Well, here we are in 2016, a Presidential election year, and — man, oh man — it’s going to be a weird one! High waters from several rivers seems to be converging to form a flood unlike any we’ve seen in modern politics. And while that’s kind of fascinating from a sociology perspective, as a citizen some of it seems kind of scary.
As I write this, actual rivers are flooding Midwestern cities in the USA, but the rivers I have in mind are reality shows, the interweb, and our social environment (where global unrest and terrorism is a primary topic). The flood here is a lack of sense, nuance, and thoughtfulness.
My question today: When did we so fully embrace lies and illusion?
I don’t necessarily do it on a yearly cycle (like a New Year’s Resolution), but from time to time I pick a topic to think about when my mind is otherwise idle. The topic the last year or so has been Waste, and that will lead to some posts someday. Before that, the topic was Lies & Illusions.
Specifically the Lies & Illusions we practice as a society. Advertising is one fertile ground, politics even more so, especially during election season. (And there is no better example of that (literal) nonsense than the current Republican front-runner.)
“What’s wrong with people?” many ask.
Well, I tell you (and this is my short list):
Assertion as Fact. Just because someone says something, that doesn’t mean it is factual, logical, or even sensible. Given the failed education system, much of what many people say isn’t any of those things. We seem to care more about whether assertions match our preconceptions or politics.
Very, very few people seem to challenge their own thinking, yet it is in the challenge that we grow and improve. What’s true for muscles is true for minds!
The news media has done society a disservice in not better debunking the crap that people say on their air time. (Because they’re cowards. If they really did push back, many of their talking head guests wouldn’t show up.)
Opinion as Reality. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but not all opinions are created equal. Some of them are bat-shit crazy, some of them are downright evil, some of them are born of ignorance, fear, or greed. Some are, at best, uninformed.
There’s an old saying about opinions: They’re like assholes. Everyone has one, and they all stink. (Mine, of course, have the odor of roses and vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon.)
Here, again, the news media does a poor job in separating wheat from chaff.
In fact, I’ve decided they really aren’t cable news shows so much as real Reality Shows (starring real people and real issues, plus it appears daily on several channels). Kind of like Jon Stewart minus the humor or the clever.
Emotion as Thought. I’ve talked about this many times before. Operating at the level of emotion makes you no better than an animal. In fact, it essentially makes you into an animal, as we’ve seen in various riots all throughout last year.
Emotions push us, but our heads must do the steering. When they do, the combination of thoughtfully driven emotion can accomplish great things. We need only look to our own history to see this (consider the American Civil Rights movement, for example).
Rejection of Facts (& Science). When your personal beliefs require you to turn your back on facts and science and logic and truth, you have become worse than an animal. You’ve become a zombie or a robot.
And a problem for society.
If you doubt me, just consider the Middle East. Religion to the exclusion of the physical world (which, presumably, God also created) leads easily to the kind of religious fanaticism we see there.
Or here, when it comes to bombing Planned Parenthood clinics.
Black & White Thinking. Lack of Nuance. We seem to live now in a world of icons, tweets, and bumper sticker thinking. “If not A then B!” (Which ignores 24 other letters.)
Perhaps the world has gotten so complicated that many feel they can’t keep up, so they don’t even try. (I know a lot of people who’ve just unplugged from any source of news. I don’t really blame them, but I think it’s the wrong response.)
The thing is, when the world gets this complicated, that’s exactly the time when we really need to put on our “thinking caps” (as they used to say back when people actually respected thinking).
Too Much Hyperbole. Ever notice everything is either the “worst” or the “best”? Do people even know what those terms mean anymore?
Trump is Mr. Hyperbole. Hillary Clinton was the “worst” Secretary of State; Bill Clinton was the “worst” abuser of women. Words have no meaning anymore.
[On a side note, how does someone as savvy as Ms. Clinton step in it so badly by calling Trump “sexist”? Mistake! Hit him, and hard, on what he actually said — and there’s plenty — but the vague (and possibly incorrect) label of “sexist” was a huge misstep that played right into the clown. The truth is he’s a boorish vulgarian (or at least he plays one on TV) with little apparent regard for truth or nuance (or reality), but he’s probably not a sexist. Neither, I suspect, is Bill Clinton (although he may be a hound dog, but, hey, politics and sex (and get over it; jeeze, it’s just sex), and let’s be honest… no red-blooded male is going to turn down sex in the Oval Office).]
Appeals to Vox Populi. Cartoonist Berke Breathed gave his character Opus the Penguin a famous line that I’ve cherished for decades: “If two-million people do a stupid thing, it’s still a stupid thing.”
The popularity of, say, the Twilight books and movies has nothing to do with their quality as stories (which, from the clips I’ve seen, was abysmal). More relevant now is that leading in the polls doesn’t have any connection with being right (as one example, IIRC, ~70% of Trump supporters believe Obama is a foreign Muslim).
Confusion of Popular or Successful with Right or Good. This is what happens when we take vox populi too seriously. A democracy has to proceed on this basis, but it’s been often said that democracy is merely the “least worst” form of government. It’s not great, but it’s better than most others.
For one thing, it can lead to what’s called the Tyranny of The Masses when the lowest common denominator controls things.
The truth is, given the state of education in this country, perhaps a meritocracy would have, um, merit. Maybe we should elect our leaders on the basis of their abilities and merits rather than their popularity? Just a thought.
Redefinition (or Total Lack) of Character. The end result of all of this is that we’ve either redefined (or lost) the idea of Personal Character. One thing Trump makes absolutely clear is that personal character — as we have defined it in literature and in our own past — is no longer viewed as a vital trait.
So there’s my New Year’s Resolution List… for many of you. Resolve to see the world in thoughtful, nuances terms. Reject assertion and popularity as drivers. Learn that opinion is not fact, and successful is not the same as right.
In particular, challenge your own thinking. Remember, Evil Doesn’t Question Itself. You avoid personal error by constantly asking yourself: Am I right? And by assuming you might not be.
January 5th, 2016 at 1:54 pm
Yeah, people have dung for brains. What to do about it, though?
The problem with religious extremists is that they do far too much thinking, but of the wrong kind. And what if evil really does question itself? What if it asks questions and finds entirely the wrong answers? What if nobody knows the truth? What if science gets it wrong? What happens when issues are so complicated that the only way to make any sense of things is black-and-white thinking? What if Trump wins the election?
I have also been thinking about this problem recently. Specifically, I was bothered (code for incandescent with rage) listening to someone on the radio who was advocating astrology as a means of predicting the future, and asserting that most astronomers agreed with her. The interviewer did not challenge her. After I calmed down, I arrived at the conclusion that I would prefer to allow this kind of nonsense to take place, than to shut down people’s opinions, even when they are so wrong. The only way out, in my opinion, is through, if that makes any sense. People have to be allowed to follow their own paths, even if those paths are manifestly wrong, in order to allow those who are right to follow their paths.
January 5th, 2016 at 5:08 pm
“Yeah, people have dung for brains. What to do about it, though?”
As I have said many times before: educate them. (By force, if necessary.)
It’s almost certainly too late to do anything about the adults, but if we catch the children early enough, it’s possible to inoculate them against the dreaded Dung Brain disease.
We need to stop listening to lazy, indulgent people whining about how history and algebra aren’t “relevant” in their lives. The subject matter itself, perhaps one may not encounter again, but the way those things teach you to think is entirely relevant. And you will learn trigonometry. Or die trying; I’m good with both options.
Seriously, though: Merely being taught to learn is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child.
With some, merely being taught they can learn is the gift (this can be especially relevant wrt women in STEM fields).
There is no greater cure for what ails us than a proper education.
“The problem with religious extremists is that they do far too much thinking, but of the wrong kind.”
The things you go on to describe have a relationship with “thinking” similar to that between the way most people use the word “theory” and its proper meaning. Yes, they are making thoughts in their brain. No, I wouldn’t really call that “thinking” (any more than when my dog stares off into space “thoughtfully”).
To me, “thinking” involves rationality.
“…asserting that most astronomers agreed with her. The interviewer did not challenge her.”
Yeah, that kinda shit makes me glow radioactively, too. And not the good kind of radioactivity. 😎
“People have to be allowed to follow their own paths, even if those paths are manifestly wrong, in order to allow those who are right to follow their paths.”
Absolutely. As appealing as is the idea of Death Camps for Dung Brains, a free society must allow freedom of thought (and expression).
Part of the solution (as SAP concludes below), is making sure the truth gets out there. Back in the day (1980s) the USENET community had the ethic of — despite conventional wisdom — sometimes “feeding the trolls” when trolls put out egregiously false information. (And others debated the effectiveness of that and advised following the standard ethic… It’s certainly true that most trolls are killed through being ignored.)
The more effective solution is working to change our values (or to change them back) to a high regard for truth over opinion along with a desire for consensus rather than polarization (putting more women in charge may help with that).
January 5th, 2016 at 3:05 pm
I second everything Steve says. The problem is that people are blinded by their fears and what they want to be true, what they often need to be true. A lot of times there’s nothing wrong with letting them have their illusions. And of course, we have to recognize that we all have them. It’s part of the human condition.
But some illusions are truly pernicious. The trick is how to contest them effectively. Trump is a good example. Fact checking him only makes his supporters dig in. They think the fact checkers are just part of the same cabal that’s keeping them down economically and changing the culture from the “one true American” one.
The Twain quote you show reminds me of the fact that often people counter falsehoods with falsehoods in the opposite direction. Both camp’s falsehoods are red meat to their faithful and dismissed as obvious garbage by the other side. No dialog takes place.
I don’t know what the answer is. I like the idea that everyone should question their own convictions, but of course everyone thinks it’s everyone else’s convictions that need questioning, rather than their own.
In the end, I think there’s still much to be said for respectfully stating the truth, the reasons why you think it is the truth, engaging in dialog, and being honest when there’s logical room for an opposing view. It may not be convincing, but then it’s much more likely to be convincing than yelling, ridicule, or any of the other tactics people often engage in.
January 5th, 2016 at 5:39 pm
“And of course, we have to recognize that we all have [illusions]. It’s part of the human condition.”
Indeed. The trick is being clear on that they are — at least in some sense — illusions.
“Both camp’s falsehoods are red meat to their faithful and dismissed as obvious garbage by the other side. No dialog takes place.”
Because people dig in when challenged, often resorting to just repeating their assertions without engaging in the objections of the other party. Or not recognizing when their assertions have been challenged. It’s the “hear no evil, see no evil” approach; the kid closing his eyes, plugging his ears, and going “La! La! La! La! La!”
“I don’t know what the answer is.”
As I said to Steve, it’s too late for the adults; they’re a lost cause. About all we can do there is, as you say, keep putting out a different story and hoping people have some sense picking between them. We have an obligation, therefore, to be as compelling and engaging as possible to make the story attractive (Carl Sagan is kind of my go to here; he was a master of science communication).
We have to change our values. A big part of which is taking education very seriously. It’s insane to me that we put so little effort into educating our future citizens, business people, and leaders. Shameful. Embarrassing.
“…but of course everyone thinks it’s everyone else’s convictions that need questioning, rather than their own.”
Which is their first mistake. Everyone’s convictions need questioning.
There’s a quote I used to have, something about how ‘Ideas should have to fight for survival in the Free Market of Ideas.’ I’ve always thought it was right on target.
At its root, it’s a willingness to be wrong and to learn from mistakes. Most people (men, especially) resist appearing to be wrong or making mistakes. (In baseball, it’s a stat! XD )
“…and being honest when there’s logical room for an opposing view.”
Yeah, that brings up a good point. There are two types of disagreement:  on matters of fact;  on matters of opinion. Essentially, the latter can only be argued, not decided (put another way: cannot be falsified), although an opinion can be shown to contain shaky logic.
The former, obviously, can be resolved with facts, but in a culture so attached to falsehood, and as we’ve seen this election cycle (and as you point out), it may not have much effect.
I’ve wondered about billboards and TV ads designed to raise the level of awareness. Put the truth out there in front of peoples’ faces often enough and it might work. There was a concentrated effort a while back to attack cigarette smoking this way, and it did reduce smoking in the target population.
January 6th, 2016 at 3:31 am
As I have said many times before: educate them. (By force, if necessary.)
Chairman Mao tried that, but it didn’t work out so well.
January 6th, 2016 at 10:53 am
LOL! Well, obviously one’s total legacy matters a great deal! But as I understand it, he did improve the education system, especially for women, and improved the health system as well, so even evil can sometimes do good. (And we can credit that German guy with the funny mustache for the VW bug (an awesome car; the first I ever owned) and the wonderful autobahns.)
It’s also true that China has become a major world power, although I don’t know Chinese history enough to know how key Mao was in that. China’s policies may not be admirable to us, but they may still be an example of education being powerful. (Certainly of what happens when you embrace industrialization and technology!)
January 6th, 2016 at 1:28 pm
Hmm. The story of modern China is very interesting and instructive. China turned the corner under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping who quietly and systematically dismantled everything that Mao had done to destroy the country.
Let me try making my point again. The difference between us and Mao (or ISIS, or Stalin, or [insert almost any dictator here]) is that we permit people who are utterly wrong in their thinking to think whatever they like, and in return they permit us to think whatever we like. That’s because nobody can judge who is right and who is wrong. If we insist that people believe what we believe, using threat or force, then we have become fascists ourselves. After all, Hitler believed that by eradicating “bad genes” he was improving the world, and ISIS clearly are driven by a devout belief in their religion.
January 6th, 2016 at 2:32 pm
“Let me try making my point again.”
As I said the first time: Absolutely! I don’t disagree in any way with your main point!
“That’s because nobody can judge who is right and who is wrong.”
I know what you mean, but that’s a bit sweeping. As a trivial example, it’s pretty easy to judge something like child abuse. There is a spectrum of issues in addition to the spectrum of arguments on any given issue. It’s true that some issues, say big versus small government, depend on one’s values and can’t be judged. But many can.
That is the role of the dialectic, and our current tendency to see all opinions as somehow equal comes from the failure of the dialectic.
(FWIW, I’d opine that the value of education is one of those issues that’s easy to judge.)
“If we insist that people believe what we believe, using threat or force, then we have become fascists ourselves.”
Absolutely. But are you suggesting that requiring a good education is forcing people to believe what we believe? If so, I reject the argument completely.
Firstly, a good education teaches free thinking. It provides the tools that help you understand all the points of view available to you. Education frees minds.
Secondly, is requiring driver’s education before you pilot a dangerous metal box around on public roads forcing people to believe what we believe? I see little difference between that — and other social requirements we impose on people — and requiring them to get a good education before they pilot a dangerous ballot around in public elections.
Cars, planes, guns, surgery, law,… training is required.
Democracy… no training required?
Ah, well: Parenting… no training required!
So I guess maybe so. XD
January 7th, 2016 at 4:40 am
Yes, I agree that not all opinions have equal validity. Obviously my opinions are entirely correct, and yours have merit also. Everyone else is an idiot. And yet, if I switch hats and become an ISIS fighter for a moment, then the same principle applies – ISIS is right (heck, God said so!) and the opinion of everyone in America and Europe is worse than dirt.
So the only way forward in a civilized society is for everyone’s opinion to be given equal a priori merit, and then for the debate to begin. The alternative, I guess, is to take up arms and keep killing until dissent stops.
If Trump says some shit and rational debate can’t persuade his supporters that he’s wrong, then you’ll just have to lump it, I’m afraid. In my country, prominent politicians talk shit every day, and I just have to accept it. At least in the US, you have a constitution that stops them from doing things that are bat-shit crazy (like half of Trump’s schemes.)
January 7th, 2016 at 9:09 am
“So the only way forward in a civilized society is for everyone’s opinion to be given equal a priori merit, and then for the debate to begin.”
Or, more sensibly I think, we treat all opinions as worth no more than the hot air used to express them until we examine them with the dialectic. (There are teachers who assume everyone has an ‘A’ that the semester can only degrade. Other teachers assume you have an ‘F’ (or no grade) and require you demonstrate your worth. I’m firmly in the latter camp.)
The life forms thrown up by evolution have to prove their worth. So should ideas.
“If Trump says some shit and rational debate can’t persuade his supporters that he’s wrong, then you’ll just have to lump it,”
Yep. There are also elections and our tripartite form of government which is supposed to provide some checks and balances.
But, at least for me, it comes back to education. That’s the best shield against bat-shit crazy ideas. An educated mind tends to reject the cognitive dissonance that comes from irrational or illogical ideas.
Not always, of course, but it’s the best remedy I know.
January 5th, 2016 at 8:54 pm
Smitty, if Trump becomes President, I will volunteer to help build a wall on your northern border! Have you seen his latest Ad. It is disgusting.
Anyway, thanks for always writing your honest opinion regardless of popularity – I really respect that. ❤
January 5th, 2016 at 9:52 pm
Yeah, the Trump ad has been a big topic of conversation on the Talking Heads Reality Show networks. The funny part is that he said his ads would be ground-breaking and unlike anything seen before, but [A] they look pretty much like every other Republican ad, and [B] they don’t say anything he hasn’t been saying all along. Plus there’s the cute bit about using footage of the Moroccan border, not the Mexican one.
Thanks. I’ve always tried to call’m as I saw’m… not always to my advantage. 😮
January 5th, 2016 at 10:34 pm
It’s always better to be true Smitty! 🙂
January 6th, 2016 at 10:41 am
Better true than blue! 😎
Here’s a neat true story about true (the word):
August 11th, 2016 at 1:34 pm
Hi Wyrd, Just an FYI the read more link goes to an error.
I did however get to your blog and read this one. I couldn’t agree more! Such an annoyance to me and makes me crazy. Have you ever been riding an escalator and the person in front of you STOPS when they get to the top or bottom and stands there looking around? i want to punch them in the back of the head. if i could legally get away with it i would do just that. oblivious and stupid are a heartbeat away. and don’t get me started on the arrogance piece……
nice storms last night! J.
August 11th, 2016 at 2:18 pm
Yeah, that post had been sitting in my Drafts folder since before I retired (a bit over three years ago now). WordPress has a feature that allows you to schedule a post to be published on a given date/time. And sometimes that setting seems to get turned on when you save a Draft. And I haven’t ever found a way to turn it off.
Long story short, when I initially published the post, it was set to post back in 2015. Some random date it had locked onto. I had a mental note to remember to explicitly tell it to post now, but I forgot and clicked [Publish].
And it didn’t show up! Not in recent posts, anyway, since it was dated for 2015.
So I edited it and explicitly set the publish date/time. But I think the original publish sent notification emails to my subscribers, and that email had the original link to the 2015 version. Apparently the re-publish didn’t send a followup notification.
WordPress! It ain’t prefect, but it ain’t bad.
As to escalators, yes. Entrances to malls and stores, too. People walk in and then stand there thinking about what they’re going to do.
Ah, stupid people. Can’t live with’m and it’s illegal to enslave or kill them. Whadda woild!
Yeah, pretty nice storms. I sort of live in the lee of the cities enough that most storms are a bit blunted by the time they hit me. Pretty good downpour, though! The storm did come more from the south, so I wasn’t so much in the city shadow, but the cities’ heat shield still deflects some of the fury. Those living in the outlying areas get the real show!