Update September 2012 – This was one of the sample posts chosen for the podcasting experiment; click below to listen, if you like (it is identical to the text):
Walkabout podcast – To make magic – disappear!
I am a big meanie; I admit it. I am one of “those people” – those who want to deprive so many others of their happiness and joy, their motivations, their reasons for living. I am… an outspoken skeptic.
This, of course, means that I’m a miserable
soul person wretch, and merely want to inflict my pain on as many others as I can. I mean, why else would I be doing this? How could I possibly want to take away the magic which fills people’s lives?
This isn’t hyperbole, by the way – I’ve actually dealt with this attitude from some people, and it’s almost scary. It’s a bit like they regret Toto pulling aside the curtain (hopefully you’re not thinking of an eighties band…)
Here’s a little background: I used to be one of the “magic” people, not only religious, but believing in myriad things, from visiting aliens to telekinetic powers, dowsing (which I’ve actually done) to the Bermuda Triangle. Much of it was quite some time ago when I was young, admittedly, but it wasn’t more than a decade back that I was very suspicious of the circumstances of Kennedy’s assassination. All of that is gone now, and not one tiny fraction of it is missed in the slightest. On the contrary, I’m a lot happier as a skeptic. Things now actually make a hell of a lot more sense, and I’m pleased that I left gullibility behind. I did not lose any “magic” – I lost bullshit, and in most cases, replaced it with a better understanding of how things work, of science, human nature, and mass media.
In fact, I have rarely come across anyone that regrets leaving behind some previous belief, and when you think about it, it’s a ludicrous concept. Either you believe, or you don’t, and if you once did and stopped, it must be because it’s no longer believable. In such circumstances, no one regrets the loss of their belief; they regret that they once believed for as long as they did.
No one can take away magic with skepticism or critical thinking – that’s also ludicrous. The only thing that can be done is to show that it’s not really magic (or mysterious, or evidence of strange otherworldly powers and influences, and so on.) No one can destroy a god with an argument; no one can extinguish the life of the Loch Ness Monster with logic. Decrying the efforts to help people see past emotional blinders is, to be blunt, incredibly anti-social and downright demeaning. Think about it: the argument against skepticism is actually for allowing people to live in ignorance, denying the real world in favor of fairy tales that make them feel good. How is this different from drug addiction? And more importantly, isn’t this treating belief as a pacifier for an emotionally and mentally inept adult? Does anyone hear Nicholson shouting, “You can’t handle the truth!” here?
I’ve heard the argument that, for instance, religious people are happy that way, which I don’t believe for a second – I’ve heard more whiny bitching coming from religious people than I ever have coming from skeptics. In too many cases, religious folk are convinced that there’s some huge conspiracy going on, from scientists and Darwinists and all that, to take away their special privileges, or corrupt their children or something along those lines – fostered in their minds by those who gain money from being religious leaders, imagine that. And sure, I’ve talked to plenty of people who vehemently resist the questioning of alt med efficacy, the existence of aliens, or the government ties to the twin towers collapse. This is hardly as meaningful as it first sounds, since I’ve also talked to plenty of people who just as strongly resist the questioning of their political parties, taste in music, or favorite sports teams. So what? People resist, not necessarily being wrong, but being told they’re wrong, and even someone posing the possibility. This hardly means that letting them go on in ignorance is better for them, or that their emotional state is so delicate that it should not be tampered with.
Further along those lines, being happy is not a binary state, where either you’re happy or you’re not. You can be happy, and then become happier. At the same time, most people do not look back fondly on times when they were ignorant yet happy, convinced that the mere state of happiness was all that mattered; they often consider those times an embarrassment, when they were young and foolish and gullible. Even when they reminisce about their childhood delight in Santa Claus, they can still enjoy the holidays without the idea, shocking as that may seem. From my own perspective, I’m better off no longer worrying about hell and judgment, or trying to correctly interpret scripture despite what my better nature told me about human behavior. I can see strange lights in the sky and not assume I’m seeing a UFO, but instead ask, “What am I seeing?”, and thus pay close attention to the details. I can walk around a dark old house or forest at night without thinking every sound signifies specters and demons and sasquatches. Sasqui. Whatever.
Notable throughout all of this is that I, like many others, actually want answers. I want to know how things work and what the real reasons are. Those beliefs that I abandoned were corrupt; they always had been, but it took a certain level of understanding for me to realize it. Countless nagging questions that I had while growing up are gone now, replaced with real info, and most especially, with the ability to question. Things are not always how they seem or how they’re presented, and in many cases there’s an agenda in the background. Even without such machinations, though, there is often pandering to emotional responses rather than intellectual, and the one simple, inescapable fact: we can always be wrong. But there’s one particular emotion that many people place above all others, and that is the satisfaction of finding the right path, the most accurate answers. This is more than simply never admitting to being wrong; it requires diligence in seeking corroborative evidence, in not trusting in oneself too closely but seeking supporting info instead. That’s critical thinking, and applied this way, it is far more satisfying than merely believing in something because it is appeasing. It makes many puzzles fit together, dodges scams, and dispels fantasy. I’m happy with that, and am willing to share it, too. Meanie that I am.