Two posts back I looked at the very large body of evidence across many disciplines that contradicts the popular view that intergenerational relationships are necessarily abusive in nature and harmful to children. As part of this look into the best available research I demonstrated that factually it is often the opposite that is true and such relationships can often be very beneficial and positive in nature just the same as any other relationship built on mutual love, trust and respect.
Then in my last post I went on to look at the popular book titled “Sapiens” which looks back across the cultural history of humankind and specifically the cultural norms and belief systems that have enabled societies to grow to the extremely large scales of today. These systems of imagined realities have shaped the modern world we know today and explains why so much of what we believe as fact and common-sense reality is based on nothing more than what we collectively imagine, often even in stark contrast to factual evidence.
In this post I take a further step and consider the term “Consensus reality” and why some imagined beliefs within in a consensus reality last for millennia with little change while other imagined beliefs change dramatically or get replaced with very different beliefs over time. What characteristics differentiate the long-standing imagined beliefs from the short-lived imagined beliefs when both are based on purely imagined truths rather than fact or evidence?
To begin with we should ensure we’re clear about what I’m talking about when I use the term “consensus reality”.
Consensus reality is the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, either believe are real, or treat as real. (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Consensus_reality)
Children have sometimes been described or viewed as “inexperience[d] with consensus reality,” though are described as such with the expectation that their perspective will progressively form closer to the consensus reality of their society as they age. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_reality)
Another way of describing consensus reality is that it’s an imagined reality that is shared between a group of people for the purpose of allowing that group to work together in a framework of common understanding and cooperation. Consider the belief in a sun god. Whether the sun is a god or not is less important than whether a group of people can use a shared belief in a sun god to avoid conflict, develop trade, co-exist and ultimately further the interests of individuals and their children as carriers of their genes. As presented through the powerful book “Sapiens”, these shared imagined beliefs have increased in size and complexity as societies have grown to the extent that much of what we consider as factual reality today is little more than beliefs reached through consensus. This isn’t a new phenomena, this has been the case for every empire that needed large and diverse groups of people to co-exist within a society.
What is new today is the truly massive scale of the modern consensus reality that has finally made the imagined State bigger and more important than communities and even families who support that consensus reality. People have in effect imagined themselves and their families into servitude to the State while selling their own children into lives without privacy, rights, voice or control over their own lives or futures. Children, their parents or anybody else who argues for children’s rights in the face of the prevailing consensus reality are immediately attacked and re-educated back to the prevailing consensus reality. Ironically, those who argue for children to have rights and respect are often attacked by children’s charities, politicians and other groups who exist to protect children. The actions of these groups are often well intentioned since they believe they are acting in the best interests of children rather than considering their actions abusive or dehumanising in any way.
For anybody it can be extremely difficult to see through our consensus reality because it’s what has shaped our core beliefs and view of the world since childhood. When trying to see beyond our consensus reality it can help to start by comparing and contrasting some imagined beliefs that we have today with imagined beliefs that we no longer have. By seeing beliefs that were at one time as factual and common sense as our imagined beliefs of today we can start to recognise aspects of our modern world that are no more than shared imaginings in our consensus reality. This exercise also helps us to understand why some ideas die out while others remain strong over thousands of years.
To assist with this exploration, I will set out 4 ideas that are typical imagined beliefs, two of which have died out and two which are still strong today.
Belief one, our lives are dependent on a sun god. Early hunter gatherers could see the sun in the sky, could feel its warmth and were keenly aware of its importance for everything from seasonal food supplies to illuminating threats to the village and its inhabitants. The sun was clearly very important and so anything that could be done to earn favour from the sun would be worth doing. Everybody within the community was aware of the suns importance and so as people collectively discussed the sun they would exchange ideas and formulate beliefs regarding what the sun was and how to please it. Gradually this would result in the sun attaining the status of god and anybody who didn’t believe in that god and so risked losing the good will of the god would be punished by the larger group who felt dependent on this belief. In time the very idea that the sun is anything other than a god would be considered crazy and dangerous until it becomes almost impossible to move beyond the sun god common sense fact. Eventually as a result of foreign invaders and conquest this belief was replaced and so this forms one of our two examples of a strong belief that hasn’t survived.
Belief two, animals don’t have emotions like people and so keeping them in confinement until they’re ready to be slaughtered and used for food isn’t distressing or cruel to the animals but is in fact natural and normal. This is a particularly interesting example since it demonstrates why group belief is so important for a consensus reality. Our distant ancestors were hunter gatherers and there is strong evidence that hunter gatherers did not see animals as we do today. Animals were revered and treated as equals to people. People would give ceremonies to the spirits of animals killed during a hunt, they were hunted through necessity, but they were thinking, feeling, equal creatures in the world. It wasn’t until people came together into larger groups and formed static communities and farms that people started to imagine animals differently. Hunter gatherers would range over large areas while farmers tended to be much more confined, and so it became necessary to stop animals from wandering. It became necessary to control animals and lock them into pens and so this mentally placed people above animals rather than as equal to them. People developed this belief that people are above animals, that animals don’t think or feel like people do, that it’s normal and natural to keep animals in confinement to be slaughtered and eaten. In fact, there is ample evidence that shows that animals do think and feel and feel distress and there is nothing normal about keeping whole species in confinement for food as if they have no mental or emotional dimension. This belief is still widely shared and so is one of our examples of a belief that has remained intact despite overwhelming contrary evidence.
Belief three is that the world is the centre of the universe. Historically people were thrown into prison and even executed for challenging this belief. It’s easy to see why early people might come to the belief that the world is the centre of the universe. Right back to the time of hunter gatherers people lived under a naked sky and would have been keenly aware of the movement of the moon, sun and stars. All astronomical bodies would be seen to be rising in the east, moving across the sky and setting in the west. Planets were the only exceptions and as minor exceptions it would have been easy to mark them as different, eventually as gods moving through the heavens. Eventually the belief that the world is the centre of the universe stopped being widely believed and is our second example of a belief that has died out.
Our last example is that children are not full human beings until 18 orbits of the sun and so similar to domestic livestock are incapable of valuable emotions, feelings and thoughts. Before 18 orbits are completed children may have feelings, thoughts and emotions but they are incapable of understanding them, and so they should not be considered as true feelings, thoughts and emotions. What is particularly interesting is that as quoted in literature on the subject of consensus reality, children are the one group of people not indoctrinated to consensus reality and so are the one group of people who pose a real risk to consensus reality. That is to say children are the only group in society who see the world as it truly is and yet are the one group who are denied a voice or any influence in society. Instead, first and foremost the State sets out a program defining the societies consensus reality and immediately begins a program of indoctrinating children into it, enlisting their parents and other adults to make it convincing and impactful. Anybody who does not comply with this program of indoctrination is immediately re-educated by the State and by those adults fully indoctrinated into the States ideology.
With these four example beliefs set out I want to try to identify what makes some imagined realities last longer than others. We have an ancient belief that has died out with the sun god example. We have an imagined reality that survived until only a few centuries ago with the world-centric belief. We have a very long-lasting belief with the animals don’t experience distress like humans. Lastly, we have the very new imagined belief that children’s emotions and feelings shouldn’t be considered as fully human until 18 orbits of the sun placing them between emotionless animals and complex adult humans.
Returning to the question of what makes one reality survive long term while others die out the best example from our set to consider is the animal emotion belief since it is the only example of a belief that has lasted for most of written history. One characteristic of this belief is that it directly impacts the survivability rate of its believers and their offspring which ensures that there is a real world biological benefit to maintaining that belief. It’s no more based or reality than the other examples but if you believe that animals don’t have full emotions and don’t feel distress like humans then it’s much easier to treat them as nothing more than food which in turn ensures believers have a protein rich food source for themselves and their children. None of the other examples have such a direct real-world benefit and so it’s conceivable that this high utility value of animals for providing protein is key to the long-term success of this belief. Whether this belief will continue to last once we have mass produced lab grown meat and other food sources remains to be seen. If a direct real-world necessity is required for long term survivability of a belief, then it is likely that this belief will change the same as other imagined beliefs.
But what makes any belief last longer than other beliefs even if they eventually change? This is a far less clear question to answer from the four examples.
There have been cultures that have expressed beliefs in a sun god and a world-centric view of the universe for several thousand years. These beliefs appear to only indirectly benefit their believers by giving believers a common set of values and beliefs that bind a group together. Neither belief gives a believer or family of believers an advantage over another group. It seems perfectly possible that this indirect benefit is what enabled a belief to last so long while still allowing contrary evidence to still undermine and change a false belief. Since survivability and procreation rates are not directly impacted by these beliefs then there is nothing stopping evidence from replacing the belief with something better or different.
The example of children is different again since it’s by far the shortest-lived belief. Why has this belief not raised its ugly head more in history and why is it only now that it’s become so broadly believed? I propose that the reason it’s not played a noticeable part in history is that it provides the least benefit to society in terms of survivability and procreation rates. Quite the opposite in fact, through most of history there has been an important biological benefit to finding a good mate as early as possible since mortality rates of all ages was so high through much of history. A person of 10 who can secure a strong and healthy mate who is able to produce children as soon as the female is biologically able increases the likelihood that the couple with have more chilren from an early age and as a result an increased chance that they will have children survive to adulthood carrying both their parents genes and beliefs to the next generation. Only now that infant and adult mortality rates are so low due to medical advancements has the modern myth of children been able to take root.
When considering what has driven this myth in the face of so much evidence and the weight of history there are two particularly interesting observations that we can make.
The first is that while history has broadly accepted relationships without imaginary age lines enforced on people there has always been pressure form some parts of society to reduce children to a lower status. The book Sapiens looks at how women and children have during periods of history been classed as property under property law and as such usable for settling debts and wrongs committed by their adult male owners. This requires a society to develop a consensus reality where children and women are reduced to a less human status than their adult male owners and while today women have been able to return to a full human status children are still living with their reduced status. So this isn’t actually a new phenomena but that need by many in society to keep children effectively classed under property law is a powerful driver.
The second observation is that when the first observation is combined with the fact that today the State exists above the family unit and local community with people serving and carrying out the will of the State then this creates a powerful driver for the State to keep children classed under property law. Sapiens looks at this recent phenomana in depth and how today the State has replaced the function of the traditional family and local community. Rather than repeat that work I refer you back to my previous blog post specifically on the Sapiens book or better still to the book itself. What you teach your child, how they are medically treated, what they believe, what they say and how they express themselves and all other areas of their lives much comply with the law of the State. If you went back a century and a half the idea that the State would dictate such things would have horrified and disgusted people in western society. The family and the local community has always been responsible for their children and each other. Today we are little more than vessels to carry out the instructions of the State with very little control over how we can deviate. People who try to deviate are immediately corrected and may even lose their own children and usually with the support and encouragement of the rest of society who are only too eager to see the State’s will done. The State is the big benefactor from this consensus reality since indoctrinating children as early as possible into a subservient belief system ensures that children remain under property law with the property owner being the State and who would dare challenge a State that owned everybody’s children?
Both of these observations are only possible due to the size and complexity of the consensus realities we live in and each time we attack somebody for expressing an opinion or thought that doesn’t comply with our consensus reality we are simply carrying out the will of those who ultimately benefit from that reality and that is not our children, families or local communities.
What for the future?
This is a very difficult question to answer since there are two strong oppossing forces at play.
The overall trend of the past 100 years has been for citizens to give more and more of the responsibility of parenthood and the community to the State which has seen the State grow from the small scale of past centuries to the goliaths of today. This trend will likely continue until the primary role of parents and other citizens is to fully implement the rules of the State much like teachers and community enforcement officers. This will see the rights of children further decrease as property law is extended to ensure compliant children are raised in battery farm type schools and homes.
However, since there is no direct benefit to the child and if we assume that a successful consensus reality needs to have a direct physical benefit to survive long term then there is no reason for these imagined beliefs to survive long term.
Since this is the first time in history that we have a globalised consensus reality where the State is bigger and more important than its people then the question becomes whether ordinary historical rules still apply or whether we are entering a truly new period of human history and evolution. Globalised belief systems that span States that are bigger than their people, AI and global communications networks, genetic engineering, human machine hybrids and eugenics programs.
An interesting book that looks into these possible futures is the hugely popular “Homo Deus”. Perhaps it’s too late to change the course of history for our species or perhaps there is still a chance to return some control back to local communities, families and our children. If a reversal is to happen then it will take great will and courage from all sections of society and a determination to stop attacking everybody who speaks out against the will of the State. We would need to return to embrace the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall In The Friends of Voltaire when he wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. A freedom of expression and thought that is not reduced to just the will of the State. The alternative is to remain in the comfort of our consensus reality and the reassurance that the State will meet the needs of its loyal and compliant citizens while avoiding conflict with those who would attack anybody who dares challenge the hegemony of the State.