Monday, June 20, 2005

Reason and Hollow Lives.

I've been reading this book while at work, to while away the hours.

It was on my father's shelf for months now, and I've been wanting to read it forever, since I've been a fan of Karen Armstrong.

And Ash's post made me think about it, today.

Fundamentalism. Let's face it, if you're here, you hate fundamentalists, or at least have some kind of dim view about them. So much of what fundies are promotes bad science and even worse religion, and has ruined and made the lives of people around the world difficult.

I've always known, reading from her writings, that fundamentalism was tied to modernity — that it was a harsh rejection of modernity, and a literal reading of scripture, at least for Abrahamaic faiths. What I didn't know was the fundamentalism was a modern movement — yes, a movement that was born in modern times, but also incorporating modern ideas like the separation of mythos (the irrational, mythic component of ideology) and logos (the rational, pragmatic component of ideology).

What Armstrong explained to me was why and how modernity created fundamentalism, and the deep-seated neurosis that persists, even to this day, among rational scientific thought.

Let me be clear. Neither Armstrong nor I, as far as I can tell, think modernity is evil. It was necessary, because it helped us out of a deadly resource trap that plagued pre-modern agrarian societies. But to get to it, its progenitors had to, in a sense, separate myth and rationality.

Let me put it to you this way. To ask a man, who lived in the Middle Ages, or a man who lives and still lives in a pre-modern world whether the events depicted in the Qur'an or Scripture actually happened is to miss the fundamental point. To a pre-modern man, there is no distinction to what happened in myth and what happened in reality. Yes, God did make the Earth in Seven Days. Yes, Man was an evolved ape. Both ideas could be accepted, with little or not contradiction.

And we're not talking about mud huts here. We're talking about civilizations that invented algebra, number theory, and shit like that. Yes, the Classical Greeks, yes, the Caliphate Muslims, yes, the Ming Dynasty and yes, the Egyptians. They weren't primitive idiots, but they were pre-Modern.

What makes a Modern man is, or at least, was his reliance on reason and reason alone to get the truth. That's a great way to succeed politically, economically and socially, by the way — look at the Europeans and Americans. They drive scientific and political discourse, and dominate the world's economy. That's something you cannot run away from.

But to get there, for them, took 300 years of bloodshed, pain and suffering. Now think of the Muslims who were their neighbours, and later, their vassals. They were forced into Modernity, and were made to adapt it in a span of less than a century.

We're still struggling. Look at the people in your life, who hover between scientific rationalism and their older, mythical and traditional lives. Living a modern life meant abandoning your culture, to the early modern Muslims. And if you were trained in a non-traditional way, you'd look at your culture askance.

I know I did. I know Hani does, at least in some points. Many bloggers, good people, would dearly love to be Good Muslims or Good Christians or Good Whatevers. Sometimes, retreating into reason could not be enough — while reason is good at the what, it isn't very good at the how.

We need myth in our lives. It isn't enough to feed the mind and intellect and body and pocket; man needs to feed his soul. Some retreat to magic. Others retreat to music, or art, or love, or pleasure, or pain, or reason. Many more retreat to religion — at least, they used to.

Sadly, being a religious typically means being antithetical to reason, at least now. Many people now have a hard time reconciling religion with science. It should be the case — if anything, myth and reason are good at two separate things. Myth, taken into a practical context, leads to disaster and pain; reason, in an attempt to give meaning to one's life, leads to despair and pain.

Is it fundamentalism's fault? Hardly. Fundamentalism is a new development, postdating modernity by decades. Was it modernity's fault? It seems that way, but I don't think so. What was at fault is a recurring tale in human history — human foible and frailty causing pain and death. Proponents of modernism were not to blame — what they merely sook was the truth. Conservatives were not to blame — what they sook was certainty, in a world that seemed intent on falling apart around them. It simply happened; no one factor is responsible for our sad state today.

And what a sad state it is. Torn between madness and hollowness, most Malaysians and members of developing nations stand adrift. We yearn to be fed from one spring or the other, and in pursuing both, gain neither.

Mind you, I'm only halfway through this book. And it's a gloomy read. It's a tragic tale of loss, arrogance, madness and ignorance. Not only from the poor, the religious and the ignorant, but also from the so-called enlightened, both religious and secular.

Blogger |^2Sane| said...

Are we incapable living in a world that we will never understand at all in our lifetime?

I see fundamentalism as a reluctance to move forward. An incapacity to allow that even a slight possibility that they might be wrong in what they intepreted in the world.

I don't really see it as a modern movement. I think the problem persist a long time ago.

It was just being highlighted by recent massive science movement?

6:17 AM  
Blogger T-Boy said...

That's where I think you're wrong. I'm not going to bother explaining it, because Armstrong does a better job at it.

Go get the book. I'm still not done with it.

5:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home