Monthly Archives: March 2014

False Equivalency, Nonsense Thinking, And The Grand Delusion

There’s something that’s been bothering me immensely for quite a few years. I’m certain I’m not the only one. It seems to be getting worse every year.

The Pit Bull And The Chihuahua

Once there was a lonely person named Charlie. One day they went to adopt a dog. Two were awaiting adoption: a chihuahua and a pit bull. The chihuahua was yapping and snapping. The pit bull growled a deep growl.

“I have to warn you,” said the pound attendant, “the pit bull has had a hard life and he’s very violent.”

Charlie thought about it, since they really wanted a big dog, and finally said, “But both dogs are growling, and we all know what violent dogs chihuahuas can be. I think I’ll take the pit bull.”

Later that night the pit bull mauled Charlie to death while they slept.

Moral: don’t be Charlie.

Charlie suffers from what is known as false equivalence. They also suffer from being mauled, although I hear it was a quick death, which, compared to a life time of stupidity could even be considered a silver lining.

You see, in Charlie’s case, any amount of violence, whether harmless or deadly, is seen as equally bad. In terms of moral judgement this may have some validity, but clearly in terms of physical danger the results speak for themselves.

“We all feign to ourselves that we are simpler than we are, we thus relax ourselves away from our fellows.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good And Evil

Herein lies one of the big delusions of society. You see, the human mind is not as simple as you might believe. In fact often when we think we’re making careful rational decisions, we are actually driven by a vast array of processes known as cognitive biases. Essentially these are kind of shortcuts that the brain uses to help us think quicker. They developed, presumably, for survival, however, often they can lead to false conclusions and disastrous results.

In fact a lot of research has been done into cognitive bias over the last half a century or so, yet we continue to pretend that we are all completely rational beings. Don’t think this applies to you? Think again!

One that stands out in false equivalence is neglect of probability. Humans have a natural tendency to ignore probability when making comparisons. Therefore in Charlie’s mind, the risk of being hurt by both dogs is non zero, and therefore equal. As an aside, this is the exact bias that allows insurance companies to dupe people into giving them all their hard earned money, much like lotto companies.

Another that rears its ugly head is wishful thinking. This one is interesting. If we think about survival, people who judge their odds purely rationally are likely to conclude that the future will contain a certain amount of happiness. People who suffer wishful thinking will perceive MORE future happiness and therefore be less likely to suicide. What this means is that wishful thinking is a subtle survival tactic. What this means in Charlie’s case is that fido is feasting on long pork tonight.

Also displayed, not so much considered a bias as a natural process of the mind, is motivated reasoning. Herein lies one of the cornerstones of modern delusion in so called “rational” thinking. It causes the human mind a lot of stress to introduce new information. This stress is known as cognitive dissonance. As it turns out, it is much less stress on the mind to create (valid or otherwise) reasoning to rebuke the information than to accept the information.

There’s a darker side to false equivalence though, known as false balance, that threatens to tear our world apart. It’s the increasingly dominant thought that for some reason we MUST tell both sides of a story, especially in media. This is possibly the worst kind of nonsense thinking in modern society.

And here is the big delusion that people seem to have been tricked into believing. Sometimes, in fact MOST of the time, there simply AREN’T two sides of a story. Who came up with this ridiculous form of non thinking? Often sayings can become a mind trap, where we don’t review the meaningfulness of a heavily repeated statement till eventually it is the statement doing the (non)thinking for us. “There are two sides to every story” is one of the worst.

Even though it is true that some issues have many sides, on what basis does any person have an obligation to perpetuate any of them? Take this recent example where a SCIENTIST was criticised for not discussing creationism. Lets not beat around the bush here: discussing an idea, even innocently, perpetuates an idea. Pretending that one unlikely idea has equivalence to another heavily probable idea, creates support for the probably false idea.

I refuse to do it.

We have no obligation to teach others about ideas that we do not support. This is not an issue of discrimination. It is in fact the opposite. Freedom of speech means not only freedom to say what you want, it also means freedom to refrain from saying what you don’t want. Repeating nonsense just to make someone feel good about themselves serves no one in the long run.

It could be even worse. These studies show that presenting someone with a falsity that appeals to their beliefs, followed by clear evidence to the opposite, actually STRENGTHENS belief in the false position. Any wonder that dodgy politicians and fundamentalists are the people banging this balance in media drum the hardest?

Next week: Global warming, is it myth?

My Sweet Anxiety

I’m feeling it today. Like a huge pressure bearing down. I am the rabbit among the wolves. Everyone is out to get me.

Here we go again. Trying to broach “that” topic. Another article you’ll probably never read. Because it never works…and there’s a reason why. You’d understand if you knew the answer but until that point you may just have to guess.

Some days it’s just so hard to see the humorous side of things. I know it shouldn’t matter, it’s just I guess people like that kind of thing…and well…that’s part of the problem. I feel an intense compulsion to perform, like a rabbit in a cage.

Attention can be my worst enemy. When I know someone is reading I feel I need to please them. My best work comes when I’m writing “into the wind”, so to speak. When someone is watching I feel trapped. Like a rabbit in a spotlight.

That’s how I’m feeling right now. That’s how I feel almost all the time in fact, just now it’s a little extreme. There’s a tightness inside, like I’m getting ready to defend myself from…well something. My eyes are sweating a little. I hardly move aside from the small almost imperceptible movements of my fingers as I type on my phone. Ok, here we go…

When I was younger I lived in a small town. Well several small towns really. My father got shifted around a lot, due at first to working in a bank and following where the work was I guess. Later it was just bad luck. But it’s all the same, either way, and the end result is I really have no place I can call home.

It’s really difficult to form real bonds when you’re moved from town to town. Most people come from families that have lived in these towns since their grandparents. They’re afraid of outsiders…not necessarily in a direct sense (although there is that too). It’s more of a deep sense of foreboding. And among the children that becomes expressed as hatred. There were times, especially just after I’d moved town, when it wasn’t just my imagination, everyone really did hate me.

God it’s hard to talk about the past. It comes back to “that” thing. I could explain but the first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. Suffice it to say, in my mind, every single word is being judged.

Maybe that’s why I’ve developed such a critical eye for analysis of literature. I know what it’s like to write from a tortured soul. Every word carefully weighed and measured. Nothing left that shouldn’t be there.

I can feel the eyes of strangers staring at me. Like they can see the words I’m typing. Like they are judging me. Getting ready to attack. My sweet anxiety.

That’s what I fear will be judged the most. It’s almost romantic. ALMOST like I love to be the anxiety guy. It gives me definition. How else can one talk though when we’re surrounded by romanticism on every side. So much of our literature in modern times is dominated by it, I almost want to throw up at the thought.

Entire subcultures have arisen around romanticising anxiety. Emo, goth. There are others but its all the same. It’s a little insulting in some ways, but in other ways I know how they feel so I can feel some sort of bond. Part of me thinks its just pathetic romanticisation but I’d like to think that at least on some level it’s an attempt to express the unspeakable.

So anyway, back to the story. One thing that we did (semi regularly) when I was growing up was to go fox and rabbit hunting. It was fairly common in the country, partly because both are quite a nuisance to farming. I would go with my cousin shooting. Funny to think now that we used to let our children go out “playing” with guns.

I was never any good at it. In fact I never once even shot an animal. I’m not sure why but I just didn’t have an aptitude for shooting. It’s possible I was a little nervous at the thought of killing. Well at least, I never shot anything until one day.

I must have been about nineteen. I’d gone out with a friend I had made at university as well as my dad. Or at least that’s how I remember it but sometimes my memories get jumbled up. I don’t completely remember the events leading up to it, but I remember the moment. It was like time stretched out for eternity. The rabbit had ended up sitting before me, possibly entranced by the spot light. It looked kind of dumbfounded, like the empty look you see in a sheep’s eyes just before you cut it’s throat. I stood with the gun in my hand, aiming. The others stood by watching. He looked up at me, almost begging for me to finish it, but how could I possibly have known that?

When I was really young, like five years old, I had a lot of cuddly toys. Teddy bears and the like literally (I mean the classic sense of the word) covered my bed and filled our toy box. My favourite however was a little white rabbit. From memory it was shaped like an actual rabbit, not one of these Bugs Bunnyesque “rabbits”. It was actually kind of off white, and it had a fuzzy exterior almost like soft carpet.

I don’t think anyone else knew but I loved that little rabbit. I would sleep with it every night. There are certain things that I would just find sublime and could probably never explain exactly why. Like the sensation of going up and down stairs. Or the Down syndrome girl I made friends with at school. The feeling of quiet solitude in a school library. And that little toy rabbit. Few things in life make no demands, and that was one of them.

One day a lady came to the door (at least I recall mum saying it was a lady) asking for donations for poor children. I believe they were looking for old toys to give to the less fortunate. A room full of toys were there, if only I’d been asked I probably would have chosen several. Except that I wasn’t asked and just like that my first friend was gone. It wouldn’t be the last.

Flash forward fourteen years and there I was standing in the field, my friend looking up at me. Asking me to forgive him. Asking me to forgive myself. Not moving, an easy target. Finally here was a shot I couldn’t miss. Then boom.

Goodbye childhood.

Does this explain why I love this ending so much…?