7 December 2004 | Draft
Seven Deadly Sins of Fundamentalism
assessing memetic weapons capability of neoconservatism
- / -
Sin as deliberate distortion of insight
Conceptual sins as logical fallacies
Cognitive distortions as "sins"
Towards a logico-mathematical formalization of "sin" (Annex)
Deployment of memetic weapons
The focus here is on the distortion of information and insight that characterizes
the neoconservatism that now has as its agenda the hegemonic domination of the
Such distortion is however consonant with other forms of fundamentalism and
single-factor thinking, even those associated with some narrow forms of technocracy.
The arguments follow from earlier explorations into groupthink (Groupthink:
the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale, 2002) and psycho-social
in Psycho-social Systems: challenge to logic, morality, leadership and personal
development, 2004), especially that arising from those who perceive
themselves uniquely privileged by having been "chosen" or "born
Opportunities of the Twice Born: reflections on systemic camouflage of mass
deception, 2004). Of particular interest is the link between the narrow
and exclusive quality of the thinking of neoconservatism with the religious
mandate it derives from fundamentalist supporters -- or opponents that can be
appropriately demonised to reinforce the divine mandate on which that religious
support is believed to be grounded.
In religious discourse -- fundamental to the faith-based governance now explicitly
preferred by the American people -- the distortion can then be most usefully
highlighted in terms of "sin" or "vice", and notably the
classic "seven deadly sins" or the corresponding "seven vices".
The argument here is that the evident phenomena associated with sin derive from
a distortion of attitude on which it is much more important to focus -- as the
prime hindrance to any appropriate form of individual or collective development.
In the latter case this relates to hindering the emergence of appropriate forms
of governance and response to threat (Transforming
the Encounter with Terrorism, 2002)
It is ironic, and characteristic of neoconservatism, that such underlying "sinful"
distortions of attitude are poorly acknowledged in preference to the more evident
manifestations of their consequences in morality or ethical behaviour. This
displacement, notably when deliberate, might be cited as an example of a cardinal
sin as explored here. By the same token, extolling the matching redemptive "virtues"
can be deliberately undertaken such as to reinforce the sin they are believed
to alleviate. This distorted appeal to virtue, so demeaning of its essential
attitudinal value, might also be cited as a cardinal sin.
The following arguments are articulated in response to Christian fundamentalism,
notably as it affects faith-based governance. Analogous arguments could of course
be developed in relation to Islamic and other forms of fundamentalism -- favouring
their respective forms of faith-based governance -- at the origin of so many
conflicts around the world inspired by religion. Ironically however, despite
their foreseen "clash", they are each driven by an honourable preoccupation
with rejection of "sin" as a hindrance to relation to the divine --
as each understands this. But it is to be expected that their understandings
will be used in the development and deployment of memetic weapons in the 21st
century. These need to be better understood to forestall a memetic arms race
and its consequences.
Sin as deliberate distortion of insight
The concern here is to track back from classic expositions of the more evident
forms of "deadly", "mortal" or "capital" sin to
their underlying attitudinal distortions. It is important to note that the various
religious and other bodies that have elaborated sets of sins / vices have not
reached unanimity on the items to be included -- commonly assumed to number
seven [sins] --
or their precise correspondence to appropriate salvatory virtues [vice
| sin | virtue].
It has been argued that one way of organizing the vices is as the corruption
of the virtues. A virtue could therefore be corrupted by nonuse, misuse, or
The classic understanding that the essence of sin is the selfish placement
of one's own perspective before that of the more universal perspective of God
may be seen as the articulation in religious terms of a misplaced focus on the
individual at the expense of the community, of humanity, or of the planet. Hamartia,
the Greek word translated as "sin," is commonly understood to mean "missing
the mark". But when used in Aristotle's Poetics, it is translated
as error, frailty, or tragic flaw. Seen this way, sin, or hamartia, is an essential
part of our humanness (cf Philip Simmons. The
Usefulness of Sin, 1999). Scott Peck (People of the Lie: the hope
for healing human evil, 1983) argues that sin is mental illness characterized
by: denial of personal responsibility, destructive scapegoating, intolerance
to criticism, over concern for public image, denial of hateful or vengeful feelings,
and intellectual deviousness (see also Katherine Yurica. How
to Detect Evil, 2003).
One formal definition of "sin" would be: "Disobedience to the Will of God."
-- the deliberate, intentional act of disobeying the Will of God. Paul
Tillich, for example, associates "sin" with "humanity's estrangement from the
ultimate Ground of Being which is God." -- such an estrangement being the existential
condition of humankind. Each sin is an attenuation of the central Christian
sin of failing to love God with all resources and to love fellows as much as
self. Such "sinfulness" is the "real" state of being of all human
beings until they have been "saved." For Josef Pieper (The Concept
of Sin, 2001) it is the willful denial of one's own life-ground, a denial
that alone rightly bears the name of "sin." He argues that paradoxically, this
reality is both willed and yet also pre-given, that is, both adventitious and
yet somehow innate to our existence - a paradox which, next to the mystery of
existence itself, is the most impenetrable mystery of all. Each "sin"
might therefore be understood as a form of highly dangerous failure of understanding
in relation to a larger scheme in which the individual or group is embedded.
The initial focus here is on "sins" in relation to the handling and
presentation of information and concepts. Some "sins" lend themselves
more readily to this exploration, notably the first:
- Pride (superbia) or vanity. As excessive
self-love (holding self out of proper position toward God or fellows), this
has been recognized as the root of all of the vices. It includes a desire
to be important or attractive to others. In religious terms it is placing
oneself above the divine as the origin of all things -- interfering with recognition
of the "grace of God".
Conceptually, and in cognitive terms, this might be described as placing
oneself above the most general framework by which others are subsumed, defined
and constrained -- an excessive belief in one's own abilities (to "go
it alone" without need of allies). In this sense it is a form of exclusivism
through which one defines oneself at the origin of (or above, or prior to)
the conceptual framework through which others are necessarily ordered. In
legal terms this would be understood through the expression "placing
oneself above the law", exemplified by the phrase typical of those with
dictatorial tendencies: "I am the law". The extensive disruption
of international law through neoconservative policies is an illustration of
Such an attitude necessarily precludes, and may deliberately and actively
oppose, the emergence of new insight vital to the survival of a group, or
of humanity as a whole. It reinforces the premature conceptual closure that
directly prevents any form of innovation or creativity -- otherwise to be
defined as potentially threatening dissidence. Present-day governments and
their intergovernmental organizations, invest heavily in public information
programmes to promote their false pride in purportedly delivering the best
administration and social security to their citizens for which they consider
the respect of their citizenry their due.
As with any dictator, the great challenge for a superpower is to assume that
the powers to which it attaches value (such as military or economic power)
are directly correlated with its insight and thus inherently superior to those
of others of lesser power measured on the same scale. In seeking to sustain
such pride, there is a marked tendency to associate with, and be surrounded
by, those who reinforce such erroneous perceptions. These may be defined as
sycophants or "yes-men" (cf Maureen Dowd. A
Plague of Toadies. New York Times, 18 November 2004). Typically
they reinforce any tendency to groupthink -- a phenomenon explicitly acknowledged
in relation to intelligence reporting on weapons of mass destruction in the
response to Iraq.
Subcategories of pride might include:
- disobedience of those with complementary or potentially greater
insight (as has been evident in the pattern of asymmetrical relationships
cultivated amongst members in the Coalition of the Willing);
- boasting or ostentation, indulging in vanity, ignoring the role
of complementary or potentially more valuable achievements of others (as
is typically evident in triumphalism over short-term achievements);
- hypocrisy, in sustaining a pattern of double standards, whether
openly or covertly (as has been evident in claims to be acting in defence
of the highest values of civilization whilst simultaneously undermining
and demeaning those values through the restriction of civil rights and
the use of the most reprehensible forms of treatment of those in its power);
- contempt, for others sincerely promoting alternative perspectives
(possibly despite their significant historical insight);
- arrogance, to the point of blindly dismissing the relevance of
the insights and experience of others (as has been evident in response
to the cautionary warnings of those concerned with the strategies currently
deployed in the Middle East);
- impudence, to the point of disrespect for those, acknowledged
by their constituencies as having other forms of insight and experience
- celebrating one's own bad deeds, notably the capacity to manipulate
the system to personal advantage or to the advantage of a privileged group
(as has been evident in relation to the commercial groups that have so
strikingly benefited financially from military intervention in Iraq);
- exclusiveness, to the point of reinforcing righteous belief in
"manifest destiny", specially blessed and "chosen"
by God, thereby implicitly relegating others to a less "blessed"
category excluded from the "chosen" (as has been evident in
the stance of religious fundamentalists in their special association to
God, whether in justification of a "crusade" or opposing it
with a "jihad").
The corresponding salvatory or redemptive virtue is traditionally defined
as "faith" (fides), with which the virtue wisdom, and the
"contrary virtue" humility, may also be associated. The challenge
of faith lies however in the quality of the experience of that in which faith
is held. Constrained insight, whether of the "head", the "heart",
or the "gut" instinct (as preferred by the current American president),
may severely restrict understanding of the larger framework with which the
faith is claimed to associated. Pride may simply limit that understanding
to reinforcement of individual prejudice. Calls for the blessing of God, now
a requirement for American politicians (as much as it is for those of Muslim
belief), beg the question as to whether the blessing is for the exclusively
chosen, or extends to those excluded by such a pattern of belief. The possibility
that salvatory faith in a larger dynamic pattern of connectedness may in some
as yet unrecognized, "mysterious", way include those who are excluded
from a narrow perspective is then readily denied. A narrowly defined "faith"
necessarily lacks the "humility" to respond to patterns beyond its
immediate understanding. And yet it may be the dynamics of that pattern --
and recognition of one's place in it -- that are fundamental to any sustainable
future for humanity.
- Avarice (avaritia), covetousness or reprehensible
acquisitiveness: This attitude manifests most tangibly in efforts to acquire
material wealth or gain, notably the physical or intellectual resources of
others, so depriving them of the benefits they might otherwise expect from
them. Typically it includes theft, and the means by which it is fraudulently
disguised. More subtly it includes "greed", namely the coveting
of the property of others -- which may sustain the ambition that leads to
fraudulent initiatives through which they are obtained. In the current international
crisis, the American ambition to acquire and control the oil reserves of the
Middle East has been most frequently cited in this respect. This is recognized
as following a pattern of initiatives to control intellectual and cultural
property (patents, etc). With respect to Iraq, and the deliberate misrepresentation
of information regarding weapons of mass destruction (and the involvement
of Saddam Hussein with al-Qaida), these might be understood as a deliberate
form of fraud to disguise the envisaged theft. The role of officials of the
United Nations, and others, in the preceding oil-for-food scandal might also
be seen in this light. The levels of corporate kleptocracy associated with
military procurement and reconstruction contracts have also been noted in
the case of Iraq -- with, or without, the complicity of government officials.
Avarice may also be associated with the desire to acquire and control information
through every means, including continuous electronic monitoring of communications.
This form of avarice is exemplified by the Bush Administration's Total
Information Awareness program run through the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency by Admiral John Poindexter, and designed to gather every available
scrap of information about Americans' private activities into a single, gigantic
database [more]. Its
name was subsequently changed to Terrorist
The avarice in the case of governments, and any superpower, may relate to
power itself -- wanting the power to force someone to act according to their
agenda with the aspiration of living and prospering at the expense of others
as is evident to many in relation to the "hogging" of natural resources
by the current superpower. It is however typical of many government initiatives
that enrich themselves with taxation to the benefit of the privileged and
the disadvantage of the poorer.
In a religious framework, avarice was understood to include simony (the sale
of clerical offices), and sacrilege (or usurping the place of God). Both Christianity
and Islam have associated it with usury. More generally in such a framework
it might be understood as the fraudulent acquisition of "merit"
(with which some Eastern religions are more explicitly concerned) in order
to ensure a better afterlife. Ironically, in a context of faith-based governance,
the sin of simony might be said to reemerge with the awarding of public offices
(ambassadorships, etc) to those who have significantly demonstrated their
financial support during the election process [more].
Conceptually avarice is most evident in the distortions to which the
competitive pursuit of knowledge leads, most notably the dynamics associated
with prior publication of results, and the pursuit of scientific recognition
and career advancement -- even through the falsification of results. This
points to ways in which such ambition may in fact obscure genuine breakthroughs:
suppression of patents significant for humanity, suppression of emergence
of new insights articulated by outsiders perceived as constituting a competitive
threat, etc. In the competitive dynamics amongst agencies with intelligence
responsibilities, this may lead to suppression of vital leads in favour of
increased institutional budgets. This sin directly opposes the honest pursuit
of knowledge "for its own sake", or any honest assessments of the
justifications for various forms of research or "intelligence"..
The corresponding salvatory virtue is traditionally named as "justice"
(justitia) or liberality (the "contary virtue"), through
which each is given their due, rather than stealing and retaining the things
of another. As such it may be understood as generosity -- giving without having
expectations of the other person. This in turn may include allowing others
to get the credit or praise which is their due. Beyond the tangibles, however,
"justice" may be understood as being central to the appropriate
balance of complementary conceptual or explanatory elements in a complex system
vital to individual and collective survival. Efforts to position particular
theories as unduly central to any complex pattern of understanding are then
characteristic of the sin, in contrast with the necessary determination of
the role that any particular insight may be called upon to play in the larger
scheme of things. The tragedy of any "clash of civilizations", or
of the violent confrontations between adherents of different belief systems,
is that so little effort is invested in determining how each may indeed be
more appropriate under certain conditions (as some have ventured to explore
***Lorimer). In this sense particular belief systems, and notably the most
fundamentalist, might be better understood at this time as inherently avaricious
and lacking in the generosity of spirit essential to deeper understanding.
- Gluttony (gula) traditionally includes
drunkenness, gluttonous eating, and soft living, namely the consumption in
excess of that which is required -- a misplaced desire for food for its sensuality,
or withholding food from the needy. This may extend to forms of food, clothing,
shelter, and transportation far in excess of real needs. Numerous assessments
identify the disproportionate use of global resources required to sustain
the western lifestyle -- defined especially defensively in the case of Americans
as a "way of life" that is not subject to any negotiation in the
light of the diminished quality of life experienced by others. The examples
most frequently cited are those of energy resources, notably oil -- and the
challenges of substance abuse in the form of alcoholism, eating disorders
(and the associated obesity), and drugs. In economic terms, this sin may perhaps
best be examined in relation to the controversy regarding "glut"
and scarcity. In the case of the hegemonic agenda of neoconservatives, gluttony
precludes any appreciation of the cultures whose insights are looted in the
pursuit of the tangibles which happen to be associated with them.
More interesting in this context are the less tangible forms of gluttony.
Conceptually these may be seen in the excessive consumption of information,
the constant search for media experiences, and the ever greater dependence
on "action" and "happenings". These may be framed positively
in terms of natural human curiosity or the "thirst for knowledge"
-- "going boldly where none have gone before". Such pursuits are
commonly subject to the criticism that they are dangerous distractions from
the discovery, experience and cultivation of less superficial and more fundamental
insights and experiences. It is such subtlety that may be vital to sustainable
lifestyles in circumstances of reduced tangible resources.
The corresponding salvatory virtue is "temperance" (temperantia)
or possibly hope. This suppresses extremes of excess, and includes abstinence
(the "contrary virtue"), continence, and modesty -- typified by
the Quaker use of "plain", notably with respect to "plain
speaking" and "plain living" (cf Catherine Whitmire.
Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity, 2001). It accepts the
natural limits of pleasures and preserves this natural balance. The challenge
is of course the contrast between the "drab" and the "innovative"
and how innovation for its own sake may be used to obscure and demean the
merits of the plain -- or how emphasis on the "plain" may be used
to suppress the emergence of the innovative and various forms of expression
of the joy of living, or resonance with the infinite.
- Lust (luxuria) as a sin traditionally includes
any form of sexual relationship understood to be abusive attachment to carnal
pleasure (fornication, adultery, incest, sodomy, masturbation) -- the drive
for pleasure out of proportion to its worth and self-destructive potential.
However it also includes love of other forms of carnal or worldly luxury.
Political parties, and in the case neoconservatisves, are recognized as having
a "lust for power" and what it brings. To that end every effort
may be used to manipulate democratic systems and the media to guarantee the
satiation of that lust -- which may be extended to a "lust for war",
or the uncritical use of unproven technology by technocrats. Once in power
these same systems may be used to manipulate key macro-economic variables
to create an illusion of high sustainable growth. Such lust for power is itself
recognized as inherently corrupting. In a religious context it is recognized
as the suffocation of the spirit's pursuit of higher insight. Its ubiquity
in the West is condemned as hedonism by Islam.
Conceptually, and more interesting than the lust for carnal knowledge
and pleasures of the body, is the "lust" for explanatory knowledge
and insight. This is exemplified by the "need to know" associated
with ever higher levels of secrecy and security classification -- associated
in turn with both government intelligence services and with secret societies.
It is caricatured in portrayals of Hitler's occult agendas, notably his coveted
possession of the Spear of Destiny [more
| more]. By
association, this caricature has been extended to the invasion of Iraq by
the Coalition of the Willing (Meghan O'Rourke. Raiders
of the Lost Art: Why didn't we protect the National Museum and Library in
Baghdad? 2003). But perhaps even more interesting is the scientific
"lust" for a Theory of Everything through which the mundane can
be totally explained and controlled.
In contrast to lust, the salvatory virtue is "prudence" (prudentia)
or chastity (the "contrary virtue") or even charity, which keeps
the incorrupt from corruption and includes providence, circumspection, caution,
and docility. Of potentially greater interest is its articulation for governance
in terms of the "Precautionary
Principle". This is the ethical principle prescribing that if the
consequences of an action, especially the use of technology, are unknown but
are judged by some scientists to have a high risk of being negative from an
ethical point of view, then it is better not to carry out the action rather
than risk the uncertain, but possibly very negative, consequences.
Through a new principle of "preemptive justice", neoconservatives
in the USA have distorted this virtue of prudence to subvert long-held American
principles of justice, notably the presumption of innocence [more].
Through the "presumption of guilt", some 200 years of American jurisprudence
have been overturned -- of which the only possible outcome is injustice; a
result that has already been institutionalized by the Bush Administration's
flagrant disregard for the rule of law. For government, the justification
for such "precautionary justice" is of course the threat of terrorism
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: Strategy of choice for world governance,
2002). The trend toward "preemptive justice" complements the loss
of rights by criminals, spreading coercion into all spheres of life. Such
"anticipatory self-defense," including preemptive war, is increasingly framed
as vital in the neoconservatice approach to battling international terrorism.
- Sloth (accidia), or laziness, as a sin
includes pettiness, cowardice, negligence, being remiss in one's duties, mistrustfulness,
indolence, and sluggishness. It may be intepreted as sadness or listlessness
(and in earlier times as "wanhope" or paralysis of despair), although "apathy"
is proposed as a modern term. In individual physical terms the associated
laziness may be most evident in increasing obesity and reliance on transportation
and "energy-saving" devices. Those in induatrialized economies readily
accuse those in subsistence economies of some form of sloth in failing to
rise to the level of productive efficiency perceived to be necessary to any
improvement in their quality of life.
From a religious perspective, the other sins work together to deaden the spiritual
senses, leading to apathy and inactivity in the practice of virtue. People
are held to first become slow to respond to God and then to drift completely
into the sleep of complacency.
In an institutional context, this sin is most obvious in the failure to explore
lines of evidence with sufficient diligence. Ready explanations are accepted
without further question -- as with the phenomenon of groupthink. Convenient
assumptions tend to be neither examined nor even recognized. There is a lack
of vigilance under potentially vulnerable circumstances.
This phenomenon is widely recognized as characterizing government regulatory
bodies called upon to verify respect of parameters and threshold previously
agreed to be important to the well-being of society. It is a characteristic
of "self-regulatory" initiative of corporations -- agreed in response
to public criticism. Failures in this respect, whether deliberate or inadvertent,
have notably resulted in the scandals of overbilling detected in relation
to contracts for reconstruction in Iraq. The accusations concerning handling
of information by the intelligence agencies regarding the terrorist threat
in the USA may be seen in the light of this sin.
Conceptually, with respect to handling of information and the pursuit
of insight, this sin takes the form of lack of assiduity. This is most evident
in criticism of the response of students to educational opportunity. A particular
logical fallacy is recognized as slothful induction in which the proper conclusion
of an inductive argument is denied despite the evidence to the contrary.
More interesting however is the manner in which relevant disciplines and intelligence
agencies procrastinate in examining (and even denying) evidence regarding
possible new threats to society and the planet -- such as global warning,
for example. Terrorism itself may be understood as a consequence of failure
to treat seriously evidence regarding the level of discontent associated with
underprivileged populations around the world who had reason to believe (whether
correctly or incorrectly) that they were being exploited. Neoconservatives
persist in this view in dealing with the "threat of terrorism",
possibly because of the ease of appropriating resources to deal with tangible
immediate threats that can be readily reinforced..
In a similar manner relevant disciplines and agencies, in furtherance of policy
priorities, may be less than diligent in applying their skills to detect and
address the challenges of society. Such negligence is also characteristic
of the sin of sloth. Can it be said that the range of intellectual disciplines
have been diligent -- rather than slothful -- in their approach to alleviating,
rather than exacerbating, the Middle East and other territorial conflicts
(cf And When
the Bombing Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians,
The corresponding redemptive virtue is fortitude (fortitudo),
zeal or diligence (the "contrary virtue"), whose active forms include
magnanimity and constancy -- extended by some to charity. The passive forms
include security and good faith. In a religious context this is the energetic
response of the heart to God's commands. This may however be exaggerated and
result in the insensitivity of zealotry. It might be asked to what extent
neoconservatist promotion of democracy should be understood as a form of zealotry
obscuring, possibly deliberately, unrecognized forms of neglect and lack of
- Wrath (ira), anger or hate as a sin is
usually associated with the desire to do harm to someone or to some group.
This sin can be described to include abuse, violence, racial hatred, etc.
In a religious context it may be understood as inappropriate (unrighteous)
feelings of hatred, revenge or even denial. These may be extended to include
punitive desires outside of justice -- a love of justice perverted to revenge
and spite. Anger is often the first reaction to the problems of others. Impatience
with the faults of others is related to this.
The most obvious contemporary example is in the cycle of violence associated
with terrorism and the vengeful response to it -- justified as righteous.
The associated hatred on both sides is less readily justified as virtuous.
For the neoconservatives this hatred is not only fruitfully focused on foreigners
but is also extended internally to liberal factions in America, notably those
favouring homosexual marriage and abortion (but seemingly not extended to
divorce, which has attracted so much concern by religious groups in earlier
Conceptually, more interesting in this context are the underlying attitudinal
sins associated with conceptual violence -- possibly embodied in structural
violence. As argued elsewhere (Being
Other Wise: Clues to the dynamics of a meaningfully sustainable lifestyle,
Much physical violence in society is about the interpretation
or domination of fixed categories -- starting with peace. Religion has been
at the origin of many such conflicts. Johan Galtung makes a vital distinction
between physical violence and structural violence. Physical violence is
for the amateur, using weapons in order to dominate. For Galtung, structural
violence is the tool of the professional employing exploitation and social
injustice to achieve domination. But beyond the latter, acting behind the
scenes (and adjusting the scenery) is surely the conceptual violence of
the super-professional, using disinformation and psychological operations
(military psy-ops) -- and the associated processes of brainwashing. It is
in this light that the entrapment of people in networks of fixed categories
could be usefully explored, as undertaken by Noam Chomsky (1992, 1994).
Examples of conceptual violence include use of category euphemism to inhibit
or numb recognition of other dimensions of an experience. This is typical
of business and military jargon (bodycount, collateral damage, etc.) but
even of reference to body processes (washroom, etc.) -- reinforcing an insidious
form of experiential denial.
A form of conceptual violence may be associated with conceptual gerrymandering,
definitional game-playing, and category manipulation as discussed elsewhere
in Global Dialogue, 2000; Spin
and Counter-spin: Governance through Terrorism, 2002):
Such "manipulation", whatever it may be taken to mean, may be
conscious and deliberate, casual or unintentional, or completely unconscious.
It may also be difficult to detect and a challenge to comprehend, since
obviously we think and communicate through categories that may well be subject
to such manipulation.
The corresponding redemptive virtue is variously understood as meekness,
kindness -- and even fortitude. This is understood as involving an attitude
of patience (the "contrary virtue") and compassion. This approach
is reflected in the many initiatives towards conflict resolution, and the
extensive research on which it has been been based (notably including that
currently promoted by Johan Galtung through Transcend).
- Envy (invidia) or jealousy. This sin involves
the resentful or painful desire for another's advantages or possessions, traits,
status, abilities, or situation. It resents the good others receive or even
might receive. What makes it different from avarice (covetousness) is the
desire to deny the other person the object of envy. Vandalism is one expression
of envy -- notably to be seen in the destruction of the cultural heritage
of other civilizations (under the heading collateral damage).
Envy (or resentment) is the sin most characteristic of "bureaucratic
warfare" between government agencies. In the case of the USA and its
response to terrorism, this has been most clearly seen in the problematic
relationship between the Department of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) and the Department
of State (Colin Powell), between the CIA and the FBI, as well as amongst various
Much of the "clash of civilizations", foreseen by neoconservatives
in relation to Islam, might be explored in terms of the role of envy and resentment.
It is readily argued by neoconservatives that those who resent their neo-imperial
ambitions, notably in Arab countries, are simply envious of the American way
of life. More interesting however would be the nature and consequences of
resentment by neoconservatives regarding the oil resources controlled by Arab
countries. And potentially even more interesting would be any hidden resentment
amongst their Christian fundamentalist supporters regarding the quality of
faith exhibited by Muslims in being prepared to die for their faith -- a quality
of belief that is increasingly uncommon in Christian societies.
Conceptually it is to be seen in the resentment amongst scholars regarding
the levels of insight they achieve and for which they are appreciated. In
a political context this takes the form of resentment at the successful initiation
of alternative socio-poltical models by others. Julius Nyere was articulate
on this subject with respect to international sabotage of his Tanzanian experiment
and the subsequent disaster [more].
Fidel Castro has invoked this theme with respect to the deliberate efforts
by the USA over decades to ensure the failure of the experiment in Cuba. In
the case of Allende's experiment in Chile, and prior to its overthrow with
US support, Henry Kissinger was explicit regarding US intolerance of potentially
successful alternative socio-economic models in the Western hemisphere.
The redemptive virtue is variously presented as brotherly love, hope
or courage (fortitudo) -- actively seeking the good of others for their
sake. This may also be manipulated through offering hope that is only later
discovered to have been based on false promises. The "contrary virtue"
Conceptual sins as logical fallacies
The conceptual sins explored above might be more precisely articulated with
the set of "logical fallacies" as presented with exceptional clarity
by Stephen Downes (Stephen's
Guide to the Logical Fallacies, 1995-2001). He distinguishes:
From Ignorance, Slippery Slope, Complex
to Motives in Place of Support
||Appeal to Force,
Appeal to Pity, Consequences,
Prejudicial Language, Popularity
Person: Appeal to Authority: Anonymous
Authority, Style Over Substance
Unrepresentative Sample, False
Analogy, Slothful Induction, Fallacy
Involving Statistical Syllogisms
Joint effect, Insignificant,
Wrong Direction, Complex Cause
Question, Irrelevant Conclusion, Straw
Consequent, Denying the Antecedent, Inconsistency
||Fallacy of Four
Terms, Undistributed Middle, Illicit
Major, Illicit Minor, Fallacy
of Exclusive Premises, Fallacy of Drawing an Affirmative
Conclusion From a Negative Premise, Existential
Limited Scope, Limited Depth
Too Narrow, Failure to Elucidate,
Circular Definition, Conflicting
Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies
© Stephen Downes, 1995-2003
At first sight, it is not apparent how these logical fallacies map onto the
cognitive sins discussed earlier. Any such mapping also needs to take account
of the preoccupation with the need for "critical thinking" as documented
by Tim van Gelder (Critical Thinking
on the Web).
Cognitive distortions as "sins"
Cognitive distortion, as a concept, highlights the importance of perceptions,
assumptions and judgments in coping with the world. Cognitive distortions are
logical, but they are not rational. They have been identified as another way
of describing the origin of irrational ideas, overgeneralization of simple mistakes,
or development of false assumptions about expectations of experience. The phenomenon
may be associated with a fact or set of facts that seem true to a person with
disorders, for example, but not to others familiar with the situation. They
reflect the distortion of reality through the manner of evaluating a situation.
They are closely related to cognitive
Of particular interest is recognition of their role in academic environments
when students inadvertently acquire thinking patterns that limit college success,
promote low self-esteem, poor self-confidence, loss of direction, and low academic
performance (cf Dennis H. Congos, 12
Thinking Patterns that Limit College Success, 2002)
is directed at a set of 10 widely-cited common cognitive distortions, or faulty
thought patterns identified by Albert Ellis (Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy,
1962), Aaron Beck and D Stein (The Self Concept in Depression, 1960)
and David D Burns' Ten
Forms of Twisted Thinking (in The Feeling Good Handbook, 1989):
All-or-Nothing thinking: Assessing experience in absolute, black-or-white,
binary terms (framed as "always", "every" or "never"), without any intermediary
Overgeneralization or catastrophizing: Using isolated negative
events as a basis for predicting a future pattern, namely hasty generalization
or induction (otherwise recognized as the "fallacy of insufficient statistics"
or the "fallacy of insufficient sample") based on too little evidence.
Mental filtering: Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative
or upsetting, aspects of experience while ignoring the rest, otherwise known
as the logical fallacy of misleading vividness -- through which some occurrence
(however exceptional) is made the focus of attention.
Disqualifying the positive: Rejection or discounting of positive
experiences as irrelevant in order to maintain a negative belief. As special
pleading, this is a form of spurious argumentation that avoids details unfavorable
to a point of view, notably by applying circumstances or considerations that
are relatively immune to investigation without unavailable expertise. Dependence
on unexplained claims of exemption from principles commonly thought relevant
to the subject matter.
Jumping to conclusions: Negative interpretation in the absence
of definite facts that convincingly support the conclusion. Subtypes recognized
- 1. Mind reading: Assuming the intentions of others, usually as being
- 2. Anticipating, forecasting or" fortune telling": Conviction
that predictions are an already-established, usually negative, fact
Magnification and minimization: Exaggeration of the importance
of experiences, or minimizing them to an inappropriate degree -- exaggerating
negatives and understating positives.
Emotional reasoning, treating feelings as facts: Assumption
that any negative emotions experienced necessarily reflect reality. Making
decisions and arguments based on feelings rather than objective reality. Deducing
the falsity of a conclusion (specifically a belief) from the negative or positive
consequences that would follow belief.
Making judgemental "should" statements: Focusing on
what is believed "should" or ought to be rather than the actual situation
experienced, usually associated with an emotional consequence of ineffectiveness
and guilt. As wishful thinking, it is the formation of beliefs (and making
decisions) according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing
to evidence or rationality.
Labeling and mislabeling: An extreme form of overgeneralization
using emotionally loaded language -- explaining by naming. Mislabeling involves
describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
Rather than describing a behavior so that it may be remedied, a label is assigned
to frame it in absolute and unalterable terms.
Personalization, blame or attribution: Placing the blame or
the praise for a given result, in the absence of better explanations, on a
person or group only partly involved, or not involved at all -- possibly to
the point of deification or scapegoating (including demonisation). Tendency
for people to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes when
they clearly cannot.
Of particular interest in assessing the cognitive sins associated with the
ineffective response to the social problems that are the preoccupation of governance,
is that of academic procrastination -- a form of the sin of sloth. Procrastination
has been researched from a wide variety of perspectives [more].
Economics studies it as a form of temporal discounting, examining its effects
on behaviors such as retirement savings. Decision theorists have investigated
its effects, trying to determine why some decisions are put put off and not
others. For example, J R Ferrari (1995) has distinguished the following forms
of academic procrastination:
- overestimation of time left to perform tasks,
- underestimation of time required to complete tasks,
- overestimation of future motivational states,
- misreliance on the necessity of emotional congruence to succeed at task,
- belief that working when not in the mood to work is suboptimal.
It could be said that "sin" was recognized early in determining the
emergence and evolution of the USA -- as in the writings of James Madison (Vices
of the Political System of the United States. Federalist Papers,
Curiously it would appear that it is the US military that has most explicitly
associated "sin" with forms of warfare, as in the study of Thomas
P.M. Barnett (The
Seven Deadly Sins of Network-Centric Warfare. Proceedings, U.S. Naval
Institute, 1999). He identified the following relationships:
- Lust: NCW Longs for an enemy worthy of its technological prowess
- Sloth: NCW slows the U.S. military's adaptation to a MOOTW world
- Avarice: NCW Favors the many and cheap; the U.S. military prefers the few
- Pride: NCW's Lock-out strategies resurrect old myths about strategic bombing
- Anger: NCW's Speed-of-command philosophy can push us into shooting first
and asking questions later
- Envy: NCW Covets the business world's self-synchronization
- Gluttony: NCW's Common operating picture could lead to information overload
With respect to strategy itself, Ron Robinson (Seven
Sins of Strategic Planning. CharityVillage.com 4 March 2002)
offers the following set of "sins":
- Believing the strategic plan is a panacea
- Viewing the plan as the end product
- Developing the plan in isolation
- Failing to gather the necessary information
- Developing paralysis by analysis
- Failing to communicate
- Failing to implement
With respect to the strategy of contingency planning Bob Post (Seven
Deadly Sins of Seven Deadly Sins of Contingency Planning. Booz Allen
Hamilton, 2002) identifies the following "sins":
- Not having a plan(s)
- Not maintaining plans
- Not exercising or testing plans
- Not raising awareness of plans
- Not identifying essential functions
- Not identifying key roles and responsibilities
- Not coordinating plans with partners
However it is Ian Demack (The
Modern Machiavelli: the seven principles of power in business. Allen
and Unwin, 2004) who might be said to provide the link to the strategic advice
of Machiavelli which has so inspired neoconservatives:
- Trust people to serve their own interests
- Everyone is delusional
- Power must be contested
- Your allies are not your friends
- Congruence is power
- Fortune favours the wise
- Power demands submission
The strategic approach to "sin" is also reflected in organizational
management, as noted by Jean Bannon (The
Seven Deadly Sins Managers Commit. New Mexico Labor Letter, Fall
1999) who identifies the following:
- Failing to address problems
- Promoting employees without management training
- Assigning new management to "clean house"
- Improper documentation
- Ignoring informal complaints
- Mishandling medical information
Mohandas Gandhi, as one of the most influential figures in modern social and
political activism, identified in 1947 the following "seven
blunders" or "sins", stemming from passive violence that
people commit against each other,.as the most spiritually perilous to humanity.:
- Wealth without work
- Pleasure without conscience
- Knowledge without character
- Commerce (business) without morality (ethics)
- Science without humanity
- Religion without sacrifice
- Politics without principle
Corresponding to the strategic "sins" are what might be termed the
knowledge-handling "sins" associated with the cognitive distortion
Walter Lippman (Public Opinion. Free Press, 1997) identified seven deadly sins
aginst public opinion as follows:
Appeal To Reason: There is, however, a noble counterfeit in that charity
which comes from self-knowledge and an unarguable belief that no one of our
gregarious species is alone in his longing for a friendlier world. So many
of the grimaces men make at each other go with a flutter of their pulse, that
they are not all of them important. And where so much is uncertain, where
so many actions have to be carried out on guesses, the demand upon the reserves
of mere decency is enormous, and it is necessary to live as if good will would
work. We cannot prove in every instance that it will, nor why hatred,
intolerance, suspicion, bigotry, secrecy, fear, and lying are the seven deadly
sins against public opinion. We can only insist that they have
no place in the appeal to reason, that in the longer run they are a poison;
and taking our stand upon a view of the world which outlasts our own predicaments,
and our own lives, we can cherish a hearty prejudice against them.
With respect to information systems in general, Bob Lewis (The
seven deadly sins of information systems. InfoWorld, 1998) identifies
- Supplier mentality
The "sins" associated with the discipline of economics, that is so
fundamental to governance, are explored by Deirdre McCloskey (The
Secret Sins of Economics. Prickly Paradigm Press, 2002). With respect
to the statistics on which so much economics is based, Steven S. Ross ("Lies,
damned lies, and statistics": the seven deadly sins. 21stC, Fall
1998) identifies the following "sins":
- Non-response bias, or the non-representative sample.
- Mistaking statistical association for causality
- Poisoned control
- Data enhancement.
- A bad measuring stick
More fundamental to the challenge of knowledge-handling is the manner in which
the human memory may fail -- as explored by Daniel L. Schacter (The
Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Houghton Mifflin
- Transience affects weakening memory over time
- Absent-mindedness, when failures of attention sabotage memory
- Blocking, when a well-known name cannot be retrieved
- Misattribution: assigning a memory to the wrong source
- Suggestibility: implanting false memories
- Bias: rewriting the past based on present beliefs
- Persistence: intrusive recollections that cannot be forgotten
The challenge of the erosion of collective memory, so vital to the coherence
of cultures and civilizations, is explored elsewhere (Societal
Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory: a critique of the Club of Rome
Towards a logico-mathematical formalization of "sin"
In a separate paper (Towards
a logico-mathematical formalization of "sin", 2004), it is
argued that faith-based governance in a multi-faith society may call for a much
higher order of mathematics to enable and sustain meaningful communication,
dialogue and organization -- whether in support of memetic warfare against any
opposition or in the design of the most elegant "bridges" across the
most challenging abyss -- separating two psycho-social territories hitherto
Deployment of memetic weapons
Fundamentalists, notably those supporting the neoconservative agenda, place
considerable emphasis on the challenge of sin -- in justifying their support
for faith-based governance. Their focus is on very tangible manifestations of
sin as understood in religious terms. In fact there is very little discussion
of the deeper significance of such sin -- as distortions of the plenum -- especially
in the restricted cognitive sense explored above.
But, as explored elsewhere (Twistedness
in Psycho-social Systems: challenge to logic, morality, leadership and personal
development, 2004), the widely documented manipulative use of information
by neoconservatives -- labelled "twisted" by critics -- can be understood
as conceptually sinful, in the sense explored above. Specifically it may be
understood to impede insight into questions of higher order, as discussed elsewhere
Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees of
The intellectual influences on neoconservative thinking from Niccolo Machiavelli
Seven Books on the Art of War, 1520 [review]),
notably via philosopher Leo
Strauss, have been well-documented, particularly with respect to Republican
Dominionism. Shadia Drury (Leo
Strauss and the American Right, 1999) and others indicate, for example,
- Strauss believed that a leader had to perpetually deceive the citizens he
- Those who lead must understand there is no morality, there is only the right
of the superior to rule the inferior.
- According to Drury, Religion "is the glue that holds society together."
It is a handle by which the ruler can manipulate the masses. Any religion
will do. Strauss is indifferent to them all.
- "Secular society ...is the worst possible thing," because it leads to individualism,
liberalism, and relativism, all of which encourage dissent and rebellion.
As Drury sums it up: "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty."
- "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united
by an external threat; and following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no
external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured."
- "In Strauss's view, the trouble with liberal society is that it dispenses
with noble lies and pious frauds. It tries to found society on secular rational
From such a strategic perspective, it becomes clear that "sins",
understood cognitively, are effectively key disruptive weapons of memetic warfare
Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: Navigation of strategic interfaces in
multidimensional knowledge space, 2001). The checklist of logical fallacies,
as articulated by Downes, may then be more clearly understood as an armoury
of memetic weapons. It is then to be expected that any of those weapons would
be deployed to advance the neoconservative agenda. The various forms of "misrepresentation",
now well-documented in relation to the "war on terrorism", are to
be understood as "military" devices that have been known since Sun
Tzu's 2400-year old classic The
Art of War (cf "All warfare is based on deception", Ch 1,
para 18). Many commentators have expressed concern at the emerging culture of
lies (Charles Utwater II. The
Culture of Lies in America: Race Lies, Enron, the Crooked Media and the Collapse
of Integrity in 21st Century America. American Politics Journal,
2002). For the Christian fundamentalists of America, this is what they have
voted for in reaffirming the mandate of the neoconservatives..
Use of radio as a form of memetic warfare has long been known and exploited
(Voice of America, Radio Free Europe). The early innovations of memetic warfare
are evident in spam, now reaching 80% of internet traffic -- possible to justify
future implementation of severely restrictive counter-measures. In contrast
to the threat of viruses, spam has a cognitive component. The focus on sexually
explicit imagery, together with performance improving drugs and devices, is
clearly associated with evocation of lust as a memetic weapon. It is no coincidence
that a high percentage of such spam originates in the USA -- where even the
highest ranked hotels offer "adult movies". Only the naive would fail
to recognize the offensive function of such memetic weapons against other cultures,
such as Islam.
Whilst such spam may be understood as a memetic analogue to biological warfare,
there is a case for anticipating the development and deployment of memetic analogues
to tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. There is also a case for recognizing
the probable nature and targets of such weaponry and the appropriate modes of
Nuclear weapons -- with their emphasis on mass destruction -- have proven to
be a fundamental revolution in warfare. They are destructive not only of mass
in the physical sense but also of masses in the demographic sense -- as well
as of ecosystems on which life depends. It is therefore useful to question whether
any memetic analogue would be equally fundamental in its effect on the:
- "nuclear family", as it has come to be understood in its more
- "nuclear community", as it it is understood in the neighbourhood
or quartier sense
- "nuclear culture", as it is increasingly understood, especially
by threatened minorities and ethnic groups, and it is becoming framed in the
case of "Christian civilization" or the "Muslim Umah"
What are the consequences on these "nuclear" bonds of the emergent
possibilities of memetic nuclear warfare? Already the effects of "information
warfare" are apparent and a feature of Psy-Ops. Censorship and the control
of information on problematic issues can already be understood as "nuclear
shields" (cf Missiles,
Missives, Missions and Memetic Warfare: Navigation of strategic interfaces in
multidimensional knowledge space, 2001). Intriguingly the manipumation
of statements regarding "sins" and "virtues" seem to be
used in such warfare rather like "binary weapons" -- composed of two
ingredients that become lethal only when combined at the last minute before
detonation. The art would appear to be ensure the implosive deployment of memetic
components based on "sin" (its recognition, evocation of guilt, etc)
in conjunction with deployment of "virtue" (occupying the vaccum created).
This might be seen as analogous to the deployment of thermobaric
The challenge for fundamentalists in engaging in such memetic warfare is that
even after such deployment, as is evident in Iraq, the population remains highly
resistant to replacing Islamic virtues, framed as sinful by the crusading occupation
forces, by Christian virtues. In memetic terms, destruction of nuclear bonds
in order to reform a culture through "nation-building" processes (conceived
as analogous to interrogation, brain-washing, indoctrination and re-education
techniques) has proven to be far from successful -- despite the arrogance with
which it was envisaged sending an army of missionaries into Iraq to follow the
invasion by the Coalition of the Willing [more].
What would seem to be required in relation to community building, nation building,
and building a viable planetary culture, is a memetic analogue to nuclear "fusion
technology" -- rather than the "fission technology" through which
the bonds of the "pattern that connects" are broken. This would call
for investment in a degree of imaginative "memetic innovation" analogous
to that currently deployed internationally in relation to nuclear fusion [more].
In this light the "clash of civilizations" would be designed into
a framework capable of holding their interaction so as to reinvigorate humanity
through the rich pattern of energetic relationships the "clash" engendered.
Can humanity control its own functions as a memetic nuclear fusion reactor?
Is the design challenge analogous to that of avoiding plasma "quenching"
in order to ensure sustained fusion? Perhaps "sin" is best to be understood
in terms of "quenching" the spirit?
This approach is to be contrasted with fundamentalist efforts to eliminate
the difference which enables that memetic energy release in order to create
a homogeneous hegemony in which everyone sings from the same hymn sheet -- composed
in Washington. Is it possible that models deriving from fusion technology would
point to radically new approaches to fusion at a far more fundamental level
between contrasting faith perspectives -- a level respectful of both the differences
(that are otherwise expressed so violently) and the inspiration that sustains
It is the memetic technology required to work with requisite difference that
would enable civilization to enegage more effectively with questions of a higher
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