Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lessons From Gullability

I'm going to let  you in on a secret.  Please don't tell anyone.  I have a genetic condition that makes me extremely vulnerable.  My whole family has it.  My paternal grandfather was thoroughly plagued by it to the point where my uncles ridiculed him for it, even though they too share this painful affliction.  I'm sure it's not that rare of a condition, but it's really most embarrassing. Especially considering my love for learning, my quest for fact, and my pursuit for knowledge.

Promise you won't laugh?  You see we are all genetically gullible, against our own wishes and best interests.  We are a marketers dream!  We tend to believe, even though we want more than anything to be skeptical.  It doesn't matter how much training, how many degree programs, or how many lectures on common sense, sin, and the fall of man we just can't seem to grasp on with both hands to overcome this genetic abnormality.  In my grandfather's case it lead him to believe every hard luck story, every snake oil salesman, every con artist around. Try as they might no one could stop him, we'd clean out the medicine cupboards and he'd fill them back up.  The doctor would advise him against so many vitamins, his body even tried to tell him.  Oh well, he lived happily to the wise age of 90, even with his fault God kept a watchful eye over him.

Really it's the only way those of us afflicted by gullibility survive.  And I'm not just talking about your, oh haha you got me I fell for it, gullible.  I'm talking about falling for it even when we know better.  When our loved ones caution us, when it just doesn't make sense.  However, like every condition the true way to cope is to learn to live with it.  Just like growing up with ADD, learning to avoid being scammed in a society out to get you while walking around with the defective gullibility gene tattooed on my forehead, I've picked up a few skills for dealing with stories, emails, news, politics, and all that wonderful stuff that comes through email, forums, blogs, youtube, and facebook.

Step one:  if it triggers an emotional response (especially anger), get out the shovel, you're probably being fed a line of bull.

Step two:  take note of the facts, if it contradicts a well known fact (great for political rants) or is too good to be true, it probably is.

Step three:  change is a slow process.  Nothing world shattering is going to happen overnight so that you'll miss it.  People take a long time to make big changes, doubly so for corporations and governments.

Step four:  Know your Snoops!  If Snoops fails you.....

Step five:  Google is your friend!  Google Google Google.... There is always more than one side of a story and at least two sides to a good argument, if something is fishy, get the other side.  If it involves a government or a court, get the official documents.  If it's research, find the article (note:  many of these require a university IP address or a paid subscription, so it's not always possible.)  If you are dealing with a news article always try to work your way back to the original article.  Media loves a great sound bite and what starts as one persons highly edited quote, becomes someone else's story thesis.

So lets look at this in action:
Last week one of my friends posted a news video (this one happens to be Fox News and they do tend to excel at triggering the gullibility gene, but they are by no means the only one.)  The video was on facebook,  and the comments were something else - I do not recommend wasting your time with them.  The video even got a bunch of Christian home school groups up in arms.

Wow! If you braved the video, that's just horrible!  Listen to the court ordering that mom to stop teaching religion to her kids, man I'm mad!!!  -- wait, that's step one, a big emotion.  Maybe we should look more closely.

Hmm.  Would a state court really challenge the right of a mother to teach religion to her child, I mean we're talking about a recognized religion (Christianity), even if it's a more devout form than the most prevalent forms.  Hmm, state court vs the 1st Amendment, one of the most defended amendments in the Bill of Rights, with lots and lots and lots of legal precedence.  I don't think that's right.  Hmm that'd be a major change, I don't think I could've missed that.  Well Fox News is usually Snoops proof, yup, it is..... Let's see what Google says:

When I first searched this out last week (this video is 5 days old, that sounds about right).  Almost every Google search for "too religious to homeschool" gave a Fox News site.  Not so now, but here's the Google results for those who want to try this out.  If you get really digging, many of those links are from Fox, or replies to Fox.  They don't go back.  I tried a few more combinations.  Names are great, pull a name from the info.  I pulled the state, New Hampshire.  I wanted to find the court records, and I wasn't quite so lucky, but I did find a Christian Post response, that while still upset, doesn't make the outrageous 1st Amendment violations claims.  It does talk to the lawyers, a bit more two sides, but I'd love some of what the actual court issue is.  Oh, and here lets note some more facts.  Mom, she's divorced, and has been since daughter (Amanda) was 2 months old.  This isn't a court vs Mom case, it's not a court vs home school case, and it is definitely not a court vs religion case.  This is a Dad vs Mom case with a little girl caught in the middle and the court intervening and doing it's best to sort the mess.  Still no details really, at least not enough for me.  Hmmm, here's an older article from the Boston Globe, Boston's kinda near New Hampshire right?  (ok, not strongest in geography)

I like the Boston Globe article, it has an interview with the Justice involved in the case.  There's some great basic biographical information at the top.  The writing style is very here's what happened, not OMG this happened.  Each side is quoted and more importantly the Justice,
"This is not state versus parent," Justice Robert Lynn said. "The state was forced into this because it's a dispute between the parents that someone had to resolve."
See that!  Someone had to resolve an issue between parents.  The court was asked to make the third party decision because a contract was violated.  Read in the article that the education plan involves both parents agreeing on the form and content of education, and in this case Dad thinks there is too much religion in the home school material and in HIS opinion his daughter is not being appropriately prepared for life in a multi-religious environment.  The Mom wants to ignore the Dad's protest and do whatever she feels is best.  That's great, and if they were in agreement more power to them, but she signed an agreement that said Dad gets a say, and she is bound to that.  Public school (which Amanda already attends for P.E. and a few other classes) is a compromise as instigated by the court, because they really don't have another solution available.  That makes sense!

I wish I could have found the court transcripts, and maybe I could have if I was more diligent, but I felt like I had a good case to demonstrate that the initial response was gullibility to believe that the 1st amendment and my right to teach my kids about my beliefs was at stake.  

So next time you're are trawling around the interwebs, feel free to share the lessons I've learned by living with gullibility, and maybe you can keep the Nigerians from your bank account, the snake-oil salesmen from your door, and the telemarketers from ringing during dinner.  Moreover, you can relax, the world may be going to hell in a hand basket, the sky may be falling, and it may be the end of the world as we know it, but it's not going to happen overnight and things really do make sense when you step back to figure out what really is going on here.

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