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People are stupid October 5, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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OK, some people are stupid.  But even many who are not stupid; those who have the cognitive ability to understand complex ideas, who can make logical decisions, and who can think effectively through problems in their lives, still believe stupid things.

It’s a lack of skepticism, I think, which is at root here.  It’s the inability (laziness, perhaps?) to apply methodologies that could show someone that their rationalized conclusions are not true, or at least not supported by evidence.  And we all do it.  We all believe things which are probably unjustified by evidence or reason.

The question is, I suppose, what amount of justified versus unjustified beliefs we hold.  Or perhaps it is how often we apply the skeptical sieve to ideas we run across.  Or perhaps it’s something else.  It’s all tiresome, really.  Being a skeptic is hard.

That’s why most people don’t do it.

And I get it.  I get how those human biases get caught up in our brain.  I get how the ideas, unsupportable as they are, seem to meld so harmoniously with that feeling of sense that pervades our worldview, even if that worldview is itself unsupported.  I get how when we think of an idea which does not fit there, it feels like its musical theme that is inharmonious with the background music; it’s like the sound of a honking car when you are listening to some Beethoven piece.  Or, perhaps, it’s like some annoying Beethoven when you are stuck in traffic.  Analogies are stupid.

I get how easily we reject things that are supported by evidence, because the other thing we believe feels better to us.  I get how people are confused by other worldviews and shake our heads disbelievingly when we hear someone state a set of facts to support something that sounds so obviously wrong.  I get what it means to be human in this sense.  But that does not excuse it.

When someone claims that 9/11 was an inside job, that President Obama is a Muslim, a Socialist, and anti-American, or that evolution is a lie and that the world is less than 10,000 years old, part of me wants to just curl and give up on the world.  Part of me wants to allow the vast majority of people wallow in ignorance and lack of skepticism and for me to go seek out enlightened and educated people to enjoy life with.

Part of me does not want to write this blog, knowing that in most cases I’m singing to the choir (and nobody wants to hear me sing, I guarantee).  Part of me wants to give up on trying to present any argument for people who are not going to listen, to challenge themselves, or to learn.

But there are the exceptions.  Like Nietzsche said, all that is rare for the rare, but you have to give the rare the opportunity to discover they are rare.  And our environment is part of this.  In many cases the environment makes a huge influence on even a more normally gifted person. I want to be a small part of that environment, just in case receptive voices pass my way.

I was not an exceptionally intelligent child.  I am not a genius.  I am, likely, above average intelligence and I certainly have some intellectual strengths, but I am not exceptional cognitively.  However, had I not been given the rarer opportunity to attend a very good prep school, college, and grad school I would likely be more like my extended family; generally conservative, historically ignorant, and relatively prone to my biases and stuck there.  The community I was raised in, without my educational opportunities, would likely have produced someone with less perspective, who is less self-challenging, and less interested in the truth.

Some issues are not mere matters of opinion; things merely to “agree to disagree” about.  Some things are actually matters of fact.  And even where there is room for subjectivity, there is still room for evidence and reason to make certain conclusions better than others. Some ideas are just stupid, but many people still believe them.  Remember the whole Obama nationality argument that led to a birth certificate coming to light? Yes, many people still think he is lying about that.

President Obama has claimed to be a Christian (and this claim itself would make him worthy of death as a Muslim, according to the Koran.  If he’s a Muslim he’s a pretty bad one), his policies are more in line with centrism than any form of Socialism (he actually back away from policies which were hardly Socialist, and moved towards the conservative end, pragmatically), and Al-Qaeda has taken responsibility for 9/11 (they are annoyed that so many think that Bush &co could have pulled off such a thing, I suppose).

Yet the ideas that these facts compete with are prevalent.  And not mere ideological brain-washing is at fault, either (although there is that).  Hannity, Beck, etc are not the creators of stupidity, they are mere ushers of it, in other words.  And yes, Michael Moore is guilty of much of the same.  Jon Stewart, however, is the freakin’ man (even if I do sometimes disagree with him).

But, being a little biased myself, I will likely call out the conservative voices first.  It is somewhat ironic to watch the relativism, postmodernism, etc that seeps into conservative worldviews when it comes to them believing what they want.  And what’s worse is they are the ones decrying relativism, most-likely.  But, of course, this has nothing to do with conservatism.

That is pure, undiluted, human stupidity.  It is our humanity which often misleads us, not mere ideology.  Our cognitive and behavioral imperfections (evidence against a loving all-powerful god, for sure) are the source of all bad ideas, whether religious or secular.  It is the source of stupidity of all stripes.  So whether you want to call out the dumb stoner hippies/new agers, Tea Baggers/truthers/fundamentalists, or the masses of uninformed American people watching reality TV and basically being the suck, I don’t blame any particular stupid ideology because I know that the same unskeptical methods lead to each.

This has been your cynical message of the day.  Please go on with your lives as if nothing has happened.

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