Rational Religion

Contact the author:
tuppennyprofet - at - aol - dot - com
(translate into a real email address)



Teenage rebellion is so well-documented; so thoroughly explored in art and psychology; that any "new" ideas or comments thereupon most probably have a history.  Anyway here is an attempt at a different perspective:


I don't know, psychologically or biologically, why human adolescents go through such an unsettled period of adjustment (or maladjustment) to their society.  That is, I am not certain of the gene-based imperatives. 


Is it an intellectual loss of faith or trust in accepted ways of doing things that obviously never work as well as advertised?  I doubt it; most kids don't think that well or that deeply.


Traditional Freudians would have no doubt.  It's all hormones and psychosexual pressure; the phenomenon of the son slaying the father to take over the reproductive dominance in the family.    But then we have also to account for the feminine imperative, wherein teenage girls are just as rebellious in their own way…and sometimes in exactly the same ways... as the boys. 


Nope, I think it's programmed in all right.  But it has more to do with peer-hood than with Oedipal sex.  The kids want to get it on with each other and this may have a lot to do with their inability to get along with the immediately older generation which doesn't want them to do it; or at least wants to control how they go about it. 


Kids are, therefore, inherently more in tune with what their age-mates (and those still kids who are slightly older) are up to.   Most of these are rebels entirely without any cause except the exercise of their own individuality... most often in slavishly trendy and tyrannically fashionable pursuits, thereby giving the lie to the whole myth of individuality, itself. 


Established power structures don't worry much about this aimless kind of rebellion.  If it crosses certain lines into what the society defines as criminality, some of the rebels will be thrown into prison.  The rest of them will eventually conquer their aberrant impulses and learn to fit in; eventually, some of them, even become the power structure.


But there are two main flavors of adolescent rebellion.  Though the lines between them are often ill-defined and they are certainly not mutually exclusive, the willy-nilly hellraising and testing of boundaries is occasionally complicated by real, rational questioning of the society’s established verities. 


Which is to say that some kids, though genetically programmed like their peers simply to be societal misfits "for a while," are unfortunate enough to inject an intellectual component.  Some of these are such thoughtful, aware personalities that they don't indulge in the misfit syndrome much at all.  They just start asking impertinent questions.


Because these questions often have pertinent answers, they become permanent impediments to the questioner's seamless integration into the dominant society.


This can lead to all sorts of negative vibrations, both for the society and for the individual.    Especially for the individual, since -by definition - the society is bigger and has more clout. 


Nowhere, to date, have I seen developed the notion that adolescent angst and all its implied (and actual) confrontations with parents, teachers, the Law, and established society in general might have a positive survival value.


Throughout most of humanity's (unwritten, therefore largely lost) pre-history, we lived in tribal communities.  In a tribal society stasis is the norm.  That is, people tend to do the same things in the same ways - both to make a living and to amuse themselves - generation after generation without much change.


Cultures, by and large, are very much like biological species in this respect.  If there is no compelling reason to change (or "evolve"), there isn't much alteration visible in the archeological or fossil record. 


Some extremely well-adapted species seem to be around after literally billions of years.  Some human cultures; mostly located out of the main geographical streams of exploration and exploitation; haven't altered much in millennia.  This despite the fact that such out-of-the-way societies are most likely to be in isolated environments of less-than-ideal conditions for human life.   The North American Inuit, Eurasian Laps, San "Bushmen" of Southern Africa, New Guinean mountain people,  and Indians of the deepest Amazonian rainforests come most easily to mind. 


But into even the most isolated environments, climate shifts, tectonic upheavals and the intrusion of other human beings almost certainly will eventually force the native populations to deal with change.


How does a population which has been used to doing things in rigidly formulaic ways manage to change rapidly enough in response to radical challenges such as unexpected volcanic catastrophe or invasion by technologically superior fellow-humans (bearing unfamiliar and deadly diseases)?


Well, often they can't.  There are no more Carib Indians.  The famous Californian Ishii is a popularly documented case of a tribe going extinct in nearly modern times.


And when they can it is because some element of the tribe is able to adapt rapidly enough to new ideas that the tribe as a whole can learn to go with the flow; do what is necessary to maintain a breeding population, even though the tribal society, itself, is thereby altered so much that the oldest members can scarcely recognize it as theirs.


That of course, is the key.  The oldest members; even the middle-aged members, are programmed by their life experience to resist change, rather than adapt to it.   In the face of the most ridiculous odds, they tend to persist in trying to do things the way that has worked for their society as long as anybody can remember and passed down in oral tradition for generations.


The ones who are going to be able to make the necessary mental and psychological adjustments are the kids... whose business it is to learn new things and figure out how to use them to survive.  


To a young kid, everything is new, even if in actual practice it is older than the river. 


To an adolescent, adult society and ways of doing things are inherently suspect.   Without the necessary years of experience to round off their rough edges, youthful ambitions and intelligences are probably biologically programmed to question and test the limits of their society. 


In a static tribal situation, or a successfully repressive religio-social one, these young questioners and rebels are usually brought to heel without managing to make any lasting or radical changes in the status quo. 


Most of them are co-opted into conforming; those who can't conform are simply cast out or eliminated in other, more prejudicial, ways.   The society remains intact, and essentially unchanged.


But in times of turmoil or societal upheaval, all sorts of young people with all sorts of radical ideas come out of the woodwork.   Some of them have constructive notions about how to make things work, again...or work better than they ever did before.  These prophets and innovators are few, percentage-wise, but they are surrounded by a huge cohort of age-mates who are simply, randomly, rebellious and looking for leadership. 


These are the Survival Tribe, upon whom the future of the society depends.  


The truth is, of course, that a static tribal society is an illusion; an artifact of a stable, uninterrupted timeline.    The tribe, at any given moment in any generation, is not made up of centuries of cultural specifics, no matter what its members and even intruders from the outside may think. 


It is made up of living human beings who have been taught to think in certain ways and do things according to traditional formulae.  


But in spite of perhaps millennia of history, the tribe still exists entirely in meatspace and wetware.  


If you can kill off enough of the meat before the wetware can reprogram itself well enough to preserve a breeding population, the tribe is kaput. ("Ethnic Cleansing" tries to do this, routinely.  I suspect that, historically and pre-historically, it has succeeded far oftener than we like to contemplate.)


Fairly well-documented in North American history is the profound societal change wrought upon certain Native American tribes by the entirely accidental introduction of the modern Eurasian horse into Mexico and most of the continent northward thereof.   


Horses happen to breed enthusiastically and rapidly and by the 17th Century had been domesticated recently enough to retain a lot of the "wild" herd characteristics.  They were introduced into an environment which had successfully hosted a very close “wild” relative up until only 8 or 10 thousand years previous.


A few “modern” horses escaped the exploring parties of the Conquistadors, and - in the environmental vacuum of no effective predators and plenty of grass - literally overran what is now the Southwestern intermontane and Great Plains areas of the United States.


It was a new, unfamiliar, and plentiful, large animal, and might have been mostly hunted by the indigenous peoples for its meat and hide - like the bison - except that many of the indigenous peoples had seen the effective use made of this large beast by the Europeans who brought them.


I have never seen a careful exploration of exactly what happened to make such tribes as the Comanche, Apache and Lakota so suddenly, radically mobile.    I suppose such studies have been done, but I also suspect that they might have missed a key link in the chain of evidence.


We know that the change in these largely nomadic tribes from dog-and-woman-dragged travois and exclusively foot-propelled hunting and war parties to a more efficient and infinitely more dangerous horse-based culture was extremely rapid.    We also know that not every tribe immediately made the change; and those who did not became prey for those who did. 


I have not read recorded accounts of the oral reports by members of the adaptive tribes, characterizing exactly how it happened, but I will bet that the oral traditions  -- being in their own way the chronicles of established history (and therefore, the history of The Establishment) -- intimate that the respected wisdom of the elders saw the immediate advantages of hunting and fighting from horseback and simply adopted it as the smart thing to do.


I will bet that a recording coyote in the sagebrush would have seen a much different scenario; the spectacle of the respected and wise elders being appalled by their adolescent generation's penchant for capturing stray colts and careering wildly through the landscape on the backs of their rapidly growing pets, in the manner of the hated pale-skinned invaders. 


A generation which grows up on horseback, even if the horse is initially a toy, is probably going to figure out ways to put the animal to good use when that generation becomes young adult; especially when there is ample foreign example and all the hidebound traditionalists in the tribe are dead or too toothless to object to this radical new way of doing things.  Especially when it works so well to bring in food and exploit the neighbors. 


Hollywood has so publicized the union between the Indian and the horse that most people have no consciousness of the fact that the mounted tribes were all societies in the throes of great cultural change, even as they were being exterminated by the dominant white culture.  Nor that the mounted tribes were essentially in the minority amongst native North Americans; and that the ones that did take to horse often did so in self-defense, because their neighbors had horses and were overrunning them. 


And I'll bet, if we could observe the process, it would be the adolescents in each tribe who were initially most willing to undertake the change. 


Stuff doesn't persist in the face of evolutionary pressures if it doesn't have at least a neutral survival value.  


The travails of adolescence, and the upheavals they tend to visit on their society unless they are carefully managed and controlled, are disruptive enough to the welfare of that society that they should have been selected out of the gene pool. 


Yet, every human society seems to have difficulties with its teenagers. 


They are the Survival Tribe; more psychosocially akin to their peers than they are to their elders, and therefore much more - individually and collectively - adaptable.   


If there is nothing much to adapt to, they simply "outgrow" their rebellious period and slip back into their allotted niches in adult society.    But upon the rare occasions when they are needed,  for a few adaptive years they are there, to preserve the gene pool.