Neutrality and Indoctrination

(This is a repost of something I wrote on my old blog, with minimal changes. I think it is an important post.)

Introduction

I would like to continue the discussion on “neutrality” as I have mentioned in previous posts, as well as discussing some implications of our modern views on neutrality. I will be discussing how neutrality informs our biases, especially our idea of “indoctrination”. Effectively, I have made the claim that there is no such thing as a metaphysically neutral event. That “doing nothing” is actually nothing more than a colloquial phrase that actually has no connection to the idea of doing (which in itself is a category error because you actually cannot do ). By examining this misunderstanding, we will gain greater insight into political theory and ethics.

Returning to Neutrality

Previously, I noted:

and,

and finally,

I’d like to add some more thoughts in relation to the “change through time” idea I brought up in that final quote, and how it relies to being “neutral”. In most cases, the concept of neutrality is tied up with the concept of the active vs passive as well as the idea of saying “I have not affected anything”. And therein lies the problem: Many people are blind to the realization that the rejection of “making a decision” is actually making a decision (see the decision to reject).

A Quick Note on Metaphysics

I’d like to discuss this in a roundabout manner. Recently I reread David Hume’s . I found a concept he described to be interesting: namely, the idea of saying that we don’t actually observe the connection between events but rather merely observe conjunctions between events and then we make connections later. To put it into other words: Do you observe gravity itself, or do you infer gravity as a relationship between objects due to observations of how those objects interact? Let’s take a look at an example:

I strike a billiards ball with a cue. That billiards ball strikes another, and that second ball begins to move. What did I just witness? Certainly upon studying the events one can say you “witnessed” the conservation of energy, but did you actually see the conservation of energy? Is the conservation of energy a real corporeal being/thing or is it a rational connection we infer based on observations of real things?

To understand this, let’s get a better grasp on what we actually saw:

From time T~1~ to time T~contact~, we see me moving the cue to make contact with the first billiards ball. From time T~contact~ to time T~contact2~, we see the first billiards ball moving and the second billiards ball is still. From time T~contact2~ to some unspecified time T~2~, we see the second billiards ball moving until it comes to a rest.

Now, we can make this more accurate and complex by adding in all the times for when I stop moving the cue, when the first ball stops moving, when the balls are accelerating and start decelerating, etc. But this gives us the general idea. What we actually are witnessing, are different “states” of the three objects between different periods of time. We then the relationship between these objects (and just like in any empirical or scientific field, we must observe the conjunctions many many times for our inferences to be “accurate”).

Applying These Lessons to Ethics

So I know you’re all probably wondering: What the hell does this have to do with neutrality, especially in the ethical sense that these posts seem to be focusing on?

Well, what this means is that when you “do nothing” what you are doing is allowing for a specific state to follow in time after your decision. To say “I’m doing nothing” is not to say “I am not affecting the world” but rather to say “I am allowing the temporal state that would exist absent me altering some element of it, to exist”. When applied to ethics, this means that there are consequences of “doing nothing”. As I’ve explored in previous posts. And due to the nature of the world, there is no such thing as something that is “victimless”.

“Indoctrination”

A cry I hear from many advocates of secularism (and more often from anti-theists) is that “children are indoctrinated into religion and therefore it’s wrong”. What they tend to mean is that children should either be taught traditions from many religions or they should not be taught any religious tradition until they are older and are supposedly more capable of making “correct” decisions.

Ignoring whether or not such a viewpoint is valid, I’d like to discuss the concept of “indoctrination” in terms of the discussion on neutrality we just had. So let’s take two examples:

In situation 1, a family raises their child in the religious tradition they the parents were brought up in. In situation 2, a family raises their child not in their particular religious tradition, but instead offers them information about many different religious traditions. In situation 3, a family decides to raise their child in the absence of any religious tradition, leaving open the possibility that once the child becomes older, he/she can decide if he/she will follow any given religious tradition.

Let’s posit a question: Why should situation 1 be considered “indoctrination” while situations 2 and 3 should not? From a logical perspective, such a declaration makes little sense. From time T~birth~ until some time later (lets go with time T~18~ for 18 years old), the child is brought up . Whether that means being brought up in a specific religious tradition, in many religious traditions, or in no religious tradition, it is dependent on the worldview of the parents.

Now, one may argue that in the absence of society (because it can’t just be the parents who are absent but any mentor or guardian who could affect the child’s mindset) the child would not be taught religion. But this is problematic for a number of reasonsFirst, such a situation is itself unfeasible, as most children would die without guardians.Second, therefore such a situation cannot be tested.Third, if one assumes their worldview to be true (regardless of being a theist, agnostic, or atheist), then would it not be valid to teach a child the worldview? Certainly a child who grew up in the absence of society would likely not encounter the fields of medicine or physics, but does that mean we should not teach children (and by this we mean anyone below 18 to remain consistent with the thought experiment) these fields? Could one not say that those who are upset with religious “indoctrination” are not distinct from those who are upset about “indoctrination” regarding medicine (see the anti-vaxxers)? And it is not as though science accesses “truth”. See here, here, and here for some basic understanding as to why this is logically true.

So what do people mean by “indoctrination”? When we say “you are indoctrinating that child” that is not contrasted to “you are allowing that child to grow up as a purely rational being”; instead, it is constrasted to “you are not teaching that child the ‘correct’ things”. So that means that “indoctrination” means “teaching someone something incorrect”. One does not say we are “indoctrinated with physics and chemistry”. So clearly, indoctrination has to do with something being “wrong”. But how do you define “wrong” (especially with religion and when one begins to understand how flawed science is as a gateway to the “truth”)? And here we have returned to ethics.

A Quick Note on My Approach to Language

As a conclusion, I would like to address some contentions people have raised in other venues with the “usefulness” of my approach to language. Specifically with deconstruction and other ways of breaking down the information that is “encoded” within our use of language. I am of the opinion that language, while being fantastically useful and the basis for society in many ways, also does a LOT that leads to misunderstanding. Language can be used in a perverse manner to obscure meaning, and many times we don’t even understand that we are using language in such a way. We each understand what we mean when we say a specific word or phrase but do other people with other experiences understand us? (cough cough cough cough). And in terms of ethics, I argue that there ARE reasons why people do certain things, and that to understand these reasons one must begin to deconstruct the langauge they use to get at the underlying reality.

So that is why I focus on language and breaking down the arguments being used for different ideas and policies. It relates back to the concept of models and logical coherence. With most models, they are simplified and take a set of assumptions as a basis to build a model off of. A coherent model “works”. If one takes the assumptions to be true, then the model is true. If one takes the assumptions to be false, the model is false. An incoherent model does not “work”. If one takes the assumptions to be false, the model is false. If one takes the assumptions to be true…the model is also false. Either way, it is the (or in our realm, the ) which are the fulcrum of the debate, not the policy itself. So I debate the arguments and break them down to determine if they are valid or not.I’d like to return to the idea of metaphysical neutrality very quickly. Effectively, I have made the claim that there is no such thing as a metaphysically neutral event. That “doing nothing” is actually nothing more than a colloquial phrase that actually has no connection to the idea of doing (which in itself is a category error because you actually cannot do ). Now I would like to quickly return to this idea and explain it in another way.

Post-Script

I’d also like to point out the work of the blogger Zippy who discusses metaphysical neutrality albeit also in the concept of ideology/politics especially in terms of liberalism.

Building Post-Liberal Theory. 🌲 🏴‍☠️.