The following examples serve only to highlight a harmful way of thinking in a general sense, not to single out any particular group.
Today, you may come across people with all kinds of strong sentimental attachments: animal lovers, environmentalists, political supporters, vegans, religious people, spiritualists, and so on. I do not say it is a particularly good or a bad thing to get sentimentally attached to any such cluster of ideas, nor do I say all vegans, religious people, or animal lovers are so emotionally involved in what they follow, but it makes them susceptible to errors if they let emotions override scientific facts.
I find myself inundated with messages from such groups: be green, eat vegetables, do not hurt animals, do not eat meat, protect mother Earth, eat organic, go to church, meditate, go to vote, find your consciousness from listening to me, and so on. If you desperately try to promote something, even if it is scientifically legitimate, you would probably sound like a salesman. And because we live in a world where so many want to sell you their stuff to make a profit, some may associate your approach with that business tactic and you would lose people's interest.
If there is any proof that eating vegetables improves one’s health, identify it and allow open criticism. If you try to explain what spirituality is, please don't merely say “I feel it, that´s why it exists”, because it is unscientific to just believe someone for what they are saying, especially if their claim is based on an opinion. Or when you say it is immoral to eat animals, please explain what you mean by “immoral” and “animal”. I suspect people often present their cause unscientifically because of an emotional entanglement.
But unfortunately, we can all fall prey to this game of feelings sometimes, and this is exactly why we should be aware of it.
If you have a wife it may be hard for you to accept that marriage is just an illusion, a game humans invented, a ritual. You are prone to find any good reason for why you are married and you may not be objective because of that. Try to convince a priest that there is no such thing as God. It will be very unlikely for him to look at the evidence objectively just because religion composes his self-image. His wife, children, and friends know and love him for who he is. If he alters his outlook on God and religion, he risks severing his relationships and self-image. The same may happen with one who devotes their entire life to eating vegetables because they think it will improve their health. It may or may not be so, it doesn't matter; the point is that if you scientifically show them that eating vegetables does not improved their health at all, he/she may find it difficult to accept and internalize this information.
How can you tell a mother who lost a child that there is no God and no Heaven and that her son is lost forever?
The point I want to make is that we all can get trapped in emotional games and thus become prone to subjective analyses of reality.
I don't care why animal lovers love their pets so much or what animal they love, or why some people do not eat meat and others believe in Gods; this is not the concern of this article. The focus is on the liability of erroneous thinking due to emotional involvement.
But I titled this article “Harmful Thinking”. Why is that?
I was born in a little patch of planet Earth which some people call Romania. Just another cluster of people on a patch of Earth separated by mere values and for monetary incentive from the other patches. There, many people survive with less than $200-300 a month. And I am talking about families, not individuals. Try to split $200 with two adults and two-three kids. Pay electric bills, buy clothes, food, etc.
Another characteristic of Romania is its stray dogs. Dogs that live on the streets and eat from accessible garbage bins or whatever else they find. There is no doubt that these dogs can be dangerous. In fact, they recently killed a 4-year-old boy near a park in the Romanian’s capital. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/stray-dogs-kill-4-year-old-boy-near-park-in-romanian-capital/article14070160/
I remember when I lived in Romania that there were many cases in which these dogs attacked people, sometimes mortally wounding them. Happened to me, happened to my friends, happened to people I knew.
This is footage recorded last year when I was in Romania for the holidays. VIDEO
Every time I had to go outside or come back home I had to go through at least one pack of 8-9 big dogs. You may say they don't seem dangerous (although the video shows otherwise), but it is undeniable that there is a risk. Not to mention the sanitation hazards they can create from the mess they make while scavenging through trash or the many diseases they may carry.
But here is the ironic part of the situation: many people in Romania actually fuel the problem. They feed these dogs and make sure they don't get euthanized or taken away. They are the ones that bring the dogs from elsewhere and raise them in these public spaces. And this leads us to the harmful way of thinking I am talking about: being emotionally trapped in the situation.
There is no way one can sit down and talk to these people, even with statistics and proofs of why street dogs pose a danger and an overall discomfort (by the fear they create for many, etc), for the population. These people often raise their voices and scream of their love for the dogs. But they don't do that for the millions of pigs slaughtered every Christmas in their backyards, because this is a Romanian tradition, after all. Or the millions of lambs slaughtered every Easter for the same purpose. Or the rats, bugs, chickens, flies, and other living creatures killed by humans for various reasons.
Now imagine how some "rational" beings would perceive the situation:
- The street dogs are a potential danger for humans, create distress for many, and in some cases directly threaten or take people's lives
- Many people in Romania are extremely poor and can barely afford anything to eat
- Methods to resolve the problem wouldn't be able to help every single dog, therefore, some dogs will have to be put down
The dogs that cannot be saved and are going to be killed should serve as a source of food to help support the poor.
I am sure many would feel disgusted by this idea, but this just another example of "harmful thinking" at work. From your current perspective you probably couldn't imagine anyone eating dog meat, but you must consider that your view is based only on your own beliefs. Beliefs that aren't prevalent in other cultures. And clinging only to your beliefs without evaluating the full scope of options severely limits your possibilities. Dog meat is regularly consumed in China, South Korea, and even some parts of Switzerland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_meat. And although scientifically there is no harm in eating dog meat, many people don't even consider the option and continue to starve. This sentimental way of thinking based on values restricts people's ability to survive and is a detriment to the poor and the society.
As a matter of fact, the poor people you have seen in that video, the ones that were scavenging through the bins, were accused of eating stray dogs, and many were disgusted by this despite the fact that the ones complaining feel no mercy killing other animals for food.
It’s not that I advocate eating dogs as a solution for starvation (we can probability feed the entire world population without killing any animal), I just want to emphasize that many people, even when their life is in danger (starvation), are more inclined to act on an emotional basis over a rational one, and that can lead to their own or other people's harm.
We wouldn't have gone very far with this type of limited thinking.
In some regions, especially some states in India, the slaughter of cattle is prohibited, and eating cow meat is a taboo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle_in_religion. This is because of their dominant religious beliefs; sentiments before reason. You can probably find some Hindu people who eat dogs as their traditional meal and you will definitely find romanian people eating cows. This is just a matter of culture. But even if these people are starving, they still confine themselves to their individual beliefs.
There is a plethora of rules and restrictions when it comes to eating food in this world due to cultural or religious beliefs. Take a look at this Wikipedia article on taboo foods to see how many people in this world put beliefs first, and reason second. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo_food_and_drink
If there was a beehive in a Romanian public building, logically, people would remove it immediately without giving it a second thought. They would kill hundreds of bees without feeling guilty and they would say :”Well, it was a potential danger for all of us”.
But when faced with a slightly different scenario, some Romanian's actions seem to be contradictory. A funny thing happened many years ago around the place at which I stay in Romania. A sheep got lost somehow and ended up in the parking lot of some nearby buildings, the same lot stray dogs use as a hangout. I remember some dog-loving people saying: “The sheep makes lots of noise, it defecates all over the parking lot, scavenges through garbage, maybe it’s dangerous for the kids passing by….We should get rid of it!” And they did so in few days. But yet they didn’t raise a finger to deal with the dangers of the wild dogs since obviously they don’t defecate, bark at people, scavenge through garbage, or pose any danger whatsoever.
In India, if instead of cows there were chickens on the streets, people would probably happily kill some for tonight’s dinner, but still never harm a cow under any circumstances, no matter how harsh.
Ten years or so ago, a family, with which my family had connections, did something many others are still doing today. They chose church over a hospital when their daughter was having a seizure. Luckily for the girl, she survived, but not due to the church as you may realize, just by chance. Many other such scenarios happen all over the world when beliefs override scientific reasoning, but the outcome is usually not a positive one.
In contrast, one great example of how you should not rely solely on emotional ideologies to solve a problem is demonstrated by the way that the parents of a sick boy, Sam, manage their kid's illness. As a child, Sam was diagnosed with progeria. A disease that makes the body age at an extremely elevated rate, thus many with the disease do not even reach their 20s. Both of Sam’s parents are scientists (physicians) and they dedicated their lives to find a cure for their child instead of praying for him or not doing anything at all. Since they began their pursuit for a cure, they managed to identify a gene linked to progeria and developed a treatment to ameliorate the symptoms of the disease. They founded the Progeria Research Fundation and even though Sam tragically passed away two months ago, they made tremendous advancements in treating progeria that may later help save many children from the disease. So you see, this is an intelligent way to take action. Instead of relying on emotional behaviour only; one must apply their emotions in a practical way to achieve progress. Being scientific is the best way to solve a problem. You can watch an amazing documentary about Sam here: Life According to Sam.
Harmful thinking only results when cultural values interfere with a scientific education or when one cannot properly conduct relevant research, thus breeding an irrational mind . This is something of which we should be acutely aware. The best decisions will be made when you are not emotionally trapped and when you use science to arrive at a conclusion.
I think if only 70% of world´s population would have a scientific mind, we would live in a wonderfully creative and peaceful world.