Smart people saying smart things

Jo Hilder: “The dangers of group-think, and why we must never forget Azaria Chamberlain

It wasn’t until the nineties, long after Lindy Chamberlain had been convicted of her baby’s murder and spent time in prison for it then exonerated, and after she and her husband Michael had divorced, that some of us actually started to say out loud “Er..I don’t think she did it.” Before that time, nobody would have dared say that in public. You’d have been shouted down. You’d have been uninvited to coffee mornings and barbeques and footy games. You’d have had people you considered to be intelligent, reasonable adults roll their eyes at you and spit “Of course she bloody did it!” And to this day, many vehemently defend this view. After all, the horse has pretty much bolted. Tasteless jokes have been told, and tasteless t-shirts worn. …

How is it easier to believe a human mother could behave like a wild dog towards her own child than it is to believe a wild dog could behave that way?

Tony Jones: “Bonhoeffer Bends a Lot of Ways

[Eric] Metaxas’s account of Bonhoeffer’s life has been almost universally derided by Bonhoeffer scholars. They say that he simply took bits and pieces of Bonhoeffer’s biography — all cribbed from earlier books — and pasted them together to make his point that Bonhoeffer was actually a conservative cultural warrior who repudiated liberal Christianity and considered fundamentalists in America to be in the same plight as German Jews.

In the Association of Contemporary Church Historians Quarterly, for instance, Victoria J. Barnett of the US Holocaust Museum writes:

There are two central problems here. The first is that he has a very shaky grasp of the political, theological, and ecumenical history of the period. Hence he has pieced together the historical and theological backdrop for the Bonhoeffer story using examples from various works, sometimes completely out of context and often without understanding their meaning. He focuses too much on minor details and overlooks some of the major ones (such as the role of the Lutheran bishops and the “intact” churches). The second is that theologically, the book is a polemic, written to make the case that Bonhoeffer was in reality an evangelical Christian whose battle was not just against the Nazis but all the liberal Christians who enabled them.

And that’s the nice part of the review.

Richard Rohr: “Fortnight for Freedom

The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America. It is called a “Fortnight for Freedom.”

It strikes a large part of the population as crying wolf when there is no wolf. Probably no population in human history has had more religious freedom and more religious support than the present population of the USA. (I myself, as a Franciscan vowed to common purse, pay no taxes. Nor do our local parishes or institutions.) It feels like entitled people wanting more entitlement.

How different from the early Christian martyrs, whom we piously venerate, who became holy and courageous through the limitations imposed on them by empires and emperors. Too bad Sts. Perpetua and Felicity could not sponsor a fortnight for freedom from their prison cells. Now we suffer no limitations or constraints, refuse to dialogue fairly or up front, and just complain that “our freedoms are being taken away.”

  • Matri

    The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America.

    Awfully nice of them to campaign for equal rights for their fellow Muslims, Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, etc etc…

    Oh wait.

  • http://twitter.com/anatman jerry anning

    as to the richard rohr quote, the ‘freedom’ those hypocrites are crying for is the freedom to persecute others

  • Lori

    How is it easier to believe a human mother could behave like a wild dog
    towards her own child than it is to believe a wild dog could behave that
    way? 

    Because sadly human mothers abuse and kill their own children fairly regularly, but there had never been a confirmed case of a dingo killing one before the Chamberlain case.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Still, it’s a rather illuminating example of how for all that we claim to be rational creatures, we can be drawn by group-social behaviors into certain beliefs or thoughts that can go unquestioned for years at a time.

    Example: being told that the deficit means ‘painful cuts’ to the welfare state, and believing it when tax rates are below 1960s and 1970s levels when the welfare state was quite affordable.

  • Lori

    There’s definitely a lot about the response to the Chamberlain case that’s worth revisiting. The way media coverage drove a narrative instead of reporting the facts of the case. The way the Chamberlain’s status as Other influenced public perception. The way people felt totally free to judge guilt or innocence based on whether the accused was grieving correctly.

    I just don’t think it’s a particularly good example of group think in the technical sense. The death of Azaria Chamberlain was a “black swan” and those kinds of events are hard for people to recognize. I suspect that even the people who were right about the case at the time were right for the wrong reason and were being more sentimental about motherhood than realistic about dingos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

    While I have always been a fan and supporter of Joss Whedon, I was always uncomfortable with his willingness to repeatedly use “Dingos Ate My Baby” as a punchline on BtVS. For those who don’t recall, it was the name of Oz’s band, and I always thought it said something about Oz that I don’t think Whedon intended at all.

    Of course, that throwaway joke wasn’t nearly as disturbing as his naked contempt for Wicca as a religious movement. Apparently, he thought that the only rational reason to follow Wicca was to learn to cast functional magic, with those who practice it as an actual religion derided as “blessed wannabes.”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    Apparently, he thought that the only rational reason to follow Wicca was
    to learn to cast functional magic, with those who practice it as an
    actual religion derided as “blessed wannabes.”

    My recollection of the brief appearance of the pagan students group in BtVS (who primarily served as an excuse to introduce Willow to Tara) was that they didn’t practice Wicca as an actual religion, either, and that they were being derided for treating Wicca primarily as an opportunity for fundraisers, bake sales, and establishing their personal status.

    That is, they were portrayed like pretty much all the other popular students on that show: vapid and irrelevant. Cordelia would have fit right in.

    Of course, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that my interpretation of a few episodes of a decades-old fantasy television series is definitive about the author’s feelings about a similarly named religion in the real world; that would be utterly unjustified. So you might be right about what Whedon thinks about Wicca.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    The death of Azaria Chamberlain was a “black swan”

    Unless we’d listened to the Aborigines and found out that, actually, it wasn’t.

  • Ursula L

    How is it easier to believe a human mother could behave like a wild dog towards her own child than it is to believe a wild dog could behave that way?  

    The vast majority of children have no contact with wild dogs.  So children being injured, disabled or killed by wild dogs is quite  rare, not because of the peaceful nature of wild dogs but because wild dogs and human children have relatively little contact with each other.

    But children are very frequently in contact with adult humans, and in particular they are frequently in contact with the adult humans who are their parents.  And children are injured, disabled or killed by the actions of abusive or neglectful human adults, and in particular the actions of their parents, with depressing frequency.  

    It’s the same thing with domestic violence and intimate partner violence.  If a woman is found injured or killed in her own home, the first suspect is her partner, because that sort of violence is depressingly common.  

    If the police had accepted the story without question, from the parents of a dead child, that the child had been killed by wild dogs, then the police would have been neglecting their duty to investigate the death.  

    Similarly, anyone in the general public who just accepted the claim that a child was killed by wild dogs without any skepticism would be ignoring the sad fact that the people who are closest to us are also those who are the most likely to harm us.  

    ***

    But their is, of course, a difference between reasonable suspicion by investigators when the parents of a dead child say that the killing happened in the statistically unlikely way of being attacked by wild dogs rather than the statistically common way of being attacked by a close family member, versus the unthinking assumption that the parents must be the killers.  

    The fact that the death actually occurred in a place where their are wild dogs lends at least a little credibility to the parents’ claim that the death was caused by wild dogs.  

    I don’t know if the location of the death, alone, is enough to create reasonable doubt in the defense of the parents.  

    ***

    There is also the fact that someone responsible for the care and safety of a small child has the particular responsibility, if they either live in a place or bring the child to a place where their is a high probability of attack by wild animals, to act to protect the child from those wild animals.  

    The parents being not guilty of deliberate murder doesn’t mean that they aren’t guilty of neglecting to protect their child from a foreseeable danger.  

    And there is a significant difference between “we live in a place where their are wild dogs, and we took reasonable precautions to protect our small child from attack by wild dogs, but the child was attacked by wild dogs anyway” and “we live in a place where their aren’t wild dogs, but we thought it was a good idea to choose a vacation destination where there are wild dogs and bring our small child along, and our child was attacked by wild dogs.”   

    People have little choice about the background level of danger to their children in the place where they live.  We necessarily  live in close proximity to the place where we work. Relocating is expensive.  When unemployed, we apply for work in close proximity to the place where we live.  When you are unemployed, moving away from the support of your extended family, friends and neighbors is both an avoidable expense and a reckless risk, separating you from your social support system.   .  

    There is more opportunity to consider the background level of danger when choosing destinations for a vacation.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    “we live in a place where their aren’t wild dogs, but we thought it was a good idea to choose a vacation destination where there are wild dogs and bring our small child along, and our child was attacked by wild dogs.”

    1) This is Australia. You pretty much have the choice of vacation spots with sharks, vacation spots with snakes, or vacation spots with dingoes.

    2) The vacation destination in question was the Red Centre. One of the most talked-up holiday spots in Australian tourism. It is not at all strange or unusual for Aussies to vacation there.

  • Joshua

    Let’s not forget spiders and jellyfish.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    True – but I was being careful to talk as realistically as possible. A simple fact of Australia is that everywhere that is not a city is either
    a) bush – with lots of snakes
    b) beach – with lots of sharks
    c) outback – with lots of dingoes
    d) the snow
    Unless you want to spend every holiday skiing, going “on vacation” basically means dealing with dangerous wildlife. Which is why “but she took her child somewhere with dangerous wildlife!” totally pisses me off.

  • Joshua

    I always took precautions for spiders, and certainly encountered jellyfish I believed to be poisonous, when I lived in Australia. I wouldn’t have called them unrealistic dangers.

    Australia does often require you to deal with dangerous wildlife.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Sorry – I should have been clearer.

    Many Australians – including me – have a tendency to “talk up” the spiders, snakes, and jellyfish, in an attempt to freak out foreigners. Then, once they’re suitably scared, we’ll start in with the drop bears.

    I was wanting to make it clear that I was being realistic, and not responding with an over-the-top “but everything in Australia is out to get you!” scarefest.

    Agreed that spiders and jellyfish are certainly real and present dangers over here.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Which is why “but she took her child somewhere with dangerous wildlife!” totally pisses me off.

    For good reason. What about if the child had been taken somewhere there were lots of cars that drove fast? What about taking a child to Disney World? An incredibly large number of people in the Orlando-Tampa-St. Pete area do not know how to drive, yet do so anyway. The number of car accidents here is astronomical. But I can’t remember anyone ever criticizing parents for taking their kids to Disney World because of the danger of car accidents, which is surely greater than the danger of being attacked by wild dogs anywhere in Australia.

  • MadGastronomer

     Not to mention the gators. Pretty sure that statistically, more people have been attacked by gators in central Florida than by dingos in a comparably-populated chunk of Australia that has them.

  • The_L1985

    To be fair, most people don’t know jack squat about Wicca, and there was TONS of misinformation out there at the time.

  • The_L1985

     Rippy the gator went chomp, chomp, chomp…

  • Tonio

    I know very little about the Chamberlain case. Before I read anything about it, I’ll make a bet that there was something about her that many prejudiced people found unlikable. Either she belonged to a disfavored ethnic or religious minority, she was a lesbian, or she had been unfaithful to her husband. 

  • christopher_young

     Religious minority. (Adventist, IIRC). Good spot.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It’s interesting how a lot of hidden moralizing often goes on behind apparently ‘innocent’ statements regarding parents of children. There was an article someone linked to a while back which pointed out that for whatever reason, humans just sometimes plain freakin’ forget shit.

    And most of the time, such forgetting not fatal to anyone and can be rectified easily (i.e. leaving a laptop at home when you need it somewhere else – while it is a major inconvenience it can be possible to borrow another, etc).

    But the soul-crushing guilt and the inconsistent law enforcement response to parents who accidentally leave their children somewhere (unintentionally exposing them to the risk of abuction), or who accidentally leave their children in their vehicle on a hot day (unintentionally exposing them to heat stroke, etc) is not helped by media exposure and everybody and their pet amoebae tongue-wagging about how “Oh, I’d never do that!”

    Bullshit.

    Nobody is 100% perfect. The above example is just one extreme of people who feel themselves perfectly justified in standing as arbiter over another person’s mistake. Let’s not forget all the people who feel justified in finger-wagging over a woman on welfare trying to feed her children.

    Regardless of the authenticity of the Bible, the statement, “Let one who is without sin cast the first stone” has a great deal of truth to it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    But the soul-crushing guilt and the inconsistent law enforcement response to parents who accidentally leave their children somewhere (unintentionally exposing them to the risk of abuction), or who accidentally leave their children in their vehicle on a hot day (unintentionally exposing them to heat stroke, etc) is not helped by media exposure and everybody and their pet amoebae tongue-wagging about how “Oh, I’d never do that!”

    Oh sweet merciful whoever, this

    About six months before my son was born, I became a little obsessed with fear about the possibility of one of us forgetting him in the car. I know that there’s been days, lots of them, where I find myself at work and realize that I have no specific recollection of how I got there — I’d made the entire trip on “auto-pilot”, and that very old lizardy part of my brain did the thing that it was good at and optimized out any memory of having done it, leaving only a pointer saying “See Also: The hundreds of other uneventful drives to work you’ve done”

    I went looking to see if there was some product I could buy that would help prevent this kind of tragic outcome. There are a few things which purport to do this, but none of them really address the problem. They’re all “sound an alarm if the fob on your keychain gets too far from the fob on your car seat before you turn it off,” which does approximately balls to prevent the scenario where you slip into autopilot and neglect to turn it in, turn it off early, or unclip it and toss it on the passenger seat because you don’t want to be carrying around this bulky key fob all day (or because you can’t carry transmitters into the office).

    Now, I did find out about a product that had been developed.  A few months later, I went to the Kennedy Space Center on vacation. During one of the bus rides (If you’ve never been there, KSC is awesome, but it’s really spread out, so when you go on a tour, you lose a lot of time taking a bus out to the various Neat Things. Also, the tour video still talks about the last few shuttle missions and developing the next generation of manned NASA vehicles, which is sad), the tour video mentioned that scientists at the Kennedy Space Center had developed a device that uses sensor technology developed for satellites to keep people from forgetting their small children in the car seat. The device is wired into the car (so you don’t forget to turn it on or off) and senses not a token that you could remove or lose, but the actual physical presence of a child.

    What the video did not mention, but which I knew because I’d done research on this very subject, were some other things: that the device had been developed by a KSC researcher and his associates after he himself had, one morning, slipped out of gear and forgotten to drop his child off at day care on the way to work, with tragic results (So yes. It happens. To literal rocket scientists), and that the device they had invented was never going to come to market because they couldn’t find a single company interested in producing and selling it. No one thought it would sell. And the reason why can be summed up by the response I got when I mentioned to my own colleagues that I’d like to get a device like that: “Why? Do you plan on forgetting your child in the car?” 

    No one would buy it because no one wants to believe they need it. Because that sort of thing only happens to Bad Neglectful Parents, right?

  • Tricksterson

    So, is “Australia! Where Everything Is Trying To Kill You!” your national motto?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You’d think given the hyperparanoia in some parenting circles over the omgpedos around every corner that those things would sell like hotcakes. The advertising jingle could cynically play on those fears by being all like “know where your child is every moment of the day!” or some Orwellian bumpf like that.

  • Tonio

     Excellent point. Reminds me of the phenomenon where women on juries are more, not less, likely to believe that rape victims did something to provoke the attack. In both types of situations, flinging guilt is a form of denial. The outsiders are terrified of the thought that they are vulnerable to rape, or that they’re just as capable of making mistakes fatal to children.

    This transference is all the easier when the accused is either a member of a minority or is simply unlikable for some reason. Or both. Rushdie’s Satanic Verses had a great fictional example of such situations. A religious leader from an ethnic minority is suspected of murder, and some of the people who know him acknowledge that in his private life he’s a piece of shit. They add, however, that in a prejudicial society the combination means he’s far more likely to take the fall for the crime.

    Plus, there’s the way that mothers are viewed in numerous cultures. It’s apparently more repulsive for mothers to harm their children that way than for fathers to do so, and this may be related to the common belief that motherhood is the only normal or natural destiny for a woman. Like how advocates of mandatory ultrasounds seem to believe that women who seek abortions are in denial, and that seeing the image would cause mommy magic to kick in.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

     It’s apparently more repulsive for mothers to harm their children 

    This. Another blog I read is rerunning articles from last year, so recently we got a reminder of the case in Florida last year – notable, of course, because this particular dead toddler was blonde. Even here on the opposite side of the country total strangers expected me to have an opinion on the case. 

    I don’t. I can’t even remember the names involved and can’t be bothered to Google it, but I’m sure there are people out there who still have the whole thing – or rather everything that was in the press – memorized. And one big reason why I don’t have an opinion is that I’m aware mine would only be based on what was in the press.

  • Matri

    Regardless of the authenticity of the Bible, the statement, “Let one who
    is without sin cast the first stone” has a great deal of truth to it.

    It is also very telling that not a single stone was thrown at her.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    She was a member of a religious minority that very few people know much about, and to top it off her reactions were judged as being not appropriately feminine (i.e. she didn’t cry at the right times and in the right way, according to the bullshit opinions of idiots). So religious bigotry was combined with sexism for an awful, awful double punch.

    I can’t remember my family specifically talking about Lindy Chamberlain when I was growing up in the 80s, but I was always aware that they thought the way she was hounded, and the bigotry thrown at her in unbelievably tragic circumstances, shamed our nation.


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