Facts, Rumors, Projections

Gregory Rodriguez has an excellent article at the Los Angeles Times about the nature of conspiracy theories and why people believe them.

The real truth is that, as weird as they are, rumors and conspiracy theories can only thrive in the minds of people who are predisposed to believe them. Successful propagators of fringe theories don’t just send random balloons into the atmosphere. Rather, they tap into the preexisting beliefs and biases of their target audiences.

Plenty of studies have shown that people don’t process information in a neutral way — “biased assimilation” they call it. In other words, rather than our opinions being forged by whatever information we have available, they tend to be constructed by our wants and needs. With all their might, our minds try to reduce cognitive dissonance — that queasy feeling you get when you are confronted by contradictory ideas simultaneously. Therefore, we tend to reject theories and rumors — and facts and truths — that challenge our worldview and embrace those that affirm it.

This is true for all of us, including me. I try to be very cautious when confronted with news stories that fit my world view a little too neatly, although I’m fooled occasionally. Sometimes I have seen others on the Left supporting “facts” that turn out to be unfounded. However, I think most of us on the leftie blogosphere have a healthy enough dose of skepticism about everything that we are not fooled much.

For example, if anything, I see more “Obama is just as bad as Bush” on the Left than “Obama is perfect.” I don’t see anyone saying he’s perfect.

But the other truth is that most of the Right is living in fantasyland. And they’re too far gone, too invested in the fantasies, to be reasoned with. I stopped trying to engage them in conversation years ago. My chief concern, beyond offering comfort and solace to the sane, is to try to reach the not-crazy but not well-informed who don’t know what to think. There must be a few such people out there, somewhere.

It doesn’t help that we can’t get straight information from news media, or that it’s rare for a television or radio “anchor” to attempt to sort fact from fiction. And it certainly doesn’t help that large chunks of what passes for “news media” are entirely given over to generating lies and rumors. Old-media journalists still blame the Internet for the misinformation, but often investigation into the real “story behind the story” is prompted by Web journalists like Josh Marshall. Otherwise, stories like the U.S. Attorney scandal would have slid by entirely unnoticed.

And, unfortunately, sometimes facts do no good.

Ronriguez cites a 2004 study in which people representing a spectrum of political views were shown facts that proved or disproved their beliefs. People whose worldview was contradicted by facts (in this case, righties) rejected the facts and held on to their worldviews even more tightly. This has been my experience with trying to “reason” with wingnuts, which is why I don’t bother.

There’s a saying in Buddhism that your outer reality is a projection of your inner reality, which means that a big chunk of the American public has a pretty twisted inner reality. But what do we make of Richard Cohen (beyond dude — retire already), whose column for today criticizes President Obama for not acting like a president. I’m serious. After eight years of the Oval Office being occupied by animated clown shoes, we once again have a president who is focused on his job. And Cohen now decides that the President needs to be presidential?

From what I can decipher of Cohen’s column, he thinks President Obama is not “presidential” because he didn’t react to the announcement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities with hair-on-fire hysteria. Oh, and he didn’t announce to the world all the steps he might be taking to counter Iran. Cohen compared the Iran announcement to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which it resembles very little, but as I remember none of us knew what was going on between the White House and the Kremlin until some time after that crisis had ended. Like, some things really are state secrets, Dick.

Recently I came across a sentence on some leftie site — I regret I don’t remember who said this — “machismo is not a foreign policy.” Part of the problem is that in a wingnut’s projected reality, bombast and chest thumping equal “strength” while reason and temperate speech are “weakness,” whereas in my book just the opposite is true. Apparently Cohen has gone over to the chest thumpers.

But then we also get this clown, who thinks President Obama is too angry and demanding. And dare I say … too uppity?

It’s all projection, and it’s futile to try to talk people out of their projected realities. I don’t know what to do about that, but there it is.

17 thoughts on “Facts, Rumors, Projections

  1. Well, Cohen also thinks that Obama is on television too much; accuses him of still compaigning after the election has been held. I haven’t heard Obama asking for any votes, but then, as you say, I am actually listening.

  2. Richard Cohen : “Obama is not “presidential” because he didn’t react to the announcement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities with hair-on-fire hysteria.”

    What a load. Who the hell is he to deem anyone presidential, your right he sat on his hands for 8 years while the neoconsuperfratboy’s ran ruff shot over all things foreign and domestic. Cohen wouldn’t know presidential if it bit him in his lazy ass. But now he’s just part of the war monger media, I was really surprised (I’m a slow learner) at the consistent opinions of almost all the bobbleheads that we should be gearing up for world war III once again. Should we allow Israel to strike Iran? Should we strike Iran ourselves? One of them even estimated that it would take at least 10,000 sorties to completely lay waste to Iran’s nuke’s! Wow did they teach war waging theory in journalism school?

    You know what conspiracy I believe, I believe these “news” producers meet with the script writers every morning and discuss how they can create hysteria and discontent among the public. Fear, hysteria, discontent equal better ratings, better ratings equal more ad buys, more ad buys equal cash money bonuses for the network and media executives. The FCC should demand that a disclaimer is read every 15 minuites stating that everything reported is complete bullshit and should only be believed if you agree with it!

  3. His need for air-on-fire-hysteria says a lot more about him than Obama. I’m sure he’ll get his daily ration of hysteria with or without Obama but I suppose he considers himself an altruist…wishing for others that which he wishes for himself.

    LOL. The never-ending reakshow continues.

  4. muldoon’s post reminds me of ‘it’s not the inherent rightness/wrongness, goodness/badness of, say, government,or taxes or regulations – even socialism – it’s who is benefitted that determines their acceptability (or unacceptability.)’

    My personal experience with righties is they are people who actually seem uncomfortable with, or perhaps even discomfitted by, thinking. They are comfortable with latching on to an ‘answer,’ tabbing it and filing it and stamping it SAVE. Problem solved.

  5. Obama is our version of a Supreme Leader

    Maybe in your head, dude.

    or, unbelievably, pitching Chicago for the 2016 Olympics

    Who cares if he is? Is it insane for a head of state to lobby for a huge sporting event to be held in his or her country?

  6. Here is an interesting piece of video from the “liberal” MSNBC. Glen Greenwald makes some great points (amazing what telling the truth will do). I think it is telling to watch the other two pundits (both relatively liberal by today’s teevee standards) shill for Israel, and demonize Iran. Wow I’m surprised the execs let this one out on the air, it really shows the built in bias towards Israel and against all things Arab. I liked how they keep showing that missile launch over and over. Mis-information, hysteria, fear = good ratings, cable news teevee gold!

  7. uncledad – So go the media. All their talk of Iran blah, blah, blah, and none of them has yet to inform their viewers that the NPT, of which Iran is a signer, guarantees Iran’s ‘inalienable’ right to produce and use fissile materials. Are the media purposely withholding this little fact, or are they merely uninformed actors and it isn’t in their scrips, or…? Nobody seems to have a definitive answer.

    Then again, how does Iran’s possible ‘bomb’ match up to the 65,000 thermonuclear bombs stock-piled by Russia and us – alone. (Given the earth’s land mass, including the polar and other uninhabitable regions, that figures to about one bomb/an 877 square-mile area.)

    Then again, maybe it does take a huge, thoroughly modernized, all-systems-go air force to wipe out one dhow afloat in the Persian Gulf?

  8. Found this quote on “rangeragainstwar.comn

    machismo is not foreign policy
    –Obama the Gambler, Fareed Zakaria

  9. Rodriguez concludes his article with:

    …Sunstein’s book goes on to explore ways that society can hold rumor-mongers accountable without eliciting a chilling effect on the freedom of speech. He’s concerned that crazy rumors in the Internet Age can gum up the machinery of democracy itself.

    I applaud the effort, but I’d prefer to do away with the insecurity and uncertainty that feed wacko theories and rumors in the first place. A modicum of stability, a fair and functioning economy and polity — those have to be what we strive for.

    But in the meantime, don’t forget psychologist Knapp. “To decry the ravages of rumor-mongering is one thing,” he wrote, “to control it is yet another.” Pass it on.

    What I’ve observed both in the workplace and in the nation space, is that rumors and conspiracy theories grow in proportion to the amount of distrust people have of those in charge. You can measure trust or distrust by the amount of this kind of activity.

    Obama has to make people trust him and trust the government again – otherwise it’s pretty much over for the USA. We all know that this is hugely what health care reform is about (apart from helping people and containing costs). The Republicans know this too; this is one reason (apart from the potential financial hit to those who benefit from the status quo) why Republicans fight it tooth and nail. Distrust and conspiracy (a form of divide and conquer of the many) work to the benefit of the oligarchs (the few).

  10. It’s a good day when you can write “excellent article” and “Los Angeles Times” in the same sentence. So rare anymore.


    It’s a bad day when Richard Cohen writes anything other than a check for his meds. Poor sad confused old dude.

  11. Most of Cohen’s criticism seems to be about Iran – he suggests that the revelation of the secret nuclear facilities are not a crisis. Almost in the next sentence he suggests that only the US has the military capability of performing the imperative task of striking the underground part of the complex. The inherent contradiction is lost on Cohen and neocons.

    Far too little is being written or said about the US objectives here. We don’t want Iran to have nukes and we don’t want a war with Iran. Both. Neocons see threatening war as ‘presidential’, and the answer to any international problem.

    The regime in Iran is facing internal threats and Obama and our allies are trying to squeeze Tehran while they are confronting a revolution. The goal is to force them to the table to negotiate honestly, quit the weapons program they say they don’t have, and don’t want. and allow international inspections.

    The last thing we want now is a military strike against Tehran – that would unify all the factions in Iran against the Israel & the US. Sanctions are debatable – will they push Iran to negotiate or not? If Iran can quell the internal rebellion and solve their economic problems, they are not likely to negotiate.

    The President of Iran has been stalling on proposed talks with Obama. My guess is that such a dialogue with the USA might play well in Iran with everyone left of their political center, which describes Ahmadinejad’s enemies, and might also play poorly for the Iranian regime in the Muslim world. There have been statements from the WH that the offer for talks with Tehran are on the table but won’t be forever.

    Keep your eye on the ball – international inspections and direct talks with Obama & Ahmadinejad.

  12. Speaking of what we choose to believe despite objective reality, I prefer to think of Richard Cohen as some kind of strange performance art by a Sacha Baron Cohen wannabe, only not even as barely funny as Borat. It’s easier for me to believe that he’s someone attempting a lame parody of a right-wing pundit (for some unfathomable reason) than to believe that he is honestly so lame. If I picture him as a misguided humorist, I can manage to find some charity in my heart for him, whereas, if I were to think of him as honestly writing what he writes, I’d have to be very angry and hate him. And since I prefer to not be angry all the time, I create a lovely fantasy world. But at least I know that I’m doing it. 😉

  13. I have a couple of righty friends, one in particular who likes Glen Beck.Drives me bug fuck, but last year, after a heated discussion he said “can’t I have an opinion?”
    Yeah, buddy, but quit being scared shitless of muslims, socialists, and things that go bump in the night.
    We had better be afraid of the real problems we face, like the off the chart horrific cancer rates, our falling standard of living, and the redicul;ous costs of getting ill.

  14. “can’t I have an opinion?”
    Yeah, but if it’s not based on facts there’s no reason I have to take it seriously…

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