Monday, May 18, 2015

Humility defeats gullibility 10/15/16



            Each human is born totally uninformed and hopefully during some eighty years time accumulates some understanding of reality. Reality involves humankind and entails unknowns, discovery, comprehension, imagination, and what emerges from physics (which is mass, energy, and space-time) including opinion. Since humankind has some 7 trillion man-years of experience and progress, humans born today may behold enormous reality, whereas the prehistoric person feared the aura of dispersed clouds moving across a full moon. There are facts, some undiscovered and some known; arts, such as music, philosophy, politics, history, and religion; enmities due to past incomprehension and unawareness; and emerging innovations, both technical and psychological. Each person is born with civic equality and dignity, which may be denied early or late: from the moment of conception, when he/she emerges from the womb, as a child or adolescent, or in adulthood. However, humans have basic needs, and these are described as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[1]; the hierarchy is a constantly refined technology. As a person progresses through the stages of life, impressions develop, and the person forms opinion.
            Opinion is needed only because reality is either not known or not accepted by the individual. For example, there exists a god hypothesis, which has not been proven. Some people cultivate opinionative doctrine based on the god hypothesis. Opinion can have strong influence on the outcome of living without caution and prudence. For example, a feeling of power can inspire a person to oppress other people. One of the keys to civic living is not judging either self or other persons: having humility.

A pleasant family experience
 
 I want to illustrate humility with a story. My wife and I were having a discussion about an atheist and good neighbor, who had declined my offer to lend my first book on atheism.[2] Our daughter was in the room but, typically, pursuing private interests.
 
The atheist had said, “I am an atheist and don’t care to consider the matter again or discuss it.”
 
            The atheist seemed either stumped, put off, or contemplative when I responded, “Atheism is a leap of faith I cannot take.”
 
            In trying to understand my opinion—that atheism is an act of faith, my wife uncharacteristically asked our daughter, “Holly, do you believe in God?”
 
            I was surprised with such boldness by Cynthia and learned later that Holly was perplexed to be asked that question. After a few silent moments, I asked Cynthia, “May I ask a similar question?” 
 
            Relieved, Cynthia granted permission, and I asked Holly, “Are you humble?”
 
            Holly thought about the substitute question then responded, “I think I’m humble,” with emphasis on the “I think.”
 
            Holly had left judgment outside herself. Cynthia and I shared a broad grin then congratulated Holly on what seemed a perfect response.

Gullibility

            Humility should not be confused with gullibility, the practice of being easily duped/ deceived or cheated. The dupe readily believes information whether true or false, and thereby lacks personal integrity or authenticity. Gullibility is often driven by the hope for quick satisfaction, perceived comfort, or "something for nothing" and in that sense is the opposite of humility. Unfortunately, most of us are vulnerable to gullibility, and someone should coach us about it plainly, early in life. However, someone who is trying to indoctrinate you into an  ideology is not likely to warn against gullibility. Gullibility, the premier deadly-error is not listed among the seven deadly sins.
 
Humility grows as a person reduces doubt
            There are many people who are so smart as to know and ignore the doubtful ideas in their religion. They accurately discern their religion’s good ideas, and un-mistakenly conduct life accordingly. Some people employ religion merely to secure to themselves actual humility for fulfilling physics-based ethics or the-indisputable-facts-of-reality. For example, in the movie, “April Morning,”[3] Adam Cooper takes over his slain father’s seat at prayer before dinner and ends his first prayer with a statement to his personal god, "For the next while, I am going to be attempting to kill Red Coats; I won’t hold you responsible and will take what comes." That’s humility.
 
            I think such humility is expressed, perhaps erroneously, by Michael Polanyi, who wrote a book claiming that dedication to the objective truth is an act of faith (my paraphrase), a view I adopted a couple decades ago. Polanyi concluded[1] (American spelling by me):
So far as we know, the tiny fragments of the universe embodied in man are the only
centers of thought and responsibility in the visible world. If that be so, the appearance of the human mind has been so far the ultimate stage in the awakening of the world, and all that has gone before, the strivings of a myriad canters that have taken the risks of living and believing, seem to have all been pursuing, along rival lines, the aim now achieved by us up to this point. They are all akin to us. For all these centers---those which led up to our own existence and the far more numerous others which produced different lines of which many are extinct---may be  seen engaged in the same endeavor towards ultimate liberation. We may envisage then a           cosmic field which called forth all these centers by offering them a short-lived, limited,            hazardous opportunity for making some progress of their own towards an unthinkable              consummation. And that is also, I believe, how a Christian is placed when worshiping God.

I speculate that Polanyi’s claim is not intended to slight other religions but is a well crafted expression of his belief, so he may humbly leave it to other believers to state their beliefs.
 
Polanyi helped me find comfort with a Muslim’s friend’s claim, “Phil, sooner or later, you will submit to Allah.” Beforehand, I felt it was an attack on my humanity—a sort of claim that I was defiant and therefore needed to submit to a controller about whom I did not know. Furthermore, that controller is named “Allah,” whom I have not met on par with the god I was reared to believe. But perhaps those two complaints are untrue: my friend’s statement is only his belief for himself about himself—his comfort in the face of death: It does not impose the belief on me.[4] My statement for myself about my person follows: without objections toward other people, I trust and am committed to---one could say hold fidelity to---the objective truth of which much is undiscovered and some is understood. I often shorten it to “the objective truth.” I think Polanyi positioned me to claim that no one should doubt civic people of faith or attempt to attack their religion, because attack is unjustifiable—a vain attempt to rebuke physics-based ethics, which has not disproved the god hypothesis. Personal-liberty is a private pursuit; however, it must be conducted in civic well-being--serenity toward other persons.
 
Philosophic view
            It seems philosophy considers humility a part of wisdom.[5]  The arguments begin with whether or not Socrates’ denial of wisdom was evidence that he was wise. Many nuances are raised. However, I am satisfied with fidelity to the objective truth Physics seems the starting point toward understanding and candid discussion with a civic people to iteratively collaborate for civic morality. For example, a civic people does not lie to a civic people so that they can communicate; someone who lies to a civic person cannot trust a civic person's statements, even though the civic person's statements are reliable. By codifying the settlement of a civic people’s collaboration, a system of civic morality may be established. Where necessary, the civic determinations may be made civil law.
 
Doubt
            A key to humility is doubt. When I was a child, I read many biographies and learned to read the first and last pages to choose the next book. One day, I did that with The Bible and decided I could not trust a god that felt so weak as to threaten me, as on the last page. However, my family and community indoctrination was so strong, I tried to persuade myself for another four decades. Then, I woke up to my wife’s radically differing sect, Louisiana-French Catholicism rather than my Southern Baptism—listened to her about her opinions for herself after a quarter century of debate. I was incredulous respecting the differences in opinion and recognized that I preferred her sect if I must have a sect but moreover preferred fidelity to the objective truth.
             Now, I have learned about Black Liberation Theology[6], and on brief reading understand the arguments: since the white god did not lead believers to refrain from subjugating the slaves, the real god must be black; the god's purpose is to lift black Americans to supremacy. Further, the Word came from the mother continent, Africa, and therefore, slavery is true, but the slave-masters are African-Americans. This construct makes sense if what is important is to choose a sect. My friend Fred Bear motivated me to read about the red god,[7] and I think his argument is that we need to rise above gods and establish domestic civic connection. A civic people can accomplish what no god can: establish civic morality.
 
            Regardless of what came before or after, the elite statesmen and soldiers of the Revolutionary war made our opportunity for personal liberty with civic well-being possible. Again, I was reminded of this on viewing “April Morning.” The nation’s liberty was declared in 1776 and won for all in 1781, and the 1787 preamble to the Constitution for the USA is likewise for all inhabitants. We have, with our personal diversity, the opportunity no other country has to establish both personal liberty and domestic goodwill instead of domestic alienation.We should take it. African-Americans may choose it.
 
It is alright for people to pursue religious constructs and ethnic distinctions, but cultures should not nourish domestic division. Particular cultures should be enjoyed in civic humility. I want to persuade at least sixty-five percent of the people in each civil (real-no-harm) group to establish an over arching culture of personal liberty with civic well-being: A Civic People of the United States can. That’s the purpose of this blog, and the people I meet excite the work.            At a party, I was describing my work to a couple, and the wife asked, "In one sentence, what is the purpose of you work?"

             I responded, "To persuade most persons to help establish personal liberty with civic well-being." The three broad smiles were contagiously motivating.

Copyright©2015 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included. Edited October 15, 2016


[1] Michael Polanyi. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. The University of Chicago Press. 1958. P. 405


[2] David Eller. Natural Atheism. 2004
[3] From the book by Howard Fast, 1961. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Morning .
[4] This explanation was a response to Kishon Seth’s February 5, 2015 question, “Why did your Muslim friend’s statement bother you?”
[5] See “Wisdom as Epistemic Humility,” at plato.stanford.edu/entries/wisdom/#WisEpiHum . “Epistemic” relates to knowledge.
[7] Vine Deloria Jr. God is Red. 1973, 2003 edition.