Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things July 15, 2012

Andrew Brown: “What made the creationist footprints in the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre?

There is something uniquely dispiriting about young Earth creationism. It’s not just that it’s wrong — and wrong in ways that were entirely apparent to intelligent Christians in the 1860s, let alone the 1960s — but that it needs such a mountain of futile effort to maintain even the shadow of plausibility. It’s like pretending that George W. Bush wrote the works of Shakespeare.

If the YECs are right, almost every scientist in the world, since science became a profession, has been part of a deliberate conspiracy to distort and conceal the plain truth. It’s not just biology, but physics, geography, history, archaeology, chemistry and geology which are all arranged, deliberately to conceal and contradict the truth of the Bible. Oh, and biblical studies themselves, because these also suggest that the idea of “the truth of the Bible” is not as simple as it seems.

What would it be like to live in a world where all the authority figures were so determined to lie to you, solely in order to preserve their own authority? That sounds like a rhetorical question, until you realise that it has a horrible and disturbing true answer: it wouldn’t be too different from the world that many of us now live in. The paranoiac and mistrustful elements of creationism, and its stubborn rejection of the good faith of authority, are aspects of a much more general attitude towards society. Creationists look at scientists the way the world now looks at bankers.

Paul Campos: “The saint and the sociopath

One lesson to take from this disgusting and horrifying spectacle is a very old one, taught by among others the religion whose services Paterno is said to have attended regularly. It is that spiritual pride is a far more deadly and dangerous sin than the sort of ordinary greed and dishonesty that Paterno believed coaches such as Sherrill and Switzer exemplified.

A man who breaks some rules in order to win a few more football games is likely to understand himself to be nothing more exalted than a hustler on the make. By contrast, a man who talks himself into believing that he is running a uniquely virtuous Grand Experiment, rather than just another successful college football program that mostly avoids the most egregious forms of cheating, is far more likely to develop the delusion that he’s some sort of role model for his peers, or even a quasi-spiritual leader of our youth.

Paterno fell so completely into this frame of mind that it seems he found it impossible to face up to the consequences of revealing that the Grand Experiment had ended up shielding and indeed enabling a predatory pedophile. Unable to handle the truth, Paterno spent more than a decade engaging in behavior a hundred times worse than anything Sherrill or Switzer were ever accused of doing.

Tom Stafford: “Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless

When my wife can’t find her keys, I assume it is because she is careless. When I can’t find my keys I naturally put it down to bad luck. The curious thing is that she always assumes the opposite — that she’s the one with the bad luck, and I’m the careless one.

When we observe other people we attribute their behavior to their character rather than to their situation – my wife’s carelessness means she loses her keys, your clumsiness means you trip over, his political opinions mean that he got into an argument.

When we think about things that happen to us the opposite holds. We downplay our own dispositions and emphasize the role of the situation. Bad luck leads to lost keys, a hidden bump causes trips, or a late train results in an unsuccessful job interview — it’s never anything to do with us.


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  • Some attribute their own troubles to their character and others’ to the situation. What does that tell you about such people?

  • Lori

    There’s something Tom Stafford doesn’t seem to be aware of. Some people have what is called an internal locus of control and others have an external locus on control. Basically, do you think that what happens to you is in your control or the result of outside forces? Oddly, what you think about yourself and what you think about other people isn’t correlated.

    So, what it tells you is that some people are nicer to themselves than they are to other people and some are more generous to others than to themselves and yet others are equally kind or equally harsh or more less across the board.

  • The Tom Stafford article might apply to him, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. I am severely bugged when people generalize the way he does there.
    For instance, depressed people, who make up a large portion of the population, are likely to think they can’t find their keys because they are complete and utter failures as human beings in every way. I was once depressed. Not being able to find my keys could turn into hours of self-loathing. If someone else couldn’t find their keys, maybe it was bad luck, maybe it was because they were a little disorganized (depending on the person and how often it happened), but if I couldn’t, I was a failure.

    Now that I’m no longer clinically depressed, if I can’t find my keys, it’s because I haven’t used them in about a year. If my fiancé can’t find his keys, it’s usually because the cats were playing with them. That’s actually the truth, too. Unless I’m totally out of spoons, then it’s because the world is out to get me and — well, I’m a pretty terrible person when I’m out of spoons, so I end up thinking more like Tom Stafford claims everyone always thinks. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be to go through life like that.

    When something like that must be someone’s fault, and we’re not having an asshole moment, my fiancé and I usually blame it on the cats. The cats don’t care, and we don’t yell at them unless they have their claws or teeth in something they shouldn’t at that precise moment, so it works out.

  • I think you could probably expand the Stafford article to cover the way race relations sometimes shake out, at least in the US (and probably other places, too).

    When a black person can’t find a job, it’s either because they are personally lazy/incompetent or because they have a ‘culture of dependency’ or a ‘plantation mentality’ or something like that. When a white person can’t find a job, it’s probably because of NAFTA, or illegal immigration, or economic downturns, or even — and you’d be surprised how often you can get away with this one — because affirmative action has given all of the good jobs to undeserving minorities.

    It might be another expression of privilege; if something bad happens to a majority group, it’s probably because of generally bad conditions. If something bad happens to a minority group, it’s because they’re genetically inferior or culturally deficient.

  • If something good happens to me, it’s dumb luck.

    If something bad happens to me, it’s my fault and/or what I deserve.

  • If something good happens to me, it’s dumb luck.

    If something bad happens to me, it’s my fault and/or what I deserve.

  • Tricksterson

    I’m pretty sure it’s axiomatic that if you scratch a YEC you will find a conspiracy buff and that if you scratch just a little deeper you will find that the trail of the conspiracy invariably leads to Satan.

  • Lori

     

    If something good happens to me, it’s dumb luck.

    If something bad happens to me, it’s my fault and/or what I deserve.  

    Yeah, I know that self-defeating game too. Like Lliira says, that’s generally depression or a spoon shortage talking.

  • Lori

    Paterno fell so completely into this frame of mind that it seems he
    found it impossible to face up to the consequences of revealing that the
    Grand Experiment had ended up shielding and indeed enabling a predatory
    pedophile. Unable to handle the truth, Paterno spent more than a decade
    engaging in behavior a hundred times worse than anything Sherrill or
    Switzer were ever accused of doing. 

    I need to vent a little bit about this here in order to avoid setting off a family feud. Feel free to skip it.

    Back when the news about Sandusky and the Penn State cover-up first broke I said that the trail would lead back to Paterno, if for no other reason than that the power structure at the school didn’t allow for something like that to happen without him knowing about it. More than one person told me that I was being negative and mean and that it was terrible the way “some people” just wanted to tear down a great man. That was generally followed by a lot of hand-wringing about how horrible it was that Jo Pa’s legacy was being tarnished at the end of his career by gossip and innuendo.

    Now it’s clear that he not only knew about the cover-up, it was almost certainly his idea and he definitely perjured himself in front of the grand jury in an effort to avoid the consequences of it. The response to the cold slap of reality is basically crickets chirping. I guess that’s better than what a handful of Pareno apologists are doing, continuing to defend his innocence, but it’s not that much better.

    I don’t have the words to express how disgusted that I am by Jo Paterno. He apparently liked the view from the pedestal he had climbed up on so much that he considered sacrificing the lives of children to be a reasonable price to pay to stay up there. Oh and we can’t forget the money. Got to keep the gravy train rolling, even if it has to run over some kids in order to haul in those box cars full of cash. It’s not like Paterno’s program was committing recruiting violations or something.

    I’m just sorry that he didn’t live long enough to have to face up to people seeing him for what he was—-a man who may have started out well-intentioned, but who ended up so full of over-weening pride and selfishness that it made him a monster. I hope the boys Sandusky raped in the 13 years that good old Joe kept the serial rapist’s secrets are able to sue his estate for every dime of the blood money he kept wringing out of Penn State right up until the end.

    My Jewish friends have something that they say when a person dies, “May his/her memory be a blessing.” I think that’s lovely and I’ve sort of adopted it. In Paterno’s case though I think it needs to be modified. May Joe Paterno’s memory be a warning against hubris in oneself and unquestioning devotion toward others.

  • PJ Evans

     Or possibly recognizing when you’ve done it wrong.

  • Lori

    There’s a significant difference between an honest assessment of one’s mistakes and thinking that success is dumb luck and failure is deserved. When you’re engaged in the latter kind of thinking the voice that says, “I’m just being realistic. The facts are the facts.” is just another part of the lie.

  • Tonio

    I tend to do something similar, but involving my behavior rather than my character. If I hear someone honk in traffic, I immediately wonder if I did something wrong behind the wheel. Similarly, if someone is in a bad mood, I feel like I caused the person’s anger through my behavior and I’m tempted to walk on eggshells to not make the person angrier. Oddly, I don’t really think about whether others’ troubles are due to luck or character.

  • arcseconds

    “It’s another one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it?  I give confidential press briefings, you leak, he’s being prosecuted under section 7 of the Official Secrets Act” 

  • Graeme from BC

     Or to put it somewhat more elegantly:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjfx5QIJMMU
    (Scene from Season 1 of the Tudors, spoilers)

  • I can understand meglomania,.  Of course it would feel good to see myself as a creature above standard human limits and failings, just because I’m…. me.  What I find a good deal more mystifying and disturbing is the human desire for ‘Great Fathers’*.  What pleasure comes from believing that someone else is always unfailingly wise, moral, and strong in a way that no person can ever possibly be?**  Even to the point where one is willing to believe nonsense and abide evil to maintain this vision of a ‘Great Man’? 

    **Perhaps a claim to moral perfection by proxy?  “It is not I myself claiming to always know that Truth.  That would be arrogant.  I only know the truth because I humbly and loyally follow the leader who divines it.”  

    *  I do know that in Nebraska, we do flatter ourselves by seeing our pastime of college football as something far more heroic and grand than a mere pastime.  Rather we view our support of a traditional powerhouse as proof of our moral superiority to neighboring states.  I would guess a similar thing plays no small role in the clinging remnants of the Paterno cult in Pennsylvania. 

  •  It might have something to do with the kind of mindset of people who believe in conspiracy theories like the Illuminati theory. The notion that horrific things — earthquakes, hurricanes, monsoons — can just show up and kill hundreds of thousands of people more or less at random (at least from the perspective of ordinary people) is pretty terrifying. But if you can sell yourself the idea that it’s not random — that it’s all part of someone’s plan — then it might make you feel a little better. At least then it can be predicted, understood. There are patterns, and there might be even be something you can do about it, even if it’s something petty like complaining about bicycles or spreading lies about the UN.

    The planner behind all these things can be “good” or “evil”; the “good” ones might be the God of the Left Behind series, who commits havoc for allegedly moral purposes. The “evil” ones are the Illuminati, the Rockefellers, the International Bankers, etc. They seem different but they serve

  • Lori

     

    **Perhaps a claim to moral perfection by proxy?  “It is not I
    myself claiming to always know that Truth.  That would be arrogant.  I
    only know the truth because I humbly and loyally follow the leader who
    divines it.”   

    I suspect it’s less perfection by proxy than it is reassurance. I know myself well enough to know that I’m often confused and/or just plain wrong and I don’t always know the right thing to do. That can be scary and frustrating, but if there’s some Great Man who is wise and caring and never, ever wrong who I can turn to for guidance then I don’t have to worry or be afraid.

     

    Rather we view our support of a traditional powerhouse as proof of our
    moral superiority to neighboring states.  I would guess a similar thing
    plays no small role in the clinging remnants of the Paterno cult in
    Pennsylvania.  

    Definitely. The (clearly undeserved) reputation that Paterno had has  a molder of men of character*, keeping Penn State on the straight and narrow and above the ugliness that Those Other Programs engaged in allowed people to feel that they weren’t just rooting for a football team, they were rooting for The Good Guys. People like to see themselves on the side of Good.

    *Mike McQueary not only wasn’t molded into a Man of Character by Paterno and his Grand Experiment, he wasn’t even an adult. When faced with a situation where the question of what to do had an obvious right answer McQuery instead ran away, then called his father and then called Paterno, his daddy substitute. Those are the actions of someone who, regardless of age, is not an adult, let along a man of good character.  Paterno didn’t mold men, he molded followers.

  • Matri

    To paraphrase from an older Dilbert punchline:

    “So, Marketing says we made a loss due to a poor economy, and a profit due to excellent marketing?”