“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feathers for Brains

There have been times on extremely rare occasions when we have found ourselves asking why it is stupid people believe stupid things. Put more charitably, why do those individuals with the same intelligence as that of a chicken (and you know who you are) insist on pecking away at their keyboards and come squawking about Panhandle Truth Squad only to show just how retarded they are?

We’re all quite familiar with their derangements. If these persons whose intellectual powers are marginally equal to a parakeet’s aren’t clucking about all Muslims being terrorists it’s Barack Obama being the anti-Christ or American moral decline being caused by hamsters. There has been much speculation of late that their delusional prattling is derived from a single source -- the eponymously named Jackass Magazine. While this may explain the current rash of nominally literate budgerigars, it does not account for their prevalence in history.

What is needed is a more general theory that explains right-wing idiocy both in our blog space and in historical time, a unified field theory or Grand Jackass Theory. It is therefore proposed to sketch out the beginnings of such a theory by examining some ideas divorced from reality and thus gain some understanding of fictive belief systems that have persisted in the face contradictory evidence.

First up is the discovery of the Filbert Islands in the South Seas as recorded in “The Cruise of the Kawa” published in 1921. “Filbert” (as in “hazelnut”) should have been a tip-off, but the public’s suspicions were not aroused even by the extraordinary, fantastical discoveries made in the islands. Among them was the fabulous fatu-liva bird, which laid square, spotted eggs. Photographic proof was offered, and the fact the “eggs” in the nest were identical to dice apparently was no impediment to readers accepting the tale as genuine.

“The Cruise of the Kawa” was a deliberate parody of the travel genre popular at the time, yet an entire flock of pigeons was openly conned, perhaps because they didn’t understand satire (a common malady amongst conservatives), but others continued to believe in the adventure even after they knew the book to be a hoax. How could people hold beliefs that were in direct conflict with each other? How could people think dice were proof of square eggs?

For an answer we turn to one of the greatest detectives in all history: Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately his inventor, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a dolt. The man who created the detective’s detective, able through scientific observation and deductive logic to penetrate the most impenetrable of mysteries, to thwart nefarious plots, and outwit the greatest evil genius in the world, believed in fairies.

Two little girls, the cousins Elsie Wright and Francis Griffith, claimed to be playing with the fairies in a glen and offered photographs as proof. Many thought the Cottingley Fairies, as they became known throughout England in 1917, were fakes but Doyle was absolutely convinced, using his fame to become a leading proponent and publishing a book, “The Coming of the Fairies”, in 1922. In 1981 the cousins confessed to faking the photos: the fairies were paper cut-outs held in place by hatpins.

So why was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle so easily fooled by paper fairies drawn in the latest European fashions? Did the creator of Sherlock Holmes ever think he was too smart to be outwitted by children? Or was it because Doyle was a Spiritualist, whose faith involved séances, levitating tables, floating trumpets, and glowing spectral forms, and fairies were proof of this mystical world?

How could Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and readers of “The Cruise of the Kawa” have been such boobs? Unlike some people they obviously weren’t complete idiots. But with the pre-conceptions of an unquestioning belief system they were prepared to misinterpret and unable to properly apprehend the evidence before them. Anything that did not fit that system was rejected, if indeed it was perceived at all. Self-delusion became “reality;” fiction became “fact.” For Doyle, he needed to believe fairies existed, to believe in another world that gave his own reality meaning, and no amount of contrary evidence would dissuade him.

Today the editors of Jackass Magazine are manufacturing a different kind of fantasy world: Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery; airliners are leaving chemical trails in the sky; Microsoft will send you money for forwarding your e-mail. It is a world where real facts have little meaning, where reason and logic are mere words, specious claims are proof, and the absurd is unquestioned. If the creator of Sherlock Holmes, surely one of the cleverest men of his time, could believe in utter balderdash, what chance has the modern moron who subscribes to Jackass Magazine today?