We know from comparative anthropology and archaeology that, in stark contrast to Western culture, non-industrialized, pre-modern, and traditional cultures were characterized by cohesive worldviews that generally supported what I've been calling 'human-scale' reality. All traditional cultures, for example, have an explanation of how people came to be and how things around them worked. For every question, there was already an answer that every member of the culture either knew or could find out from someone who knew. Such ideas about the world were not open to debate, nor did it seem likely that anyone within a given culture would even think to question them--what would there have been to gain, when each generation's goal was simply the continuation of the previous generations' ways? There would have been a deep sense of comfort in knowing how everything in the universe worked and fit together, and understanding one's place within that universe--things are no different in modern organizations like religious congregations, cults, clubs, etc. A face-to-face community bound together by shared views on the world, egalitarian treatment and good standing, a common goal, and a deep conviction in the correctness of one's actions: this is what a human-scale reality looks like, and, as the evidence of anthropology and archaeology argues, this is what humans have grown used to over two million years of existence. It is, arguably, what the human mind expects to find when it looks out into the world. However, thanks to the assault of Western scientific progress, it is more or less impossible to maintain this scale; as it expanded outward from Europe in three waves of resource-hunger, the first as Roman ambition, the second under the guise of Christian evangelical glory and manifest destiny, and the third in the form of industrial capitalism's total war on the world, Western society has incorporated and devoured all the cultures it has touched, basically rendering traditional cultural worldviews obsolete and feverishly replacing them with a different scale of reality: first, an imperial civilization-scale; second, a transcendental Christian-scale; third, a capitalist techno-scale. This is how the ongoing zombie apocalypse has played out. Instead of having a clear, straightforward, and satisfying answer to questions regarding things like the purpose of life, people now are expected to define the purpose of life more or less for themselves, individually, as an inviolable matter of personal belief, to be based ideally on the exposure made possible by a modern education and access to the internet and books to many different viewpoints and an overwhelming amount of information and arguments that are typically contradictory and inconclusive. The amount of evidence an individual has to consider in determining solutions to the central questions about life that culture can no longer answer accumulates exponentially and the pressure and pitfalls of trying to keep up with it all can be staggering, even mentally harmful, typically resulting in a feeling of being totally lost and detached, even paralyzed. Even worse, the answer an individual decides upon might be rejected by those around her, effectively alienating her. People don't do well in heterogeneous groups with different beliefs, values, goals, and expectations of behavior. Cooperation and communication easily break down and must then be enforced by an arbitrary authority. Science has succeeded in giving every other culture an inferiority complex and crippling their ability to form a cogent worldview, leaving a critical void where a definitive cultural narrative ought to exist.
Scientific rationalism, then, is clearly not compatible with healthy human psychology. The attempt to understand phenomena exclusively via objective observation and logic is unnatural and frequently counterintuitive. This much is obvious given that scientists need to undergo a lot of training to properly apply the scientific method and to understand and check their own biases and logical fallacies. To do science, an individual needs to turn her back on her evolved humanity as well as reject an intimate, subjective relationship to the world. For a society to embrace science, even those who do not personally perform science must be taught to accept scientific thought as the most legitimate form of thought, and scientific ideas as the most concrete and real, even though scientific thought and ideas are frequently counterintuitive and complex, requiring elucidation and mediation by specialists whose claims by definition cannot be verified by lay people. Already, the human scale has been lost by virtue of the need for this mediation. Lay parents, for example, have long since been barred from teaching their own children a traditional worldview and culturally important skills passed down to them by their elders, but instead must now relegate all aspects of their children's education, with direct implications for children's development and identity, to strangers and outsiders whose credentials as an institution are not open to question. When a way of knowing based on subjective experience, intuition, and folk knowledge passed down by previous generations is in conflict with what science holds to be correct, one usually must yield to the scientific authority or else be considered naive, stubborn, ignorant, or fanatical--in other words, not to be taken seriously, and therefore not representative of society's standards. The same dynamic manifests in all hierarchical relationships--civilians don't get to question cops, Catholics don't get to question the Pope, and tax payers don't get to question the Internal Revenue Service. The specialists in positions of authority are privy to information you aren't, and because you don't know what they know, you have no leverage to influence the policies they enact. As a result, one's intuitive worldview becomes increasingly irrelevant, and the value of personal assessments of the world diminishes. Our ability to comprehend the world and therefore to make sound decisions is essentially outsourced to specialists who retroactively inform us after the fact of how and what we think; this describes the basic mechanism of propaganda and why it is needed in civilized societies.
Science, however, differs from all other forms of propaganda in a significant way. Perhaps what makes science even more oppressive than, say, medieval hierarchical societies based on the doctrine of the divine right of kings, is that science consists of theories that are always subject to change pending compelling evidence. At least in a pre-scientific age, an individual or a social class or group could count on the worldview they were taught when they were young, regardless of how unjust or oppressive, to stay the same throughout their lifetimes. People are adaptable, and as long as everyone seems to agree on a certain interpretation, humans seem to have been capable of accepting the consensus and conducting their lives accordingly without feeling the strain of ontological doubt and existential uncertainty. In constrast, to be a good scientist or a good member of a scientific society, one must always be open to changing virtually everything one believes to be true at any given moment. Science is always developing, and nothing can be stated with absolute certainty lest the central tenets of science be violated. This is considered a revolutionary virtue of science, compared to the unchanging beliefs passed down through many generations in traditional cultures. The problem, once again, is that the human mind does not appear to like this sort of ambiguity, and seems to suffer greatly when forced to accept it. Some individuals can be trained to embrace science's unresolvable ambiguities (and are subsequently rewarded for doing so), but I would argue that the average person constantly rebels against this paradigm, even if unconsciously, by holding a few unassailable convictions throughout her life, whether they be about the existence of God, certain ethical questions like all children deserve an education, that dark-skinned men are dangerous, that vitamin C boosts the immune system (it doesn't), or that homosexuality is a disease. Probably the only dogmatic axiom in all of science is the implied presumption that only things that can be objectively observed are actual and real; overall, science is far too impoverished in unshakeable dictums to fill the void left by culture. The average person in modern society still craves the all-encompassing certainty of a human-scale worldview that countless prior generations of humans enjoyed, and to this person, science and its corollary strains of liberalism and progressivism are constant and pervasive tyrants, systematically denying both certainty and meaning to a mind that starves for the return of an intuitively comprehensible and universally shared worldview. This tendency is particularly evident in immigrants from more 'traditional' places. Wherever such immigrants immigrate to, they tend to hold close to their own cultural conventions, replete with religious beliefs, customs, foods, and usually a healthy dose of racism, all in direct defiance of liberal and scientific principles. Many immigrants gather together in migrant communities or form ethnic neighborhoods. Often, immigrant parents do not want their children to date or marry outside of their ethnicity. These insular tendencies, while sometimes tolerated and even romanticized as constituting part of the charm and allure of living in a multicultural city, more often than not get portrayed unsympathetically as being backwards and distinctly un-American, with the usual moral of such stories being that racial and cultural tolerance, acculturation by accepting Western education, and participation in mainstream Western capitalist society represent the proper aspirations of immigrants and the true American dream. Only a token, moderate expression of cultural pride or ethnic identity is tolerated; one may perhaps wear traditional dress on holidays as long as it does not scandalize conventional norms of modesty and decency, or eat traditional foods as long as they are not too disgusting to mainstream American sensibilities, but one cannot, for example, consider the word of God in the Qu'ran to have more weight than the US Constitution, or engage in polygamy as per your people's customs. A true and complete expression of any foreign culture in proximity to any other culture is by definition a challenge if not a threat, and therefore only emasculated versions similar to the ones on display at Disneyworld are tolerated. Likewise, the mantra espousing that "We are all one human family underneath it all" is critical propaganda in enabling the globalization that industrialism so desperately needs. As the world becomes globalized in the image of capitalist industry, it becomes possible to observe the implementation of this leftist worldview as official policy in more and more nations, as only the leftist myth of all-inclusive, secular, color-blind, gender-neutral international cooperation can establish the psychological foundation necessary to induce otherwise xenophobic and tribally-oriented peoples to forgo traditional bonds and accept membership in a global economy.
Generations of people growing up in industrial nations, especially in progressive urban centers, will have internalized this contrived leftist morality to the point where, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we all still believe that it is not only acceptable, but morally incumbent upon us all to promote tolerance and build a society that somehow accommodates people of all views. Witness Article 1 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood", and Article 2:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
The above credenda are phrased in a seemingly optimistic and humanistic tone, but actually express a sentiment of subjugation. The notion that everyone is equal is tantamount to stating that there can be no basis for group identity or cultural uniqueness--anyone who asserts that her group is special is violating the above articles. This way of thinking exists purely to enable the urbanizing and globalizing tendencies of industrial capitalism, technology, and science. Without these forces, such assertions concerning the equality of all human beings would be irrelevant. It should be obvious that for most of human existence, each band or village naturally considered itself to be special--it would have been the only society that mattered to its members, indeed, the only one with which they were completely familiar. Life revolved around their group. Many indigenous names of various aboriginal tribes support the antiquity of this ethnocentrism: "Dene", "Gwich'in", "Inuit", "Lenape", "L'nuk", "Maklak", "Mamaceqtaw", "Ndee", "Numakiki", "Numinu", "Nuutsiu", "Olek'wol", "Tanaina", and "Tsitsistas" are just some of the indigenous names by which Native American tribes identified themselves to outsiders that all translate simply as "the people". Tribes like the Sahnish, Anishinaabe, Dunne-za, Gaigwu and Nuxbaaga are even more assertive of their central importance with names that mean "the original people", "the principal people", or "the true people". Many more examples can be found if we were to include aborigines from outside of North America.² Obviously, this ethnocentrism cannot be cited as evidence of backwards racism or chauvinism; rather, it strongly corroborates my argument that people are naturally adapted to a high degree of insularity and cultural isolation, and appear to have lived quite well for several hundred thousand years that way. No indigenous culture prior to encountering Europeans had any clue as to the breadth of foreign cultures residing in far off parts of the planet, as these other cultures did not affect its way of life in the slightest until contact with Europeans was established. When different indigenous groups did encounter one another, they certainly did not extend the same rights and protections they reserved for their own people to the foreign group, who were, of course, naturally considered less than real people. Native American tribes often saw nothing wrong with taking advantage of an outsider, white or native; whereas such behavior would have been unacceptable if directed at another member of one's tribe, one would receive the approbations of peers if one pulled off a ballsy swindle on some unfamiliar sap. Indigenous peoples of both the New World and Australia have been documented by European explorers to act in seemingly erratic and contradictory ways upon encountering them, apparently out of not really knowing the best way to approach a foreign entity that could turn out to be dangerous. Sometimes the natives would decide to shower the explorers with immense generosity in the form of gifts and food, whereas other times the same people might try to loot or outright kill the strangers unprovoked; still other times the natives would simply flee at the sight of them. One humorous account in Bill Bryson's travelogue of Australia In A Sunburned Country tells of how a group of aborigines, upon encountering a European explorer in the desert, stared in seeming bemusement until one of them casually inserted the tip of his spear into the stranger in order to see what would happen.
Sadly, history holds far more sobering examples of the consequences of clashing worldviews and xenophobia enabled by technology. As history has attempted to show us time and time again, simply encountering a foreign worldview induces anxiety and is an easy trigger to violence. Mandating tolerance and diversity via authority and propaganda is inherently oppressive from an anthropological and even biological point of view. People shouldn't be forced to learn, against all evolutionary programming, to accept the cognitive dissonance that comes with the constant presence of strangers in their space. They should be able to live in a human-scale environment where familiarity can beget confidence, connectedness, and a sense of security. Bashing on, say, neo-Nazis or homophobes is really beside the point. Such intolerant people perceive things in black and white because, on a very basic psychological level, they are trying to salvage and affirm the simplicity of the human scale against the accelerating onslaught of techno-scale political correctness. Their prejudice simply reveals the sickness of the techno-scale reality and its empty reverence for universal tolerance. Their intolerance is a backlash to the implicit psychological violence that modern civilization inflicts upon them in order to coerce acceptance of a reality their biology instinctively rejects.
In light of this unrequited need for a human-scale reality, it should not be that surprising that fundamentalist movements--groups who hold hard and fast to scripture or doctrine as the literal truth and ultimate authority regarding all things--hold such strong appeal to those who feel disaffected and alienated by the epistemological and moral ambiguity of science, whose dissolution of a cohesive and intuitive worldview shared by others leaves these marginalized people to seek meaning in a consumerism that is ultimately unsatisfying. The high profile of ISIS coupled with its immense success in its campaigns in Iraq and Syria make the group highly attractive to those living disenfranchised lives in the West. Richard Barrett of the Soufan Group, an intelligence agency, writes in his report on foreign fighters in Syria that ISIS recruits from France, who number more than seven hundred to date, are characterized as "disaffected, aimless and lacking a sense of identity or belonging". He goes on directly to state:
This appears to be common across most nationalities and fits with the high number of converts, presumably people are seeking a greater purpose and meaning in their lives. Indeed, the Islamist narrative of Syria as a land of 'jihad' features prominently in the propaganda of extremist groups on both sides of the war, just as it does in the social media comments of their foreign recruits. The opportunity and desire to witness and take part in a battle prophesized 1,400 years earlier is a strong motivator. And for some, so too is the opportunity to die as a 'martyr', with extremist sheikhs and other self-appointed religious pundits declaring that anyone who dies fighting the 'infidel' enemy, whoever that may be, will be favored in the afterlife.”As reports such as those referenced in the above links reveal, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and shared purpose that exists within ISIS's ranks. A disaffected individual from the West can easily find what she felt was lacking from her old life in joining ISIS, and the organization's propaganda, targeted at young muslims using social media, seems to suggest that ISIS is keenly aware of the appeal of the human-scaled, simplified view of the world they can offer and the potential for fellowship that such a view possesses. Because the West long ago rejected religious dogma and championed universalist science, it cannot offer any of these things, and, as we can see, for many people the lack of absolutes in a scientific society drives them into the welcoming arms of an ideology that promises to shrink the world back down to size and that indeed is already demonstrating the vitality of its simplistic worldview through ISIS's continued military victories against the more "civilized" nations, which, in their eyes, are also victories against weak convictions and ineffectual leftist universalism/globalism.
The West may be troubled and baffled by the steady stream of its citizens joining up for militant jihad, but now we can see that the West's confusion belies its longstanding denial. High technology civilization tries hard to convince us that the distinction between a human-scale reality and a techno-scale one isn't real, and even if it were, it doesn't mean that humans cannot easily adapt from the former over to the latter. It will go so far as to disclaim all our various anxieties, neuroses, psychoses, and physical diseases along with growing rates of suicide and depression, persistent substance abuse, and an ever-expanding penchant for appalling acts of violence that now extends to joining foreign terrorist militias, protesting ignorance of the cause of these ills, always mindful to characterize those who act out with force as 'uncivilized', when the truth is just the opposite.
¹I have to say that this post is not meant to endorse the actions of ISIS or any other terrorist group, though I am certainly not condemning them, either. That's what the UN is for. I encourage those citizens of the US who recoil at the atrocities ISIS inflicts upon those they consider 'infidels' or enemies of their way of life to contemplate the following seldom-recounted piece of American history:
In 1813 several hundred Cherokees enlisted under the command of a bush lawyer turned general, Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory, as he became known for his intractable personality, was forty-six, gaunt, shrewd, violent, one arm crippled by dueling wounds--the latest from a duel with his own brother. Of Carolina frontier stock, he hated Indians but was more than willing to employ them as high-grade cannon fodder. His Creek War, hailed by Jackson as a victory for civilization, was notorious for the savagery of white troops under his command. They skinned dead Creeks for belt leather; and Davy Crockett, who was there, told how a platoon set fire to a house with "forty-six warriors in it" and afterward ate potatoes from the cellar basted in human fat.--Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents: The Americas Through Indian Eyes Since 1492We now pay homage to Old Hickory, who later became the seventh president of the United States, by printing his likeness on our currency. Readers from fellow civilized nations: feel free to supply your own favorite "victory for civilization" from your homeland's illustrious history, and we'll show those jihadis how truly civilized people behave.
²In our mostly de-tribalized, nuclear family paradigm in the West, this penchant to claim uniqueness for one's own can nevertheless still be observed in the way an individual normally considers her parents or children to be special. For example, consider the tendency of civilized children to each call their respective parents "mom" and "dad"; they apply this term only to their own respective parents, and even though the terms are not useful for disambiguation on a larger scale of organization, people still seem beholden to what the left technically would consider a backward and tribally-minded holdover from our unfortunate evolutionary past, this insistence of all people to hurtfully and divisively reserve the terms "mom" and "dad" exclusively for their parents, as if each person's parents were somehow unique, each mother the warmest, each father the strongest. Of course, most individuals don't feel that their parents or children are interchangeable and equivalent to others; I would argue that this is normal human psychology. Any child instinctively understands that her parents are far more important than anyone else's parents; other people's parents occupy a mostly marginal place in a child's life. In a tribal society, this mentality naturally extends to the tribe as a whole vis a vis other, less familiar groups. My point here is that liberalism would prefer you see this way of thinking as a violation of universal human rights.