Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ooo, you gotta keep the faith...

I make no apologies if this post contains gratuitous Bon Jovi references (yes, there's no accounting for taste).

I'm talking about faith today, because faith is a big part of neomodernism. Now, stop right there, I'm not talking about religious faith (or at least, not solely about it). Religious faith is an important part of my life, but more from an emotional than a rational point of view. The emotional side of life is still important, but the neomodern side of my interest in faith is a rational one, neomodernism being in many ways a rationalist's philosophy.

Right, now that I've hedged the hedge of my hedging (I think this may technically be called a shrubbery), on to the business of non-religious, rational faith.

But hang on, I hear you cry, isn't faith by definition non-rational? Faith is belief in the absence of reason, isn't it?

Well, sorta. Sample sentence: 'I have faith in you'. It's a perfectly legitimate, literal use of the word 'faith', but it's not normally a sentence you'd think of as a case of belief the way one might believe in the existence of God or Santa. It means a combination of trust, respect and admiration, and perhaps an implicit belief in your virtue(s). Cynicism and misanthropy often make this kind of faith very difficult to achieve in modern life - we tend to isolate ourselves a little, particularly from people we don't know well. And yet, the rewards for putting faith in someone and letting them know it are often (in my experience) great - in the best cases, one receives a similar faith in return, along with cooperation and friendship.

(Yes, if you haven't been following my posts this week, I'm an optimist. If you aren't, wise up - pessimism is not a survival trait).

Anyway, consider a more important sample sentence from a neomodern perspective; 'I have faith that the human race can solve its problems and achieve a better, more peaceful, more comfortable life for all'. A cynic might say that this is a paradigm case of faith as belief without reason, but I've made my attitude towards cynics clear.

I think it's clear that if this kind of faith were more widespread, a lot of the suspicion and distrust which lead to many of our conflicts would be eliminated. Is it in any way justified? I think so - after all, all I'm asserting is a possibility. I know that there's a lot of historical evidence that we're not very good at getting along, but I think that's only because conflict makes for better, longer-lived stories than cooperation - a point which is fundamental to the existence of most novels.

It's easy to forget the hugely complicated collaborative efforts which put men on the moon, or built the web of cables which supports the internet, or figured out quantum physics. Yes, there's a lot of destruction, viciousness and pettiness in the world, but from my point of view - the neomodern point of view - the majority of it is eliminable. My view is that most of this nastiness can be viewed as a product of people being unable to see the bigger picture - people going for short-term greed at the expense of long-term social well-being, people believing that there will never be enough to go around, so it's best to grab as much as you can whenever you can.

I have this much faith in technological progress; I believe that most of the kinds of scarcity which give the appearance of justification to these attitudes are soluble. There is a nasty global economic pinch coming as oil, coal and natural gas start to run out, and overpopulation starts to make food and water a problem. But technologies exist already to get us through most of that, and to do it by solving supply problems for long enough that we start having to worry about things like continental drift and the sun swelling up. I believe the only thing standing between us and solving those problems - and thereby making food, water and electricity universally and cheaply available - is human ignorance of just how possible it is if you think big enough.

So, if it feels like we're living on a prayer, keep the faith ;)

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