January 31, 1995
Ideas, suggested Hofstadter in a marvelous metaphor, are like viral diseases, they appear almost at once in susceptible minds. The comparison is apt - imagine a brain immunized to infection by a new idea and you will see the effects of beliefs. Beliefs, we can observe, originate at critical points. They might be something carried from the credulous years - the pedagogophilic era - childhood, until about age 16. Or explanations which present themselves as choices from one of our many minds. For example, our favorite relative suddenly dies and we realize all at once we will never see her/him again. In the ceremonies that surround death, we are ever effered the beliefs of religion which promise eternal existence, and it can be tempting to embrace a belief, really an extension of human hope, especially if that belief does not really interfere with our day-to-day existence. So some of us become, even for a short while, focally shizophrenic (a wonderful concept suggested to me by Scott Chilcott).
I see focal schizophrenia in many places; it is, after all, my own filter through which I view matters. I see what I prefer, even if the preferences are not currently at the level where I can address them directly as usch. In an article published in Time, August 15, 1994, written by Robert Wright, I see perhaps an obligatory (perhaps in obligation to an editor) position which seems to say: "Here are how things are; how can we change them."
Change, there is something oddly universal about that desire. Could it be part of the mimesis of which Girard speaks? If we find ourselves holding the same position, even agreeing that "things simply are such and such," holding that positions places us in a potentially mimetic stance with others who might see in the same way; therefore we feel the need to change them, and even suggesting possibilities creates our essential escape from replication. Others present themselves as having clayish feet. Sagan, a national treasure, seems too caught-up with his own idea of popularizing science. His sweet solution to ignorance on the part of humanity is to popularize science. He finds evidence for his position in the burning of the Library at Alexandria. He claims that the Christians destroyed this unique storehouse of irreplaceable works because the guardians of it were too elitist, were too tight with their treasure.
I think differently about this. The explanation for the behavior of the Chiristinas lies in simpler motives (quote here about the danger of words - like a sword in the hands of the children where did I read that???)
At the time of the destruction, we were not historically far from a purely oral tradition - the Greeks decried the coming of writing, as the writers decry the coming of television today. Landguage, in a purely oral form, allowed the twisting and changing of meaning. Written words, immutable, possessed a strength not owned by speech. As such, it was dangerous. In the cse of Christianity, the words held safely in this library, many works by Democritus which are now lost forever, stood in oppositionto Christian beliefs, to the develoiping Christian mythology. We saw a similar act taken by Emperor ((( in China, He built the great wall and at the same time ordered the destruction of all of the books and writing which preceded him. He caused a remarkable migration of scholars, and with them their treasured scrolls, to Korea.
The explanation lies in the human need to separate self from others, one of the powerful faces of envy, of "mimetic desire," as proposed by Rene Girard. What groups and individuals say in effect is: "My doxy is orthodoxy, all others, heterodoxy." It is a universal propulsive force. It lies behind every author's pen, be he scientific, literary or popular.
In his book "On Human Nature" Wilson seems to focally abandon his laudible and brave acceptance of things as they are and to join an implicit colloquy which points towards change - alteration of things as they are to something as they are not.
Each time in history a social designer has had her way, the results are worse than had matters been left untouched. "We are tired of fighting, We don't want to kill any more. But the others are treacherous and cannot be trusted."
This quote attributed to (((( could just as easily be said by an Israeli, a Palistinian, a Blood or a Crip, the police, the Catholic church. "Our brains do appear to be programmed to the following extent: we are inclined to partition other people into friends and aliens in the same sense that birds are inclined to learn territorial songs and to navigate by olar constellations. We tend to fear deeply the actions of strangers and so solve conflict by agression. These learning rules are most likely to have evolved during the past hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution and, thus to have conerred a biological advantage on those who conformed to them with the greatest fidelity." Wilson page 119
That fact won't change within a segment of time available to us, not even were we to employ the most draconian uegenics on a scale proposed by Hitler. Somehow we need to see the dangers and side step them, save what we can of ourselves and simply see that things are this way.