re: progressive beliefs


Richard Moore

Bcc: contributors


You folks have sent in a number of interesting contributions to this thread, and I’ll be publishing those in the next few days. But today I want to focus on material from one of our subscribers whose comments illustrate what we’ve been talking about. 


From: Ralph Suter
Date: 14 October 2009 16:38:14 IST
Subject: Re: Mark Sircus: Swine Flu Madness

The greater madness is your continual posting of material from such dubious sources. What do the abbreviations “Ac., OMD” after Sircus’s name even stand for? I couldn’t find anything for “Ac.” and the author doesn’t explain it on his website. He also describes himself as an “honorary doctor of oriental medicine” which makes the OMD decidedly unimpressive. I also note that the board of directors of his impressive sounding organization has been disbanded, meaning that he alone is apparently the entire “International Medical Veritas Association”. You seem eager to forward anything and everything that denigrates U.S. and U.N. health agencies and the tens of thousands of doctors and researchers who work for them or generally support their work while refusing to forward anything that challenges any of the views of the denigrators. In my view, you are wasting a lot of people’s time and showing yourself to be far from the careful, objective thinker and researcher you claim to be.

Hi Ralph,
Thanks for your candor. 
The Greeks had a phrase for your commentary. They’d call it an ad hominem response: attack the messenger when you can’t attack the argument itself.  The Greeks were focusing on the fact that such responses have no validity in debate. In our current thread, the focus is instead on such responses being a form of denial, a way of protecting one’s beliefs by irrationally rejecting information that threatens them.
Nowhere in the article you refer to does Sircus say, “Believe what I say because of my credentials”. He cites the sources for his claims, and he presents logical arguments for his conclusions. His article would be just as useful and worth reading no matter what his profession. His credentials are irrelevant. You spent a lot of time researching his credentials, but did you bother to read the article?

I am eager to forward material that is useful to us in making up our own minds about the flu vaccine and vaccines in general. I see no need to publish mainstream propaganda that everyone is already exposed to elsewhere. As regards material that challenges the anti-vaccine articles, I haven’t seen any. The mainstream media simply repeats the UN and CDC assertions that the vaccine is safe, which is a ridiculous claim for a vaccine that hasn’t been tested, and a vaccine which admittedly contains harmful substances.

Several days ago you sent me a similar complaining message, and I asked you the following question: “What is your feeling at this point regarding the advisability of mercury in vaccines for children?”. To this you responded, “I don’t have an opinion about it except that I’m very skeptical about the anti-vaccine views you’ve been posting so extensively while posting almost nothing that challenges them”.

This brings us to another aspect of the progressive belief system, one that hasn’t been mentioned yet in this thread. That is, the tendency to know nothing, to remain forever in suspended judgement regarding just about everything that’s controversial. Basically, this is a refusal to think for oneself. 
I recall one time I showed a 9/11 documentary to a close friend. We saw the news reporters and firemen shouting out, “There was just another huge explosion in the tower!”. We saw the testimony of eyewitnesses who were injured by explosions in the basement prior to the plane hitting the building. We saw the gigantic steel beams neatly sheared, spewed across the street, and embedded in neighboring buildings. We saw how the official analysis fails totally to account for the collapse of the central columns, or the collapse of WT7. We saw irrefutable evidence of all kinds that the buildings were brought down by demolition charges. 
And yet, when the documentary was over, my friend said, “I don’t know, I saw another documentary that seemed to explain all this”. He didn’t recall what the other documentary said, he simply recalled it had a different conclusion. I was speechless. Can’t this person believe his own eyes? Doesn’t he have any ability to judge evidence? The problem, however, is that he is a very intelligent and creative person, someone normally very observant and very able to think for himself. The refusal to think is selective, reserved for ideas outside the mainstream, outside the progressive belief system. This is confusion, or not knowing, being used as an irrational defense mechanism.
You may not have noticed, but my posting of 10 October, “some thoughts on beliefs, progressives, and conservatives” ( was written specifically in response to your complaints about newslog. In the second posting in that thread, I made this statement:

     The same kind of blind spots exist in economics, history, and political science. In every field there are unexamined assumptions that throw all ‘consensus’ conclusions into serious question. The progressive habit of seeking reliable sources, based on independent experts, is a highly dysfunctional way of seeking greater understanding. Understanding requires thinking through questions for yourself, and keeping open to new insights and observations. ‘Experts’ give us only a superficial glance into a field’s conclusions, and tell us nothing about the underlying assumptions.

You accuse me of not being an “objective thinker and researcher” because I don’t base my views on expert opinions. I say that basing views on the opinions of experts is not thinking at all. From your perspective, I can see why you make your accusation. But I think it’s a perspective that deserves to be examined. 

Let’s turn our attention now to conservatives. Rather than a tendency to not knowing, the curse of progressives, conservatives have a tendency to rush to judgement, to be sure of things without adequately examining the evidence. They are sure it’s a Jewish conspiracy, or that immigrants are the problem, or that evolution doesn’t happen, or whatever. Rather than think for themselves, they adopt pre-packaged beliefs. They are cursed not so much by irrational defense mechanisms but more by over-credulity, and a desire for simple answers and easy certainty. Religions offer easy certainty, and conservatives therefore tend to be more religious.

Perhaps in both cases the underlying problem is laziness. Seeking understanding is hard work. We all know this in the case of simple pursuits, such as understanding rocket science, or thermodynamics, or learning French. We know then that study is required, and that new concepts will need to be mastered. But when it comes to difficult pursuits, such as understanding how decisions are made in society, or how the economy works, people think, or hope, they can accomplish that without working at it. Or they think it’s impossible to understand and don’t bother working at it. Pick your curse.

And underlying that is our educational system, which does not teach us how to learn or how to think. Instead it throws information at us, or disinformation, at a rate too fast to digest. We struggle to memorize the conclusions, what the teacher calls ‘facts’, so we can reiterate them on a test. We don’t learn what kind of work is required in order to approach difficult questions. Instead we are brainwashed in the mistaken assumption that for every question, the answer has already been found, and we simply need to find the right textbook, ‘reliable source’, or ‘expert’. 

The kind of work required in approaching difficult questions is called the scientific method. The scientific method consists of observation, hypothesis formationhypothesis testing, and hypothesis refinement. Without hypotheses there is no progress in science. That is to say, if you want to increase your understanding of difficult issues, you need to go out on a limb, embrace for a time a tentative belief, and then test it against further observations – both the kind that would be expected to confirm the belief, and the kind that challenges the belief. 

The curse of not knowing, comes from the refusal to take a stand, to entertain a hypothesis. The curse of seeking easy certainty comes from a failure to test hypotheses, but to accept instead other people’s hypotheses as fact. 

thanks again for your candor,

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