COLUMN: Consequences of believing nonsense | Opinion

Does anyone remember crop circles? It was about those so-called mysterious designs in cultivated fields that “couldn’t have” been done by humans, because they were too precise, too complex and too perfect. Authors have written books swearing they are of extraterrestrial origin. Crop circle tourism has become a thing, so people can fly all over the world and experience their exotic, extraterrestrial cosmic energy.

There was just one problem. They were all made by humans named Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. Each, using ordinary technology in a particularly clever way. They have since inspired other crop circle artists. Crop circles designed by aliens were very important when I was young. Nowadays, no one remembers how many people thought they were proof of an extraterrestrial visitation. But I do.

And Bigfoot? For years, shortly before I was born, people believed in a giant gorilla-like creature that lived in deep forests or mountains, leaving behind large footprints. Others claim to have filmed the elusive creature. For years, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Bigfoot was a thing.

That is, until the family of the original “discoverer” of Bigfoot confessed that his father made artificial tracks with carved wooden legs kept in his garage. And as for the “famous” Bigfoot movie that made the rounds when I was growing up, investigators eventually found the costume designer who sold the gorilla costume to the actor who appeared in it.

These days, no one remembers how many people took Bigfoot seriously. But I do.

In early 2004, Mel Gibson released “The Passion of the Christ”. I went to hear a presentation by a local resident who was somehow involved in the film. I remember how he raved in awe of what it was like to be on set with Gibson, who “didn’t have a single anti-Semitic bone in his body.”

Two years later, Gibson was arrested for drunk driving. According to the arrest report, he shouted “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!” I understand he made some kind of excuse. He could hope no one remembered. But I do.

Why is it important to remember all the crazy things people believed in back then? Because today people still believe things for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with the evidence. When this happens, it can lead to more than just exploitation of the gullible and naive. He can fan the flames of hatred, unrest, chaos and death.

For example, it is clear that millions of people believed, and may still believe, that the 2020 election was stolen. This would imply that the current president (who I did not vote for) was wrongly elected. The evidence indicates that this claim is extremely likely to be false.

Members of the losing candidate’s party were particularly eloquent in testifying how this mistaken belief led hundreds of armed individuals to storm the Capitol, with the open and enthusiastic support of the incumbent president, to oppose the peaceful alternation in power which is an essential component of democracy (lowercase ‘d’) civilization.

Or consider this. On the other side of the ocean, hundreds of people are dying every day in a brutal and senseless war. The dictator who started it managed to convince millions of people that it is their sacred mission to rid the world of fascism and Nazism.

The best evidence we have is that this belief is wrong.

Unfortunately, the evidence also shows that many of his followers believe the people they kill are not human. They believe it is good and right to slaughter non-combatants, hospital patients, children and infants, because they are evil Nazis who deserve to be killed. Again, the best evidence we have indicates that this is not true.

In the future, when we see all of these views for what nonsense they were, will we remember how many people took them seriously and what were the tragic consequences? We must. We must. Without this memory, we risk becoming complacent. We risk losing sight of a fundamental truth of human nature attributed to the great humanitarian Voltaire, the one I have already quoted:

“Those who can make you believe nonsense, can make you commit atrocities.”

Barry Fagin is a widely published author on skepticism and critical thinking, and speaks regularly about their importance throughout Colorado. His opinions are his own. Readers can contact Fagin at [email protected]

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