I have spent some time looking at three questions pertaining to religion and politics. I have addressed (here) what happens to a society that "loses its religion" (ie, they stop reproducing, among other things) and whether one can understand the liberal and left political philosophy as being akin to religious faith (in that they intensely resist testing the propositions they rest on.) While I focused on the "feminist myth of equality of the sexes" (courtesy of Horsefeathers) as one particular foundation stone of liberalism, much of modern liberal thought rests on assumptions that have either never been tested or are untestable. Furthermore, the philosophical foundation of modern feminism asserts an argument that is in complete contradiction to other, equally firmly held memes. For example, consider the contrasting ideas that male/female differences are all socially constructed yet homosexuality (choice of sexual object) is completely genetic. It seems to me that there is no way to include both of these ideas in a single philosophy, yet neither idea can be approached or addressed in the MSM or Academia without dire consequences for the apostate. Another powerful meme is that military power never is justified and can never have a positive outcome. Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been relatively free elections in those two countries and in the Palestinian territories. Libya has given up their WMD, the AQ Khan "Nukes R Us" mart has been closed down, there was a popular uprising in the Ukraine, people have been out in the streets in Lebanon, and the beat goes on. The only response I have heard from friends and relatives who opposed the war in Iraq is silence, or in one case, the untestable meme that we are only producing more terrorists. What is it about our unconscious mind that almost requires us to have and hold religious ideas?
Freud wrote about primary process versus secondary process, descriptions of the way our minds process data. Primary process is the only form of thought that occurs in the young child, from birth up to 6 to 8 years old generally. Much of what occurs before age 8 is subject to "infantile amnesia" which means that our memories prior to that age are fragmentary and generally take the form of pictures rather than words. Memories formed after 8 are much more available to language and recall. Coincidentally, much of the process of myelinization of the brain is finished by age 8; this age also coincides with the onset of higher level abstract conceptualization as described by developmental Psychologists, like Piaget. From many points of view, our thinking processes change and become more realistic and rational starting at age 8 and continuing into adulthood. As I pointed out in an earlier post (The defensive denial of terror)the irrational primary process exists at all times, lurking just below the surface of our minds. We see it in our (irrational) dreams, in our irrational thoughts and feelings, and in our politics. I wrote:
Since the case for the danger of al Qaeda, more appropriately the danger of Islamic fascism, has been argued, and convincingly argued, for the last several years, I can only repeat that if al Qaeda got their hands on a nuke, or a weaponized Smallpox virus, or could make large quantities of poison gas, they have said they would use them on us. Furthermore, if nothing had been done, their success would have become more and more likely with each passing day, until the inevitable would occur. In circumstances where the risk of doing nothing is hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, or American friends, to ignore this danger would be criminally irresponsible. So, how can we understand how so many Americans, and even more Europeans, can deny and ignore this danger?
The beginning of an answer lies in recognizing that the ability to rationally interpret information is quite limited and easily disrupted. If you have ever attempted to argue when you are angry, only to apologize later, then you can see how strong emotions can disrupt higher order thinking. Terror can also cause rational thought to break down. Worse yet, we rarely are able to recognize when this is happening. Psychologically, trauma refers to any event that overwhelms the psyche's ability to metabolize the insult; that is, a trauma temporarily interferes with the psychological functioning of the victim. The hallmark of the traumatic event is the actual experience of helplessness, or the feelings of helplessness evoked by the event. Terrorists know this intuitively. The whole point of terror is to perpetrate an act so horrific that the audience literally cannot think; they are paralyzed with fear and left speechless, with the threat of more gruesome attacks to come. What words do we have to describe the spectacle of terrorists beheading a helpless man, or flying airplanes into office towers? Our media decided that certain images are too horrific (traumatic) for our eyes; (less horrific images, like the abuses at Abu Graib are shown repeatedly because "only the images can emphasize the true horror of the event".) How much more horrible is a beheading or the mass murder of children? Civilized, rational beings have no way to understand how such frightening things are allowed to exist in the modern world. The viewer is left feeling helpless and without language to describe the outrage.
There is another important implication of the fact that the primitive, primary process thinking co-exists and often threatens the secondary process we all would like to believe is our default state of mind. In the absence of the parent, a powerful protector, the child's native state is terror. Last week we visited a friend with an eight month old infant. When the child saw us, he began to howl inconsolably and with a look of panic on his young face. We were strangers to him, and eight months is the time of "stranger anxiety". The infant is frightened because we are not his familiar caretakers. While no one can know exactly what goes on in the mind of an infant, current research suggests that it is the unfamiliarity of the stranger, the "not-motherness" that evokes terror, which is worsened if the stranger picks up the child. In evolutionary terms, it makes perfect sense; the world is a hostile, dangerous place to an infant. Infants who scream when in the presence of strangers would be more likely to survive (by gaining their parent's attention) than those who were quiet. Children are dependent and surrounded by dangers for many years. Our first 8 years of life are spent in potentially dangerous places; we are completely dependent on the powerful "other" to protect us. In modern societies, we are unable to take care of ourselves and become independent until well into adolescence. The American Psychoanalytic Association considers adolescence to extend until 22 (college graduation); until then, our children need to be cared for. The only way for the child to feel safe is to be with a protective adult. A lost child is a terrified child.
It should be clear where I am going with this: If the primary process underlies the secondary (adult) thinking, what keeps us from feeling terrified? If God does not exist, we would need to invent him, if only to maintain our fragile ability to make sense out of an often irrational world. When much of the third world trades fantasies of the United States and Israel causing the recent Tsunami, they are deifying America and Israel. Our soldiers talked about the Iraqi's anger that we did not walk in and like superhuman demi-Gods, instantly give them electricity and riches beyond their dreams. In my post Magic and Rationality, I wrote:
The idea that sophisticated 21st century, technologically adept people could be equally seen as surrounded by magic would, to many, be a non-starter. However, I believe it is the necessary starting point in trying to make sense of the world.
When we say something is magic, it can have various meanings. It could mean that the event in question is impossible in our experience (a sophisticated and more nuanced comment would be that it violates the laws of physics); an alternative meaning is that we do not understand what is causing the event in question to occur. For example, how many people do you know who can explain why light appears out of darkness when you flip the switch. And don't bother telling me about electrons flowing through wires and heating up when the wire/filament forces them through a narrow space with higher resistance. In a very fundamental way, this is not a meaningful explanation. All of our science and technology have simply removed the locus of the magical activity. To our aforementioned cave ancestor, a flashlight is a magical instrument of the gods. We, of course, take lights for granted and yet, I would suggest that for all intents and purposes, most of what surrounds us is the equivalent of magic. If we can not directly experience an action's cause and effect, we can ultimately only hope to infer its source. No one has ever seen, or will ever see, an electron. We can build complex machines and apparatuses which allow us to connect a long chain of experimental observations to deduce the existence of electrons. We then hold forth that their existence has been conclusively proved and no longer is in question. There is no doubt that this works for us (the computer I am typing this on is sufficient proof of that) but in reality it is a constructed world view; it has great predictive power and is therefore said to be an accurate representation of reality, but it is fundamentally a construct. (This is, in part, where the deconstructionists have a point, which they then take to such ridiculous extremes as to render their philosophy meaningless, which I suppose is pretty consistent, when you stop to think about it; but I digress.) The fact is that the construct can only be a reflection of some deeper level of reality, not the reality itself. Furthermore, the failures of the construct are pretty obvious, even a little embarrassing: just try to wrap your mind around the concept that an electron is both a particle and a wave (and what is a particle, or a wave, anyway?), and let's not even start with Quantum Mechanics!
We are better equipped than our distant cave dwelling ancestors to understand the world, but on an individual level, we remain surrounded by monsters and magic. Fate can separate us from our loved ones in an instant and we have no mommy or daddy who will hug us and tell us everything will be all right (which our children might believe; even if someone tries to reassure us, we can not even comfort ourselves with the reassurance because we know better.) The only way we can keep our irrational (and sometimes rational) fears from destabilizing our minds is to find something more powerful than ourselves to believe in; we need God, and in the absence of God, we will invent the equivalent to protect us.
Being a leftist and/or a liberal in the modern world means we are smarter, more ethical, more caring (holier than thou, even); more importantly, if we can only share our innate goodness with other rational people, and try to help them solve the root causes of their distress, (send them money because they are poor, give up our rights so they won't feel offended) they will see we are friends and will no longer try to harm us. The fact that none of this works is irrelevant; it is not meant to work in reality, but to make us feel more comfort and security.
Thus, in the absense of God, we create him out of our ideas.