Why do we do this?

I know my friends over at the Fundamentally Flawed will be familiar with this question. Indeed, I’m asked this as often by my off-line friends as I am by the sorts of religious we invite onto the podcast. Why do you bother debating or arguing with people, when you know that their ideas are so set in stone that they are highly unlikely to change their mind, or meet you half way, no matter what you say; what do you hope to achieve?

I’ve always thought the answer to this should be obvious, but that it comes up so often speaks to the need to fully address it, hopefully in an evenhanded way.

I believe, that amid all the talk and argument; point and counterpoint, the real elephant in the room is one of politics — the party political affiliations traditionally associated with European style, liberal, social democracy on one side, and conservative libertarianism on the other.

If that seems like too easy an answer, I invite you to find both an outspoken leftwing atheist who believes president Barack Obama is a socialist Muslim, and a devout rightwing catholic who believes the government should spend more money on embryonic stem cell research.

I’m sure the frustrations felt on my side of the fence are equally matched on the other side, when it comes to certain issues. We all wish our opponents would attempt, at least, to see things from our point of view. There are, I have no doubt, a great many legitimate political ideals which, although they are traditionally thought of as being either highly conservative or at least right of centre, could, in fact, do with being a little better understood by the left, rather than being quickly ruled out, as they so often are for seemingly very small reasons.

Both, or should I say all sides of the political divides that bind us, are extremely good at assigning a greater degree of importance to one set of ideas, than they are to others — even though our perception of these ideas, can often be shaped by something as simple as the particular newspaper in which we first see these ideas being fully fleshed out.

Personality, too, plays its part. How often have we ignored what might be perfectly legitimate concerns about issues X, Y and Z, simply because of the stance on issues A, B and C an individual has historically taken, and despite that they now propose to solve the mutually identifiable problem of X, Y and Z via consensus and consultation. Indeed nothing raises our suspicions higher, of an individual running for office, than if they campaign on a promise to deliver cross party support for what are, in fact, highly contentious issues.

I first encountered this dichotomy when, despite having grown up in a traditional, Labour voting, working class household, I once found myself agreeing with just about every word spoken by Michael Heseltine, when as a former front-bench MP in Margret Thatcher’s government, he was asked for his opinion on the rise in gang culture among British inner city youth.

I was shocked to realise, that the only reason I now understood his perspective, whereas before I would have simply assumed he was serving interests against my own, was because he was now speaking as a retired politician he no longer had to hide his true opinion. In the sort of language that would have once put the leader of his party in hot water with the following day’s headline writers, he was now able to openly express his beliefs. If he had done this when still in government, the left leaning press would have demanded answers to statement A, B and C, whereas the right leaning press would have defended him using issues X, Y and Z. It was only once he was freed from having to play this game of semantics and rhetoric, that he was able to express what was in fact a perfectly rational view.

It occurred to me that, but for this false edifice of unanimity politicians must erect around themselves, when their career depends upon towing the party line, those of us who are supposed to be represented by these people, would actually hold a much more effective degree of control over our democracy and the day-to-day running of our country — and that, surely then, the same could also be said by someone my age, who had been raised in a traditional conservative, middle-class family, if only they too were given a more informed perspective on the issues which affect people like me.

This, I would later learn, is known as a ‘respect for interlocking opposites’. Sadly, I would also learn that politicians are as keen to avoid observing this principal, as they are to exploit its alternative. Despite both groups being aware of the needs of the other, any desire to find an amicable solution to a given problem, is outweighed by the overarching, longer-term aims of the greater body politic to which both or all parties are tied; usually through financial affiliations with either private industry, or union representation.

Later still would I discover, that according to professor John Nash’s Game Theory, when it comes to certain key issues, there is a survival advantage in misrepresenting the views of your opponents as a group, which always outweighs the advantage which might be given to individuals in simply playing fair — because the very notion of true democracy is an illusion of choice. The real power always rests with those who simultaneously have the most to lose and the most to gain. The gambit rests on which strategy a group is prepared to publicly admit to having adopted, while keeping their actual intentions secret.

The problem with this, is that anyone who believes in playing fair, is by definition more likely to seek common ground between opposing views — and is therefore not only incapable of adopting a position which actually achieves this, but susceptible to having the very nature of their honesty and integrity exploited. For example; it is perfectly true to say that we have no real idea how the first multicellular organisms formed. Further, we know with some degree of certainty that multicellular life probably existed for several hundred thousand years before selection mechanisms, which would later become described by the naturalist Charles Darwin, began to steer their evolution.

But the very fact that the only way to answer myriad questions about the nature of nature, at the beginning of the tree which would eventually lead to the abundant diversity of life we now observe, is a simple admission that we don’t yet know everything there is to know — which provides the perfect gap into which a whole host of beliefs can be inserted, by people who claim to know things which, in fact no one yet knows.

Notice, I’m not necessarily saying those beliefs are false — just that there is no way to prove one way or the other whether or not they are true or false, other than by applying the very scientific method by which we now describe so many things which were once held beyond criticism.

If this very process is seen to have been devalued in some way; or portrayed as being fundamentally flawed, simply because it fails to take into account what are actually completely unrelated criteria, a whole toy box of square pegs can be made to seem as if they fit into a series of round holes. If it is permissible for political and social reasons X, Y and Z to mistrust science and mathematics, then it is equally permissible to propose alternative philosophies as to what we might learn about A, B and C which are predicated upon the assumption that this mistrust is valid, without having to provide proof that this is indeed the case.

Note, that to propose this slides both ways is to completely misunderstand the premise of the analogy with Game Theory. This isn’t about one side being right and the other side being wrong. There is no right or wrong. To “win”, the only thing which is important, is that the group who wishes to claim victory, propagate the idea that there are two sides to a given story, when in fact there is only one.

In reality, claiming to be in possession of that one true perspective, while everyone else is somehow being played off against each other, is a completely meaningless truth-claim in the absence of clearly defined boundaries upon which your evidence is suspended — even if you claim your boundaries are defined by a mistrust of what we mean by the definition of the word ‘evidence’ itself.

This is why the religionist will always claim a win, in a debate with the non-religious. It is not that they truly believe they have established a solid defence of their beliefs, it is that no matter what evidence is presented to them, it is central to their claim that logic, honesty and reason are not only the very opposite of that which they espouse, and so can be discounted, but that even those who advocate honesty, logic and reason don’t truly understand what these concepts mean.

It is a cheat which has served the agenda of those behind some of the most sinister events yet to be orchestrated in Western socioeconomics. Some are more aware of it than others, but everyone — regardless of which cognitive bias they happen to be more susceptible to than another — is aware of, and all too familiar with, as an itching, inner knowing that, a world divided by the imaginary “war on terror” as a distraction from the war on democracy itself, is changing at a breathtaking pace.

Some address this head-on, by occupying Wall Street and other financial districts in major world cities. Others take solace in pretending — even to themselves — that the itch isn’t as bad as it first seemed, and that things will settle down eventually and we can all go back to a simpler life, when our bank manager knew us by our first name and we knew him by his.

But this too is an illusion. Things were never really like this at all. For the same reason people believe their particular Messiah figure will stride out from the pages of their particular holy book, so too do ordinary, hard working, good and honest people believe that, in the mirrors of a modern bank, from the windows of their hotel room, will stride a leader with clarity of purpose and vision, to set right what has gone wrong. And the Wurlitzer plays the same tune over and over again; the internal logic of another empty narrative, congratulating itself against a backdrop of denial and fear.

But there is nothing to fear in the truth. The question truly facing us all now, is why there aren’t a lot more people at least trying to find out the truth — and expose for what they really are, those who seek to occlude it.

So, why do we do this? We do this, because the alternative is to leave the world to the very people who deserve it the least; to those who think the truth is so small that it can fit into a book, written by goat herders and edited by power hungry kingships of the ancient world. We do this because the people who come after us, will scratch around in the dirt and in perfect bafflement, wonder why we let the people who think to be more God-like, one must force the poor to pay more for basic medical treatment than the the low life in high places pay in taxes. We do this, because the notion that meaningless superstitions deserve equal consideration alongside the truth is anathema to seeking the truth. We do this, because anyone who seeks to justify believing in things which aren’t true, is the sworn enemy of reason. We do this, because we refuse to justify believing in reason, to those who value it the least. We do this, because the game is rigged against everyone who plays fair. It’s time the rules changed.

20 comments on “Why do we do this?

  1. Thank you for this long rambling post which, once again, misses the point. But don’t worry, you’re far from being the only one.
    The problem here is not seeing the wood for the forest. It is obvious that in the kind of debate/discussion we are talking about, hardly anybody imagines that he/she is going to change the other’s basic ideas. However, the debate continues. Why this persistence in what seems to be from the outset, an exercise in frustration and futility?
    Very simply, more important than what is being said is the fact of engaging in an exchange. That is what people do.
    Of course there are always undercurrents of point-scoring (at least in the mind of the individual who is speaking) and the need to bolster one’s own beliefs.
    The conversations continue because we need to communicate – almost regardless of the subject matter.
    Pascal said, “Cogito, ergo sum.” (I think, therefore I am/exist.) Most of us could also say, “I discuss/communicate therefore I exist.” That is why we gently mock the elderly who seem to be talking to themselves, whereas in reality I am doing much the same thing by posting this comment.

    From the Christian’s point of view, however, there is another element which motivates their persistence. They believe that their words will have a sort of magic effect, that their “word of testimony” will somehow bring into play another player – the Holy Spirit.
    They will often say (with dubious motivations) “It”s not up to me to convert anybody – that’s God’s job.” That, however, does not prevent them from behaving as if it were their personal responsibility and not a few take a barely-masked pride in having “brought a soul to Jesus.”

    I believe in the love of God and the life-transforming power of salvation through Christ. And, yes, it was the words of a stubborn Scottish Presbyterian pastor which seemed to be the catalysis in my experience of God.. And, yes, I shall be forever grateful to him for having persisted in his apparent exercise in futility.

    And so the debates/discussion/conversations/ verbal punch-ups continue. They are what make us truly human. We are not looking to win the battle, eat the vanquished and go away to sleep it off.
    First and foremost we have this need to look the other in the eye and say, “I exist.”

  2. You see virtue in believing things which cannot be proved. You assume you are being attacked by those who simply wish to remind you of this. From what do you believe you are being saved?

  3. there is a survival advantage in misrepresenting the views of your opponents as a group

    And an advantage in the context of rational debate in CORRECTLY representing the views of the opponent. This is one place where SyeTenB, Dusman, and I are way ahead of your game. You have not even begun to engage our argument. It’s as plain as day. You do enjoy a good strawman BBQ though, that’s obvious.

    anyone who believes in playing fair, is by definition more likely to seek common ground between opposing views

    So are those who have every reason to be confident in the strength of their position and justification for it.

    I’m not necessarily saying those beliefs are false — just that there is no way to prove one way or the other whether or not they are true or false,

    I love it. You can’t prove that one way or the other but you think you do know that an immaterial supernatural being DOES NOT EXIST. That’s funny stuff.

    This is why the religionist will always claim a win, in a debate with the non-religious.

    Right, b/c non-religious NEVER claim a win, even when the evidence is stacked against them. You’re a bigoted man.

    will stride a leader with clarity of purpose and vision, to set right what has gone wrong

    1) Christianity can explain that human tendency just fine, BTW.
    2) If atheism is true, there is no wrong and right. There just is. Hat Tip: David Hume.

    But there is nothing to fear in the truth.

    Actually, yes there is. Jesus is the truth, and He will judge you and destroy you in wrath unless you repent. I urge you to do so. Save yourself from the coming judgment. The clear sign of it is your absurd reasoning.

    We do this, because the notion that meaningless superstitions deserve equal consideration alongside the truth is anathema to seeking the truth

    So what? In 200 yrs we will all be dead, as will our great grandchildren. Who will remember us? Who will care? If atheism is true, this is the fate that awaits – meaningless absurdity.
    If Christianity is true, however… you better enjoy your hard-drinking, obscene lifestyle, b/c this is as good as it gets.

    Peace and repentance to you,
    Rhology

  4. I love it. You can’t prove that one way or the other but you think you do know that an immaterial supernatural being DOES NOT EXIST. That’s funny stuff.

    The full quote was as follows: Notice, I’m not necessarily saying those beliefs are false — just that there is no way to prove one way or the other whether or not they are true or false, other than by applying the very scientific method by which we now describe so many things which were once held beyond criticism.

    If this very process is seen to have been devalued in some way; or portrayed as being fundamentally flawed, simply because it fails to take into account what are actually completely unrelated criteria, a whole toy box of square pegs can be made to seem as if they fit into a series of round holes. […] predicated upon the assumption that this mistrust [of scientific facts and logic] is valid, without having to provide proof that this is indeed the case.

    Actually, yes there is. Jesus is the truth, and He will judge you and destroy you in wrath unless you repent. I urge you to do so. Save yourself from the coming judgment. The clear sign of it is your absurd reasoning.

    The fact that you have no idea how hilarious and in equal measure profoundly insulting that sort of attitude is, is the reason why you lose the confidence of the vast majority of your fellow Christians.

    So what? In 200 yrs we will all be dead, as will our great grandchildren. Who will remember us? Who will care? If atheism is true, this is the fate that awaits – meaningless absurdity.
    If Christianity is true, however… you better enjoy your hard-drinking, obscene lifestyle, b/c this is as good as it gets.

    You care only for yourself. You want people who care for others, to suffer in hell. You’ve become the thing you fear the most. Seek help.

  5. If this very process is seen to have been devalued in some way; or portrayed as being fundamentally flawed, simply because it fails to take into account what are actually completely unrelated criteria, a whole toy box of square pegs can be made to seem as if they fit into a series of round holes.

    Oh, OK. So you have chosen your blind faith religion b/c the alternative makes you uncomfortable. Right? If not, please let me know how you know my challenge is not true.

    The fact that you have no idea how hilarious and in equal measure profoundly insulting that sort of attitude is

    So? We’ll all be dead in 50 years. Please let me know why I should care, since you think atheism is true.
    Besides, plenty of ppl think truth is offensive. You need to show me why I should think it’s UNTRUE.

    is the reason why you lose the confidence of the vast majority of your fellow Christians.

    Argumentum ad populum.

    You care only for yourself.

    You don’t know me at all, you bigot.
    Here’s an idea – instead of psychanalysing someone you don’t know, try answering the actual challenges I’ve raised. Surprise me.

  6. If the word ‘bigot’ has entered the conversation because you equate it with my intolerance for people who preach lies as if they are true, so be it. You homophobic, fact denying, magic worshipping, book dodging cretin. Although, just how far name calling will get us, exactly, I’m not sure.

    While I’m prepared to accept you were given the wrong impression of me because of my indefensible behaviour on the podcast—for which I have apologised a number of times—you seem to assume this gives you an “in”, which negates your responsibilities; that the burden of proof mysteriously rests upon me, when I am not the one making exaggerated claims. But I should be thankful to you nonetheless, for proving my point for me, when I wrote:

    […]anyone who believes in playing fair, is by definition more likely to seek common ground between opposing views — and is therefore not only incapable of adopting a position which actually achieves this, but susceptible to having the very nature of their honesty and integrity exploited.

    Argumentum ad populum.

    This is not the correct use of that particular logical fallacy. Ironically, however, it is the correct definition of your proposal; which rests upon the notion that because you share your beliefs in common with a significant minority, it is those of us in the vast majority who must rebut your extraordinary truth-claims, for which you lack any coherent evidence.

    But, assuming what you intended to prove, was that you, in fact, enjoy popular support from your fellow Christians, I point you towards some research I carried out for my ePaper Good Without God (linked in the menu above) which suggest that this isn’t exactly the kind of company you would want to keep:

    In September, 2010 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, published the findings of a U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. Of the 3,412 people sampled, four-in-ten Catholics (45%) did not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolise but actually become the body and blood of Christ. 53% of protestants didn’t know who Martin Luther was. 47% didn’t know the Dalai Lama is Buddhist and fewer than 38% associated Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. 48% said they “seldom” or “never” read books or visit websites about their own religion and 70% said they seldom or never read books or visit websites about religions other than their own.

    and

    In the US there in an average of 3,667 crimes per one hundred thousand people, per year. In “The New Criminology” by Max D. Schlapp and Edward E. Smith, the authors surveyed religious affiliation among prisoners in gaols across America. What they found appears to challenge the assumption that those who are without religious guidance of some kind or another are inherently lacking a moral compass and therefore more likely to commit crime. In Sing-Sing, for example, prisoners on death row, who were executed for murder, were 65% Catholic, 26% Protestant, 6% Hebrew and 2% Pagan. Less than one third of 1% were atheist. In 1997 the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that 39.1% of prisoners were Catholic, 35.8% were protestant, 7.2% were Muslim and just 0.209% of the prison population were of no religious affiliation, below Buddhists at 1.180% and Jews at 1.773%

  7. The diff between my calling you a bigot and you just making stuff up is that my label is correct, and you’re just making stuff up. I’m answering you on your own grounds.

    that the burden of proof mysteriously rests upon me

    I bet I explained why you have your own burden of proof no less than 8 times on the podcast.
    Why you refuse to deal with it is very suspicious.

    This is not the correct use of that particular logical fallacy

    Thus quoth Jim, who couldn’t identify a fundamental axiom if it were in the bottom of a Guinness glass.

    it is those of us in the vast majority who must rebut your extraordinary truth-claims, for which you lack any coherent evidence.

    You don’t have evidence for your own truth claims.

    I point you towards some research

    Please let me know why I should care about any of this.

  8. Thus quoth Jim, who couldn’t identify a fundamental axiom if it were in the bottom of a Guinness glass.

    And on that low blow, I repeat in the full light of sobriety, so that all may hear it. You are a cunt of the lowest order. Get fucked. Go preach to the converted you simple prick.

  9. Note to comment subscribers: I was apologetic to Rhology both on the Fundamentally Flawed blog and via twitter, after I became drunk and abusive on the podcast talk we had with him last Friday. I also sent him a private email offering an olive branch and an unqualified apology for using abusive language.

    I am struggling with a drink problem. I am currently three days into not having any alcohol for the first time in months. His comment above about seeking answers in the bottom of a Guinness glass, is a low blow and completely irrelevant to the point of this original article. For this reason I have blocked him from posting comments, despite that I do not ordinarily do this. So please note, that if you want to address anything which he has written, that he will not be able to reply.

  10. “Actually, yes there is. Jesus is the truth, and He will judge you and destroy you in wrath unless you repent.”

    And there’s the heart of it, threats and bullshit.

    Rhology, come on the podcast again, just you, me and Jim, and say these things to us directly.

  11. Perhaps you didn’t notice how Rhology was quite forthright during the podcast. Rhology would be happy to come on again. Just you two.

  12. I did notice how forthright he was, and I also noticed how much he made appeals to supernatural ‘evidence’.

    The offer has been extended, but Alan is claiming he’s too busy (not too busy to tweet and blog though, I notice)

  13. The truly hilarious thing is he’s now wandered off to pastures new, to congratulate himself for proving those atheists don’t like tough questions. You know, about magic.

  14. He’s also refusing to answer this simple question –

    ‘Why, when he knew it would cause people to believe that the universe was not created (so leading people away from him), would your god make things look older than they are?’

    If you go and look at his blog, you’ll see him repeatedly avoiding answering

  15. I watched this documentary not so long ago called “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” and it has this really interesting bit where some rather liberal folks were up against some evangelical types in a game-show type of contest. It shows very clearly that religious people have a very difficult time even CONSIDERING the point of view that differs from their own. That’s one of the big problems with religion – esp. Christianity – in my opinion. I think that’s why people like Rhology have such a difficult time answering the type of questions posed on the podcast I heard. All hry seem to do is talk in circles and do the adult equivalent of the toddler with his hands over his ears while screaming “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!!”

  16. That pretty much sums it up, Susan. They do try to come up with some superficially sophisticated sounding ways of explaining themselves, but as you can see from many of the other posts on this blog, where we’ve tried to dig into what they believe and why they believe it, it’s the same “I have faith, because I believe, because I have faith” internal logic we’ve seen a billion times before.

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