Hopeless ignorant masses need some sort of refuge. In many materially and culturally impoverished parts of that world, religious fanaticism affords that refuge. Monotheistic intolerant faiths such as Christianity and Islam are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for evoking the fanatical response. Combine a dangerous belief in a homicidal cruel monomaniacal god with general cultural and material poverty, and you have the perfect recipe for generalized murderous violence. Although the advanced industrialized countries are nominally Christian, their general prosperity moderates their belief in the monotheistic Christian god. But in many parts of the globe, a combination of Islam and material deprivation invariably results in headline grabbing violence.
Extreme attachment to an ideology or cause can perhaps explain the violence associated with such seemingly diverse fields such as movies and cricket. I find it inconceivable that reasonable people would fly into a murderous rage killing people and vandalizing property at the death of a movie idol, as happened when a south Indian movie star (Rajkumar) died of old age. Or consider the murder and mayhem that followed the publication in Denmark of caricatures of another idol of the Islamic world, Mohammed. The operative word is “idol” and the worshipping by the unwashed masses is not restricted to just the traditional monotheistic religions. Cricket serves equally well.
My distaste for cricket (which I wrote about here) arises from the same apathy I have towards the mindless worshipping of idols by the masses. I am pondering this general phenomenon of fanatical worship because of the recent suspected (and most likely true) murder of the Pakistani cricket coach Woolmer in Jamaica. The team lost, some fans called for the murder of the coach, and within a day of the defeat, the coach was dead. Shocking? Not really considering the incredible fanaticism of the fans. That the word “fans” is derived from “fanatics” is instructive.
“Woolmer used to tell stories of the fanaticism of subcontinental fans who would wait at a train station at some dusty township at 3am just to see a train carrying Indian great Sachin Tendulkar flash by, in a land where every avenue of life is magnified in the extreme.” [Source.]
It’s the economics, stupid. Great masses of people follow the game on TV and radio. That attracts not just advertisers of soaps and sodas, but bookies and bureaucrats also. With millions of dollars at stake, match-fixing is a predictable outcome. Finally the meta-game of money and jingoism results in senseless murder and random acts of mob violence.
No, no, it’s the religious zeal, stupid. Rootless individual identity seeks to tie itself to some group with a large following, whether Scientology, Islam, cricket, movie star—the details are not important. It is primitive tribalism, a drive to be part of something that is much larger than oneself, a drive to belong to a group and thus inherit some of the power of that group.
No, no, it’s the combination of economics and religious fanaticism, stupid. Material poverty coupled with cultural poverty (which manifests itself as a fanatical devotion to an ideology) give rise to the observed phenomenon of violence. Take away either of the two ingredients, and you don’t get cooked. Civilized cultures (Jains and Buddhists, for example) no matter how materially deprived do not descend to mass murder. Similarly, materially rich but still nominally Christian societies do not indulge in generalized violence within their own societies.
I think that I like the last conjecture the best. Is there a way out?
It is trivially true that if you are too busy building stuff, you don’t have too much time to go around destroying things. Conversely, if you are fully invested in destroying stuff, you have little inclination to build things. Now if enough people in a society are busy breaking, not much stuff gets built. Lack of stuff leads to material deprivation and then if an evil ideology is handy, it leads to more destruction. Society is then locked into a low level equilibrium, or vicious cycle.
To nudge the system out of this trap of religious fanaticism and material poverty, there are three possible ways: 1) Get rid of intolerant religions; 2) Provide a way out of material poverty; 3) Get rid of both the intolerant religion and provide a way out of poverty.
You cannot get rid of intolerant religions. There are too many followers. So options 1 and 3 are ruled out. The middle option is the only one we have. I suspect that people who are comfortable at home rarely go out rioting in the streets. That option is also attractive because when people become rich, they have the means to fulfill the natural human desire to become educated, and when they are educated (in the broadest sense of the word), they naturally discard mindless ideologies. Another way to put it would be to say that people move up Maslow’s ladder.
I have an uncommon attachment to the notion that stuff matters. If you have stuff, you have the precondition for moving up the ladder. Given enough stuff, you can do whatever you want to do. If you don’t have stuff, you can’t do squat. (See “The Importance of Producing Stuff“.)
Back to this matter of religious fanaticism and poverty. I think that it is not surprising that they go hand in hand. The connection is well-understood by the “leaders,” whether they are called mullahs or politicians in a so-called “democracy.” In India, there is an unholy (sic) nexus between political power and the handing out of goodies to favored religious groups. Handouts are wonderful. They promote dependency and given sufficient time, impoverish the group so favored. Impoverished people are more easily manipulated. In neighboring Islamic republics of Pakistan and Bangladesh, they dispense with the pretense of democracy and go directly to guns and military dictatorships.
I began with “Hopeless ignorant masses need some sort of refuge.” What we need to do is to remove ignorance and promote hope among the masses. The key is education. Education inoculates the civilized person from the virus of fanaticism and despair. Education makes people productive and so stuff gets produced. When stuff gets produced, poverty is reduced. With material wealth, the necessary condition for development is satisfied. Educated people have a stake in the future and therefore have an interest in informing themselves about policies that are beneficial. They then make an informed choice among various leaders based on their policy prescriptions. This results in a peaceful and prosperous society.
Want to reduce the fanatical devotion to monotheistic religions, cricket, movie stars, and other mindless matters? Then educate the people.