There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it. ~ William James.
When you want to believe something is true, often you look for the validation of numbers to make the case for your argument.
After all, the more someone says something, and the more people add their voice to the chorus of that belief, eventually it has to be true, right?
No smoke without fire, and all that.
The problem is, if we subscribe to that line of thinking, then pretty much anything can be true, absurd or not.
You only have to look at the popularity of Donald Trump in the U.S. Presidental race to see how that logic bears out and is lapped up by those eager to replace research with revisionism.
And that’s a dangerous place to be.
Sweeping Statements as Pieces of Fact
Over on Facebook, I got involved in a discussion following the posting of the meme below.
One of the commenter’s on the meme came back with this counter-argument:
Second highest rape rate in the world now thanks to Syrian refugees, which might be a lot less if guns were in citizens hands.
Now, this isn’t the first time this argument has been used. The growing right-wing parties in Europe are using such language of fear as their rallying cry to stop refugees coming into their country.
Add that to the recent terror attacks on France and Germany, and you can maybe see why there’s such fear of non-European immigrants/refugees.
But that would be to miss a very important fact, especially when it comes to the meme in question, and the commenter’s statement that Sweden is suffering from a rape epidemic engendered by Syrian refugees.
It’s true – Sweden has one of the highest reported rape incidences in the world and bears the unenviable title of rape capital of Europe.
Sweden has also been one of the leading European countries when it comes to receiving refugees, with 153,000 in 2015 alone.
So, for anyone looking to connect dots and blame refugees for the Swedish rape crisis, the correlation is right there.
Except it’s not.
[clickToTweet tweet=”We can make the biggest lie seem true when we use biased versions of the truth. #groupthink” quote=”We can make the biggest lie seem true when we use biased versions of the truth. “]
The reason for Sweden having the highest reported rape incidence can be traced back to 2005 when Sweden’s Social Democratic government introduced a new sex-crime law that defined rape with the most expansive definition in the world.
For example, if a work colleague rubbed against you in an unwanted way every week for a year, this would potentially be a case of sexual assault in Canada. In Germany, it would be zero cases.
In Sweden, it would be tallied as 52 separate cases of rape.
If you enjoyed six sex acts with your spouse, then later you felt you had not given consent, that would be seen as separate six cases of rape.
While the law was (rightly) changed to protect women and encourage them to come forward and report rape more, as opposed to being fearful of how they were treated, it’s led to a skewed ratio being used as statistical data.
Following the change in the law, reports of rape doubled through to 2009.
However, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention reported no indications of an increase in the actual number of people who fell victims to sexual crimes between 2005-2008.
Instead, what wasn’t classed as rape before 2005 – and now was – was being reported.
Now, it’s clear that Sweden has an issue with sexual crime. But to say it’s all down to “the Syrian refugees”…. not so much.
The Ignorance of Groupthink
The problem with generalizations is that it often – arguably, always – misses the bigger picture, one that tells a far different story.
Take the crime of kidnapping, for example. If I were to ask you which countries had the highest rates of kidnap, you may reply with somewhere from South America.
Given the drug wars in that part of the world, you might think it’s a safe bet to suggest Mexico or Colombia.
But what if I told you the highest rates of kidnap were in Canada and Australia? Yes, Canada – the country that defines friendliness.
However, much like the reason behind Sweden’s rape stats, the reasons for Canada and Australia’s “kidnapping crisis” comes down to the definition.
If a separated/divorced parent takes a child for the weekend, and the other parent objects then calls the police, that’s classified as a kidnapping.
That’s right – a parent can change their mind on weekend access, and the child’s other parent is now classified the same as a drug cartel warlord.
And people use these “damning statistics” to further their argument and promote their own agenda – and we let them!
Thanks to social media, and the ease in which we can find a statistic that supports our point of view, we no longer feel the need to validate that point of view with actual facts.
Instead, we beat down the other point of view with increasing hostility and even more questionable facts until the lines have been so blurred, the truth no longer matters.
When generalization and popular opinion trumps (no pun intended) context and singular research, we fall just a little closer to history becoming a blinkered version of the truth.
Something only a certain section of humanity could ever celebrate.
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. ~ Joseph Goebbels.