Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

The Celebrity Process

Who starts up a religion? It can only be done by someone who achieves fame and notoriety via some means other than simply preaching his message. In modern parlance, the founder has to become a celebrity. Exactly how does this happen? Perhaps if we start to understand by examining how celebrities came to be part of the human scene, we can understand how they form now. It might also be useful to understand if they serve a beneficial purpose, or do more damage than good.


When humanity reached the state of having clans, or large groups which stayed together and functioned as a unit, or perhaps when the first small villages were settled and nomadic hunters realized they could live with agriculture and animal husbandry without having to move frequently, the concept of celebrity would have been easily invented. The first idea that might evolve was that of knowledge or expertise. Even with something as early in development as hunting skills, the most successful spear-thrower would have been noticed, and then when teaching became more than just an activity for parents and children, this expert might have showed others how to perform his skill with more accuracy or effectiveness.


The idea of an expert could easily spread to other activities in a clan, such as pottery, cooking, hut-building, animal disease prevention and cure, and many more. At this point, the concept of a local expert could arise, where throughout the whole clan, there was one person most skillful at, for example, curing sick cattle, and they would be the local expert.


If this person happened to be particularly intelligent, they might have more than one skill, and would therefore rise to the level of a savant, a person who might be asked about many different things. Soon we have a celebrity, a multi-functional expert who might be asked about almost anything in the hope that their expertise would have spread to that area as well.


Human brains being limited as they are, the concept of celebrity might have soon exceeded the actual extent of a savant's expertise, but since there was no concept of science or any way to undermine the concept of celebrity, their advice was soon memorized and attributed. It mattered not a lot if it was always correct, as the clan members now had a very efficient way of finding solutions to their problems: remember what the celebrity or savant said about this.


Another concept which needed to evolve about this time was that of conquest. One clan might battle another clan over hunting areas or trading or some other item, but out of this might come the idea of one clan taking over control of a thoroughly defeated clan, absorbing its members or simply demanding control and tribute, both in goods and services such as warriors. Now the victorious clan was on the threshold of building an empire, and with more warriors and perhaps better tactics, other clans could be added to the control of the clan-leader of the original conquering clan. Many new concepts would spring from this, but the relevant one is that the position of savant or celebrity now becomes more grandiose. Those who achieve it are the givers of advice over a much larger area, and there might even be established a hierarchy of celebrity, starting at the bottom with those in conquered clans, who took direction from the celebrity of their area of expertise in the ruling clan.


With a mini-empire, instead of a village, a city would be formed, as the leaders of the conquered clans would need some organization in the village of the ruling clan to administer them. Cities grow, and not only from conquest, but from things which are expedited by larger cities, and serve as a positive feedback for them, specifically trade and manufacturing. These both cause the ruling city to grow larger. As it grows larger, so does the role of the top-level celebrities.


Empires on Earth started about three thousand years ago, and perhaps much earlier with smaller ones, and continued almost to the present day, along with the auxiliary features that accompany them, such as well-known and well-respected celebrities. By the time of large cities and empires, celebrities would be known all through the city or empire, and would hardly be challenged in their expertise, no matter what topic they chose to comment on. When mass communication started, with books, letters, and most recently, broadcasting and then the internet, notoriety became even greater and more concentrated.


What is the essence of this process? The basis upon which celebrity is built is that of a large fraction of the population who are unable to figure out a large number of things by themselves, either from lack of time, or lack of resources such as data, or from lack of interest, or some other reason. Those who become celebrities move to fill this need. There was little other choice for almost all of mankind's history.


But that has changed with the development of the internet and the corresponding database of information. The internet, if it was easy to search and easy to understand, and especially was restricted to true and proven information, would provide the answers that most people seek from celebrities. Unfortunately, it has not yet lived up to its potential, and the internet today is full of errors, half-baked opinions, downright lies, incomplete presentations, misleading writing, and the whole host of things that could go wrong with a database. It is certainly not easy to simply log into one's computer, hit a search button to find out something, and have the answer in clear and understandable form pop back out is a second or two. The internet has even become, instead of a storehouse of information organized so that anyone can find out anything they need to know, a haven for celebrities competing for the attention of all the computer and smartphone owners in the world; they compete for attention and they compete with each other.


There is a premium on accurate information for questions which can be verified easily, but many questions, those of taste, reliability, expertise in professional or trade areas, and all other opinions, have no way of being checked, and so persuasiveness is the virtue which draws in adherents, not correctness. The methods of persuading others are well-known, by the persuaders but not by the large numbers of those who seek information, and so the process of celebrity figures providing information on a wide range of topics is as strong now as it ever was. It is easier to get the information, but just as hard to establish a basis for it.


Part of the problem is that most individuals are not particularly good at phrasing their questions in ways which would lead to verification. Language in general is a means of communication, and communication does not have to consist of accurate and correct information, just information. So, the process of improving our internet carried database is partly due to inherent problems in the sloppiness of language.


If everyone trying to become a celebrity was driven by the motive of wanting to help humanity, either as individuals, in groups, or as a whole, there might be more of a surge toward accurate and correct information, and more of a effort on everyone's part to use language as precisely as possible. But that is likely not the case. Instead, the position of celebrity is used to provide for benefits to the celebrity and to those who help him gain that position. The concept of fair trade in ideas has long disappeared, and might even be impossible in an age of mass communication.


What does this mean for improving Buddhism? It means that a person who has a way to improve the existing religion, or even to massively reform or reformulate it, must first recognize that his voice wil be ignored unless he achieves the position of celebrity. That task has to be done before or perhaps simultaneously with the reformulation of the religion or some part of it. The nature of the celebrity is also crucial. The person achieving celebrity has to achieve it with the potential listeners to his reformed religion doctrine. That would be people who are amenable to having a set of beliefs given to them for all the uses that a religion provides. The celebrity must be a moral leader, rather than a famous musician or a government leader.


The set of skills necessary for reformulating a religion, based on new information, technology developments, changes in the economic structure of the believers, or anything else does not correspond to the set of skills necessary for becoming a celebrity of the moral leader type. A celebrity is very oriented toward understanding people and how to successfully interact with them. A religion reformer is more of a studious thinker, who thinks in terms of organizations, interactions, contradictions between doctrine and itself or some part of the external world, leadership and hierarchy, and many other deep concepts. Finding someone who can fulfill both roles may be one reason why religions do not change much over decades or even centuries. It might not be a question of whether some improvement should be made, but rather is there anyone who has the dual set of skills to make the change happen.

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