An overview of “truth groups” and the “honesty culture” strategy (longer, anti-esotericist version)

(The following post constitutes virtually the entirety of the updated final section of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.  If you do not consider yourself an “anti-esotericist,” or are still unfamiliar with the subject matter of religious esotericism and have not yet formed any opinions with regard to it, then I recommend that you instead read a shorter version of this post which does not discuss the subject of religious esotericism or its relevance to an “honesty culture” social strategy.)

 

“Principle is not limited by Precedent.”
—Thomas Troward

I believe that it would actually be possible to solve the age-old problem of lying and dishonesty in human affairs if there were only a relatively small number of people who were willing to consistently adhere to a strategy based on the formation of what might be called “truth groups” (or “honesty groups,” to be more precise).  I certainly make no claim that the thorough elimination of dishonesty in society would be achieved in the very near future by using this strategy; but I do believe that, in time, it would be achieved.  (Incidentally, I also envision that these same “truth groups” would constitute the nuclei or beginning cores around which the moral communities that I describe elsewhere might come to form—with each of these moral communities practicing a non-esoteric religion or practical philosophy of its choice.)

I propose that members of truth groups would make four pledges, the first three being the most important to stress.  First:  They will never lie, either to each other or to outsiders—not even to those who have lied to them.  (There would be a single exception to this blanket “never lie” rule:  a kind of “self-defense” or “self-protection” exception that would apply in cases in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unreasonably threatened—for example, by being asked intrusive and impertinent questions.)[1]  SecondTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate lying by others.  ThirdTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate the condoning (or promoting, or endorsing, or enabling) by others of lying by others.  Fourth:  They will strive to reduce how much they lie to themselves (at least to the extent they are able to do so, given that some degree of self-deception in every person is inevitable, and one must fight a never-ending battle against it).[2]

A particular truth group could be formed around any interest that its members shared in common, or any mission or goal that they wished to jointly pursue.  Any currently-existing group or association, including a small business, a non-profit organization, or an informal club, could always choose to additionally identify as a “truth group.”  Members of different truth groups wouldn’t need to have anything in common with one another except a shared desire to promote the development of a thoroughly honest society.[3]

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What I do NOT believe every human being is entitled to

In a previous post, I stated what I do believe every human being is entitled to:

“I believe every human being is entitled to membership in a local, real-world community of people in which:

  • “The members agree to take responsibility for each other’s welfare—especially the welfare of the children, but that of everyone else as well.
  • “The members share certain beliefs and ideals in common—whether these beliefs and ideals be viewed as ‘religious’ or as ‘secular.’
  • “The beliefs, ideals, and rules of practice of each community are stated in authoritative writings whose meanings are clear, unambiguous, and in no way misleading, deceptive, or unnecessarily confusing; and which were originally written in the language spoken by the members of the community.

“If a community of this kind is not available to every person, then I furthermore believe that every human being has not only the right, but also the obligation, to actively oppose the efforts of any individual or group that is working, whether directly or indirectly, to prevent such communities from coming into being and being made freely available to all persons.”

I now state what I do not believe every human being is entitled to.  I do not believe every human being is entitled to membership in a local, real-world community of people in which:

  • The beliefs, ideals, and rules of practice of each community are stated in authoritative writings whose meanings are not clear and unambiguous, or which are misleading, deceptive, or unnecessarily confusing; or which were not originally written in the language spoken by the members of the community.

It is for this reason that I do not believe that any person is entitled to membership in an esoteric religious community; and since it has been found as a practical matter that the existence of esoteric religions makes it very difficult for non-esoteric religious communities to exist—that is, the type of local, real-world community in which I believe every person is entitled to membership—it logically follows that I believe every human being has both the right and the obligation to actively oppose the efforts of any individual or group that is working, whether directly or indirectly, to promote one or more esoteric religions.

Non-esoteric religions are associated with sanity, consciousness, rationality, honesty, and straightforward communication; esoteric religions are associated with their opposites.  For that reason:  There is no moral equivalence between esoteric religions and non-esoteric religions.

What I believe every human being is entitled to

I believe every human being is entitled to membership in a local, real-world community of people in which:

  • The members agree to take responsibility for each other’s welfare—especially the welfare of the children, but that of everyone else as well.
  • The members share certain beliefs and ideals in common—whether these beliefs and ideals be viewed as “religious” or as “secular.”
  • The beliefs, ideals, and rules of practice of each community are stated in authoritative writings whose meanings are clear, unambiguous, and in no way misleading, deceptive, or unnecessarily confusing; and which were originally written in the language spoken by the members of the community.

If a community of this kind is not available to every person, then I furthermore believe that every human being has not only the right, but also the obligation, to actively oppose the efforts of any individual or group that is working, whether directly or indirectly, to prevent such communities from coming into being and being made freely available to all persons.

An open letter to Moti Nissani concerning the creation of non-esoteric religious communities

Dear Dr. Nissani,

The article of yours recently published on Veterans Today, “7.4 Billion Cheers for Real Democracy,” resonated with me quite strongly.  Like you, I believe that small-scale communities need to be developed that are essentially democratic and egalitarian in nature.

I approach this matter from a slightly different angle than you, however.  In your article, you wrote, “[I]n real democracies, the truth comes out more readily and it is more likely to lead to criticism, debate, and a change of course.”  I believe that our approach should effectively be the reverse of that:  We would insist on truth-telling, with the expectation that doing so would inevitably lead to more democratic forms of social organization.

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An overview of “practical philosophical communities” (i.e., “non-esoteric religious communities”)

(The following contains most of the second section of Chapter 6 of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.  It provides a conceptual overview of “practical philosophical communities” or “non-esoteric religious communities,” which I believe ought to replace the esoteric, i.e. “traditional,” form of religious community.)

In the type of non-esoteric religious communities that I believe we desperately need, a person would effectively be required to take responsibility for assenting to or rejecting any proposition that claimed authority in that person’s life; but, of course, this could only happen if the person were first allowed to understand what the proposition even was—something that esotericist forms of religion (to the extent, that is, that the beliefs of the religion have their source in esoteric writings) effectively make impossible.  In short, members of non-esoteric religions would be encouraged to think more like philosophers—in the best and widest sense of that word.

However, for a person to truly “assent to” or “reject” the type of proposition that I have in mind, he would have to choose whether or not to integrate it into his life and actions:  I do not consider a person who claims to have “accepted” a certain philosophical proposition, but then fails to live his life in accordance with it, or advocate that his social institutions be designed in accordance with it, to have truly accepted it.  So philosophical or theoretical discussion that did not ultimately and finally result in the putting into practice of the theoretical propositions that had been developed would not involve propositions that had ever actually been “assented to,” since there would have been no positive commitment made with regard to those propositions.  And I consider discussion of philosophical propositions that are not capable of being either “assented to” or “rejected” in this practical sense, to be—at best—a waste of time.

I believe that to establish a society suffused with meaning requires the existence of numerous practical philosophical communities, communities in which the virtues of practical usefulness and honesty would be assigned equally high value:  the type of communities which, amazingly to me, our society does not currently have.  What we now generally find is that academic philosophy and scholarship is not seriously interested in making itself practically useful, and esoteric religion is not seriously interested in honesty and clear thinking.  A split currently exists between two sets of values or goals:  on the one hand, those of scholarship, intellectuality, honesty, clarity and precision of thought and expression, and the desire to seek out truth and knowledge; and, on the other hand, those of practical usefulness, the sharing of a sense of common meaning and purpose, the giving of life guidance, and the giving of mutual support and protection.  This split can no longer be maintained.  In fact, I think there is a close relation between the historical legacy of esotericist religion and the sterility of much of academic philosophy and scholarship in its current state (such that modern-day academicians might well be considered the “secularized” successors of the “holy class” found in traditional religious societies—but if anything, showing even less interest in their work being of practical benefit to the “laity” than their predecessors showed).  The kinds of esotericism found both in traditional religion and in modern academia are expressions of the same basic lack of a spirit of commitment, the same unwillingness to first make a rational and socially useful decision, whether through personal reflection or through discussion with others, and then to take action in conformity with that decision; and both are also expressions of the same fundamental split between the “inner” and the “outer,” between theory and practice—the overcoming of which split I believe constitutes the central concern of the New Testament (albeit one often presented in implicit and obscure form).

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