The film Denial is about Historian and now Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt’s legal fight to prove malicious intent on the part of a professional Holocaust denier. The film is about her desire to demonstrate the truth of the Holocaust. She consistently runs up against legal definitions of truth. These “standards” are foreign to her experience as a scholar. I am impressed by the story telling in this film. An obvious truth can be denied by construing the information in such a way as to create doubt. Like Jeremiah’s marred pot, it is impossible to confront the point of doubt and end the denial. Jeremiah’s potter breaks the pot and starts over. Lipstadt’s lawyers throw out her obvious truth and prove the lie (not the Holocaust) happened.
Denial and Reason
Progressives say climate skeptics, anti-vaxxers, and their fellow travelers “deny science.” The claim can mean one of two different ideas. Do they deny the body of information? Or do they deny the process by how the information is interpreted? Science is a process of reasoning. Is the average temperature of the atmosphere rising? Yes. Is there more carbon in the atmosphere? Yes. Is the amount of carbon in the atmosphere causing the rising temperatures? This question is where doubt can be developed. Michael Crichton authored science-fiction novels and used bad science in all of them. But one novel, State of Fear, is a “fictitious science” novel. He concluded that “all we know” is there is more carbon in the atmosphere.
Doubt and Rhetoric
Crichton used an interesting approach to appeal to the liberal mindset. We were given a state of fear in which to live during the Cold War, he argues. It was false. We are being given a new one. Shouldn’t we be skeptical of it?
The first point of his argument was not logic. It was rhetoric. From there he begins to question the data. But rhetorically concedes one point of fact. The increase of carbon in the atmosphere. “The serpent was the most cunning of all the animals in the garden.” Eve was tricked into doubt and then drew conclusions about a desire for wisdom. If we are not careful with our reasoning, we mistake rhetoric for fact.
Denial is about an author who creates doubt with the absence of something that is unnecessary. No document was ever found showing Hitler ordered the slaughter of the Jews of Europe. The leap of irrationality is to claim, “no order was, obviously, ever given.” Arguing from silence is another way of proving nothing comes from nothing.
Can people be “honestly mistaken?” Of course, they can. But they cannot be said to be honest if incontrovertible proof is given to them. What if they cannot understand the evidence? Then they make assertions about things they do not understand dishonestly.
There is an old story about a student in a Bible study who claims, “What you just said is not in the Bible.” The teacher reads the text again. Other students nod indicating they are reading the same words. The student changes the claim. “What you said is not in my Bible?” The teacher asks to see the students Bible. The teacher finds the place where the text should be but sees the text has been cut out of the page. What should the teacher assume about the student? Either the student cut the text out or he refuses to acknowledge it was cut out. Either way the student is being dishonest even if he thinks there is a “fact” on his side.
Denial And Prejudice
“You can listen to what is being said all you want. But I will never accept it.” These are the words of a person who will destroy rather than accept the truth. It is not a huge leap from burning books to burning people. Eventually, avoiding what is said will become the desire to stop someone from saying it.
Denial of reality becomes a yearning for an authoritarianism to preserve the prejudice. The serpents’ rhetorical device is to claim not eating the fruit is blind obedience to totalitarianism. Interesting that it is the same claim today. Do not listen to those who know what they are talking about. You won’t die from the virus. You won’t suffer ever increasing severe weather and rising oceans. If you are a true patriot, you will not give in to fear. It is like the student. The text is not actually in his Bible. It does not change the lie.
The next step is frightening. But must be met. It is imperative we deny the lies and the liars.