Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Two religious writers offer worthwhile insights on the puzzling phenomenon of people who, even this day and age and with much of recorded history at their disposal, nevertheless fall for apocalyptic prophesies. One of these writers, Dennis Prager, rightly notes that there is little substantive difference between the latest "Rapture" prediction and many doomsday scenarios promoted by leftists -- although their secular versions do succeed in being harmful, due to their camouflage:
There is one major difference between leftist and religious doomsday scenarios. The religious readily acknowledge that their doomsday scenario is built entirely on faith. The left, on the other hand, claims that its doomsday scenarios are entirely built on science.I would add that the entire way the left frames what to do about each of its apocalyptic scenarios causes further harm in several ways: By (1) taking all consideration of individual rights off the table, (2) causing many on the right to be overly dismissive of legitimate scientific points raised in the political debates the left manufactures, and (3) making it seem as if government is the solution to everything. (The second problem is caused by people on the right accepting the false premise that the science being right necessarily means that the government has to act. Since they have no concept of how to argue for individual rights, they argue (correctly or not) against the science.)
That there is little truth to the left-wing claim is not as important as the fact that these doomsday scenarios have undermined the status of science. How many scientists have been compromised by their joining the research-money and fame bandwagons of left-wing apocalyptic predictions? And how has this affected the public's perceptions of science and scientists when it comes to contentious issues?
So prophets of doom and their followers are more common than many would care to admit. Why? "Crunchy" conservative Rod Dreher, writing at RealClear Religion, offers the following interesting insight:
To be drunk on Apocalypse is a fearful thing. There is no problem that the Apocalypse -- religious or secular -- cannot solve. I roll my eyes at the crude Armageddonists, whose number I left behind as a teenager, but the radical prospect of rebirth through total catastrophe still tempts me in less culturally embarrassing ways. I read secular prophets with more mainstream credibility -- peak-oil catastrophists, economic Cassandras, and global-warming gloomers -- and that familiar decadent feeling returns: the perverse pleasure in the prospect of catastrophe, because, to paraphrase the poet C.V. Cavafy, the End is a kind of solution.I get the definite impression that there is a feeling of powerlessness at work among those who seem eager to buy into predictions of catastrophe -- or even to gloat over them. Many such people are thoroughly selfless: They worry about the state of "the world" more so than -- or perhaps to the exclusion of -- their own happiness. They focus much more on spreading their message to others than on satisfying themselves that it is true. They regard the agent of corrective change as super-human (God or the state -- or perhaps both). Buyers of religiously-inspired doomsday myths openly rely on what others say over the verdict of their own minds; but I feel safe betting that most who accept allegedly scientific doomsday scenarios don't really understand the scientific case (when there is one) for their pet scenario. The last two points -- external locus of control and the failure to use one's reasoning mind properly -- go a long way in explaining this phenomenon: Someone who doesn't learn how to properly use a tool (e.g., his mind) will have no real confidence in it, nor will he see how to apply it in a bad situation. To such a person, razing everything to the ground and starting over, in a fashion, will sound like a relief and looks like it will at least offer his stunted mind some purchase.
What's worse is that, outside something like a supervolcanic eruption or an asteroid strike, there are few things that could quickly wipe out human civilization, but many man-made catastrophes that can pose an existential threat within a time horizon of decades nevertheless. The cultists of doom make things harder for the real Cassandras, who attempt to warn against such folly, and can offer practicable solutions to head off disaster.
Here's a story of bravery and triumph I didn't catch the first time around: "She signed, 'I am addressing everybody who is deaf in Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. ... And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again."
Via HBL, here's an encouraging story about tea partiers paying attention to how those they support govern.
Is it time for an "emotional Turing test" in animal research? My off-the-cuff take is that a faculty of reason isn't necessary for many emotions to exist in an animal. Regardless of whether animals have emotions (or I am correct), the case for a being having individual rights would depend on that being possessing a faculty of reason, as Ayn Rand so ably argued -- and not on a capacity for feeling pain, emotional or otherwise.