How long will cognitive chaos rule?

MONDAY, MAY 10, 2021

For a long time, Haidt says: Earlier today, the Washington Post's Robert McCartney posted a gloomy report. The headline says this:

Even in moderate Northern Virginia, GOP activists buy the ‘big lie’ about Biden’s election

McCartney had spoken to Republican activists from the more moderate parts of Virginia. Here's how his report starts:

MCCARTNEY (5/10/21): Republicans at the national level persist in pushing the “big lie” that President Biden was not legitimately elected, and I’m sorry to report that GOP activists in Northern Virginia mostly seem to agree.

In interviews at Saturday’s state conventions in Loudoun and Prince William counties, a majority told me they believe either that Democrats stole the election for Biden, or at least that enough “shenanigans” occurred to make them doubt the result.

I was disappointed to hear it. I had hoped that Republicans in the two outer suburbs would be more accepting of reality. Loudoun and Prince William residents are comparatively better educated than those elsewhere in Virginia. GOP voters there are also more moderate. 

Examples of his interviews with those activists follow. Even in the more moderate part of the blue-leaning state, McCartney found that GOP activists don't believe that Biden actually won, or feel that they aren't real sure.

In fairness, there's no ultimate way to prove that anyone ever won any election. Did FDR really defeat Herbert Hoover in 1932? If you don't want to believe that he did, there's no ultimate way that anyone can make you.

A person can always imagine, or become convinced, that FDR ended up in the White House due to some fiendish ballot-stuffing scheme—a scheme so fiendish that it escaped detection. Today, there would be plenty of orgs eager to push that idea.

You may think that's a crazy idea. But go ahead—try to prove it! In the end, there's no way to compel belief.

In the end, all examples of widely shared national belief are built upon social cohesion and trust. When social cohesion and trust take a dive, so does shared belief.

In recent decades, shared belief has been worn away by the power of partisan media—by partisan talk radio, partisan "cable news," partisan Internet sites and partisan social media. 

Also, social media allows us to find other people as dumb and deluded as we ourselves are. At one time, it was hard to do that!

This lets Republicans believe that Donald J. Trump really won the election, and it lets us, over here in the streets of Our Town, believe that Daunte Wright was being arrested on a  warrant for a marijuana charge. Or for dangling air fresheners! 

We saw it on Brian Williams' show! We read it in the Times!

Under current arrangements, residents of various towns are told about the crazy beliefs of people who live in the other towns. Fox viewers learn about how crazy we are in Our Town. We, in turn, are told about the crazy beliefs Over There.

Over the weekend, we watched a C-Span book event, during which Jonathan Haidt was asked how long this state of affairs will last. It will last a long time, the gentleman gloomily said:

HAIDT (4/18/21): I'll have to say that, if we channel Steve Pinker or Matt Ridley, in the long run things get better. And as you've pointed out, with every previous major technology there are disruptions. 

So if I had to bet, I'd bet that, fifty years from now, things are going to be a lot better, and we'll have figured this out.

However—however, for the next ten or twenty years, and probably for the rest of our lifetimes—my lifetime, not the younger people here—I think what has happened to us is that the tower of Babel was destroyed between 2009 and 2012. 

In that story, in the Bible, God said, "Let us go down and confound their language so that they may not understand each other." And while it's always difficult to find the truth, I think that, after 2012, we are in Babel. and social media has made it possible for people to create alternate narratives within every company, within every university, and everything is a battle to put your narrative forth.

And so I think that we will never again find shared truth—I shouldn't say never again. In the next twenty years, we will not be able to find shared truth. And so I'm also despairing that good research such as yours—our ability to even agree on the facts, even within the social sciences—is being compromised by this.

So I guess I would say, long-term optimism—you've got to be an optimist long-term if you look at history.  But short term, I'm very, very pessimistic.

Haidt was speaking with Professor Bail about Bail's new book, Breaking the Social Media Prism. To watch the full event, click here. Haidt's assessment comes right near the end.

Professor Haidt has been an apostle of sanity over the past several decades. We may be slightly gloomier than he is about the problem in which we're now deeply mired.

In our view, our nation was well on its way to Babel as early as the start of Campaign 2000, if not long before. We started designing this site in the fall of 1997 because we thought things were already so far out of hand.  In our view, this very much isn't a problem which started with social media.

According to Haidt, things will be fine if we wait fifty years. Along the way, we'll offer this bit of advice:

Stop believing that The Crazy is confined to The Others. Our Town is shedding its sanity too, and The Others are told about the crazy things we say and do on every night on Fox. Some of those reports are crazy, but quite a few of them aren't.

Our Town is losing its sanity too! Experts tell us that human history has always followed this pattern, with tribal breakdown leading onward toward some version of war.

On the brighter side, it's always the fault of the other towns. Our Town has never been wrong!


21 comments:

  1. "In fairness, there's no ultimate way to prove that anyone ever won any election."

    Dear Bob, to begin with, "legitimately elected" and "won an election" are not the same thing.

    IIRC, even the Time magazine admitted an organized effort by the US establishment to get rid of The Commander.

    But of course we don't need to read the Time magazine to know it; it's obvious to any humyn being with a brain. We all noticed blatant censorship (as in the case with one former Ukrainian oil company board member's laptop), the conspicuous postponement of the vaccine announcement, etc. etc. etc.

    Plus, allegedly - and extremely likely - massive voting fraud in several zombie cult-controlled cities. And you're right, dear Bob: it's happened before; in 1960, for example.

    "Legitimately" hasn't been anywhere near this election, dear Bob. We know it, and you know it. Don't fool yourself, dear.

    But hey, it is what it is. What's important is where we're going from here.

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  2. There is a bigger picture as to how this all came about. It doesn't get discussed at that level too often, at least in a sapient way. Also, there have always been deep problems, discord, wars, poverty, death. We don't see view past circumstances with dread, because they're in the past. In the present, we are on a road, and we don't know what it is leading us to.

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    Replies
    1. This all came about because Somerby gallantly defends Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz, thereby acting a emboldening his tribe of defactor Trumptards.

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  3. "Even in the more moderate part of the blue-leaning state, McCartney found that GOP activists don't believe that Biden actually won, or feel that they aren't real sure."

    They interviewed "activists." You don't become a party activist without being a true believer. The education might have more of a chance with casual Republican voters than with dedicated party members.

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  4. "In fairness, there's no ultimate way to prove that anyone ever won any election. Did FDR really defeat Herbert Hoover in 1932? If you don't want to believe that he did, there's no ultimate way that anyone can make you."

    This is a ridiculous statement. For those who accept reality, the vote counts show who won. If you live in fantasyland, then anything is up for grabs, including the existence of little green men on the dark side of the moon and reptilians walking among us. But people who do not accept reality are mentally ill (Somerby's favorite term). When Somerby himself suggests that there is no acceptable proof of who won an election, he puts himself right in the middle of that deranged contingent. That makes everything he says here specious since he has no epistemological compass.

    If I really thought Somerby was that unmoored to reality, I would be concerned about his mental health. I do not believe for a minute that Somerby believes much of what he writes here. He is working for conservatives to achieve defined goals that contribute to their political success. He is getting paid to peddle crap to people like Cecelia. And that makes him evil, like Trump and the other opportunists who follow him around waiting for crumbs to fall from his latest cheeseburger.

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    1. I don't think Somerby gets paid to say what he says here, since his limited audience means he can't be the useful idiot for Trump he wants to be, instead ends up being a useless idiot. I think his only payment is the psychic well being he gets for defending Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz.

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  5. "In the end, all examples of widely shared national belief are built upon social cohesion and trust. When social cohesion and trust take a dive, so does shared belief."

    It sounds like Somerby lifted this sentence from somewhere else, without attribution. Naughty, naughty!

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  6. "Professor Haidt has been an apostle of sanity over the past several decades. "

    I have met Professor Haidt on several occasions. He is a conservative political psychologist and a nice person. But, Somerby is no liberal if he thinks Haidt is an apostle of sanity.

    Somerby's choice of intellectual heroes speaks clearly to his own interests -- he is no liberal and he is once again spreading conservative memes. For one, the idea that one cannot prove who won an election benefits only the right, since the left not only knows who won, but proved it repeatedly in courtrooms all over the country. Biden is president exactly because you CAN prove who won an election. It isn't as if Biden called out any army to ensure his transition, as Trump tried to do. He won and people knew it, and nothing Somerby or Haidt say can change that reality.

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  7. "Our Town is losing its sanity too! "

    This is what wishful thinking looks like.

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  8. "Experts tell us that human history has always followed this pattern, with tribal breakdown leading onward toward some version of war."

    Steven Pinker doesn't say this. Funny how Somerby never says which experts think we're headed toward war, so that we could evaluate the prediction seriously. As vague as he leaves it, Somerby is largely just making threats. He is trying to elicit fear on the left, because fearful people vote conservative. But to elicit fear, he would have to get us liberals to take him seriously, and I just don't see that happening here -- his supporters are the same old conservatives, repeating the same tired things.

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  9. "Our Town has never been wrong!"

    Not lately, anyway.

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  10. “This lets Republicans believe that Donald J. Trump really won the election, and it lets us, over here in the streets of Our Town, believe that Daunte Wright was being arrested on a  warrant for a marijuana charge. Or for dangling air fresheners! “

    Somerby pushes the idea that liberals and/or the “mainstream media”(he doesn’t distinguish) are at least as responsible as conservatives for the lack of shared belief.

    But this example doesn’t show that.

    Most of the print and TV versions of the Daunte Wright story got the details correct. What percentage of news reports actually mentioned a marijuana charge? What percentage of liberals actually believe this?

    What are the consequences of believing that Wright was being arrested on a marijuana charge, when the salient fact is that he was being arrested on a minor outstanding warrant and was shot and killed by the cops?

    On the other hand, what are the consequences when the factors Somerby mentions “let” Republicans believe that Trump really won? (By using the word “let”, he removes agency from all the Republican voters, who could weigh the evidence and listen to Liz Cheney instead of Kevin McCarthy.)

    Fully 70% of Republicans believe the election was fraudulent, and that leads the GOP to pass laws making voting harder for the “wrong” people, and to simply overturn an election they don’t like.

    And that is far more damaging to our country than being mistaken about why Daunte Wright was being arrested.

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  11. To imply "Our Town has never been wrong!" is wrong as all get out, and possibly even banal.

    ReplyDelete
  12. There is ultimately no way to prove that when I see the color blue, I am not seeing the color you see as green. And vice versa. Oh brother.
    A) there is no way, thank God, Bob would ever extend this kind of nonsensical leeway to people on the left.( Yes,,some people on the far left can be sore losers too, but not that many) B) Bob is indulging bad people with bad intentions, and he had a lot of nerve talking about the banality of evil after this.

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    Replies
    1. Actually, there have been some advances in cognitive psychology and neuroscience that do allow scientists to determine whether two people are seeing the same color sample as the same hue. Some languages use the same color term to describe both blue and green (with modifiers to distinguish between them), xanh (Vietnamese) for example, but that doesn't mean people see green as blue or vice versa.

      Delete
    2. A Rayleigh match procedure can be used for this.

      Delete
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