Jingoistic Populism: A New Fiction

Identity Anchors

Reading The Guardian today, I saw a review of Harari’s 2015 best-selling book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind“. The reviewer states that the center of the book’s contention is that “what made Homo sapiens the most successful human being, supplanting rivals such as Neanderthals, was our ability to believe in shared fictions. Religions, nations and money, Harari argues, are all human fictions that have enabled collaboration and organization on a massive scale.”

In 2013 I wrote a post about how we create reifications (the packaging of abstractions).  Perhaps Harari would agree that these reifications are our “shared fictions”.

One of the greatest fictions our minds is always desperately creating is “Identity”, a sense of self.  Identity is an inevitable cognitive illusion. We use various anchors to secure our identity in our tumultuous world (thus the waves in my above diagram). Our minds use these anchors as manipulative signals to both ourselves and others that we have good-status, are trustworthy, have power, are committed, know true meaning,  have hope and more.

This takes me to a recent Peter Beinart article in The Atlantic: “Breaking Faith: The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse.

Beinart states the fact that participation in organized religion has hugely declined in the USA.  He contends that as people see through [my words] the fictions of religion, they need something else to serve the purposes of religion. They need some other anchor in reality – another method to signaling to themselves and others.


As the allure of religions fades, people experience an emptiness.  To replace the “God” reification, other reifications such as jingoistic nationalism or materialistic secularism come to fill the gap. Is this a “God Gap”? — no, it is a mental gap — a craving for a new fiction — an attempt to anchor down one’s identity.


Note: Also see my post on “Your Modular God” to see how the spackle used to fill the God Gap really plays a minimal role in most modern religion due to the various functions of religion.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Jingoistic Populism: A New Fiction

  1. rautakyy

    Another exellent post!

    Perhaps ideology is one more possible identity anchor.

    The problem about identity seems to be, that people do not like to challenge their identity. As we act based on our beliefs, and if our beliefs are part of our identity, our understanding of the actual reality around us does not grow on those issues, that we have anchored our identity on, when we refuse to challenge our identity.

    As for what religious feelings or culture the Neanderthal humas, or their contemporary “modern humans” had, is an extremely difficult to evaluate. An archaeologist is likely to name an artifact they do not recognize, as a ritual object, simply because when people do stuff that seems to have no practical value, it often is an expression of some form of religion. But it could just as well be art, or for example a tool the archaeologist could not recognize. But the archaeologist may be motivated by the same sort of mental state as the ancient person making a ritual object, as both have a need to name the unknown in order to deal with not knowing.

    It is just typical that we project our views on the ancient people. When there is flower pollen found in the grave of a Neanderthal, do we assume, that it is because they left flowers to show their affection to the deceased, or because it was a religious ritual? Maybe it was just the time of the year when the pollen of the particular flower was abundant in the air and ground. I have seen all of these interpretations by scholars.

  2. @rautakyy,

    “ideology” is a good one to add, and as you can see, I did. Thanx.

    I think Identities change, when a person’s anchors no longer serve them. This may happen more for some people than for others.

  3. You bring up many ideas in this post, but I shall choose to respond to the concept of identity which you mention in the third paragraph. And as I am unfamiliar with cultures other than a traditionally American one, please recognize the limitation of my viewpoint.

    There is an increasing inclination toward abject individualism in American culture that is upending our older concepts of identity. Whereas previous indentity-bound notions were generally group-based such as by generation, religious affiliation, nation/state/city, sports team, etc., modern self-identity is created around a unique experience. By example, let us look at how popular entertainment reflects this idea. Up until recently, music, television, and films were consumed en masse via shared experiences (on radio, at the theater). We then self-selected into group-engendered IDs based upon our preferences (e.g. people who like rock and roll vs. people who like classical music). However, due to dramatic shifts in technological deliverance, “we” are less and less likely to have shared experiences opting instead to view/hear media on our laptops using headphones. I then become a “unique” consumer, where I pick and choose from nearly unlimited entertainment choices, where no two of us are alike.

    This proliferation of unlimited choice due to the availability of massive amounts of information on the internet not just in music or films but in all cultural institutions is shifting our concepts of self from group-based to individual. We can select elements that fit our unique mental profile of ourselves — and in turn, update our image constantly.

    There are many other shifts occurring simultaneously, not just technologically, that are advancing views of identity that go beyond the scope of this already too-long response. I shall add, in closing, that these ideas of choice, individuality, and personal reinvention fit perfectly within the capitalistic model of consumption and are not coincidentally “sold” to us, the American consumer through constant propaganda as part and parcel of the American Dream, our raison d’être, if you will. That truth alone, the tremendous outside pressure to develop an identity so that you can be sold to, should be considered when understanding “why” we develop identity illusions.

  4. Interesting ideas. I’d be inclined to agree with you about the God Gap; it sounds perfectly plausible. What would you say though about all the millions who are not card-carrying adherents of any religion but who use ‘God’ as an argument when they want to drag public opinion down a very shady path? Or the people who discover their version of ‘God’ when it suits them to explain a rather nasty custom/belief/criminal action? It seems like involuntary cynicism to me, as though perhaps only Homo Sapiens was capable of making that jump from the unthinking believer to the manipulative sceptic.

  5. @ lovemorestudio
    I agree with much of your analysis. I do think we will always have that tension of group-think vs me-me-me-think are always with us. Your use of political jargon like “Capitalistic Model of Consumption” tells us a little about you, to which I’d respond that these tensions are more eternal and less subject to any given era’s economic-political policy than we’d probably imagine.

    @ Jane,
    Yes, using the word “God” is an easy manipulative tool by whoever uses it because it taps into all the fears, pride, taboo and allegiance modes trained into the minds of the hearer. However, I must say, I do not understand your last sentence. Thanx for stopping in.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s