01 August 2008

That floating sensation and gullibility of the willing

Quite some time ago I have stumbled on an article that describes a few successful April Fool Day pranks. One that impressed me most was the last in the list:

Noted British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on the radio in 1976 that at 9:47 am, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event, in which Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, would cause a gravitational alignment that would reduce the Earth's gravity. Moore told listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment of the planetary alignment, they would experience a floating sensation. Hundreds of people called in to report feeling the sensation.
My fairly conservative estimate is that hundreds of thousands heard Moore telling the yarn, tens of thousands jumped at the prescribed time and quite a few thousands experienced the floating sensation. Amazing, isn't it?

Soon after reading the above, I read an interesting post by colleague Elder of Ziyon:
In the early 1990s a group of Holocaust revisionists started spamming dozens of newsgroups with their heavily footnoted "proofs" that the Holocaust never happened. This upset a lot of people, and many people spent countless hours documenting proofs that the Holocaust did happen.
Yes, Holocaust denial has become a whole new branch of "science" lately, with teachers and pupils in some very surprising (not) places.

Between other facts, Elder of Ziyon mentions:
...42% of Democrats think either that President Bush caused 9/11 or knew about it ahead of time and let it happen.
I would add a related tidbit about population of Germany:
... 65% - or nearly two-thirds - of ZDF participants blame either George W. Bush (26%), US authorities (24%) or the nebulous and ever sinister arms lobby (15%) for 9/11.
Of course, Elder of Ziyon brought up these facts only to illustrate the main point of his post:
We are raising a generation of people who have no ability to think and check facts independently, who are not given the tools to distinguish fact from fiction, and who believe that there is no such thing as being "right." This is a truly frightening prospect.
When coming to analyze the reasons for the easy acceptance of beliefs like the ones mentioned, he says:
Here we see the effectiveness of lies. As long as they are dressed up with large words and references to source material that sound legitimate, and as long as the audience is uneducated on the matter, they are just as effective as the truth. The truth does not always win out - the winners are the ones with the best presentation who can appeal to the existing worldviews of people.
I suggest that there is another factor in this unending race for human minds. I would dare say that this additional factor, which is our willingness to believe a statement when it suits our existing system of beliefs, is the prevalent one in smoothing the way for the acceptance of many lies, outrageous as they may be.

Whether it is desire of some people to dispense with guilty feelings about the Holocaust or some inherent anti-Semitism or hate and derision toward US in general or Bush administration in particular or being a right-wing zealot or left-wing revolutionary or myriad other reasons - I wouldn't go into it, although it's an interesting subject by itself. Suffice to say that anyone, myself included, will find it much easier to believe into something he/she is prepared to believe because of his/her background, education, particular brand of religion, ideology or whatever it is that makes up our personal philosophy.

Of course, same applies only too well to our ability to disregard inconvenient information, which is a whole new ball of wax...

All in all, being a believer in scientific ways, I would like nothing better than to experience that floating sensation, if only for a moment. Of course, I would have to forget the little I know about physics and just believe in something that is so convenient and told by a guru...

To make the last point, which provides additional illustration to all of the above: colleague Elder is quoting another poll:
...many younger, non-religious Jews have no attachment to Israel and most would not find it tragic if Israel would be destroyed.
He finds the explanation in a comment by Soccer Dad:
Soccer Dad in the comments here mentions another factor for the Jewish apathy towards Israel - the unremitting left wing bias that Jewish weekly papers have towards Israel.
With all due respect to both excellent bloggers and people: the statement discussed here is/could be true, but only partly so. There is a whole bunch of Jews hardly identified with the left that doesn't give a damn about Israel, and there is a faction of that bunch that even actively propagates the idea of eliminating this Zionist entity. They don't read any of the left wing newspapers, that's for sure...