May 13, 2011

The Value of Defiance

I'm in the middle of a migraine, and Blogger has royally pissed me off over the last couple of days. Today, I'll just point to a couple of other posts that provide context to each other. Jerry Coyne comments on the idea that a new study showing religion is globally pervasive suggests that uprooting its ideals is "hopeless":

That’s hogwash. As we can see from the tremendous secularization of the world over the past few centuries, especially in Europe, it is not impossible for religion to wither. The pervasiveness of a belief gives no warrant that that belief will be with us forever. Look how pervasive, only a century ago, was the idea that women were second-class citizens. This was true in nearly every society. Ditto for gays and ethnic minorities. And look how attitudes have changed! Granted, women, for instance, still get the short end of the stick, but in many parts of the world they’re much better off. Most of us now realize that people should be treated as equals, regardless of gender, color, and sexual orientation. That would have been inconceivable a few hundred years ago.

Let’s just tinker a bit with Trigg’s statement:

“If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature as the idea that women are inferior, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests,” Trigg said. . “The female-equality hypothesis of the 1960s—I think that is hopeless.”

So how do we go about undermining the authority of a such a pervasive idea? Paul W points out that if we really want to understand that, social science offers us a great deal of research on the topics of conformity and minority influence.

Here are some topics worth looking up on Wikipedia—Mooney should demonstrate his familiarity with this stuff if he wants to be taken at all seriously, and his critics would do well to know about the six decades of relevant research he persistently ignores:

Conformity, Asch Conformity Experiments, Normative Social Influence, Social Proof, Information Cascade, and especially Minority Influence and Spiral of Silence.

Scientists and philosophers especially are in a position to exert minority influence, ending a spiral of silence by providing social proof, and undermining the information cascade that supports religion.

But that is exactly what Mooney is most opposed to—he is against the experts voicing the kind of expert opinion that has the greatest potential for minority influence, and he actively tries to undermine the appearance of expertise and minority solidarity that makes minority influence work best. He is firmly on the side of the normative conformity that keeps the masses ignorant of the kind of minority but expert view that could actually change a substantial number of minds.

The reading and the suggestions to be derived from it aren't terribly straightforward, but this is stuff you'll want to know if you're running against the herd.

1 comment:

Greg Laden said...

There are reasons to believe that if left alone, without a secularist or atheist philosophy at hand (and for most non industrialized societies there would not be one), some for of religion will arise. It has almost never failed to happen, obviously, because in truth there are no religion-free cultures.

But the same can be said of a lot of other things. If a human culture was let loose on any landscape with only minimal technology and no cultural knowledge of technology, if they surivived for several years they would probably invent stone tools. Yet, there are no stone tool reliant cultures today and when they did exist they almost instantaneously replaced their stone with metal at the very first possible opportunities (for reasons other than one might think, I quickly add). I doubt secularism is as suddenly seductive as steel, but it is powerful and the potential for non-religious societies to thrive and spread is very real.