Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Extreme dogmatic ideology, of all varieties, is like the Hydra of Greek mythology: You can keep chopping off its heads with swift strokes of reason and evidence, but two more equally irrational ones grow in the place of each one dispatched. Most often, in fact, the heads that grow back are simply the same as the ones that had been demolished, somehow oblivious to their own demise. It is an endless struggle, with seemingly no torch-bearing Iolaus in sight to cauterize the severed stumps. And the typical answer to often virtually irrefutable presentations of sound analysis applied to reliable evidence, completely debunking positions that consist of arbitrary assertions wrapped in emphatic platitudes, is simply to insist that the platitudes prevailed under the rules of reason. The Hydra’s heads grow back so fast because they do not bother with the burden of including a brain in the bargain.

Here’s a list of a few of those heads, just off the top of my own:

1) The concept of liberty that denies interdependence. (See Liberty Idolatry).

2) The belief that the world is best understood in terms of good guys v. bad guys, with the speaker generally believing that he or she belongs to the former group, and that he or she can tell in one word who belongs to the latter (e.g., “corporations”,”socialists”, “Muslims”, etc.).

3) The belief that any call for the utilization of expert knowledge in the design and implementation of public policy is an anti-democratic insult to everyone who doesn’t possess it, and impossible to balance with the democratic need to hold government officials responsible to the people they represent.

4) The belief that programs to increase opportunities for others (particularly the poor) rob from the rich (or any disgruntled tax payer).

5) The belief that public goods production and meeting the social responsibility to address poverty and other injustices can and should be left to independent individual choices and private charities.

6) The belief that people who participate in the system as it is are necessarily doing so in order to preserve its defects.

7) The belief that politicians are greedier, more corrupt, less moral, and/or less honest than other people.

8) The belief that pettiness, viciousness, and malice are ever anything other than reprehensible behaviors.

9) The belief that all opinions deserve equal respect, and that the popularity of a belief is as sound a foundation as the degree to which it is supported by reason and evidence.

10) The belief that whatever you believe must be reasonable, and whatever arguments contradict it must be irrational, independently of actually having applied reason to the process of arriving at those beliefs.

11) Anti-intellectualism, particularly combined with assertions that the anti-intellectual alternative is more rational than the systematic application of reason to evidence.

12) The habit of engaging in obsessive virtual stalking, expression of a grudge, relentless hatred, name-calling, ridicule, and/or other similar behaviors, while simultaneously both complaining that the person who is the object of your obsession or resentment is the one engaging in it, and insisting on your own moral superiority to them while demonstrating the exact opposite.

13) Making claims that belong to a particular discipline (e.g., law, economics, etc.) without any actual knowledge of that discipline, usually with inordinate certainty, generally far removed from the actual prevailing conclusions of that discipline, often in a rancorous debate with someone actually knowledgable in that discipline.

14) Believing that personal insults, critiques of writing style, observations about alleged personality flaws, or similar forms of engagement, are clever arguments that refute the substantive content that prompted them.

The list goes on, of course. These are just a few of my favorite Hydra Heads, easy to chop off, but impossible to keep from growing rght back again, bigger, dumber, and more belligerent than before.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

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