Them’s The Rules
Pay close attention, Pencillistas. I will not tolerate ad hominem attacks, name-calling, gratuitous slurs, the ramping up of emotionalism, and other violations of my personal code of civility in the comments section of this communications colossus.
Yesterday some pejoratives were thrown around. Stop it. Period.
In one of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, Bertie Wooster’s young cousins, Claude and Eustace, hope to join a ridiculously frivolous college fraternity called The Seekers. In order to gain entrance to the group the two must bring in souvenirs from a day trip to London. They begin by trying to steal a truck but the truck driver puts up a good fight and so they look elsewhere for their tickets to the club. As the day goes on, they shoplift a huge fish from a market, they round up a gang of stray cats, and they cop a top hat off the head of a prominent psychiatrist whose car their taxi is stuck next to in a traffic jam.
Claude and Eustace then park their swag in Bertie’s apartment while he is out. Lo and behold, Bertie that afternoon will be entertaining that very psychiatrist for lunch. It turns out the psychiatrist also has twin neurotic distastes for fish and cats. Naturally, he concludes that Bertie is insane.
It’s all a lot of goofiness, which was the hallmark of Wodehouse’s work. None of Wodehouse’s fictional conceits, though, was as goofy as the true story of another group, also known as The Seekers, in 1954.
The Seekers were an apocalyptic cult that was certain the Earth was going to end on the winter solstice that year. They’d been so informed, they claimed, by messages from extraterrestrials who communicated telepathically with a woman named Dorothy Martin. Dorothy would then record said communications through a process called “automatic writing,” which can best be described as speaking in tongues with the aid of pen and paper.
Scads of folks believed Dorothy’s dire warnings about the endtimes. Many sold all their possessions, quit their jobs, and prepared for the big finale. Eventually, Martin informed The Seekers that a flying saucer would rescue those who believed in her warnings, whisking them away from the globe as it broke apart.
The Smart Ones
Alert Pencillistas will note that the end never came on December 21, 1954. When The Seekers were asked about the failure of Martin’s prediction, they “reasoned” that their own belief in the apocalypse, as well as their trumpeting of its coming to the rest of the benighted world, had warded it off. Their courage and sensitivity, they believed, had saved the world.
Chris Mooney recounts this story in a piece in Mother Jones on the fact that many of us don’t believe, well, facts. Entitled, “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” Mooney’s piece tries to explain why climate change deniers, 9/11 truthers, Birthers, and all the rest seem so plentiful in our holy land these days.
Honest to gosh, there are real reasons for people being unreasonable. Even when confronted with the incontrovertible fact that their belief was nonsense, The Seekers continued to believe in it. How can that be? Scientists call this particular puzzle “motivated reasoning.” It’s in all of us, this urge to cherry-pick facts to support something we desperately want to believe even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Take me, for instance. When Paula Jones back in 1994 accused Bill Clinton of sending for her to come up to his hotel room and then he proceeded to pull out Little Bill several years before, I was certain it was a lie of monumental proportions. Clinton was my guy; I’d voted for him. I wanted to believe he’d never in a million years do such a thing. I wanted to believe the Republicans had made up the story out of whole cloth because, well, they’re bad guys. That became my motivated reasoning.
I was wrong. Clinton, it turned out, was a cock monkey. Paula Jones surely was one of many who’d had Wee Willie waggled in front of her.
I like to pride myself on my capabilities of reason and analytic thought. But I’m merely human. Mooney posits that motivated reasoning is all too human. Read the piece and perhaps you’ll gain an understanding of folks who can’t seem to see the story for the facts.
Wither The Dems
Book maven and political observer RE Paris reacted to my post about Evan Bayh possibly running for governor — and more — yesterday. Bayh, in her view, is as bitter a spoonful of cough syrup as Bill Clinton was. She writes:
It’s pitiful when the party you have voted with all your life gives you no reason to vote for them [anymore] — and your vote is always… They’re better than the other creeps.
Not Your Granny’s Party