Tag Archives: critical thought

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

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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 1

The Most Annoying Thing

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

The most annoying thing for many sufferers of mental illness, so far as I can tell (or at least for me), is when a well meaning normal tries to relate. It’s a special kind of (probably unintentional) arrogance that assumes they would have any idea what it’s like to suffer the kinds of anxiety that true sufferers go through.

I figure it’s all meant to be some kind of harmless bonding exercise. I suspect, and this is just hypothesis, that it stems from the fact that for many people the worst thing they’ve ever had to deal with is having to drink Pepsi instead of Coke (which I understand, believe me). And so you go through life trying to optimise your privelige, “Oh you like drum and base? I like drum and base TOO!”. Of course it’s assumed that they’re already in agreement of all the really important matters in life and what they’re after is simply another priveliged person with whom they won’t have to worry about what station the television is switched to.

So when a person with really difficult problems opens up to them, they respond in the only way they know how: a sort of quasi believable connection. “Oh you sometimes think of slashing your wrists with razor blades because your uncle used to rape you as a child? I have bad days TOO!”

And it gets even worse the longer a normal attempts to be supportive in this world that completely bamboozles them. They attempt to offer advice…which at the end of the day is like a mouse trying to tell an elephant how to lose weight. There’s two things wrong here: one, they’re assuming the problems the other person has are the same (either in intensity or type) as the problems they experience, and two, they’re assuming that the only reason they’re not in the situation the other person finds themselves in is because of the rather intelligent actions they took.

This is largely because most people are still living under the delusion that most if not all of our actions are the result of conscious free will. Many religions, for example, express free will as some kind of gift. The reality couldn’t be further from it: most discrimination comes from using the concept of free will to judge and persecute people who never had any real choice in the first place! (This, as an aside, is one of the main tenants of existentialism.) If you’re still convinced that this is true then youhaven’tbeenpayingattention!

“Thoughts simply arise in the brain. What else could they do? The truth about us is even stranger than we may suppose: The illusion of free will is itself an illusion” Sam Harris The Moral Landscape, p112

In fact, there is almost no scientific evidence that supports the idea of free will, while most indicates that thoughts are initiated unconsciously while coming all but completely debunking the myth of free will (in the sense that people usually think about it in terms of contribution to outcomes, let’s leave the religious interpretation of free will to another time).

And so, with this myth prevalent in their minds, along with perhaps a certain amount of Dunning Kruger effect, normal people go ahead and make suggestions such as, “just go out and have fun”. The same principle applies to many things in life, and it’s really no different to claims such as “go get a job”.

Privilege, not to put too fine a point on it, is like being lucky enough to have a seat on a crowded train…and THEN having the gall to eviscerate other passengers for wobbling around.

It’s quite convenient, in fact, for people in positions of privilege to perpetuate this belief. It allows them to continue their privileged lifestyle completely guilt free, and to oppress the people that otherwise might claim sovereign right to their properties. This is something I’d like to call The Abbott Paradox.

But wait, doesn’t paradox imply some aspect of irony? At first appearance, it would seem that applying this sense of privilege reinforcing logic advances the status of the normal while oppressing the status of the victim. And for the short term that is almost certainly true. But what is paradoxical about this logic is that IN REALITY a divided system will almost always collapse and take down the top and the bottom with it both!

For instance, in the nineteenth century, before the invention of public garbage disposal, cholera threatened to wipe out entire populations! And it wasn’t just the poor who were at stake since so many poor people with cholera meant rich people were contracting it too. Hence began the tradition of publicly funded waste removal (aka socialism..omg).

In fact, the vast majority of human improvements have come about because of social minded decisions. Think about it: where would we be without roads? Gas pipes? Water pipes (aka aqueducts one of the earliest examples of social responsibility)? How about police? Ambulances? Firemen? Our armed forces? Public education? Whether you like it or not, you are a socialist by the very virtue of enjoying civilisation. Even the basis of civilisation, the social contract, IS ITSELF A FORM OF SOCIALISM!

If we look still further back, to the dawn of time, as seen in our closest living relatives, “even the most extreme form of human tolerance and altruism is in part driven by our genes”.

What would happen if we take away our medical system from poor people? DO GERMS OBEY THE LAW? They bow to no master and will attack and destroy the lowliest pauper to the tallest of kings all the same. Do you want to live in a world where you could contract a deadly disease by merely walking down the street?

Or to return to the original topic briefly, do you want to live in a world where people under extreme mental stress lose control and kill yourself or your friends and children?

This is why inequality is bad for everyone. The only difference between the privileged and the oppressed is that the oppressed have seen the man behind the curtain. H G Wells explained it best in The Time Machine, in which the underclasses are pushed so far down that they are forced by necessity to EAT THE RICH!

It gets worse. Lately, it seems, there appears to be a growing delusion that not only should we reduce support for the oppressed classes but that the government should spend as much on services for the rich as the money those people contribute. As though the government were nothing but a pay for service toy for the rich. The self entitlement is astounding. Far from the truth though, they ignore the fact that their wealth was set in place HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO at GUN POINT!

NO. Government assistance is repairing the damage of YOUR forefathers. They wax rhetorical about true Australians (AS IF THERE IS SUCH A THING), but in truth Australia was founded on the backs of criminals and paupers. And now they want to take back what WE created.

Capitalism has truly become a farce. It serves no one but to perpetuate the DELUSION that some are born masters and some are born slaves. And the lie exists in many forms, whether it be mental illness, race, creed, sexual identity, or more, but they all exist for some purpose: to maintain the position of the rich, paradoxically making us ALL poorer by virtue.

There’s a second paradox though. Kind of a meta-paradox you might say. In fact, the likes of Tony Abbott are guilty of NOTHING MORE than that which they were preordained to do, caused by the hidden restraints of the privileged class. The truth is that the encumbant rich are in fact suffering from one of the strongest mind traps of all: one that is in PLAIN SIGHT! That may be the silver lining to our current times, that long after we’ve evolved past this idiocy, that Abbott will be remembered for the sad, degenerate, mentally redundant imbecile that he is.

“‘Cause I’d rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free” David Bowie All The Madmen

I guess there are people out there that will see this all as quite a stretch. Wondering how I got from misunderstanding of mental illness to REBUKING THE SYSTEM AS A WHOLE! I suppose it’s easy to dismiss this as the rantings of a mad man. But just like epistemology revolutionised modern thought, it is idiotic to ignore the truth of all ideas: ALL IDEAS COME FROM FRAGILE MINDS.

I suppose that’s the point of this whole blog. If you’ve been wondering why I switch from philosophy to psychology to personal experience (seemingly randomly), there’s a reason for this. It’s a fundamental truth I’ve come to learn. Philosophy without psychology is simply guessing.

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