Which False Beliefs Must We Humor Out of Sensitivity, and Why?

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I’ve written at length before about creationism, flat earth belief and other low hanging fruit. I’ll be referencing them in this article too, but for a different purpose. Today, large numbers of people are emotionally committed to indefensible beliefs. Often it’s something they know is wrong, but they have already gone “all in”. They have proceeded to build their lives on a lie, living in a glass house as it were.

Then someone comes along who throws a truth stone at it. Maybe not even realizing, just speaking matter of factly and happening to mention something contrary to that person’s dearly held, but mistaken, belief. For example, when creationists object to geologists talking about the age of the Grand Canyon and how it formed:

So, would it be reasonable to require that geologists and tour guides not mention long timescales out of sensitivity to the feelings of creationist tourists? Most Americans, especially on the left, would scoff at the idea. Likewise, there’s a growing number of more extreme creationists who embrace not only the Genesis creation story, but also Biblical cosmology.

Because the flat earth model is part of their religious worldview, as you might expect, they feel very strongly about it. If you assume Earth is flat, then you must also believe NASA and basically every scientist is lying to the public. That would understandably engender a lot of feelings of anger and mistrust, albeit misguided ones.

To say these people are wrong is to say that they are fools. There is no polite way to disagree with them because the unavoidable implication is that they are incredibly stupid or gullible people who were fooled by something that is obviously untrue.

So, out of sensitivity to their feelings, should we all have to humor them? Should we have to censor all mentions of a spherical Earth in the media and the classroom so as not to offend flat-Earthers? An absurd notion, most would agree.

What about anti-vaxxers? They are just as stubbornly resistant to evidence showing their beliefs are false as flat earthers and creationists. They are wrong in a way which compromises herd immunity too, whereas the worst consequence of raising a child as a flat earther or creationist is that their academic and professional prospects will be limited.

But needless to say, anti-vaxxers feel very strongly about their convictions. From their standpoint there is a global conspiracy to cause autism and other maladies in children by injecting them with poison. You can see how, if somebody really believed that, it would be impossible not to have passionate feelings about the topic.

Does this mean we should censor anything which contradicts their beliefs, out of sensitivity? Should we all be obligated to humor them, lest their feelings be hurt? No, once again most who aren’t in that group would recognize the unreasonableness of such a demand.

So how come you lose your job if you don’t refer to a transsexual coworker as a woman, when biologically speaking they are a man dressed up as a woman? Perhaps with silicone breast implants and disfiguring genital surgery.

The feelings of creationists and flat earthers are just as real and valid as the feelings of trans people. The belief that a man becomes a woman with different clothing and surgery is no less wrong, factually speaking, than the belief that evolution is a hoax, or that the Earth is flat.

If we are now all expected to humor transpeople out of sensitivity, affirming a belief of theirs we know to be false, why should we not also be required to humor the belief of creationists in a young Earth and special creation of all species? Why should we not also be required to humor the belief of flat Earthers that the Earth is a disc covered by a dome?

I am not playing favorites here. Just the opposite. I have identified a double standard and am asking what justifies it. Are the feelings of trans people more important/valid than the feelings of creationists and flat Earthers? What makes transpeople so special, that their wrongness must uniquely be respected, tiptoed around and handled with kid gloves, but the wrongness of the other groups listed here is fine to point out and laugh at?

Moreover, is it reasonable to demand that everybody in the world selectively censor their own speech for the comfort of a tiny percentage of humanity whose happiness is built on a lie, and depends on the complicity of everyone around them to avoid being reminded of it?

Food for thought, anyhow.

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