Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Fifty Million Frenchmen Can Be Wrong

Ravana: The Many.

A depressed friend recently explained that he is told by his family that he was always the problem child growing up. He concludes that this must be true: “if there are seven people in the family and they all, except for me, have this recollection of how things went down, then there must be something to it. Kind of like, you could discount the first, second, or third woman who accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct, but when the tally is 38, well then you have to figure what they have to say has some merit to it.”

There it is: the one against the many. The abused child must always deal with a hostile social consensus.

Yet today he is the gentlest, least aggressive person one could imagine. One can only assume he always was; such traits, if basic, are not likely to change.

His logic is wrong here; but it is a logic on which much abuse is founded and made possible. To begin with, it is the “ad populum” fallacy. Truth is not decided or found by majority vote. This is a bit hard to accept when you were raised in a democracy, in which the majority is extolled as having some kind of mystical wisdom: “The people are always right.” We grow up in a cult of the majority.

Yet the majority is no more likely to be right than a minority of one. If five hundred people believe something, or 75% of the people in a group believe something, that is no more compelling than if one random person believes it; because the difference is only in number. To put it in mathematical terms, 500 times an unknown quantity is still an unknown quantity. If there is no other reason to believe that a group has some special wisdom, then there is no reason to believe that 75% of them have some special wisdom.

Majorities are often demonstrably wrong: this is what has happened when you see an investment “bubble,” for example. They form and burst because a large majority has come to some false conclusion, which then collides with the facts. Really successful investors always invest against the majority view. You buy properties because the majority has undervalued them, and is selling too low; you sell because the majority has overvalued them, and is buying too high. Believe the majority is always right, and you get and stay relatively poor.

So too in any other field. Accept the majority view, the consensus, and you are at a dead stall. Nothing new can be created. There is no development.

Granted, if it is purely a question of fact rather than a belief or opinion that you need to consider, then the more eyewitnesses you have, the stronger the case that it is so. Five people seeing a crime committed are better evidence than one person. Such evidence is still not terribly strong, however, as psychologists will tell you. We use eyewitness testimony in court mostly because we have nothing better; this does not mean it is very reliable. A Roper Poll in 1991 estimated that about 4 million people in the US believe they have been abducted by aliens. A lot of people have spotted Elvis alive in recent decades. These would seem to be fairly factual claims. Yet I am not prepared to take their word for it. Are you?

And even for a question of fact, there is a second important consideration. My friend thinks of the Cosby accusers. As of this writing, their claims have not been properly evaluated in court. But how about the accusers of Jian Ghomeshi? Six women accused him of similar sexual offenses. Their stories, as reported in the press, seemed to tally. But he was acquitted. Largely because it turned out they had been in communication about the matter. Because of this, they could have constructed a joint fiction. As any group is naturally inclined to do.

A family is such a group. Families are in daily communication, in daily collusion, in just such a way. They can and always do construct their fictional little worlds, as spontaneously as a spider spins its web.

This is no doubt why Nietzsche said “Madness is rare in individuals--but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.” It is difficult for a solitary individual to convince himself that wrong is right, or that he is Napoleon. It is much easier for a group, who have one another to support the claim. If everyone around you tells you you are Napoleon every day, it becomes much easier to believe.

It is a prime characteristic of a dysfunctional family that it creates, within itself, a complex fictitious world. In the classic case, it is all built around denial of the harm done by the alcoholism of an alcoholic parent. As a matter of course, if there is parental abuse, there will be a general denial that parental abuse has occurred.

The same is easily seen in nations, if to a much lesser extent. Ask any Canadian, and they will probably tell you that Canada won the War of 1812, and burned down the White House in Washington in the bargain. Both of these claims would probably be considered plain nuts on the streets in the US. And they are not, objectively, true. In China, I was at first taken aback to learn that the Chinese all understand that they won the Korean War. It had never occurred to me that the UN and US had lost it. We won. Yet, really, either claim is about equally defensible. Korea is full of such popular delusions. If anything goes wrong in Korea, it must be the fault of foreigners, and most often the Japanese. In Canada, of course, everything is the fault of the Americans.

All groups do this, to a greater or lesser extent, to the extent that they are dysfunctional; less so if they are fundamentally healthy and moral. One of the classic delusions, almost the essential one, is the designation of a scapegoat. The scapegoat preserves group solidarity; the group is virtually defined in opposition to the scapegoat, and the more immoral and delusional the group, the fiercer will be the need for and treatment of, the scapegoat. Consider Emmanuel Goldstein, in Orwell’s 1984: group solidarity was built around the ritual of the “Two Minute Hate.”

Or consider the Jews in Nazi Germany.

The scapegoating becomes more intense the more dysfunctional the group is; for the more delusional and immoral it is, the more desperate its need for group solidarity to support the growing web of lies. And the more dysfunctional the group, the greater the fear and real danger involved in stepping out of line of the social consensus.

Renounce the scapegoating, and you lose your membership in the group. And set yourself up to become another scapegoat.

In the case of a family, membership in the group can be a huge proportion of their self-identity. The more dysfunctional the family, the more clannish it will become, in its desperate need for solidarity, and so the more each member's self-identity becomes wrapped up in group membership. It is a vicious circle of abuse.

Accordingly, the abused child, who has been scapegoated by his or her own family, requires true heroism. If he or she is to survive.

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