Postmodernism and Religious Experience

What follows is a more-or-less serious examination of some sociological Features of MOOism. It is also a relatively subtle joke WITHIN MOOism, which Can only be appreciated with a fairly high-level understanding of MOO. What Actually IS the joke? That isn't important here. What matters for now is The MOO is the sort of religion in which this kind of double-vision, the Overlap between religious text and commentary upon the religion, is possible. This is postmodernism.

MOOism can be seen, not only as a religion born from postindustrial society, but also of postmodern thought. MOOism is, in fact, intrinsically post-everything: it is perpetually forward-looking and dynamic, change of its own structure is an inseparable part of its nature. The nonlocal, immediate nature of electronic communication informed its creation on a BBS run by the Grate Prophet Half-Mad; the ephemeral, easily-modifiable form of the medium in which its scriptures developed led, McLuhan-style, to the nature of their content, which acknowledges permanent uncertainty. This fact itself reflects the postindustrial influence: the fact that this process was self-conscious and self-reflecting illustrates postmodernism.

The main characteristic, in fact, of late-twentieth century thought is this very self-awareness: it can be regarded as a macroscopic version of the same process of maturation to reflexivity in ordinary consciousness. Information-processing systems, whether humans, computers, societies, or religions, are ultimately either conscious of themselves, or not. Those which are not may be called "unconscious". Perceiving their own content and structure as a facet of the world they deal with, and as something which they can change, they move to a higher level of conceptual complexity and adaptiveness. This kind of reflexive, self-modifying or self-aware structure is, in general, more adaptible and therefore more inclined to survive than a system with fewer ways to alter itself and its environment. Religions like MOOism, therefore, in which the rigid boundaries separating the system itself from the rest of the universe are blurred, will become more and more common and prominent in times to come.

The multifaceted nature of MOO - whether it be perceived as some sort of game, a religion or even a particularly obscure postmodern artform - is a reflection of the worldview of modern quantum physics upon the philosophy of religion. Given an underlying wavefunction, the "real" entity, a variety of eigenstates, or particular forms which we experience as physical reality, emerge - partly as a result of the way in which we describe the system. The physical universe we experience is one eigenstate of the universal wavefunction: various alternate histories are others. MOOism's underlying entity - some sort of social pattern or concrescent vortex of process - gives rise to seemingly contradictory mindsets in which it operates, all of which can simultaneously exist, and even interact, but which are nevertheless incompatible to the ordinary conscious mind. Do we mean this stuff for real, or is it simply some kind of elaborate put-on? This question, which is often asked me by people who haven't known me very long, and still expect a straight answer, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Absolute: the human categorization of reality which demands that these ideas be kept separate is merely a single, relative point of view, which therefore cannot be applied to the Absolute, which we, as MOOists, live in.

Similarly, from the formless, nameless Absolute Reality which underlies the universe, MOOism perceives many realities, which may conflict with each other if naively compared (just as an alternate history in which, say, life never developed on Earth seems to conflict with the facts as we know them if we erroneously compare them directly, instead of recognizing them as separate eigenstates whose seeming physical existence is implied by the actual REALITY of the wavefunction). MOOism's paradigm seems to say that reality as it appears may not be consistent if we choose to interpret it as if one single underlying truth existed, because our minds are not equipped to deal with the nature of the Absolute, relative to which even Truth is a partial concept. Aliens exist; aliens do not exist. MOOism is a path to salvation; MOOism is one of the tricks of Maya designed to delude you. WOMBAT is a mind-control system sent by the X-ists to enslave your through processes; WOMBAT is a transcendental experience common to all human minds and shared through the Mauve Room on the astral plane. Project Burrito-12 cannot be commented upon here.

Despite its refusal to admit to a single consistent philosophy, and its frequent acceptance of ideas which directly contradict what I'm about to say, the following generalization will nevertheless be made: MOOist writing seems to imply in the cosmos a kind of topless heirarchy (got your attention, eh?). In levels of enlightenment and awareness, no level is ever the ultimate in attainment: there is always another lesson, a more complex deity, a greater reality relative to which the previous one is only a dream or delusion. Even into the various mathematical levels of infinity, this process continues, never allowing any point at which the Ultimate is acheived: even the concept of existence is an innapropriate one to apply to the Absolute. MOOism goes further than this, in fact, and denies the heirarchical nature of this structure: at any level, all others are both above and below it, both more and less real. There is no center, no unique direction, nowhere to go and no way to get there. This might seem bleakly nihilistic until you realize the MOOist experience also denies the significance of any value judgements which might deem it negative, and anyway it isn't true.

To what kind of person does MOOism seem to appeal? Based on the tremendous success with which it colonized Australia, Colorado, and much of Canada via FidoNet during its early days, then a clustering of random points from Malaysia to Moscow to Japan to Boston via those who discovered it on the Internet, it can be said that MOOism has appealed to the fairly intelligent, technically literate, but somewhat socially inept crowd who have, during the times of MOOism's greatest success, penetrated these key markets. These are people for whom the technological process of the modern world has shown them the impermanence and non-absolutism of their lives and of the world in general. They have developed a skeptical awareness that narrow-minded dogma and non-disprovable doctrines about the metaphysical tend to do more harm than good. These skepticism-filters are like an immune system in the body. MOOism is a virus which penetrates these filters by mutating its appearance to be more pleasing to such people. In this way, it is like the common cold, whose protein coat constantly mutates so that existing antibodies will not recognize it. The way MOOism bypasses the mental immune system is its postmodern approach to conceptualizing reality.

The facts seem to be these: nature has, with human beings, generated a lifeform capable, uniquely among all others on Earth, of dealing with experience in a conceptual way. All other lifeforms appears to be more-or-less instinctive: instinct is a self-sufficient genetic program for behaviour. When human brains evolved, they innovated the conceptual process: instead of presetting behavioural imperatives genetically and using the learning ability of nervous systems to fine tune the behaviours based on naive assumptions about the repeatability of past experience, the same learning systems could be used to form high-level structural models. Those models themselves were capable of evolution, and could to some extent even override genetic imperatives: suddenly life's behaviour was no longer based on an attention span of mere seconds, and an entire lifetime of abstract experience could conceivably enter into any given decision. This naturally left humans not only wildly successful and rapidly evolving memetic/behavioural complexes without the need of the slow, tedious process of genetic evolution, but also feeling rather hard done by. For with the possibility of conceptual thought, humans discovered causality. With causality, the mind was able to conceive, and pass down (through natural selection of learned ideas) the concept of meaning, reason, and purpose. These teleological tools were very useful, from an evolutionary, survival point of view: they made tool-building more natural, and impelled us to try to better understand processes around us, which in turn increased our command of our environment. Unlike genetic imperatives, however, this new structure left us incomplete; we were able to conceive of a meaning for life, the universe and everything, and desired to know what it was, but lacked a built-in answer. This gave tremendous advantage to those belief systems which proposed to give such an answer: the human mind-system was willing to devote great energy to them if they would satisfy this genetically evolved drive with minimum effort or danger. Thus, such systems prospered, as anyone familiar with the principles of evolution would expect. These systems of belief and behaviour (meme-complexes) were the first religions, systems of magick, and so forth. Since, however, many of their early forms parasitized and crippled the minds which sustained them (not having evolved to know better), those mental structures fared better which defended against religious or philosophical indoctrination. Skepticism, dogmatism, and apathy were all approaches which made some progress in this direction, with varying degrees of success and negative side-effects.

The typical modern human's mental immune system is a mixture of dogmatic adherence to the first belief system which infected it - a trait which many religion-viruses have picked up in their struggle for evolutionary dominance - and skepticism towards the unfamiliar. This system is itself counterproductive, but is much preferable to blind conversion to any new belief system which presents itself. Evolution, once again, has mechanically chosen a locally optimum path with no concern for the long-range results. With the increasing speed of technological change, and the mutating understanding of the nature of both reality itself, and the mechanisms by which we perceive reality, the successful cutting edge of human mental evolution lies in modernism, postmodernism, and post-postmodernism (which MOOism also begins to reflect, pulling in new genetic/memetic material as it encounters seemingly useful ideas: a merely postmodern application of self-reference to self-guided evolution).

The mental immune systems of the technologically literate, educated population MOOism in its crudest, first-evolved form seems to have been most successful with are different from the masses. The open-minded skepticism toward all ideas, the willingness to tolerate ambiguity and tentativeness in ideas - an attitude fostered by training these minds in an educational milieu evolved from enlightenment-era scientific philosophy of Descartes, Kant, and Hume - created a more hostile environment to the most dangerous and clearly harmful of religious beliefs, and was thus an evolutionary advantage. However, this modernist, scientific mindset's immune system is not sufficient to protect it from MOOism, which uses the postmodern self-reference and self-modification, the joking, humourous, and paradoxical shell to surround and disguise the real behaviour-modifying meme systems which it borrowed (or inherited) from earlier mystical traditions. It is thus able to slip past the immune system of those who recognize and reject outright the dogma-carrying, life-harmful religions of a now archaic epoch. When it does so, it carries with it many of the same behaviour-systems they once sheltered, but without their superfluous baggage.

MOOism is thus at-once a serious religion, a game, and an elaborate put-on, all maintained in synchrony through the multiple-vision made possible by the self-consciousness of its structure, which when it occurs in any information system other than a human mind, we identify by the term "postmodernism".


This message brought to you by the Illustrious Zoombart Thee Fifth, and edited for correctness and conformity with MOOist dogmas, catmas, and potatomas by the Association for Star-Bellied Sneetches.


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