Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Public forum to discuss questions about Mormon history and doctrine.
Post Reply
User avatar
jmb275
Posts: 507
Joined: 28 Apr 2009, 11:31

Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by jmb275 » 18 May 2009, 00:34

From the book review thread (edit: with regard to "Under the Banner of Heaven"):
Heber13 wrote:but wouldn't recommend it as a way to find truth.
This is an interesting statement. What would you recommend? Ray said:
Ray Degraw wrote:Krakauer wrote the book in order to prove something he assumed and built his evidence specifically to prove his assumption. It really isn't more complicated than that.
Who doesn't? Admittedly some people do a better job than others of being fair and balanced, but this same thing could be said about RSR (or just about every other church history book).

Here's my take on this problem generally. It is obvious that everyone has a bias. We could spend all eternity trying to find a perfectly fair and balanced view of church history (or any subject for that matter), but we still wouldn't find one. Personally, I believe in reading as much as I can, and taking an average. This goes back to the ideas of what makes good group decisions. Many cognitively diverse opinions, independently seeking for the truth will, on average, produce the correct answer. So I try to read as many books as I can (within reason), wading through the nonsense, and taking an average of the opinions. One needs to be able to distinguish faulty arguments, and bad logic, including "Black Swans," and one also needs to learn to distinguish personal bias from historical fact.

Incidentally, couldn't something similar be said about the church's correlated teachings of church history? Specifically that they "wrote the book in order to prove something [they] assumed and built [their] evidence specifically to prove [their] assumption." But we're (or at least TBMs) not claiming that it's not a good way to find truth. In fact, quite the opposite! Seems a bit one-sided to me.
I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priestcraft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women--all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there.
- Joseph Smith, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304)

Curt Sunshine
Site Admin
Posts: 16012
Joined: 21 Oct 2008, 20:24

Re: Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by Curt Sunshine » 18 May 2009, 08:47

I know this is going to sound a bit . . . contradictory . . . but the difference in my mind is in the motivation behind writing something.

I expect something published by an organization to be "faith-promoting" and positive. For example, I don't expect Sam Walton's authorized biography to go into great detail about the views of those who hate Wal-Mart, blame it for the collapse of the mom and pop grocery store and view it as the great corporate Satan ("Voldemart"). I don't expect Al Gore to publish a nuanced and balanced piece on the cost-benefit analysis of implementing radical environmental standards. (Don't take that as a position on either side of that issue. It's not; it's just an example of an emotional issue today.) I expect the "party line" in both cases - efforts to present the white-washed, cleanest version possible.

Negative analysis ("criticism"), otoh, should be held to a higher standard, since such writings are much like legal charges. When someone attacks integrity or claims some kind of extreme or sinister motive, the burden of proof is on them - and it simply is not good legalism or journalism to ignore vast amounts of evidence when serious accusations are being made. (A prosecutor who uncovers evidence that would clear the defendant but ignores it is subject to sanction and official discipline for good reason.) Unlike the courtroom, in the publication of a book there is no defense attorney to counter the prosecution's charges in real time - so I believe there is an increased burden on the one making the charges to present both sides - at least to the extent that there is compelling reason to question or doubt the central assertion. If there is compelling reason to not reach the author's conclusion, I believe the author has the moral obligation to disclose it - or, at the very least, to mention it in passing as a concern.

The best example of this in Krakauer's book is the fact that there is no long, unbroken string of violence associated with the LDS Church in isolation and most LDS members. There was a lot of violence in the early days, prior to the exodus to the Utah Territory - but that certainly wasn't all the fault of the church members, and it wasn't even extreme within the time and location. (and it actually wasn't extreme when it comes to historical religious conflict) Frontier violence was common, religiously based or not. The Mountain Meadows Massacre was an anomaly - horrendous, but not the norm by any stretch of the imagination. The Lafferty brothers, Mark Hoffman and other individually violent members certainly are not the norm in the modern church. They are the exceptions that prove the rule, frankly, and yet Krakauer tried to use them as examples of the norm. To do that fairly, he should have disclosed openly that there were other examples outside Mormonism and religion at large that were just as egregious and violent (more so, actually) - and that a better proposition would be that religion doesn't eliminate violence entirely - that it can be used as a justification, but that it requires a perversion of the norm to do so. If that had been his thesis, I would have little problem with the book.

Again, I know it sounds like a bit of a double standard, and I really hate double standards, but there really is an important difference in intent and purpose when it comes to organizational publications and things written to attack them - and that difference establishes important variations in the criteria used to judge them.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

User avatar
Orson
Site Admin
Posts: 2252
Joined: 22 Oct 2008, 14:44

Re: Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by Orson » 18 May 2009, 14:39

jmb, you certainly have a valid point about bias. I don't think anyone will disagree with that, Bushman has said very similar things.

Well said Ray, I hadn't thought about it just that way before.
My avatar - both physical and spiritual.

I first found faith, and thought I had all truth. I then discovered doubt, and claimed a more accurate truth. Now I’ve greeted paradox and a deeper truth than I have ever known.

User avatar
Heber13
Posts: 6877
Joined: 22 Apr 2009, 16:37
Location: In the Middle

Re: Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by Heber13 » 22 May 2009, 12:07

Well said, Ray. How the author presents the intent of the book is important. He tried to present it as he has no agenda and just wants to let facts speak for themselves, but then the book went the route Ray explained and didn't paint a fair or unbalanced opinion.

I see the same problem with newspapers sometimes. If they claim to just be reporting facts, then they should keep bias out of it. But many allow too much bias to slant the news they report, and they get reputations for it that hurt their credibility to be unbiased.

If the newspaper openly admits it will report with an agenda to sell more newspapers, or Krakauer presented his work differently, it wouldn't have bothered me so much. I guess it bothers me because my boss recommended it and after reading it I thought he, and others like him who know little of the church, will be unjustly presented with the wrong image of the church in our day.

Like Hawkgrrrl said, it is like the Da Vinci code explaining catholocism, except presented as a documentary instead of Hollywood entertainment.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

User avatar
Brian Johnston
Site Admin
Posts: 3486
Joined: 22 Oct 2008, 06:17
Location: Washington DC

Re: Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by Brian Johnston » 28 May 2009, 10:52

Here is a way to look at the Krakauer book with a different lense. Sorry if this is a little on the edge, but replace the mormon culture in "Under the Banner of Heaven" with a racial minority in the U.S. and write the same book. That makes it shocking and socially unacceptable. I think that accentuates the flaws of his style of writing that particular book more. Religion just happens to be an "acceptable" target these days.

Imagine if the book were about two brothers who were of ________ (fill in the blank, doesn't really matter) ancestry. They were extremist and dangerously mentally ill. They commit murders and other crimes. Now we can see from that all people of the ___________ group are one step away from doing the same thing. All they need is a simple trigger. That is why __________ are so dangerous. BEWARE! (fear and sensationalism to sell books).

See? That same story with a different cast of characters violates the senses and social decency of most good people. Krakauer filled in the blank with "Mormons." He did a brief and amatuer summary of some controversial history, that is all found better in his original sources. His book isn't a good study of Mormonism or religion in general. It is a tabloid-like novel. That is what he does -- writes adventure stories based on reality (his other books). I have no problem with his other books, like the one about climbing Mount Everest. I didn't read it, but i've heard from several people it is very good.
"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone." -John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, speaking of experiencing life.

User avatar
Heber13
Posts: 6877
Joined: 22 Apr 2009, 16:37
Location: In the Middle

Re: Using the wisdom of the crowd...so to speak!

Post by Heber13 » 28 May 2009, 15:56

Religion just happens to be an "acceptable" target these days.
Valoel, I agree with your review, and wonder why it seems acceptable to go after mormons like that when other groups wouldn't tolerate such a thing.

Unfortunately, my boss at work that recommended the book to me has a tainted view or mormonism now.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

Post Reply