The Relativity of Wrong - Sociology

I'm feeling the need to expand on an earlier post:

It is one of my favorite essays by Isaac Asimov. Not because it is mind blowing, but it allows one to change perspectives.

The example used in the essay is that of the Flat Earth. In the days of old, many people believed the Earth was flat. Today, we know it is round. Most often, this is given in terms of right and wrong. The Flat Earth Theory is wrong. The Earth being round is right.

But this is not a very productive way of looking at things. You end up obsessed with being totally right or totally wrong. Rather, as Asimov says, right and wrong are fuzzy concepts and I want to further this thought by learning to focus on this being more or less right.

Do You Still Think The Earth Is Flat?

It sounds like a silly question to ask. We've all been taught that the Earth is round. We reduce those of old who thought the Earth was flat or that you can go over the edge of the Earth. Yet, here's another way of looking at it. In your day to day life, chances are that you treat the Earth as flat. Whether you're driving to work, throwing a baseball, walking down the street, giving directions... you basically treat the Earth as flat. It doesn't even cross your mind to account for the curvature of the Earth. Even our maps are flat.

It is only when travelling huge distances or crossing continents that we even begin to take into account the Earth being round.

So what does it say for us that most of us still treat the Earth as flat? Not much actually. It simply means that the Flat Earth theory works well enough for most cases, so we use it.

Yes, it is less right than the spherical Earth theory. But it is still very valuable in our day to day lives. It is up to us to recognize the usefullness of the old theory and then know when to apply the new one. We don't 'throw out' The Old Earth Theory. We just know when to apply it and when it is useful or not.

The same is true of physics. Newtonian physics is not wrong. It is simply less right than Quantum Physics. In our day to day lives, most of us can rely on Newtonian physics as much as we can rely on the Flat Earth theory and we're pretty okay doing so.

How About Culture?

I think most people would think of the above without too much controversy. That is really because it doesn't touch on anything controversial. It is 'just science'.

An interesting discussion emerges when we start to talk about right and wrong in terms of cultural truths.

Consider religion. Each religion or belief system has claimed the old one was wrong and it is right. Today, with science providing many answers, many would suggest religion is 'wrong' and secularism is 'right'. But again, let us approach this as a fuzzy concept.

Indeed, the Abrahamic religions are more 'right' than Greek Mythology. Lightning does not flow from Zeus, but is a part of our natural world. A world guided and created bv God. Similarly, Science is more right than the Abrahamic religions.

An old religion might not be correct or it might not have gotten the idea of God correct, but surely there is much that is still applicable in your day to day life. Ways of life, rituals, meditation... are all things most religions have that are very important to our daily life as opposed to the existential question of is there really a god or what specific god there is.

Sadly, I think our society has not taken this Isaac Asimov view of right and wrong and has instead opted to throw out all the old and believe that once something is proven 'wrong', it should be fully discarded.

Rituals Study

Here's an interesting study that talks about the success of marriage. I want to focus on one area of the study that I found interesting.

We believe that one important obstacle to marital happiness is that many people now slide through major relationship transitions – like having sex, moving in together, getting engaged or having a child – that have potentially life-altering consequences,” said Stanley, research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, as well as a senior fellow for both the National Marriage Project and for the Institute for Family Studies.
Often these risks co-occur. For example, those who have multiple cohabiting partners are also more likely to have children before marriage and with more than one partner.
“Another way to think about ‘sliding versus deciding’ is in terms of rituals,” Stanley said. “We tend to ritualize experiences that are important. At times of important transitions, the process of making a decision sets up couples to make stronger commitments with better follow-through as they live them out.”

As most of our rituals derive from religion or culture that is not 'scientific' many people in the modern world have abandoned the rituals themselves because they are 'false'. In reality, these rituals serve a very important purpose as a means of making it known that it is a huge life-altering decision.

The easiest example of a ritual is that of coming of age. Jews have a Bat Mitzvah. Many other cultures have a similar ritual. Here's some odd puberty rituals:

Contrast that to the modern day where most youth simply slide into puberty with maybe a mention of sex-ed class.

Granted, in many modern cultures, such rituals have been reduced to having a party with food and drinks and mindless ceremony or in the older cases appear barbaric or void of meaning. Yet, the idea of rituals is a good one. It brings the seriousness of the occassion to the forefront. It formalizes something that must be done. If done properly, the proper meaning and life lessons can be conveyed.

Secularism and Islam - Uncanny Allies

Growing up in an Islamic environment was interesting with respect to rituals. Being on Indian descent, many of our rituals were derived from Hinduism. Such practices were frowned upon and as happens in most Islamic societies, they are phased out as not being Islamic.In a similar way, secularism or 'science' has driven out many rituals as their source is 'untrue'.

So, we both the Muslim world and the Western world destroying their own internal rituals that guide people in life. It's kind of a strange thought in its own way.

Deliberate Rituals/Ways of life

I ponder if rituals can be re-framed without belief or religion. Or if current rituals can be reframed to have a purpose or commonly accepted. It will be interesting. I think we are in the midst of the first generation to truly be lacking such formalized rituals. Even, the College hazing or initiation has been stripped away. Perhaps for good reason as they were often bad or harmfull rituals.Such was the case with many older rituals. Let us not discount our progress in getting rid of them as specific practices.

Yet, it remains to be seen if we can create them more deliberately and keep them up to date in our times.

The same is true for the wisdom of the old ways. Many of them might appear sexist or rooted in bigotry, yet we would have to parse them carefully and deliberately to use what we can. We can use of what the old culture or religion did right. Even though we are more right :)


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