Saturday, September 12, 2009

Birthers, Deathers and Truthers - the reason behind the madness

Birthers believe Barack Obama's birth certificate was faked. Deathers believe Obama's health care reform bill is Soylent Green in disguise. Truthers believe the 9/11 attack was an inside job, that mines detonated prior to airplane impact.

Millions believe these things. I've been astonished to find that even learned people fall for one or the other -- particularly people raised in cultures where the media makes our flacks look good.

Millions believe in these stories, but they can't for the life of them spin an evidence-based or even rationally empiric argument for their positions.

So should we mock the weak, or, with greater wisdom, accept that Reason is a hard road that few follow?

I would say neither.

I have had the opportunity to observe someone with a quite low IQ be right when I am wrong. True, he cannot usually explain his reasoning - perhaps because he cannot translate the workings of his mind into words. Nonetheless, he's right more often than chance would allow. Sometimes the weak are wrong, but sometimes there's a rightness they cannot express.

So instead of mocking them, I will try to articulate the unexpressed reasoning of the Birthers, Deathers and and Truthers.

The Birther claims are utterly implausible. Yet, how plausible is that the same America that reelected George Bush and Dick Cheney would elect a brilliant champion of Reason with a Black wife, Black children, a Black father and the middle name of Hussein?

Really. Think about it. America?! It's absolutely implausible.

The Birthers are delusional, but perhaps they are reacting to the sheer implausibility of Barack Obama. Myself I tend to suspect the benign intervention of extra-terrestrials.

The Deathers are likewise perversely wrong about the health care reform mission. They are not wrong to worry however. If Obama succeeds, as I think he will, the world of health care will be recast. Nobody knows what all the side-effects and unanticipated consequences will be. The Deathers' are right to be fearful, though they should fear the status quo more.

Lastly, the Truthers. To defend their irrational beliefs, consider my own story.

When the towers fell I was sure that we'd face a long struggle against a brilliant and implacable foe. I forecast mass casualties in America. The falling cost of havoc meant we'd soon face detonation of a truck born black market nuke in an American city. There were so many, many ways for smart people to wreak havoc on a modern industrial nation - a terrible struggle lay ahead.

Except, like a lot of other people, I was wrong. When poor, pitiful, Richard Reid tried to ignite his shoes I began to doubt, and the more we saw, the more al Qaeda seemed to be a conspiracy of the dullard -- especially compared to, say, Hamas.

So how could these medieval drudges have ever been so horribly, terribly successful? It defies Reason that such a convoluted plot should have worked. Nobody has a confident answer -- save the Truthers.

Birthers, Deathers, Truthers -- all of them wrong in what they say and write. Yet, despite the wrongness of their words, their feelings are easy to understand. We live in a profoundly strange and unpredictable world.


Noah Smith said...

Birthers are reacting to the improbability of Obama by denying he's native-born? How does that make any kind of intuitive sense? How could a conspiracy by Obama's mother to fake his native-born status - all so that he could be eligible run for President someday - actually make Obama's implausible election any more likely? If this is really the thought process going through the Birthers' heads, then they really are simply dumb as rocks, intuitively or otherwise.

But that is not actually the thought process running through the Birthers' heads. The thought process is actually something very different, something that is transparently easy to see. It goes something like this:

"We don't want no n***** runnin' our country."

JGF said...

Well, I didn't say they used anything like logic. It's more a magical associative kind of thing.

Something like

"There's no way Obama could have been elected. It must be part of a massive conspiracy. We must find evidence ..."

In reality Obama's election was driven by he and his team's talent, the astounding disaster of Bush/Cheney, the mixed-luck of market collapse, Sarah Palin, and demographic transitions in America.

And space aliens too of course :-).

Incidentally, I think we should be comparing the 9/12 march to rise of the 20th century Klan. Same drivers -- economic hardship, lower income white male privilege fears, etc.

Bob Bircher said...

Following your interpretation it seems that these three perspectives originate in racism.

Birtherism is a reaction to the actual hyperreality of a black president.

Deatherism likewise seems to be based on a racial view of resource-distribution.

And the Truther argument as you have presented it is that how could these foreign barbarians be capable of such destruction? Nuclear weapons for example were invented in America by white people.

I am also interested in the anthropology of these theories. But I don't really agree with my own argument that they are race-based.