I love watching debunking videos on YouTube. They are valuable sources of both information and cheap laughs. In some cases, I would even call them guilty pleasures (though DBZA is my real guilty pleasure). As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the Pine Trees and Elephants Aftershow, which is quasi-inspiration for me, but I’ve had the idea for this post for a while now. See, part of this post’s title is a quote from one of my former professors (Charles Kemnitz, if anyone wants to look him up). Ever since the very beginning of human civilisation, man has tried to distinguish himself from animals through various means. For most of history, this was done through religion; only in recent history has science attempted to tackle this problem. To be fair, however, religion has been around a lot longer than science. For so many centuries (and even to this day, in some places), anyone suggesting scientific investigation was cast out of society, usually quite fatally. See, science has the potential to falsify any belief, no matter how strongly held. Therefore, any manner of investigation using the scientific method is inherently dangerous to those in power. This is why no political party supports science – but politicians love to use science as a crutch to prop up their position when it suits them. This is called “cherry picking,” or, as I like to call it, “painting bullseyes around arrows.” It’s the very foundation of the ideological method, which is the process of finding facts to support a presupposition, rather than drawing a conclusion from facts; in other words, it’s the scientific method bass-ackwards.
I’m fairly certain that I’ve mentioned this before (though that may have been in a dream, since I can’t seem to find where), but I was unable to go into greater detail until now. Personally, I have never understood why people insist on hanging on to nonsensical beliefs. I have always had a very sceptical mind, and I actually enjoy changing it from time to time (remember, I love chaos). I’ve been challenging superstitions since I was five, in fact. I’ve made a lot of enemies this way, because no-one likes the smartass Russian kid who refuses to automatically believe anything an adult tells him. I’ve probably uttered the phrase “prove it” more than any other. However, I love to learn new things, and if someone can prove something that I don’t believe at first, I usually make a new friend. Some people, however, hate to learn. My mother thinks that this is exclusively an American problem, because the public school system kills the desire to learn. However, I have since come to the conclusion that this is not an American problem, but a human problem. Most people don’t like change, because they are not adaptable. Perhaps this is why so many people associate chaos with evil (especially in JRPGs, less so but still the case with many MMORPGs), even though chaos is not inherently evil, just as order is not inherently good. In fact, many of the most ordered societies throughout history have also been labelled as the most evil. Just as the axis of capitalism/socialism is perpendicular to the axis of authoritarianism/libertarianism on the political compass, the axis of good/evil is perpendicular to the axis of order/chaos on the moral compass.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s address what separates humans from animals. Unfortunately, I have a little plot twist for you: humans are animals, by definition. This fact makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, but unless the following sentence is incorrect, it is still a fact. A human is a multicellular eukaryotic organism with an internal digestive tract and must consume other organisms (not necessarily other animals) in order to survive. Humans did not descend from apes, humans are apes; naked apes, but apes nonetheless. Apes are a subset of monkeys (apes and monkeys used to be separate clades, but recent findings have changed that), which are a subset of primates, which are a subset of mammals, and so on ad nauseam. Yet, hardly anyone is willing to admit that, phylogenetically speaking, nothing separates humans from animals. However, every animal is unique in one respect or another, and humans happen to be unique in some truly remarkable ways, right? People have been trying to figure out exactly what those unique qualities are. Tool use? No, lots of other animals use tools; that trait isn’t even uniquely mammalian. Agriculture? No, because leafcutter ants cut leaves for the purpose of farming fungus. Social hierarchy? No, lots of other animals have that, not just apes. Civilisation? I’m not touching that one until someone manages to accurately define civilisation, but I suspect that most eusocial insects would qualify as being “civilised.” Intelligence? You’re going to have to define that one, too. Besides, we can recognise lots of animals as being intelligent, even if we can’t actually define that quality. How about imagination? Ding ding ding! Humans have lots of free time to daydream and invent stories. This is where religion came from: it’s a luxury, just like art, because when life is good, humans don’t have to spend every waking moment just trying to survive. Extrapolating from that, the hierarchical nature of humans means that certain individuals have come up with stories to control other humans. Most people buy into it, but some (like me) do not. After all, to quote Marcus Tullius Cicero, “religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” Actually, that quote has been attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte as well, but I’m inclined to believe that the older source is probably the correct one.
It is said that if you keep repeating a lie, eventually people will believe it. However, some people can even convince themselves that their own lies are true. This quality appears to be uniquely human – believing that one’s own senses are deceiving them, leading to a denial of reality itself. Besides, when the original con-artist dies (or gets hauled off to prison for tax evasion; I still pop up that headline from time to time for a healthy dose of schadenfreude), one of his victims will, inexorably, take up the mantle, and repeat the lie, having believed it from the start. Rinse and repeat for several thousand years, and you have an accepted religion, a central feature of a culture dictating tradition and law. Now, up to this point, I’ve been painting religion as evil. However, there is a flip side. Most religions describe an afterlife of some kind. Animals are afraid of death, which is why they run from predators. Well, that’s not quite accurate; to be perfectly honest, most animals don’t have a concept of death (but humans are not the only exception), and are actually afraid of the intense pain of being fatally bitten. Personally, I think there is no point in being afraid of the inevitable. Everything that has ever lived has died, and everything currently alive is going to die. This is another fact that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. No-one denies it, as far as I know, but that doesn’t change the attitude toward that fact. Continuing the trend of people lying to themselves, I’m inclined to believe that this is the underlying reason for censorship: no-one wants to be exposed to uncomfortable thoughts, much less a harsh reality. Some people are willing to deal with the mental discomfort, but others don’t. Most opponents of censorship believe that censors are intellectually dishonest, and I agree, but I would take it one step further: they are cowards. Intellectual dishonesty is a symptom of cowardice. I’ve seen religious apologists and politicians alike resort to various dishonest tactics (not just plain lying) when confronted with any inconvenient facts.
So, the video I have playing in the background is only halfway done, but I’m going to wrap this up now. So, first thought: science is dangerous to people in power, because it has a nasty tendency to overthrow the status quo. Second thought: people don’t like change. Third thought: humans are animals with an imagination. Fourth thought: religion was invented for both comforting and malicious reasons. Fifth and final thought: fear and imagination is a highly destructive combination, even when it doesn’t manifest as paranoia. I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the way my mind works. I’ll definitely write more of these. I’d call them “brain dumps,” but that name is already taken.
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