For once, I have taken my tongue from my cheek before I write and what you see here is in the nature of thinking aloud, if you like. As you might see from the title, I'm fond of alliteration. I don't take it to extremes, as while McCaulay said, "Apt alliteration's an artful aid," my mother's statement (in response to my childhood self vomiting after eating a quart of raspberry ripple ice-cream): "You can have too much of a good thing," has always seemed to me to be a wisdom to live by. Moderation is, perhaps, the key to a happy life. This belief, probably prompted my joining in on the Fundamentalist Extremists thread in the Politics and Religion section.
I'll admit that it was a rash move, for in that area one can see the very worst of E, with all of the angry tirades masquerading as arguments and the strife that can be found there. Yet, paradoxically, it is also a place where one can see the very best of E too. OK, not the best in terms of role playing, I'll admit, but you can see the best in terms of people's willingness to stand up in public for their beliefs. And such a willingness can be noble indeed. Of course the debates there are the sort of debates that will exist in most forums, for people simply can't help but want to argue about what they passionately believe in, and there's nothing wring with that.
Anyway, reading that thread prompted some thoughts and as I don't want to hit the thread with a wall of slightly off topic text, I decided that I might as well rehearse my thoughts here. After all, if I can't express my own opinions in my blog, where can I?
A common thread on this blog is that I see E very much as a community. When you look at the forum stats
, that reality becomes very clear indeed. Inevitably, therefore the passions that motivate us all are different and that might cause problems- and I don't necessarily mean in areas where debate can easily become emotive. Simple things, that we might not even consider would cause a problem, can really get under the skin.
What I'm trying to say here is that excessive passion, untempered by any common sense, can be problematic in any community. Likewise, beliefs, taken to extremes, lacking decency, humanity or even the smallest doubt is truly harmful. Zeal can be a wonderful motivator, but I've yet to meet anybody who truly likes a zealot. Historically, most zealots have been religious zealots though nowadays it is possible to see the fundamentalist atheist. I see no contradiction in the term, for all fundamentalists focus upon the core of their belief system and admit no validity to any view that calls that fundamental belief into question. Some of the atheists I know (but by no means a majority) pursue their aim of convincing the world that there is no form of deity with a fervour that goes beyond scepticism into a zeal that is almost religious.
In short, I would argue that it is not fundamentalist belief (or fundamentalist unbelief) that is harmful or unhealthy, but that it is instead passionate certainty. If you are certain you are right, then it follows that you will most probably also be certain that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. People who are passionately certain make value judgments according to that certainty and "wrong-thinking" can readily become not just foolish but actually offensive or even "evil" in their eyes. When passion and certainty are combined fanaticism follows swiftly and it is in the zealous and intolerant promotion of fanatical beliefs that all manner of unpleasantness begins. I've noticed that on the comments to one of my othe posts, a veiled reference to McCarthyism was made. Now that is a good example of what I mean about passionate certainty. When you are passionately certain that communism is dangerous then communists become evil and have to be rooted out. The fact that in doing so, you begin to resemble the opperssive regime whose influence you seek to limit.
Over the years I've been a member of many clubs and societies: communities, if you will. Some of them have been long lived and some have, unfortunately, died. Generally, the thing that has been the common denominator in the communities that have withered and died has been a rather unhealthy form of wrangling. In one- a yahoo group- the owner was so intent on preventing this he produced the most incredibly detailed and prescriptive set of rules that one can imagine. Every post had to be moderated before going up on the boards (I should know, I was part of the moderation team) to ensure it would not cause any form of dissent. The result of that was that the dissent came anyway and so catastrophically that the group folded.
If you keep a community in such a situation where pressure cannot be relieved, then it is natural that the pressure builds up. In a way, that's part of the function for boards like the Politics and Religion board- they act as a pressure valve. They allow people to vent and explore their passions before those passions fossilize into the certainty that begets extremism and the consequential discord that arises thereafter.
That's what happened in that yahoo group I mentioned earlier: members became polarised over the issue of external links (I know, a non-issue if ever there was one) that people argued vehemently behind the scenes. One member was passionately certain that a link to anything which featured a commercial service or product was tantamount to advertising and would shower the mods with emails whenever a link to anything of the sort was let through, claiming inconsistency. A signature link to a member's LiveJournal (with the discreet banner ads that are found on LJ) became the same as flooding the group with spam advertising, while another member found the modest restriction on commercial sites was a dreadful restriction on her civil liberties. What both people had in common was that they were passionately certain they were right.
My missus often jokes that I'm a grumpy old man. Well, perhaps I am. According to the BBC definition I fall in the age range: 36-65 and I can, indeed, be spectacularly grumpy. Well, to be honest, I'm old enough to have learned that, while I might grump about this and that, I'm not going to really get that worked up over things that irritate me. After all, I could be wrong. If I can do something about it, I will, if I can't, I'll work round it. As a wise man once said, "Live, learn, fix what you can and circumvent the rest."