Hook, Line, & Sinker
Posted: 23 August 2007 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m curious, why does it seem that patterns of belief seem to come as a package? Various belief systems and points of view probably have useful bits and nonsensical bits, yet it is seems hard to pick and choose, and people seem to prefer buying a whole package. Obviously, religions want you to accept their systems as a whole, and syncretism is roundly condemned. But this seems to be the case with even non-religious world views.

As an example, I’ve mentioned before that I’m attracted to Buddhism as a set of attitudes and techniques that seem useful, helpful in improving the quality of my daily life. I don’t buy the underlying metaphysics, but I don’t feel I have to to get something out of the philosophy and the meditation practice. But whenever I go into the kind of store where I can find some of my favorite Buddhist writers and periodicals, I’m also surrounded by Tarot cards, Alternative Medicine, and all kinds of BS that for some reason seems to cluster together with what I’m interested in. Why is that? Is it aesthetic or psychological temperment (Christians all like the same thing, so their bookstores sell that, and people with a mystical bent are equally attracted to Buddhism and Wicca and norse runes)? Is it just convenience (it’s more work to evaluate every idea, and easier to lump ideas into categories that allow them to be judged as groups)?

Why is it that my clients who are into acupuncture for pain relief (which has a least a little reasonable scientific evidence for it) also go for homeopathy, touch therapy, etc and disdain real medicine as “toxic chemicals?” Even skeptics and non-believers seem to practice confirmation bias to the point of forgetting to be open-minded about things that fall outside their usual idea of what to believe.

I’m not expressing this well, but I just wonder what makes constructing such monolithic world views more appealing than looking objectively at individual ideas and judging them on their merits. Any thoughts?

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I imagine that some of this is the sort of ‘post-religious’ mindset that IIRC some sociologists talk about. That is, these are people who aren’t comfortable with traditional western religions—Christianity, Judaism, what have you—but nonetheless are interested in the whole religious way of thinking. That is, they are pro-supernatural. Many of them go for New Age nonsense.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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brennen,

i can relate. my favorite definition of hypocrite was be Jesus, and when I was 18 I found alot of inspiration in Shamabala (and would still recommend it for secular, self-help purposes).

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I have noticed that most people tend to fall into either conformist or reactionary types.  The conformists will do what the mainstream does even when it doesn’t make sense and reactionaries often won’t do what the mainstream does even if it truly makes sense.  But there are lots of different ways of being reactionaries. 

A store that sells books about Buddhism will probably go out of business if that is all it does.  There is a good chance that people that buy books on Buddhism are in the reactionary camp.  How many people have you met that claim to be into Buddhism but are silly know nothings?  The store will have to sell silly BS to all of the people that will spend money on it.

Thinking for yourself is a problem because so many other people aren’t doing it and will behave like there is something wrong with you if you do.  You get called a tinfoiler for asking how many tons of steel were on the 80th floor of the south WTC tower.  LOL

psik

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree, Brennen.  People seem to have constellations of similar beliefs.  While the correlations are not perfect, they seem to be common.  One could make a list of items such as standard medicine vs. alternative medicine, 9/11 conspiracy vs. acceptance of the standard view, theism vs. atheism or agnosticism, politically conservative vs. politically liberal, science vs. metaphysical, area 51 vs. no alien landing, intelligent design vs. evolution, social Darwinism vs. mutual social support, etc.  While I have only anecdotal evidence, I’d be willing to guess that if one asked a random sample of people to choose one of each of these pairs, there would be decent correlations among the choices.

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of why.  Because they would tend to be grouped, it would be easy for anyone to say of the other group that they are just not as smart or as educated or as well-adjusted or as socially evolved as the first group, but that’s not really of much value in determining cause.

Occam

[ Edited: 23 August 2007 03:57 PM by Occam ]
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Posted: 23 August 2007 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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mckenzievmd - 23 August 2007 01:24 PM

Why is it that my clients who are into acupuncture for pain relief (which has a least a little reasonable scientific evidence for it) also go for homeopathy, touch therapy, etc and disdain real medicine as “toxic chemicals?” Even skeptics and non-believers seem to practice confirmation bias to the point of forgetting to be open-minded about things that fall outside their usual idea of what to believe.

I’m not expressing this well, but I just wonder what makes constructing such monolithic world views more appealing than looking objectively at individual ideas and judging them on their merits. Any thoughts?

1.)  Science education in government schools is abysmal with the scientific method not even taught at all in most schools. 

2.)  Science within the popular culture takes a back seat to American Idol, People Magazine, sports and other bread and circuses.

3.)  One of the things that makes science so successful, its reliance on statistics and simultaneous skepticism of anecdotal reports, goes completely against the human nature to tend to favor stories over cold, uncaring numbers. 

4.)  Science has become a victim of its own success.  Most people today can’t even imagine the fear and pain our grandparents went through when one of a number of unstoppable killer diseases would run rampant killing men, women and children at random and nothing could be done to stop it.  Science has so successfully given us all a better life, and it has done so in such a way that most people don’t even think about it.  It is so prevalent yet unseen in our lives, always in the background but never thought about.  Combine that with the apparent need humans seem to have to worry about something, and so when something bad happens, or the unknown rears its head, why not be weary of the one thing they don’t even think about, much less understand:  Science.  The anecdotal tales that their friends tell about their chiropractor, feng shuist, voodoo priest, homeopathic practitioner, psychic healer and other New Age* nonsense will be much more understanding and comforting than the peer-reviewed, double-blind—and most importantly to most people—the undecipherable medical study printed up in some journal they have never heard of, much less read. 

Besides, the only bigger liars than quacks, are their patients.   

*As Penn & Teller say, “New Age, or Newage, rhymes with Sewage!”  :grin:

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Posted: 23 August 2007 10:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Occam - 23 August 2007 03:52 PM

I agree, Brennen.  People seem to have constellations of similar beliefs.  While the correlations are not perfect, they seem to be common.  One could make a list of items such as standard medicine vs. alternative medicine, 9/11 conspiracy vs. acceptance of the standard view, theism vs. atheism or agnosticism, politically conservative vs. politically liberal, science vs. metaphysical, area 51 vs. no alien landing, intelligent design vs. evolution, social Darwinism vs. mutual social support, etc.  While I have only anecdotal evidence, I’d be willing to guess that if one asked a random sample of people to choose one of each of these pairs, there would be decent correlations among the choices.

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of why.  Because they would tend to be grouped, it would be easy for anyone to say of the other group that they are just not as smart or as educated or as well-adjusted or as socially evolved as the first group, but that’s not really of much value in determining cause.

Occam

I disagree… at least with 9/11 conspiracies, the strongest correlate seems to be being Muslim. 40-something percent of US Muslims believe in some 9/11 conspiracy theory, which is far higher than the percentage that accepts Islamism or even feels alienated from mainstream American values.

The thing about Buddhism is that among Westerners it’s basically a fad, made by the sort of people who think “It’s not a religion, it’s a way of life” is a non-inane statement. And this fad just happens to be correlated with New Age ideas in general. It doesn’t have to be; forty years ago the fad was communism, especially the version with the Che Guevara worship. Now among some classes of American society the fad is black culture, complete with pseudo-gangster behavior.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 11:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Alon,
You sure do like making broad, sweeping, definitive statements, eh? Tell us how you really feel. wink I have to say that I think dismissing the interest among some in the West in Buddhism as a fad is a bit shallow. Certainly there have been elements of this, but it started in a reasonably large way in the 60s, and that’s more than 40 years ago. The popularity of such things waxes and wanes, but there’s a core of folks who have been interested in these ideas for decades in a fairly serious way. As for dismissing the religious aspects of it, I think that’s excellent. I’m all for taking what is useful in religious practice and secularising it. We took the Christianity (and the paganism, for that matter) out of Halloween and ended up with a great holiday. If we take reincarnation and the Bardo and lineage out of Buddhism, great! Is it still Buddhism, well that depends on your definition. It’s not traditional Asian Buddhism, but then the Methodists don’t look much like 1st century Christians either; so what? 

I thnk Occam is right on in listing the kinds of correlations that one finds, and it might be interesting to do some analysis of them and see where that leads. I still think that it’s simply less effort and less confusing to adopt ideas as sets rather than analyse each on it’s merits, but I don’t have any real evidence for that, just a hunch.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Methodist Christianity evolved. American Buddhism seems way more artificial. For example, some American Buddhists’ insistence on being in a silent environment while meditating contrasts nicely with scenes of meditating Buddhists on noisy streets in Singapore. It’s not because the politics, theology, or philosophy of any Buddhist movement in American emphasizes silent environments; it’s because of American misconceptions about Asian practice of Buddhism. Most American Buddhist practices to real Buddhism are like broken English to standard English, while Methodist Christianity is more like a dialect like New York English or Ebonics (or Italian to Latin, if you want to magnify the difference).

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Posted: 24 August 2007 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I still think that it’s simply less effort and less confusing to adopt ideas as sets rather than analyse each on it’s merits, but I don’t have any real evidence for that, just a hunch.

Here we’re in agreement, and I suspect I know why (though I have no idea how to test it).

Nobody gets paid to analyze politics. Instead, people are paid to provide careful apologetics for a known position. Thomas Friedman’s readership expects him to be consistently pro-American and neo-liberal. He can attack Bush for being incompetent, and once in a while even talk about a drawback of globalization as currently practiced, but if he starts channeling Joseph Stiglitz, he’ll lose his readers. Richard Dawkins’ readers expect him to unapologetically hate religion and look down on religious people. If he writes a book that mentions positive contributions of religion to society, or seriously analyzes the politics of religion, nobody will buy it.

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