Author Archive: Erich Vieth
Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.
When solid evidence conflicts with a world view, some people often reject the evidence rather than the flawed world view. In Scientific American’s “How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail,” Michael Shermer (a former fundamentalist Christian) suggests the following approaches to persuading such people:
If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.
The rejection of facts is often caused by either or both of two human tendencies:
1. Cognitive Dissonance: the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
Psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.” Festinger called this cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.
2. Backfire Effect: Corrections actually increase misperceptions.
Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.” For example, subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite … and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them.
What happens when you pay two monkeys unequally? This is what happens, as narrated by primatologist Frans de Waal. This is an excerpt from the TED Talk: “Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals.”
President Obama has signed a new law giving protection to atheists. As reported by Patheos:
For the first time, atheists and other nonreligious persons are explicitly named as a class protected by the law.
President Barack Obama has signed into law the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. The new law protects atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers around the world from religious persecution.
Congress passed the international religious freedom bill protecting atheists, humanists, and other non-theists last week with overwhelming bipartisan support, and Obama signed the legislation into law last Friday, Dec. 16. The new law explicitly protects atheists, humanists, and other non-theists, and upgrades the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. In particular, the new law states:
The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion.
It’s not a pretty picture, as described in this article in Salon:
Donald has followed in his father’s corrupt footsteps. Trump’s career is littered with bogus businesses (like Trump University); repeated ripoffs of suppliers, contractors and employees whom he failed to pay for services rendered; and the misuse of the Trump Foundation to feather his own nest while trying to look like a philanthropist. Six of Trump’s businesses have gone bankrupt. Despite this, on April 18, 2015, Trump tweeted this falsehood: ”For all of the haters and losers out there sorry, I never went Bankrupt.”
Trump has also lied about the size of his wealth, as various business publications have pointed out. Many observers suggest that one reason Trump has refused to release his tax returns is that they will show that he has repeatedly and wildly exaggerated his wealth and thus his success.
Given this background — his lackluster academic record, his dependence on his family’s connections and wealth to get into college and to succeed in business, and his troublesome and abusive business practices — it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump is so insecure about his intellect and so thin-skinned about his accomplishments.
How should one describe a person who is pathologically narcissistic?
They all have or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered. They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.
These personality traits stand out as the first warning to those who would associate with them, but there are many others. Here is a collection of traits that I have collected over the years about cult leaders that give us hints as to their psychopathology. This list is not all-inclusive nor is it the final word on the subject; it is merely my personal collection based on my studies and interviews that I conducted in my previous career.
If you know of a cult leader who has many of these traits there is a high probability that they are hurting those around them emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually, or financially. And of course this does not take into account the hurt that their loved ones will also experience.
Why is the US media so hyped up to believe the CIA claims that Russia hacked the US presidential election? Reverse engineering the situation reveals that this belief can be used for various political purposes, even in the absence of credible evidence. It’s par for the course these days. This article in The Nation reminds us to be extremely suspect of CIA “information.”
In 1977, Carl Bernstein published an exposé of a CIA program known as Operation Mockingbird, a covert program involving, according to Bernstein, “more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Bernstein found that in “many instances” CIA documents revealed that “journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
Fast-forward to December 2016, and one can see that there isn’t much need for a covert government program these days. The recent raft of unverified, anonymously sourced and circumstantial stories alleging that the Russian government interfered in the US presidential election with the aim of electing Republican Donald J. Trump shows that today too much of the media is all too happy to do overtly what the CIA had it once paid it to do covertly: regurgitate the claims of the spy agency and attack the credibility of those who question it.
Donald Trump is surrounding himself with people who appear to be obsessed with short term profit taking, disregard for Constitutional principles, the trampling of the environment and military-minded xenophobia.
As this plays out for the next few years, we’ll be better positioned to see how much of the DNC governance of the past 8 years was empty rhetoric on these same issues. I’m not saying that there aren’t differences. In fact, I’m terrified that we are about travel backwards on many serious issues.
On the other hand, we’ve come from 8 years of an administration that was quite friendly to Wall Street, Health Insurers, Telecoms and other big industries that have essentially become consumer gouging monopolies or worse. Where was the DNC-led outcry as fracking became commonplace, as drones hit numerous innocents abroad, as we waged undeclared war on at least 6 Middle Eastern countries, and where government spying on U.S. citizens in the absence of probable cause continued to be business as usual? Did we cry out in protest as our state and federal governments approved budgets that crushed the abilities of schools to hire excellent teachers and provide them with necessary supplies. Did we speak out on the “war on drugs,” which destroys the lives of many non-violent users who crave street drugs that for the most part have legal equivalents peddled by Big Pharma?
Smithsonian.com looks back to how the American media covered the rise of Hitler and Mussolini:
How to cover the rise of a political leader who’s left a paper trail of anti-constitutionalism, racism and the encouragement of violence? Does the press take the position that its subject acts outside the norms of society? Or does it take the position that someone who wins a fair election is by definition “normal,” because his leadership reflects the will of the people? These are the questions that confronted the U.S. press after the ascendance of fascist leaders in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
How does the press cover a rising dictator? Not as a “dictator.”
Dorothy Thompson, who judged Hitler a man of “startling insignificance” in 1928, realized her mistake by mid-decade when she, like Mowrer, began raising the alarm.
“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”