Mike the Mad Biologist

In a recent post that’s made it’s way around blogtopia (and yes, skippy invented that phrase), I referred to willful ignorance. I’ve used that phrase before, and one troll decided to get hung up on that phrase (even though I then explained it). In one of those internet tubes, I found an excellent parody of the anti-gay spew vomited forth by various rightwing faithtanks called “The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths.” The whole thing is worth a read, but in the part where the author explains how to write a similar parody is an excellent description of willful ignorance (bold original; italics mine):

But when I put it all together, I had to be very deliberate in everything I did: the sources I used (and those I ignored), the words I chose, the points I made. And I had to carefully ensure that the data I cited could somehow support the point I was making — even though the authors I cited would certainly disagree with how I was using their data. (I presume many would angrily disagree if I were not writing a parody.)

Nothing in this tract appeared out of nowhere, and none of it came about by accident. It was all very deliberate. And this leads me to one inescapable conclusion: No one can write something like this by mistake.

Let’s be clear. Anyone can make a few errors here or there. I probably did. But we’re not talking about isolated mistakes or errors in interpretation. We’re talking about the consistent use of these methods I described as a deliberate tactic. And what this tells me is that the people who put together similar anti-gay tracts — all of those antigay organizations and all of the so-called “professionals” supporting their work — they’re not writing their stuff by mistake either. They know exactly what they’re doing.

How do I know this? I know this because I read the same reports they did!

And guess what? The sources they cite in their references aren’t nearly as complicated as you might think. They may be professional journals but they’re not rocket science.

These studies are usually written in surprisingly common English using not-too-difficult math. To say that these anti-gay writers just made a few mistakes or didn’t fully understand what they were reading would imply that their reading and math skills haven’t risen above those of a college freshman. Since most of these people consider themselves experts — many of them sport Ph.D.’s after their names — that explanation just doesn’t hold water.

So this leaves me with the only other possible conclusion: They know exactly what they’re doing and they’ve chosen to do it as a tactic.

Willful ignorance: it’s not just for creationists anymore.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph j7uy5
    March 22, 2007

    There is no doubt about it. They know exactly what they are doing.

  2. #2 Stein
    March 23, 2007

    Willfully ingnorant people!

    If they don’t agree with you after being EXPOSED to your knowledge they are WILLFUL!

    WILLFULLY IGNORANT!

    DAMN THEM ALL!

    There will be no WLLFULNESS here!

  3. #3 Ross
    March 23, 2007

    A question I find interesting, though perhaps ultimately unimportant (Especially because the answer is probably “Because they are not sane.”) is “Why?” Telling a lie requires that you know the truth and choose to tell something else. I have no trouble believing that they are capable of lying, but to what end?

    Which is to say this: for these people to lie, they must know the truth: that homosexuals aren’t trying to destroy civilization, that evolution is real, etc. Now, a systematic mistake, I can understand: if they hold their viewpoint to be true, and are systematically oblivious to the evidence against it, that’s understandable. But for them to be intentionally misrepresenting the facts, they must know that the facts, the *truth* is (a) against them, and (b) persusasively demonstrated.

    So if they know their point of view is wrong, why keep selling it? It’s not that I don’t believe someone can be willfully deceptive, but no sane person willfully perpretrates a lie unless there’s something in it for them. So what’s in it for them? It’s cheap and easy to say that it’s all about tugging at the heartstrings and perpetrating a fraud on the public to gain power over the unwashed masses who don’t know any better. Or we can say that they’re all just hatemongering nazis if we like.

    But this isn’t a little problem. It’s a big problem. It just doesn’t seem likely that people getting into the positions of influence to push this kind of intentional lie could, in such numbers, be not simply deluded, but *cartoonishly evil*. So if we assume that they are neither insane nor evil cartoon overlords, what’s the advantage of pushing the lie?

  4. #4 Edward
    March 23, 2007

    Ross asks “why?”

    Why do people become alcoholics or drug addicts or smokers? People often do things that are not good for them, despite having ample evidence that their actions are not in their best interest. Addiction, creationism, denial of global warming – these are all examples where the scientific evidence is completely overwhelming, yet people still have trouble with them.

    It’s not completely clear to me how complex the answer really is, but I think a huge part of it is avoidance and denial of perhaps unpleasant realities. Fear of death plays a role in creationism. People want not only to know what happens after death, they want to believe it is something good. The creationist branch of Christianity tells folks they have a wonderfull place waiting for them after death, but only if they believe that everything in the Bible is literally true and that the Bible is, in fact, the source of all truth.

    If we, as a society, were better at teaching coping mechanisms that didn’t involve avoidance and denial, we would be much better at dealing with the problems that we face. I think that some leaders of the creationist movement are themselves full of fear and denial, some use the fear and denial in others to gain power, but most are a bit of both.

  5. #5 Meyerhoff
    March 24, 2007

    That WILLFUL Troll!

    How dare someone not AGREE with YOU when YOU have presented your case.

    They are being WILLFUL not to submit to your overwheming rationality.

    WILLFULLY Ignorant!

    DAMN THEM!

    There will be no WILLFULNESS on these threads!

    Its UNSPEAKABLE.

  6. #6 QrazyQat
    March 24, 2007

    If you look around at the tactics of fringe and pseudoscience you see the same tactics being used by all.

  7. #7 J. J. Ramsey
    March 24, 2007

    Ross: “So if they know their point of view is wrong, why keep selling it?”

    I don’t think that they know their point of view is wrong. Rather, they believe their view is right, but since it is not obviously supported by facts that the public will accept (as opposed to, say, Bible verses), they must distort the facts to get others to come around to their view.

    Orwell’s doublethink also comes to mind:

    The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.