Friday, July 27, 2007

Terminator Intellectuals and the Drowned.

I spend much of my public time complaining about the state of our pubic intellectuals, of how low and dirty the bastards are, of how shamelessly they lie about the most obvious realities, and how so many people rely on the "expert" authority they assume. The majority of our public intellectuals today seem to be made by a cookie-cutter in Hell who bakes these creatures half-way and sends them straight to the media, the universities, to our legislatures. How else can we find ourselves stuck with such filthy scum people as Ward Churchill? How can a man stand up in pubic and lie and lie and lie-- and have people believe him? Easy, as it turns out. OK, I'll take a look.

Below is an abbreviated book review from the National Post newspaper in Canada, preceded by some snippets from Amazon about why, among others, our intelligentsia lie and are such scum-bags. Bad enough that our public intellectuals are so often scum-bags, but worse is that so many normal citizens across the world simply believe them to be more or less right anyway, even when they are so obviously scummy. I read the reviews, and this one has me interested in looking at the book itself

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.

An amazon blurb:
"Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?
Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.
Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it ."

Scrolling down through the reader reviews one comes to this: M. L. Lamendola, "Almost Great." Some reader responses to this interesting and well-thought-out review dismiss the writer on the grounds that s/he is an Anne Coulter fan.

And finally, here is the column from the National Post that got me this far so far.

Jonathan Kay, "
The reason that innocents get prosecuted," National Post. Canada: 27 July 2007.

Kay begins his piece by highlighting a case of criminal justice gone totally wrong, the false accusation of boys in a case of murder. Then:

"How did trained investigators screw up so badly?

Two eminent California social psychologists have a convincing explanation. In a new book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson argue that many of the problems that plague our society -- from lying politicians to dysfunctional marriages -- originate with the fact that humans simply cannot admit when we're wrong. We form an opinion about something -- say, about who committed a murder-- and then systematically reject or explain away any incoming evidence that contradicts our preferred thesis. We think we're being rational and scientific. But in fact, we're subconsciously falling prey to mental defence mechanisms that protect us from cognitive dissonance.

[In] the case of murder investigators... mental intransigence destroys lives. Astonishingly, police and prosecutors often refuse to admit they screwed up even when slam-dunk evidence has proven them wrong.


Of course, police aren't the only people in our society who exhibit misplaced professional solidarity. But the nature of their jobs means that the stakes are particularly high: Innocent people can rot in jail for crimes they didn't commit. There's no surefire way to make cops place their commitment to truth above their commitment to colleagues. But getting every Canadian man and woman in uniform to read Mistakes Were Made would be a good start


How do normal and ordinary folk get stuck in a "Terminator" mode? Kay uses the example of cops unrelenting in the face of their obvious mistaken assumptions. They just can't back down and admit they were wrong. Yes, the police charging and creating evidence to convict the innocent is dramatic, but it's not really as important as the every-day examples one finds on the streets of our cities and towns, the average guy going on and on about things obviously wrong. "Islam means 'peace' and it's only the Americans who have stirred up Islamic hatred blah blah." No amount of reality is going to penetrate the mind of the fanatic, the normal guy on the street, the guy who is so totally conformed to "the way it is" that he will die like those Primo Levi calls "the Drowned." Walking off a cliff is normal if everyone else is doing it.
Going against the crowd pisses people off in a big way.

I'll check out this book if and when I see it available. Meanwhile, send in your review or even your opinion. Maybe I'm wrong about
Ward Churchill. I'm willing to consider that, if I find it's possible. I'd rather find out I'm wrong that live in stupid aggressive ignorance just because I can't let go of a wrong idea. But hey, that's just me.


maccusgermanis said...

There exists a collusion against conflict. It isn't just that individuals will try to get away with their mistakes, but also that witnesses will avoid all confrontation with offenders. This fear of conflict arises from widespread rejection of redemptive theories and practices that have been a part of our culture. When sober judgment and punishment are mistaken for, and supplanted by, general appeal and vengence, it is small wonder that accused will make use of the same prosecuting arts in their defense.

dag said...

I somehow made a mistake in posting this piece yesterday and was away till now not realizing the original text was corrupted.

"This fear of conflict arises from widespread rejection of redemptive theories and practices that have been a part of our culture."

As soon as I arrived this morning I saw Macc's response, and I am taken.

Part of redemption, the nuts and bolts, as it were, means the penitence in penitentiary. More likely is the redemptive side of punishment, the pain and suffering that redeem by the ordeal of fire. No one is responsible in an infantalised world, no one is punished, no one is held accountable, and no Raskolnikov will stand on the banks of the river and rue. No purifying Porfyri and thus no Sonyas. For that we all suffer. No crime, no punishment, no redemption, no not a thing. Oh, but there is one: Svidrigailov.

Our bloodless and self-disgusted culture seems bent on committing suicide out of a desire for redemption that we cannot want and would cry against, for ourselves and for others. Value, the beauties of Sonya and Rasmusin are lost to the vampire lives of Western men. Emotion is lost to sentimentality, and redemption is given away to sociologists and social critics for appraisal. Let us weep tears of tinsel and confetti.

When the phoniness overwhelms the criminal he merely shoots himself from boredom. There is nothing of value to suffer for, not even for the redemption of ones own rotten soul. Nothing at all.

Drowned. Who are the Saved?

truepeers said...

We all recognize the phenomenon of the person who won't change their obviously wrong-headed views. But my guess is that maccus is a lot closer to the reasons than this book. In what sense could this problem be a result of "hard-wiring". Animals don't have this problem because they don't have a notion of right and wrong, just of what is. The fact that some of us humans can find the honesty and integrity to change our minds in the face of truth proves it is possible, and that we are not hard-wired to avoid truth.

truepeers said...

Well, that's not quite right: animals have some notion of right and wrong in terms of behaviours they may be trained to follow, or not. But they don't make ethical judgments that would engage them in a historical process of continually reworking their notions of right and wrong.

dag said...

The question is whether it can be easier to change ones mind in the face of new evidence and new insight than it is to die. There is lots of empirical evidence that many if not most people would rather die than change their minds about nearly anything. A revolution in the streets is a frightening thing for most, but a revolution in the mid is a horror most people would never live with, that being far closer to home.

What will it take to allow people to change their minds and express in public the change they've made? What makes this change acceptable and desirable for individuals? Permission. Who can give that? The very ones who will not.

truepeers said...

Yes, I see your point, I think. When I say "not hard-wired" I mean I don't think the problem is innate. But you're right that there is a kind of semi-hard "wiring" that builds up during life, a habit of mental associations, that leads one in similar directions, to similar conclusions, whatever the inputs. How to break out of that? Somehow one has to build up a sense of a primary loyalty, a disciplined morality, that allows one to change out of respect for something beyond oneself, something that makes demands of us to change and become better, truer. But yes, it's very tough, one has to "re-wire" mental associations and it's clear that most people, perhaps especially professional intellectuals, don't do much of it.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you are just as "drowned" as those you criticise. Or put in another way a fully paid member of the already dead, heart dead that is.

The truth of the matter that the entire world is awash with toxic lies and the propaganda of death.

In my opinion the most toxic death propaganda comes mostly from the "right" side of the culture wars divide. You certainly add your fare share to the collective psychic toxicity that is rampaging around the planet---and that is setting us all up for an unspeakably dreadful outcome.

It is really quite simple. One is either for the culture of life or for the "culture" of death. It is obvious where your feet are planted--in someones face.

truepeers said...

It is really not quite so simple. If it were, it would be well known and we would not have to face great problems. People who express resentment can do better at deferring it (just because they express and acknowledge it) than do those who are sure of their affirmations of life, which often turn out to be utopian, or apocalyptic, and hence violent, whatever the profession to the contrary. I'm all for the affirmation of life; human life universally includes resentment and it is not such a bad thing if put to creative ends. But, again, that is never simple and most of us fail on that account.

maccusgermanis said...


And which culture do you suggest is which? You call people "heart dead" and responsible for "toxic death propaganda," for little else than daring to point out an ongoing jihad and to call for the West's renewal of purpose. You do not object to death, so long as it comes quietly. Your only objection is that anyone would dare call for alarm.

truepeers said...

Here's something" for all schools of resentment to chew on.