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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tell Me A Story, Daddy


The Trump administration is introducing us all to a new reality show. Like other reality shows, the inhabitants are in desperate, uncomfortable, dog-eat-dog situations.  The outcome is uncertain. It's hard to know who are your friends and who are your enemies, and friends can shift to enemies in a nanosecond.

The President’s earlier TV career prepared him well to be the star of the new show. His role in this one is going to be terrific. Not only is Trump comfortable with the new show, so are millions of American reality TV fans.

The outrageous tweets and the relentless stream of patently untrue statements emanating from the new show continue to throw the mainstream media and traditional politicians into a frenzy.  From that blurry vantage point, they squeal desperate messages of confusion, anxiety, fear, and alarm in a never-ending stream of op-eds.

The media, apparently never having watched earlier reality shows, is confused and distressed.  As Joel Whitebook, director of the Psychoanalytic Studies Program at Columbia University, puts it, the media’s reaction resembles the disorientation of a therapist confronted with a psychotic patient.  They “can’t make sense of what is going on. The patient’s statements and behavior simply don’t add up, and the flurry of disassociated statements and actions can quickly begin to produce [in the therapist] something like a disorienting fog.”

How baffled should we really be?

Even before reality show TV, alternate realities were part of everyday life for both the clinically psychotic as well as everyone else. Each of us lives in our own unique reality every day. Homo sapiens has never had a firm grip on reality.

Human are fundamentally story-telling animals.  Our stories are what we live by.  We have our individual stories--which we constantly refabricate to make ourselves look better to ourselves and others—“What’s his story?”, we often ask about someone else.

We also have another kind of story that groups of people share. These shared stories often harness an astounding capacity to suspend disbelief, an amazing  gullibility.   When we unquestioningly share belief in widely shared stories, astoundingly bad things can happen. The history of Christianity and Islam, of Nazism, communism or other popular stories is replete with horrendous destruction and the extermination of millions.

Shared stories are key elements of religions and  ideologies,  the “Isims”. Communism. Socialism. Anarchism. Feminism. Monarchism. Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Capitalism. Religions and ideologies are both stories that attempt to explain everything and promise an alternate happier reality.  Religions require the existence of God and promise paradise in the afterlife.  Ideologies promise a more perfect life after the revolution, or after we get rid of governments and regulations.  Ideologies have an added benefit in modern life in that they don’t demand the difficult intellectual stretch of belief in an invisible, unverifiable God, hovering above in the clouds.  Religions and ideologies both have the power to organize large groups of people and inspire amazing commitment as well as violent action against, even death to, those who do not share belief in the same story.


Actual reality, if its exists, is quite another matter.  It is much more complex, variable, confusing, stressful, inaccessible and u inspiring  to humans. In actual reality, there may be no paradise in heaven or on earth. Actual reality can only be accessed piecemeal through long, hard, scientific study biased on evidence and theories.

We are always open to persuasion through stories, fantasies, lies, novels, magic, movies, and other stories, but facts and science?  Not so much.  Global warming is ugly and inconvenient, and probably does not have a Hollywood ending.  It could be a hoax, like gravity or evolution. T.S. Elliot famously said, “Humankind Reality cannot bear very much reality.”  The simpler stories we were taught as children, or accept (or invent) as  adults,  no matter how fantastical (e.g. Scientology), are  alternate realities that we can more easily buy into, especially since they promise a happy ending, if we obey a few simple rules and wear the right clothes.

So why all the uproar over Trump’s alternate reality? Because he lives in grotesque, tasteless, places and  plays fast and loose with facts?  Maybe.  A Trump strategist did upset the picky truthaholics when she said on Public Radio that “there are no such things, unfortunately, as facts.”

Yet the President’s false pronouncements are only different in magnitude from the lies and exaggerations politicians have always used.  The real  uproar is because Trump’s story departs dramatically from the widely shared stories believed by the bicoastal cosmopolitan educated elites.  His is a dystopian story of lost jobs, urban crime, a terrible health care system, bad brown people swarming over our borders, America’s economy on the ropes, swamped by dumb trade deals cut by losers in our government who were duped by smarter foreign powers.  The Chinese cheated us and Europeans still don’t pay their fair share for their own defense. “ So sad”.

The liberal elites are still dwelling in their own bubble, blindfolded by stories about the economic benefits of trade, globalization, uncontrolled immigration, competition in government enforced health care, and multicultural diversity in a “post-racial” paradise.  Liberals enforce belief in these stories  through the ham handed terrorism of political correctness, name calling (“racist”, “xenophobe”, etc.), and the more desperate efforts to shout down anyone espousing a different story.

The reality show favored by the liberal elites are not selling everywhere.  Hillary Clinton could sell almost no part of the story to unemployed coal miners and other “deplorables”.  She offered no promises of a better life. Nothing inspirational, other than the tepid thrill of electing the first female President.  Ironically, to huge blocks of voters, she was saying “You’re  fired!”.

Bernie Sanders never fails to lecture the anti-Trump forces that they need a better narrative than one in which poor and middle class Americans need to suck up the status quo and be happy happy with NAFTA, Wall Street oligarchs, record-setting wealth inequality, and Obamacare for insurance companies.  He is well aware that Trump’s alternate reality has a wide appeal to huge blocks of disenchanted and disempowered people.

I am not suggesting, of course, that anyone seeking office should dedicate themselves to fact checking Trump and his allies.  This is politics, not science or philosophy. (Remember T.S. Elliot.). People still need an inspiring story, one in which they escape from deadly perils and win in the end.   This will require a good story teller. But “be careful”  argues Russian expert, Masha Gessen.  Fighting lies with opposing lies is a dangerous game, one which is  ruinous of political discourse and can completely discredit the entire political system.

The  challenge for Trump’s opponents is to tell the truth (or something close to it) woven into a good story that can match the thrills of Trump’s astonishing fantasies. And to provide a happy ending.  Good stories can actually synchronize the minds of the story teller and the audience.  One writer who has been doing just that (without the happy ending) since Trump first emerged is Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.

The opening lines for the story could go something like this:

“Once upon a time, not so long ago, on a dark and stormy night, a very angry, delusional, and unstable man decided to take over a country. He succeeded  because he was rich, he promised everything and anything, and the people trying to defeat him were habitual losers who could not figure out how to tell fairy tales that people longed to hear.  Sadly, he did not know much about running a country, and right off the bat, he started to make a big ugly mess of things.”  You can fill in the rest as the story unfolds




Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Magic


Who is the world’s most impressive magician?  David Copperfield?  Penn and Teller? David Blaine? Apollo Robbins? Who? The Guardian picks the ten best at:

  (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/gallery/2013/may/04/the-10-best-magicians ).

Magicians are artists of deception.  They fool their audiences into attentively watching one thing while something else is also happening which the audience is not focused on: “misdirection.”

Misdirection takes various forms: beautiful women wander around the stage as assistants, odd costumes are worn, funny hair, explosions, smoke, colorful big ties.  Basically, they control your attention.

With skillful misdirection, a magician can make strange things happen.  Apollo Robbins can take peoples’ watches off their wrists, remove their rings or wallets, and take just about anything, without their victims knowing that the items are gone. Copperfield has an elephant show up on stage and then disappear!

But no magician so far has ever tried to make an entire government disappear. Or remove health insurance from 24,000,000 poor and old people while they were watching reality TV in their Lazy Boy recliners.

 Until now.

Donald Trump is, by any standard, the most ambitious magician alive today.  He has all the magicians skills, and more, working for him.  Beautiful women, weird hair, clown ties, and shocking tweets. He has total control over our attention.

If Donnie can pull off the trick he intends, he should be entitled to a slot in the Magicians Hall of Fame.  His chief advisor, Steve  Bannon (a.k.a. Rasputin) says the trick is to make the “administrative state” disappear.  Here is the detailed  plan:


https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/13/presidential-executive-order-comprehensive-plan-reorganizing-executive

Meanwhile, the master of misdirection, has everyone, including respected news outlets, totally focused on how Obama used a microwave oven to spy on him during the last election. Or maybe his beef with  Snoop Doggy Dog.


While we fret all over Twitter and Facebook about the spies embedded in our kitchen appliances and Snoopy, large chunks of American life are poised to disappear: public lands, protection of the environment, fuel economy, Federal prosecutors, energy conservation, legal services for the poor, weatherization assistance for the poor, intelligence agencies, taxes on the wealthy, health care for 24,000,000 people, the Coast Guard, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Chemical Safety Board, job straining,  scientific research, and much more.

 Check out the whole list here: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/here-is-what-trumps-budget-would-eliminate-entirely-2017-03-16?mod=mw_share_twitter

It's magic.

Magicians are very ethical and always give wallets and watches back after removing them, but I don’t think that's going to happen with this trick.

 So sad.

This raises an obvious question: What does the Magician in Chief get out of this (other than millions in tax savings from the repeal of the alternative minimum tax)?

He gets high.

According to a leading psychologist, Paul Ekman, people who deceive other people experience “duping delight”.  It's a rush of dopamine that shows up when you realize you have well and truly bamboozled someone.  The intensity of the rush depends on the size of deception, the gullibility of the deceived, and the respect enjoyed by success in the deception. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Ekman).

Trump must be loaded 24-7 with dopamine.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Stupid!


Stupidity is on the move worldwide.

How smart is it to blow yourself up in hopes of having sex with 16 virgins in heaven?  They could be fat, old, ugly, and mean for all you know.

How smart is it to vote for a billionaire huckster whose main promise is to take away your health plan and the health plan of everyone else in your trailer park?

How smart is it to tell the world that you are so smart that you don’t need anyone in any intelligence agency to tell you anything about anything because your “gut” tells you all that you need to know?

How smart is it to shout down any speaker at your so called institution of “higher” education (Middlebury College for example) who is saying something you don’t understand or might disagree with?

One of the most favored routes into the country for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers is by water.  A famous entertainer/politician campaigned on a pledge to make America safe again. After election he immediately funds billions of dollars to build a wall along our borders while at the same time slashing the funding for the Coast Guard down to the bone.  How smart is that?

Stupidity.  It's on the move again.  In the Middle Ages when Christian religious zealots roved around killing each other by the millions because one group had a slightly different interpretation of some detail of one absurd dogma or another. How smart is that?

In a March 11, 2017, article in Psychology Today, Ray Williams describes the dumbing down of America in excruciating and embarrassing detail.  Our leaders, he writes, are  as “an angry lynch mob” fomenting a “rabid culture of anti-intellectualism” where “every fact is suspect…Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool.”

Whew!

An alien from outer space looking at this scene would have to conclude that, without a doubt, home sapiens is not too smart.


  [Wikipedia photo]

As it turns out, experiments have proven, that humans really are stupid and have been for a long time, but paradoxically, that is one of the key reasons for our evolutionary success.  Go figure!

How does that work?

It all starts with toilets at Yale.

[My  toilet]

Cognitive scientists, Philip Fernback and Steven Sloman, authors of “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” demonstrated that smarty pants Yale graduate students who claimed to understand how flush toilets worked actually had no idea about how these rather simple devices  really functioned. However, as it turns out, these students, as well as  all the other people in the civilized world, are still able flush their toilets.  This makes our world a better place. Imagine the streets of London in the days before Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet.  Out the window goes the chamber pot every morning. Have a nice day strolling to work.

 The beautiful Yale campus would be not so nice.



While we think we know how toilets, cars, iPhones, televisions, airplanes, etc. all work, we really have only the vaguest ideas.  We rely on the knowledge of other humans and we trust in that.  Soon we will be riding around in driverless cars.  Fernbach and Sloan call this the “division of cognitive labor.”  It makes our complex world work.  Without that we would be like chimpanzees in the jungle because, individually as opposed to collectively, we are not all that smart.  About  as smart as chimpanzees, but since chimpanzees don’t make use of the division of cognitive labor, they are still pooping all over the jungle.

Basically, it boils down to this.  We are collectively smart and individually not so smart. This works well with toilets and many other features of our civilization, but with politics, not so well.  When we piggyback on someone else's views about a political issue, trusting that they know what they are talking about, we may be making a huge blunder.

Politicians operate in gangs, known as political parties.  Everyone in the gang relies on others in the gang to help them know what the right answers are to complex questions such as how to provide heath care for the population.  The gang than takes a fairly uniform position on what we should do.

The problem is that most politicians don’t understand anything in detail about how governmental systems work.  It's a case of the blind leading the blind, and this is especially true of politicians (referred to in the past as “know nothings”) who just want to make it all go away, taxes, government regulations, the whole shebang. Fernbach and Stern point out that our cognitive division of labor can lead to a misplaced trust that can work against us with disastrous consequences.  Driverless cars with faulty programming.  The ultimate crash and burn.

In the political sphere, stupidity  is on a roll.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why I like fake things.


People love fake stuff. Fake things always seem way better than real things. Fake news easily beats out real news. It's more interesting. It's not ambiguous and confusing.  No thought.  No analysis. No thinking of any kind. Just belief.  Easy peasy.

And way more entertaining.

This is the secret of Breitbart and Fox News.  It's more exciting than the real news.  And you don't have to read through five pages of some deep thoughtful investigative reporting thing with big multisyllabic words in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker or Rolling Stone. Five or six short sentences with pictures is all you need. Or 140 characters on Twitter.

For fake news, back when I was first  a consumer, we were stuck with the National Enquirer--stories of space aliens having sex with Jackie Kennedy in the White House swimming pool, available on every grocery store waiting line.

Good photos but otherwise not that great.

Things are definitely looking up these days in the fakery department.

First came fake breasts. Without question, many women people prefer fake tits to the real thing, despite their exorbitant cost. Who want real tits anymore?  The hard-as-steel fake ones are so much larger, shapely, and more durable.

But breasts are only the tip of the fake iceberg, so to speak.

Today I struggled up a steep hill to the Center of New Zealand, ruminating all the way about the popularity of fake anatomical devices and other fakery. After huffing and puffing all the way up to the top and photographing the site, I discovered that it was the fake center of New Zealand. The real center is many miles away. Nobody goes to the real center.  The fake center is the BIG tourist draw.


Another popular thing invented in New Zealand is fake suicide. People by the thousands pay $200 a pop to jump off cliffs and bridges plummeting earthward headed hundreds of feet down like Humpty Dumpty towards the river and rocks below. Suddenly they bounce up just before splatting. It's called bungee jumping. Everyone does it in New Zealand.  Lots more fun than the real suicide thing. It is the main reason why there are absolutely no readical Islamic suicide bombers in New Zealand. Teenagers otherwise susceptible to the thrills of ISIS can comit fake suicide over and over again without explosives.


In politics also, fakery is the up and coming thing.  Barack Obama was a real President.  Boring. Predictable. Thoughtful. Complex.  No drama Obama. Now Americans can lay claim to a much more exciting leader, a drama queen if there ever was one.  We offer the world a fake President with fake hair, fake wealth, fake stories, a fake sex life, fake executive orders, failing casinos, fake terrorist attcks in Sweden, and fake inauguration numbers. Pretty much everything fake.  He is like fake tits for an entire nation.  Much weirder than the real thing.

Personally, I have never been all that thrilled with reality. Looking in the mirror, for example, is distasteful to me. In my fake imaginary world, I look one Hell of a lot better than I do in the mirror.




So far as the future of the planet is concerned, the fake future looks a lot better than the real thing.

The fake future is called "Utopia." It's a place where everything works out well. Peace, love, and rock and roll. “Love is all you need”, said Sir Paul. It's the world I thought we were heading into-- back in the day--when I travelled to Woodstock to see a hundred bands play, and then quit work to take the hippie trail to Nepal.

The real future is called "Dystopia."  This is the world Donald Trump described in his campaign for President. And it is the world he continues to promote. In this world, crime is out of control, especially in Chicago and other cities. Rapists and terrorists are flooding across our porous borders. Enemies are everywhere, especially at the NY Times and Washington Post.  Out national security is endangered by CIA analysts, scientists, and environmental advocates trying to purvey their crazed ideas.  Our best hope is to allow the mentally ill to buy more weapons and get rid of the failed Obamacare health program.

Holy cow!!!

I definitely prefer the fake future.


Friday, February 10, 2017


DUPED!

After two years of silent marination if various forms of public lying, cheating, and observation of all forms of  lying, cheating, and stealing, I am circling back to where this blog began, addressing one of the quintessential mysteries of the human mind: the puzzling question: why do so many people so enjoy being duped?

With the election of a consummate con man as our so-called President, this question has become more pressing than ever before.


It’s hardly a news flash to learn that Donald Trump is the ultimate  huckster, skilled in pulling off the gigantic heist. Just this week, a senior editor of the corrupt lying media (Washington Post), Michael Gerson, complained that Trump, as is his habit, “lied about things large (election fraud) and small (inaugural crowd size), refused to allow facts to modify his claims, and attempted to create his own reality through the repetition of deception.” (Post, Feb.7, 2017, A5)

Reminiscent of Bernie Madoff, Trump is the crème  de la crème of the big-time tricksters. Millions of voters knew this about him, and chose to vote for him nonetheless. They lovingly bought the scam he was peddling, even while many quietly admitted that they knew it was fakery.

At first glance, one would think that no one wants to be tricked, duped, fooled, or played. But, strange as it may seem, cognitive science, and our own experience in the entertainment world, tells us otherwise. The clearest example is magic.  When David Copperfield makes an elephant disappear before our eyes, we know it’s not real.  Still, we love it. We are tricked, but we enjoy it enough to pay big money for tickets to his shows. The conclusion is unavoidable: We love being duped.

Along similar lines, its clear that fake things, like Disneyland's European villages, are often more popular than real things. Professional wrestling, for example, is far more popular than real wrestling. No one makes a living as a real wrestler, but thousands of men and women worldwide make bags of money faking the fights.



Do people believe pro wrestling is real?  Of course not, except for those below 5 years old. But the fake showmanship only enhances the popular enjoyment.

Sound familiar?

Our so-called President instinctively understands this human quirk.. When he promised unemployed coal miners that he would bring their jobs back, they voted for him in droves, planted Trump signs in their yards, and howled about locking Hillary up. Did they really believe him? Of course not. But they loved that he was saying what they wanted to hear, and they loved that. The fact that it was delusional was not a problem.

 Did Trump really believe that he could make the elephant of coal miner unemployment disappear? Of course not. But he loved pulling off the con. It was a good show and the audience went for it, “hook, line, and sinker”, as they say in east Kentucky. On one occasion, he boasted that he could shoot a man on 5th Avenue and still get his vote.

But there’s a catch. When a magician steals your watch or gets off with your wallet,  he gives it back to you after the fun part of the deception is done.  When a beautiful girl is sawed in half before your very eyes, she is soon restored, her body intact and unharmed. The audience is suitably appreciative

Sometimes there is a flip side to the fun of being duped.

When a trickster dupes you and KEEPS your wallet and watch or steals your money, it’s a feces-in-the-fan situation. Take Bernie Madoff, for example. People invested with him because he was “the magic man of Wall Street,” the only person who could make steady money in good times and bad. Like Trump, Bernie said, “I am the ONLY one who can make this happen.”


Since Bernie never posted losses, investors were happy happy happy.  Many were apparently sophisticated enough to realize that what the wizard was doing was totally impossible in the real world. They went along for the fun anyway. And the money.  Yet, when the Ponzi scheme hit the wall, everyone was suddenly pissed.

This raises the obvious question. What happens when Trump’s tricks are exposed as frauds?  Will his adoring fans turn on him?

Sadly, Donald Trump is  unlikely to end up in the same cell as Bernie Madoff.  Too slippery for that. Trump will place the blame  on his evil enemies, the scoundrels who prevented  him from making all the impossible promises he made come true: the media, the “so called judges, the Democrats, windmills, Meryl Streep, menopausal women, Alex Baldwin, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Chinese, disabled people, and the European Union. This list isThis list of Trump’s enemies grows longer with every Tweet. Every day.



Monday, February 6, 2017

To blog or not to blog. That is the question.

 I got almost 12,000 hits when I was blogging two year ago about the growing epidemic of lying in politics. But I got tired of the grind, and the cognitive science was repetitious. So I dumped my computer and suspended the blog to the relief of many.

Now, however, it seems like there is a lot of fresh new material for deceptologists (rhymes with proctologists)such as myself to work with. What I thought was an epidemic of fakery and falsehoods in 2014, became a pandemic in 2016 and continues to explode like dynamite in an outhouse. Our so called president and his close associates have demonstrated skills in the science of deceptology far beyond what any politicians have ever before attempted in this country. 


Some Americans are buying the scam hook, line, and sinker. Others are freaking out, protesting, breaking windows, and spending 25 hours a day on Facebook dumping on Trump. It's crazy.

It's hard to resist the temptation stick the blogging needle back in my arm. 

Tomorrow, I am going to New Zealand to explore the bolt holes that the billionaires from Silicon valley are building down there to stay safe in the coming nuclear holacaust. If time permits, I may unleash another incendiary blog or two....so hold onto your hats.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Science Fiction


In Blade Runner, the most famous science fiction film of all time, in what is now known as the ”Tears in Rain”  soliloquy,[i] the dying replicant, Roy Batty, delivers the following monologue during a drenching downpour at the film's end, moments before his own death:
“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”[ii]

That monologue captures my feelings precisely when I think about American politics today.  We have seen and are still seeing things you wouldn’t believe.  If not time to die, it is at least time to self deport.

A recent example (only one of many):  Representative Paul C. Broun (R. Ga.)



The Georgia Congressman prepared a videotape on September 27, 2012, in which he made an announcement in Hartwell, Georgia, that thrilled his constituents to the bone.


Broun, a medical doctor, told his adoring audience that current scientific theories are meant to convince people that they do not need a savior. 

“God’s word is true.  Iv’e come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory is lies straight from the pit of hell."[iii]

Braun sits on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the United States House of Representatives.  That committee has jurisdiction over almost all scientific research and development in the United States that is supported by the government, including environmental and marine research, technology; the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NASA; the National Science Foundation; National Weather Service; outer space, science scholarships, etc. 

Science, Space, and Technology Committee

Representative Paul C. Braun is one of a select few men in the country in charge of scientific research in the United States.

Need I say more?

Governor Romney advises that if we don’t like what is going on here in the USA, we should self deport.



[i]  Tears In Rain is the final monologue of the replicant Roy Batty in the movie. It is frequently quoted and has been described as "perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history". The final form of the speech was improvised by Rutger Hauer, the actor who delivers it.(Mark Rowlands (2003), The philosopher at the end of the universe, pp. 234–235).
[iii] Associated Press.