5. Living in Denial

Apr-22-2011 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: We can agree that there is something, just on the other side of our senses, called “reality”. But we disagree, hugely, about what it is. Mother Jones Magazine looks at why some of us, increasingly, disbelieve in science. The followup article looks at themade-up “climategate” scandal, and how it’s been used to get people to deny global warming. Noam Chomsky looks at the denial that those who criticize a country can do so out of care for the country, and Jon Stewart zings at Huckabee’s denial that the US is an overwhelmingly Christian country.

* The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science Mother Jones  (Thanks Denis!)

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger , in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens—including one, “Sananda,” who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing….Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the “boys upstairs” (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials’ new pronouncement: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

* “So Professor Chomsky, why do you hate America?”

I realize that the question is not intended seriously. However, there is a serious point lurking behind it. A crucial totalitarian principle is that the state is identified with the people, the culture, the society. For those who adopt that principle, criticism of the state is hatred of the country. In the old Soviet Union, for example, dissidents were condemned as “anti-Soviet” or “haters of Russia,” because they condemned policies of the Holy State. We, however, rightly regarded them as the people most dedicated to the welfare of the Russian people. The concept has biblical origins. King Ahab, the epitome of evil in the Bible, condemned the Prophet Elijah as a hater of Israel because he denounced the crimes of the evil king, who, like all totalitarians, identified state power—himself—with the society and people. Where there is a democratic culture, such a notion would be ridiculed. In Italy, for example, if someone were to publish a book called “the Anti-Italians,” denouncing people who dare to criticize government policy, people would collapse with ridicule. It is rather striking that in the US, such a book (of course full of outlandish lies) is reviewed seriously and treated with respect. The US is alone, to my knowledge, outside of totalitarian states, in that concepts like “hate America” or “anti-American” are adopted in the style of King Ahab and his totalitarian successors. That should trouble us.

* Climategate: What Really Happened? Mother Jones

How climate science became the target of “the best-funded, best-organized smear campaign by the wealthiest industry that the Earth has ever known.”

It’s difficult to imagine how a guy who spends most of his time looking at endless columns of temperature records became a “fucking terrorist,” “killer,” or “one-world-government socialist.” It’s even harder when you meet Michael Mann, a balding 45-year-old climate scientist who speaks haltingly and has a habit of nervously clearing his throat. And when you realize that the reason for all the hostility is a 12-year-old chart, it seems more than a little surreal.

Back in 1999, Mann—then a newly minted Ph.D. (PDF)—and a pair of colleagues constructed a chart that plotted historical climate data, spanning from 1000 to 1980. Because recorded temperatures only begin in the late 19th century, Mann and his team largely relied on so-called proxy records—measurements of tree rings, coral, and ice cores whose variations illustrate temperature changes over the years. The graph showed that after nearly 900 years of relatively stable temperatures, there was a sharp uptick starting in the 20th century.

* Jon Stewart to Mike Huckabee The Daily Show

“I have to say, as someone who is not Christian, it’s hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country – or maybe forty-four in a row. But, that’s my point, is they’ve taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status.”



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