Ignorance and Ideological Rigidity: Achilles’ heels of democracies and individuals

Larry Moran asks

At what point does something become an “ethical” issue for society? How many people have to be against something on “ethical” grounds” in order for it to become an ethical problem?

What if their objections are irrational? For example I imagine that US Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is against stem cell research but his reasons are likely to be as ridiculous as his reasons for opposing same-sex marriage. Does that still count as an ethical problem? It seems to me that elevating stupidity to the level of “ethics” is not the way we want to go.

… Why do we let religious groups define ethics for us? I don’t subscribe to their version of ethics, do you?

The problem of ignorance in a democracy. And once again, the problem of ideological rigidity.

As is often the case, might defines right. If enough people believe in something silly, it’s no longer silly—or, it’s no longer deemed silly. Moreover, to suggest that it is silly could be socially risky. If enough people believe in something silly, then one can use this belief as an irrational premise in the formation of an irrational but syllogistically sound conclusion. And since its a democracy, if enough people believe in the premise (i.e., don’t view it as being irrational), the conclusion will be endorsed by the majority.

As far as I can tell, most people who believe silly things are not uncapable of intelligent rational evaluation of ideas across the board. The problem is that they become committed to a certain subset of their beliefs, and are consequently motivated to protect them. Often, their self-concept, sense of meaning and purpose, and/or the stability of their community depends on the endorsement of the belief. Given these stakes, it is understandable that they would be motivated to protect these beliefs and propagate them. As I have argued recurrently, this is not a good way to live. To commit onself to particular beliefs constitutes committing oneself to something undependable and vulnerable. When people and societies come to depend on beliefs, the beliefs cease to simply be ideas that one currently ascents to. They become integral parts of the self and the community. A critique of these ideas is no longer a simple critique of ideas. It is a threat. The more people come to identify themselves and their communities with beliefs, the more and more likely we move away from civility and compassion and toward antagonism, oppression, hate and violence. When words come to act as guns, it’s only a matter of time before the real guns come out.

4 Responses to “Ignorance and Ideological Rigidity: Achilles’ heels of democracies and individuals”
  1. leafless says:

    I’m saddened with the lack of independent thinking in today’s world. But who would want to risk being an enemy of the people? Nice post.

  2. lenellis says:

    Alas, poor Democracy, so hobbled. Still, she struggles on largely through the efforts of people like who believe in her or in your words that humans are “…capable off intelligent rational evaluation of ideas.” Isn’t that a belief about the human potential to which you’re committed (full disclosure: me, too) and one that provides meaning and purpose?

  3. There’s certainly a great deal to find out about this issue. I love all the points you’ve made.

  4. Hey! This post could not be written any better!

    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He
    always kept chatting about this. I will forward this
    post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

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