I wasn’t originally going to say anything about this. There are many people, much more versed in the ideas than I am. They have spoken, I agree with most of them. But some other things have added to the load and I wanted to get this off my chest.
Human beings, as a group, are absolutely insane.
I like to quote Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Agent K, from Men in Black.
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
I’m sure that the SkepticInk team has someone who has researched the ideas of group think and how to control people. We see it frequently in our modern, connected world.
Fearmongering by politicians gets votes. How else can you explain a large group of people who actively vote against their own interests. Retired folks voting for politicians whose obvious goal is to gut medicare and social security, is a good example. Are they really that ignorant? Are they really single issue voters (and who cares about the rest)? Are the accepting the lies fed to them without question? Is it because of an authoritarian upbringing?
It’s probably a combination of some or all of those things.
But the simple truth is, people can be controlled. And it seems easy to control them in large groups. That sense of pride of being a part of a group. That sense of being a part of something that no one else has. Or just, having an acceptable outlet for the feelings one has that one hasn’t been equipped to deal with by parents (mostly who have the same problems). There’s probably a bit of the carrot/stick for most groups too. Cliques in schools, for example. “Join our cool kids or we’ll beat the shit out of you everyday.”
Obviously, the central story in my discussion today is the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and other possible terror/religion motivated attacks in France. I don’t pretend to know what motivated these attacks. It very well might have been outrage at the depictions of prophets. It might have been something else. I understand that the perpetrators of the attack are dead, so we’ll never really know.
People have the right to be offended. They have the right (assuming France is similar to the US here) to peacefully protest. They have the right to write stern letters to the editor.
They don’t have the right to kill people. No one has that right. Violence is never justified.
I can understand the rage and hate. I feel similarly towards those that lie about science in order to promote their religion or ideology. I hate it. It makes me so infuriated.
I truly hate religion. It is a social construct, a giving of oneself over to another totally and completely… well except for those parts that someone might not like (like excessive drinking, or sex, or using birth control, or tatoos, etc., etc., etc.). It is the ultimate rejection of oneself as an adult person capable of making one’s own decisions about things. It’s the utter rejection of rational thought, logic, and reality… for a dream.
I know how powerful dreams can be. I have a whole plan for winning the lottery. Of course, I never actually play the lottery. But I have a plan if I ever win.
But, and this is the crucial difference. There’s no amount of anger that will make me go kill religious leaders. I’m a nice guy. They are free to lie, cheat, steal, and create horrors, but I still won’t kill them. I’d like to put them in jail, but that rarely happens.
Let me talk for a moment about the example that inspired me to write this article. Apparently, there was a college football game (American… I watch too much BBC and deal with a lot of non-Americans and feel the need to qualify the type of football I talk about). Let me quote from this article.
Ohio State football fans took to the streets after their team’s championship victory early Tuesday, yelling and screaming in delight, setting nearly 90 fires and tearing down an Ohio Stadium goal post.
Police made a handful of arrests after using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds of Ohio State University students and other fans following the Buckeyes’ win.
This was from the WINNING side! What. the. hell?
This is a huge example of group think, the pride and power that comes from being in the “in group”. Sadly, this happens frequently in the US, mostly with football. Though, it happens in the rest of the world… again, mostly with football.
In the South, it’s often said that towns have two religions. Baptist and football. And that is definitely the case. There are fanatics who are every bit as crazy about football as some are about religion. These people have done, using football, what others have done using religion. That is reject everything we consider acceptable in society and use their rage (or euphoria) to do things that, for any other person, would be unacceptable behavior.
The last one on my list cropped up today. It’s also a common group think issue in the South and Midwest. That of firearms. Specifically, the ability to own and carry them around the rest of the community. These guys showed up at the Texas capital on the first day of the new legislative session.
Of the 5 guys, three have magazines in their rifles. Texas, just in case you didn’t know, says that it is perfectly legal to walk around with a loaded rifle or shotgun on your person. But, you cannot carry a concealed pistol or handgun, unless you have a permit. I know, it makes no sense, but firearms rarely have.
What’s even more interesting is that many of the pro-gun advocates left their guns at home and went into the capital building to talk with legislators. One group of the pro-gun advocates… well… let’s just say they treated an elected representative poorly. There’s a link to a video in that article.
I understand their desires. I guess we can be thankful that they didn’t go in and shoot the place up. But I want to be clear, I think that the person making this recording was a complete and utter ass. My favorite (and the sign of someone who has no idea what the real world is like) is the “don’t touch me” and the “what are you gonna do” statements. He really doesn’t understand how much trouble he could have gotten into. He, like many religious zealots, support the laws that they want, while rejecting the laws that they don’t like.
I had a brief twitter conversation about this yesterday as well.
Freedom of speech allows an ecosystem of ideas where good ones win out over bad. Without it, there is stagnation.
People don’t want good ideas to win. They want THEIR ideas to win.
Many people want their ideas declared the winner without others having a chance to compete.
And that’s what this is partially about. It’s about control. It’s about people doing things the way one person thinks is correct rather than having a discussion. That kid in the video, he talked about the US Constitution as if it was fixed and that his interpretation is the only valid one. For him, it is, and no amount of evidence or discussion will change that. He wants to be able to carry a gun wherever he wants. He can’t accept that the vast majority of the US population doesn’t want him to be carrying that gun in Target and Chipotle.
Many Muslims think that any depiction of their prophet should be a capital crime. Personally, they and Mohammed can kiss my left nut. They don’t get to control me or anyone else. They think that they can. Sadly, some are willing to kill people who don’t do what they say. They can kill us, but they can’t control us.
Freedom of speech, freedom to live my life, freedom to not have myth promoted as reality, that’s all I ask for. I don’t care what you believe and what you do about it… in your home or church and as long as it does not infringe on the rights of anyone else… and I mean ANYONE!
Football fans, I couldn’t care less who won. I’m glad that you feel empowered because your team won. Your behavior was unacceptable though.
Kid in that video, you can use your gun as a dildo for all I care. But if I see you with a gun in public, I will call the police on you. I don’t care if it’s legal or not. It’s not safe.
All of you, I will stand beside you and yell for your right to SAY whatever you want. I will not support murder, arson, vandalism, threats, and/or behaviors that harm society.
I will discuss your ideas as long as you want. I will listen to you and, if you provide evidence, then you may change my mind (doubt it). But if I disagree with you, that doesn’t give you the right to threaten, kill, or attempt to harm me, mine, or my stuff.
I know they can’t understand this, I’ve tried for years with people just like those I’ve mentioned here today. But the in-group, the control, the personality issues that cause these people to think the way they do also prevents them from dealing with it.
If anyone disagrees with them, it’s not just to have a discussion and learn, it’s a direct assault on their way of life. And, sometimes, they get violent. It’s a sad thing.
Over time, I think that we will overcome this. It will take much effort and the current government (of Texas and the US) is not going to help right now. But education, empathy, and truth will win out.
 I am reminded of this joke. “A man prays to god every night to win the lottery. He prays and prays. He’s in debt, he’s got medical bills, and college tuition, and the like. Finally, god comes to him and says, “I’m willing to answer your prayer. But you have to BUY a ticket.”