Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Prices, Values, And Religious Creeds

First, a “joke:”

The CIA was screening candidates for a field-operative position that would require a delicate balance of commitment to the mission with sound moral standards. Three candidates – two men and a woman – had passed the entrance examinations and stood ready for the final test.

When the first man arrived for the test, the screener handed him a .45 automatic and pointed to a closed door. “Inside that room are two things: a folding chair and your wife seated upon it. If you want the job, go in there and kill her.”

The candidate was dumbfounded. “You expect me to kill my wife for this job? Forget it!” He handed the gun back to the screener and left in a huff.

One down, thought the screener. When the second man arrived, the screener told him the same thing. Despite an expression of shock, that candidate took the gun and entered the room, but returned a couple of minutes later, said, “Sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to kill my beloved,” handed back the gun and left.

That was a close one, thought the screener, but I think he’ll do. Still, it’s a good thing the gun is loaded with blanks.

When the woman candidate arrived, the screener handed her the .45 and pointed to the closed door. “Inside that room are two things: a folding chair and your husband seated upon it. If you want the job, go in there and kill him.”

Without a word, the woman accepted the gun and entered the room. Several minutes passed. The screener began to wonder what was going on, in the room and in the candidate’s head. Was it possible that two of the candidates might pass the final test?

Presently the woman emerged, looking exceedingly distressed. She flipped the .45 at the screener and said in a tone of high dudgeon, “This thing is useless! I had to beat him to death with the chair!”

Are you laughing or horrified? Do you get the point...and if so, what do you think it was? Ponder for a moment before continuing on.

“Jokes” of the above sort are not uncommon. My wife Beth (a.k.a. “the C.S.O.”) and I “enacted” a version of it this morning. I mentioned to her that a coworker and her husband, like Beth herself, are wildly enthusiastic New York Rangers fans, and go to as many games as they can afford. Beth immediately replied that “if they buy tickets they can’t use, I’ll be happy to take them.” The banter that followed concluded thus:

FWP: If someone were to ask you to murder me in exchange for a lifetime season pass to all the Rangers’ home games, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?
CSO: Well, if the seats were right behind the Rangers’ bench...

I assume that she was joshing. (I must. I do have enemies. Some of them have money. It’s why I work to keep my shooting skills sharp.) But as always after such an exchange, one must suppress a twinge of doubt.

The point, Gentle Reader, of both the original “joke” and our “reenactment,” is as follows:

If what you’ve been offered is of more value to you than the price you must pay for it, you’ll pay the price.

It’s not cosmological physics. It’s human nature – how individuals make their decisions. Indeed, you cannot measure a thing’s value by any other standard than what you’re willing to pay for it.

What we value, why we value it, and how we come to value it are highly individualized studies. In many cases, the entire matter is closed within the vault of the individual’s skull, and impervious to all notions of “rational analysis.” But the values themselves, though personally chosen and pursued, are nonetheless real – and powerful.

Which returns us to the subject of the “Enough” screeds.

They who disdain and deride religious belief are frequently appalled by its power: its ability to motivate men to do things the disdainful ones could never imagine doing themselves. In that regard, religious convictions are akin to patriotic fervor, of the sort that gives meaning to the old phrase Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. What the disdainful ones fail to appreciate is the economic bargain that stands behind the world’s major religions...and its pseudo-religions as well.

The major religions all offer the allegiant eternal life in absolute bliss, but for a price the individual must pay. The bargain counterpoises an infinite reward against the finite, temporally bounded prescriptions and proscriptions of a moral-ethical code. Who could refuse such a bargain? Only one who disbelieves in the reliability of the offer, or the sincerity of the offerer.

For the thoroughly convinced believer, who harbors no doubts or qualms, there is no possibility of refusing – no imaginable way to reason one’s way to a refusal. Thanks, but I’d rather go to Hell? Not happenin’, gang. A believer might be tempted to “welsh” temporarily – i.e., to set the code aside in some instance with the thought that he can redeem himself later – but that constitutes a failure of belief, not some demerit of the original bargain.

Islam’s youngest adherents have all doubt flogged out of them early in life. They’re taught, by word, example, and severe negative feedback, that to speak or act other than in accordance with Islam’s decrees as they’re set down in the Koran, the Sunnah, and the ahadith is unacceptable. Indeed, any excursion into blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy would get them killed and damned.

Christopher Anvil made a compelling point about the power of religious commitment in his classic short story “Mission of Ignorance.” This brilliant story isn’t terribly long and deserves to be read in its entirety, but for those who lack the time:

    "Just suppose," said the chairman, "that you were in charge of a great spaceship—perhaps belonging to a great Galactic organization (never mind about it being a benevolent organization) and let's just suppose your job was to subvert Earth and make it obedient to that great Galactic organization—what could be nicer than to get Earth totally dependent on certain technological developments that you could withdraw at will? At a mere snap of your fingers, Earth's whole technological civilization could collapse, to leave, for practical purposes, a planetful of ignorant savages with no relevant skills, whose reproduction rate could be altered at will, and, if you chose, whose main food supply could also be wiped out with a snap of your fingers. Think how cooperative such people would be once they saw what you could do. Suppose that, having delivered the necessaries to bring about this situation and having seen the fools rushing to their own destruction, you then went away to take care of other business and returned when your calculations showed the situation would be ripe.
    "Then," said the chairman, "suppose you summoned to your ship the Earth representative, planning perhaps to give him the same little demonstration we have just given here, and suppose you discovered: first, that a mere second lieutenant had been sent to deal with you; next, that in your absence, instead of dependence on computerized voice typers, a new, completely nontechnological system of rapid writing had been developed; third, that a completely nontechnological uncomputerized system of identification had come into use; fourth, that one-quarter of the Earth's land surface was in the hands of a sect which, for religious motives, rejected the gifts, and in their place was developing Earth's own technology at a fever pitch; fifth, that the sect was armed to the teeth, dug in, stocked for a long fight, seasoned in battle, and so situated that you couldn't count on striking at the nonmembers without hitting the members of the sect, or vice versa, and, sixth, to top it all off, suppose you had no way to judge whether this was all the bad news, or whether this was just the tip of the iceberg showing above the water, with a lot more underneath? If you had been in that situation, would it have jarred you?"

Religious beliefs are neither verifiable (provable) nor falsifiable (disprovable). Therefore, they aren’t something you can argue against. And almost all their dictates are almost always absolute.

Religious wars are as bloody and horrible as they are because, as Larry Niven and Steven Barnes noted in The Descent of Anansi, religious warriors never admit defeat. They win or they die. Their beliefs will permit nothing else.

This is the situation the West, particularly America, faces with Islam.

Islam divides the world into dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) and dar al-Harb (the House of War). It commands its adherents to wage war against all unbelievers until dar al-Harb has been wholly eliminated. That requires that every last person on Earth be:

  • Converted to Islam, or:
  • Reduced to dhimmi status – i.e., subjugated to Islamic rule under the sharia – or:
  • Dead.

To this end, Islam sanctifies every imaginable strategy, tactic, and practice, all the way from tactically useful deceit to the mass slaughter of “infidels.” It recognizes no agreement with an “infidel” or a non-Islamic power as binding. It counsels Muslims to withhold their efforts until a promising moment should arrive, when those efforts are likely to yield advantage to Islam. Until such a time, it prescribes strategies of infiltration and deception of those it seeks to conquer. Allah has commanded it all, using His Prophet as the herald...and to dissent from any of it is worth your life.

So much for “the religion of peace.”

Of course, much of the above is “previous work.” The core of this essay is the immutability of the religiously inculcated value scheme that drives the jihadist. The “peaceful, tolerant” Muslim majority holds to the very same set of beliefs and attendant commands, no matter what they say and do today. To believe otherwise is to ignore both the nature of religious conviction and the dynamic that has raised up and supports the “radical minority” that rages among us.

Think it over.

Never go to a religious war without your religion. -- Tom Kratman


neal said...

Many worlds, and some pressure. I guess words matter in some places. I wish sometimes Many Worlds Theory and Purgatories were just concepts. I wish sometimes that only the too young or too old were not the remnants that become exposed and erased at the same junction.

Stuff that has been erased around the edges. Maybe not more words, just lost in the shuffle.

War is not the best, but required, sometimes.

Reg T said...

All true, orthodox muslims strive for the Universal Caliphate, where non-believers will be converted, enslaved, or killed. As we have seen with ISIS, sometimes the same "infidels" will be subjected to all three. Enslaved, beaten, raped, commanded to convert, yet still killed. Innocent children have been beheaded.

The "radical minority" are only a numerical minority of muslims who have actually killed infidels, apostates, or the "other brand" of muslims (Sunni versus Shia). The majority of muslims agree with the killing, and will partake of such when it becomes possible to do so without the risk of dying themselves.

To paraphrase a popular saying, there are only two kinds of muslims - those who have killed, and those who will kill. If not an infidel, then their own daughter who "dishonors" the family, the wife who refuses to be raped by her husband (or friend of her husband, brother, uncle, etc.)

Like the imam who raped (in every orifice), burned, beat (breaking many bones) and otherwise abused _his five-year-old daughter_ . Who lived for a number of months before succumbing to her injuries.(

It's what they do. It's _all_ they do.

bob r said...

The last line of the linked story:
When the victim manifests those qualities—better hunt up another victim.

Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research did an analysis of "The Nigerian Prince" scam.

There's a connection between the two though it might not be expected at first thought. I suspect Cormac's research has some interesting implications.