Tuesday, May 03, 2016

rickety trellis

For a large class of imagined complaints about materialistic naturalism, an appropriate reply is "go talk with the real people being stereotyped". If the complainer did, they might discover that advocates of materialistic naturalism aren't abominable, uncaring wretches. I've speculated that it partly comes from an old, laughable one-dimensional yardstick which mixes up religiosity and miscellaneous flourishing. The assumption is that everyone who most closely follows the correct system of beliefs is consistently better off than everyone who doesn't. To make the yardstick work, the numerous exceptions need to be ignored or reconciled. "That unhappy believer is doing it wrong."  "You only think you're happy when you're disagreeing with me."  "Pressuring people into (the right flavor of) religion makes them better citizens, children, etc."

One of these narrow-minded complaints is about not supporting personal growth. Some people strongly link self-improvement with the influence and pursuit of supernatural ideas, or at least motions in the general direction of "spirituality". As a result they deduce that unconvinced people like me are allegedly indifferent, pessimistic, discouraging, or even hostile toward self-improvement itself. We must be against self-improvement...because we're eager to spread the distinctive philosophical principle that, as much as possible, ideas shouldn't be followed without carefully checking the accuracy of the ideas' implications through logic and investigation.

I remember this dehumanizing cliché well from when I was on the other side. By definition "secular" people didn't believe in anything but atoms, and they believed that humanity was an offshoot of precursor animal species. Therefore they had no defense to living in a totally bestial, debauched mode. They had no ultimate trial in the afterlife to anticipate, so they didn't have motivation to contemplate ethics. Of course this harmonizes with the shallow accusation of dismissing former beliefs purely in order to live without rules.

In any form, the prejudice is ill-founded. I'm pleased by the effort to nurture greater excellence in people, when it isn't coercive. Although the list of worthwhile goals is debatable, especially the goals' specifics, I'd venture that my list of aspirations has many overlaps with the complainers'. I too would like to see more effective self-management, more empathy, less obsession on inanimate goods, more clear-headed decisions and thinking, less procrastination, more awareness of consequences, less fearfulness, more compromise for the benefit of all. These goals are generic. Someone can have these goals without first following beliefs with questionable corroboration. (For that matter, I know for certain that many followers don't broadly reject the goal of checking ideas' implications for accuracy; they dilute it by applying it very selectively and by accepting error-prone methods of "checking".)

Furthermore, the beliefs' role in personal growth is just as generic. It's comparable to a trellis for plants to grow on. A trellis has some characteristics which provide a setting and assistance for growth to happen. Yet no trellis is uniquely capable. A working trellis can have a variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and source materials.

By analogy, beliefs can function as a trellis for personal growth and still have issues. It might be circulating inaccuracies about topics large and small. Nevertheless it might supply opportunities for guided quiet reflection, mentors and peers, inspiration to grander ideals, confidence that behavior is malleable. Like the advice to lay down tensions, some of its characteristics benefit personal growth despite the context of suspect beliefs. I concede that the kind of beliefs I discarded have in some ways acted as an adequate trellis.

All the same, this trellis strikes me as a rickety one. To keep up the metaphor, it's a trellis that doesn't endure. It breaks after the assaults of erosion and too much weight. Or perhaps it's a trellis that's too little or misshapen. Its limitations or crookedness cause it to be outgrown. It might function for a while, but its downsides then emerge. Someone asks a forbidden question. The repeated failures to correspond to revealed realities pile up. The society's controlling pressure starts to feel constrictive. Stagnation arrives after the easier stages are done. Punishments elevate docile, cookie-cutter conformity over self-directed progress. "Moral instruction" abruptly veers into odd obsessions with apparently harmless activities.

In the end, I can follow materialistic naturalism and continue recognizing that growth is important. As I see it, my view forces greater emphasis on having the best people there can be. They're all we have, on the working premise that spectral rescuers can't be relied upon. Essentially, growth is now too important to rely on the same old rickety trellis.

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