Chat Room Love

She was beyond caring why she loved him.
Beyond any caring at all these days
Except when she was caring for him.
She had met him in chat that one morning
When the Winds were light with Spring’s fertile hopes,
And even I was somewhat less than purely skeptical
About the Great Slut-Goddess Love.

He seemed a man of passions to her.
Huge thirsty, lusty, hungry passions:
For his typing was fast and prolific,
His “LOLs” were always the first
To pop up after anyone’s jokes;
His “BRBs” were inevitably shouted out in all caps;
And his exclamation points were as numerous as the shoals of fish
That once had been so abundant on the Grand Banks.

She did not know — how could she have known —
But she was hankering after a false man:
For he was not really the rich, sophisticated
Albanian fashion designer he represented himself to be,
But was instead, an 74 year old quality control engineer
For a failing American manufacturing company
That produced only a decrepit line of men’s genital waxes.

Are We Humans Better Liars than Thinkers or Sages?

I am all but certain that, somewhere lying around in the minds of certain scientists today, is an hypothesis that accurately describes the origins of language.  That is, I’m nearly sure the origins have already been largely figured out by now.

I am also all but certain that, unless we invent time travel, or the gods both exist and decide to reveal their knowledge of its origins, or a genius quite improbably comes up with a mathematical proof of its origins,  or — most likely these days —  a FOX News personality stumbles across its origins while searching for ancient dirt on Barrack Obama’s alleged War on Adam and Eve,  it will never be much more than an astute guess whether the correct hypothesis of language’s origins is truly correct.

Yet, despite the improbability of actually discovering the origins of language,  various things about the fundamental nature of language and its uses suggest to insightful and very learned guess-a-tators such as myself that language might — or might not — have evolved from mating calls, that it might — or might not — have been preceded by singing, that it might — or might not — have evolved faster in women than in men, that it might — or might not — have had multiple causes for its development from mating calls (such as its use in promoting group cohesion and cooperation), and that it surely, certainly, and absolutely was used almost from “the very moment it was invented” to tell lies.

There are a variety of reasons to tentatively think that particular use for language developed early on.   Of all those various reasons, the only ones that interest me here are these two:  Humans lie with ease and great frequency, and they begin playing around with telling lies at tender ages. If lying didn’t develop early on, then why is it so behaviorally advanced in us?  Why are we so good at it?

It seems obvious to me that our brains are more advanced at lying than they are at many other things — such as doing math or science, for nearly everyone of us lies with ease when he or she wants to, but so many of us struggle with critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking.

It also seems obvious to me that our brains are even less developed for wisdom than they are for critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking.  There are whole, vast areas of life in which, at most, only about one in ten or one in twenty of us frequently behave in ways that consistently show great wisdom.  That is, I’ve observed that even the village idiot now and then acts wisely, but I’ve also observed that the large majority of us have blind spots — whole areas of our lives — in which we are inconsistently wise, or even frequently fools.

Human relationships are usually a person’s most easily noticed blind spot.  Indeed, relationships are an area of life in which even those folks who most consistently behave towards others with great wisdom often stumble or fall, and if someone has learned to dance among us like a sage, you can be sure it took her an age of clumsy mistakes to learn her grace.

It seems likely that many people believe on some level that popularity is a sure sign of wisdom in dealing with others, and — if that were indeed the case — there would be a lot more people in this world who are wise about relationships than there really are, for there are certainly a lot of popular people.  Indeed, I myself can believe there is some small link between wisdom in relationships and popularity, but I cannot believe that link is more than a small one, if only because I’ve known too many fools who were popular, and too many comparably wise people who were not.

So I think the human brain is least of all evolved for wisdom, somewhat more evolved for critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking, and most of all of these evolved for lying.  And, likewise, it seems to me that language is best suited to lying, less suited to the sort of precision and exactness that one so often needs to communicate critical, mathematical, or scientific ideas, and least of all suited to communicate wisdom.  In fact, I’m pretty certain wisdom is not merely difficult, but extraordinarily difficult, to communicate, if it can be communicated at all.

For instance, this morning I came across a meme post to a website that stated, “It’s better to be alone than to be in a bad relationship”.  The first thing I thought was, “That’s true for a number of reasons”, and the second thing I thought was, “Among those reasons, it is better to be alone than to be in a bad relationship because, ironically, we are more likely to suffer from intense loneliness when we are in a bad or abusive relationship than when we are by ourselves and alone.”  But the third thing I thought was, “If one does not already know the truth of these things, then one is unlikely to learn the truth from either the meme or from any other words spoken about it.   How often have I seen people plunge themselves into bad or abusive relationships, or refuse to leave one, primarily out of fear of being lonely?  At least a third or half of the people I’ve known well in life have had at least one story of getting into a bad or abusive relationship and then delaying or even failing to leave it largely out of fear of being lonely.  Yet, nearly everyone who actually left such a relationship has looked back and said to me, ‘I only wish I left sooner, or not gotten into that relationship at all.’ Not a single person has yet told me that being alone has turned out to be lonelier than was being in the relationship.”

Now, I have heard people say that wisdom is “subjective” because there are no objective means for determining what is “right or wrong”.  But I think that might be a half-truth, and perhaps only a quarter-truth.  In many cases, all we need for wisdom to become objective is pick a goal.  Once we have picked a goal, it so often becomes possible to know with a fair amount of assurance which actions will bring us to our goal, which actions will not, and even which actions will be more efficient or effective than others in doing so.

For instance, if our goal is to avoid for ourselves the worst of loneliness, then it is obvious that choosing to get into a bad or abusive relationship is not the wisest decision we can make, while remaining alone or getting into a healthy relationship is a wiser choice.  Of course, this assumes that it is true for us, even if for no one else, that we will feel lonelier in a bad or abusive relationship than we’d otherwise feel.  But that question can be answered objectively.

The choice of goal is ultimately subjective (but that should not distract us from the fact that we can many times objectively determine the wisest means to that goal).  And yet, it is only ultimately subjective, for goals themselves can be arranged in hierarchies so that a higher goal might determine whether or not one expresses or attempts to actualize a lower goal.

In this blog post, I have been using the word “wisdom” as nearly synonymous with the phrase “most effective”.  Which, if I am being logically consistent, means that I harbor the somewhat dismal notion that our species of super-sized chimpanzees relatively excel at lying; perform mediocre at critical, mathematical, or scientific thinking; and suck the big potato at assessing the comparative effectiveness of various relevant behaviors, and then acting in accordance with those assessments, in order to bring about the most desired outcome.  If all of that is substantially true, then it naturally raises the question:  Why is it that we’re better liars than “thinkers” or sages?

Bernie Sanders Tells the Truth, But Does it Give You Hope?

Perhaps like most members of our species of incredibly sophisticated poo-flinging super-apes, I am fully capable of taking pleasure in imagining  things that happen not, in fact, to be true.

Often enough, my imaginings are clearly fantastic: For instance, the extraordinarily pleasant fantasy that I have been elected Emperor of the Planet, and have managed to end war, involuntary poverty, disease, crime, and vicious paper cuts while at the same time justly employing my imperial powers to at last wreak final revenge on that hideous Brian T. Jurgens, who unfairly and outrageously gave me a black eye in third grade before I could unfairly and outrageously give him a black eye.

Not that the memory of losing a distant childhood battle to a person of no consequence such as Brian could possibly still rankle even in full adulthood a man of my dignity and advanced wisdom: In truth, I’m only dispassionately interested in doing justice, you see, and the uncontrollable cackling you might now hear if you were nearby has nothing at all to do with obsessed glee at the merest fleeting mental image of sauteing Brian in a man-size pan of boiling dragon’s pee.

In addition to all my other noble accomplishments as Emperor, I also once tried fantasizing that I got imperially laid without, however, inflicting insufferable boredom on the lady who laid me, but even in fantasies there are limits to what a person is able to consider imaginable.

Or are there limits?  I was reminded just yesterday morning of how flimsy is the notion of limits to what we can think conceivable when an old priest approvingly quoted a statement once made by Pope John Paul II on the topic of homosexual marriage:

 “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

Now, I think the Pope’s statement is fantastic.  That is, it seems to me right up there on the same level of fantasy as my imagining I am the Emperor of the Planet.  For, so far as I can see, the two claims have in common that there is not one single bit of sound evidence in support of either one of them.    But the fact the Pope’s statement is bunk isn’t what really struck me about it.

What really struck me was how the statement is just one small drop in a daily flood of nonsense. Some long time ago, I stumbled across a beautiful book of Native American poetry.  One of the poems spoke powerfully of someone who was a pathological liar: “And your words when you speak are like a wind from four quarters that carries the dust to my eyes no matter which way I turn.”  It can seem like that — seem like there’s no direction you can turn, nor place you can go in society today, that you are not being told nonsense.

Nonsense such as the Theory of Evolution is scientifically unsound, there is little or no climate change brought about by our burning fossil fuels, abstinence-only sex education works as advertised, cutting taxes on the rich will bring jobs and prosperity for all, and even that there is a War on Christmas — among many, many other such things.

And that, in a rather round about way, brings me now to Bernie Sanders.

Sanders seems to me usually honest, especially for a politician.   And — apparently by telling the truth (!) about such things as the nature, causes, and consequences of income inequality — he has become quite popular.

When the old priest quoted John Paul II yesterday morning, I at first reacted like I usually do when told a lie:  I internally sighed because I thought of how so many of us  believe such lies.  For perhaps what is most overwhelming about the daily flood is not so much the lies themselves but that so many of us swallow those lies.  How can one view with optimism the long term fate of our noble species of advanced spear-chuckers if we are basically such fools, such simple-minded fools?

But then along has come Sanders who both tells the truth  and, apparently, has struck a chord with folks by telling the truth.  He not only draws people to his speeches in record numbers, but he is also surging in many polls.

In a way, whether Sanders wins the nomination or the presidency matters less than the extraordinary response he’s gotten to speaking truth:  Speaking it — not to the powerful — but to common people.  To people that so many of our powerful elites these days seem to contemptuously think of as easily manipulated and exploited dolts.  Yet I think people’s response to Sanders permits us cautious hope for a better future, for it possibly bodes that sooner or later the truth will prevail among us despite the daily flood of lies.  However, another part of me worries that I am once again only fantasizing, and that the people’s response to Sanders means no such thing.  I suppose time will tell which part of me is correct.

Rush Limbaugh — Master of Creditability

As I turned on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program today – randomly – I was met by Limbaugh saying that liberals have been openly advocating communism for two decades now and that Barack Obama wants to be re-elected so that he can install a communist regime.

Hume’s Ghost from The Daily Doubter blog.

Are there still some folks left who are naive enough to unquestioningly believe Rush?  Or has he finally reached the point that even the biggest, most gullible fool among us no longer believes him?

“Tell Me Lies! Tell Me Lies! Tell Me Sweet Santa Lies!”

America is a diverse nation and only the naive person believes that almost all Americans share a ton of values in common.  However, one of the very few things that almost all American adults have agreed to do is to lie to young children about Santa.

I do not mean to imply that almost all American adults approve of lying to young children about Santa.   Many of us don’t.  Yet, rather than become pariahs in our own homes or communities, we go along with the social demand that young children should be lied to about Santa.

For instance, this morning, Doug at Groping the Elephant, wrote about a news anchor, Robin Robinson, who was pressured by public outrage to apologize for having announced during a broadcast that there was no Santa Claus.    Regardless of Ms. Robinson’s own views on the subject, it’s unlikely she’ll anytime soon try publicly debunking the myth again.

A surprising lot can be said about the custom of lying about Santa.  Obviously, one can argue over whether it is morally right or wrong.  But beyond that, one might speculate why such a hugely diverse nation is nearly unanimous in its support for the custom.  One might ask whether figuring out that we have been lied to by our community is a rite of passage — one of the very few rites of passage left that nearly everyone goes through.  One might ponder why no one has figured out a way to commercialize lying to Santa in a nation that seems able to commercialize everything else.  Indeed, the ways of discussing lying about Santa might seem endless.

I can’t recall at what age I figured out there was no Santa, but I can recall what it taught me.  That is, I can still even to this day recall marveling over the discovery that I had believed something — not because I thought it was true (I had suspicions it wasn’t true even before I confirmed it wasn’t true) — but because I so deeply desired it to be true.

That was an important life lesson for me.  Over the years, I have benefited again and again from knowing that I am capable of believing something to be true simply because I want it to be true.

So, what lessons, if any, did you yourself learn upon discovering that your community lied to you about Santa?  Were any of the lessons you learned especially useful to you?   Did any of them stick with you?

Are We About to Get Screwed Again?

Naomi Klein’s book on disaster capitalism, The Shock Doctrine, contains a number of — and this is being polite — difficult to defend claims.  Yet, I haven’t seen anyone discredit her core claim — and people have been trying.

Her core claim, as I understand it, is that Free Market Capitalists have learned to take advantage of emergencies, disasters,  and calamities in order to impose the social, economic, and political changes they desire:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.

Indeed, I agree with those critics of Klein who state that, despite its flaws, The Shock Doctrine is one of the few books that really help us to understand the present, and that Klein may have revealed a master narrative of our time.   One can disagree with some of the things Klein offers as specific examples of disaster capitalism, but it seems no one has been able to refute her thesis that disaster capitalism is being practiced — and practiced routinely — these days.  There are about a half dozen “big ideas” that go very far to explain the political world we live in.  The notion that Free Market Capitalists have been taking advantage of calamities to first destroy the order of things, and then to replace that order with Free Market Capitalism, is almost certainly one of those six big ideas.

When disaster capitalism was in its infancy about thirty or forty years ago, the Free Market Capitalists would wait for a calamity to naturally occur.  Apparently, they don’t always wait for calamities nowadays — instead, they sometimes manufacture them.  And it seems the current budget crisis might be just such an example of a manufactured crisis.

As Yves Smith points out this morning on her blog, Naked Capitalism, this budget crisis stinks all the way to satellite orbit:

Let’s review how we got here. Obama made it clear before he took office (hat tip reader Hugh) that he intended to go after Social Security and Medicare. As we discussed, shortly after he took office, Obama was privately reassuring conservatives that he’d curtail entitlements once the economy was on a better footing. Clearly, he’s been willing to settle for “better” being tantamount to “not in imminent danger of falling off a cliff.” And if you had any doubts, Obama made his intentions abundantly clear (to use that Nixonianism) by creating a Deficit Reduction Commission and staffing it with enemies of Social Security, former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and Senator Alan Simpson.

The second thing to keep in mind is that his deficit ceiling crisis is contrived. The Bush Administration bumped up against it multiple times and never used it as a basis for budgetary theatrics, even though it was also keen to cut Social Security. Obama could have taken action long ago, before the midterm elections, which were seen as putting the Democratic majority in the House at risk, to gain more headroom.

So it seems possible to me that what we have here is another instance of a conscious effort to panic the American people into supporting something that it is against their best interests to support — namely cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

And I think it will probably work.  Just as the Gulf War worked.  Even thirty, forty, or fifty years from now a lot of folks will still be swearing that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we invaded Iraq because that country helped Osama Bin Laden conduct the attacks of 9/11.  I seriously doubt many people are going to question — genuinely question — what has been so carefully fed to them about the existence of a budget crisis.

To easily form an opinion is human nature; to easily change one’s mind is not — which is precisely why the Free Market Capitalists rely on calamities, real or manufactured, to create the fear and panic that are necessary to get most of us to change our minds.

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Recommended Further Reading:  “The Audacity of Dopes“, posted on Slobber and Spittle, by Cujo.

That’s Bullshit!

One of the more obvious things about life is that some people are more intolerant of bullshit than others.  By “bullshit”, I don’t mean using big words or fancy phrases.   Nor do I mean any particular philosophical, political, or religious ideology.  I don’t even mean showing up to a sex orgy dressed in a chicken outfit with a bible underarm and a feather duster stuck up your ass.  All of those may be called bullshit by some people, but they are not what I mean here by bullshit.

“Bullshit” in the context of this post means a poorly grounded claim or proposition that is being asserted as established truth.  “Conservatives are racists.”  “Progressives hate the rich.”  “Priests molest children.” “Atheists feel empty and unfulfilled.”  If you take those statements to mean, “all” — in the sense of, “All Conservatives…”, or “All Progressives…” — then those statements are pure, liquid bullshit.  And some people are more intolerant of those kinds of statements than others.

Indeed, some people have almost violent reactions to bullshit.  Or, at least to what they think is bullshit.  They become visibly upset or angry.  Other people — or maybe some of the same people — flinch or cringe.  Bullshit strikes them like fingernails dragged across a chalkboard, like the “wrong” kind of music, like one of my poems.

Maybe the intolerance some people have for bullshit is partly explained by the fMRI study Harris, Sheth, and Cohen did which found,”The acceptance and rejection of propositional truth-claims appear to be governed, in part, by the same regions [of the brain] that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors” (p. 146 .pdf).  That is, more or less the same brain cells are being used to decide whether some claim is true as are being used to judge whether something smells or tastes foul.  If so, that might be part of the reason some of us have such visceral reactions to what they think is bullshit.

Of course, I’m not saying that people who are highly intolerant of bullshit always know what is or is not bullshit.  Perhaps ironically, being intolerant of bullshit seems to have little or nothing to do with being right about whether or not something is bullshit.

People who accept evolution often enough think Creationism is full of bullshit.  But some Creationists have the same gut reaction to the Theory of Evolution.  Apparently, it annoys, angers, and exasperates them.  So, what matters is not whether something is bullshit or not, but whether one thinks something is bullshit or not.

If our bullshit meter were a reliable truth detector, we could throw out all the scientific methods.  We wouldn’t need such cumbersome, laborious methods to determine whether we had arrived at reliable fact.

I think most of us are in the middle when it comes to tolerating bullshit.  We put up with it to get along, and we put up with it to a point.  Now and then, we reach our limit for the day.

Our neighbor, though, might be someone with a much greater tolerance for bullshit than we have.  The other day, someone was telling me he didn’t care whether his religious beliefs were true because their truth or falsity was less important to him than their contribution to his “self discovery and self-realization”.  “I don’t want to know if I’m right or wrong.  I want to know who I am.”

I wonder if our tolerance for bullshit more or less matches how conscientious we are at trying to establish the truth of a matter?

  • If I am highly tolerant of bullshit, am I relatively less conscientious at establishing truths?
  • And if I am highly intolerant of bullshit, am I relatively more conscientious?

I don’t know of any studies done on that subject, but my guess is that it is not as simple as that.  That’s just an intuition, though.  And I can’t come up with any good reasons in support of it, so maybe there are none.  Maybe it’s just as simple as it looks: People who dislike bullshit are relatively more careful not to indulge themselves in it.

My last question is: Do we become numb to bullshit?  Is it possible there’s so much bullshit today that it numbs us?  That we scarcely notice most of it anymore, and sometimes hardly respond to what we do notice?  What do you think?