Posted by Lissa on February 18, 2010
Apparently Rosie “First time fire melted steel” O’Donnell and Janeane “That is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks” Garofalo had a little chat the other day. It was about as lovely as you’d expect, but this is the part that caught my eye:
GAROFALO: But here’s another thing with the type of mindset, like, like, I keep saying rightwinger, I don’t know what else to call it. A person that lacks empathy…Karl Rove, Frank Luntz, the guy who comes up with the talking points at these meetings. Grover Norquist. They have no shame. You can’t embarrass them. They have no problem, and they know that they, who they’re lying to. The base if you will. It need not be given facts, need not be fair-minded or open-minded to anything. And you, when you talk that way to people, the way Rush talks to people, the way he lies to people, you can’t have respect for him. You couldn’t possibly respect who’s listening to you if you lied to them the way that they do. They use these people as a blunt instrument.
“Truth”, to Janeane, is apparently what is agreed-upon between her and Rosie O’Donnell. Anything that Rush Limbaugh, Brit Hume, Greta van Susteren, etc. says is not “truth” and is a lie.
A mindset like that nicely excuses the listener from ever watching, let alone researching, the hated Fox News. Or really to any opposing viewpoint. Why bother to listen when you already “know” the opposing viewpoint is lying?
It made me think of this fairly well-known Carl Sagan quote:
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.”
Suppose … I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself….
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle—but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, except she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”
And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it is true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility….
Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you they have dragons in their garages—but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I’d rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths after all…
Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself: On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such “evidence”—no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it—is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.
If you firmly believe in the fire-breathing dragon, what would it take for you to seriously consider that the dragon may not be there?
If you firmly believe the opposing viewpoint is nothing but lies, what would it take for you to seriously consider that they might be considering the same facts as you, just coming to a different conclusion?
It was the war in Afghanistan that did it for me. Body counts were simple enough to be widely predicted before and during the invasion and easily fact-checked some years later. It was pretty clear that the doomsday prophecies by the media didn’t come true (at least not back then; there’s still room for disaster). That was enough to snap me out of the comfortable assumption that everyone who disagreed with me was lying.
What would it take for Rosie and Janeane?