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The neglected commandment - Input Junkie
March 13th, 2011
09:32 am

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The neglected commandment
British magazine (scandal sheet?) turns out to be publishing made-up anti-Muslim stories.

The ninth commandment-- you shall not commit false witness against your neighbor-- doesn't have the attention-grabbing sex and/or violence mentioned in a lot of the other commandments, but if people kept all the other commandments and were habitually sloppy about the ninth, it would be a misery to live with them.

Fictional possible counterexample: Hobbits-- they have a strong tendency to malicious gossip, but they don't seem to punish each other much, so their culture is tiresome but not actually horrendous.

It's a tricky commandment-- how careful do you need to be to avoid breaking it? You've at least got a decent chance of telling whether you're lying, but what can you believe when other people say it? Still, it's important.

Link thanks to supergee.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/475059.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:autopope
Date:March 13th, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
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The Daily Star isn't a magazine -- it's a national newspaper, subtype: tabloid, with a daily circulation of around 750,000 readers a day. Taking into account the UK's smaller population, that's a newspaper whose US equivalent would have a circulation of around 4 million people, or about 2.5 times the size of USA TODAY and five times that of the New York Times (neither of which are known for being low-brow tabloids that make up stories).

In other words, it reaches a far bigger cross-section of the British public than any newspaper in the United States. In the US, it'd be a media behemoth.

Edited at 2011-03-13 02:05 pm (UTC)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 13th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
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Thank you.

Offhand, I can't imagine what would need to change for people to lose their appetite for that sort of thing.

We need a Flynn effect for good sense. Actually there might be one (the level of violence does drop, over time), but it's going very slowly.
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From:caper_est
Date:March 13th, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC)
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Whether it's read more like the National Enquirer than USA Today, I don't know. It's a filthy rag, though: it makes the other tabloids look almost decent.

It has the outstanding property of a very highly regionalized circulation, skewed way towards the North of England. Desmond's other paper, the Express, is essentially the paranoid-conservative Daily Mail's smaller shriller wannabe. These two papers are tabloids too, but they're not Red-Top tabloids like the Star. To the best of my knowledge, the red-tops don't have any US equivalent at all. Think vocabulary of the playground, and mindset of the sleazy strip club.

Stereotypical red-top reader quote, usually pre-emptive: "I only get it for the footie/horses/greyhounds." But the background noise still keeps slipping out in the conversation. Source: enough of my kith and kin to suffice.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 13th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
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Thinking of moral issues as "commandments" is the wrong way to go about it. If any false witness, including honest errors, is a sin, then no one can escape being a sinner (which is fine for the guilt-mongering Original Sin advocates).

The right approach is to be honest and evaluate evidence critically.
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From:redbird
Date:March 13th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
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To my mind, false witness requires intent. So repeating something that you have no reason to doubt is not bearing false witness. Making up stories like that is, as is telling people to make such things up.

And repeating them after they've been refuted is bearing false witness. I'd include things like ignoring plausible refutations because "I don't care about your evidence" or "even if that one isn't true, Those People Are Evil so they would do that sort of thing" as false witness.

The tricky bits are things like, when do you decide that a given source is not reliable? For example, if anything is reported on Fox News, I wait for another source: they will tell the truth if it fits their worldview, but they won't check whether it's true first. Nor do I trust the New York Post, though in their case the filter isn't political, it's "How scandalous/shocking is this story?"

It's not only organizations: when I was more involved in local fandom, there was someone I eventually stopped listening to on anything more serious than "please pass the soda" because I knew that if something was bad news, he would pass it on without checking. Not just false witness stuff: he could be counted on to spread any rumor that someone was getting divorced or seriously ill. The reconciliation or recovery, you would have to hear about elsewhere. That's a different question, but connects in how I think about things and sources.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 13th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm at least cautious about any unconfirmed single news source. There's just too much sloppy reporting, and collecting "balanced" opinions from opposing sides has replaced investigating the facts. Just today I saw a headline on CNN's website claiming there was a "nuclear blast" at the Fukushima plant.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:March 13th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
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When you're carving on stone, you tend to leave out adverbs. "Not bear false witness" obviously means "Not INTENTIONALLY bear false witness.

For some other cultures' versions of that precept, see the Appendix to Lewis's THE ABOLITION OF MAN. They get pretty specific about not deliberately getting a slave or workman in trouble by a false accusation, etc.

I think Nancy was right, to show that false accusation has been traditionally regarded as a very serious bad thing, right up there with murder, theft, etc.

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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 13th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
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The questions Nancy raised suggested she included, or might include, unintentional false witness. If you simply observe the commandment as a commandment, on the same level as regarding Yahweh as the top god and observing the Sabbath, then there's no compelling reason to think it should be interpreted reasonably. If you construct a reasonable interpretation around it, then the fact that it was in an ancient tribe's law book is irrelevant.
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From:houseboatonstyx
Date:March 14th, 2011 04:57 am (UTC)
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Try grouping it with the more practical commandments, ie against killing, theft. We put reasonable interpretations around those, too. Like those, false accusation can seriously harm another, so we need to never do it knowingly, and be very careful not to do it by carelessness or accidentally.

False accusation can be very harmful and, like killing, can be impossible to reverse. So imo it deserves to be in the top rank, and Nancy was right to quote that.
(Deleted comment)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 13th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
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I think good stuff which gets neglected tends to be an emotional hook for me.

You're right that I'm not a religious person.

I was out in abstraction land, and certainly not thinking about whether this was an argument which would be convincing to Britons.

I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been any discussion of hobbits.

Edited at 2011-03-13 06:52 pm (UTC)
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From:agrumer
Date:March 13th, 2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
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I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been any discussion of hobbits.

Just as well.

The UK's Daily Star (and follow that link if for no other reason than getting a look at the Star's front page, to get an idea of the sort of rag it is) has been backing an anti-Islamic street-thug gang called the English Defence League, a sort of new National Front. When I think of hobbits in that context, the context of neo-fascist street gangs, I think of Italian fascist "hobbit camps".
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 13th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
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"I feel I am a hobbit who has got hold of the ring of power and doesn't know quite what to do with it."

Reading the book or seeing the movie would have given him a clue.

I'm torn between being glad that Tolkien didn't live to seen fascist LOTR fans and wishing he had been because he would have had some worthwhile harsh things to say about them.
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From:richardthinks
Date:March 14th, 2011 06:07 am (UTC)
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That's all true, but it's not hard to see how fascists find stuff to love in LoTR. Irreducible categories of good and evil that are racially inflected, defense of the homeland from eastern and southern threats, and a casual assumption that there are those born to lead and those born to follow.

Recently I've been noticing another thread that feels common between Nietzsche, Heidegger and Tolkien - an attention to beauty and landscape opposed to ugliness and settlement. I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet, but I see a pattern where the good guys are a small population and the bad guys are a big one, and all the dirt and sprawl of cities and industry are bad because of their scale, while the few heroes manage to tread lightly through the woods, simply because they are few.
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From:subnumine
Date:March 20th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
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And especially the hobbits, with their intensely conservative parochialism. It may be very easy to see The Scouring of the Shire as "let's wipe out the Socialists"; it is clear in English that Tolkien is thinking of Hitler as much as Stalin, but it may not be in Italian. (He says he was thinking, more than either, of the forced-bore industrialization while he was away in 1916, but that is not obvious.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 21st, 2011 07:33 am (UTC)
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I took it as anti-communist more than anti-socialist, anti-industrialization, or anti-fascist.
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From:richardthinks
Date:March 13th, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
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There's a wide gulf between "newspapers" and "tabloids" in Britain, and as noted above, no equivalent in the US for the red tops, which are kind of like the Enquirer except consistently racist, sexist, prurient and hate-mongering. I'd like to say nobody really got their information from them, but I know better.

Alas, actual journalism is thin on the ground these days. And unlike Fox News it's not so obviously a result of bias, more just laziness.
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From:subnumine
Date:March 20th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
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Haven't seen the Daily Trentonian, then?
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