Sunday, December 21, 2014

Beware Echo Chambers

Beware Echo Chambers
A while ago I mentioned that Atheists don’t gather weekly to pray to the universe or some such other nonsense, but I do think even we Atheists need to be cautious about our gatherings whether in person or on line in social media. If we only ever hear opinions that are compatible with our own, then we may have begun living within an echo chamber.
Life in the Echo Chamber can sneak up on you and it can exist wherever folks gather and reinforce each other’s beliefs often leading to the feeling that there are no other ideas and certainly no great number of other people who see things differently. That group think while useful for getting things done, is dangerous to take to heart too deeply. Even Atheists need to remind themselves of this and take precautions.

I think this may be one of the reasons why some Atheists are so out and so confrontational. At the very least when you have to make the arguments against religion or religiosity regularly, it means you’re at least listening to the opinions of the other side. It’s also probably why I often feel that the religious lack skill in making good arguments or quite simply don’t think logic is a necessary component of their arguments and I often hear other Atheists confirming this impression.

While on the one hand, logical arguments are a good sign of intelligence and will make me take someone and their point more seriously, on the other hand, Logic and Faith seem to be mutually incompatible. In the end it seems like we’re expecting a paraplegic to do acrobatics. Sure some folks need to be reminded that their beliefs are incompatible with evidence or logic, some might just be lazy thinkers who need to be reminded to use their mental muscles on certain subjects, but others, well there are definitely some folks who have internalized the echo chamber so much that they can’t venture outside of it any longer.

Aside from addressing arguments from the other side, I find that educating myself, reading widely, and not isolating myself to just Atheist sites or videos helps to keep me open and ready to doubt or question rather than just accept everything I’m told. You may think this is an unnecessary worry because Atheists are the minority and we’ll always be free thinkers, open and logical? 
Well, I’ve met some Atheists who have their own prejudices and definitely need to open themselves up more, to engage doubt more. Why? Well there are a lot of subjects you could live in an echo chamber for, not just religion and secularism. For instance, I appreciate that there are some words that have subtle shades of meaning, that language is full of fun inconsistencies, many of which I use for humorous effect, but there are some who will hang a whole argument on just one word’s meaning. Sometimes this literally loses them the logical win because the recipient of their wisdom really doesn’t care about one word. Sure their audience ought to educate themselves, but language is a living growing thing. Language changes over time and while you might say the pen is mightier than the sword, communication is still king. Communication is more important.
That’s just one example. Some atheists carry torches for Ayn Rand and call themselves republicans (even if only as RINOs / teapartiers), others are just as deep in the liberal camp of thinking. I freely admit I’ve more of a liberal leaning, but I’m aware that not so long ago my political inclinations were more libertarian. Still the downside of bias is we are so often unaware of how much they influence our perceptions of the world. It’s why they’re called mental blind spots.

Echo chambers are the comforting balm that keeps you living unaware of your mental blind spots. I urge everyone to get out of that warm gooey, comfortable womb of like-minded sycophants, and do new things, talk with people you just met, see new parts of the world or even just visit other parts of the internet. It might be a little frightening, but it will be a little illuminating too, especially when you stumble across someone else’s echo chamber, and in the end you’ll gain a stronger sense of who you are.

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