Quickie Post — Bill Nye, and The Perils of Responding to High Conflict Systems

Cholla Cactus.jpg

Cholla Cactus, Grand Canyon, 2009

We’ve discussed high conflict systems in the past — there are perils in responding forcefully to them, especially when you know that there is simply no way you’re going to be understood, because the v-Meme gap is just too wide.

Such was the case with Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and the battle over creation science and the existence of Noah’s Ark with Creation Museum founder Ken Ham.  In this article from Grist, writer Katie Herzog makes the point that Ham’s project of building an Ark replica in Kentucky was floundering until Nye and Ham held a debate at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.  The resultant publicity resulted in a resurgence of donations that resurrected Ham’s Ark-building efforts.

Here’s a video of clips from the debate, compiled by Mashable.

It’s challenging to know what to do when confronted with obviously Magical v-Meme thinking.  Ham fronts for a constituency, the Young Earth adherents, that say the Earth is only about 6000 years old, that believe deeply and are not going to respond to reason.  At the same time, they’re not above some higher-level Authoritarian v-Meme borrowing to skewer their opposition.  But it’s likely worse.  People like Ham usually are apocalyptic adherents of Biblical prophesy like that contained in Revelations, which pretty dramatically proscribes the people who are going to get into Heaven at the end of the world.  Can you think of a more profound In-group/Out-group division than someone deciding whether you’re going to spend eternity on a cloud, or burning in torment for all time?  Pretty anti-empathetic and collapsed egocentric!

One of the rules we learned in politics is never repeat your opposition’s message.  While I deeply admire Nye for boldly going where those of us favoring the higher v-Memes and science have little interest, I also think it would be instructive for Nye to read this blog.  Social physics are social physics.  And it’s obvious, at least in this circumstance, that he’s giving Ham a bigger audience, and more bucks.

Takeaway:  for those looking for a refresher on a great model to understand how people think in the belief vs. reason space, I recommend reading this post on Ken Wilber’s Thought Hierarchy.  The short take-away is this:  if you’re up there in the rational space, but you’re debating with someone down in the magical/mythical ethos, the only way they can understand your argument is in context of projection — your reasoned argument (to you) is really just your own egocentric beliefs. And why should your beliefs be better than theirs, especially if they believe they’re decreed by some divine being?  You’re certainly not going to change their minds.  And in some contexts, you’re going to feed the beast.  Or get others to — with cold, hard cash.

4 thoughts on “Quickie Post — Bill Nye, and The Perils of Responding to High Conflict Systems

  1. There a lot better representatives on the creation side of things than Ham,
    though the ones I know would probably not believe debate would lead to
    anything profitable.

    Very, very few of those that look down on “creation” folk know any such
    folk very well. Even fewer know scientists that doubt evolutionary orthodoxy,
    partly because there are fewer of them and partly because the smart ones
    don’t talk much about it.

    That is the space I was raised in.

    So I know (and respect) a lot of very smart people with wide ranging ideas
    on origins (and many other controversial) subjects. This fact has influenced
    me deeply.

    Then there is the fact that a large amount of science crosses
    various lines, either in the direction of sloppiness or in the direction of
    bias-guided speculation or in the direction of scientism (science as a
    religion) — though many scientists don’t even acknowledge the existence
    of scientism.

    These facts combine to give me a deeply skeptical view on the possibility
    of truly transformative dialog and progress in areas of controversy.

    Greed, arrogance, fear, and a human history filled with intense trauma
    all conspire to make it extremely difficult for the conversations to happen
    that would make progress possible.

    It seems that we are past the point where public conversation does anything
    beyond make the various tribes get more tribal. All we have left are private
    conversations, after connections are established that make hearing possible
    across the divide between the individuals.


    Of course, there are “conversations” that surprise, that transcend what
    we think is possible — in the way music penertrates/avoids walls that
    otherwise confound communication.

    About these conversations, I have little to say other than I know they
    exist because I have experienced them and I believe they happen
    most happen at the smallest scales — between individuals.


    There is a gross ignorance that results when scientists and those that
    worship scientists and science become deluded by the amount of
    stuff that has been understood in one degree of another into
    thinking that there is no mystery, that most things are understood,
    that we could figure it all out. (By the way, this gropu includes most
    of the so called “anti-scientific” public who actually think too highly
    of science and technology, BUT with some peculiar reservations
    dueto distrust engendered by various types of trauma … but this
    is a different conversation.)

    And then there is the impatience with paradox, the rush to resolve
    instead of sitting patiently for the paradox to reveal deeper things.
    This is something that emerges most fully when tied to trauma,
    though the trauma can be a historical trauma, the connections
    to which are sometimes only weakly reinforced by immediate
    personal experience of those showing the impatience.


    Lack of discipline, impatience with paradox, the banishment of
    mystery, greed for gain and fame, the wide-ranging, persistent
    effects of trauma — all these make the thing we call science very,
    very far from something that stands apart and above, from
    something that has any sort of corner on truth.

    So what can we do?

    Devote energy to personal, respect driven connections with people
    that don’t think like we do in every way. Learn to not be afraid of
    paradox — let it teach us. Accept mystery and (what I would assert
    is) the infinity that makes the notion of complete understanding
    simply silly.

    Learn to hear and communicate the music that surrounds
    us — because in the end, only music transcends boundaries.
    True humility (= the ability to see and hear and
    at the same time always see yourself as alongside others,
    never above others) enables us to communicate where
    others usually fail. And hearing the music gives us something
    to say.


    1. Agreed. And certainly a big part of this blog is devoted to understanding the limitations of science — not being able to understand that metacognitive mapping of known unknowns, etc. is hurting us. Because we can’t run experiments on everything.

      I think your last paragraph also is a great declaration of a profound empathy that we’re also talking about here. Let’s hope we get there.

      Liked by 1 person

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