Wheaton College, C.S. Lewis & Bad Jackie: On preferring the nightmare to reality

One unappealing possibility is that Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, is making his clumsy debut as a culture-warrior because he is nothing more than a lying hack. I hope that isn’t the case. I hope he is not simply posturing about Satanic baby-killers to stroke his own pride or to feed his addiction to self-righteous indignation or in a grasping attempt for political influence.

That would explain why Ryken is publicly saying untrue things about emergency contraception, but it’s only one possible explanation, and I hope it’s not the correct one.

It’s also entirely possible that Ryken simply doesn’t know any better. He may be saying untrue things because he does not know the truth.

Granted, the latter possibility doesn’t quite mean that Ryken’s grandstanding is innocent. When a public figure speaking publicly makes such sweeping pronouncements without bothering to get his basic facts correct, the best we can say is that he’s recklessly and irresponsibly indifferent to the truth. He might be too lazy to have bothered checking his facts ahead of time. Or he may have an unappealing eagerness to believe the worst about other people.

But still, even though such ignorance can’t quite be excused as innocence, it would still be far less bad than if he said such untrue things simply because he’s a shameless liar.

But we needn’t speculate. This is something we can know.

Yes — we can know, one way or the other. This is knowable.

There’s a test for this. The test is as elegantly simple as it is conclusive.

It’s the simple test that Good Jackie passes and that Bad Jackie fails. It’s the same test that you apply each time you send a Snopes link to your Fox-addled Uncle Jim in response to his latest Facebook posting recoiling from yet another imaginary horror.

How does Uncle Jim respond to the evidence Snopes presents? That’s the test. Is he happy to learn that the horror is not real? Or is he angry that the horror is being taken away from him?

That tells you all you need to know. That lets you know all you need to know.

If your Uncle Jim is really upset at the possibility of whatever the horrible thing he’s denouncing is, then learning that such a horrible thing is nothing to worry about should make him happy and relieved. “Oh, thank goodness,” he’ll say. “I’m so glad to learn that this terrible thing isn’t actually happening.”

But if, instead, your uncle gets angry when faced with such evidence, if he defensively dismisses that evidence, or even the possibility of such evidence, then you can know that he was never really upset at the prospect of the horrible thing. He was excited by it and excitedly for it. He wanted the nightmare to be true — needed it to be true. He prefers a world in which such a thing were true.

When someone defensively prefers the nightmare to the evidence, then we know — we know — that he enjoys the nightmare. We know that it serves some emotional or political need for him — a need so great that reality itself cannot stop him from trying to meet it.

That’s a bad place to be. Bad Jackie is never a happy person. Or a good person.

The last time we discussed this simple test, Xeno reminded us that C.S. Lewis also wrote about this in Mere Christianity. Lewis urged all Christians to apply this test to ourselves as a prophylactic against the soul-destroying corrosion of Bad-Jackie-ism:

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

I write about this a lot because I believe that Lewis is describing precisely what has been happening in American evangelicalism over the past four decades. And I do not believe that he overstates the consequences of it.

American evangelicalism has fallen in love with its own nightmares of Satanic baby-killers, desperately wishing — and then pretending, and then almost believing our own pretense — that we are on the side of righteousness against superlative evil.

We need that nightmare to be true. We want it to be true. We’ve forgotten who we are or who we might be without it.

And we’ll fight to cling to this nightmare, reality be damned, even if clinging to the nightmare means we will never again be truly awake. Even if clinging to our imaginary horrors fixes us forever in a universe of pure hatred.

 

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  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    My first impulse would be to slap the person gibbering in the tight grip of haunting nightmares and say, “Get a hold of yourself, (wo)man!”  

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    The odds that that would work are so remote as to be negligible.

    You’d be inflicting pain, humiliation, and possibly injury on someone with basically no possibility of even the slightest upside.

    Even if one believes that ends justify means (I don’t) and even if one believes that includes violent means (see previous parenthetical) and even if one believes that the end of getting them to get a hold of themselves is sufficient justification for the proposed violent act (guess) that still wouldn’t justify it because the means in question has basically no chance of reaching the desired end.

    I really hope that your second impulse is something that causes you to completely discard your first.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    My second impulse is to ball my hands up into fists, then drive them into my cranium repeatedly in an autistic fit whilst yelling, “You pathetic, weak, wretch!  How dare you, how dare you scare other people like that!  You should have been executed as a failed product years ago!  Society has been criminally negligent in allowing you to live!”

    *Crack*, *Thud*, *Crack*, *Thud*, *Crack*, *Thud*…

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    You do know that Fearless was referencing a well-worn movie trope, right? 

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I have trouble being sure given Fearless’s tendency toward seeing violent solutions to problems.

    [Added]
    Which is not to say that I wasn’t reminded of a scene from one of the Airplane movies.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Perhaps.  Now that I have had a little time to calm down, I really should (and d0) apologize for making someone uncomfortable and making a subsequent irrational outburst.  

    Maybe it would have helped if I appended some kind of emoticon suggesting facetiousness?   

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    No….

  • Fireshark

    That Lewis quote is great. I’ll have to save it.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    The Lewis quote made me think of all the people who are incensed in opposite directions by the NCAA actions that penalize Penn State.  Some are appalled that they were so light. Others are equally appalled that they penalized the players who had no part in the coverup. 

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     The Lewis quote made me think of all the people who are incensed in
    opposite directions by the NCAA actions that penalize Penn State.  Some
    are appalled that they were so light. Others are equally appalled that
    they penalized the players who had no part in the coverup.

    Why?  This isn’t a zero-sum statement.  And the players in question haven’t been penalized, as they’re being allowed to transfer without having to wait the mandatory one year holdout that’s NCAA standard for transfer students.  If the players are good enough to make it onto the Penn State team, chances are very good that other schools will snap them up.

    As such, the students aren’t being punished.  And what’s the other option, saying, “Oh, no, we wouldn’t want to take any drastic steps because it might unnecessarily endanger the collegiate careers of the students?”  The penalty was harsh, but the penalty had to be harsh, since the school explicitly said that the most important thing wasn’t justice or transparency, but athletics.  Innocent people (and here I’m thinking more of people who work for the athletic department or play sports for teams that are directly or indirectly subsidized by the powerhouse football program) will get hurt.  There’s nothing that can be done about that unless you shrug and say, “We’re not here to talk about the past.”

    But I do believe that a wise man once said, “Where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also.”  And Penn State proved that their treasure was the football program and it mattered more than anything else.  Since the rot went to the heart of the football program, the football program had to be excised.

    Still, the argument for “too light” v. “those poor students” isn’t mutually exclusive.  And we know that the punishment was passed down for willful negligence on the part of the heads of the program.  In this case the Bad Jackies are the ones who are still saying, “There’s no way Joe Paterno actually knew anything!” or, “Joe Paterno did exactly what he was supposed to do!”  The other conversation is simply a question of degree, rather than right or wrong.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin


    And Penn State proved that their treasure was the football program and it mattered more than anything else.

    Not just Penn State, but any college with any big sports team ever.http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1086 

  • Tonio

    I had read a while back that most Division I football and basketball programs reply on subsidies to some degree, instead of these subsidizing the academic programs, but I couldn’t confirm this. Even if this is false, acting as farm teams for the NFL and NBA is a corrupting influence.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin


    acting as farm teams for the NFL and NBA is a corrupting influence.

    Exactly. And, even if that corruption is a minor thing, the fact that you’re taking a bunch of athletes at the peak of their ability and essentially forcing them to work for free for four years before they can go pro – with all of the attendant risk of bodily harm that comes with that work – is, well, it’s wrong.  If the NFL and NBA want farm leagues, let them make farm leagues, and let them pay the players a fair market rate. When a promising player breaks his collar bone, then give him a scholarship and send him off the college – that way, you haven’t done the whole potential bait and switch that college sports entails (ie, we’ll give you a full ride, and pro scouts will see you, and football will be your career – unless you tear something or break something or crush something or get hit in the head one too many times, then say good bye to the full ride AND the career.)

  • Lori

     

    In this case the Bad Jackies are the ones who are still saying, “There’s
    no way Joe Paterno actually knew anything!” or, “Joe Paterno did
    exactly what he was supposed to do!”  

    Sadly, I’m related to several Bad Jackies. It’s depressing. My favorite nephew has a huge blind spot about this and it’s ugly. I had to walk away from a conversation about it at Sunday dinner or I would have started the family equivalent of WW III.

    The degree to which people over-invest in college sports and the hero worship of Joe Pa are really rather disturbing. We’re way overdue for a serious reexamination of the whole issue, but I know there’s no way that’s actually going to happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    Tangentially related thing:  My father likes to call out all the Democrats he can for being gay (Barney Frank was a favorite target of his for a while, complete with references to him wanting to molest all the Congressional pages), but he stopped when I mentioned the Penn State atrocities and said “It looks like either the Catholic priesthood or college athletics are the best career paths for the child molester that’s really going places”.

    The talks broke down, but he never tried to start them up again. I honestly wouldn’t have taken a bet that there was ever going to be a way to stop him from going on about “the gays”, but I figured one out.

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

     (nods) Tangent-to-a-tangent… in a somewhat similar vein, I got into the habit once with a relative of replying to each such comment about an out queer celebrity by agreeing that child molestation was a real problem and rattling off a dozen straight celebrities who had recently been accused or convicted of it, and how problematic the culture that enabled that was.

    She couldn’t exactly say I was wrong, but of course her point had not been that child molestation was wrong but rather that queers were evil, which I’d completely “missed.” It frustrated her. More importantly, it refocused the conversation.

    Years later, when I came out to her, she was actually surprisingly accepting of me and my husband.

    Also, she recently broke her hip. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but then I’m not quite sure how the rest of the story hangs together either.

  • JonathanPelikan

    I just got an intrusion attempt from a pop-up thing on this blog. Norton notified me a moment ago, I’ve got it scrubbing now to make sure. Just a heads-up. It was a pretty obvious attack, too.

  • LL

    My mother loves to share bad news. I know that if I didn’t discourage it (by not enthusiastically discussing some imagined controversy or offense every time she brings one up), she’d fill every family holiday with yapping about every shocking thing she sees on Fox News and would forward every anti-Democrat/anti-Obama email she receives. The glass is always half empty to her. It’s a bummer. At least I’m not alone. My brother’s less-than-good-natured response to these things has made me feel like I have an ally of sorts. And he’s hardly an Obama-loving liberal. 

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    We used to use  :>?  for tongue-in-cheek on alt.sports.baseball.ny-mets

  • arcseconds

    While I appreciate Fred’s continual illustration of this phenomenon, which is certainly a problem, I still don’t agree with the moral characterisation here, so I’m going to repeat my usual line on it.

    I think the Good Jackie/Bad Jackie story is quite insightful into what psychologically is going on.   I just don’t like the terms ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ being used as though Good Jackie has a halo and Bad Jackie has little horns and a tail.

    I will add that Ryken (or at least many of the people who will believe him) already think that the world is the kind of place that would have Satanic baby killers in it: a world which is full of corrupt, malevolent people, possibly under the thrall of Satan, who like nothing better than destroying everything that’s good and pure in the world.  

    Apart from that, sure, they’re not very good at judging evidence, they’re too invested in what they believe (so that being wrong is taken as being a personal failing and losing face, rather than as an opportunity to learn, and being shown to be wrong means you’ve been beaten), they tend to accept accounts that fit with what they already believe without evidence and reject accounts that conflict with what they already believe despite evidence.

    In other words, they’re human beings. 

    It’s not ‘Morally Good Jackie’/’Morally Bad Jackie’, it’s ‘Good Epistemic Agent Jackie’/’Poor Epistemic Agent Jackie’.

    Actually, if I saw only what would be outwardly observable in the case of the two Jackies, I wouldn’t even be sure about Good Jackie being a better epistemic agent.  She may just be more emotively engaged with her friends and less with herself than Bad Jackie, which I suppose is preferable so we can call that ‘good’ if you like, but she’s no better at telling truths from falsehoods.

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

    The thing I find bizarre is that people are willing to labor under misapprehensions even when it would be easy to show that matters are different than what they think. I think part of it must surely come from the comfort of holding well-worn and comfortable viewpoints, rather than somewhat strange and unusual ones.

  • http://twitter.com/Omorka Jennifer Ramon

    My consistent response to the Good Jackie/Bad Jackie description is: if I were Jackie, my response would be somewhere in between.  I would be so incredibly deeply mortified by my ignorance being so publicly exposed that, while I certainly would never repeat the story again, I would very probably never say *anything* of any substance to that group of friends again, and might never say anything at all in front of Dan again.  I certainly wouldn’t ever have the confidence to try and lighten the mood afterwards.  It has nothing to do with wanting the story itself to be true; of course I’d be relieved that it wasn’t.  It has to do with being shamed in public.

    I rather suspect that Jackie is an extrovert.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I rather suspect that Jackie is an extrovert.

    My guess would be that the story told with a different Jackie would have the crossroads at a different place.  Something said between only two people afterward, or something sent via email.  We are assuming friends, and friends, actual friends, ought to have a good enough understanding of limits to know, it can wait if the person would experience it as public shaming.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    I rather suspect that Jackie is an extrovert.

    My guess would be that the story told with a different Jackie would have the crossroads at a different place.  Something said between only two people afterward, or something sent via email.  We are assuming friends, and friends, actual friends, ought to have a good enough understanding of limits to know, it can wait if the person would experience it as public shaming.

  • arcseconds

    That’s exactly the problem.  People feel mortified at having their ignorance exposed.  

    It’s actually a good thing, because having it exposed means you’re less  ignorant now than formerly!

    That should be a cause for celebration, not mortification!

     

  • guest

    That’s something I try to tell my geek friends–hopefully they’ll get it.  Absolutely–I appreciate being told I’m wrong about something; that’s one less thing I’m wrong about.

  • arcseconds

    Why is it something you need to tell your geek friends?

    (this may or may not be relevant, but almost by definition, geeks prize knowledge, which is fine, but this can turn into some kind of horrible dominance game, where yelling can substitute for truth and corrections get issued by prefacing them with ‘bzzzt! wrong!’ or something equally as grating, which is precisely the sort of condition which we’d want to avoid or at least mitigate: saying false things  (or at least claims those winning the dominance game don’t agree with) becomes a kind of social failure which is roundly punished)

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

    Wow. I was just discussing the geek-dominance theme on another thread before I saw your post, and then I came over here and saw this. Great minds, etc.

  • arcseconds

    … fools seldom differ…
     

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    saying false things  (or at least claims those winning the dominance game don’t agree with) becomes a kind of social failure which is roundly punished)

    I’m kind of fine with that. One of my geek friends sort of delights in correcting anything recently busted on Mythbusters or the like, and I did find it annoying at first, but then counter with crap everybody already knows is true (eg. ‘just like the moon landings and the holocaust, then?’) and everybody laughs. 

  • arcseconds

    You may be personally be fine with being punished for your ignorance, but  Jennifer  Ramon isn’t, and neither is Good Jackie/Bad Jackie.

    There may not be a problem if it’s you and your friends that do this amongst yourselves, it’s kind of a game, you know the rules and everyone’s fine with it.  Sort of like groups of friends who punch each other or trade insults. It’s quite possible that that is indeed the case for you, so I can’t really comment on your situation.

    Note though that you describe ‘countering’ the criticism.  A big display of pretending to be incompetent at a socially valued task to cover an instance of real incompetence is a way of saving face (you can see this in social sports, too), so it seems to me that there’s still something that suggests you’re not actually entirely indifferent or accepting of your social fate here.

    But I do know that in other situations where this sort of thing happens, there are often people around who are very uncomfortable with it, who end up just never saying anything because they’re afraid of being shot down, like what Jennifer describes.  For those that are fine with it, they may not even notice how some people are shut out.

    Saving people from immediate social embarrassment wasn’t really my point, though.  The fundamental problem is that human beings generally have way too much invested in feeling that we are right, and being seen to be right, and this has all sorts of bad effects.  This investiture in rectitude is one thing that contributes to people holding ridiculous and false beliefs, such as satanic conspiracies and Plan B being an abortifacient.  Knowledge dominance games are a part and parcel of this, which was why I said we’d want to avoid or mitigate this condition.  Maybe I wasn’t clear enough on that.

    Of course, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t correct one another (would I ever be a hypocrite if I were to suggest that!).  What should happen (at least in cases where there’s a clear, factual answer) is that I say something that’s wrong, you correct me,  I say “ah, that’s interesting, thanks!” and you say “no problem”, everybody nods sagaciously, and that’s that.  You don’t need to insult me, I don’t need to apologise, no harm, no foul,  I get knowledge in the place of ignorant opinion (yay!), you get to use your hard-won knowledge for the benefit of all (yay!) everyone is happy.

  • guest

    My geek friends are uncomfortable being wrong; they see it as a moral failing and are embarrassed to discover that there is something they don’t know.  I have said to them that that’s actually pretty silly; can they honestly believe they know every fact in the world, and that every single thing they know is correct?  I honestly don’t get the aversion to being wrong.  My typical reaction to someone saying ‘you’re wrong’ is gratitude; as I said, in my opinion finding out I’m mistaken about something is knowing there is now one less thing in the world I’m mistaken about.

  • Tonio

    Because of my social ineptitude, I understand the aversion to being mistaken. Lack of knowledge is a vulnerability, akin to being stranded in an unfamiliar city without a smartphone or even a paper map. In my case it’s a lack of understanding about people where it’s not knowledge that can be retrieved from Wikipedia.

  • Joseph

    In fairness to various Jackies, not every Dan is nice or straightforward. There are people around whom admitting to ignorance or false beliefs is the quickest route to being treated as a lower form of life, even when the ignorance in question is basically innocent. As someone who has been both a Jackie and a Dan, I think it’s important to tell people they’re wrong in a civil and nonjudgmental manner, and to make admitting errors as painless as reasonably possible.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    For me the thing that I always find to go back to in the Good Jackie/Bad Jackie post is this part:

    A choice must be made, but that choice will almost always by based on the kind of person making it — based on the character and habits and practice that have shaped that person up until this moment of choosing.

    It’s very useful for because I’ll say something like, “Mimiru can’t give up on someone in need,” and it sounds like choice has been removed from the equation when really the reason she can’t is because of her past choices, “the character and habits and practice that have shaped” her up to that moment.

    Of course about half the time the choice does take as long an episode to be finalized, so the parallel isn’t idea.

  • Azraelmacool

    Heh. Most of my friends know not to go repeating stories they aren’t sure are true, in real life or on Facebook, since I have a smartphone and I will fact check it. unless of course they jug wanted to see if it was for real or not. I also have a bad habit of, if said friend/acquaintance is proved wrong, or saying “Bam! You just got Snopes’d!” Mean I know, but I really want Snopes’d to become a verb.

  • Azraelmacool

    Heh. Most of my friends know not to go repeating stories they aren’t sure are true, in real life or on Facebook, since I have a smartphone and I will fact check it. unless of course they jug wanted to see if it was for real or not. I also have a bad habit of, if said friend/acquaintance is proved wrong, or saying “Bam! You just got Snopes’d!” Mean I know, but I really want Snopes’d to become a verb.

  • MaryKaye

    Vervet monkeys live in savannah, and the females live in fairly tight-knit social groups.  They have three alarm calls that mean “snake”, “eagle”, and “leopard.”  If the vervets hear one of these calls, they will take appropriate evasive actions, which depend on predator type–running up to the thinnest branches of the trees works great against leopards but is a terrible response to eagles.

    Vervets are smart enough to lie, and a female may discover that giving alarm calls when there is no predator can get her out of trouble or insure access to some nice food.  Vervets are also smart enough to figure out that someone is a liar and stop listening to them.  (This was shown by experimenters playing back vervet calls on a tape recorder, and ruining some innocent ververts’ reputations in the process.)  Interestingly, though, they do not generalize:  “Lisa lies about eagles” not “Lisa lies in general.”  I think that’s their biggest difference from humans, who do tend to regard someone unreliable about a single topic as potentially unreliable in general.

    This long-winded story is to say:  there are deep-seated reasons why social primates behave as they do, and being caught out in a falsehood costs you socially.  It’s no wonder people don’t like it.  The problem is, we end up like vervets who can falsify evidence of predators so that the others don’t stop believing…a whole lot of effort into something that is of very little benefit to anyone, and can hide the real predators.

    (The thing that fascinates me about vervets is, almost all their intelligence seems to be social.  They are apparently capable of “Don’t mess with my sister or I will beat up your sister.”  But they are not capable of “Those are python tracks so there is probably a python at the end of them.”  That surprises them every time.  Source:  Cheney and Seyfarth _How Monkeys See the World_ which is really interesting reading.)

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Did the study indicate if there was any redemption for liars who stopped lying, or the innocent monkeys made out to be liars in the course of the study?

    What I mean is, did, “Lisa hasn’t lied about eagles in a really long time,” translate to, “Maybe Lisa is telling the truth about the supposed eagle?” or was a monkey considered a liar for life?

  • Mary Kaye

     chris the cynic asks if vervets forgive.  I don’t recall if that was ever established.  I bet they do eventually just to save wear and tear on both their memories and their social structures.

    The other big surprise of that body of research was that, while female vervets seem obsessed with improving their status, they hardly ever succeed; you have to be born into a high-ranking matriline.  They only saw one change of relative matriline status in, I think, eight years of observation, and that was when the lower-ranked line had *way* more daughters and basically just outbred the upper-ranked line.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The other big surprise of that body of research was that, while female
    vervets seem obsessed with improving their status, they hardly ever
    succeed; you have to be born into a high-ranking matriline.  They only
    saw one change of relative matriline status in, I think, eight years of
    observation, and that was when the lower-ranked line had *way* more
    daughters and basically just outbred the upper-ranked line.

    I think the term for that is ‘classism’.

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

    I think Fred’s missing a central part of what’s going on. It’s misogyny. This person desperately wants women not to have control over our own bodies, and so he desperately wants there to be evidence that bad things happen when we have control over our own bodies. He’s latched onto this because he believes women should be punished for being women. It’s nothing to do with wanting the world to be a worse place for him — his self-concept and worldview are based on misogyny. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     That’s a very good point. There has been other examples though, where people desperately choose to believe things that — if true — would be very bad news for them personally. This guy is doing it out of misogyny, but some of the others are taking aim at themselves.

    The notion that several powerful influential corporations are run essentially by Satan, for example, should be unnerving to Christians, but this rumor is believed pretty much exclusively by Christians. In that case, you have people choosing to believe that there are powerful forces out there who want to kill them and have the resources to do so.

  • Matri

    You forgot to add that these people, counting themselves as the single largest religious group on the planet while enjoying unprecedented priviledge and exercising unrivalled powers of oppression, honestly genuinely wholeheartedly believe themselves to be the most oppressed minorty group in the universe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Oh, yeah, that’s another good one. Basically, they switch back and forth depending on what argument they need. If they want to argue that they’re being persecuted, then Christians are all of a sudden a tormented minority beset by secular hordes. If they want to argue that their norms should dominate the country, they play up the notion that the U.S. or even all countries in the Western hemisphere essentially belong to Christianity.

  • Xeno

    First, hooray for me being quoted. :)

    Sadly I know that quote so well because I need it. My knee-jerk reaction is to always cast things as a good vs. evil struggle where my opponents are Bond villains. I’m working on it.

    The reason Christians try to be persecuted is that the Bible is clear that followers of Christ are persecuted. If there are no arenas, kangaroo courts, and exiles to deal with then “hurtful speech” will have to do.

    Part of me is a little concerned that God may take us at our word for what we want and give us persecution even if we aren’t earning it by following Jesus. I expect over half of Christians will fold under into apostasy within a week. I cannot even say I think it would be a bad thing for them or for Christianity.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The reason Christians try to be persecuted is that the Bible is clear that followers of Christ are persecuted.

    What does the Bible say about when Christians are the people in charge, rather than (as was the case when the New Testament was being written) an endangered minority?

  • Mary Kaye

    I used to be on my university’s Faculty Senate.  One of the unpleasant things I learned there was that student-athletes in all but two of our forty-odd sports generally do well.  But those two (men’s basketball and football) generate far more revenue than the other forty-odd put together, so year after year we struggle with students who are too overloaded to function in class, play too many games away, and may not have been academically prepared in the first place.

    I’m told that athletics can be a ticket to a better life for poor students.  But there are a lot of poor non-athletic students–I don’t think handing out tickets to college essentially at random is the right response to the problem.  To some extent I blame alumni who are more willing to support athletics than to support academics.  But there are significant problems for the university with *any* subdivision that makes a profit–the university is broke, so it daren’t exert any control over its profit centers.  The medical school in particular abuses the university in a lot of ways and is not brought in line, because we can’t afford to.   (I speak here as a medical school employee.  I am paid much more than I was when I held an identical position in Arts and Sciences, and this is blatantly unfair.  But I bring in the almighty NIH grants, so it’s worth the university’s while to pay me more than my colleagues in Biology who can only get NSF grants, not to mention my colleagues in English and Math who can only teach.)

  • http://nobleexperiments.blogspot.com/ NobleExperiments

    This reminds me of what people called Bush Derangement Syndrome (and now call Obama Derangement Syndrome).  I despised the Bush administration so much that every time I had a knee-jerk reaction to some new policy/statement/whatever, I forced myself to think, “If this was a policy/statement/whatever by a president I supported, would I feel this way about it?”  It helped me separate out what I felt was good policy vs. my automatic opposition.

    We’re not seeing that level of self-scrutiny these days, especially on the right.  Even Mitch McConnell came right out and said it – “We’re going to oppose everything this president does,” and we’ve seen that with policies that the GOP supported previous to this administration.  The fact that these people keep getting elected shows me that their constituents aren’t very self-reflective, either, and these are the ones who pass on the Obama Internet “jokes”, scares, and rumors. 

  • Ursula L

    The thing with Snopes is that it is only a persuasive argument if the person you’re sending the link to already accepts Snopes as a reliable authority.

    If you send a Snopes link to someone who has never heard of Snopes before, then their initial reaction is going to be to treat it with the authority of any other random link they may be sent.  Yes, they could do research and find out that Snopes ins reliable.  But it’s not their job to do the work of vetting the website you choose to claim as an authority.  

    And if the only time they deal with Snopes is when that one odd nebling sends them links saying that what they hear on the news isn’t true, it isn’t really going to be convincing.  Because they only get Snopes links telling them they’re wrong.  They never have the experience of hearing something that seems unbelievable and then checking and Snopes and finding it is true.  

    And it is seeing that Snopes puts in extensive work to check all sorts of stories, and finds some true, some false, and some unverifiable, and the way they’re careful about that distinction, is a big part of why people who know Snopes trust it.  

    And, not knowing the  website in advance, would any of us lean towards favoring “information found on a website I’ve not seen before” over “information from a major national news network”?  

  • Lori

    This is true, but not really the issue with the people know who I most often want to Snopes slap. The people I know don’t trust Snopes because there has been a concerted effort on the Right to discredit the site. The careful fact-checking and evaluation that make Snopes useful to people who are interested in knowing the facts are the very thing that make it anathema to the people who generate those Right wing chain emails. I know several people who now reflexively disbelieve anything that comes from Snopes because they’ve been trained to class it as part of the lie-beral media.

  • Caravelle

     That does make sense, because Snopes to me is one of those sources that are self-confirming. As in, they explain in detail what the myth is, what the truth is, how they figured both out, and show their sources. If you don’t believe a Snopes article the article itself gives you all the information you need to check it for yourself.

    So I can understand doubting an individual Snopes article but I don’t understand considering Snopes an intrinsically untrustworthy source, if one actually thinks of the truth as something that can be found out and not just accepted.

  • Tricksterson

    Because it’s not telling them what they want to here so it’s automatically suspect.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    If people do not ascertain the probable truth of a particular assertion via means of fact-checking and evaluation, then by what method do they make such determinations?  

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

    If people do not ascertain the probable truth of a particular assertion via means of fact-checking and evaluation, then by what method do they make such determinations?

    Well, I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s not so much that I ascertain the probable truth of a particular
    assertion via some means other than fact-checking and evaluation, as
    that I end up treating certain assertions as true without explicitly ascertaining
    their probable truth at all.

    As for what means result in my treating the assertion as true, if not evaluation of probabilities based on observed fact… well, there are loads of assertions that I decide to treat as true because I trust the source, and still more assertions I treat as true because I always have and I’m not really sure anymore why (or even whether) I made the decision to in the first place, and still others that I treat as true because they seem plausible and it doesn’t occur to me that there are other possibilities worth evaluating.

    Those things vary enormously in terms of how much reliable evidence they provide, but my confidence in the assertions they support doesn’t seem especially well correlated with their reliability as evidence.

    I suspect it’s like that for a lot of people.

  • swbarnes2

     but for me it’s not so much that I ascertain the probable truth of a particular assertion via some means other than fact-checking and evaluation, as that I end up treating certain assertions as true without explicitly ascertaining their probable truth at all.

    Sure.  That’s why we have centuries of people thinking that blacks were natural slaves, and women were barely human.

    If you never question your assumptions, how do you determine which ones are not true?

    well, there are loads of assertions that I decide to treat as true because I trust the source,

    Right!  That’s just what those people who justify hating gay people say…they trust their sources, the Bible and their church.

    If they don’t stop to reality check those claims against the facts, how will they ever discover they are wrong?

    and still more assertions I treat as true because I always have and I’m not really sure anymore why (or even whether) I made the decision to in the first place,

    Again…you are not an infallible person, right?  Therefore, at least  one of the assumptions you hold this way is false.  How will you figure this out, if you never exaimine it?  If you never reality-test it, in such a way that its falseness could be detected?

    and still others that I treat as true because they seem plausible and it doesn’t occur to me that there are other possibilities worth evaluating.

    And if a few hundred years ago, it was plausible to blame an old widow for a crop failure, and burn her as a witch, well, it just didn’t occur to anyone that there were other possiblities worth investigating.

    Those things vary enormously in terms of how much reliable evidence they provide, but my confidence in the assertions they support doesn’t seem especially well correlated with their reliability as evidence.

    If your doctor told you that he was utterly confident in the grueling medical treatment he was going to put you through, but that that didn’t correlate particularly well with the evidence supporting its efficacy, would you really say “Sure, whatever?”

    You don’t see that as a problematic stance?

    Pretend that you are a woman programmer.  Would you rather be judged based on the facts of the quality of what you produce, or judged by a bunch of assumptions  about how terrible women programmers are, assumptions that your boss is highly confident in because they seem so plausible?

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

    You don’t see that as a problematic stance?

    Of course I see that as problematic.
    Incredibly so.
    But it doesn’t go away just because I’m aware of it as problematic.
    Nor will it go away if I pretend I don’t do it.

    If you don’t do any of that stuff, I’m vastly impressed by your epistemic superiority.

  • Ursula L

    This is true, but not really the issue with the people know who I most often want to Snopes slap. The people I know don’t trust Snopes because there has been a concerted effort on the Right to discredit the site. The careful fact-checking and evaluation that make Snopes useful to people who are interested in knowing the facts are the very thing that make it anathema to the people who generate those Right wing chain emails. I know several people who now reflexively disbelieve anything that comes from Snopes because they’ve been trained to class it as part of the lie-beral media. 

    True enough.

    But Faux News also can look as if it has a basis in truth, because they make the effort to look that way.  Interviewing people they introduce as experts, citing sources while using the quotes out of context, etc.

    The problem is, you’re trying to prove that someone can present information in a way that looks reasonable and supported by facts and experts on the topic at hand, but which actually is untrue.  

    And if you accept the idea that information can be presented in a way that looks true and well documented, but isn’t, then any source you have becomes suspect of the same problem.  Are they telling the truth in a well documented way?  Or are they telling a lie in a way that makes the lie look like a well-documented truth?  

    Fox News is a huge organization, with countless people working together to spread lies.  Very literally, a conspiracy.

    One of the best arguments against huge conspiracies (e.g., UFOs covered up by the government, secret prisons where innocent people are murdered en-mass) is the idea that you can’t keep such a thing secret, because with that many people involved, someone will talk.

    But then you find those cases of large groups of people working towards a dishonest or evil end.  And someone talks. But it sounds massively implausible, because for everyone who talks, there are still so, so, so very many who are going along with the Evil Plan.

    There really were secret prisons where innocent people were murdered en-mass.  We call them things like :Soviet Re-Education Camps” or “Nazi Concentration Camps” or “The Site of this-or-that Massacre.”  

    So then, who do you believe.  

    If Fox News can be a massive national news network dedicated to spreading lies in a way that looks like well-documented truth, couldn’t Snopes be that as well?  

    ***

    On an emotional level, many people who trust Snopes do so because they first encountered in in a casual, or even funny, context.  There are all sorts of strange urban legends, and reading Snopes is a fun way to find out the truth about things that are amusing, but not particularly significant in the larger scheme of things.  

    But if the first time you encounter Snopes is in the context of something you consider an issue vital to the the well-being of the world, or even merely your nation, then you look at it with a far more critical eye than you would if you were just looking at a silly story about a soft drink.  

    And when Snopes debunks a massive national news network as a bunch of liars, then you’re left wondering if anyone can be trusted.  

    ***

    Fred likes to give people the benefit of the doubt.  They’re misled, not deliberately lying and emotionally invested in promoting the lie.

    If you’ve been misled by one source, and you find, or are pointed to, a second source that corrects the mistake, then you wind up, not knowing the truth, but in the ambiguous position of having two conflicting sources.

    And while it would be nice if you could rely on the less-awful source being more likely to be true, that isn’t actually a good way to determine the truth.  

    ***

    People, like my grandfather, actually did build massive prisons to murder innocent people.  And too many people believe that that isn’t true.  Sometimes because they’re the sort of people who don’t think that this behavior was bad, but sometimes because they don’t want to believe that people could be that bad.  

    And if you can accept as true “Opa, whom I remember as a person who, while visiting for a month when I was four, would sit with me and help with the record player so I could listen to my Sesame Street record, was also someone who worked at a concentration camp where innocent people were imprisoned, died from the hardship of the conditions, and were murdered” then you absolutely can’t count on information that the situation may be less awful being more likely to be true.

    The memory of my grandfather being a kind person, who loved me, and indulged me by helping me play children’s records in a language he struggled to understand, and which he certainly would not have cared for on his own, is a very real memory.  The sort of memory that anyone would cherish, a single remembered moment with a grandparent who died when they were very young. 

    And yet, when older, I learned he was in the SS, and worked at Dachau.  That my father was born there, in the hospital that was built to care for the guards and their families.  That my grandparents met at a Nurmburg rally, and would never have met in ordinary circumstances.  That, without the massive evil of Nazism, I would not exist. 

    If you accept as true “Ursula’s grandfather, who was sweet and kind and helped her play records on the record-player when she was small, was also an active participant in some of the worst atrocities in human history” then any information about whether the truth is more or less awful needs to be viewed through the lens of that massive ambiguity in the way human nature can work.

    If you think “Ursula seems an interesting person, and I’m glad she exists because I can read what she writes” then you also think “I’m glad that Nazism exited, so that Ursula exists, so that I can enjoy reading what she writes.”  

    And you cannot, therefore, use less-awful as a measure of likelihood of truth.

    ***

    And I wish, I wish, I wish I was an awful spammer and troll who was writing a lie and all of the above was untrue.  

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

     

    And I wish, I wish, I wish I was an awful spammer and troll who was writing a lie and all of the above was untrue.

    Yeah.
    Me too.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, but it’s a valuable perspective and an easy one to lose sight of.

    The world seems a lot simpler if I can segregate it into the good people who have no evil, and the evil people who have no good. It’s only when I have to add all the filters that keep me from noticing the contradictory reality that the complexity starts creeping back in.

    ” Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil
    passes […] through every human heart, and
    through all human hearts.”

  • Ursula L

    The world seems a lot simpler if I can segregate it into the good people who have no evil, and the evil people who have no good. It’s only when I have to add all the filters that keep me from noticing the contradictory reality that the complexity starts creeping back in. 

    The thing is, it really isn’t contradictory or ambiguous or complex.  

    Nazism was absolutely evil.

    And it isn’t merely the Holocaust.

    It’s WWII.  And civilians killed and injured and psychologically damaged in air raids and battles to capture the place they lived. (My step-mother still has PTSD symptoms from the bombing of Dresden.  When she was a small child, and utterly innocent by any standard.  And she and my father both suffer physical problems from the shortages and malnutrition they suffered through, as innocent small children, towards the end of and after the war.) And the hardship and horror of living under an occupying army, on both sides.   

    And soldiers, many drafted and not their voluntarily, being killed and injured and suffering the psychological trauma of knowing they have killed and injured other human beings, who were also not their voluntarily, but were drafted and were also, exactly like themselves, killing and injuring and inflicting stress and psychological damage on other human beings who were not there voluntarily but were drafted, and were killing, and injuring and …. ad infinitum and ad nausum.

    There were very, very good reasons why “waging a war of aggression” and “conspiracy to wage a war of aggression” were right next to “genocide” at the Nuremberg trials.

    ***

    The truth is not always complicated.

    Sometimes, it is merely utterly awful.

    And sometimes the truth is utterly awful in a way that everyone wishes it was complicated, because any imaginable complication would lessen the awfulness.  

    There is absolutely nothing ambiguous or conflicting or complicated in wishing that Nazism, in the form in which it did exist, never existed. 

    Even when that wish (of everyone here) necessarily involves (everyone here) wishing that Ursula never existed.  

    I can’t wish away what my grandfather did.  I can, and do, insist that no one consider anything about, or related to, or touching, me, as excusing, or mitigating, or justifying, or making morally ambiguous, what my grandfather did, and what his fellow Nazis did.

  • Tonio

    With respect for your excellent point, I read Dave as saying that life would be easier if people were either all good or all bad, like a Michael Bay movie. People may be more likely to commit monstrous evil if they’re convinced they’re totally on the side of good. 

  • Matri

    Fox News is a huge organization, with countless people working together to spread lies.  Very literally, a conspiracy.

    On related news, have you heard that the Vatican hired someone from Fox News to be their PR person?

  • guest

    I agree with this concept in principle, and I find Good Jackie/Bad Jackie a very helpful formulation.  But I’m thinking about my own nightmares.  What if, for example, I’m now told that a study shows that the Gulf oil spill really wasn’t that bad after all?…OK, yeah, I’d be relieved and happy.  If I believed it–but I can’t see how I would, given the substantial vested interests (ever since I first heard that expression as a kid, I’ve imagined ‘vested interests’ as the little Monopoly man in his vest) wanting me to ignore these kinds of things.

  • Caravelle

     That’s a real issue; if you don’t trust the sources of information that dispel a threat, or if you have several reasons not to like something (for example, if you’re relieved to find out GMOs aren’t deadly poison but you’re still worried about the issues they raise on intellectual property, or if you feel the existing research into their health/environmental safety isn’t sufficient given their fast spread, etc)… then you might act like Bad Jackie when you actually feel you’re being rational.

    I think Leah Libresco has a good post of that (that she gets from LessWrong.org) :
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/07/conceding-a-point-is-not-a-slippery-slope.html
    The point being : if the other side has a valid argument, you don’t need to completely change your mind on everything to acknowledge that. So you can say, “Yes, this information of the Gulf oil spill does make it seem less bad than it was, and that’s good – but I don’t trust this report given the vested interests at play, so I’ll stick to my general opinion on the spill until I find out more”. Or, “okay, this reason for opposing something is wrong, but I have enough other reasons to oppose it to stick to my general position on this”.

    And the reason it’s very important to do that explicitly (if only in your own mind) is another point made on LessWrong, which I can’t remember the post of. Anyone remember the one involving the guy who responds to every argument for a position with the same counter-argument, so that each time they look totally reasonable (one bit of evidence vs one bit of evidence !) but overall they don’t realize that by the end of it the other side has ten pieces of evidence and they still have only one ?
    Basically, don’t be that person. Even if the other side’s valid argument isn’t enough to make you change your mind you should still account for it in some way. It’s the only way of keeping track of the whole picture.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You and I, Caravelle, are clearly on the same blog read-and-post cycle.

    When I was 17 there was a guy whose path I crossed every morning for months on my way to the station. He was coming home from night shift as a security guard somewhere. He was easily three times my age. We became friendly-nod-how-are-you-going friends. 16 years later I still think about that guy from time to time and hope he’s doing well.

  • Caravelle

    Oh hey guise ! This is probably too late for anyone but lurkers from the far future, but while trawling Less Wrong looking for an unrelated article I found the one I was  thinking of here ! It’s One Argument Against An Army :
    http://lesswrong.com/lw/ik/one_argument_against_an_army/
    And yeah, it basically says what I was saying in that comment but longer and Bayesianer. (the previous article in that sequence, “Update Yourself Incrementally”, is also relevant)

  • Lori

     

    If I believed it–but I can’t see how I would, given the substantial
    vested interests (ever since I first heard that expression as a kid,
    I’ve imagined ‘vested interests’ as the little Monopoly man in his vest)
    wanting me to ignore these kinds of things. 

    Evaluating the source of a story is obviously important and it would be perfectly reasonable for you to distrust a single study or small group of studies, that claim the Gulf oil spill wasn’t so bad. That goes double if those studies were sponsored by the oil industry.

    If multiple studies conducted by scientists with no ties to or funding from the oil industry concluded that the spill wasn’t so bad would you still assume they were wrong/lying?

  • Haven

    Can’t shake the feeling that showing this post to the people who need to read it most would just result in “So do you really prefer the nightmare of this ‘global warming’ scenario to the reality that it’s just a bunch of scientists making stuff up?”

  • guest

    :) yeah.

  • Lori

     

    Can’t shake the feeling that showing this post to the people who need to
    read it most would just result in “So do you really prefer the
    nightmare of this ‘global warming’ scenario to the reality that it’s
    just a bunch of scientists making stuff up?”  

    Yes, I’ve no doubt that the people who most need to think about these issues would spectacularly miss the point in exactly this way.

  • flat

    Never forget that a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  • Jim Roberts

    flat, are you trying to say that bad actors aren’t always bad actors? That’s fundamentally true, but I don’t understand the point as it applies here. The problem isn’t one of being right or wrong here, but rather how one reacts to the news that one is wrong.

    Plan B does not cause abortion, as that term is defined. This is a fact on par with, “My name is Jim Roberts.” If I say, “My name is Nicolae Carpathia,” then my reaction to the truth says a great deal about my character.

    Clocks don’t really enter into it.

  • Tricksterson

    Not if it’s digital.

  • Matri

    But it’s still wrong 718 times the rest of the day.

  • Matri

     Gah, math fail.

    That should have been 1438 times of the day.

  • Robyrt

    That whole “universe of pure hatred” bit makes me think of Frank Miller.

  • Tonio

    I can identify in the metaphorical sense with the mindset that Fred describes, even while being repulsed by it. It’s been suggested that some of the treatment I endured in school and in college wasn’t motivated by malice, but by a simple desire to get a reaction from me. And in the few times I lashed out at someone calling me names or playing a prank on me, allegedly I was giving the person exactly what they wanted. My goal at the time was simply to scare the person into leaving me alone, or scare others who might think of hurting me the same way. 

    That theory behind their motivation makes no sense to me on any level. It seems far more logical that either this was simple malice, or that I was provoking the mistreatment, either something about me or something about my behavior. If I could have articulated it at the time, I suppose I would have said that their intentions didn’t matter. What did matter is that I perceived their behavior to be hostile and threatening, like it was a prelude to an assault, even though that outcome almost never happened. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Could something similar be going on with folks like Ryken? They’re invested in having US culture treat their religion as the norm or default, and this privilege is eroding. Are they conditioned to automatically fear the worst from this, like the next step will be feeding to lions?

  • Benjamin Thomas

    This applies very well to the current Zimmerman/Taylor race-baiting hysteria