From the May 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is a spectre stalking the world – the spectre of ignorance.
We are used to hearing horror stories about Creationism, and the religious attack on science, from Mid-West America and the Islamic states. But who would have thought such lunacy would penetrate to here? It has. We've had TM (Transcendental Meditation) schools for years which teach kids to meditate and fly. They're just nuts. But systematic idiocy is on the rise. In a recent article in the Observer (17 March), it was reported that a school in the NE of England has refused to teach Darwinism, and is instead putting Creationist ideas. This is not an isolated incident; it is part of the current attack on knowledge, science and rationality.
There are two questions for us to answer: Why is Creationism still rearing its ugly head, after religion had been marginalised by previous generations and church attendance has fallen? And where do all these loony ideas come from anyway?
Understanding of the world is progress, not just in a technical sense – chemistry, satellites, computers – but also in a historical, thus class, sense. Just as the fundamental change from Catholicism to Protestantism was essential for the rise of capitalism as an ideology – for example, the Calvinist idea that God shows his favour on Earth by making merchants rich – so atheism is fundamental to us, the excluded majority, and our claim that the world is ours to run, without gods and masters, as we see fit. After all, to say that there is no heaven in the bye-and-bye translates as a positive call for revolution in the here and now. The post-modern assault on reason, which allows these wacky religious notions to be presented as just someone else's “narrative”, of equal worth to the scientific worldview, is an attack on us as a class. It is “divide-and-rule” for the mind. Whereas pope, ayatollah and archbishop presided over class rule in days gone by, now all that is required is to deny the scientific worldview any superiority.
Permanent revolution of ideas
How is this possible? It is a function of the human brain to generalise, to take two or more concepts together and come up with a broader concept. For example, feet. Each foot has different characteristics, as you find out when you go to buy shoes. But in order to mass-produce shoes, feet are generalised into sizes, and we are left to find the best fit we can. To a shoe manufacturer, there aren't 12 billion feet in the world but only categories of feet, in sizes, and width fittings if you're lucky. As long as you keep your feet on the ground, this is OK. A size 9 boot only has meaning if it fits a real foot – falling orders will soon tell a shoe manufacturer if they over-generalise and make square shoes. But without this constant reference to reality, generalisations get out of hand. A fundamentalist shoe manufacturer may decide that feet are made by God, in His Image, in perfect sizes, and real feet are only imperfect versions of the original Foot. The idea rules the reality, and the loony shoemaker produces ideal shoes and forces people to wear them, since they are getting closer to God by forcing their feet to deform and fit the shoes.
This is how religion works. You generalise from real conditions, keep the generalisation and bin the reality. The generalisations are now an ideal world, to which reality must conform. As our knowledge of the real world changes, the generalisations become outdated. At first, this seems to mark them as eternal truths, a divinely simple and regular account of a disordered and chaotic world. As time goes on, those people who live in the new, more complex world express their lives in new generalisations, and a new system confronts the old. Thus with Protestantism; thus with the Copernican worldview; and thus with evolution.
The scientific worldview attempts to overcome this; it is, at least in principle, the permanent revolution of ideas. The generalisation process is continually subjected to experimental testing: does the theory match up with the real world? You can generalise as much as you like, as long as you can verify or falsify the idea, i.e. that you test it with relation to the real world.
The post-modern retreat from reality denies this faculty of judgment; it says that there is no way to compare ideas against each other. Each person comes up with their own way of generalising the world; their “narrative”. So someone who thinks that the Earth is flat and the moon is a melon suspended a dozen feet over their head has just as much claim to a correct account of reality as, say, an astrophysicist. Just think of Phoebe in Friends (if you watch that) and her insistence on believing in idiotic stuff like her mother's soul being in a cat, and allowing her idiocy to be unchallenged, by emotional manipulation.
This is damn clever stuff. We run society from top to bottom, so we are required to deal with scientific matters whether it be using a computer, understanding food labels, estimating the amount of paint to cover a wall, or whatever. At the same time, however, the logic of our existence as real, capable men and women who need no gods and masters to rule us is denied. Secretaries, checkout workers, or teachers we may be during the week, but we can still have our minds raped on Sunday. They do this to our children in school. The very existence of religious studies in schools depends on official ignorance. And New Labour is officially very ignorant indeed. Blair and Brown are ardent Christians, and in general this government is much more religious than previous ones. No more “White Heat of Technology”; now the black veil of incomprehension.
What is to be done? The Socialist Party stands for socialism and nothing but. However, we require a democracy for our current revolutionary strategy, and Creationism, plus post-modernism in general, is an attack on democracy in the sense of an attack on the ability to make life decisions based on one's real existence. There is no democracy amongst the brainwashed, nor amongst those whose brains have never been filled.
As students, parents, teachers – as human beings – we must fight this cancer of the mind, putting forward our positive understanding of the world against institutionalised ignorance. This is not an anti-religious crusade, it is the campaign to see the world through our eyes rather than someone else's. Religion is a class issue. We must understand our world as it is, make our own generalisations about it, come to our own conclusions. Then we must put our ideas against existing ones, and make the world in our image. Socialist propaganda is our ideas; revolution is our struggle to make those ideas a reality. Ditch god, flying saucers, yogic flying, Earth Mother Gaia, spiritualism, ouija boards, tantric head-shaving, bead-wearing, and all that other crap and join us for a world made by us, for us.