now you know what I did last night

I accidentally spent well over two hours last night on a forum post. It was heavy philosophizing, the kind I ain't had a chance to do much in ages, and brought me great joy. I thought I'd post it up here in lieu of other content. It's been a strange day. Bernie the homeless guy gave me an awesome untouched Starbucks hot chocolate someone had given him, main boss gave me work to do related to a restaurant-related project of great importance and secrecy, and people started coming to me with their zillion questions related to payroll.

I mailed out Magic cards and rent, did tons and tons of work, and generally had an incredibly busy and productive day. So I'm glad I have the below text to add!

It all began when I started a thread called "Choosing a religion." It contained an excerpt from a previous post here. Good ol' sputnik replied with questions that seemed logical and thoughtful, so I replied, "You're not by any chance
volunteering to take part in a discussion where terms are rigorously defined, are you?"

:D Apparently he was!

Quote from: sputnik on Yesterday at 02:14:13 am
"Shall I begin the long walk to the short drop?

Premise 1: people will do what appears to be in their best interest, or they will attempt to do what seems to cause less damage if under duress."

Granted. Though I'd prefer to say the second part something like, "or they will attempt to minimize damage in situations where a good result appears unobtainable." Under duress implies outside pressue on the decision-making process. Since outside pressure can be a big factor in choice of religions, the whole issue should be left for the discussion at hand.
May I propose a second point?

2. What people perceive to be in their best interests is determined by the values in which they have chosen to believe.

If this is agreeable, I think it allows us to reach the third point, the question and the meat of the matter:

3. In what ways can a person's chosen values be related to their choice of a religious affiliation?

"This seems to be the heart of the issue, or at least a good place to start:
'[W]hat is the difference between ego gratification and ego transformation? In both cases the individual measures his own beliefs against those of other group members. People who are in it for cheap ego strokes will simply discount and vilify the opinions of those who disagree with the beliefs they already hold. People whose commitment is, as you say, teleological, will perceive the judgments of some other group members as authoritative and will alter their own beliefs in order to conform.'

For now, let's assume these two qualities, ego gratification and transformation, to be the most obvious of the reasons one may join an order; certainly more subtle classifications may become apparent in subsequent discussion, and I hope this is the case: I sophia'd philo a long time ago. Now, those two seem clear enough: both being internal states that use external sources for their continued existence, although the latter, transformation, seems less concerned with external status relative to the first; perhaps it can be safely assumed that the latter is less concerned with states of "now" as with states of "idealism" or "what could/should be."

It seems your extrapolation of my term, let's call it ego transformation or teleological, differs from the point I had mentally made, but failed to make clear in my post. You define one sort of person, while I define another, which perhaps points out a flaw in my thinking. The teleological person, in my mind, is wholly unconcerned with the opinions of the group. Again, your point was:
Quote from: Fiat Lex
'People whose commitment is, as you say, teleological, will perceive the judgments of some other group members as authoritative and will alter their own beliefs in order to conform.'

In my mind, the wholly teleological person would judge the opinions of the perceived authority against their personal standard and keep what is stimulating according to their perceived goal. My question for you is, do you see this teleological person as built upon the "gratification" paradigm, or is it something completely else. To begin I need to you define what you mean by ego gratification and ego transformation."

A flaw? Pshaw! :D A "flaw" permits sculptors' eyes to intuit hidden form.

You're right, we've made a good start by ferreting out two categories already; there may certainly be more. But I will talk terms for a bit first before moving on to address the two classifications we've already got. At that point I will be emboldened to suggest more!

The first and, I often find, stickiest term to pin down is desire. People have various kinds of needs--what kinds there are and what they consist of is way too big a question to tackle here. Some needs are directly perceptible to consciousness. Others may be acted upon without conscious awareness, and each of us as people must study the patterns of our thoughts and behavior in order to discover the nature of those needs and the means that we are using in practice to meet them. Value judgments begin to enter the area of the personality accessible to the conscious mind when people begin to consider how to prioritize their needs. I love to borrow a term from economics here: "opportunity cost." When one must expend a limited resource in order to obtain some good thing, the opportunity cost of choosing to spend that resource on one thing is the inability to also obtain another. Belief is a limited resource when a person is considering the opportunity costs of their various desires.

A value, we seem to be agreed, is a state of being which a person holds to be desirable for its own sake. Values are ideals in the sense that they cannot be perfectly realized in a world where everything and everyone changes constantly. Rather, they serve as templates against which reality may be measured. When the states of being in which a person participates come to closely resemble their ideals, they perceive this as good; when reality is sharply in contrast with the ideal, they perceive this as bad. Combining these two qualities, unattainability and desirability, we may perhaps agree that a person's values are the things they hold sacred.

Now, valued states of being may encompass only the individual's personality, or they may encompass larger ideals, qualities which may characterize a social group. May it be said, then, that values specific to the personality are what people call virtues, and those which refer to social groups are memeplexes? I would like to talk more about the types of values that exist and the various ways in which a person's values can be expressed. I believe that differences between personal and social values and different methods of expressing them have a profound effect on people's motives for, and methods of, integrating themselves into a group. Let's leave that, though, till we've settled what we're saying values are, and decided on which basic types of values are important for this discussion. Cool

Goals, let's say, are secondary aims, means by which people believe they can obtain the values they seek. A goal is not identical with a value, but is a realistically obtainable state which a person believes to most closely approximate a valued state in a given context.

To recap: Values represent ideal states in which the fulfillment of various needs are maximized. Goals represent realistic approximations of valued states. The level of belief invested in a given value determines the perceived opportunity cost when a person must choose between the pursuit of various goals. Belief in values, then, is the way that individuals determine how they will choose to act in general, and values themselves are employed by a personality in the process of deciding how to act in a given situation. I say "personality" rather than "person" because once a person's values are in place, any decision-making process can be carried out with very little conscious oversight. This is the case whenever conscious attention, itself a scarce resource, is not applied to all aspects of a particular choice.

We are discussing here the limited cases in which a person has chosen to pursue membership in a religious group.

There are many different types of social groups, too numerous to get into here! The only kind of group we're talking about is a religious group. Defining religion is an extremely difficult point--as I recall there was a thread about it recently. But our work is made much easier since we're not defining religion itself, only setting aside among social groups those which are formed for the principal purpose of practicing a particular religion. Different religions may define in their memeplexes (which are bigger than written doctrine or explicitly stated dogma! these also encompass "unwritten rules" such as social norms!) what forms of social interaction are to be valued, even as they may define which personal virtues are to be valued. A religious society, then, is a group formed by individuals who all profess to hold sacred the values, both personal and social, prescribed by a particular religion's teachings. The explicit ones at least; the implicit ones are a matter for further discussion.

Now I can talk about the imaginary people we are using to represent different motivations for choosing to seek membership in a religious group:

Persons who seek ego transformation see a disparity between their current or previously held values and those values they perceive to be characteristic of the group. They believe that altering their levels of belief in certain values to more closely conform with the perceived value judgments of the group will result in generally more effective need fulfillment. (I expect argument on this point! I've been over and it and over it and it just needs more discussion to pin it down!) Which is to say that they have weighed the opportunity costs, and come to the conclusion that the values they already hold in common with the group, along with those in which they will invest greater belief in the course of their membership, are worth sacrificing those values which must lose primacy as a result. I'd like to call this category of people "earnest converts."

Persons who seek ego gratification may or may not see a disparity between their values and the values of the religion they choose to join. I think this category may, in fact, need to be further subdivided. More than once!

Those who do not see a disparity between their values and those of the religious group may be mistaken, or their perception may be accurate. If the perception is accurate, the person's identity does not need to change in order for them to participate fully as members; in this case membership merely supports their existing identity. We may call such persons "true believers." If the perception is inaccurate, then some other factor, internal or external, hinders the person from becoming aware of the disparity. Depending upon the nature of said hindrance, the actual disparity of values combined with the person's lack of conscious awareness of it can produce various effects, all (I dare to assert) deleterious to the personality's capacity for need fulfillment. Why don't we call such people "solipsistic followers."

On the other hand, we have those who see their values as differing from those of the group, who are consciously aware that a disparity exists, and who nonetheless choose group membership. These, I think, can also be divided into two sub-categories. People who consciously affirm that the religion's perceived values are more worthy of belief than their own, but for some reason are unable or unwilling to alter the investment of belief within their own personalities, I'd like to call "waffling converts." People who believe instead that their own value judgments are superior to those of the group, but choose to join with the group regardless, we can call "would-be reformers." Would-be reformers might need another category split. They run the whole spectrum from "cynical followers" at one extreme, who inwardly scoff at their fellow religionists' foolishness but don't choose to try and change others' minds, to "passionate crusaders" at the other, who attempt to transform their religions in order to bring the religion itself closer to their own ideals.

Quote from: sputnik
"I imagine the teleological person as a stampede: eating what it likes and smashing the rest in it's path to safety."

I dunno, there's a lot of stampeding going on up there! The earnest converts are stampeding over themselves to get closer to their chosen religion, while the passionate crusaders are stampeding over their religions so that the religion may become more palatable to themselves. Those two, in case you were wondering, are my favorite types out of all of 'em.


Amber E said...

Interesting discussion. While I am too lazy to discuss everything regarding the relationship between a person's values and their religious affiliation I do have some brief comments. One's values should have a direct correlation, indeed values should actually be a cause of choosing a particular religious affiliation. In fact my personal world view leads me to be offended and disapproving if there is too large a gap between a person's values and their religion. I think people ought to have congruence between internal beliefs, professed beliefs and actions. Granted with most organized religions (as opposed to choose your own and spiritual, not religious) individuals may not find an exact match of all beliefs but their should be effort to make a good fit. Someone who believes in reincarnation might make a better Buddhist than a Methodist. Also, if someone's actions markedly differ from their professed beliefs they might want to do some self examination to see if they are really being honest with myself. I for example have core values and a strong desire for ethics. My worldview/personal values involves ethics and rejects moral relativism . That led me toward and investigation of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Part of my inclination toward Catholicism comes from a peripheral fondness for ritual and tradition. However, as Pearl says if I seriously want to convert I need to stop sleeping in and actually attend Mass...