Part 1. Another Type of Existence
What is ‘libertarianism’? Or ‘pacifism’? Or ‘Marxism’? Do these things exist?
I think these three things can be said to exist, but they do so in a very particular way.
They are things that exist based on what human beings think they are. They have no existence outside human thought. And their existence is the combination of lots of different human thoughts, some contradictory, some personal and some universal.
We all will have a slightly different view of Marxism, for example. What is Marxism? Well it is a combination of those views.
Marxism doesn’t have definite boundaries. It is fuzzy. There are some things that lots of people associate with Marxism, and other things that are peculiar to a few. People cluster. Liberation theologians might share many of the same associations with each other, but be relatively distant from Leninists, who again share the same associations with each other.
To visualise this, let’s imagine we can write down on a big piece of paper all the different features or associations people have with Marxism. We try (as much as possible) to put associations that tend to appear together, near to one another. We then color in our piece of paper, with a lighter color for associations that more people have, and a darker color for rarer features (we could also weight this process by how strongly each person holds that association). This is called a heat-map. We might end up with something that looks like figure 1.
We can see a reasonable cluster down the bottom left and a smaller cluster around some ideas in the bottom right. But any possible association is shared by some people. As I said, there is no definite boundary.
One thing that heat-maps allow you to do, however, is to fix certain boundaries. We can say that only associations that are particularly strong should be considered part of Marxism. So an association with Karl Marx, the man, might be high, and association with Joe’s grandfather might be rare. The first we might say is part of Marxism, the second is not.
We can visualise this on our heat map by adding a cut-off. Any idea that isn’t associated strongly enough, by enough people, isn’t part of Marxism. Any idea that meets this criteria is part of the concept (figure 2).
But, of course choosing this cut-off is problematic. What threshold do we use? If we choose a low threshold, then the concept is pretty meaningless (i.e. just about everything is part of Marxism). If we choose it too high, then it may fragment. With a suitably high threshold in the example I’ve given so far, we get four different Marxisms (figure 3).
A New Type of Existence
So what is Marxism? Is there one of it, or four of it?
Marxism is what people think it is. Some things are thought by more people, and more strongly. Some things are rarer. There is both one Marxism, and four (and, if you keep going, a different Marxism for every person who has a concept of it).
Marxism, pacifism, and libertarianism have a different kind of existence to a chair, or a corporation, or a car crash. It behaves in different ways to other kinds of existence, and we need to take care to understand it on its own terms. It is a crucial type of existence to understand when we look at the concept of God.
This mini-series is exploring the theological model I am using for some work I am doing at the moment. I am experimenting with different ways to express the core ideas, because I’m not sure what makes the most sense. I’d really appreciate feedback, suggestions and links to other similar work.
Oh, and I’m still an atheist 🙂