Please read. The insights about the differences between middle class and upper-middle class--they come about 2/3 through--are particularly notable.
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People differ; and so we discriminate. We’d rather marry someone generous and considerate than someone selfish and oblivious. We prefer doctors who are knowledgeable and attentive to ones who are incompetent and arrogant. We don’t want to sleep with someone who “forgets” to mention they are married and have active herpes, or buy a used car from an acquaintance who has turned the odometer back.
In short, we would rather collaborate with good people than bad people. However, the people we want to collaborate with are more likely to cooperate if they think we’re good people. So everyone goes around saying “I’m good! I’m good!” a million times a day.
Except that it’s really easy to say “I’m good!” even if you aren’t. Bad people go around saying “I’m good!” all day too. How do you know who is telling the truth?
This is such a difficult and important problem that much of everyone’s day consists of trying to figure out whether other people are good, and trying to convince them that you are. How?
Someone saying “I’m good!” is not credible because it’s cheap and easy. (So no one says that literally.) You are more likely to be persuaded if you see them writing a check to a charitable organization, or if they spend a weekend volunteering with you at a homeless shelter. Those are costly signals—one in money, one in time.
Religion is a costly signal. Going to church every Sunday wastes much of your leisure time, and they want ten percent of your income. Meditation retreats take a whole weekend at least; they’re excruciatingly boring, physically painful, the food is usually awful, and you aren’t supposed to get high or or play video games. In both religions you have to sit through tiresome morality lectures and pretend to be nice to everyone. These are credible signals. If you know someone is religious, you know for sure something about them; no one would do those things unless they had a compelling reason. But what is religion signaling?
Partly—this should be obvious now—religiosity signals that you are ethical. That is mainly what Consensus “Buddhist ethics” was invented for. But why does it work? Why would you believe that someone who wastes a lot of time and money on religion is ethical, rather than stupid or crazy?