Friday, 8 February 2013

Two plus two equals five

George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 painted an interesting picture of totalitarian society while introducing into our lexicon such words as doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and memory hole. The Party doesn't just control the behaviour of the people; it tries to control their minds. While this was a deliberate attempt to get the collective we to goose step to a similar drummer in a work of fiction, does such a phenomenon exist in real life?

I can think of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia as examples of the state inducing something akin to mass delusion on an entire population. Cults like Jim Jones of the Jonestown massacre and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians of the Waco Siege come to mind as smaller groups displaying the same altered perception of reality. (Xenu, anyone?)

If one person spouts nonsense, we say he's crazy. But what if a group of people or even an entire country spout nonsense? Does the word crazy best cover such a wide-scale phenomenon?

In 1984, the protagonist Winston Smith is tormented during his interrogation by this false dogma: two plus two equals five. The state dictates that this is true therefore it is true and in the end, Smith is converted and comes to believe it.

But it's not true. We know it's not true. We can prove it's not true but everyone (the state) says it is true. Do we have a state of cognitive dissonance? Does our public persona say in front of everyone that two plus two equals five but privately we think otherwise?

Other writers before and after Orwell have used this expression to refer to "groupthink" whereby the desire for conformity in the group can lead to deviant or incorrect thinking. If everyone around you is saying two plus two equals five, at what point do you doubt yourself? At what point do you go along with the crowd?

Two plus two equals five is a fallacy. It's easy to see that it's wrong. But what about other statements which may be more difficult to verify? A well known example would be the debate between creationism and evolution. If two people are sitting in Starbucks talking over a cup of coffee, is either one of them at that particular point capable of conclusively proving their side of the argument? Nobody was around six thousand years ago to witness God creating the world. Nobody was around billions of years ago to see the stellar matter coalesce into the Earth. Each side quotes the Bible or scientific theory to try to bolster the validity of their point of view. But in chasing the elusive right answer, whether it be four or five or even six, we run into the problem of determining an accurate list of components making up the right answer. Yes, Genesis 1:1 supports the idea of the Earth being created six thousand years ago but is Genesis the word of God or is it a tall tale passed down from generation to generation of ancient groups of superstitious people who, by the way, thought the world was flat? Heck, do those scientists really known anything with their carbon dating?

Verifying the accuracy of two plus two is relatively simple. Verifying the accuracy of creationism or evolution isn't quite so clear cut.

So I see two things at play here.

First of all, who takes the time to verify what somebody else tells us? Our parents pass on to us what they know and we never truly check if what they are saying is right or wrong. We just accept it like so many others do and voilà, we have our traditions. For example, one of my pet peeves is that you do not need to put either oil or salt in the water to boil spaghetti noodles. Say what you will, I took the time to study this issue and can prove it's not necessary because the world's great chefs say it's not necessary.

Secondly, can we verify what somebody else says? Do we have the time and the resources necessary to do so? I may know my own experiences or some anecdotes from family and friends, but I probably am unable to do what's necessary to survey a sampling of let's say ten thousand people in a comprehensive cross-section of society to conclusively prove a theory. (The plural of anecdote is not data.)

47%
During the campaign before the American election in November 2012, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney was caught on video tape making a speech before supporters during which he stated that 47% of Americans don't pay taxes. What? Those lazy no good for nothing moochers. Everyone should be pulling their fair share of the load. America isn't a charity! This so-called fact had been floating around Conservative circles for a year and had been debunked many times over as another example of the rights's twisting of the facts to generate fear in people, show the right as knowledgeable, and give the impression that the right was the only party who could lead the country. (The "taxes" are federal taxes. The 47% are lower income people whose income is so low they don't pay federal taxes at all or who get tax credits which equal out to zero federal taxes to pay. But the 47% are still paying state and municipal taxes. By the way, the 47% includes veterans and retirees. Those free-loaders!)

So who's going to take the time to verify what they are being told? And secondly who's got the resources necessary to verify something? At the end of the day, just how much of our everyday belief system is based on faith? Faith = I believe such and such to be true even when I do not have reproducible proof.

The 9/11 Conspiracy
Recently I tweeted a 2011 article I wrote about the 9/11 conspiracy theory where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed due to a controlled demolition. I don't believe that. The theory has been debunked but even if you don't believe the official reports, a controlled demolition is so extraordinary, you have to have a difficult time believing such a thing to be true. As I point out, the prez can't get a blowjob in the Oval Office without the entire world finding out about it; how can anybody believe some nefarious movement in the government could keep a lid on blowing up not one but several buildings in New York?

Nevertheless, a commentator suggested I'm an idiot and should think harder before embarrassing myself. There is nothing stronger than the faith of a convert. I'm also an idiot for doubting Xenu. I guess I tend to embarrass myself an awful lot.

Ignorance is bliss
Sometimes we have no idea of what's going on. Remember the stink about pink slime? This controversial processed beef product was originally used in pet foods but then approved for public consumption as a food additive in ground beef. If you haven't seen it, it actually is pink and it has the consistency of slime. Just what the heck are we putting in our mouths when we eat a hotdog? Maybe the FDA approved it but that doesn't mean I approve of it. Then again, out of sight, out of mind. If I ignore what's in my hotdog and focus on enjoying the wafting bouquet of flavourful meat by-products, I'm sure my baseball game is going to be so much more enjoyable. Color my pink slime and I won't know the difference.

In the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, the protagonist discovers Pacific Gas and Electric Company has contaminated the ground water of the small community Hinkley, California. The townsfolk are sick with various ailments and some have died. PG&E is attempting to buy people out to hide their culpability.

In a significant scene in the film (see video clip below), Erin confronts the lawyers for PG&E. One of the lawyers goes to take a sip of water when Erin says, "By the way, we had that water brought in special for you folks. It came from a well in Hinkley." There is a pregnant pause as the lawyer mulls over drinking the water then puts it back down on the table untouched.

Somewhere, somebody is assessing the pros and cons of something. They may decide that the dangers are not that great and release it to the public. Seems okay but I would ask them some questions. Are you going to eat the pink slime? Are you going to drink the water? If you wouldn't do it yourself, why would you think it is okay for other people to do so? You may think it's okay but if you wouldn't do it yourself, if you wouldn't let your children do it, why would you let others do it?

Final Word
Two plus two equals five. You can fool some of the people some of the time but eventually, the right answer will come out. That seems clear cut, doesn't it? Then again, someone could argue that it isn't important if you believe in creationism or in evolution; it's important that you follow the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. True, but unfortunately the belief in creationism doesn't just stop there. Faith in the Bible invariably leads to other things. Christain fundamentalists are against abortion, against sex education, against contraception, against gay marriage, against oh heck a whole bunch of things. I don't care what the problem is, the answer is 42.

Two plus two equals five. I would like to think that scientifically, objectively, and verifiably, we collectively could arrive at the right answer. However this is going to take time. We all don't take the time to verify what we're told and we all are not able to verify what we're told. As a consequence, we continue down the path believing what we're told and what we're told may not always be right. Oh sooner or later somebody will figure it out but that might be hundreds or thousands of years in the future. In the meantime, the answer is five. All I have to do is have faith.


References

Wikipedia: 2 + 2 = 5
The phrase "two plus two equals five" ("2 + 2 = 5") is a slogan used in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as an example of an obviously false dogma one must believe, similar to other obviously false slogans by the Party in the novel. It is contrasted with the phrase "two plus two makes four", the obvious—but politically inexpedient—truth. Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, uses the phrase to wonder if the State might declare "two plus two equals five" as a fact; he ponders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true?

my blog: Boiling spaghetti: to salt or not to salt
When I was growing up, my mother told me to add a touch of oil and a pinch of salt in the water before boiling spaghetti. When I got out on my own, not being much of a cook, I never bought oil and rarely used salt. As a consequence I never followed my mother's advice. Through trial and error, I discovered the best recipe to end up with perfectly cooked pasta. Well, the best recipe for me as I was trying to minimize the amount of work involved in cooking spaghetti and said recipe did not entail oil or salt.

Out of curiosity, I thought I would go back and take another look at this age old technique of cooking pasta and find out if there is any truth to it or not.

my blog: Romney caught on video: 47% of Americans are Losers
47% of the people pay no income tax. No explanation. No details. Just the insinuation that these 47% are contravening the law, doing something bad, or are just plain lazy. According to the Tax Policy Center (Who Doesn't Pay Federal Taxes? 2011), out of the 47% who do not pay federal income tax, two thirds pay payroll taxes. Those who pay neither income nor payroll taxes are the elderly or those making less than $20,000 per year and pay no taxes because of tax credits. Those are legal tax credits which are an integral part of the current tax system.

my blog: Conspiracy: one man's truth, another man's lunacy
The collapse of the World Trade Centre was a controlled demolition. The United States government covered up the recovery of a spacecraft containing aliens at Roswell, New Mexico. Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A secret group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood controls humanity, and many prominent figures are reptilian, including George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, Kris Kristofferson, and Boxcar Willie.

Wikipedia: Pink Slime
In March 2012, ABC News ran a series of news reports about the product, which generated significant controversy and led to increased consumer concerns. Following the controversy, some companies and organizations discontinued the provision of ground beef with the additive, while others continued to provide beef with the filler.

Wikipedia: Erin Brockovich (film)
Erin Brockovich is a 2000 biographical film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film is a dramatization of the true story of Erin Brockovich, portrayed by Julia Roberts, who fought against the US West Coast energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

Uploaded on Jun 1, 2011 by movieclips
A Lame-Ass Offer - Erin Brockovich (6/10) Movie CLIP (2000) HD


2013-02-08

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