Beta Culture? Understand that I don’t in any sense think the thing will “belong” to me, or that I should have the sole power to shape it. But in this early stage in which I’m fleshing out what *I* mean by the basic concept, I want to lay out some of what I imagine it SHOULD include.

Commenter “rickschauer” recently asked:  “What’s next, a Beta Culture Congress, something like the Continental Congress?”

Yes, exactly! To begin hammering out the details of the thing, I imagine something like that taking place. Starting … soon? I want a few more months to explore it. I probably intend to write a book about it. But then I – and I hope many others – will want to DO something with it.

(Meanwhile: Ideas, please! I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

The “culture” part of Beta Culture might bring to mind silly pictures of men walking around in weird hats, women wearing colorful shawls and haggling over melons at the farmers market (none of which is a bad thing; hell, the choosing of our culture’s official Funny Hat is going to be the FUN part; can’t be a culture without your own Funny Hat!), but what I mean by it is something bigger. I imagine an entire working society, with schools, banks, all sorts of things to make a society work. Beta Culture includes a drive to action. To change. To results.

Imagine: Beta Bank. An international Internet bank, a user-friendly, member-owned bank that has, for instance, non-fuck-you policies on overdrafts …

(charging something less than the $37 I’ve paid if I was so much as one penny overdrawn, AND deliberately cycling through the largest check first, so that the handful of small ones bounce and gain the bank another five $37 fees — this hasn’t happened to me in decades, but the memory of it still makes me angry)

… but also a bank that invests its profits in social justice activism, environmental preservation or rescue, legal aid to activists and whistleblowers.

Imagine that every Beta in the world says bye-bye to commercial banks as they are, and banks exclusively at the First Bank of Beta. (And then imagine those other banks changing their policies to attract back customers.)

Imagine: Beta Academy. A low-cost private school that teaches … oh, say, how to resist corporate advertising, how to resist woo-woo and superstition, how to take care of pets, environmental studies, anti-bullying … but that also has a no-nonsense approach to accelerated math, science, English (or the local language, of course), history, geography, etc. (Speaking for myself, hell, I would have appreciated – anywhere in my educational history! – a class in how to think clearly, rationally and critically.) Out of it would grow a Beta syllabus that other schools could adopt. It might start small, with an after-school class or two that kids could attend, or it could be web-based. And it could be followed up, eventually, with a Beta degree program, largely Internet-based.

Imagine: Beta Institute. An organization devoted to researching, refining, spreading, bolstering Beta Culture, to expanding its footprint in the world, defending its practitioners and just generally serving as the midwife of this cultural newborn.

Imagine: The 500 Words. A sign language course that teaches a basic vocabulary of signing to Betas worldwide, so that, no matter what language you speak at home, you can talk to any Beta in the world, at least about basic things.

I admit to being naively unknowledgeable about the subject – my ASL friend has told me that American Sign Language is only one of dozens (hundreds?) of sign languages worldwide – but a single course/source could cut through that mutual unintelligibility and allow travelers to make themselves understood in any country in the world … as long as they were talking to other Betas.

And yes, maybe it’s The Thousand Words, or The Fifteen Hundred Words; what I mean is something you could learn in a week or a month of study that can allow you to converse in any basic subject anywhere in the world. Maybe once you learned the first 500 Words, you’d go on to the next set. And once the thing catches on, travelers who were not Beta would discover the usefulness of the effort – sign is ridiculously easy to learn, for instance – and maybe begin to understand the other benefits of “being Beta.”

Side effects: A good, big side effect — deaf people (those using this sign set, anyway) would gain a world full of additional people to talk to, and be understood by (which could mean a broader job market, just for starters). Small, weird-but-cool side effect — sport scuba divers, ocean biologists, etc., could carry on entire conversations underwater.

Imagine: Beta interviews of political candidates, where candidates are asked by an actual scientist, an actual social justice activist, to weigh in with their views on crucial subjects.

Imagine: Beta News. Good news as well as bad. True news, honest news. Non-hype news. Science news!

Imagine: An end to the drug war. The start of treating addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal issue. And I don’t mean a thousand years from now, I mean by 2022.

Imagine: A Beta consumer organization that ranks professionals, businesses, stores, tradesmen, etc., and steers you away from the chiselers and cheats. (Heh. It would be a community service just to publicly brand the local “psychics” and “spirit mediums” as frauds and con artists.)

Imagine: Beta dietary rules that demand livestock be treated humanely, that foods be unadulterated with chemicals, pesticides, artificial sweeteners or chemically-altered fats. That FULL ingredients be listed on each product – and probably that there not be very many of them on the goddam label. (Wouldn’t you like to be served the fresh, wholesome Beta meal on your flight or cruise? And yes, I said livestock. Personally, I’d be willing to switch to a vegetarian diet, but I don’t expect everyone to make the same choice.)

Imagine: The Book of Good Living.

Imagine: An actual policy – debated and shaped by members – on human population and reproduction. Something along the lines of “Every child wanted, every child loved – whatever it takes.” But also “No more people than Planet Earth can support.”

Imagine: The first annual Beta Convention (late 2013 or mid-2014, say?). Brainstorming sessions. Policy configuration. Sharing and arguing and hammering out the details of a workable future.

Speaking just for myself, I want to be on that committee that decides on that official Beta Culture Funny Hat! This issue is so important it may take decades, maybe even hundreds of years, to work out. The Funny Hat Committee would probably need to meet semi-annually, in places conducive to the deep and serious consideration necessary to such a weighty subject – ocean cruises, for instance, or mountain resorts. Probably there should be liberal amounts of drinking and feasting, in order to fuel the proper mindset. (As a side effect, I sort of hope to see a Museum of Funny Hats Through History, if there isn’t already such a thing, with a traveling exhibit that appears at Beta events.)

There’s soooo much more that could be done, both serious and fun, and so many reasons to do it. If we step away from the manipulative rule of religions and nations and corporate masters, and self-identify as a self-willed parallel culture, Citizens of Earth, all of us … there’s no limit.

And as you’ve probably heard me say more than once … there’s not a lot of time to waste.

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  • SecMilChap

    The 19th century utopian efforts usually ended in totalitarian groups or simply economic disaster. Perhaps the WWW can empower us to make this sort of thing happen. It’s worth trying.

    • Hank Fox

      Heh. I can wait a bit on Utopia. Meanwhile, I’d like for things to be a LITTLE bit better. Human survival would also be nice.

  • douglaslm

    Every little bit that we can do to promote rational thought will make a difference in the long run. There are major groups and big money (ex. The Templeton Foundation and Koch and Rupert Murdoch) that spend millions promoting irrational thinking, spirituality, disinformation and out right lies. And as near as I can tell these group do it all for their own profit. Either in money or power base.
    I personally do not see a way to counter such a well funded campaign on a large scale, but smaller independent people (such as Hank) do make a difference. And I believe these small pieces can and will snowball into a larger force for rationality.
    We do have to be aware and not get stopped or side tracked (like what happened to the occupy movement). And to continue my snowball analogy I think this movement, this Beta Culture, this A+ is already heading down hill. We just need to guide it a little and keep it rolling.

    • Anonymous Atheist

      From what I’ve seen, Occupy’s main difficulty wasn’t so much getting ‘sidetracked’ as it was getting stamped out by law enforcement, repeatedly and vigorously. :(

  • douglaslm

    I would like to nominate the colonial tricorner hat as the official Beta Culture Funny Hat.

  • Randomfactor

    Re: the language thing, when I was growing up I ran across Basic English, which made do with 850 words.

    I suspect English will be the Beta language, if anything. Although some sign is definitely handy.

    • Hank Fox

      English is hard to learn, just as any real language is. I’m thinking of a collection of words with minimal syntax that would allow you to convey basic ideas to people anywhere in the world.

      Of course you’d learn the local language if you planned to conduct business or live there long-term. It might also turn out that English will be the one most people speak in common.

      Meanwhile, for those of us just wanting a basic chat, something you could learn in a matter of weeks, a sign language might be the less arduous alternative.

  • Randomfactor

    Hah! Here’s the Basic English list of 850 words.

    Guess which all-too-common word isn’t in there? Hint: It’s quite often capitalized…

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Basic_English_word_list

  • Anonymous Atheist

    This is a great list of inspirational ideas! :)

    Now if I may share an urgent somewhat-off-topic appeal here, for some charities trying to make the world a little bit better today:

    Tonight is the last chance to vote for Secular Student Alliance, Foundation Beyond Belief, and Camp Quest to receive grants from Chase! Voting ends in a few hours, at 11:59pm ET on Sep 19, and SSA in particular is about to miss out on $30,000, as it has fallen from the $50,000 level to the $20,000 level today. If you have a Facebook account or a Chase bank account, please go vote, and tell your friends too! If you have neither, please tell your friends who do!
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/06/help-the-secular-student-alliance-and-the-foundation-beyond-belief-win-up-to-250000/

  • Randomfactor

    Voted, twice.

  • dd

    Well, I’ll have to get myself onto the committee that decides how businesses are labelled, and vote for psychics and spirit mediums to be labelled “entertainment,” because I think they can be fun when not misrepresented.

    And, regarding artificial sweeteners, plenty of people prefer them to regular sugar, and things have only recently gotten to the point where you can now order something at most places that contains neither caffeine NOR sugar (besides water). I don’t want to see any backsliding on that front.

    • Hank Fox

      But bear in mind that this is not some radical global change. Socially speaking, Beta will be a fairly minor player for a long time to come. Even IF it was to choose “no artificial sweetener” as a cultural landmark, nothing would stop a member from getting it elsewhere.

      Well, except for the Ceremony of DisBetament, with The 700 Hisses and Boos, and the Throwing of Spaghetti Ritual of Shamed Departure. Everyone being careful, of course, not to soil the official Funny Hats.

      As to psychics and spirit mediums being fun … hmm. To you, maybe. To others — less intelligent, less well educated, less self-possessed, and living in poorer communities where the reception is less “entertainment” and more “serious life adviser” — I can only see the harm they might do.

  • dgrasett

    Is there any chance that you will bring the concept to Ottawa in November?

    • Hank Fox

      I’d love to. (The organizers would have to invite me.)

      I still have some work to do to flesh out the basic concept, but I’d love to start getting the idea before a wider audience.

  • rickschauer

    Hank, in the strategy area have you read “One From Many” by Dee Hock? “Chaordic” or from chaos – order is his message and how to establish order through problem solving-committees, sans violence. Interesting read about how to initiate immense change.

    Of course you could always go the Sun Tzu “change” route and war it out…figure a way for a military coup?

    Otherwise, I’m thinking either Letters of Confederation or a Petition, which I recommend, which clearly outlines intended actions and intentions but equally important, non-actions, etc.

    -I love it, Beta Brother!

    ps…Forget the funny hats…”secret handshake” or gang-sign, man!

    • Hank Fox

      Thank you for the book recommendation! Just ordered it.

      Goal-wise, I’m looking for a cooperative campaign rather than Art of War. At some point, if this is all going to become real, some of us are going to have to begin talking about where we really want/need to go, and how to engage others in it. That can only come after I’ve gotten a slightly less rough idea of what the thing IS.

      As to handshakes and signs, I’m certainly open. But think it through: The Supreme Exalted Impressive Grand Eminence of Beta (SEIGE) is going to require some sort of very large, very elaborate hat.

      Initially I was thinking of a soaring gold-embroidered miter, something with feathers or tassels, but since this is going to be a forward-thinking organization, probably more appropriate would be lasers or flashing lights, or possibly a small, tasteful cellphone repeater tower.

      • rickschauer

        Check out, One Billion Rising and the Robert Redford video – great example of grassroots organizing there.

        SEIGE has my support. We need to do something.


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