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Double Happiness

How Bullshit Works

Joe Bannett

Homeopaths sell holy water. It has the same cure rate as the ghosts of old popes. If it worked, doctors everywhere would embrace it wholesale. But it doesn't, so they don't.

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Evolution is ruthlessly efficient. Experimental success is rewarded with survival, failure with extinction. The natural world never deludes itself. Only humans do that. My dog has learned that if he comes when he's called he'll get a reward. If I stopped rewarding him, he will eventually revise his view of the world without a backward glance. He wouldn't start praying, he'd simply stop coming.

The whole of evolution is founded on practical science. If something works it endures. We alone on this planet believe stuff in defiance of evidence. It would seem to be the flip side of our capacity to reason. And we are endlessly encouraged in this folly by legions of bullshitters.

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Bullshitters tell you 'natural' is better - that if we could somehow "reconnect" with nature, all would magically be well. Well no, it wouldn't. As Thomas Hobbes memorably observed, man in a state of nature lived a life that was "nasty, brutish and short". What has enabled you and me to live a life that is nicer, longer and more civilized, are the discoveries and inventions brought about by the exercise of reason, ie the artificial stuff like polio vaccines and sanitation

The word 'natural', as commonly used is without meaning. It is simply used to evoke an emotional response. Natural has become a 'hoorah word' - no-one knows quite what it means but everyone is in favour of it.

Quite a few NZ professional sportsmen are Christians. Often they wear a wristband with a cross on it. When they score a try they kiss the cross and raise their eyes to the heavens in gratitude. But you never see a player make a mistake or do something foolish, and look at the sky in puzzlement or anger.

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Similarly you will hear survivors of some disaster saying "Someone was watching over me", but ignoring the poor people who dies because apparently God couldn't be bothered watching over them.

There is a close correlation between the wealth of a nation and the number of Olympic medals it wins. There is a similarly close correlation between the wealth of a nation and the obesity of it's citizens. Thus we have the bizarre situation that the fattest nation on Earth routinely wins the most prizes for sporting excellence.

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Suggests radically changing the Olympics, and in fact, splitting them in two. One Olympics would have no drugs testing, so if athletes chose to do themselves long-term harm for the sake of short-term glory, then so be it. The other Olympics would involve citizens selected at random from the country's electoral roll. Since they would be chosen at the last minute, they would have no chance to train. It would be a true test of a country's health. As Mrs Smith from Taumaranui struggled round the track in the 5000 meters, it would make compelling viewing. There may even be deaths, which would help the ratings even more. One thing we can be confident of is that the US would finish last.

Fans need to be part of a crowd. A small, scattered stadium audience is pathetic. Only when crammed together can they lose their identity in a joyously anarchic mob. Even shrinking violets like an English crowd will happily belt out "There's only one Wayne Rooney" (to the tune of Guantanamera) "there's only one Wayne Rooney". Which is precisely the sentiment we sang about in school assembly. Only we were extolling God.

At first the comparison between WR and God seems apt, in that both are male and famously short-tempered. But crucially, there s only one WR, whereas there are thousands of gods.

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