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 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeznvyQEGI8
  • Stefan Molyneux - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV_AIN4CS9M
  • Milo Yiannopolous - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nDkNZk7vtk
  • Gad Saad - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jq1utGg0PUY

Links to LEFT-leaning YouTube Videos:

  • Chris Hedges - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF12rxUttvM&t=1332s
  • Richard Wolff -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IJVIAutO-Y
  • Sam Harris - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96ZOpzL1Q_A
  • Noam Chomsky - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dwuqq-Aeao

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