Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
Hijacking a Faithful Habit (2021-02-01)
Not too long ago, a good friend of mine produced what can be fairly described as a wonderfully thought-provoking truthbomb. Having read about the latest instance of online mobbing for wrongthink, she wrote, "I find it hilariously religious almost like bias = sin but you can be saved!! Be saved by prioritizing men's feelings!" She and I are not the first to express concern about the lack of acknowledgement that humans are imperfect, and while oppressive bias is not acceptable, it is not a counter to oppressive bias to create a pile-on and declare the person who expressed a permanent outsider. Destroying the individual person's ability to participate in work and social life is not challenging oppressive behaviour. It is scapegoating someone and pretending that if they are drummed out then somehow that will end the oppression. Worse yet, it destroys the room for any person to change their mind and acknowledge that they have learned differently via study and life experience. Where individual participation is necessary to take down oppression, and of course it is, than this willingness to have an open mind and change is absolutely necessary. Otherwise people will simply double down on a fixed idea, including any and all oppressive ones that need questioning and removal. In other words, here we are back at another example of how genuine positive change is blocked.
At this time, I suspect very few of us have escaped at least attempted indoctrination in some form of organized religion predicated on the assumption that one man came to Earth and by some means ended up finding the way to salvation of some kind for everyone else. I am not trying to hide a reference to judaism, christianity, or islam here. It is quite consistent across patriarchal religious forms, including expressions of buddhism, of the many religious systems loosely referred to as hinduism, and before that in ancient greece where a deus ex machina would resolve the conflict in a play or story the author wanted humans to believe they could not solve themselves. This has been secularized more than once, in the sense that the original religious serial numbers have been filed off. These secularizations include superhero comic books, "hard-boiled" detective and police procedural novels, and most "golden age" science fiction celebrated as being "true, hard, original" examples of the genre. Attendant on the original pattern for this genre is the claim that a specific set of beliefs, and only those beliefs, are correct and necessary to reproduce and follow without question, otherwise we will fail in our presumed quest to be saved by the male figure at the centre of the particular iteration at hand. This is widely repeated pattern, familiar, comfortable, with all the beats defined for us. Yet it is also delicate, so delicate that it will pop the moment any thought or question arises that could evenly distantly suggest a doubt. The faith position can't stand up under scrutiny of any kind, as typically presented. In real life of course, many people have found ways to accept this sort of narrative despite having questions, or have found ways of revising the stories so that they stand up to a more hardboiled test.
In one of the stranger coincidences of language and culture in the world, the word "habit" began its tenure in human language as the latin word "habitus" for a person's consistent condition or appearance. It has the same root as the verb habere, which is of course also close akin to the english verb "to have." So this word refers to things a person keeps, especially what they keep close to themselves and therefore becomes an expression of themselves. Clothing is what we could call a canonical example of a person's habitus, because it can be taken in "at a glance." So a uniform is a special example of a habitus, and later it was common to refer in english to religious habits, the standardized clothing of nuns and monks. the only reference at the moment that I can find to a non-religious habit in the sense of clothing is to a "riding habit," a sort of gender stereotyped clothing rich women were expected to wear if they went horseback riding. In the end "habit" has come to refer more to consistent behaviour and/or thoughts, rather than our clothes. In that sense, a habit is an action or thought that requires no effort or even much conscious decision to act on or repeat.
All of this said to finally get to the main point, which is that it appears that the cancel and call out culture that is in effect right now is at best a hijacking of the belief in a saviour or deus ex machina as necessary to make any real change. At worst, it is the latest iteration of filing off the original serial numbers. And those most vulnerable to participating in this cancel and call out culture are young people at the age when they are still unable to accept that the world is not black and white and the answers to the most important questions are not simple or instant. It should not surprise anyone that the greatest fanatics are often the youngest followers, because that takes advantage of an accident of how our brains develop. Perhaps more of us are surprised than is ideal that even after that critical age, we are still vulnerable to being swept up into the pattern that is designed to hook into our desire for personal exoneration from responsibility for being complicit with oppression, whether or not we chose our complicity, together with our rightful desire for constructive change.