So Here We Are

Firstly, we have the three stages of man in the lecture notes of S. A. Mwanahewa, Makerere University, Uganda (1997):

Man as a Vegetative Being
We find man sharing into the lowest level of beings […] in the fact that man reproduces, eats, breathes and dies.

Man as an Animal Being
This is the second level into which man shares membership. [Here] man shares into the emotional elements of animals.

Man as a Transcendental Being
This is when man is guided by abstract reason rather than emotion.

Secondly, we see from Matthew Parrish in The Times, November 23, 2014 that:

However, old ideas are sticky, and humans cling. Belief systems do not form and flow, rise and fall on their inherent properties alone […]
With some religions in some ages – and I think that Islam today is one – the veil is truly symbolic because a kind of curtain comes down between you and another individual, as individuals.

There seems to be a correlation between Mwanahewa’s three different stages of man and Freud’s id, ego and super ego. Freud’s id is Mwanahema’s vegetative man and so on. But where do we get this fixation on religious ideologies in Parrish’s analysis? How does it develop and become so socially poisonous? In the light of this inquiry I agree with Parrish’s assessment of Islam. In 60 Posts I spoke of fixed mindsets and how they colour our worldview (see Reasons to be Cheerful). Ideological fundamentalists of any persuasion may close their minds to new or modified ideas. My reading of Islam makes it a closed system – a system based on fear – fear at what might happen if one disobeys sharia as interpreted by the imam, like the early Catholic church and its espousal of hell for the damned.

What part of our psyche compels us to oppose the transformation of old ideas? Why do we let ourselves fall into the trap of Baptist hardliners in America opposing gays and lesbians, the Taliban in Afghanistan who murder women and girls if they stand up for their human rights, the Tea Party Christians of Middle America fighting for some lost ideal of freedom at any cost, middle class Islamic jihadists in Leeds, UK and so on? Are most of us stuck in the middle phase of human development where, according to Mwanahema, we are governed by emotional responses – responses of love or hate, fear of hell and damnation, etc.? Can we not have a world governed by transcendental aspirations rather than by the baser instincts and emotions?

For my third reference, we can look at Byrne and Whitten (1988) quoted in Robin Dunbar (1996) who

argued that what makes primate social groups quite different from those of other species is the fact that monkeys and apes are able to use very sophisticated forms of social knowledge about each other. They use this knowledge about how others behave to predict how they might behave in the future, and then use these predictions to structure their relationships (remember Theory of Mind?)

With primate survival so bound up with social relationships it’s easy to see that our second level of existence, that of our emotionally motivated state, plays a major influence in our societies. We are angry or sad, convivial and happy, fearsome and cautious within social relationships. Who is doing what to whom and with what consequence? This is not so far removed from the great apes and their machinations (see F. de Waal’s various observations, including his 1998 Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes). Yes, we have evolved emotionally and socially but we sustain ourselves in the emotional realm to the exclusion of the transcendental. Maybe some are not yet ready for this stage. Social mobility (guided by our emotions) drives us to connive, manipulate, rearrange social engagements, even lie in order to climb the social ladder. And we do this through fear of being outranked by our rivals! And fear turns to anger if we are not vindicated.

So, our social aspirations are subject to a roller-coaster ride of emotional involvement with our friends and neighbours to determine our rank or position within the group. Witness a hen party or stag do when the drink turns up the volume of conversation, then watch to see who is jockeying for top position in the group – and for what reason. Social aspirations skew the relationships we make with each other, including the relationships in the the corridors of power. More soon.


About johnderonde

UK-based charity worker in Tanzania
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