It started with reading the sidebar of Making Light–a habit I encourage. On “PNH’s Sidelights”, I came across this. It’s brief, take a moment to read it.
Now, here is my problem. A certain Walter Williams says “Thirty, 40 or 50 years ago, no one in their right mind would have believed the Merv Grazinski urban legend possible, but not so today. Personal responsibility has taken a back seat in our increasingly immoral and litigious society.”
The author of the blog, John Cole, responds thus:
“This is a particular example of wingnut argumentation that I find rather amusing, and it always takes the following form:
Sure, I’ve now learned that X is not actually happening, but the fact that I believed that X could be happening is not, as one would think, a commentary on my foolishness and gullibility, but rather it is a scathing indictment of our societal decline.”
I think they’re both wrong. John Cole is wrong in implying that one can’t learn anything from widespread mistakes and urban legends; Walter Williams is wrong about the lesson of this one.
For example, In my opinion, the question is not whether Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiricy (in my opinion, if the CIA had wanted him dead, they’d have found a better patsy than Oswald and given him a semi-auto, but that’s beside the point). The question is, what is going on in this country if something like half its citizens find it believable that its own Government was involved in a presidential assassination?
Yes, it is possible to learn from urban legends and widespread false rumors–the trick is drawing the correct lessons.
In my opinion, such urban legends as the Grazinski Winnebago tell us that it is in the interest of certain sections of society to attack the legal system from the Right–in other words, it warns us that efforts to remove the minor protection from big business that the court system provides. Even though most of us cannot afford to bring a lawsuit, even though even if we do we haven’t the resources to compete fairly, it is still too much protection for many elements in our society–corporations must have nothing to fetter them in their drive for profit, particularly responsibility to the poor bastards who get hurt.