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Re: [xmca] Fwd: The Privilege of Absurdity

I suspect that the notion of "self-serving" arises from modern conditions where different projects intersect in a "thin ethos" conducive to liberalism (by which I mean individualism, not tolerance). The idea that working for a cause is ipso facto being duped I find a rather distasteful doctrine.

And David, I guess the Scripture that tells orthodox Isrealis that "their Torah study is their work" so they don't have to work or join the IDF is an example in your tradition?


David H Kirshner wrote:
This is a very interesting question, and I hope others will chime in.
In the current political climate in the U.S. of manufactured science,
spin doctors, and attack ads, it's very hard not to side with Jay that
symbols and ideologies are being deliberately manipulated by elites in
ways that directly serve their economic interests. Even though these
operatives no doubt rationalize their actions in terms of "the greater
good," it seems very difficult to argue that these elites are not
deliberately deploying cultural ideas, symbols, and rituals with the
intent to manipulate the "dupes."
Where the analysis becomes more difficult to sustain is in the case of
"traditional churches and their religions as well as historical and
modern ideologies of more secular kinds" which Jay "would emphatically
include." First, it is easy to concede that many of these institutions
serve the interests of elites. For instance, the Judeo-Christian holy
scriptures make frequent reference to eternal obligations of ordinary
people to the poor, thereby sanctifying class divisions. And in the
Hebrew scriptures, with which I am somewhat better acquainted, there is
precise codification of obligations to the Priestly class--definitely
self-serving, if one assumes it was exactly that class that
wrote/selected the canonical texts. But in the meantime, with the
destruction of the Second Temple, there is no longer a Priestly class in
Jewish theological practice, so it is not so obvious who the "elites"
perpetrating modern Judaism are, or that their intentions are


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]
On Behalf Of Greg Thompson
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:27 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Fwd: The Privilege of Absurdity

I, for one, am deeply skeptical of how intentional are the "creations of
elites." The elites certainly benefit from these creations, but I think
that they are dupes just like the rest of us. The elites just happen to
be the "lucky" dupes (depending, of course, on what you mean by

My sense is that it's dupes all the way down! (or "up," as the case may


p.s.  Seems better to look at the structure of the system for the key to
the problem.

On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 11:15 AM, Jay Lemke <jaylemke@umich.edu> wrote:

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,
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?

---------- 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

Humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often
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,
group identity is bounded by sacred values, often in the form of
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,
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
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....

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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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Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Scholar
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1608461459/

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