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Archive | June, 2011

The ultimate put down

I’m sure someone could do worse, but my idea of the ultimate put down is:

You’re incapable of understanding the truth.

It’s saying that someone is both wrong and irredeemably wrong.

When looking at the pathological thinking of birthers, one is invited to compare and contrast it with Obot thinking. Comparisons are easy: vehemence, confrontation and argument; however, contrasts are more striking with the birthers holding fringe views and the Obots consensus views. The birthers rely on their own authorities and their fringe reading of the evidence; Obots rely on mainstream authorities and expert reading of the evidence.

An essential contrast is how birthers and Obots view each other. Typically the birther believes that Obots disagree with them for a number of reasons (refusal to look at the evidence, dishonesty, partisanship or evil intent), all of which could change. Birthers believe that the honest person who gives them a fair hearing will agree with them, and this is reflected by their continued attempts to prevail in court. The fact that their cases are dismissed is not attributed to the fact that the courts disagree with them, but because they are corrupt. The firm birther hope is that eventually almost everyone will see it their way. The birther view is based on optimism that it is only a matter of time before the tables are turned and they represent the consensus view.

On the other hand I believe that the birthers will not change their minds if they give a fair and patient hearing to what the Obots have to say. I believe that they are incapable of comprehending any opposing argument, and that trying to convince them otherwise is a futile gesture. I firmly believe that they will never see it my way and I am pessimistic that any birther will change. I base my pessimism on the academic writing on conspiracy theories (which I continue to study) and my anecdotal experience on this blog.

Of course birthers and Obots have views that suit their desires, belief in change (birthers) or belief in the status quo (Obots). To date, the Obots seem to be right, and barring some cataclysm (like hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic), I don’t see the inmates taking over the asylum, and put down or not, I believe that the birthers are incapable of understanding the truth.

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Are the birthers on to something?

Proud to be a birther t-shirt
Even paranoids have enemies

I’ve spent a fair amount of time fishing for gold in the birther bucket of mud. This the 1,443rd article I’ve written on this website, not to mention comments here and things I’ve written elsewhere. That’s a lot of time examining and discussing birther claims about Barack Obama. I’ve thought about, analyzed, researched, tested and ended up rejecting the birther rumors. The factual claims birthers make don’t pan out and we can rule out completely the defining birther assertion:Barack Obama is constitutionally ineligible to be President. But, as Mark Fenster says, just because conspiracy theorists are wrong doesn’t mean that they’re not on to something.

Taking that as a challenge, I’ve been asking myself whether the birthers really are on to something. But what could it be? That’s a hard question because the birthers themselves have put so much time and energy into creating and broadcasting their core absurdity that there has been very little opportunity to consider anything else. I think it’s fair to say that the birther mythology itself is a significant barrier to any valid critique of Barack Obama from the members of that movement. Continue Reading →

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Consensus v fringe

Normal?

You’re crazy and I’m not

I think the issue of Barack Obama’s eligibility to be President is pretty much settled in everybody’s mind, although not settled in the same way. Most, like me, say that unprecedented amounts of evidence, investigation and scrutiny establish without any doubt that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and eligible to be President. The other side believes that all official sources are tainted and that the truth is only known through original research on the Internet.

I don’t think that either side has a good intuitive understanding of the other. People on my side would describe the other as (choose all that apply) subversive, suffering mental defect, stupid /gullible/sheep, con men, liars, racists, and paid political operatives. People on the other side might describe people like me as (choose all that apply) subversive, suffering mental defect, stupid /gullible/sheep, con men, liars, racists, and paid political operatives. The historian Richard Hofstadter describes people like me as “consensus” and the other as having a “paranoid style.” I suppose the birthers would reverse those labels. Just as the consensus is taught to “beware the crazies,” the fringe is taught to “beware the authorities”. Continue Reading →

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Lost trust

I don’t pretend to know the answer to what is at the very bottom of the the birther problem, but it appears that at some level it depends on a fundamental distrust of institutions, whether that is government or the media. If all people had a basic trust in the integrity of National Public Radio, FactCheck.org, CNN or the New York Times, there would no birthers.

Before I started this blog, I had a conversation with someone about Obama, and that person was greatly influenced by the book, The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate by David Freddoso. The implication of that title is that Obama’s popularity was created by the media, and therefore the “real” Barack Obama is can only be know elsewhere (in this case by his associations as disclosed in the book). By the same token, books about Sarah Palin, such as The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star by Matthew Continetti suggest that Palin’s problems are created by a media who are “elite” — meaning “not like us” and not by Palin herself.

Any group who wants to have their own version of reality prevail is going to have a problem with a skeptical, fact-checking media, and there have been enough scandals over the years, when concentrated into one big pile, to bias the public against the media. “You think the media can be trusted to authenticate a birth certificate? Remember Dan Rather!” The idea that media embarrassments ought to make them strive to do better is of no consequence.

The birthers I have known personally reject any claim of authority or integrity in the media and they have trouble judging the quality of sources. Put another way, if all media are untrustworthy then CNN and WorldNetDaily are equally reliable. I can point out where WorldNetDaily lied, and the reply is “they all lie.”

The inability to judge the relative value of non-absolutes could be a neurophysiological characteristic or it might be some failure in maturation or it might be a manifestation of the stress due to the complexity of society. I don’t know why it’s there, but it certainly is.

This article is from the Understanding the Birthers series.

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Full circle

I’ve been interested in crazy ideas for a long time. What follows is a 15-year-old (at least) article I wrote, reproduced here as an introduction to some things I want to write in the following weeks more specifically on conspiracy theories, and Obama theories in particular. (It’s interesting how this theme keeps recurring in my life.) What I want the reader to get from this article is that people believe all sorts of crazy things for all sorts of reasons.

A FAQ about Facts

“Just the facts ma’am,” Sgt. Joe Friday.

Updated July 6, 1996, March 7, 1997, December 2, 1997, June 6, 2011

I was prompted to start this project by an exchange I had with a fellow on USENET. He had posted some remarks in support of the authenticity of a verse from the New Testament. I, of course, had the facts and I lit into him pretty strongly with them. He replied with some facts of his own. This dispute was not over interpretation, but over whether evidence exists in ancient manuscripts. That is, it is a dispute over facts. Yet we each had different facts from sources we consider authoritative. This exchange has led me to consider how many disputes are really about facts.

It is said that 3% of the population cannot think rationally; that is, they are crazy. Perhaps more have recognized thinking disorders. But by in large, most people can think rationally. I suppose that many disputes are over values and preferences and at least, in theory, facts are facts. Nevertheless, I find, more and more, that people are disagreeing because they work from different (and sometimes conflicting) “facts”.

I guess I first became aware of the questionable nature of facts in jr. high school. I read a book on ESP and in that book was a sentence that said “It is a well-known fact that if a dozen people concentrate on a playing card at the same time, they will be able to transmit the card’s value to another person. This is easily verified.” At that young age, reading a book from the library, which looked like a serious book–a book which mentioned scholarly research at Duke University, I accepted the statement as fact. When I actually tried the experiment, however, it didn’t work. Continue Reading →

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