A place for new ideas to settle.

26 April 2012

“Secular Religion”: prelude

A lot of beliefs have been labeled, pejoratively, “secular religions” by their critics. Those who believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution; atheists; liberals; capitalists. I’m going to level this description at two economic/political world-views over the course of two posts. The first will be “capital-S” Socialism as espoused by the Socialist Alternative. The second will be socialism’s nemesis, “capital-L” Libertarianism as espoused by the Libertarian Party and its allies.

I should point out that these are specific examples drawn from the vast constellations of belief called “socialism” and “libertarianism.” And in fact the two broad categories find at least some intersection! But, here in America, the political rhetoric places them at opposite ends of a spectrum, and tinged with the moral binary of good (libertarianism*) versus evil (socialism) no less!

Back to broad strokes. What do I mean when I say “secular religion”? Well, I take “secular” to mean that such a belief system does not concern itself with supernatural causes or effects. In fact, both Socialism and Libertarianism are decidedly materialist in their outlook. However, “religion” implies rituals, dogma, moral codes, mythologies. I want to focus specifically on the last three. Why? because dogma is a real danger, I think, to societal progress. Dogma, by definition, is held on faith and resists evidence-based criticism (well, all criticism). This can lead to warped moral codes, and both of these things may be reinforced by mythologies.

And this is a problem! Dogmatic calcification of ideas leads to wide, unbridgeable chasms between people. It leads to a fractured society. Oh, we can lacquer over everything with a veneer of “tolerance,” but it’s thin ice indeed, to be shattered in times of crisis. Adopting a consensus view of reality in no way abolishes difference in belief. Two people may agree on the way things are (as informed by the evidence) and might still wildly diverge in their assertions of how things ought to be! The important point, however, is that these people would use the same methods to test each claim, and follow the evidence to whatever conclusion it gives.

Why do I say this? Well, it’s because I myself hold beliefs from both “socialism” and “libertarianism”! In striving for a skeptical, rationalist approach to politics I try to pick the best ideas based on the evidence, without prejudice against what the ideas “smell” like. Smells like socialism? Fine! It only matters that this is the optimal solution to the problem. Smells like libertarianism? Sure! Again, this is what will work best.

Besides, hearing about the idealistic, paradise society envisioned by either socialists or libertarians, I don’t see much difference! Each person freed from want, empowered to make his or her own choices, so long as those choices don’t inflict harm on anyone else? Not much difference at all!

Neither, too, is there much difference in the quasi-religious nature of some of their more ridiculous assertions. But those require separate posts…

*: Most of the American right-wing self-identify as champions of “liberty”… but some are more serious about it than others.

P.S.: O-hisashiburi. It’s been a while since I last posted… Feels good to be back.