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The Mermaid Qualia Theory

Google “Mermaid sightings” and see how many YouTube and other sites pop up. Animal Planet produced a faux-documentary in 2013 about mermaids. It looks authentic, the voiceover serious and documentary-ish, but the CGI is just off enough to provide the right balance of fantasy-immersion and pragmatic reality.

It’s quaint, but I couldn’t help shake the distress that these fake-umentaries could damage instruction and credibility. And that worry has come to light. I still want to believe in the IDEA of mermaids, (I love mermaids and mermaid lore); however, it is dangerous to make a documentary that many might believe is factual. Currently, in our post-truth era, an Orwellian allusion that’s in itself is too precious and misdirecting,  our futures depend on getting it right. And I marvel and am horrified by how many believe they are right, credible, honest, and intelligent when they are so very blind.

But I can’t look away, I can’t stop questioning, researching, and thinking.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger.”

William Shakespeare, Henry V

My burning question is how do we tackle the rhetoric of conspiracy theories?

Example: my same relative posted about how CNN is fake news, etc. and his followers posted many actual cases of times CNN has made editorial blunders. So that leads me down one rabbit hole after another. His source, Fox, has had more editorial errors and by many standards, lacks journalistic credibility or standards. No one mentioned Fox’s mistakes. So, check off Point #1: Tunnel Vision.

Debate. org: Is Fox News credible?

Not sure how credible this source is:

Fox News reporting hate crimes are hoaxes:

But yet this just happened:

I responded back something about the inauguration photos. You know the ones — Obama’s and Trump’s, side by side. And that’s when the legion of lies began officially.

My relative responded back, “Oh, you were there? Cool!”

No. But another relative was.

And what if I wasn’t? What a bizarre argument.

I know its intent: the intent is to make me doubt myself, and not question the thousands of things he believes in but has never seen with his own eyes.

Is this the knowledge argument?


The maddening thing, the thing I shake my fist at the gods and shake my head in disbelief is their arrogance (Point #2: Arrogance and hubris) in redirecting any belief.  The lack of conceding any point. So no dialogue is possible.

For every scientific and social construct, they have a rebuttal. (Point #3: Dart-throw but offer no solutions)

I’ve never seen a mermaid. I’m fairly certain they don’t exist. Perhaps they came from the desire of sailors seeing mirages in the water, fearful of women and drowning in the deep, mixing the two together to create a narrative that the siren song defends them from all accountability and responsibility of keeping their own stuff together. It’s always convenient to blame falling off a boat on a fish-woman. Point #4: Blame others.  I have never touched a blue whale, either, but unlike mermaids, am pretty sure they exist. There are photographs, scientists, animal lovers, artists, whaling hunts, etc. and whole industries based on whaling throughout history. I did step on a whaling boat in Mystic, Connecticut once. It’s no longer seaworthy or in use, but I didn’t question whether or not it was once used to hunt whales. But by my relative’s logic, since I wasn’t physically at the inauguration (he wasn’t either), my conclusion is invalid. Point #5: Thinking conclusions and evidence are the same things. They’re not. The evidence is the two crowd sizes differed in numbers. That does not mean I think anything. He assumed I did.

But here is where I will leave this, for now, until I need to go to the breach, once more: it is a waste of time to talk to someone on their own echo chamber. Every point made, every piece of evidence, every possible conclusion or theory will be met with some fallacious argumentative rhetoric which to them, sounds pithy and intelligent.

Download your own poster:

They are croaking toads, and nothing more, belching out lies and fear to seek attention. And that is my ad hominem misstep. I am in the process of trying to not care, not give this oxygen, so if I think of people as nothing more than croaking toads that helps, temporarily. The futility of trying to change anyone’s mind who’s over the age of 25 upsets me. It’s become too dangerous and weird. The enormity of they don’t know what they don’t know is too burdensome at times. But I’m about to go drink coffee and watch the latest episode of Saturday Night Live: laughter and caffeine heals a lot of wounds.

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The Fault in Our Logic

Whereby I tell John Green I feel his pain of the never-ending trolling of adolescent bullies.

john green

This may be one of the most important posts I’ve written, and yet my timing is shaky: we’re all hopped up on sugar plums and family time. I’ll muddle on, however, and maybe dear readers, you’ll bookmark this for another time.

Please heed this message: never, ever stop teaching students about rhetoric, fallacies, and logic. And the hysteria of the Salem Witch trials.

And to think for themselves, and follow the ‘money’ (power, pay-off, etc.)

Allow me to illustrate the innocent tripping into this conversation with one of my young charges. For the holiday season, one of my esteemed colleagues organizes a ‘winter wishes’ gift give-away. Students sign up for modest gifts, and we the staff try to make these wishes come true. I took on the requests for “books for a girl” (?!) and another student requested Autumn Kiss and Autumn Falls by Bella Thorne. For the girl, (no, we’re not getting into a conversation about gender identity now, thank you very much) I purchased the box set of the Hush Hush series by Becca Fitzgerald. Literary judgments aside, a few years ago some students told me they loved Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn, so I grabbed another copy of that just in case, and everyone loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I did, finding it poignant and real.

Well, not everyone, it turns out.

I have a young student, a girl, and some colleagues were giving her Hanukkah presents, so I offered “Fault” to her. She is very quiet, very intelligent, and respectfully declined. Surprised by her reaction, she said she hadn’t read it, but believed John Green to be a Holocaust denier.


That John Green.

The John Green who writes open, gritty young adult novels, who is consistency politically correct, provides free Crash Course educational videos, is a well-known and beloved author, vlogger, etc., is apparently the opposite of a well-informed, articulate, and intelligent human has succumbed to Holocaust Denial: also, according to my young student, he “hates mental health issues and only loves cancer patients.’ (Paraphrasing.) Again, the John Green who has spoken openly about his own struggles with mental health management.

Nonplussed, I inquired where did she hear this information, and basically “she knew the Internet had misinformation, but this was all true,” and when I said no, it’s not, she challenged me with “how do you know?”

Well, how did I know?

Seeking answers, I am going to share a conversation (with permission) with a colleague, Kim McClung, I admire and trust, who’s been writing a series on fallacies on social media.

Your student has fallen prey to some of the fallacies I’ve been talking about on Facebook – particularly the Straw Man Fallacy, where a statement was taken out of context and misrepresented. John Green did an interview where he said:

Interviewer: Why did you decide to throw in the story of Anne Frank alongside these fictional young women whose lives are also cut short?
John Green: Anne Frank was a pretty good example of a young person who ended up having the kind of heroic arc that Augustus wants—she was remembered and she left this mark that he thinks is valuable—but when he has to confront her death, he has to confront the reality that really she was robbed of the opportunity to live or die for something. She just died of illness like most people. And so I wanted him to go with a sort of expectation of her heroism and be sort of dashed.
The line where he talked about Anne dying of illness like most people was taken completely out of context by some teen bloggers on Tumblr who argue that by ignoring the circumstances of Anne’s death, that he is denying the Holocaust ever happened. The fact is that she did die of illness (typhoid) like most of the Jews in the concentration camps. It wasn’t a heroic death as being shot fighting Nazis might have been. Keep in mind that The Fault in Our Stars is a book about teenagers dealing with terminal cancer and looking for some meaning in their death.
Like the Starbucks Christmas Cup Scandal, when we take some random person’s rant as fact, we are prone to errors in thinking.
This is my original response to my student:

Subject: Research 

 I did some research on the John Green issues: fascinating ways that folks manipulated a popular author, although I am once again disheartened about how haters use false arguments to troll people who are trying to do good things, (like John Green), as well as troll potential readers who may miss out on reading great stories, like a great student/thinker such as yourself.

 The argument about the Holocaust issue is what’s called an ‘ad hominem’ attack: attack the person and another, ‘straw man’ where one takes something out of context to attack the person, and not discuss the argument.

The fact is this: John Green did not explicitly deny the Holocaust, and would most likely be horrified to see this form of trolling. He did not imply it either. This quote is taken out of context, and the argument does not lead to logic. Many people discuss history and it’s assumed that general knowledge informs the public that everyone knows Anne Frank went to a concentration camp. I learned that she died of Typhoid Fever in that camp because of his knowledge/research. I went to Amsterdam when I was twelve and visit her apartment where she hid and wrote her diary. “Leaving the Nazis out” is not a logical premise, and this misinterpretation of Green’s work is quite honestly, a little weird to me. The writer of this quote is reading something into it that simply isn’t there, and I’m not sure what their own religious/political agenda may be. But some folks get some egregious notions about things. The best thing you can do is read, discuss, and think for yourself. You’re too smart to draw conclusion based on Internet trolling. To underscore: it is  fine not to like someone’s style of writing or choice of topics; however, taking aim at a writer/thinker etc. based on out of context quotes is Trolling 101. The Tumblr community feasted on spreading rumors, and the teenage girls who trolled Green remind me of the Salem Witch Trials: they get a thrill with a little bit of power by spreading lies and fear. It’s horrible.

As to the other issue,  not only does he not say “bad things about mental health,’ he is on record for saying very supportive and honest things:

My colleague also posted this after further consideration of this issue:

The Argumentum ad Ignorantiam Fallacy is also called the Argument from Ignorance or Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy. Personally, I prefer “Argument from Ignorance” because it feels to me to be the more appropriate description. This is the final fallacy that I’m going to discuss, and I chose this one as a favor to a friend and fellow teacher. In fact, I’m going to use the example from her classroom. As is implied by the name of the fallacy, this one is born of ignorance and, I would add, a stubbornness born of belief perseverance and confirmation bias. The idea behind this one is that a premise must be true if it cannot be proven false.

In my friend’s classroom, a student is refusing to read a book because she believes the author is a Holocaust denier. Because there is no on-line evidence that this is true, the student is persevering in her belief, even though there is no direct evidence and only blog-o-sphere suppositions to support her beliefs. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to explain logic to an eighth grader.

This fallacy can be a little complicated because the burden of proof falls on the person making the claim, so it can work on both sides of the same argument. If a person claims, “Aliens exist, and you cannot prove to me that I am wrong, so I am correct,” s/he is falling prey to this fallacy. Likewise, if someone claims, “Aliens don’t exist, and you cannot prove me wrong, so I am right,” the same fallacy is being used.

Is your head swimming right now? Mine is. Just how do we help students think logically about their choices in media, literature, politics, etc.? The Tumblr -Trolls are feed off of their opinions going viral, that is their currency. And if it keeps one girl from reading a book that’s one book too many. This willingness to censor and banish when if presented a chance to ‘fit in’ strikes me as hypocritical of this accepting and tolerant generation. Cognitive dissonance is a heckuva challenge.

Thank you, Kim, for helping me find my way through this. Moving forward, when we begin to discuss argumentative writing/reading, these concepts will take center stage. What we believe and trust push big ideas through our collective consciousness sieve. It’s important.

Have your students ever believed something that may actually harm them? Censored a book or knowledge because of what others have said first?