Dispel the Dogma

Posted: May 8, 2021 by Isaac Cross in Learn Something, Philosophy

Any group of people that grows large enough becomes a religion. All religions have dogma.

Kink and nonmonogamy communities are rife with dogma. Much of it is as disconnected from reality as any religious dogma is. And while some of it may have a net benefit, that doesn’t make it any less false, at its core.

A person who accepts the dogma blindly and does not dissect it and dispel the bullshit is at risk of harming others in the name of their religion, no matter what religion it is or how detached from what we think of as spirituality.

Dogma generally emerges from two sources.

Everyone Knows…

On the one hand, it grows organically from communal knowledge. In the early ages of man, people would observe bad things happening to people who did certain things and intuited that the gods had punished them. The behavior that led to the consequences must be evil. Eventually, no one remembers why the action is evil, it just is.

This phenomenon can be easily replicated.

“Stephenson (1967) trained adult male and female rhesus monkeys to avoid manipulating an object and then placed individual naïve animals in a cage with a trained individual of the same age and sex and the object in question. In one case, a trained male actually pulled his naïve partner away from the previously punished manipulandum during their period of interaction, whereas the other two trained males exhibited what were described as “threat facial expressions while in a fear posture” when a naïve animal approached the manipulandum. When placed alone in the cage with the novel object, naïve males that had been paired with trained males showed greatly reduced manipulation of the training object in comparison with controls.

G.R. Stephenson. (Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.)

Social learning, as described in both of these examples, serves an important function in the survival of a species. If every individual has to learn a lesson for themselves before they accept it, the survival rate will be much lower. But the trade off to social learning is that the lessons can reach beyond the relevant context (time or circumstance) and lead people terribly astray.

As humans have progressed, we have developed methods for interrogating the things we think we know about the world to see if it’s still true or, in fact, if it was ever true to begin with. We call this “science”.

But religions exist outside of and apart from science. And communal wisdom still reigns supreme. Especially because in so many cases, the dogma does not concern simple statements of fact. It concerns the far more more nebulous areas of ethics or subjective quality or best practices. And this is, indeed where religions excel, because those subject areas are especially vulnerable to the second source of dogma….

Authority

The complex dynamics involved with when and how people organize themselves into groups is beyond the scope of this website, but suffice to say that it happens. And whenever people are grouped, power dynamics will emerge. Someone will have more control. Someone will have more ability to manifest their desires or propagate their beliefs.

As with all power, authority can be used with malicious or benevolent intent. A leader can use the trust and devotion of their following to advance ideas and efforts which are constructive or destructive, selfish or altruistic, effective or inept.

Almost no matter which of those traits a leader has, they will almost certainly inject their groups with dogma, which will be accepted purely on the strength of that person’s authority, not on the strength of their reasoning or evidence. That initial authoritative dogma then spreads beyond the original group as social learning.

In many cases, the authoritative source is long gone, or even recanted the idea in question, but the social learning process has now overpowered the strength of their authority.

A perfect example of this in kink is “Safe Sane and Consensual”. The person who wrote it repeatedly spoke out against the community’s misinterpretation and misuse of the phrase, errors that persist today.

Beware of the dogmas that drive your choices. Take responsibility for your decisions and the values that you spread to others. Identify them. Scrutinize them. Be hard on yourself. Make sure you’re living by your values and not some long-expired social learning or authoritative decree that doesn’t hold up to close examination.

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