For a thin little book, Damian Thompson stuffed a lot of fascinating things into Counterknowledge. I’ll have to do a series of posts to do it proper justice.
The point of the book is to illustrate the flawed and faked facts we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. More often than not, we take what we hear for granted and assume someone’s already done all the proving of it. Already I can see how that kind of mentality links itself to religious upbringing. If you can swallow the swill in a 2000 year old book as truth and proof of divine intervention, it’s a small leap to believe other ridiculous things are based on facts.
I wonder if scientists are examining this mental process to see why it evolved and continues to have such an impact on the way we think and assess information. Are we all built to be gullible to some extent? A related question, are we all wired to jump to conclusions before all the information’s on the table?
First up in the book is a rundown of 9/11 conspiracy. Much has been written claiming the truth of that, and more has been written to debunk it.
This tendency to disbelieve facts is not a new human trait. Thompson writes on page 9,
For centuries, unorthodox beliefs – that is, beliefs rejected by the guardians of intellectual orthodoxy – have tended to cling together. This tendency was observable long before society developed a scientific methodology that enabled it to distinguish between true and false empirical claims. …
As Western knowledge became more systematic and evidence based, ideas that failed the new intellectual tests were increasingly banished to the fringes of society, where they exhibited a magnetic attraction toward one another.
This includes anything to do with psychics, end-of-times prophets, Creationism, Holocaust denial, UFOs and miracle cures. A sociologist by the name of Colin Campbell coined a phrase for this – cultic milieu which refers to:
a society’s deviant belief systems and practices and their associated collectivities, institutions, individuals, and media of communication. He described it as including “the worlds of the occult and the magical, of spiritualism and psychic phenomena, of mysticism and new thought, of alien intelligences and lost civilizations, of faith healing and nature cure” (Campbell 1972:122), and it can be seen, more generally, to be the point at which deviant science meets deviant religion. What unifies these diverse elements, apart from a consciousness of their deviant status and an ensuing sense of common cause, is an overlapping communication structure of magazines, pamphlets, lectures, and informal meetings, together with the common ideology of seekership.
The internet is a haven for this milieu but how many people now believe these “fringe” ideas? How big a group has to believe them before they cease to be fringe and become mainstream? Weird ideas and theories and conspiracies aren’t relegated to the underground newspaper industry anymore. Sometimes they’re fully endorsed by celebrity spokespeople.
The term “counterknowledge” is used only to refer to beliefs that are nearly polar opposites of beliefs based on factual, provable data. The trouble with counterknowledge is the sheer volume of plausible thought-inventions that get weighed by the same measures as an scientist’s or historian’s life-long achievements.
Take Dan Brown (please). It certainly helped sales of his books and the resulting movie to have the Pope and company to declare such claims in The Da Vinci Code were false. What better way to show there’s secrets under the flagstones of the Vatican itself!? Nevermind that it’s fictional nonsense. We’ve got to pore over the works of Da Vinci and find more hidden wonders…
There’s a real drive to find “truths” where there aren’t any. Not that I’m discounting the genius of Da Vinci to hide stuff in plain sight. The dude was a diva. It’s the other stuff people want to believe – that satanists eat babies and other hysterical epidemics:
Some therapists regard anorexia and bulimia as symptoms of childhood sexual abuse that must be remembered in therapy. Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse can lead to cases of multiple personality disorder and satanic ritual abuse. Traumatologists believe that stories of alien abduction are screen memories for child sexual abuse, while ufologists maintain that narratives of child sexual abuse often shield experiences of alien abduction. All these syndromes move toward suspicion, conspiracy theories, witch-hunts, and mass panics.
Can we interrupt or halt these epidemics? I believe that we already have the power to control epidemic hysteria, though it will take dedication and persistence to counter sensational news reports, rumors, and fear.
Thompson reports that Elaine Showalter, the author of Hystories (quoted above) wound up in the hot seat over her 1997 book, the victim of ironically hysterical vitriol that denounced her theories. Many Chronic Fatigue sufferers were insulted to be lumped in with abductees, for example, but Showalter’s point was that both CFS and the supposed existence of little gray men could be all in the mind, not products of an outside experience.
Thompson brings up the effect the publishing industry has on perpetuating these fringe ideas. Some publishers don’t give a damn about making sure there’s no fiction in the truth. Look at the Million Little Pieces debacle. Even Oprah fell for that, but I’m not totally surprised given the shit she peddles to her viewers on a daily basis. While hunting for info about her new age leanings, I found a lot written from the Christian perspective, dismayed that Oprah is claiming there’s another path than Christ’s. She’s right about that, peeps, but she’s going down a weird road to find it. It’s a Tolle road and nobody’s really looking at the price they pay to travel it.
Although it seems like publishers will print anything for a buck, in case of situations where even have some standards, there’s always the option to start your own publishing house, like Thomas Horn did for Nephelim Stargates which I’ve previously lambasted. That book is a cornucopia of kooky controversies.
Next time, what effect counterknowledge has on medicine and overall health.
Thanks for the link to Counterknowledge.com. Would you be interested in exchanging links?
So far as I am concerned, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – does the view being put forward ring true, and does it enlighten, nourish, strengthen the reader? The trouble with science is that all too often today’s proven scientific fact turns out to be tomorrow’s proven scientific error. The American Medical Association’s criteria for judging medical information, on the Net or elsewhere, can be helpful. They make these points:-
AUTHORSHIP: Who wrote this and what do you know about their credentials and affiliations?
ATTRIBUTION: Upon what evidence, sources and references does the author base a position or conclusion? Are you getting someone’s opinion (well-founded or otherwise) or a string of anecdotes or scientifically valid statements placed in proper context?
DISCLOSURE: Does the author of the site you are visiting have some kind of real or potential bias, because of economic, political or other considerations?
tIMELINESS: How fresh is the information?