For folks who invest in their fictions, predictions
Are common as pennies, but worth a bit less;
When people rely on their visions, decisions
Turn out to be nothing but ignorant guess.
Predicting the future is never so clever—
When constantly wrong, it’s a good time to quit;
But dissonance drives their obsession—expression
Of failure means, really, they’re just full of shit.
I’ve had, you may recall, a few Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the house recently. Their sect has made multiple end-time prophesies (which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, have not come to pass). Of course, there have been many religions which have made similar prophecies; after so many failed predictions, it might seem unusual that a group like the Heaven’s Gate cult could have convinced people that their prediction was true. A handful of people believed, though, and are dead as a result.
Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance was inspired by one such group and their predictions. There has been plenty written on CD, so I won’t repeat here. I just want to note that public announcement of belief is one of Festinger’s important variables–arguably, the development of the internet, of web pages, blogs, discussion boards and the like, have allowed people who would otherwise have remained in the shadows to make public pronouncements of various bits and pieces of ludicrous belief. Once these beliefs are defended (say, in the comments of a blog), it is rarer than pigeon teeth to find someone recanting them based on additional evidence. (Note, this is a primary characteristic of the scientific community as a whole–even if individual scientists may stubbornly cling to a view in the face of disconfirming evidence, the community is able to respond to the evidence.)
And the more often they are presented with disconfirming evidence, the more opportunities they have to re-buttress their unsupported beliefs. Take the public faces of creationism, for instance, who lecture to intelligent audiences; they are corrected again and again, and must build strong walls against the forces of evidence and rationality. Or take conspiracy theorists, or vaccination denialists, or… or… or…
Or take our friend the Dancing Monkey. Many are convinced he is insane, but it is not necessary, in order to explain his aberrant behavior. Defending his unsupportable world view would have started gradually (as, I am told, it did, back in the early days of internet discussion boards). Now, every time reality slaps him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, he has to reinforce his world view. And make no mistake, he is wrong again and again. Just on this blog, he has predicted my death “today”, several times a week, for months. Not only am I still alive, but The Digital Cuttlefish is now in its third year. Dancing Monkey has been wrong hundreds of times; Leon Festinger would be proud. The more often he comments, the more often he is wrong; the more often he is wrong, the more often he must comment. He is too weak to stop. Pity him.