You can fool most of the people most of the time, and whoever is left will fool themselves the rest of the time. A great many foolish beliefs are relatively harmless, such as the idea that handling toads will give you warts, though the toads may hold different opinions. Other opinions are foolish and yet not harmless, among them the idea that climate change is not a real threat, and anyway it’s not caused by human activity. Again, the toads may have opinions at variance with that.
An 1863 engraving by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) used to illustrate an edition of Don Qixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. The caption for this plate is taken from the text, and reads “A world of disorderly notions, picked out of his books, crowded into his imagination.”
Scientists and journalists have been tap dancing around the reasons why some folks seem more susceptible than others to fake news stories, especially ones that confirm their beliefs about a subject. They refer to the lack of “cognitive ability” in people who have “confirmation bias”. In plain English, stupid people will believe what they want to believe, and they don’t want to be confused with the facts. Is the Earth flat, despite readily available evidence that it is a sphere? You betcha it is! Is the Earth a mere 6,000 years old, according to some Christians? You know it is, and pay no attention to all those much older fossils – they’re fake news! Is Spanky the Pussy Grabber, aka the Philanderer-in-Chief, getting a free ride from the same white, evangelical Christians who roasted Bill Clinton at the stake for similar behavior 20 years ago? Yer darn tootin’ he is, and he will continue getting a pass as long as he stocks the federal judiciary with anti-abortionists and signs off on tax breaks for rich, white, evangelical Christians.
There’s little anyone can doto convince some folks, roughly a third of the population, that truth, justice, and the American Way exist outside their bubble, and that they’ve been falling for one April Fool’s joke after another much of their lives. Such folks will stubbornly burrow even deeper into their bunkers, popping out occasionally to take pot shots on Twitter at the latest targets of their fevered conspiracy dreams, up to and including schoolchildren who survived a mass killing taking a stand against America’s fetishistic gun culture.
The Smothers Brothers deliver a sideways take on “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. As with everything in life, there’s a sliding scale to the relative harmlessness or harmfulness of foolish ideas and impossible dreams. Shades of gray can be difficult for some people to adjust their eyes to, and they would no doubt prefer the ease of differentiating black from white and leave it at that. Believe in the Easter Bunny? Fine; it’s hard to see how anyone’s hurt by a bunny heralding spring. Believe that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, was so evil that, based on rumors on internet forums, she was in charge of an indecent criminal enterprise based in a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, and in consequence grab a gun and barge into the restaurant to break it all up? That’s delusional thinking, and combined with some other poisonous ideas, it’s dangerous. Next time, take a little longer to stop and think whether something is impossible, or even likely.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
― 1 Corinthians 13:11; King James Version of The New Testament.
It’s fine to believe in fairy tales as a child, at least when the belief is harmless. Children learn about human behavior, often through the actions of animal characters, and they pick up some moral lessons. Fairy tales have their place in educating children, but that place is not in science textbooks. Recently the New Mexico Public Education Department injected a dose of the fanciful in editing science standards for the state’s schoolteachers to follow in their classrooms.
Mother Goose reading fairy tales in an illustration by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) for the frontispiece of an 1866 edition of Charles Perrault’s Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals, or Mother Goose Tales.
The questionable edits dealt with the age of the Earth, evolution, and human-caused global warming. All the usually controversial subjects in the battle over teaching the nation’s youth. The standards that New Mexico’s top public school bureaucrats were altering came from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were formulated by national science and teaching associations. Editing science teaching standards appears to be another case of cherry picking facts and replacing them either with fancy or with the assertion of widespread doubt where there really is very little, along the lines of what has been happening with textbooks for years now.
Texas has long been in the news for leading the way for creationists and climate change deniers in pressuring textbook publishers to muddy the scientific waters on those two subjects, and perhaps has served as an unfortunate model in that respect for other states like New Mexico and California. The playbook borrows from the scientific method in that it adopts skepticism as a tool for doubt, ignoring the part about overwhelming evidence eventually tipping the scales to the point where continued skepticism is no longer productive without the presentation of convincing countervailing evidence. Persisting in error to that degree becomes obstructionism, and while some of it is ideologically driven, it can often serve the ends of greedy corporations, such as in the fossil fuel industry.
From the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a scene where logic serves absurdity.
Teaching children falsely, either by substituting fanciful notions for facts or by omitting facts altogether, results in ignorant adults who are poorly prepared to manage real problems. Insisting children believe in fairy tales to the exclusion of understanding how the world really works will only reinforce the continued destruction of the environment and the misunderstanding of our place in it. Instructing children in dominion instead of husbandry replaces a clear-eyed view of what is and has been with what never was nor will ever be.