Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christ on a bike

The last thing I’ll say for the people that don’t believe in cycling – the cynics and the skeptics. I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. But this is one hell of a race. This is a great sporting event, and you should believe
From Lance Armstrong's more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger sermon to those poor benighted haters who disbelieved in the cycling miracles he wrought by faith alone (110% positively, definitely, absolutely without any form of pharmacological assistance whatsoever). Lifted from a great post at Salty Current, which perfectly nails the corrosive effect of militant faitheism on public discourse:
The most aggravating aspect of Armstrong’s project was his promotion of faith in faith and celebration of the faithful identity. He and the cycling big wigs consistently worked to create a community of the faithful that would exclude and shun doubters. He flattered his more credulous fans with the notion that they were better people for promoting Hope and Belief. While the believers were in reality the overwhelming majority, they were sold an image of themselves as members of a small elite whose gift of spirit set them apart from the cynical, faithless masses...
...More generally, skeptics were castigated in the traditional way: contrasted with the virtuous faithful, they were portrayed as mean, callous, lesser people who lacked the life-affirming spark of faith. 
The take-out from Demagoguery for Dummies seems to be that you gotta have faith (or, rather, your followers gotta have it). Get that bit right and dealing with impertinent critics is a breeze - here are some bullet points for aspiring Machiavellians:
  • Make your evidence-lite assertions loudly, confidently and often
  • If anybody questions those assertions or, heaven forbid, tries to engage with the evidence, point out that the critic must be some sort of small-minded, out-of-touch nitpicker. 
  • Always remember to keep on repeating how flawed your faithless critics are, in order to avoid getting bogged down in the (lack of) evidence behind your own assertions (attack is the best form of defence).
Follow these rules and, with any luck, you'll never need to do anything as embarrassing or uncomfortable as having a fact-based discussion.

That's not to say that most people of (usually confused) faith aren't perfectly honest, harmless, guileless and even benign. It's when it gets out into the public sphere and people with power, or people with something to hide, use it to shut down evidence-based argument that faith goes really toxic.

Faith might be the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions and the opium of the people, but it's also the weapon of choice for cheats, con-artists, demagogues and the peddlers of quack remedies. Militant faitheist obfuscation makes the strong stronger and the crooked more comfortable.

Evidence is the democratic weapon you can fight back with, if only you can get your hands on it.