I’ve tweaked a few passages in my Provisional Conclusions today, in light of attending a family wedding in a socially conservative state and observing first-hand a community that obviously thrives in the context of a traditional religious narrative.
What my thesis (my Provisional Conclusions) has to ‘explain’ is how apparently intelligent people can maintain such loyalty to [such obviously arbitrary and historically contingent] narratives of ideology and religion, and the sense of their special understanding of the will of God, despite the obvious facts that the universe doesn’t care and every other group of humanity feels just as confidant of their own superiority.
Part of the solution may be this: there’s no survival advantage in recognizing ‘reality’; those ideological and religious beliefs really do promote survival and perpetuation of the species.
So what I mean by ‘active consciousness’ (in my Provisional Conclusions) is a kind of maturity, an understanding of the protocols of survival and the need for those narratives, with an attendant understanding that those narratives are just stories we tell ourselves to get through the night, or through a life – that the universe outside the parameters of human existence operates by very different rules. It’s analogous to growing up and understanding where babies really come from, that the circumstances that created your life were largely arbitrary and circumstantial, and that your own town or sports team isn’t *really* the greatest one in the whole world. Even if you pretend they are, as everyone around you similarly pretends, as a matter of social cohesiveness (and a kind of group survival strategy).
Another part of the solution is understanding why it doesn’t matter to most people that most others in the world follow *different* narratives, i.e. different religions. *As long as they have a story to live by*, perhaps even to submit to, something that gives their life ‘meaning’, i.e. a narrative context that gives purpose to day to day life and the cycles of the generations – then that’s OK. In a sense it’s like speaking different languages. Relatively few people are insistent about their own languages being superior to all others, just as relatively few are much concerned about people subscribing to other religions. (Those who decline to follow a religion, however – those are the ones that bother people. How can they not subscribe to a narrative? They are loose cannons, unpredictable and nonconformist.)
It’s the people we call scientists and philosophers, mostly, who currently have this ‘active consciousness’ of understanding the reality of the universe as a thing above and beyond the protocols of human existence. This does not make them cold or inhuman; they are just as likely to have families and to love their children, to appreciate art and music and nature, as anyone else – just not, of course, in the context of a religious narrative that places themselves or their tribe as the center of all existence, the profoundly narcissistic idea that they are the reason the universe was created.
On the contrary; scientists will tell you there is great, deep gratification to appreciating the workings of the universe, to appreciating the context in which humanity exists, appreciating that humanity is a *consequence* (if not an inevitable one) of the operations of our enormous, ancient, cold, indifferent universe. This appreciation is all the more profound because it’s *true*, based on everything humanity has perceived and understood about the universe in which we live – in contrast to the self-flattering religious myths, tales imagined by ancient tribes who thought the world was flat, that most people live by.
It would be nice to think that the human race will gradually mature along these lines, as education expands and the religious tribes who resist such education are marginalized, but there’s little current evidence this might happen any time soon; on the contrary. The so-called ‘end of history’ described at the end of the 20th century (notably by Francis Fukuyama, who claimed that the liberal democracies and free market capitalism would spread around the world, and that would be that) was trounced by 9/11.
In the long run, however, I’m optimistic, and so is most science fiction. The arcs of social and technological history have had setbacks – but after every setback, humanity keeps moving forward, in a two steps back, five steps forward fashion. How science fiction writers have thought about these things is what I might explore, as I develop this blog and perhaps write a book around the framework of my Provisional Conclusions.