Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The debunking continues

Last night, I watched the second disc of the show "Bullshit" that has Penn & Teller debunking all sorts of, well, bullshit beliefs and cultural myths. The show is fascinating, and it's a great antidote to the endless stream of pseudo-documentaries that are much easier to find on television that ask things like, "Are aliens real?" and "Did Noah's flood really happen?" These psuedo-documentaries trying to "prove" that certain Biblical events really did happen annoy me in particular, because they are clearly playing both sides of the fence--people who don't take the Bible literally get to comfort themselves from the program by saying, "Well, at least these events have some scientific basis" and people who believe can say, "See, even the scientists know there was an ark with every animal blah blah." (It's all a shame, too, because these documentaries sometimes skew the works of real anthropologists who are investigating where certain myths may have come from--the work that's been done at the site of ancient Troy is a good example of work in this field that seems well-done to me.)

I love reading books about debunking this or debunking that, which is a pretty nerdy obsession but still a lot of fun. Watching it on TV, though, adds this whole other dimension that really underlines the need for the debunkers. Over and over on the show they interview believers in whatever bullshit they are debunking that episode, and it's really touching to see how badly people desire what they believe to be really true. It's a reminder, particularly on the episodes that have charlatans and con artists using these needs to make money, of how much danger people put themselves in when they hand themselves over to (warning: philosophical term coming up) desire-induced fantasies.

Not that I'm being superior--we all suffer from a constant deluge of desire-induced fantasies. In fact, just after the show ended, I got a gentle reminder of this for myself when a phone call punctured a very minor fantasy I had that I didn't even realize was a fantasy, at least until reality came crashing in. And the most irritating episodes of this program are the ones where Penn and Teller indulge their libertarian politics, even going so far as to call on the Cato Institute, who are a bunch of charlatans themselves. Why smart people fall for libertarianism, I will never understand. Talk about a desire-induced fantasy.....

It becomes obvious very quickly what desire is being fulfilled, at least temporarily, in every case where people are caught up believing something that just isn't true. The episodes I found the most intriguing were the ones where they dealt with sex, the one about creationism, and weirdly the one that dealt with psychic powers.

The first episode dealt with people's desires to have what they thought up as a sexier body--particularly a bigger penis or bigger breasts. The best part is they didn't do was a lot of debunkers of this herbal medicines, etc. that promise these things often do, which is deny the validity of the desire for bigger breasts or a bigger penis. Those desires are real enough, and they make sense in their own way. The women who admit that they want bigger breasts are accurate when they say that they think that it will get them more attention from men--it will. Where they miss the mark is believing that more attention from men will result in anything substantial that they want. The whole thing is a bizarre mix of fantasy and reality: Herbs=bigger breasts (no)=more attention from men (yes)=more dates (possibly)=finding Mr. Right (not likely, especially if you're wasting your time with men who wouldn't date you if you had smaller breasts).

The one on ESP was really interesting, because there's few deep desires that these phony psychics won't try to fill with their lies. The saddest was the psychics who come out of the woodwork when someone goes missing, presumably murdered, using the family's desperation to grab a little attention for themselves. The goofiest was the people who do past-life regression, fulfilling their desire to believe that if they aren't some famous, important person now, well at least they were in a former life. The ones who puzzled me the most were those who go to the animal psychics--I am super-attached to my cats, too, but I don't really see what it gets me to think that they have complex thoughts and emotions. That they are pretty simple is what makes them lovable, it seems to me. I wish I could be satisfied chasing a ball all day long.

Creationism is getting a post of its very own. That there is some fucked-up shit.

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