16 Feb 2009

Explaining Religion, and work

I have been reading an interesting book:  Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer.
Why is it that several religions feature things like:
  • a statue that can hear your prayers, if you travel to see it
  • a god who knows your thoughts wherever you happen to be
but religions never feature
  • statues that can hear your prayers, wherever you happen to be?
How is that people in most cultures can entertain countless superstitions  only some of which qualify as a religion and every one will know the difference?  How  do they know which is which? Certainly it's NOT happenstance - if you were presented with a collection of the beliefs of the obscure Kargasses tribe in Siberia's Sayan mountains you would be able to discern their folk tales from their religiin without much difficulty.
Boyer does a good job of explaining.




But perhaps he treats religion as too special a case - for instance it's not so different at work: in every company a thousand crazy supersitions ideas, invocations policies and rituals best practices float down from the C-Suite high on the 29th floor and, on the surface at least, every manager subscribes to them all.
And most of the memes are tacitly recognised for the casual fly-by-night superstitions they are, observed but lightly, with the occasional sideways nod and wink to one's peers: the importance of keeping expenses within our budgets (which are fiction), the need to develop our staff (we poach 'em ready-trained, later they leave for money) the importance of offering 'flexible' working (a boom-time luxury)
While other doctrines – with, really, no more grounding in reality or logic – assume religious importance: believed by most, followed by all, challenged only by the cranks and the self-destructively reckless: the preparation of cost-benefit analyses to accompany any decision, the fiction that we are motivated by generating profits for our company, and returns for our shareholders, the importance of the annual bonus.
But the oddest thing of all is that  - just as we know understand the difference insignificance between David and Goliath, and Jack and his Giant -  so every manager instinctively knows the difference between the trivial and the serious, can distinguish  superstition from the doctrine, but is only dimly aware of the dissonant implications.
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Happily for me, this week I am not at work at all: it is half term and I am mostly skiing. Or to be more honest, mostly at standing in a cold, cramped corner of the chalet balancing my Jesus on the windowsill, trying to steal wi-fi from our neighbours.
If you are reading this it worked.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very astute observations of the corporate way. What a great post.

fellow wage slave said...

Excellent scraping wifiwise :-)

He, he, international video conferencing is doctrinal in my office but marginally less useful than the unfathomable Holy Trinity. Oh, except it enables one to say "New York calling" like in one of those fifties movies. And it means one gets to recognise the faces of the IT bods who come in to fix the connection when Italy is silent but agitated (arms waving) and allows the Brits to write childish signs which they hold up to the camera stating "Can you see us, Munich?" or - less logically - "Can you hear us, Moscow?" The French sit there helplessly with coffee and croissants, insouciantly chatting amongst themselves, mute buttons depressed. Bless their European ways.

Botogol said...

@anon :-) cheers

@fellow wage slave - y0u hve more fun at VCs than I do!