Monday, October 8, 2012

Conflict Engines

So, this blogpost is going to be a little more difficult, perhaps a little more densely packed. Put on your metaphorical hard-hats, and prepare for some rampant conceptual discussion... ;)


Exhorting Exhortation

The real enemy of civilization, and of peace, is the prescription to evangelize, by whatever name you call it - jihad, proselytizing, indoctrination, brainwashing, or more philosophically, prescriptivity). In some more modern ideological camps, it is conflated with "education." It is a function of every ideology, every dogma, every moral realist doctrine. It is the perpetuation engine of a given ideology. The ideology tells you to spread the word.

Now, this function is to be understood separately from the particular prescriptions of a given ideology itself. It is the empetus to spread the ideology, built into the ideology. It is the source of the proselytizing mindset, whatever the particulars of a given ideology. Often we hear people refer to the particular prescriptions of a given ideology and seemingly think that's the end of the story, thereby justifying one ideology over another while keeping the prescriptive function. I think I shall call this the "Sam Harris Fallacy."

When I suggest critique of prescriptivity, I am suggesting much more than a mere critique of this or that moral prescription. It is not enough for me to look at, say, Islam and proclaim that it is more evil than, say, Hinduism because it prescribes stoning people. That is certainly interesting, but it is only one symptom of a much greater disease. I am suggesting a critique of prescriptivity itself - of the self-perpetuation meme of moral realism.

Who We Are

When you hear people speak of the difference between teaching children what to think and teaching them how to think, this is, in part, what is being pointed at. Teaching children how to think is to teach critical inquiry, including (perhaps even especially) into one's own ideas. This is, of course, antithetical to the rampant and pernicious notion that we are our beliefs. To be critically minded is to be beyond even your own beliefs, to be something more than a mere collection of truth-conceits. It is to entertain an idea without believing it.

Ever hear the statements...
"Stick to your guns."
"Never let them change who you are."
"Do what's right, not what you're told."
...and the like?
These are symptomatic expressions of a sickness built into our relationship with our own ideas. These prescribe that we identify ourselves, indeed define ourselves, in terms of our beliefs, in terms of mere ideas. Actually, it's even more insidious than that. They prescribe we define ourselves in terms of ideas outside ourselves that we are then to emphatically urged (sometimes coerced) into internalizing as our own.

Moral Democracy

This prescriptivity function prevents the democratization of morality, prevents a context of peaceful disagreement from being developed. It keeps people in polarized hysterics, screaming fanatics, inflexible and reflexively violent. It locks people into being cogs in dogmatic meat grinders, servants of dogma, rather than as actual participants in the open social negotiation of societal norms and mores.

One may think one is "participating" by promoting one's dogma, but you aren't actually participating in the negotiation at all. There is no negotiation to participate in. You are merely one more inflexible hard-liner subserviently pushing absolutism by metaphorically (and sometimes literally) screaming on a street corner. You are specifically prohibited from negotiating the prescriptions of the ideology.

Now some may disingenuously try to characterize all these screaming fanatics seeking to push their fanaticism as a kind of negotiation process, but it is missing an important aspect - that these are not negotiating with each other. There is no understanding that mores and norms are subject to negotiation. There is only a banging of fists on the tabletop in the name of this or that absolutist hard line, seeking to make their hard line the hard line.

As long as we think morality is an objective fact (moral realism), rather than as a negotiated social construct, we are doomed to reflexively violent and intractable conflict. Ideologies are conflict engines, and religions are the paradigm cases of conflict engines run amok, prescribing prescriptivity.

Yes, I did just conclude that religions are the enemies of civilization.



  1. "Yes, I did just conclude that religions are the enemies of civilization."

    lol. Yes, that's what it ends up coming down to in the end, doesn't it? :-)

  2. One of the few basic requirements of a civilization is that its people be able, at least, to live with each other. That takes flexibility, negotiation, and compromise - things religions are specifically designed to have nothing to do with. So, it would seem so, yes.


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