Monday, February 14, 2011

Anatomy of an Overreaction

I started this blog, in part, because I have an almost superhuman tolerance for the wild ravings of those farthest-removed from reality, and it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the world if I kept that talent to myself. What I've noticed, though, is that the journey from reality to raving madperson [1] is rarely a simple jump from Point A to Point B. It's usually more complex—like a game of "telephone" that always escalates toward the same infuriating conclusion.

Allow me to break it down:

Phase 1: A thing happens.
(I'm tempted to leave it at that, but alright—I'll talk about an actual thing that actually happened.)

Let's say, in a country not unlike America, there's a powerless government agency charged with "improving young lives" and other vague feel-goodery. The agency, in an attempt to get some positive publicity and/or do some good for the world, gives a private group £35,000 (approximately 156,000 newtons) in exchange for a few ideas about how teachers can incorporate gay stuff into their lesson plans during LGBT History Month.[2]

Phase 2: A legitimate news organization picks up the story.
The report isn't wrong, per se, but it doesn't really promote an accurate understanding of the situation either. Sure, the key mitigating details are there:
The lesson plans, spread across the curriculum, will be offered to all schools, which can choose whether or not to make use of them.
But first you have to get past the exciting, misleading details (including, in this case, the headline):
'Gay lessons' in maths, geography and science
Children are to be taught about homosexuality in maths, geography and science lessons as part of a Government-backed drive to "celebrate the gay community".
Note the use of phrases like "Children are to be taught" and "Government-backed drive." And note the quotation marks around "Gay lessons" and "celebrate the gay community," neither of which are actual quotes from the article. Clearly the idea is to maximize the story's potential scariness (or, conversely, it's awesomeness, but I'm pretty sure The Telegraph is going for scariness). The truth—that schools aren't being forced to do anything they don't want to do, and that nobody's trying to replace basic math instruction with how-to-be-gay tutorials—is in there somewhere, but it's secondary to the sensationalism.

Phase 3: The story reaches the Internet, talk radio, or some other outlet for hyper-partisan commentary.
Imagine you write for a popular politically-oriented blog. You're working on a post about something you read about in, say, a 28-paragraph newspaper article, and, out of respect for the Fair Use doctrine, you want to keep the copying-and-pasting to a minimum. Do you go with (a) the set of excerpts that best conveys what actually happened, or (b) the set of excerpts most likely to reinforce your readers' pre-existing beliefs? And when you add your own commentary, do you (a) acknowledge any aspects of the story that don't support your point, or (b) give an indifferent shrug and press on with your one-sided narrative?

If you're a reasonable human being, you probably answered (a) to at least one of those questions—preferably both. If you answered (b) to both questions, you could probably work for Right Wing News:
The totalitarian moonbattery that holds sway in British public schools has taken the final plunge into absurdity with a curriculum that features gay math, geography, and science. No matter what the subject, kids will be taught to revere the depraved and disease-spreading homosexual lifestyle.
We've lost all references to the fact that the lesson plans are voluntary, and we've gained an apparently-so-obvious-it-goes-without-saying presumption that the consequences will be horrifying. It's a combination designed to inspire exactly one type of reaction:

Phase 4: Outrage![3]
Well they won't be able to read, write or perform basic mathematics, but at least they'll look Fabulous while they're slaving away for their new Chinese overlords.
It never ceases to amaze me how such a tiny and insignificant portion of the population can have such a huge influence.
No suprises here. The looney left has always want to set the feet of the young on the wrong path as early as possible. That is why they are trying to impose nonsense on those yet too young to understand.
These are people who, when I started this project, I probably would've written off as close-minded lunatics.[4] Now…I still write them off as close-minded lunatics, but at least I have a better sense of how their worldview came to be so warped in the first place.

1. A family member recently said he likes to use male-specific terms in gender-neutral contexts because it irritates people who consider it "un-PC," and I realized I do the same thing, but in reverse—I like to go out of my way to use gender-neutral terms because it irritates people who consider it "too PC." I don't know where I'm going with that, but it seems like there's a lesson in there somewhere.
2. Fun fact(s): In the United States, February is Black History Month and October is LGBT History Month, while in the United Kingdom, February is LGBT History Month and October is Black History Month. Haha! What else is backwards over there? Do they drive on driveways and park on parkways?
    Anyway, whether I think the government-funded lesson plans are a good idea is irrelevant, but, for the record, it's a wash. As a libertarian, I can't really get behind public spending that's so clearly non-essential. At the same time, when a government has dozens of agencies that exist for the sole purpose of doing stuff, getting upset every time one of them does stuff is a pretty surefire way to drive yourself crazy. Also, I like the cause.
3. To be fair, some of the comments are a lot better:
Indeed, a month-long and entirely voluntary list of suggestions of curriculum revisions proposed by a group who was hired to develop the month-long and entirely voluntary list of curriculum revisions is a sign of a totalitarian faggot state or whatever it is you're afraid of. I mean, did you even read the article.
Van Helsing strikes me…as a deeply paranoid nut who deliberately seeks out information that he can insert into his frankly terrifying image of the world as it stands. Kind of like that guy who always has new evidence the president is an alien lizard.
Don't know who the moonbat is here, but [Right Wing News] should really consider pulling this diary off the site. It's intellectually embarrassing.
4. Why isn't Van Helsing, the writer of the article (and the lunatic responsible for Moonbattery), lumped in with the Phase 4 lunatics? Because he's a professional lunatic, which makes him a lot less crazy than the lunatics who do it for free.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't yet read the post, but from the title I thought it might be about Arcade Fire.