Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Impervious to reality: the tragedy of the Seeker

By way of introduction, this excellent and dismaying article recounts the story of the Seekers — a 1950s cult that became convinced that doomsday was at hand and sacrificed, in many cases, everything in their lives on the altar of that creed. And when the prophesied day came and passed without incident, they didn’t abandon this belief. Rather, they convinced themselves that, precisely through their belief in this scenario, they had persuaded God to cancel it.

Impervious to reality

Impervious to reality: how defense mechanisms can shut out uncongenial truths.
[ Image Source ]

This is an extreme example, but the article goes on to speak of the many far more commonplace instances in which this theme appears, distorting thinking and replacing sound reasoning with immutable fallacy. Worse, it refers to a tendency among some, when confronted with what everyone else would recognize as indisputable facts that refute their beliefs, not merely to deny those facts, but to harden in their attitudes and argue against them with redoubled vigor.

The article does offer a possible solution, but I find it almost as disheartening as the problem.

It appears that, when people set in a fallacious belief are presented with the actual facts (which belie their belief) in the context of a narrative that affirms the values underlying their belief, they are more likely to heed those facts. The instance supplied was the presentation of the essential science of the greenhouse effect, packaged as an article advocating a free-market nuclear solution more congenial to their value systems, to people otherwise unwilling to consider such information. But this principle, it suggests, could be applied to any of a great many similarly contentious issues.

Where does this leave us, if so?

It seems to me that, psychologically, we are left with a choice between ethics and effectiveness. We can either present uncongenial facts honestly and see them ignored or actively condemned, or we can try to disguise them as part of something they aren’t. That's a pretty depressing conclusion.

I invite analysis and response. Do you think what this article says is true? If so, do you agree with its conclusion that we can only try to prove our points by guile and misdirection? Or is there another way?

Originally published as a review of a MotherJones article on idees fixes and ways to unfix them.

Peace, liberty, unity, justice, equality
Home Economy Government Mammonolatry Pathocracy Religion Science Society The Record The Struggle WikiLeaks World Events