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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Religion as Firmware

A reprise of a previous theme (email excerpt):

[...] I'm not convinced religion isn't a net win for programming the masses. Like it or not, the average person is as programmable as a computer (our country's economy is largely built around this fact), and blaming this on education and conditioning is rather circular (not to mention begging the question of who's to do the educating). Religion is the firmware of the masses. Whether it involves a god or not is somewhat beside the point. Judaism is a largely secular religion. Atheism, Objectivism, and Humanism are all religions for many people.

Bottom line is many people just aren't self-aware or meta enough to check their own intellectual integrity, nor do they have the time, inclination, or ability to devise a set of ethics that are workable on a large scale. Enter firmware. Religions evolve to suit the times. I'm not convinced a large percentage of the population wouldn't be barbaric sans firmware. (I'm not saying you need to believe in god to be ethical, I'm saying many--maybe most--people need to be conditioned from an early age to be ethical, and religion is the name we generally give any organized system of doing this. Bearing in mind that "ethical" here just means conforming to some standard of ethics, without getting into what is or is not ethical in any objective sense.)

I was raised without religion in any form (no mention for or against, just not part of my world) and as best I can tell my firmware was programmed by 70's/80's TV (Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Star Trek, you get the picture). It's very sad, really. But on the bright side, you can count on me to be fair and benevolent.

Don't underestimate how much is programmed this way. In a different time and place, born with the same genetics you might have grown up to "feel" very differently about many things you probably consider to be "basic human nature".

Imo, there simply isn't a set of basic human natures that works in all the world's (and history's) environments and economies. Firmware is part of what makes humans so adaptable as a species. Y'all are talking as if we could (let alone should) just raise people without, but I'm not sure that's possible -- nature abhors a vacuum, and if you don't provide the bits, it may just suck in whatever's on TV.

Some here are appalled at the notion of deciding how other people should be conditioned. Doesn't get more elitist than that, does it? But, as a thought experiment, what if it turned out that people's "basic human nature" was definitively programmed in early childhood, a largely blank slate ready to accept (part of) the identity of this new person. In that case, being so anti-elitist as to refuse to be a programmer just means you're giving that power to the elitists, no?

The world is made by those who choose to make it.


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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com