Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance is Our Friend

As I understand it, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort one feels when that person’s strongly held beliefs conflict with facts that the person encounters. Articles I’ve read like to use the example of cigarette smokers who can read right off the pack that smoking is bad for their health, yet they always have an excuse for continuing to smoke. So if we could get more people to recognize the cognitive dissonance in themselves, they might stop to analyze the facts and make more rational decisions.
Of course, the more one has invested in maintaining their errant belief, the more likely the person is to avoid cognitive dissonance; which goes a long way toward explaining the actions of creationists. So the people that need to understand this concept the most are the ones least likely to even listen and the more I write about this the more discouraged I get. Now I’ve completely forgotten the whole point of this post.
Anyway, I’m going to endeavor to keep cognitive dissonance in mind so I will be less likely to stick to dumb opinions that don’t fit the facts and when I encounter a person who begins a sentence with “I refuse to believe…” I’ll hit them with a brick, because they won’t listen to the facts even if I try to inform them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Skeptical About Skepticism

I’ve started to become increasingly skeptical about the people who refer to themselves as skeptics. I consider myself a skeptic because I try not to take anything at face value and always want to analyze any available data to support assertions. Isn’t that skeptical of me? The problem is that I’ve been looking at skeptics’ websites and they seem to define the word differently. The site owners seem to have decided that some things don’t exist or work and no proof of their assertions are necessary.
I know that it’s advisable not to open your mind so much that your brain falls out, but I think it’s also advisable not to close your mind so much that no facts get in. For instance, I’ve mentioned before that I know ghosts exist because I’ve seen them under circumstances that leave no other rational explanation, but many of the internet skeptics say simply that ghosts don’t exist because they’ve never seen one. Of course they’ve never gone looking for one; they’ve never spent time in a haunted house or battlefield or any place else that ghosts frequent and they’ve never done any research on the subject. It’s sort of like only believing in the existence of animals if they can be seen from the skeptic’s front window. They are equally dismissive of any evidence collected by ghost hunters; everything’s a fake, a flaw, or a misinterpretation of data. How do they know? Well, they figure ghosts don’t exist, so supporting evidence can’t exist either.
Although you might never notice by reading this blog, my life goal is to collect knowledge and in so doing, separate facts from general assumptions. That is why I consider myself a skeptic; because I don’t automatically accept statements as fact just because I read them in a book or see them on TV, but instead reserve judgment until I see some credible corroboration. Accepting information on faith or dismissing out of hand information that doesn’t fit my perception only limit my efforts to become more knowledgeable and increase understanding. Suppression of knowledge and bending information to coincide with preconceptions are the job of religions. I try to remember that the correct answer to the question is frequently “I don’t know.”

The Death of Hope

The one thing that everyone agreed should be the very first thing that the new govt. in Washington D.C. accomplish; implement a financial stimulus package and, I (and I think most Americans) hoped both parties could join together to make it happen. A package was put together and presented to the House and was widely criticized by the Republicans, but passed without a single Republican voting for it. The stimulus package then went to the Senate where the Republican senators held it up and demanded that a lot of cuts which they’re still arguing about. So much for bipartisan compromise.
It seems the Republicans in congress have decided that they are the fiscal watchdogs, protecting the American people from large govt. debt. That’s great if the public has the memory span of a gold fish. The very same Repubs for eight years voted on things that took us from the largest budget surplus to the largest budget deficit in history. Furthermore, everyone agrees we need a stimulus package, even if we’re not sure what it should contain. Up until a few weeks ago the fiscal watchdogs were spending the money on a made-up war where subcontractors were hired to do the same thing at the same time as the US military except they get paid ten times as much and where billions of dollars just disappeared, and they found lots of other places to spend money too, on things that were nowhere as important as a stimulus package, plus they cut taxes for the biggest taxpayers; until they got to a trillion dollars of debt.
So what kind of wasteful spending are the newly minted fiscal watchdogs interested in cutting? Well here’s a hint; it’s not the law that the Dems slipped in that allows congress to decide if you don’t need the expensive things your doctor prescribes. They want to cut all the science support, since new technology, alternative energy sources, and applied science can’t stimulate the economy. They want to cut money going to education, because making taxpayers pay more to keep their children’s schools open doesn’t have anything to do with the economy. Also, they want to cut bailout money to the states so you can have higher state taxes to offset any tax cut you get from the feds
Meanwhile, the GOP congresspersons still vote in lockstep, but give it a different label so business as usual sounds like new and improved, and the latest polls suggest that most people view them as obstructionists rather that defenders. So help for the economy gets delayed and the Republicans may be insuring that even fewer voters support them in the next election.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The New Administration

Obama has recently proven he's not perfect, especially when it comes to cabinet appointments and he may have a lousy bailout plan, if the Republicans in Congress are right (although they haven't much credibility based on the last 8 years), but at least he's getting some things right. He's reversing some of W's most stupid decisions, especially ones that pandered to the Fundies or were unconstitutional and he's obviously been working his butt off since day one. The most refreshing thing I have heard from the new Prez is the statement "It was totally my fault". After eight long years of verbal acrobatics by the last administration to avoid accepting blame for anything, we finally have an adult in the White House who's willing to acknowledge mistakes and then try to fix them.