Yes, these all really do have something in common. Let me explain.
I don’t know about you, but I have been amazed to hear, read, and receive via e mail claims that the health care reform bill before Congress mandates euthanasia of the elderly or impaired (among several other odd and unsubstantiated claims). I’m not going to link you to these reports because, in my opinion, they have already received too much attention. I will however give you the link to the actual bill, HR3200 and you can check the various claims for yourself ( Here is your clue, page 424, section 1233, Advance Care Planning Consultation. The link is to the pdf version of the bill which means there is a search function available. By the way, www.thomas.gov is the place to find the text, status, sponsors, any bills before either branch of Congress, and to find out what Congress has been up to.)
If you look in the bill, euthanasia, “death panels” and so on, simply aren’t there. What is there are provisions for you to be able to speak with your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant about what sort of medical care you want at the end of you life or if you become incapacitated.
My purpose here isn’t to debate health care reform. Rather what I’ve been wondering about for the past couple of weeks is why do otherwise smart people fall for outrageous distortions? The current health care “discussions” are not the only place this happens.
Unless you have been isolated from the media this summer ( and lucky you, if you have been) you have also heard about the so called “birthers”. These are people who continue to believe that the President is not a US citizen in spite of evidence to the contrary. What is going on here?
As I thought more about this, it occured to me that I have seen this phenomina before. For example, Brian McLaren in his book The Secret Message of Jesus, writes about something like this. He says that for a significant portion of his Christian life, he read the Gospels as being about personal salvation and simply didn’t see the larger social justice message. It wasn’t that he didn’t read the Bible, he read it often and carefully. But for a long time, he found what he expected to find and nothing else.
I found McLaren’s comments particularly interesting. I read the Bible without an evangelical worldview to shape my reading and my experience was essentially the opposite of his. I found very little about personal salvation and alot about social justice. It seems that the particular worldview we bring to the text matters enormously.
This isn’t apparently just a modern phenomena. Here’s an example from this month’s Smithsonian magazine. In the article “Galileo’s Vision”the author David Zax talks about how scientists in Galileo’s time believed Aristotle when he wrote that all objects in the sky were “perfect and immutable spheres” This meant that astronomers didn’t necessarily think it was important to actually look at the sky with a telescope.
These satellites of Jupiter are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can exercise no influence on the Earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist,” proclaimed nobleman Francesco Sizzi. …Some who did deign to use the telescope still disbelieved their own eyes. A Bohemian scholar named Martin Horky wrote that “below, it works wonderfully; in the sky it deceives one.”
Others looked through a telescope but worked hard to reconsile what was supposed to be there with what they saw. Very simply put, oversimplified actually, this was part of Galileo’s problem. Others looked at the same evidence he did and saw what they thought they were supposed to see.
I’m sure you can think of other examples of this phenomena.
I find this really interesting, this human ability to only find what we “know” we are supposed to find, to see what we believe we should see. I’m no psychologist or sociologist, I don’t have the foggiest idea why we do this. If you are one and can explain this to me, I would appreciate that.
I also don’t know how we overcome this. Politely pointing out the error of their ways doesn’t appear to work. Neither does telling other folks that they are stupid or delusional. Not to mention the problem of how do we know that what we think we know is in fact correct. If others are capable of staring reality in the face and seeing something false, surely you and I can be mistaken too. So, readers, how do we talk to each other about these things? How do we move forward together toward reality. And how do we know it when we see it?
I’d like to know, what do you think?