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2009.01.25 (Sun) 23:13
We like to check up on some of our favorite spots on the Internets once or twice a week. We found Jessica Hagy's Indexed a while back (we're pretty sure it was through one of our Usual Suspects, but fuck if we can recall which). Jessica presents a comic strip in the form of a new humorous graph, chart, or other diagram each day, and she's consistently funny, witty, and concise. Sometimes the day's index card just isn't in our wheelhouse — we can appreciate it, but it's not up our alley. Sometimes, we see minor flaws in Jessica's interpretation or presentation of the data, but since it's humor, that's all subjective anyway — no big deal, and we still think she's pretty awesome.
Of course, Jessica is also, apparently, an atheist (which is how we found her in the first place, back in the misty mists of time), and she does some great cards in that respect. For instance, she once explained the indirect proportion between the belief in magic and the success of science.
We saw a bit of a scuffle in the comment thread on that one, and it could have sparked then the line of thought that inspired this Rant now. The dispute was over too many damn people complaining that "magic" was a rainbow, or a baby's smile, or a puppy dog, or whatever-the-fuck poetic image gets them off psychologically. It was pretty fucking ridiculous, frankly, because the meaning behind Jessica's card was clear: the more that science explains, the less we need to invoke magic as an explanation. Personal opinions on how "magical" a quark is, or how giddy one gets when one sees a nebula, have nothing to do with it. One gets the distinct impression that some of these people, upon hearing of the magical evening a girl spent with her beau, perk up and inquire: "What tricks did he do?" Which is pretty pathetic. Seriously, morons, give it a rest. We've been down this road before, but this one isn't even hard to parse.
A few days ago, Jessica put up another card...and the shit hit the fan. Why? Well, go read the thing. We found it pretty damn funny and on point. And, in all honesty, it doesn't even have to be taken as a "slam" on religion — though, predictably, it is.
Normally, Jessica gets a few dozen comments on each card, at most. Reading this one a mere two days after its publication, we found that there were already 111 comments. Holy fuck, we wondered for a brief instant before we remembered what planet we live on, why would this one launch such a lengthy discussion? Four milliseconds later, we came to our senses, sighed, and started perusing the thread. It was, of course, kind of pathetic.
It didn't take long to get word from the "I'm a scientist and a believer!" contingent. On a personal note, as people who respect the fucking written language, and are capable of using it effectively: ever notice how these types write in only nominally comprehensible English, with boundless capacity for misspellings, grammatical errors, run-on sentences, and a complete disregard for the communicative power of the written word? It's almost as if they've never strung together two words of two syllables each, let alone the multitude of highly technical polysyllabic words required to put together a peer-reviewed paper. Sure, plenty of intellectuals team up with a decent editor or three, but if we were the kind to doubt someone's profession despite their spelling it out (sometimes even correctly) on the terribly authoritative and always stunningly honest and accurate World Wide Web, we might almost find this awfully suspicious.
But no more suspicious than their need to say "I'm a scientist" as if that's going to fucking impress us. It's actually quite easy to see why some slightly cleverer religiosos might head into scientific fields: like all religiosos, they've developed this ridiculous notion that personal status (by dint of profession, political power, money, fatherhood...whatever) determines one's veracity, accuracy, and/or validity. That's how it is in religion — you're right because you're revered (whereas in science, it tends to work the opposite way: you're revered because you're right). So these poor souls, desperate for some validation, become scientists (if they're telling the truth) or say they're scientists (if they're not telling the truth), because in their misguided way of thinking, that will magically make their opinion more valid to those who respect science and the scientific method.
Sadly, they never stop to think why we respect the scientific method, and it is precisely because the personal qualities of the scientist simply don't enter into it. Only the evidence, and its consistency, contribute to the strength of a theory. And also: they're fucking asshats. We very much enjoyed this response from Stephen Maxwell:
One of the nice things about science is that it's not about who says "I'm a scientist," it's about who _shows_ that their _idea_ is reliable. In religion, being religious will give you more credence in arguments, but science doesn't work that way.
Take that silly scientists. Or, religionists. We're getting confused as to what you are. Of course, when you keep referring to fictitious and/or debunked studies "proving" that prayer has any fucking measurable effect whatsoever, that'll happen.
It's all well and good that there are folks defending the card, and milquetoast milksaps trying to play the politically-correct (read: fence-straddling) middle road, but then we get to the usual back-and-forth craziness that makes next to no sense. And it's a funny thing. In response to all of them — from the numerous supporters 'shipping Jessica (and possibly starting their "Harry Potter Fucks an Index Card" fanfics), to the number of whining asshats declaring that they are "Leaving forever, so there!" — Stephen again nails it:
And thus, we see how any regular commentary (blogs are now pretty much the standard for this) eventually is only read by people with almost identical viewpoints as the author. Everyone who significantly disagrees is "quitting forever" Everyone who really agrees is "so happy to see the really smart post." But many of those same happy people will, someday, be "really disappointed" with the unfortunate turn for the "stupid," leaving Jess with only the people who agree with this _new_ opinion (plus newer readers who haven't been offended by anything yet). Even the most innocuous blogs will eventually become subject to this effect. How sad that the human brain is pretty much programmed to ignore anything that it disagrees with.
Agreed. How many times have we seen this complete bullshit? "I totally agreed with you until you stepped on my pet stupidity, so now you utterly suck across the board."
Or perhaps it's possible to disagree with another party on one thing, and still understand the reasoning behind it, even if your opinion differs; and then you will not only have no problem continuing to agree with the other stuff you already agreed with, but maybe you can even give some more thought to your own position and possibly even end up agreeing with this one, too.
Fuck, we do that all the time. We've made it pretty clear that we don't agree with the overly Libertarian slant that Penn & Teller sometimes fall back on in certain episodes of Bullshit, but that doesn't make us stop watching — and liking — the shows where they debunk the paranormal. The same goes for Bill Maher — we've written about his silly beliefs concerning germ theory and animal rights, but we still watch and enjoy much of what we see from him.
It's this "hive mind" group mindset that is driving us up the fucking wall. In politics, ontology, everything — too many people seem to think that you must find a group to join and agree with every member on everything. Hey, we're just a tiny group of extremely similarly-thinking people, and we disagree on plenty of issues. It's fucking insane to think you can get a few hundred, or thousand, or million, or billion people to all agree on everything across the board.
As a caveat to this whole discussion, we have a confession to make. A few months back, we excitedly put up a Rant about James Randi's appearance in New York City, and our enthusiastic intent to be there when he spoke. We even promised to write about it afterward, as soon as we got a chance. A few days later, Rockstar Ryan pointedly inquired how it went...and our complete response (from Tom) was "It was good."
Here's the thing, folks: it was wonderful to see Randi. It was great to hear him speak. It was cool to hear some stories of his we hadn't heard, and see him do a few conjuring tricks, and to watch the footage of his appearances on the Johnny Carson show immediately followed by Randi's own recollections of the events.
But we'd gone there with another aim, as well — a sort of experiment...on ourselves. We've written in the past about how we don't think you can really group atheists together, as atheism itself is merely one minor facet in the lives of most atheists we know. We've often expressed that, perhaps, we could see more of an argument for grouping skeptics together. We wanted to see if our opinion on that was genuine, or if we still were uncomfortable about the idea of grouping ourselves with complete strangers on the basis of one key — even overwhelming — similarity.
The answer to Ryan's question, and the reason behind our reluctance to go into it, are the same: we were a bit embarrassed by what the audience exhibited at Randi's talk. Not one of the audience questions or comments after his lecture was interesting, thought-provoking, or original. Several of them were self-congratulatory — either a kind of "I get you, Randi" thing, or a more "I'm blowing the skeptic horn loudly in my public life, as well" kind of comment. A few betrayed a deep misunderstanding of what Randi had said in his talk, or written on many occasions (and Randi's bemused confusion was evident). At least two (both of those from the same guy) demonstrated that the querent hadn't even been paying attention to the lecture Randi had just given (his questions were not only answered, but discussed at length in the course of the evening).
And we thought to ourselves — and discussed on the way home — "Is this what we would group ourselves with?" It was pretty disappointing.
We realized that we were right all along: grouping yourself with people you don't know at all and have never even met in any meaningful sense of the word is inevitably setting yourself up for disappointment. And we realized something about ourselves. You see, we're not antisocial; far from it, in fact. However, what we truly want out of human contact is to interact, not to "associate." In the long run, actual interaction, rather than association by something abstract like "we agree on this, and disagree on this," seems much more meaningful (and, therefore, satisfying).
This, it seems, is our staunch opposition to groupthink. Because, of course, the biggest curse of groupthink is that, no matter how many tick-marks you can make in the "Agree" column, all the way down the list...eventually, because we are human beings, there will be a difference of opinion between any two individuals. And those who crave being part of a group are going to be disappointed by that time and time again.
So at the end of the day, we support the New York City Skeptics, who brought James Randi to town for his speaking engagement. We extend a hearty thank you to them, and we wish them all the best in their skeptical endeavors. But we'd no more want to join their ranks than we would anoint Bill Maher our flag bearer for rational discourse. To be sure, there are certainly members of the NYC Skeptics that we'd actively be interested in interacting with. To be equally sure, there are certainly members of most groups that we'd like to interact with, including religious groups. But we'd no more join one than any other. To us, it is about the individual, not the group they profess membership in.
It's an odd but very human tendency toward tribalism, and there's a mistaken (as far as we can see) belief that, the bigger your tribe, the more "right" you must be. A large group somehow justifies your opinion. We wouldn't deny that, somehow, in some way, we Two Percenters — as, you know, human beings — might be falling prey to this attitude, too. But whenever we think about it rationally, carefully, and logically, we see every time how poorly it turns out, grouping yourself with people you've never met and really worked things out with. It leads to disappointment, it leads to dissent, it leads to No True Scotsman, and — in many cases — it eventually leads to seeking new groups.
It seems as if, a thousand years from now, as religion is breathing its last, the few billion remaining religiosos will finally set aside most of their theological differences and agree on a singular theology and set of tenets and mores, and they will join together in one über-powerful church.
And then, a thousand years and five minutes from now, the church will splinter like wooden Protestants over whether chocolate is better than vanilla. Because with their distinctly group-craving religious mindset, they will think if you have different opinions on any one thing, you are a fucking infidel.
Us? We'd rather meet other people, have a good discussion, agree on some items, disagree on others, and all the while expand our knowledge — just like we do right here, with so many of our regulars and even the more infrequent visitors. We want to walk into town, pitch our tent, swap a few stories, then pack up and move on the next day. We're certainly not looking for some place to build a house and settle down. Meeting skeptics for drinks, because they're skeptics, feels a bit too much like heading out on a blind date where all you know is she's got huge...tracts of land. Sure, you might get a nice view of cleavage, but the odds are fifty-fifty that she's a bit skanky. (Ladies and gay men, you can easily switch the gender here, and we'd be happy to do it for you, so no cries of "Sexist!" And lesbians — you know just what we mean. We wear comfortable shoes, too.)
It's conceivable that some might confuse our reason for not joining groups with the reason we ascribe to group-seeking individuals for leaving groups. "Aha!" you might say. "You complain that others leave because of disagreement on one point — while you don't even join, for fear of disagreement on one point!" However, this misses the idea behind what we're describing. See, we aren't hesitant to join groups because we might (or already do) disagree with the members — we simply aren't interested in assigning ourselves an association with people we don't know. If we don't know them, we have no idea what they're like. We can't "vouch" for them, and wouldn't like being asked to on the basis of any association.
We're not interested in signing on with any group on the basis of a few key agreements, only to find that the members are all (or mostly) people we don't want to interact with at all (for whatever reason!). We'd much rather interact with a variety of people, and get to know them, and then continue to interact with those whose opinions and views we value (whether their views agree with ours or not). From what we've seen, simply being a "skeptic" or an "atheist" means precisely zilch when it comes to our respect for your opinion. Folks like Francois Tremblay and Larry Darby illustrate this quite well. On the flip side, there are religious people whose opinions we certainly value, even though we have major points of disagreement with them within our opposing world views.
But we wouldn't want to "change" their views. We don't want you to sign up whole-hog for the Two Percent Manifesto. We constantly and consistently point out to detractors and more positive querents alike that we aren't interested in having you agree with us, we would just like you to understand our position and, if you wish to refute it, we'd like you to do so intelligently (that way, rather than agreeing with us, you might even convince us to agree with you). Hell, even amongst ourselves, we have disagreements, and we've known each other for over two decades (nearing three, rapidly). That's a lot of time and interest spent figuring each other out. That's a lot invested, and that investment pays off in a decent amount of confidence in associating ourselves with each other. Despite our disagreements (some small, some big), we would certainly "vouch" for any member of our group, and we would feel no distaste at being associated with one another in the minds of other individuals. But that true association came about after years and years of interaction on various levels.
In short: we want to interact with intelligent human beings of all stripes. But when it comes to associating ourselves? Signing up? Making a (shudder) commitment? No offense, but you'll have to do a lot more than just buy us a metaphorical drink first.
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Ryan, 2009.01.27 (Tue) 18:22 [Link] »
Akusai, 2009.01.29 (Thu) 15:21 [Link] »
The Two Percent Company, 2009.02.01 (Sun) 15:59 [Link] »
Akusai, 2010.04.16 (Fri) 10:13 [Link] »
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