Friday, August 27, 2004

Catechism of the Delusional


Back in the mists of time, when the host of "Death Valley Days" was better known for that role than for his service as president of the Screen Actors Guild, or his government service at the state and federal level, my brother and I attended public school in a small farm town up the coast from L.A. Like so many of our generation, we traded scary tales around the camp fires at cub scout campouts.

As the pheromone firestorm of puberty swept us into junior high school, surfer music, and beyond ("middle school" being in those days a foreign phrase used by exchange students) we whispered tales of a different sort, filled with adolescent thrills at illicit parking and fondling, and the many dangers of such adventures.

It was in this little Southern California farming community that my brother and I listened in earnest credulity to a story from a high school friend, about spending a few frenzied hours sparking with a girl in a car. They'd been parked in some remote place, hidden among the trees, letting the radio play as they dallied. When a news bulletin told of a maniac with one hand and a hook for the other arm, who had escaped from a local psychiatric hospital, they laughed and resumed their caresses, until they were startled by the sounds of scrabbling outside their car.

The young man instantly started the car and roared away. They were both relieved that whatever it was that was lurking, they'd gotten away without incident. But when he got out to walk his date to her front door, they were horrified to find dangling from his door handle, a prosthetic hook with the bloody stump of an arm still attached.

It had to be true.

It had happened to the guy who was telling the story. He still had the '61 Comet he'd been driving that night!!

A year later, our family moved 3,000 miles from California to a tiny rural town in Northern Virginia.

We enrolled in the local county high school, and started making new friends, playing in pickup ball games, dating, hanging out with the gang at the restaurant on highway 301.

Within weeks, we had heard the same story, almost word-for-word. This time it was told by a local, who swore up and down that it had happened to his cousin, who still drove the Ford Fairlane that he'd driven the night he found the hook on his door.

My brother and I realized halfway through the tale there was nothing to be gained from challenging the speaker. Twenty years before the phrase "urban myths" came into common use, we recognized that we were seeing a demonstration of an ancient human frailty. Although we lacked the language skills to describe it that way, we knew it was powerful stuff.

There seems to be some unmatchable satisfaction that comes from repeating and embellishing a story you know is too lurid, shocking, or undocumentable for any respectable forum, especially if it enhances *YOUR* status by the telling.

This is part of the inescapable experimentation of adolescence. In the fullness of time most adolescents mature to a point they can recognize bullshit, and give it its proper weight as they balance their assessments of events and people they must deal with.

Unfortunately, there are many people who never progress beyond the stage of mental toddlers. They are doomed to spend their lives in the thrall of whatever unfiltered rumors come in earshot. These miscreants have never acquired the critical skills for assessing the validity of a simple statement, for researching sources to verify or discredit data, or for synthesizing a valid conclusion from facts organized in a logical pattern.

Bereft of an adequate intellectual toolset, they are subject forever to the tyranny of their emotions in evaluating information.

It can happen to anyone, and certainly there are people who end up finding emotional appeals drawing them to all points of the political spectrum.

My rant today, though is about the long list of nutball myths that are the identifiable traffic of a specific group of credulous and uncritical folks; almost a trademark, or signature. I call that list the Catechism of the Delusional.

In order to forestall--- maybe even fivestall--- the quizzical face my friends display when I use that phrase, I will explain.

A catechism may be roughly defined as a commonly agreed upon set of assertions that are held as received wisdom — i.e., divinely transmitted knowledge — to be accepted without debate and committed to memory by the faithful.

Delusional means actually more than being unable to distinguish between imaginings and reality. It describes the state of being immersed within a self-reinforcing fantasy, in which any new fact or arising that might contradict the premise of the fantasy, is denied by arguments that use the construction of logic, but rely upon the invented elements of the fantasy itself.

I use the phrase to refer to the absurd myths that many who style themselves democrats, liberals, and progressives exchange almost as passwords to say "I'm with YOU!"

Here's a short list:

1) John F. Kennedy was the most brilliant and effective President since... well, EVER.

2) Democrats were the first party to make civil rights for Negroes (i.e., "African-Americans" except for Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who is African-American but not Black) an important goal. Republicans— and ONLY Republicans— have always opposed this goal, and are always trying to keep minorities in their place.

3) Republicans are only interested in making lots of money, regardless of how much damage it does to minorities, the economy, the environment, and education.

4) When Republicans are in business, it is only to make as much money for themselves as possible. They don't care about anything else, and will do bad things to increase their profits. When Democrats are in business, it is usually to do or make something that makes life better for everyone, and they share their profits with charities. Republicans don't give as much to charities as Democrats, because they're selfish and expect everyone else to pay their own way in life.

5) Democratic Party is always working to improve the lives of the little people, minorities, older Americans, immigrants, undocumented aliens, and people of good will everywhere. The Democratic Party wants to help people who need help.

6) Republicans are mean-spirited and WANT to hurt minorities and old people and anyone who disagrees with them. This is why they always vote in ways that the Democratic Party opposes, as long as it doesn't cost them money.

7) The Republicans control the country, because rich conservative people around the world have always conspired with each other to undermine the efforts of elected governments. This is because the elected government wants to impose limits on the conservatives and make them stop treating workers like slaves.

8) When Democrats raise taxes, it is always to do something good for people. When Republicans raise taxes, it is always to do something bad to people. When the Republicans LOWER taxes, it is always to give money to Rich people, by taking it away from Poor people.

8) When Democrats are accused of crimes, it is because Republicans are conspiring to be able to replace that person with a Republican so they will have more power. When Republicans are accused of crimes, it is because Republicans are always doing criminal things, and can't always hide them.

9) Bill Clinton never did anything that justified impeachment, or dis-barment from practicing law, or in any way wrong. Republicans were willing to destroy the government and the country, just to get more power for themselves. Independent Prosecutor Starr was a sick paranoid witch hunter, who made up evidence when he couldn't extort witnesses.

10) Republicans stole the presidential election in 2000. George Bush is a criminal for pretending to be president, so everything he does as a criminal president is a criminal act.

11) Ronald Reagan is the biggest criminal of all (except for Richard Nixon) because he sent George Bush Senior to meet with Ayatollah Khomeini to make a deal so that Khomeini would help Reagan get elected, and Reagan would get the hostages released, and Khomeini would get weapons or something.

12) G.H.W. Bush was a criminal for making war against Iraq in 1991. The war was only about American Blood for Oil.

13) Clinton used American armed forces only for noble purposes, like preventing the slaughter of Muslims by Christian fanatics in former Yugoslavia, and trying to distribute emergency supplies in Somalia.

14) Clinton and his surrogates never accepted money from Chinese lobbyists in return for dangerous concessions and missile technology and influence in the legislative and electoral process. That's just Republican Lies.

15) When Clinton pardoned the Puerto Rican terrorists who had been convicted of murdering a New York City Policeman and some innocent bystanders, it was simply a compassionate act meant to mend fences with Puerto Rican separatists. It had nothing whatsoever to do with trying to get New York Puerto Ricans to vote for Hillary Clinton in her senate campaign that week. Only a Republican would suggest such a thing.

16) Ditto for all the felons he pardoned and freed in the last hours of his presidency. Compassion. Not bribes.

17) Any woman who accused Clinton of exposing himself to her, demanding oral sex, fondling her, or otherwise sexually harassing her against her objections, is a liar, slut, and secretly funded by the Republicans who were out to get Clinton any way they could.

18) It was only about the sex.

19) Vince Foster committed Suicide. The removal and disappearance of scores of boxes of records from his office before the police arrived was entirely innocent. Also the removal and disappearance of similar scores of boxes of records of the Clinton's involvement with Whitewater financial crimes was entirely accidental and innocent. The subsequent reappearance of one single box of carefully-sanitized documents that showed nothing of any significance, was miraculous.

20) Ron Brown was accidentally killed in an accidental plane crash in a Yugoslavia trade mission that accidentally got rid of him just days before federal indictments were due to be announced about his corrupt exchange of trade concessions in Yugoslavia for bribes, and his connection to other alleged improprieties in the Clinton Administration. The disappearance of all the X-rays from his autopsy that showed injuries consistent with gunshot wounds--- that was accidental, too.

21) Fox News is really owned and operated by the Bush Administration, which explains why it distorts all news to favor Republicans and make Democrats look stupid or criminal.

22) Al Franken and Michael Moore are geniuses. The only reason anyone criticizes them is if they're Republicans, because everything they say is TRUE! Al Franken's radio show would be a big success, except for a behind-the-scenes conservative effort to torpedo it.

23) George Bush was a coward who got his rich powerful daddy to get him into the national guard to avoid going to Vietnam, and he was AWOL from his guard duty anyway. Any records that might show up tending to show otherwise are fakes, and anyone who testifies that they can remember seeing him attend is probably lying.

24) The handful of Vietnam veterans that support Kerry are selflessly telling the exact truth. The 265 Vietnam veterans that dispute Kerry's account of events are liars who have been bought by the Bush Campaign to discredit a real war hero, who came home and courageously told the country the truth about how cowardly and brutal American soldiers were.

25) Except for John Kerry.

26) For Democrats to call for the suppression of a book by 265 Vietnam veterans is not censorship or suppression of free speech.

27) Use of 527 groups by Democrats is perfectly legitimate; the conservatives have thousands of talk radio hosts and Fox News doing their propaganda. The Swiftboat Vets' use of a 527 organization to try to legitimize their attacks on Kerry is probably criminal.

Somebody stop me.

Whew. You can probably come up with another fifty without straining.

If you're at a party, and hear someone repeat any of these listed items, you can now be clear about what sort of person you're facing, and the likelihood that any breath you invest in honest debate will be utterly wasted.

On the other hand, it is still a good and noble thing to attempt. Someone with a brain might overhear and be persuaded.


Blogger Doug said...

Argue with yourself, if you must:
I was condemned to live out my life with that doubly-shortened stump.

4:34 PM  

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