You don’t have to be a fan of conspiracy theories to see that many of us are just too ready to believe what we read, or what we’ve heard. So what about Propaganda that has gone down in history and become hardened with the passing of mass ignorance? This can be exceedingly difficult to shift – like a blocked drain. As Oscar Wilde once said, the thoughts of most people tend to be ‘someone else’s opinions’ and ‘their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’ How many of us have, for instance, swallowed some of the more typical well attested ‘facts’ about the world in general? There is a whole slew of ‘facts’ to which most people seem to adhere, but which turn out not to be true. For example:
* Humans only use 10% of their brains. (They don’t – this belief has been attributed to American philosopher and psychologist William James, who was making a point about mental laziness. But one wonders if James wasn’t right, given the displays of intelligence by some American Presidents, football supporters and British ‘reality TV’ contestants.)
* Ostriches bury their heads in the sand. (They don’t – this mistake comes from the first century Pliny the Elder, whose book Natural History is, according to the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, a ‘fascinating ragbag’ of ‘entertainment rather than enlightenment … a multi-volume collection of myths’ with ‘odd tales of wondrous creatures.’)
* Everest is the world’s longest mountain. (It isn’t – it’s only the one with the highest elevation – at 29,029 ft. The accolade for tallest goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii, USA. Its elevation, above sea level, is only 13,796 ft., but from its starting point underwater it is actually 33,480 ft.)
* George Washington had wooden teeth. (He didn’t – the reality is even more bizarre, apparently his false teeth were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and animal teeth.)
* Masturbation leads to insanity (It doesn’t – though this was believed in the 19th century.)
* Lemmings engage in mass suicidal dives off of cliffs. (They don’t – apparently it’s Walt Disney’s fault).
Let’s take another example in some detail, which we could call the Christian Narrative – or what the Church would prefer you to believe. Christian tradition has it that Jesus was born on December 25. (He wasn’t.) Interestingly, this date just happens to coincide with the ancient pagan festival of the Saturnalia from the Roman Empire. This was held in honour of the agricultural deity Saturn, and whose celebrations ran through to 23rd December.
Another parallel is with the later institution of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), a solar deity worshipped by the Roman soldiery. It had been an official cult since 274 AD, during the reign of Aurelian, and the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) occurred on 25 December. (If you’ve noticed that this ante-dates Jesus’ birth, Christ’s ‘official’ birthday wasn’t decided on until the late fourth century.) But these dates are significant as we’re near to the winter solstice of December 22nd – the shortest day of the year. By the 25th the days are noticeably getting longer, and so the sun has ‘conquered’ the darkness once more – it is the power of self renewal in Nature.
Another undigested myth is that Jesus lived most of his life in Nazareth, Galilee. The phrase ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ has tripped off the tongue with such regularity for 2,000 years that just repeating it seems to confirm it as a fact. And yet … there is simply no evidence that Jesus came from Nazareth. There is no evidence that (when Jesus is said to live) Nazareth even existed as a place of residence.
The Encyclopaedia Biblica actually states that: ‘It is very doubtful whether the beautiful mountain village of Nazareth was really the dwelling-place of Jesus.’ This is because there is no archaeological evidence for human habitation during Jesus’ lifetime – up until AD 30. In Excavating Jesus (2009) a Christian theologian and an archaeologist (John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed) show that first century Nazareth came into being only after A.D. 66, and say that the earliest date for dwellings in Nazareth is A.D. 70. (These findings being confirmed by other authors and researchers, one being Yardenna Alexandra of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.)
Another widely held, oft undigested, belief that has emerged in modern society is that the drug heroin is toxic, ruinous to the body and ultimately fatal. Due to media hysteria (all those emotive images of dirty, emaciated, kohl-eyed heroin junkies) it is pictured as some invasive carcinogen that slowly poisons its host, like a combination of tar, carbon monoxide and strychnine. In fact, pure heroin is better for you than smoking cigarettes or drinking. That is to say, it’s less harmful than either alcohol or the nicotine-tar combo.
However, back in the day when we were more credulous (say, in 1924) the US surgeon general, Rupert Blue, denounced heroin as ‘poisonous’, even claiming that it induced insanity. Dana Hubbard – from the New York City health department – agreed, adding that addicts are a result of ‘sin and crime’ and that society ‘must protect itself from the influence of evil, and there is no greater peril than heroin.’
This is palpable nonsense. Professor David Nutt (in 2010) went on record as saying that alcohol is more harmful than heroin, and Professor Arnold Trebach agreed: ‘We cannot find any medical research from any source which will support the international governmental contention that heroin harms the body or the mind of its users.’ In other words, the evidence does not fit the propaganda. The worst that heroin can do is cause temporary nausea and perhaps constipation ‘and that is all.’ Indeed, when pure pharmaceutical heroin has been prescribed and administered by a doctor, it is mostly harmless.
The author Enid Bagnold, for example, was prescribed it following a hip operation, took it for twelve more years, and lived a normal life until age 91. It only becomes abnormal when the craving for a new fix cannot be sated. Then, people resort to desperate measures, trying to obtain it illegally on the black market. As we all know, it is highly addictive – this is not in question. It is also in the interests of drug barons and pushers to keep the junkies addicted, thus hungry for more. (In order to finance their habit, people usually turn to crime – like stealing to raise money.) And since the customs and excise authorities can never quite prevent the smuggling of illegal drugs into the country, the war on drugs can never be won.
That Nazareth was never Jesus home town; that Heroin is in itself not a poison, that politicians don’t always lie, will now sound quite preposterous – but that is what repetition of the Narrative does to the human mind. Many people quite naturally experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance when their prejudices are rudely interrupted by the truth. Sometimes, it is hard to take the new idea on board. Our beliefs are absorbed into our reality system and we leave it at that. Knowing what’s what about the world, so to speak, makes us feel secure. Then, if an ingrained idea turns out not to be true, we can become seriously become disoriented. We don’t like being wrong!.
There is another name for these received beliefs – a ‘paradigm’ – the prevailing view in a society. The mysterious individual at the Contrarianism website notes that: ‘Our paradigms are infused with prejudices, assumptions, expectations, and beliefs, and from that flow our values, ethics, and rules. Our paradigm determines how we interpret the world around us and how we interact with it. Our paradigm is the lens through which we see life.’ He’s right – we’re a suggestible lot. More than we’d like to admit. Then he asks: ‘Have you ever questioned your paradigm?’
That is, have you actually tried thinking for yourself – and asked: what if that particular idea is wrong? What if the received view on Lemmings/Heroin/Jesus or George Washington happens to be incorrect?
Sources: Wikipedia/Guinness Book of World Records/ thegooddrugsguide.com)