It’s been a while, so let’s remind ourselves of this bit of wisdom from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
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.
And here’s a discussion by Doktor Zoom of a recent example of people enthusiastically failing that test — “Newest Wingnut Fad: Obama Decrees That 3 x 4 = 11“:
Fire up the Debunk-O-Matic 5000 and get ready to start sending your wingnut co-workers to snopes.com, folks! Fox & Friends and the American Patriarchy Association’s Bryan Fischer are among several conservative outlets pitching a selectively edited video that appears to show Illinois school official Amanda August saying that under the Common Core standards, it won’t matter whether a student thinks three times four equals eleven or twelve, as long as the student can explain why they came up with their answer.
… So, kids, our lesson for today: If you selectively edit a video to make someone seem to be saying the exact opposite of what they actually said, you will be richly rewarded in the rightwing media.
This is worse — exponentially worse — than what Lewis describes. He warns against the lure of wanting to view those we think of as bad as far worse than they actually are. That desire is part of the story Doktor Zoom shares there. Exactly the thing that Lewis describes is what makes the audience for Fox and Fischer so eager to swallow their mendacious selective editing. It’s what makes them actively refuse to question even the most obviously dubious claims about those they are predisposed to dislike.*
And that, in turn, is what will shape their response to the debunking of this misrepresentation from Snopes or even from The Blaze. Such debunking will give them a “feeling of disappointment” and lead to their “determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking [their] enemies are as bad as possible.”
Do not expect them to thank you for reassuring them that the world is not as bad as they fear. That will only make them angry. This fear is all they have left, and you’re threatening to take it away from them.
But what Lewis describes cannot account for the actual act of selective editing that incited this latest round of ensuring that the Fox and Fischer audiences remain “fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”
To perform that act of selective editing requires that one chooses to do so, and that one makes that choice willingly and knowingly. It takes thought and effort and a careful carelessness.
It is a kind of lying that can only be done by people intent on lying — people who are aware that they are lying and who are determined to lie convincingly.
It is perilous, Lewis said, to allow ourselves to be susceptible to such lies. That way lies madness — an obsession with witch-hunting and with Satanic baby-killers that, he said, “will make us into devils.”
But to create such lies — to craft them, painstakingly splicing away any traces of truth that would keep others from believing them — is something even worse. These folks know they’re lying and, therefore, they know they’re wrong.
* Lewis’ “test” also helps to explain how it could be possible that 29 percent of Louisianans said they blame President Obama, rather than President Bush, for Bush’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — years before Obama was elected president. See also: The persecution complex of Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk.