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Re: [xmca] Fwd: The Privilege of Absurdity

And not just cultural mediation, but cultural politics. If we strip away
the rhetoric of sacred and moral values, we find, I think, that all such
grand causes for which people fight and die, or just slave away, are the
creations of elites who benefit from the naive trust in these ideas,
symbols, and rituals by large numbers of other people. I think the usual
term for such people is, unfortunately but accurately, dupes.

I do not believe that evolution has endowed our species with any special
propensity for being duped by false gods. Our herd comfort in grand causes
and ideals may be real enough, but it is simply the political manipulation
of the underlying human capacity for mediation by symbols (discourses,
images, ideologies, etc.) that gives cover to the pursuit of their own
interests by elites.

The problem is not even so much that all such gods are false. It is that
they are gods made by other people to serve themselves. And I would
emphatically include in this analysis the traditional churches and their
religions as well as historical and modern ideologies of more secular
kinds. It is customary in polite society to simply tolerate these forms of
mass deception for the comfort they give to those who have little else, but
I think we know that this is not the path to a better world for all.


On Tue, May 22, 2012 at 5:25 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> I have a suspicion that cultural mediation may play a role here. What do
> you think?
> mike
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Scott Atran <satran@umich.edu>
> Date: Tue, May 22, 2012 at 12:36 PM
> Subject: The Privilege of Absurdity
> To: COG-SCI-REL-L@jiscmail.ac.uk
> Science and Religion Today
> http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2012/05/22/how-can-a-better-understanding-of-sacred-values-help-us-resolve-intergroup-conflicts/
> Humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often they
> strive for lasting intellectual and emotional bonding with anonymous
> others, and make their greatest exertions in killing and dying not to
> preserve their own lives or to defend their families and friends, but for
> the sake of an idea—the transcendent moral conception they form of
> themselves, of “who we are.” This is the “the privilege of absurdity; to
> which no living creature is subject, but man only’” of which Hobbes wrote
> in *Leviathan*. In*The Descent of Man*, Darwin cast it as the virtue of
> “morality … the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and
> sympathy” with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s
> spiraling competition for survival and dominance. Across cultures, primary
> group identity is bounded by sacred values, often in the form of religious
> beliefs or transcendental ideologies, which lead some groups to triumph
> over others because of non-rational commitment from at least some of its
> members to actions that drive success independent, or all out of
> proportion, from expected rational outcomes.
> For Darwin himself, moral virtue was most clearly associated not with
> intuitions, beliefs, and behaviors about fairness and reciprocity,
> emotionally supported by empathy and consolation—which constitute nearly
> the entire subject matter of recent work in the philosophy, psychology, and
> neuroscience of morality—but with a propensity to what we nowadays call
> “parochial altruism”: especially extreme self-sacrifice in war and other
> intense forms of human conflict, where likely prospects for individual and
> even group survival had very low initial probability. Heroism, martyrdom,
> and other forms of self-sacrifice for the group appear to go beyond the
> mutualistic principles of fairness and reciprocity....
> http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2012/05/22/how-can-a-better-understanding-of-sacred-values-help-us-resolve-intergroup-conflicts/
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Jay Lemke
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Adjunct Full Professor, Department of Communication
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506

New Website: www.jaylemke.com

Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York
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