Monday, July 05, 2010

The Unwitting Dissemination of Error

Terri over at Wheat Among Tares has put up The Unwitting Dissemination of Error, concerning a letter falsely believed to have been sent from Ben Franklin to Thomas Paine about the latter's Common Sense.
Time and again, I found this letter described as being written to Paine. I found it on quasi-religious, patriotic sites accompanied by self-satisfied commentary that Paine was buried in a field because no American cemetery would take his blasphemous body. I found it on sites declaring that they were supplying primary source documents. I found it on Wikipedia's article on Benjamin Franklin. I found it on an atheist forum.
Franklin's reasoning, that religion is good for the mass of men to keep them from wild misbehavior, has a long history. Many of the Greek philosophers assiduously attended the civic religious celebrations of gods they no longer fully believed in, because they felt the peace and order of the city was an enormous moral good. Confuscianism has a similar focus on civil harmony.

Terri found it harder to get to the truth than one might think.

BTW, I would guess that she composed her title after reading through all the 18th C material. I find myself doing the same thing, moving toward the style of speech or writing of who I am currently reading. Great fun when it's Wodehouse or Doyle.


David Foster said...

"religion is good for the mass of men to keep them from wild misbehavior"...a variant of this is that idea that religion is necessary for the mass of men to keep them from existential despair, with or without the wild misbehavior. Arthur Koestler, himself no traditional religious behavior, explores this theme at length in his forgotten philosophical novel "The Age of Longing." You might enjoy (though I'm not sure that's the right word in this context) my review/essay on this book, which is here.

terri said...

BTW, I would guess that she composed her title after reading through all the 18th C material

heh...actually I thought of the title first...but definitely after reading everything. I hate trying to come up with titles. I don't have a talent for it. They usually fall flat. was Paine's, The Age of Reason that was supposed to be the impetus for this letter, not Common Sense.

Gringo said...

A Romanian connection of interest, which you most likely already knew, but I did not, from Strategy Page:

The [Iranian] government has successfully adopted a population control method developed by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia; adolescent auxiliaries for the secret police. Since the late 1990s, the Basij (the reservist organization of the Revolutionary Guard, the separate armed forces of the clerics running the government) has been establishing units in schools, for children of all ages. Using games, toys and popular children's activities, the kids are indoctrinated into Basij ideology (radical Islam, including the joys of being a suicide bomber). The Basij recruiters have found that their best prospects are from poor or broken families (including orphans.) This was the Nazi and Soviet experience. The Romanian communist government did best at this, with their secret police (the Securitati) forming much feared units of these orphans. Recruits were selected young, and raised to be remorseless and savage operatives. Iran is looking for plain clothes agents, who can terrorize reform minded students, and civilians in general. In the last few years, more and more of these Basij operatives, now adults, have been leading the fight against reform minded Iranians.