What Freedom is Found in the Local Culture?
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
In a lecture in the University of Utah “Great Issues Forum” in the early 1960’s, Professor Waldemar P. Read of the University’s Philosophy Department addressed the question posed in the title of this article.
In preparing himself for the talk, he said, he, who had been born and raised a Mormon and had left the church, had asked himself the question, “Why should I have the effrontery to talk to my own people about their bondage? Then he on one occasion heard the sound of the Nauvoo (Illinois) bell and heard the announcer declare that this bell had special significance. It rings for freedom? But his own reflections had led him to this conclusion: In Utah we enjoy the political and civil liberties that are characteristic of America as a whole. “In themselves,” he states, “they scarcely justify the distinctive claim made for the Nauvoo Bell. Such justification would seem to require that this culture and its people have a greater than usual appreciation of these freedoms, and a greater than usual zeal for their protection, preservation, and enhancement. It has been my impression that such has not been the case.”
During the rise of Naziism Utahns were not distinctively clairvoyant nor concerned about the nature and seriousness of its threat to freedom. Almost boasting reports came from missionaries in Germany and their mission president that, though the Catholic and Protestant clergies were having difficulties with Hitler, the Nazis saw nothing in the activities of the Mormon missionaries to alarm them. Perhaps the claim that the Nauvoo Bell tolled for freedom had an eschatological (i.e., an other worldly) reference and had nothing to do with the political freedoms and civil liberties of the here and now, Read suggested.
In his opinion McCarthyism had been the most serious internal threat to freedom to which Americans had been exposed, at least during the previous half-century. Local leadership, in both church and press, had been woefully silent on this subject.
Reid put forth a definition of human freedom as freedom of the mind. The ability to prosecute one’s desires is a condition of freedom. Increase in the ability to do increases freedom. Therefore, the literate man is more free than the illiterate. All increase in mental powers is an increase in freedom. Other conditions being equal, the individual who can think new thoughts–thoughts that no one before has thought–is freer than those who cannot; and the society whose membership includes individuals who can think new thoughts is free–to a degree which varies directly with the proportion of its membership having this capacity. Excessive stability in the degree of channelization, stabilization of the patterns of imagination, of conception, and of judgment and belief is the foe of creativity and “the friend of the status quo, of sameness, monotony, and death, Read said. He quoted A. P. Ushenko: “perpetual endurance of the actual status quo degenerates into stagnation.”
William F. Allbright observes, “A group may be so completely integrated that it exhibits little internal friction, a high degree of efficiency in accomplishing its purposes, together with self-sufficiency and smugness–but it will accomplish little of value for the world.” And Bertrand Russell adds:”…those who believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God may infer that an unusual opinion or peculiar taste is almost a form of impiety, and is to be viewed as culpable rebellion against the legitimate authority of the herd. This will be avoided if liberty is as much valued as democracy, and it is realized that a society in which each is a slave of all is only a little better than one in which each is the slave of a despot.” John Stuart Mill made an eloquent appeal for freedom of thought and speech, freedom of action, taste and pursuit as essential conditions for freshness, vigor, vitality, and the continued enrichment of the life of the human spirit. Von Humboldt supported the idea of individuality “as one of the elements of well-being.”
Also vital to our well-being, said Read, is independence of judgment and belief. We can discern truth from falsehood only if we have an adequate sense of evidence, i.e, a sense for what sorts of consideration should guide the attempt to identify the true. It is not clearly recognized that belief is not in itself an indication of truth, that subjective certainty is of no evidential significance. Faith is no substitute for evidence. Nor is the comfort which an idea gives a mark of its truth. Only two sorts of considerations are legitimate for the identification of true propositions: considerations of empirical fact and of logical relation.
Human beings can be controlled through control of their minds–thought control. The more sophisticated of us have known that since the beginning of human society men and women have been committed to beliefs, policies and practices without knowing why they were committed. Logic texts have pointed out a group of fallacies that often lead people off-track in the search for truth. These fallacies are generated when by the arousal of the emotions the critical faculties are thrown off guard, the attention is diverted, and the idea being advanced gets past the censor without being examined for its credentials–and once accepted by the mind will be defended by the mind. A process of “conditioned response” has occurred, which is logically invalid though psychologically effective. It is what is back of tenacious beliefs which cannot be intellectually justified. It is often used as a means of manipulation, an instrument of control of people. Individuals become members of society, not through reasoning, but by conditioning. Through conditioning, every family and church group recruits and controls its members. This is not necessarily bad. It is good up to a point, for we are institutional animals; but beyond that point it is deadening. Institutional control is good if the institution is open at the top so that the individual may transcend the very forms that lifted him. But, if the institution is closed, then the control is bad. It shields him but limits him and uses him as one of the elements in the truss which holds him up. Institutions of the first sort liberate the human spirit; those of the latter kind imprison it.
Read made two points about the local culture: 1) that the controls in this culture are excessive; and 2) that they are unfortunately so. There is a stifling uniformity of belief. Imagination is not stimulated and judgments are not challenged by conflicting opinions. Rather the belief of each reinforces and sustains the belief of others. A condition which is requisite for the cultivation of freedom is diversity of opinion, making possible habituation in the search for and examination of possible alternatives. In Mormonism the beliefs tend to reinforce the uniformity. They tend to insure that no discussion will get out of hand, that no heretic will run away with the argument, that The Truth will always prevail. Three such beliefs are: 1) belief in the absolute certainty of the doctrine (the dogmatic attitude); 2) belief in the wickedness of doubt; and 3) belief in the authoritative hierarchy–all three conditioned responses. Dogmatism is inimical to freedom of thought. It denies the need of inquiry–for further research. On the adoration of faith and the distrust of doubt, Read says, “The free mind recognizes that the question of truth …is prior to the obligation to believe. The insistence upon faith begs the question of truth. The local culture penalizes the reluctant believer by holding him suspect as to character.” The virtue of deference to authority is thought to be one of the strongest assurances of salvation, but it is an abnegation of individual responsibility in thought. Another factor of control is the highly articulated ideology. One begins with acceptance of the scriptures as authoritatively interpreted, and from there on all is clear sailing. Not many members are fully aware of the extent to which their conclusions rest ultimately upon psychological grounds rather than logical grounds. Finally, a feature of the culture which makes for excessive control is the monopolistic nature of the program. The home is a conditioning agency for the church Meetings, suppers, socials, lessons, dances, celebrations, testimonials, fellowship, fireside meetings, seminaries and church institutes, and the church basketball league are conditioning agents dedicated to the psychological sale of the central beliefs. There is a persistent attempt to get every individual involved for as many of the waking hours of his life as possible in church activity, even often at the expense of other legitimate individual interests. As in all cultures the cords that bind the minds of people do not chafe or gall like the chains in the ancient dungeon. Rather they warm and comfort. The sweetness of the bondage is its greatest strength. As Rousseau said, “They love their servitude.”
If the people, then, love this control, why, then, is it unfortunate? For one thing, there is the monotony resulting from a successful perpetuation of the status quo. We would seem to be headed for Russell’s “new prison, just, perhaps, since none will be outside it, but dreary and joyless and spiritually dead.” However, whether we like it or not, tomorrow things will be different. “There never was a time when the world, and, particularly the United States, had greater need for new ideas,” says Read. What is to be regretted is…that the local culture is so geared to preserve its theology that it is incapacitated to contribute or support needed new insights and conceptions bearing upon national policy and action. The people under the local culture are saddled with the following ideological hindrances which make it unlikely they will contribute anything of significance to the solution of the problems that confront this nation and the world: 1) an antiquated doctrinaire economic conservatism with business-corporation mindedness which incapacitates people for solving the problems of human well-being; 2) a built-in isolationism which prevents enthusiastic participation in efforts to establish world peace; 3) an “exclusivism”–the “we are right and you are wrong” attitude requiring that the world be made over in their own image instead of a vision of peaceful coexistence, preserving and protecting the distinctive values of each culture; and 4) a built-in racial prejudice. This last item has been somewhat ameliorated since this speech was given, but I would suggest adding in to the list of hindrances a built-in sexism.
One might wish that Utah’s contribution to solving the great problems could be more than foot-dragging, Read says; “…but such would require a quality of inner freedom that we do not have, and that we are not about to develop.”
From the New President
I want to thank my supportive colleagues on the Board, who could serve equally well, and Flo, my esteemed mentor and friend. I have no hesitation in saying this is one of the most important and exciting events of my life. I will wear the mantle Flo has lent me, with joy and respect for all that Humanism means, and hope to be worthy of this office. In that challenge I will try to listen well to others, recognize common ground and build consensus, and work actively to reach Humanist ends in Utah.
Many of you know that my father, Justin Stewart, was an activist and freethinker. In 1990 he received a plaque naming him “Utah Hell-Raiser of the Year.” My mother, too, is known to give breakfasts where dangerous ideas are discussed, and I have no doubt some hint of this radicalism is going to manifest itself in my leadership style. From my experience on the board I can promise you we will keep reminding religious groups that they don’t have a corner on doing moral works in the community. (Sorry, Wayne, I stole that last line from you)
I want to share some words that express something of my philosophy, by the Humanist writer, Arnold Walker: “I marvel at the miracle of my existence. I have no idea why I am here or whether I have some purpose in being here. I have the ability to encompass thousands of years of human history. The world into which I was born has been built by millions of predecessors, unknown and known. I am a beneficiary of their work, and I have an obligation to contribute in whatever way I can.”
This passage celebrates existence joyfully, without fear, and insists on ethical responsibility without promise of a gold medal in an afterlife. The Olympics has shown us Utah is capable of much more diversity than it has ever shown before. Now that we have lit “the fire within,” let’s light the fire up here, and think of rational, responsible ways to enhance human dignity, addressing social problems such as homelessness, hunger and prisons. I look forward to the coming year, and to the possibility, with your help, of increasing our membership.
–Heather Stewart Dorrell
Operation Endless War
It is springtime in the year 2002.
The U.S. troops in Afghanistan have nearly concluded the first part of their mission, the disruption and destruction of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda network of terrorists in the region.
President George W. Bush has declared a war on terrorism, citing an “Axis of Evil” which is comprised of disparate countries (Iran, North Korea, Iraq) without any common characteristic save their distrust of the United States. In the course of prosecuting a war which he claims might require fifty years, the President and his Attorney General have dramatically expanded the security and surveillance powers of the Executive branch through passage of the USA PATRIOT act. Nuclear weapons policy has been overhauled to permit a proliferation of smaller nuclear weapons.
This combination of expanded, unilateral aggression of the United States in foreign and military policy, combined with expanded domestic surveillance and investigation powers, does not bode well for human rights, either at home or abroad. The “War on Terrorism,” without a narrow focus and without Congressional oversight, can easily turn into “Operation Endless War.”
I hope that our national leaders will reconsider our present course and return to the calm deliberative policies of tolerance, rationalism and compassion, recognizing the rights of Americans and all others to live peaceably together, without the use of military and police power.
Letter to the Editor
I’m not sure if I like the evolution of The Utah Humanist publication.
First, when unable to attend a general meeting, a more comprehensive synopsis of the speeches is desirable instead of the scant ones now published as was, for example, Professor Boyer Jarvis’s in January 2002 issue. No synopsis of the January speech was in February 2002 issue, so possibly an elimination of the speeches is forthcoming–an unacceptable decision.
Second, of all articles, except for the monthly meeting speeches, I find Richard Layton’s articles the most enlightening, informative, varied, and interesting. I hope these, too, will not be curtailed and eventually eliminated.
Third, I am concerned a preponderance of material is provided every month by the editor and not enough by other varied and interesting writers. To obtain wider participation, one suggestion is to publish on a rotating basis articles/essays by each member of the Humanist board. Another suggestion is to personally invite specific individuals to provide an article, like Deen Chatterjee or Rocky Anderson.
Fourth, also disappointing and unsatisfactory are the shortened book reviews like those found in December 2001 issue written by Flo Wineriter and Wayne Wilson.
Fifth, while the graphics on the front pages are proper, this valuable space might be more efficiently used for e.g. fuller synopses of meeting speeches and longer book reviews.
Sixth, the calendar of events placed in the middle of The Utah Humanist is inconvenient. On the outer pages where the calendar used to be, looking up schedules was faster and easier.
Seventh, while the Bill of Rights (December 2001) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (January 2002) are important, I wonder how many read them. More interesting and inviting might be to single one or two amendments/articles and provide discussion on how they affect and influence our lives.
I appreciate those who expend time and energy into The Utah Humanist, and hope the points in this letter are useful to generate an even more relevant publication.
Thank you for your honest remarks. Your use of the term “evolution” is especially apt, because evolution involves a series of more or less successful mutations. I’ve introduced a few mutations to The Utah Humanist, and I have to rely on readers like you to know if I’m on the right track.
I do hope to have more articles on the general meetings, but am not always able to attend or listen to recordings. Perhaps someone in the chapter would like to write up a summary?
Richard Layton’s articles will, I hope, continue forever. His articles are known to humanist chapters throughout the nation, and for good reason.
More writers? I would love to feature more articles by others. I hope all who read this will consider writing something for these pages.
The book reviews are, alas, few and far between. We all read, we should spread the good word about the good books.
The graphics and the calendar insert are definitely experimental. My intent is to be stimulating and yet informative, and this is often a delicate balance. I welcome feedback on these matters.
Some of the material reflects my own subjective, editorial judgment and interests. You can help me produce a better journal by suggesting topics for greater discussion.
Murial Hood Zwick was born October 6, 1914, San Francisco, CA, to Marie Stanz Hood and George Garfield Hood. She attended San Jose State College. She married Martin Zwick 1953 in Salt Lake City.
She is survived by husband; son and two grandsons, Patrick Dylan Zwick and Merek Martin Zwick; also two cousins, Robert Hood and Harry Stanz of Wisconsin; and brother, George M. Hood, California
Long active in civic affairs was a member of Humanists of Utah, President of Ballet Society, forerunner of Ballet West; charter member Utah League of Women Voters, Chamber Music Society, Fine Arts Museum and Utah Symphony Guild; Board member Art Barn, forerunner of Salt Lake Art Center, member Pioneer Memorial Theater Guild, Salt Lake Art Center, Utah Ballet Guild and board member of Utah District Metropolitan Opera auditions organization. Active member First Unitarian Church since 1949, served on its Board of Directors and many committees as well as Trustee of Friendship Manor representing the Unitarian Church and as fulltime administrator of Friendship Manor from 1969 to 1976. She held many offices in Salt Lake Alliance of Unitarian Women and represented them on Women’s State Legislative Council. Member Utah Federation of Women Democrats. Before and after retirement she enjoyed music and travel abroad with her husband.