Rush Limbaugh — Master of Creditability

As I turned on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program today – randomly – I was met by Limbaugh saying that liberals have been openly advocating communism for two decades now and that Barack Obama wants to be re-elected so that he can install a communist regime.

Hume’s Ghost from The Daily Doubter blog.

Are there still some folks left who are naive enough to unquestioningly believe Rush?  Or has he finally reached the point that even the biggest, most gullible fool among us no longer believes him?

“Tell Me Lies! Tell Me Lies! Tell Me Sweet Santa Lies!”

America is a diverse nation and only the naive person believes that almost all Americans share a ton of values in common.  However, one of the very few things that almost all American adults have agreed to do is to lie to young children about Santa.

I do not mean to imply that almost all American adults approve of lying to young children about Santa.   Many of us don’t.  Yet, rather than become pariahs in our own homes or communities, we go along with the social demand that young children should be lied to about Santa.

For instance, this morning, Doug at Groping the Elephant, wrote about a news anchor, Robin Robinson, who was pressured by public outrage to apologize for having announced during a broadcast that there was no Santa Claus.    Regardless of Ms. Robinson’s own views on the subject, it’s unlikely she’ll anytime soon try publicly debunking the myth again.

A surprising lot can be said about the custom of lying about Santa.  Obviously, one can argue over whether it is morally right or wrong.  But beyond that, one might speculate why such a hugely diverse nation is nearly unanimous in its support for the custom.  One might ask whether figuring out that we have been lied to by our community is a rite of passage — one of the very few rites of passage left that nearly everyone goes through.  One might ponder why no one has figured out a way to commercialize lying to Santa in a nation that seems able to commercialize everything else.  Indeed, the ways of discussing lying about Santa might seem endless.

I can’t recall at what age I figured out there was no Santa, but I can recall what it taught me.  That is, I can still even to this day recall marveling over the discovery that I had believed something — not because I thought it was true (I had suspicions it wasn’t true even before I confirmed it wasn’t true) — but because I so deeply desired it to be true.

That was an important life lesson for me.  Over the years, I have benefited again and again from knowing that I am capable of believing something to be true simply because I want it to be true.

So, what lessons, if any, did you yourself learn upon discovering that your community lied to you about Santa?  Were any of the lessons you learned especially useful to you?   Did any of them stick with you?

Is there an Opinion so Stupid Only an Idiot Could Believe it?

The other day, I ran across a blog post from an author who was castigating American women for “whining” about rape and sexual harassment.  The author’s excuse was that he had recently read about an Afghan woman who, in some sense, has it worse than “anything American women encounter”.   And his reasoning — if one might call it “reasoning” — was that, since the Afghan woman is being treated worse than American women, American women have no right to complain.

In the small town in which I grew up, we had what were called “village idiots”.   Those were folks who, for whatever reason, were not likely to benefit from efforts to inform or instruct them.   Most of them were nice enough people.  It’s just that they could not learn or think as well as the rest of us.   In my small town, you typically knew enough about each other that you did not need to guess who the village idiots were.  Unfortunately, it’s not that way on the internet.   On the internet, you sometimes need to guess.

Especially if you’ve only read one post by him or her.  So, you’re not always sure that someone is incapable of benefiting from constructive criticism.  Yet, I’m pretty sure the author of that Afghan piece is a village idiot.  Anyone who reasons as he did, has all but got to be one.  Correcting him isn’t likely to have any effect.  He doesn’t need criticism — he needs care-taking.

I remember one village idiot from my home town who was my age.  He wanted nothing more in life than a motor scooter.  But his parents refused to give him one — knowing he was incapable of handling one.  Still, he begged and begged.  Finally, after he was 30 or something, his parents finally broke down and gave him a motor scooter.   But — in order to keep him out of trouble — they forbid him to take the scooter onto the city streets.  He was only to ride in his own, large backyard.

In the backyard was a clothes line.   The idiot got on his scooter, raced straight for the clothes line at the far end of the yard, failed to duck, and decapitated himself.

I was put in mind of that poor idiot when I read the post alleging American women have it too good to complain about rape and sexual harassment.  It seemed to me the author of that post no more knows how to handle reasoning than that village idiot in my small home town knew how to handle a clothesline.

Yet, I wonder if I could be wrong.

It seems it is routine for otherwise intelligent people to indulge themselves in nuggets of utter stupidity.  For instance, there are people who stupidly deny evolution but who are otherwise intelligent people.  So is the “idiot” I ran across the other day — the idiot who believes American women have it too good to complain about rape and sexual harassment —  a thorough-going idiot or just a part-time idiot?

In my hometown, you knew who the true idiots were because you had years of experience with them.  You also knew that nearly anyone can have an idiotic opinion now and then: After all, humans are notably poor at reasoning logically*.   But you could sort out the full-time idiots from the part-time idiots because you knew folks so intimately.   Over the net, you often don’t know people well enough to know whether or not any particular idiotic idea they harbor is actually the norm for them.

All of which now brings me to the question of whether there is an opinion so stupid that one would necessarily need to be a complete and utter idiot to believe it?  That is, an opinion so stupid that even a mere part-time idiot could not seriously hold it.

If so, what is that opinion?

(I am tempted — but only tempted —  to say that opinion is that American women have no right to complain about rape and sexual harassment because Afghan women have it worse.)

I find it interesting to take the question seriously.  At least, for the moment.  I doubt there really is any opinion — no matter how stupid — that is so stupid only a thorough-going idiot could harbor it.  Instead, I think that otherwise intelligent people can hold even the world’s most stupid opinions.

And if that is true — if even the most stupid opinions can be held by reasonably intelligent people — what does that bode?  What does it imply?

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*There are scientists who argue that reasoning in humans did not evolve as a means to arrive at true conclusions, but rather evolved as a means to win arguments.  Hence, the many cognitive biases and errors that humans are prone to indulge in when reasoning.  Also hence, the tendency of even the best of us to have idiotic ideas now and then.

Dead Serious

Some years ago, I worked as  a fire fighter in order to pay my way through college.   Of all the things I can recall from those days, one of the most difficult — yet interesting — things to describe is the way in which a person’s voice — and most often his whole manner — would change when he became dead serious.

“Dead serious” might not be the best words for it.   Maybe a word like “realistic” serves better because the temperament I am trying to describe is characterized by complete realism.  But whatever word or phrase is used, it is a hard thing to describe.  And, in large part, I suspect it’s a hard thing to describe because we think that we already know what dead serious is.  But do we?

Of course most of us are quite frequently serious about something.  Even quite serious about something.  But please allow me to submit that most of us are rarely dead serious. In my own experience, I haven’t been dead serious about anything in years. And for good reason.  There has been no call to be dead serious.

I do not know for certain what causes a person to become dead serious.  I might say it is triggered by great personal danger.  But I’ve been in situations when I was in great personal danger and yet I did not become dead serious.  So it doesn’t happened every time you’re in great personal danger.   But generally speaking, great personal danger is a trigger.

At any rate, I noticed when I was fighting fires that now and then someone’s manner would change.  They would become what I am calling “dead serious”.

I remember once six or seven us were discussing abortion while we waited for a call.   One of the men was dogmatically opposed to abortion in any circumstance.   And that evening he was quite passionate in condemning any woman who might have one — even to preserve her own life.   As he spoke, his voice was raised, his face was red, and he was gesturing adamantly.  I think most of us would have said he was serious — even dead serious — about abortion being in all cases immoral.

Yet, a short time later, I was out with him on a call, and — confronted with an especially dangerous fire — both his voice and manner changed in such a way as to make me marvel that everything he’d said about abortion had been said without the deepest possible conviction!  Face to face with that fire, he was serious to a degree that he simply could not muster earlier — no matter how hard he had tried to work himself into it.

The difference between being dead serious and not being dead serious struck me on that occasion and on others.  In the years since I worked as a fire fighter, I have now and then tried to write about that difference in my journals, but I have never written about it with anymore success than I’ve had here.  Describing the difference simply eludes me — and yet, I think nearly anyone would notice the difference if they encountered it.

Is Christmas a Potlatch?

Is Christmas a potlatch?  It seems to me to bear some resemblance to the Northwest Native American festivals.

For instance:  Economically, it functions as a massive redistribution of wealth.  One’s status seems to increase with the amount and value of goods that one can give away.  And people sometimes go broke giving away their wealth.  In each of those respects, it resembles the Native American festivals.

So, is Christmas mainstream society’s equivalent of a potlatch?  What do you think?