Log in

No account? Create an account
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2011-09-16 05:57
Subject: [culture|politics] Privileging wilful ignorance
Security: Public
Tags:culture, politics

Recently in the car I heard part of an OPB broadcast about changes in Oregon law removing religious belief in faith healing as a valid defense for failing to seek needed medical attention for a child. (This in the context of manslaughter and child abuse charges on the death of a child with an otherwise treatable condition.) The host challenged the legislator behind the law as to why they were targeting religious believers as opposed to vaccination deniers.

My reaction was to think that both positions — faith healing and vaccination denial — are positions of wilful ignorance in the face of plain fact. And fundamentally, while adults are free to neglect themselves as see fit, when a parent applies either of those approaches to a child, they are committing abuse. Plain and simple. The child has no choice about participating in the explicitly counterfactual and risky behavior being chosen by the parent. Children deserve better than that kind of wilful ignorance.

Even filtered through my confirmation bias as a liberal-progressive, most of the privileged wilful ignorance I see in our society these days emanates from the religious and political Right wing of our culture. The notable exception to this is the anti-vaccination movement, which is entirely founded on precisely one widely discredited study two decades old, and seems to be a pet theory of a certain New Age-left perspective. Every other significant example I can think of comes from the Right.

I’m talking here specifically about wilful ignorance with a broad base of support or a broad impact. Moon landing denial is a wilful ignorance, but it’s the hobby of a selected few cranks. Holocaust denial has more serious roots and implications, but it’s hardly a major fixture of the American political or social scene. On the other hand, there’s a whole array of conservative hobby horses ranging from evolution denial to climate change denial to stem cell research that have wide ranging implications in electoral politics and educational policy alike.

All of these fixations, no matter where they emanate from, require a belief in a broad-based conspiracy of suppression, a denial of widely available data and plain facts, and a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” kind of logic that says if enough people believe something, it must have validity.

Part of the privileging comes from that idea that if enough people believe something, it must be true. This is the basis of Creationism’s moronic “teach the controversy” mantra. There is no controversy except one arising from wilful ignorance, and that doesn’t deserve privileging as political or social discourse.

Likewise, part of the privileging comes from some of these positions being articles of certain sects of this country’s mainstream Christian faith. Because it’s been defined as an article of faith, evolution denialists can cry foul and claim anti-Christian bigotry to privilege their position. That doesn’t make them an less wrong, of course.

But most of the privileging comes from a deeply cynical long term conservative strategy of building on fear and ignorance to keep the GOP voting base engaged. One of the two major parties of the most powerful country in the world deliberately indulges in all sorts of weirdness from Birtherism to evolution denial to keep their voters activated. That kind of short term electoral thinking comes at the expense of both good government and a rational society.

The principle of crank magnetism weighs in here. (HT to Orac, where I picked this term up.) Once you surrender evidence-based thinking and logic chains in favor of a cherished illogical belief, you strongly risk decoupling your ability to think critically about other matters. Frankly, this is one reason I am an atheist — all faith-based thinking creates this mindset, insofar as I can see. And we can see the evidence in the rapid drift of the Republican party and its standard bearers into increasingly weird territory on a whole host of science and reality type issues. Which then feeds back into deep counterfactual thinking on blackletter issues like budget and tax policy.

I don’t really have any notion how to address this. I do know that undermining the American way of thinking is a great way to score electoral votes, but it’s a lousy way to chart the future course of our country. This is the kind of problem we ought to be able to educate ourselves out of, on the Right and elsewhere (we don’t really have a Left in America), if we’d only listen to reality.

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

Post A Comment | 6 Comments | | Flag | Link

User: cuddlycthulhu
Date: 2011-09-16 14:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do know that undermining the American way of thinking is a great way to score electoral votes, but it’s a lousy way to chart the future course of our country.

Not if you, as a political people, want that. Get people dumb, keep people dumb, and they won't do things like ask real questions and demand real answers. A country like that will accept anything you say whatever the reasoning, and, for some, that's the ideal they're working for IMO.

"This would be a whole lot easier if it were a dictatorship. Just as long as I was the dictator."
Reply | Thread | Link

User: voidampersand
Date: 2011-09-16 15:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes there is a lot of willful ignorance, and I think there always will be. Ignorance is the default state. People are generally unwilling to change how they think; they would prefer to be accepted as they are. And people are excellent at rationalizing excuses. Put these together and you get pervasive willful ignorance, and even institutions for spreading particular flavors of it.

All of these fixations, no matter where they emanate from, require a belief in a broad-based conspiracy of suppression

What about that vast right-wing conspiracy? I don't think it can be explained as entirely an emergent meta-phenomenon of pervasive willful ignorance. It sure looks like there is a culture war going on, and a class war, organized by and for the Republican Party. As they say, where there's intense heat, light and shooting flames, there's fire.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: barbarienne
Date: 2011-09-16 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think the main way to deal with it is for certain people in power to grow a pair and quit privileging what they know to be utter bullshit.

It's one thing for the people who use lying as a lever. I can at least understand (though obviously not approve) of such unprincipled sociopathy.

What I can't countenance is the people who cower in fear from calling the shit out. One of the great things about term limits is that lame ducks have nothing to lose, and can say things that someone who is concerned about re-election may be too chicken to say.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: pingback_bot
Date: 2011-09-16 18:28 (UTC)
Subject: No title
User curiouseve referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] Yeah, he just says it best: http://jaylake.livejournal.com/2606310.html [...]
Reply | Thread | Link

Ruthanne Reid
User: ruthannereid
Date: 2011-09-16 20:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do know one way, as someone who considers herself semi-religious but (hopefully) semi-rational. Nowhere in the bible is there the concept of NOT seeking a doctor for illnesses, or NOT being responsible.

Whole book of Proverbs is about battening down the hatches and not being a dumbass.

People like this baffle me. I just can't understand putting a child's life at risk to be "right."
Reply | Thread | Link

Rowan aka: The Seticat: cat - batcountry - dementia
User: seticat
Date: 2011-09-18 01:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:cat - batcountry - dementia
If you [as an individual, not you, Jay] want to espouse some off-the-wall theory and life style like stating that eating Asian food will turn you anti-Christian [honest to Bog, I heard this one once], that's cool. Your life, your path. But for for the love of Hera's Handbag do *not* try and get a law passed outlawing Asian food because it's un-American [this being a Christian country, ya'know]. I currently live in the Idaho Conservative 'Bible Belt' and some of the dreck I've heard makes me weep for the future of this Country.

Let's not even get into the whole 'deny your child proper health care based on your beliefs'. I've seen to many parents panic at the last moment and bring their child to the ER in extremis because they held off getting any sort of care because their Pastor 'laid his hands on him weeks ago and we've just been waiting for it to take' [another true story].

Have I spent too many years working health care? Perhaps. But child death from a treatable condition that went untreated is simply another form of child abuse [my personal opinion].

'Nuff said.
Reply | Thread | Link

my journal
January 2014
2012 appearances