As a slight corollary to the last post, one further development of the main thought merits mention. It isn’t uncommon for many people to have some inkling that every custom, every faith, every truth is mere convention, mere habit. The Roman philosopher Lucretius stated it well on a matter of faith when he pointed out that anthropomorphic gods tended to resemble the people who revered them. The invitation as to which invented which is ambiguous, at least out of context.
Then, as now, the point is not widely received in many quarters. Even amongst those who suspect quite strongly that all is mere convention or, more accurately, lies, the tendency is to present those lies as necessary. I have even heard of cases where atheists prompted their offspring to cultivate faith, as if their own position was a lack (though this may be propaganda, or so my own will-to-lies demands).
The modern formulation which I encounter is in the form ‘if god does not exist, then everything is permitted’. This is always a warning. It is the pithy pith of the fear people have. And fear is perhaps understandable, for if all is identified as convention and all of our edifices of history and society are laid bare as being far more threadbare and ephemeral than each and every one of us, we can feel exposed. To stand in a cathedral, spirit bowed under the cyclopean stones mortared in blood and time, and realise it has no greater justification, no wider meaning or significance than oneself, can be an upending thought.
But in conversation and argument this is not the fear I encounter. What I encounter is the tenebrous subtext of ‘everything is permitted’. The idea that without the truth of convention, without the weight of time, history, custom and its attendant donors of reward and punishment, people will do as they please. And the next step… what they please is always understood to be worse. This is why even those suspecting the truth of the absence of truth continue to value lies. They look at themselves, and others, and can only imagine that, shorn of the chains, all they would manage is degeneracy and destruction.
This is why I offer little comfort to those who would find fear in this. It is not a question of being daunted before a new and astonishingly open world, but of being so unable to imagine taking to that world intent on making a life, a being, an example, an argument, a disputation of exactly what it means to be unburdened by the fears, prejudices, and baggage trains of accumulated history. To fear the meaningless of a zufallig existence, especially to fear it as nothing but an invitation to the basest natures within ourselves, is to betray only a lack in oneself. A lack of any capability to wonder, create and affirm. And especially of an infantile inability to step out of the sandbox and make one’s own way.
Perhaps that is harsh. We do, after all, have thousands of years, and billions of people grinding us into those prejudiced shapes. Institutions and social conventions exist to shame and humiliate people if they differ or choose apostasy. All the more reason, though, that one should want to break free.