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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Parallels between the “Odyssey paradox” and the “Bible paradox”

In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1976), Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes makes an argument that in the second millennium B.C., mankind began a gradual transition from a “bicameral” or unconscious mode of thought to a subjectively conscious mode of thought, with this process accelerating in the first millennium B.C.  Prior to this “breakdown of the bicameral mind,” according to Jaynes’ argument, all human beings were more or less severely schizophrenic, unreflectingly obeying the directives issued by the “voices” that they “heard” in their own minds, which were perceived by ancient peoples to be the voices of the “gods,” but which Jaynes believes originated in the right hemisphere of the brain.  What Jaynes calls subjective “consciousness” emerged over a number of centuries as those “voices” increasingly went silent (for most people anyway), as the left hemisphere of the brain became increasingly independent of the right hemisphere, and was no longer so dominated by it.

I don’t agree with Jaynes’ overall thesis in its entirety, or with all of the more specific arguments that he makes in the course of developing that thesis.  However, I do think the themes and ideas with which he deals in the book are extremely important ones, especially including the basic proposition that people in ancient times were generally more “schizophrenic” than people in modern times—which would help to explain why, as I claim in my own writings, the sacred religious scriptures that have come down to us from ancient times appear to be essentially schizophrenic in nature.  The relationship between schizophrenia or psychosis and ancient or traditional religion—which can also be described as “esoteric religion”—is an exceedingly important one, and deserves a great deal more attention than it currently receives.  Because of the continuing importance of these ancient scriptures in modern culture due to the survival of “traditional religion” or “esoteric religion,” the predominantly “schizophrenic-like” thinking of ancient peoples is still exerting its impact on humanity even in our own time.

As I was re-reading parts of the book, one passage in particular jumped out at me, since I found it so eerily reminiscent of my own admittedly perplexing theory that there is an anti-esotericist and self-neutralizing message unconsciously embedded in the esoteric writings of the Bible—a state of affairs that I sometimes refer to as the “Bible paradox.”  Jaynes writes,

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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.

The important conceptual distinction between “meaning” and “belief”

At the heart of the strategy that I propose for replacing esoteric religion with non-esoteric religion lies a crucial conceptual distinction:  the distinction between “meaning” and “belief.”  A “belief” can be thought of as a certain type of “meaning”:  one that a person has accepted for him- or herself as “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy.”  Placing emphasis on this conceptual distinction helps us to imagine a society—unlike the society we now have—in which most of its members who spoke the same language could be expected to assign roughly the same meanings to any given assertive communication of a religious nature—without those people also being required to accept those particular meanings as “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy” for themselves.

In other words, I believe it is possible to imagine a society in which the meanings conveyed by assertive communications of a religious nature would be more or less shared in common by everyone, and in which the commonly and generally agreed-upon determination of meaning would always precede belief in, or agreement with, the meaning that was being asserted.  It would only be after the meaning had been determined with reasonable certainty by society as a whole that it would be considered permissible for the various members of the society to “go their separate ways” in deciding whether or not to accept that meaning as a personal belief.  So it would not be considered permissible for a person to say, “This writing means such-and-such to me, which is why I believe it,” even if the writing did not have roughly that same meaning in the view of most of the other members of the person’s society.  It would also not be considered permissible for a person to say, as esoteric religionists often do, that it is necessary to “believe in” or “have faith in” a religious scripture before it will be possible to determine its meaning with reasonable accuracy.

This would represent a definite departure from the way things currently work with the existing, traditional, esoteric religions.  According to the thinking of esoteric religionists, the particular esoteric writings that they happen to regard as “holy” or “sacred” should always be interpreted in a way that makes the writings “good” or “meritorious” or “worthy” in their own individual minds.  In other words, with an esoteric religion, the reader’s personal belief or wish precedes the determination of the author’s meaning—which is exactly the reverse of how a sane person ought to be thinking.

The mentality found among esoteric religionists is thus essentially the mentality of a spoiled child:  “I wish this writing to mean such-and-such; and so it should mean such-and-such; and so it does mean such-and-such.”  The upshot is that the reader’s own personal desire comes before the meaning that the author actually intended—that is, personally desired—to convey.  So the reader’s desires are always made paramount; and the meaning of an author’s communication is made to conform to the reader’s own idiosyncratic ways of thinking, instead of being allowed to confront the reader on the author’s terms.  The result is that genuine communication between persons is not able to occur.[1]

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What would you have done?

What would you have done if—after having already given up on all esoteric (i.e., traditional) religions for good because of the “obscurity” of the meanings of their writings—you happened to remember that the esotericist Christians’ idea of paradise was a place where everything would finally be “clear, clear, clear, clear, clear”?

And what if—after having already come to the conclusion that all “prophets” (i.e., esotericists) are necessarily liars—you happened to notice that one of the ancient Jewish prophets (namely Zechariah, in 13:2-4) envisioned the “day of the Lord” as ushering in an age when there would be no more “prophesying”—and, moreover, that the reason for this would be that a “prophet” was actually someone who “spoke lies” and “deceived” people?

That’s the position in which I found myself at one point.  If you found yourself in that same position, would those “ironic coincidences” have sparked your curiosity at all?

Might they have raised the possibility in your mind that perhaps there was some unconscious “hidden message” contained in the Bible that the authors were passing along to the reader—even, to a large extent, in spite of themselves?

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