Monthly Archives: March 2010
Our beliefs guide what we do, and why, because we base our actions on our beliefs — those things we hold to be true — for the purpose of maximizing the success of those actions. Few people are inclined to act or behave on the basis of beliefs they do not think true, except maybe charlatans and con-artists.
Let me state from the onset that I am not anti-belief. It is not my intent or purpose as a skeptic to ‘make people not believe,’ to otherwise violate anyone’s right to believe. But it’s people who have rights and privileges, not beliefs or claims of fact. All claims of fact are eligible for a fair hearing, but not all have equal truth-value. Nor are all beliefs equally harmless, or equally effective as a result of actions based on them.
I contend that the view that all claims have equal validity is specious, for to paraphrase Carl Sagan, If all claims are equally true, then none have any truth at all.
A problem arises when people confuse what they believe, when what they believe cannot or has not been demonstrated to be true, to be facts. I run into this a lot in some of the comment threads on this blog.
This includes even the claim that it’s a belief that something is a belief, and not whatever one wishes to be fact…
Sorry, but wishes, or to use the new paranormal vernacular, ‘intention,’ have no effect on reality save for the results of our physical actions to fulfill them.
Does one’s belief in a claim unsupported by sound evidence or reasoning, no matter how sincere, justify actions taken on its behalf? Does even sincerity and conviction of belief grant one an ethical free pass to promote or practice any belief, however questionable?
I argue no.
For without casting any doubt or speculation on their purity of motives, many promoters and practitioners of various scientifically and medically questionable claims are often fully knowledgeable that the mainstream research community considers their particular claim to be controversial at best, and its efficacy or factual worth not adequately supported by valid evidence in any case.
Practitioners of various claims not supported by evidence are at best providing a useless service, and at worst causing their clients great harm, such as death or serious illness resulting from the denial or delay of adequate evidence-based medical care for a serious but treatable condition, or even the use of unproven modalities that are not merely ineffective, but actively dangerous. This extends into finances too, when mystics provide what they claim to be ‘divine,’ ‘prophetic,’ or ‘psychic’ advice for a fee, when the services rendered are no more effective than merely guessing, and more often than not, wrong.
Again, they may be perfectly sincere in their belief, but this does not make them right, nor their beliefs true, nor the practice of those beliefs ethically justified.
Even with the purest of intentions, (…and to steal a page from Sir Ian McKellen’s Magneto: “We all know about roads to Hell and what they’re paved with.”) one can believe so strongly in something that they are willing to go to any length to support the belief, even cheat, even lie, sometimes even worse, when cognitive dissonance gives them the means to rationalize these acts, as opposed to using rationality, in their own minds. There is the frequent occurrence of what is referred to by skeptics as the pious fraud, the true believer not adverse to bending the rules and cutting corners a bit.
I say this: Let people believe what they want, but should they desire it, should they ask, provide them with the mental toolkit and methods to assess claims for their worth themselves, of their own free will and full understanding, rather than just being forced to accept or reject claims by coercion of others, a knee-jerk reaction, or on a whim.
People who can think for themselves are much less likely to leave their belief systems up to the vagaries of chance, and much more able to protect themselves both financially and health-wise from those who would take undue advantage of their trust, even without meaning to. Fnord.
Sorry, guys, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll be posting this week except for prescheduled entries, including this one. If you see this, it is because I had to put one of my cats to sleep — a beautiful blue-point Himalayan cat of some 18 years named Sammy, who has been my devoted companion for over 12 years. The pictures accompanying this post are an homage to her. Goodbye old girl…your passing left a hole that will never be filled…
Hey, guys. Many of you might have found out about James (the Amazing One) Randi’s recent ‘coming out,’ and it gave me the idea to open up to my incredible readership in revealing a little something that hasn’t been mentioned in great detail in the past, though I’ve occasionally alluded to it from time to time.
Some of you may have suspected it from my writing style, some from my early comment responses, others of you already knew, to more than just a few this may be a bit of a surprise, and some probably just won’t give a crap…
No, I’m not gay — not if any of my ex-girlfriends have a say in the matter — but I do harbor a rather bothersome medical condition that I’m not particularly proud of, nor especially happy about, but which I’ve seen no reason to hide in person, and as of now, here…
This condition is one of the most debilitating neurological disorders known to Man (or Woman for you readers of the fairer sex), and something that I have struggled with ever since my early twenties.
My particular condition is one of a family of related disorders, having nothing to do with ‘split-personalities’ as they are popularly termed (That is actually referred to, if I recall correctly, as Disassociative Identity Disorder, an entirely different class of condition) in the media, and this is one of the many reasons among others that I’m a skeptic, since keeping better in tune with reality is a Good Thing™, as this enables me to stay out of trouble more easily than would otherwise be the case.
Is skepticism effective for combating mental illness? I would venture not by itself, and I recommend to others with mental illnesses that you stay on your treatment plan and follow it scrupulously, just to be on the safe side.
You are not alone.
For me though, skepticism is a useful adjunct to my basic treatment. Learning to think clearly is always a good thing with or without a problematic condition.
Few with the more extreme variants of my condition can benefit from skepticism, and many often require physical care as well. But fortunately my illness is mild enough and sufficiently amenable to treatment to allow me to function in daily life and do the things I enjoy, like post on and administer this blog.
I consider myself lucky, to the extent luck actually exists, that I got treatment for my affliction during the early stages before it became too advanced, otherwise I would not be typing this into my browser window for you all to read.
Pushing the ‘publish’ button for this entry was not an easy decision, but a necessary one. Some things are important enough that they need to be said. The Randi-Meister was a big factor in this…
As one of those ‘fervently dogmatic, pseudo-skeptical, pseudo-intellectual (and according to one recent commenter, ‘unread’) debunkers,’ there is no point in pretending to be what I am not and can never be — perfectly normal, ‘just like everyone else’ — since the truth should always be paramount.
Hence this post.
I have little doubt that this entry will be used as a convenient source of ammunition by those online who’ve expressed impatience towards my ‘attitude’ as a skeptic, and that’s fine with me — as long as any disagreement between me and others remains bloodless and gentlemanly — including disagreements with those I’ve annoyed in the past. And believe me, I’ve annoyed quite a few…
For the past couple of decades, I’ve worked at a vocational rehabilitation business as an administrative assistant, only retired as of last December, and this has helped immensely in my personal growth and experience in the workplace.
The people I met and knew there, clients and employees, will always be a reminder how much stigma is still attached to mental illness in this country, as well as others. They will also be a reminder of the incredible resilience of human courage, hope, and ability.
I plan to diversify the subject matter posted on this site to include advocacy for the rights and well-being of those with disabling psychiatric conditions, both like and unlike my own.
I’ve so far immensely surpassed where I was when my illness first popped up some years ago, and I plan to do better still, helping others like me as well. You, my readers both locally and around the world are an absolute joy to write for, and this blog is a wonderful journey & learning experience for my Troythuluness.
Let’s travel and learn together.
Like it says in my collector’s edition copy of the Principia Discordia– Fnord.