The human brain is an amazing thing. We cram it full of stuff and nonsense and song lyrics and daydreams and it rummages through the facts and factoids and sorts them into some sort of worldview.
We commit to that worldview; we get too attached. It’s called confirmation bias. We hunt down and prioritise information that reinforces what we already hold to be true; we ignore or dismiss that which threatens the edifice we’ve built from half-formed thoughts and snippets of Alan Jones.
My brain has eagerly absorbed dozens of headlines proclaiming that red wine and chocolate are good for you. But my Pollyanna grey matter blithely skips the ‘only in moderation’ footnote. It even hurt to write that, to be honest. That’s the pang of cognitive dissonance.
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Shit! Who knew you could catch Tourette’s Syndrome online?
Well you, can’t, not really. But you may be able to ‘catch’ similar symptoms from friends in the real world, or through social media.
A group of young cheerleaders who started twitching and spasming uncontrollably are at the centre of a recent high-profile case of ‘mass hysteria’. And an expert in mass hysteria and moral panics says such outbreaks will become more common in Australia as we connect more with people through the interwebs.
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It’s tempting – very tempting, in fact - to dismiss conspiracy theorists such as the 9/11 ‘truthers’ as tin-foil hat wearing nutters. And there is a substantial element of crazed paranoia out there which invites such frank contempt.
But there are interesting and telling reasons so many people have come to believe that al Qaida had nothing to do with September 11, that the US Government was responsible for the attack or at the very least knowingly let it happen in order to trigger a war.
The UK’s Telegraph newspaper ranked September 11 as number one in its listing of the greatest conspiracy theories, trumping the moon landing, Roswell, Jesus’ bloodline, and the JFK assassination.
The political impact, the copious amounts of footage, and of course the internet have bolstered the truther movement to the point where polls consistently show that one in three Americans believe in it to some extent.
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It’s all too easy in Australia – set up a religion, get tax-free status, a bunch of followers willing to donate, and you’re set. Maybe predict the end of the world to get things moving along with a sense of urgency.
Senator Nick Xenophon suggests that Australia needs a “cult-busting agency”, similar to those already operating overseas.
Mr Xenophon – who has previously tackled Scientology and questioned its tax-exempt status - says he wants a dedicated government agency to “monitor and control the activities of cults in Australia”. The issue’s come to the fore again with the arrest in Fiji of Rocco “Brother Rock” Leo for breaching his visa. Leo is the leader of the Agape Ministries of God group. Agape has previously run into trouble over fraud, illegal weapons, assaults and tax debts.
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Once again, the censorial hand of the advertising industry - this time in the form of an arm of government - has moved to protect the public from the evil Atheist Empire.
Railcorp, a government agency, has refused the Atheist Foundation of Australia advertising space at a billboard location in Queanbeyan, NSW.
Apparently supplying the wording and graphic to be advertised to Billboards Australia on 10 December 2010 wasn’t quite enough time for RailCorp to take in the message. A sign of government efficiency no doubt.
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Another day, another non-appearance by a religious prophet.
As this article goes to press, neither Jesus, the Hidden Imam or John Maynard Keynes has returned to earth, which is unfortunate as religion has never been in greater need of validation.
It’s irrelevant if religion has practical benefits in terms of charity, community building and teaching ethical behavior, if religion’s key claims are not rooted in reality. Either religion is factual or it is not and either there are good reasons to believe something or there are none.
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HERE’S a big question to ponder: in general, has government worked to advance our welfare, or to retard our efforts at advancement?
Not “the government”; not any particular regime in this country, or any other, but “government” – the machinery by which virtually all human society is regulated – in general. Has it been good for us, or bad?
It is, of course, and vast and practically imponderable subject, for government in the general sense is virtually universal, just as it is accepted – again, virtually universally – that all society needs to be ordered, ruled.
THE ambition for this column, when it was first published in The Daily Telegraph about three years ago, was that it should be the starting point for discussions about the things – the fundamental things – that people believe, or profess to believe.
To give you a bit of guide, there’s this bloke I know who once said to me that he “believed” in two things; the first was that you should always make sure your shoes are good, and the second was that a well-sprung bed was essential. And yes, they’re pretty important beliefs. You don’t want to wake up with a bad back, and bunions are definitely not a good look.
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@nigelmcbain I don't see the nexus between gay marriage and gay sex education in schools. ACL does. Health issues should be taught whatever
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