christians, Conservatives, creationism, culture, education, evolution, media, politics, racism, religion, religious right, Republicans, Things We Should Know, Uncategorized

It’s Not the End of the World

His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.

-George Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

To those of you thoughtful (or at least conscious) enough to recognize the process described above, you probably have asked the same question I have: How do people who, for the most part, seem outwardly rational and functioning members of society, believe some of the political or religious ideology that has been spoon-fed to them? Many of the ideas espoused by extremists of all stripes are demonstrably false, so how can people go on believing them?

As far back as 1956, behavioural scientists have published studies dealing with this question – that year, Leon Festinger published When Prophecy Fails, a book that described the reactions of individuals faced with the by now quite common phenomenon of the world continuing on without ending. The individuals were members of an apocalyptic cult who had given away all of their belongings and waited upon the figurative mountaintop for the end of the world, which never came. How did these people deal with the fact that their beliefs, and the actions that followed their beliefs, had been proven unequivocally incorrect? Surprisingly, the cult members’ beliefs intensified, and they began proselytizing even more fervently.

This phenomenon was described by Festinger and his co-investigators as a type of cognitive dissonance, which occurs under specific circumstances:

1. The belief must be held with deep conviction and be relevant to the believer’s actions or behavior.

2. The belief must have produced actions that are difficult to undo.

3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and concerned with the real world such that it can be clearly disconfirmed.

4. The disconfirmatory evidence must be recognized by the believer.

5. The believer must have social support from other believers.

So to create the increased fervor, the members of the group must actually recognize that the evidence is against them. The social support of the other believers is crucial to the continuance of faith in what has clearly been disproven.

So, let’s apply this to those that myself and other authors here on the ‘Kog often find ourselves at odds with: Tea Partiers, religious fanatics, Conservatives, conservatives (note size of ‘c’), climate/evolution/science deniers, racists, alt med zealots, and so on. Our frustration in large part comes not from the fact that people have a particular belief; that’s their right in a democracy and none of us would have it any other way. The frustration arises (for me, at least) from the individuals’ dogged adherence to beliefs and customs that have been clearly shown through evidence to be non-productive, simply false, or even patently absurd – no amount of discussion or clarification will budge them from their metaphoric hilltops. As long as they have the security of knowing that others share their beliefs, they can cover themselves in that fact as with a warm blanket and weather any storms we may visit upon them.

Kinda makes you think, don’t it? Considering this over the past few days, I have recognized my own tendency to dig my heels in and push when encountering opposition; recognized also my quite literal anger at people who refuse to change their minds despite whatever evidence I may bring to bear. I have realized that I will quite clearly never change their minds or cause them to alter their behaviour one bit, just as their arguments won’t change me in the least. Engaging with the zealot on his own terms requires you to become a zealot, to attack the individual and react emotionally to the ‘ignorance’ you must crusade against. I have personally seen this in myself, and walked away grumbling from my computer, my day ruined by my ideological opposite number who has drawn me into reacting emotionally.

But, no more – evidence is evidence, and truth is truth despite some people’s objections to it. Some acts are just and some are unjust, and some ideologies deserve the time and energy that can be committed to teaching and learning different perspectives… And some, as much as my brain craves closure and victory, are not. The secret to creating and maintaining an online persona that carries some weight and the appearance of validity, as I see it, is recognizing the difference. Some people cannot and will not be convinced, so wasting the effort to try is folly. So, I shall no longer feed the trolls. I expect my blood pressure will be better overall as a result.

If you are so motivated, I’d love to hear some discussion of your experiences in the comments. I want this to be the start of a great conversation, not the end.

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culture, economics, justice, law, media, politics, Things We Should Know

G20, Canadians 0

I have been following, probably to a lesser degree than I might have, the protests surrounding the G20 summit in Toronto. What I find interesting is that the summit itself has been eclipsed by the violent clashes occurring outside the security perimeter – perfectly natural, after all, violence has always provided better ‘copy’ than negotiation and discussion. In that sense, the protesters have accomplished one mission: their messages are being covered, if only in a primarily negative fashion and only as a peripeheral story to their methods of propagating the message.

For what it’s worth, I wish to offer a few observations:

It is important for the general public to remember that all of the protesters are not violent, and all of those acting violently are not legitimate members of social activist groups – it is said by some that there is a cadre of ‘professional protesters’ who travel from event to event to cause disruption. I would certainly not want to see everyone painted with the same broad brush as ‘violent’ or ‘irresponsible’. Nor, as it happens, do I particularly like having all police portrayed as ‘jack-booted thugs’ or provocateurs. There is reportedly evidence that some covert provocation by undercover police has occurred in the past, however, in the age of YouTube and the ‘citizen journalist’, such actions are a clear liability. The police are paid to maintain order, and I have no doubt that they arrived on the front lines with the ideal of doing this job – that being said, police, first and foremost, are human beings, and human beings make mistakes; they lash out when attacked, due to fear (they are greatly outnumbered by shouting, angry protestors), or out of an over-developed sense of duty. The violent members of the police services, as with the protestors, are vastly outnumbered by those who do their jobs well, and with integrity. Remember that just because the violent individuals on both sides get the most attention, that does not make them representative of the whole.

Speaking of representation, I was interested and curious after reading some stories on the CBC as to whether or not many of the individuals, violent and otherwise, among the protesters are politically active in other ways, such as voting. A quick search revealed this study, which indicates that surveyed individuals in the 15 to 21 and 22 to 24 year-old age groups are the most active in “non-voting political behavior”, and the least active in actually voting (even allowing, of course, for the fact that the voting age is 18). While understanding that younger adults are cynical and disillusioned with the political process, I think we have done a poor job in educating younger people about the importance of voting – it is the acceptable democratic method of social change, as opposed to the proposed ‘violent revolution’. We already have the means to enact social change and ensure that the individuals who represent us truly have our best interests at heart – the organized, purposeful, collective casting of ballots. Demanding social change while declining to participate in any meaningful way in the process available seems dishonest, in my opinion. Call me naive if you must, but I’m an optimist – I believe if we truly want social change, if we want to replace the current regime, it is within out power collectively as Canadians to create the change – ‘be’ the change, in other words. Revolution worked in Russia in 1917, but is unlikely to have any meaningful effect beyond the disruption of the lives and livelihoods of individuals not even concerned with the protests – the small businessmen and so on. If you want justice, you have to be a full participant in the creation of the just society, become one of its builders, and not focus on the violent destruction of the old regime. Each of us, every day, in any given moment, create and maintain justice within society according to our moral codes – let that creation dominate through the political process rather than abetting wanton destruction.

Beyond (and inextricably bound within) the political is the personal – how we act, what we do, whom we choose to help or hurt. Concern for our fellow citizens – the expression of justice, of tolerance and of lending assistance where possible – is the basis of democracy, particularly a democracy such as ours which is based on a pretty good (but not perfect) social safety net. Behind this altruism, however, is the single most important unit of society, the individual, who maintains (or breaks) the social covenant as she sees fit on a constant basis through interactions with others – society is not imposed from the top down, but is built and maintained, moment by moment, by the individuals, the ‘bricks’ that are its component parts. Humanity, however, is descended from animals (no matter what creationists may tell you), and the proof of this ascent lies in our behavior, in the actions between thoughts, in our instincts. One of the more fascinating parts of Social Psychology lies in the realm of Collective Behavior, as discussed with great clarity over the years by writers such as Eric Hoffer in The True Believer, and by Erich Goode in the excellent textbook Collective Behavior (who knew?). Human social interaction is by nature complex, but the behavior of crowds as they become mobs has been examined in great detail, and is, to some degree, predictable. The social dynamics of the crowd-to-mob transition rely on  particular elements to unfold: first, the ‘power’ granted to the individual by the collective – to put it another way, as individuals, we can be known quantities; as part of a collective, we are anonymous, and therefore more free to express ourselves physically and emotionally – witness on a small scale the strident nature of the anonymous message boards on the Internet, and keep in mind that each of these is a building block of a collective expression of order or disorder. Second, observation of crowds has proven the importance of leadership – one or more individuals, usually a small number, who define the ‘agenda’ for the collective. How they act sets the tone for the dynamics that follow. If, for example, the natural leaders from whom the collective takes their cues are peaceful by nature, the dynamic will remain a peaceful one – which is why all crowds, at concerts and sporting events, do not become mobs. On the other hand, if the leaders, being more expressive or lacking impulse control, are more violent or begin to destroy property, then the crowd’s transformation to a mob is virtually assured – in many cases, all it takes is one act of violence to transform the collective, empowered by the anonymity of numbers, into the anarchist army. Third, there must be that act – the violent action, the thrown brick or punch, that acts as the ‘tipping point’ in the collective mood, and unless the emotional impact of this act is diffused immediately, the transition is inevitable. It is for these reasons, despite complaints of excess on the part of police and security services, that motivates the array of precautions in Toronto. The police understand the potentially negative consequences of collective behavior, even if we or the protestors do not.

Finally, as time goes on, the patient observer will take note of the escalating rhetoric on the Internet, again motivated by anonymity and the protection it provides. The attacks will become more personal and the rhetoric more heated, until the faceless and inherently evil ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ Other becomes unworthy of respect or calm dialogue – in fact, as individuals, they are to be torn down and destroyed as effectively as are physical structures. Although not a physically ‘present’ collective, the concept of the tipping point still applies – the first one to ‘flame’ the opposition sets the tone for what follows, despite the efforts of some individuals to foster a more civil dialogue. The Other, meanwhile, becomes dehumanized, and the attacks become personal, until the level of vehemence approaches a point which would never be reached in a face-to-face confrontation on the same subject.

I make these observations with a goal in mind – not to bore you, as may well be the case, but hopefully to point out the imperfections of both sides in this ‘struggle’. I don’t pretend to be an expert in capitalism or colonialism, so I have deliberately left these issues out of the equation; ultimately, these are but ideologies which require human agency to exist.

And that’s the point, really – despite the perception of the monolith labeled ‘SOCIETY’ that we percieve, we, individuals, citizens, police and protesters, are society writ small. And, frankly, it is a little humbling, despite the accelerated growth of technology,  just how fragile our collective is, under the right conditions. In the building of a society, we are all keystones.

Note: Edited to reflect a quite accurate comment that I had stated an opinion as fact.

general silliness, Lighter Things, media

Random Petty Annoyances, Part 1

Ok.

So, most of my freinds, including my co-authors here, would tell you that I am generally a laid-back individual. Not much really gets to me… at least not all at once. No, I have to see the same stupid-ass behaviors several times before they really manage to annoy me sufficiently to write about it. So, for your enjoyment, and in the spirit of catharsis, I offer the following random sources of unreasonable anger:

  1. Your headphones should not ever be larger than the device playing the music. At least certainly not by several orders of magnitude. I see a woman nearly every single day with a tiny iPod, and gigantic headphones. You may as well walk around with a couple of Victrolas strapped to your skull. Unless you are headbanging vigorously, listening to music should not tone your neck muscles.
  2. Pressing the button at the crosswalk 3,000 times will not make the light change faster. Here’s how it works, folks: press the button, and at the appropriate moment in the cycle of light changes, the ‘walk’ sign will appear. Standing on the corner pressing the button repeatedly like a monkey on methamphetamines will not make a lick of difference – it will change when it changes. All you’re doing is making yourself look like a fucking idiot, but fortunately the beeping noise makes it easier to tell where you are.
  3. There’s a lot of noise made about courteous driving, who is teaching courteous walking? Nobody, that’s who. To the morons who can’t walk and hold a conversation without taking up an entire pedway, move the fuck over. When stopping to figure out where you are, please don’t randomly stop and aimlessly move from side to side – if you do, there will be at least one person behind you with a red face and a bulging forehead vein who will gladly take you the fuck out. Which, I suppose, would solve your problem as your location would then be irrelevant. Finally, old people at the mall and elsewhere: I understand, you’re old and close to death, and want to savor every moment, and that’s wonderful, circle of life, whatever whatever. Just remember that some of us are not retired, some of us have deadlines and meetings and family obligations, and would appreciate if you could step aside, or, alternately, drop the fuck dead, you slow, wrinkly ass old motherfucker.
  4. Why is it not ok to portray a woman as unintelligent, but every man on television, particularly commercials, is a barely functional retard? Granted, some of us men are morons – I used to be in retail, so I am very familiar with the concept. However, every man on commercials should logically be starving to death, wearing horribly stained clothes, sitting in a pile of his own filth in a decrepit house except – thank goodness! He’s married, and his super sensible wife will save him from himself! Think about it, though: how competent and caring are you, little missy, if you married this helpless ape in the first place, and had offspring with him? How good does your infallible judgement work when you remember you have fucked this man-child at least once, and allowed him to pass on his genetics? Thanks for spawning another generation of drooling muttonheads (unless it’s a girl, of course). Look smugly at your clean counters all you like, somewhere your idiot hubby is lighting himself, or possibly others, on fire. Good thing you are so goddamned smart. Enjoy your life sentence chained to an orangutan! Mazeltov!
  5. Seriously, who the fuck besides you cares if you can dance? Singing, or other types of talent, I can, if only reluctantly, understand – but dancing? That’s gotta be a limited job market. Don’t be wasting the warranty on my television inflicting your spasmic flailings on me and my loved ones. Consider for a moment before you answer the following: how many famous dancers can you name? Let me be more specific – not actors, like Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire; not singers who dance well, like Paula Abdul; and not ballet dancers, like Baryshnikov or whoever else, but hip-hop style modern dancers. I can’t think of any. Perhaps I lead a sheltered life, or, maybe, just maybe, there ain’t too many of ’em. You can shake your fat ass and move your feet to some awful music: congratulations, sunshine. Enjoy poverty. Rhythmically.
  6. Additional volume does not make English magically translate into a universal language. Folks, I been hanging onto this one for a while. It’s Summer, 1992. I am spending the final week of my exchange program to Germany at a hostel in Frankfurt. I’ve been there for three and a half months, living with a German family in a small town, and eating nearly all of my meals with them. I’m ready for a change, so I head for a McDonald’s sign… And end up in line behind a couple in their mid-30s (I refrain from naming a nationality, but it rhymed with Camerican) who are screaming at the top of their lungs in an attempt to make their order understood to a unilingual German girl behind the counter. They are getting more frustrated, the young girl is about to cry. The woman, in true douchebag fashion, asks the poor employee, at full volume, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” Which is where I stepped in. My first instinct would have been to inflict critical wounds through the forceful introduction of tourist skull to counter, but, curiously, I stepped in and calmly translated (yes, I speak German). The couple looked surprised, the employee looked at me as if I were like unto the Second Coming. The couple went away grumbling, I got a big smile and some free fries from an appreciative fraulein. So, next time any of you out there feel superior to someone because you speak the Queen’s English, remember just how many languages it is stolen from, and how many great works were written in other languages. Calm the fuck down, and try to understand – believe me, you may not enjoy the fries, but the smile makes it worthwhile.
culture, International News, Lighter Things, Lying douchebags, media, religion, Self-righteous asshole, Skepticism

Baba… Oh, Really?*

Interesting story from India in which a well-known skeptic, Sanal Edamaruku, responded to the outlandish claims of a self-proclaimed guru or baba (holy man) who, it was said, could kill a man using only his eerie mystical powers.  Mr. Edamaruku simply challenged the guru to go ahead and kill him right then and there, on television. To the surprise of no-one with a nickel’s worth of sense, Edamuruku remains alive and kicking, and Pandit Surender Sharma, the outed ‘guru’, goes home without a cookie. I must admit to loving the description of the events that occurred, live, on a talk show:

Mr Edamaruku had been invited to the same talk show as head of the Indian Rationalists’ Association — the country’s self-appointed sceptic-in-chief. At first the holy man, Pandit Surender Sharma, was reluctant, but eventually he agreed to perform a series of rituals designed to kill Mr Edamaruku live on television. Millions tuned in as the channel cancelled scheduled programming to continue broadcasting the showdown, which can still be viewed on YouTube.

First, the master chanted mantras, then he sprinkled water on his intended victim. He brandished a knife, ruffled the sceptic’s hair and pressed his temples. But after several hours of similar antics, Mr Edamaruku was still very much alive — smiling for the cameras and taunting the furious holy man.

Below is Part One of the ‘attempted murder’… the video is in Hindi, but it’s certainly easy to catch the drift – I recommend watching the videos in their entirety, or availing yourself of one of the ‘condensed’ versions:

All credit, honor and respect to Mr. Edamaruku and the Indian Rationalists’ Association. Well done.

*With apologies to The Who.

Canadian politics, Conservatives, justice, media, Past indiscretions biting you in the ass, Things We Should Know

Congratulations to the Media…

… You are now officially complicit in Prime Monster Harper’s efforts to distract Canadians from what really matters by introducing a classic red herring – namely, the ‘sexist’ language in our national anthem.

Hey, Look over here!

So the government is concerned about women. Explain this to me in that context:

The (labour and women’s groups) coalition’s report points out the government’s decision to eliminate the phrase “gender equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada, the country’s primary institution responsible for gender equality. It also highlights the closing of 12 of 16 Status of Women offices and the elimination of funding to a program for court challenges related to equality rights.

Or this, from the Toronto Star:

As the federal government prepares to roll out a new budget on Thursday, a new study by a Queen’s University professor argues that men are seeing a disproportionate share of the benefits of Ottawa’s record spending over the past year.

According to Kathleen Lahey’s analysis, women have only received about 7 to 22 per cent of federal infrastructure spending, because they are under-represented in the construction, manufacturing and engineering industries.

By Lahey’s calculations, women are also not getting as much as men out of the billions Ottawa has committed to corporate, GST and personal-income tax cuts. And though women represent around 50 per cent of the population, they’re only seeing roughly a third of the enhancements to the employment-insurance program, according to Lahey’s study.

Yep, feeling the love you have for women, Stevie boy.  Oh, and nice job appointing that begging-to-be-tasered meat puppet Helena Guergis to lead the march backward.

I have a suggestion. How about “By all thy scum’s command”? Certainly fits the circumstances, don’t it?

entertainment, media, science, Self-righteous asshole, Things We Should Know, willful blindness to absurd extremes

The Vast Difference Between Balanced and Irresponsible

Sigh.

If you’ve been reading my little posts for a while, you’ll know how I decry irresponsible journalism. On the flip side, I am an admirer of good journalism – writing that informs about legitimate debate and shows signs of painstaking research and fair examination of both sides of an issue.

Once again, Time Magazine shows us the difference between legitimate balance and useless filler. Jenny McCarthy is the subject of an article in which she claims to have ‘cured’ her autistic son. Oddly enough, Time manages to both justify (poorly) thir reasons for running the story and indicate why it shouldn’t have run in the first place:

To McCarthy’s opponents, from the public-health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the pediatricians of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this makes McCarthy much worse than a crank: she’s a menace to public health.

So, the recognized scientific authorities on this topic disagree with the half-wit actress and former Playboy model? It’s not hard to decide who carries more authority in this case.

They ask why so many mothers are reluctant to vaccinnate their children based on McCarthy’s insistence that they are dangerous. That’s an easy one: They are idiots. Easily-led, scientifically illiterate idiots. Articles like this one will only make the problem worse, thereby giving Time the opportunity to exploit the resulting catastrophic preventable illness rates somewhere down the road.

In responsible scientific journalism, debate is important – two sides, both interpreting evidence they have gathered, but who have reached different conclusions. This is the essence of constructive debate, and is reflective of how science is built – good scientists always accept the possibility that they may be wrong. All of it is based on evidence, however. To juxtapose the results of hundreds of scientific studies with the beliefs of a third-rate actress is clearly wrong. The arguments are not coming from the same basis of assumptions – one is systematic, the other emotional. The evidence is clear: vaccinnes do not cause autism. Even the single study cited by vaccine panic-mongers is an admitted falsification, and is therefore invald. Preponderance of scientific evidence vs. fake science and anecdotal belief. Which should you choose?

Yet, Time insists on perpetuating the myth by giving McCarthy a venue to create more risk to children.

Let’s use a crude (very crude) analogy to demonstrate: I hereby deny the existence of Australia (no offence, just the first thing that came to mind). I’ve never seen it, except on maps. Well, what is my motivation to trust the representatives of the mapmaking industry? They have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion that Australia exists. How else would they maintain sales of maps of certain portions of the Southern Hemisphere?  Basically, I’ve never been there, never experienced the country directly, so I don’t believe it. What about all the people who have been there? In the pocket of Big Cartography. All the pictures? Faked – probably New Zealand or clever photoshops.

So, within a logical (although deeply flawed) framework of belief, for which I could probably gain support from at least a fringe portion the billions of people who have also never visited there, I have made my case. I demand equal time in Time to defend my views, because only then will they have fairly presented all sides.

In a word, no. Time, and other venues, need to wake up to the fact that not all views are equal. Despite the insistence of politically correct postmodern apologists for the validity of all ways of knowing, some beliefs are demonstrably, objectively and irrefutably wrong. Jenny McCarthy’s views on the link between autism and vaccines is one of them.

I know, my position is impossibly naive and not reflective of the competitive world of infotainment that news has become, but I can still hope for better. I can hope for someone, somewhere, to wake up and realize how irresponsible this type of reporting is. Somewhere in the world is an editor who can stand up and say, “No more”.

Except in Australia, of course.

general silliness, Lighter Things, media

Beaver Trimmed

Even the New York Times has taken notice that the Canadian history magazine, The Beaver, has been forced by changing times to change its name to the less snicker-worthy Canada’s History.  The article notes that, although the source of much schoolyard humor for decades, it is the advent of the Internet – and the inability of students to search websites with ‘Beaver’ in the title, which is not entirely unreasonable – which has necessitated the change.

They chose not to use my suggested title, “Big Titty Milfs”

Although this is the kind of story that kind of makes you chuckle a bit, it makes you wonder what magazine titles will be re-examined, or outright forbidden, by the dreaded double entendre:

  • Bald Pussy Monthly, the magazine for owners of those freaky looking hairless cats;
  • Tits & Ass, a combined publication for lovers of specific types of birds and of donkeys;
  • Student Nurses in Latex, a specialty magazine for Nursing students, reminding them about proper sterilization techniques;
  • Naughty Catholic Schoolgirls Annual, the magazine dealing with the psychology of young women, approximately 17 to 25, who attend Catholic schools and who have encountered trouble with the law;
  • Large, Floppy Breasts on Really Slutty Women

Ok, maybe that’s not the best example…