Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Friday, February 17, 2006

Daily truths and eternal white lies

There is an unfortunate compartimentalization in most people's thinking, which I think is ingrained in the human mind and is explainable by evolutionary psychology. The homo sapiens living millions of years ago did not juggle a complex social life, an evolving technology, or a capacity to understand the world. It contended with very simple facts : to eat or be eaten, to be safe and warm, to kow-tow to the leader of the group.

So there was a natural cleavage between daily truths and eternal white lies. Failure to acknowledge daily truths led to suffering and death (and even acknowledging them could still lead to suffering and death). Failure to acknowledge eternal truths brought no penalty. Individual humans simply did not live long enough to suffer the consequences.

Despite the fact that science has provided the link between daily experience and eternal truths, the untrained human mind cannot make such connections. It requires a discipline that is, let's be fair, a waste of time to people who have no overriding interest in honesty (and that includes most people). This is not to say that people are inherently dishonest : just that they have no reason to pursue a program of total honesty and suffer the anxiety contained therein.

The beautiful fictions, white lies, of authority - be it the authority of gods, churches or governments - spread across the globe simply because they relieve the individual of individual responsibility, as well as give him a feeling of false security. They serve to lull mankind into a state where it can be safely plundered by force-wielders and ruling classes of all kinds. Who are we, therefore, to awake the memetic sleepwalkers ?

From this perspective, it seems that atheism, anarchism, and all other disbeliefs in authority are mere vanity. At least, that's how believers see it. They think that we make ourselves superior to them by lacking the beliefs which make their lives so simple, by accepting an unneeded complexity in our lives, by "hardening" ourselves to those beliefs.

I must make clear that I disagree completely with such an attitude. I am not an individualist because I feel superior to anyone else. In fact, implicit in my individualism is the fact that I am not special in any way. Rather, I am an individualist because it is the simple truth. I could not deny the fact that I am a separate organism with my own values, or that other people are. To deny it would be about as absurd as saying that a pile of rock has a soul. I lack belief in transcendent authorities, not because they are authorities per se (after all, I accept the authority of experts in areas about which I know nothing), but because transcendence is nonsense.

Science has given, to the clear rational mind, the bridge between daily truths and eternal truths. It has shown us that by system-building and its judicious falsification, we could progressively arrive at more and more accurate models of the greater reality, unlocking the eternal truths of natural law.

This goes completely against claims of transcendence, because one of their main attractions is the reduction of every single process to intelligent agency. Few people are actually able to understand the notion of natural law. Even most atheists are utterly unable to understand the functioning of a free market (which they think is some kind of weird right-wing chimera) and believe adamantly in "Intelligent Bureaucracy", or to understand the functioning of a material mind against the more simple belief in a singular agency called the "self".

Virtually everyone believes in some little white lie of transcendence. You shouldn't, therefore, be so harsh on Christians if they fail miserably on that level. They just believe in bigger lies than you do. And the reason why the white lie of religion has historically been so overwhelming is, I think, simply a result of memetic adaptation.

The sad part comes when a believer observes the results of his beliefs on a world scale - suffering and death - and tries to rationalize it. If I believed in a soul, I would say that moment is when your soul is destroyed - in more materialist terms, I would say that is when your moral compass is smashed to pieces. A healthy relation between our daily lives and our view of the greater reality is necessary for any kind of moral sanity.

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At 2/27/2006 3:51 PM, Blogger UberKuh declaimed...

If I understand correctly, you are saying that one little white lie we tell ourselves is to accept truth claims based on authority and not on evidence. In this sense, it seems that the very idea of authority functions as a sort of pre-heuristic, or heuristic primer you might say, to replace having to think autonomously in today's info-packed, interconnected world. So, what people are trying to transcend is the need to think for themselves, because of too much stress, not enought time, or whatever.

This is a great post. I particularly like this part:

"Science has given, to the clear rational mind, the bridge between daily truths and eternal truths. It has shown us that by system-building and its judicious falsification, we could progressively arrive at more and more accurate models of the greater reality, unlocking the eternal truths of natural law."

And what this tells me is that white lies corrupt the system, preventing a rational - and, more to the point, healthy - view of reality.

At 2/28/2006 1:54 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Yes, except that of course I do not deny that authorities can be a valid form of evidence. Like I said, I don't reject authority as long as it's legitimate and in an area about which I do not have expertise (admittedly these are about as numerous as the stars in the universe).

At 3/06/2006 9:54 AM, Blogger Simon declaimed...

Of course, if the universe is infinite, then God must exist, along with everything else.

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