Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris attacks redux

There's a fundamental rule I follow: if I make a statement, and people I trust take exception to it, I try to listen.

That happened today.  My earlier post (which I will take down as soon as this is posted) resulted in so many people whose opinions I respect taking exception that I have spent most of the day re-analyzing my thoughts regarding the terrorist attacks on Paris, who is responsible, and what our attitude should be toward Islam, ISIS, and the Middle East.

First:  I was beyond angry this morning.  I don't get that way often.  This is not meant as an excuse, merely a statement of fact.  In the grip of high emotion, it's all too easy to let yourself be carried away, to let logic, rationality, and compassion be swept off in a red haze of rage against people who could perpetrate such acts.

But on reading what people have written, both as comments on my blog, on Facebook, and in personal emails, here are a few things I have gleaned.
  1. Blaming an ideology for the actions of a few is lazy thinking to the point where it is indistinguishable from being wrong.  No adherent to a religion, or any other belief system, follows it 100%.  If there are immoral commands in the ideology, and a person follows them, it is the person who is making the immoral choice, and theirs is the responsibility.
  2. The situation in the Middle East is far too complex to place root causes for ISIS (or anything else) on one thing.  I should know better; I teach the Single-Cause Fallacy in my Critical Thinking classes.  The Middle East wouldn't be the miasma of poverty and oppression it currently is if it weren't for multiple causes -- not only fundamentalist Islam, but western colonialism, greed for oil, greed on the parts of the rich people in the Middle East itself who are desperate to quell dissent and stay in power (yes, I'm referring to the Saudi royal family here).  To lay it all at the feet of Islam is simplistic.  Once again, i.e., wrong.
  3. It is probably impossible to do what I set out to do -- to tease apart the belief system from its adherents.  In leveling blame against Islam, I was coming dangerously close to aiming blame at all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, law-abiding and lawless alike.  I object like hell when someone does that sort of thing to me -- "all liberals believe X, aren't they stupid?" -- and here I was doing it myself.  What's the biblical quote about casting the beam out of your own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else's?
  4. Shutting down the rights of Muslims who are already peaceful residents (and/or citizens) of the United States, or any other secular democracy, is the road to becoming the same kind of oppressive dictatorship we rail against.  
  5. I really shouldn't write blog posts when I'm furious.
I'm left with questions.  How do we stop the transmission of the ideology of hatred?  How can we eradicate such blind, senseless violence from the world, without becoming blindly violent ourselves? How can we criticize beliefs and ideas without it sliding into denying the freedom of speech and religious observance to the believers?

I wish I knew the answers.  Hell, if I did, I'd run for president.

In any case: thank you to all who took the time to respond thoughtfully, even those who were angered by what I said.  To be a true skeptic means to be willing to admit when you're wrong -- or at least, when you have cause for serious uncertainty.  And about the Paris attacks, at the moment I have no answers, just a deep sense of grief that such things could happen in the world.


  1. You never cease to amaze me, my friend. You are spot on... in BOTH of your posts. The answer I think might be found in your own insight. Education. In your own example, others pointed out things you had overlooked in your own anger and haste. totally understandable! But that education and enlightenment has to happen in the Arab world too. That is the only thing I believe will change anything.

  2. Gordon, we are all guilty of emotional outbursts that defy our logical thinking process. We're human. We make mistakes. I didn't see your original post, but this one is stellar. And it isn't just you who has no answers. None of us can make sense of this tragedy. In some tiny, insane sector of the Arab world, this is not a tragedy but a triumph. We will never understand it. Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful post.

  3. Gordon, Missed your first blog. Well thought out rejoiner. I had mixed feeling last night and this morning about how the West should respond. After 9/11 I was in a situation where people expresed their desire for revenge-too lash out and punish. I respoded by saying my biggest fear was that the USA would overreact. We certainly did, though it could have been worse On general principle and my philosophy is that retaliation is not the way. Having read several articles I'm convinced of that. I think world condemnation and thinking pragmatically attrition of low level containment (war) will prove that ISIL is not desirable or sustainable to potential recruits.

  4. It all does not matter. All of this will end either by extinction of humans; which is rapidly approaching from disease and mental retardation. Or God's plan to destroy all this human emotional mental garbage and start over.

  5. I missed your first posting (as did others), but I admire your second one. I recently read an article that I recommend for information, detail, discussion, and, if needed, correction.
    I always look forward to reading what you write.

  6. I (as it looks like many others have) missed your first post but this one is spot on Gordon. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and perspectives!