An invitation to participate in a community of deception

An invitation to participate in a community of deception August 14, 2012

Recently in comments, we were invited to participate in a community of deception. The entry-point was a false statement:

The healthcare mandate that passed and went into effect on August 1st does in fact compel abortion funding.

This is not true.

This is not arguably true. It is not ambiguous. It’s simply a false statement and a false statement that it is easy to confirm as false.

The insurance mandate that went into effect on Aug. 1 covers preventive-care provisions and only preventive-care provisions. Here, yet again, is what it requires insurers to provide:

  • Well-woman visits.
  • Gestational diabetes screening that helps protect pregnant women from one of the most serious pregnancy-related diseases.
  • Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling.
  • FDA-approved contraceptive methods, and contraceptive education and counseling.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.
  • HPV DNA testing, for women 30 or older.
  • Sexually transmitted infections counseling for sexually-active women.
  • HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.

That is from the actual language of the actual mandate. It does not mention compelling abortion funding because it does not compel abortion funding. It does not come anywhere close to doing so. And it cannot in good faith be squinted at in such a way that even someone desperately wishing to interpret it that way could pretend that it “compels abortion funding.”

So why would anyone say such a thing?

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” So perhaps such a thing is being said from a kind of innocent ignorance?

That’s theoretically possible, but highly implausible. The false statement, after all, is not being offered in response to a trivia quiz or to some other unexpected direct question. It was volunteered. And it is not a disinterested statement, but rather the assertion of an activist who insists that both abortion and universal health care are evils that must be opposed by the righteous.

So if we were to accept that this statement reflects simple ignorance — an innocent mistake by someone uninformed — then we would have to accept that the speaker is simultaneously bothered and unbothered. We would have to believe that the speaker is deeply troubled by this alleged compulsory abortion funding, while at the same time she cannot be troubled to do even the cursory research it would take to assuage such alleged fears.

If we accept the claim that this is a matter of grave and serious concern, then how can we account for the lack of any corresponding gravity or seriousness when it comes to learning the facts of the matter?

I don’t think it’s possible to account for that.

If this speaker were arguing in good faith, she would be compelled to investigate the facts of the matter. She would want to do so, because a genuine deep concern entails a desire to learn more about the source of that concern. That this speaker could not be bothered to do any such investigation suggests that her claim of grievous moral outrage is not genuine. It strongly suggests that she is arguing in bad faith.

It strongly suggests that the speaker hasn’t simply neglected such investigation, but resists and rejects it.

But I do not think we can conclude that this speaker is simply “lying,” either, at least not in the usual sense.

Usually when we speak of someone “lying” we mean that they are making a false statement with the intent to deceive.

But deception requires plausibility. The implausible, and easily refuted, claim being made here is not the basis for any potentially successful attempt at deception. It’s not simply a false statement, but an obviously false statement. It is not merely a statement that can be disproved, but one that is easily disproved. It’s too over-the-top, too patently untrue, to be taken seriously as an attempt at deception.

It is an extreme claim — and is thus similar to every other iteration of the Satanic baby-killer myth. Such claims — from the original blood libel to the more recent anti-abortion movement and its close cousins and offshoots such as the Satanic panic or the Procter & Gamble legend — are always too extreme to be plausible.

That is why they are not presented as attempts to deceive, but rather as invitations to participate in deception. Or, more specifically, they are invitations to participate in a mutually reinforcing community of deception.

The statement we’re considering here is just such an invitation. It is an untrue statement, but it has not been stated in an effort to deceive — to convince others that it is true. It has been offered, rather, to invite others to join with the speaker in pretending that it is true.

Such pretense can be emotionally rewarding.

That seems strange, at first glance, when one considers the horrific implications of that pretense. After all, it involves pretending that one lives in a world besieged by superlative evil — by the constant, deliberate, gleeful and wanton slaughter of innocents. It is a world of monsters.

Why would anyone prefer such a world? Isn’t truth always preferable to fantasy? And shouldn’t that be doubly so if the fantasy involves such menacing monsters?

But if we all agree to pretend that Dracula is real, then we can all have a turn at pretending to be Van Helsing. If we join together to pretend we’re fighting Hitler, then we can all get to be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If we all pretend to be fighting some grand Satanic conspiracy, then we all get to be Jesus — or, at least, Carman.

The reward for joining the community of deception is the reward of playing the hero. Or, rather, of experiencing the closest approximation of the emotional rewards of heroism that one can have without having to encounter the actual dangers and hardships of actual heroism. (The real Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed — all you’re being asked to do is vote reflexively, look down on other people, and maybe slap on a bumper sticker or purchase the occasional chicken sandwich.)

In return for being hailed as a hero, you will of course be expected to praise the heroism of the other participants in the deception — commending them for their courageous stand against the Satanic baby-killers as well. But the real cost of such pretense comes from the measures you will have to take to sustain it. That may mean cutting yourself off from everyone and everything that threatens to expose the deception. With a bit of practice, though, and with a solid grounding in the positive emotional feedback from other participants in the community, you can eventually learn to make your way in the real world — carrying your epistemic closure with you everywhere you go.

Some aspects of my description of this community of deception may strike you as familiar. It is a community grounded in an alternate reality, and one that enables its members to be in the world without being of the world.

It sounds, in other words, a lot like the church. That should not be surprising because it’s a counterfeit of the church. It’s such a convincing counterfeit, in fact, that in much of America today it has successfully supplanted the church.

“The truth will set you free,” Jesus told his followers. But in the counterfeit community, the truth isn’t good enough. The truth isn’t exciting enough. It’s disappointing, and thus it needs to be embellished, enhanced, and ultimately replaced with the thrilling prospect of a heroic battle against the superlative evil of the Satanic baby-killers.

The insurance mandate that went into effect on Aug. 1 does not “compel abortion funding.”

That may disappoint you, but your disappointment does not change the fact that it is true.

Your disappointment, however, will change you. That disappointment is the first step in a process that, as C.S. Lewis said, “will make us into devils,” until, “Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it.”

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  • Tonio

     I’ve said many times that good intentions don’t matter for the harm that’s caused. They only matter in terms of learning that one shouldn’t be blinded by one’s own good intentions. My perception of human nature is that people harm others because they believe they have something to gain from it, whether it’s money or power or privilege or security or simply the rush they get from self-righteousness. Even the ones who believe that they’re doing the right thing get a rush from seeing themselves as do-gooders. And even the ones who like to to harm others receive an emotional reward or at least want one. Misogynists and racists aren’t Terminator automatons whose only thought is to hurt women or hurt ethnic minorities. All of us have feelings of vulnerability and selfishness that can be easily twisted further by the prejudices that we absorb from the culture while growing up. I’m no different – occasionally I discover elements of latent sexism and racism in my own unconscious, and I try to use these as learning experiences for myself. When we combat bigotry and strive to halt the cruelty being dome to women and to people who are different, we should not assume that it’s only other people who are bigoted, but instead remember that the true enemy always lies within ourselves.

  • TheFaithfulStone

    I’m going to reform Slacktivist.   We’re going to get rid of Fred, and we’re going to have aunsura write all of the posts.   We’re going to do moderated, threaded comments, and there’s gonna be BALANCE between the bigoted trolls and your current crop of super-liberals.

    We’re still gonna call it Slacktivist though.

    A rose by any other name might swell as sweet, but calling a bag full of dog shit a rose doesn’t make it smell any better.

  • 1 Timothy 2:15

  • wendy


    Warren Buffett.

  • friendly reader

     Um, okay, I guess you didn’t read all my comments? Because yes, they are getting rid of Medicare in all but name for anyone under 55. I said that in, like, my first post. I don’t buy the “it’ll still be Medicare because we call it Medicare” argument either. I am not a pro-Ryan defender, I hate his budget, and my overall point wasn’t even the budget itself.

    Oh, and most people here aren’t super liberals, we’re center-left at best. In fact, maybe “left” isn’t the right term. We don’t have much of a left in this country anymore, and the right is shrinking. Can centrists be bubble-ified as much as the reactionaries? Or are all these terms just hooey based on a spectrum that doesn’t really apply anymore?

  • I think “super-liberals” was meant to be as sarcastic as the rest of the comment.

  • PJ Evans

     Here’s the link to the PDF of the final version from here (2.2 MB, 906 pages in legal format).

  • PJ Evans

     I don'[t think MSNBC relabels the party affiliation of people depending on whether they approve or disapprove of they positions. Fox News has done that at least three times.

  • Funnily enough, the same line of thinking can be found among the 9/11 conspiracy theorists I’ve come across.  They get to feel smug about how they know what really happened, but don’t seem to do much about it beyond (a) ranting about it in the commentary spaces of blogs, Facebook and other social media, (b) periodically having street rallies where they wave signs and pass around flyers of painfully wrongheaded information and (c) bringing it up at parties to show off what enlightened thinkers they are.  But at least they’re not still trapped in the Matrix, right?

  • The_L1985

    Of course not!  Prohibition was about alcohol.  So clearly the only vice that it’s counter-productive to ban is alcohol.  Gambling, prostitution, and abortion are all very different from that.  Somehow.

    (Note:  I do not view gambling and prostitution as being equivalent to abortion–I’m only listing them because people object to them for primarily religious reasons, like alcohol, and because there are laws banning them in most of the U.S., like some people want to do to abortion.)

  • banancat

    MSNBC admits its bias, and that alone differentiates it from Fox News, which tries to pretend it is “fair and balanced”.  MSNBC also doesn’t have the same history of “accidentally” labeling bad politicians with the wrong letter beside their name.

  • My father’s mother would have been a hundred in a few years.  Prohibition was in full swing for a good portion of her childhood.  She was also a life-long devout Baptist who was raised in the tradition by people steeped in the Temperance Movement.  It took her decades and decades before she would even touch alcohol, eventually seeing it as not being so bad if taken in small amounts.  Prior to that, she believed they only reason people drank at all was to get smashing drunk.  

    At the time of her death about a decade ago, she still thought that the government could have made prohibition work if they just stuck with it a little longer.  

  • Other than MSNBC, which desperately strives to be the liberal equivalent of Fox News.

    Oh, I agree that MSNBC tried to be the liberal equivalent of Fox News.  However, I think that compared to Fox, they are much worse at actually spinning their narrative.  MSNBC strives, but Fox actually succeeds.  

    I do not mind people playing along when things are just fantasy.  My problem with Fox is that to much of their viewership, the line between the fantastic slant and the reality is too often successfully obfuscated.  

  • Tonio

    I would only label MSNBC as Fox’s equivalent if it also practiced demagoguery, and again, I haven’t watched the former enough to make that kind of judgment. Conservatism is the wrong label for Fox’s bias – instead, it’s bias toward the preservation of privilege for wealthy straight white Christian men.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     I know a lot of people listen to stories about the rightwing bubble of distrust and wonder “How can they
    believe all of this?” but I tend to get nervous that I am, unwittingly,
    living in one myself. I don’t think I am, because I do try to get facts
    and question things even when I feel inclined to agree with them, but
    when I see how people on the right can be so completely wrapped up in
    their own worldview that even facts do not dissuade them, I get really
    paranoid. Am I the only person on the left who feels this way?

    The fact that you’re capable of asking this question makes me think that you’re significantly less likely to be pulling the wool over your own eyes than the Fox-addicts.  (At least, I hope so, since I’m in the same boat.)

    EVERYONE lives in a bubble.  Some are just more permeable than others.