FORWARD BASE B

"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Tag Archives: judaism

Towards A Post-Secular Religion

Religion remains widespread but we can’t pretend it exerts the same power over human imagination and behavior as it used to.   No one takes it quite seriously.  There are many who still go to church but with the notable exception of Muslims it would be difficult to find more than a handful of zealots who would kill or die for their religion.  And this is probably because Islam is not just made of airy ideas of God and heaven but is at least as heavily concerned with governing earthly culture, law, and politics.  By this comparison we can readily see that separation of church and state is a death blow for traditional religions.  A serious religion cannot be excluded from the state any more than gravity or magnetism could be excluded from the purview of science.  So a modern religion must encompass the entire spectrum of humanity and human endeavor and not linger as a weak, de-fanged figurehead.

We have discovered through hard trial and error that a society without a sense of larger purpose drifts into nihilism and despair.  Ever since the Enlightenment gave rise to the “separation of church and state” leaders have looked for a convincing tofu substitute for meat.  From Lenin and Hitler to Lincoln, leaders all over the world have tried to create the sacred from the secular.  Of all the secular ideologies, Nazi-ism may have come closest to generating real religious zeal but it burnt out in a few short years.  The American faith of individual and national Exceptionalism also has shown potential to inspire, but only when the going was good.  It’s easy to cheer for a home team that’s winning, so it doesn’t really count.  It’s a weak religion that can be killed by a slow economy when Judaism survived repeated conquest and exile.  All attempts at Enlightenment secular faith have ultimately failed at the thankless task of cultivating vigor and cohesion from barren soil.  No matter how it gets re-packaged, a society that is for everyone is for no-one.

The first step is to have some sort of core identity.  Islam requires enough hard-to-fake signalling that it actually means something to be part of the in-group.  Meanwhile, most Christian denominations welcome any warm body that shows up and aren’t too much more than a weekend social club for adults.  Some kind of ethnic and cultural identification helps form the core, even if it just applies to the founders.

Next, a core group has to have a grand mission to fulfill, usually to help the in-group against the out-group.  For Judaism it was the imperative to preserve and pursue the interests of the chosen people against every conceivable obstacle.
A successful mission has the ability to inspire from the top to the bottom.  A religion requires a mainstream version that addresses the needs of most people but it also needs loftier schools of philosophy, scholasticism, and mysticism to satisfy the intellects of smart and educated people.  One thing I admire about Catholicism is its scholarly tradition.  It has lasted as long as it has because it had roles for outliers.
This is a major failing of Protestant Christianity.  Because it was a reaction against Catholicism all emphasis was on the needs of the common man while neglecting the intellectual traditions.  Like most reactions, including the Enlightenment, it overcompensated in the opposite direction rather than finding a golden mean.  I was stunned when I opened a catholic bible for the first time as a teenager and saw archaeological explanations of the origins of each book with an analysis of the time and place.  To this day, many Protestant strains offer up a bible of texts from thousands of years ago without any interpretation.  It’s a mind-numbingly stupid approach for anyone who likes to think.  Protestantism as a newer experiment in religion hasn’t yet developed the traditions of exegesis that provide endless hours of entertainment for nerds and shore up the philosophical foundations of the faith.
Meanwhile, more estoteric schools of Buddhism like Zen might be examples of ideologies that favor the intellectual side with little to offer to ordinary people, but there’s mass market versions of Buddhism out there too.
The modern religion of secularism backed by holy science fails completely, though, because it offers no mission to anyone, really.  We’re just here on this rock in space, everyone’s interchangeable, and there’s a faith-based doctrine of eternal progress that inevitably gets discredited with time.  A real religion has to have answers during down times if it wants to last, not just when things are going forward as planned.  People have to have a reason to keep going even when the home team loses.  The insipid gruel of modernity has never yet succeeded in sustaining a people.  We need something better.

The chaos of impending neo-tribalism will give us plenty of new groups all looking for their own answers to the big questions within the secular vacuum.  Those that come up with the best formulas will become the ruling tribes and the lesser tribes will be placed in castes beneath until a new order eventually emerges from our modern dark ages.

Social Engineering Should Be Tested First

The best intentioned reformers often make things even worse.  But so would anyone trying to solve massive, complicated problems on the first try. It’s actually more surprising anything ever goes right.
It amazes me looking back over history to see how reformers and revolutionaries try to apply their ideologies without ever having tested them. Imagine a tech company releasing a new device without extensively testing it first or a computer programmer writing code for an entire program without ever trying to compile it. Ridiculous, yet that’s what people try to do all the time. Too often the result is disaster.
The higher castes have greater agency through which they deal with greater responsibilities. They can’t just say “oops” when there’s a big logistical screwup and a couple million people starve to death.
Any responsible sentient being in power naturally has a system to test new ways of organization before implementing them on a large scale.
Observing differences between local governments and the study of history provides lots of fertile material for hypotheses, but the devil is in the details.

There would have to be some sort of R and D department for trying out new social technologies. Perhaps there could even be reality shows of a sort where in the first round groups of maybe 150 or so live under a hypothetical social model then those groups that make it past the elimination get expanded up to 1000 and so on. There would be rules to keep it ethical. People who “die” in the experiment would just be “voted off the island” and sent home. Not being “real” would of course distort the data, but perhaps money or other incentives could make the results worthwhile. Someone who “dies” might lose all their prize money, representing a total loss.

Or to make this simpler maybe a reform simply gets tried first in a small town or a single city first and upvoted or nexted based on results. Perhaps there might be an actual experimental province set aside with discrete zones. Those who chose to live there would simply vote with their feet. In the absence of any Berlin walls, it would quickly become evident which zones people like and which they avoid and what type of people or demographics prefer different systems. Of course, the experimental province might give unrepresentative data if they attracted outliers of the population, but it could be a start. Not to mention, there would probably have to be incentives to get people to choose to live in experimental land.  Perhaps they’d sign contracts to stick around in experimentland for a year or two or else they lose all their bonuses.
As enough information was amassed from real life experiments maybe computer simulations would become more effective at projecting results and maybe programs could be written to project hypotheses for ideal social organizations taking every aspect of human nature into account that maximize both raw competitiveness and creativity/adaptability to new stressors.

Throughout history, groups have settled on something that works for the time period and then try to perpetuate it ad nauseum across milennia.  Talmudic Judaism was a brilliant way to coordinate a particular Semite tribe over 2000 years ago.  Islam turned out to be the right solution for quarreling Arab city states about 1300 years ago.  But one of the things we immediately notice is that all these systems buy a professional suite of anti-virus software to prevent change to that successful formula, even if it’s a thousand years later.
Sadly, social technologies tend to stagnate because they only ascend to apotheosis in the first place because they have serious protection against change.
The challenge before us then is how to design a society to be both resilient and highly adaptable to new stressors, so that when the next big asteroid hits, we aren’t among the dinosaurs.

The Influence of Zoroastrianism On Abrahamic Faiths

%d bloggers like this: