In 1954, Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife, announced she had been receiving messages from outer space telling her the Western Hemisphere would be destroyed by a flood on Dec. 21. The messages came from a being called Sananda, who assured Dorothy the true believers would be rescued by a flying saucer just before midnight the night before the flood. Dorothy first tried to get the word out to save as many people as possible, but in September, her small group, called the “Seekers,” shut down all outside communications. Many quit their jobs, left their spouses and gave away their money and possessions. Per Sananda’s instructions, they removed all metal from their clothes.
On Dec. 20, 20 or so people crowded into Dorothy’s home to await Sananda. The clock struck midnight. No visitor. One Seeker noticed a second clock showed only 11:55 p.m. The Seekers reached a consensus that it was not yet midnight.
When even the slow clock showed 12:10 a.m., one guy put on his hat and went home. Perhaps he thought he could get his job and wife back. The rest stayed, in stunned silence.
A little after 4 a.m., Dorothy got another message. The disaster had been called off. The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God saved the world from destruction.
The next afternoon, the group called newspapers, friends, anybody who will listen, to spread their message. Their single, most important prediction had proven blindingly obviously false, but their reaction was renewed vigor and belief.
Sound familiar? For 50 years, our government dispersed our military to every corner of the globe, whether the locals wanted us there or not. Resentment grew, and that resentment grew into a movement. One of its results was the hideous terrorist attack on 9/11, in clear retaliation to our unjustified imperialism. What was our response? More troops to countries entirely unaffiliated with the 9/11 attackers.
For almost a century, our government has controlled the value of money through the central bank. Inflation has ravished the dollar. Regulations and guarantees only encouraged reckless risks. In the Great Depression, much as in the past few years, the mistakes of centralized economic planning became obvious. What was our response? More centralized economic planning.
A few years ago, a campaign called Earth Hour started with feeble support. The intent was to have people switch off electricity in their homes and businesses to make a point about the environment. In the last year, global warming has been shown to be fraudulent and simply wrong, as proof came that scientists essentially fabricated evidence. It’s clear the effects of humans on the environment is negligible. But Earth Hour founder Andy Ridley said recently the movement has only grown. The environmentalists reacted just as the cult did to the exposé of the myth: spread the word. This year, a thousand landmarks and the offices of many global companies across 300,000 cities in over 100 countries darkened for Earth Hour.
Why does this happen? We actually know why, because three psychologists infiltrated the Seekers, testing what was then a new theory of cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling you get from holding conflicting ideas. The psychologists predicted that when the aliens failed to come, those who had invested the most in being rescued would strengthen their resolve.
Five conditions must be met for someone to become a more fervent believer after disconfirmation. First, the belief must be held with deep conviction. Second, the person must have made substantial commitment, the more irreversible the better. Third, the belief must be such that events could refute it. Fourth, the undeniable evidence must occur. And fifth, most importantly, the person must know others who support the idea.
Fanatics can’t be reasoned with. If our government is like Dorothy, we are in trouble; even though the rest of the cult eventually dispersed, she continued to act as a channel for Sananda until her death. But perhaps we can draw inspiration from her husband. He never supported Dorothy’s visions. On the eve before the cataclysm, he slept soundly through the night.
This article originally appeared in the Fairfield Weekly.
Dr. Phil Maymin [send him mail] is an Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free Your Inner Yankee and Yankee Wake Up.