“You think that just because it’s already happened, the past is finished and unchangeable? Oh no, the past is finished and unchangeable? Oh no, the past is a cloaked in multi-coloured taffeta and every time we look at it we see a different hue.” (1)
Rats, caught myself ranting about the more militant wing of the skeptical community again at Evolving Thoughts and its black and white moralistic take on history (although archeology this time so some variation in my repetition at least). If I believed in such things I would try giving up being a grumpy middle aged man for Lent but you have to have some fun at my delicate stage of existence.
In this case the subject of my Ire was a joke (see link above) or one small part of it, but its part of a wider and more wide spread cultural repetition.
The new atheist perspective on the past is part of the weft and weave of it all its just not interesting it targets a very limited audience and can provide little context or relevance beyond that.
What struck me as somewhat surprising in particular is the involvement of evolutionary biologists in this static and lifeless representation of the past. But that’s simply cultural shock
“These Difficulties arise in part from the fact that the cognitive operations necessary for solving certain problems are activated in culturally specific ways. It may not be possible in a foreign culture to recognize the nature of the problem with which one is faced, or to think about the problem in the appropriate way.” (2)
John at E.T. has a difficult balancing act to maintain, I agree with his take on religion from a historical and ethnological basis in large degree, its subtle stuff and based on wide reading and on philosophy the site is an education and can’t be missed. The more militant wing of the skeptical community like religion is not going to go away anytime soon and they have to be engaged with. My humble voice fails on all counts here, when I get frustrated I become as subtle as a rubber cosh.
Being an atheist is a small part of my identity something I have never had to think about much as I have grown up being one and live in a secular urban community. But as I live in Scotland I have little taste for the John Knox take on it all, which seems to be such a part of the more hard boiled skeptical perspective.
For me discovering the wider atheist community was a shock as many members do not fit with my own internal representation of what an atheist should be. I can live with that as I live happily in environment rich in difference filled with vibrancy and surprise at every turn, but in my more uncritical and more human moments it is hard to accept my more hard edged kindred wither they identify as skeptics, religious or whatever. I identify with no difficulty as an atheist but looking at the wider community I am a stranger in a strange land. The manner in which it uses language and narrative do not fit.
(1) Milan Kunders, Life is Elsewhere, cited in, Bettina Arnold, The Material Culture of Social Structure: Rank and Status in Early Iron Age Europe, in, B. Arnold and D.B. Gibson, Celtic Chiefdom Celtic State: The Evolution of Complex Social Systems in Prehistoric Europe, Cambridge, 1995
(2)Bruce E. Wexler, Neurobiology, Ideology, And Social Change. Bruce Wexler uses immigration here to explore this phenomena. I think it applies also here though this cultural grouping is not an ethnic one. I don’t think history is used in the way it is by some sections of the secular community because it is particularly bad at doing history. The narrative is clearly important for group members, history is not its concern but gives the story needed authority. It maintains a framework that allows for coherence and repetition to maintained. Group members cannot stray from the accepted and agreed upon facts of the matter.
Having a background in both ethnology and history I am less inclined than historians sometimes are to dismiss forms of cultural data that don’t seem to fit or make little sense as irrelevant or nonsense. It indicates to me I have yet to find away into the culture or social group I am dealing with. I don’t yet have enough internal cultural context.