Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vain actors: politicians, priests and parents

Politicians are surely the most arrogant actors of all, because they see themselves endowed with a mandate, and they take themselves very seriously. Many politicians think they have a vision of an ideal future society, and their attempts to realize that vision are imagined as a mission. They seem to forget, or deliberately ignore, that society has evolved through the efforts, not of politicians, but of engineers, scientists, industrialists, businessmen, economists, researchers, teachers, farmers, laborers, etc. Politicians are often powerful in the sense that they can do a lot of harm, such as telling lies that start a war. They can act as dull chiefs, like George W Bush or Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. But they rarely have the necessary competence and resources to actually create anything worthwhile... apart from public service jobs. To take an obvious example, modern society is totally dominated by the ubiquitous role of computing and the Internet. Were these phenomena the achievement of politicians? Of course not. It appears that the Republican candidate John McCain is still incapable of sending an email!

As far as priests are concerned, their role in the modern world has dwindled to almost zero. In the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Benedict XVI urged French Catholics, pathetically, to stand up for their faith: "Don't be afraid! " But he's unlikely to bring about a surge in the recruitment of candidates for the priesthood. Meanwhile, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy has annoyed many citizens by promoting a fuzzy kind of religious observance that he likes to call "positive laicism", which would seem to consist of encouraging the development of religion in French society without ever admitting explicitly that you're doing so... like a mercantile pimp who tells the police that he's merely helping his girlfriends to make friends in the lonely city. Fortunately, since 1905, laicism has become such a profoundly ingrained concept in French attitudes that little Sarko is unlikely to make much headway with his archaic scheming.

Whereas I've realized for ages that politicians and priests do not play significant roles in the modern world, it was only recently that I learned that parents, too, have little or no influence on the lives that their children are likely to lead. In other words, the noble concepts of motherhood and fatherhood are probably myths. Children are socialized and educated, not by their parents, nor by their teachers, but by their peer groups.

Funnily enough, there is nevertheless one domain in which children can be totally and permanently brainwashed by their parents. It's not politics, or anything of a practical nature... but rather religion. A child survives in this treacherous world by learning rapidly, often through trial and error, that Mum and Dad are not talking bullshit when they warn that fire burns, that it's a good idea to look both ways before crossing a street, that eating green fruit can give you a belly ache, etc. In the same way, countless kids seem to decide that the only sure way of surviving in a "higher realm" is to accept the religious advice of Mum and Dad. That's why many baby Christians become adolescent Christians, Jewish babies evolve into adult Jews, and Muslim kids adopt Islam for the rest of their lives.

It's not intuitively obvious that the pursuits of politicians, priests and parents are vain. Personally, it took me over sixty years to reach this state of enlightenment. Up until then, I had always tended to give these worldly authorities the benefit of the doubt, by supposing that they were performing worthwhile deeds. Today, I realize retrospectively that their actions are essentially pointless, indeed empty. The forces that determine our destinies do not emanate from human actors such as politicians, priests or parents. These forces come directly from the Cosmos, and can only be perceived, if at all, through Science.

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