Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Interlude #3, Some Remarks About Skepticism

[I'm taking a brief break from racism to mull over some conjectures and hypotheses. I will return to it shortly.]

I think all the mischief that Christianity brings grows out of a particular attitude. The world and the things within it are approached with a predilection to trust in appearances as if we really at home in the world and as if the world were made for our benefit. I think this trust in received beliefs and practices is more ancient than any skeptical attitude. One thing is for certain this propensity to trust in what amounts to first impressions is necessary for continuance of traditions.

Given that this propensity to trust received beliefs and practices is older, the appearance of skepticism needs some investigating. Skepticism is an attitude of mistrust. Either mistrust towards beliefs and other people or mistrust against one’s own propensity to trust. Either mistrust directed outward or mistrust direct inward. A mistake is made with unpleasant consequences. Is the mistake of someone else’s deception or is it a mistake of one’s own making by not making sufficiently careful enough examinations of one’s own desire to believe? Surprisingly, skeptics are closely related to conspiracy theorists. They differ in the origin their unpleasant mistakes. One believes that some (usually) secret organization has perpetrated a fraud. It only makes sense, then, to be on guard against further frauds and deceptions. The skeptic, on the other hand, finds the source of his mistakes in his not being careful enough. Both are burnt children: one blames the fire for his hurt, the other blames his inattention.

All in all, I find conspiracy theorists monotonous. It’s always the same. They are victims of the Illuminati, the Jews, the Government, the Catholics, the Masons, the Trotskyites. FEMA. It almost goes without saying that the conspiracy theorist is the one with the Real Truth of what’s really going on. A commonly overlooked element of conspiracy theories: the Society would be better off if the conspiracy and his ilk were running things in accordance with the power relations they claim to abhor. Truth’s primary utility is coercion against those who do not see Truth. Curiously, the whole fairy tale underpinning the workings of Christianity’s Salvation Machinery can be read as a metaphysical cabal to explain why Christians find themselves victimized by all sorts of things: the Gays, The Devil, Secular Humanists, the Jews etc etc. A Christian is always tempted to believe that his enemies are tools and agents of Satan even if unwittingly. A conspiracy theorist wants to shut out fear with any old conglomeration of interlocking beliefs even fanatically if necessary.

But how do these burnt children get burnt in the first place? Traditions adapt and conform to an environment and way of life. They “fit” the world and the world fits them. Skepticism grows out of tradition leading to unpleasant and unexpected consequences more often than not. Getting burned becomes chronic.

A thorough-going skeptic pushes his skepticism to its limits, becoming even skeptical of the efficacy of his skepticism in preventing unpleasant mistakes. Illusions are pierced one after the other, until the revelation that the last illusion that there are no illusions: illusions, self-deceptions, magical thinking, wishful thinking are all part of life. What then becomes of the skeptic [see Note below] and his hard earned habit of careful inspection? A magical transformation takes place. Mistrust of one's impulse to settle for any old explanation creates a space allowing one to view surroundings afresh. Expectations of the commonplace do not impede experiencing the world and its objects as new and fresh. Learning to suspend one’s expectations and settled beliefs allows hitherto unnoticed aspects of commonplace, ordinary feelings, thoughts and objects to be noticed. The old is new again. It is as if each moment is a present from some unknown beneficent deity, even if we do not always know how to open those presents. It would be a mistake to interpret these presents as proof of some pseudo-mystical belief in the good will of the Universe. These presents also include chronic pain, grief, despair, heartbreak as well as joy, courage, pleasure and friendship. One is no longer so sure that the unpleasantnesses of life are without benefit.

[Note: various online dictionaries and Wikipedia all agree that the root of skepticism, skeptomai, to think, to look about, to consider. Later under Pyrrho’s influence a skeptic came to mean someone who asserts nothing, which is the same as common usage in American English.]

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Thinking about skepticism having its origin in fear, does this mean that the attempt to thoroughly scrutinize and minutely examine feelings, thoughts, the utterances and behavior of other people, experiences for threats arises out of cowardice? Fear of getting badly hurt yet again? Sometimes for sure. Sometimes that very fear at the root of skepticism is itself thoroughly scrutinized and minutely examined. Fear does not always mean running away. An old cliché is a propos: “The best defense is a good offense.” Fear sallying forth to meet the world is called curiosity.

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