Posts Tagged ‘belief’

Is privilege profitable?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Why do people maintain their bigoted beliefs even when it works against their own immediate interests? Bakers and hotel owners not selling to gay people or atheists for example.

In a recent blog post entitled “Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?” Greta Christina proposes that people act this way because it is of overall benefit to maintain their white/straight/male privilege than it is to reap the immediate benefit.

According to the theory, maintaining privilege is profitable, even when factoring in the short-term loses.

Unfortunately, I believe the blog post is short on both evidence or further explanation.

Presumably, a secret cabal designed to maintain each privilege is not being suggested. Especially as she herself would presumably be included in the while cabal, but not the male cabal, and therefore be able to see both sides of the situation. If that is not the case though, it is difficult to explain why such a system does not fall foul of the tragedy of the commons.

More importantly, though, there is a lack of evidence for the hypothesis while far simpler explanations can easily fill the gap. Occam’s razor must come slicing in.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people do things for rational reasons. We know that people don’t. Arguably, people never do.

Why won’t a baker sell a wedding cake to a gay people? Because he irrationally believes that there is a giant man in the sky who hates gay people.

When it comes to perpetuating male privilege, perhaps it is because we subconsciously favour people similar to ourselves, as Steven Pinker and Noreena Hurtz both point out. In the hunter-gather tribe environment that our brains evolved in, it probably did pay to be a racist. Even if things have changed, and I think they have, evolution has not had time to catch up.

That is not to say that these things are good things of course. That would be the naturalistic fallacy. But if we want to address issues such as gender discrimination in academia, we need to be able to tackle the root cause of the issue and for that we need evidence-based solutions.

Why do some atheists become pagans?

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Humanism, Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, I saw one of my friends post on Facebook about attending Pagan Pride. I found this interesting because they used to run an atheist society. When I think about it, I can name quite a few people who have flirted with paganism, either before they came to atheist society, or having left the society and then drifted over to paganism.

It seems to me that there seems to be a stronger link between atheism and paganism than between atheism and other religious beliefs. I wonder why this is.

The simplest explanation, could be the size of my dataset. While having reviewed my personal experience revealed this connection, it could simply be that this by chance, and if I looked at a wider variety of evidence I would see something different. In particular, cultural setting probably plays a large part, though if that was the case you would expect the dominant religion to feature to be Christianity. Still, that seems a good explanation. However, in the interest of discourse, I want to discuss the possibilities assuming that that is not the case.

My first instinct was that Paganism is easier to swallow than more dogmatic religions. It seems fair to say that in order to become religious, you probably have to swallow its bullshit to some degree. With the Abrahamic religions, that is quite well defined bullshit. it is hard to wriggle out of because their god helpfully wrote it all down in a series of contradicting books that explained exactly what it was, then created a series of prolific institutions to further expand its claims.

Paganism does not have this. Nobody really knows what it is about. Thus from an intellectual point of view, it is easier to swallow their nonsense because you have more freedom to accept or reject specific claims and can water it down to taste.

However, I am not convinced by this explanation. Religion is not an intellectual argument. It is an emotional one. I am not sure who said “[the problem with convincing believers is that] you can’t reason yourself out of a n argument you did not reason yourself in to”. People do not make these choices using logical. If they did, nobody would be religious. It is a willing suspension of your disbelief in order to gain the emotional reward gained from religious adherence.

That is not to say that religious people cannot defend their ideology. They do, and come up with plenty of arguments for their belief. However, as Michael Shermer’s research shows, people form beliefs first and then come up with reasons why they believe if afterwards.

Therefore, if we accept that religion is an emotional choice, the watering down of theology offers no benefit. Indeed, for me personally, it would be less appealing. If I was to ignore my rationality and choose on an emotional level, I would much rather have the loving, protective (if a little jealous and vengeful) Christian god watching over my life and occasionally listening to my prayers (I am rich and white, and would generally pray fur curable things after all) than the vague concept of a Mother Goddess which may nor may not split down into a polytheist set. I want the certainty that our human brains naturally crave. Otherwise what is the point?

Another explanation could be the similar, but importantly different, idea that we inherently have believing brains (referencing Michael Shermer once again). In a straight forward clash between emotion trying to override logic, it makes more sense to go to one extreme or the other. But suppose that rather than craving the certainly of religion, we simply allow our rationality to slide to the point where we tolerate our inherent trait of building narratives and purposes were not exist.

If we were to subconsciously form this belief, which we are all somewhat predisposed to do, we would then go looking for a way to explain why we held this belief. Again, belief first, reasons second. But the key point with this is that we are still essentially acting on a rational, intellectual level, but from a base point that we are formed a faulty premise that there is something greater out there. Retroactively fitting an explanation to this, would lead us to fitting on the belief system that causes the least conflicts with that world view. Here, with its lack of doctrine and defined beliefs, Paganism probably has the edge.

On humanism, and being positive

Monday, September 10th, 2012 | Humanism

One of the criticisms that has been put forward about humanism is that it always has to be positive. Many aspects of that humanism is there for are simply not positive – it’s an alternative to religion, and religion is a thought controlling, people oppressing, unscientific load of nonsense.

However, as someone who labels myself as a humanist, I think both these statements can be true, and work together well.

Yes, religion is an evil that the world would be better off without. But saying that you can’t tackle this issue with a positive attitude is not only incorrect, but it is also naively counter-productive, even though it may seem intuitive.

The reason is, is that we know by now that, most of the time, arguing with someone’s beliefs only entrenches them further.

I mean, how many people do the believer and atheist camps actually win over to the other side? Almost none. In fact, it’s so rare that when we do, we feel the need to put a spotlight on them and get them to give talks about their conversion, because it almost never happens.

One of the reasons for this, is that arguing your case, even if you’re case is incorrect, actually reinforces your own belief that you must be right. In fact, even for us skeptics, who are aware this is a problem and try to counter against our own biases, it is difficult to avoid.

This has been general knowledge for a long time, but a great example is given in Richard Wiseman’s recent book about captured American soldiers in the Korean War.

During their time in the prison camps, they were often bribed to say or write about how positive communism was, and were encouraged to take part in mock debates in which they argued for communism.

The result – because they undertook the actions of promoting communism, an idea that not only doesn’t work and isn’t fair (in my humble opinion) but was specifically what they were fighting against in said war, they actually started believing what they were saying.

Similarly, when you get someone in a confrontational argument about their beliefs, where it be religion or any other form of ill-founded prejudice, bigotry or simply factually untrue belief, getting them to argue the point is only going to reinforce their belief most of the time, not weaken it.

So what can we take from this?

Firstly, I think it is a mistake for those in the freethought movement who suggest humanism’s approach of being nice and positive with people, is a sign of weakness or that we not as firmant in stopping the evils of blind faith from damaging our society. It isn’t – they’re just going about it in a more rational, scientific way.

Secondly, when considering your attitude, especially when running groups, it is important for it to be informed by this research.

For example, at A-Soc we discussed, on several occasions, the idea of having a debate with the religious societies where we would take the opposite position. IE, we would argue there was a god, while they would argue there wasn’t. Unfortunately, we never followed through with the idea. It is also worth considering what interfaith (sorry, can’t think of a better term) activities can be done between atheist and believer groups that promote an understanding of each others principles, rather than a confrontational nature – which in the end, actually have a reverse effect from what they are intended to have.

A given?

Sunday, July 15th, 2012 | Religion & Politics

In the final of three blog posts I’ve written about the fall out from the recent Steve Moxon event, I wanted to comment on an interesting debate point raised on the Leeds Skeptics Facebook group, where someone claimed that some things we should just accept as true.

There are some things that should be a given in any skeptical society

I’m not making this up. Someone in a Skeptics group genuinely just said that there are some things we should just not question.

Of course, the equality of our fellow human beings is something incredibly important and something that when challenged, we would defend rigorously. But to suggest we should just same some things on faith is a violation of the very definition of skepticism. But more to the point, such an attitude undermines our own argument. Our position is that all our members are equal and we take this position because we’ve reviewed the evidence, and that is the case. To rule out a debate on it entirely is simply unskeptical.

Let us not forget that we have equality today because someone WAS skeptical about the prevailing idea that black people were inferior to white people, or that women didn’t deserve the rights as men did. Thank the god that I do not believe in, that someone had the courage to challenge these ideas that were just held as true at the time, so that today we can have equality.

After all, if we’re in the right, we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge our own ideas. As I’ve written before, I entertain the idea of cheating on my girlfriend. Why? Because I know I will never do it. I’m secure enough in my relationship, and I know I love her so much, that I can safely consider the possibility without worrying. I know this, because I’ve challenged my own beliefs, and because they still hold true, that only makes them stronger. As Norman summarises…

Not sure how anything can be a ‘given’ in a skeptical society? Surely the point of a skeptical society is that all view points are subjected to a rigorous process of critical analysis, regardless of whether it agrees with our world view or not.

One could argue that it is the very ‘givens’ of our own world views that require even more in depth challenging.

Challenging your beliefs only makes them stronger (or they turn out to be wrong – but I’m as certain as you can be that this won’t turn out to be the case for equality). But perhaps I underestimate how secure people actually are in their beliefs. I mean, are attendees worried that others are going to be won over by bigoted arguments?

Secondly go to the event, witness said MRA speech, and more than likely become angry at the shit he’s spouting. If you decide to argue with him you’d better have the support of the room otherwise you will get shouted down and feel even worse. At the very least you will be sat in your seat seething, possibly feeling upset or unsafe depending on how many other members are agreeing with the speaker.

I’m sure this wasn’t mean this to be in any way offensive, but she did just imply that that everyone else who attends Leeds Skeptics are at best are sexiest bigots who would shout her down if she tried to call someone on sexist nonsense he was spouting, and at worse a bunch of rapists would threaten her safety. Talk about promoting bad gender stereotypes. But it goes on…

What good would come out of it [the event], to balance against the aggressive sexism and racism that we’d almost certainly have to sit through and which would be at best uncomfortable for people who aren’t white males?

Is she seriously suggesting that white males don’t find racism, sexism or any bigotry offensive? It’s incredibly insulting, and sexist (and racist for that matter), but more than that, I think it shows that there is a real need for careful consideration of what we all hold to be true and bring open to the principle of challenging our own ideas.

As I’ve already said, challenging well founded beliefs only makes them stronger.