Addicted to ignorance

In the course of welcoming a new blogger to my blogroll, I happened to trip over my temporarily misplaced sense of self-righteousness, teacher’s edition.   As a teacher, my immediate instincts upon hearing from an (admittedly) articulate, goal-oriented and seemingly lucid college student who’s writing about her stoner lifestyle was to lecture her to ‘just say no.’   I held back for a time, and there was a moment there where I even considered refraining from passing judgement, entirely.  I’m on sabbatical, after all.  And she’s not my student.  And it seems rude to respond to a kind request with an impromptu critique.  Beyond those specific concerns, I really like the sense of social equality that’s encouraged by the blogosphere, and I didn’t want to upset that by asserting an unwelcome hierarchical inequality.  But the moment passed, the better angels of my nature lost out to the more persistent devils, and the rush to judgement won out in the end.  (Hi Writerpro.  Glad to hear that you’re educating yourself and being thoughtful about your drug use and returning to “near-normal levels” for your classes every so often [he writes, sarcastically… {see what I mean?  It’s like I can’t control the impulse.}])

Cradle to grave, baby!

I blame the impulse on being a teacher, but the motivation probably runs deeper than my choice of profession.   I blog about weed, so I’m obviously not a tee-totaler.  I don’t believe the hype.  Still, the idea of establishing an identity around one particular drug – any particular drug – seems limiting to me, and more than a little odd.  Especially for the very young, for whom all things are still possible, at least, theoretically.

Living up here hasn’t changed those views any.  And now that I think about it, those views have probably remained unchanged from my first encounter with cannabis the drug (as a drug) as a teenager.  Back then, I hung out with stoners of varying degrees – mostly because they were among the nicest people around, as Writerpro alluded to a bit earlier – and I smoked a little with them, though I wouldn’t claim membership.  My illegal use of illegal marijuana wasn’t much different than my illegal use of legal alcohol, really – like the alcohol, weed was around during events, so I indulged socially.  But occasionally, as opposed to regularly.  That was mostly true in college, too, though I found that it was around more frequently, of a higher quality, and with greater competition from intoxicants other than alcohol.  I certainly didn’t say no, and I was more than certain about my decision.

Years after the fact, I feel the same about my consistently-occasional use of drugs as a young adult as I did at the time – that it was beneficial in all sorts of ways, and caused me no harm at all.  I knew there were other options, too.  I knew people who overdid it with weed, alcohol, coke and other substances.  The only people I avoided for their drug use were those who consistently overdid it with the alcohol and the coke – though the wierdest guy I knew as a college student was a dormmate who was so terrified of “drugs” (other than alcohol – he was a BIG drinker) that he would run from the room if someone even joked about sparking up.  I still find that behavior just as weird as I did back then (though I now also suspect something pathological behind it).  My attitude is and was, absent lasting consequences (such as ecstasy-induced brain holes), why wouldn’t you want to expand your mental horizons, if only for the experience?

That said, part of what I liked about the experience was that it was forbidden.  And another part of what I liked about it was the whiff of danger – not just that it was possible to get caught, but that it was possible to overdo it, and to overdo it to such an extent that bad consequences would follow.  In that context, seeking the experience seemed smarter than running from it in terror or forgoing it out of fear of being caught, but choosing moderation made me feel freer and more thoughtful than my acquaintances who chose otherwise.  Though it wasn’t something I consciously considered before I offered my unsolicited advice, upon reflection, I think I lived the experience that I now encourage.   Not so surprising, perhaps.

But completely aside from what I might have claimed as lessons from my personal experience, I still feel strongly that too much, too early is a bad thing.  So much so, apparently, that I’m willing to lecture strangers without really understanding my own reasons.  And it turns that what I know to be true probably has as much to do with my biases as anything I actually know.

There’s a fascinating study on decision-making and political views that’s making the rounds, and it got me to wondering how much of what I believe has anything other than my belief to back it up.   Here’s the surprising conclusion from the study, specifically about political views, but more widely-applicable:

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Here’s how facts can lead to the opposite of what you might expect.  The study found that people have such a difficult time simply admitting that they’re wrong about something, that being confronted with irrefutable proof of being wrong provokes a defensive reaction known as “backfire” – described as “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”  The cognitive dissonance, in this usage, being the indication of unanticipated truth.  Turns out, we really can’t handle the truth.

I was immediately reminded of an interview I’d seen on The Daily Show a couple of months ago, where Jon Stewart interviews the clearly-overmatched conservative nitwit, Ken Blackwell, author of the idiotically-titled “book” – The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.  At the 7-minute mark of the interview, Stewart challenges Blackwell’s assertion that Obama has uniquely altered the balance on the courts by appointing more judges than GW Bush.  Blackwell obliviously parries with interpretation, saying, “Well, let me put it to you this way…,” and Stewart interrupts with the sort of response that I’ve been waiting to hear from a journalist, but had to hear from a comedian: “It’s a fact; it’s not – ‘let me put it to you another way’ – it’s a number that’s larger.”


As a follow-up, Ken Blackwell ably demonstrates the tendency illustrated by the Michigan study cited above.  When his conclusion is revealed to be based upon a demonstrably-false argument, boiled down to the simplicity of one number being larger than the other number, Blackwell doubles down on his specious argument.    He not only went on to defend his ridiculous point for another 15 minutes on the air, he contributed a follow-up article to redefine all the numbers to prove that he was right all along.   It’s crazy.

But not as crazy as this story on the new threat of i-drugs.  NewsOK/The Oklahoman calls itself “the state’s most trusted news,” but I guess you gotta remember that they’re talking about Oklahoma, so that’s pretty faint praise.  Anyway, the threat that’s identified here – of children listening to sound patterns on youtube – is immediately dismissed as a non-threat on factual grounds at the same time that it’s hyped as another slippery slope/gateway drug.   Of all the illogical arguments that have been used to support the criminalization of marijuana, the gateway argument has got to be the most illogical, and the most easily disproven of the bunch…and yet, that’s the one that seems to reoccur, over and over again.

Here’s how the thought-crime is presented the article about the non-harmful effects of online soundwaves:

“I think it’s very dangerous,” said Karina Forrest-Perkins, chief operating officer of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee. While there are no known neurological effects from digital drugs, they encourage kids to pursue mood altering substances, she said.

The spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control put the matter in more familiar terms, arguing that although the “i-dosing effect is likely sort of a placebo rather than a valid threat to children’s brain waves…The bigger concern is if you have a kid wanting to explore this, you probably have a kid that may end up smoking marijuana or looking for bigger things.”  And don’t forget that the main threat behind marijuana is that it, too, is a gateway drug.  That’s like a gateway to a whole ‘nother gateway, and who knows where that could lead?

So, the danger isn’t the actual behavior.  The danger is that the behavior (that produces no harmful effect) indicates a willingness to engage in future behavior that (might possibly, in some way, be linked to an effect that some people would argue) is harmful.  Seems reasonably, right?  Rest assured – the Oklahoma school system is lurching into action to put an end to this potentially harmful impulse.    Is it any wonder that students don’t listen to teachers who lecture about drug use.  Anyway, I sure didn’t.


3 Responses to “Addicted to ignorance”

  1. July 16, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Thanks for the link to the FACTS study.

    It is fascinating. I’ve been puzzled for years how (for example) Republicans seem to ignore the truth, even when it stares them in the face. The tea baggers are probably a better example.

    Politicians of all stripes seem to have the ability to lie while looking you in the eye – and they often find it easier to ignore facts to advance themselves.

  2. 2 Mr. Nice
    July 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Psssht me and my peers smoked weed every fucking day in college. We went to class high. We went to tests high. We would take bathroom breaks to go get high. We juggled sacks in class.

    I don’t know a single person from my graduating class that didn’t do well in life, so fuck it. In fact, the motherfuckers who dropped out from drugs all fell to coke, heroin, and (mostly) liquor. So, I say smoke all fucking day.

    My only weed smoking classmate to go on to become a teacher is poor as fuck. He shoulda realized from that gage that teaching is a chumps game, research is a bitch, and tenure is a craps roll. No offense or anything.

    • July 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

      I’m only offended by the fact that what you say about tenure, and the job market in general, is true. For the longest time, being a professor has been more of a calling than a job. Before the recent corporatization of colleges and universities, the lifelong poverty and grueling working conditions were more than offset by the immensely satisfying working conditions. There was a little prestige, too. That’s changed in the past few decades, though I still think the benefits outweigh the problems you note. I don’t feel bad for your teacher classmate. No one goes into this line of work for the money – at least, no one who knows what they’re getting into.

      I maintain, however, that smoking your way through college is not a worthy goal, and I’m sad to hear that anyone would diminish such a valuable experience in that way. I’m not saying you can’t get through your classes in a daze, nor that you couldn’t go on to achieve some kind of success afterwards; just that you won’t get what you could out of the experience. College is a tremendous privilege, but it’s one that’s become undervalued by the privileged. That’s nothing to celebrate.

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