How Can You Believe That?

During my guest stint at Daylight Atheism, I expressed pity for Harold Camping’s deluded followers and sparked a debate on whether his beliefs were so stupid as to be self-refuting.  If the beliefs couldn’t be rationally supported, then presumably the ‘victims’ were willfully deluding themselves in order to take part in a con or for some other malign purpose.  I was dubious, since I’m not one to ever underestimate the Dunning-Kruger effect (sufficiently ignorant/stupid people can’t spot their own mistakes).

In a follow-up thread, some of the commenters raised a different, more weighty objection.  Leaving aside the stupidity of the justification for the Rapture prediction, some readers thought that the moral implications of Rapture-oriented theology (most people consigned to hell-on-earth during the Tribulation, followed by actual Hell) made them untenable.  By this logic, sticking with these beliefs doesn’t just reveal a tolerance of a paradox (a good God who damns almost everyone), it betrays a callousness disregard for others.  In this light, it’s easier to claim that Camping’s followers deserve humiliation or to lose their money.

I remain skeptical about this tack of argument.  Turning over the question, I was reminded of a comment posted by Dylan some time ago, on a thread that had devolved into one of those Crusades vs Stalin arguments.  He wrote:

I actually read through this entire argument (and I’ve read more Marx than the Communist Manifesto, thank you very much), but I find it rather boring. Is either side actually prepared to be consequentialist in choosing what beliefs to adopt and spread? That is to say, if I convince Publius atheistic societies are less violent, etc., I doubt he’ll stop believing in God. Similarly, I don’t think convincing Matt that theistic societies are less violent will make him start. It’s the rare theist or atheist who maintains (or at least admits to maintaining) such a consequentialist epistemology (one such rare example, ironically, was the great “deontologist” Immanuel Kant).

There’s a substantive difference between Camping’s followers, who mostly seemed sorrowful about the fate of the unbelievers left behind and the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who take a gleeful joy in our impending fate.  The WBC never spends much time trying to persuade people to convert or offering them a way out.  In contrast, the Camping followers embarked on increasingly desperate and frenzied attempts at evangelization as their deadline approached.

If people’s beliefs point them toward some horrific conclusion about the world, it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect them to abandon it, and their persistence in belief does not necessarily betray a moral failing.  It’s worth examining the way they respond to that belief.  Do they try to ameliorate the pain they fear, or do they rejoice in the suffering of others?  Do they try to examine the evidence for their belief, hoping they might be mistaken or do they accept the suffering of others complacently?

If you don’t have time to pick apart all the data that led your interlocutor to his untenable belief, you can still make use of it in argument.  These theories can blossom into doubt about God’s benevolence, much like any question of theodicy, but soteriological questions are harder to wave aside.  They can’t be easily dismissed as a confusing part of God’s ineffable plan.

In some ways, it may be easier to get a Christian to abandon an erroneous horrifying belief than it would be to persuade someone like me.  We atheists have no guarantor that we live in a bearable universe.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    *If people's beliefs point them toward some horrific conclusion about the world, it's not necessarily reasonable to expect them to abandon it, and their persistence in belief does not necessarily betray a moral failing. It's worth examining the way they respond to that belief. Do they try to ameliorate the pain they fear, or do they rejoice in the suffering of others? Do they try to examine the evidence for their belief, hoping they might be mistaken or do they accept the suffering of others complacently?*I just read this paragraph like 5 times over, slower and slower each time, trying to see the sense in it. But I'm just not getting it. Particularly "…it's not necessarily reasonable to expect them to abandon it, and their persistence in belief does not necessarily betray a moral failing."Really? I mean, I get that we should judge people by their actions and not beliefs–if someone believes the world is doomed but then still rolls up their sleeves and cares for the sick and the poor then, well, good on them. But the way that Camping, et al and/or Phelps, et al and/or LaHaye and Jenkins, et al act in no way touches on that: "Fevered" proselytizing vs. rubbing ones hands together, eagerly awaiting the unsaved to Get Theirs don't strike me as terribly distinct types of "actions". Possibly this is just my atheism at work: I believe in no god*, no end of the world, no heaven and no hell, and so I have no ability to differently regard those who believe I deserve hell and those who believe I deserve hell *and want to save me from it*. Yeah, I'm a materialist: I'm pretty comfortable bearing that moniker. I consider it to be way more descriptive than it is insulting. If someone wants to be judged on their actions, that's fine. But they'll need to show me realer "actions" than praying for this or that or proselytizing for this or that. I consider those to be Not Really Actions. *No, I am NOT interested in a nitpicky picking-apart of "belief in no gods" versus "no belief in gods". So don't let's have that very boring discussion here, mmkay?

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    Oh and I should have added: The root of my problem with you, Leah, is the same one I have with all accomodationists*: I simply do not accept any form of the argument that "We need to respect [all/most/some] beliefs."We don't. And we don't even need to respect them out of some hope that we'll thus 'deconvert' these people: Evidence simply supporteth not the idea that people whose silly ideas are respected will thus exchange them for less-silly ideas. Mockery works. Yeah, it's cruel. It hurts. It also works. People–particularly those in endless, uncritical favor of 'civility' and 'dialog'–need to accept that. It's a dirty business this whole marketplace of ideas thing. Not a place for people with weak constitutions or a tendency to clutch pearl necklaces.*Again, I have moved past stony indifference and am approaching active hostility toward demands that I get into Dictionary Wars about what that term means.

  • Iota

    Out of sheer curiosity:"Mockery works."1) Got any data do back that up (anecdotal evidence aside)?2) If yes, does mockery work BETTER when used to convince people of "reasonable" things as opposed to "unreasonable" ones or is its efficiency independent of the "reasonableness" of the idea (and dependent more on other factors)?2b) Can you imagine ideas that could NOT be effectively mocked?3) Independent of 1) and 2) – I'd assume you do not object to religious people using mockery and similar forms of social pressure against atheists?3b) If you do, on what grounds?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    2. Mockery works to convince on an emotional level so whether the thing you are arguing is reasonable or not is irrelevant.2b. No. The mockery of the masses may not convince people they are wrong but it sure as heck makes them less likely to say it, and certainly less likely to be forthright about it.3. They can certainly use mockery, but I'd like it if they accepted facts (assuming such things can be produced) that disproved the thing they were mocking. e.g. When the President said taxes were lower than under Reagan he was mocked, but the evidence happens to show it is true. Hence the mockery should stop.Mockery has no place when it flies in the face of objectively true evidence, especially when that evidence is presented to the mockers. Otherwise they live on a different level of reality and they should be institutionalised for their own good and the safety of the rest of us. (Okay, that last part was slightly hyperbolic.)

  • Iota

    @ March Hare – actually my questions were mostly for Kogo… :-)Nevertheless, due to 2)/2b) (which which I wholeheartedly agree) I don't think it can be argued that mockery works on some special level better for atheist arguments then for theist ones. So we're left with your objection from point 3) that one should "[accept] facts (assuming such things can be produced) that disproved the thing they were mocking"Since I don't know what kind of facts you wanted to refer to here, could you elaborate a bit? Mind you, I'm interested in facts that would apply specifically to theistic issues. Not, for example, politics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, I kinda figured that but by the time I'd read your questions I had answers in my head so thought I'd jot them down.When William Paley first came up with his design argument it made sense to the people of the time, the body IS an intricate machine. So whenever anyone had an idea that went against this they were subject to ridicule. That was valid at the time as without evolution by natural selection and genetics there are (virtually) insurmountable difficulties in any theory other than design.However, for modern Christians, Muslim, Jews etc. to trot out similar arguments and ridicule anyone who disagrees is wrong. It flies in the face of facts. When Christians mock children who believe in (or simply have been taught and think it makes sense) evolution that is not fair. The child cannot produce the counter arguments to design or explain the theory properly so is not only bullied by the majority into doubting the truth but it also reinforces the majority's belief and stops those with genuine queries from raising their issues.Same for people who believe in a young earth. When the local community is invested in that idea anyone challenging it is mocked and, in spite of being correct, they are forced to keep quiet, change their beliefs or are ostracised.People who doubt Jesus' existence (ignoring his godhood) are often mocked by Christians yet the evidence for it is slight.There are doubtless thousands of other examples from small communities, but living in Western Europe I find it hard to come up with a list of them off the top of my head. I'm sure Americans can easily think of others.

  • Iota

    I should have sort of expected that kind of answer…On the other hand, the whole "creations vs evolution" debate is – for example, to the best of my knowledge, almost unheard of in the mainstream where I live – maybe because the general religious background is Catholic (and the Church – putting it simplistically – does not prescribe either evolution or design, so far as God is still considered the Creator and one agree to the proposition that mankind had one parent – read more here).So I find it hard to treat this an an "atheist-theist" argument rather than as a "science-specific theistic theology" argument (and, more importantly, a specific theology I don't subscribe to so don't even feel much like defending).Not saying it's not a valid concern in some contexts. But I guess I see the potential conflict to lie (most importantly) elsewhere – admittedly, in a real where "objective facts" are rather harder to establish.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, I understand your concerns about those examples so forgive me for slipping back towards politics:When there is a National Day of Prayer, or a council places a Nativity scene on public property while not allowing any other faith or message, or the Head of State is also the Head of one religion (UK) and atheists complain, they are mocked. This mockery takes the form of derision that our feelings could be hurt by something so harmless, it is a joke that we see something like a cross by the side of the road as offensive or want to change the Pledge of Allegiance. These claims all fly in the face of the facts yet the vocal minority use mocking to try to make the legally and morally correct minority shut up or change their minds, all the while asking the silent majority to laugh along with them while showing them the punishment for stepping out of line.See any Fox News broadcast around Christmas when apparently there is a 'War on Christmas'. Which appears to be going as well as the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.Here are Christians mocking atheists for placing ads on buses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5B3CgN-s2sbut not only is it their right but a valid ad to reach out to a group of people and advertise their group, but Fox mocks their belief as a minority of the country (92% are believers according to them.)Or people being mocked when they point out that Christmas is a Pagan holiday (as is Easter for that matter).And anyone who thinks mocking is not a good tactic has to say what the correct response to Sarah Palin's Paul Revere comment is or Bill O'Reilly's inability to explain the tides as his proof for god.

  • Iota

    When there is a National Day of PrayerAs far as I see, the fact here is that you (potential plural) are offended by (certain?) public displays of religion. If I understand correctly, then would that or would that not differ from the way some people deride religions experience and belief as delusional or fake (i.e. believers not believing but trying to convince themselves they believe)?Aside: I see a tremendous qualitative difference between a roadside cross and a National Day of Prayer declared by a political body. And the religious arrangement of the Church of England is rather outlandish, from my POV (but I’ll only elaborate on any of these issues if specifically asked to).Here are Christians mocking atheists for placing ads on busesI admit to not having watched it (I have a policy of watching original materials for copyright reasons and couldn’t find it on Fox). But in general:And there are atheists telling me (well, not me specifically) I’m probably deranged/a supporter of child abuse. I’d assume in both cases we’re not talking about mockery in the face or any fact but rather in the face or an act (public endorsement of a position) that the mocker doesn’t like…?Plus, some kinds of media (I know little about Fox, so I don’t want to pass judgement) thrive on cheap rhetorical tactics – deep emotional involvement, only basic facts and research (because it’s not going to keep viewers interested), inviting suitably controversial guests or hiring controversial hosts, soundbite slogans (see below). Among my national media I know that I could find deeply anticlerical outlets that would basically only make me mad with what I perceive as distortions and oversimplifications, and media that claim to be “religious” or “Catholic” and would be just as bad. Similarly in science – I know which media outlets will deliver decent content I want and which will be an epic failure. That’s the price of a mediated world in a capitalist information economy – outlets choose their target audiences and SOMEONE is bound to target the ones you think of as silly (and vice versa). Or people being mocked when they point out that Christmas is a Pagan holiday I admit I’d laugh at you if you told me that without any additional context. Because I treat this the way I’d treat a Protestant objection that “You people worship images!” Some such and similar statements MAY have more substance and serious concern behind them (misplaced, IMO, but worthy of attention), but in their crudest form I view them as unimpressive rhetorical soundbites, akin to static on the radio or a silly attempt at being provocative. In the case you mention – I’d grant that varied pagan peoples had celebrations of the Winter Solstice or fertility festivals with the coming of spring (I’ve read quite a bit of mythology, in my time). I’d also grant that Christmas as a Christian festival is, in a sense “appropriated”. But neither of these things automatically means that Christianity is untrue.Someone who’d trot out the objection that I’m really celebrating Winter Solstice when I’m celebrating Christmas, would – in the absence of evidence that he knows something about me or really wants to talk – be treated like an Internet troll. I may, if I have a good day, try to discuss it (also, in the interest of the audience). I may also ignore them. The reason I probably wouldn’t mock them is because I object to mockery as a method of speaking (because it entrenches and perpetuates the kind of “soundbites” on both sides).

  • Iota

    Continued (ah, my grandiloquence…)And anyone who thinks mocking is not a good tactic has to say what the correct response to Sarah Palin's Paul Revere comment is or Bill O'Reilly's inability to explain the tides as his proof for god.I don’t want to address either of these specifically (not being American, I have a limited capacity to pass competent judgement if, as my background reading, I have only some basic Google searches. For example I’m not sure how to judge Palin’s case in view of comments #1 and #2 here: click). But in a more general vein: it all depends on what you mean by “good tactic”.If by “good tactic” you mean something that offers fast rebuttal and visibility, mockery works. But you pay the price of destroying dialogue (you are giving in to the tendency to simplify things into nice rhetorical soundbites). I personally think if someone is willing to systematically pay that price, they don’t necessarily qualify as people I’d want to talk to much about serious things (bonus negative points is you are doing this in politics).If by “good tactic” you mean something that actually works to make a stable contribution to you side, I’d say it’s often behind-the-scenes long term work is necessary, e.g. to create a climate in which there is some real accountability for whether politicians know History 101).In some other cases, it may be best to just ignore them and move on. I mean, do you spend much time poring over the Flat Earth Society (click)?Ignoring “useless” input and going on with your work or using it as a starting point for laborious social correction doesn’t look impressive and is unlikely to gather much media attention most of the time. It is definitely a bad choice if what you want to gain hard power and it may be a frustrating tactic at times (because it gives the impression no one is doing anything and your contributions don’t matter), but I think that it works much better – and, more importantly – has better log term results on the society as a whole). I sort of dimly see an analogy to all the laborious experiments, research, teaching and other “scientific” work no one ever hears about if they don’t read specialist news or attend that specific university department, because it supposedly “isn’t interesting” (and starts being interesting only once it generates massive returns).

  • Patrick

    I just finished listening to a podcast about truthers and birthers. The researcher being interviewed argued that mockery will do little to nothing to move the opinions of die-hard conspiracy theorists, but also that argumentation and evidence will do little to nothing as well. On the other hand, the researcher claimed that the reason that birthers are so hard to find these days is that once Obama released the long form birth certificate, the less die-hard conspiracy theorists accepted it rather than continue to be subjected to increasing mockery from their friends and family.This matches with my general impressions of people. I don't think argumentation, reason, or education eliminated the public acceptance of blatantly racist rhetoric. I think a societal impression that racists are ignorant, undesirable, morons did that for us. No one wants to be thought of as a racist, so blatant 1950s style racism is almost impossible to find. Even the people who were around then will usually whitewash their own history. Its hard to conclude that's driven by anything other than emotional effects.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    In every empirical study that I've seen on the matter, mockery has proven to be counterproductive, causing the person doing the mocking to lose credibility with third-party observers, and the person being mocked to dig in heels. I'm not aware of a single empirical study showing that mockery is generally effective at persuading people.At best, mockery serves to warn people on your own side to stay loyal (lest they be the target of your scorn), and serves as a psychological salve to reduce the sting of your failure to persuade the other person — it's not your fault they can't be persuaded; they're just crazy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    JS, it entirely depends on who's doing the mocking. When the powerful are mocking the minority then it keeps the majority in line, but when the mocking is against a smaller group whose power lies in imagined authority it can be good.The best example I can recall is the story of Superman vs the KKK. Please have a read of that (a real story, not a Superman comic!) and tell me mocking is never effective.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    @March Hare – If you're going to posit some theory about mockery being effective in specific contexts, I'm going to ask for scientifically valid evidence, and not just anecdotes. And the Superman story doesn't even count as anecdote. At best, it's an anecdote about how transparency harms an organization built on secrecy — much like the famous leak of the Scientology papers.And of course, nobody is arguing that mockery is never effective at persuasion, just like nobody would argue that playing roulette is never an effective way to get rich. Roulette is a great way to get poor, and a retarded way to get rich, but it is sometimes wildly effective at getting rich.

  • http://www.noaa.gov Kogo

    Honestly, I don't really care if mockery is effective because I have no hope of religion ever going away. Mostly I just want to hurt religious people so they feel as scared and hurt as I do being forced to live on a planet dominated by them. Nothing ever works to convince conservatives and religious people. They're immune to facts. So since I have no hope of ever living in a more reasonable world, so at least I can comfort myself by letting religious people know what I really think of their insane, evil, shit-beliefs.

  • Anonymous

    JS can you provide scientifically valid evidence that any strategy persuades anybody? And if there is valid evidence for this should we even bother debating or arguing anymore if we can deduce persuasion to an exact science?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681934865643964687 JSA

    @Kogo – LOL, at least you're honest. I can sympathize with your perspective.@Anonymous – Yes, persuasion is an active area of research, with interesting new results all the time. We know a lot about how to persuade and influence people, and have a high motivation to learn more, since persuasion is directly related to success in marketing and in politics — money and power. People are accustomed to taking shortcuts in marketing and politics, but I guess we like to pretend that we don't take shortcuts when it comes to matters of metaphysical truth? You raise a good question. I dunno. What's your take?

  • Iota

    Correction of earlier post since I now see how it can be easily misunderstood:@ March Hare [fragment]As far as I see, the fact here is that you (potential plural) are offended by (certain?) public displays of religion. If I understand correctly, then would that or would that not differ from the way some people deride religions experience and belief as delusional or fake (i.e. believers not believing but trying to convince themselves they believe) and the recepients of that dersion being offended by that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, offended is a misnomer. I like the truth acknowledged, unless for seriously humorous reasons, and find no issue with public displays of religion, apart from the fact I find it ridiculous. However, when the government gets involved I get annoyed and scared, much more than offended.People can do what they like (libertarian lite) as long as it harms no-one else, but when the state gets involved then it is slightly(!) different.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota (et al.) here are some other areas that come to mind where mockery is (probably) the best tactic:The depiction of the prophet Mohammed;Desecration (!?!) of the eucharist;Maltreatment (i.e. disrespect !?!) of the Qu'ran;Maltreatment of a crucifix;etc.These are all things that have absolutely NO actual real world effects, and insofar as it is possible they have supernatural impact I'm sure the omnipotent creator of the universe can handle it. Therefore, when actual people get upset over these things they deserve to be mocked and anyone who tries to placate them by giving any credence to their unreasonable beliefs deserves to be mocked too, at least as a disincentive to others from trying to do the same thing.

  • Iota

    @ March Hare,Ad post 1: I used "offended" due to a part of your post ("we see something like a cross by the side of the road as offensive"). I may have misunderstood. Nevertheless, my basic question is – (how) does that relate to the rest of this discussion? I can't see the link…Ad post 2: We've been through this once already (see old discussion here – from this comment onwards, click). We disagree about this substantially (including e.g. our understanding of the way symbols in general work and, not least, what the Eucharist is). So instead of doing a recap I'll ask you a question:when actual people get upset over these things they deserve to be mockedSince we're discussing the practical usefulness of mockery: And what does that mockery they supposedly "deserve" achieve? Or less abstractly: What constructive thing does burning a Quaran do to a devout Muslim (the kind that would get upset over that act)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, "it is a joke that we see something like a cross by the side of the road as offensive" That was the Christian's false claim of the atheists' reaction to their perfectly valid complaint that dozens/hundreds of 12 foot high Christian crosses by the side of the road on public land is tantamount to the state endorsing Christianity. There is no actual offence to (most) atheists at the cross itself but justified outrage at the egregious breach of the Constitution. As for it's relation to the rest of this conversation, it is an example of Christians using mockery to keep everyone in the fold and diminish the other side's arguments – although in this case the arguments are valid and so mockery is used in a circumstance I find wrong (i.e. when they are factually wrong as the courts regularly uphold.)2. Sure, real people get upset by acts of desecration, but the more general point is not that we should desecrate but that we should mock people who get upset. This shows a level of disrespect for their false beliefs (which is a factual statement the vast, vast majority of the time so valid) this disincentivises people to get upset as not only do they not get the response they currently do (kid gloves) but get socially ostracized and tend to be more stoic about their evidence-free beliefs. Which is a win in my book!As an example, how should we treat people who believe in mediums? When we mock the believers a(while explaining how the trick works) we are trying to stop people already hooked from losing mre money, which is of limited efficacy, but, more importantly, we are making it less likely that others will get on board with the confidence trick. Which is also a win. And not in a Charlie Sheen way.

  • Iota

    "(i.e. when they are factually wrong as the courts regularly uphold.)"Since I'm not American, I'd seriously like you to elaborate on that. Got any track record for how the presence of "dozens/hundreds of 12 foot high Christian crosses by the side of the road on public land" is treated by US courts?"disincentivises people to get upset"Are you sure of that/have data?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Highway issue:http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/supreme-court-asked-hear-highway-cross-chttp://adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/3999http://www.abc4.com/content/news/top_stories/story/Shurtleff-asks-Supreme-Court-for-highway-cross/L0h9MOP88USY7o-IzDZfGA.cspxIncidentally, the comments also show the general hate towards atheists as well as the editorial decision not to put both sides forward on an equal footing (even though one side won!)There is also the clip where the Utah Attorney General(!) tries to claim that a cross is a secular symbol and not related to any religion:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFPao6FHUPIThese cases are important because the Supreme Court is packed with religious people (mainly Christians) and they do not like to rule against religion wherever possible – i.e. citing lack of standing rather than hear cases related to the Pledge of Allegiance or National Day of Prayer or the President's swearing in ceremony. One of their favourite excuses is that if something has been there for a long time without complaint it's OK, so if secular people (including the religious!) allow things to pass they become established and immovable.Which brings me to an important point. The biggest supporters of secularism should be religious people. When one religion takes over they always discriminate against other religious practices. The only guarantee of religious freedom is a secular government."disincentivises people to get upset"Are you sure of that/have data? Do I need data? Isn't it self evident? Negative reinforcement alters behaviour, psychology (or economics) 101.

  • Iota

    > Isn't it self evident?Well, I'm asking about it, so apparently it isn't.Background:I come form a country with a huge history of being "negatively reinforced" against various things, including the very notion of having your own state (over a century of foreign rule, 5 years of brutal occupation during WW II, +40 years of Soviet rule). It didn't work effectively (and last time I checked, resistance is part of what we are proud of, histrically). Obviously, mocking someone in a country with free speech isn't comparable to throwing them in jail in a totalitarian state (not to mention some other alternatives). And I don't want to make this a case of Godwin's law. This is just for cultural context since this MAY be a cultural difference or something.Main argument:When I'm mocked for soemthing I really believe in, I don't feel "disincentivised" towards taking that thing seriously. My reaction in a relatively low stakes situation (no one is pointing a knife at me, for example) is to defend my position and assume I am attacked for it possibly because I am right (the attacker cannot provide any other counterargument, he just uses emotional pressure to make me shut up). This can be modified when I feel too weak to defend myself, for example. but that also puts barriers to any future cooperation with a person who makes me feel this way (cooperation requires trust).When I don't retaliate in one form or another, I may just ignore the attacker (if possible). It may be just me. Then again, it may not be just me.Due to my personal experience, I seriously doubt whether a day of drawing caricatures of Muhammad "disincentivised" a Muslim who hears about it on the news (in terms of average reaction). That's why I'm asking. Since you tend to demand evidence for various claims, I think it's only fair to ask the same thing in return. :-)

  • Iota

    Afterthought:There's also another case study you may identify with better. If it were that easy to efficiently use negative reinforcement, wouldn't all atheist movements everywhere have died out? After all, you probably do believe they are subject to a lot of "negative reinforcement" against atheism…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, disincentivise does not mean stop people from doing, it simply means making them less likely to do it and/or make less people willing to do it.Evidence – taxes on smoking reduces smoking. Making smokers go outside to have a cigarette reduces smoking. Having a fine for not wearing a seatbelt increases the number of people who wear seatbelts. Laughing at people who think Elvis is still alive makes people less likely to announce that belief, if not the belief itself.

  • Iota

    But when you say mockery ""disincentivises people to get upset" you are expressing a hope or expectation of – let's say – an actual world effect, not merely an influence that can be calculated in a model, right?So it is actually important that the lower likelihood become actual, yes?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Iota, it would be a statistical or probabilistic effect. It may have no actual effect, but would diminish the joy/increase the suffering of those who went ahead with it. Wow, that sounds nasty! It is what it is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05947081596759328950 Matt

    I believe Antanas Mockus (very relevant last name) used mimes to mock people who disobeyed traffic laws in an attempt to lower traffic accidents due to illegal pedestrian activity when he was mayor of Bogota (fines were not deterring illegal activity). Traffic fatalities dropped 50% while he was in office. He also gave people thumbs up and thumbs down signs to show what they thought of other peoples' actions. Mocking does seem to change behavior (so I guess it's a good way for atheists to keep Jehovah's Witnesses away from their door stop), not sure if it has any effect on changing peoples' minds though. I bet mocking just triggers the Backfire Effect.http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.htmlhttp://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/


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