Another Whiskey, Barkeep!
Barlish - The Language of The Bar
Stories like this one about a Washington right-wing group are disturbing but also intriguing, at least I think so. I call the group-think that seems to pervade organizations like this, a cult mentality. No, that's not a unique idea, but I think it's worth exploring.
The word 'cult' has negative connotations and not without good reason given how some 'cults' have behaved, but I think of the word on a different level than simply a bunch of crazies drinking goat blood or whatever. I view a cult mentality as being a group of like-minded individuals, not necessarily zombies, who have seized on a particular point of view in life and really don't want to learn anything more. Their adopted philosophy makes them comfortable and that is where they want to stay without having to think any more.
The origin of the word cult appears to be: "cult (n.)1610s, "worship, homage" (a sense now obsolete); 1670s, "a particular form or system of worship;" from French cult (17c.), from Latin cultus "care, labor; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence," originally "tended, cultivated," past participle of colere "to till" (see colony)." This is from Online Entomology Dictionary.
As an adjective, cult can simply refer to a group of people who pursue a particular line of thinking or even enjoy a specific if sometimes unusual activity. Using that definition, we could say that, naturally, adherence to one particular religion while refusing to consider the tenets of another is a cult mentality. Being almost obsessed with a sports team, a make of automobile, or a favorite type of music or band are all variations on cultism. For the purposes of this discussion, I want to look at cultism that way, as likes and dislikes, as opposed to something weird and horrible, although it can be that as well.
The focus of this in my mind is trying to understand how this like-mindedness comes about. Fabiola, a friend of mine once said, as we were discussing people, that we all run little movies in our minds. We hear something or see an image and that energizes our imaginations which in turn begins to produce a little movie in our brain. Using our experiences, what we have been taught, and that wild card that is our unique imagination, we begin to flesh out that movie in order to arrive at a conclusion about whatever it was that we heard or saw. We might decided it is good or bad, cool or gross, and if we like the notion at all. Once the movie is complete, it becomes part of our thought process.
That begs the question of how a group of people can listen to, read, or look at the same thing and come away with such diverse ideas about what is represented. I think that is a combination of things, but to give it a term, it's how our brain is organized. That organization has to be the result of genetics, early learning, both through teaching and personal experiences and perhaps finding a group of people who accept you into their cult thinking circles. Acceptance by a group is a prerequisite for a cult, and who doesn't want to be accepted?
We must derive some of how we think and view the world through genetics; our personalities are defined to a degree by that of our parents, and perhaps reaches back several generations back for DNA. We certainly learn for our parents. As we grow up in our first five years we are almost totally dependent on our parents to explain good and bad, right and wrong, happy and sad or angry. Our brains are making connections based on all that our parents hand us.
As an example, if our parents are angry people who rail about our government and about society in general, that is what we will learn in those first formative years. If, on the other hand, they talk about everyday life in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and going with the flow, we will learn to deal with the world that way.
Once we leave home to go to school, we are suddenly confronted with a bunch of other kids who grew up in very different homes with different values and will often have an entirely new point of view on life from what we have learned. We have to process this new information and decide how, where, or if it even fits with what we thought we knew.
And finally, it is our personal experiences that help to inform us and shape how our brain is organized and will see the world around us. If we came from a home of understanding and forgiveness and our first experiences in school are with bullies and violent or out of control children, chances are that will effect our minds, and how we perceive the world. Our brains are making and revising the logic connections that will drive our ideas, how we think, and how we make decisions in life.
Back to our friends in that NPR story about militias, above, and other fringe organizations that often seem driven by an extreme ideology. It is my belief that many of the people driven toward these fringe groups grew up in a world of distrust and fear. Whether they inherited those tendencies from their parents or whether they learned to distrust the government and other entities by listening as children to the adults around them, they formed a series of connections in the mind that become a filter for all they see and hear.
We humans are programmed to learn fear. It was a critical part of our survival as a species. A few hundred thousand years ago, we had to fear a lot of things, wild animals, natural events such as lightning and floods, eating the wrong plants; our world was dominated by fear and we honed our skills to pick up on fear and make that a part of our daily thinking.
This brings me to something I've talked about before. I listened to a psychologist many years ago - I think it was a program on PBS - who talked about how our experiences and learning affect our outlook on life. He used the analogy of everyone holding a lens through which we view the world around us. Our lens is initially shaped by the genetics, as I mentioned, but then it is being continuously ground by what we are taught and by our personal experiences as we move through life. In the end, we all have a unique curvature to our lens because none of us have exactly the same experiences in life. Since no two people have the exact same experiences, each of our lenses, and how we see events, is unique to each of us. Where we have the same experiences, what we individually perceive and interpret is warped by the unique lens through which we are viewing life.
What conclusions can we draw from this? First, those first years of life, probably the first ten years are critical to who we will become as adults. Our lens will take on a distinct shape that will become harder and harder to reshape as we age because the lens hardens with age. The mind of a child is infinitely malleable as they learn new things. As adults, the logic paths that were laid down as children are very hard to change. And, once we have committed to a particular philosophy, be it religious, political, or social, we are not easily reprogrammed to think differently and in all likelihood, we don't want new information coming in to confuse the situation.
What does this mean as a society? Let's use religion as an example. We all know how much anger, violence, and intolerance can exist between religions and those who embrace one belief or another. Humans have been struggling for several thousand years in an effort to recognize, respect, and honor all religions. Most religions try to teach tolerance and love, yet within their writings you find examples of intolerance and anger. Conflict, sometimes violent conflict has a long history in religion. The challenge is to find a way to accommodate the many religions while finding where the boundaries of acceptable behavior are across all religions.
This is just as true with politics and social values, part of which rely on those religious beliefs. Topics like same-sex marriage and abortion can turn otherwise loving people into and angry mob calling for the heads of others. Our brains are formed and organized by both genetics and our education as children. If we are to find true peace in the world, it will be through the minds of our children.
But waiting for the next generation to make things better is not an answer for today. We do need to teach the next generation if we truly want a more peaceful world in the future, and that means the adults alive today need to model the behavior they want from the next generation.
This won't be easy as we have all settled into some form of cultism in terms of what we believe, religiously, socially, and politically. If we consider ourselves to be "hard-core" anything, we will have to lower the wall of thought and let in new information. Whether we're talking about racism, sexism, education, military spending
and purpose, abortion, same-sex marriage, any of the burning issues of the day, we have to listen to opposing views to see if we can find a way forward that will reduce the emotions that go with being in a closed-mind cult.
In the 21st century, we have to understand our tendency to form cults. There are good and bad cults. Being part of a cult that supports a sports team, the company you work for, or a hobby can work to the advantage of the group ascribing to that cult. But, if the cult is based on discrimination, hate, and intolerance, we have to break the bonds of those cults in order to have a more perfect union.
I know this is a difficult topic for some people to discuss or listen to with an open mind. I keep trying to explain why I am not a believer. My purpose is not to convince believers to abandon their beliefs but to try to help them understand why I believe what I do just as I try to understand their views. And, obviously, those who think the way I do know where I'm coming from. I think I do understand why those who embrace one religion or another do so. Humans over history have shown a need to believe in a higher power to get them through the tough times and to explain the inexplicable. Something happened when we grew this big brain we have, and part of that was a need to hold someone else responsible for events we seem unable to control. As we have learned to control certain circumstances in life, such as some diseases, we no longer thank God for a cure; we thank modern medicine.
For me, I would pose this question to others, "Why should I believe in this God, the modern God of many religions, any more than all the gods who proceeded him or her?" The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and people all over the planet back then all had a belief in multiple gods whose existence was as provable as the modern-day God of the major monotheistic religions. I think the Egyptians had eleven gods, the Greeks had twelve gods and goddesses, and the Romans had twelve though it seems they may have added a few others later.
It seems to me that all the gods throughout history were written about and explained to a frightened populace, typically by the elders. The elders were viewed as wise and all-knowing. Their explanations went a long way to explaining the many events, both natural and phenomenal, that affected the lives of the average human. Many elders claimed a kinship with one god or another or, at a minimum, clamimed a direct line to the god. We were, in no small part, a frightened species that, with a tendency to cower in fear when threatened. Being able to talk to someone closely connected to a god gave us confidence that everything would be alright.
Today's God, and his or her predecessors required a couple of things from their adherents. One was the suspending of logic or critical thinking, and to exercise their imaginations so that they might believe in the proclaimed miracles and powers of the gods that ruled their lives. There was no proof of any of this. There were legends about the gods told by those privileged individuals who claimed to have a direct line to the gods. They served as the interpreters of the god's wishes and desires and thus became the religious leaders.
The second requirement of the followers was an unquestioning devotion to the gods, often under the threat of expulsion, or in earlier times, denouncement and physical torture or death for questioning the teachings of the leaders of the dominating religion. Religion requires that you accept as fact whatever tales are in the religious texts. Regardless of the degree of improbability or incredulity such events may give rise to in the human mind, they are doctrine.
In their time, many of the people of Rome, Greece, and Egypt were just as devout and certain of their beliefs as any modern Jew, Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu. I see absolutely no difference in the rantings of Pat Roberts today and his claims of speaking with Jesus than those of a Roman Emperor or Egyptian Pharaoh who claimed to be in touch with the gods.
At any point in history, with any religious or spiritual cult, you might find, they have several things in common. They were all based on mythology about the deities and the founders of the religion. They have or had their sacred texts as "proof" that all of this had indeed happened. That same holds with modern-day faiths like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They all have their tales that have been duly recorded by various authors down through the ages in the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran, and since it is written down, it must be true, right? Would that also be true of everything written down in the Inquirer? Or at Breitbart? The Drudge Report? Or the New York Post?
The fact that something was written down and sworn to be accurate, and supposedly witnessed means little these days. Until you have hard evidence and all the facts, along with both numerous witnesses, you are going out on a limb by declaring something to be unquestionably true. The fact that most religious texts were written down a thousand or two thousand years ago by people who believed in witches calls the credibility of such accounts into question, in my opinion.
I believe in what I can see and what can be demonstrated to be true. I deal in fact-based proposals, not dream interpretations or other types of mysticism. I can accept a well-formed theory that is backed by several fact-based deductions. The definition of the word theory is: "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena."
The keyword in that definition is "plausible," meaning that it is likely to be true or believed, as opposed to implausible, which can mean far-fetched, fanciful, or to stretch the imagination.
For instance, the theory of evolution first proposed by Darwin 150 years ago was plausible. His theory was based on direct observations and logical deduction. Darwin stated, "Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed." (On the Origin of Species, ch. 14) Darwin's theory of evolution stated that:
The notion of gods or God remains unproven by any scientific proof. There is no evidence that God exists. But, that doesn't mean that religion isn't real, or that individual beliefs in a God are not both actual in their minds and a significant part of their lives. Faith is a belief, and that belief relies on the existence of God. To be devout, one has to believe that God exists, and if you think it to be true, then in your mind, it is true. That is not proof of a God, merely evidence that your beliefs are real.
As for me, as I think I've stated before, I believe that I will live on in the lives that come after me. It won't be anything I'm aware of, and I won't see my grandmother or my first pet dog or any of the rest of that. At this point, I intend to be cremated. My wife will decide what to do with my ashes, and whatever that choice, it will release those elements of my existence back into our world to be absorbed in some manner by other living things. The gasses from my pyre will be absorbed into the atmosphere. Blending with the surrounding air, all will be breathed in by living organisms. I will, in a sense, live on but without any knowledge of an afterlife.
For now, that is the best explanation I can offer of my beliefs. If I find another, more 'plausible' explanation, I'll either revisit this post or write a new one.
Corrupted big government is the problem, a huge fucking problem.
Let's get something straight from the beginning. We are a nation of 330 million people and growing. You cannot run a country that big with a government the size of Waterloo Nebraska, home of the Weiner & Kraut Festival. I don't care how fucking smart you think you might be. Waterloo has about 900 people, probably one cop, several bars, and a dozen churches. Try running the United States of America with that crew.