How does one deal with those who do not understand the rational way of living, those who follow unreasonable dogma like religion and give in to superstitions?
There are two different approaches marked by the diametric positions that they take. One is to shame the irrational person so that they are persuaded or forced to go into hiding. They other is to engage with them in conversations about agreements and disagreements and try to win them over to the side of rationality. There are other approaches besides these two, most are usually a varying mix of these two contrasting approaches. (We will ignore the non-approach called ‘ignore them’. )
There are merits to the shaming someone into submission (needless to say, you can never win someone over by shaming them). Shame is a universally detested experience for all. It is built into our biology to cringe and hide away when in shame. When using shame one has a fair chance of being effective in controlling irrationality. Indeed, it is necessary to reduce and remove some of the venomous kinds of irrationality like astrology. But, what gives efficacy to shame contains the seeds for its own eventual ineffectiveness. Shame drives people underground. Contrary to what we may expect, when things go underground they get more sinister. Exploitation of the vulnerable by quacks and charlatans is one of the consequences. Shaming is the ‘hammer’ solution. It’s drives the nail in, however, not everything is a nail.
‘Try and win them over’ needs none of my amateur philosophies to stand its ground. Ultimately, after all points and counterpoints have been made, this is the only enlightened choice left. Like all such choices, this is hard to make and harder to live with, for it requires love and compassion, besides enormous personal effort. Nevertheless, in the long run – if one is lucky, in the short run as well-, compassion trumps all other approaches.
To my regret, I have most often gone the ‘shame them’ way. Still, one goes on in the hope that reason would see us through and prepare us to be more compassionate.
Compassion and Science: this thought is at its infancy in my mind. I have just begun to explore it. What would you do, what have you done, when faced with irrationality?