Not only am I right, I’m not even going to explain why
I’ve had a number of exchanges recently that touch on the idea of empiricism, or at least the shabby form I try to believe in. Several people have explained to me that most Americans – most people in the world, for that matter – do not believe in the primacy of evidence derived from their five senses (which, by extension, means that they do not believe in science as a main way of understanding the world around us). Well, obviously.
About three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief, according to a recent Gallup survey. The most popular is extrasensory perception (ESP), mentioned by 41%, followed closely by belief in haunted houses (37%). The full list of items includes:
Extrasensory perception, or ESP
That houses can be haunted
Ghosts/that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations
Telepathy/communication between minds without using traditional senses
Clairvoyance/the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future
Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives
That people can communicate mentally with someone who has died
Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death
Channeling/allowing a 'spirit-being' to temporarily assume control of body
The healing powers of the mind have been demonstrated empirically, reflected in the power of placebos, among other examples. More than half of Americans, 55%, believe in this connection.
Strictly speaking, visits from aliens are not part of paranormal beliefs. Although definitive scientific evidence of such visits is lacking, in principle the existence of extra-terrestrial beings and their ability to visit earth are subject to empirical verification.
All of the other 10 items listed above require the belief that humans have more than the "normal" five senses.
So 75% of Americans believe in lunacies. I’m not even going to get into the fact that more than half of Americans do not believe in evolution - not natural selection as the model for evolution as opposed to “intelligent design,” mind you, but that humans evolved at all.
I think we have come to accept that it was ever thus. But it wasn’t.
A 1997 [Yankelovich] poll compared current belief in paranormal phenomena with belief levels measured in 1976.Which if any of the following do youbelieve at least to some degree?
1997 1976 Spiritualism 52% 12% Faith Healing 45% 10% Astrology 37% 17% UFOs 30% 24% Reincarnation 25% 9% Fortune Telling 14% 4%
There is a concerted assault on Enlightenment rationalism in this country. There has been for years. It’s working.
We on the left traditionally have had a core faith in “consciousness raising” (although we haven’t always used that term). The assumption is that if people can be made to face the true facts, they will make more rational choices. (Unstated here is the assumption that our choices are the more rational. Leave that aside for now.) That is why we have been champions of ever-more-universal education. But what if education doesn’t promote rationality?
Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study.
Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.
While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students.
"As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.
This leaves us with a serious conundrum. People who don’t believe in rational ways of approaching the world cannot be reasoned with. And education does not make people more likely to be rational.
For the last fifty years, conservatives in this country have had another model available to them: Straussianism. The most objectionable part of which derives from Plato’s Myth of Metals – not the Myth itself, actually, but the way Plato proposes to use it.
Such is the tale; is there any possibility of making our citizens believe in it?
Not in the present generation, he replied; there is no way of accomplishing this; but their sons may be made to believe in the tale, and their sons' sons, and posterity after them.
I see the difficulty, I replied; yet the fostering of such a belief will make them care more for the city and for one another.
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
The temptation to manipulate people is strong. In the last few days, our own Solomon has asserted that the “unwashed masses” “need candy dangled in front of them to motivate them to have the bare minimum of decency and morality” and advocated circumcision because dampening male libidos is good for society.
The problem, of course, is that unlike Solomon Grundy (seriously), the people currently in power are a bunch of idiots. They lie to us because they think they are right and we are to be manipulated into following them, but that only works if they are in fact right. They hardly ever are.
I don’t know what to do. Argumentation is useless. Education doesn’t help. The leaders in power are witless. Those I trust more, who are out of power, have not shown anything like a comparable ability to manipulate the public. And most people don't care if we ever become rational again.
I would say we should be more upset, but who would be the "we" in that sentence?
And as to truth, I said, is not a soul equally to be deemed halt and lame which hates voluntary falsehood and is extremely indignant at herself and others when they tell lies, but is patient of involuntary falsehood, and does not mind wallowing like a swinish beast in the mire of ignorance, and has no shame at being detected?
UPDATE (July 11, 2006): I have been advised by someone who would know that the article on Strauss linked to above is full of errors. For one thing, most of the people listed as Straussians did not in fact study with either Leo Strauss or his students. In fact, I now think that most of what I once believed about Strauss was mistaken. Kindly ignore the last third of this post. Or just leave Strauss out of it and insert "lying rightwing fuckwads" in his place. That works too.