We have heard about financial pyramid schemes where they only work while everyone believes in them, collapsing otherwise. However, a lot of what we take for granted has exactly the same fragile basis.
In reality, all the institutions we hold as central to our civilisation are nothing more than shared belief systems, with their power only remaining as long as enough of us gives our consent to their existence.
Religions are formalised structured beliefs, along with a selection of practices designed to lock in those beliefs.
Religions provide a ready-made belief structure that can save us a lot of brain strain trying to work out our place in the universe. The problems occur when too many believe that what their religion has is the only truth, or that everyone ought to believe in it, as well as follow its practices.
However, the core problem is that they are just belief systems, requiring everyone to believe in them. They become dangerous when too many become reliant upon the power that having a lot of believers gives them, and has lead to many wars fought in their religion's name. But many of these wars have had nothing really to do with the central tenets of those religions, but more to do with who inherited the power structures that resulted.
We have seen a lessening of the numbers of people following a religion, especially as revelations of abuse of power have become commonplace. However, the reduction in aligning with formal religion has also seen more deciding their own set of beliefs, mixing and matching as they see fit from the plethora of opinions available.
Money is the means of tokenising value, allowing a freer means of trading between people.
Bartering relies on having others around who have what we require but also that they want what we make or do. That doesn't scale enough for wide-scale societal use, so a means of tokenising value was adopted, using various tokens from grains to precious metals like gold. While today our transactions occur in cyberspace, they still require a portion backed up by physical assets like gold to protect against value volitivity.
However, cryptocurrencies, which have no physical basis for their value, have shown how fragile the raw tokenism of money is. While currencies and a lot of what they are tied up in, like property and shares, have been subjected to a lot of speculation to obtain financial advantage, cryptocurrencies are the epitome of baseless speculation and while some may trade goods for them, they are almost exclusively used as a means of getting rich that relies upon the belief of investors that they have some intrinsic value.
Like shares that are purchased with it, money is based upon a shared belief in its value, which begins to fluctuate with the waxing and waning of the desires of those who use it to speculate, undoing the general trust in its value, and thus has led to national and consequent international financial collapses. It requires a lot of government legislation and international cooperation to keep it stable, which gives us enough confidence to rely upon it, but does not change its fundamental lack of intrinsic value.
For many, sport is so much a major part of their life, it is on a par with religion.
Unfortunately, sports organisations are exceedingly willing to foster the idea that their sport is essential to our lives, and we to them. Of course, they are only as important to us as long as we believe them to be. However, we, at least en masse, are very important to them, because if we stop believing in them, and a whole lot of others do the same, then they will cease to be, or at least at the level they want. Sports organisations do the minimal community promotion of participation in the sport to keep up their supply of people to feed their merchandising machine.
The basic problem with spectator sports is that other than what belief we put into it, they are nothing more than a distraction, with no lasting benefit to us in real terms. Now the same could be said of entertainment, but sports organisations are trying to set themselves up as more than just entertainment, but as something important to us and our identity. But they are not, and so are just making us empty promises.
Culture is the sum of shared beliefs, experience and identity of a group of peoples that see themselves as closely related by them.
The culture of a peoples evolves as they evolve, adapting to new influences and circumstances. The idea of culture is used to bring peoples together, but also exclude others as a way of protecting that culture. Some parts of a culture are held up as being essential to the shared identity, while others are mostly a show for the tourists. Conquests bring new aspects to the culture, but also result in the loss of others when conquered. Culture can be a crutch that a tenuous society uses to try to hold itself together in a changing world.
Culture is the manifestations of a shared sense of identity, meant to bind a peoples to their past as if that guarantees their future. Culture is the acted out beliefs in an imagined commonality that is defined by the past. That continues even when uprooted and transplanted into another culture. However, its transitory nature is exposed when the next generation of those transplanted add in some of the new host culture, or even reject the old. Genetics don't keep a culture going, despite the invocations of families past.
Culture is a shallow illusion pretending to be deep, but only has currency while it is remembered. Some lament it being forgotten, but that will not save it. Culture is just another shared belief that is invoked mainly as propaganda to keep people conformant for the benefit of the invokers. It is a comforting belief that often defies attempts to nail it down, but those attempts often reveal how shallow a culture is.
We can talk about workplace culture, but we know that is just a ruse to keep employees bound to the goals and outcomes of those who profit from running those companies. It is propaganda designed to exploit the sense of camaraderie that comes from working together. It starts dissipating as soon as the company is past, only lingering in memories as some events that may have had an effect on psyches, for better or worse.
Those who have been violently separated from their culture can feel a profound sense of loss, but often those events have created a lot of problems and other disruptions that prevent ever resurrecting the culture to any great extent. Attempts to do so will raise the hopes but will ultimately be unfulfilling as they rely on broken memories that decay as time goes on, but leave the trauma to be relived. That does not mean those who created the trauma or their dependents do not owe reparations, but those can never restore what's lost, though they can make the future more tolerable.
Therefore, with the transitory and ever-changing nature of culture being exposed, attempts to use culture as an authority are largely hollow attempts to recreate some identity of the past as a reason for some inequality in the present and into the future. We see this very much used by racist groups claiming white culture as superior, even though it is not homogenous and is undergoing rapid changes as cultures mix and hybridise to form multiple new ones. Keeping the worst aspects of cultures is a recipe for future problems.
The only way forward is to bring together thoughts and beliefs that represent the future, though they may borrow from those parts of the past that are still remembered. Coming to terms with the reality of the present and its opportunities to change the future for the better are what's best to focus upon.
An ideology is a formalised set of beliefs, usually applied in a politico-social context.
Our earliest ideologies were religions, but with the progressive decoupling of what we personally believe from how we can collectively cooperate as a society, political ideologies have gained more importance. Parallel with this separation of religion from state, we have seen the rise of businesses as independent financial entities. With the rise of business, and the power that businesses can wield, we have seen political ideologies spring up about how much power and influence such entities should be allowed to have.
We have capitalism which glorifies the power of business and money, and communism which decries that. Capitalism has morphed into neoliberalism, which tries to minimalise social concerns that can interfere with the free operation of businesses. Unfortunately, the history of unbridled business power shows that they are generally untrustworthy, showing extreme willingness to sacrifice people for profits.
Of course, businesses are run by people, and therefore businesses become power surrogates for those people, widening their sphere of influence, hijacking as much of the political process as they can. They use that influence to perpetuate an ideology centred on their own importance, thereby justifying their own self-indulgent lifestyles, at the expense of everyone else, and ultimately of society as a whole.
We are often implored to support our country ahead of ourselves, perhaps being labelled as unpatriotic if we not wholeheartedly fulfilling all the expectations around deference to flag and country.
But how real is a country really?
A country is a defined area on a map, providing the ability of its inhabitants to decide what sort of life they want to build there. Its people may have had to fight for the land, though they often ended up appropriating others' land as part of the spoils of war. Europe's national boundaries have been redrawn many times over the centuries. Whichever way a country came into being, while seemingly defined by its land, its real definition comes from the people who inhabit it, and what they believe about it.
A people's beliefs about a country will largely have been contexualised by the land and the depth of the people's connection to it, built up over many generations. Their attachment will define how willingly they will sacrifice themselves to preserve their sovereignty over it. Out of their beliefs about their entitlement to the land, they will build upon it, and use it in the ways that they see fit. We can see how much those beliefs change the land by viewing satellite images and seeing how different the land can look either side of a border, depending upon what use the land has been put to.
However much the land changes, it is the beliefs that have defined the society, and the society has broadly defined what being a particular country means. It is that aggregated belief in a country that is its strength, but it also defines its weakness, as when that belief is weakened, the sense of country is weakened, highlighting how much the definition of a country is really based upon belief, rather than a concrete reality separate from those beliefs.
Which is what makes it so strange that people think that the well-being of their country makes it more important than the earth, which is real, and does not depend upon our beliefs at all for its existance.
Unfortunately, it is this misguided aggregated belief in the superiority of a country that threatens the earth itself, and ultimately our life on it. We need the earth to stay in its current narrow range of weather patterns for us to survive, but it does not need us at all, and can shift the weather to ensure its own survival at our expense. The earth will still exist, even if there is no life as we know it upon it.
Many are facing displacement from the land that they have been attached to, either due to war, or extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels. Many nations will cease to be due to those rising sea levels, while others will have drastic economic consequences of loss of heavily populated coastal areas. At some point, we will have to stop believing in the arbitrary idea of countries, and face the reality of our being one people on this one planet.
Modern societies are based on the concept of ownership, but how real is that?
In hunter-gatherer societies, people had few possessions because they needed to be able to carry all that they owned. Ownership was limited by practicalities, but it is nonetheless ownership. People want some things to rely upon, and having some personal items was practical because they didn't need to keep finding items each time they needed to do similar tasks. However, some people also wanted to be in charge, and strength was a big factor in who had control over others, so people could be subject to coercion by force to remain compliant.
It wasn't until settling down and building that people expanded their possessions, including the number of people that could be controlled by force. However, force is only useful if others believe it is not worth resisting, and many times people have collectively decided that they didn't believe that the current leadership was worthy of their obedience, and so revolted, usually led by another wannabee leader, and the cycle continued.
With the rise of mass agriculture, labour was required, and with it slavery as a way to cut costs. Even early so-called democracies restricted voting rights to the landed wealthy, maintaining the institutionalised ownership that they relied upon to maintain their income and expand their possessions, both material and human.
We now live in societies where laws rely upon ownership, and while owning people is outlawed, many are still enslaved, if not by overt control, by laws and systems that restrict how much access they can have to possessions. We have such huge wealth inequalities because ownership makes it easier to own more while preventing others from owning. The conservative agendas also try to prevent as much public ownership as possible to allow even more private ownership for the few.
We cannot take what we own with us when we die, even though many past cultures tried to, and even if we pass ownership onto others, most things owned will eventually disintegrate beyond use. Things are impermanent, and at some point everything will cease to be owned. Ownership was always transitory, a delusion, but we made it rule our thinking and thus our lives. The problem with owning is the necessity of keeping and protecting what we own from others. We become prisoners to what we own, which is why many who go more zen feel so relieved.
Unfortunately, most societies are built around perpetual economic growth, which relies upon ever-increasing ownership. If we want all to have better lives, we need to move our economic thinking to being less resource-intensive. That is an anathema to many, but will become more necessary if we are to have a planet that we can live on. We do not own the earth, and it can remove us from it if we don't respect its own power to protect itself. We can pretend that we own things, but they are on loan to us, and can be snatched from our hands in short order.
We can only really claim custody, not ownership, as the former is reality and the latter is illusion.
While not in the same league as other belief schemes, the worship of celebrities highlights how much beliefs are influenced by manufactured publicity.
The cult of celebrity obsession is backed by dedicated promotional industries that bombard us with waves of publicity about film and pop stars, but now even many who have no claim to fame other than that a lot of people know about them, just so that they can be an influence over the buying habits of their followers.
Celebrities are the glowing advertisement for a lifestyle that most are meant to aspire to but will never reach, just because it cannot scale to include so many. The whole cult of celebrity helps to legitimise inequality, and thus provides protection and anonymity for those who manipulate society for their own ends. While people are lusting after the fake lifestyles of celebrities, they are not questioning the validity of the exploitation going on in the rest of our societies.
Those chosen to be the faces have shown they are willing to keep feeding the illusion and not challenge those who profit immensely from it. Even the advertising they do to get more income promotes the frivolous and expensive, such as cosmetics, alcohol and cryptocurrencies, as if they are what it takes for the rest of us to climb above the realities of being on the wrong side of the economic divide.
In a way, celebrities are like performing monkeys, trained to show that if we perform, we will get what they have. But all they have is a fake life of glamour resting on top of a huge mound of exploitation. Yes, it beats working in a coal mine, but their lives are not really their own, like the rest of us. Exploitation is exploitation, and a glamourous life is a pretend life. It's attractive, but not necessarily fulfilling.
The ejection of Weinstein and Hanlin have not blunted the cult as the publicity machines ramp up to close the door on them and return to feeding the illusion. Even the raft of celebrity fandom sites and magazines play their part in highlighting and rejecting those who do not play the game, as their existence is directly dependent upon the celebrities existing. It is a cycle of illusion feeding delusion.
Ultimately, most belief schemes rely upon the threat of violence to keep people from challenging those controlling them.
We have been dragged into wars based upon countries and religions, and expected to willingly sacrifice ourselves for them, or risk being shot as deserters. Some countries treat even burning its flag as a criminal offence. Violence is the ultimate tool used to maintain belief systems. Legislation gives the pretense of legitimacy, but violence backs those laws up. Without armed forces or police, many in society would engage in activities that would destabilise that society. Violence is the ultimate defensive position that keeps people following the prescribed order.
However, when enough people have stopped believing in the validity of the country or whatever the beliefs are centred around, that triggers some attempts at reconciliation, if the leaders are amenable to it, but if the resistance persists, state violence is brought to bear to quell the dissent. If the dissention is widely felt enough among the population, they will use violence to overthrow the government, and create another political apparatus that is its own belief scheme.
Unfortunately, when people are used to dysfunction in their societies, such overthrows typically result in similar levels of corruption and dysfunction, despite what promises are made to be different. This is because the negative expectations have been baked in emotionally. Like any beliefs, if the reality of life with them does not match the promise pushed by all the propaganda, people are disheartened and fall back on old habits, including in their thoughts and expectations. To make new beliefs and thus trust in a new system, it has to consistently outperform the promises.
What many belief systems have had in common is a tendency to perpetuate themselves in preference to the well-being of their believers. Truth is seen as an inconvenience or labelled heresy.
It can be said that the truth is the only consistent lie, as it can never contradict itself.
Ideologies often start out as simplifications of the truth, but as they are pushed to explain more about the world, they either have to adapt to reality, or dismiss reality that doesn't fit in with their narrative. Unfortunately, too often those who have accumulated power through the application of the ideology are not prepared to relinquish that power when the truth threatens it, and so we have seen people adversely affected by application of the ideology threatened and marginalised to prevent the truth being revealed.
Many now see truth as being based on belief, and so reality can be what we want it to be. This is obviously a delusion, but recent years have shown millions of people are willing to believe in totally baseless conspiracy theories, just to avoid facing the reality of what their lives really are and how much they see themselves as being unable to change that. That idea of powerlessness has been promulgated by those who haven't wanted their power challenged, but now they have ramped that up into a fake sense of power though those malevolent backers are actually consolidating their power even more.
However, the truth will eventually prevail, revealing the hypocrites that denied it, so it is better to bend to the truth than try to bend it. Strictly following the truth is confrontational, as it means relinquishing cherished beliefs if they are at odds with the truth. In the end though, it is the path of least resistance, as knowingly living a lie is more stressful, but that has not stopped people trying their hardest to resist.
If we want the most stress-free life, we must choose to see the truth, letting go of ideologies that distort or deny it. Being flexible and changing as the truth directs us. Respond to the reality presented to us and not our fears or preconceptions, as the latter will mislead us to the extent of our belief in them. Live the truth and we can be free.
Conventions are the common agreements and actions that we believe will help us in our interactions with each other.
What is clear from the previous discussions here is that a lot of what we believe are habits of thought that don't have any real rigidity to them. That means we don't have to defend them to the death, but can change them as fits our needs.
The real issue then is what do we have to all agree upon and what can we leave up to each individual or group to choose for themselves? Humanity has been making these choices for millennia but have often left it to those who have usurped power under threat of violence to say how we are supposed to live and what to believe. After finding such power-based regimes not really being suitable for our well-being, we have largely come to the conclusion that some sort of communal decision-making about our future may work better for us. We call this process democracy.
Of course, there are many who do not want to let go of the power that they or their families have accumulated, so they are trying very hard to convince us all that their continued rulership is best for us. For a large part they have succeeded, so we are still caught up in the games that they have devised to keep us from taking control of our own lives. We do not have to play their games, at least not on a society-wide basis.
Democracy is an evolving process of deciding what are the best conventions for ensuring we all have the most freedom of choice of lifestyle, without creating too many problems for each other. We do not have unlimited resources or space, without creating more of the problems we already have. That means that we all need to make compromises about how grandiose our choices can be.
Currently, a minority of the world's population is consuming so much that it leaves many to starve and the planet to cook. That means that for those privileged peoples some measure of curtailing of their excesses will be required if all people are to have a healthy life free of excess stresses. How much has to change is yet to be decided, but first we have to question our beliefs as to what is actually necessary and what is a result of desires born of propaganda promoting schemes that have led to our current predicament.
Unbridled economic growth is unsustainable given how that has already created suffering for billions and damaged the planet so much that it will make it impossible to sustain us. Therefore, unbridled capitalism is failing us. That does not mean that money is not useful, as it allows more social mobility. Rigidly centralised government control of most of peoples' lives has failed, largely due to the inability of the few in charge to resist taking advantage of the power that allows them. That means the systems that will work for us all need to be somewhere between those extremes.
The institutions we have thought that are essential to us are largely based upon our collective belief in them, so they should not be allowed so much power that we cannot limit what they can do. The ideologies that support these institutions must not be allowed to be so ingrained in the processes of society that we become prisoners to them. Anything we create must be allowed to be modified or even dismantled if it is proven to create more problems than it was designed to solve. We are learning to collectively define our lives, and we will make mistakes, big and small.
Certainly, there is some ideological aspect to wanting people to be able to exercise as much of their free will as possible, but that is tempered by having to maximise that for all, which means that it cannot be too rigid nor allow some to impose their beliefs upon others. There will always be need for laws, but they must be fair and even-handed, and have a mechanism that fairly evaluates whether they are really working for us. We must not be held hostage to our past ignorance or lack of understanding.