Why do people do stupid things or embrace stupid ideas?
Because they're stupid!
Not really. No one is always stupid and all of us, even the most intelligent, can be stupid occasionally. Actually, stupidity depends more upon the subject and the circumstances than upon the individual.
Stupidities are activities or concepts adopted despite overwhelming and generally accepted contrary evidence. These frequently cause outcomes that are different (often disastrously) from the intended result. The definition does not include lapses of attention (accidents, et cetera), because judgment is not in play, or reasonable decisions based upon insufficient or inaccurate information. It does include creating situations that will certainly cause accidents; it also includes manufacturing nonsense evidence to support absurdity or hatred.
Here are some examples:
While there is no evidence of common sense (sound judgment derived from evidence and experience) in such examples, the reasoning process is still intact. In each case the stupidity is logical in light of the underlying belief.
Pyramid schemes, televangelists, psychics, effortless weight loss, astrology, faith healing, alien abductions, zombification of cult members such as Branch Davidians and Moonies and of Limbaugh dittoheads, etcetera all flourish under the umbrella of belief.
How about evil? If belief can impel people to monumental stupidity, can it also inspire people to monstrous brutality?
Germans of the NAZI era were not intrinsically (genetically) evil. Nor were those Serbs who, more recently, inflicted such gruesome cruelty with such gusto in Bosnia and Kosovo. Nor are those jihadists whose fanaticism has destroyed more Muslims than hated infidels. For generations, in churches and mosques, in folklore and harangues, in classrooms and lecture halls, in print and broadcast media, those peoples were subjected to torrents of hatred and xenophobia, and to notions of their own superiority, virtue and victimhood. It is by such belief-infused loathing and paranoia, that normal people are made to bomb and torture and burn and kill.
Communism was designed, and proselytized, in the belief that it was the way to improve the lives of the "masses". Despite famines due to its stupid agricultural policies, despite relocations of whole populations and purges including slaughter of millions perceived to be incompatible with communist ideology, that belief was widely held for many decades. It still exists among some people.
From the Inquisition and crusades of Medieval Europe to the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur, murders and massacres have been done in belief that the world could be improved by exterminating some part of humanity.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is often used to rationalize child abuse. Inferiority of women, homophobia, holy war, ethnic and racial hatred are always justified by belief.
However, there is a crucial difference. Unlike stupidity, evil requires no underlying belief; greed, lust and power-hunger are sufficient. But, when evil needs support, beliefs are readily adjusted:
We believe for many reasons: tradition, convenience, discontent, desperation; and belief enables hope. Many beliefs are benign, even beneficial. But before a belief is accepted it should be examined in light of real evidence, empathy and the Golden Rule. This is essential because beliefs are too easily controlled by clever instigators, extremists and militants who tap into dreams and fears. "Evidence" is invented as needed. "Truth" flows from the mouths of leaders into the brains of followers. We are exhorted to purge doubt, purify thought, intensify faith. For those who want to believe, nothing is too absurd! Fanaticism, foolishness and inhumanity increase without limit; common sense and understanding are abandoned.
So, when we’re stupid and often when we’re evil, it’s not because we cannot reason or because we cannot apprehend the damage and misery that we may be inflicting; it’s because of what we believe. Unexamined belief is the instrument by which demagogues, charlatans and holy men manipulate our minds and our lives. Clearly, to have a world with less stupidity and less evil, we need more critical thinking and healthy skepticism, less gullibility, less faith.
-retracted because the edit did not save. sigh.-
Great post - that's why when debating theists I always make a point to ridicule dogma - so that later when they try to bring up atheist regimes , they are will essentially be in agreement with me.
I am not against believing in a God , I am against the institutionalization of bronze age moralities and superstitions of which are perpetuated through the psychological abuse of indoctrinating children.
It's not only theists & magical thinking that cause problems. Hate speech, bigotry, quackery, etc. are just as bad.
The unexamined belief is not worth believing :^)
Philosophy Bite has a guy by the name of Law on recently who discussed how even things that can neither be proven nor disproven can still be evaluated as for their degree of reasonability. He pointed out that he's never been to Japan, yet there's great evidence to suggest it exists, so his belief that Japan exists is rational. Fairies on the other hand, not a good idea to believe in those.
Dr. Burton's "on being certain" is a fantastic book on this topic. Seriously, I highly recommend it. (i don't remember his first name off the top of my head, but a quick google will bring it up)
Thank you for your reply.
Your tolerance is commendable, but the whole article is about how what people do results from what they believe and how disastrous this often is for themselves and others. Do you really think you're not affected by peoples actions? Think 9/11; think recent elections; etc.
Am I affected by others.. Sure I am.. But I also take the time to think it through.. To compile facts and to use logic. When I see something has affected me I stop, pause and ask why..
It is not for me to go around pushing people around to believe a certain way. If I do that, then I am being as oppressive in nature as the same exact thing as I left to begin with, if that is what being an atheist means maybe I should continue to look for some other title..
I think you do exactly what my essay urges, to “ . . . examine . . . [beliefs] in light of real evidence, empathy and the Golden Rule” How is that “pushing people around to believe a certain way”?
Anyway, Thanks again for your feedback.
I agree you and I have different areas of logic and reasoning from others.
We need proof, a different kind of proof, we need to see it. We need more than just some feeling, or emotional sermon, we need more than imaginary logic.
But some people for what ever reason feel the need to have imaginary friends. I am ok with that as long as the imaginary friend is not affecting my life or being pushed into my mind.
Yes I agree with you that people need to examine things for real evidence. However how do you give real evidence when most of their logic and reasoning is based on emotional attachment?
Telling some one to not believe in a sky daddy is almost like telling them their love for their children does not exist. Like it or not that is about the same attachment they have for this thing they bow to.. It is crazy to me I will admit it, but I have learned that it doesn't matter how much I rant and raise hell about it, or how much logic I discuss with them they are not going to change their stance, so I simply agree to disagree.
Now if you can tell me a simple way to disprove their imaginary friend, I will be happy to use it on everyone that the conversation comes up with. However what I have found to be true in my conversations with these people is it turns out to be a brawl of us both trying to prove the other one wrong, and very little is ever accomplished. Other than loosing a friendship or a family member. Or having someone else out there to hate me, because I refuse to bow to their oppressive nature and their scary stories.
I can't disprove a negative, and they can't prove it to me with their emotional attachments, and scary stories. However they have a different form of logic, and reasoning than I do. Mine is from seeing is believing, proof is needed on my end. With them their proof is their emotional attachment. It is two very different things, so I just agree to disagree and move on..
We’re not that far apart, seems to me.
First: Strictly speaking, I don't think anything (outside of mathematics) can be "proved"; it's really a question of what the evidence shows. That's not as absolute as proof.
Any way, if a belief fails the “real evidence” test it could still pass the “golden rule” test -- that is it hurts no one, but provides comfort to those who hold it. For example astrology: I think it’s silly, but I don’t see it causing much harm. So I don't care much at all if people believe it; I find it rather amusing.
The same cannot be said for religions, especially the monotheistic ones. They proselytize, try to impose their dogma and strictures on others (exactly what you deplore), occasionally with severity and brutality. It’s not the magical thinking that’s the problem, but how the leaders use it to manipulate the minds and lives of the followers.