Sunday, October 08, 2006

O(Debunking) >> O(Lying)

Last night I had an epiphany of sorts: telling lies is a one-way function. Its easy to tell a lie, but it takes a lot more time and effort to debunk/disprove one. This may be a banal observation, but it explains so much about the state of things today.

Think about your favorite misinformed person; what would it take to disabuse them of one cherished but unsubstantiated belief? Probably a sit-down with charts and graphs and well-sourced papers, right? Now, consider how long it took them to acquire that same belief. Probably not so long, right?

What are the implications of this particular situation? That debunking in general is not going to be an effective tactic in the long run, since debunking is so much harder than lying; if you've gotten to the point where you're debunking you've already lost the battle. Rather, a more effective long-term approach is to "go meta" one level and seek to "debunk" the source of the lie by undermining its credibility.

Which leads me to comment on this post by poputonian at Hullabalo about the effects of lies generated by the Republican party. Rather than trying to counter each lie individually might it be more effective to just say "look, these guys are full of shit" and have at hand a detailed list of all the times in the past when they've been proven to be full of shit? If you assume that the uncle and brother mentioned in the post are rational individuals wouldn't that be more effective than debating the details of PNAC?

This would be a laudable effort on someone's part (maybe me, who knows?). Organizations like Media Matters and Think Progress are good primary sources, but they don't have a convenient list that you can just print out and keep in your wallet or anything like that. That seems to me to be the best way to approach things at this point; when someone says that "x says y" just point out that x has been wrong about all sorts of shit before, so why believe them now?

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