Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘confirmation bias

Why are people so stupid?

with 6 comments


I am always changing my opinion of the human race. Usually I’m revising it downwards. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The only humans I am generally familiar with are Americans. That probably has a lot to do with why my opinion of humans keeps going down, and why my foreign friends are often so amazed at American’s attitudes. Let me clarify, I don’t think Americans are bad people or stupid people. It’s just that their ability to think and reason critically seems to be eroding every year. As far as I can tell, the average American, no matter how smart, is more inclined to use their brain to reinforce their opinions than critically examine the evidence. This tendency can be found everywhere though. After much thought, I have developed a theory. I’m sure other people have come up with the same theory, so I certainly don’t claim it to be original. To wit: I think that if people are holding a position on an issue because of religious or ideological reasons, they more or less become immune to logical argument, and instead use various logical fails to reinforce their position if challenged.

Let me give some examples. Gun control. The anti-gun control people are convinced that any gun regulation is an infringement on their rights. And thus they use a vast panoply of false arguments to deflect, ignore, and reject any and all discussion of gun control. In fact I could, and probably will write a post on the amazing array of false arguments anti-gun control proponents use. Suffice it to say, most of them aren’t willing to debate the issue. Health care is another one. People that are anti-Obamacare or in general think the US has the best health care in the world, seem more or less obsessed with the idea that they shouldn’t be forced to help other people through their taxes. They see it as a forced redistribution of wealth, and are against that in principle. Again, suffice it to say, these people argue vociferously (and badly) for the status quo. Lastly, abortion. Anti-abortion people seem to fervently believe that they are “saving babies.” They are categorically against abortion for ideological reasons, and it short circuits any discussion on the topic.

As a codicil to this, when people’s thinking is channeled by ideology/religion, it leads them to adapt extreme positions that are often so off-the-rails it’s scary. Republicans have introduced several bills now that give rapists parental rights or worse. One recent bill makes it a crime for a woman to abort a pregnancy from rape,  the rationalization being that the baby is “evidence” of the crime. Right, anyone who can’t understand the insanity of a law making it a crime for a women to abort when she has been forcibly impregnated has lost touch with reality. Or the NRA’s call to arm teachers. Let’s see, putting tens of thousands of guns into schools every single day to prevent a crime that takes place maybe once a year is going to prevent gun crimes? This is one of those ideas that people proposing it didn’t think through. Which is sort of the gist of what I am saying here, if one tailors their ideas about social policy to conform to ideological limits, no real thought is required.

The worst aspect of this tendency is that it is exploited by institutions with an agenda. And while this has always been the case, the modern sciences of propaganda and advertising combined with the ubiquity of modern mass media has made this problem far worse. The NRA doesn’t discuss how to prevent gun violence for example, they spend most of their efforts convincing gun owners that the Feds are plotting to take away their guns. Thus short circuiting any discussion before it can begin. The health care industry does the same, by keeping people focused on the idea that there is something ideologically wrong with any attempt to rein in America’s out-of-control health care industry, any discussion of the basic problem … what’s the cheapest and best way to provide Americans with effective health coverage … never takes place. Basically exploiting this tendency in people short circuits any real discussion of the problem and how to resolve it. The pro-life people for example never actually want to discuss how to make every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy, they just want to ban it and insist that people women should only be having sex if they want to have children.

Why would people be so inclined to swear allegiance to an abstraction than deal with reality? Damned if I know. I suspect there’s some survival benefit to identifying with one’s “tribe” and acting to defend it physically and intellectually. It’s also a lot easier to do than to critically examine an issue or one’s attitude towards an issue.  Is this exclusively an aspect of right wing groups? No, but right wing groups are on the ascendency in the US. Republicans, the mainstream media, the energy industry, evangelical Christianity are the big players now. The biggest “leftist” player currently in the USA is the Democratic party, and while their false arguments are different, they use the ideas of pro-labor and pro-choice in a similar fashion to ensure the loyalty of their base. All of which fills me with gloom. On the one hand this is preventing any serious debate on the issues facing the USA. Worse, some of the ideological “solutions” to our nation’s problems are actually counter-productive. And scariest of all, there is the possibility that this will lead to something really really bad.

That’s for a future post though. I hope everyone is having a great weekend.

(The above image is so ubiquitous on Facebook that it might as well be public domain. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. I have no clue who holds the copyright, but I commend them for their creativity. So many “debates” on line are farcical these days. This is not what the communication revolution promised. Not that any revolution has ever led to something people expected.)

Written by unitedcats

January 27, 2013 at 10:56 am

Enraged Muslims, Bloodthirsty Americans, Lies, Bigotry, and More Lies. Just Another Monday.

with 3 comments

Well, it’s certainly getting interesting over in the Middle East. The response to it around these parts is pretty interesting too. Neither are the good kind of interesting, they are the cursed form of interesting. As the putative Chinese curse goes: “May you live in interesting times.” In really local news, I, for the first time ever, banned a commenter. His comments just got angrier and angrier, and I’m not even sure why. I certainly didn’t get into it with him, he mostly just seemed to be really upset about stuff I was posting. My blog, my opinions. And I try to be respectful of others, I can’t read hard core conservative or liberal  (or whatever) blogs because they are so, well, personally insulting of the other side’s beliefs. In any event, I’m  not angry at Steve. I used to fly off the handle like that myself, I hope he finds peace someday. Clearly reading my blog wasn’t helping him any in that sense.

People can and do get outraged by stuff they read. Or, say, see in a movie trailer. And in the right context, can get violent over it. People get irrationally violent over all sorts of things. All depends on how propagandized and and programmed they are. Typically people believe violence on their side’s part is rational, and violence on the other side’s part is irrational. And they believe this so strongly that for the most part there’s no point even trying to debate with them. They have such a negative perception  of the other side that they can’t even begin to see it from their perspective, and judge it by their own standards. Standards which are often culturally or otherwise enforced in spades. This is how some Americans were able to rationalize civilian deaths in Vietnam. The Vietnamese were Buddhists, they believed in reincarnation, so dying wasn’t a big deal for them. I hope most of my readers can see that this is a profoundly racist and culturally imperialist view, which basically reduces the other side to the status of little more than animals to be butchered without remorse. Leaders of all sides, with few exceptions, espouse this sort of toxic nonsense.

Which brings us the the current sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and beyond. Anti-American and anti-western riots. People dead. Those crazy Muslims is the typical refrain in the west, rioting over a movie trailer. Proof that Islam is a violent (read: irrational and primitive) religion? I mean, these people are rioting and making death threats because their religion was insulted, how irrational does it get? Well, when one has been taught since birth that Muslims and Arabs are inherently violent primitive people who don’t want peace, despite all the west has done for them, it sound irrational as hell. This is the beauty of propaganda, once people have internalized it, they will believe the most egregious nonsense. Not only will they believe it, many of them will actively seek news that reinforces their belief. It’s called confirmation bias. This is how Hitler was able to convince many Germans that they lost World War One because of the Jews. Were the Germans being prejudiced believing this? You betcha.

By now my more astute readers may have discerned where I am going with this. At the risk of losing friends, not that I have a whole lot of friends, a person that thinks Islam is a violent religion compared to say, Christianity and Judaism … is a bigot. While this movie trailer is the catalyst for the riots, it’s not the cause. The cause is decades of western crimes against Muslim nations in the Middle East and central Asia. We’re talking war, occupation, ethnic cleansing, and arming brutal undemocratic governments that were in the west’s pocket. The sorts of things that Americans would be seething with rage about had they been on the receiving end. Look how apeshit many Americans went after 9/11, yet many Muslim countries have suffered and continue to suffer at western hands crimes that kill far more people than 9/11. It’s OK though according to many in the west, the Muslims brought it on themselves with their violence.

And so the violence continues, with all sides believing egregious nonsense about the other side. And far too many leaders on both sides doing their best to reinforce the prejudices their followers hold. Clinton and Obama gave lovely speeches basically calling Muslims violent primitive savages, of course all couched in oh-so-reasonable language, and the media was all-too-happy to reinforce this prejudice with endless stories about Muslims rioting over the movie trailer, completely without any context as to why there might be seething discontent in many Muslim countries directed towards the west. Whoever translated movie this trailer into English has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in reinforcing western prejudice against Muslims, frankly I suspect Israeli counter-intelligence is behind that. The timing was just too perfect.

What will happen now? Damned if I know. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have lots in common. All are easily propagandized and all will support and execute amazing levels of violence. And in the modern world where propaganda is so easily and widely disseminated, it’s a problem. Add to it a situation where many or most leaders on many fronts have made the sociopathic calculation that a war now will advance their interests in the long run, and we have a recipe for a wider or even a global war. Stay tuned.

“It takes two fools to have a fight.”

(The above image is all over Facebook, so again, no clue on copyright.  Not being used for profit yadda yadda yadda. Yes, it would be nice if Jesus, Moses, and Mohamed came back and told their followers to cool their jets. Not going to happen of course, since dead people don’t come back, ever. Maybe if the aliens tied everyone to a chair for a few days and showed them images of what violence actually accomplishes. That’s my plan for peace. And if they don’t do that, maybe they could take those of us who still want to live in peace with their neighbours away? A man can dream.)

I’m back from my tour of North Korea

with one comment

kim il jong looks at things

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth, nor did I go to North Korea. Just a combination of personal stuff and utter dismay at the state of the world. However, two recent comments left on previous posts made me think, and both deserve a considered response. See how diplomatic that sounded, one can learn a lot by watching the current actor in the White House. Also I wanted to say a few things about this terribly sad story: Microwaved Baby. The comments people have made about the story are particularly interesting.

First though, a comment left on my post “Why Not Invade North Korea?” It’s actually one of my older posts, I could make even more cogent arguments today about the folly of invading North Korea.  However, in response to my post, I recently got this comment:

“It’s not about the threat to the US; it’s about NK’s threat to HUMANITY.

Millions dying there per annum; disease, starvation, all manner of depraved sub-animalistic goings on… cannibalism. Even the ‘mere’ relentless indoctrination of so many with a fascist, anti liberal / Western / democratic ideology is dangerous far beyond the need hypothesize about expunging it.

Isn’t this the kind of thing the ‘world police’ are meant keep off of our planet’s streets?

Oh. Yeah… my bad. North Korea DOES have WMDs but not oil / resources, so of course that grants them dispensation from being invaded. What was I thinking — d’oh! =P”

Well then, that settles it, North Koreans are the bad guys so we should just invade and “fix” it. Well, the esteemed author of said comment is certainly an extreme example of confirmation bias in action, I know there’s no argument I can make that will shake their world view. Invading other countries, even countries on the far side of the world, because of our moral and ethical superiority is the crusader mentality illustrated. Again, people who maintain that crusades are acceptable are espousing an ideology, simplistic as “good vs evil” is as an ideology. People making ideologically based arguments, like ones making religiously based arguments, are pretty much immune to reasonable argument. In fact reasonable argument actually can strengthen people’s contravening beliefs, go figure.

Just quickly though I would point out that his argument has two fatal flaws. The first is that it completely ignores the role the west played in both creating, and maintaining, the North Korean regime. Even more fatal, is the fact that nation building crusades as the gentle commenter is suggesting, rarely work and frequently make things much worse!

Moving right along, in response to my recent post “Socialism for the Rich Illustrated,” someone left this comment:

“When you give money to the rich, they INVEST it.
Expecting to make a profit.
No matter why, the money still goes into the economy.

I agree that we must have greater quality, but basic economics teaches that that will be at the cost of having lesser overall wealth.”

Sigh. When the rich get richer, even if their ever increasing pile of money is technically still part of the economy, so what? In fact that’s the problem, the rich have so gamed the system that all their money does is sit at the top and suck up more money. Which is exactly what I was illustrating with the empty store front above, this rich fellow is not investing his wealth in the economy, his store is just sitting there empty making him  money from the public trough!

Secondly, economics is not a “zero sum game.” At least not since Sam Adams a few hundred years ago. If you take a thousand unemployed people, build a factory, and put them to work, you are creating wealth. A healthy civilization like the Romans for example, sets up laws and regulations so that the rich are encouraged to invest in the economy in ways that create wealth. And then there’s the opposite approach, illustrated above.

Lastly, the sad case of the microwaved baby. And equally sad, how many of the comments were eager to rush to judgment and subject her to all sorts of hideous torments. Right, and it’s Muslims that have a violent culture? This “microwave her” attitude is like, the opposite of civilized. This is because simply don’t know yet what actually happened. The fact that the police have charged her means nothing.

Take a socially isolated women taking care of small children 24/7 and you already have a recipe for mental breakdown. Add another layer of mental illness like depression or postpartum psychosis, and bad things can happen. Or even add a controlling abusive husband who didn’t want another daughter and made damn sure his wife got the message that she had to “get rid of the problem.” This sort of thing does happen in the west, yes, it really does. Until far more background information is available, I’m not going to even guess at how culpable she is.

Yes, possibly she is just a psychopath who was getting rid of an annoyance, but those types of cases are far more common in Hollywood movies than in real life. I’m betting it will turn out she was in a  pretty horrible place to have done such a thing. And one even has to wonder if there are other possibilities. Like her other small children did it while she was distracted for a moment, imagine what a mind messing nightmare that would be for a mom to deal with. To make my point obvious, the fact that so many people are willing to suggest horrible punishments for this women even before her trial, or even the facts have been made public, shows that the sort of toxic misogyny that we are so quick to condemn in other cultures is not so deeply buried in ours.

(The above image is North Korea’s redoubtable leader, Kim Jong-il, looking at things. In this image he’s looking at a piece of plywood. Democratic leaders have to shake a lot of hands, despots have to look at a lot of things. Mr Kim can go anywhere and look at anything he wants in his country, I’m sure that beats shaking a bunch of sweaty hands in shopping malls every day. Another reason dictators shun democratic reform I suppose. I got it from this fine aptly titled site: kim jong-il looking at things.)

Written by unitedcats

June 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm