Putting on my engineer/scientist hat…
Why do so many of the people on the political left make such outlandish claims that no rational person could believe them?
Bush derangement syndrome describes some of the symptoms in general terms. It does not explain why it occurs and hence is of little use in prevention and cure. Other, more specific, examples of irrational beliefs include:
- Grumpy Old Man–How the next election will be won
- Michelle Malkin–I CALL IT “HATE COUTURE”
- Expose the left–Nick Berg’s Father Blame Bush For His Son’s Beheading, Not Zarqawi (VIDEO)
- It’s hopeless
- Elections, Cease Fear, and The Pink Pistols
- The Gallery of “Bush = Hitler” Allusions
- Barking Moonbat Early Warning System
The best explanation to date is, in the simplest possible words, When Prophecy Fails. This isn’t a perfect fit but the underlying mechanism appears to explain the symptoms. Let me explain. When people commit to a political viewpoint they frequently don’t just adhere to a set of beliefs they claim are “good” they also frequently claim their opponents are “evil”. This is, in almost all cases, not true. Because I am so familiar with the issue of gun control I’ll use examples from that particular public debate to illustrate. Without any data to support one side or the other there are two hypothesis that, at face value, appear to be worth exploring:
- Easily available weapons is good public policy because they enable innocent people to defend themselves against violent criminals.
- Easily available weapons is poor public policy because they enable violent criminals to commit violent acts against innocent people.
Some people promoting hypothesis 1 go beyond claiming they are trying to save lives by enabling self-defense. These people may claim their opponents have the intent to enable evil acts (socialism, communism, genocide, etc.) Some people promoting hypothesis 2 go beyond claiming they are trying to save innocent lives by removing weapons from potential criminals. These people may claim their opponents do not care about the loss of innocent lives and are motivated by money from gun and ammunition sales or the mere enjoyment of their hobby.
In the process of promoting their beliefs both sides will make predictions (prophecies) about the consequences of agreeing and/or not agreeing with them. When those predictions fail to come about they are in the situation of a failed prophecy as described by the book. Those people, given certain conditions, will not admit they were wrong and change their beliefs but will instead increase their promotion (proselyting) of their belief system and make new, typically even grander, predications of the adverse results if people fail to adhere to their belief system.
Hence, people opposed to the Bush administration end up claiming President Bush is the equivalent of Adolf Hitler and the gun controller types ban certain types of clothes when gun bans fail to reduce crime.
OK, so what’s the solution? I could say the solution is to promote critical thinking skills, or rational thought process, but how does one do that?
I keep coming around, from several different directions, to the idea that education absolutely must be freed from government ownership and control– that we must have a free market in education. Obviously those who have invested a great deal of emotional attachment in the current government monopoly will fight tooth and nail to prevent a free market. I for one, on the other hand, know full well that a free market will in the long run always outperform any and all coercive systems ever conceived, and vastly so. I just have no idea of how a free market is to come out of the current coercive one. The historical examples of such a process are typically very unpleasant.
Is there a desirable historic model from which we can learn?
I believe you have correctly identified the problem. What is the cure? Your solution above seems to be “we should think rationally, allowing ourselves to change our positions based on evidence”. It’s the scientific process. That has to be taught. Opponents of it will claim that rationality is a “weapon”.
The solution escapes me at this time. But understanding the problem is the first step to any solution. I’m not convinced your solution, while I believe it would work, is necessarily the only solution. Read the five conditions (http://www.whenprophecyfails.org/Conditions.htm). ALL five must exist for the syndrome to occur. If you can remove ANY ONE of them then the derangement will not occur.
That being said it still is not a simple problem. Probably the easily attack vector is the social support and that’s not very easy. My guess is that we have to attack at the periphery where the support is weakest and work our way in. Perhaps you are correct in thinking the schools are the weakest point. I don’t know. The media is a pretty strong social support system too. We are making progress in the media via talk radio and the blogosphere which has to be helping some. Laughing at them in public about wanting to ban paint and other absurdities has got to be drawing some blood and causing them to lose support at the edges of their base.
As far as rationality being called a “weapon” I don’t think so. I do think it will be called racist though (similar to this incident: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/272550_race02.html — thanks Ry).
I’ll put up a series starting tomorrow of quotes of the day by Martin Luther about reason. What he said probably applies in this case too. What Ann Landers had to say (http://blog.joehuffman.org/2005/09/21/quote-of-the-day-ann-landers/) certainly applies.
“No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.”
Yup. That’s pretty daft. You believe I’m a witch and that therefore you must burn me at the stake and you can bet I’m going to demand empirical evidence. You want to believe that banning guns would make society safer? Fine and dandy as long as you’re utterly powerless to enact it, etc.. You want to bark at the moon all night quoting Marx? Groovy, as long as you’re staying out of the way.
The social support issue is a sticky one. If there are enough moonbats around that their support network can continue to thrive in the face of a tidal wave of reason, then we end up with an increasingly polarized society, which cannot end pleasantly. The best would be if they all got together in Guiana with a lifetime supply of Kool-Aid. Seriously, several cults have done likewise, and the cult of socialism is little different, except that they want to force their Kool-Aid on the rest of us.