Many of the most recent articles in this column have focused on the many people in the modern world who are increasingly mimicking robotic behavior in order to fit in with the technological processes created by the machines, computers and robots that surround them. Nevertheless, there are people who fight against these robotic influences by creating coherent non-conforming cultural groupings. These non-conformists are in many cases fighting back against succumbing to the pathological influences of the sensory distortion created by modern technology. These are not the isolated suffering canaries in the coal mine that have been mentioned recently, the people who involuntarily are incapable of properly becoming robotic and who suffer from being misfits as a result of their sensitivity to sensory distortion.
The people I want to focus on in this article are people who, as much as possible, try to go back to a pre-modern life order with a greatly reduced interaction with modern technology. They have an ideology that helps defend them psychologically against technological seduction. The core of that ideology is religious fundamentalism. All over the world there are people who embrace the most orthodox strains of their religion today and who use it as a vehicle to shut out the robotizing influences of modern technology. This is done through the psychological posture of conative acceleration – the speeding up of the will. A person generates as many defined discrete stimuli of religious fundamentalism as he is able to in his mind, in order to shut out the defined discrete stimuli emanating from all the technological processes and events that are occurring in the field of experience around him.
But here is the key: by generating so many defined discrete stimuli in his mind, so many rigid rules, rites and rituals to shut out what surrounds him, the rigid brittle behavior of machines invades his mind, only by a different pathway. The religious fundamentalist becomes like his adversaries – the secular adherents of modern technological society – in the process of fighting against the influences of modern technology and pushing it away. The religious fundamentalist develops a brittle rigid adherence to his religion, becoming totally immersed in the minutiae of the religious rules.
This modern fundamentalist expression of religion has a different flavor from the traditional expression of religion in earlier times. Before the technological takeover of the human living environment, the major adversary of religious humans was the tendency within them to slip into animalistic lusts which were considered to be sinful. Focusing on defined discrete religious precepts helped to prevent religious devotees from losing their strongly defined human sense of self and becoming gradually undifferentiated as they lost themselves in the flowing blendable continual stimuli of the excesses of their animalistic pleasures: gluttony, drunkenness, fornication, greedy accumulation of wealth, random violence. Traditional religious people in the past were concerned with transcending above their own animal natures. But because their animal natures were constantly being stimulated by the flowing blendable continual stimuli in their organic traditional living environments, most traditional religious people focused on moderating and channeling their animal natures rather than totally repressing them. Yes, there were ascetics, but these represented a small percentage of the population. Most traditional religious people accepted the fact that their transcendence was limited and that they were still basically a part of the natural world. Even as they fought so hard to be different from the lower animals, stimulation of their animal natures was so constant that they merged to some extent with the environment that they fought.
Nevertheless, they did not fight against technological progress. Traditional religious peoples in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America built empires based on their technological advances and perceived their technology as the foundation of the transcendent civilizations they created. Religious governments in Europe used the technological superiority found in their ships and armaments to conquer less technologically advance societies first in Europe and then all over the world and thus to carry the transcendent word of their religions to the people in these societies. In most cases, nonwestern religions were blended with the religions of the conquerors or else allowed to co-exist with the religions of the conquerors. Polytheistic religions absorbed the God of the conqueror into their pantheon. In Latin America, African gods were merged with Christian saints to form new syncretistic religions like Voodoo, Santeria, Candomble, Macumba, and Umbanda.
Yes, there were situations when two conquering religions fought wars with each other, as in the Crusades, but it was with regard to conflicting transcending visions to suppress animal tendencies rather than conflicting systems of rigid life rules. Fundamentalists today are concerned with defined discrete rigid mechanistic life rules that they control and that allow them to block out or contain the mechanistic robotic processes of the complex machines that surround them.
So what is the problem with people joining fundamentalist religions. The problem is that these religions really don’t help people to effectively fight off the robotic influences that move people away from a balanced human essence. Fundamentalist religions basically become another form of turning people into robots. If humans are entities that should absorb a balanced configuration of defined discrete stimuli, on the one hand, and flowing blendable continual stimuli on the other, in order to develop balanced senses of self, then we can say that fundamentalists fall into a pattern of absorbing an excess of defined discrete stimuli in terms of rigid rules and rigid ideological precepts. In other words, fundamentalism causes people to move away from an essential basic balanced humanity, rather than towards it.
Fundamentalists today are fighting very different kinds of environmental adversaries than the traditional religion practitioners from the past. And just like the traditional religion practitioners became somewhat animalistic in fighting off the more primitive influences in their more organic natural living environments – savage in the ways they conquered more primitive non-believers, slaughtering and massacring opponents – so the fundamentalists today become somewhat robotic in fighting off the robotic influences in their modern technological living environment
Now it is true there are fundamentalist groups today, particularly in the Middle East who still think in terms of physical conquest of other peoples and dealing ruthlessly with adversaries. Nevertheless, the focus in their daily lives is on a rigid, robotic, puritanical following of religious rules and rites. One could say these groups are hybrids of the old and the new. Along with dealing with the adversaries represented by their neighbors of different religious persuasions, these groups grapple with the larger technological environment which interferes with their capacity and their desire to leave strong organic imprints. The fact that they are hybrids does not mean that these more aggressive fundamentalist groups are balanced between their animal and robot sides. It means simply that they are very volatile as they are pulled strongly in two opposite directions.
In previous articles, I discussed how people become what they use today – how they become like the complex machines that they seem to control and manipulate, but that in some ways actually control and manipulate them. In the same way, people can become what they fight against, bleed into what their adversaries are. Fundamentalists become robotic. Traditional religious practitioners became and become savage. Fighting stimulates engagement with the adversary and, in the process of trying to make and preserve imprints on the adversary, fighting with certain weapons with certain strategies and in certain ways, the adversary makes and preserves imprints on the fighter, which in turn help to configure the fighter’s responses.
And all this blurring is due to the fact that the world is not just filled with measurable defined discrete stimuli, but also has flowing blendable continual stimuli. And when the flowing blendable continual stimuli are diminished as a result of the world becoming covered with modern technology, these stimuli are still manufactured in our minds to try to provide some unity to the configurations of phenomena in our fields of experience. Unfortunately, as is the case with many of the Middle East fundamentalists and their technological environment, that attempted unity of experience may not succeed. It is hard for people to unite traditional ways and modern technological processes. This can lead to a rejection of one’s field of experience altogether and ultimately an attempt to destroy what’s in it including many of the people.
© 2015 Laurence Mesirow
The topic for this article was suggested by Dr. Jorge Cappon