Monday, August 29, 2005

Truth, and Opinion.

Let me opine, for a moment, on the folly of opinion, with a single caveat, the one the doctor gives you before injecting a needle into your skin: depending on how deep the insanity of your delusions runs, this may sting a bit.

Imagine any opinion that you have; the more strongly held it is the better. Okay? Now imagine that you meet a person who is brilliant—really, truly, absolutely brilliant, a person that knows twenty times what you know about the subject of your opinion. Unless you are a Nobel Prize winner, do not kid yourself: that person exists. That person inquires after your beliefs, patiently allowing you to present and develop your points, taking notes and asking thoughtful questions all the while. Now imagine that when he or she is finished listening, that individual, calmly and without anger, effortlessly tears every one of your arguments to shreds. He or she demolishes your rebuttals without any voice-raising or wild gesticulation, calmly as a computer demonstrating to you that everything you believed was wrong.

You’d be grateful, right? You’d thank that person sincerely, shake hands and be happy that the veil of ignorance had been lifted from your eyes, go forth with the recognition that you no longer have to live in illusion and misguidance. Wouldn’t you?

Bullshit. Chances are, if you are like everyone else, you would be deeply, deeply angry about this. You would be hurt and confused and threatened, awash with despair and embarrassment because someone hurt your feelings by telling you the truth. You would despise that individual, plugging your ears while screaming “La, la, la, I can’t hear you!!”

That’s how attached the crazy monkeys of humanity become to their ideas. We would rather feel good and proud and self-important about being wrong than suffer the humbling experience of correction. We would rather live vain, empty existences of flattering delusion than face the beauty and the terror of truth. Turns out that ignorance really is bliss.


Let me give you a compelling example: for eons, Hebrews, and then later Romans, Europeans, and Americans, were guided by a transcription of centuries of oral Hebrew myth regarding the origins of man. God raised man up from the earth and blew the breath of life into him. That’s a pretty flattering story, that a mighty sky god made us in his image and likeness, instead of the reverse. It’s no wonder that people bought and buy into it so readily and happily, even aside from the trouble of having to find a theory less utterly preposterous.

In 1859, a brilliant naturalist who had spent his entire adult life in careful, detached observation of natural phenomena, proposed a very sane and sensible theory, that man evolved from lower mammals, and that different species all come into existence by the slow-but-sure combination of nature and time. 146 years of subsequent science has affirmed his key contentions, adding volumes of data and an ever-growing fossil record to flesh out the idea that man is just a highly intelligent animal, and not a thing apart from the animal kingdom. While this version of the story is true, it is quite the opposite of the other one: it is decidedly unflattering.

The same 146 years later, we have demented monkeys clinging to the book of nomadic herdsmen, prehistoric savages that knew virtually nothing about the world around them, because the silly, primitive lies of that book make them happy, and the cold, unflattering clinical truths of Origin of the Species make them sad. That’s what this is all about, you know. Science is factual and provable, and Hebrew myth is factually and provably mythical, but very many people are so in love with hearing the lie that the sky god breathed life into clay that they plug their ears and shout out the people telling them that they are just nature’s newest model of primate. As Jack Nicholson once said, they cannot handle the truth.

An opinion is not a means of inquiry, of truth seeking. It is a gesture of arrogance and self-aggrandizement, apes beating on their chests to ward off fistfights that they aren’t sure they can win. You thought you were informing someone? No, you are, through the rhetorical force of your opinion, attempting to gain power over someone, to convince them of the rightness of your ideas so that they will act in accordance with your desires. All this time you thought you were showing others the light through the prettiness of your words, when in fact your tone of voice was telling other men to fear and respect you, women to mate with you. What you thought was an elegant verbal exercise was little more than you trying to control territory, climb the rungs of animal power hierarchies, and get laid.

Now my version of what an opinion is, being itself an opinion, is all of the things that I just told you. So even if you agree, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t ever take anything anyone tells you for granted without holding it aloft like a jeweler, exposing its facets and flaws to the invasive light of rigorous scrutiny. The fact that people don’t do this is how they get talked into so many damned fool ideas about things, without even knowing that they’re being indoctrinated.

Because that's just, I'm afraid, the way we are.

7 Comments:

Blogger Nightcrawler said...

I'm not angry, I just wonder why it is that people believe that the two are mutually exclusive? Don't people believe that God could cause things to evolve?

Tue Aug 30, 05:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

I never actually said that I don't believe in any kind of God. I can't disprove the existence of a higher intelligence, and in fact have no interest in disproving such. I just know nothing about a supreme being and a little bit about science, so I talk about the latter. Saying that a literal interpretation of Genesis is a bunch of bunk and denying the possible existence of God are two seperate matters entirely.

Tue Aug 30, 10:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nightcrawler said...

I agree. I figured that's what you meant. It's just that so many people equate evidence of evolution with the lack of a supreme being. Just checkin!

Wed Aug 31, 07:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Katie B. said...

I wrote a nice reply here the other day, but my cat decided that it was affection time and all was lost to the paws of one very demanding feline named, Gabriel.

Here's my summary:

There are so many fascinating and beautiful creation stories. Why argue which story is The One of Truth? Celebrate all of the stories as possibilities that may be revealed to us later.

Yes! It is very possible to have a scientific process that was set forth by a God (higher power, supreme being, or whatever).

Fri Sep 02, 08:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Evil Jeremy. said...

But then again, if science adequately explains something, then why is there an intellectual need to assign it a secondary cause? It violates the principal of science dictating that we do not assume more than we have to, that the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one.

Sun Sep 04, 11:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger xanadian said...

Creationism: Genesis 1. How I know it well. The interesting thing about the six "days" of creation is that they happened (with the exception of day 4, which should've come between days 1 and 2) pretty much in the exact order that science has confirmed: nothing, then light, then the Earth, then water and land, then vegetation, then sea THEN air creatures, then land creatures, then man.

On day 4, as I think of it... the "lights in the heavens" to separate day from night: I read somewhere that science believes the moon was formed from a collision with Earth early in its formation.

Anyway, thought I'd throw that little tidbit in there. God did not make the Earth in six literal days, but it looks like the Earth was either directly created or affected to be created in six "periods".

As for someone 20 times more intelligent than I shredding apart my beliefs: in one way, this is a good thing, because one's beliefs can cloud them to other (and sometimes greater) possibilities. But people also need their illusions to keep them from thinking too much (like I have done).

Tue Sep 13, 02:49:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Tbolter said...

Just popping in from the gas station. Thanks for the link.

You need to include Faith with Truth and Opinion in this post.
IMHO Faith is much more powerfull.

Fri Sep 30, 09:39:00 PM EDT  

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