Goldberg mentions belief in the furries!


Possibly takes a wrong turn: In yesterday's column in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg pretty much started where we left off last Thursday.

We humans believe the darnedest things! Headline included, Goldberg started as shown:

GOLDBERG (4/5/22): Why Are Seemingly Functional Adults Falling for the ‘Furries’ Myth?

A Nebraska state senator, Bruce Bostelman, last month warned of an alarming new variety of deviance making its way into the state’s schools. “It’s something called furries,” he said. Schoolchildren, Bostelman claimed, were identifying as cats or dogs. “They meow and they bark.” And educators, indulging them, “are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use,” said Bostelman.

Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true. Bostelman later apologized for spreading falsehoods, saying, “It was just something I felt that if this really was happening, we needed to address it and address it quickly.”

What interests me is why he thought this was really happening, and not just in decadent enclaves like New York City or San Francisco, but in his own Midwestern backyard.

Apparently, Bostelman really believed that teachers might be setting out litter boxes for kids who identify as cats and dogs. Goldberg wanted to know why a "seemingly functional adult" could have believed such a thing.

She went on to offer specific theories, starting with the influence of social media. We think she was making a type of category error, blowing past a basic fact:

We humans aren't super-rational after all. Simply put, we don't have the greatest analytical powers. 

According to experts, we humans believe the craziest things as a basic matter of course. Simply put, this is simply one of the things we fallible humans do.

For our money, Goldberg went on to make two additional moves in her column. One of her moves was thoroughly sharp. One of her moves perhaps wasn't.

In the move which made perfect sense, Goldberg linked certain current beliefs about sexuality and identity issues all the way back to the preschool panic attacks of the 1980s. You can sample her reasoning here:

GOLDBERG: The deeper question is why apparently functional adults find these outrĂ© suburban legends plausible. My theory is this: The current freakout over sex and gender identity in schools is a generational conflict, one driven in large part by older adults’ fear and bafflement at the sexual mores of the young.

The “satanic panic” of the 1980s, a frenzy of accusations of ritual child abuse that resulted in the conviction of dozens of innocent people, was driven in part by deep anxiety over working women and day care. Four decades later, the country is once again in a moral panic about monstrous things being done to children, with teachers and entertainers accused of “grooming” them for abuse. And once again, it’s driven in large part by unease over rapidly changing gender roles and norms.

It's true. We've had waves of crazy belief and behavior in this general realm dating back at least to the crazy (and tragic) preschool cases of the 1980s. 

Goldberg was right to see that link. In our view, she was wrong to suggest, as we think she may have done, that these attacks of moral panic have constantly come from the right.

In the "satanic panic" attacks concerning imagined preschool sexual abuse, a great deal of the lunatic conduct came from individuals and groups from our own side of the aisle. It was social workers and child therapists, along with the standard ambitious prosecutors, who threw innocent people in jail and threw away the keys.

The beliefs and behaviors were deeply insane. They often came from Us and from our allies. 

(One major player was Scott Harshbarger, who ended up as the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts in 1998. See below.)

We liberals are strongly inclined to believe that all such crazy behavior and ideation comes from The Others—from crazies on the right. Plenty of that is going on now, but it may not always be so. 

We expect to explore this general topic next week. For today, we'll leave it at this:

It's natural to picture it that way, but it ain't necessarily so.

She won the Pulitzer Prize: Eventually, Dorothy Rabinowitz won a Pulitzer Prize for her tireless writing about the (imagined) preschool sex abuse scandals of the 1980s.

The conduct was baldly insane, and it went on for years. For her account of the Bay State's insane and tragic Amirault case, click here and then keep clicking. (Amazingly, Violet Amirault ended up dying in prison.)

It's all anthropology now. We told you that years ago.

We humans believe the darnedest things. Especially at times of social dislocation and tribal conflict, this inclination is hard to control.


  1. "Perhaps needless to say, none of this was true."

    Wait, but is a dembot says that something isn't true, then we know, with absolute certainty, that it is true.

    ...not that we care that 'educators' "are wanting to put litter boxes in the schools for the children to use", but just to keep things clear and logical...

  2. With the lunacy of Qanon being relatively widespread amongst conservatives (Ginni Thomas, for example), it is hard to find an analogous belief amongst liberals.

    And it seems misleading to suggest that the actions of a (possibly) overzealous prosecutor like Harshbarger represent (or represented) the beliefs of large numbers of liberals.

    And after so many posts telling his readers that conservatives “have a point” in their current concerns/rampages about schools, here he seems to agree with Goldberg’s characterization: “Goldberg was right to see that link.” (She is discussing the “current freakout over sex and gender identity”. Don’t they just have different values in those Midwestern states, as Somerby has told us, and who are we to force our progressive views on them?)

    Also, it doesn’t explain anything to simply say “We humans aren't super-rational after all.” when trying to examine the source of specific types of beliefs, some of which may not actually be completely irrational.

    1. No, and the fact that Bob's sneaky claim that both sides are equal is only sustained by his disinterest in looking at the likes of Ginny.
      It is fair to note that the satanic ritual abuse, day care center stories were not a right wing debacle, per say. Oprah, not a conservative figure, was a big booster, and Katha Pollit (who later apologized) was somehow a believer).
      In terms of nuts, Michelle Goldberg and other feminists tried to have it both ways on fruitcake Jaunita Broaddrick, an obvious nut ( I don't truck with supposed sexual assault victims who berate other sexual assault victims) whose tall tales have been treated as gospel by the liberal media. Indeed, She insisted a shun Bill Clinton for life, I have taken the wiser choice and shunned Goldberg. She went a long way in helping elect Trump.
      Whatever. Bob is correct, I have different values than Marjorie Taylor Greene.

    2. I love women.

    3. There are politically motivated people who use any fruitcake accusation against Bill Clinton as an excuse to persecute him. They shouldn't be considered to actually believe the accusations when they are acting on political motives. How do you know they are acting on political motives? Look at their positions on other political issues and look at whether the accusations were debunked. This isn't rocket science.

      @5:26 -- Do they love you back?

    4. Well, Anon at 5:54, you cannot know for certain. I can make certain assumptions from talking to a lot of progressives, but you can't know what's in someone's heart. Many of the women who wanted Hillary elected the MOST were willing, at best, to look the other way at slanders of her husband.
      Or they thought he deserved it because he was
      not always a faithful husband. This is pretty
      garden variety human stupidity, but it contributed a lot, in my opinion, to send Trump to
      the White House.

    5. According to this:

      54% of women voted for Hillary and 52% of men voted for Trump. 98% of black women voted for Hillary and 68% of Hispanic women. College grads voted for Hillary in very large numbers compared to non-grads.

      I doubt women considered Bill Clinton at all in making their decisions. There were too many other important issues, and Trump himself would have outweighed Bill Clinton's transgressions, especially so long after the events. Slanders against Bill were largely irrelevant by 2016.

      White women tended to support Trump by 47-45%. This lends weight to the theory that white voters were affected by Trump's racist appeal.

      The Edison national poll has similar results:

      "So, what exactly happened? Women did vote overwhelmingly to elect Clinton, but it was white women who helped hand Trump the presidency, according to Edison national election poll. Overall, 54% of women voted for Clinton, much higher than the 42% of women who voted for Trump. But when the women’s vote is divided by race, it becomes clear that black women actually largely drove the so-called gender gap against Trump.

      The majority of non-college educated white women (64%) voted for Trump, while 35% backed Clinton. This figure is far higher than non-college educated black women, of which only 3% voted for Trump, and non-college educated Hispanic women, of which 25% voted for Trump. Black, Hispanic and other non-white women backed Clinton in far greater numbers."

    6. "98% of black women voted for Hillary"

      We don't know what these "black wimmin" you speak of are, but we do know one thing: if we're told that 98% of X voted for Y then it's fraud, 100%.

    7. It was a poll, asshole. Follow the link.

      What if I tell you that 98% of people fall within two standard deviations of the mean. Is that fraud too?

      You have no idea what you are talking about.

    8. There was also a poll, dear dembot, where Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader, was elected by all 100% of the population. Not a single vote against.

      Your dembot poll is the same sort of thing.

      Oh, and please shove your standard deviations right into your virtuous adorable ass.

    9. Mao,
      Such salty language. Your job, trolling on the internet for the Establishment Elite, is starting to affect your usual brainless and cheery attitude.

    10. For the sake of Mao's own mental health, he should step away from his high paying job, and let someone else troll for the Establishment.

  3. "We humans aren't super-rational after all. Simply put, we don't have the greatest analytical powers."

    The concept of rationality was developed specifically for humans. If we are not rational, animals certainly aren't, and computers cannot even approximate human decision-making capabilities or general problem solving. So who is rational if humans are not? No one.

    Somerby may think that he alone is the last rational human on the planet. Earth to Somerby, you are not.

    Somerby doesn't even understand that human rationality is embedded in context. He doesn't know what that statement means. He routinely ignores context and expects humans to reason like Aristotle or computers, neither of which comes anywhere close to how people think. And because of rationality operates within context, we are optimized for the situations in which we find ourselves. And that means that our rationality works best to further our survival.

    But Somerby knows nothing about human cognition because he is not really interested in it at all. He is only interested in bashing liberals and one way he does that is by calling us irrational, so that he can tear down the things that are important to us. And that makes Somerby a propagandist for the right wing and a huge asshole.

  4. "a great deal of the lunatic conduct came from individuals and groups from our own side of the aisle"

    Is this accurate, or misleading? In the case Somerby highlights, it was a Republican governor that refused to commute the sentence of the seemingly wrongly convicted pre school teachers. In the case that started it all, the Kern County case, it was a Republican prosecutor. In fact, in most of the cases it was right wing parents, right wing culture (evangelicals, etc) and Republican prosecutors pushing the hysteria.

    This hysteria trend was reversed by our side, by the social workers, therapists, defense attorneys, and journalists that Somerby excoriates. Somerby's narrative just does not hold up.

    Somerby praises Goldberg's insight about anxiety over working women, but this is just cribbed from Wikipedia, which sources studies done decades ago. This anxiety is a surface level cause, root causes likely lie in the realm of unresolved childhood trauma, which can alter the brain, resulting in the smaller front cortex and larger amygdala that manifests in right wingers. So actually Goldberg's second "move", which she does not state, but Somerby infers, is based on evidence, unlike Somerby's endless nonsense.

    1. There are quite of lot of liberal sex panics too. McMartin Preschool was one, as was the later Miramonte case, where the teacher was wrongly accused of having photos of sex parties with students.

      You know what those photos were, that kicked off the whole Miramonte insanity? They were of an exercise from the old California fourth-grade sensory deprivation unit, where the kids would be blindfolded and fed yogurt and have Creepy Crawlers dropped on them to show how perceptions can change without eyesight. A CVS drugstore turned him in for suspected child abuse and the nuttiness commenced.

      Sex parties? Semen, and cockroaches?

      It was insane, and it was led by crusading liberal types in the media and elsewhere.

  5. "In the "satanic panic" attacks concerning imagined preschool sexual abuse, a great deal of the lunatic conduct came from individuals and groups from our own side of the aisle. It was social workers and child therapists, along with the standard ambitious prosecutors, who threw innocent people in jail and threw away the keys."

    The evidence of child abuse came from flawed procedures used to question young children, combined with a belief that naive children cannot lie about such things. Stephen Ceci and Maggi Bruck examined the problems with these procedures in his book on children's courtroom testimony.

    Supporting those mistaken approaches with children, in which questioners suggested the answers to youngsters in an excess of zeal, were so-called recovered memories of childhood abuse by adults, who claimed to have been sexually molested decades after the crimes were alleged to have occurred. These memories happened for reasons of suggestibility, often during hypnosis which induces suggestibility, by therapists asking leading questions. The belief in their veracity again arose because therapist and others refused to believe that anyone could makeup such realistic and embellished "memories" and the pain of the victims was very real. Therapists were protective of accusations against their clients that they might be faking, but refused to acknowledge that they might have developed false memories they believed to be real and experienced as real.

    Elizabeth Loftus studied the formation of such false memories and the questioning techniques that might produce them. It took more than a decade for the psychological science, therapeutic community and forensic procedures to catch up to this problem and change their approaches, but the original approaches, while mistaken, were not "insane" or "crazy."

    Unfortunately, not everyone in our society caught up with the changes in understanding of how these false accusations of pedophilia, satanism and other abuse arose. There may be a fringe that still believes in this stuff. Beyond that, the accusations themselves attract a lot of attention to unstable individuals and they evoke strong emotions that will motivate support for political causes. THAT lesson was learned during the 80s too.

    Somerby lack of sophistication and historical context may lead him to call this crazy, but there are cynical con artists who prey on fears related to children, and others who are using this to make a name or generated funding. He should be recognizing that such people exist, not labeling everyone crazy -- which is a huge copout and not true.

    It is not OK to be ignorant about this problem of false belief facing our society. Somerby needs to clean up his act.

    1. Those in the police and DA's office who questioned children were not likely to be liberals. Some therapists are liberals and some are not. Same with social workers, although those in the child welfare community may be more conservatives than those who work on other issues related to families and communities.

      The right wing adopted the true believers over time while the left stuck up for science, supporting people like Elizabeth Loftus, who got death threats and required security to protect her from extremists.

      This didn't start out as a political issue but it became one over time, and those who Somerby might characterize as crazy were supported by the right, not "those in our tribe" -- presumably liberals.

      Elizabeth Loftus was thrown out of the American Psychological Association (the therapeutic branch of psychology) but welcomed by the Association for Psychological Science, the research branch of psychology. She was supported by her Department at the University of Washington, but left because of the atmosphere among her colleagues, and welcomed by the University of California at Irvine, where she continued her research in forensic psychology and psychology of the law.

    2. Bob's talking about the later MSNBC sex panics, such as those over Al Franken.

      I knew many liberals in L.A. by the way who were freaked out about the McMartin's supposed guilt. They were like rabid dogs.

  6. Here, dear Bob, is something for those future anthropologists living in the cave inside your head:


  7. There were no tunnels beneath the McMartin Preschool, just as there was no basement under Clinton's supposed pizza parlor. But back in the time period when such accusations were being investigated, it would be political or career suicide to ignore what children were saying and not investigate. Once that decision was made to question the children, the procedures guaranteed false responses. It wasn't that investigators manufactured evidence. It was that they didn't understand that children of a certain age will say "yes" to any question, and that leading questions will produce false answers. This is true for adults too but more so with children. Children can and do lie, but they also will answer questions affirmatively because they think adults want them to. If you ask a child to point to a place on a doll and the child doesn't understand the question, they will still point to someplace on that doll. If they point to an anatomically correct doll's privates and the investigator shows some response, children will repeat that gesture. Without understanding how children respond to questioning, it is easy for investigators to get things wrong without knowing that they are biasing the responses of the kids. This is why investigators need training and today, mostly get it.

    If Somerby is trying to evaluate who to believe about what based on journalistic criteria, he is wandering in the dark. This is a complex topic and he manifestly knows nothing about it. Just like he knows nothing about Ketanji Brown Jackson's law credentials but is willing to take the word of Josh Hawley about them.

    I don't blame someone who mistakenly believes a Tara Reade when she first makes allegations. If they still believe her after investigation, they are acting like fools. Many of the feminists believed her because women do get abused and then their accusations get swept under the carpet (e.g., Anita Hill). If they continue to believe unlikely assertions after investigation, then they are fair game for criticism, in my opinion. But I don't believe that is what happened with most of the women who called for investigation. I think they believed the evidence at that point. Just as many of those who believed the children at first, learned how to evaluate their testimony later on and got wiser about how to investigate such claims.

    Somerby is not among such people, in my opinion. He seems to have avoided learning anything at all about how people think or why they believe mistaken things, so he says idiotic things on a regular basis. That is harmful to efforts to support truth in today's confusing times.

    1. Pizzagate was not investigated, nor did a child
      come forward to say there was something to it.
      It was pure myth. The McMartin case is a little
      more complicated than that, and started with an
      emotionally trouble parent making a false

    2. And Trump gave polling data to the KGB who used it to microtarget swing states.

    3. I was in L.A. back then. Trust me, the local media and the prosecutors manufactured evidence in McMartin. Bigtime.

      They did the same thing in the later Miramonte Elementary School case, another travesty. They turned a regular fourth-grade lesson in sensory perception into a sex party.

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  9. Somerby needs to clear the spam out of his blog again.