Monday, February 20, 2017

Left or Right, Smart, Good People Are So Often Irrational Zealots. Why?

One good thing that Donald Trump's ascendancy has brought the world is the bald truth about so many of our inner motivations.  We THINK we have free will and that our political choices are carefully thought-through mental constructs, yet trying to get anyone to change their position on politics is like trying to get someone with a sweet tooth to no longer react to sugar the way their tongue and brain does.

What Donny's successful capture of the US throne of power and enrichment (all POTUS's are set for life simply by doing speeches after they leave office -- Donny's just not waiting for leaving office to get started on enrichment despite the Constitution!) has meant for me is a determination to dive deeper into both the left and right ideologies to understand the divide better.  I want to be fair and well-informed.  YouTube, Google, books and audio books are giving me the opportunity to do this thoroughly.

Through this endlessly entertaining and tumultuous American election cycle and its outcome I have heard very smart authors of well-reasoned and thought-provoking books, who happen to be feminists, claim that one particular religion needs to be shielded from criticism -- despite the fact (stated in the book and in everyday practice) that it is the most anti-feminist doctrine humankind has ever concocted.  I've heard demonstrably brilliant, well respected intellectuals who are paragons of integrity on the right argue, with clear sincerity, that they believe Kellyanne Conway is to be applauded for being a liar for a liar, or that Donald Trump has a high IQ because he claims to be really rich (he was bankrupt going into the election and has been most of his career, funding his lifestyle and campaign through more and more bank loans like a personal Ponzi scheme).  I've heard otherwise clearly rational and bright individuals like Ben Affleck defend a dangerous and hateful ideology like it was a beloved, if antiquated, children's story that people innocently get enthralled by and therefore can't have their love of the fiction challenged.

If remembering something, or thinking about a subject, or repeating a favourite story, makes a individual feel good in any way, it will be nearly impossible to get them to accept a different narrative without a lot of time and effort.

Many years ago I wrote a piece exposing the deep perversion of one of the world's richest,  most successful, most determined and most profoundly disturbed pedophiles, but people couldn't accept the reality.  Why?  Because the reality ran up against their fond memories.  The pedophile's public work was intimately connected to some of their best memories of growing up, feeling the early pangs of sexuality and love, awakening feelings of acceptance for other races and sexual orientations, along with our deep human need for celebrity worship ("Wow!  Imagine if I had that kind of money!  I don't mind that she/he is rich due to charging all of us too much for their output because I LOVE reading about their now charmed life and imagining he/she was me.").  Humans have a great deal of trouble just considering, much less accepting, things that run contrary to what they have long felt good about.

Why is it common sense advice to avoid discussing politics and religion at family gatherings? 
Many people are BORN left or right.  Like a predilection for being right or left-handed, we now know that our political tendencies for Conservatism and Liberalism are hard wired at birth (Google or YouTube Jonathan Haidt's extensive research into this phenomenon).  It's not that they cannot be shifted over time with education and a willingness to consider other point of view, but the leanings are there from the start and show up in those who are furthest toward either end of the bell curve in their teens.  Trump's chief toady, 30 year old Stephen Miller, began to act out upon his far-right, bigoted brain wiring at about age 15 and spent his entire adult life advertising his views.  He has the additional deficit (or asset, depending upon your point of view) of having very low empathy, an indication of a level of sociopathology.  He clearly feels no shame, nor any sympathy for the hurt feelings of others, when he promotes his racist views.

Like most human propensities, the opposing tendencies toward left or right are on a bell curve, with about 15% of any human population being at the one extreme and 15% at the other, with some people leaning either a bit more one way or the other and most in the center.  This bell curve seems to be quite squat and wide, rather than tall and narrow, however, as starting up a conversation with just about any random person will quickly reveal a lean toward left or right, with some admitting to shifting at some point in life.  Nevertheless, in America's corrupt 2 party system, the elections are always determined by the 'swing voters' while up to 50% of people don't bother to vote.

Connected to our hard wired tendencies are a bunch of other human traits that are barriers to open mindedness.  

Neurological research is now revealing our built-in wiring for religious belief.  This wiring is intimately connected to another innate tendency towards addiction, a networked set of brain regions that helped our species relentlessly seek out foodstuffs we needed to fuel our exceedingly complex and energy-hungry large brains, but that could never be hijacked in the seasonal and constantly changing environment our species evolved through during 5-7 million years.  Along with a capacity for broad conceptual thinking and very powerful egos, humans have a problematic tendency to 'fall in love with' our own ideas.  I constantly run into otherwise very thoughtful and open-minded individuals who can easily see the merits of one theory versus another in many different fields of study, but become rigid, dogmatic and blind to other arguments when it comes to their 'pet' theory or point of view.  Noam Chomsky is like this about Israel versus Palestine (as just one example of a specific topic he holds a strong view on), while Sam Harris is at the opposite extreme, yet both are very reasonable debaters on many other topics.

Ego, addiction, religiosity,  intellectual laziness...

What is clearly going on with these pillars of open-minded debate when it comes to certain subjects is that the same pathways that 'light up' in other peoples' brains when they think about smoking a cigarette or going to a casino, or in others when they opine about their God/religion (I believe the many of the same brain regions/organs/pathways are involved), are lighting up in Noam Chomsky's and Sam Harris' brains when they start speaking about their pet theories.  We see this same phenomenon in mathematical astrophysicists' in talking about the Big Bang and how the formulae 'prove' that, in theory, all of the energy in the Universe was originally compressed into an infinitesimally small dot of volume.  I've long argued that this is plainly stupid.  Just because a math formula seems to lead to an enticingly bizarre conclusion, doesn't mean that this is the way the Universe actually works.  Sure enough, the newest take on the origin of the Universe is that there was a very condensed plasma of energy that exploded through means we cannot fathom (go ahead, call it 'The Hand of God,' no one can disprove that) and began its current outward expansion.

What I believe we are seeing in the rantings of quantum physicists who expound the 'bubble/foam universes' theory or the many others, is the same religious-invention (and creativity) areas of their brains lighting up.  Once a theory has coalesced, they become no different from evangelicals of any religion, expounding their pet theory like it was 'The Word of God,' despite the very reasoned critiques being offered by equally respected scientists.  Their egos and many other areas of their brains become involved and they cannot let go of their notion, clinging to it fervently, not unlike any religious zealot does.

Furthermore, psychologists have identified that most of us are guilty of 'intellectual laziness.'  This is our tendency to stop looking for any further answers once our brain feels like it has found a 'reasonably correct answer.'  To save time and energy, we tend to accept the first best answer and move on, storing that answer away.  This is like a deeply entrenched brain-wiring of Occam's Razor (also known as "The Law of Parsimony"):  the simplest answer, in the absence of any more plausible answers, must be correct.

So what?  What does this 'zealot-like' clinging to an ideology on the left or right have to do with Donald Trump?

Recently some studies have postulated that it takes about two years for a religious person who has reached a 'tipping point' -- who has had an rational epiphany (not a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being) and suddenly begins to see the religion they've been indoctrinated into, or have chosen to join, as nothing but an elaborate fiction designed to empower a few men and subjugate the 'believers' -- it takes them about two years to finally shake themselves entirely free of the belief system.  The process involves all the typical steps of grieving for the loss of something one held close and that gave one small bursts of pleasurable brain chemical releases in reward for thinking about the subject and performing the rituals.

The stages of letting go of a deeply held 'belief' are:
  1. Shock or Disbelief that such an opposing reality is possible
  2. Denial
  3. Bargaining
  4. Guilt
  5. Anger
  6. Depression
  7. Acceptance/Hope

For those people who are both hard wired for left or right, AND sadly don't have the brain power or curiosity (a key sign of braininess!) to educate themselves about the other side, actual change toward the swing-voter center, or even just heartfelt understanding and acceptance of the other side's point of view, is very likely impossible.  For everyone else, however, exposure to a bunch of very smart proponents of one side or the other might change your life.  Worth an attempt, I'd think.

What Donald Trump's ascendancy has gifted the rest of us with is the chance to be shocked that we do not understand the opposition's point of view and the chance to rectify that for each of us individually.

Donny might not be as stupid as he seems from the total absence throughout his life of any profound utterances or arguments, or the non-stop poor judgement calls that have lead to a long string of bankruptcies and non-repayments of loans, as he does clearly have a reading impediment that gets in the way of reading and therefore learning.  But his lack of real curiousity means that he has no interest in watching anything that might challenge his confirmation bias (our tendency to only expose ourselves to things that back up our existing beliefs or understandings), so he's never going to voluntarily expose himself to things that might enlighten him.

The solution to all of America's inequality is very simple:   a third party.

Human nature is such that, given any chance, we will hoard all the money we can and use it to lord it over all the rest.  A two party 'system' is designed to keep all the power in a two-way exchange between a largely fake left and right.  The only true democracies keep our natural corruption tendencies in check with multiple parties with different views, and enact laws that ensure long-term outcomes for the best of everyone in the country are forced upon short-term politicians.  Warren Buffet suggested that any politician who is in office at the end of a term in which the budget is not balanced (easiest way is to impose a sliding scale tax) is barred from ever holding office again.

Links to RIGHT-leaning YouTube Videos:

  • Ben Shaprio -
  • Stefan Molyneux -
  • Milo Yiannopolous -
  • Gad Saad -

Links to LEFT-leaning YouTube Videos:

  • Chris Hedges -
  • Richard Wolff -
  • Sam Harris -
  • Noam Chomsky -

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely, It's In Their Hard Wiring

I first created this meme in a Nov. 25, 2015 post about Trump's vague (still is) 'political platform' (really just spouting whatever he gets the biggest reaction to).  My point in that post was that narcissistic psychopaths make GREAT dictators -- alas not so great democratic politicians -- but then a minority of Americans who bother to vote have said YES! to just such a dangerous character.  What history has taught us, but the rabble never learn as they don't read history, is that every guy like this cannot resist but quickly start to take over absolute control.  It's just what this personality type does, automatically.

Truthfully, I've learned a lot from my 'Hard Wired for Conservatism' friends like Chuck C,, Paul N., Louise S., Andrew L., Radek D. and Bob W.  They have, with Facebook barbs and tweets and comments and posts, turned me from my Social Justice Warrior far-left stance, to now being firmly in the center, what I'd call a "Neo-Libertarian."  I find the Libertatian concept appealing but, as a lifelong Student of Human Nature, I just can't see it working for the masses -- take away the rules and policing and we are guaranteed a brand new Wild West and summary executions by citizens of other citizens left and right.  This would leave the keenest Libertarians to, of course, become the new leaders and impose control over ever smaller communities who want to govern themselves -- we see the results of this kind of self-appointed leadership in the entire Muslim world with Imams taking control over a local flock of worshipers.  This 'system' is simply not conducive to a situation that gets better and better for everybody, as has been the case with successful Liberal Democracies up to this point.

Having had my eyes open to the Right's point of view, I have read a great deal about the failure of "Multi-Culturalism" in Europe and can see what a naive failure it is to accept any immigrants/refugees into any true democracy with welfare state benefits/philosophy in place, without having forced those wannabe citizens to demonstrate VERY sincerely that they are willing to accept the values and freedoms of their new country.  Further, allowing these new citizens to continue to practice any unreformed religion, whether it is a newly invented cult or an ancient faith that espouses the summary execution of non-believers, is a really bad idea because when their children grow into their teens.  The depressing reason, demonstrated over and over again, is that a small but dangerous percentage of teen/20's males who are prone to picking a fight, or prone to need to bolster their fledgling egos by taking on the mantle of 'identity politics', become radicalized -- especially when they've grown up marginalized within the new countries' societies by being brought up in self-imposed cultural ghettos of isolation run by self-appointed dictators of right and wrong (religious leaders).

Today, however, with the election of Donald Trump, my Hard-Wired-for-Conservatism friends -- who could not help themselves from being very hopeful that the guy spouting all those populist soundbites would prove to be a real proponent of the average Joe -- are going ever deeper into 'alternative facts' to prop up the world's newest Dictator for Life, the Donny, and it just keeps getting sadder.  None of the so-called checks and balances meant to hold Donny back are working in favour of the populace so far, he's just railroading through stuff to benefit his family and the 1%, along with the criminals who inhabit the swamp of corruption he is flooding to the brim, not draining.

I've listened to the big-brained Stephan Molyneux attempt to herald Trump's Muslim Ban as a day that will go down in history as a win for the furtherance of Western Democracy (generally he means Capitalism as he's a Libertarian -- as most very smart adults with some exposure to business are -- so he'd like to see Government banished, which kind of means Democracy goes with it...see paragraph one).  I've listened to quite brainy Conservatives herald Donny's "Liar in Chief" Kellyanne Conway as the greatest truth-teller ever.  The list of absurdities goes on.  It would be sad if it wasn't so damn frightening.

Now, on Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 we have Donny saying, about a Texas state senator who is pushing for a rule to stop law enforcement personnel from pocketing a lot of drug money they capture crossing the border (and likely the merchandise as well): "“Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career," Trump offered."  That will be a tough one to brush off, but I know the Trumpsters are spinning hard right now to come up with a way to make light of this one, too.

My favourite explanation of why Donny is great and therefore will be a great President is that he has made a lot of money.  His long string of bankruptcies is NOT seen as the obvious poor judgement calls these business attempts were, but rather "clever manipulation of the system, courageous experiments, inevitable ups and downs of a successful business."  What is ignored is that, as long as you are smart and conservative (not impulsive), when you take over your dad's real estate company in Manhattan in 1971 you'd have to be an idiot NOT to see that turn into billions. (The price per square foot in NYC was about $45 in the 1970's and since has risen by a multiple of ~27, so $50 million in property value back then is worth $1.35 billion today, and when his father died in 1999 Donald inherited a fifth of what was estimated to be a $250-300 million business) -- yet it looks like Donny might actually currently be bankrupt, having borrowed and spent more than his real estate assets are now worth (he's living like Bernie Madoff, borrowing for Russians and the Chinese to keep living the high life).  Sorry, money makes money, especially in Manhattan real estate, and real estate investing is just not the same as running a manufacturing or other business with a million 'moving parts.'  The guy is just not very clever, sadly, despite his constant repetition that he's brilliant.

Smart people can easily identify other smart people, just like not-so-smart people can identify other not-so-smart people -- "Hey, he's just like me!"  This is called the "Dunning Kruger Effect" and has been proven true many times over scientifically: smart people can clearly figure out that there is a lot of stuff that they haven't learned yet, that experts are more knowledgeable about, and so they are convinced they aren't as smart as REALLY smart people; not-so-smart people can't figure out that their inborn opinions (hard wired) are not of equal value to truly smart people's scientifically proven facts, so they become convinced they are pretty smart.   Ergo, Trump supporters are absolutely sure that they are smart and therefore that the Donny is smart.  (Ask them what score they got on the last IQ test they took...)  Remember, what is scary about any democracy is NOT that your Average Joe scores 100 in IQ, but that the entire 50% of the population below him are not as smart as Joe.

So if you really want the truth about who is ACTUALLY smart and who is not-so-smart, don't trust your instincts, or your own opinions, or how much the person in question says things you feel are right, rather seek out the opinions of people who are demonstrably clever.  My IQ is over 140 and I can assure you that Donny is as thick as two short planks.  He has no curiosity (the key hallmark of intelligence) and cannot learn easily due to a reading impediment, this is why he spends so much time on Twitter, reading only headlines and soundbites, and watching TV.  It's also why he has no clue about the details of the Executive Orders that Bannon and Miller are getting him to sign, one of these elevating Bannon to a position of greater power than the Vice President.  Donny has never said a single thing that is profound, has never spoken about a single concept ("I'm gonna build a YUGE wall!" is not a concept, sadly). 

The reality is, as Jonathan Haidt has proven (if you think scientific inquiry and evidence is of any value, and if you don't you should get rid of the device you're reading this on...) in his 2012 book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion", that there are many people hard-wired for being Conservatives and an equal number who are hard-wired for being Liberals, and a good percentage of these folks just happen to also be not so smart.  When you have this on the Left, you end up with Social Justice Warriors who shout a lot of slogans, but cannot explain their arguments.  On the Right EXACTLY the same thing occurs with people shouting about values, but unable to explain why these values are valid and important with regard to human society overall.

Neither side can do more than shout and feel intensely tribal with their fellow Lefties or Righties.  They project their 'values' onto their instinctive 'nationalism' and believe that the other side is ruining their country.  It is sadly incredibly easy for the Money-Hoarders to manipulate these minorities and even to convince those with similar leanings, but more inquisitive minds, to LEAN in one direction or the other by exploiting fear and tribalism (e.g. "You may see value in the other sides' point of view, but you are 'one of us' by birth, or faith, or the State you're from.").  In the US's corrupt '2 Party Oligopoly' many voters get swayed by becoming 'single issue voters' and vote against their best interests to simplify their efforts to understand the bigger picture (and in fact it really did NOT make much difference who was in  power in the past -- but this new guy is fundamentally different...)

There are also people who are hard-wired for being entirely and incontrovertibly self-focused.  They no more chose to be this way than the Lefties or Righties do, it's just how their brains are wired.  These individuals cannot help but chase fame, popularity, power and money.  It's just in their nature.  Given any opportunity to gain more popularity and power/money, they will automatically do it.  Vladimir Putin is a modern day example of this.  I just read Gary Kasparov's very level-headed analysis of Putin's ascendancy, "Winter is Coming", and it's quite an eye opener into how a Narcissistic Psychopath progresses once exposed to a political opening.

What the world, and America in particular, is facing with The Donny is simply another narcissistic psychopath, but not a smart, calculating one like Putin, but a not-so-smart, impulsive, vindictive one who is easy to steer.  If by week three you haven't seen the risk in letting this buffoon, who is easily manipulated by anyone who strokes his ego, from Putin to Bannon, to hold the reigns of the most powerful military in the world (and the US President has quite liberal unilateral power over the military), then nothing much is going to convince you it's a bad idea, until the world blows up in your face.  Those who will, as they always do, make TONS of taxpayer money from the next World War are the owners of the military industrial complex companies and the banks that back the complex.  Make no mistake, IT COSTS THEM NOTHING TO START A WAR, and they make more trillions from every conflict (the only downside being millions of 99%ers' lives lost, a tragedy which they could care less about as those people are not worth as much to humanity as they are because they have hoarded a lot of family money, which proves they're smarter and worth more as human beings).\

Hold on to your heuvos, Trumpsters!  This isn't going to go well for you, your families, or any of the rest of us.  The GOP will sit back and wait for Donny to implode, then for the Democrats to impeach him.  Then they'll have their man Pence in the driver's seat for the remainder of the 4 year term.  You, once again, heard it here first!  The only upside is that the Republicans under Pence will do everything they've ever wanted to do, but on steroids, and will piss off the American electorate so completely that their party may be made entirely irrelevant -- but then the Dems have already done that to themselves and similarly will be unlikely to recover by 2020.  I suspect we'll finally see an independent make the grade.  Let's hope nothing goes completely off the rails between now and then, but it's almost guaranteed we'll see a depression long before then.


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