Bret Colvin and his turtle – photo Miles Bryan of Wyoming Public Radio
Bret Colvin is prejudiced. We all are, to a certain extent, and it’s partly a survival mechanism. If you don’t learn to recognize potential dangers by doing some internal “profiling” in your mind, you could get killed. And it works, so long as your prejudices have some rational basis. Bret Colvin’s do not. Bret is afraid of Muslims he has never met. This is a stupid kind of fear to have because virtually any Muslim he’s likely to meet will pose no more danger to him than any non-Muslim would. I’d even say it’s highly likely that anyone he meets who does pose a danger to him will do so for reasons that have nothing to do with Islam. He’s in Wyoming, FFS. There aren’t a lot of Muslims to fear there in the first place. In fact, the mosque that got him so worried he started a Facebook page called “Stop Islam in Gillette” is only the third mosque in the entire state of Wyoming. And it was started so that members of one particular family would have a place to freely exercise their First Amendment right to practice the religion of their choice. They hope to save enough money to build a new mosque (this one is a regular house, converted for their purposes) to which they would welcome Muslims from other areas. It’s the American dream from before there was an America built on consumerism (in violation of the Ten Commandments.) In response to Bret’s FB page, another FB page was started called Save Islam in Gillette.
Since then, Bret has changed the name of his FB page to “Stop Forced Syrian Immigration to Gillette.” (Maybe the little chat he had with one of the mosque’s founders convinced him to refocus his hate and ignorance.) His concern now is, “Well, I don’t want Jihadis in my neighborhood.” Is that a rational fear? Of course not! Why not? Well, for one thing, Wyoming is the only one of our 50 states that does not have a refugee resettlement program. Which means that when the federal government eventually finishes its extensive background checks and interviews with refugee applicants some 18-24 months from now, they won’t get settled in Wyoming. I’m guessing Bret is totally unaware of the procedure for Syrian immigrants to apply for refugee status and resettlement in the US. The fact that Bret is a YUGE Donald Trump supporter makes me certain he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to immigrants, refugees, and terrorism in general. He’s not the only one with that problem.
According to a NYT survey, a lot of people have a misguided fear of terrorism. Which brings me to a second point on which I’d like to rant – public opinion polling. I am thoroughly convinced (okay, maybe there’s a teeny, tiny chance my mind can be changed in this, but I’d be surprised if the right evidence and facts could be shown me to convince me I’m wrong) that public opinion polling in America is pure bullshit, and there are several reasons for this. It’s not the mathematics themselves, just their application to poll results. Statistical analysis is fine when you’re analyzing actual facts or events that have actually happened. For example, by analyzing the time of day at which people actually had heart attacks, you can come up with the day of the week and time of day at which you’re most likely to have a heart attack. (I believe this was done once and the answer was Monday mornings.) And that’s fine and it’s valid and it makes sense because it’s based on actual facts. But if a bunch of inaccurate days and times were thrown into the results, would the final number really have any meaning? Could you point to this analysis and be confident with the result if you knew a bunch of lies and misinformation were factored into the final number? Opinions are not facts. And worse still, opinions based on lies and misinformation are less than worthless. And that’s what public opinion polls are often based on – lies and misinformation.
For example, suppose I’m an idiot who believes leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves are all real and plotting together to take over the Earth from humans any day now through violent acts of terrorism, but I keep that to myself. You come along and ask me a survey question asking me what I thought the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States is. Of course I’d tell them it’s high or very high, but do you think my opinion has any merit and should be considered as part of this survey response? Do you think the President should consider my opinion when developing our counter-terrorism strategy? Should he factor this in and order the Dept of Defense to stock up on poison darts to kill the elves? Of course not, because there’s no reality-based reason for my fear. Now replace “leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves” with “typical Muslims.” Is my opinion any better? Is there any reality-based reason to believe typical Muslims are plotting to take over the Earth through violent acts of terrorism? Of course not. But the guy asking me the survey question doesn’t know on what I base my answers, so why should it be lumped in with all the reality-based answers and factored into the poll results?
Donald Trump is polling well among Republican voters, but should we really assume he’ll win the general election (or even the nomination of his party, whichever that is this year)? Are we really going to operate on the premise that the people saying they support Trump are basing their views on facts and reality? He is saying things that appeal to people who do not put a lot of effort into their thinking. Do you want a nation’s foreign policy to be based on the opinions of people whose views of Muslims is no more accurate than that of someone who says they believe leprechauns, pixies, unicorns and elves are all real and plotting together to take over the Earth from humans any day now through violent acts of terrorism? I have a surprise for them. My brother’s ex-wife married a Muslim who helped raise my nephews, and I never once feared that he might secretly be a terrorist waiting to do terrorist things. Not once. Not even for a nanosecond. Abraham is a good man and I am even grateful for his being a part of raising my nephews. The men in my family have a little problem with alcoholism and my brother was not immune to this. (Neither am I, which is why I gave up drinking decades ago.) So when Abraham instituted a rule that there would be no alcohol in his house, I was glad because it meant my nephews would be less likely to turn into full blown drunks. But it also meant that they would have a good role model in their stepfather because, like 99.9% of all Muslims, he’s a man who practices Peace. But the people telling the pollster they fear a terrorist attack probably wouldn’t know that.
Here’s something else about polls: You can never be sure how the person answering is interpreting the question. For example, what do they consider “terrorist attack” to mean? Is it a bombing or mass shooting committed by radicalized Muslims only? Could it also be a lone, crazed Christian who thinks the vast majority of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions? Could it also be someone who thinks the federal government killed those people in the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, and then went too far with a ban on assault weapons? Could it be a white male who wants to start a race war by executing nine people in a church just because they were black? You don’t know. The person answering is free to apply his own definitions of the words used in the question so, in essence, you’re really not getting answers to the same question from different people. There’s too much room for lies and misinformation to enter into the process and, therefore, you are no longer applying statistical analysis to empirical facts. You are applying them to worthless answers, answers that may not have any connection to Reality. Can you still conclude that there are Americans who fear we might be subject to an act of terrorism? Of course you can, for two reasons. One, you don’t need a survey to learn there are people who are afraid of terrorism. And two, given how broadly one can define “terrorist,” it’s obvious we’re going to be subject to another terrorist attack. But it doesn’t mean we have to seal our borders, build a giant wall along one of them, and stop all Syrian refugees fleeing war in their home country. We can’t let fear dominate our decision-making. Because that’s what the terrorists want us to do.
Note: There is no evidence that Bret Colvin’s turtle has expressed fears about Muslims in Gillette, which makes the turtle a better man than Bret.