Monday, August 15, 2005

The Egotism of Triumphalism

One of the things I've noticed about career alcoholics (people who have been drinking steadily for decades) is that, if you argue a point with them, they will refuse to see your point. Then, sometime later, they will come back and restate the idea as their own. If you mention that you had already argued for it, they will insist that they taught it to you. Apparently, Steve Jobs does the same thing. He will argue against something, and then come back and say "I have a great idea..." and then repeat your own idea back to you. If you repeat their own words back to these people, they will deny they said them. If you prove that they said otherwise, they will again reverse their position, rather than admit they were wrong.

Religions do the same thing. Organized religion always fights a rear action against the advance of civilization. Religions have sided with the aristocracy against democracy, the workshop owners against children, slave owners against the slaves, Nazis against the Jews, superstition against science, and so on. But later, all of the opposite positions are reclaimed as achievements of religion. Like any complete egotist, triumphalist religions can never admit that they are wrong, that there was something that they didn't know. They can only assimilate an idea if they believe they thought of it. But since the scriptures are written down, we have a record of what was actually claimed. This, combined with the egotism of triumphalism, is a major obstacle to learning in any devout follower.

Hindus are now claiming that their religion prefigured science from the beginning. Muslims claim the golden age of Islam as a natural outgrowth of their faith, rather than what it was--a relaxation of rigid orthodoxy and a willingness to embrace outside influences. And the proponents of Intelligent Design wish to claim that science supports creationist views, when it does nothing of the sort. The first step in learning is to admit that there is something that you don't know, or that something you believed is wrong. But if you insist that you had all the answers centuries or millenia ago, you can't do either. The real motive behind this is narcissistic egotism--pure, undiluted and unrepentant pride.