When Paulphecy Fails

In the classic 1956 work When Prophecy Fails, social psychologists study a reclusive UFO cult in Chicago. When its doomsday prophecy fails to come true, the group suddenly seeks publicity and converts. The study is about cognitive dissonance and it leads you to adopt a seemingly paradoxical conclusion about human behavior: the less a group believes in something the more they proselytize. The theory is that people need a new group of believers either to comfort them in their loss, or, perhaps, to give social proof to refute their doubts.

So, when a candidate attracts a group of mostly young, mostly secular, and mostly white and male people into a years’ long affair, you start to wonder. The reason shouldn’t be that surprising. Whatever else it may be, our public schools teach an ideological history, especially of America. American history is seen as a clash of ideals. Sure, this is partly true, but this is mostly left unexamined. Did these ideals deliver on their promises? Were there ulterior motives for preaching them? This kind of critical thinking is not well presented.

So, your typical butthurt dweller type left without a regular religion adopts a kind of worship of the free market, which promises its followers relief from the unfair oppression of social interactions where their “intelligence” isn’t rewarded with friends, sex, or followers. If only society would break down to this level, a messianic age of no wars, a strong economy, and a recognition of the Galts of this country would dawn.

And of course today, their prophet is Ron Paul. The first dissonance you have to deal with is that Paul is a Republican. This does not fit with the “rules don’t apply to me” speeding-in-a-school-zone and doing-coke-in-the-privacy-of-my-own-home ethos of the typical young Jedi libertarian. But they just decide he’s a maverick, even if he does vote for John Boehner for Speaker.

For the most part, as long as Paul remains a fringe candidate, this is just fine. They can exchange apropos quotes and dream about the future where reading comic books will get you all the chicks in technoutopia.

But once Paul began to rise in the polls, the media turned its gaze on his record. The Prophet was pretty quickly revealed to be a false one, and this was a critical moment. If you remain true to the religion of free markets and “liberty,” how could you support this man, who, ended up being a standard Republican after all, just of the 1920s type? With a nasty touch of Bircher and white supremacist too! Race and sexuality aren’t supposed to play into the perfect Logos of the Free Market!

Those who believed in the religion more than the Prophet would abandon him on this evidence, but that wasn’t to be with most. Instead, attacks on the character of the reporters, the witnesses, and other outright denials ensued. Articles started pouring forth on how and why Paul will win the election, why he is the best candidate in the modern era (best as in campaigner, not as in best ideas) despite the fact that Mitt Romney has just about sewn the GOP nomination up as of the date that article was written.

It’s a painful thing to believe in something so much and to see it as a salve for the pain of your life and times to break down as a lie. But, for those who seem to think “logic” and “intelligence” should play such a great role in things, they are utterly human after all and subject to the same psychological quirks as the rest of us.

Ron Paul will be forgotten, but I doubt his psuedo-religion of libertarian delusion is going away any time soon, partly because it will never been falsifiable in its “pure” state, but partly because it’s conclusions have been falsified over and over again, giving even more fervor to its believers.