Category Archives: politics

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On the Problem of Orcs


Orcs are popular characters in a certain kind of fantasy story, and more recently also in the kind of games based on it. While I certainly love the works of J.R.R.Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy and the guy who coined the term ‘orc’, there is something dark to the idea too with a lot of potential for evil abuse,which is the ‘problem of the orcs’ that I will try to explore in this essay.

Let’s start first with the beginning, and with the definition of our main term. Tolkiens orcs are humanoids, a kind of goblin. Most notably orcs are dangerous and ugly and live underground, use violence freely, usually don’t like sunlight, and even eat the meat of humans when they can. But the most characteristic thing about orcs in the middle-Earth universe is that they are pure evil. Not just a bit, but completely. Orcs are pure monsters that are thoroughly bad, so much that there is no chance at all of one of them ever being good.

Their evilness has something to do with their role and origin. They are used by the dark lord Sauron, created by the powers of evil, and might even be dependent upon him. So them being instruments of evil, the only thing anyone on the good side can do with them is destroy them. Unlike humans and most fantasy humanoids no matter how evil in Tolkiens books, there is no chance for redemption or reform for the orc. We can see the difference very clearly in the LOTR books. When the battle of helms deep is over, the surviving humans from the enemy, originally recruited by the fallen wizard Saruman get mercy. They are humans. Same with other beings including the repulsive and quite evil creature Gollum -technically more or less a mutated hobbit deformed by evil-, who does get the benefit of the doubt from Gandalf.

But no such thing ever happens for orcs.

Orcs are in a way flat characters. They are an archetype for something like the executive forces of evil. A personification of the forces of destruction, hate and decay in the form of a more or less humanoid sentient being which is a slave of the dark lord. And in a story of fight between good and evil there is only one thing that can be done with them: they need to be destroyed! All of them! Without mercy!

A good orc is a dead orc!

Now I do like Tolkien and his books. And I understand his use of beings that are pure evil as instruments of the evil dark lord. Such things might indeed exist in fictional worlds (or even our world!) They can also have a lot of symbolical meanings: the evils we have to fight in either our society or our own lives (what some Muslims call the greater Jihad) or even literal demons if you believe in those.

But still there is a big problem with the idea of the orc, although not in the idea itself but more in the possible abuse of the idea. The orc trope of a humanoid being that is purely evil and utterly beyond redemption, and ultimately just destined for destruction when good conquers evil is can easily go wrong.

This is probably one of the reasons Tolkien didn’t like his LOTR trilogy to be seen as allegorical and a symbolic retelling of WWI by the way. Even with all the forces of evil in the background all Germans are still humans, and not orcs and I am quite sure that Tolkien as a Catholic would never equate humans with orcs, even though they’re on the other side of a war.

The picture of an orc is powerful in propaganda techniques, and very dangerous. From the moment we turn any human being into an orc, we cross the line of dehumanisation. It’s a technique that is as old as human wars probably. And it’s wrong and evil, at least as dark as the heart of the worst orc of Mordor! But it often works. Humans like to think in ‘us and them’ dichotomies, and sometimes the ‘them’ side is seen as so ‘other’ and so dangerous that they evil and beyond redemption, and killing them is the only option. The enemy gets reduced to a kind of orcs.

Certainly this is an irrational impulse, and from any rational Christian or humanist POV this purely is an abomination. Every human being is made in Gods image, and no human is beyond redemption. But strangely enough Christians sometimes use similar techniques, especially when influenced by certain endtimes-stories. Johan Klein Haneveld in a recent essay about Christian fantasy and endtimes-stories (in Dutch, sorry) notes how in the ‘Left behind’ series the non-believers are reduced to something that in the terminology of this post can be seen as an equivalent as an orc. In fact the whole dispensationalist endtimes scenario in which the unbelievers are part of the ‘forces of evil’ makes it hard for certain Christians to see the other as human.

Talking about a friend who believed in an update of the dispensational endtimes story which saw a union of Muslim countries as the final oppressors (instead of the EU or UN in earlier versions) of the endtimes, Johan remarks:

If you portray people as an enemy, you’ll treat them likewise. My friend admitted that it was hard for him to love Muslims, since he believed in this view of the future. He needed to do his best to see them as individuals, and not take them responsible for the tribulation that would follow in the endtimes.
Likewise the ‘Left Behind’  series didn’t help Christians to love their enemies. (…) No, instead they stimulated ‘us-them’ thinking and aroused a fear for the evil outer world, in which everyone could turn out to be an evil oppressor of Christians. (…)
And the reader of the books was taught to see democrats, liberals and dissenters as one-dimensional characters that deserved to go to hell.

These “one-dimensional characters that deserve to go to hell” are certainly very close to orcs I would say. They are not loved, they are not mourned, and God will destroy them anyway so who bothers, good riddance! (And in this most of the words of Christ are swept under the mat, along with the most radical parts of the bible) And the potential for abuse of this discourse goes far beyond this kind of ‘Christianity’.  Later in the essay Johan quotes from a New York Times article about Racist Science Fiction in the US.

‘Ward Kendall’s 2001 “Hold Back This Day,” imagines a future in which the evil all-powerful “World Gov” has forcibly united the population of Earth under one religion and, by way of enforced race-mixing, one uniformly brown-skinned population. Jeff Huxton … slowly learns to cherish his white skin and joins a terrorist group called “Nayra” (“Aryan” spelled backwards!). They hijack a spaceship and travel to Avalon, a secret all-white colony on Mars, which has been transformed into a paradisiacal homeland.’

Johan then adds that “he has seen that plot before, and well in ‘Left behind'”. Here we see all ‘non-white’ people reduced to some kind of orcs. Something that has happened before in real life by the way, and is certainly quite evil. How those people can claim a ‘Christian’ identity is beyond me. (Jesus wasn’t even ‘white’, whatever that word even means, and he came for people of all kinds.)

Let’s not forget that all humans are of our species, and made in Gods image.

Seeing the other as an orc of any is always a dangerous lie. All lives matter! (Even non-human lives do have their importance too evidently. But that would be another post.) This is also true even if they’re on the other side of a war or conflict. Even if they’re very different. Human lives are important!

In the end the actual enemy is not the human being on the other side in the other trench who is feeling the same fear as us and wants to stay alive like us, but the forces that make us enemies. Lies, systems, powers, whatever…
No human is ever beyond a chance of redemption (even though the evil they commit remains very real) I believe that as a Christian. Even the most evil person has a capacity of repentance! The question of evil humans is an interesting one though. Maybe there indeed is a point of no return after which a certain human being is completely evil. But who are we to judge that even with the worst criminal? Half of the new testament was written by a man who tried to erase Christianity with violence before his conversion, and approved of killing Christians! Maybe there are points that for the protection of the innocent a human has to be killed in defence. That’s all possible.

But no human is an orc.

Even worse is using a form of ‘identity politics’ in which certain groups of people (the enemy, other races, one of the sexes, people of a certain persuasion or religion, the oppressed or the oppressors, fans of nickleback, whatever…) are orcs beyond redemption. This is a very grave form of dehumanisation that will make us less human, and closer to being an orc ourselves… A human is always more than a member of a certain identity group.

And so for a Christian there is no fellow human that we should see as beyond redemption. No enemy that can be turned into an orc that should be slain without mercy.

We’re all human!

what do you think?

peace

Bram

on the elven glamour of human politicians


In some fantasy stories elves and fairies (I’ll take both as roughly synonyms in this essay) are nice and friendly and very positive being, but this is not the case in a lot of actual traditional fairy stories. They often are rather sinister and sometimes even dark deceptive beings that you don’t want to meet in older European traditions, as anyone knows who has read old stories about actual elves and fairies from the UK for example. Some very interesting elves of this type appear in in Terry Pratchetts discworld series, for example in ‘Lords and Ladies’, but also in ‘the wee free men’ and the posthumously published ‘the shepherds crown’. In the latter 2 books Tiffany Aching is the heroine who needs to fight against the queen of elves, coming from another and very deceptive world in another dimension and having a lot of mind-altering trick including their so-called ‘glamour’.

This elven glamour is something like the sphere of influence where it projects a fake reality. In the case of the elves of discworld it shows for example the elven queen -called Nightshade in the last book- as creature of incredible beauty, with at moments a whole false world projected around her. She also uses her glamour to destroy the picture people have of themselves, to annihilate their confidence and self-worth filling their heads with very destructive images. At times the glamour is so strong it replaces all reality for those under its influence. Let’s not that this idea surely isn’t an invention of Sir Terry Pratchett, but a part of the fairy folklore of the British Islands:

The magic of the faeries, sometimes called ‘glamour’, is seen to be the art of illusions,movement, shape changing and enchantments. While it mostly used in the legends that told of the’noble’ faeries, some of the household faeries and wild faeries were said to possess it and to be ableto perform some minor tricks with it. A good example of this is a tale in which a mischievous pookamakes a woman lose her way in a forest by making a path disappear from her sight. According to different tales, the use of glamour is not restricted to simple illusions or tricks: inmany tales whole castles are built and with glamour. More commonly faeries use glamour to create their magnificent clothes and jewels or to make themselves more beautiful. (source)

There also are other examples of the same trick in a lot of mythologies, where for example sirenes and other monsters give themselves the appearance of beautiful women who lure in men to devour them. Only when they come too close and it’s too late the glamour fades, and the monster eats his prey…
I’ve always found this a fascinating and terrifying idea, this description a deceptive field of influence that makes and evil being more beautiful and creates a whole false reality around it, until you completely lose grip of any actual reality…

The reason why it fascinates me is are creepy parallels with our own world here (as is the case with a lot of motifs in legends and fantasy stories): Powerful and influential people often operate in the same way as queen nightshade and her minions with their charisma and charm. A powerful politician for example can weave a whole fictional world in the common thoughtfield of his people, and shut out the rest of reality outside of his own interpretation of the world. Look at the speeches of Adolf Hitler for a clear example which got extremely out of hand, but the same thing is done by all charismatic leaders to a lesser degree. Note also that this is not always done deliberately. While it’s certainly true that some of these illusion-masters knowingly weave a fictional story, there’s also others who believe in their own lies and illusions, creating their own wonderland for both themselves and the people.

Even in this world the way ‘charismatic’ people operate seems to be bordering on magic sometimes, at least in the way of being connected to group-hypnosis and NLP-like manipulation techniques and the weird art of bending of group-thoughtfields. Let’s also not forget that wilful paradigm-shifting in combination with ‘belief as a tool’ for one person already is one the basics of chaos magic and other magical traditions, and there is something very dark in manipulating a whole group of people to do so without them even realising it.

But even the strongest magic has limits. No matter how influential mass hypnosis can be, it’ll never be all encompassing. As Bob Marley sang’ ‘you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time’. Even if a glamour field might be nation-wide (only resisted by those who consciously know what they’re doing, and are actively resisting as Dietrich Bonhoeffer did in the time of Hitler) it will never encompass the whole world.

A lot of things have changed though in our times of media, where news can go further than it could ever go and reach more people than ever. Combine that with the post-truth (non-)ethics of today and you have a recipe for disaster and a potential for great deceptions of whole masses. But even magic has to follow rules and invisible ‘laws of nature’, and there are certain requirement for this glamour to work, one of them being the need of an anchor. The glamour often works by appealing to a common core myth of the group is manipulates. When those anchors are not found the glamour will miss it’s effectiveness in part, or completely.

And in some cases most of the rest of the world, missing the common ground and thus resistant to the glamour, clearly sees that the emperor is naked. And quite ugly actually, it’s not a pretty sight. It wouldn’t be able to see the fine clothes made of elaborate illusions even if tried…

(Yes, I am indeed thinking of the current US president here, but he’s just one extreme example, and this technique can be used anywhere on the political spectrum, and by other types of leaders too than just politicians, as well as artists and musicians, religious leaders of any religion, and other influential persons.)

So to conclude, what are the things you keep to keep in mind to resist this elven glamour of charismatic people?

(Assuming that we’re not up against actual elves with a strong magical glamour but humans.)

The first weapon we have is just plain reason. Keep your eyes open. Try to see what is there and not what you want to be there or have been taught should be there. This is a very hard mindfulness exercise but it’s a very important ability in this world. Second thoughts and first sight are something we should all strive to cultivate, and they will help us bring the more simple forms of deception and manipulation to the light.

Another thing we should remember is to never buy into a whole package that cannot be questioned and of which every aspect has to be glorified no matter what. Every human system or human leader will have points that need to be criticised. President Obama might have been a good president, his executions of civilians with drones around the world were something that should be called out for example.
Note here also that almost nothing is more dangerous than glorifying the lesser of two evils as good. It might be true that in some cases a tactical choice has to be made where one evil is chosen against the other, but that still means that evil has to be named. There never is any obligation to uncritically accept everything from the person you’ve voted for, except when you’re actually in you’re living in a dystopian dictatorship… It’s okay to name the few good points of the lesser evil, but if that means you accept all of the evil you’ve just sold your soul. Don’t let any person or party lure you into their elven glamour because their evil is lesser than the other side. If you have to choose between Scylla and Charybdis and Scylla eats some of your friends but your ship gets out alive you still should mourn your death and curse the serpent, not praise it.

Shane Claiborne once said that the relationship Christians should have with politicians should be something like ‘advice everyone, endorse no-one’ and I think he’s really onto something there. Yes, even the biblical heroes were people who did terrible things, but that is no reason to condone sin that destroys people or nature. We should always keep them accountable, and while I certainly believe in a second chance a person has to repent first and change his ways exhibit signs of transformation before they can be given a second chance in some cases. As we say here in Flanders, you always have to call a cow a cow… (so don’t let anyone fool you that their cow is a magical unicorn farting rainbows…)

(It’s a good idea in general to only trust people who have a certain degree of humbleness anyway. People who need to brag are often just trying to affirm theirselves and build their own world, or just lying…)

And don’t forget to keep your eyes not just on loyalty to a person, but always to Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice, and so on. Don’t ever lose your values to party loyalty. From the moment a certain leader or group or party strays from their values they should be called out for it. And all of us even the most ‘enlightened’ leader are capable of falling.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

Don’t say postmodernism to Trumpian post-truth neosophism…


BCprofHi readers,

I haven’t been very active here in 2016, especially not in the second part of the year. (I did publish 10 episodes of the scifi post-dystionian fiction story “Ghostified City’ though this fall on my fiction blog Oranderra). It might be different in 2017 in that I am going to break the hegemony of FB in my own online presence more, and am going to move discussions from FB more to this blog, and probably thus post more shorter posts here to conserve my thoughts outside of the facebook bubble.

Today’s thought from your resident couch philosopher: Trumpian post-truth epistemology in an age of ‘false news’ isn’t just post-modernism or post-postmodernism. It’s more a popularist form of neo-sophism. (original FB-status here)

I’ve seen people regularly use the straw man of ‘postmodernism’ for there being no truth at all, but can we please stop it now? Denying truth and facts is much older than postmodernism, which is much more sophisticated than ‘absolute relativism’ (a self-defeating parody of a philosophy that not much people hold) or post-truth non-epistemologies. To get something more in line with current situation look for example at the ‘pre-socratic’ sophists with whom Socrates clashed because they sold truth on demand for money. Our current post-truth pragmatism about facts is much closer to Protagoras and the likes, than to the actual European postmodernists.

The sophists, at least in the way represented by Socrates through Plato, were ‘teachers of wisdom’ who were able to use rhetorica to defend everything, including the absurd, especially when paid. (They would be great advocates of the devil…) So the straw man some like to fulminate against isn’t really postmodernism nor something new, but more a not so subtle form of neo-sophism.

Which is -just as it happened in the time of the original sophists- a logical step after real scepticism when foundations of truth erode, but not the supposed modern ‘scepticism’ that leads to a very strong enlightenment foundationalism (for example Dawkinsian ‘New atheism’) that’s in the end only fossilising into its own rigid tradition with its own conservative old farts.

I seems like the neo-sophism is only growing stronger in our era of unprecented (unpresidented?) mass media. So while I have seen American conservatives rage against relativism and postmodernism in the past, American conservatism might have become one of its own strongholds in these Trumpian days. See this interesting Morgan Guyton post too, called How did defenders of absolute truth become post-truth ideologues?

I think it’s a question of how we define absolute truth. Being committed to absolute truth can mean two very different things. On the one hand, absolute truth can signify that the universe has a single reality despite the fact that we perceive it from billions of vantage points. In this sense, absolute truth means the universe around me is not a dream that’s all in my head. The objective facts that surround me in the world matter. I don’t get to make up my own facts. There are universal laws and principles that exist independent of my subjective, culturally conditioned position.

When I was indoctrinated with absolute truth as a young evangelical, this first definition was how I was taught to understand the concept. However, I came to learn that, for evangelicals, absolute truth was not as much about the existence of universal truth as it was about obedience to an infallible authority. For conservative evangelicals, the authority to obey is of course the Bible, or more truthfully, their particular doctrinal superstructure within which they encase their interpretation of the biblical text. When you’ve made the decision to define truth as obedience to doctrine, then you’re not actually committed to the notion of a single, universal reality, because reality is whatever makes your doctrine work.

This is the Christian side of the story, which gives me a lot of cognitive dissonance btw. Nothing of the things described has any overlap with Christianity, the bible, Christ or Truth…

Note also that the sophists were strong rhetorics, who made very complicated thought constructions to persuade people of even the absurd when needed. Todays neo-sophists are not that, eh sophisticated at all, but they still sway whole groups of people over to dangerous nonsense. The power of media doesn’t seem to lessen the need for complicated intelectualism, and we might indeed be headed for an idiocracy… So much for the chronological snobbery of those who think we know everything now and who will not even care for the ideas of people from older ages…  Plain BS is already enough to convince people. No need for reason or logic or whatever… (Oh don’t you love this brave new world?)

I’m probably a very sloppy postmodernist after all, but I’m -unlike original American fundies for example- an even  worse modernist and more a Socratic-Platonist-Aritotelean here.
My postmodern side lies more in my humble epistemology, which falls in line with a lot of older and venerable traditions anyway, from Paul’s ‘we know in part’ (1 Cor 13) to Lao-Tzus ‘The Tao/Way that can be walked isn’t the real way, ‘he name that can be named is not the real name’ (Tao The Ching 1).

I think 2017 might be a good year to read some more about the Sophists though (and about any tradition that puts rhetorica before truth) , the few things I’ve read from them seemed very relevant to describe certain streams of though from this age, and yet no-one seems to speak of neo-sophism in our deceited era of being drowned in information but starved for a grain of sense…

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

On ‘social constructs’ and other layers of the onion of Reality.


Hi readers,

ajuinYes, a new blogpost that isn’t advertising my super-obscure music but that actually goes back to my counter-cultural philosophising that goes in territory that escapes both the current left and right. (My music might be addressing similar subjects as certain future or recent blogposts -including this one-though, I didn’t call the new album ‘Beware of Plato’s cavemen’ for no reason…)

So where do I begin? Let’s start with my first experience with the term ‘social construct’. I can more or less remember my surprise the first time when I ran into the term in an internet discussion years ago, I suppose with a young American feminist. When it was asserted by my conversation partner that gender was a social construct, which seemed to mean, nothing but a social construct, I made the mistake of taking that term on face value. My first reaction was that, since I did not at all recognise the definitions of male and female she was pushing unto me, social constructs by definition are contextual and bound to cultures, subcultures or even smaller groups, and thus we had to both give our definitions to proceed the conversation with more understanding. But no, for some reason the contextual specifics of ‘social constructs’ were not to be discussed about, I had to accept her rather scary views of male and female that probably where derived from a certain American conservative milieu, but that were utterly alien to me as normative.

Side note: As a father a 2 little girls, lifelong friend of women and girls, and being married to a woman I know feminism is very important. A lot of sexism exists in this world that should not exist, and it destroys people. And I’m a natural egalitarian too,but even that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything that goes under the label ‘feminism’, and some things under that name make it only worse. Let’s also say here up front that I’m no adherent of ‘critical theory’ and that I consider it an insult to postmodernism (especially when it pushes very contextual US definition of race that even have hardly anything to do with race a univeral, but that’s another story), at least phenomenologically in the versions of it that have trickled down to me through internet discussions. But feminism itself is not my subject here, a philosophical exploration of the nature of Reality is.

So to pick up on my story again, apart from the cross-cultural disconnect there firstly is the observation that I still can’t escape the notion that any social construct will always be contextual, and might thus differ from context to context, and that the internet is full of people from very different context who will have very different versions of certain ‘social constructs’. I will consider that as a given here and won’t even argue for it, because it’s too obvious for me, and I can’t imagine a possible world where this isn’t true. But there’s more…

But to get to the point, there also is the fact that I as an oldfashioned philoophical Realist do not at all agree that there that are many things at all that are purely social constructs. And I’m not even going into the problem that it seems that some ‘social constructs’ become personal constructs in our hyperindividualist postmodernist society, which in the end will make communication completely impossible, which in turn just erodes the purpose of language if driven too far when people refuse to give their own definitions and listen to those of the other side in a discussion. So we will remain on the collective level of constructs today, let’s go just with the idea that the social construct is only the last layer of the onion of the Reality of that certain subject.

What do I mean with that? There are at least 2 other layers that I am able to identify that might play a role. The most important one is the plain material-reality layer, which I will call Aristotelean for now.  And then there’s the even deeper Platonist layer behind it. (see this post for more on these ideas) We’ll stick with the example of gender here to keep it a bit practical, but the principle is more or less applicable to all kinds of realities.

(Yes, this model might be a 3-way dialectic synthesis of 2 ancient and a modern epistemology, but it’s the only way for me to make sense of Reality. I’m not saying it’s the last word on everything, it’s just the basic framework for a view on Reality that still can be refined a lot.)

Note also that we’re firstly talking about descriptions of reality, but that some take it much further, and see their own constructs or translations of deeper layer as not merely descriptive but also prescriptive. This can get very problematic, also because it often is a layer confusion, but more about that later.

So the 3 layers that I will talk about now are:
1.) the Platonist layer, the a priori part, the Deeper Idea behind something, residing somewhere in a Metaphysical dimension or the mind of God or something like that, or the Tao or Buddha nature layer if we speak from other paradigms, the one which includes the teleological dimension too, and is usually completely denied by materialists and physicalists. The God/Goddess archetypes in certain forms of Wicca are also based in this.

The problem with this layer, as with all absolutes, is that we have no direct access to it, and that we only have translations of it in human modes of interpretation. So while I do think that it is important to acknowledge that there is a Deeper Reality behind male and female, I will hesitate to say anything definitive about it. I almost always disagree with people who think they have something to say about it anyway. Which is why I disagree with C.S. Lewis on gender roles for example… His assertions about gender roles are based in his claims about the Platonic layer of the reality of gender, with which I disagree.

It’s not because something exists that we can say definitive things about it, and these layers of Reality are beyond us, even though they are the source of our Reality as much as the observed regularities we do call the ‘laws of nature’.

(Let’ also for completeness notice here that there is a variation of prescriptive notions of reality that is purely based on the Divine Will, which is very important in certain traditions. Which is where philosophical Nominalism becomes dangerous, but that’s yet again another story)

I know some people will dismiss this layer altogether,because it doesn’t fit into their worldview, but even they have to consider that this layer is heavily assumed by a lot of people, and cannot be translated to ‘social constructs’ in their worldview. We can disagree about whether something is just a social construct or not or even how much of it is, but if we don’t realise that for the other things are a much deeper reality than that we will not even be able to communicate. And even dismissing this layer as an illusion doesn’t mean that the 2 other less otherworldly layers that follow are not at least equally important…

2.) The ‘mundane world’ reality, which I’ve called Aristotelean by lack of a better term. The thingness of the thing that is residing in the physical reality of the thing itself, and not in some world of ideas. There is the reality of people being male and female (or non-binary) that is rooted in the material reality of our bodies, in their differences, in hormones, etc… No matter how much we say ‘mind over matter’, in the end this layer is much more accessible and clearer than the a priori first layer, and while partly under influence of the a posteriori third layer it still is the only actual substantial one. An important part of reality resides in our material dimension.

3.) The outer layer of the ‘social constructs’ of a given society or other human context here. These are a posteriori constructions residing in our common thoughtfield. It is a way to make the reality more concrete in societal norms and pictures, sometimes in not so healthy ways if we take our example of gender and the roles associated with it. It is a layer of interpretation and application, and one that can differ very much from context to context. Let’s also note again that the second and third layer are intertwined and do influence each other. This still doesn’t mean that there’s only one layer. It would be very naive to put everything in either the ‘biological reality’ or “social construct’ category while dismissing the validity of the other category altogether, yet it seems very tempting to do so for some people…

If we keep thee different layer in mind we see several problem that can arise.

Like I said the third layer is a translation and application of the second layer into our human cultures. But most translations that we make of the Aristotelean layer (not to mention the Platonic one) into social constructs are incomplete and unbalanced. They might for example stem from a very narrow sample of the described reality that is seen as normative by a chosen group. In certain milieus extraverted men are highly favoured over male introverts for example, even though those personality traits have nothing to do with sex or gender at all. There is nothing unmasculine about an introvert and deep thinking or even deep feeling man at all. There is a variety of personality types among men and a similar spectrum among women. So linking preferred personality types to some kind of gender essentialism is always bad for those who don’t fit in, for reasons that have nothing with non-gender-binary identity at all. This can be hard for people finding their identity when the roles are mere descriptions, and much worse when they are meant to be prescriptive…

Actually whenever we turn from descriptive to prescriptive there always is a danger already… But I suppose that’s too obvious to go deeper into now.

A last big problem that I will address is the confusion of layers, which is a problem especially in combination with being too prescriptive, and it also makes communication impossible when people assume a certain thing to be in a completely different layer. (Which very often happens in discussions about gender between a certain kind of ‘conservatives’ and a certain kind of ‘progressives’ for example)

A lot of people in more ‘conservative’ mindsets have claimed insights into what I called the Platonic layer throughout the ages to justify mere social constructs as absolutes. Some modernist on the other hand have tried to exaggerate dubious cultural differences (also social construct layer) on biological differences (Aritotelean layer) while that was only half of the story. On the other hand, there are certainly actual differences between men and women (and a minority people who fall outside of the duality) that are located in deeper layers of Reality than just social constructs too. And then there’ the whole ‘gender is only a social construct that ha nothing to do with biological sex’, that’s only confusing stuff even more. Especially because there is nothing left at all to turn to if the constructs one grew up with turned out to be more than problematic and have to be discarded because they did both not correspond enough with reality on the one hand while they did  also create a reality that was very destructive on the other hand. If there’s no deeper reality to which interpretations can be adjusted, not much is left than constructing something by oneself.

Another example of this layer confusion within Christianity can be found in how we read the line from Paul in the bible about ‘doesn’t nature tell us it’s a shame for a man to have long hair’. Any post-enlightenment thinker who has read enough blahblah from the people in recent centuries about ‘natural this’ and ‘natural that’ will interpret ‘nature’ as a deeper layer of at least Aristotelean nature, but from the context it’s clear Paul is talking about what we’d call culture rather than nature, and thus just referring to social constructs of his time and culture. As a man with long hair I have met some weird Christians who told me that my long hair was unnatural and against Gods created order though. (Luckily not often)

I think this was enough for a rant about what I think of when I see the word ‘social construct’.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

 

On the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking


Hmm, I’m probably  back, moFoto0067re or less… This is a post that has been waiting to get finished for moths anyway, and it’s one  in which I try to pin down a problem that I see in this world without having a proper term to describe it (as far as I’m aware) so I can use my self-coined term later and link to this post. It’s a thought-error that I will call the logical fallacy of package-deal thinking by lack of a better name.

We like in a world ruled by semantics, and yet sometimes for most people nameless things are more important than the named things that we see with every 3 mouseclicks. So I write this because I have the idea that it’s very important for all of us to be able recognise and be conscious of this thought error which is also a potent tool for manipulation, lest we be lured into potentially dangerous ideologies because they have just one thing in common with us and with Truth or general common sense. The fact that there doesn’t even seem to be a commonly used term to describe what I’m writing about here today is beyond worrying actually. (I do actually hope that someone proves me wrong and gives me a term and tells me it’s a widely recognised problem. Please do!!!)

So what do I mean with the ‘logical fallacy of package-deal thinking’? I would suppose the name is quite clear but I’ll take some examples here to explain it further. Let’s use American culture as a source of examples today because it’s so pervasive in and beyond the English-speaking internet, and because a lot of my readers seem to be Americans for some reason.
So again, correct me if I’m wrong and inaccurately describe American culture, but as I perceive it a lot of people in the US seem to think for example that as a Christian one is ‘republican’, and thus naturally for unrestricted gun ownership, and for whatever goes under the name of capitalism today. The same goes with the idea that ‘pro-life’ (being against abortion) is related to being for the death penalty and pro whatever war America is waging overseas at the moment.

I do hope that I’m just rehashing faulty stereotypes here as an ignorant European who doesn’t understand American culture, because making these bundles of concepts is actually completely nonsense. There actually is a lot more reason to be anti-war and death penalty if one is ‘pro-life’ (especially if one wants that term to have any meaning beyond the Orwellian redefinitions of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ in the US abortion debates) .

The only connection is a historical context.

Or take the idea of ‘republicanism’. In Belgium a republican would be someone who is against the monarchy and in favour of a republic (like someone yelling ‘vive la republique’ at the coronation ceremony of the king  ). This is Jesus_gun-210x210not connected to anything else the ballast that the American Republican party has accumulated in the last decades, which would baffle an oldschool American republican too. So the thought-package connected to ‘republicanism’ (mostly the same things as go together with American ‘conservative’ ideology) is a very arbitrary box of unrelated stuff jumbled together by history and local culture.
In Northern Ireland a republican might be someone who is for the ‘Catholics’ (Irish nationalists) and against the Protestants and England.
So what’s the problem? It’s is very simple: Certain concepts that are actually unrelated are in peoples mind intrinsically tied to each other into packages, often under some umbrella term (which also changes meaning contextually, language isn’t fixed either and can be quiet fluid…) But except for that quite arbitrary thought-package in a certain context, there actually is no connection between the different things tied together at all.

Christianity has nothing to do with favouring ‘republicanism’ over a monarchy or even a direct democracy. Favouring a republic has nothing to do with capitalism or with Christianity at all, etc etc…

Most of these package deals are very contextual and have a very random historical origin of how they got lumped together.

But there’s more…
Most stereotypes are based on the same thing, and in these cases it’s often just generalisations that might be true for a majority of the group described. Assuming that I like cars, watching sports, enjoy violent films and have no respect for women just because I am a man would be a good example. (None of these applies to me btw. Sorry Mark Driscoll…)

To use more hip lingo, these idea-packages are somehow a subspecies of the in certain circles currently very popular ‘social constructs’. In fact they are are accidental (or in some cases manufactured) constructs of our culture, which are, like all constructs  actually very contextually defined, and often rather fluid and in most cases variable over time and space. But still in a given context they seem quite solid and it’s often very hard to go against them.

It also makes intercultural communication problematic. In the US something ‘conservative’ that is supposed to be connected to Christianity is obsessed with free market capitalism. In Belgium it’s the liberal party that has a similar ideology and is quite anti-religious…(well, no surprise, no matter what Americans call it is still neo-liberalism…) So our packages are completely incompatible. It’s liberalism and socialism that are on opposite sides over here…

And still we need the complete deconstruction of those packages if we want to do justice to reality and the people we encounter. Which is not always simple, and it can take a lot of energy to have to go against a certain ingrained package-deal that is taken for granted time after time after time. It can get very tiring, and needs understanding from the other side too (which won’t always come!).

And undeconstructed packages can actually make all meaningful conversation impossible…

It’s very hard to see through those package deals, and to not get tangled up in the guilt-by-association tactics that often flow from it. But it’s on everyones interest that we learn to see and avoid this logical fallacy.

Anyone with me?

peace

Bram

On the dangers of our centrated thinking


One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

AnkocToday’s post is one of those things I need to write down so I can link to it later, instead of having to give this explanation every time… The Brian McLaren quote above doesn’t only describe the problem I’m talking about quite well, but it also might foreshadow some later thoughts on some of the things that ‘the emerging church’ promised to go beyond without any such thng ever happening. (The problem sometimes is even more perfected in American ‘progressive Christianity’ as far as I can see…)

The term ‘centrated thinking’ in the title is borrowed from Piagets theory of psychological development by lack of a better word to describe it elsewhere, but I will use it in a much broader sense. Let’s first start with the wikipedia definition for those who are uninitiated in the theory or have forgotten it bPiagety now:

In psychology, centration is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other, possibly relevant aspects. Introduced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget through his cognitive-developmental stage theory, centration is a behaviour often demonstrated in the preoperational stage.

Yes, I do know that Piaget is speaking about small children in the pre-operational phase here as he calls it, but the same thing he described but manifesting in other forms is also happening all the time in adult human thought. We always look at the world through a certain lens. We are not omni-present to look at a situation from every side, cannot calculate all angles in, and would not have the time and energy to do so even if we could.

So very often people tend to frame their thoughts through a very specific lens, finding only one aspect or dimension of reality important or even real, and ignoring or negating all the rest. Often the idea is that whatever lens they have is the most important thing that explains everything, while all the rest is just irrelevant.
This has something to do with out human hunger for a simple explanation for life, the universe and everything. (Well, duh, 42!)
The ancient Greek philosophers for example were busy looking for the archè or principle on which the whole of existence was based. For Thales of Miletus it was water on which everything was based,his pupil Anaximander thought it was the Anaximandermore vague ‘indefinite’ or apeiron, while Anaximenes would say that it’s air. (Yes, all 4 elements have been seen as archè by one Philosopher or another in those days, and they were first combined by Empedocles as the 4 elements we know now, but that’s another story) Pythagoras on the other hand posited that everything was based on math and numbers.

Not much has changed since the centrated woldviews of those ancient bearded guys on their faraway Turkish or Greek coast… Freud said that everything in human behaviour is based in sex, and both communists and ‘capitalsts’ have fallen for the dangerous idea of Marx that reality should first and foremost be framed in terms of economics. And then there are more postmodern theories that have the archè of our humanity based in language, or power dynamics, etc…

Let me repeat that nothing is wrong with looking at the world through a certain lens and thus ignoring other parameters or whole dimensions. It’s unavoidable even, and we need to do this if we want to be able to understand the world around us at all! The more parameter we leave out, the more we can focus on details and really look at what’s going on.

But we should NEVER forget that it only is a lens. Power games are only one of the many things going on in human relationships and certainly not always our main motivator. Economics are one dimension of our reality, but to say it’s more important than other things is not reality but a choice. A very dangerous one. And so on…

If we forget that any of these centrated ways of explaining reality and our human existence are just possible lenses that focus on only certain dimensions of existence, we get in trouble easily. There are always more factors that can be looked at and probably even more that we aren’t even able to see, and reducing any issue to just one angle is always doing violence to the complicated reality we inhabit!

Nuance, and looking to all viewpoints and stories is always needed. And evidently it is always dehumanising to reduce people to just one aspect of their being and then completely fold their identity into that aspect, no matter if it’s sex/gender, race, culture, status in power/privilege, whatever… People are always more than that, and cannot be reduced to any of those. Relationships and human motives always based on more things than we know.

So I have to end with a warning about a certain line of thought that’s pervasive in certain social justice circles nowadays. No matter on what side of the line they are, dehumanising someone as an ‘oppressor’ (a common way to centrate human animalfarmidentity on in certain contemporary circles) and then dismissing them as a human being that has nothing to contribute is as dehumanising as the things the whole attitude wants to erase. Things that should be erased indeed, if we are to treat others like humans, but animal farm revolutions are NOT the way

Humans are always more complicated. Reality is always more complicated. We need centrated theories because that’s how we operate as humans. But we also need to see them for what they are, and to never take any theory at all as comprehensively describing Reality, humans, or God (yes, the same problem is very present in modernist and other theology too, but I don’t have the time here to go into that). We’ll only do violence to whatever we describe if  we think that our centrated theories describe all there is…

Always stay humble, be open to learn, and be open listen to everyone in a certain issue. Open your eyes for nuance, and don’t forget that the world is often not black’n white, nor grey, but it has many colours, some of which we can’t see. (Which doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Bees can see ultra-violet marks of flowers for example)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also the following posts:

Lust is not about sex but power and control?
The unhelpfulness of words like ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.
The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…

 

 

The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…


Today we will explore the following potentially controversial one-liner:

Hate and violence are an infection that often spreads in new ways through their victims.

So what does that mean? It’s just another way of describing the cycle of violence, that so often works as a vicious circle….

From the beginning of our human history, certain forms of evil have always been furthering themselves in the form a spiral of violence. This spiral of violence works a bit like a zombie apocalypse: if the zombie bites you, you get infected with ‘zombieism’ and thus become one yourself, and you will most probably bite others too.
Surely my comparison isn’t perfect: The big difference here is that zombies generally work together against uninfected humans, while the evil aroused in us by violence and hate done to us is mostly directed to those who infected us with it. But hate and violence do work like an infection passed on to their victims nonetheless.

The principle is very simple: other people filled with hate and violence towards us do evil to us, and that damages us (or even kills us or people around us) and part the reaction to that evil is that it creates similar hate and violence growing inside of us.
It is probably one of the least-recognised effects of evil done to us, although one of the most destructive too. Evil done to us often grows more evil in us and thus generates a  new host from which it can operate. It’s often very simple: the people attacked in a barbaric war will fight back with equal barbarism. The oppressed become the oppressed. The hurt will become the hurting one. Thanimalfarme bullied becomes the bully…
The violated go on violating the violator and those who are in his camp, and so on…  The spiral of violence is sad and often very predictable, and will never bring us forward. The only thing that come from such a reaction is new variations on the well-known ‘animal farm revolution’: the animals who have killed the farmer will in the end become worse than the farmer ever was. Like a friend of mine says in one of his songs:

History does not repeat itself, it just escalates

I repeat this: one of the most dangerous effects evil done to us can have is to take us as it’s new host to continue its life cycle like a virus that goes from host to host, mutating freely to adapt and maybe even get more vicious.  And it’s hard to stop this cycle. Our human sense of justice demands that we are righted, and that the evil is repaid.
We often forget here, blinded by the logic of this virus, that revenge does never make anything right or does not bring anything or anyone gone back, it only devours our soul from the inside and dissolves our own humanity!

Real justice is restorative! Evil must be stopped, and its influence limited, not just on us, but also in us!

Now, what I’m telling here is not very new at all. It’s something known to a lot of tradition, from the words of Jesus to some sayings from the Buddha or the Tao Te Ching. Take for example the next saying:

He who holds on to hate is like one who drinks poison and expects the other to die. (ascribed to the Buddha)

Deep down inside we should know this. Hate will only destroy us from the inside, and evil will never work drive out evil, violence is not the best way to stop violence (except in the case that the other side is completely exterminated). It will not make the world better. We need to stop this virus, this endless cycle.

If we want to live, we need to erase the cycle of violence. This means that we need to answer evil with good. Even in our heart. Especially in our heart.

Let’s contemplate the words of Jesus in Luke 6 in this regard:

27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Yes, it’s the radical Christ-stuff of loving enemies and repaying evil with good. It’s also quite important if we indeed believe that loving God and loving our fellow human is what matters most in this life.

If we don’t get a revolution in which everyone gets rid of this evil, including both those who are victims as those who are lead by it; it will be completely ineffective. The only revolution that makes sense in the long run is the revolution that restores the humanity of both the oppressor and the oppressed, and rids both of the evil that keeps them from recognising each others shared humanity!

This does not mean that we should give in to evil, we should confront it everywhere we meet, but we should never give it the chance to make us dehumanise the person on the other side. Even though there are times that for our own safety we can’t be in the same room as someone who has done us evil, we should not hate them. We might need to cut all their influence from our lives, and we need to realise the nature of what has been done to us and not minimise or conceal it.

But we should not allow hate to root in our hearts. We should not allow dehumanisation of our enemy. If the terror has won our hearts and has found a new host, it doesn’t even matter whether we or the terrorists win.

And even in the case that pacifism doesn’t work and violence has used, we should mourn for every fellow human on the other side that dies. Killing a human being made in Gods image is always a terrible thing, no matter how messed up they were. Our real enemies are never flesh and blood, but the systems, lies, etc that make us enemies.

Note also that what I’m saying here is inspired not just by Jesus and the Buddha, but has been lived out by people like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, or for example closer to myself Pat Patfoort whom I once saw in a seminar on nonviolent conflict-solving. She developed her ideas when she was in Africa, and works with very traumatised people in war zones (Rwanda, Chechnya and so) , as well as giving relationship counselling since it works on all scales.
Western pacifists can be a bit naive and otherworldly sometimes, and if they have only been staying in their couch reading blogs instead of going to the country their own government is bombarding at the moment (like Shane Claiborne did) it can  be not very convincing. (That said, we’ve tried to use violence for much longer and it didn’t work either… I mostly only escalates unless one of the sides goes extinct.) But If people can reconcile the traumatised after a genocide like Pat Patfoort does, you do get my attention….

I do think also here of how Corrie Ten Boom as a WWI concentration camp survivor of WWII said after the war that it was the victims of the Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were the ones who were best able to rebuild their lives. Which makes a lot of sense in the light of what we’ve said.

Our soul is way too important to let it be filled with hate, and to let us dehumanise others, no matter what they’ve done.

Love is the only law, and the only thing that will remain

love and peace

Bram