Because this quickie piece from late 2008 actually spells out in a more articulate manner what I was kind of getting at with the Sunday Sacrilege "prank" post from a couple of days ago.
"Citizen Dicks" (Originally Published, 12.8.08)
I'm sure I'll get a couple of good solid eye rolls from people who accuse me of going out of the way to drag my favorite quixotic windmill into this debate, but bear with me.
The Supreme Court has just shot down an emergency appeal filed by a New Jersey man who claims that -- and stop me if you've heard this one before -- Barack Obama can't be president because he's not a U.S. citizen.
The court, wisely, didn't even bother to comment on its decision or the case in general -- it just threw the whole damn thing out.
Although no one in their right mind expected the suit to survive its date with the high court, the fact that it made it as far as it did is mind-boggling. For months now, the least in touch with reality among the far right have been propagating the rumor (and it's never been anything more than a rumor) that Obama's birth certificate is invalid and he actually holds a foreign citizenship. In response, several credible and non-partisan sources -- most noteworthy, the Annenberg Political Fact Check -- have investigated the claim and found that it's utterly without merit. Obama's birth certificate and citizenship are completely in order and any claim to the contrary is flat-out nonsense.
But has this absolute confirmation of the facts and denunciation of conspiracist wishful thinking stopped the far right nutballs from repeating the lie over and over again in the hopes of making it true?
Of course not.
While the New Jersey case has been blown out of the water, there remains another appeal still out there -- this one from a Philadelphia man who makes the same dubious assertion: that Barack Obama can't be president and shadowy forces within the government and media are (successfully) covering it up.
It seems incomprehensible that someone can be almost literally hit over the head with the facts and yet still hold to a conviction which stands in direct opposition to them. There's a word for that sort of thing: insanity.
Yet we as a culture not only allow this kind of bullshit thinking to often go unchecked, we actually condone it -- as long as it's called by a more socially palatable name. Like, say, "religious belief."
Whenever anyone asks me what my objection is to having personal faith in the idea of a benevolent god -- what's the harm, even in the absence of hard evidence -- my answer is always the same: Because we don't apply that same lax standard of proof in any other facet of our daily lives. Believing in something wholeheartedly while demanding no tangible evidence to back it up is -- unless you're schizophrenic -- strictly the domain of religion. We live in a world in which it's been deemed completely normal for a person to buy into the most outlandish set of assumptions without asking for concrete evidence -- while every other part of his or her life is still expected to abide by the rule of reason.
The problem with this notion is that if one element of our lives is immune to logic, then logic itself holds no real value. If we arbitrarily choose to apply it to one thing but not another then what power does it have?
I've said it before but it bears repeating: the truth matters.
It matters because it's the yardstick by which we measure our common reality. Without an agreed upon set of facts to provide a foundation for our experience -- as well as a method for ascertaining them -- society itself would be in danger of collapse. There are some things we simply have to accept as true or false. And the only way to differentiate between the two is to apply the same burden of proof across the board.
Wishful thinking isn't enough to make God real.
The same way it's not enough to make Barack Obama a foreigner.
DXM: The Speed of Lies/8.28.08