Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 1, Part 3

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life—they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.
I agree with certain parts of this. I do believe that we are influenced by things we're not aware of. I think symbols are the natural mental shorthand of the subconscious mind. Soem people think that the subconscious is inferior to the conscious "rational" mind, but I've read too many accounts of fanous scientists, mathematicians, authors, and poets getting great ideas from a dream, a daydream, or a flash of insight. I disagree with the "hard, defining edges" part. I think that symbols are so powerful precisely because they're not exactly defined. For instance, during the Crusades, I'm sure that the cross meant something rather different to people on the two sides. And I'm sure that each person attached a slightly different meaning to it. But I'm also sure that all of them had quite strong feelings about it that affected their actions. I think that some atheists, whom I'll call "militant," think that getting rid of religion will make human thinking more rational (and therefore better), because religion harnesses the power of symbols (usually dismissed as "superstition"). Unfortunately, lots of groups throughout history have used symbolism to prop up racism or tribalism or nationalism. And they'll continue to do it if religion is gone. All right, I made it through Chapter 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment