[ExI] Explaining Unusual Beliefs (was Fascist America)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Sat Oct 6 13:42:38 UTC 2007

James writes

> Lee Corbin writes
>> But what do you think is behind [some people]
>> having "such [aberrant] beliefs", if anything?  That is, what caused them
>> to have unusual beliefs and not you or me?
> Check out Social Anthropology:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_anthropology

My brother is a cultural anthropologist and I've been exposed to that
point of view a long time. Indeed, the first criticism I had of libertarianism
(and I'm still at least half-libertarian) is that it entirely fails to take culture
into account. Reading most libertarian literature, you'd think that all of
humanity was white, middle-class American. Does much in libertarian
writing read as well if you keep Japanese people in mind as you read?

Yet the general theses of cultural anthropology have always been very
overblown in my view. There is a tendency there to equate all cultures
as having equally valid points of view, whereas in general primitive
cultures have (for example) an extremely limited scientific view of the
world, and views that they have that are in opposition to a scientific
understanding---, well, practically everyone I know rejects such views.
I certainly do.

Moreover, the progress of EP over the last 30 years further diminishes
the relevance (and plasibility), it seems to me, of the basic views
espoused by cultural anthropologists. There does seem to be a basic
*human nature*.  We all share a greater amount of behavior than was
appreciated 50 years ago.

> A lot of people make what they believe are intelligent statements about the
> thoughts and motivations of other people.  But, IMHO, if you want to learn
> why other people think the way they do, you have to put yourself in their
> position (if not literally, then at least figuratively).  That is, if you
> cannot walk in their shoes, then at least read and listen to what they are
> exposed to.

Well, that's certainly valuable advice. This does have to be checked out
before anything.  E.g., to take an extreme example, what *made* the
mass-murderer go on a rampage? What could cause me to climb a
tower and begin picking random people off with a rifle?  Who knows,
maybe if we listen to her story and try to understand her anger, we can
sympathize.  But the chances aren't good.

> I'm sure some individuals on this list can tell you that not every
> "conspiracy theory" is a paranoid delusion - take the case of a Church
> ganging up on an outsider and trying to have him imprisoned or murdered.  It
> would be easy to scoff at such a story.  To the people who experience such,
> their particular viewpoint is forever changed, and may now be "aberrant"
> (i.e., departing from the "norm"), but that does not make it incorrect.

That's for damned sure!  

Still, *after* we've checked out trying to see the situation from someone
else's viewpoint, trying to understand the environmental cues to which
he responded and the cultural influences to which he was exposed, there
are still many unexplained cases. In some cases, the people are just clearly
wired very differently.  

In other extreme cases, people who are otherwise entirely normal have
a pronounced tendency to believe almost every conspiracy theory they
hear (I'm certainly talking about no one on this list).  That's one thing
that needs accounting for.  Another is a single individual who is almost
always sensible from the majority's viewpoint, but has one or two
pet-peeves that seem incomprehensible. This latter case evades any
comprehensive explanation that I can offer.


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