Category Archives: Critical Thought

The Bigotry Of Personality

The Fable Of The Monkey And The Pig

A pig and a monkey were sitting in the commons, enjoying the freedom given to them by their glorious country. It was only weeks until a new government would be elected and the topic turned to the presidency.

“I may trot for government!” oinked the pig to the monkey, in exclamation.

“You?” replied the monkey, incredulously, tittering hopelessly as he scratched an annoying itch on his shoulder.

“Of course!” grunted the pig, “And why not?”

“No need to be like that,” explained the monkey, “After all, isn’t it obvious?”

“Just what are you saying?” snuffled the pig, indignant.

“Well please then,” the monkey replied, expectantly, “explain to me what would make you a good president?”

The pig snorted, and trotted in a small circle before breaking into an elaborate presentation. “Well I’m just as good as anyone, and that’s just for a start. I’ve been thinking, there are much better ways to feed all the animals. And moreso, WHY are all the candidates monkeys anyway? It’s not fair, not fair at all,” and at this she squealed and plonked herself down hard on the dirt.

“Well, you see,” retorted the monkey, “it’s not enough just to have good ideas. The position of president requires more than being smart. It requires dignity and tact, of which, you clearly lack. For instance, why dost thou snort so oft? How do you think other farms would see us if you were in charge? It may not seem fair, but such a role requires certain, attributes, that must come before, so called, equality and good ideas.”

“But WHY,” the pig grunted angrily, “WHY are all the candidates monkeys? Isn’t that unjust? Tell me that my friend!”

“Now,” the monkey responded with seemingly natural serenity, “I’m not one to say that a pig COULDN’T run for presidency. IF a pig was to have the right manners, and the right constitution, surely they would be given just as much opportunity as ANY animal. Alas, so many I’ve met do seem to lack heavily in, shall we say, communication. It would just never do in such a world.”

“Harumph, my friend! Harumph,” exclaimed the pig raising her snout high, “What of equality then? Do you say there is no such thing in the real world?”

“Why of course, my friend,” replied the monkey, sitting back on his two hind legs. Waving a hand, in an explanatory manor, he continued, “There IS equality. And any animal, be that monkey, pig, goose, or ANY other animal, is perfectly at liberty to run for government, JUST so long as they teach themselves to ACT in the appropriate manor, just like all these monkeys have done.” With that he waved his hand in a general way, to imply that he was talking of the caucus proper.

The pig stamped her feet. She snorted through her snout. She looked piercingly into the monkeys eyes. “Well one of these days, I WILL be president, just you wait and see,” she said finally.

At this, the monkey took a step back, reproachingly. “Now, now, my friend. No need to make idle threats. All I’m doing is explaining to you how the world works, don’t put the blame on me if it doesn’t suit your choices. Getting angry won’t get you anywhere. And with that, I bid you adieu, good friend.” Having said so, the monkey and the pig parted ways.

The pig trotted back home to the trough from which she and the other pigs would feed. As she approached for her evening meal, some monkeys were filling the trough with slop.

“I say,” said one monkey to the other, “rather not sure why we have to give all this slop to the pigs. What do they do for us after all?”

“Well would you eat it?” joked the other, poking the first monkey in the ribs.

“Oh, of course not,” said the first, hooting at his joke, “I eat at a table, like ALL good mannered animals.”

“So what does it matter than, eh?” furthered the other, questioningly.

“Well, it’s just, if pigs are to eat our food too, I just don’t see why they shouldn’t try a little harder to fit in. After all, they don’t HAVE to eat at this trough, they’re perfectly welcome at the table too, if they were to learn the proper ways of behaving. None of this grunting and stamping nonsense. It’s really not that hard,” the first replied indignantly.

“Perhaps you’re right,” concluded the other, “If only they acted more like monkeys none of this would have to happen at all.”

Moral: Monkeys can go fuck themselves.

So much of what we say and believe goes unexamined in life. People, as I see it, tend to live between two versions of reality. The first is the patently bigoted reality, in which one openly declares hatred for other people. Live in this world, and surely you will be rightly declared a bigot by society, even while you enjoy some comfort amongst others of a similar nature.

At the other end of the scale, is the imagined reality of total equality, in which “all men live as brothers” (and if you can’t see the obvious problem with that common phrase then you’re not really paying attention). Mostly and largely, I think it’s fair to say, that most people would, at least ostensibly, agree with this stand point. Even if it’s purely for purposes of self interest and wanting to maintain the delusion that each person could themselves crawl their way to the top of the pile, all the way to wanting some type of true equality for the goodness of all, there are many reasons why people generally believe this is a good thing.

In reality, though, in spite of loud and raucous claims to the opposite and condemnation of both camps from either side, the world isn’t like either of these, nor, as is often asserted, a clearly divided conglomerate of both. In some ways, the out and out bigots help reinforce the delusion amongst the “more enlightened”, through showing by comparison how much more enlightened those folks are, and diminishing the bigotry that is extant and omnipresent in their own lives. In doing so, this duality serves to further, regardless of any intent, the needs of the privileged, while at the same time creating the perfect narrative to both hate the disenfranchised and boorish, as well as to silence the critics, that exist as truly enlightened to the nature of the world, from disturbing the hidden reality that silently benefits them.

Personality, far from being an objectively measurable quantity, is the mystical oil that greases the gears of this silent bigotry. Virtues such as good manners, an even temperement and eloquent grammar, are such a deeply ingrained TRUTH in essentially all of us, that any sort of analysis seems a forgone conclusion. In fact, such things are the CORNERSTONE upon which almost all other orthodox arguments on the topic of equality are based. I suggest that it wouldn’t seem entirely distorted to suggest that equality, in the neo-modern sense, could be described as that state in society, in which, each and every person has the same opportunity for success, given they act in the same mannerisms and with the same temperament (incidental luck aside).

Here is where so-called “equality” gets thorny though. After all, who gets to decide upon which mannerisms ALL people will be judged? How is this conundrum resolved if there is disagreement? Does it revert to the dominant class? And, to take this analysis further, if a member of a minor class is in disagreement with the dominant culture, what happens if the dominant culture believes disagreement to be a bad manner? Therein lies the mind trap…after all, consider the case that a person is completely convinced of the dominant cultural norms. How could one, using reason alone, break that trap?

Nowhere is this kind of thinking more apparent than in the political arena. It almost goes without saying, that almost all personal traits are of benefit to the politician, but none is quite so ABSOLUTELY necessary as that of cultural mannerisms. The history of the collapse of political careers, is the history of politicians being labelled as jerks and scum. Yes, some times there are coinciding criticisms of political decisions, but almost ALWAYS there is corresponding criticisms of personality. This is even within the incredibly finite spectrum of personalities that are even considered worthy of entering the political arena.

After all, as the argument generally goes, politics requires such lofty things as maintaining favour, and forging relations. Therefore charisma (or at least a large enough collection of individual’s definitions of charisma) is almost an absolute requirement for the role. Being a good person is simply not enough.

Of course, this becomes self reinforcing. Those who are oppressed by the current political climate are naturally angrier, one of the most demonised personality traits, and hence representation becomes atrophied amongst them. Given this, it is completely self serving to try and separate the issues from the personality traits. Claiming you are not a bigot, and making arguments to the effect of “I agree with their opinion but you won’t get anywhere acting like that” is hypocritical at best, and oppressive and discriminatory at worst.

And then there’s the whole issue of being groomed towards certain cultural standards. Is it any wonder that children of the rich find it easier to “fit in” in the political arena when it’s already so much closer a leap from their (raised from birth) natural position? At this point it becomes apparent that one of the biggest forces reinforcing the class divide is not money but the CULTURE OF CULTURAL STANDARDS that are given to the rich FROM BIRTH, and reinforced by the private education system, to be used as keys to the kingdom.

After all, in a world of pigs and monkeys, equality can never be considered just if we define equality by the terms of the monkeys. Or, to put it in the words of one of the greatest writers in modern history:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell, Animal Farm

See Also:

False Equivalency, Nonsense Thinking and the Grand Delusion

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The Bottom

Eat your veggies. There are children in Africa who would love to have food like this

Every Parent Ever Dinner Time

A lot of things in life go completely unexamined. We have far too much to do in our busy lives, it’s much easier to just take a short cut on some things. If a handy saying SOUNDS like wisdom, that’s “good enough”. We go through life, thinking we know a lot, calling it common sense, but actually know very little.

Australia is called the LUCKY country. It’s people are lucky to live here, or so they say, and in many ways we ARE lucky. We have very low rates of illness, homelessness is rare (although unfortunately growing in recent years), we have a (somewhat) healthy democracy within which everyone has the right to free speech. That’s all well and good but it ignores big problem: poverty.

Many of my friends are probably aware of how much it annoys me when people make flippant remarks of “glass is half full”. This is one of those sayings that is so common it goes completely unchecked. On the surface it seems like wisdom, but underneath lies a dark side that, to me, is a representation of everything that is wrong in a modern wealthy society.

Glass half full economics is, in many cases, the perfect cover for shifting the blame from the rich to the poor. It takes the focus off “who has more and why” and shifts it to “who has a little and why are they complaining”. This is privilege at it’s very worst. It is widespread, rampant, and so institutionalised as to be seen in plain sight: not as a force for control but AS COMMON WISDOM.

I have been incredibly lucky. I am wealthy (to a point), I have access to care (such as psychology) that others could never afford, I have the kind of job that many would die for, and I never need to worry about how I will pay the next bill. I was lucky enough to live in a time when university was more or less free, and lucky to have passionate teachers who pushed me to attend. I was also lucky beyond belief that my father fought for me to have these opportunities. To put it another way, my glass is quite full.

It wasn’t always the case though. Many people may not realise that my family was fairly poor when I was younger. We were never homeless, but we often had to go without. It wasn’t all bad. It’s actually quite amazing what you can do in a small country town with enough land to grow food.

But it wasn’t all good either. I couldn’t say for sure, but if I had to guess, the number one issue preventing migration from poverty to wealth isn’t opportunity. There are definitely big problems in this regard, especially for remote and isolated areas, although even if these problems were to be solved an even bigger one remains regardless.

The truth is far more insidious than that. Our whole social structure is constructed to keep poor people down, and it’s an endless struggle fighting against that beast. It’s a two pronged sword, firstly overcoming the indoctrinated belief that you are not worthy of success, and secondly accepting the position of outcast if you try to change your fortunes.

Both of these problems stem from the same reasons but they effectively form two completely separate neuroses. It all comes down to what Nietzsche referred to as slave morality. It’s hard to pinpoint exact instances of this behaviour, because in many ways, especially to those who have grown up in the lower classes, it is almost indistinguishable from reality. In fact, one might say, to those living under it, SLAVE MORALITY IS REALITY.

Reality is a kind of wibbly wobbly thing. In fact, people who state things as fact and call themselves REALISTS couldn’t be further from reality. What we know as reality is in fact more truthfully, the reflection of the natural world as refracted through our moral prejudices. You see freedom fighter, I see terrorist. Essentially speaking, if you could reprogram a persons morality and stereotypes you could completely change the story of their life.

At some point in the past, so the theory goes, the cultures of the rich and poor gradually evolved. To the rich, riddled with a nagging guilt at owning most of the property, positive (but still delusional) neuroses gradually evolved to form the master morality. Master morality is all about convincing yourself that you deserve everything you have. As an example, imagine the son of wealthy parents who invested his inheritance in a risky venture, and worked hard to make that venture a success. Master morality for that man is believing that he deserves what he has because he had the courage and the determination to risk everything in order to win big, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that he was born with infinitely larger table stakes.

On the other side of the coin, slave morality evolved from the neurotic desire to have an intact sense of personal power. As a slave, there is one obvious salient point when it comes to power: you have none. Since the prospect of being powerless is perhaps the single biggest fear one can experience, slave morality evolved as a way to convince ourselves (also delusional) that, in fact, it is us with the “power” to resist the temptation of success, as opposed to being too poor to have any.

This had always been a problem for me, although I only recently found a name for it. I’d been brought up on a diet of television four hours a day. For the most part television is exactly as they say, it rots your brain. At least though it gave me one gift: it fed my subconscious on a diet of romantic heroes and epic journeys. The side effect of television being largely controlled by sociopathic inbred families is that they mostly write what they know. In their own lives master morality is so prevalent as to seem like reality.

This works to suppress the slave class for the most part. The heroes are portrayed as gods, something a “normal” person can never be. Even more so, a lot of fiction serves to reinforce the idea of the rich (batman) and powerful (superman) as protectors of the “helpless” common man. No wonder that we idolise our politicians and take their demands for obeisance as love.

As for me though all I saw was something I wanted to be. No, it’s more complicated than that, although I’ll try to summarise since that might be another story into itself. For various reasons I believe my unconscious took these heroes upon itself as it’s own persona. It saw something that I needed. I needed something to “exact revenge” against those who would bully me, and the power to protect the weak, and so my mind took from these fictions what I needed.

There was another factor at work. I was obsessed with computers and especially video games. Back in the dawn of time, in the year zero ][e, the vast majority of video games were power fantasies, inspired by the epic stories such as Lord Of The Rings and War Of The Worlds. What’s even more important, the video games portrayed YOU as the hero, and in doing so secretly trained a generation in the morality of the masters. This is perhaps why the younger generation seems so distasteful to the older generation: they LIVE BY A NEW MORAL CODE. (Not to get too far ahead of myself but this may even be a distinct shift that explains the extreme split in modern politics). For me, however, it presented a vast and complicated problem.

From a very early age, it seems so obvious now, I suffered from extreme levels of anxiety. My parents, who had the best intentions, were only doing their duty to “slave morality” and following the moral code that told us all, “We are the bottom. It is not our place to rise above our station, and it is an abomination to even imagine so.” I dreamed of greater things, of epic journeys and worldly exploration. This was simply not possible in the world I came from, and so I kept my dreams secret. They were pushed deep down to a place where they could hide, and I formed a mask of steely resolve that would define the next twenty years of my life. And in doing so, I became the slave.

Something strange happened next though, and even then I doubt I had barely the understanding as to the significance of these events to the years that would follow. For a few years my pushed down dreams had turned sour inside me, and a rage was bubbling up, almost out of control. I found myself arguing with my family at random times about random things. I guess they just couldn’t understand the things I thought. How could they? They had grown up in a different world. This conflict grew and grew until I could barely stand it any more. I made an unconscious choice: kill myself or get away. Lucky for me, I chose flight over fight. So this led to my failed attempt to run away from home. I had a bag with a few things and my skateboard, which, in spite of the amusement others had in imagining I skated towards freedom, I merely carried with me. At one point on the way I was attacked by a protective magpie, and I used the skateboard like a weapon to defend myself, heroic in the most romantic sense. I made it about fifteen kilometres before my dad found me.

It was all so long ago that I don’t even remember the order of all the events, but I guess something must have shifted in dad that day, when he saw my bed empty. Or maybe he’d been noticing something wrong for a long time. Either way, for whatever reasons, my father did something that was very unbecoming to someone of his upbringing. He fought for me.

I remember the rowdy arguments my parents would have, even to this day. I never asked but I think that time was the closest they ever came to leaving each other. Through some stroke of chance, for that time at least, my father chose my life over his marriage.

It’s important to understand the significance of these events. To my parents, brought up on their morality, I was a pariah. In many ways they still see me this way. In fact, it’s possible they will never quite understand me. I had become the worst of all things, the man who dreamed of breaking away from the chains of a normal life. Even still, in an act akin to rejecting the culture of his family and history, my father took the chance to be the heretic, and joined my side. And, somehow, we won. With what little power my father had, he pushed me as high as he could. It was somehow enough, and I escaped that world.

One might be forgiven for thinking this is where the story ends. The epic hero had overcome the dark world and escaped it and all of it’s demons. Alas, the end of one story is the beginning of another, and the demons of my childhood would return in a most unexpected way. That, however, is a story for another time.

The Wretched

I think there’s something special about double albums. I have to admit I find myself drawn towards them, usually for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Pound for pound, most double albums have counterpart single albums that are objectively better, start to finish. The White Album vs Sgt. Pepper. The Dark Side Of The Moon vs The Wall (or Ummagumma which is an exception to itself). The Downward Spiral vs The Fragile. Appetite For Destruction vs Use Your Illusion. The single album in all these cases are critically genius. The double albums on the other hand (with the arguable exception of The Wall, and with the caveat that the White Album is critically aclaimed despite it’s randomness) are generally considered good, but hodge podge, and lacking something.

I suppose there’s a consistent reason for this. It’s quite difficult to think of twice as much content and keep it of high quality. It’s a result of the creative process. I’m definitely not the first to observe that creativity, more often than not, consists of creating reams of bullshit and selecting the diamonds amongst the turds. Presumably as a musical artist, there is only so big a pile of dung you can build in an economically feasible time, and then you need to select the best from that.

It might come as some surprise to my friends that I use this process myself. It’s not entirely true that I have the most stunningly attractive son in the world (although that IS true). Rather, for every photogenic picture I put on Facebook, there are ten others that are, less than perfection.

 

shakespear
A baby smacking themself in the head, or a gifted child reciting Shakespeare?

 

A friend of mine has a theory on art. As best as I can describe it in a single sentence: the critical aspect of art is not in the creation, but rather in the selection. By way of explanation, photographers, rather than being the quasiartists that people often brand them as, are in fact the purest form of artist.

I don’t necessarily agree with his hypothesis one hundred percent, but I do think there is some truth to it. Rather than beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it might be more accurate to say, beauty is in the eye of the SELECTOR.

Back to the double albums, I ask myself what draws me to those things. These big inelegant monstrosities. It occurred to me, as I “rewound” my phone to listen to NIN’s The Wretched for the third time in a row, that in fact I focus in on parts of those albums. It’s like a collage that a brain can be thrown against to draw out the salient unconscious thoughts, much like a modern take on Rorschach ink blots.

On the flip side of random unconscious selection however, inherent to the process of making a double album, is the inverse artistic process. Rather than selection, it becomes a question of inclusion. Tracks that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut, under an objective analysis, become the saviour of the time-filling gods.

Would Revolution 9 have made the cut, if it had been on Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Probably not. Even more so, the fluid unconscious thoughts that bring themselves to every decision we make, ARE subtly manipulated by extant circumstances. Even if R9 might have been considered on Seargant Pepper’s, the easy cop out of “there’s just no room” would have been all the ammo the superego would need to tip the scales in favour of extinction. Also are the songs of high art, like My Guitar Gently Weeps. Could it have existed on any other Beatles album, each with their highly focused musical theme? On the white album, however, it’s just another stroke of random genius, and more so, in my opinion, the most moving track on the album, and perhaps (one of) the most moving pieces of music in the electric guitar repertoire.

When I was younger, not even at the time understanding the significance, I would listen in darkness to Guns And Roses Coma over and over. Now it’s fairly obvious to me that the song reflected the disconnection and suffering that I found in my life at the time. Would such a self reflective song have found a home on the high energy rock anthem album, Appetite For Destruction?

It reflects a profound truth about all art, and the struggle within. We are our own worst critics. Self editing can be a destructive force. I found this, inversely, when one of my articles turned out to be quite popular. This piece, which to me was nonsense mind refuse, seemed to strike a chord and became my most read piece yet, fifty percent higher than my previous most read. I seriously had debated not posting that piece, which would have been a tragedy, both to my readers and my stats (not to mention my ego).

The truth is that people aren’t generally looking for perfection, even if most people would claim that ostensibly they are. As far as I can tell, what people really need, what they hunger for, is authenticity. They crave to know that the scabrous pile of retchinal vomit before them validates their own imperfect existence. There in lies the strength of the artist. The strength of the wretched.

Just a reflection
just a glimpse
just a little reminder
of all the what abouts
and all the might have
could have beens
another day
some other way
but not another reason to continue
and now you’re one of us
the wretched

Trent Reznor, The Wretched

Sociopaths And The Collapse Of Conservatism Prologue

A Tale Of Two Blogs

This is part of a series on politics and psychology. You can jump to other parts here:
Prologue: A Tale Of Two Blogs
Part 1: The Most Annoying Thing
Part 2: Sociopaths, Losers and the Clueless

It all started in a weird sort of roundabout way. Here was an article, full of moments of incredible insight. About small things, and about large things. Maybe about both at the same time, as is the way of most thought travelling from the unconscious forward.

Perhaps, it’s impossible to say for sure, this was how it was meant to be. As though a philosophy was slowly forming, and my conscious mind had just not been made aware of it yet.

This piece I had written, I sought feedback, but the same thing kept being said: this is two blogs. Disjointed. Skipping from one random thought to the next. Now psychology, now sociology, now politics. Perhaps they were right, even though social proof is often misleading in these cases, it seemed likely that the writing hadn’t hit the mark.

I put the article aside to think some more. I must admit I had trouble defining what it actually was that I intended to communicate. Something about it confused me, yet, at the same time, something about it seemed to connect, in my mind at least. It remained unpublished for many weeks, my unconscious pondering the problem.

There was some not very good writing in the meantime…writing experiments more than proper articles. Then one morning as I lay half awake this idea popped into my head. It was a grand idea…well a hypothesis really, at first. It was politics, but it was also sociology, and again psychology (of the pop variety at least)…and yet one more thing: math. An idea of set theory, so applicable it seemed like a bolt of an idea. But politics and maths? I’m not talking obvious connections like economics. Rather the kind of connection that leaves people saying things like, “but we’re not talking about maths, we’re talking about politics”.

I’ll get to that idea soon. But first it occurred to me that these ideas that had been bubbling around inside were all somehow intimately connected. And therein lies the first problem.

Many times I’ve found myself confounded, when attempting an analogy, or a metaphor, by a miscommunication. At first, well at least the first time my understanding started to clarify, I saw this as a pattern/facts dichotomy. Perhaps I should explain a little more clearly.

As far as I can tell, given my background in computer software, and understanding of people, as well as pop psychology, there are, as is usually the case, two types of people.

First there are those amongst us, who primarily deal in facts. Now, perhaps there needs to be a better word for what I’m talking about here but I’ll try to elucidate. I’m not talking about facts in the sense of something being true or not. Rather I’m talking about facts in the sense of discrete pieces of information, easily measured, and all in their own little clearly marked boxes. For instance, and I’ll coin a phrase just for the sake of the argument, it is a thoughtlet that in democratic societies politicians tend to gravitate into two dominant parties.

“But the hour presseth them; so they press thee. And also from thee they want Yea or Nay. Alas! thou wouldst set thy chair betwixt For and Against?”

Excerpt From: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. “Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

The second type of person is the type that thinks in patterns. They don’t concern themselves too much with facts and figures (although this doesn’t necessarily mean they believe in nonsense or oogity boogity), but rather concern themselves with organising general patterns of ideas. They more easily see the connection between, say, the movement of atmospheric pressure and the political vacuum of war and peace. This gives them advantages in predicting general outcomes for an unknown discipline, but less understanding of specific areas of knowledge.

I am more of a pattern thinking person, although I only realised this a few years ago. Till that point it hadn’t occurred to me that there was any reason to suspect that others didn’t even understand the general style of thinking I was using.

Pattern thinking is the basis behind such things as fables. Almost no one would suggest that “slow and steady wins the race” only applies to tortoises, so at least on some level pattern thinking must be understood by most people. And yet in most topics it seems to be almost anathema.

Where does this resistance come from? It’s probably out of my range of skills to make conclusions, although I do have a certain suspicion. Most of us, from the age of about five, are sent to school. It becomes a (if not THE) dominant influence on our modes of thinking. For (I assume) reasons of efficiency all the information is delivered via a number of discrete categories: maths, science, history etc. Therein, with increasing levels of difficulty, we are presented with gruelling examinations, testing us on each topic individually. Is it any wonder than that we develop minds that try to separate conversations to singular discrete topics? It’s probably also the reason why we hear arguments like: why should I learn statistics if I’m never going to be a statician? (Answer: you’re an idiot.)

There is perhaps nothing more preposterous a notion than that of separating ideas into their own baskets. LIFE IS MESSY! Life doesn’t separate itself, it just is! Economics (to use an example) can be no more separated from philosophy, can be no more separated from politics, can be no more separated from psychology, can be no more separated from baking, building, designing, nor living than a heart can be separated from a living being. Sure, you CAN separate these things but what you have left is a pile of human remains WITHOUT life, only death.

As if one can play soccer without considering the importance of a healthy heart and diet! In that regard, at least, perhaps sports people are a little ahead.

And yet we must never let the disciplines cross. And why? Why must we talk about political climate WITHOUT discussing the mental state of those in charge of it?

It’s obvious, in retrospect, that Adolph Hitler was seven hens short of a dozen, but if he was around today, and there ARE MANY JUST LIKE HIM, we would excuse him and mark the naysayers as deluded conspiracists!

It’s no longer viable to talk about these things as separate ideas. EVERYTHING IN LIFE IS CONNECTED. DISCONNECTION IS DEATH, and it’s high time we talked as so.

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues….” George Orwell, Why I Write

Sociopaths And The Collapse Of Conservatism Part 2

Sociopaths, Losers, and the Clueless

This is part of a series on politics and psychology. You can jump to other parts here:
Prologue: A Tale Of Two Blogs
Part 1: The Most Annoying Thing
Part 2: Sociopaths, Losers and the Clueless

Looking back over the approximately forty years that I’ve lived, it’s a strange observation that in spite of modern ideals, like socialism for example, it can appear at first glance that as a society we are devolving. Conservatism seems stronger than it ever was, at least in places like the U.S.A and Australia. And what’s more it is gradually becoming more idealistic and extremist. While conservative governments have always had some bad ideas, when you compare the likes of Tony Abbott to John Howard, or George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan, it seems almost as though we’re living in some kind of dystopic world. Those politicians that many once saw as villainous seem almost leftist by comparison, which is a sad state of affairs indeed. So why is this happening? There are several possibilities that come to mind.

The first, and perhaps the most intuitive, especially to right leaning people, is that left policies are out of control. We’ve gone too soft and our society is headed for doom. Only flipping the switch the entire opposite direction can possibly save us now. There are two reasons for which I would discount this theory. Firstly, this idea comes out of a sort of collection of morals and ideals that were common to pre modern times. That is to say things like, every person should earn his own living, food is scarce and everyone needs to pull up their boot straps, or even to say that there is an abundance of employment and anyone who is not working is lazy. I’m not criticising this view point, per se, but rather pointing out that this viewpoint is the basic ideal of conservative parties. Surely if this was the reason driving a return to conservatism we must believe that a massive number of otherwise left thinking people suddenly changed their minds about everything and became conservatives. This is unlikely beyond belief. In fact studies have shown that many who vote conservative actually have ideals that support left policies, like fairness and equal access to jobs, health, education and so forth. The second reason I find this hard to believe is that the underlying basis of the position is absolute bollocks and I suspect that people are as a species more intelligent than we give them credit for.

Another leading argument is that the standing governments are on the take and through the power of financial investments have ceased to listen to the common person, who is too stupid to realise it. This does sound appealing to myself and I suspect many generation x’ers. We grew up amongst scandals like watergate, so we learnt to distrust the position of politician. There is also a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest this, such as special meetings with tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rhinehart, or policies that go against all scientific evidence in favour of big business. I am tempted to believe this is the truth, but I fear I would be lacking objectivity. There may be more than a few grains of truth to this theory, but at the end of the day I must throw suspicion on this as a total explanation of current affairs. Firstly it breaks the adage “you can’t fool all the people all of the time”. There are cognitive biases such as illusory superiority, the tendency to believe we are above average, that allows us to be convinced that everyone else is stupid. It’s an easy leap to make, but difficult to prove, and I think there’s more to it. Something specific must have changed because it’s safe to assume people are not dumber now than they were in the eighties, and we didn’t have regressive policy then.

In order to understand the reasons for the resurgence of conservatism, there are a few ideas we need to understand: the psychology of politicians, the psychology of the voter, and, perhaps the most important part, the economics of political parties and affiliations. But first politicians.

I’d like to borrow an idea here from one of my favourite bloggers Venkatesh Rao (although this specific idea he borrows somewhat from an earlier source). If you’ve never read The Gervais Principle I highly recommend it. It is the kind of article that can change how you view all interactions. The idea we’ll be talking about is that the world is made up of three basic types: sociopaths, clueless and losers. It took Venkatesh six extremely long posts to cover so I won’t do it here, just explain the basic mechanism.

Sociopaths in this model are essentially detached realists. They see the world for what it is and will do anything that benefits themselves in some objective way (money, happiness, power etc). That’s not to say that they are all morally bankrupt, per se, just that they do not bind themselves by a traditional sense of what is wrong or right. Sociopaths set their own morals.

The clueless are the opposite. They are naive and driven by a repressed lack of basic childhood needs. For example, if a clueless grew up without family they may seek to have an unrealistic number of friends. The clueless ARE morally bankrupt, not necessarily because they’re not good people nor want to be, but rather they never learnt to understand moral reasoning to begin with. Their morals are held by society at large and they look to society to validate or disallow their behaviour.

The third group, the losers, are the every person. Not meant in a negative sense (and ignorant of the fact that most losers value more social things and are therefore much happier, at least in the sense that they believe they are happy) the term indicates those that give up the lion’s share of the economic pie in return for security (eg a wage job). To put it in a (possibly too) simplistic manner, if life were a game of monopoly the losers would be, well, the losers.

The hypothetical relationship between these three groups is as follows: the sociopaths promote the clueless to positions of power as a buffer to take all the anger and hate from the losers (apt readers from Australia may have some idea where this is heading).

Amongst the three, in a political sense, it is perhaps the clueless that are the most dangerous. Sociopaths may be immoral, but at least we can make predictions of their behaviour based on past actions. The clueless however are unpredictable. Their behaviour depends entirely on the zeitgeist of the moment. It wasn’t because Adolph Hitler was crazy with power that tragedy occurred (although he was crazy with power). One man alone can not execute so much destruction. It was the fact that THE CLUELESS FOLLOWED HIS LEAD that lead to actual atrocities being committed. In fact it has been commented by many that one of the leading reasons for complicity was the common following of the Lutheran church, that teaches people to obey their elected leaders, the religion of the clueless if there ever was one.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor

You don’t have to look very far to see this in action. For years we mocked one of the stupidest men in political history, by the name of George W. Bush. But apart from being clearly out of his depth, and somewhat naive, was he really an arch villain? Or was he just the pawn of more powerful men? Still today the mention of his name will cause flames to appear in eyes everywhere, but does the same visceral anger appear when we remember the investment bankers that almost brought the world economy to a stand still in 2008, or the oil companies that lobby for regressive laws that put our very climate at stake? Of course, we all have a feeling those things are bad, but we reserve the real anger for politicians. That’s fine. That’s exactly how the sociopaths with the real power want it. They don’t want to be your friend so they don’t care too much if you are a little upset at them. Anger, on the other hand can be a motivating factor for change. It needs to be funnelled away. And that’s where politicians come in.

There are two basic types of politicians in the modern world, and if you understand this simple point you will be better equipped to see that in fact the different factions of politics are in fact not similar at all, and in fact, DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE.

The first politician is the one that some would believe all politicians are (to their own detriment). The politicians that genuinely care about their country and their people. It’s fairly easy to spot these politicians. They don’t champion groups or specific people, they champion ideas. As they say, follow the money. If there’s no obvious direct beneficiary (eg oil cartels) then the only rational conclusion is that the politician, at least believes, they are doing the righteous thing.

The second type of politician is the polar opposite. The bottom feeders of the psychopolitical spectrum, they eat the scraps falling off the table of their masters, in return for policies that grossly increase the powers of said masters, and further the economic divide between those that have power and those that do not. If a politician talks about specific interests, for instance, specific industries, and specific fears, such as the DRASTIC personal effects you will suffer if you do not give way, then you can bet a pony you’re talking to the clueless.

The clueless don’t even UNDERSTAND that the rationale thy pedal is ignorant nonsense. They haven’t evolved past a three year old mentality. Everything boils down to, what do I PERSONALLY lose, what do I PERSONALLY gain, and IS ANYONE ANGRY AT ME? It often doesn’t have to be things of material value. To the clueless the prestige of being in a position that they clearly have no right to attain can be reward enough.

Take modern Australian politics. Just when we’d finished spending years laughing at America, and could only assume that a stupider leader would never be elected again, Australia, not one to be beaten at anything, topped the expectations of even the most pessimistic of observers. We elected Tony Abbott, such an imbecile that he SOLD OUT THE FUTURE OF THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS for a mere SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. Let’s look at some facts: recent comments from the University Of Western Australia suggest that fees would increase by thirty percent under new legislation. Let’s take a conservative position and suggest that they have only one thousand students per year at the lowest expected cost of sixteen thousand dollars. This equates to a windfall of no less than THREE MILLION dollars a year. This is not the type of corruption we imagine in the movies, this is an imbecile trying to play with the big boys, and getting short changed in the process.

It’s no coincidence that Tony Abbott resembles, almost to a T, Hugo Weaving’s character, Agent Smith from The Matrix, in his most insane moments. Hugo once described his performance as trying to portray a robot, that has no concept of emotion, attempting to mimic the emotions of humans. Is it coincidence then, that many of the most iconic photos of Tony Abbott show approximate, yet at the same time, completely inappropriate expressions? Is it political opportunism or simply a child trying his best to be recognised as appropriate by his peers?

And finally, at the risk of giving away the villain before the end of the story, if you need more convincing take a look at the infamous Fox News. The comments that flood from the presenters are all the evidence you need to see that the clueless really are the center of attention. Is it any wonder? Remember that the clueless have some overpowering need, and the need for attention is one of the very earliest childhood needs that can be oppressed. When presenters on the likes of Fox take a dog eat dog attitude to the world, it’s not just because they are ignorant, it’s that by and large these people have never known real empathy. They are incapable of feeling ethics for themselves so they gather together, never even aware, that they truly are the blind leading the blind.

That’s it for the clueless for now. There are more parts to this puzzle as we will explore in coming parts. In the mean time, remember the old saying, “two dumbs don’t make a smart”.

slc

Not to belabour the point, but…

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?

The Moral Mind Trap

Lately I’ve been struggling. It’s a kind of mish mash of feelings, somewhere between fear of offending, feeling like my thoughts aren’t good enough, and a feeling (justified or otherwise) of not being able to bring my thoughts to the forefront of what it is I’m trying to write. For someone who writes, it’s kind of paralysing.

The mind is a strange beast. Intuitively (especially in this age of computerisation) we imagine it to be very simple. The standard (naive) mental model is something like this: input goes in, intelligent man (because of course we have a completely different prevailing mental model for women) applies his carefully constructed logic, and decisions come out like manna from heaven. Who would question the results of rational thinking?

But the reality of the situation is of course much deeper than this, and much more dangerous for our misconceptions of the process. I’ve talked before, for instance, about the different voices that vie for control when we think, such as for example (as Freud termed it) the superego. This is just the tip of a very large iceberg of ignorance, hypocrisy, and just plain bad thinking. Not to be deterred by the vastness of the problem however, that’s exactly where we shall begin.

Freud described the superego as that part of our mind that seeks to impose moral ideals onto our conscious thought. It’s not an actual part of our brain hardware, but rather it can be thought of as a piece of software that is intended to protect us. You can think of it as the squishy gray version of antivirus software (unless you find the thought of squishy gray things slightly erotic, in which case your superego has been informed and has got his eye on you). You probably know it under several incarnations: the conscience, the little angel on your shoulder, self criticisms (like repeating catch phrases that an influential figure from your childhood might have said), or that image of father that comes to me at night and insists I spank myself for all the bad deeds of the day (I “swear” I just tripped and fell into this harness). Mostly (at least as Freud theorised) it is even unconscious, that feeling of dread you get when doing something that may not be in the publics (and therefore vicariously your) interest.

For the most part the superego is a super neat guy. It’s the part of our brain that stops society from descending into chaos. Don’t rape people in the street, don’t eat your sister, don’t murder your neighbour (no matter how annoying country music is…but that’s another story).

When distorted through trauma or extreme oppression (which I suppose is a kind of trauma as well) however it can become a destructive force in your mind. It seeks to punish you for natural feelings, to the point where you are not making decisions in life from a position of clear rational thought, but simply out of trying to avoid the wrath of the superego. Left unquestioned, or even worse, reinforced by certain seemingly rational behavioural patterns, and we become its slave.

This becomes a real problem for society, because the next step (once the thinking has ceased) is to turn the fear outwards. Hatred very often is fear inverted. It’s almost certainly not true (in spite of being completely comforting to imagine) that most people hate something because they secretly desire it themselves (like the classic “You’re only homophobic because you’re gay”). But there may be a shred of truth to the concept. More likely, when confronted with something that contradicts someone’s personal moral code, the superego steps in and starts a conversation that goes something like this: “Are you sure you’re strong enough? Maybe you’ll be doing that next. And if you do I’m going to whip you like a butter pancake. If it was me, and I sincerely mean this as a suggestion devoid of any threats, I’d stop that person.”

We don’t like to think about this effect. Part of the superegos makeup is to punish us for even thinking of discussing it. The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is you do NOT talk about fight club. Well fuck the rules. I’m talking about fight club.

For the sake of the argument I’m going to coin a phrase. It may not be of my devising since it most likely comes from my subconscious which may have come from others writings. Regardless it’s a term I often use in my thoughts. I call it a mind trap.

A mind trap could be defined as “a series of (seemingly) logical statements, which taken together form an unbreakable circular argument, that specifically ensnares our thoughts so that we can’t break our pattern of thinking without extreme effort”. I’ll also add that usually we are oblivious to the mind traps that ensnare us, primarily because the logic seems so sound and rational. It’s often not a passing thought but a fundamental way of life. It will be seen (by the person ensnared) as a part of WHO they are, and therefore by definition to escape said mind trap is to deny oneself (this is even a mind trap in itself).

There is a common mind trap I’ve observed, and it goes a little something like this. Thomas is good. We know Thomas is good because Thomas does good things. How do we know the things Thomas does are good? Because Thomas does them. To question Thomas’s actions is heresy. Thomas said so. I call this the moral mind trap.

This is one of the most insidious traps a mind can fall into. Since morals are so fundamental to our identity we will fight to defend it. It will come as a personal front for another to suggest we question our reasoning.

Taken alone, I suppose, this isn’t the most terrible thing someone could fall privy to. A well balanced mind could probably overcome Thomas. It’s when the superego becomes a fan of Thomas that the problem arises. That is when hatred is born, both inward and outward. The moral mind trap becomes the holding pattern the superego uses to divert our incoming critical thought. By diverting our regular rational thought, terrible things are done in the name of reason and decency.

My name is Tyler Durden. This is my story.

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.” – Fight Club

There Is No Elephant

Cinema has an amazing way of making you feel, at least for the time that you’re watching the movie and shortly after, that you’ve got access to hidden information and finally know the truth. I thought I’d write it down so others could read it later and thank me.

I just got back from watching Ender’s Game, based on the amazing novel by Orson Scott Card. I won’t spoil it, but besides that’s not really what was on my mind.

Now Orson Scott Card, by some measures, is not a very nice man. He’s a known bigot. He struggles with concepts that are clearly more driven by his religious upbringing than his keen intellect. Which is sad, since his writings show that also inside is the mind of a great thinker.

Ender is a boy of vastly superior intellect. Even using those words strikes a little pang of concern. It’s as true today as it was when the book was written that intellect is seen by society with fear, mistrust and jealousy. Just think of all the loaded meanings and insults that reinforce the idea: smart ass, don’t be so smart, you think too much (oh really?? Maybe YOU don’t think enough?). There’s also the sneaky cousin of the insult: everyone’s entitled to an opinion (and therefore your one backed by evidence and critical reasoning is WRONG you asshole).

The discrimination is even implied deeply in how we judge people. Compare the dumb thug versus the intellectual mastermind. Who would you be more likely to forgive. But as a friend once so eloquently put it (to paraphrase), the difference between these two is not in their value as a character, it’s just one did a hella better job of the crime.

Which brings us back to the character of Ender. Ender is a very violent person. Only ever in self defence mind you, but violent nonetheless. As much as I abhor the intellectual discrimination implied, even I feel a little fear at the thought. An intelligent and POWERFUL person is an intimidating thing. Yet, let’s be honest, if you wanted to get the shit done, isn’t that exactly the person you want in charge?

Yet violence, it seems, is used as the balancing factor for those who lack in intellect. Not encouraged exactly, but excused, almost like unconsciously we’re conditioned to root for the “underdog”. “You may be smarter than me, but I can sure beat you up!” For further details see Revenge Of The Nerds.

I find it frustrating in fact, to see comments on the recent death of one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. I’m talking, of course, about Nelson Mandela, also known by his tribal name Madiba.

Briefly mentioned in the novel of Ender’s Game (although absent from the movie), and the main topic of the sequel, was the idea of a person called the Speaker For The Dead. The basic premise is for the speaker to speak honestly and truthfully about the deceased persons life, both good and bad. The aim being that all people will see that we are not good nor evil incarnate but simply human. By celebrating a persons whole life we truly honour the great things they achieved, and also allow ourselves the freedom to forgive ourselves and seek a higher purpose in life, regardless of our past.

Which is apt, I feel, given Nelson Mandela’s complicated life. How offensive when others point to Nelson Mandela’s violent acts as if to discredit his life. As if to say, none of it mattered.

It’s a common kind of poor thought, that something so complicated as a human life can be distilled to either good or bad. Yet funnily, we seldom apply it in the other direction, as if, for example, we should celebrate Adolph Hitler as some kind of hero because he invented the Volkswagen.

Is it, then, some kind of lazy excuse for discrimination? “Oh, suuuure he may have freed millions of people from second class status and altered the discussion on racism more than just about anyone from the twentieth century, but lets not forget he’s a terrorist (oh and black too by the way just in case you forgot)”. After all, how many so called terrorists come from privileged classes? Was Ned Kelly a terrorist or a hero? Robin Hood? William Wallace? Strangely peculiar, the fine line that divides heroes and villains.

Ask yourself, if someone threatened to enslave your friends and family, wouldn’t you do the same thing?

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I can’t speak for the man nor his ideals. I’m merely trying to suggest an idea. Maybe the very language we use is corrupt. Maybe the very morals we live by are just a thinly veiled means for keeping us under control. For stopping heroes like Nelson Mandela from fighting back.

As I see it, though, there is no elephant in Nelson Mandela’s room. The man lived a life of integrity. A life of courage. For all his faults…INCLUDING all his faults…he lived a life to be proud of. The simple life of a human.

Or maybe I was right earlier. Maybe violence should be kept as the sole domain of the bullies. After all how else would the spineless pricks ever compare to truly great men?

There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.
– Nelson Mandela

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
– Mahatma Gandhi