Monday, October 24, 2011

On Fear-based Decision Making

Morality is a very flexible concept.  Depending on which culture you grew up in, definitions of morality and value judgements about the correctness of particular words and deeds can vary markedly.  What seems to be a commonality among superficially different religions is that most use fear as the motivating element to enforce their laws and tenets.  Although many religions offer wondrous, magical rewards, such as eternal life, enlightenment, or favor by the deities in various forms, most use the primal emotion of fear to try to govern the behavior of their followers.

Fear is a powerful motivator, whether fear of loss of privileges, fear of a beating from a parent, or fear of an eternal beating by an agent of a deity (often addressed as an angry parent), it definitely colors the psychological state of individuals and societies.  The form that the eternal punishment takes seems to be exceedingly vicious, often echoing the behaviors of the most bestial and perverted individuals of the society.  Some advocates take great relish in imagining the punishment that non-believers will endure, thereby allowing themselves to vicariously partake in evil-doing and sadistic behaviors through their imaginations.  In some eastern religions, the fear is that of being reborn in some lower and less worthy and well-treated life form. Although ostensibly less brutal, the fates of many lower life forms can quite frightening.

Fear of Natural Disasters and Diseases
If an imaginary hell does not seem real enough to elicit the desired behavior, religious leaders may invoke fears of natural but recurring events, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis, attributing these random events based on the physical environment as proof of magical retribution. By creating false cause and effect associations, these leaders can increase the fear quotient and make consequences seem more immediate.  Many people believe that those struck by lightning, killed in a car accident, or suffering a drawn out terminal illness have somehow brought punishment on themselves and are to blame for their demise.  Instant karma is another form of this kind of thinking.

Fear of Group Punishment

An offshoot if this kind of manipulation through fear is the use of group punishment.  In this technique, the allegedly guilty and innocent alike are purported to suffer in natural disasters because of the behavior of the guilty and to coerce desired group behavior by the innocent.  For instance, if relatively innocent followers do not vilify or otherwise treat non-believers badly enough, they may be smitten in natural disasters as a form of group punishment. A favorite technique of despots and tyrants, fear-mongers use it to prevent followers from becoming too tolerant or compassionate of non-believers. 

A variant of this kind of fear-based manipulation, the human sacrifice, combines guilt as another negative motivator.  Usually, some innocent person is killed, maimed, and/or tortured on behalf of the group.  Virgins or children were common victims, and in the case of Christianity, a deity in human form, but portrayed often as a baby, is offered up for torture and slow death.  This offering is supposed to make followers feel so guilty that they mend their ways and not stray from their religion (including religious donations).

The Alternative for Non-Believers

There is an alternative to fear and guilt.  Most people have the capacity to understand that if they don't like something happening to them, they should not do it to others.  Commonly known as The Golden Rule or ethical reciprocity, it's been with us for a long time. Various forms have shown up in the Code of Hammurabi (Babylonian), the writings of early Egyptians and Greeks, as well as in the works of Confucius.  The tenet show up in many religions, regardless of location.

This seems to indicate that humans throughout history have been able to posit the simple idea of treating others with consideration.  No deity need be invoked to conceptualize or understand this concept.  Using reason and logic alone, it is possible to use it as a seed for laws governing the behavior of individuals and groups.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where is the Champagne When You Really Need It?

Stranger in a
Strange Land Cover
Welcome to the initial blog post of The Rational Eupraxist, where values are intrinisic and generated from logic and compassion, not from an outdated book of cultural mores.  Rather, we shall, after the launch of this site, explore the sources of social and personal values, whether from ancient tomes, such as the Koran or Bible, or more recent publications, such as "Lord of the Rings" or "Stranger in a Strange Land."

Ultimately, all proposed values come from the mind of an author and are subject to the context, experiences, and evaluation of any reader.  There is never true consensus, especially in a large population.  One can hardly argue that six billion and counting is not large. 

Communication between humans allows us to compare our evaluation in broader contexts and to revise our conclusions as we learn and gather more information.  This learning process is at the heart of rational morality, in contrast with fixed, inherited values that do not fit the times.