Traversing the Devil’s Playground

Last week I came across an interesting book by Richard Wiseman called Paranormality. In it Wiseman tells the story of Marian Keech who told her 11 followers that on December 21, 1954, a flying saucer would come to save them from a catastrophic flood. They believed her. When the appointed time came (midnight) and no aliens or rain showed up, Keech told her followers that the aliens had called the tragedy off. Apparently her group was so full of grace, the aliens cancelled the flood. Again her followers believed her. Not just believed her but began proselytizing in earnest about Keech’s connection to the truth.

This is why it’s pointless to argue.

Public discussion is good, even if it includes argument. It helps those of us sitting on the fence on an issue. We need to hear both sides and then form an opinion. It’s how the uninformed like me learn.

But most argument is not about uncovering the truth. It’s about cramming your personal viewpoint down the world’s throat. What we believe to be truth is usually just opinion and based on ideas we were raised with or for some other reason want to believe.

The earth is flat, because, well, just look at it.

We come to our conclusions based on gut reactions or whatever makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s the basis of nationalistic pride. We remain true to our school as if its good name is proof of personal superiority.

Because we’ve been operating under the scientific method since the days of the Greeks, though, we’re convinced our beliefs are based on rational study done without a drop of emotion. But that’s not so. Take a story I found at the Skeptics Dictionary site. The report states that there was a group of chiropractors who believed humans can taste the difference between “bad” glucose and “good” fructose. To prove it they placed drops of either glucose or fructose on the tongues of test subjects and then asked them to identify the drops as either good or bad. The subjects did fine, identifying each drop accurately. That is, until after lunch. After lunch the testing was done under double blind conditions, the holy grail of unbiased analysis. When the results of the double blind experiments were examined, it was obvious the subjects could not tell the difference between good and bad sugar at all. The lead chiropractor, not wanting to admit that they had been wrong said, “You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore.”

Educated people, those that should know better, them that have studied science, fall prey to their own delusions as easily as the rest of us.

We have to stick with our delusions. If we’ve lived our whole lives believing in something, we can’t possibly rescind that now. The rug would be pulled out from beneath our feet. Our lives proved meaningless. We’d have wasted a lot of time.

If people can’t change their minds on anything as innocuous as good or bad sugar, imagine if you throw in a moral component. If you’ve been taught that what you believe is morally correct, morally superior, by logical extension, you are superior. That’s why Marian Keech’s followers followed her even when faced with the obvious. They couldn’t back out now, what then would be their moral base? Thus, arguments over abortion rights, religion, socialism, etc. are even more pointless.

The Internet was supposed to sort this type of thing out. It was supposed to connect us with the truth. It does that certainly. But you can find information to support just about any argument on the Internet. Even Sunny D is morally upstanding on the Internet.

What the Internet really does is put us into contact with people we wouldn’t normally hang around with. People that don’t agree with our opinions or hold our same beliefs. And now we know just how many of those people are out there. And how angry and loud and scary they are. What’s your gut reaction to that? Get angry and loud and scary yourself.

The Internet is polarizing in a way we thought it wouldn’t be. We figured it would bring us all together. Certainly it brings like-minded people together, but it also exposes us to people who would rather see us dead than continue spouting our heretical beliefs.

You can more safely spell out your social security number in the shingles of your rooftop and expose it to google maps, than put a heartfelt opinion on the ‘net. You will find out just how hated you are if you ever come to a conclusion on the web.

So lighten up. Save your anger for the million man marches, things that come and go and don’t hang around on the world’s servers forever. To be honest, I think you’ll get a lot more done pushing your agenda out in the real world than exposing your emotional, half-researched ideas in a blog anyway.

I think.*

Sue Lange
More of Sue Lange’s wishy washy writing can be found at her Book View Cafe bookshelf.

*But I’m not sure, so calm down.

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Traversing the Devil’s Playground — 5 Comments

  1. I love the way you think! Reasoned discourse has gone the way of the dinosaur. I think people are now choosing sides by the size of the crowd.

    And I love the idea that our belief system is like a bad marriage–we’ve invested too much in it to give it up!

  2. “I think people are now choosing sides by the size of the crowd.”

    probably equates to the loudest voice of yore. People chose sides based on the opinions of the loudest.

  3. “You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore.”

    I’m kind of on a weird sort of fence on the subject of changing peoples’ minds. Once upon a time I was a libertarian, but hanging out in a community full of compassionate people called alt.callahans eventually started me on the road to changing my philosophical view, and now I’m a bleeding heart liberal social worker — although there are still people of all political persuasions among that group.

    That said, I get on the net and argue for various and sundry reasons. Sometimes I’m teaching, and sometimes I’m “schooling” (and sometimes I’m being schooled). I have two blogs, one about home life and happiness, and one about politics, and I argue differently in each space. At “home”, I keep things strictly pg13 and wear my “long patient explanation” hat when necessary, but while in the wild and wooly “political” blog, I am willing to take off the gloves every now and then.

    But I have to tell you, one of the most entertaining things to do when you’re arguing with someone who is “loud and angry” on the internet (I don’t suggest you do this in person) is to carefully break down and rate their argument for originality, spelling and grammar, and creative use of obscenities. It never fails to amuse, and often defuses the situation.

  4. Thanks, Maureen. I’m glad you’re not as nihilistic as me. We do need people out there pushing ideals. For the record, I sit on the fence between libertarian and socialist most of the time. I change with the weather.

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