April 1, 2014

Foolin' Ourselves

English: A ticket to the washing of the lion, ...
A ticket to the washing of the lion, a traditional April fool's prank (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
April Fools' Day is an odd sort of holiday. Here in the U.S., it seems to be primarily about lying to one's friends or family. One tells a lie, persuades the other to believe it, and then gleefully shouts "April Fools!" Many of the lies seem to be little more than exercises in lying, but some can be quite elaborate and complex, progressing beyond simple lies to hoaxes or pranks. But it is all in fun, and everybody usually gets a laugh at the end.

I have been on the giving end and receiving end of some good April Fools' Day lies and pranks over the years, and harmless fun is how I would describe most of it. I do have a co-worker who has a tendency to get carried away and cross the line into the sort of lie that can lead to some hard feelings by those he dupes, but I think everyone has finally caught on to his antics. Sorry pal, but nobody is going to believe that you are dying again this year!

I think of April Fools' Day as being about gullibility in the sense that one wants a target for one's lies and pranks who will be sufficiently gullible to be fooled by them. And of course, I also think of it as being about skepticism in the sense that adopting a skeptical stance is probably our best defense against being fooled. Even many of the Christians I know who claim to oppose skepticism usually admit its benefits today. At least, they do if they can stop insulting atheists long enough to do anything else.

Skepticism is one of the best tools we have for preventing ourselves from being fooled, and this is true for every day of the year. And yet, skepticism may be of limited value when it comes to self-deception. We are still quite capable of fooling ourselves into believing things of which we would normally be skeptical. Religious belief is a perfect example of this because most religious believers are quite skeptical when it comes to religious beliefs other than their own. They simply opt out of applying anything like skepticism to their own religious beliefs, and they have a variety of psychological motives for doing so.

Perhaps April Fools' Day should be an occasion to reflect on the advantages of skepticism, resolve to be more skeptical in one's life, and to begin the difficult process of critically examining one's own beliefs, attitudes, and values. That's what I'd like to see it become, but perhaps I'm just fooling' myself.
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