Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Holy Objects

To understand why people want to keep objects holy, you can't start with whether or not the holiness is 'true'. In 'The Righteous Mind' Jonathan Haidt looks at the different moral foundations or frames that cultures use,  and tries to understand the impasse between good people. Interestingly, it is often liberal minded people who get angrier and are less accepting of conservative people. This was counter intuitive for me since my understanding of a liberal environment is one of tolerance. I still find it frustrating how angry/bitter some very caring, creative people are. I know it is because they get passionately upset about injustices they see. The anger typically breaks down any chance of changing someone's mind though. Haidt is encouraging people to put the non-polite conversations back on the table. We have been great at breaking down racism, sexism, homophobia, classism etc. It doesn't help if we introduce other tribes that we define ourselves by in order to provide a home for our desire to find someone to target our hatred at.

In 'A Sense of Authenticity', I looked at our ability to tell if someone was parroting something or if it was a part of them. Paul Bloom discusses how important the truth of a story is to us. We feel like somehow a shirt worn by a celebrity is worth more than an identical, but brand new, shirt. When the bubble is burst, the value evaporates. No matter how much pleasure you have got from something, discovering it is a fake will destroy your ability to go forward. Fake when it comes to stories or faith based belief is a little pointless though. There is, by definition, no demonstrable proof for faith. It is personal.

Even those who don't believe in a supernatural power can have holy objects. Objects that remind them of something. Perhaps it is a Kindle. I  love some books. When I finish them, the old book may sit on my bookshelf and I may not read it again for years. When I look at it, I feel pleasure. With a Kindle, the same object gets more and more love each time I read another awesome book. We have other objects we love. Rings. Watches. Stubs from a concert. Momentos that remind us of significant occasions. We look after these objects. They are holy. They are the things we would grab if there was a fire. Those stories can be ruined, and the memories elicited changed. We look after the objects in order to protect them.

Respecting someone's holy objects in public isn't case of deciding whether it is true for you. It is like not starting a phone conversation in a cinema. It is like not loudly swearing like a trooper on a public bus. It is like pausing to wait for someone to take a photo before walking between them and their smiling buddy. Basically, it is just playing nice. It is not illegal to not be nice, but we do have various four letter words to describe those who aren't.

All this falls apart though when your story starts messing with other people. I still think the terrorists are losing. They have to resort to remarkable. Seth Godin talks about how to spread ideas through having stuff that people will talk about.  Terrorists seem to get his message. The thing is, ideas don't spread unless people spread them. As Jon Stewart points out when he was #JeSuisConfused about France's response to an anti-semitic comedian not even a week after millions marched for Free Speech - the best way to respond is to not buy tickets! If you take the bait and reply with angry messages, you are spreading the messages. That is what trolls are on the internet. They get people angry and cause a commotion. Don't waste money prosecuting and jailing them. Don't waste time feeding them. Trolls die when we ignore them.

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