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November 4th, 2012

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08:53 am - The Long Con
I just read an article by the American historian Rick Perlstein (author of Nixonland) which develops the idea I was kind of kicking around in my head yesterday, that 'Insider knowledge' is overrated. The article is called The Long Con and it's about how political mailing lists have been used by con artists since the early sixties to mail scams out to victims. And a lot of these scams are based on supposed 'insider knowledge', send money to learn about the cancer cure doctors are keeping to themselves or whatever.

In the last page of the article Perlstein raises another point, which I find fascinating. Loud public affirmation of things that people at some level know are not true serves as a group bonding thing. Here he is on the Romney campaign:
Lying is an initiation into the elite. In this respect, as in so many others, it’s like multilayer marketing: the ones at the top reap the reward... Sneering at, or ignoring, your earnest high-minded mandarin gatekeepers—“we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” as one Romney aide put it—is another part of closing the deal. For years now, the story in the mainstream political press has been Romney’s difficulty in convincing conservatives, finally, that he is truly one of them. His lying—so dismaying to the opinion-makers at the New York Times—is how he has pulled it off once and for all.
Knowing deep inside that something isn't true makes it bizarrely more emotionally compelling to a certain kind of person. Orwell wrote quite a bit about this. For example I think those people who make a big fuss saying 'Obama is a Muslim' don't really believe it. And in a funny way the fact that they know it isn't true makes it more exciting to say it, and hang out with other people who say it. Or you know 'Homosexuals are going to inject our children with AIDS' or whatever bullshit. It excites them in an unhealthy way I think, because they know it isn't true, but they can all get together and say it to each other.

If I try to put it in a nice way, some people are strongly attuned to group cohesion and group membership - which is a natural human thing - and affirming an untruth in solidity with others emphasises the strength of their social ties. Just like for a different kind of person affirming 'the truth' against social unpopularity is quite thrilling in a different way.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2012 11:36 am (UTC)
If I try to put it in a nice way

I love how it is widely frowned upon to call someone who lies a liar. And when I say I love it I am uttering an alternatively truth-valued statement.
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2012 11:53 am (UTC)
Yes, I am being a bit mealy-mouthed. But what is the alternative?

It's like people who say Hurricane Sandy is 'god's response to gay marriage'? I find it hard to believe that anyone sincerely holds that view. But at the same time do they experience it as 'lying'? I don't think they do. So, how do you argue with them? I don't know. They have no reason to listen.
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2012 12:59 pm (UTC)
I find it hard to believe that anyone sincerely holds that view.

Once again it's apparent I run in a much stupider circles 'cause I don't find that hard to believe. And I imagine at least for some they've been told it's so by more powerful (by whatever definition) people whom we've all been trained not to call liars.

Ummm but for the record I am not trying to goad you into picking fights with people. Really. :-D
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
People will sincerely believe all kinds of bizarre, irrational or downright stupid things, and will engage in all sorts of intellectual contortions and fallacious arguments in order to avoid the risk of changing those beliefs.

On the Hurricane Sandy thing, you're dealing with people whose idea of a sound logical argument is "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!" Trying to engage them in rigorous debate is like trying to teach a goldfish quantum mechanics.

Gene Wilder's character in Blazing Saddles put it best: "You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
I picked a bad example by choosing a pseudo-belief about 'god', which muddies the water.

But by happy chance Salon just posted 'Six paranoid fears about Obama's second presidency' a couple of hours ago which is a better illustration of what I meant. For example:
Joseph Farah ... of WorldNetDaily, is under no delusions about his fate. “If [Obama is] re-elected, it’s gonna be war,” said Farah, who swears he saw a drone surveilling his Northern Virginia property. “We will be hunted down like dogs.”

Because you know maybe people really do think god this or god that, but Farah knows damn well that he is not about to be hunted down like a dog. That is an unequivocal lie, and a barefaced one too.

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