Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 01:01:55 PM EST
Or why I finally lost patience with Dawkins, et al.
A key point - based on a comment made by asdf - which I think is worth bringing out more, because it's not just a footnote, it's the main event.
This is a very sketchy bullet-point diary, but I think it's worth bringing out these ideas because they matter to anyone who's planning a long term campaign for more civilised values.
People need community, and the religions have a huge reproductive (as it were...) advantage because that's what they really provide.
Religious people aren't really defensive about dogma, or evangelical about dogma, no matter how much it seems otherwise. What they're really defensive about is their community and tribe.
So a debate about evolution (or whatever) is really a debate about people they know whom they ay have grown up with, and whom they probably consider family. A debate about whether or not the bible makes any sense at all is really a comment on people whom they see weekly, and perhaps daily. It's also an attack on their identity within their community, because they gain status and security by identifying with the aims and symbols of that community.
Unfortunately for many religions, the communities they create are dysfunctional - abusive, controlling, disconnected from reality, maintained by rage against outsiders, and full of implied personal and social stresses. This means that it's only possible to belong to the community by making huge sacrifices in personal and emotional freedom.
Why does this happen? Because luke-warm religions don't inspire anyone, and soon spiral towards extinction. (q.v the Church of England in the UK, which is a horrible patchwork of middling muddled social tradition and very vague humanitarianism which is very unlikely to survive another century.)
Religions which create buy-in - as the marketing people like to say - are far more compelling than ones that don't. And one of the most powerful kinds of buy-in is shared experience and the sense of belonging to something greater with a destiny to work out. This means religions need to be passionate and reactive and not particularly rational.
Of course the truth is that many spiritual and religious communities seem to be run by cynics, or people with personality disorders.
Even so - when life outside is so alienating, it's often more comfortable to belong to something, no matter how nonsensical, than not. Especially if it's been with you since birth. Reinventing yourself from a background with that kind of pull requires a rare degree of independence.
This is a huge problem for secular humanists. We have nothing to offer that's even remotely comparable, because even if we did organise skiing trips and sex education (which most likely wouldn't be allowed anyway) it's difficult to see how this would inspire that passionate sense of belonging and participation.
This is exactly where rationalists like Dawkins et al. miss the point. Their faith (sic) tells them that attacking the beliefs which bind these communities in intellectual terms will persuade believers to change their minds.
This is never going to work, because the beliefs are just a convenient excuse. They don't make sense because they don't have to make sense. Making sense isn't what matters to believers - (certum est, quia impossibile) - it's about the feelings, not the ideas.
This is important for progressives, because any new progressive narrative has to inspire people to feel like they're an active part of it - not in a negative oppositional way, or in a shaming way, but in a welcoming way which gives people a sense of explicit inclusion.
The Left has been very bad at this, which seems to be one reason - among others - why so many wingers loathe libruls with such an intensity. The Left typically tries to make its point with a combination of rational argument and slightly superior guilt-tripping. But many people don't do rational argument at all, so all they see and feel are the guilt trips. Which is why we now have a substantial community of people who believe that anything politically correct - which is often shorthand for progressive ideals - is inherently bad.
But it's not all bad news. The wingers could - with some time and effort - be persuaded to belong to something else, if it's presented in the right kind of inclusive way.
It's belonging that will sell them on new ideals, and I think there's a real need for it at the moment. What made the old left influential was exactly this social element. People knew each other personally, and were willing to support each other personally. Marxism provided that sense of belonging and destiny, and - no matter how irrational it was, and how easily subverted - it created an influential movement which resulted in a social push-back.
Today one of the strangest things that has happened over the last decade or so is that civilised values have almost become a taboo. Treating people with civility and kindness, and without narcissistic get-ahead cynicism, is seen as some kind of shocking reversion to pre-Randian barbarian values.
As an exercise in social engineering, it's interesting to wonder what would happen if these elements could be blended to produce a narrative that included elements of belonging, solidarity, subversive civility, and progressive teleology packaged as destiny.