Tuesday, July 18, 2006

WordQuest and Weird Stuff
I'm looking for a word, one that probably doesn't exist. Well, maybe in German. The word I'm looking for would refer to a sudden and complete loss of credibility due to the contents of a single paragraph or, in the case of film, a moment. If you'd like an example, I'd invite you to read The Oil We Eat at Harpers.org.

It's an interesting essay, talking about the energy human beings consume in biomass, and our impact on the globe. There are lots of threads he's tying together, and most of them lie just to the outside of areas I've studied, so that I can't decide for myself whether what he's saying is bull or not. And then comes the paragraph where he calls Cro-Magnon a "different race of humans" and then asserts "The Basque people are probably the lone remnant descendants of Cro-Magnons, the only trace."

Okay, depending on how you define "race" (a huge, huge issue), this is not an impossibility. But even a casual look through the scholarship on the issue shows this to be a contentious issue, to say the least, and definitely not something to be put forward as 'probable' without even a nod to the controversy. So when I read that paraphraph, I mentally went back over the entire essay so far and retracted the benefit of the doubt I had given the author. Once that had happened, there was little point in continuing. Information I knew to be correct was nothing new, and anything new was suddenly questionable.

I had the same thing happen the other day reading an article on cryptozoology and the Bible. There are a number of unidentifiable or otherwise weird creatures mentioned in the Bible, but the one most often cited is the unicorn. This is handy, because the unicorn reference comes from the King James version, and is a mistranslation of a word that almost certainly refers to a now-extinct species of wild ox. It doesn't take long with Google to find this out, and it's so clearly the simplest explanation that it makes a handy Shibboleth. Folks who talk about unicorns in the Bible clearly either haven't done the research, or have let their will to believe in weird stuff overcome their will to reason. Which is fine, but I'm only willing to believe in weird stuff that I can actually believe in, and if there's a reasonable explanation, I can't believe.

Of course, these little moments for me aren't always based in reason. There was once a time when I believed in all sorts of stuff, and spent a fair amount of time and money in the New Age sections of various bookstores. And I could be cruising along, learning how to rebuild my energy fields by doing this or that and then the author would throw out a line about when the aliens would come and usher in a new age of peace and understanding, and I'd want to throw the book across the room. And as I got older and learned more and studied more, I started having more and more of those moments, which is why, I suppose, I no longer go to the New Age section.

Speaking of which, I had one of those moments watching "What the Bleep Do We Know?", right at the end. See, the whole movie is interspersed with expert testimony about quantum physics and health and so on, and it was all very convincing, but they left the experts' qualifications until the very end of the movie, at which point I found out that one of the guys talking to me about physics was a chiropractor, and that the woman spouting vague platitudes about man's role in the universe was actually a channeler, and bloop, there went the benefit of the doubt.

So is there a word for that? Other than "bloop"?


Karl said...

I spent three years working in that bookstore and I have nothing but "bloop" to say about it.

Mike said...

Ditto for me and two years on the board of a Unity church. Nice folks, and I can't say I didn't benefit from the experience, but there was a whole lotta blooping going on.