The Peer-Based Construction of Morality

There’s an interesting article on the expanding open source movement here. Apparently the movement has moved beyond computer science and IP to religion:

Yoism — a faith invented by a Massachusetts psychologist — shuns godly wisdom passed down by high priests. Instead, its holy text evolves online, written by the multitude of followers — much the same way volunteer programmers create open-source computer software by each contributing lines of code.

I first thought this a new version of Pastafarianism. But it appears the Yo’s are serious, perhaps becoming a techno-enabled avatar of Luther’s ideal of “every man a priest.”

I think developments like this make Jaron Lanier’s arguments against “Digital Maoism” appear more and more plausible. It seems to me that one essential aspect of religious experience is the sense that one should model one’s life on that of those who, before you, led exemplary spiritual lives (saints, say, in Catholicism; boddhisatvas in Buddhism; etc.). The standards for judging such lives were set out in some foundational texts (or life examples) of the church. Here’s a theologian’s take on that idea, and the Book of Yo’s response:

Chester L. Gillis [says] Yoism . . . embraces a transitory view of reality that contradicts traditional concepts of religion based on belief in fundamental truths. “There’s an authoritative source in religion that [Yoism] lacks. It doesn’t talk about revelation from the divine. . . Any religion that hopes to survive is essentially conservative — it conserves elements of the faith. This one lacks that.” But Yoans have an answer for Gillis. As it is written in the Book of Yo, “There always exists the possibility of one day discovering that all our current truths are indeed wrong.”

This reminds me of a little debate on the nature of identity back in law school. Some professor was trying to apply an account of American national identity generally–saying that just as American identity was only defined by the constitutional rules of governance, and could take just about any content, so too the “true organization” could only be identified (if there were ever conflicts over its identity) by analyzing who was in charge, according to set decision rules. Others thought that a troubling analogy, if only because of ideals (nicely crystallized in Sunder’s work) that sometimes the people in charge may not be reflecting the true nature of the institution. If one is inclined to the latter perspective, one might think that Yoism, to be a true religion, should have some basic commitment to a set of truths that “can’t be wrong,” lest it only amount to a decision procedure of editing (which, of course, is nothing to scoff at!).