The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We're Doomed

I believe that we're doomed.

Because we are a bunch of idiots.

Actually, no, not idiots, we are capable of making good decisions, we just decide not to.

Because we'd rather be misinformed than to know what's really going on in the world.

The terms for the condition are variable. Some call if mass delusion, some call it widespread scientific (and hence reality) illiteracy, others call it any number of less pleasant names.

But, the end result is that we are probably doomed.

So, what am I talking about?

In the last week, I have been bombarded on all sides by people making delusional claims about a wide variety of things, all of which have one linking element: if the person holding the claims was more concerned with the truth than with simply reinforcing their own assumptions, they wouldn't believe that the claim had any validity.

A few examples are, perhaps, in order.

For starters, there is the fact that Andrew Wakefield, who published a flimsy study while having not one but two financial incentives for claiming that the MMR vaccine was dangerous is now being lionized as a martyr by the anti-vax community because he has finally begun to be held responsible for starting a needless scare by lying in a published paper for his own financial benefit.

Then there's the people for whom everything is best explained by a vast conspiracy. The World Trade Center? Government conspiracy. The person that you like lost the election? Clearly an election conspiracy. No weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq? Media conspiracy. People in positions of power routinely come from particular places? Couldn't possibly be a pattern of power distribution common throughout human history, it must be a vast, world-wide conspiracy. Science shows homeopathy (which is not synonymous with naturopathy, despite what many homeopaths like to claim and many people believe) to be nothing but an ill-founded notion that violates the laws of physics and is perpetuated to earn money for homeopaths? Big pharma conspiracy.

There really have been conspiracies. 9-11 was a conspiracy amongst religious extremists in the middle east. Watergate was a conspiracy in Washington. And numerous smaller conspiracies happen all of the time. But none of them ever manage to reach the level fantasized about by anyone with internet access.

There's the constant stream of people who keep claiming that the climate is in fact in perfectly normal condition, and as evidence they cite non-facts and make statements clearly indicating that they haven't actually bothered to find out what the sources of data are (for the record, as an archaeologist, I am familiar with a lot of sources of climate data that stretch back thousands of years, so if part of your defense is that we only have recent data, then you don't know what the fuck you are talking about!).

How about the journalists at the Atlantic mis-reporting an article from a medical journal that has stirred up anti-vaccine hysteria (especially odd as the medication in question is an anti-viral and not a vaccine)? The fact that this has now been taken up by many right-wing anti-WHO folks as "evidence" of a global conspiracy makes this even more absurd and dangerous.

The regular stream of people who claim that Obama is either a socialist or possessed of demonic powers or both. Okay, if you claim that he is socialist, then you really need to look up what that word actually means, and what his actual policies are. A reality-based assessment will conclude that he's no more socialist than Bush was. If you think he's demonic, then you need to be put on medication.

Then there's the people who, when I point out that their claims about Obama are delusional, claim that I am clearly one of his ideological adherents, because apparently, according to most folks, the world is black-and-white and if you disagree with them then you must disagree with teir opponents. Well, I was annoyed with him before the primaries (as most of the people who actually know my political views are aware). I also am in touch with reality, though, and know that many of the claims made about him (see the above socialist/demonic claims) are completely delusional. If you're going to take issue, there's plenty that he is really doing that you can take issue with, but making idiotic and false claims helps nobody.

On that topic, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, a Green or a Libertarian, a Tea-Party-goer, or a supporter of the Great Green Arkleseizure, your politicians are corrupt, too. Your politicans are lying to you just as much (if not more) than the opposition. Everything that you point to the competition doing? All of it is being done by your side as well. You're not going to clean up politics by getting rid of one guy or one party, you need to radically change the system. And if you are a member of a group who is already claiming that and believes themselves to be squeaky clean...well, pride comes before the fall, my friend.

And then there's the fact that, rather than listen to people who might actually know what they're talking about, many people get their (mis)information about the world from people like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Sean Hannity, Al Franken, Rachel Maddow, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter etc. etc. etc. Hey, news flash folks, these people all have both agendas to forward and pockets to fill. They may be right sometimes, but the truth is not their primary concern, and if it's profitable to mislead you, then they'll mislead you.

Maybe I'm just grumpy, but I am fucking sick of hearing from people who are more concerned with having their own prejudices and false beliefs reinforced than with solving real problems in the here and now.


mauima said...

Maybe my favorite post yet...
Thank you!
Did you see John Stuart last night re: Glenn Beck???

Glad I 'know' you...

Anthroslug said...

Thanks for the compliment.

I'm too cheap to pay for cable (plus, I'm away from home so often that I'd have little opportunity to watch), so I didn't see it. I take it that it's worth looking up on Youtube?

Anthropologist Underground said...


I wandered over from Skepchick.

Someone sent me an email recently (I'm paraphrasing): Obama hates Xians! Obama is a Muslim! Look where he's leading the country!!111!!!

To which I replied: Obama is Xian, not that it matters because of the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. And diversity is good.

I then received images of the Twin Towers in flames, and the text "God hates gays" in bright red allcaps. (FWIW, I am heterosexual, but apparently my use of the word "diversity" triggered the crazy...)

In some cases, you can't even begin a discussion.


Anthroslug said...

Anthropologist Underground:

First off, I checked out your blog. Good job, I dig it.

Secondly: One of the things that concerns me is that it seems as if fantasy is rapdily becoming the modus operandi for many people. It used ot be that stuff about "Politician X is an anti-Christian socialist and part of a vast un-american conspiracy" was lunatic fringe stuff, but it seems increasingly to be becoming the norm amongst a large number of people. Consider that the John Birch Society was one of the co-sponsors of the recent CPAC meeting, or that the growing Tea Party movement had the editor of the World Net Daily as their Friday night speaker at their recent conventions, and well, there are times when the Handmaid's Tale seems like it's being used as an instruction manual and not a cautionary tale.

Anthropologist Underground said...

Thanks so much for checking out my humble blog!

So, what is it about the (d)evolving political culture that tolerates increasing divergence from reality, and how do we change that?

Anthroslug said...

I suspect that some of what we are seeing is simply built into the nature of our political system, as well as the nature of our current media. When you have a system where anyone has the same right to speak their mind, you get wonderful things happening...but you also get the batshit crazies coming out as well.

Our media at this point in time seems more concerned with getting ratings that telling the truth, and as such we see people increasingly moving away from reality as they continue to hear only opinions (with few facts) that back their pre-conceived notions.

I have been wracking my brains to figure out what could change this, but I honestly don't know. That doesn't stop me from looking for solutions, but I am not going to claim a fix when I don't know a feasible one.