Stephen Colbert – New Ideas Produce “Confusion” That Make “The Mind Scab Over”

While I do not care for everything Stephen Colbert does, I have been chuckling aloud for a couple of days while listening to his CD “I am America, and so can you!” The man is such a beautiful walking parody of what is wrong with the right end of the American political and religious spectrum, that you have to love him.

I won’t try to summarize the CD, or even provide highlights. There are far too many for that, at least from the point of view of those of us who have decamped Mormonism or other literalist religious groups. I will, however, mention one of his concepts.

In Colbert’s considered, expert opinion, there are many things wrong with America. One of those is higher education. If a little information is dangerous, a lot of information is disastrous, he tells us. Accordingly, how can going to university be a good idea? Adam and Eve were doing just great until they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Fruit and books both come from trees, and so you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to figure out that books are bad. The only book you should ever read (or listen to), is Colbert’s book.

As an aside, without ever talking about the way logic works — starting with a few premises and then building upon them in an orderly fashion, in accordance with the rules of logic — Colbert provides example after example with regard to how ridiculous conclusions can be produced by what sounds like logic. The example I just provided is one of many. That is, we start with the premise that the Bible is true, and then move from bad fruit, to the connection between fruits and books, to the conclusion that books are bad. This takes advantage of one of our consistent cognitive flaws — when we agree with something we use a radically different mental process to check it out than when we disagree. Some scholars refer to this as “naïve realism” or, the “it makes sense — stop” rule. If we agree with something, we give it a superficial spot check before reaffirming our belief. If we disagree with something, however, the standard we tend to use is that our existing belief must be proven wrong before it can be changed.Since most things are too ambiguous to be proven right or wrong, this anchors our existing beliefs in place. From an evolutionary point of view, being secure within a social group our most important intimate the relationships has been far more important throughout most of human history than holding accurate beliefs with regard to most of reality. It has therefore been much more adaptive to persist in holding the beliefs that dominate within our social group than it has been to accept any other belief, regardless of truth or falsity. This explains the cognitive flaw I just explained, as well as many others. But I digress.

One of the parts of Colbert’s “book” (he said he did not write anything, and therefore that it is not a “book”, but rather he shouted into a dictaphone for a weekend, and then gave the tape to his agent and said “sell this”) that I thought was most interesting was his explanation with regard to why new ideas are bad. In a net shell, new ideas produce confusion. Confusion is a clear sign that your body is resisting a foreign intruder. Confusion is the feeling of your mind scabbing over to protect itself against bad stuff. When you feel confused, reject whatever is making you confused, is Colbert’s wise advice.

I am willing to bet that Stephen Colbert is unfamiliar with section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and the wisdom contained therein – that truth is discerned through feelings of comfort and peace, and falsehood through feelings of darkness and confusion. And yet, he hit the nail squarely on the head. This is not surprising. The line of pseudo-reasoning he parodies so wonderfully has been used in countless cultures. D&C section 9 is just one of its many manifestations.

We need a post-Mormon Stephen Colbert. Humor is a far more effective tool that logic because it approaches serious topics through the emotional backdoor, and accordingly will make it much more likely for people to consider new ideas than any frontal approach. I have long said that in the battle for minds and hearts, intellectual rowboats have virtually no chance against emotional battleships. Colbert is a battleship.

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