Why do some people embrace stupidities, bullshit and outrageous lies no matter how many facts are thrown at them?
A study came out a while back about how despite the facts, many people will hold onto misperceptions —or outright lies—no matter how many well-documented facts are presented. If the comment section of the last column I wrote that appears in The Advocate is any indication (see March 2 posting), those researchers are onto something.
In it, I present quotes and figures about the inequality of Jews and Palestinians to make a case for Israel’s apartheid nature. In response, every nimrod with a wifi connection calls me a self-hating Jew/Shariah Law luvin’/quasi-Nazi bed wetter.
Of course, it’s not just this issue or lowly me that gets slammed as a charlatan for summoning the facts in an argument. President Obama could have every Supreme Court Justice sign an affidavit that he was born in the USA and a small, but vocal, percentage of Americans will go to their graves believing that he’s a Kenyan-born anti-colonialist.
But I take exception to the researchers’ summation that many people are just impervious to the facts. I think Marx had a better explanation than stubborn stupidity.
He wrote: “The ruling ideas in every society are the ideas of the ruling class.” Media, schools and even many religious institutions, which largely reflect the opinions of those in positions of power, justify the status quo and repeat falsehoods uncritically over and over again—sometimes for decades. Sheer repetition combined with a near total absence of critique has an impact on people. Advertising thrives on this fact.
When these falsehoods, like the entire story of Israel’s origins and present-day political reality, are the dominant narrative taught in schools and reported as the truth by everyone from Sarah Palin to the New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman, then of course the racist crap about Palestinians pervades social consciousness. In this particular case, we even have Obama’s FBI raiding the homes and criminalizing people who stand in solidarity with Palestinians, so the idea that Palestinians in particular, and Arabs generally, are a dubious lot is reasserted everywhere we turn.
But Marx didn’t just see us all as imprisoned inside an ideological madhouse run by wealthy moguls—though it does take on that tinge quite a bit of the time. He also saw in the working class, that is, the people who have no stake in this system and its ideological apparatus, a potential to break out of the horseshit when crappy ideas run up against social conditions that just don’t seem to fit the dominant narrative.
Madison, Wisconsin, these past two weeks is an excellent example. People are apathetic? Well, tens of thousands have mobilized to fight for workers’ rights and their solidarity and ingenuity is sparking protests in Indiana and Ohio and they’re likely to spread elsewhere in coming weeks.
Americans are hopelessly provincial and anti-Arab? Well, check out all those picket signs Americans with no knowledge of Arabic have google-translated in order to mirror what people in the Arab world are doing to help we poor monolinguists understand what they’re fighting for. I find those English to Arabic translated signs some of the most hopeful indications that genuine internationalism is not only possible, but on the agenda.
In short, we’re living through a period when many long-held notions about our world are being thrown up for questioning. The stability of empires and dictatorships and the inevitability of rich folks always getting their way are now seriously threatened in ways unimaginable less than two months ago. All because ordinary people buffeted by bullshit every day are being compelled to act in ways they may never have thought they were capable of or interested in. And it’s starting, just starting, to force a shift in consciousness.
That doesn’t mean that everyone shifts at the same time, or in the same direction, mind you. And yes, there will continue to be a swath of uber-rich and their toadies who want to keep things just as they are. In addition, a small percentage of the population really is dumb as a box of rocks and will cling to asinine ideas in the face of their own demise.
But right now there is a shift taking place in social consciousness as struggles erupt and some even win. Which means those of us challenging the status quo dare not be silent because more people are open to our ideas than ever.
As for the rest, there’s always the delete button.
I’ll be speaking tomorrow, Saturday, March 5, at the University of Cincinnati, 7PM Lindner Center Room 450.
For those in NYC, a protest has been called against the racist and anti-democratic ban of pro-Palestine groups at the LGBT Center, Sat. March 5 at 6:30PM, 13th St. bet. 7th and 8th Aves. Give ’em hell!