I think that before we can decide what beliefs should be respected or not, we need to define exactly what it means to respect a belief. I think there are different possible levels of respect we can have. Do I have to think your belief reasonable, rational, and possible for me to respect it (similar to how I would respect a person)? Do I have to allow you to do whatever you believe is right? Do I have to be polite to you about your beliefs? Do I have to simply not try to change your beliefs to be respectful of them? I think that in regard to racism and sexism, the first two do obviously not apply. We shouldn’t be expected to find these beliefs rational or really consider them. In addition, we can’t allow people with extreme prejudices to act on them however they wish. There are many, many examples of hate crimes that we simply cannot let happen on the basis of “belief”, one example being a recent racially-motivated vandalism in Chelan, Washington against a group of Muslim men (http://lakechelanmirror.com/main.asp?SectionID=5&SubSectionID=5&ArticleID=6686). In addition, the last criterion is really a null point because people’s beliefs are not so easily changed. However, the issue of respect and of politeness is very difficult to consider. In an ideal world, this would be a nonissue, but I think that if there are beliefs that are actively disrespectful to certain people, they don’t have an obligation to be respectful to those beliefs in return.
There are very many beliefs throughout history that have been misguided or dangerous or often both. Some of the beliefs that fall under both of these categories have historically belonged to leaders, and this makes the misguided very dangerous. One belief with many, many examples of horrors that have resulted from it is the belief of a certain race, religion, ethnicity, or gender having superiority over another. In addition, old medical beliefs, such as leeching and using unsterilized equipment, was misguided and dangerous for very different reasons.
Outside of class, I watched the TED talk about how cults rewire the brain. I thought it was very interest, especially coming from a former cult member rather than someone who only had done research. However, I did wish there had been more data in the presentation. The speaker claimed she was sure a cult member’s brain function would look different than that of an average human, but provides no proof or reasoning. I think it would be very interesting if different parts of the brain function when you are thinking “rationally” or are under the influence of viral memetics. Speaking of which, I had never heard that definition of the word meme previously. I think this video had a lot to say about how our brains can believe completely irrational things and, perhaps more importantly, commit horrible acts because of these irrational beliefs. I think it was really interesting how she emphasized the “us versus them” mentality that can come of this, and how it is one of the more powerful and dangerous beliefs.