Assorted Cheeses

This interview with Jamie Whyte is full of good quotable remarks. So I think I’ll quote some for your Saturday enjoyment.

It has always driven me mad to see people saying things that are well known to be rubbish. And I’ve never understood how they can bear it.

A good beginning.

The really big mistake comes when you treat people as authority figures when they are not expert but simply well known. There is a terrible tendency to treat people as reliable sources of fact when in fact they are simply “important” people or people who happen to be in the news. It is doubly perverse when you consider who gets counted as “important”.

Yup. We noticed that in connection with the ‘expertise’ of Juliet Stevenson on MMR, for instance, and Prince Charles on ‘alternative’ medicine.

Too many people see truth as just a game between groups, as a kind of tribalism. That is not rational. Far too many people are not prepared to say: “I don’t believe this and here’s my argument why I don’t.” They don’t feel they need to…These days, scientists are increasingly seen as part of various tribal groups, so when you read about their views the newspapers will go to great lengths to ask who they are working for, what their backgrounds are, and what are their political views are, and so on. Someone’s motives may reasonably make you suspicious that that person has an incentive to mislead you, but their arguments are no better or worse than the evidence put forward to support them.

Suspicion is one thing, and outright dismissal without argument is quite another. Good point, that.

What amazes me is that they like to set themselves up as having a slightly finer sensibility than you or me but in fact they are completely intellectually irresponsible. They used to come up with very bad arguments for their faiths but at least they felt that there was something they should provide. Now mere wilfulness has triumphed. This is what I describe as the egocentric approach to truth. You are no longer interested in reality because to do that you have to be pretty rigorous, you have to have evidence or do some experimentation. Rather, beliefs are part of your wardrobe. You’ve got a style and how dare anybody tell you that your style isn’t right.

I love that bit. Because it’s so exactly what I think myself. I’ve noticed it over and over again – that wilfulness thing. And the finer sensibility thing – if I’ve heard that implication once I’ve heard it a million times. ‘I’m spiritual, I’m deep, I see into the mystery of things, and you’re just a shallow dull literalist. Therefore any old nonsense I decide to think is real, is real.’ And beliefs as part of the wardrobe, and style (or identity, which is another version we hear a lot), and how dare you. Yup.

And speaking of nothing in particular but I want to put it somewhere and don’t want to do a separate little comment for it – I was quietly listening to Front Row yesterday when imagine my surprise, that ubiquitous Baggini fella turned up along with John Sutherland and some other guy to chat about aphorisms. So if you want to hear Julian chat about aphorisms, here’s your chance. It’s the last item on the programme, so probably about twenty minutes in.

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