cmaukonen's picture

    True Believers

    "I saw someone peeing in Jermyn Street the other day. I thought, is this the end of civilization as we know it? Or is it simply someone peeing in Jermyn Street?" Alan Bennett
    Well the date of the rapture, apocalypse etc. has come and gone. Many people apparently believed that it was going to come and even though it did not - and likely will not for some time to come, say a couple thousand years or so, give or take a few thousand - most of these same people will continue to believe and believe in the person who made this prediction.  With Camping not even opening the door.

    The headquarters, which appears to be normally closed on Saturday, was also shuttered on Friday.  

    Camping, whose deep sonorous voice is frequently heard on his radio network expounding the Bible, could not be reached for comment on Saturday.


    The shades were drawn and no one answered the door at his house in Alameda, California.

    This whole phenomenon may be explained by a behavior know as cognitive dissonance.

    The most famous case in the early study of cognitive dissonance was described by Leon Festinger and others in the book When Prophecy Fails.[3] The authors infiltrated a group that was expecting the imminent end of the world on a certain date. When that prediction failed, the movement did not disintegrate, but grew instead. By sharing cult beliefs with others, they gained acceptance and thus reduced their own dissonance .

    This sharing of beliefs also brings up another pattern that has been noted.  That of crowd wisdom.

    The wisdom of the crowd refers to the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. This process, while not new to the information age, has been pushed into the mainstream spotlight by social information sites such as Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers, and other web resources that rely on human opinion[1]. The process, in the business world at least, was written about in detail by James Surowiecki in his book The Wisdom of Crowds[2].

    But this wisdom apparently breaks down when each individual is informed of the others answer.

    When people can learn what others think, the wisdom of crowds may veer towards ignorance.

    In a new study of crowd wisdom — the statistical phenomenon by which individual biases cancel each other out, distilling hundreds or thousands of individual guesses into uncannily accurate average answers — researchers told test participants about their peers’ guesses. As a result, their group insight went awry.

    “Although groups are initially ‘wise,’ knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines” collective wisdom, wrote researchers led by mathematician Jan Lorenz and sociologist Heiko Rahut of Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 16. “Even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect.”

    I am not sayin that the above does relate but it is something to think about.  And add to this another effect that relates to cognitive dissonance. That of the True Believer syndrome.

    True-believer syndrome is an expression coined by M. Lamar Keene to describe an apparent cognitive disorder characterized by believing in the reality of paranormal or supernatural events after one has been presented overwhelming evidence that the event was fraudulently staged. Keene is a reformed phony psychic who exposed religious racketeering—to little effect, apparently. Phony faith healers, psychics, channelers, televangelist miracle workers, etc., are as abundant as ever.

    There have been a few small studies done on this syndrome.

    Some small-scale studies have been undertaken; for example, a study by psychologists Barry Singer and Victor Benassi at California State University showed that more than half of the study's subjects believed a fake psychic to be real, even after they were told that he was fake and his tricks were explained. [Benassi and Singer; Hofstadter]

    And there appears to be some very distinct types of True Believers as well.

    In any case, there are at least three types of true believers, though they are clearly related. One is the kind Keene was referring to, namely, the type of person who believes in paranormal or supernatural things contrary to the evidence. Their faith is unshakable even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them, e.g., those who refused to disbelieve in "Carlos" once the hoax was revealed, or those chiropractors who would rather give up randomized, double-blind controlled experiments than admit that applied kinesiology doesn't work. Keene's examples are mostly of people who are so desperate to communicate with the dead that no exposé of fraudulent mediums (or channelers) can shake their faith in spiritualism (or channeling).

    Another type of true believer is the cult follower. Emily Harrison watched her mother, Debra Harrison, die as she and Consegrity® co-founder, Mary A. Lynch, practiced their "healing energy" medicine to no avail. As they tried to will away the "bad energy" that they believed was causing Debra's illness, Lynch, an M.D. who should know a diabetic when she lives with one,  spoon-fed her partner orange juice. Debra Harrison had co-invented Consegrity with Lynch and did not seek medical attention, even though at the time of her death she showed all the signs of diabetes.
    One other type of true believer is described by Eric Hoffer in his book The True Believer. This type of person is irrationally committed to a cause like terrorist attacks on civilians, murdering doctors who perform abortions, or following a guru like Jim Jones even to the point of murder or suicide.

    One possible explanation for true-believer syndrome is that the belief satisfies an emotional need that is stronger than any other emotional need. Why some people have such a strong emotional need to believe in something that rational people recognize as false is perhaps unanswerable, but it is clear that the kind of beliefs we are discussing here are based on emotions and feelings, not reason and evidence. 



    And I put this all here not for the religious examples quoted but wonder if this same behavior is what is behind the right wings adherence to the failed economic policies of Reaganomics AKA Free Market and the works of Ayn Rand.  Even though it has been shown time and time again that they run counter to reality.  That these same folks will hold on to their economic beliefs with the same deaths grip as a cult follower of Jim Jones or the Family Radio preacher regardless of the outcome.

    Now having said this I also need to say that the idea of hold onto some - apparently illogical belief - is not always a bad thing in the appropriate situation since it appears to be closely linked to what is known as intuition. Where people come up with the correct solution or answer with contrary or insufficient data or information.  But like all such behaviors can run afoul when taken to extremes.


    "Camping, whose deep sonorous voice is frequently heard on his radio network expounding the Bible, could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
    The shades were drawn and no one answered the door at his house in Alameda, California".

    Duh, you non-believers will go to crazy lengths to avoid the obvious truth. There were just far fewer "good" people on earth Friday than all the no-values non-believing liberals could have imagined. You, your friends and family and neighbors are still here but the few good people are now gone. Nobody has even missed them. The good Mr. Camping was the first to go. He wasn't there to answer the door. Did I say, Duh?
     Don't be surprised, though, if the government plants a doddering old idiot in his place to make believe the rapture didn't happen because if the sheep ever found out the truth the world, as they know it, would come to its end. Now we really are all in this handbasket together.

    Oh Brother ..............................Wink

    It always seemed to me in my many thousands of conversations with conservative activists and the average loyal fox viewer that their randian beliefs were all to rationalize away their extreme selfishness and their view of themselves as individuals who acquired and achieved all of their successes by their drive alone.

    Besides spouting and truly believing virtually every item of conservative/libertarian propaganda that has been created, focused grouped, and reworked by all the various conserv think tanks in the last 40 years, I personally have never been able to get any conservative to say that public schools or colleges helped them along the way, even when it was provable that they genrously partook of government subsidised loans, or attended land grant colleges and state universities, that a system of roads was key to business and their own lives, that having access at a moments notice to clean and unimaginably cheap water has enriched their lives. In fact most responses cast those things in a bad light, as if they could have done more without them. For them all the problems and supposed loss of liberties outweigh any benefits whatsoever. A typical response is that the free market would have taken care of it eventually, along the lines of Paul Jr. and Sr. 's remarks about jim crow. 

    They can't seem to comprehend the concept of generational investment, theft, or neglect for that matter. When I talk to most conservatives you would think that their generation won world war two, built eisenhowers insterstate highway system, and invented and commercialized the integrated circuit within the span of a few years.

    They absolutely abhor any suggestion that they "stand on the shoulders of giants," or are part of and beneficiaries of thousands of years of collective action, aka society. They take it as a slight against them if you perhaps mention that frieight rail, thus their food, still travels on tracks and routes dug, blasted, and hammered into the ground by chinese immigrants at the turn of the century, or the roads they travel, or water they drink, or that all their foods are inspected is made possible by government. The fact that because we aren't all rioting in the streets over food is a major plus to business is beyond their comprehension. Or that all those .1%-ers that they would seemingly die for before taxing, actually use more of those government resources than the rest of us to make their money. 

    They can't understand the Waltons get a serious boon by having roads to ship their cheap products from shipyards to midwest wal marts to sell to us. They don't see that Kochs benefit greatly by having workers who won't get sick and die from drinking the water out of the tap, or by picking up an untested product off the shelf. So they can't imagine how healthier citizens would contribute more to the economy. 

    They immediately will say that the private sector would do it better, but never seem to answer how the introduction of profit motive will benefit people or make large engineering projects cheaper or better. I have actually had many conservatives claim, with a straight face, that they don't use public roads, schools, water, utilities, or benefit from government in any way. It is a badge of pride for them and they really believe it. When you point out the most basic benefits like law and order they will immediately point to their prowess to take care of themselves, and police themselves and their communities, it usually devolves into an NRA pamphlet.

    I guess it is because we have such short memories of what life was really like before government programs like disease eradication, or screw fly solution insect control actually came about. I have had conservatives from TN say the TVA has done nothing for them, or Memphis residents that yellow fever outbreaks at the turn of the century weren't so bad, and that since the problem is gone now, couldn't possibly return if the government stopped doing these things. 

    To me it always seemed that the logic of these randian free marketeers was about as sound as the anti-vax crowd. I try to make the point that perhaps whenever they hear large corporations bellyaching about free markets, they shoud probably look at what competition they are trying to squash to further entrench their profits and interests.

    So yes, the dissonance between seeing oneself as a rugged frontier individualist that earned everything they got, own bootstraps kind of person, and plainly seeing the benefits that accure to current generations from advances in science, math, medicine, and public works is great.

    The pretzel knots that conservatives tie themselves into while flogging Jesus and greed is good selfishness at the same time is huge, and gives us the results we have today. One political party that is completely controlled by its idealouges, and sometimes with great amounts of shady money manages to fool the public into believing they are "compassionate conservatives" which by extreme overreach quickly becomes apparent were lies, and another party that is desperate to keep up money wise, with a socially liberal corporatist wing selling out the corporate wary wing every chance they get in the name of some bipartisan fetish, and a media that is controlled by 5-6 corporations, staffed by celebrity millionaires who have convinced themselves that they know the struggles and trials of the average american, and exactly what we want. 

    It's the only explanation that shows how shredding what is left of the safety net, and greatly reducing social securty and medicare, while simultaneously continuing to lower millionaire's taxes, when its at a 100 year low vs GDP, can be called "serious" and "shared sacrifice" everyday in every media outlet, and on every tv with a smile.

    Their is no shortage of dissonance in America, or in mine and your daily lives. I think that dissonance can go a long way in explaining many things, and examining my own dissonance reduction rationalizations has helped me to avoid making stupid or ill informed decisions, and it is also helpful in examining one's own biases and tryng to change out of reflexive thinking. 


    And how is this different that the Islamic or Christian fundamentalist justifying their anti-social behavior by selective quotes from the Quran or Bible ? Or the preaching of some Mullah or Fundamentalist preacher.

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