Monday, June 20, 2011

Just because you say it often, doesn't make it true....

One of the most common of logical fallacies in modern society is the Availability Heuristic. This is the tendency in the human mind to believe most strongly that which is most available in memory. This biases us towards decisions based on the most recent experiences, and the easiest ones to remember.

Its not an unreasonable bias to be built into us as animals. The most recent experiences have the greatest likelihood of pertaining to where we are right now. Furthermore, repetition increases memory and the speed at which memory is recovered, and this too is reasonable. If something happend 10 times recently its a lot more likely to be relevant then something that happened just once.

Generalities are also easier to remember then specifics. It can be argued that this too at one point in time was adaptive in that we are unlikely to encounter the exact same situation twice but we might well encounter many that have important things in common.

Unfortunately, today we live in a finely crafted soup of experience designed specifically to drive our decision making in directions those who pay for the soup want us to go. From all of the above comes a very simple and well known advertising maxim: the more times people hear your message from apparently different sources, and the simpler that message is, the more likely they are to base their decisions upon it.

The Bush administration raised this to a fine art in the political arena by coordinating many right wing radio and talk show hosts around daily messages. Each day they would send all these people a short list of bullet point "messages of the day' to tell their listeners, with the Fox news network at the center driving it home. (

A less directly coordinated, but no less insidious, effort has existed since the 1970s and has continued to exert its influence to day. (An examination of its approach to Welfare as an issue can be read here:

To me, one of the most insidious distortions that has been created through continued repetition of a falsehood is the idea that this is a "Christian Nation."

Nothing could be further from the actual truth. This nation was founded by expatriates from Europe, a place of legitimate Christian nations-- which is to say nations whose Kings claimed their right to rule on Christian religious precepts and which defined Christianity as their state religion.

In stark contrast, our founding fathers did *not* by and large identify themselves as Christians, but rather were part of a movement that has come to be called "enlightenment deism" by theologians and historical scholars. This was founded in the notion that god was represented in the natural order and could be found there, and not in institutions and religions created and run by men. (

They enshrined that belief in one of the most amazing and daring propositions of their day: that *all* men were created equal by their maker, and that freedom of religion was an individual right that should be held totally separate from the matters of governance. By doing so, they were declaring war not just on England, but on all the European notions of state religion.

This is NOT a Christian nation, nor has it ever been one. This is a nation that exists independent of any religion. That it happened to be majoritively occupied by Christians, at its founding or today, was not a reason to make that the state religion.

That was what our founders thought. Thats what the constitution says. And if you didn't know that, maybe you should read it again.

No comments: