Archive | Thursday, 18:50, August 19, 2010

The Wisdom of a Birdist: Perry DeAngelis


The Arrogance of Goats & the Arrogance of Sheep

To skeptics, believers can seem irrational – even batsh*t insane in extreme cases – defensively thin-skinned, and gullible, though to be fair, skeptics sometimes come across to believers as scowling, cognitively myopic, boring, hypercritical naysayers.

Our views, biases and prior experience color our perceptions, the subjective lens through which we see the World.

There is at times a grain of truth, sometimes much more than just a grain, to either of those perspectives, though these be tainted by the emotional reactions of the one to the perceived behavior of the other. Each thinks the other to be at least mistaken, and at worst even downright freakin’ evil, as a sort of faceless ‘enemy.’

It’s easy to wrongly dismiss believers as self-righteous kooks (when they aren’t), just as it’s easy for believers to casually dismiss skeptics as arrogant gits for having the gall to claim objective privilege for facts and reasoning that, of course, contradict and thus render impossible some of the claims of believers.

There’s nothing wrong with believing in and of itself, but that alone doesn’t justify anything. What matters are the actions that our beliefs lead us to perform. Or the actions that our claims lead others to perform.

Some willful charlatans will indeed purposely take people’s money and destroy their health, rape their minds, prolong their anguish at the death of a loved one, sometimes even take innocent lives, and these reprehensible people should be seen, and pursued, as the criminals and monsters they are. Even if said charlatan is truly sincere in their belief, this does in no way excuse them from the act of wrongdoing.

Monsters and criminals are judged, and sometimes convicted, because of consequences of their actions, not their beliefs or claims. But the vast majority of those who uncritically accept or might accept factually questionable claims are often just victims or potential victims, and these are the people we need to reach.

I think that people in general, whether skeptics, believers or uncommitted, aren’t stupid, nor evil, nor crazy. And people tend to resent being told that they are, making them ever more difficult to convince that claim C is bogus for reasons X, Y, & Z. It’s a good idea (for me, at least,) to NOT go all Evil Spock on people.

I’m no icon of skepticism myself, having started out nearly four short years ago clueless as they come, and I’ve done my (un)fair share of name-calling at times, so I’m hardly a shining example.

Neither gullibility nor ignorance is the same thing as stupidity, and nearly everyone is skeptical about something, even without possession of the mental toolkit to think critically and properly assess evidence.

There are different kinds of intelligence, and, I suspect, different kinds of creative ability, though I have yet to see the actual data on that. Here’s an anecdote – I find that it takes effort to switch my intuitive faculties between the sort of creativity it takes to come up with a halfway decent blog post, and the sort of creativity needed to write articles in a fictional newsletter for a supernatural modern fantasy game – but again, that’s just an anecdote.

To steal a page from Dr Ray Hyman, as a skeptic, I’m probably an aberration, a mutant, if for no other reason that skeptical thinking is not something that comes naturally to most people, since it’s an unusual sort of high-energy mental state that needs a lot of work to keep up, though that gets easier with practice and time.

Simply put, skeptical thinking is abnormal for humans, and does not appear to be something we are well-suited for. Most people have brains wired for belief, for faith.

Indeed, believers make up most of humanity, so we skeptics are most definitely in the minority, and will permanently relegate ourselves to that status as long as we treat skepticism as a kind of divisive partisan politics instead of a progressive social movement. Let’s do what we can to reach our goals, even in an uphill battle, and try as much as we can to make ourselves no longer needed in this crazy world. Fnord.