Thursday, May 29, 2014

Still Here!

Radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on May 21st, 2011.

Obviously, it didn't.

The world didn't end on September 6th, 1994, either, which was the previous time Mr Camping had predicted it ... and yet he had plenty of followers who believed in him and made millions of dollars in donations to his Family Radio organization.

Why do people believe crazy things in spite of all evidence to the contrary? Why do we have birthers, 9/11 truthers, religious fanatics, climate change denial, "creation science," flat earth believers, the objectivism of Ayn Rand, and people who believe that the answer to gun violence in America is to allow guns to be carried everywhere - including bars and churches?

There are a lot of possible explanations, one of the most compelling (to me, anyhow) being that when a person believes strongly in a particular idea, it becomes a part of their very being ... when you try to convince them that they're wrong, they interpret it as a personal attack and respond by raising their mental drawbridge to shut out conflicting information. This topic is explored very well in a short but interesting book by Michael Shermer titled Why People Believe Weird Things, and in one of my very favorite books, The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer.

I have learned by sad experience that it is utterly impossible to carry on a rational discussion of things in which people believe passionately. As I've noted here before, there is no room for doubt or nuance in some people's worldview - their clue chutes have been slammed closed, locked tight, welded shut, and painted over in an attempt to shut out information that might cause them to question their most deeply-held beliefs ... even when those beliefs can be demonstrably proven to be wrong. Author and columnist Thomas Friedman once wrote about the Middle East that if something can't be explained in terms of a conspiracy theory, it's not worth trying to convince anyone of it, because they'll never believe you. Sadly, I think that's where we're going in modern America.

Have a good day. Remember Bilbo's First Law*.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* "Don't let anyone else do your thinking for you."


eViL pOp TaRt said...

The Michael Shermer book is one that I definitely have to read.

There are too many people that are defensive about their beliefs. It's as if they're under siege.

Mike said...

The older I get the less I believe.

Big Sky Heidi said...

People enjoy a good, juicy conspiracy theory.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I'm open for discussion but most can't discuss rationally.
I can't match wits with those unarmed is my phrase.

The other day I said something old people say, "I don't like the direction we are headed in in this country." Oiy Vay. It's official Bill, I'm an old coot.