Gullible and Gullibler

News Media, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Frank Bruni writes about gullibility in politics and says a few smart things.

… what’s most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture isn’t their negativity — though that’s plenty noteworthy and worrisome — but how unconditionally so many partisans back their side’s every edict, plaint and stratagem.

Of course, this same phenomenon has been striking in every election for the past 20 years, but thanks for catching on, Frank. Now, do keep up.

Bruni cites a film based on a true story that is, I admit, hard to believe. I don’t remember hearing about this at the time, but apparently some guy was getting his jollies by calling fast food joints, identifying himself as a police officer, and having one of the employees or a customer detained by the manager. And then the manager, instructed over the phone by “Officer Scott,” would unquestioningly put the detainee through a number of indignities, including a strip search followed by nude jumping jacks. In some cases the detainee was forced to perform sexual acts on someone else as part of the “investigation.” Here’s an article focusing on the particular incident that became the subject of the film, and it’s definitely off-the-wall. But, apparently, true. There are lawsuits and everything.

The point is that people are wired to follow authoritative leaders. Bruni writes,

People routinely buy into outlandish claims that calm particular anxieties, fill given needs or affirm preferred worldviews. Religions and wrinkle-cream purveyors alike depend on that. And someone like Todd Akin, the antihero of last week’s news, illustrates it to a T. The notion that a raped woman can miraculously foil and neutralize sperm is a good 10 times crazier than anything in “Compliance,” but it dovetails beautifully with his obvious wish — and the wishes of like-minded extremists — for an abortion prohibition with no exceptions. So he embraces it.

But then he says,

People also routinely elect trust over skepticism because it’s easier, more convenient. Saddam Hussein is stockpiling weapons of mass destruction; the climate isn’t changing; Barack Obama’s birth certificate is forged; Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.

Wait a minute — one of these things is not like the others. Even Harry Reid admits he doesn’t know for a fact that Mittens didn’t pay taxes for ten years. I haven’t seen any polling saying that a significant number of people believe Mittens didn’t pay taxes. Most of us understand that the charge is meant to goad Mittens either into releasing his tax returns or digging in his heels to not release them and look guilty.

But you know Frank had to throw in an example of leftie gullibility to prove that “both sides are just as bad.” Because “both sides are just as bad” calms Frank’s particular anxieties, fill his given needs or affirms his preferred worldviews. If he had to fully admit that both sides are not just as bad, that one side has in fact gone way off the outrageous scale to an unprecedented degree, his worldviews would melt like Salvadore Dali’s clocks.

Frank continues —

To varying degrees, all of these were or are articles of faith, unverifiable or eventually knocked down.

Except for speculations about Mitt’s taxes, which still haven’t been released.

People nonetheless accepted them because the alternative meant confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt, or potentially hunkering down to the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things. Better simply to be told what’s what.

Yeah, we can’t expect an op-ed writer for a major metropolitan newspaper to do the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things, huh? Better just reflect what’s expected from him by his Villager peers.

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  1. moonbat  •  Aug 26, 2012 @1:24 pm

    Here’s a review of Compliance, the movie Bruni cites.

    …The movie takes place at fictional middle-American fast-food joint ChickWich over the course of a single shift. Each worker’s relationship to one another is swiftly outlined through a few seemingly mundane introductory exchanges…

    Just as the dinner shift is ramping up, Sandra [the manager] receives a phone call from a man purporting to be a police officer investigating Becky [a subordinate] for stealing from a customer’s purse. The caller, who tells Sandra that he has been in touch with ChickWich corporate, asks Sandra to take Becky into the back office to strip-search and detain her while he stays on the line to direct the interrogation. Clearly terrified of a reprimand from above, Sandra does what she’s told…

    Compliance is modeled after an incident that took place at a McDonald’s in 2004, which bore a resemblance to more than 70 similar cases recorded over the previous decade. (The calls stopped after a Florida man was arrested. He was ultimately tried and acquitted.)

    Zobel [the director] mentally filed the calls alongside a number of testaments to human response, including the Milgram experiments, Robert Cialdini’s studies in the psychology of getting people to say “yes,” and the tragic murder of Kitty Genovese, witnessed by 38 people who failed to intervene or call the police. Psychologists later nicknamed the phenomenon of bystanders ignoring cues to action “Genovese Syndrome.” It’s something many of the characters in Compliance are afflicted with; though most of the staff seem to know that one of their own is being held, naked, in the restaurant’s back room, the matter, as one counter girl puts it, “falls under shit that ain’t none of my business.”

    As for your main point, it’s interesting to divide the world of journalism (or people in general) into those who are too misinformed or too lazy or too stupid to go beyond the facile “they all do it” conclusion, versus those – fewer in number – who can see much more clearly and deeply.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 26, 2012 @1:38 pm

    Ok NY Times, back in the day, you took a great Theatre critic, and made him an Op-ed writer.
    And, for the most part, a great one – except during the 2000 election. But look who Frank Rich was paired-up with back then – MoDo, The Neurotic Fallen Nattering Nun of New York – so, I’ll give him a slight pass for the horrendous damage he helped cause by making Al Gore the victim of stupid jokes and fabricated stories that he and “The Flaying Nun” passed along.
    Rich has been mostly very good, to great, since he and MoDo got their journalistic divorce.

    And now, you take a decent food critic, and make HIM an Op-ed writer too.

    And it’s not working too well, if you ask me.
    Frank Rich was one of the few, and ever diminishing reasons, I used to run out of the door on a Sunday morning to buy the NY Times. Now, since my father died, I see little reason to even walk into the gas station and buy a copy. Money’s tight, and I haven’t bought the NY Times in about 2 months – and this, after my father or I bought the paper EVERY day of the week for decades! I stopped doing that when I moved to NC, and read it on-line everyday. He kept buying it until a few years ago, when it became too expensive.

    Editors at the NY Times – how would you feel if, when he was writing about food, he wrote something like this,
    “The steak that I got at the diner at the bus station on my way home late last night, allegedly a t-bone – and I write that with a lower-case “t” because it was ‘t’iny – only about 1/4 of an inch thick, and probably weighed a molecule over a 1/4 of a pound, and would have served me better if I had a hole in my shoe which needed patching.
    To say it was tough, would be redundant. And an understatement. So, let’s pretend I didn’t just say that, ok?
    And it’s simply amazing what places can do with powdered potato’s nowadays – like make mashed potato’s that you could use to fill cracked concrete with. Too bad no one thought of that, or there’d be one more bridge still standing over the Mississippi River.
    And I never realized that broccoli, cooked long enough, could still maintain it’s physical appearance and structure, even when cooked to a color of gray even a battleship would call dull.

    And how can anyone possibly ruin something as simple as an apple pie?
    I don’t want to know, but if you do (though I can’t imagine why), ask what pass for cooks at this restaurant. They are experts. So, if you care about how your apple pie looks and tastes, you might consider asking them what they do, and then do the exact opposite.

    In summation, this meal was memorable only in the sense that it was one of the 2 or 3 worst meals ever eaten. And not just by me. I’m talking about one of the 2 or 3 worst meals ever eaten outside of reality TV shows. I’m talking – IN HISTORY!

    Of course, once at Cafe Boulud, the ‘Châteaubriand, With Sauce ala Escoffier, for 2,’ prepared by the “HIM” HIMself, was a tad under-salinated, and I had to ask an embarassed waiter to bring a salt shaker out of their safe.
    I’m sure the Sous Chef was immediately executed in the back alley, the moment by friend and I left.

    So, all things being equal, as a meal, the late dinner at the diner filled me up. Which, if you’re hungry, is all you’re really looking for.”

    Well NY Times Editors, would you let him compare a dinner at a bus stop diner, to a meal prepared by a 4-star Chef, and say, “all things being equal?”
    You’d fire his ass – and the editor who let him print it.

    Well, that’s how the press coverage is nowadays regarding issues vital to the country. That’s how YOU cover it! And YOUR coverage, NY Times, is far, far, from the worst.

    One party wants to prevent black people from voting, herd brown immigrants into trains and deport them, and either let women die, or force them to carry a child, no matter whether she was raped, or screwed by some relative, or will die in the process. It’s also willing to let the country die rather than work with the other party to help make the country stronger, lest the other party look better.
    And countless of their anti-sex, anti-gay politicians and religious leaders get caught every year with live AND dead girls AND boys.

    But, Liberals say “fuck” a lot.
    And did you know, do you remember, oh, surely you must – THAT BILL CLINTON ONCE GOT A BLOWJOB IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!

    So, both sides do it.

    Right Mr. Bruni?
    Is he jealous that Douthat is the one beloved by David Brooks, and not him?

    Send him back to the food beat, where he’ll do a hell of a lot less harm!
    Steering people towards a bad meal because of a bad review, can’t compare to the damage done by equivocating between political parties and philosophies.
    If one of the entre’s at the Middle Eastern restaurant isn’t quite up to to Bruni’s review, that can’t compare to a nuked Middle Eastern country, because Bruni, among way, WAY, too many others, have to make a Conservative ‘Chicken McNugget’ sound like Liberal ‘Chicken Kiev.’
    Ooooh! I said “Kiev” – that must make me – A SOCIALIS!!!!!
    Ok, how about a Republican economy that barely let’s you affor a Big Mac, when the Democrats offer something more along the lines of Châteaubriand, With Sauce ala Escoffier.
    Now, I’m TOO DAMN FRENCH!!!

  3. Tom_B  •  Aug 26, 2012 @3:32 pm

    I knew there would be someone bone-headed enough to try to equate birtherism and Romney’s tax evasion. Romney’s DAD released a ton of returns. Romney released a bunch to McCain. The argument that the American people are not entitled to the same respect when you are running for one of the highest offices in the land is insulting.

    It’s entirely possible that Romney 1) broke no laws 2) paid his “fair share” (under current law) in taxes. Then what is he afraid of? Big money to the Mormons? Inadequate money to LDS? We already KNOW he’s a Mormon– just not one of their more intelligent members, like Reid or Huntsman.

  4. biggerbox  •  Aug 26, 2012 @5:11 pm

    In an oddly self-referential way, Bruni counts on the gullibility of readers who assume that anyone who has been given an op-ed slot on the New York Times must have something interesting to say and skills to write about them. But his conjectures about why people believe lies are so shallow you couldn’t bury a flea in them.

    Who are these “people” anyway? And what does it mean for our world if they choose delusional certainty over doubt, or fail to maintain even a minimal skepticism? Is Bruni saying “that’s just how people are”? Or do we have better con men in power, now?
    Does Bruni even realize these questions exist? He doesn’t seem to.

    Then of course, we could ridicule the comparison between three things that involve believing in something for which there is massive evidence to the contrary, with one thing about which the essential point is that there is NO evidence. The first three illustrate willful denial in the face of proof, the last is a demand for proof, in the face of claims from a serial liar. These things don’t belong together. Silly Bruni.

    Yet again, I’m left thinking “The Grey Lady has fallen, and she can’t get up!”

  5. erinyes  •  Aug 26, 2012 @5:45 pm

    Homosexuality leads to nation’s decline

    Michael Whissel makes a convincing argument in his My Word column, “Critical thinking missing in discrimination,” on Wednesday. I could almost agree with him, but then we would both be wrong.

    King Hammurabi ruled Babylon, often referred to as the birthplace of civilization, in the 18th century B.C., which would be about 800 years before Moses, who wrote the first four books of the Old Testament, Christian Bible. In his revered Code of Hammurabi, he mandated that fathers teach their sons how to earn a living, prohibited ownership and other abuses of women, prohibited child labor and prohibited adultery and homosexuality.

    My point is such sexual conduct is not wrong just because the Bible teaches against it; the Bible teaches against it because it is just wrong — and has been since the birth of civilization.

    A careful study of the decline of great nations — including, but not limited to, the mighty Roman Empire — reflects a common denominator of increasing homosexuality. . Two of my sons have recently served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and they report that bisexuality is common. Are those cultures that we should emulate?

    When driving a car, piloting an airplane, or leading a nation, wisdom and caution require checking the rearview mirror — history does repeat itself. The past is prologue. Or as King Solomon said: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

    Leigh McEachern Chuluota

    *This was a letter to the editor in today’s Orlando Sentinel

  6. Daphne Chyprious  •  Aug 26, 2012 @6:26 pm

    Great job of turning the tables rhetorically on Bruni, Maha. I enjoyed it a lot.

  7. joanr16  •  Aug 26, 2012 @9:59 pm

    erinyes – Wow, that letter is terrifying. On the surface, it sounds… well, if not rational, at least literate. Then one remembers that “checking in the rearview mirror” to find that “the past is prologue” reveals the mass murders of the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust. Religion, nationalism, faux-morality used to mask Hatred of The Other and excuse genocide. I wonder if the Phelpses of Topeka will be sending Leigh a thank-you card?

  8. Swami  •  Aug 27, 2012 @12:51 am

    “Officer Scott” sounds like a typical repug.

  9. buckyblue  •  Aug 27, 2012 @8:25 am

    erinyes: Like Joan, what a terrifying letter. It has the pseudo-historical narrative of a David Barton book. Soon to be yanked from the bookshelves because it is so poorly researched. But………….it gets the rubes and gay hatemongers all excited because it sounds so intellectual, you know, like a real book.

  10. erinyes  •  Aug 27, 2012 @6:30 pm

    Yeah, it creeps me out that the Sentinel would print it.
    Orlando is pretty gay friendly; the author was blasted in the comment section.

  11. Swami  •  Aug 27, 2012 @7:52 pm

    My point is such sexual conduct is not wrong just because the Bible teaches against it; the Bible teaches against it because it is just wrong — and has been since the birth of civilization.

    There’s a statement that is chock full of Critical thinking.

    Stoning a rebellious child to death is not is right because the Bible teaches us that they should be put to death for their rebellon;the bible teaches us they should be put to death because it is just the right thing to do —and has been since the birth of civilization.

  12. Swami  •  Aug 27, 2012 @8:16 pm

    The revered Hammurabi? Is that the Hammurabi of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth fame? Gee, Jesus didn’t think too highly of him.

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