Telling people what to believe

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One way to get and maintain power over other people is the art of telling people what to believe. This approach is quintessentially undemocratic. People can employ the trappings of religious majesty, inherited nobility, inherited aristocratic status within a polity with no patents of nobility. They can use the ancillary techniques of habitual deference to the priests (Catholic, Buddhist, Vedanta or whatever), implicit deference to the educated accent and the pin-stripe suit or military uniform, deference to those who already have the adherence of the majority, etc., etc.

If one can determine the premises that other accept, then one can determine the conclusions to which logical reasoning will lead them and even make it more likely that they will accept certain conclusions that do not follow by logic but by rationalization.

One example of the importance of being able to tell people what to believe is provided by the current furor over Creationism and Intelligent design. If one accepts the truth of the Bible or the Koran or the Lotus Sutra as unquestionable, then one "inherits" the power to be gleaned by asserting the truth of conclusions that can be supported (by reason or rationalization) on the authority of that text.

Historically, the Catholic church was (at best) highly ambivalent with regard to both mysticism and science. Similarly, Islam has an ambivalent attitude toward Sufism and has pulled back from its early pioneering efforts in medicine and science. Even the Lotus Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism uses the threat of descent into hell to try to enforce acceptance of that sutra and its view of what the "true Buddhism" actually is. Both mysticism and science offer alternatives to the truth. When listening to their higher spirits, the leaders of the several religions have taught that empirically learned truth cannot be at odds with their holy books, and that point of view has left open the possibility that when the Universe teaches a truth in a seemingly incontrovertible way then it may be appropriate to reinterpret the words of scripture.

Those with authoritarian worldviews are inclined to attack mysticism and science in an attempt to preserve their own interpretations of scripture and thereby protect their own hold on power.

It does not help those who would prefer that objectivity and freedom prevail the the mass media frequently do not adequately explain the essentially provisional nature of scientific truth -- for the very good reason that something that seems at one time to be nearly certain can, when further evidence is unearthed, turn out to be false. So in one's childhood Piltdown man can be presented by all school authorities as "the truth," and forth years later Piltdown man turns out to be an untruth, in fact a fraud. "See?" says the Creationist, "All this science stuff turns out to be false. But our holy books bear the stamp of authenticity of the true God."


Implicit claim of authority over nations: The Bush that does not burn but says "You must!"

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