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March 20, 2013

Michael Crichton on Politics as Religion

Crichton's famous essay, "Environmentalism as Religion," noted that structural anthropologists found that, for whatever reason, very similar patterns of human thinking and social organization keep reappearing in different societies and for different purposes.

Although the essay, as the title indicates, discusses the many tropes and structures of religion (from pagan traditions to more modern Christian ones) appear in enviornmentalism, his general point can be broadened. Many see the government as essentially being their Mission (in the religious sense) and seek to perform Good Acts and to Spread the Word through their church.

The two closely-related areas especially amenable to cultification are The Environment (the Cult of Gaia) and Health (the Cult of Bodily Sanctity).

Read the whole thing, if you haven't, but here's an excerpt.

I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion.

But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the
environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain*, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ
is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them.

These are not facts that can be argued.

These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.

Am I exaggerating to make a point? I am afraid not.

The asterisk * is there for some backstory on this idea of hard-wiring of a deep and unconscious preference for certain myths and social structures. Structural linguistics postulated that babies are hard-wired with a certain understanding of how grammar should work; there's a theory that babies simply aren't exposed to enough words and sentences to be able to deduce grammar based upon seeing patterns in so many sentences. Since they don't have the raw data necessary to understand grammar and language through pure deduction, it must be the case (this theory goes) that they come pre-loaded, if you will, with the basic Operating System of human speech already in their brains.

Structual anthropology took that idea and applied to, if you will, the "grammar" and "vocabulary" of social structures and myths, that babies might already come pre-loaded with certain tendencies of thought, beliefs rather than just mere words. (Note that religious people can join in this belief, while rejecting the biological reason structural anthropologists offer: They can (and often do) say that a basic belief in God is inherent in most people, due to the Holy Spirit's resonance.)

One more point: Cognitive theorist Jonathan Haidt says that all humans think in terms of six basic moral goods, and that liberals differ from conservatives primarily in how they prioritize those moral goods. For example, he says liberals rate the "sanctity/purity" moral good quite low, as compared to conservatives.

I don't believe that for a red-hot second. I think liberals rate purity/sancticy extremely high, but they counterfeit this belief to themselves, because they've been taught that sanctity/purity is an indulgence of the weak-minded religious types. But while they deny that impulse, they actually act upon it, directing their sanctity/purity impulses not towards sexual restraint (as a religious person might) but towards health of the environment and health of the body.

This is why they are, in strictly anthropological terms, so fucking annoying about everything and always shrieking about this Moral Panic or that.

There's an old put-down when someone's going on about sex negatively (whether on the right or left): That person just needs to get laid so the rest of us can move on with our lives without being bothered by these sorts.

A similar put-down -- which is actually even more true than the "laid" one -- applies here. These people need to get religion, or, more accurately, find something outside of government and politics to give meaning to their empty lives so they can finally spare the rest of us from the folly and malice of their misdirected religious impulses.


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posted by Ace at 05:21 PM

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