Posts Tagged ‘relativism’
A mature citizen is a person who has learned how to make up his mind and who has then decided in favour of what he thinks suits him best… he will study science as a historical phenomenon and not as the one and only sensible way of approaching a problem. He will study it together with other fairy-tales such as the myths of ‘primitive’ societies so that he has the information needed for arriving at a free decision.
An essential part of a general education of this kind is acquaintance with the most outstanding propagandists in all fields, so that the pupil can build up his resistance against all propaganda, including the propaganda called ‘argument’… His decision in favour of science – assuming he chooses science – will then be much more ‘rational’ than any decision in favour of science is today…
Scientists will of course participate in governmental decisions… But they will not be given overriding authority. It is the vote of everyone concerned that decides fundamental issues such as the teaching methods used, or the truth of basic beliefs such as the theory of evolution, or the quantum theory, and not the authority of big-shots hiding behind a non-existing methodology…
Carbon dioxide is “essentially harmless” to human beings and good for plants. So now will you stop worrying about global warming?
Utah’s House of Representatives apparently has at least. Officially the most Republican state in America, its political masters have adopted a resolution condemning “climate alarmists”, and disputing any scientific basis for global warming.
The measure, which passed by 56-17, has no legal force, though it was predictably claimed by climate change sceptics as a great victory in the wake of the controversy caused by a mistake over Himalayan glaciers in the UN’s landmark report on global warming.
But it does offer a view of state politicians’ concerns in Utah which is a major oil and coal producing state.
The original version of the bill dismissed climate science as a “well organised and ongoing effort to manipulate and incorporate “tricks” related to global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome”. It accused those seeking action on climate change of riding a “gravy train” and their efforts would “ultimately lock billions of human beings into long-term poverty”.
In the heat of the debate, the representative Mike Noel said environmentalists were part of a vast conspiracy to destroy the American way of life and control world population through forced sterilisation and abortion.
We all know that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the press , or hear on the news, don’t we? What’s the definition of lying? Inventing stories, misappropriating the truth, lies of omission, spin?
Richard Wilson’s Don’t Get Fooled Again is an illuminating compilation of methods and examples from both the 20th and 21st centuries in which governments and the general public have been duped by flawed thinking:
a) Pseudo-science – 30 million deaths in China as a result of adopting Lysenko’s agricultural reforms (already the cause of millions of deaths in Stalin’s Russia!).
b) Relativism – the uncounted number of deaths in Africa as a result of the success of those denying the existence of HIV and AIDS.
c) The power of vested interests and commercial journalism – the decade-long controvery over whether smoking was bad for your health.
d) Groupthink – spiralling terrorism leading inevitability to the second Iraq war and the excesses at Abu Ghraib.
Wilson doesn’t just detail the facts in his examples. He explains the underlying psychologies. It’s only by understanding these that we, as individuals, can choose not to get fooled again. He offers the following toolkit for spotting manipulation:
1) The antidotes to delusion are logic and evidence, preferably from multiple sources.
2) Remember – it’s not all relative!
3) Spot the false sceptic. Remarkably credulous about facts which support their viewpoint but always demanding more evidence for those which do not.
4) Beware of groupthink.
I haven’t read a newspaper in years because of the underlying – and manipulative – bias of the writing. I think I might just revisit that policy. Armed with the above, it will be an interesting exercise.
…a highly readable book which represents a refreshing gale of common sense and rationality. Wilson critiques a wide range of contemporary nonsense including:
- Pseudo-news such as the testimony of a certain ‘Nurse Nayirah’ in 1990 that Iraqi troops occupying Kuwait had removed babies from incubators or the insistence of American and British politicians that Saddam’s Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction;
- Pseudo-science such as the efforts to show that smoking does not cause cancer or that white asbestos poses no measurable risk to health or that Trofim Lysenko in the pre-war Soviet Union had revolutionary techniques to transform agriculture or that South African President Thambo Mbeki was right in insisting that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS;
- Conspiracy theories such as the assertion by ex British agent David Shayler that the London bombings of July 2007 were not the act of terrorists;
- Relativism which, in its most radical form, asserts that there are no objective facts, only competing strands of subjective opinion, and even in ‘milder’ forms like cultural relativism rejects logic and evidence as ‘western’ or ‘imperialist’ modes of thinking;
- Religious fundamentalism which requires belivers to accept on faith the absolute truth of a prescribed list of written beliefs even when the relevant texts are obscure, contradictory or contrary to evidence;
- The justifications given for torture by democratic states like the USA and for terrorism given by extremist groups who likewise believe that the ends justify the means.
Wilson helpfully identifies some of the many factors that permit and indeed encourage such acts of irrationality including wishful thinking, over-idealisation, demonising perceived enemies, moral exclusion, and groupthink. In a spirited defence of rationality, he asserts: “The basic principles of logic, consistency, evidence, and ‘inductive reasoning’ are common to every human society and present in all belief systems”.
“That’s where the truth lies – right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up.
Now, I know some of you are going to say, ‘I did look it up, and that’s not true.’ That’s ’cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.”
– Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents Association dinner, April 2006
www.whatstheharm.net is a website devoted to highlighting the damage that can be done by bogus ideas.
“Not all information is created equal”, say the site’s creators. “Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy. It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest.”
The website focuses on cases where a lack of critical thinking has had deadly results. One of the key case studies is a grim roll-call of HIV-positive AIDS denialists who have died after deciding to stop taking the anti-retroviral drugs that could have saved their lives.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look in detail at the roots of AIDS denialism, and the impact that it has had – not only on its adherents, but on the thousands who have been affected by the stranglehold that this bogus theory gained over AIDS policy in South Africa.