Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Humor the Dogs, Long Version

I noticed that once again I posted something without appropriate elaboration, so here's another try......

While discussing Severe Weather Awareness Week, James Lileks offered this tip.

.....when they test the warning sirens, howl along with your dog. He might think it's the Great Dog in the Sky, and you wouldn't want to look like an unbeliever.

That statement made me think of organized religions, and how much they rely on people thinking that way. People who may not believe in (or know) all or even most of a church's doctrine, but for reasons of their own choose to go along with the howlers. Churches don't mind this because it puts butts in the seats; if they really tried to operate with only "true believers" most of them would disappear.

The religious states are the biggest beneficiaries of this. Do you really think that the mullahs in Iran have the complete support of the general public? I would wager that most people there just want to get on with life and not be bothered, but they also don't want trouble, so they let the rulers have their way. Israel seems to have similar problems; the hardcore believers do things that most Israelis would really not want done, but about which they don't care enough to fight, so they go along. The Palestinians have the same problem.

Of course, this isn't limited to religion. It doesn't take much observation of politics to see that the howlers drive the discourse while most citizens only pay attention when they feel they must. This creates distortions that result in huge misperceptions about other groups (too often encouraged by the howlers on each side) that occasionally result in tragedy.

The answer to this is simple but not necessarily easy; don't go along with the howlers just to get along. Because unlike the dogs, they won't shut up on their own.


Dale said...

It's genuinely difficult to avoid this. Going along with our peer group is part and parcel of functioning as human beings. And yet everyone older than six understands the shortcomings and pitfalls of doing so.

When it comes to religion, and how we perceive 'others' in connection with religion, my mind comes back and back again to language: if we could understand the words spoken by those faraway types (not only but especially) in the Middle East, wouldn't it change a lot?

So I think a lot of the effect you described is multiplied by the basic difficulty of seeing 'others' as such because we can't really comprehend what they're saying or meaning. They're at some basic level unfathomable -- and naturally, this goes both ways.

As you know, I'm no Bible fan, but The Tower of Babel myth is one of its finer pieces.

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