Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Murdering the Group; Saving the Individuals

Once more, bombs rain down in the Middle East, Arabs and Jews hurl fire and murder children, the world turns pale with horror and empty words pour from televised heads – and as usual, the obvious and effective solution can never be discussed!

It’s the same with immigration, the national debt, welfare, the war on terror and all the other state-driven and media-obscured questions of the day. Obsessed by details, blind to the obvious, we are like swimmers in shark-infested waters worrying about cramps.

The saddest thing is that we know exactly how to bring peace to the Middle East – and everywhere else for that matter! Solving the problem of collective violence might have been a real head-scratcher in the Middle Ages, but it takes a truly modern education to pretend ignorance now!

It’s embarrassingly simple, of course, but you’ll wear out the batteries on your TV remote scanning for a mention of it anywhere.

What is the solution to the problem of collective violence? Why, just this:

Stop believing in groups!

“Groups” don’t exist, any more than a “forest” exists independently of the trees it describes. A “Jew” doesn’t exist. An “Arab” doesn’t exist; neither does “Israel” or “Muslim”. There are people and land and trees and sky. There are no “groups”.

If people surrender their moral independence to some “morally-superior” collective (or, more accurately, some madman claiming to speak for such a non-existent entity), then of course violence is the inevitable result. Irrational and collectivist moral absolutes are the fundamental WMDs of our species. Believing you are part of the “master race” because you’re Jewish, or the “chosen of Allah” because you’re Muslim, opens the path to blood, tears, flames and graves. Such delusions are both false and absolutist – the most deadly combination. Irrational moral ideals which must be enforced always end up murdering the innocent and the not-so-innocent en masse.

Beliefs that are irrational, required, universal and absolute will always put swords in the hands of men. Illogical and anti-empirical beliefs cannot be validated by external and objective factors. Two scientists who disagree on a theory can resolve their dispute via the scientific method; they can defer to logic and reproducible experiments – they do not have to bomb each other into submission. Mathematicians can disagree over a proposition, but in the end it is not personal – it is not the dominance of one over the others, but of logic and proof over one, or all.

The free market runs on the same principle. “Value” is not decided by committees, or leaders, but by individual decisions. If I think that my product is better than yours, I don’t have to blow up your offices, just appeal to the consumer, the final arbiter. Consumers don’t have to burn down a Ford plant if they prefer Volvos – individual decisions determine the value and success of each company.

In religion, politics and nationalism, things are very different, because no objective method exists to resolve disputes. Who can prove that “Jewish” is better than “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist”? How can these absolute and irrational fantasies ever be reconciled in reality? They are impervious to logic and experimentation. Universal truth is willed, not proven. This irrationality creates instability, hostility and the endless desire for expansion. The more collectivist a society becomes, the more expansionistic it becomes. Witness Israel, Islam – and America.

The solution to the crisis in the Middle East is not easy, but it is simple – and the alternatives are stark. We must outgrow our addictions to the false gods of history – be they religious, political or national. Giving the modern equivalents of witch-doctors access to twenty-first century weapons has become far too dangerous.

If we cannot break our addiction to our fantasies of collective virtue, the slaughter will only increase. And so we must say to the warring tribes of the Middle East – and indeed to the whole world:

“As long as there are Arabs and Jews and Americans and Iranians, our natural brotherhood remains drowned in bloody tribal fantasies. If we refuse to give up our gods and groups and leaders, we will forever live in war and fear and hatred. If we can find the strength to outgrow this madness, we may not all find heaven, but at least we will be free to escape hell. The solution to violence is not vanquishing our foes, but our own illusions.”


Aardvark said...

Can I get an amen!

Just kidding.

The problem is that we will all be a smoking pile of ashes before the "group" ever disappears from our world.

Mores the pity. The points you make are presented in such reasonable and lucid way that reading this makes one want to slap themselves upside the head and say, "Why the hell didn't I see this?"

jomama said...

What I've been saying all along, in different words. Nice to have some company.

There are times when I believe we will be that pile of ashes before the group disappears from our mind set. The other times, I love to blast the granfalloon.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic. Another superb essay. Congrats to Stef for selling it!!! I have some questions but I will post them on the board.

Emblematic Flames said...

This was a great post! Honestly, I find it difficult to relinquish the urge to be part of a group, but your argument absolutely makes sense. It's like you've taken my stance on organized religion to the next level. Perhaps groups will be able to co exist without feeling the need to blow each other up?

Druid (Arbor Low) said...

But go a little further...

What do you mean by group? Life is full of interesting and not so interesting experiences and things. The interest depends on the interpretation and the personality of an individual. I, for example, have a very particular taste in music. When I encounter others who appreciate similar music, I feel a sense of solidarity with them. When we discuss our likes and dislikes, we form a group for the appreciation of music (even if the group is casual and short-lived). You may not derive the same enjoyment from the music as I do. Therefore you would not be a member of such a group. You may however support the same team as me (another group), or like the same flowers (another group), or keep the same hours, or be the same gender, or have the same colour hair, etc etc.

Groups are not the problem. It is the belief amongst groups that they are objectively, not subjectively, better than other groups that causes the problems. In the UK football fans sometimes fight, it doesn't mean being a football fan is wrong - merely that some fans are rather primitive in their behaviour. Don't be afraid of participating or belonging. After all, you belong to the group of people who agree with your views! (some of whom posted comments), or who drive cars maybe, or live in houses perhaps, etc.

There is no 'Universal Truth'. This is the big problem here. It is your core error in reason. Your assumption that your beliefs are absolutely true surely renders you something of a fanatic amongst groups holding similar views to you.

Nothing is absolute. Mental or physical. The very concept of absoluteness is illogical. Until you grasp this idea and understand its power you will always be chasing up a cul-de-sac.

I do applaud your attempts to engage others in this discussion, I only wish your thinking were a little more thorough.

Adi said...

Druid, what do you mean about there being "no 'Universal Truth'" ? Is that statement itself universally true?

Or maybe, are the axioms of logic questionable?

neutralparty said...

Although I disagree with the premise, I have to say I enjoyed the post. I make my 'retort' if you will against this in my blog. I'd like your thoughts if you have the time:


The post is titled: "A Retort"

Ike Hall said...

Thank you, Stefan, for this stunning essay. Groupthink breeds both unity of purpose and conflict with the other, and in fact may be the most destructive meme in the human toolbox.

Your essay reminds me of what Butler Shaffer wrote (paraphrasing here): if you are alone on a desert island, how do you define yourself? You are now simply an individual, and not a member of any group, since no groups can exist in your situation. Why should it be any different if there are other people around?

Kudos to jomama for the use of "granfalloon". Vonnegut really got it right there.

Druid (Arbor Low) said...

Hey Adi, you've got it!

I'm absolutely sure there's no absolute truth!)

And yes, taken to its ultimate conclusion, even logic is irrational (though very useful).

It is generalisations that make interpretation possible. Nothing wrong with that. If I say A is 100 miles from B, who really gives a fig if I'm a few mm out, or even a few miles. We generalise to make sense of our impressions.

1 + 1 = 2 we say. But only in a general sense. If the numbers represent, say, oranges then in absolute terms we must define an absolute orange. If you hold up an orange, one second later some smell will have escaped and water evaporated. Is it still absolutely the same orange - no.

And you can't specify absolute time either. How precise is absolute? Even 'now' is relative (perceptually as well as temporal-spatially)

1 is an abstract concept, extremely useful for interpreting the existence from the human perspective (I know of none better), but not absolute.

So you see, groups are essential to experience, they are a facet of generalisation. It is the values of the people that determine the groups that poses the problems.

oh, and Ike, You can define yourself as belonging to the group of 'people alone on desert islands'! Easy.

You can also be a member of the land-creature group, as opposed to the sea-creature group. Other groups also exist for you: Edible or not (esp useful in given scenario I'd have thought); land or not; tree or not; you or other; etc etc