Friday, December 31, 2010

In Support of Public Schools Teaching Intelligent Design and Other Nonsense III

Baruch Pelta, in his second post, gets nasty, accusing me of putting up a "destabilizing lie meant to pull emotional strings." Yes I have the nerve to compare his mode of dealing with opponents to that of Haredim in that, while intellectually he may understand that people disagree with him, at a psychological level he fails to internalize this. This gets him stuck on the fact that he is "objectively" correct. (Note that I did not accuse him of being a Nazi, which is what I would have done if I were trying to simply score polemical points.) One should not think ill of Baruch; this is a problem that afflicts most people. Being a true liberal, one who respects all beliefs and refuses to use any physically coercive measures, even against those he disagrees with, to force people to go against those beliefs, requires years of disciplined critical thinking. It is something I still strive to work on in myself.

A useful exercise is to think in terms of x and y instead of actual ideas. X and y are both ideas held by people living in society. In order to get x and y supporters to not force their beliefs on the other they need to be promised that the other side, in turn, will not try to force their beliefs on them. Now x might be evolution and y creationism, but that is irrelevant in face of the more abstract x and y social contract model we agree to serve. Thinking in abstract terms allows you to get around the psychological hang ups we all have about the beliefs that seem to us to be obviously true.

Working as an intellectual historian also helps. For example I have been spending much of my time these few months trying to understand Sabbatianism. It is not my place to judge those who believed that Sabbatai Sevi was the Messiah. If it seems absurd to me then I have to work all the harder as seeing Sabbatai as they might have and put myself in a frame of mind in which accepting Sabbatai as the Messiah can become reasonable. This is done by immersing oneself in the words of Sabbatians themselves and their worldview.

In terms of actual arguments, Baruch challenges my larger definition of religion, pointing out that the Constitution specifically refers to religion and not to ideas in general. Fair enough, but I would point out that in the eighteenth century the only examples of large scale organized ideological groups, the kind that might have the power to overthrow the government in hopes of being able to force their beliefs on others were religions. Keep in mind that the main "religious" concern of the Founding Fathers was to not have Catholics and Protestants repeating Europe's religion wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on American soil. I assume that they would have adjusted their terms if they were writing only several decades later and saw the communist party. At the end of the day it does not make sense to have one set of rules for the Catholic Church and another for the communist party. Baruch, are you suggesting that the beliefs of communists are outside of the first amendment? Richard Dawkins, of all people, has essentially made my argument that religion should not be treated any differently from any other belief. I agree with Dawkins that being a Quaker should not offer you special conscientious objector status not available to people who are pacifists on simple intellectual grounds.


Baruch Pelta said...

I'm getting nasty...

Baruch thinks that it is so obvious that he is right that if he repeats his arguments or has the government step in and support him as being right, those other people will eventually come to their senses; that the Christians, Haredim and white supremacists will suddenly realize that they are superstitious intolerant bigots, apologize to Baruch for being such naughty children and go home.

I don't understand how that gratuitous language doesn't indicate a wish to simply try to score polemical points...I'd be happy to continue the conversation on your blog, but you are the one who has lowered the level of dialogue here; I was simply pointing out how gratuitous you were being. I don't know if you realize this Benzion, but I'm also a (graduate) student in intellectual history. I happen to fall in the activist tradition of academics and you might not like that, but to compare those of us who see our scholarship through the lens of issues we believe are of import to haredi historical revisionists (as you clearly did in your video)...well, it's just not nice.

Izgad said...

Calling me a liar, in my mind, is a step beyond calling you Haredi, particularly as my entire point there was to argue that you are being inconsistent. You operate by the same fundamental conceptual rules as the people you criticize and you attack them precisely for following those rules. You are correct that I do not accept the legitimacy of the activist school of academic thought, precisely because I know to expect Haredim to use people like you as a shield to argue that they have every right to write history with an agenda just like activist academics do. If I accepted the legitimacy of activist academics I would have no argument to offer against these Haredim except to puff out my chest and insist that I am right.

Baruch Pelta said...

I didn't call you a liar (unless lying to yourself makes you a liar, in which case just about everybody is a liar). I specifically wrote, "Benzion can be excused of trying to mislead you on the grounds that he may well be deluding himself."

I'll respond to your other points later.

Clarissa said...

Sorry to be completely off topic, but I wanted to wish a very happy new year to you, dear friend!

Izgad said...

Thank you.