Following Orders from things that Don’t Exist has Negative Results
Thank you Pew Research Center for doing the legwork to confirm things that we already knew: in this case, the inverse relationship between human decency and church attendance.
The survey asked: “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?”
Apparently, “Hey dumbass, torture isn’t used to gain ‘important information,’ it’s used to force false confessions to justify state violence.” wasn’t an option.
One other interesting note: 25% said it was never justified, which means 1 in 4 Americans is not stone-cold evil! That’s a start.
It might seem surprising, on the face of it, that religious cults founded on the teachings of Jesus would be such hotbeds of inhumanity. By that I mean you might be surprised if you were from another planet and had never encountered an evangelical.
In fact, the beauty of Christianity, from the perspective of enslaving one’s fellow humans, is that any message or commandment imaginable can be supported or refuted within it’s framework. You don’t even have to use the bible. If you’re too lazy to read it over and find where it matches your vision of what others should do for you, you can simply have a chat with God and write down what s/he says: Mohammad/Joseph Smith style.
The larger pattern of leading others around by the nose is this: 1. make up an abstract concept; 2. designate serving it the highest moral good; 3. claim to have a unique understanding of or ability to communicate with the concept; 4. profit.
God is the classic abstract concept for this purpose. Everyone’s already been taught by their parents that s/he’s perfect and morally flawless. Plus God never interacts with anyone possessing an ounce of sanity. If you can convince enough people that you can hear clear messages from God, you’ll never have to work another day in your life. If you can convince enough people that you can, through devotion and scholarship, reasonably interpret the will of God, you only have to work Sunday mornings. Either way, it’s a great racket.
Humans who believe that God is the highest moral authority can be relied on to accept as “good” or “evil” whatever their flavor of clergy so designate. If the lunatic behind the pulpit says God wants the United States to be safe at all costs and that the president is the righteous tool of the lord, then torture is on.
Combine this with the fun wingnut fact* that most churches are organized as 501c3 tax-exempt religious organizations, and the sick really gets rolling. Now clergy, who speak for a non-existent god cannot speak in a partisan manner. God must always be in non-partisan support of the state and its activities. This church-state connection is much less pronounced in the current political environment compared to, say, the Crusades or the 100 years war. But the fact that God loves America and America loves God has a profound effect on the evil shit that the agents of the state can perpetrate in this world.
It’s easy to beat up on religion–it’s so old. Let’s take a look at other abstract concepts that serve a similar morality-reversing purpose and the asshats who claim spokespersonship for them.
The Race is another oldie that can be relied on to command people. What does it mean to take action in the best interest of the race? In reality, it means nothing, race doesn’t exist–it’s an abstract concept with as much to do with reality as god. Acting for the good of the race means doing what some fuckwit, often in a military uniform, says to do.
Do it for your nation! It’s like the race, but bigger and more progressive. Who knows what’s good for the nation? Nobody. Nations do not exist. They’re just lines on maps that assholes with armies have agreed to after having sent kids to kill and die to push the line a few miles one way or the other. The nation is a concept. It can’t be good or evil. It has no interests. If X wants something “for the national interest,” it probably benefits X in some way. In this case, again, X is often a violent jerk in a uniform, though in many instances s/he may be wearing a suit.
Fighting in solidarity with your class was my favorite. What should the good class-conscious warrior do? Throw off his/her chains, seize the means of production, relinquish control of said means to a violent jerk in a military uniform (fewer suits among komeraden), and show up for work the next day–unless there’s a war on, in which case, fight to liberate your class brethren/sistren in other lands–often without bullets because centrally planned war machines break down alot.
The public good/greater good is the abstract concept most in vogue at the moment. Class and race are pretty much done for now, though I’m sure they’ll cycle back through since we’ve not learned those lessons yet. Many people are pretty sure that the National interest is bullshit too, but that could be revitalized given further economic turmoil or a sufficiently traumatizing “national” emergency.
Right now, the public good is where it’s at. If you know what’s good for the public, and can make a case to the suits and uniforms (hint: cut them in on the loot your plan generates), you have a profitable future in the public sector. What constitutes the public good? Nuclear power? Clean coal? Increased/decreased regulation of the financial sector? Assurances that Iran or N. Korea will denuclearize?
Altogether now: “Nobody knows–the public good doesn’t exist except as an abstract concept.” Each individual has millions of needs prioritized in a way that s/he may not even be fully conscious of. The idea that anybody, even a smart guy with a really cool computer simulation, has access to any insight about the collective subjective wants, desires and needs of 300, much less 300 million people is hubris on par with claiming to know the will of of an omnipotent God.
And so we come full circle. The native human understanding which attends being raised in non-abusive circumstances is that “good” means respecting other people and accepting their equality to yourself. It takes some true warping of a mind–typically over a dozen or so years–to teach the supremacy of abstract concepts in defining right and wrong. Once that task is accomplished, however, any variety of human nightmares can be unleashed.
Next week’s Pew Research Center poll result: Swine flu fears vary proportionally with the number of years you lived in your parent’s basement.
* Wingnuts, for all their wingnuttiness, do a remarkable amount of research, reading, Freedom of Information Act requests etc. While their conclusions are often suspect (in this case, that 501c3s incorrectly put one non-existent abstract concept’s will over another ) they can be entertaining and sometimes informative sources.