Friday, February 24, 2017

Truth or Consequences

In the current environment of “alternative facts”, I am beginning to suspect that the real cultural divide is not between political affiliations, but an epistemological argument.

Friendship is based upon trust. You must be able to trust what your friends say, without resorting to fact checking. If you cannot trust what they say, their is no basis for friendship. This is not just a matter of knowledge, but of judgement: we must not only trust what they read, but their ability to discern the truth. If they are ignorant, they must confess their ignorance, or remain silent. If they make strong claims that later turn out to be false, and they do so repeatedly, time spent with them becomes a cognitive drain, rather than an easy-going exchange. Vigilance should only be required for enemies, not for friends.

People may have their own opinions. But if they have their own facts, they are not merely different. They are mad.

Internet silos offering politically convenient lies first appeared in the nineties, and have proliferated ever since, to the point that they should now be considered main stream media. The effect on society has been devastating, splitting our society into angry factions. All of this is represented to be the result of diverging political views, but liberals and conservatives used to work together. The dividing line is not opinion or political inclination, but a dispute about basic facts. This should never happen, as there is a method for resolving such disputes. It is usually called the scientific method, but it predates modern science. It is a regimented approach to evidence and sound reason, which, if pursued earnestly, will converge upon a single point of fact. Artistic pursuits diverge and proliferate. Scientific truths converge to a single point. If you destroyed all art, literature, and religion, something entirely different would eventually emerge. If you erased all science and it came back, it would ultimately be the same as it was before it was lost.

This is why mistakes about the facts are failures of judgement—there is a way to establish the truth, but the person doesn’t know this, or can’t be bothered. There is more involved here than bad evidence; there is a proclivity to accept bad arguments—logical fallacies, bald appeals to emotion or identity, and the like. A common strategy is an appeal to vanity. People are convinced by what is flattering. On the right, most of this flattery is directed at those who are white, male, and intelligent, but note that all of these are things are something they are born with, rather than anything they have achieved. What you find flattering, what you want to believe, should immediately be suspect. 

We do not live in the world of fact or objectivity, but in the world of dreams. Only with great effort can we achieve a glimpse of truth. Science and philosophy are hard, and they are not our first home. So, though I am an atheist, I will tell you that it is possible to sell your soul to the devil, and have the devil show up to collect. You can be a servant of lies, and more than that—as such, you can be damned. This sounds extreme, but I know people who are damned, who have no contact with other human beings, who spend all of their time screaming into their computer to people who have long ago ceased to listen or care. Who will befriend you when nothing you say can be trusted? I cannot imagine anything closer to banishment to the lower planes of hell than this.

And this makes me wonder, when we encounter internet trolls, whether we are hearing the screams of the damned, the lost souls who have alienated all human contact, and are now adrift, raging in the abyss for all that they have lost and cannot seem to regain.

If you love anything other than the truth, then the truth may hurt you. It will keep you from what you love, if what you love is less than worthy, like your own pride and prejudices. It will destroy your idols. It will make your gods and heroes human. But if you love the truth, it will not hurt you. This is why we must pledge allegiance to the truth, and why we must love each other with all our failures and frailties. The truth does not falsify the love of others, for that is a love of not just what is, but what could be, and the numinous space between. 

The love of self is always at war with the truth. The love of others is not.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Strength and Vulnerability

In the business world I often encounter the git-shit-done mentality, which values competence, discipline, and the strong determination to achieve a goal, often to the point of ruthlessness. Those who can perform are strongly encouraged and rewarded, but anyone regarded as less than capable is likely to the shown the door. “Sorry, best of luck in future endeavours, but you don’t belong here.” This world is frank, sometimes to the point of being brutal, and will accept anyone who can do the job. Contrary to the opinions of those who think that feminism and multi-race and multi-cultural initiatives in the workplace are the consequence of political correctness, these are actually the natural outcome of capitalism. Competence trumps all other concerns, and outweighs sex, race, or culture. The decline of the white man in the work force is not the result of affirmative action—it was affirmative action that put him in a position of precedence in the first place.

On the other hand, there is a tradition that I greatly respect, the shared understanding that humans are deeply flawed, so often voiced in the Christian and other traditions, which urge us to band together, forgive each other’s weaknesses, and work together to overcome them (and yet, I am an atheist.) There is a parallel to this in the scientific method—which I would call the modern method, and has taken root in other places far antecedent to modernity (the Islamic Caliphate of the late first millennium AD was one)—which requires a process of peer review, recognizing that people make mistakes and only together have we any chance of getting things right. This understanding of human weakness has been supported by recent advances in behavioural economics (particularly by Daniel Kahneman), which has advanced the idea that we are largely irrational and prone to poor judgements. The opposition between this admission of human frailty and the world of business is nowhere more clear than in the failure of neoliberalism as an economic ideology. Neo-liberalism regards humans as rational self-maximizers—indeed, this is the foundational assumption of Neo-liberalism, its theory of human nature. But then, all ideologies are founded on a faulty simplified model of human nature.

But here’s the thing: the traditions that emphasize human frailty often abandon all hope of man-made solutions. To be blunt, thoughts and prayers won’t git-shit-done. We have to dare to use our judgement and our abilities, flawed as they may be, because no hand from the sky will save us. God is not returning his calls. We have to solve our own problems, and all the hand wringing in the world won’t accomplish that. And the weak remain at the mercy of the strong, so we must compel the competent to help those who need it, because there is another iron law of capitalism; when the markets collapse, capitalism will collapse, and the rich will lose everything. There’s no point in being worth 50 billion dollars when a dollar is worthless. And it will be if capitalism fails. The thing that most Marxists miss is Marx’s awe of capitalism’s productive capacity. Redistribution isn’t an option if there is nothing to redistribute. Capitalism produces; socialism redistributes, but they must work together.

Beyond that, the culture of victimhood, which exploits the traditions of mercy to an absurd extent, has no future. It relies upon pity, which is exclusive to respect, especially in the long run, and it has no grasp upon the elite beyond what they permit, and therefore has no influence beyond the narrow world of academia. Indeed, it quickly exhausts its welcome. It is instructive to note that the era of political correctness began precisely at the time of the Reagan revolution, and is now fading at precisely the moment that the polity is taking a dramatic shift to the left. The academic left was always politically inert, and in fact, politically regressive. It achieved the opposite of all its stated goals, and serves only the political right, who trot out tales of their excesses to scare their constituency. 

Still, all this is on the political and macro level. At the personal level, the cult of competency has much to learn from the tradition of frailty, both in the way that it deals with its own members and with the people who lay outside of it bounds. Steve Jobs was ruthless to those in his organization, but his success was in his capacity to be the customer from hell, probably his only competence. He demanded the best for the average non-technical user, and in that respect, became an unlikely advocate for mercy. While many techies regard people who cannot use their products as idiots, Jobs turned that accusation on his team for not making products that the average person could use, and made it clear to them that if they could not do that, they were the idiots. The prevailing neoliberal ideology regards the people who cannot succeed in it as idiots. It is time to tell them that if so many people cannot succeed under their leadership, it is they who are the idiots.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Skepticism, Libertarianism, and the Autistic Mindset

Skeptics doubt the existence of God. In my opinion, religious belief is founded upon a category error; the use of social intelligence to understand facts about physical universe. Why questions presuppose an intentional actor. If someone asks me why a t-shirt is lying on the floor, it is not a question of how it came to be there, but of why someone left it there. The how allows for a wind to have blown it there from a position where it might be drying, but the why looks for the reasons that someone left it there.

Likewise, religious questions assume an intentional actor, asking why questions. Science cannot answer why questions, because the questions bear assumptions that are not established. In this sense, skeptics' doubt about the existence of God are entirely valid. You must first establish the existence of agency before asking agency related questions.

But this tendency to ask about intentionality where none exists is typical of people who rely upon social rather than rational intelligence. The converse, among skeptics, is to rely upon rational intelligence rather than social intelligence. But this, too, has its hazards.

Social intelligence is what autistic and auspergers people lack, and it now seem to me that this is broader in the population than previously believed, and only problematic in people on the autistic spectrum. Those on the autistic spectrum, no matter how shallowly, are right about religions, but wrong about much else. I believe that any discussion of ethics must begin with social intelligence. Hume and Kant did not begin with this, and I think this led to a muddled theory of ethics during the Enlightenment. An is cannot be an ought unless the ought is an is--in other words, ethics must be foundational to personality, an inescapable assumption in all things, and this ought is a product of social intelligence. There is no "view from nowhere" in ethics--all ethical considerations are from a human perspective, and human beings are social animals. Rational intelligence is useless in establishing this foundation. Isolation is death, physically and psychologically. Society is life, and society requires compassion and cooperation. But rationality will not tell you this. A study of history and psychology might, but even that is open to interpretations, which can go horribly wrong under the influence of ideology. And oddly enough, much of religious ethics are rational, abstracting from human concerns and making an ideological supreme being the cornerstone of the entire system.

But to people who value rational over social intelligence, the idea of social interdependence may well be foreign concept. It's not that they can't think of it, but it is not the first thing they think of, and other ideas can get in the way. Libertarianism is one of those ideas. Libertarianism is attractive to people who see the world exclusively in rational terms because it promises them a world where they do not need to be concerned with others--a world where social intelligence is not required. I believe that Marxism operated in the same way, a one-size-fits-all system of ethics that bypassed social intuitions in favor of rational ideology. The same applies to Utilitarianism and a wide variety of other ethical systems, including the work of Peter Singer, which in my opinion would be disastrous in application (his suggestion that we send half of the wealth of the first world to the third world would be the equivalent of nuclear carpet bombing--look at what oil wealth has done to Saudi Arabia.)

Furthermore, this may go a long way to establishing why there is so much anger seeking a target on the internet in general (populated largely by nerds) and particularly among the skeptical community, who rely almost exclusively on rational intelligence. Much has been said about misogyny among these groups, and it's true, but this may be a symptom, not the root cause. The root cause is more likely to the accumulated rage of people who do not know how to conduct themselves with others, and who often fail in self-presentation, verbal self-defense, and reading social cues from others. And this would be nowhere more evident than in their dealings with the opposite sex. Hence their antagonism towards women, whose motivations and reasons would appear indecipherable to them. On average, women tend to specialize more in social intelligence while men focus on rational intelligence, although the split is more like 60/40 on both sides, rather than all or nothing. This is why autism is so much more prevalent in males.

In summary, words of advice to my rationalist fellows:

1. You are right about religion, but this doesn't make you smarter overall, just smarter in one particular way.
2. Ethics is a matter that begins in the heart, not in the head. If you start with rationality, you will go nowhere.
3. You have little core competence in subjects relating to social matters, including politics and sociology. Your theories on these subjects are very likely to be bunk. You will be attracted to easy answers based upon rational constructs, but human society is the most complex phenomenon in the natural world, and we have no comprehensive models for it. Never assume that you do.
4. You probably have anger management issues because you don't know how to express your anger, or many of your other feelings, in an effective manner, and this has left you at the mercy of those with better social intelligence. Begin with the understanding that tantrums just make you look like a loser, and try to learn compassion and discipline.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Formula

There is a standard formula for media which draws and engages people, a formula followed by publishers since the 18th century. We can see it in yellow journalism of all kinds: shock jock radio hosts, Fox News, the Huffington Post, and political blogs of all stripes. It goes back to the Penny Dreadfulls, to the rags of the French and American Revolutions. Even Ben Franklin was a notorious purveyor of yellow journalism, which is how he kept his publishing business profitable.

Of course, not everyone follows the formula; it is possible to draw a following with insight and information, with genuine knowledge and expertise. You can attract people with this, but it requires effort, and it won't make you rich. Your profit margin will be low, and you won't become a media baron--at best, you will become a media presence.

But if you wish to become a media baron, the formula is simple. Here it is:

1) Choose Your Audience: Decide what your target audience is. It must be a broad section of society, usually a major political faction or party. The smaller and more special interest the group, the smaller your following. So, for example, don't target a specific Christian sect, target all Christians, and keep it vague. Lumping them all in together will become easier once you define them by providing enemies. It is far easier to unite people against something than it is to unite them for something. The key is to create something they can all hate.

2) Make People Angry: People are engaged by strong emotions, and the best is anger. Too much fear will drive them off, sentimentality is hard to maintain (though some manage), and laughter takes talent. Anger, though, is dead simple. It requires no research, no talent, and little expense. One needs only follow the rules of the formula.

3) Create Enemies: Tell your audience that those who disagree with them are dedicated to their downfall. Tell them that these people are their enemies, and if they should suceed, all that your audience have ever worked for or hoped for will be undone. Tell your audience that they are dangerous, and that their success will bring on something akin to the apocalypse. Prurient outrage is the easiest; show that the enemy likes sex, and your audience will never forgive him.

4) Build Strawmen: Under no circumstances present these enemies as reasonable people. Distort their views until they become monsters. Having done so, demonstrate how these views lead to every manner of crime and catastrophe. Depict them as advocates and practitioners of every vice and sin imaginable, and encouraging the same for everyone else.

5) Lie: Lies will feed your accusations, and outrage the opposition, so you will now have anger from all sources. Even your opponents will now frequent your media, if only to try to counter what you are saying. This will give you their names and addresses (which you can sell) and extra sales, but you can also select the worst of these outraged responses to print or post for the amusement of your target audience, and the further outrage of the opposition.

6) Teach Nothing: Reality is surprising and rarely conforms to our expectations, but anything that does not conform to the expectations of your audience will make them uncomfortable. Shield them from this, or they may desert you. If an new fact appears, spin it so that it does not challenge their beliefs. If there is a lesson to be learned, hide it. The only lesson they should hear is for others, not for them. Assure them that there is nothing that they need to learn. Best of all, this means that you require no research, which is expensive. You need only provide opinions on what is already known, and this is dirt cheap.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Be Good?

In response to a number of blogs and articles which claim that there is no material reason to be good, and the claim that morality is a holdover from religion, there are a number of responses that have stood the test of time. Plato's Euthyphro is one, in which it is pointed out that if goodness is based upon the opinion of higher beings, it is still merely a matter of whim, and that their must be a standard higher even than the gods by which the good is judged. It has also been observed that the ethics of religions themselves evolve through co-opting the ethical advances of the societies of which they are a part. Slavery is a good example: there is nothing in the Bible against it, and yet all of Western civilization has come to the conclusion that it is wrong. The same is now happening with regard to women's rights and gay rights. These changes are imposed upon religions from without. They must come from elsewhere. So what is the root of human goodness, and the driving force behind ethical reasoning?

As any society advances and grows in numbers, it is faced with problems related to higher populations making greater demands upon limited resources, and higher population densities which must be managed so that their living space (ultimately, cities) do not become toxic waste dumps. The solution to these problems is technological; unless these problems are solved, high mortality rates will keep population numbers low. Technology is required both to allow for lower mortality and to cope with the greater numbers made possible by it. This growth of technology is a growth in knowledge, and to deal with this the society must pursue increasing specialization. We need doctors in multiple fields, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, programmers, engineers (again in multiple fields), policemen, city planners, accountants, and so on.

Now all of these specializations create informational disparity. If I bring a car in to have it fixed, I probably have no idea what needs to be done, the cost of the parts, the work involved, or the true cost of all of it. I have to trust that the mechanic is not cheating me. There is competition, of course, but it is never perfect. I may have to go to a particular shop who specializes in my make of car. I can, of course, do research on this and become something of an expert on the car I drive. But I have limited time; I cannot master all things, I must trust specialists in their area of specialization. Indeed, in order for an advanced civilization to function, it must operate on a basis of trust. Otherwise the advanced civilization that we now enjoy would become impossible. Life without trust is nasty, short, and brutish.

Consider societies where this trust does not exist. In ours, we take something from the shelf, and pay the sticker price. In societies that do not have this level of trust, they haggle over every price. But haggling takes time and expertise that could be better spent on our own areas of specialization. As a result, societies that haggle are poor.

Trust requires honesty. Salesmanship can only work if the claims made by salesmen are largely true. Every lie, every cheat, every act of sleaze costs us all. The liar is a freeloader. He is exploiting the trust that the rest of us work hard to establish for a quick payoff. He thinks he is getting away with it, but he isn't. First, of course, he is eroding the trust that our society needs to maintain itself. In this way, he is like the coyote in the Warner Brothers cartoons, sawing away at the plank that is supporting him over the abyss. But it goes further than that. If he brags to his friends about what he has done--and he will, to seek approval and justification for his actions--his friends will react in one of two ways. They may be encouraged to follow suit, thus eroding the foundation of society still further. Or, they may smile and nod, and realize that their friend is not to be trusted. And they will warn others, and for his short term gains, this man will pay a hundredfold.

Few sins can survive the light of truth. Honesty is the universal acid that burns all evil. War and tyranny require a bodyguard of lies. And honesty is required to sustain us in the style to which we have become accustomed; the style to which everyone in the world aspires to. So, to live a good life, you must be honest. And to be honest, you must be good.

Morality, it turns out, is required by the human situation. It is inescapable, if you wish to live in a world worth living in.

But some will say that that does not matter, that human concerns for comfort and prosperity are irrelevant, and that what is good might require mass human suffering. This is the morality of abstract principle. This is the morality of the bolsheviks and the Reich. Francis Fukuyama said that there are some mistakes you need a PhD to make. There are some mistakes you need to think too much, and feel too little, to make.

Let me take you on a thought experiment. I take your index finger and place it on a slab of granite, and with the other hand I take a three pound sledge, and I crush the end of your finger. Not enough to sever it, but enough to reduce the last two bones to razor sharp fragments of serrated bone, exploding the joint, permeating all the flesh--flesh, I might point out, which is so completely permeated with nerve endings that they can detect brail points a couple of millimetres apart, and all of these are now screaming a single signal of pain. The pain would be so intense that, if you were subject to cardiac weakness, it might well kill you. But at the very least, it will annihilate you. "Cogito ergo sum", Descartes said, but there would be no cogito, and no sum. You would cease to exist before a storm of raw qualia that would burn away all consciousness of everything except for that finger. You would become simply an animal in pain.

At that moment, if I were to ask you, "Is this good?", you would answer "No!" And you would know the truth of that with every fiber of your being. This is what a fact feels like.

Hume said that you cannot get an ought from an is. But what if the primal ought is an is? I suspect that all morality begins with a baby bumping his head, stubbing his toe, mashing or burning his finger, and screaming incoherently to the world, "THIS IS WRONG!" Psychopaths never connect their own pain to others, but normal people will, and will understand that unnecessary pain, particularly extraordinary pain, is always wrong, and not just for them, but for everyone.

And from this, all the rest follows.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Rise of the Goobermenschen

I read an article recently in the Nation about Nietzsche and Hayek. I'm not certain the author firmly establishes the link to Hayek--the main thrust of the argument seems to be that they were both from late 19th century Vienna--although some quotes near the end may nail his thesis, namely that Hayek did not favour liberty for the masses, but only for the elite. Frankly, I've always thought Hayek's work on distributed systems of information supported democracy and egalitarianism, but Hayek himself may not have seen it that way.

But what I was struck by, yet again, was the crude elitism of Nietzsche's philosophy, the ebuliant rush to kneel before the ubermensch. Yet despite all of his appeals to classical standards, Nietzsche's overman is a hero without virtues. All forms of morality are simply the imposition of the masses upon the Great Man. And the obvious question is that, if someone really is a Great Man, how is it that the masses were able to tame and subjugate him?

The answer is, they don't, nor was Christianity the origin of the virtue of charity. Generosity has always been the trait of great leaders; in the early sagas of northern Europe and Iceland, the great king is called the ring-giver, a man, or woman, whose exercise of charity and generosity sometimes takes them to the point of penury, and in this way inspires the loyalty that makes him or her a great leader. Christianity did not make charity a virtue, it simply recognized what was already regarded as a virtue in the ancient world, for Christianity owed as much to the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans as it did to that of the Jews. And in all of these cultures, charity was a virtue.

The truly great man or woman will rise in any society, and will do so with the blessing of the masses, because they will combine at least some of the classic virtues that all admire: generosity, humility, loyalty, courage, intelligence, creativity, honesty, wisdom, and knowledge. Any system of governance that discourages these or does not reward them will be quickly surpassed. Competition does not merely exist between individuals, but between groups. And any society that does not respect the full range of virtues will find itself in trouble.

Moral realism is a consequence of epistemological realism. If nothing is true, nothing can be good, and conversely, if one recognizes that there are facts that are the case, one must eventually accept that there are certain rules of social conduct that are better than others. Curiously, Nietzsche fell prey to a vestigial dogma; when he gave up Christianity, he did not give up the idea that all morals came from God. But he was no fan of evolution either. If he had been, he might have realized that we have evolved a conception of what is fair and good--indeed, we came to this point before we were human. All of the great apes share this sensibility. A chimpanzee, given a root vegetable when his neighbor is given a piece of fruit, will throw the vegetable away in protest, even though he is hungry. Even dogs know what is fair; a dog who plays roughly, and who does not bow and apologize for too rough play, is ostracized--a penalty that is usually lethal.

Because Nietzsche ignores the virtues, he became the champion of mediocrity, however much he wanted to be otherwise. Everyone thinks they are the ubermensch. Everyone thinks they are above average--it's a well known cognitive defect of our species. By stripping the hero of virtues, Nietzsche made it possible for anyone to claim to be a hero. His lowbrow descendant, Ayn Rand, painted greed as the mark of the hero, a development that Nietzsche would have despised--indeed, he despised most of his descendants. His sister married a proto-nazi, whom Nietzsche despised, and they came to blows with Nietzsche the loser.

It is astonishing how many intellectuals praise the marshal ethic, even though it is at best the willingness of the strong to protect the weak against thugs, while at worst (and most often), it is simply the ethos of the thug. Physical courage is of course a component of intellectual courage, but this does not mean a willingness or the capacity to beat people up. Rather, it means a determination to stand ones ground against physical threats. This is the essence of the Hegelian Master-Slave dialectic, in which the master becomes master by his refusal to accept any other role, and the slave overthrows him by doing the same. Christopher Hitchens, who, after forty years without physical exertion could not even be reasonably expected to be able to run away, much less fight, still stood his ground against physical threats and made no attempt to hide himself from those who meant him harm. Feminists would do well to take note; physical prowess is not required for physical courage, only the determination to stand one's ground. Only when feminists do this without resort to the protection of male officialdom will they be taken as equals, rather than delicate flowers to be coddled--and managed--by the man folk.

And yet, the thug is another example of the ubermensch gone to seed; the man of a single virtue, and a dubious one at that. A person with the virtues to avoid war, and to defeat the thugs with words, is worth a thousand who can win a war, because if you are at war, you've already lost.

Nietzsche didn't understand that. And so, we have the Goobermeschen.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Invocation of the Supernatural

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." - Seneca the Younger

I have come to the conclusion that most of religion has always consisted of the invocation of supernatural beings for material benefit. Sophisticated theology was never of interest to the rank and file of believers, but was to those who are, when you get right down to it, so far off the beaten path that they were heretics, or for all intents and purposes, atheists. I disagree with R. Joseph Hoffman when he claims that Spinoza and Einstein were not atheists. Spinoza was considered an atheist by the religious people of Amsterdam, who certainly knew a great deal more of what it means to believe in God than any of the atheist-buts in circulation today. As a former believer I can tell you that the dividing line is not whether you use the word God, but whether you believe you can pray to the thing and expect some sort of result. To be of the faithful, you must be open to the possibility of the miraculous. Close that door, and you have quit the church--all churches, forever. Both Spinoza and Einstein closed that door and locked it shut.

So much ink and invective is spent on the divide between those who believe religion to be true and those who consider it false that almost no attention is paid to Seneca's third party, the rulers. I'm talking about the likes of Karl Rove, Osama Bin Laden, and Vladimir Putin. Rove says in public that he is not fortunate enough to be a man of faith; in private, he calls his base "the crazies"--yet Rove can still play pied piper to that base, and deliver it reliably to you by playing a two note ditty of fags and fetuses. When W. met Putin, he said he knew he could trust him when he saw that he wore a crucifix. But a man who can easily exchange the hammer and sickle with a crucifix does not believe in God, he believes in nothing. And Bin Laden worshipped only himself, and called that Allah. The New Atheists never really concerned themselves with the dreams of the people, until it became clear that those dreams had became weapons in the hands of the rulers.

You might consider the invocation of supernatural beings pointless, given that they don't exist. But politicians invoke God to great material benefit, and it seems to work. They get elected, or gain power in other ways. It's a little bit of magical realism that intrudes upon the mundane. Now here's another bit of magical realism: you know that bit about not taking God's name in vain? I don't think that was about what you said when you hit your thumb with a hammer. I think that when those ancient Hebrews invented the whole damn business, they discovered that their leaders could not help justifiying themselves in the name of God, and this is what those surly, smelly old bastards wandering in from the desert were so upset about when they came up with that particular stricture. This has been going on a long time, long enough to get its own commandment.

Now, why this works has a great deal to do with one of the primary motivations for adherance to religion. Reason and evidence is great, but only if the person you're talking to has made an allegiance to the truth--that is, they are determined to know what's true regardless of whether they like it or not. Not many people have this conviction. This goes beyond science, beyond academic philosophy, and enters into the realm of philosophy as a way of life. Most human beings follow fashion; the loudest voice, the greatest number, the biggest celebrity, the most popular, the most successful, the biggest budget. If you speak for God, you are Oz the Great and Terrible, you speak with a Voice of Thunder, and you are always in fashion. And this applies whether you are a pundit, a politician, or just some idiot trying to shout down your neighbours.

All of which is terrible religion, and would have any self respecting prophet tearing their hair and gnashing their teeth. It's against the rules--their rules, as well as ours. But that's just sophisticated theology, and really, who cares? But it might be interesting to throw this in the face of the next believer who tries to shout at you with a Voice of Thunder.