Beliefs… and the Future

Superficially, human beings differ to some degree, with variations in hair, eye, and skin color, as well as moderately differing musculature and size, but those external differentiations are as nothing compared to the differences in what we believe.  Here, too, there are degrees of variation, generally, but not always, based on culture.  That is, for example and for the most part, belief structures within Anglo-American culture fall along a certain spectrum, while those in Middle-Eastern Islamic cultures fall along another, while belief structures in East Asian cultures follow another general spectrum.  Obviously, the beliefs of any given individual may be wildly at variance with the culture spectrum or norms of where that person lives, but by definition, as a result of cultural development, in most cases either a majority or, where no majority culture exists, either the largest or the most powerful minority tends to dictate cultural norms and beliefs.

One area of belief in which there is little variation among human beings is the belief that “what I believe is the ‘right’ belief, and everyone else should believe as I do.”  There is little variation in this internal dictum because thinking organisms who do not innately have such a guide tend to die out quickly.  The difference among humans does not lie in the first part of that dictum, but in the second, in how much tolerance an individual or a culture has for the beliefs of others.

Now… obviously for any society to survive, there has to be a shared set of values… or chaos and societal dissolution, or revolt and disaster, will soon follow. But the question facing any society is what values are absolutely necessary to be shared and how will that sharing be enforced. Historically, such “belief” domination/values sharing has been established not just through cultural and religious pressure, but through force, including, but not limited to, war; genocide; economic, political, legal, and social discrimination.

In addition, those groups who see their values threatened have a tendency to protest and oppose the loss of such values, often with great violence.  Today, much of the Islamic Middle East feels enormously threatened by the secularistic, less-gender-role-driven, and materialistic western European value structure. In the United States, in particular, fundamentalist Christian faiths clearly feel threatened and angered by beliefs that run counter to their views on such issues as abortion and marriage, and one well-known writer has gone as far as to suggest he will oppose any U.S. government that creates a legal definition of marriage counter to the “traditional” one of a man and a woman.

This “need” for values domination has often been carried to extremes by individuals, groups, and even governments who have happened to believe that the world only belongs to the “chosen people” or  “the master race” or “those who can afford it” or some other exclusive definition… almost always with disastrous results and extremely high loss of life.

Enter technology.  Technology requires certain shared values.  It also creates great dissemination of knowledge, as well as being an extremely effective tool for indoctrination and communication.  These factors, as well as a number of others, threaten many “traditional” values.  At the same time, the higher the level of technology, the greater the need for certain core shared values, that is, if one wants to keep that technology operational in a world that is getting smaller and smaller.

The additional problem today is that, like it or not, small groups, and even individuals, and certainly governments all have the power to create large-scale disasters, with violent societal and physical disruptions, either to impose their values, or to rebel against the imposition of other beliefs and values.  Moreover, as recent studies have begun to indicate, as such disruptions escalate, another group of individuals enters the dynamic, what one might best call “opportunistic terrorists,” who either use similar tactics for commercial profit, such as the Latin and South American drug cartels, or for personal fame or just because they enjoy the acts of terrorism.

In my view, and it is only my opinion, human society as a whole faces three possible futures:  (1) technological collapse because the values conflicts cannot be resolved; (2) the gradual imposition of  shared values through indoctrination and commercial and political pressure, as is happening in China today, and to a lesser degree in western cultures; or (3) greater understanding and cooperation in working out a “core values” framework that will allow a range of differing beliefs around the world.

The way matters are going right now, it appears options one and two are fighting it out, because no one wants to compromise enough to give option three a chance.

6 thoughts on “Beliefs… and the Future”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    It is too easy to be ‘against’ something and too hard to work ‘for’ something. The current climate of socioeconomic-politics reminds me of my children when they were 4 and 5:

    After saying ‘I’m bored,’ I would present them with several potential things to do… inevitably they would say ‘no’ to each one. My reply would then be, ‘Instead of telling me what you don’t want, tell me what you do want.’ Most often, there would be no answer. Mainly, because they didn’t know.

    I would submit that most people don’t know what they want human society to evolve towards and even if they did, they either don’t know how to bring it to being or they lack the work ethic to make it so.

  2. hob says:

    While what you write is valid Mr Modesitt, I can’t but help notice that when People/cultures/empires are given the perception of wealth/options, they tend to become more tolerant.
    The middle east is where one could argue modern scientific observation/science began–yet Islam was being practiced and followed at that time. The only difference between then and now is that most middle easterners feel they have become economically disadvantaged, but think the reason is because their ancestors were more religious/God blessed and not because of economic/trade shifts in the world.
    America is the land of the free and home of the brave, but both those things are compromised in bad economic times, now being a good example with extremists, be it Gay rights actavists/christians/muslims/socialists/capitalists etc become more visible and gain ‘true’ believers.
    People I have noticed tend to believe in the system of–do good, receive good, do bad, receive bad (something derived from simpler societies/laws I’m sure). The problem with that is, as you write, everybody has different Ideas about what is good and bad. Economic realities change all the time, but cultures change very slowly–sometimes to improve the Economic prosperity of a nation, cultural changes are needed. Because people will seldom give up their cultural identities, the only option becomes War or going to a new place.
    War can only be practiced by rich States or extremists.

  3. Derek says:

    Sir, what would you consider safe core beliefs to work up from?

    I actually got into a discussion the other day on this topic with another Mormon who was convinced that societies sharing beliefs should extend all the way to the bedroom. Though I am a member of the LDS faith, I don’t buy into the some of the more aggressive tendencies (legislating religious beliefs is aggressive in my worldview). Every time I tried to express basic core beliefs that almost everyone could hold in common (without having to enter a bedroom) he’d ignore the argument and make an inane statement about “legislating stealing to be legal will not make it moral…” As though theft and sexual orientation are comparable.

    I’m a fan of the basics.

    1) Don’t be dishonest.
    2) Don’t resort to violence, save it be self defense.

    Those seem like two very great building blocks to start from, for some reason people always try to throw the bedroom into the discussion.

  4. Your core values are a good place to start. I might add one or two:

    1) Don’t discriminate or force roles on others because of their color, race, or gender.

    2) Be kind and civil [at least until individuals prove they don’t deserve kindness… but retain civility].

    1. Rob says:

      I’m interested why you limited your #1 to those three characteristics and not the more inclusive list presented in society today.

  5. Because core values aren’t prescriptions for everything. For the most part, if you choose a good set of core value for your life, the “prescriptive” codes follow.

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