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Oct 23 2010

On Predictions

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.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Anonymous

    The WT Society and Jehovah's Witnesses are a MAN-originating, men-run, high controlling religious cult-like institution, rather than what they tell people they are (God's appointed Channel/Organization/People nonsense).The facts prove without a doubt that God was never behind any of this:http://home.tiscali.nl/t661020/wtcitaten/part2.htmALL FROM THEIR OWN LITERATURE WITH DATES AND PAGES TO SEE FOR YOURSELVES!!!We got False End of the World Predictions all over the place, medical disasterous policies – FORCED on JW's at risk of extreme shunning.We got flip flops, blinking lights, wacky science, historical failures, arrogance, judging other religions and people of those religions and LOADS of WT Society embarrassments and humiliations throughout their entire 100+ year history!God had nothing to do with all that nonsense that was called, "Food from God" by all JW's even down to this day.It was WRONG when it first came off the presses!

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    Well, yeah, god had nothing to do with it, and it was wrong when it came off the presses. Like pretty much all religions but one's own.

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    My apologies, SummitWulf–I accidentally zapped your comment–dragged a thumb across my trackpad, and your comment disappeared. So sorry!

  4. 4
    Summitwulf

    No worries! =)It was hardly earth-shakingly significant in any case!

  5. 5
    Cuttlefish

    Heh… if it makes any difference, I deleted one of my own comments as well. But I think the person it was directed to received it.

  6. 6
    Thinker

    Piling on in the same vein:A fact about sayers of sooth is: the truth isA mere inconvenience they will overlook.When stuck in a hole, they’ll keep digging – reneging Is simply a concept that’s not in their book.So when we say what they’re foretelling is smellingIt’s hardly surprising, since what we would findIf we were to search for their sources, of course isThat every prediction’s pulled out from behind.

  7. 7
    Cuttlefish

    Not fair, thinker–your verse is better than mine!

  8. 8
    Thinker

    Thanks, but I disagree; yours is original, while I am just saying essentially the same thing in different words. I probably wouldn't even have thought of writing about it, since I haven't had a visit from JW or other cults in a long time (an advantage of living in this country).Anyway, all is fair in war, love and poetry, right?

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