Friday, 23 April 2010

Don't believe it

Don’t believe anything. Reject everything, renounce every idea, abandon all beliefs.

Until there’s evidence that supports them.

The trouble with believing things without evidence is that it becomes what they call “blind faith”. The problem with that is that it’s blind, it can’t see the real truth. Of course there are people who are naturally gullible, who believe every crackpot idea, every ludicrous notion, every stupid concept that is presented to them. There are people who enter the so-called Church of Scientology, for instance, just because they’re stupid. Then there’s the majority of Scientology victims who end up joining because what they see is superficially believable. When you hear about Scientology for the first time the basic notions are plausible. A former writer, naval officer and scientist developed a new series of theories about the human mind that helped people deal with mental health problems, improve their lives and helped them prosper. So far, so good.

However what the Scientologists don’t tell you is the truth. They hide the fact that their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, was a terrible author, was thrown out of the Navy after being court-martialled for gross incompetence, had no scientific qualifications at all, was a declared bankrupt with a criminal record and had a long history of profound mental health and drug problems. They also hide the real theories behind this pseudo-religion: that we are all haunted by the spirits of long dead aliens who were killed by the Galactic Emperor Xenu 35 million years ago. I’m not making this up, honestly.

They also hide the fact that Scientology is, at best a cult and at worst a lying, scheming, nasty, vicious, money-making scam that does it’s best to ruin those people who criticise them. Yes, me included, in my own little way.

My point is not about Scientology, it’s about not believing something just because it’s said, written, published or emailed. As consumers, as citizens and as human beings we must be more skeptical about what we’re told.

I had a good example a few weeks ago. I was one of many people who received a horrible email entitled “OMG-BLACK AFRICANS DON'T TRAVEL TO CHINA AND THAILAND AND BE CAREFUL WITH TAKE-AWAYS”. The email started:
“AWARENESS ALERT - this is SHOCKING! Pathetic and cruel!
I literally felt sick over and over again after reading but it is important to forward it. Please warn all family and friends about China and Thailand and how you order your take-aways. Please, please help, pass it on.
Sorry, but a few more hours before I can hold any food down, this is DISGUSTING!!! We have all been warned! Could this be someone we know? Gosh.”
There then followed some truly horrific photos of a real, dark-skinned human body being cut into pieces by a group of oriental-looking people followed by more pictures of a group of Orientals joyfully having a braai. The suggestion was clear: they had cut up the body of a dead African, cooked it and eaten it.

Before I go any further let me make this clear. This was a lie. An entirely false, untrue and horrible distortion. Someone who clearly had a problem with oriental people had constructed a shameful, despicable, racist lie, suggesting that Orientals eat black Africans. That was a lie.

I’m not an expert detective, just an enthusiastic amateur, but it took me less than 5 minutes to establish what the pictures really showed. It turns out that in Thailand there are cemeteries exclusively for bodies of unidentified deceased people and for various reasons these cemeteries fill up very quickly and then need to be cleared. This next bit is going to sound completely bizarre and possibly, to us, revolting. There’s a group of volunteers in Thailand who go to these cemeteries, exhume the bodies and then strip the flesh from the bones of the corpses. The flesh is cremated and the bones are then stored. This may seem totally strange to you and me but in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist culture, this is actually a very respectful thing to do. That was what these gruesome pictures showed. The pictures of the braai were something else entirely and they certainly didn’t show anybody being eaten.

And the corpse being dismembered? He wasn’t African. I’ve spent time in the Far East and there are many people there who are surprisingly dark-skinned. He was one of them.

I think the point is that the first time you see this email and the pictures they contain you see something shocking, disgusting and alien. Our first reaction is going to be understandable horror. However what they show is something practical, respectful and even rather admirable.

It’s surely critically important that we look beyond our first reactions, be they positive or negative, to find the truth. When you first hear the apparently sensible ideas of the Scientologists you need to do a little research before you can establish that they’re a criminal cult. When you read an advertisement from a company like TVI Express claiming you can make a fortune without doing any real work, you need to dig further and realise they’re a pyramid scheme. When you see an advertisement from a furniture store advertising their crappy products on credit you need to do the maths and realise that their prices are actually Supremely expensive (and illegally advertised).

Please don’t believe anything you read without thinking critically about it. That goes for me as well. Please, I beg you, don’t believe anything I say either, do some research yourself and tell me if you agree or disagree with me.

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