Sunday, August 22, 2010

Marxism -- Secular Religion

I have often argued that Marxism is a religion. I have recently even argued that Marxists and other advocates of central planning believe in what is essentially economic creationism (which is really just a development of the former theme). But let us consider my claim in light of the following definition of relgion by Scott Atran and Joseph Henrich in "The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Committments to Prosocial Religions" in Biological Theory 5(1) 2010:

the cultural evolution of prosocial religions and the historical rise of large-scale civilizations involve the dynamic interaction of the by-products of adaptive cognitive mechanisms (e.g., minimally counterintuitive beliefs and overextended agent concepts), adaptive learning heuristics (e.g., emulation of successful and prestigious individuals), credibility-enhancing ritual displays (e.g., self-sacrifice and costly comitments to seemingly preposterous beliefs), and cultural group selection for those packages of rituals, devoltions, and beliefs that best sustain in-group prosocial norms (e.g., monumental undertakings, sacred values). (19)

Now, one may argue about exactly how pro-social Marxism actually is (I think it is deeply anti-social insofar as we are talking about social mammals, but it is certainly pro-social if we are talking about social insects), but let us look at the rest.

Does it have "minimally counterintuitive beliefs"? Certainly. Who isn't in favor of justice, equality, and fairness? None of these are counterintuitive. What makes it "minimally counterintuitive" is that the equality comes about from acting as though people were equal in fact and actuality, rather than under the law. The opposition to private property is also minimally counterintuitive -- it's easy to imagine any number of utopian systems without private property. It has nothing to do with reality or how people actually behave, but it's easy to imagine.

Does Marxism involve "overextended agent concepts"? Most definitely! Marxism treats the economy as an agent with goals and purpose that should thus be taken control of by someone with godlike knowledge and reason (thus overextending agent concepts among people as well). They act as though it is rational to discuss justice as an element of the market economy. It is not. It is not precisely because they overextend agent concepts into spontaneous social orders in which teleological concepts are inapplicable.

Does Marxism involve "emulation of successful and prestigious individuals"? Another way of asking this: does it have heroes? Again, it most certainly does. Marx, Engels, Castro, Lenin, Mao, and now that fool Hugo Chavez.

Does Marxism involve "self-sacrifice and costly committments to seemingly preposterous beliefs"? Again, most definitely. First, you have the preposterous beliefs that constitute Marxism itself in it concepts of human nature, human action, the nature of the economy, the nature of justice, the possibility of egalitarianism as a social reality -- pretty much everything. It is an endless stream of preposterous beliefs. And committments to it have proven over and over again to be costly -- in wealth, economic growth, and in human life. The rhetoric of every communist country is and has always been "one must sacrifice one's self to the collective."

Does Marxism engage in "monumental undertakings"? Look at the monuments built in the former Soviet Union and in Communist China. Look at Stalin's 5-Year Plans.

Does Marxism have "sacred values"? That's all Marx ever offered.

None of this applies to the free market spontaneous order.
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