Thursday, September 11, 2008

Billions and Billions

There seems to be a trick of conceptualization that makes people wax naturally toward Platonic Idealism. The idea that there is one true form of a thing and all manifestations of the thing are simply permutations of the ideal is not new. People around the world, from ancient Greece to pre-Colombian Mississippi seem to have arrived independently at the idea, probably because type-casting everything as some variation or other on an archetypal theme makes approaching the world a bit easier.

Easier, but wrong.

Linnaeus was wrong when he tried to apply Platonic Idealism to Biology, but nobody realized it until Darwin built his theoretical artillery piece to bring the tower down.

Two problems:

One, those towers pop up like daisies. It seems that people are just born a bit on the Platonic side, so every generation has be leveled anew with Chuck's big gun.

Two, the rebellion against Plato hasn't really gone beyond Biology's little intellectual territory.

People often talk about American culture, or Western culture, or Christianity, or Islam, or Science, as if there are monolithic paragons of each archetype and people only hold imperfect versions of the ideologies, but the truth is there is no paragon.

None of these ideas exist apart from human minds. There is no Christianity, no Science apart from a person thinking about it.

When someone says something about Islam being a peaceful religion, or about the goals of Science being a rigorous adherence to intellectual honesty, they're paying homage to the great Greek.

And they're wrong.

The truth is, Islam is not a peaceful religion, it's a billion religions, each a tiny representation of the ideas that one person has about everything connected to the word Islam. Some of these billion religions are peaceful, some not. Science is not any one thing, it is a billion things to a billion people. There is no American culture, no Eastern, no Western culture, there are billions and billions.

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