Pseudoknowledge

Years ago, when Clinton picked Gore as his running mate, I was at work in downtown Seattle. In the morning, after the pick was announced, people in my office were all scratching their heads and asking “Who’s Al Gore?” Lunch came, and people grabbed a Seattle Times (the internet barely existed) and read the editorial, instructing them what to think about Al Gore. By that afternoon, people were discoursing as though they were experts, “Al Gore looks like a pretty good guy!” What did they actually know about Gore? Jack. But they had all read the same editorial and had acquired by pseudoknowledge a *feeling* that knew something about Gore.

Yesterday, the election of Francis completely blindsided the world, especially the English-speaking world of Americans, who don’t in for all the polylingual stuff and who largely don’t pay attention to things in Spanish-speaking media. Most people in the US went, “Wait. What? Who?” after the announcement and then scrambled to find out who the heck he was.

Yet, within an *hour* I was receiving combox message from people who, on the basis of a Wikipedia article, were speaking with absolute assurance that they knew everything there is to know about Argentinian history, Francis, his role in the Dirty War, and the complexities of his relationship with Church and State there. Above all, they knew with adamantine certainty that he was overwhelmingly guilty of “support” for torture and murder. And they knew that I knew all about this and was covering it all up.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know very much about Argentina. I also don’t know very much about Bergoglio. Indeed, everything I know about him is information I have acquired in the past day. I don’t know much about the Dirty War. I don’t know the complexities of how Catholics engaged the junta. I don’t know the complexities of how Bergoglio engaged the junta or a Church heirarchy compromised by the junta. I don’t anything about the people accusing him.

And I am morally certain that the people who showed up in my comboxes to denounce him don’t know jack about this either.

All they did was go to their approved tribal affirmation site, download talking points scraped together in haste via Google a couple of minutes after the announcement and then spit them out in a tone of lofty superiority described by Dave Barry in his immortal essay “How to Win an Argument“:

* Make things up.

Suppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you’re damned if you’re going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON’T say: “I think Peruvians are underpaid.” Say: “The average Peruvian’s salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level.”

NOTE: Always make up exact figures.

If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up, too. Say: “This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon’s study for the Buford Commission published May 9, 1982. Didn’t you read it?” Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say “You left your soiled underwear in my bath house.

It’s the “you left your soiled underwear in my bath house” tone that’s the giveaway. “It’s all there on Wikipedia. Haven’t you *read* it?” say my Star Chamber comboxers. As though their accusations are the fruit of years of careful scholarship and not Barryesque BS of the first water. Dude: I’m just learning to pronounce the guy’s name. Only here’s the difference: so are you, but you lie and pretend you are an expert with damning knowledge, when the reality is you have no knowledge, just pseudoknowledge. I’ll wait until I have actual knowledge and not pseudoknowledge, thanks.

  • Will

    87.6% of all statistics are made up on the spur of the moment. Everyone knows that.

    • http://lolbamas.com/ DRH

      Nope. Only 89.3% of “everyone” knows that. READ A BOOK!

      • Maiki

        That statistic is outdated — the book was published ages ago. It is that 75% of statistics that are made up. I polled 4 of my friends, 3 said they made up statistics.

  • Will

    The Barry link leads to… well, I am not sure what it leads to.

  • Alex

    “You can’t trust most of what you find on the internet, anyway” -Abraham Lincoln.

    • http://www.bondwine.com/ Tom Simon

      Bravo! Very well played.

  • http://www.bondwine.com/ Tom Simon

    Ah, but where would we be without pseudoknowledge, my dear Wormwood? The truth will never win the humans to Our Father Below. Light and truth (hateful things!) are, as such, on the Enemy’s side; we have to twist and pervert them before they can be of any use to us. Better not to soil our hands with them at all. Let your patient think that the rubbish he gleans from newspaper editorials and partisan websites makes him competent to criticize and gainsay genuine experts in the field he is bloviating about.

    ‘Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’ — and truth and falsehood: that’s our selling point. Encourage your patient to ignore every source of information that disagrees with his prejudices. Then it is only a single step to making him ignore everything but the noise in his own mind, which you have placed there with such care — and the game is ours!

    Your affectionate uncle,
    Screwtape

  • http://suchaprettybubble.blogspot.com Charlotte Dey

    Amen. Mark. Thanks for always speaking truth.

  • John H.

    BTW Mark, those rabid Traditionalists who immediately began condemning him on Rorate Caeli and WDTPRS and other sites can now shut up. Then Card. Bergoglio certainly did allow for the TLM in his Archdiocese: http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/2013/03/old-rite-mass-in-argentina.html

  • http://www.mypuzzlefix.com Robyn Broyles

    I was on the Wikipedia article within moments of the announcement, and there was very little there about these accusations. Which means anything that’s there now has been added within the last 20 hours or so. Which means it hasn’t been vetted yet. Really Wikipedia is not going to be a good source on this for a while because of the nature of how it works: the community vets what’s written in an article, but it takes time.

    • Mark Shea

      Heh! That’s pretty funny!

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      On the Wikipedia vetting process, and the way that journalists and comboxers who cite to it will end up with the results of a GIGO algorithm if they don’t wait until the initial edit war for a newly prominent page dies down, I found this instructive exchange on the talk page for the Pope Francis article this morning:

      involvement with argentinian dictatorship

      The following sentence “Verbitsky also writes that the Argentine Navy with the help of Cardinal Bergoglio hid the dictatorship’s political prisoners in Bergoglio’s holiday home from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission” should be removed as it is not true. The note links to the source which is an article on “The Guardian”, but the article itself has been amended on this regard with an apologising note stating this is not actually true — Preceding unsigned comment added by 83.244.243.165 (talk) 13:39, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

      Yes Done. Good catch, I verified the change to the cited source and removed the incorrect content. Andrew327 14:13, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

      (my italics). N.B. that the Guardian, one of the Anglosphere’s more prominent mainstream papers (although of a left-liberal bent that is openly admitted in the European fashion, rather than hypocritically denied, in the fashion of the Acela Corridor), was propagating this psuedoknowledge, too. Here’s the article in question, to which, among other prominent American news sites, Andrew Sullivan was pointing people yesterday in that knee-jerk way of his that has led him into believing all sorts of nonsense (uranium in Iraq, e.g.) without properly vetting things: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/04/argenitina-videla-bergoglio-repentance?rss=1

      For a vitally important take on the far graver psuedoknowledge problem that happens when journalists cite made-up nonsense in Wikipedia as fact without acknowledging that they got it from Wikipedia, leading to the journalist’s own article becoming the cited source for the now dangerously credible psuedo-fact when another Wikipedian subsequently edits the article, it’s worth checking out the xkcd cartoon on “Citogenesis,” which is one of the most incisive commentaries on the perils of Internet rumor ecology I’ve ever seen:
      http://xkcd.com/978/

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        “pseudo-” in all cases above, not “psuedo.” Sheesh.

      • Dante Aligheri

        Although very sad, I loved the cartoon link. Thank you.

  • Bill H

    His name is pretty straightforward to pronounce — it’s FRAN-SIS, with a soft ‘C’.

    • Chris M

      Here I was thinking it would be the Fran Chess Co.

      • Roberto

        That is more accurate, given that he is the Bishop of Roma.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com Thomas L. McDonald

    But beyond the pseudoknowedge, we have real knowledge, gleaned from the last 24 hours: a conclave of his peers elected him rapidly; in choosing his name he conveys a wealth of information deeply embedded in the life of Church and its reverence for Francis; he cut a humble and gracious figure in his first few moments on the world stage, with the striking dual gestures of asking the crowd to bless him and pray for Benedict; and … oh, yeah … HE’S THE POPE!

    See, actual knowledge, gathered more or less first hand!

    • Mark Shea

      Indeed. Everything I *actually know* about him indicates he’s very good. I suspect that’s *why* these guys are in such a huge hurry to smear him as hard and fast as they can.

  • http://paxchristi.timothyputnam.com Timothy Putnam

    Don’t you KNOW that Benedict XVI covered up abuse? He was forced out by a cabal of high-ranking homosexuals? Don’t you know the Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope? Right there in his pocket! Don’t you know that Francis will kill the liturgy and oppress the gays? EVERYBODY knows that! Under that pseudo-humility is a conniving, power-hungry man.

    This is how it always goes. I am greatly encouraged from reading his older statements and listening to his first homily as pope. He is not Benedict XVI or even XVII. He is Francis. He will have different priorities, but will maintain the Faith. Thanks be to God, Viva Il Papa!

  • Beccolina

    I do know that he is a man who has lived his faith in vastly more difficult, dangerous circumstances than I, or other US Catholics, are likely to see, that he was not only a Catholic in those times, but a leader of them, a prominent figure. He dealt with issues that were life-and-death and much more immediate than things like, “What homeschool curriculum should I choose?”, “How do I explain the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to my teen whose best friend just came out of the closet?” or “Pelosi and Biden said WHAT about Catholic teaching? Again?”

  • midwestlady

    The choice is clear.
    A. Since all the cardinal electors were either chosen by PJPII or PBXVI, and they elected this man with a 2/3 majority from their midst, either everything you know is wrong, or
    B. You were only wrong about one thing. You either belong to the SSPX or to We Are Church and you didn’t even know it.
    But hang around, it’s a global Church and you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    I for one am saddened by this choice. What does this mean for the new season of Arrested Development?

    http://imgur.com/gallery/4rhg7GY

  • Nobody

    “approved tribal affirmation site”

    Ah ha ha ha ha …. love this … will be using it myself … thank you !

  • http://losthunderlads.com acilius

    Well, he was mentioned prominently in 2005, so I’m surprised there wasn’t more about him on Wikipedia before his elevation.

    Anyway, I do have a bit of actual knowledge about him and an urgent request I would make of him. As Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis spoke out unequivocally in favor of Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/ Falklands. The day before his elevation to the papacy, the people of those islands voted almost unanimously to remain under UK jurisdiction. A renewed war between Argentina and the UK over the islands is quite unlikely at the moment, but if the Vatican is seen as something other than a neutral observer to the dispute the moment will change. In view of the state of Argentine public opinion, and the unrelenting vagueness of UK policy, any significant change in the international climate may lead to an abrupt rise in the likelihood of war. So I would hope that the Pope will publicly use the expression “Malvinas/ Falklands” or “Falklands/ Malvinas” as soon as possible.

  • Ry

    Assuming that everything the combox warriors say is true–that then-Cardinal Bergoglio was up to his elbows in junta and torture and political murder–wouldn’t it be odd that all of his peers in the College of Cardinals somehow missed this when they voted for him? I mean, to believe it would mean you have to believe:

    1) The College was unable to uncover facts on their prominent colleague’s career so well-known that a cursory review of his Wikipedia page was sufficient to uncover them… OR,

    2) The College knew, and they deliberately chose such a scoundrel to be the leader of the Church they have dedicated their lives to.

    It would have to be one or the other, and neither makes any sense.

    • midwestlady

      Oh, come on. We all know they are incapable of doing a security check. Fact. That’s how Boston happened. Little old ladies could tell them what was happening, if they’d had the humility to ask.

      • midwestlady

        Not saying Pope Francis was involved in anything. On the contrary. Just remarking that the Cardinals aren’t exactly a great source of information when it comes to security checks. The bishops are even worse.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Word to the wise: If you’re reduced to quoting Wikipedia, you’ve already lost the argument.

    • midwestlady

      Yup. You can get a password, toss up any kind of letter-salad you like, copy and paste and be on your way. Get real. Quote a book. In print.

  • http://irishpapist.blogspot.ie Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    The Church thinks in centuries, its critics usually think in spasms. And in circles.
    Funny how the supposed backbiting, intrigues, horse-trading and faction-fighting of the Conclave has led to– a humble, radically traditional figure who is probably going to put all the cardinals through their paces and take us all out of our comfort zone. Funny that.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    This doesn’t seem to be what I thought was meant by ‘pseudoknowledge.’ I thought that meant things like ‘play it again Sam.’ Things that have been around, and have been quoted and said for so long, everyone just assumes it’s true – even if it isn’t. This seems to be something else.


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