Ironies In The Fire

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: We gaze at our navel because its closer and easier to shave than our asshole.

And the answer to the identity half of the question is:

 Oh, I don’t know. Out of nearly 7 billion people, I’m fortunate to be in the top 1% in the planet with regards to health, wealth, looks, brains, athleticism, and nationality. My wife is slender, beautiful, lovable, loyal, fertile, and funny. I meet good people who seem to enjoy my company everywhere I go. That all seems pretty lucky to me, considering that my entire contribution to the situation was choosing my parents well. I am grateful and I thank God every day for the ticket He has dealt me. If I’m not a birth lottery winner, then who is? The kid in the Congo who just got his hands chopped off and is getting raped for the fourth time today? To paraphrase the immortal parental wisdom of PJ O’Rourke, anyone in my position had damn well better get down on their knees and pray that life does not become fair.

In other words, God. It has been Ordained.

And the answer to the belief half of the question is:

As for belief, I don’t concern myself in the slightest with the perfect correspondence of my beliefs with What Is So or not. They either do or they don’t, but regardless, the Absolute Truth of Creation doesn’t depend upon what I happen to believe it to be at the moment and I don’t think such correspondence is even theoretically possible. Bakker simply doesn’t understand that I don’t believe his opinion, my opinion, or anyone else’s opinion matters in the least, except in how they happen to affect our decisions and subsequent actions. See Human Action for details.  

By way of clarification, no one asked him about the ‘absolute’ of anything. I’m not sure I understand, otherwise (and would welcome clarification). Is he saying he doesn’t believe in the question? Or is he saying the truth or falsity doesn’t matter, so long as people do what he wants them to do? Or is he actually biting the bullet, saying, ‘I really don’t know whether my claims are right or wrong, but I don’t care one way or another, so long as people seem to believe me.”

Or is he simply avoiding the question once again.

Now, if I were a follower of Theo, I would like to know what the hell he’s talking about. Why should they take someone who doesn’t care about the accuracy of his views of faith seriously? Or, if he does take the accuracy (as opposed to the consequences) of his claims seriously, why should they trust the claims of someone who doesn’t take the likelihood they are wrong seriously.

One of the things that seems to make democracy such an effective form of governance, for instance, is its capacity for reform, for adapting to new social realities. It’s ugly, it’s prone to error, but the institution is designed to eventually get it right.

One of the ironies that always had me scratching my head following Theo’s blog was the tension between his dogmatism and his purported libertarianism. A libertarian like Michael Shermer, for instance, is skeptical of government’s ability to manage society independent of markets for much the same reason he’s skeptical of an individual’s ability to magically stumble upon the truth independent of (natural) science: humans are just not smart enough to master the supercomplexities involved. Centrally planned economies fail, on this account, because all things being equal, the solution to a distribution problem enacted by a ‘Red Director’ will be wrong, whereas the market not only generates a plurality of possible solutions, it also selects the one or ones that actually solve the problem.

This could be why democracy and capitalism at the social institutional level have so outstripped their competitors: creative flexibility in the face of supercomplexity. All I want to suggest to Theo and to any of his readers who happen to find this post is that skepticism (and it’s social incarnation, science) is the cognitive analogue to democracy and capitalism.

The reason science has so outstripped its competitors boils down to creative flexibility in the face of supercomplexity. Multiple researchers with multiple hypotheses, embedded in a system that selects for accuracy. You never ‘go all in’ – rather, you hedge your bets, always realizing the complexity of things is such that you could very well lose. And you listen closely to those making contrary bets around you, realizing that they are at least as likely to be holding the winning hand as you. 

In the case of each, democracy, capitalism, science, the process is messy and complicated, two things that cut against our stone age psychology. We despise uncertainty. Very little is pretty close up with these institutions: the grandeur and the power only reveal themselves when you take a big step back.

So given this, the best answer to the Question, I think, would be something along the lines of: “I think I’ve won the Magical Belief and Identity Lottery because more and more research seems to indicate that humans are hardwired to do so, even though odds are I’m just as duped as the next guy. I’m ‘programmed’ to fool myself.”

This answer at least possesses the virtues of remaining open to further scientific scrutiny, and explaining why the idiots who disagree with you seem to be just as convinced of their idiocy as you are of your brilliance.