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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The Pathology of Denial

The Give Up Blog has a post cataloging the tactics of denialists. Denialists are people who, for particular ideological reasons, dispute the consensus on certain subjects despite the overwhelming evidence that supports that consensus. Denialists come in many flavors: evolution deniers, HIV causes AIDS deniers, holocaust deniers, etc. Despite the particulars of what well-supported finding they deny across these groups, they all seem to draw from the same box of flawed reasoning and use of logical falacies to support their denial belief.

I've discussed this before with respect to a particular lesser-known denialist belief (Einstein denial), and Seth at Whiskey Before Breakfast has been ruminating on this with several posts trying to work out how and why this denial "memeplex" gets propagated.

As I commented on Seth's blog earlier, I think "denialism" can be adequately explained as a subset of credulous thinking. There's little difference between denying specific conclusions that are based on overwhelming evidence like evolution, AIDS, etc., and accepting pseudoscience like UFO abduction stories, astrology, and psychic phenomona with no supporting evidence. The latter enthusiasts of such credulous beliefs simply deny the overwhelming evidence that these things (UFO's, astrology, psychic powers) don't exist. And they use the same flawed reasoning and logical falacies to ignore all the evidence that points to more mundane explanations.

Still, it's illuminating to see all the common arguments laid bare for future profiling.

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Your logic is a subset of nominalism. By lumping specific cases of denial, all of which have their own credible support, you can create a clinical category into which you can throw anything you don't like and label it "crazy"; it isn't that there's grounds to doubt "the Holocaust", it's that some people suffer something called "denialism". Brilliant, really.

Now there is cause to isolate a semantic preference among certain ideological groups for denial and, more usually, self-denial (meaning that the subject is in denial about their own role in social situations), but I'm sure you wouldn't want to hear that Jews are the most talented self-deniers on the planet, would you. Because the whole point of your post was to pathologize denial of popular beliefs which you don't like, the most important being "the Holocaust".
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