The ongoing psychic tremble occurring among a vanishingly small, but really loud, segment of America’s gun enthusiasts, the ones who are out of their minds with paranoia about the guv’ment breaking down their doors and confiscating their guns (isn’t gonna happen, hasn’t even been considered—by anyone), has me thinking about the various other weird things people believe, and specifically how they persist in believing those weird things even when they have no evidence of any kind to back up those beliefs.
One Nation, Divisible
Take, for example, what happened when the cable channel AMC aired the movie Room for One More. Starring Carey Grant, the movie is a rather cheesy but well-intentioned story about foster parenting. One of the kids in Grant’s care eventually becomes an Eagle Scout, and during the ceremony where he gets his wings (or whatever) he and the rest of his Troop recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Moments after the completion of the broadcast, and for many days afterwards, AMC was flooded with phone calls and email from outraged Christians scolding the network and demanding to know what Liberal, shitbag infidel had re-edited the movie and removed “Under God” from the Pledge recited by the Scouts. The answer was simple. Nobody had re-edited anything. Room for One More was released in 1952. “Under God” wasn’t added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.
Even after the network people explained, on the air, the specifics of the matter, letters continued to roll in.
She’s No Einstein
And it’s not just conservative religious weirdos who allow their brains to be polluted by irrational nonsense. Some liberals I have met are quite willing—sometimes all-too-eager—to allow the dopey contents of their minds to spill out all over the place.
I was sitting in a bar in Denver, chatting up the cute bartender, when the girl on the next stool over suddenly demanded to know what I was reading (I often enjoy the simple combination of books and cocktails in the afternoon.) I lifted my book to show her the cover; Out of My Later Years, a collection of essays by Albert Einstein. She squinted at it.
“Oh,” she said, flicking her fingers at the book. “It’s science.” The tone of her voice suggested that “science” held the same ethical and intellectual prestige as date-rape.
I glanced bemusedly at the bartender, then back and the girl. “Problem with science?”
“It’s bullshit,” she said.
“Wow,” I said. “All of it? Just like that?”
“Yeah, especially that war-monger, Einstein.”
“War-monger?!” I howled. “What?!”
“He invented the nuclear bomb, didn’t he?”
“No, actually, he didn’t.”
“Yes he did.”
I was on the verge of saying “no he didn’t” again but was afraid of where that debating tactic might lead—kindergarten—so instead I took a breath and commenced a more reasoned defense of my statement and of Dr. Einstein.
“Several people are given credit for inventing the bomb,” I began, “most notably Robert Oppenheimer, but credit, if that’s the word to use, should go to a couple of dozen different men, working all over the world. The equation Einstein devised, E = MC2, lead to the discovery of fusion, but that’s not what Einstein was after when he came up with it.”
“That doesn’t matter,” the girl said, adding another twist to the knot in her panties. “Because of him, millions of people died.”
“Fusion doesn’t have the best track-record, you’re right, but blaming Einstein for it is just wrong. The possibility of fusion came as a surprise to him. Albert Einstein would have no more gone looking for a weapon like that than he would have, I dunno, combed his hair in the morning. Weapons like that were against his nature—”
She interrupted me. “—it doesn’t matter. He was responsible and never acknowledged it.”
“Did you know,” I continued, starting to talk, you could say, at volume, “that Einstein was a pacifist? He was, and stated it publicly many, many times. He was in favor of world federalism, with a world military to keep tabs on troublemakers. And because of his politics he wasn’t even allowed near the places where the fusion experiments were happening. Hoover and the FBI thought he was a Communist. They denied Einstein security clearance. Then they tried to have him deported. His FBI file filled an entire file cabinet, for fuck’s sake.”
“Then why didn’t he ever apologize!” the girl squealed.
“Because he didn’t have anything to apologize for!” I responded, now officially what you would define as loud. “When he learned that a nuclear chain reaction was possible, he reacted instantly and wrote a letter to Roosevelt warning him. Roosevelt ignored the letter, until it came to his attention that the Nazis were very likely working on a bomb just like the one Einstein had described. And Einstein was—”
“Shut up,” I growled. “Learn a few things. Einstein was a Jew, and was really familiar with the Nazis. He’d been hounded out of Europe by Hitler’s psychopaths because his theories of relativity were redefined as ‘Jewish science.’ After we destroyed Hiroshima, he was beside himself. He was horrified. And he said so. What more do you want from the guy?”
The bartender put a shot of bourbon down in front of me. Catching my eye she said, “Take it down a notch, Rich. ‘Kay?”
“Yeah, all right. Sorry.” I downed the shot.
Beside me, the girl was shaking her head, stubbornly refusing to allow even a tittle of logic to enter her cloudy brain.
“Let me just say this,” I said, “then I wanna go back to my book.”
The girl glared at me.
“It’s like a thought experiment,” I said. “Let’s say I’m sitting here thinking about throttling you.”
The bartender snorted a laugh and turned away. The girl stared a whole kung-fu movie’s worth of daggers at me.
“But I don’t throttle you. I don’t throttle you because I wouldn’t do something like that. But I sure do think about it. And then let’s say you get up and leave. You’re late to a meeting of the Ignorant Morality Police or something. Doesn’t matter. You leave and while you are walking down the street, someone jumps out of an alley and throttles you. Is your throttling my fault?”
“It isn’t. And you know it isn’t. You are free to leave, now, safe in the knowledge that I won’t have anything to do with your eventual death.”
“You’re a dick!” she shrieked, and flung herself off her stool in the direction of the door, which she tried to slam behind her, but the pneumatic arm fouled her plan.
I looked at the bartender. “I am a dick,” I said. “If I part my hair just right, you can see the slit in the top of my head.”
Continuing to believe things to be true, even in the face of all evidence, isn’t brave. It isn’t telling truth to power. It isn’t even ignorant, not really.
It’s irrational. It’s the way babies think. When the belief feels better than the truth, you should just switch your brain off entirely and go back to the caves.