“Won’t somebody please think of the children?” A plea often uttered comically on the Simpsons, but too often uttered seriously in real life.
“How can you dare argue against the MPAA? Don’t you care about the children?”
“How can you possibly be such a horrible person as to support gun-ownership? Don’t you realize that more children are killed by gunfire every year than by cancer, influenza, and pneumonia combined?”
“Don’t you realize that those… those murder simulators are teaching our children to be psychopaths? You went to school during Columbine, don’t you realize how dangerous video games are?”
“The Buffalo PD and the tabloids were, and are, perfectly within their rights to hound the Ramseys – don’t you realize that the statistics prove they’re the most likely suspects in their little girl’s killing?”
“Nancy Grace did nothing wrong in her interview with Melinda Duckett – even if she didn’t know what happened to her son, Nancy was trying to help everybody find her little boy! It’s not her fault that Melinda went and inverted her face with a shotgun after the interview!”
Time after time, people try to use the welfare of children to push their agendas through, to excuse their horrific behavior. In the name of the children, innocent people can be accused of murdering their own children, have their characters slaughtered by the media, and become pariahs for the rest of their lives.
In the name of the children, our rights can be trampled on, mauled, folded up into little balls, and ceremonially impaled on the ramparts for all to see.
In the name of the children, people can be ambushed by journalists and accused of being pedophiles, regardless of the truth.
In the name of the children, it’s considered perfectly valid to persecute other children – not for doing anything wrong, but merely for bringing nail files to school or wearing black.
You will find that each and every one of these things has been done in recent memory. Most of them are still happening today. That there is typically a perfectly good argument against whatever is being done is meaningless – the battle cry of “won’t somebody think of the children” is an even stronger one than accusing your opponents of being like the Nazis.
After all – it’s silly to say that somebody’s being a Nazi for wanting to disarm the public. Sure, Hitler was of the opinion that the first thing you did to dominate a populous was to take away their weapons, but the people trying to disarm us aren’t trying to make us incapable of resisting their excesses. They’re just thinking of the children, trying to protect them from those horrible, horrible guns!
If the children are so open and vulnerable, then how the Hell did our species survive to this point? How did they live through a time when every household had multiple firearms in it – and had to, as a matter of survival? How did they live through the early periods of Hollywood, before even the Productions Code, let alone the MPAA keeping an eye out for them? How did they survive through an era when their parents weren’t scowling at any adult who had the temerity to threaten their child by taking their hand and help them up after they fell?
How was our species not raped, murdered, and psychopathed out of existence, before everybody was thinking of the children?
The simple fact is that “think of the children” is the rhetorical H-bomb. Nobody is willing to argue with you after you level that threat. Nobody’s willing to say “yeah, I am thinking of the children. I’m thinking that their parents ought to do their damn jobs instead of expecting us to!” If they do, they immediately become horrible monsters who think that children ought to be left to the wolves, just because they were born to parents who weren’t able to protect them from the monsters pedophiles/media/firearms/bacteria that hide beneath the bed everybody knows are out there, just waiting to pounce 24/7.
On the internet, and occasionally in reality, there’s this thing called Godwin’s Law – the first person to reference the Nazis in an attempt to win their argument loses, unless they can support it firmly. I think it’s about time we put “won’t somebody think of the children” on the same level – it’s an empty rhetorical shield, used to deflect any argument or counterpoint.
After all… in the end, wasn’t Hitler just thinking about the children too?
Just a brief thought before I’m off to donate blood.
Hanlon’s (Heinlein’s? The debate rages on) Razor applies thoroughly to my last post. For those unfamiliar with it, here we go.
“Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
So many people attributed Bush’s policies to malice when, frankly, I think it had a lot more to do with a painfully advanced case of BTD. I just think he was so myopic that he couldn’t see the ways his policies could, and will, be abused. The same goes of all politicians. Don’t rule out that somebody might be evil, but don’t jump to it as your first guess.
Off to go get vampirized now. Oh, and I’ve decided what I’m going to do for my annual October break from serious blogging – I’m going to leave the films and such for the Wolfemann’s Den, but take up some space here discussing assorted paranormal critters and topics. Magic, witches, ghosts, Bigfoot – all are plausible topics. So, what would folks like to see?
So, what is it that often makes BTD come to the forefront? Typically, it’s the thought that everybody else is just like you, or at least that they should be. This sort of mentality causes BTD to come charging out, screaming that everybody else is stupid or evil, and needs to be taught the error of their ways.
It’s not always something like racism though. Consider, if you will, groceries. You go out, and pick up some peanut oil to use for making dinner. You go ahead and use it, whip up a stir fry, and serve it up. Your dinner partner, on tasting it, completely freaks out about you using peanut oil. They storm out, and you find yourself staring in shock, trying to figure out just where this psychotic episode came from.
Well, obviously, you don’t think that using peanut oil is a big deal. Freaking out like this is ridiculous. Unless you realize that you’re eating dinner with somebody who’s allergic to peanuts, and who is probably off trying to stave off anaphylactic shock right this moment.
Of course, to them, the idea of that they’d have to *say* they’re allergic is as ridiculous as you thought their reaction was. How could you not have ever noticed? Or, if you did know, how could you have forgotten?
A simple mistake can end up being a major fight, all because neither side recognizes that, from the other person’s point of view, they didn’t do anything wrong.
I’ve seen things like this – equally ridiculous things, often – break up several friendships during my life. I spend a lot of my time online, in festering pools of Internet Drama. Binary Thought Disorder is the leading cause of these sort of things – “I am right, how can you possibly not see it, go away and never come back.”
What people need to try and do is recognize that their perspective on reality isn’t the only accurate one. Just because you can’t possibly see any way that somebody would, say, be sexually attracted to their own sex, it doesn’t mean that people who *are* have to be wrong. And the fact that they do doesn’t mean you’re wrong, either. You’re both right, for your particular circumstances, and both wrong, for the other person’s.
We’ve all been taught, since we were kids, that we’re supposed to be different from other people. And that we’re supposed to respect those differences. But I don’t think it’s something that we lose as we get older – I think that we’re just piss-poor at teaching it to kids. The end results include things like the ‘debates’ between conservatives and liberals – a great sound and fury, signifying nothing, because neither side is willing to budge an inch to look at why the other side feels the way they do.
Why do liberals want universal, government-provided health care? Because they obviously want to undermine capitalism and reduce the people to slaves of a government they’re dependent on.
Why do conservatives not want it? Because they’re obviously psychotic racist hypocrites who can’t grasp how much better they’d be when the same guys who run the DMV are running the health system.
Obviously, neither side is 100% correct… but try saying that, and you’ll find the one thing they can agree on. That they don’t like being told the Emperor’s nekkid.
So, once we accept that BTD is a problem… how do we fix it?
The first thing that has to be dealt with is frequently a matter of bias. Consider the following story.
The ATF, under Bush, serves a weak warrant on a compound of fundamentalist Muslims. Attempting to serve this warrant, they approach the building, opening fire on the dogs outside. The people inside, hearing gunfire, some being struck by bullets from the outside, return fire. This touches off a nearly 2 month siege that ends only when tanks are used to knock in the walls of the compound, teargas being fired into the building at over 10 times the normal rate. During this confrontation, a fire begins, burning down the compound and killing those inside, at least those who hadn’t suffocated because of the tear gas (hard to tell which is which). Women and children were among those killed. During the investigation afterwards, it becomes clear that it’s possible incendiary grenades were fired in along with the tear gas, that the ATF passed up opportunities to arrest the leader of the group a week before the initial raid, and that methods used during the siege to try and break the people inside included sleep deprivation methods that would later be used at Gitmo.
Now, had this actually happened, I suspect we’d have practically had riots in the streets. The trick is that several key words changed… namely, this happened under Clinton, and it happened to Christian fundamentalists rather than Muslim ones. Maybe you remember the name of the city it happened in – Waco. And there’s a lot more that happened there, sadly, that makes the story sound even worse for the government. But this got brushed mostly under the table – Congress cheerfully whitewashed it, and the media accepted said whitewashing, despite obvious factual errors that anybody with a passing familiarity with the gear being used could have pointed out.
Everybody has biases. Race, religion, politics – these things divide people quite efficiently. These divisions have been used to justify horrors for centuries – Hitler slaughtered Jews by the million for practically no reason besides their faith. Stalin slaughtered even more because they owned farms that he wanted turned over to the state. Both of these people used inflammatory, division-based messages. Why? Because you don’t think of a travesty inflicted on somebody you’ve been taught not to like as a travesty. Similarly, you’re a lot quicker to cry foul when something is done to your best friend than to your worst enemy.
I try to eliminate these types of biases, myself. Admittedly, it can be difficult at times, but here’s the main thing I try – and something I recommend for pretty much anybody to try.
Before you let something pass, or get ticked off about it, reverse the buzzwords that you’ve heard. Christian fundamentalists killed in a government raid under Clinton? Would you accept the official story so readily if they were Islamic fundies killed in a raid under Bush? Of course, it’s equally offensive to be ready to accept that raid, but be incensed by the actual facts that happened. Reversals are the most blatant way to point these things out – consider the Ricci case, for example.
If they’d only had minority officers pass that test, and had thrown it out because it clearly had some sort of undetected bias that disadvantaged whites, what would have happend? The liberals would have screamed that it was obvious racism, and been right at that. Conservatives would have pointed out that it obviously did have that undetected bias, and possibly been right.
Try this out some time – you might be surprised how often it changes your results. I was recently challenged on my being ticked off by a scene in Ghost Rider (at my other blog), with the question of “if it hadn’t been a black kid who was spared in that fight scene, would this be as big a deal for you?” Well, yes, it would have been – my issues weren’t racial there, they were purely artistic. And I had played my little reversal game, and been just as pissed off by the scene.
Other times, of course, it does come up. I’ve found that I do tend to be more likely to blindly accept a claim that a woman was assaulted by a man than the other way around. It’s difficult to accept it the other way quite as easily, but something that I need to watch out for. Rather ironic, given that I have had issues with women (younger ones, at that) knocking me around in the past (long story.)
This is one of the easier ways to start trying to fight your own case of BTD. Other ways to try and deal with it on a larger scale will come along later.
It’s official. The world is suffering from a pandemic.
No, not H1N1. That’s on its way there, but that’s a disease you can medicate, and they’re finding better medications already. The real pandemic that’s destroying society has been around for millenia, if not since the beginning of time… but that doesn’t make it any less destructive.
This disease is known as BTD – binary thought disorder. It’s that disease that everybody who reflexively disagrees with you suffers from… and that you probably do too. The symptoms include a steadfast belief that you are right, and everybody who disagrees with you is wrong, which can result in feelings of pity, irritation, or even hostility towards them.
Of course, BTD isn’t an actual disease. Instead, it’s a way of being for much of the world. A closed-minded inability to accept that people have the same information as you do but disagree with it – all without being misguided, stupid, or outright evil – is something that manifests among people of all political, religious, and racial stripes. The right falls into it – witness the last 8 years or so. The left falls into it – witness the last 8 years or so. Religious people fall into it – look at the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the very concept of jihad, among other things. Atheists fall into it too – just look at the vitriol that’s sometimes been vented at people like Dave Ramsey, who simply express that they have religious views, or the legal battles over so much as mentioning the concept of God at a school.
Why is BTD a problem? Well, I hope that’s obvious. It’s pretty well responsible for a good number of the wars and atrocities throughout history. It’s responsible for any of several thousand other crimes, fights, injuries, and ruined relationships. But it falls apart under logic.
BTD involves a thought process that demonizes the ‘other.’ It assumes that all criteria are equal – for example, the valuation of the afterlife. Let’s take a look at religion, shall we? Here’s the standard argument.
There is no scientific proof that God exists, let alone that the afterlife does.
Following religious doctrine involves making choices in life that restrict our enjoyment of life, in exchange for the promise of a utopic afterlife.
That’s immensely simplifying things, but it’s the basics. Now, if you believe, in defiance of the lack of empirical proof, that the afterlife exists and that your God is real, then you’ll be a religious person. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve got an eternity of paradise promised to you, in exchange for a short-term restriction on your activities. Further, when you work in the concept of Hell, you have a duty to try and convert others – failure to do so is to condemn the souls of non-believers.
Anybody who has the knowledge that following God’s rules and accepting His faith will bring you to paradise, while failure will condemn you to Hell, but who fails to convert, must be either foolish or actively evil, serving the great evil of their faith of choice.
However, if you don’t believe? There is no proof of an afterlife – all we know really exists is the here and now. Therefore, following religious strictures is inherently foolish. You’re exchanging your freedom in life for absolutely nothing. Without scientific proof that God or the afterlife exists, you’re trading in the only life you’re going to have for squat… and even if the afterlife does exist, you’re gambling on whether or not any given book is actually correct about how to get the good seats when you get there. If you’re wrong – and you’ve got no way to know you’re not – then you’ll end up in Hell anyways.
Anybody who tries to promulgate religious belief, given these facts, must be foolish at best, or evil at worst, trying to manipulate the beliefs of people to control them.
But ultimately, it’s a matter of varying values. The person who believes in God and religion and accepts these teachings whole-heartedly places greater value on their potential afterlife – which they do believe exists – than the atheist does – who doesn’t believe it exists.
There’s no actual proof that either person is right or wrong… simply an absence of such proof. Atheists have as much blind faith in their beliefs as the religious fanatic does. And yet, both sides will cite endless amounts of ‘proof’ that they are right, the other is wrong, until such a point in time as they decide that the stubborn refusal of the other to so much as accept that they might be wrong drives them to give up… or to blows.
BTD has also created the vast quantities of hypocrisy we tend to see. Remember a few years ago, when protesting what the government was trying to do was considered the highest form or patriotism? Great, when you were protesting W and the Iraq war. Now, when the other side is protesting Obamacare, it’s unamerican or a sign that you’ve been duped by The Great Evil… exactly the same things that the Right said about the Left during those protests. What’s the difference? Well… now it’s the Right protesting, and the Left being told they’re wrong.
BTD is the greatest threat to modern civilization. And if we can’t get past it, our society is doomed to tear itself apart, just as every civilization that has come before has eventually fallen to pieces. How do we do that? I’m not sure… but I’ve got some ideas. I’ll be getting into those over the next few weeks.
In the early 1950’s, Hollywood was attacked by censorship. Joe McCarthy (unfortunately, from Wisconsin), with the help of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), started hunting down every supposed communist in Hollywood – and the rest of the country – getting several of them blacklisted and banned from working in the US. Blacklists which, in some cases, still stand. All of this was discussed in the 2007 film “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
In this era, several people in Hollywood “named names.” When called up to testify to HUAC, they gave out the names of other communists, actual and suspected, in Hollywood. Most of them did this because they wanted to avoid the blacklists. One of them, Elia Kazan, didn’t do it so that he could keep working.
What was the result? He was shunned by large parts of the community for decades. When, in 1999, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the Academy, several members (including some who’d never lived through the McCarthy era) booed him. The man was undeniably an artist of incredible skill… but he spoke out for what he believed in, and was silenced for it.
How, pray tell, does this differ from what McCarthy himself did? That Hollywood didn’t have the power of the government behind it? If anything, that makes it worse.
You had a group of people who’d experienced first hand the pains of being censored; of being told that you’re not allowed to speak your beliefs, and that you’ll be punished if you do. And they go and punish Kazan for doing just that. Others who named names were forgiven, but not Kazan – because he sincerely believed he was doing the right thing.
Censorship isn’t just what the government does. It comes from government bodies, and it comes from private groups. The government uses laws to punish people in the name of protecting the public from content they feel shouldn’t be seen. The entertainment industry censors the messages in their films for the sake of the almighty dollar. The actors and others working in the industry do it because they don’t want to support messages they disagree with… and they penalize the people who do disagree with them, publically castigating them and effectively blacklisting them from working in major projects.
Which of these is the worst of the different types?
Ultimately, McCarthy was recognized as a lunatic, and his career (and efforts) were brought to an ignominious end. The people who spoke out against him have come to be viewed as heroes.
But the people who agreed with him have been demonized, or at least had their agreement brushed under the rug.
Now, was Kazan right to name names? I don’t know. He believed he was. Others believed he wasn’t. But was it right to punish him for what he did? No more than it was right for HUAC to put people on a blacklist and prevent them from working for their political views. The only difference is who won in the long run. But freedom of speech, the sacred right so often cited by the opponents of censorship, cuts both ways. If you want to be free to express your opinions, regardless of who disagrees with them, without fear of punishment, then you have to be willing to grant the same freedom.
Unfortunately, I doubt we’re ever going to see that message come out of Hollywood… not really something that’d sell a lot of tickets.