Give any philosophy absolute power, and you take away its sanity. This is the recurring Catch22 that has dogged thinkers about civilisation and society over the last 3000 years.
Giving black people, women, the disabled and Roman Christians an even break were fine and much-needed ideas. But the minute the Establishment allies itself to such things, we get everything from political correctness and feminist catechism to the Spanish Inquisition.
Eventually, it all shelters under the heading of what Jean-Jacques Rousseau described as – with memorable French irony – “forcing people to be free”.
Survey those societies where Islam has been around for a long time with neither collaboration nor condemnation from the State, and you could (until twenty years ago) have found lots of harmless religionists minding their own business. But stick some fundamentalists into the equation, mix that with a revolution where Islam is at the core of the new State….and you get something entirely different.
Precisely the same was true of Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages, English Puritanism three centuries later, and Jihadism in the 21st century. Spanish conquistadores hacked South American unbelievers limb from limb, Cromwell’s armies slaughtered Irish Catholics on an unbelievable scale, and now ISIS burns infidels alive while they celebrate their saviours’s birth in Churches across central Africa.
For myself, I despise organised religion – while admiring the humanity of many of its adherents, and retaining a healthy scepticism about the concept of a random Universe. I do think there is a pattern. I do wonder why geniuses pop up every thousand years or so and suggest better ways to get on with each other.
But the one thing I know for sure is that once power is handed down from prophets to Pharisees (who then politick to get State influence) the whole thing goes horribly wrong.
I don’t believe there is a jot of difference between how religions do this, and how political ideologies go about it.
Communism is a great ideal unwilling to accept human wiring’s telling influence in relation to stockpiling. Small-government Neoliberalism is a sound idea unwilling to accept why stockpiling among Alpha humans turns into the sort of greed that condemns the Betas to penury.
In the Soviet Union, China, the US and Britain, the State sold out to such flawed ideals. The USSR condemned opponents to mental institutions on the grounds of insanity. The UK’s Camerlot government today relegates opposition to the linguistic insanity of being non-violent extremists. In the contemporary United States, anyone suggesting there’s more to life than growth and productivity begets blank stares and patronising analyses. In the EU, the sacrifice of social programmes to shareholder returns is called “reform”.
In such Belief Wars, the first casualty as always is Truth.
Is there such a thing as Truth? I think there is a subject of study called empiricism. It embraces all the sciences, but especially the behaviourally observable sciences such as etymology, social anthropology, archaeology, qualitative market research, neuroscience, sub-atomic physics and football. You’ll just have to go along with me on that last one.
We like to think we have emerged from the Renaissance as rational rejectors of unsubstantiated faith. In reality, the Real remains – for millions of our species across the globe – obfuscated by the repetitive assertion and peer pressure of power-crazed nutters.
A good exercise every day is to lie on the ground, and get back into concert with your primary senses: see that which is Here, listen to that which is Now, and physically feel that which is Here and Now…the smells, tastes, and touches that we normally ignore.
We don’t need any priests and politicians to explain such things. The more you experience the obvious clarity they bring, the less you need anyone with a false God in tow to persuade you that up is down and blue is yellow.
If we all spend more time on what is – and ignore the temptation to pretend Homo sapiens is a suitable raw material for the fashioning Utopia – we will stop wasting time in the insouciant production of dystopia.
Enjoy the weekend.