Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Land of Make Believe

Perhaps I spend too much time obsessing over the preposterous refusal of our political and media culture to distinguish between truth and falsehood. For some reason it just frosts my pumpkin when reporters give equal time to global warming deniers, creationists, and Republicans -- you know, people who believe that cutting rich people's taxes doesn't increase deficits, that the estate tax destroys family farms (there has never been a single example in all of history), and that covering everybody with health insurance will murder them.

But I'm not alone. I have mentioned Charlie Pierce's Idiot America here before, here's a nice review in Skeptical Inquirer. Pierce offers three premises which are foundational to our culture:

* First premise: “Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.”
* Second premise: “Anything can be true if somebody says it loudly enough.”
* Third premise: “Fact is that which enough people believe.”

I would offer a fourth, which is that fact can be established by reasoning backwards from pre-established conclusions, e.g. the Magical Free Market™ makes everything and everybody happy. But that premise only applies to big important stuff. SI has a couple of open access investigative reports this month that show how people just plain like to be fooled, such as the case of the utterly fraudulent psychic Sylvia Browne. It makes for illuminating, if disgusting, reading.

As readers know I have been particularly contemptuous of the New York Times for it's consistent policy of being Fair and Balanced between truth and falsehood, whether the subject is global warming, budget deficits, or national security. Tim Lambert is all over them for a recent outrage, in which Virginia Heffernan, as is the habit at the NYT, confuses scientific objectivity with respect for conservative political ideology and religion.

Now, I agree it is a challenge to the cause of reason that the Bible isn't true after all, and there is no such thing as the Magical Free Market™ fairy, and yes, Virginia, burning fossil fuels is making the surface of the planet warmer even though that is highly inconvenient for our present civilization. People don't like hearing any of that, so they retreat into the chronosynclastic infundibulum,* where all possible opinions are true. But they aren't.

* Kurt Vonnegut Jr., The Sirens of Titan. Give it a read.

Update: Here's another good one:

One of the uglier strains of modern conservative thought is pervasive anti-intellectualism. As Faiz Shakir noted today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a rather classic example on "Fox News Sunday."

Host Chris Wallace noted that "a number of top economists" believe that the nation, right now, needs "more economic stimulus." Boehner replied, "Well, I don't need to see GDP numbers or to listen to economists; all I need to do is listen to the American people." . . .


If Boehner were facing a serious ailment, would he say, "Well, I don't need to see lab results or to listen to medical professionals; all I need to do is listen to the American people"? Maybe so, but at this point, the serious ailment is our national economy, and it affects us all.

When Wallace pressed Boehner on how he'd pay for trillions of dollars in tax cuts, the would-be Speaker eventually concluded, "This is the whole Washington mindset, all these CBO numbers."

1 comment:

roger said...

boehner hit a trifecta of pierce's premises. or something like that.