23 September 2016

Self, Other, & Group.

"Where the institution demands more of its participants that it can extract by force, where consent is essential, a great deal of pomp, ceremony, and razzamatazz is used in such a way as to suggest that something more is going on than simply acceptance of [the institutional fact]." - Searle. The Construction of Social reality, 118.
Although of course "force" extends to all sorts of persuasion and coercion. The main lever that institutions have is the human desire to belong to a community. They lean on this lever to gain acceptance of the status quo - and acceptance makes it a reality! Leaders can only lead if people follow. The one cannot control the many without their consent. Even armies can only govern by brute force while people consent not to rebel. Once death become preferable to the status quo, then even totalitarian states are in trouble. Dictatorships don't last.

But if we are prepared to accept the institutional facts—titles, functions, roles, statuses, hierarchies, & deontologies—then we are welcomed with open arms. If we are not prepared to accept the institutional facts then we are rejected, shunned, sanctioned, and perhaps killed. The razzamatazz is propaganda aimed at making it seem more attractive to accept the institutional facts.

The word deontology refers to rights, responsibilities, obligations, duties, privileges, entitlements, authorizations, permissions, prohibitions, taboos, penalties, and other such phenomena.
The most important thing about deontology is that it 
gives people reasons for acting that are independent of their immediate inclinations. That is, over and about autism (or self-centredness) and altruism (other-centredness), there are a set of behaviours expected of group members that are merely displays of acceptance of group norms. Deontologies and group norms are symbolised by status indicators. I have my Sanskrit name and a special strip of white cloth (with an emblem and a tassel) that I wear around my neck. In certain special contexts I am referred to as Dharmacārī*.  Monks have special names, titles, shaved heads, robes, and ceremonial hats. Etc.
* This is technically bad grammar: dharmacārī is the masculine nominative singular. But my name is always given in the undeclined form, i.e. Jayarava. It should be Dharmacārin Jayarava or Dharmacārī Jayaravaḥ, but not Dharmacārī Jayarava.
A lot of people these days want to detach themselves from the deontological aspects of religious groups. Since we fetishise altruism and deontological motivations are often neither self nor other oriented, but membership oriented, some people conclude that religion is a waste of time and we can just practice self-transformation and altruism without any reference to institutional structures. We sometimes call this spiritual-but-not-religious. Though SBNR is usually literally concerned with the soul, variously conceived. And souls don't exist. And humans are more or less always members of groups or societies and take on deontologies as a result. At the least we are citizens with duties and obligations related to that status/function.

To those who wonder, "Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?" Perhaps we should say that Buddhism is a deontology: a system of duties, obligations, prohibitions, authorisations, empowerments, ordinations, and so on. This gives rise to institutions with titles, functions, roles, statuses, and hierarchies. Since these require collective acceptance to exist, let alone be meaningful, they are often accompanied by pomp and circumstance, and special hats. Traditionally, the Buddhist publicly takes on a set of beliefs and practices and is rewarded with membership and the promise of liberation through fulfilling their obligations.


  1. I can't infer whether you think this is mainly a good thing, or not - or if you are simply trying to clarify sonething. Interesting to reflect on this, though.

  2. It is a new way of looking at it for me. Something to reflect on. But I think is makes a lot of sense. I'm also still mulling over David Chapman's series of blogposts which critiqued the very idea of Buddhist Ethics.