Friday, 20 August 2010

The Delusion of the Western Society

Delusion: an idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder. - Oxford Dictionary

To call someone a delusional can cause offence, well, then I’m going to offend you all, because we are all delusional, in one way or another, in one moment of our life or another.  We, humans like to avoid reality, like to deny it, we live happier in a denial state, or in an ignorance state, that is human, all too human.

One would thought that in the age of information, in the age on human history when more people (at least in the west) have access to education, to the sources of information, to knowledge than ever before; this delusional behaviour would be less than in ancient times.  But that is not the case.

I’m not the one who will claim that I’m free of that sin, in many parts of my life I have being victim of my own delusions, and some of them still linger in the shadows of my subconscious mind. 

Juana de Asbaje, a Mexican poet and philosopher of the XVII century, said on her beautiful poem “Let’s pretend that I’m happy” (finjamos que soy feliz)

How happy is the ignorance
Of the one who, un-eruditionally wise
Finds on which he suffers,
What he ignores, sacred!

Our delusions, most of the time, are not consciously trying to deny reality, nor necessarily malicious, or even explicitly anti-science. They are a way to shield us from the things we see as out of our control, to shield us from the pain of uncertainty and protect ourselves of whatever threats important aspects of our lives.

But I see that these delusions start to gain more and more power in public opinion, and permeate every single social stratus, and like a virus go on through the internet and the mass media, and they are showing, as the definition of the word says, symptoms of a social mental disorder.  Perpetuating the idea of perpetuating a lie:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” – Joseph Goebbels

And it’s not as difficult as it seems, nor it’s just up to the State to use its powers to maintain it, the whole society can self maintain it if the truth means to change the status quo, to move itself from our comfort zone, through an unknown or difficult territory. We lie to ourselves over and over again in our lives:  I can quite tobacco anytime, I need alcohol to have fun in a night out,  I need to have a partner to be happy, and a big etcetera.  We lie in group, we think that the best thing that could happen is that our national team wins the world cup, that the important things to discuss are the latest celebrity gossip, or we disconnect from the real world to watch “reality” on the telly with any reality show broadcast at the moment, instead of open our eyes to the reality that is out there.

All those little delusions, makes us victims of manipulation of the media, and keep us calm and clueless of what is happening, without the will to learn.

The delusion of nationalism.

That idea that the artificial lines that man create to divide are real, that there’s “them and us”, that we have to protect our “identity” and fight the ones who are not like us.  Those ideas that make people fear or even hate immigrants, who make people fight about languages instead of recognizing the beauty of each, that make people want to impose their ways to others, that make people oppose to work together. And that have caused wars, dictatorships, terrorism, etc.

The delusion of religion

And I’m not talking in the terms of Dawkins’ “God delusion”, which, in my opinion oversimplifies reality blaming faith of all the bad things in the world. No, I’m not talking about personal beliefs that are totally respectable, being in one or thousands of gods, or none at all. I’m talking in the delusion of organized religion, in the belief that certain group holds The Truth, and everyone else is wrong. 

But biggest delusion is not that the hierarchy of those religions keeps or try to keep the control; the thing is that people continue denying that there’s a problem, making excuses for them and their religions, denying reality and saying that is not that serious, in the best case; supporting that bigotry in the worst.  Becoming denialists of science, and facts.  Evolution is a lie, they say; homosexuality is a sin and is unnatural and a mental sickness.  People keep their own delusions to avoid the reality: organized religion is harmful to society. But the alternative will shake the grounds of their comfort zones, and the social structures and power interests involved.   It’s unbelievable that people keep defending organized religion and became accomplices to the very things that murder faith.  I want to take this little paragraph form this article to summarize it:

You murder faith same way you murder love: one bruise at a time, with small, daily cuts, with grinding contempt, with neglect. You murder faith by exposing it to bullets inscribed with Bible verses that kill Afghan and Iraqi children. You murder it by separating an elderly lesbian couple in a hospital because their union is considered "unnatural." You murder it by linking it to greed, to the "God wants you to be rich" movement which marinates in loathing for the poor and needy, in defiance of Christ's commission to care for them. You murder it by exposing it to any number of atrocities wrapped up in an inviolate nationalism that claims divine authority as its basis, with no room for dissent, and no mercy for dissenters. You murder it with self-righteous, violent militarism, with intolerance, with lack of compassion, with lack of humility and, most importantly, with lack of humanity.

The delusion of the middle class.

The middle class in the west is perhaps the social group that like to lie to themselves more than any other, our status as not as poor to suffer greatly and be concern only in how to survive another day, but not as rich as not to have economical worries, makes us more dependant of our status quo, our comfort and secure zone, that we struggle to keep day to day, working to gain little luxuries that make our life “easier”. 

One of the biggest topics on which we live on denial is about our responsibility with our environment, and one of the biggest delusions is the climate change denialism.   Even when there’s consensus on the international scientific community about the antropogenic global warming, the general public still doubts it. 

They believe that it’s just an exaggerate point of view or even blatantly argue against it and say that is a global conspiracy of obscure powers that want to impose their ideas.

Let’s be clear, scientific consensus is not about democracy, is not decided on vote of the most popular theory just because it sounds good. Is not about faith, because scientists don’t believe that a theory is true, just because they feel inside that is right, nor is the election of the Pope, and they scream “habemus theoria” when the half plus one agree.  Scientific method works differently.

One scientist or group of scientist postulate a hypotheses, and then they test it, collect evidence, analyse it and give some conclusions, but that doesn’t end up there, the theory has to be verifiable and reproducible, so other scientist independently can follow it and reach similar or the same conclusions. Nearly all hypotheses will fall by the wayside during this testing period, because only one is going to answer the question properly, without leaving all kinds of odd dangling bits that don’t quite add up. Bad theories are usually rather untidy.

But the testing period must come to an end. Gradually, the focus of investigation narrows down to those avenues that continue to make sense, that still add up, and quite often a good theory will reveal additional answers, or make powerful predictions, that add substance to the theory. So a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling.

So, it’s not a minor thing that the scientific community agrees on something, usually means that there’s at least a reasonable truth behind it, of course being theories and not laws, there’s no 100% certainty, nor is a unchallengeable fact, but to break down a scientific consensus the contenders have to present a big and solid case. Put it simple, Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. 

So, why people keep distrusting the scientific consensus in global warming and others like evolution, the lack of effectiveness of homoeopathy, or human same-sex attraction? I think it’s very simple, because accepting reality will shake their comfort zone.

Let’s think about it, accepting that we have created a big problem in the equilibrium of our planet will require that we change our way of living, stopping big consumerism, using rationally energy sources, finding alternative energy sources, taking care on what we eat, and in the day-to-day life will mean, sacrificing our little luxuries, not using electricity as it were everlasting, walking or using public transport, washing our dishes by hand with cold water (but god forbids the middle class of the first world use cold water and use their hands! so let's lie to ourselves and say that washing machines are the solution) using heating systems as little as possible, and a big etcetera.  Similar things imply to accept the other examples I gave, in personal and social level.

So, do you live in a delusion? Are you afraid of breaking that delusion down? Would you dare?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Is tolerance allowing everything without restrain?

I have the right to criticize and protest.  A post by my friend Zulma, and some discussions in the previous days with other friends inspire me to write this.

Apparently, in this day and age, to express a critique to a system is being intolerant.  Apparently traditions are more important than protect another life form from torture, Apparently cultural relativism is more important than human rights. Apparently people don’t have the right to criticize and protest.  Apparently tolerance means everything is valid,  Why is that?

As an immigrant, the only way I have to express my discontent about the policies of the government and/or society of the country I live is expressing that in the form of critiques and protests, since I don’t have the legal right to vote.  But, does that mean that I don’t have any right whatsoever to express my opinion and disagreement to certain political and social issues?  I think not, since I work here, pay all my taxes here, contribute to the economy of the country, and even more, I will protest and disagree wherever in the world human rights are attacked, even if that country is thousands of kilometres away.

Also as an immigrant, people in my home country want to deny me the right to protest and criticize the problems back home.  “You decided to leave, what do you care if you’re so far away, you just want to criticize us because you’re ashamed of your roots” and similar things have being said to me. Sorry, but what happens in my country still hurts me, and I have my family and friends living there, and also being far away allow me to see some vices of the society that are not so clear to the insider. 

Someone said to me once that people have their chance to express their voice on the elections and that they should stop complaining after a government is formed, and that public protests are only a way to impose the point of view of a minority.  Well, I disagree with that, the rights of the minorities, the human rights campaigns, the anti-war campaigns; are necessary beyond the elections.  The majority is not always right, actually the minorities are the ones that make the social changes and have shaped the history of this planet, are the ones that have fought bravely and fiercely against the establishment.   Yes, sometimes the results have not being the best, but then when the claims are hand to hand with the universal human rights, then is when the positive transformative force of the minorities have created a better world.

 The majority opinion can be  (and should be) ignored when this opinion goes against the fundamental human rights.  History has shown that the majorities can abuse and be responsible of big injustices and crimes, slavery, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, etc .  When they are not controlled, they first attack the minorities, then they target the ones inside the majority that have an independent and critique voice, and finally against anyone who wants to move away from the norm.  Yes, being normal can be dangerous.

And then we have this new tendency, under the post-modern point of view of “everything is valid and everything is relative” there are people who want to put cultural relativism above human rights.  And don’t get me wrong, yes cultural characteristics, history and social habits are needed to understand why a society behaves the way it does, and most of the time needed before making a judgement against a country or society.

However, there are certain principles that are meant to be valid to human integrity, regardless of our social, cultural, economic or any other background, they won the name of universal human rights, because they are supposed to be applicable to any human being, anywhere.

So, if people say that Indians are savages because they eat with their hands, or that Muslim women are backwards because they cover their head; yes, I will say that a understanding of their culture is necessary, and that we have to try not to judge under our western world glasses.   However when women are clitoris-mutilated, gay people sentenced to dead or prison just because of their sexual orientation, women are stoning to death for adultery,  when immigrants are persecuted and hunted to death, when gay and bisexuals are denied rights in the name of religion, and many other, since sadly the list is very long, then I will not be silent, and I will not make excuses for that atrocities in the name of cultural relativism, and I think that none of us should tolerate that behaviour, nor as individuals, not as countries.

So, when does being tolerant became, do as you wish with no restrain whatsoever? And do you agree with that?    I certainly don’t.

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