Alternative Explanations

June 18, 2012

Where would we be without humor?  And thank you to Wiley Miller for finding some in this polarizing craziness.

 

Pondering Differences

March 26, 2012

I do a lot of reading, trying to understand what makes people think and act as they do. What motivates us. Why we think this is moral and that is not. I also try very hard to limit my own bias in hopes of actually understanding, even if not accepting other points of view. These two articles were  thoughtful reads.

The first, a review of the book ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt.

“To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

And, “The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. ”

The second post is brief, but pertinent: ” Why Republican Women Vote for Santorum

“I would hypothesize that women who have accommodated themselves to living an evangelical lifestyle have nothing to gain from questioning the premises of Christian patriarchy. Their lives are more comfortable, less fraught with domestic conflict, if they simply decide to be happy and make the most of their assigned roles.”

And, “How many of us want to challenge the social constructs within which we have created active lives that are reckoned as meaningful? ”

This is a puzzle I have been pondering, and discussing with others.  We cannot all be activists. And I have often wondered if people, as a rule, aren’t more comfortable with certainty – knowing their role, feeling they can predict and define in black and white. Security feels safe.

Uncertainty  and self-responsibility are hard taskmasters.

The god botherers were out at the university yesterday. What makes these rude bigots think they have the right to tell the rest of us how to live? If we want to hear their narrow-minded hatred, we’ll seek out them and their cult. This assumption religious people share, that they have rights denied the rest of us to preach and impose their point of view. I cannot like it. It devalues – dehumanizes the rest of the world. And certainly, it devalues their god. If their god was real, and had omnipotence, it wouldn’t need humans for anything – except abject, worshiping slaves. What a horrible creature that would be.

No, when I hear the god botherers’ rants, all I can think is “#@!!# sadist!” Anyone who had the power to heal, to help, to restore and chose not to use it … no words games needed. That being – person or god – is a sadist.

Apparently the gay rights crowd set up a rally right beside them. Good on them! I missed that. I don’t really regret it, though. I am not fond of altercations. Hence my lifelong commitment to hanging my head and enduring and enduring and enduring rather than speaking out.

After learning about various systems of spirituality, I’ve long wanted to think of myself as water – smooth, life-giving, but powerful in its endurance and determination. Foolish fancy. I have lived more as packed earth – with, to be fair, an occasional sparkle of gemstones. (why am I always so determined to put myself down?) Lately I’ve begun to wonder if there’s not quite a bit of fire in me. I feel the stirrings of it now and again, but am not sure how much of it is due to specific emotional states.

Transitions times are tough. I do understand why people seek the comfort of religion. To be able to step back and say, with conviction, “I’m being taken care of. I don’t have to worry about what I do, what I need, who I am. God will take care of everything.” How blissful. I respect people who can hold onto a belief – any belief – and use it to cushion the upheavals of life. (We all hear me adding the proviso “As long as they don’t impose those beliefs on others”, don’t we?) And I admire how much practical charity and kindness comes out of many religions ( see above parenthesis). But I cannot seem to hold onto that illusion. I want to see what’s real.

I am confronting a dilemma I hadn’t thought to. I am a skeptic, in the sense that I ask questions, withhold judgment ( not that you’d believe that after my complaints about god botherers, but I allow them their rights – IF they allow me mine. Break that courtesy, and you put yourself outside respect), but, most importantly, seek information. I don’t knee-jerk respond to things, and I’m actually pleased when my beliefs are challenged by new information (yes – skeptics have beliefs. We all do We just need to recognize them, allow for their influence, and try to work around them).

Right now, my beliefs in how the universe works – physics and all – are being undermined. It is surprisingly hard to say, “Maybe this is real” when it goes against the apparent reality that works in experimental and practical life. (total tangent. Am working in a coffee shop right now. The people next to me are physicists, arguing over quantum stuff. A scathing voice says, “So on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it’s a particle and on other days its a wave” Wonderful!)

But I know what I am experiencing. And it doesn’t fit.

Well, hooray! and all that. A new test of my reasoning abilities and open-mindedness. Unfortunately, I also, like, I suspect, most people, prefer certainties. That’s another thing religion offers that so eases the turmoil of human existence. The certainty that even if you can’t know, can’t understand, can’t see clearly, there is an entity who can do it for you. Ah … bliss. No responsibility for understanding myself or the world, let alone other people. Nope. I can’t let go of my self like that.

Long tirade. Sorry. Yet, despite the uneven tenor of the words, I am quite pleased with life right now. Oh, I am confronting decisions, realities, challenges that sometimes overwhelm me. I can’t see a clear path anywhere to the future I envision so clearly. I get despondent at times.

But a new element has entered my life. Not new – a returning of something that never actually left. Just lay quietly out of conscious thought most of the time, with occasional resurgences. Now it is active again. And it is a catalyst in my writing, my thoughts, my self, my life.

It brings uncertainty, eagerness, mental and physical reawakening. I have been inert for so long. I was waking up – have been waking myself up. But now – a flame has been ignited, and I know I am alive again.

I like being alive.

Does what we believe make us more vulnerable to belief?

I’m not talking about religion, necessarily, though that is a dominant belief for most people. It is not religion, but what we believe about religion; what we believe about ourselves within that religion, that political alignment, that career path: it is the beliefs we hold that cause problems.

Man is a myth maker. I’ve talked about that / with denialism / that we survive by denying what we don’t want to accept. Similarly, we live by creating a myth of ourselves that we live within.

An example: years ago I discovered backpacking. I felt so alive in the forests. I was filled with joy. It was outside my previous experience, and I thought I’d found the ‘true me’ in nature.

Shortly thereafter I took a career assessment test. Of course, I marked everything that reflected the outdoors as highly positive. And, of course, the test results showed I should be in forestry, or landscaping, or some other nature/outdoor career.

I would have been miserable. I do not like *having* to be out and about in all weathers. I do love curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea and reveling in the comforts (luxuries beyond price by global standards) of my home.

I had let a new-found belief about myself override what (little) I truly knew about myself. Almost let it override. My new belief about myself had skewed the results.

If you see yourself as a person who is reasonable, flexible, open-minded; if that is your personal myth, how can you see that you can also be stubborn as a pig?

If you see yourself as compassionate, kind, generous;  how can you admit you are also selfish?

If you see yourself as a devoted parent, how can you recognize and accept the normal frustrations of child rearing?

The only way to avoid self-manipulation into belief-induced blindness is always to be examining not just your words, but your actions, your choices, and ultimately your beliefs. (see also on / what it should mean to be a skeptic / ) (no, don’t run. Being a skeptic, like being religious, is an umbrella term covering an entire spectrum of possibilities. Because a few loonies hijack a term doesn’t make it lose its credibility).

Ask yourself about your beliefs. Ask why you see yourself in this way and not that. Don’t try to rationalize. Instead, explore your beliefs, without judgment, and as much as possible without a predetermined goal in mind.

If you are a religious person — why? Admit, first off, that the religion you follow is almost certainly entirely due to what you were raised to believe. No, that doesn’t belittle your belief. It does allow you to step back and look at what you were taught about belief. Are those facets of religion truly what you think worthwhile, or are they habits?

Out of that examination, you can forge a belief centered in what you value, not what generations past, or other people tell you is true. Beliefs are personal. Accept that, and accept how what you believe reflects who you truly are. Use your beliefs as a key to unlock who you truly are, then work back and tailor those beliefs to express your truth, not obscure it.

This is crucial when we turn back to the first question of this post. What you believe you are is how you will act, and what you will say to others. It becomes your face to the world, and your filter for the world. Everything you see and hear and read is interpreted through the prism of that belief. New ideas, new beliefs will be admitted or denied based on how they reinforce your beliefs.

Ironically, the more rigid your belief, the more likely you are to act in opposition to it. The most fundamentalist religious people do the most evil acts. If you believe yourself to be a pure scientist, motivated only be provable reason, your own moods; your own need to demonstrate pure rationality will make you act without reason. It might manifest as scurrilous attacks on those who admit to belief, it might be that you adopt a cult, or even quack medicine like homeopathy or anti-vaccination. You will twist evidence, claim validity, and deny proof with the same logic you employ to deny every other shady claim. And you won’t recognize you are doing it because you can’t admit that you, too, live by beliefs in your world and in yourself. Your beliefs blind you to who you are and to what you are doing.

If you believe you are an artist, set apart from crass and common humanity, everything you see will be bent to reinforce that belief about yourself. How then do you honestly respond to both the beauty and ugliness of life? More importantly, how do you convey truth to your audience?

If you believe that only those who agree with you can be right, what happens to new ideas? How tolerant, how fair will you be to those who think differently?

But, if you accept that your beliefs are a nebula around your core, that they can shift and change with new ideas, new information, then you have the flexibility to be truly compassionate, truly tolerant, truly wise.

I’m not sure about this. It’s not that I always face reality. I have been known, probably far too frequently, to willfully ignore (as best I can) things that I don’t want to think about. I wonder if anyone truly can live in total reality.

I suspect all of us make our own accommodations. A rough analogy: if I have $100 to give, and gave to every cause I value, each would get a fraction of a cent. So I have to choose between needs.

Similarly, I have a day, and I have things to do and to think about. I have to choose which are done and which are left. And if there are things I cannot do anything about, but that worry or frighten, or even things that interest me, I still have to ration my time.

And, to be honest, there are things I don’t want to think about because they are so horrible.

A crucial distinction: this is not the same thing as denying them. I face facts, I just don’t always want to think about them. They are there, they are real, but I do not focus on them.

Even more crucial: I never try to force others to live in my willfully ignorant interpretation of reality.  I wish politicians would have that integrity. However much they have to pick and choose what to address in the real world, facing reality and respecting the diverse world of reality would be better for everyone than imposing their fantasies on others.

I wonder, how do you choose what will occupy your mind and what is set aside?

 

http://www.calamitiesofnature.com/archive/568.jpg

 

Be All You *Should* Be

August 4, 2011

Yes!

I can change!

I don’t have to be who I was born as.  I can be what I should be.

Now we just need everyone to agree on what everyone should be.

Suddenly it’s not so easy, is it?

“Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.”

This is from the post /  50 Renowned Academics Speaking About God

A delightfully clever invitation, and it gets right to the point.

I agree. It is so frustrating to see threads hijacked by irrelevant comments. If one has presented a case for the pleasure humorously-captioned cat photos bring, a comment that dog photos might be equally humorous is acceptable, however misguided 🙂  But to state that animals are abused in all research, and that anthropomorphizing cats in these photos is tantamount to equal abuse is not.

A complaint about sexual harassment might be a place to add a comment that links to a thread on racial discrimination. It is not a place to say that since worse abuses exist, the current case is irrelevant.

The great thing about reading posts, along with accompanying intelligent, insightful comments, is that you get so many ideas. New information, new ways of considering an issue, new things to chuckle over: reading posts can brighten and illuminate your life. You can learn.  But if all you see when you read is an opportunity to preach your own view, then why read?

One could, and people do argue that they don’t read. They glance at the headline, skim the first paragraph (if that), and skip to comments. I’m inclined to suspect this happens frequently.

These people are simply seeking to take advantage of other people’s genuine thoughts to tout their own beliefs (note — not knowledge or ideas. I am making a clear distinction there. Beliefs don’t require proof or even reasonable probabilities, just emotional attachment).

I wish such trolls would stay in their own caves and leave other more thoughtful sites to thoughtful, in both senses of the word, readers.

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