My problem is this: Credulity pisses me off. I mean really pisses me off. When I see people spouting nonsense about how the Egyptian pyramids were built by space aliens or how meditation can teach you to levitate, unlock your psychic powers, and cast out demons or how vaccination is a Jewish plot to murder Christian children or whatnot, I get mad. Breatharians, Bigfoot fanatics, the looney tunes who hang out in Groom Lake, Nevada believing they'll uncover evidence that the government is hiding the wreckage of a crashed flying saucer, and the yahoos who go on about the lost continent of Atlantis and its super-advanced spacefaring civilization produce in me the exact same emotional reaction as I have when I hear someone say something like "This world would be a better place if we killed all the niggers." I get that pissed.
The world is filled with people who dress up turds to look like brownies, and then sell them on the street corner. And the world is filled with people perfectly willing to take a bite. And it's infuriating.
You see, this kind of credulity is never harmless. It softens the brain. It corrodes reason, the one thing that sets us apart from the other animals. It makes a person easy to manipulate. Atrocities happen because the gullible are willing to believe that thus-and-such a person isn't really human, doesn't have a soul, murdered Jesus, whatever. Gullibility is a knife at the throat of civilization.
Even in its less extreme incarnations, the credulity that lets people happily munch on turds and believe they're brownies is expensive. I've ranted before about the gullible nitwits that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money--MY money--on "psychic drug detectors" (empty plastic boxes from Radio Shack whose "inventor" claimed could harness "psychic energy" to detect drugs and even locate missing persons, which he sold for $8,000 a pop to schools and police departments all across the country). And, of course, there's the yahoos who buy everything from "laundry balls" (which supposedly "energize water" to get clothes clean without detergent) to "AIDS crystals" that use the energy of those Egyptian pyramids to cure AIDS.
It all well and truly pisses me off.
It's amazing, really. I feel like I'm living in a society of people who cannot muster the cognitive skills to tell the difference between shit and brownies. You show a person two Web sites--one published by the CDC, for instance, and the other by that aforementioned Christian Fundamentalist group that believes that vaccination is a Jewish plot to kill Christian babies, and it's a crap shoot which one he'll believe. Basic analytical and reasoning skills are so lacking in the population at large that you might as well flip a coin.
"But," the person will say, "it's important to hear both sides of the story."
Both sides??!! Both sides of the story? One side contains carefully collected, peer-reviewed, objectively verifiable data; the other contains the ravings of religious zealots about how the Jews fabricated evidence of past smallpox epidemics, invented margarine to poison Christian women, and oh, by the way, the holocaust never happened.
Christ, people. Seriously, if that's your idea of "listening to both sides of the argument," you'd best re-open the debate about whether or not the world is flat.
There is absolutely nothing that is so well-documented, so obviously true, that a turd-dresser can't come along and try to make believe that, no, wait, there's another side to the story. Unfortunately, it seems that very few people have functional bullshit detectors; hell, there are actually people willing to believe that water will change its crystal structure in response to human emotion--which, when you examine the methodology (namely, writing words with an emotional content onto a piece of paper and taping it to the side of a glass in a freezer) leads one to the inescapable conclusion that not only is water responsive to human thought, but it's also possessed of the remarkable ability to read written Japanese.
If water is fluent in reading Japanese, and my body is 70% water, shouldn't I be able to read written Japanese with at least 70% fluency? And what happens if a person writes a Japanese word on a piece of paper but doesn't know what the word means--does the water still react? But I digress.
Of course, for the faithful who believe this nonsense, the turd-peddler has many devices for sale. They'll energize the water with, y'know, positive emotions, to, y'know, cure cancer. God help me, I am not making this up.
Why? Why why why? Why are people so goddamn incapable of distinguishing between shit and brownies? Why is it that no matter how many turds these people bite into, they're so eager for the next? Do they so desperately NEED to believe something--conspiracies, sea monsters, anything because their lives are so crushingly dull? Are they completely blind to the breathtaking, awe-inspiring wonder that really exists in the real world? Are they just so intellectually sloppy that they don't know any better--they can't read total gibberish dressed up with scientific-sounding words and tell the difference between that and real science? What makes a person gullible? Why are otherwise intelligent, articulate people so hopelessly credulous that they'll send their bank account information to deposed government officials in Nigeria who want to wire them "THE SUM OF $150,000,000 (ONE HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION US DOLLARS)," believe in Bigfoot and Nessie and space aliens in the deserts of Africa, but will refuse to immunize their kids because "oh, there's no real proof that it works"? Where do these people COME from?
Grr. Maybe I'm the space alien.
All I can say is, God bless James Randi--a far, far more patient man than I.