Breaking Paradigms


I just got finished reading Xavier Pacheco’s blog entry called Athiest Aliens are Killing Christians. Very nice insight into the paranoia expressed over every move that goes somewhat contrary to Christian desires.

I just recently started reading In Defense of Food, a book that postulates that our focus on nutrients rather than food is what is killing us. While my discussion of food versus nutrients deserves a blog entry, there is one statement I found poignant, at least for this discussion:

Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions.

In the past, I have used the word paradigm in place of ideology, using the third definition from Miriam Webster’s dictionary:

a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

Paradigms and Ideologies are Useful

Before I get too far, ideologies and paradigms are useful in some contexts:

First, we must organize large sets of information, as our mind can only wrap around so many items at one time. If you want an example, try to remember this number 4193479382. Now try to remember this number 615-342-5738. In both cases, you are presented with a 10 digit number. In the second example, it is much easier to remember, as you are seeing the number in smaller bites. Once you can group a number into area code, prefix and suffix, you can more easily remember it. The same is true for remembering a grocery list; if you can subdivide the list, perhaps by section of the store it is located in, you can remember much larger lists.

Second, paradigms and ideologies give us a foundation to work on to attach higher concepts to. This is similar to the way we use metaphor or analogy to understand complex facts. For example, who has not seen the model of the solar system used to describe how an electron travels around the nucleus of an atom?  Without a foundation, we cannot continue to learn more and more complex concepts. Even if there are flaws in the foundation, as in the solar system as an atom analogy, there is enough strength to build deeper concepts on top of the foundation.

The Danger

The danger here is when we start to see our ideology/paradigm as absolute truth. Rather than question our point of view, we begin to spout off without testing our assertions. This is what Xavier was talking about and is quite prevalent in the emails bandied about. I am not sure how many “Obama is a Muslim terrorist” emails I have received.

Labels

Labels are a convenient method of grouping, but our labels often are shaded by our own paradigms. If you are more Conservative, the word Liberal is an epithet. The converse is also true. It is also seen in the atheists versus theist fights, Democrat versus Republican fights, etc.

This leads to an “us versus them” mentality, where there is no give and take, as one cannot give one inch to “label”. After all, anyone with “label” is 100% an idiot, while “I” am 100% smart. That is how the arguments are framed.

While his wording made it more a screed, Jon Voight did observe the trust/distrust of labels when he wrote this:

The Democratic Party, in its quest for power, has managed a propaganda campaign with subliminal messages, creating a God-like figure in a man who falls short in every way.

If you have watched this election, you do see where Obama has been made a deity by those who ascribe to a certain political viewpoint. And you also see how those from the other “label” see nothing valuable in Obama (falls short in EVERY way).

Where it gets interesting is when large, vocal groups start to take sides. For example, the two sides in the abortion debate have traditionally been Pro Life and Pro Choice. If you see these labels, you notice they are not opposite. One can be both Pro Life and Pro Choice. The side that has won the label war, at least at present, is Pro Choice. Now that the Pro Choice label has won the battle of ideologies, the Pro Life side is more prominently called Anti-Choice.

This leads the kool aid drinkers of one label to start throwing the following out into the discussion ring:

Do you understand the meaning of choice? Both McInsane and Palin are
anti-choice. That means they dont want anyone to have a choice of abortion
or life. They let her daughter have a choice(and they used this word) but
they dont want others to have it. Thats called being hypocritical.

I am not sure where McCain and Palin stand on abortion. I am fairly certain they lean more to the Pro Life stance, but this does not mean they are Anti Choice. Here is my personal stance. I agree with the idea of choice, as long as the person making the choice has access to all of the information prior to making the choice. This includes information about the increased risk of depression, suicide and the possibility of breast cancer.

The breast cancer link will, no doubt, rile some who are firmly entrenched in the “pro choice” paradigm, as the science is not conclusive. On one hand, I understand that we should not cause a panic over potentially bad science. On the other, abortion is an elective surgery, and all risks and potential risks should be discussed candidly. The major issue with whether one supports all information being presented is based on ideology. We are very quick to support scientific studies that support our paradigm, but strongly against scientific studies that go counter to our paradigm.

I have also seen the paradigms clashing over global warming. In some discussions (arguments), I have seen the words flat earthers come out.

Ah, and let’s not forget the ultimate label: Hitler. Any epithet or screed containing the words Hitler, Nazi, or KKK should immediately be flagged by even those who agree with the general premise.

What is interesting here is these labels are not exclusively used in forums, the new town square. Even the media has jumped on the bandwagon:

Anti-gay group to boycott McDonald’s

Paradigm Thinking

Once we start labeling, we make the assumption that everyone who fits  a certain label is an idiot. Take, for example, the following snippets pulled from forums.

For republicans, if you can think and speak coherently, its a miracle. 

There is among the dipsticks here the idea that ….

They just dont care and are part of the ill-informed retards

That means she can appear as a science expert in wing nut media(Faux/Klan radio etc).

These posts tell us more about the poster than the person being argued with. When one has to use labels (epithets) to get a point across, they probably do not have much foundation to their thinking on the point. Either that or they are merely trolling to release their own frustration.

I end this section with what I consider the ultimate in labeling.

That’s because you’re an idiot.

So you have the context. First, here is  the post that sprung the comment:

>> If we remvoe the emotion from it, can we ask ourselves "what if she is
>> right".

> That would be removing reason, not emotion.

I disagree. Science should always be examining whether or not it is correct.
When science refuses to examine its premises, it becomes a religion. That is
removing reason. 😉

Answer (note the snipping – very important in paradigm thinking):

> I disagree.

That’s because you’re an idiot.

Assuming Others are Caught in the Paradigm

Once we have jumped into our paradigm and drank the kool aid, we naturally assume anyone disagreeing with us on anything is drinking the kool aid for the opposing side. Here is an example of a post:

> When average Americans overpend their means, they have to dig their own
> way out of their debts. When politicians do it, they feel that the public
> should foot the bill. You gotta love politics. The best part is when the
> guy who beat you is asking others to foot your debt.
>
http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/24/obama.clinton.debt/index.html

Come on, do you really take that nonsense smear seriously yourself?
Or is it just something that rotted and started smelling at the bottom of
your inbox, which you wanted to get rid of?

Tracking through the conversation, one finds that the post was railing on the idea that politicos (can also read Hollywood celebrities) enjoy a status where their debts are covered by others, even when they have been fiscally foolish. The assumption, however, was that the post was a rail against Democrats.

Once we are stuck in a paradigm, we continue to rail out against competing paradigms. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. But, at some point we confuse paradigm versus paradigm to be label versus label and ultimately us versus them.

What Can We Do About This?

First, we need a serious internal examination. Each of us has our own paradigms and belongs to groups ascribing to certain ideologies. We cannot see them, as we have accepted the general premises. So, we have to force ourselves to read what the “other side” is writing and examine what we can find in the

Second, we need to start calling our own “side” out when they get stupid. This is what Xavier did with his post when talking about mass emailing emails that appeal to our ideologies:

This is simple.  DON’T DO IT!  Just don’t.  If you must tell somebody, call your mom, a friend, but don’t press that send key no matter how deep the temptation

It is easy to call someone out from the “other side”, but much harder to do it from our side. Even if there is a “real” war between two sides, the winning side, ultimately, is the one that can admit when he is wrong and learn from his mistakes.

Third, we need more people to stand on their principles. This is very hard, as standing up to paradigms that are popular means there will be a lot of backlash. But, confidently standing up to the onslaught and continuing to be courteous goes a long way. If have seen verbal mountains crumble when the person being attacked refused to sink to the level of his attackers. It may not change minds, but it will break down the us versus them type of thinking.

Fourth, we need to force a more civil discourse in this country. We have to call out people, including our media, when they are resorting to using labels. As with standing on principles, this must be done with love and compassion. If necessary, write the response twice, to remove any hint of a hateful tone.

Fifth, we need to examine writings from the “other side” looking for what is true in what “they” write. Over time, we might not break our paradigms, but we will become aware of them. This is powerful.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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