Hangin’ on rekaB Street: The Stupefaction of the West

I’d like to introduce a new term: rekaB Street. That’s Baker Street spelled backwards, and it represents the opposite of Sherlock Holmes’ approach: rather than notice the anomalies and detect evidence of criminal or shameful activity that people have deliberately tried to conceal, residents of rekaB Street systematically ignore any clues that violate the expectations/demands of their preconceived narrative, sweeping aside the anomalies and highlighting precisely what has been created to mislead. It is, in a sense, a process of auto-stupefaction.

RekaB Street exists in many fields.

In a sense, Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, focuses on the problem, in particular, on the resistance to anomalies that contradict the paradigm. He cites a study by Bruner and Postman about how the resistance to anomalies that violate expectations can be so strong that people can literally not see that a deck has some playing cards with red spades and black hearts. The authors note the psychological discomfort felt by people confronting these anomalies (which their minds literally do not want to see).

In my own chosen field of medieval history, I have found precisely this kind of resistance. My early (and now current) work focused on a substantial trail of evidence indicating that for over half a millennium, Latin Christians had been tracking the advent of the year 6000 from the Creation (at which point the millennial kingdom would begin), but that as the date approached, the clergy (our unique source for documentation) dropped the dating system and adopted another that pushed off the apocalyptic date. Among the many events of note that coincided with the advent of these disappeared dates was the coronation of Charlemagne, held on the first day of the year 6000 according to the most widely accepted count, but dated by observers as AD 801.

I argued this “silence,” on something so critical reflected not indifference, but deep anxiety. Like Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze,” the main clue was the dog who did not bark. In response, I found that medievalists clung to their view of Charlemagne as someone with his feet firmly planted on the ground, who would never be moved by such silliness. As a result they handled the evidence in ways that resembled the work of clean-up and construction crews rather than that of detectives and archeologists.

Since 2000, the reigning approach for understanding the Middle East conflict between Israel and her neighbors has focused narrowly on the what’s called the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The resulting (or founding) paradigm for such an approach is what I’ve called either PCP 1 (politically-correct paradigm) or PCP 2 (post-colonial paradigm). In both cases, the framing conceit is the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David. And so powerful is the underdogma that governs this view that all evidence to the contrary gets swept aside. So insistent are the demands to support the underdog, that the cost of ignoring empirical reality seem a small price to pay.

What results, is a process of determined, deliberate stupefaction, in which we must inhabit rekaB Street, we must ignore critical evidence, bow down to ghoulish idols, literally render ourselves stupid. We must not talk about honor-shame culture much less adopt a paradigmatic view that privileges such concerns in understanding the Arab/Muslim hatred of an independent Jewish state in Dar al Islam. We should not discuss Islam’s triumphalist obsession with dominating and humiliating non-believers. We cannot discuss anti-Semitism or the Holocaust without equating it with Islamophobia, lest we offend people we might identify as agents of a new blood-dimmed tide. We cannot discuss the repeated evidence that our humanity is being systematically abused to benefit people who literally embody everything that we progressive, democratically-minded people abhor.

And as a result, we are fully misinformed by our media and our academics, who think that “attacking the most powerful” is a sign of courage regardless of who’s right, who prefer to preen about their moral superiority even at the direct cost of empowering those holding their morality in contempt, who attack their critics savagely even as they embrace their enemies; who can’t tell parody from reality because the procrustean beds they impose on the evidence have led them to invert empirical reality.

Thus babies killed by Hamas become the occasion of cries for sympathy for Gazans assaulted by Israel. And terrorists who disguise themselves as journalists become the occasion for accusing Israel of deliberately killing journalists.  An army which undergoes a disastrous defeat, gets handed laurels of victory for their performance. The world’s army with (by far) the best record when it comes to reducing civilian casualties on the other side in urban warfare get’s painted at the world’s most brutal army. And people who target civilians at any cost, including suicide, get painted as heroes of resistance.

The inhabitants of rekaB Street will not break step with the parade of the naked emperor no matter what that reveals about their own stupidity.

Of course were this merely a children’s tale for adults, the tailors merely financial tricksters, the emperor merely vain, and the court merely foolish and frightened of losing face, it might be alright (don’t want to impose too high standards here). But when the tailors are malevolent agents of a ruthless cognitive war of aggression, when the “new clothes” are icons of hatred designed to arouse genocidal fury against the very people witnessing the parade, and when the courtiers are aggressively dishonest, some alarm bells should be going off. We – the Western intelligentsia in particular – are in the running for a Darwin Award.

If we do survive this challenge, there will arise an entire field of scholarly research dedicated to exploring the tendencies of intellectuals to commit civilizational suicide.

34 Responses to Hangin’ on rekaB Street: The Stupefaction of the West

  1. Walter Sobchak says:

    “the coronation of Charlemagne, held on the first day of the year 6000 according to the most widely accepted count, but dated by observers as AD 801.”

    I knew that the Byzantine calendar has an era based on an anno mundi, the epoch of which is set at 1 September 5509 BCE, based on their reading of the Septuagint, the edition of the Jewish Bible that they use.

    And the Jewish era uses an epoch of 1 Tishri 3760 BCE.

    Many Western Christian writers of the 16th and 17th centuries calculated the epoch of creation to be circa 4000 BCE, most famously the Ussher chronology which used 23 October 4004 BCE.

    Which Latin writers used 5400 BCE as their epoch?

    • Walter Sobchak says:

      That should have been 5200 BCE. 6000 – 5200 = 800, duh.

      • Richard Landes says:

        the first to propose 5200 (actually 5199) was Eusebius ca. 300 (ie 5800 by the then prevailing count – AM I – and 5500 by his new count – AM II). Jerome translated him around 380 (5880/5580), picked up by Augustine, Orosius in the early 5900s/5600s), and by the time we reach 500 AD (eg Cassiodorus), no one in the Latin West is still using the AM I count by which it is 6000. From then on every major Latin historian (Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, “Fredegar”) are all using AM II, right up to 700 (5900 AM II) when Bede introduces AD, which the Carolingians adopt in mid-century.

        So in both cases as the year 6000 approaches, the clergy stop using it about in the final century.

  2. Walter Sobchak says:

    “Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
    All centuries but this, and every country but his own;”

    “The Mikado or, the Town of Titipu” by W.S. Gilbert (lyrics) and A. Sullivan (Music)
    No. 5a: Song (Ko-Ko & Chorus) “As someday it may happen that a victim must be found”
    http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/mikado/webopera/mk105a.html

  3. Matthew Thayer says:

    Two words.Pretentious Twaddle.

  4. Ray in Seattle says:

    What you describe is an anomaly of the current theory of human nature – man as the rational, thinking animal. As you have pointed out, Thomas Kuhn says that such anomalies require rethinking the current paradigm.

  5. Vilmos says:

    I think there is another reason for this behaviour.

    For many (most?) people, their deeply held opinions are not just opinions but also a kind of identity and a quality of judgment. So if I argue with somebody about which he feels passionately, I don’t just question his opinions but his whole worldview. I don’t just say that his opinion is misguided but on a lower level I question his judgment and his ability to see things clearly or to separate truth from garbage. There are only very few people who are truly data driven and are willing to change their opinions when new info emerges. Most people are just humming and then … go back. I think Churchill said it that when people trip over the truth, then get up, stare, then … collect themselves and quickly go away. For many, acknowledging that on a specific topic they are wrong, is like acknowledging that their judgment was bad. It is a loss of face and a sign of weakness. Even if I can prove beyond question that I am right and they are wrong, it is not going to work since a deeply held opinion is more than just an opinion: it is an identity like religion. I am not saying that it is impossible to make people change their opinion. But since it is part of their identity, it takes considerable amount of time and effort.

    Also, people explain events in based on their worldview. For the people described in this post, their worldview is that the West/Israel is bad, and they explain everything from this point of reference. (A million thanks for you, RL, for your extremely illuminating series or articles on the different paradigms, the civil/prime-divider societies, and positive/zero/negative sum societies.)

    I had a good example of this reference point phenomenon a couple of weeks ago. I’m considered an extreme rightwing person due to the fact that I am not center-left of left of center-left. I mentioned to my coworker (who is also not a leftist) that my opinion doesn’t really move along the left/right line but is about freedom. My opinion is on a third axis. So he asked back that “ok, but if we project to the left/right line, then where do you fall?”. I mentioned to him that this is like adding the third axis to a two-dimensional system. You cannot project the height of a room to its width or length. And we left it there. His point of reference is the left/right opinion dimension and had a hard time imagining a third axis. And he also deeply cares about freedom. And this scares me, because what about the rest, who don’t care about liberty?

    Vilmos

  6. [...] their self-proclaimed “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out” skepticism with “Rekab Street” [...]

  7. Serjew says:

    Beware: Khun is also one of the fathers of social relativism in Science, as he claimed that when there are “changes of paradigms”, the two competing theories cannot talk to each other as their concept would be “incommensurate” and that a paradigm really wins when the next generation of scientists replace the older. So the concept of truth is debased. This is blatant non-sense, at least in natural sciences: Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geophysics, etc. First off, because true “revolutions” are rare: there were basic two mais scientific revolutions, at the Greek antiquity and the XVII-century one in Europe; what happens more frequently are new breakthroughs within a more or less confirmed background of knowledged. Second, competing theories surely can be compared and are compared all the time: they compete to explain a real world out there in a better, more complete, deeper and testable way.

    So, Khunianism is over-rated and has been used as a weapon by the postmodernist crowd against the values of truth, objectivity and science itself.

    • Richard Landes says:

      you conveniently overlook the revolution that threw the positivist paradigm into a cocked hat (what you call debasing the concept of truth), namely relativity, which established two parallel and incompatible paradigms, both valid under different circumstances. And although it may be comforting to fit it all into a relatively straightforward “competition for truth”, reality is (thankfully) a far more complex world than the one we can reduce to written formulas, verbal or mathematical.

      just because Kuhn was taken by some post-modernists as a license to go exegetically wild does not mean his insights are not valuable. and just because he problematized the meaning of “objectivity” in no way undermines our need to reality-test.

      if i’ve misunderstood you, i’m sure you’ll let me know.

      • SerJew says:

        Well, I´m truly disappointed with your condescending and arrogant reply. You seem to be unaware that you don´t have the basic grasp of what Einstein’s Relativity Theory is all about. For your information, far from destroying objectivity, it deepend it, as one of it basic postulates is that the laws of physics are the same, regardless of the frame of reference used. Also, classical mechanics also had its concept of relativy, called Galilean relativity, so that idea is not that new (what is new is that in Einstein’s relativity, one had to change the laws of mechanics so that both it and Electromagnitsm could be invariant under the new type of change of reference frames).

        Kuhn had some interesting insights but he’s overrated and mande many mistakes, particularly his nonsense about “incommensurability” that indeed debased the concept of truth and objectivity, which are the basic aims of Science. Your accusation that I´m ignorant of the complexity of reality is totally off the mark and reveals more about
        your own limited knowleged of issues you know nothing about. That´s very sad, because I used to enjoy your views and articles. A pity.

        • rlandes says:

          sorry to disappoint. and am willing to take instruction on an issue i admit not having expertise. and apologize for the tone. i was in transit and should have responded less dismissively.
          please explain where kuhn went wrong over incommensurability, which i thought was a particularly significant point he made.
          as for “objectivity”, if relativity didn’t throw it for a loop, but rather reaffirmed it, it did so by redefining what objectivity meant (or at least, how most people conceive of it).
          as for the point i’m trying to make in this post, kuhn had particularly telling comments about a) the resistance to anomalous evidence, and b) the invisibility of revolutions to those who come after.
          on some level, what i’m trying to do is say to liberals, you’re the result of an amazing revolution and you don’t even see it (redefining “humane” – which liberalism prizes – as “human”), which, when you project the revolutionary mentality onto people who don’t share it, and call people who point out the difference “racists” who “dehumanize”, you’re shooting yourself in the eyes.

          • SerJew says:

            OK. To begin with, most examples in Khun’s book are taken from Physics and even for these there are many holes.

            As I mentioned, rarely a scientific revolution is totally radical (exception maybe for the case of Greek science and its rebirth in the XVIIth century, with people like Copernicus, Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Huyguens, Leibniz and Newton, among many others). Science is in the main cumulative, with some remarkable breakthroughs and rare revolutions. Some “revolutions” are, so to speak, “permanent”: e.g., Darwin’s theory have gone to ups and downs, including spectacular extentions and level-crossings, getting evidence and support from disparate fields, from cell theory through biophysics and genetics.

            Also, close scientific fields communicate with each other; even Quantum Physics can be compared with Classical Physics: otherwise you couldn’t say the former solved some of the riddles/problems (or, in Kuhn’s language, “puzzles”), that latter was unable to handle (for how would you recognize the?). Usually (but not always) those problems appear as mismatches (sometime very tiny ones!) between what is predicted with the older theory in her confrotation with reality. That’s basically how science works: you propose hypothesis and check for consistency and testability, i.e., the match with reality.

            As for Relativity Theory (I´m thinking about the Special Theory; there’s a much more extended one, General Relativity Theory that is supposed to be a Theory of Gravitation), the concept wasn’t new per se.
            There *was* a relativity in classical mechanics, but it was “less general”. The issue was internal to XIXth century Physics, namely, how to match Electromagnetism (hugely developed around the end of that century) with Mechanics: these two major theories didn’t fit it; the way out, as discovered by Einstein, Lorenz and Poincaré, was to modify Classical Mechanics & its principle or relativity, and one main idea in doing it was a requirement of objectivity: the Laws of Physics should be the same, no matter what change of frame of reference. So objectivity in Einstein’s theory is *strenghtened*, at the price of some “weird” new effects regarding space-cum-time.

            It’s a bit technical, but most concepts (but not all) of Einstein’s relativity had a “counterpart” with the older ones, such as mass, space, time, energy, etc Some are be more inclusive, others display new surprising relationships, but they surely can be compared, analysed, etc, in sum, are not “incommensurable”, as if isolated from their cradle.

            I’m not sure how Kuhn’s analysis works in the social sciences, but I’ve seen many times a careless jump from his, sometimes interesting, insights in Physics to other arenas, without proper justification and/or analysis, even of adequacy. A by product is a loose talk about “paradigms” and “revolution” everywhere, a typical manouver of post-modernists to sound impressive with empty-babble.

            In sum, I just pointed out that one needs to be careful.

  8. [...] “narrative” of Pali’s = David, Israel = Goliath, is wilfully ignored.  See here. posted under Ethics and Reason, Humour One Comment [...]

  9. [...] their self-proclaimed “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out” skepticism with “Rekab Street” [...]

  10. mika says:

    The propaganda narrative is created and established by the editors of the various propaganda outlets, not by the so-called “reporters” sitting in a local hotel. That’s why the “reporters” reports never match with reality.

    This narrative is dictated to the editors by the Vatican/CIA. It is a wholly invented disinformation narrative, created to produce conflict and a false dialectic to advance an agenda of war and genocide. The propaganda is also meant to distract and obscure reality and to hide the real mechanisms of power in this world.

  11. mika says:

    ROME’s narrative..

    Both the Israelis and the Jihadistanis are bought-and-paid-for actors. Both are playing a part narrated to them by their money masters. My suggestion for those who view my statements regards the Vatican/CIA is to, as they say, follow the money. Study history and find out who owns the banks and corporations, who controls the CIA and the shadow government mafia, who has on its agenda global imperialism (aka NWO) since its inception. It all leads to the same place.

  12. to the rear. Hezbollah, on the other hand, knew they were facing a deadly enemy and were psychologically prepared.

  13. [...] was something of an anti-climax. In others it was an amazing example of the clash between Baker and rekaB Streets. Indeed, the Société des journalistes (SNJ) and SNJ de France Télévisions both called on [...]

  14. [...] I heard Hilary Clinton’s angry remarks about American dead on the radio the other day and couldn’t help but think rekaB Street. [...]

  15. Walter Sobchak says:

    Your readers who wish to more deeply understand the psychological dynamic of honor/shame in Muslim society, should read:

    “The Murderer’s Honor” by Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog on Tuesday, January 29, 2013
    http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-murderers-honor.html

  16. [...] pill form. Swallow this, and join us. This process, of the kind that an astute observer has called auto-stupefaction, has an antidote: reality. We wish there were enough courageous and ethical journalists to deliver [...]

  17. [...] process, of the kind that an astute observer has called auto-stupefaction, has an antidote: reality. We wish there were enough courageous and ethical journalists to deliver [...]

  18. [...] overcome, have been given a new life in our global world? One thing we don’t do, is live on rekaB Street. Another thing, don’t assume that Westerners will automatically go down the slippery slope [...]

  19. [...] DurahJournalism: We use the term DuraJournalists to designate those journalists who take a credulous stance towards Arab lethal narratives about Israel, passing them on to us, their readers and listeners, as “news,” or at least, as perfectly believable claims about the news. DuraJournalists instrumentalize the evidence, and when faced with anomalous details, ignore or dismiss them. Rather than look for clues, DuraJournalists clean up the mess. They live on rekaB Street. [...]

  20. [...] Al Durah Journalism: We use the term DuraJournalists to designate those journalists who take a credulous stance towards Arab lethal narratives about Israel, passing them on to us, their readers and listeners, as “news,” or at least, as perfectly believable claims about the news. DuraJournalists instrumentalize the evidence, and when faced with anomalous details, ignore or dismiss them. Rather than look for clues, DuraJournalists clean up the mess. They live on rekaB Street. [...]

  21. [...] anyone could have fallen for it, they look at the evidence and live on a different planet. Call it Planet rekaB… or maybe, Planet Al Durah. At the level of cognitive anthropology, this is fascinating [...]

  22. [...] Like Derfner, the good doctor has taken the Jordanian report as accurate and contradicted David’s claims with  it. Presumably, this is because he, like Derfner, somehow can’t imagine that the Jordanian report might be false, a kind of principled dupedom that characterizes inhabitants of rekaB Street. [...]

  23. […] of suffering” to conduct a ruthless cognitive war, Dennis Sullivan is a poster boy for the stupefaction this process involves. His comments in a lecture on the place in the negotiating process of Hamas, the most explicitly […]

  24. […] who was insisting on the truth of their lethal narratives. Highway to the auto-stupefaction of rekaB Street, and the reason that roosters on Global Warming are owls on Global Jihad, and vice-versa. In one […]

  25. […] Like Derfner, the good doctor has taken the Jordanian report as accurate and contradicted David’s claims with  it. Presumably, this is because he, like Derfner, somehow can’t imagine that the Jordanian report might be false, a kind of principled dupedom that characterizes inhabitants of rekaB Street. […]

  26. […] brings us back to the discussion of the process of auto-stupefaction I’ve referred to as rekaB Street. Rather than note the clues and the anomalies and pursue them fearlessly, most prefer not even to […]

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