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A backlash against competence

I was reading a birther comment over at the Fox News affiliate web site for Dallas – Ft. Worth attached to an article about WorldNetDaily’s comical banner flyover at Cowboy Stadium, a flyover that happened when the domed stadium roof was closed and there were few cars on the parking log.

The comment opened:

That "birth certificate" was a 21-carat fake and everyone knows it.

I typed a reply, concluding:

In many ways the birther movement is a backlash against competence.

One of the reasons that conspiracy theories exist is that some folks have problems with random events in their lives. The demand a framework to explain the great events that swirl around them and threaten to engulf them. It is easier to believe that one is the victim of a known conspiracy rather than an untold number of unknown random events.

The desire to understand events of necessity leads to simplification. The average Joe can’t understand complex explanations of complex events, and so must reject such explanations in favor of simpler ones, and in turn must reject expertise in general.

The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations, and rely on their own for expertise, which leads to volunteer document experts, volunteer judicial bodies and volunteer legal experts – that I would call “second rate” except that they don’t rate at all. In many ways the birther movement is a backlash against competence.

24 Responses to A backlash against competence

  1. avatar
    Scientist December 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Doc-I am not sure I agree with your statement that “The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations.” In fact, they do the complete opposite. The simple explanation is that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii where his parents lived at the time of his birth, in the major maternity hospital in the city they lived in, delivered by a doctor who was known to deliver many babies in that place and time and that the documents issued by the State of Hawaii are the ordinary ones issued to reflect that fact.

    The birthers, in fact, believe what is possibly the most convoluted story one could imagine, involving a trip by a poor 18 year old woman halfway around the world to a place that was just emerging from a long independence struggle, followed by smuggling her infant child into the US and concocting an elaborate scheme, involving countless State officials (many of the opposing political party), courts, and private citizens in an elaborate conspiracy extending over 50 years.

  2. avatar
    jayhg December 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Scientist: Doc-I am not sure I agree with your statement that “The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations.” In fact, they do the complete opposite. The simple explanation is that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii where his parents lived at the time of his birth, in the major maternity hospital in the city they lived in, delivered by a doctor who was known to deliver many babies in that place and time and that the documents issued by the State of Hawaii are the ordinary ones issued to reflect that fact.

    Scientist, I was struck by that part of Doc’s comment as well. The birthers refuse to believe the simple fact of President’s Obama birth in Hawaii because they the scary black man to NOT be president and in THEIR White House. It would be simple enough for the DOH of Hawaii to call out a fake birth certificate, especially here cause it’s so public. But not in birtherworld…….so I don’t get that they like anything simple. It would go against what they want to be true in this instance, and that is that the scary black man will get out of THEIR White House and return the world to the one where they feel more secure seeing a white person as President of the United States.

    Especially evatelle/bushpilot, who says white people are the only ones who are supposed to be president anyhow.

  3. avatar
    Arthur December 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Scientist: Doc-I am not sure I agree with your statement that “The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations.” In fact, they do the complete opposite.

    Scientist:

    There’s some research that supports your contention that birthers gravitate towards complexity rather than simplicity as they construct explanations to support conspiratorial thinking. Back in 1998, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study by Lockhart et al., titled “Motivated Sensitivity to Preference-Inconsistent Information.”

    http://faculty.kent.edu/updegraffj/gradsocial/readings/ditto.pdf

    Based on three experiments, the authors present “a view of motivated reasoning that incorporates the effects of wishes and fears [on] information-processing sequence(s).” They conclude “that people often come to believe what they want to believe (and disbelieve what they want not to believe) because of a quite reasonable tendency to think more deeply about negative events than positive ones.”

  4. avatar
    Pastor Charmley December 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    The distrust of experts is an fascinating phenomenon in our present age. The cause of it is perhaps obscure, but the fact is undeniable. Why is this? It is accompanied by the idea that every man can be his own expert (a result of the huge amount of information we have available to us on the internet). As a man who has worked with various computer programmes in the past, and has had a lot of professional training, I look on the idea that you can become a specialist on the basis of the internet alone as laughable.

  5. avatar
    G December 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    It is also a simple brainwashing technique to immunize one’s gullible flock from being deprogrammed by the reality that exists outside of their little cult bubble.

    All you have to do is train people to distrust and ignore any source that doesn’t tell them what you want them to hear and then keep reinforcing your own bubble messages to them.

    Pastor Charmley: The distrust of experts is an fascinating phenomenon in our present age. The cause of it is perhaps obscure, but the fact is undeniable. Why is this? It is accompanied by the idea that every man can be his own expert (a result of the huge amount of information we have available to us on the internet). As a man who has worked with various computer programmes in the past, and has had a lot of professional training, I look on the idea that you can become a specialist on the basis of the internet alone as laughable.

  6. avatar
    Daniel December 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Scientist: Doc-I am not sure I agree with your statement that “The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations.” In fact, they do the complete opposite.

    In my mind I agree with Doc, and with you as well.

    I thnk Doc is right in that birthers like a simple explanation, such as “he’s not eligible, and everone knows it, and is complicit”, which is a lot simpler than “the world is changing and my kind of prejudices and hatemongering is being left behind, and an ordinary, (in their mind) liberal black man can be President, and no one seems to care how I feel about it”.

    Where the complexitiy comes in is once the simple explanation is challenged, the birther has to weave an increasingly extraordinarily complex set of circumstances which allow the simple explanation to remain “true”. The simplistic part of that is that birther explanations, as complex as they are, do not require logic, comprehension, or relevancy to create.

    In essence, it’s simple to create a complex fantasy as long as you don’t have to substantiate it.

  7. avatar
    Majority Will December 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    Daniel: In my mind I agree with Doc, and with you as well.

    I thnk Doc is right in that birthers like a simple explanation, such as “he’s not eligible, and everone knows it, and is complicit”, which is a lot simpler than “the world is changing and my kind of prejudices and hatemongering is being left behind, and an ordinary, (in their mind) liberal black man can be President, and no one seems to care how I feel about it”.

    Where the complexitiy comes in is once the simple explanation is challenged, the birther has to weave an increasingly extraordinarily complex set of circumstances which allow the simple explanation to remain “true”. The simplistic part of that is that birther explanations, as complex as they are, do not require logic, comprehension, or relevancy to create.

    In essence, it’s simple to create a complex fantasy as long as you don’t have to substantiate it.

    It’s also easier for them to move the goalposts once a birther has started slinging a web of b.s.

    Once down the more complex path, the birther bigot starts a pathetic dance with the bizarre hope that rational people won’t notice or remember all of his or her numerous fallacies, complete lack of credible evidence or outright lies.

  8. avatar
    US Citizen December 16, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I agree with Doc.
    Many people get very angry at experts or people with hard to obtain jobs or skills.
    I myself have a profession which is fairly rare.
    Because of the lack of competition, I’m considered one of the best.
    This is all well and good, but it means I often receive hate mail too.
    Sometimes people have written and accused me of getting into my line of work simply to make *them* look bad.
    (nevermind that I’ve been doing it since before they were born usually.)
    It’s very strange to receive an angry email from someone you’ve never met accusing you of being good at something or choosing a particular line of work deliberately in order to upstage them.
    It’s as if I sat back one day 30+ years ago and said “I going to do this line of work just to piss off those that can’t or won’t.”
    It’s like accusing Molly Brown of taking her voyage on the Titanic just so she could be in the papers for saving people when the ship sunk.

  9. avatar
    El Diablo Negro December 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    i think their message is simple “He is not eligible to be president”. The hard part is putting it all together into something plausible. I believe that they were too confident that there was something that they could get him on, so that is why they want all sorts of crazy records/information on him. As far as political scandals go, there is not much on him. They are hoping for that “Watergate” scandal that get him removed from office.

    In this day and age, information will be checked and verified. Only a small number will reject the experts. Plus the internet keeps crazy conspiracies like this alive.

  10. avatar
    Keith December 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Scientist: Doc-I am not sure I agree with your statement that “The birthers in their talking points grab onto simple explanations.” In fact, they do the complete opposite.

    Yes, I agree. I caught that right away, and you beat me to it.

    G: It is also a simple brainwashing technique to immunize one’s gullible flock from being deprogrammed by the reality that exists outside of their little cult bubble.

    All you have to do is train people to distrust and ignore any source that doesn’t tell them what you want them to hear and then keep reinforcing your own bubble messages to them.

    Excellent description of brainwashing. Murdoch has become a grandmaster of this technique..

    Daniel: I thnk Doc is right in that birthers like a simple explanation, such as “he’s not eligible, and everone knows it, and is complicit”, which is a lot simpler than “the world is changing and my kind of prejudices and hatemongering is being left behind, and an ordinary, (in their mind) liberal black man can be President, and no one seems to care how I feel about it”.

    I think that is like saying that the observation that “the sun rises in the east each morning is because the Sun orbits the earth” is the simple explanation. When you actually start asking questions about its consequences you find that it isn’t the ‘simple’ explanation at all, it is in fact the ‘simplistic’ explanation.

    There is a world of difference between ‘simple’ and ‘simplistic’.

  11. avatar
    J. Potter December 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Pastor:

    The “dilution of expertise” problem is, unfortunately, a self-reinforcing one. An abundance of information breeds “experts”, who produce more “information”, which “informs” more “experts”!

    As for me, I know nothing. And i know that i know nothing 😉

  12. avatar
    G December 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    Yes, that is exactly what the Murdoch empire does. In this country, Fox News has to be the top brainwashing propaganda outlet there is. Other media outlets, newspapers and magazines to a much lesser extent. A lot of this also happens with the rightwing radio audiences, which are likely the #2 pull after FNC.

    Keith: Excellent description of brainwashing. Murdoch has become a grandmaster of this technique..

  13. avatar
    Keith December 16, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    G:
    Yes, that is exactly what the Murdoch empire does.In this country, Fox News has to be the top brainwashing propaganda outlet there is.Other media outlets, newspapers and magazines to a much lesser extent.A lot of this also happens with the rightwing radio audiences, which are likely the #2 pull after FNC.

    It also goes a long way to explaining the attacks on education, not only in the USA, but in Australia and Great Britain as well.

  14. avatar
    bovril December 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Birthers and their ilk strive for competence and relevance yet attain at best inanity and isolation

  15. avatar
    G December 16, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Most certainly! Education and more importantly, the ability to develop critical thinking skills are the greatest threat to simplistic repetition-based brainwashing memes.

    Keith: It also goes a long way to explaining the attacks on education, not only in the USA, but in Australia and Great Britain as well.

  16. avatar
    US Citizen December 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    There is always one acid test that separates the self-appointed “experts” from the real thing and that’s results.
    Experience reigns supreme and will trounce an armchair-anything during actual application.
    This is why Orly, et al continuously fail.
    They take a premise and try to apply it, then fall flat on their face.

    One thing I’ve always loved about Obama is that there’s no romantic scandals or ethical violations in his past.
    There’s nothing to find because there’s nothing there.
    Gingrich on the other hand has a surplus.
    One can pick and choose what ethical or moral violation he’s committed.

  17. avatar
    sfjeff December 16, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    “One thing I’ve always loved about Obama is that there’s no romantic scandals or ethical violations in his past. There’s nothing to find because there’s nothing there.
    Gingrich on the other hand has a surplus. One can pick and choose what ethical or moral violation he’s committed.”

    Yes- it is interesting to read the sputtering outrage of those opposed to Obama, and how eagerly they will embrace the claims of a Larry Sinclair against Obama, but blithely excuse Newt’s repeated adultery and just general lack of any family values- unless that includes serial adultery and failing to pay child support to your children.

    Obama is squeeky clean compared to pretty much every Republican candidate except of course the Mormons. But of course that is counted against them.

  18. avatar
    Sean December 16, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    I write comedy and conspiracy theories inspire me. This is because comedy and conspiracy theories share the same foundation: skewed reality.

  19. avatar
    The Magic M December 16, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    El Diablo Negro: They are hoping for that “Watergate” scandal that get him removed from office.

    Watergate was an actual crime. Birthers simply hope to find something embarrassing enough that it will cost him the re-election – such as “Religion: Muslim” on his BC, or him being the son of Malcolm X or F.M. Davis (i.e. “son of a radical”), or the son of a Hawaiian hooker or whatever crazy theory is in fashion these days.

    Daniel: Where the complexitiy comes in is once the simple explanation is challenged

    Actually, it comes before that.

    “It’s all a conspiracy” is only simple at first sight, just like “God did it”.
    Once you try to actually explain what the conspiracy consists of (even without having to point to inconsistencies), you see the actual complexity.

    Also, conspiracy theories misapply Occam’s razor by leaving out “among equally probable events” and “usually” and just say “the simplest explanation is the right one”.

    My theory is that apparent simplicity is only one aspect that makes conspiracy theories appealing to some people. Doc hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

    > It is easier to believe that one is the victim of a known conspiracy rather than an untold number of unknown random events.

    “Control” is the key here.
    Just like less advanced human societies try to attribute anything they cannot control (the weather, the sun rising, natural disasters, even death itself) to a deity, even in this modern age many people are frightened to admit there are things that are out of control – not only out of theirs, but humanity in general.
    There is no technology that can properly control the weather, or protect us from Hurricane Katrina, or allow one country to flourish isolated from the rest of the world.
    And that’s something that some people just cannot accept.
    For them, “chance” or “fate” may exist in small, unimportant contexts (such as whether their car breaks down or their milk gets sour or who they fall in love with), but they are scared to admit it also governs on the large scale.

    Consider it: if you’re generally an uncertain and scared person, could you live every day with the knowledge that tomorrow, lightning might strike you dead, or an earthquake might swallow your house, or all the cattle in the country might die from a new supervirus?
    No, you’d have to believe all these events are under (evil) human control, which means, at least in theory, they are also controllable by “the good guys”.
    So all you have to do is believe you can expose and oust the bad guys, take control yourself and be the total master of your destiny.

  20. avatar
    Majority Will December 17, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    A good example of a backlash against competence:

    UPDATE ON FARRAR ET AL V OBAMA ET AL
    Posted on | December 16, 2011 | No Comments

    A phone call was placed to Michael Jablonski, private attorney representing Obama in Farrar et al v Obama et al
    I will keep you updated, as to when I will hear from him.
    Objection to Obama’s motion to dismiss will be filed in due time
    Lastly, I am asking my supporters to think out of the box. Different strategies will be used to get to the end goal. Please, be patient. This is not an easy task. Sometimes unconventional strategies need to be used.

    (http://www.orlytaitzesq.com/?p=29195)

  21. avatar
    US Citizen December 17, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    “Sometimes unconventional strategies need to be used.”

    I think we might have a clue as to how she passed the BAR exam.

  22. avatar
    Bill DuBerger December 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    I think you’re way over-analyzing the conspiracy brain.

    The problem with most conspiracists is they start with a conclusion and work backwards.

    Supporting evidence is much easier to believe, while contrary evidence can always be dismissed by questioning the reliability of the source, and/or their motives.

    Before you know it, you are abusively pounding square pegs into round holes. Random acts and coincidences are retroactively molded to bolster the assumed conclusion.

  23. avatar
    G December 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I agree. That is certainly at the root of their thinking.

    In a way, it is a form of simplistic and lazy thinking – merely jump to an emotional conclusion first.

    The complexity arises for them once they try to defend that conclusion and have to weave around all the evidence that contradicts it.

    Bill DuBerger: I think you’re way over-analyzing the conspiracy brain.The problem with most conspiracists is they start with a conclusion and work backwards. Supporting evidence is much easier to believe, while contrary evidence can always be dismissed by questioning the reliability of the source, and/or their motives.Before you know it, you are abusively pounding square pegs into round holes. Random acts and coincidences are retroactively molded to bolster the assumed conclusion. </b<

  24. avatar
    US Citizen December 18, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    Bill DuBerger: Before you know it, you are abusively pounding square pegs into round holes. Random acts and coincidences are retroactively molded to bolster the assumed conclusion.

    Most birthers are exactly like this above.
    The one difference is WND. They prefer to build a round enclosure around a square peg and then say it was always there.