Friday, January 27, 2012

"If you drop a white glove in the mud...

the mud doesn't get glovey."

I learned this at church when I was about 10 years old, I think.  The lesson was about choosing good friends and was very much of the "be wary of the big scary world" variety.  The idea was that you might choose to socialize with other kids who don't have the same 'standards' as you, thinking that you can be a good example, but really you'll just get all dirty like them.  So, you know, just hang out exclusively with the other Mormon kids who never, ever do anything naughty.  I think that, taken out of the Mormon "we're better than everyone else because we have higher 'standards'" context, the white glove metaphor conveys some pretty good advice.  Everyone should use a little common sense when choosing their friends.  We probably shouldn't choose to hang out with people who often find themselves in dangerous and/or illegal situations, lest we find ourselves innocent but in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The problem with establishing 'values' and 'standards' is that they set up judgmental attitudes.  They go beyond "You should stay out of trouble and that will be easier if you choose friends who aren't always getting into trouble." They imply that you are better and certain choices are better than others.  They put behaviors on levels and they set up thresholds below which behaviors are 'bad'.  This allows even trivial behaviors like drinking coffee or laughing loudly to become 'sinful'.  And of course, institutionalizing standards and telling people that those standards ARE their personal standards (or else) completely precludes free thought and eliminates free will. 

This nifty little wisdom gem has been popping into my brain a lot lately, but not in the context of choosing friends or examining behaviors.  I've been thinking about group think.  And, I've been thinking about the spreading of bad ideas.  Bad ideas become trendy when people just believe everything they read or hear.  A bad idea might start as a whisper - false conclusions based on bad science or fraudulent data published in a small, sub-par science journal - and quickly become an echo chamber - a single public media outlet picking up those false conclusions and publishing them with big flashy headlines then other media outlets following suit (sometimes without even referring to the primary journal source and merely relying on the story published by the first media outlet) and then the public, seemingly hungry for bad, un-collaborated information, eats it up.  The whisper could be Andrew Wakefield quietly publishing data collected irresponsibly (at best) or, fraudulently (at worst) and the roar bouncing around the echo chamber could be a loud-mouthed celebrity saying silly idioms about "mother's intuition" on the Larry King show and suddenly anti-vaccination is trendy and hip among wealthy all-knowing mothers in Marin County, California and other havens for granola parenting.  But, what's the harm? Right

Well, aside from dead innocent children, the harm is that good ideas, with good data backing them up, fall into a puddle of bad ideas that are already widely accepted and just sink.  The mud doesn't get glovey. The problem here is that many people don't question their sources (unless they are providing inconvenient information) and instead choose sources based on what they WANT to hear and not based on credibility or evidence. 

But, let's think about religious indoctrination for a moment.  Who doesn't WANT to believe what the rest of their family believes? I think that's totally understandable.  And, it's so easy to read only what is published by the church and slap a tidy, intimidating, little label, like "anti-Mormon", on anything else (and even on anything published by the church that doesn't match with the whitewashed version of church history taught in Sunday School).  That way, one can keep their white testimony glove from falling into any information that might muddy-up the religion or church.  Well, if testimonies are based on incomplete or bad information, then white testimony gloves are over-rated.  But, if our minds are white gloves, religion is super muddy!

7 comments:

  1. Amy this is a great post, especially since I'd just read this:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2012/01/oklahoma-lawmaker-ban-fetuses-food.html

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  2. "and instead choose sources based on what they WANT to hear and not based on credibility or evidence." Politicians and religious zealots know this and use it to achieve their personal goals. That more people don't question or suspect this is beyond me.

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  3. Recently discovered your blog, really enjoying it so far. I was raised as an evangelical Christian, not Mormon, but the parallels are striking. We never did the "glovey mud" thing, but I do remember an object lesson where one person would stand on a chair, while another stood on the ground beneath them...the two would lock arms and both would try to pull the other to where they were. Of course, the person on the ground always won (successfully pulling the other person off the chair) and the lesson was supposed to be that it's easier for your friends to pull you down than for you to lift them up. Same lesson, just a different illustration.

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  4. Donna - What!?! This is what happens when idiots try to comprehend science without holding an adults' hand. I'm going to put this article on the bulletin board in lab.

    Jono - Indeed. I think politician and religious zealots are guilty of believing what they read (and misunderstanding what they read, see Donn's link above) AND taking advantage of others who need to see the world as going to hell in a hand basket, as per prophecy.

    Respectful Atheist - Thanks! I'll check out your blog as well. I'm sure there are hundreds of iterations of this lesson. I think the muddy glove worked so well for me because I thought "glovey" was funny when I was ten and I still think it's funny today!

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    1. Yeah, I like the "muddy glove" one a little better myself:). It's hard to forget! Absolutely, I would welcome your thoughts over on my blog as well, thanks for checking it out, and keep up the good work! (www.respectfulatheist.blogspot.com)

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