Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Extended Double Standard: The Bible as Killer App

Extended double standard: The Bible as Killer App

I'm entitled to do what you, in my same circumstances would not be entitled to do--that's a double standard. Being civilized means trying to constrain the natural human tendency toward such double standards.

The tendency toward double standards doesn't originate with humans. It is as old as life itself. All organisms demonstrate autonomous agency. A bird, unlike a rock, looks out for herself and hers. A tree without even a nervous system competes for sunlight.

We humans have got life's autonomous agency plus nervous systems, a major double standard augmenter. We really feel our personal pain, much more so than we feel the pain of others. We are compelled by the neuron's persuasive and convincing power to look out for ourselves, at the expense of others.

Add to this another double-standard augmenter. Language the inventive power to give voice to our individual desires and to rationalize them. Language reliably grants me an explanation, however specious for why I personally deserve what you, in my situation would not deserve. "Ah, but don't you see," I say "if you were in my circumstances it would be completely different..." And then I invent a reason why it would be.

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Civilization's great inventions have been constraints on double standards. "Rule by law" for example is a double standard diminisher, moving us away from "rule by man" whereby a lord, supposedly chosen by God gets to impose his double standards. That all of us are in theory "equal under the law" is a significant check on our natural selfishness and double standards. "Rule by law" also moves us away from a variation on "rule by man" whereby a Lord in Heaven defined by some Great Man of Faith exercises that man's double standard. A pope saying "God says that I'm exceptional," for example.

Double standard exceptionalism starts at home with "I demand more," but really takes off when extended to a tribal "We demand more." For example, "God loves us," instead of merely "God loves me."

Is extending our double standards to an "exclusive we" a double standard augmenter or diminisher? One the one hand charity begins at home, so extending the standard to our next of kin and tribal neighbors is exactly how you would expect the diminishment of double standards to start. Rule of Law, that great double standard diminisher grow by gradual extention ,first for example in the Magna Carta from kings to nobles.

On the other hand, extending the double standard from "I demand more" to "We demand more" is probably more of a double standard enhancer than diminisher. The delimited altruism of the extended double standard liberates me to promote my double standard without fear that I'm being selfish. To the outside world the tribe member says, "Yes I'm claiming I deserve more than you do, but notice how selfless I am in also claiming my family and tribe members deserve more than you deserve."

Historically the extended double standard "We demand more" idea has unleashed both the great movements--national independence, civil rights, women's rights, workers rights--and the horrible movements-national exceptionalism, racial supremacy, tribal bullying and bigotry of all sorts. Righteous indignation on behalf of "us" feels righteous because in some cases it is, for example when beating back the encroachment of exceptionalists who succeeded in imposing their extended double-standard and crowding others out, the way men did with women for millennia, and Nazis did with Jews and then Jews do with Palestinians today Women, Jews and Palestinians in their time of oppression are righteous for demanding more for their tribe. Their oppressors in their time think they are being righteous when demanding more for their tribe. But they're wrong. It is the added power of extended double standards that creates most of the oppression that only countervailing extended double standards can defend against.

As any welfare economics can tell you it is very difficult to know where to draw the line between what tribes deserve. Extending double standards don't make it any easier, but do make for a lot more pressure on the borders between or tribes.

Double-standard enhancers build one upon the other. With language we gained the power to rationalize our double standards and the ability to build extended double standards, by naming our tribe and giving voice to our tribal exceptionalism. Inevitably with the written word you get something like the Old Testament, the extended double standard's killer app in every sense.

Into a polytheistic world in which each tribe had its favored God while acknowledging many Gods, suddenly one tribe, claims "There is only one God and he prefers us."

"Thou shalt not kill within the tribe, but killing those outside the tribe is not only acceptable to the One God who prefers us, He helps us do it."

"But look at us. We are so loving toward each other, so selfless in the name of our tribe. And it's a great burden being chosen like this, so pity us our enormous responsibility."

Were the Old Testament not revered in all of the Abrahamic traditions, it would be more obvious how arrogant its extended double standard is. Far more than is acknowledged, it is revered by all of the Abrahamic traditions (53% of us or 3.7 billion people) because it enhances our double standards, making a large tribe feel more confident and righteous in demanding more for "us."

So many Christian friends have said, "Yes, the Old Testament is like that, but the New Testament is different." I've been reading it and I agree. It is different, a double-standard enhancer killer app built upon the others. In John's Gospel Jesus promotes altruism but twice, once in tolerance of Mary Madeleine's adultery and once in admonishing the apostles to love each other. The rest is promo for membership in an exclusive club. He is the one true path to God, the only path to eternal life, not granted to others.

There are several double standard enhancements in the New Testament.

One is the extendable extended double standard whereby others can join the exclusive club. This is seeded by Jesus in his relentless promotion to the Jews that they join his sub-tribe, but taken to its logical conclusion in Paul who establishes that non-Jews can become Christians. Allowing that anyone can become a member of the exclusive club enforces the false impression of altruism about ones double standard, saying, "I'm more deserving, but you can be too." Indeed it affords a pyramid scheme promoter's liberating sense of selfless missionary zeal, "I'm only promoting this exclusive club to help you."

The High Priest's double standard is further enhanced too by Jesus' claim to be the only path to God, and to warrant that assertion with such arguments as John, 8:17-18 where he says, "In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me." In other words God and I agree that I'm the only path to exclusive benefits. Notice the subversion of rule by law, a way to ace some exclusive rule by man out of rule by law, by saying "even by the rule of law I am the exclusive High Priest."

The more extreme one's double standard, the more cover one needs in order to pull it off successfully. We think of Jesus as all-accepting, a tribal battle-ender not a tribal battle-fighter. Much of the New Testament reads much more as double standard promotion and enhancement, as do the Koran and Old Testament. The Abrahamic traditions have done more to augment than diminish our natural double standards, providing ever more sophisticated cover for exclusivity, exceptionalism, entitlement and elitism.

Surely these books are not exclusive sources of exclusivity. But these books among the world's literature seem to have stumbled on the formula, the killer double standard app. Had they not, other books would certainly have done so. I mean to single them out only as our historical sources of widespread double standard enhancement.

Double Standard enhancements like these are what you get when you cross animal self-interest with the art of language. Indeed I'd wager that anywhere in the universe where there's life and language there would be similar formulas promoted in similar "sacred texts" touted as more the promotion of selflessness than they are.

 

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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