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The Self Thought Police

I often think of a quote I heard in a movie I saw when I was a teenager. I cant remember the name of the movie, or what it was about, but I do remember one person warning another to be careful how close they stood to the edge while staring into the abyss, its very easy to fall in. On the surface it doesn’t sound like much, but for years I have been reading a little more into it that maybe I should ever have, and I have applied the concept to many aspects of my life as a sort of beacon from which to gauge my objectivity in approaching matters which have affected me and the people around me.

As flippant as it may sound, I have always seen opinions as somewhat like Arses. Everyone has one, a lot of them stink and you can just about manage your own. But on further consideration it becomes clear that, although you might do your best to avoid the hairy ones that don’t interest you, like it or not you will probably have to share a loo with someone some day and a little understanding in both directions goes a long way. You see, I have noticed that most people, ultimately, have the same opinion about everything. When you boil it down to its base everyone is of the opinion that they are right, and the semantics of it are simply a different means to the same end. That end of justifying their own position to themselves and to those around them, and swaying the opinions of others in order to create an environment where the needs of said justifications are best served. I am pretty sure about my opinions, I’ve thought about them carefully and taken what evidence I can find to help fit the pieces together in order to produce a lucid world view with which I hope to impart a little objectivity into my children in the hope that I can arm them with the power to deduce their own world view and not be influenced to heavily by others, including me, which is the crux of the point here.

In trying to make society accept the ways and opinions of non believers, how close to the abyss of repression are we willing to edge before we inevitably plunge down the dark path of actively suppressing opinions that don’t fall into the category of acceptable to Free Thought? What is acceptable? I think the most fundamental ability that needs to be considered in any free society is the ability to objectively analyse ones goals and means of attaining ends. Is it acceptable to judge those who choose to think differently, or grant exceptions or simply choose to ignore faith rather than challenge it? How can we call ourselves tolerant when we are openly and obviously no such thing?

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8 Responses

  1. Well, Clint Eastwood was the one to say “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one”.

    (The extension of the simile is quite good)

    You’re right: everyone thinks they’re right. It’s human nature. And we generally twist our perception of the world around us to maintain that sense of inner harmony. Without some cognitive dissonance reduction we would all end up clinically insane or clinically depressed. The mind is not a vessel to an objective world: it needs to be stretched by education.

    Our natural, evolved perceptual inclinations of common sense, probability, time, and causality, for example, are wildly out of line with our best physics.

    So anyway, some self-deception and self-justification is necessary.

    However this can be countered and balanced out by that beautiful thing: evidence.

    Evidence is like a safeguard against human arrogance – no matter how beautiful the theory, how desperates you want to hold onto the idea, if it isn’t backed up by evidence, then forget about it. Everything else being equal, this is where atheists and theists part company: the atheist is willing to face the truth – wherever it may lead – rather than celebrate a comforting lie.

    As Sam Harris said, atheism is not a particular philosophy, but an admission of the obvious.

    As long as atheism stands for evidence and reason and truth, no repression or intolerance will take place. Truth is truth under any challenge.

  2. “people of faith often define themselves by their beliefs so the line becomes blurred for them and they take it personally”

    You’re right of course. I’ve made the mistake of not understanding the emotional aspect of faith, more than once in fact. I suppose I see ideas as things to be discussed and improved through debate and I forget that that isn’t the case for most people.

  3. Indeed, but my point is that we all suffer from an inherent lack of objectivity and sometimes an intellectual kick in the shin is required to shake us up a little. The proplem with theism is that it is, by definition, not open to revision and in my experience, I have encountered some non theists who are as stubborn and as deeply entrenched in their views as the most hardline of theists.

    “I think there is a difference between judging someone and judging what they believe.”

    In theory, yes, but people of faith often define themselves by their beliefs so the line becomes blurred for them and they take it personally. I’m used to being insulted, it doesnt bother me, but with faith having been sheltered for so long its impossible for them to take it on the chin. It insults them to the very core of their being. Remember, questioning is the cardinal sin. We know why, they refuse to accept why.

  4. “I am pretty sure about my opinions, I’ve thought about them carefully and taken what evidence I can find to help fit the pieces together in order to produce a lucid world view with which I hope to impart a little objectivity”

    I think this is the difference between Free Thinkers and the religious. They seem to be at the same time absolutely certain while having spent little or no time thinking about what they believe.

    “Is it acceptable to judge those who choose to think differently, or grant exceptions or simply choose to ignore faith rather than challenge it? How can we call ourselves tolerant when we are openly and obviously no such thing?”

    I try not to judge others, although that is difficult, but I think there is a difference between judging someone and judging what they believe. In terms of tolerance I think everyone should have the right to believe whatever they want but they shouldn’t have the right not to have that belief criticised or even mocked. If someone believes that the testimony of a woman in court should be worth half that of a man I have no problem saying they’re wrong. If someone believes that the world is 6000 years old I have no problem saying they are factually wrong.

  5. I don’t agree that freethinkers in general are trying to make society accept the ways and opinions of non-believers. We are challenging beliefs that do not accord with our world view but challenging anothers beliefs does not amount to supressing them. If we are confident in our position we must also be confident that our arguments, based on reason and compassion will carry the day in the end.

  6. You cant see me but I’m smug 🙂

  7. sorry, proved your theory right there, I meant to ask “AM I right” not proclaim like a big arse that “I am I right”….

  8. I am I right in saying that the basic idea you’re getting at is not for us to be so open-minded that our brains fall out? If so, my response would be that I’m of the opinion that you can NEVER have too much critical thought, unless it’s a time-sensitive situation where too much humming and hawing is clearly not productive.

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