Posted by: Dan | January 12, 2008

Prejudice and Purpose

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Ann Druyan suggests and experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot of the preceding chapter. Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?

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It almost never feels like prejudice. Instead, it seems fitting and just – the idea that, because of an accident of birth, our group (whichever it is) should have a central position in the social universe. Among Pharaonic princelings and Plantagenet pretenders, children of robber barons and Central Committee bureaucrats, street gangs and conquerors of nations, members of confident majorities, obscure sects, and reviled minorities, this self-serving attitude seems as natural as breathing. It draws sustenance from the same psychic wellsprings as sexism, racism, nationalism, and the other deadly chauvinisms that plague our species. Uncommon strength of character is needed to resist the blandishments of those who assure us that we have an obvious, even God-given, superiority over our fellows. The more precarious our self-esteem, the greater our vulnerability to such appeals.

These two quotes are from chapter 2 (Aberrations of Light) from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. Copernicus, Darwin, and countless people along the way have shown that there appears to be no purpose or progress to the Universe, only a blend of deterministic and stochastic change. All that is left to hide behind is an appeal to First Cause, aka Classical Deism – and even that is presumptuous. The Anthropic Principle is dead, and has been for a long, long time.

These quotes also note that egocentric biases are ingrained in us, unfortunately. It takes effort to become aware of our prejudices, much less to shed them. Example: Racism. Coming soon, a good friend of mine will be posting here sections of an essay of his on this topic. “Captaindoctor” is a professor of education, and his focus is teaching future high school teachers about the subconscious biases that we all have, even those who are not what we would call racist. Hopefully, his contributions will be up within the week.


Responses

  1. We are innately selfish, and believe the world revolves around us, so, the idea of a “personal creator” who waits to answer our every desire makes perfect sense.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

    The problem is most people don’t want to admit they’re selfish bastards, and the denial is what causes so many problems.

    We end up repressing ourselves, and creating un (super)-natural controls.

    I’m not saying people should just do whatever in the hell they want, but at the same time they should or at least more of what they want.

    Our self-imposed controls have turned into a form of slavery where we give up ourselves so others can do whatever in the hell they want.


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