A ramble on political fundamentalists

This is a really boring and poorly written rant on fundamentalism, rational argument, and specialization. Feel free to skip it.
You can’t win an argument with a fundamentalist, because they don’t argue. They have a fixed position that can’t be moved by new information. ‘I know the earth is 10,000 years old, therefore all evidence that the earth is a sphere must be incorrect.’ Try arguing with that. It’s the same with political fundamentalists. ‘The government is bad at some things, therefore the government is bad at everything.’
People don’t see any penalty for holding static views. A highly trained surgeon can safely believe that Obama is not a U.S. citizen because he receives no intellectual penalty for believing it. That belief suits his needs, so he believes it. He’s not stupid, he’s just chosen to cling to a debunked belief because it’s intellectually easier for him to do that than to not.
There is still a small but frighteningly significant number of Americans who believe the moon shot was somehow faked. Do they honestly believe that? Yes, they probably honestly believe it because it’s fun to believe it, or it confirms their suspicions of the government, or they are just contrarians. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that their crackpot belief is possible for them because it doesn’t effect their daily life. They can still perform surgery, trim trees, write software. What’s the harm?
The harm is that it *does* effect their daily life in the long term. The fact of the matter is that the earth is very old, life has been evolving for a very long time, with humans appearing relatively late in the cycle. I can *believe* that the earth is 10,000 years old and dinosaurs are a hoax and every living thing was plunked down at once, but that doesn’t make it true. And the only reason my belief doesn’t do permanent harm to society is because there are enough rational people who accept the facts and progress with their work.
We all take intellectual shortcuts. I do it and so do you. We must. One person can not and does not need to personally research every corner of human knowledge. Modern societies are specialized with professionals pursuing their areas of expertise so that I don’t have to. You research blind mole rats, I’ll write some software, your neighbor will fill put out fires, and we’ll progress.
If 98% of the mole rat researchers find that mole rats mate once every six years, I’ll take their word for it. If most economists are telling me that spending money to reform health care is worth the short term it to the deficit, then OK then. They’re the ones with the Nobel Prizes, not me. I expect the President to explain to me how that will work, but I’m not going to reflexively blast the notion.
But I will try not to glibly pop off on topics that are important or that I don’t know about. If you want to cling to irrational beliefs to support your chosen identification group, root for a sports team. There’s an entire media industry just for you to shout, scream, berate your opponents, and generally act like an uninformed ass. You can drop all the verbal hand grenades you want and do no harm.

5 Comments

  1. I applaud your observations about intellectual shortcuts and allowing people to specialize in their field of expertise – to the advatage of the rest of us. I am disappointed that you interpret the asking of questions (to try to be informed and to try to understand) as glibly popping off, screaming and berating. I, for one, just want to know. There has never been a time for blind trust in our politicians. PS I voted for McGovern, Dukakis, Carter, Perot, Clinton and Bush (twice). Not in that order and I know it sounds schizophrenic, but that is what individual choice and, what I call, a “special interest group of one” is all about.

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