Finding Common Ground

A friend of mine who is a longtime reader of my blog* pointed me to a very interesting article, published not long after my last post on perceptions of stupidity, on Why Smart People Deny Climate Change.  In it, the author points to a recent study which indicates that how people think society should be run is a better indicator of belief than scientific education and skill.  In other words, if a person identifies with the “government should stay out of our business” community, then having better literacy about global warming and better objective abilities to reason actually makes him** less worried about it, and if a person identifies with the “we all need to work together to build a better society” community, then having better literacy and ability makes him more worried about it.

Don’t you want to just hate people?!  I don’t care with which side of the political fence you identify; if you are choosing your beliefs based on culture rather than objective reason and truth, you are a disease to humanity.  Even if reason and truth agree with you, it is this subconscious, socially-centered method of determining decisions and beliefs which ultimately ruins our species.

But does anyone really think that he does this himself?  It’s something other people do, right?  What we do is led by objective reason.

No, we are all guilty at varying degrees.  We are human.  But what can anyone do about it, other than make an almost insignificant personal effort?

I was bullied in middle school.

I mean, we all were, to some extent.  Middle school is just about the worst thing you can do to a kid.  Whose idea was it that sticking a large group of sexually budding and confused pre-teens with raging hormones and very little knowledge or experience in anything besides knowing how to receive free parental care and affection in a building together for eight hours every day would be the most effective way to teach them Algebra?

I wasn’t bullied badly, per se, but I suppose it’s all relative.  No blood was drawn.  I maybe got punched in the stomach a couple of times.  Was teased and tickled to the ground incessantly.  In fairness, I was very sensitive and easy to tease.  Not only that, but I’m pretty sure that I was profoundly annoying and possessed utterly no self-awareness.  (I can still be pretty annoying, but at least now it’s a conscious choice.)

My parents asked me if I wanted to switch schools, and I declined.  I didn’t see what difference it would make.  People were going to pick on me wherever I was.

When I left middle school and started high school, an amazing thing happened.  People were suddenly really nice to me.  It seemed inexplicable.  People that I thought were cool actually let me hang out with them, and seemed to enjoy my company.  My self-esteem slowly began to repair itself, and I started becoming more self-aware.  I had a great time, and made a lot of great friends, many of which are still great friends.  I’m pretty sure I even learned vastly more in high school than I ever did in college, academically speaking.

What does any of this have to do with subjective, culture-based decision-making?

Years later, in retrospect, I identified what the big difference was which flipped my education’s social experience around completely.  Middle school was co-ed, and my high school was all male.

When women are around, men are cruel.  When they’re not around, there’s absolutely no reason not to get along with everyone.

Don’t worry; I’m not professing that we should segregate men and women for the good of mankind.  I don’t think mankind would last very long.  But while the author (David Berreby) of the article to which I linked suggests that the most effective way of dealing with this problem is by “filleting the cultural markers out of a scientific argument” (i.e. “let’s do what I want, but you should know that it’s actually going to be beneficial to you, and we can use some of your methodology if that makes you happy”), I don’t think that’s going to work.  And we can’t very well segregate self-identified liberals and conservatives, either (especially since those cultures have an inseparable geographic link, apparent from any demographic map which shows globs of liberal voters in highly populated cities and more conservative voters in the vast suburban and rural outskirts).

But I do agree with Berreby’s statement that science “is going to tell you why we are all idiots together…”  I think therein lies the answer; to stop thinking of ourselves as right and the others as stupid, but rather group us all together in the lump sum of human idiocy, from which no one is truly exempt.  The boys at my middle school were in constant conflict because they incessantly fought for alpha status, and there was no way on Earth that anyone could explain to them that they were only vying to be a king among fools, because that king still got to date any of the foolish girls he wanted.  The boys at my high school had no incentive to be king, and the recognition that we were all a bunch of fools was a foundation for celebrated camaraderie.

In other words, everyone simply needs to recognize the fact that he’s an idiot.

I’m pretty sure this will best be accomplished by telling everyone he’s an idiot to his face.

Who will stand with me?

-Matt

*Relatively speaking, of course
**Apologies for my male-presumptive pronouns, now and going forward
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