Intellect and Beliefs

A recent experience got me down and I thought maybe I’d write about it.  I am not sure what to conclude, but sometimes it feels good to just write things out.  A person who I considered somewhat of a friend or at least a good acquaintance from grad school reconnected with me at a conference last year.  He was a Ph.D. student while I was doing my Masters and he was very friendly and seemed to me very smart.  So when he friended me on Facebook I was a bit excited since he seemed like he would be a good person to get into discussions with and that he would post interesting things.   But as I started to see him pop up on my news feed he would often post things that seemed to me that he already believed an answer, but claimed he wanted to know what other people thought, but if you didn’t think what he thought he would still think he was right even if he wouldn’t explicitly say it.  He would comment on statuses that I posted if I criticized A then he would say, how can you criticize A when you don’t criticize B.  The simple answer being that sometimes I did complain about B but he didn’t see it, or I would complain about B if I knew about it, but also that I have a limited amount of things that I have the passion for fighting against and this is simply what I’ve chosen.  Over time I came to realize that he was pretty religious, was against gay marriage, and although more compassionate that perhaps some evangelicals, he certainly had no tolerance for a pro-choice point of view, though planned parenthood was evil, and that men are much more oppressed in our society than women.  And while I agree that inequality towards men is often overlooked in favor to women’s issues, for him the balance seemed to swing the other way and that we lived in a society that favored women.  We ended up arguing about most things and while he would complain about how everybody always argues using ad hominem attacks instead of discussing the issue he would frequently use language to me like “You really believe that?”, “Are you serious?” and other phrases that were clearly mocking what I felt to be true as so ridiculous that he couldn’t believe an educated person would think that way.  And to be honest I felt the same way, but would never debate like that (although I did finally get a bit snippy in retort after enough of those kinds of statements).  The final straw that led to me just unfriending him was over the Syria situation when I posted a status and talked about how we and the west have benefited so much from the cheap oil to run our economies from that region of the world and how, especially the UK and the US have actively tried to keep that area unstable to maintain control of the oil that to not help the refugees was hypocritical.  He responded by saying we didn’t cause fundamentalism, we didn’t cause ISIS, and a bunch of other things.  I thought about responding, because there is a lot of evidence that we did cause ISIS, and that by keeping the area impoverished and without a stable governments, without the ability to nationalize their own oil reserves we have kept those countries in a state of poverty and fundamentalism tends to flourish in such regions.

But what I really want to talk about is how such a person really made me doubt myself.  I have experienced it before where someone whose intellect you admire (and maybe this guy simply changed over the years) and then all of a sudden starts making you feel like an idiot and you really believe them.  It makes you doubt yourself down to the very core and its troubling, and it hurts when someone you respected as a person belittles you.  But then I had to start questioning that feeling of doubt and hurt.  Knowing that we rationalize our beliefs and that if someone tries to challenge them in a very serious way we can often react defensively to not have such beliefs destroyed.  This person has, like me, a Ph.D. in meteorology and it’s applied math and physics and is no cake walk.  Was he the objective scientist and I was biased and belief based?  I don’t think that I am, but what if I simply believe that I am the type of person who is willing to change their mind about things given evidence, but really I’m not.  Ultimately it seems that the type of person I see myself as, might also be a belief.
Then I started to worry more that I was insulating myself intellectually.  Over the past 5 years I have had less tolerance to engage with people who didn’t to at least some degree share my worldview or who had a worldview that I respected even if it wasn’t my own.  It seems to me that such engagements had little value but to drain my energy.  Either the debate was one I have had many times before and was simply repetitive, or the possibility exists that I do not have the language skills to effectively get my points across because the exchange seems to go nowhere.  My intellect however would recognize common logical fallacies that they would use and there was only so much I could take before I just decided that this person wasn’t someone I should continue engaging with.  And I’ve started to feel as I age that life is too short now to surround myself with people who only anger and frustrate me and simply surround myself with those who give me positive energy.  But as a person who wants to grow intellectually and not hide from perspectives different from my own, how do I do that and still maintain my sanity in a world that seems fraught with so many people who don’t seem to think critically?  And is my desire to think critically fading as I age where my focus seems to be shifting to seek comfort and joy over the type of adversity that helps the intellect grow?

Had this former fellow student of mine been someone I did not know I probably would have shut them out awhile ago as I recognized their arguments were never steeped in evidence, but simply asserted with strong language.  Followed by an expectation for you to give evidence if you disagreed even though none was offered to you in the first place.  Such tactics are the hallmark of belief based thinking.  When we have attachments to people and when we respect their intellect it’s hard not to take them seriously.  The words sink deeper into you and shake you up regardless of their truth.  And I do have friends that disagree with me on big issues, but when we discuss them the language feels much more like mutual respect for each other, and so maybe in the this guy was just a giant asshole, and only my admiration of him from the past blinded me from seeing it for too long.  I’d like to believe that I stuck it out longer than I normally would have and gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I guess though, part of me still stuck on the idea that perhaps I’m protecting my worldview because I don’t want to change it.

Of course when I analyze my worldview I don’t see it as a bad one.  But I’m sure all people feel that way.  I do continue to read and learn, even if it is something that I don’t agree with.  In the end I guess I’ve decided that however I decide to keep my social circle, I am at the very least a person who looks to reduce the harm and suffering of my fellow humans in this world and I only hope that this drive continues to help me be the person I want to be.  And maybe it’s most important to recognize that the intellect does not always dictate beliefs and that these come from more of an emotional place.  And so maybe doing things that keep me emotionally healthy is just as important as that which keeps my intellect healthy.

21 thoughts on “Intellect and Beliefs

  1. Dump that guy like the cracked egg in the carton. Trust your instincts.

    It is possible to converse with people of differing outlooks. It is possible to love someone with an outlook you do not share (I know one of my brothers is a rabid republican and favors Trump) I can’t tHe him for that. He is my brother. But, and this is key, we retain a certain level of respect. We laugh, joke, and have fun when we see each other. As brothers should.

    This person you have described has not the level of respect for who you are. Don’t even look back Swarn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shell. I don’t disagree with you, but when you’re attached to people for whatever reason, letting go isn’t always easy. It’s clear that the respect I had for him was not returned and that alone is perhaps reason enough to cut him loose, I agree. But it’s interesting that when you respect someone’s intelligence and you feel like you know them that their words cut deeper. I don’t really regret my decision, but I simply felt my feelings over the situation were worth exploring. Thanks for your support! 🙂


  2. Jesus said, “…do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

    It sounds like this is exactly what happened to you. You shared your pearls (words & ideas) with someone who was unable to honour them and because he was unable to appreciate what you had given, he thought less of you as well. In the context of the types of discussions in which you were trying to engage, your friend (or former friend) is a swine. (According to Jesus, anyway.)

    I would say your inclination to avoid these situations is a result of learned wisdom, not a sign that you are neglecting your intellect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha…thanks Chris! That’s a good passage that I never really thought I’d find a place to use it with relevance, but yes this is quite relevant to the situation. 🙂 It was definitely clear that he was rather angry by a lot of things, he never had the demeanor of someone who was happy and maybe that’s a person to avoid as well. Like I said I was more caught up in why I felt hurt by the person’s attitude towards me. When our intellect is attacked it does impact our emotions even when the other person is right and so it felt important to me explore this feeling and make sure that it wasn’t just my brain trying to protect itself from uncomfortable views or whether it was because this person simply wasn’t really a respectful person.


  3. Swarn,

    First, bravo to you for giving him and any stranger/pseudo-stranger the benefit of doubt! That right there is a sign of mutual respect and good heart-felt integrity. I also applaud you for allowing yourself, your current beliefs and views, to be open for modification, even overhaul if necessary. To me, that is an indication of great courage (not fear), and embracing the reality of our human place in this immeasurable Cosmos on this Pale Blue Dot of a tiny planet! In that light or Darkness, EVERYONE should never claim for their entire life… to have “all the timeless answers”. Right? Just about all atomic physicists and astrophysicists know, accept, and embrace our true place in this Multiverse! 🙂

    For me personally, the ultimate question I must often ask myself when encountering such extremely rigid people is this… “Does their life-purpose promote/aid in the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number, in light of this tiny Pale Blue Dot?” With that I usually can determine either in a few moments, or days weeks, or several months if essential meaningful dialogue is happening and how big or small their perspective — a perspective that promotes INCLUSION and COLLABORATION, or a perspective that promotes exclusion, division, elitism, and ultimately tyranny. Either determination, however, should never really change your common respect for them, which I believe you’ve accomplished. But sometimes those people can really REALLY challenge our patience, eh? LOL 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment Professor. As always your gift for eloquent language makes anything you write a joy to read, especially this.

      “Does their life-purpose promote/aid in the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number, in light of this tiny Pale Blue Dot?”

      That is so well said, and it is what I was getting at the end of this piece. When I look at how someone communicates, how they argue and debate, how they treat the person they are in discussion with, and whether their views are steeped in compassion for the greater good I can tell a lot about a person. And like you said it might take anywhere from one conversation to several months, but eventually you see what they are about. I guess I just didn’t like what I saw and didn’t see it being worth the energy to continue trying to build a relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And thank you for your gracious words in return; you make it easy to chat with having exactly what I mentioned: meaningful impactful dialogue. 😉

        I guess I just didn’t like what I saw and didn’t see it being worth the energy to continue trying to build a relationship.

        Here’s an analogy I often use… as two separate compounds nitric acid and sulfuric acid don’t possess destructive reactions. For the sake of this analogy, I will make YOU the harmless nitric acid and your friend appropriately the sulfuric acid. 😉 When you mix these two compounds together, however, they form nitroglycerin — a very UNstable compound, especially if you “shake it up”!

        Sometimes it is best to leave specific compounds alone; do not mix them… at least at the moment! LOL 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Swarn, you wrote: “I have experienced it before where someone whose intellect you admire (and maybe this guy simply changed over the years) and then all of a sudden starts making you feel like an idiot and you really believe them. It makes you doubt yourself down to the very core and its troubling, and it hurts when someone you respected as a person belittles you.”

    I think it’s quite possible that he did change over the years — got fundamentalized? I saw red flags all over your post about this guy. Now, he might be right in being alarmed about who is crossing the borders in Europe. There’s already rioting going on in Hungry with male immigrants, — and it’s rather daunting seeing these videos because ISIS is admitting that they have implanted cells within the masses of immigrants flooding Europe.

    I did not follow your dialog with him on FB, but I do concur with you that we should help in any way we can so long as it doesn’t destabilize our own communities and countries. The West did play a major role in causing instability in the Middle East, there’s no doubt about that. What’s happening now is going exactly as planned with ISIS, but we simply can’t turn our backs on people who are suffering.

    However, what you shared about how your “friend” came across as belittling you and being disrespectful told me one thing — he doesn’t respect himself. If he’s a fundamental Christian, then his belief system has belittled him and his own self-worth. What’s that saying “Garbage in, garbage out”.

    I am familiar with this behavior. When I got married, my late husband was a person I had the utmost respect for. I adored that man. He was an incredible human being, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world, I really did. But as you know, he sustained a traumatic brain injury, which caused a neurological disorder, with symptoms of hyper-religiosity. So he ended up getting involved in fundamental Christianity and little by little they chiseled away his self-respect and self-worth. As this took place, he began to treat me with disrespect and started belittling me. I can’t even begin to tell you how confused I was and I started to believe him. “Maybe he is right” I thought to myself. I started thinking I was this person he was accusing me of being, but in reality, it was emotional manipulation. So after he took his life, I was already so beaten down that I was primed for further indoctrination from the evangelical community.

    I think it is wise to remove yourself from these types of people, unless you can step outside of yourself, and become the observer, seeing what’s really at the heart of his disrespect and belittling behavior. But I have found that you do need to pick your battles, so to speak. Even when I’ve been in discourse with people like him, I’ve still learned from the experience. I’ve just had to learn not to internalize, because that can sure zap the energy right out of you, and there are lots of “energy vampires” out there.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I think I did gain a few things from him, but ultimately it seemed like this is someone who will comment and will almost always be battling me and I only have the energy for so much!

      I actually thought a lot about the story you told me about your late husband and the way you told me the story I got the sense that part of why you started believing him (not knowing this change was caused by a TBI) is become of the love you had for him as a person and the respect you had for his intellect. I didn’t want to make that part of my blog because that was something that I felt was up to you to share, but I guessed you might have at least understood more what I was talking about.

      I would say that I did gain something from him, and I think I could have gained more if I felt that there was some respect for my points of view. His tone seemed always quite black and white and I realized to combat that I would spend a lot of time researching to post articles with the evidence that he clearly needed, but he would provide me with very little in return. And even if there was there would be jabs at me you know if my article came from the huffington post, or some other publication that he deemed unworthy. So energy vampire is a pretty good word. 🙂 Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Opposition, in all forms, really helped me grow a thicker skin. When I first started debating, I was intimidated. These experiences taught me to do my research well before presenting my opinion. There were times my character got raked over the coals, but as I gained more self-confidence, I could see that these “debate” tactics were often intended to cause me to doubt my own opinion. I learned to research both sides of the subject, and that was very beneficial.

        However, in your case, he was your friend, and as you stated, you had formed an attachment of sorts. This is exactly how authoritarian religion works, which is where I think he learned his “debating skills”. I support you in your decision to de-friend this guy.

        There are people out there who will run you ragged to post research to back up your opinion, but they are simply not interested in learning anything. Sometimes I will tolerate people like this in order to spread awareness, so in essence, I am taking advantage of their own shortcomings.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am not defending your old college friend, he very well may be an asshole, but let me give you a different viewpoint.

    Even though I have de converted, I am still pretty conservative, I will either vote for Trump or Carson (you all may cringe now). I used to debate topics on facebook, usually, I would end up being attacked by liberals and atheists. The attacks would get very very nasty and at times extremely crude. Women would attack me for being pro-life (so I must be anti woman), atheists would attack me because I believed in God (insulting my intelligence), and then liberal trolls would love to ask me if I was good at sexual acts (I am a kinda cute girl)

    I loved to debate because I did enjoy seeing what the other side thought and yes, I felt if I could give my opinion in a kind and respectful way, maybe a few would understand my opinion and understand others like myself. I want to tell you, most of the time, that never happened. I have had several online facebook friends un friend me because they did not like my conservative opinion. They would friend me because they liked my quirky humor and thought I was was a funny and nice girl, but would unfriend me once they learned I was conservative. It was ok for them to post whatever they wanted and to attack me, but if I defended myself, or gave another opinion, I was made to feel stupid. I know the feelings that you had.

    I tell you all of this because it does make one callous. I did lump all liberals together and lumped all atheists together, maybe your friend has done this as well. Maybe a decade ago he was more respectful with his debates but after being attacked he has grown callous. NOW…..those that attacked him in the past, maybe people did that to them and so they grew callous….I surely hope this makes sense. Its like a circle that really needs to stop.

    We are NEVER going to agree on all topics. But we have to to learn how to be tolerant of others’ opinions. Learn to agree to disagree and appreciate our diversity in our backgrounds, our looks, and our opinions.

    I am sorry that you de friended an old college friend. Maybe after some time you two can reconnect. PM him and tell him why u deleted him and tell him how you felt. You never know, he might have felt you were attacking him. He might show you your short comings just as you are showing him his shortcomings. None of us are perfect. I know for myself, I am very pro-life….I try to watch my words because I know I am debating with women that have had abortions, but I am human and I am sure I have crossed the line in things that I have said or in my typing something came off more harsh than I intended.

    I really do hope in the end you two can fix the relationship and learn from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your perspective. And you’re right. I know sometimes I myself have just been a foul mood and that certainly impacts how I talk to people. In real life or on the internet. And I imagine at an accumulation over years can change one’s demeanor during conversation. But keep in mind that it was usually him that initiated the argument and started things off with a very adversarial tone. We weren’t great friends or anything so I’m not so worried about the relationship ending. I guess I was more musing on how easily we can hurt by someone we respect who says the exact same words to you as someone we don’t know. And then also I wondered whether my reaction of being hurt was that I was afraid to change my views or whether he was just really out to lunch. Ultimately, as other people have said on here and on facebook where I also posted a link to this piece it was the feeling that I wasn’t being respected. There is a very clear difference between your tone and his. Despite the fact that we disagree on things when you sounds like someone with respect for yourself and for others and so I certainly don’t get the same feeling from you as I did from him. I guess as a fellow scientist and somebody who I knew had a great intellect to be able to get a Ph.D. in a very difficult field I expected him to have a little more respect for me as also an intelligent human being, but also expected him to show the same thoughtfulness in his views as I think I do with mine, and also more carefully consider another point of view rather than say things like “You seriously think that?” Anyways, I’m over it now. It’s just interesting how that side of us that has beliefs and that side of us that is our reasoning center can be so disconnected at times.

      Liked by 1 person

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