Has someone pulled a prank on you today? Maybe you’re the prankster and have graced someone’s life with a practical joke. Today is All Fools Day, a day dedicated to credulity. Sure, we don’t usually express it this way, but it’s true. We do our best to play an end run around somebody else’s skepticism.
The stupidest April Fools pranks are those that are obvious. The best pranks are very subtle and appeal to the victim’s pride and vanity. The cruelest pranks are those that are played on gullible, credulous targets. When it comes right down to brass tacks, many jokes depend on deception in order to work. Somehow, the player must figure out a way to get the victim to suspend disbelief.
If you observe people carefully today, you may notice that many of them are on the look-out for friends’ and coworkers’ attempts to play April Fools pranks. The day is filled with the players versus the played upon. If you analyze this phenomenon, you might come to the conclusion that All Fools Day not only celebrates credulity, but that the subtext is a celebration of skepticism.
We routinely suspend belief when we watch a film, teevee show, or other dramatic presentation. This is not credulity unless we sincerely believe it to actually be true. We witness credulity when we observe someone believing an assertion with no evidence or only a small amount of questionable evidence to back it up. The person believes the claim is true because she wants it to be true.
The world can be an ugly place with its corrupt, deceitful politicians, wars, crime, catastrophic natural disasters, the suffering, the disease, and our own demise. Why not believe that alien beings are arriving to save us all from ourselves? Because of all the struggle and suffering in the world, we’re special and have earned a happy ending as a reward, haven’t we?
We humans tend to believe that we’re good judges of events and behavior. Many of us place more trust in our intuition and instincts than logic and reason. It is a poor understanding of logic that allows us to be easily swayed by emotional appeals and logical fallacies.
The popular view of people who believe in horoscopes or cults as being credulous is incomplete. Frequently, perveyors of psueudoscience extol the idea of keeping an open mind. Interestingly, some of these same advocates deny the plausibility of reason and the scientific method. This creates the ironic mixture of credulity and pseudoskepticism. In my personal experience, some of the people who claim to have open minds about unconventional phenomenon are frequently very close minded. They refuse to accept conventional explanations about events and life.
Credulity can easily creep into our mindset if we’re not vigilant. Our parents and grandparents may have believed Dinah Shore when she extolled the benefits of owning a Chevrolet. In our times, we may choose to believe a media personality, athlete, or Internet star when they advocate a political view or lifestyle choice. This is one reason to be skeptical of hero worship.
Credulity is not just for the naive or clueless people among us. Sometimes professional people who embrace the scientific method and usually exercise observation, measurement, and reasoning display credulity in their personal views about politics and religion.
I know that I’ve been credulous about various things in my life. I blush when I remember that I used to put a lot of stock in astrology. I’m not ashamed of that fact anymore. It was a fun exercise in mental processing. Even though I got seriously side-tracked by the belief, nobody else was harmed, and I learned a very valuable lesson. It is OK to admit that even I can fall victim to credulity. Because I know that credulity is an easy, almost default mind-state, sober, non-cynical skepticism has become an important mental tool.
This is one reason I love All Fools Day. Have fun. Keep the pranks harmless. Don’t laugh at others. Laugh with them.