Show Less
Restricted access

The Quicksands of Belief

The Need for Skepticism


Janet Winn Boehm

The Quicksands of Belief: The Need for Skepticism draws on history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences in an accessible, non-academic style in order to argue that humans don’t question enough. Instead, uncritically accepting the often absurd beliefs swirling around them, too many lack the skepticism needed to avoid global disaster. The claim of this book is that humans need to question everything they think they know.
The way the human brain works is impressive and has taken Homo sapiens a long way. However, it is also the source of our failure to doubt. Janet B. Winn explores consciousness first, then the sense of self and how it affects thought. Subsequent chapters deal with beliefs – about reality, politics, religion, pseudo-science – and attempts made to explain human behavior by the social sciences. This concept includes a consideration of the failure to grasp the meaning of evolution, the evolution of language, and how language distorts understanding, along with the role culture plays in these distortions. The remarkable human brain has made an extraordinary creativity possible, yet this ability is used to find ever-more powerful ways to destroy the planet and its inhabitants. Winn argues that this sequence follows primarily from absolutist thinking. In spite of the fact that we cannot know what is true with any certainty, we try to impose our certainties on each other, leading to the lies and chaos of the political world, to the destruction of the environment, and to war.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

13 The Political Animal


| 185 →


The Political Animal

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested at Kennedy Airport in the fall of 2002 while he was changing planes. American authorities imprisoned the man and then lied to his lawyer, who consequently was unable to prevent his being sent to Syria. There, Arar was tortured, as the Americans must have known he would be. His innocence was finally established and he was allowed to return to Canada, but U.S. courts dismissed his claims of abuse. The Bush administration said secret diplomatic communications and national security would be at risk were such a claim allowed.1 This means an individual has no protection from such abuse; the abusers have the power to do as they please. Power is what politics is about.

Sure, we recognize that human societies implode without some sort of governance, meaning some people have to have a degree of power over others. A constitution is supposed to make sure that power is curbed. But to keep such controls working requires constant skepticism, loud vocal skepticism. A system with a constitution requiring checks and balances between different parts of the government should mean that Maher Arar would have been allowed to sue. Such a suit would act as a brake on the secretive, illegal use of torture the U.S. allowed. It would have said “This is out of bounds.” We need skeptics asking, is our country under so much threat that we should give up...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.