Mar 13, 2007

More Insights on Communities from "The Economics of Religion"

A blog reader gave me this link with an interesting discussion titled "the economics of religion." It's over an hour long, but provides a viewpoint that complements what I have written about religions, teachings, and movements at this blog.

First of all, let me say that economics is basically a extraverted logic view of human behavior. The core assumption of economics is that human behavior is fundamentally rational (i.e. serves a useful purpose). Economics takes a few basic working ideas and discovers many applications, while fields such as socionics have complicated ideas with few applications :)

Generalizing from religions to communities
The speakers demonstrate quite well that from a functional standpoint, religions are not much different from other forms of closely-knit communities. Each long-standing, closely-knit community takes on certain habits, language, and values that distinguish its members from other communities. "In return" for adopting these key features - which often involve sacrifices of some kind - members of the community gain emotional and material rewards. They obtain a social "safety net" that satisfies their need to belong, can count on others' comradery and loyalty, and often even receive much-needed material assistance at crucial moments. This is true not only of religious congregations, but also of closely-knit academic, ideological, and professional communities.

One aspect of religion that an economic approach - as well as my socionic approach - does not address is the specific content of religious and other teachings. In other words, these approaches can say nothing about which religious teachings are better than others, which academic or ideological hypotheses are more correct, etc.

Community superiority
An attribute of all close-knit communities is that their members tend to believe that their community is better than others. This can be a feeling of intellectual superiority, a sense that one's group is more emotionally cohesive or more powerful than other groups, or a belief that one's community provides the single possibly way to heaven/good health/a drug-free life/an optimal psychological state/etc.. Community members, having "chosen" their group over competing groups, must establish some rationale for their choice. No one wants to feel like they're members of a random community. Fanatical communities simply take this feeling of superiority to a greater level than the average group.

Transcendent community experience
The speakers mention the "transcendent" aspect of religions and many other communities - for example, sports fans. People often have a transcendent ("trans-personal," or "supra-individual") experience at sporting events as they watch the game. For some reason, people have a need to be a part of something greater than themselves.

Some people might add that one can experience transcendent feelings without belonging to any community - as a result of personal religious practice or other personal experiences. In this case, you're experiencing not oneness with other members of the community, but with the divine, with nature, with the universe, etc. I can't argue with this, but it seems that most people are drawn to experience oneness with other people more than with these other things. Such people form the core of nearly every community.

Competition between communities
In the case of most communities and religions, if my team wins, yours loses (or, if my religion is true, yours is false). This is called a "zero-sum game." In addition to serving members' needs, communities are also units of external competition that try to withstand the pressure of competing communities and maintain and extend their own influence. We can probably assume that if for some reason humans did not believe in God, they would still form communities of adherence, commitment, and mutual assistance that would functionally differ little from religions.

I found the hypothesis interesting that a free society - where people are allowed to establish communities as they please - spawns "more competitive" religions (and by analogy, communities of other types) than closed societies where communities are established by the state. This seems intuitively to be the case, and it is clear that western religions have been much more successful in entering the post-Soviet and Asian markets than have Asian and Eastern European religions in opening up the American market.

Communities' different routes (or information aspects?)
Another interesting statement in the discussion is that all these communities provide similar "services" to their members, but use different means to do so. It's like filling the stomach: some people do it through complex hunting rituals, some people carefully grow different kinds of plants, and some people practice medicine in exchange for food. Religious and other closely-knit communities also differ markedly in the way they satisfy members' needs to belong, be provided for, and transcend the limits of their own ego. I think my descriptions of the socionic aspects of religions and spiritual teachings reflect these different routes pretty well. The economists mentioned different routes, but they did not describe them in any kind of structured way as socionics can.

Community founders and leaders
Another important aspect is the role of the community founder or leader that I discussed in a previous post. Founders of communities such as religions, teachings, or movements seem to have a more incessant need to do things their own way than other people. The need is strong enough that these people are able to do and say things differently even if they are the only ones doing it. Perhaps they have less fear of ostracism, are less considerate of others, or are more self-absorbed than the average person. These leaders draw others who like the way he or she does things, but might not have dared to do it, or wouldn't have thought of doing it, on their own. Some of the followers are leader types themselves who drop by to learn before continuing on their way.

This kind of leadership I'm referring to isn't necessarily a quality that society looks up to or even approves of. A "leader" in the common, positive sense of the word is not the same thing as a person who creates a new community. Nice folks like Carl Rogers and Mother Teresa were founders or leaders of communities, but so were hard nuts like Ayn Rand and Stalin. Each of these people ignored the status quo and did their own thing, taking away territory from existing communities in the process.

Your average manager at work is probably not a person who founds a new community after his own image and likeness. Communities can be of any size, and he might lead a community of friends who gets together to fish on Sundays, but here we're talking about larger-scale communities that bring together strangers. The stronger one's need to do things one's own way, the larger the community one creates.

Speaking of "incessant needs," we're obviously referring to qualities related to one's leading functions. These are the areas where one is most likely to insist on satisfying one's needs in original ways. Try finding a extraverted intuition type who is conservative in extraverted intuition and insistently creative with extraverted sensing to the point of creating a extraverted sensing based community. It doesn't happen. A extraverted intuition type with a strong interest in or talent for typically extraverted sensing things might create a extraverted intuition niche in a extraverted sensing community, but he won't create the extraverted sensing community in the first place.

For an example from socionics, we can look at Gulenko's "Humanitarian Socionics" community. Gulenko himself is LII, but his community seems like it would be centered on ethics, but that's just the name of his school. In reality, the whole spirit of the community is introverted logic.

I'm beginning to ramble, so I'll end here.

1 comment:

Dancing Butterfly Mama said...

Great article...food for thought in a few ways for myself... :)

The thing about Ne and Se at the end was also helpful in understanding how mine work in my life.

Thanks again. :)