Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Speaking Up Against Irrational Policies

This week and next, I am writing in support if the Reason Rally.

I think it is important.

Imagine being in an airplane at 10,000 meters with two others who have decided, by means of a majority vote, that the three of you are going to jump - without parachutes. They claim that it is perfectly safe - the air will slow you down and you will all land safely.

You answer, "You'll hit the earth at approximately 175 kilometers per hour. That is terminal velocity. It is our lives that will get terminated."

They laugh. They say, "Approximately. See, you do not even know. Besides, listen to that emotion. You are really as bad as those religious fundamentalists - insisting that you must be right and utterly intolerant of any opinion that differs from your own. You are an arrogant bigot, Ms. Scientist. We have freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion on this airplane. This means that you must not say anything that questions or contradicts our faith. You must stay silent or, at least, give our soft-landing theory equal time along side of your terminal velocity theory which is, after all, just another theory. It's the only fair thing to do."

For centuries, we have been allowing these people to lead, politely deferring to them because - well, they have a habit of copping an attitude whenever somebody questions their judgment or beliefs. In some cases, they get violent. It is an effective defense mechanism. Our response has been to throw up our hands in surrender.

But this has gone on long enough. The time for giving a passive sigh and going along for the ride has ended. People are being killed and maimed. They are being made to suffer serious and long-term harms. They are being denied the opportunity to pursue the things they value by those whose primitive superstitious beliefs command them to stand in the way of the happiness of others.

It is time to put one's foot down.

"No! This has gone on long enough! Do the fracing math! My beliefs rest on a foundation that employs a method of making a constantly improving set of predictions about the effects of our actions. We ignore those facts at our peril."

They answer, "You have been wrong in the past. Even you admit that you can be wrong now."

Answer: "What part of 'constantly improving set of predictions' are you failing to understand? Yes, we scientists admit to the possibility of error. You cannot have a constantly improving set of beliefs without admitting that some old ones might be mistaken. You should try it."

The critic responds, "You can't prove that no God exists."

My answer to that is, "Don't change the subject. The subject is jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I can predict what will happen and it will not be pretty. Do you want to talk about God's existence? Land the plane and we'll discuss it."

They say, "There are other ways of knowing besides science."

Answer, "None of that is relevant to the prediction of what will happen if we jump out of this plane. Quit changing the subject."

It really is time to say, "Stop! This has gone on long enough!"

We really must live in a society in which everybody has a say. This is because we all gave different interests. Denying some group a say in how things are run almost inevitably turns those who do not have a say into the unwilling servants of those who do.

Furthermore, there are very good reasons to hold that the only legitimate response to words are words - and never violence. The only legitimate response to a political campaign is a counter-campaign - a conflict of words and ideas rather than a conflict of bombs and bullets.

However, this civic right comes with a civic responsibility - a responsibility to think - to use one's head and the powers of reason to reach responsible conclusions. People who lead have an obligation to lead intelligently. People who vote have an obligation to vote intelligently. The people who will vote have an obligation to choose intelligent, thinking, reasonable and rational leaders.

It is not the case that the majority is always right. There is a real world out there that does not yield to our fantasies - no matter how large the majority that holds them. Convincing 300 other airplane passengers that it is safe to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 meters without a parachute will only change the number of people who die when they hit the earth.

If you are going to the Reason Rally, please take the time to think of this. You are on that airplane. You are surrounded by others whose actions - grounded on their faith - will have an effect on some that is quite literally the same as throwing them out of the airplane at altitude.

Isn't it time to say something?

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