Sunday, September 07, 2014

Inclusive Ideologies



‘Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: "Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!" 
(The Grand Inquisitor, Fyodor Dostoevsky)

There was a spirited discussion going on until recently over at winstoninabox’s atheism blog which centred, I think, around the extent to which an ideology is responsible for unsavoury actions that are implied by that ideology. Winstoninabox disclaims any connection between atheism per se and the actions of atheist regimes, even actions taken with the stated aim of suppressing religion.  Talking heads mouth platitudes about Islam as a ‘religion of peace’, ignoring the copious statements made by Muslim radicals, impeccably supported by Qur’anic quotations exhorting violence. 

I can understand the motivation, I think, for trying to construe your vision of the universe, such that your ideology is lily-white and blameless of any negative consequences, but I think such an effort is doomed, and I have never ever been tempted to it myself. This is probably a historical accident arising from the fact that the ideologies I have most closely associated myself with since before I was consciously aware there were ideologies were the ideologies associated with the Roman Catholic Church and the United States of America. Those are things that are too large, too complicated, to avoid throwing up countless examples of people doing bad things and logically justifying them by the ideology. You cannot pretend that the Inquisition was not logically connected to Catholicism; you cannot pretend that Sherman’s march through Georgia was an aberration unconnected to the principles of republican federalism. You have to say, ‘yes, but’ and accept your ideology as the flawed thing striving towards perfection that it is. In a more fundamental way, this is also the Catholic way of looking at everything, so is very deep in my bones. I don’t expect my ideology to be faultless any more than I expect myself to be faultless.

Anyhow, my point, and where I am hoping to turn the discussion on vex cathedra eventually, is this:
Let’s say I have been convinced, like Tim Minchin, that life is meaningless. However, I am not just an individual, but part of a society. The implications of what I believe affect my whole society. When my belief is competing in idea space, I need to consider those implications with the same ruthless honesty that I employed in coming to my stark realisation that life is meaningless. And one of those implications arises from the fact that people do not like to believe that life is meaningless. Let us say my belief steamrolls through my society, overcoming weak and divided ideologies that assert life has a meaning. And then someone else comes along and says, speaking with authority, not like the scribes and pharisees: of course life has a meaning. And it is this meaning, here (points). Join us! They will have a pretty good run of it. Because if someone doesn’t have a very strong intellectual structure supporting their belief that life is meaningless, it will just collapse like a house of cards when exposed to a sufficiently confident assertion that life has a meaning. To the extent that I am successful in propagating my belief, I am softening up society for a belief that might be might be diametrically opposed to mine. So, isn’t it better, in any true sense of the word, for me to behave like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor? To stare into the abyss of meaninglessness, realise that it is too much for people to bear, and turn back. Never forgetting the abyss, and the hole it leaves in my own soul, but devoting myself for the good of others to supporting a belief system I don’t believe in. Because  I have seen that  the society that is implied by that belief system will work, if the belief system is confidently asserted, and the people of that society will be happy and healthy, like the people of Utah are happy and healthy, and they will not be seduced into madness and death by prophets bearing strange faiths out of the desert.


 I have probably written here before of a conversation I had in August 2001, with one of the principal figures of a conservative Catholic student group, where he asserted that the principal conflict of the 21st century would be the same as the principal conflict of the 12th century: a struggle between Christianity and Islam. I thought he was right then. Thirteen years later, I still think he was right, and his assertion seems less contrarian with each passing year.


13 comments:

Marco Parigi said...

I do agree with most of this post, but I don't think the struggle between Islam and Christianity will describe much of the conflict in the 21st century. Additionally, the idea of grand conflicts between major religions falls into the hands of ath thinkers that like to believe conflict is caused by the religious ideology that defines them, but never by the lack thereof, or the drive to clamp down on religion.

My aim in vex cathedra was that it is not the ideology itself which drives unsavoury actions, but the correlated views and associated peer pressure within the ideology. These corellated views and peer pressure are at least as evident in isms such as atheism as they are in religions, even without a formal written code/bible. Thus ath is at least as dangerous as religions given such a contiguous peer group.

Marco Parigi said...

I think a new Cold War of sorts will define the 21st century.

Chris Fellows said...

I guess I am thinking about an ideological conflict, more than a boots-on-the-ground conflict. Are there other ideologies you foresee having an equally strong ability to command the allegiance of people? I don't think Minchin's vision is a very attractive one, and the people one would hope would be vigorously defending Enlightenment values in the West are doing no such thing. There is the altruistic vision of materialist prosperity, but once poverty is overcome it will be hard to maintain any socialist oer capitalist enthusiasm as such, methinks - the movers and shakers will be motivated by a more transcendental ideology.

Marco Parigi said...

I am thinking along the lines of nationalist and/or imperialism style of ideologies. The Cold War had a background of socialism vs capitalism but I think that will morph as the idealism in those blocks has evolved, and the borders between blocks has changed. The blocks are approximately east vs west, but RMP has a large chunk of the East as more and more, it appears to side with Russia. It is hard to describe how the ideologies will be attractive, but they will more or less be separated by geography and government.

Chris Fellows said...

I'm still confidently predicting the RMP will collapse sometime between 2017 and 2021. The strongly nationalist powers will intimidate the more weakly nationalist ones, and there will be a fluid and dangerous shifting of alliances that we have not seen for centuries on a global scale, but they will all be hollow inside and the transcendental ideologies will engage in a furious struggle for their souls. IMHO.

Marco Parigi said...

Well - I have to disagree, but based on a series of anecdotal observations regarding the philosophies of individual Chinese (etc.). The long and the short of it, is that they are (in an ideological sense) buying it. Mainly now ath views with a touch of Confucian as a background, with strong nationalist sentiment in the foreground to the extent of agreeing with the draconian measures of the Government. Russians even more so.

Marco Parigi said...

BTW have you read my latest blog post regarding M-Life? It kind of started as a response to your video regarding abiogenesis.

Chris Fellows said...

Yes, I did see your M(arco)-Life post - I haven't had any very coherent thoughts to add to it yet!

Marco Parigi said...

Part of my motive in going in this direction was the part of your review of Lennox, where you claimed a false dichotomy, and I felt you protested too much. You mentioned something along the line of innumerate narratives other than multiple universes and divine creation to explain the improbable.

I noted that you did something similar with your abiogenesis video, dismissing creation and panspermian views in barely a sentence. There are myriad other possibilities consistent with current observations. It is just peer pressure pulling us into these various camps.

Chris Fellows said...

I think it is the 'eternal universe' sort of panspermia that I dismissed very briefly. I haven't belaboured the point in the video, since I don't want to make statements that will distract overly from my main, destructive, mission of showing the inadequacy of the current models; but I certainly don't assert that ancestral forms of not-LAWKI necessarily lived on Earth, nor that 'arising from' does not include 'consciously designed by'. I think the very first (or second) post in my blog under my own name is a positive one about the possibility of non-supernatural 'intelligent design' as an origin for LAWKI.

Marco Parigi said...

Re: showing the inadequacy of the current models.

I agree completely with the gist of this. The models are all hopelessly inadequate. The problem to me is that you accept the premise that I don't - That regardless of whether LAWKI life was designed or not, we still need the process of (physical, chemical?) abiogenesis to explain where non-LAWKI life began. My premise is that the original non-LAWKI life originated with the Big Bang, and that it is so far removed from LAWKI that there is no way to comprehend whatever process created it. What we can comprehend is the most proximal non-LAWKI life and how LAWKI life came from that - And that is where I believe "comets" fit into the picture.

Chris Fellows said...

My premise is that the original non-LAWKI life originated with the Big Bang, and that it is so far removed from LAWKI that there is no way to comprehend whatever process created it.

Yes, and this is the premise I am confident I will always reject. I am not so crazy as Dawkins to claim that the whole of the universe can be comprehended from inside of it, but the history of human thought shows that again and again things that have been ruled out as 'there is no way for us to comprehend X' have been brought into the realm of science. I am an agnostic where grand generalities are concerned: but in all specific particulars I maintain a deep and abiding faith in science.

Marco Parigi said...

Let me rephrase that then "Non LAWKI life originated with the Big Bang, and that it is so far removed from LAWKI that scientists will not recognise it as M-Life, certainly not within our lifetime" It is a statement of stubbornness of scientists with holding on to models well past their use by date, and the pointlessness of looking for abiogenesis chemically, if it never happened chemically, not about science, per se.