Future Religions: Multiplicity

For the same SF setting as the various aliens I’ve mentioned, the Life on Venus thing, and so on.


Who? Whoever. The ‘multiplicity’ movement has no single authority, no single name, no clear definitions of its extent. It does not require followers to abjure other ways of life – providing they are followed in a complementary way – and the extent of its influence goes some way beyond those who would consider themselves ‘followers’ of the movement. Other words/names that are relevant to the movement include ‘facet’, ‘conversation’, ‘talking’, ‘analysis’, ‘harmonisation’, ‘psychology’ and ‘co-operation’. Full-blooded acceptance of the movement is typically considered an intellectual, bourgeois life stance, though partial, syncretic use of its ideas is widespread everywhere.

Because of this fuzzy periphery, it’s impossible to give firm figures for the followers of Multiplicity. However, broadly speaking around 16 billion people on Earth take its ideas fairly seriously; twice that or more will be willing to consider its ideas from time to time, particularly in time of personal trouble, without wholeheartedly believing in them. On the other hand, only perhaps 2-4 billion are ‘devout’, putting their faith ahead of other influences and eschewing rival approaches.

The movement is much less popular in the colonies; it is a majority faith nowhere. However, it is ubiquitous – every colony will have its own communities of multiplicity-followers.

When? Multiplicity ideas began to rise to prominence in the 19th century, but burst into public awareness in the 20th, through the seminal work of Austrian philosopher Sigmund Freud, who not only identified the basic multiplicity of the self (albeit in an overly-simplistic, tripartite way) but also ennunciated the key process of ‘repression’. Freud’s specific theories were rapidly overturned, but multiplicity-concepts gained common usage in his wake. Multiplicity theories became major, even dominant cultural elements in the 21st and early 22nd centuries, particularly in Europe; recognition and documentation of a shared cultural belief system uniting the various theories culminated in the academic work of Viennese philosopher River Kaspar in the late 22nd century, for whom followers are sometimes derisively known as ‘Kasparites’ (though Kaspar himself was primarily a cataloguer of existing ideas, rather than a theorist in his own right). Multiplicity theories have had varying fortunes in the intervening centuries, but have always remained influential in broad terms. Multiplicity has become a key element of the syncretic ‘neutral background’ of modern culture.

Where have we gone wrong? Most – maybe all – of our problems stem from a fundamental misconception: a belief in a unitary identity for each individual. Instead, Multiplicity teaches that ‘individuals’ in fact comprise a ‘multiplicity’ of ‘selves’, ‘facets’, ‘elements’ and so on. These facets are forced to ‘share’ a single body and a single social identity, and this tension – particularly if the multiplicity is not recognised – causes problems. Failure to deal with multiplicity causes individual distress and failures of self-regulation; failure to recognise that individuals are themselves collections of facets in turn jeopardises relationships between individuals; and failure to recognise multiplicity within groups of people leads to political unrest. “As within, so without”.

The solution on a personal level is to find harmony between the facets of the individual. This is done primarily through ‘conversation’ and ‘dialogue’ – the individual must be honest about their own multiplicity, recognise the desires of all their facets, and attempt to negotiate with each fact to find consensus ways of living and behaving. Failure to do this – attempting to impose the will of one facet onto the others – will only provoke the repressed facets into acts of ‘rebellion’ and ‘desperation’. For instance, a woman who refuses to acknowledge her desires to be independent and unattached will find that facet of herself rebelliously sabotaging her relationships, filling her mind with resentment and suspicion. A man who refuses to acknowledge and negotiate with his desire to experience risk and danger will find his conservative and cautious life cast away in favour of reckless risk-taking as soon as his back is turned – when he is drunk, for instance. The facets of the individual can be conceived of in different ways – they are not discretely enumerable, but rather fractal, each in turn containing a multiplicity. So in some contexts the relevant ‘facets’ of an individual may be virtually complete conflicting personalities; other times, it is something more simple and limited, like ‘the part of him that is always frightened’ or ‘the part of her that wants to be recognised as excellent by others’. Sometimes it’s something very basic, like ‘the desire to eat’ or ‘lust’. Whatever it is, the facets must be taught that their aims – indeed, their very continued existence – can best accomplished through compromise and co-operation, both with other facets of the individual and with facets of other individuals.

Similarly, in relationships the individual must recognise their own multiplicity and the multiplicity of others. Relationships are not between two unitary individuals, in all their parts – rather, relationships are constructed between facets of one person and facets of another, and although relationships built on more facets (relationships with more multiplicity) are more rewarding and secure it is dangerous to try to impose a unitary and unambiguous relationship where one does not exist. Relationships should therefore begin when facets of individuals form a connection with one another, and the other facets of the individual should then try to negotiate a deepening of that relationship with the facets of the other. Throughout all this, individuals must be honest with one another regarding their own multiplicity and respect that of others.

The same process applies equally to politics: political groupings are not monolithic, but instead must relate through alliances negotiated between their individual members. A political group that attempts to repress or exclude a particular individual or sub-group will find itself collapsing into ‘psychological distress’.

Therefore, at all levels dialogue, deliberating, compromise, and consensus-finding are essential: all carried out through conversation. The result of the conversation cannot be prejudged in advance or by third parties: while individuals (and groups) have similar facets, their relative ‘balance’ differs between individuals, and a fresh consensus must be found in each individual (group), and continually re-found as change occurs over time.

Two important tools in conversation are the primary and secondary basic prerequisites: survival and efficacy. Almost all facets desire these two things, and therefore these can be the cornerstone of compromise-finding: ways of life that are likely to result in extinction (physical or mental) of the facets, or that cripple the ability to do anything by bringing about psychological distress, confusion, self-defeating actions and so on, can be recognised as evils to be avoided by everybody.

Compromise, therefore, must have its limits. Where facets do not appear to desire the basic prerequisites, progress is impossible without guiding those facets to an understanding of their importance: the part of a man that desires to sleep all day, for instance, must come to understand that doing so will lead to no income, which will lead to no bed, which will lead to no sleep. Thus that facet of the man can be shown – through reason, through ‘visualisations’, if necessary in some cases even through experience, that its long-term goals can best be met through short-term compromise. Facets that cannot be taught this, and that remain committed to self-destructive behaviours, cannot be negotiated with: by definition, any attempt to ‘give ground’ to them will result not in compromise but only in pressure to give more and more ground. These facets must be eliminated, or if this is not possible they must be suppressed; the focus of the conversation then moves on to finding a way to minimise the consequences of repression for the rest of the self. Essentially, repression is seen as the uncompromising facet attempting to co-opt other facets to its side – no facet is very powerful by itself – and so the conversation must seek to persuade all other facets to refuse to negotiate with it.

A textbook example of this is the desire for alcohol. In some individuals, this facet is unproblematic; in others, it must be re-educated. Some individuals, however, find that this facet in them simply will not listen to reason – these people are alcoholics. For these people, compromise is not possible on this issue, and the desire to drink must be suppressed by all the other facets of the individual: the desire to drink will attempt to find weak spots and weak moments by co-opting other facets – it will say “wouldn’t this date go better if you were a little less inhibited?” or “surely you’re strong enough to have one drink and then say no?” or “everyone will think you’re a silly girl and not a grown-up” – and the other facets must keep talking to one another to remind them that this rogue facet threatens their basic prerequisites.

“As within, so without”: Multiplicity advocates the same approach in politics. In general, politics must involve consensus and compromise, finding a shared way of life that respects the goals (the multiplicitous goals!) of all individuals. When some individuals fail to respect that need for compromise and consensus, that threatens the basic prerequisites of all members of the group, and so that individual must be taught the error of their ways through re-education. In extreme cases, with extreme individuals who refuse to enter into conversation and negotiation, those individuals must be eliminated, exiled, imprisoned, or otherwise silenced, in the interests of general liberty.

What needs to be done to go right? Multiplicity believes in a five-fold path: coming to appreciate multiplicity; learning to negotiate between facets; identifying problematic facets; re-educating problematic facets; and eliminating unassimilable facets. This Five-Part Plan in turn applies at at least five levels: within the individual; within close relationships; within working communities; within states; and between states.

At the individual and relationship levels, no overt behaviour changes are inherently required by multiplicity: the point is to change thinking in order to change behaviour, not to change behaviour in order to change thinking. This allows ‘background’ Multiplicity to flourish. At higher levels, no specific actions are demanded, because the best action is unique to the specific context and must be discovered through dialogue and mutual exploration of the other; however, multiplicity does encourage individuals to see themselves as having important roles in larger social groupings, as forming key parts of ‘the great conversation’, even when they have no direct influence on policy. Multiplicity therefore tends to encourage committed, informed and engaged citizens.

The ideas of multiplicity have become widespread by the era of the early 26th century, and do not need to be specifically learnt: citizens are by default ‘culturally multiplicitous’. However, more organised forms of Multiplicity have not died out. In particular, Multiplicity as a faith is associated with three forms of engagement: the course, the retreat, and the mentor-protégé relationships.

Courses are designed for individual consumption, or sometimes consumption by a small group. The earliest examples were in the form of printed books, but these are now supplemented by video- or immersion-based or interactive courses. The course is an initiatory or re-initiatory ritual, laying out the approach of multiplicity in general or of a particular multiplicity-group, and inviting the participant to seek to apply the principles of the movement to their own life, promising great rewards both internal and external.

The retreat is a more serious ritual, normally associated with more dedicated followers, but still typically performed only occasionally by any individual. This immerses the participant in an intensive, guided environment, with a small group of co-participants, all seeking to apply the basic principles to one another and to the relationships among each other. Those who are skeptical of the faith are welcome, but generally encouraged toward beginner-retreats of fellow skeptics: nonbelievers (‘repressive elements’) can contaminate more dedicated groups and prove disruptive. Retreats are typically either filled by strangers or by strongly dedicated groups (such as retreats for mated couples or groups) – a retreat can bring up potentially disruptive energies, and it’s best not to risk a fragile relationship in this relatively chaotic way. Retreats are guided by experts, but each is unique: its course is determined by the unique multiplicity of its participants. Retreats can be powerful, life-changing events for some participants – not only ‘psychologically’ or ‘spiritually’ but practically. Retreats can provide important friendships and business associations, as well as romance.

The mentor-protégé relationship is harder to define. The general idea is simple: an individual’s internal conversation can be guided through an external conversation with a second individual who has a higher degree of experience or understanding. The ‘mentor’ or ‘guru’ guides the ‘protégé’, ‘client’, ‘patient’ or ‘student’. Sometimes these relationships are structured and visible: most overtly multiplicity-based organisations are ultimately structured upon mentor-protégé relationships; ‘apostolic succession’ is very important to the movement, with respected figures forming lineages of individuals tracing their ‘descent’ through mentor-protégé relationships to key practitioners of the past. Engaging with these ‘professional’ mentors is a ritual either for highly dedicated followers (as a long-term practice) or (as a short-term practice) for more casual followers in times of great distress or confusion. However, many threads of multiplicity encourage their followers to seek out and form mentor-protégé relationships in daily life also. The mentor is not seen as inherently superior: every mentor is a protégé of some other mentor, and crucially each mentor is the protégé of their own protégé to some extent, and vice versa – even the wisest mentor has foolish facets and the most foolish protégé has aspects of wisdom within them.

Science and Superstition: multiplicity is skeptical of attacks on science. Where does this need to attack science come from, they ask – is this not a facet of the individual (the anti-scientific aspect) repressing other aspects (the scientific facets)? In extreme cases, anti-science beliefs may be anti-survival, and hence to be re-educated or eliminated.

However, most adherents of multiplicity are similarly skeptical of science itself. Yes, they say, science is a very valuable perspective on the world, but it is the perspective only of certain facets of the individual. Science cannot therefore allowed to become a totalised value system. More fundamentally, multiplicity queries the concept of objective truth itself: this clearly is only a single kind of truth that attempts to force its own acceptance as a universal standard of judgement: “oh, but that’s not true”, say the repressive elements, as though that should be enough to win them the conversation! But the conversation cannot be won, and certainly cannot be won in a single stroke in all cases. The conversation must progress through compromise – and ‘the truth’ cannot compromise. It is therefore a repressive concept. The proper question is not “is this claim true?” but “why is this claim being made? Does it reflect helpful or unhelpful attitudes?”

The typical compromise of multiplicity therefore allows for certain domains in which scientific method, evidence-based decision-making, logical validity and so forth are accepted as definitive, but outside those domains there is room for faith, instinct, intuition, and common sense; each individual must find their own compromise between these areas.

A particular area where science has no part to play is the afterlife. Multiplicity is hostile to traditional concepts of the afterlife, as these have typically involved a unitary ‘soul’; however, the movement is not hostile toward some less ambitious concepts of life-after-death. Common to these ideas is the image of the individual dissolving at death, both materially and spiritually, their facets falling apart from one another, yet being re-integrated into the whole. Often, the process of child-rearing and of education is seen as the literal replication of a facet of the educator – a facet that survives the death of its original host. Immortality can therefore be achieved through the education of our children, even if it is not immortality in the exact same current form (but then, our current form is an illusion!). Multiplicity tends therefore to value ‘traditional’ child-rearing. There is also a widespread belief in the existence of ghosts: these are held not to be whole ‘souls’, but particular facets of an individual that have become locked in a particular place, unable to ‘move on’ – typically this retardation is related to loss or anger, but sometimes also to addiction or to a moment of happiness. Whatever the cause, ghosts are troublesome things – they must be taught the error of their ways through the actions of the living. For instance, a ghost created by domestic abuse in a house may be laid to rest by being shown the love and forgiveness between a living couple in that house.

A sizeable minority of adherents attempt to enter into dialogues and educations with inanimate objects, particularly natural features like mountains and rivers. Some believe this is only a psychological necessity of the individual – the individual understands through dialogue, so must imagine a being with which to converse, in order to understand the world around them – but others believe in the existence of ‘kami’, sentient and perhaps sapient spirits associated with objects. Appeasement of kami is rarely a central part of the lives of followers, but is a common ritual element in life.

Unrelated to the doctrine of multiplicity itself, many followers also happen to believe in ‘karma’, a form of long-term reward and punishment in the current life or in a linked future incarnation for the actions and thoughts of today. Almost all things can be blamed on karma, and those who suffer misfortune are typically considered responsible for it – they have probably thought bad thoughts, or failed to be sufficiently optimistic. Most see karma as a simple law of the world, though some try to link it to the belief in kami, seeing misfortunate as a failure to adequately negotiate with the powerful forces that shape the world.

Politics: multiplicity need have no particular political requirements. However, in broad outline, two things tend to characterise the political views of followers: the stress on the basic prerequisites leads adherents to sympathise with and support the species-preserving goals of the Protectorate government and its ‘Panhumanist’ life-stance; but the emphasis on diversity and the importance of compromise leads to resistence to Panhumanist attempts at totalisation, and a defence of individual and communal liberty, and of subsidiarity. Staunch adherents see themselves as the ‘loyal opposition’ to Panhumanism, supporting it when it is genuinely protecting the species but checking its dictatorial excesses. However, Multiplicity’s defence of minority views and natures evaporates once those minorities are considered to oppose multiplicity itself, or to threaten the survival of the species. It is therefore chiefly a cultural, rather than political, liberalism. Multiplicity is in all cases skeptical of democracy in particular: not only can democracy foolishly act against the basic prerequisites, but in privileging the majority over the minority it represses the minority and cuts short the great conversation. In an ideal world, decisions would instead by made through local consensus following deliberation; failing this, an enlightened guardianship is probably the worst of the available evils.

Inter-Faith Relations: multiplicity welcomes members of other faiths. After all, multiplicity itself is not a religion, it’s a way of life. Provided that followers of other religions recognise the necessity of understanding the fundamental multiplicity, it doesn’t really matter what else they believe in, or what rituals they choose to perform. Accordingly, many followers of multiplicity in the broad sense are also panhumanists; most transhumanists also have at least some elements of mulitiplicity in their views and practices, and multiplicity is also widespread among ecophilists. Prajnism and multiplicity have had strong links throughout their histories, although each considers the other misguided. More personalist life-stances tend to be more attached to the concept of a unitary soul, and to view multiplicity as a dangerous heresy, although some are able to engage with it in more subtle and figurative ways. There is a considerable body of multiplicity-thought originating from within and around Cathodoxy, for instance, particularly from the later years of the Jesuit Order before its suppression.


2 thoughts on “Future Religions: Multiplicity

  1. Hans says:

    Next Religion: Duplicity
    Just joking. This actually Looks like something that could happen – the basic ingredients indeed already exist.

  2. Yes indeed. I wanted to look at how new religions don’t have to begin as ‘new religious movements’ – the most succesful ones will probably be those that don’t claim to be religions at all, and that spread through multiple organisations rather than a single sect. To be honest this felt a bit like cheating, as pretty much all of the above is already true…

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