Conventional belief systems are less morally based than they are responses to an over-stimulating or taxing environment; conventional belief systems (“structure”; anything all-encompassing—even gang membership) are convenience mechanisms that order an individual’s consciousness, to make new use of Csikszentmihalyi’s term (1975).
From the Jain article:
“…the modern concept of egoism and self-absorption…has had devastating effects…If we’re going to solve [the ecological crisis] we’ve got to solve our own problems first. We’ve got to deal with our own internal environment and our own spiritual environment.” The belief system evinced here would be either Jainism or perhaps veganism. The self-absorption infers taxing environmental messages. Deal with our own problems/ spiritual environment—the issue is conceived of as moral.
“Everyone was talking about non-violence…but it’s useless. It is just talk. It’s got to be your life.” The everyone was talking infers overstimulation. It’s got to be your life infers consciousness ordering.
From the NY Times article:
“…many join gangs searching for familial ties…” The belief system here is gang-life, a response to taxing environmental stimuli. “I thought it would be like my family. I thought I’d get the love I was missing.” Gangs are wholly structured, hierarchical systems.
From the Broward Times:
“Typically gangs recruit…” Inherent structure. “Female gang members…prove they are tougher than men” Response to taxing environment. “Gang members go where the opportunities are’’ Inherent strategy/structure. “(Potential gang members) have no role model, a weak family structure, no affiliation to a church, and low performance in school” Taxing environment/ need to order consciousness. “Wherever there is a gap, someone has to fill it. And it has to be a parent, school, faith group, or an organization to do it.” Nicely references the convenience aspect I note in the very first sentence.
As a gang lifestyle is chosen more or less out of necessity, one cannot really argue against it functioning as a belief system, a mechanism to order consciousness—but what of veganism, or the eco-chic mindset pointed to in the Jain article? For the gang member, the morality component examined here is not really a function. But for the vegan, the Christian, the liberal democrat or the conservative republican, it certainly is touted as a primary function both of Being (in terms of Identity) and belief systems (more vacillatory in nature, acting as responses to environmental cues). Is it morality, or is it convenience (for lack of a better word) that causes us to rationalize adopting certain belief systems in order to more efficiently process the multitude of dizzying messages that society hurls at the individual day in and day out? In that sense, may we view morality as a construct conceived of by man in order to alleviate the pangs of cognitive dissonance? Multitude of dizzying messages sounds like a very current trope, but imagine living in Hitler’s Germany, and trying to understand what was happening, to rationalize your actions (or lack thereof) in terms of a cause with clear moral ramifications. In other words, my perception of morality being in service to the individual (as opposed to the other way around) could be supported in any historical as well as modern context. Imagine the earliest possible example: a theologian might argue that two cavemen, standing back to back in the forest, will warn each other of a pending animal attack because it is right (do unto others…). An evolutionary psychologist might argue that the cavemen warn one another because it serves self-interest. What if the cavemen warn each other after convincing themselves it is right, but knowing subconsciously that their actions serve themselves and were self-preservation/survival not an issue, their actions would have proceeded differently. In the previous sentence, self-preservation/survival refers to my representation of taxing environments, also a multitude of societal messages hurled at us day in and day out.
What does it all mean? Certainly referring to belief systems in a given context as self-delusional is nothing new. But consider the actor—the believer… the zealot—the ‘reformed personality’ in many respects seems to be one formerly driven to excesses (that which is psychologically taxing) usually in the same vein in which the new belief system has been adopted. Saint Francis of Assisi, the girl who in high-school had an abortion and later adopted a hyper-religious or hyper-conservative stance, the obese person or the cancer patient who adopts macrobiotic veganism in order to survive. The gang member who joined because he/she was convinced there was no alternative. I would propose that rehabilitating gang members or preventing future ones involves a necessary pedagogical shift in urban schools, whereby instructors encourage students (beginning very young) to specialize. It seems as though, at least prior to the last two years of high-school, specialization is viewed by educators as a dirty word. Specialization, the counterbalance to potentially damaging belief systems, is presented by Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow. Symbolic systems (p 123) are the foundation of an internal life that is dependent on no one, is wholly self-reliant, and is not swayed by even a gale force wind.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1975). Play and Intrinsic Rewards. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 15, 41-63.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins.
Dechesne, M., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., Ransom, S., Sheldon, K. M., van Knippenberg, A., & Janssen, J. (2003). Literal and symbolic immortality: The effect of evidence of literal immortality on self-esteem striving in response to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 722-737.
Lacey, Mark. (April 11, 2008). Abuse Trails Central American Girls Into Gangs. New York Times.
Roby, Cynthia A. (April 2, 2009). Florida Attorney General Seeks to Reduce Gang Activity. The Broward Times, 19 (13), 1-2A.
Sanghavi, Trisha. (July 17, 2009). Jain Keynotes Focus on Environment. India Abroad, 39 (42), A27.