A slow-learning America cannot be a free America

Summary: Sometimes you find an insight that changes the way you see the world. Our ruling elites made such a discovery sometime after WW2, that they’ve used since — slowly probing its limits, which they have not yet found. I found it, and and as a result see the news differently. Today I attempt (again) to share that insight with you. We have become gullible, and easily believe lies. The bigger, the better. See the last section for links to more information about this vital subject.

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. … Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.
— Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)

Sheep watching TV

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Today’s examples, from the endless flow

  1. Why do we believe the hawks?
  2. How many bubbles must pop before we learn?
  3. All big weather is anthropogenic global warming
  4. Gay marriage will destroy the US military

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These stories do not show the Left or Right as deluded or stupid.

These stories show smart people in action. People who know how easily we are to manipulate, and do so routinely. Successfully. We must do better to remain a free people.

(1)  Why do we believe the hawks?

They are wrong again and again. The Vietnam War fiasco. The very wrong predictions of Team B (released in 1976; see Wikipedia). The fiascoes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today they replay their ludicrous claims about arms control treaties, each a Munich-like betrayal certain to lead to disaster. They opposed the new START treaty in 2010 just as the they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan. Now they use similarly over-the-top language about the treaty with Iran negotiated by the P5+1. Here are two of the countless examples (source of these quotes):

James Jay Carafano (Heritage Foundation) at National Review Online:

“What just went down in Geneva is, in fact, a replay of the greatest diplomatic tragedy of the 20th century.”

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

“It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to develop a working hypothesis that explains this behavior. The presumption should be that Obama and Kerry like to grant concessions to regime that don’t like America because they themselves don’t like America all that much.”

(2) How many bubbles must pop before we learn?

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Learn

There are many signs we have blown the third bubble during the past 15 years (the first two were typical over-investment cycles; this one is a monetary expansion). Bubbles occur normally in free-market systems, going back to the great British railway bubble of the 1840s (see Wikipedia). But once a generation is normal. Twice is for slow learners. Three suggests deep dysfunctionality.

On the other hand, read this compelling speech by Janet Yellen — Professor UC Berkeley, Fed chairwomen-designate — explaining that there is no bubble, and if there is a bubble the Fed can successfully mitigate its popping. Quite reassuring. Except that she gave this in October 2005, discussing real estate.

Now she says the same thing. Quite reassuring.

(3)  All big weather is anthropogenic global warming

Each big weather gets blamed on anthropogenic global warming, with warnings of much more to come. Eventually climate scientists produce reports, usually finding little or no connection. That’s the substance of the IPCC’s Special Report on extreme weather, and on the recently issued report. For excerpts and links see:

To see how this works, remember the dire predictions following Hurricane Katrina in 2005? It was the worst, and harbinger of many more to come, devastating the East Coast like never before, due to our CO2 emissions (see this mild example from ABC News). In fact NOAA’s analysis described it as a typical, albeit strong, hurricane (Camile in 1969 followed a similar path, but was far stronger).

In fact the US has seen remarkably few hurricanes since Katrina, and had the longest period on record (since 1900) without a major hurricane landfall. Both northern hemisphere and global Accumulated Cyclone Energy (a measure of storm intensity) are running near record lows (since 1972). See Roger Pielke’s website for details (Prof of Environmental Science, U CO-Boulder).

(4)  Gay marriage will destroy the US military

When will we see apologies from those who so confidently predicted dire consequences from decriminalizing gay people in the US military? Don’t ask – don’t tell went into effect two decades ago (February 1994). All restrictions ended two years ago (September 2011). The clock is running.

A note from one of the major shapers of our world

There are deep reasons why Godwin’s Law is accurate, which we prefer not to know (see more about this here).

 All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true in itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

— Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925)

Singularity Eye

For More Information

See all posts about Information and Disinformation

The problem:

Solutions:

Other posts about clear vision (neither Left or Right is “reality-based”):

  1. Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds., 15 June 2009
  2. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  3. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  4. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
  5. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
  6. Examples of America’s broken vision. Here’s why we cannot clearly see our world., 21 October 2012
  7. What does a “broken OODA loop” look like?, 23 October 2012
  8. Who lies to us the most? Left or Right?, 25 February 2013
  9. Learning to see beyond the American Pravda, 24 May 2013
  10. The secret, simple tool that persuades Americans. That molds our opinions., 24 July 2013
  11. The Achilles heel of both political parties, waiting to be exploited by reformers, 7 November 2013

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Propaganda

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15 thoughts on “A slow-learning America cannot be a free America

  1. Between the decline in the public education system, the misinformation that we’re being fed on a regular basis by the corporate-controlled mainstream media, and the fact that public libraries are under siege — here in New York City, there are supposedly plans to close not just one but two of the largest and most centrally-located libraries — it’s sometimes hard to avoid the suspicion that the American people are the targets of some sort of deliberate Orwellian conspiracy to make us so thoroughly ignorant and incapable of thinking for ourselves that we not only have no impetus to fight back but no longer even have the ability to conceive of such a thing.

    I know that it’s not wise to attribute to malice what can be attributed equally well to stupidity…but given the way in which the political divide in this country is already beginning to resemble the Two-Minute Hate in which people are simply shrieking invective at their opponents without even bothering to examine what reasons (if any) there might be for their hatred, it often seems these days as if the Powers That Be regard “1984” as an instruction manual instead of the cautionary tale it was intended to be. There seems to be a determined and ongoing effort to simultaneously erode and discredit most if not all of the support systems which provide the American people with the power that the Founders intended them to have, and another one which has been slowly sliding the machinery of dictatorship into place…and all this has been taking place right under the noses of the American people without most of them even noticing, let alone turning a hair. This is a large part of the reason why I suspect that when the next big change comes — and there inevitably will be one — it won’t be pretty. As I said in a recent comment, people who insist on acting like sheep should not be surprised when they’re treated like sheep…fattened up, shorn, and slaughtered for mutton.

    1. Bluestocking,

      My guess — emphasis on guess — is that we have been indoctrinated by a multi-generational barrage of propaganda.

      The Tea Party people are largely college educated, not ignorant hicks.

      Ditto the legions of professionals — including many in finance — who believe in the Reagan economic miracle and that cutting taxes usually increases revenue.

      Ditto the hysterical climate doomsters, usually with undergraduate education or better.

    2. I think it’s important to remember that these days, the fact that someone has an undergraduate degree is by no means a guarantee or even a reliable indicator that the person in question is either intelligent or even particularly sensible. All it really means for certain is that they did the amount of work needed to be able to give the right answers (even if they didn’t really understand why the answers are right) and stuck with it long enough in order to earn the diploma — it doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand much of anything outside their chosen field of study (or possibly even in it, for that matter). It’s like that old joke about what you call people who graduate at the bottom of their class in medical school. The answer is…you call them “Doctor” because they evidently understand medicine well enough to get the degree, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be very good at practicing it. These days, most Americans don’t view college as an opportunity to expand their horizons…they view it primarily if not exclusively as a ticket to better job opportunities and a bigger paycheck, As I’ve pointed out before, numerous studies of knowledge level among American adults (such as the one on civic literacy conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in 2008) strongly suggest that many Americans — including those with a college degree — remain woefully ignorant on subjects as basic as history, geography, and government despite their supposed advanced education.

      Speaking as someone who used to be a bit of a sheepskin snob, the assumption that a college degree implies intelligence really needs to go…especially given the fact that it’s a tool which the Powers That Be have been using to their own advantage precisely because they know many people believe it (“this person has a degree from Harvard, so he/she is quite obviously an expert and therefore shouldn’t be questioned”)

    3. Bluestocking,

      I do not understand what point you are making here.

      If you are saying that the political extremes, where the worst misconceptions and disinformation live, are composed of unintelligent people (albeit often highly credentialed people with technical or professional jobs) — then I would like to see supporting evidence. It seems a remarkable claim.

      My experience — annec-data — based on thousands of conversation in the FM comment section AND daily personal experience is that these are mostly educated (in a real sense) and intelligent people.

      Propaganda works. We see this in the 20th century history of the west, largely resulting from programs during our wars. We see this in the foundations of the New America arising around us.

      It’s a dark truth, but must be confronted. IMO no reform of America is possible without a solution or counter to this.

  2. It just occurred to me that maybe the average American’s insistence that he or she is right on this issue or that issue despite all evidence to the contrary is an unforeseen and unrecognized side effect of technological advancement and the increasing availability of (as well as the emphasis on) immediate gratification in our culture. I know that it might not make sense at first blush, but hear me out.

    As I’ve pointed out in several of my recent comments, America is and always has been a nation of reactionaries who don’t see a great deal of virtue or value in analyzing things — we’d rather be doing things. The increasing rapidity of technological development as well as our comparative financial prosperity has made it a lot easier to get things done, but it’s also dramatically decreased the amount of time that we’re willing to delay our gratification as well as shortened our ability to pay attention because we’re so becoming so used to being able to have things the way we want them whenever (and almost as soon as) we want them.

    I’m definitely not a Luddite, but it’s hard to avoid the possibility that technology is in a sense causing us to become infantilized. Infants are not good at delaying gratification because they haven’t yet developed the coping mechanisms which make it possible for them to do that…all they’re really capable of understanding is I Want It Now Dammit. This is part of the reason why infants tend to be narcissistic…they’re not yet mature enough to understand anything outside their immediate experience. When Mom leaves the room, the infant cries because he or she has no way of knowing that Mom hasn’t gone far and/or will be back soon — all he or she knows is that Mom’s not there anymore. Infants also blindly trust and rely upon authority figures because they lack sufficient knowledge and power to get what they need on their own. Is this striking a chord with anyone? It is with me. Maybe one of the reasons why we cling to ideas which just aren’t true is because technological advancement (still a comparatively new development in the scheme of things) has spoiled us to such an extent that we believe we ought to have the right to choose our own facts in the same way that it’s become possible for us to choose among an ever-expanding range of options in many other areas of our lives. I’m not saying that we need to do away with the technology — far from it — but it definitely looks as if we need to make a determined effort to resist the temptation to regress into an infantile state.

    1. True. But where such mentality or worldview comes from?
      I believe such infantile behaviour is just a manifestation of a economic phylosophy that says; Individual human beings are rational and sum of their actions provide best posssible outcome. This phylosophy came out of “invisible hand” phylosophy.
      The truth is that market succes came out of a group effort to achieve a particular goal and then strive for it. Get out of Great Deppression, win WWII, help Europe rebuild, go to the moon and so on are group efforts that produced great succes in the market.
      It is about the group effort coupled with individual strive for it within the concept that created what we got in post WWII boom.

      But all of that is based and came out of from economic phylosophy. Individualism or a group think or social cohession (some would call it socialism). Economic failure always caused social divide. Or is it the other way around?

    2. Jordan,

      Did I miss your apology for grossly misstating what I’ve been saying for the past 5 years about the importance of fiscal policy?

      In my opinion doing things right is not so much a matter of intelligence or knowledge, but learning — which starts with admitting error. That is IMO the great red line in these comments, dividing the people worth conversing with from the waste-of-timers.

  3. The viewers of Fox News, old, mean age 65, white, bigoted or as a minimum shocked that a race they have been taught to consider inferior has placed one of its own in the White House.

    These people reflect the belief systems of our ruling elites, who for the most part reside on the political right. Their supporters are willfully ignorant, a frightening thing when you think about it, because this ignorance denies, history, facts or even the use of the scientific method.

    Until the body politic replaces the elected representatives of this group, things will either stagnate, or get worse. We are not in a position to engage in a civil war, thought at times I think that is where we are headed. No comprehensive steps can be taken – unless the present administration can by executive order re- install the “fairness doctrine” to the air waves. Otherwise forget about it and wait till enough of the “old white guys die off.” I have no comfort to give you,

    1. Choirboy,

      (1). Thanks for the amazing stat about Fox News! I didn’t believe their *average* age was that old.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/23/business/its-viewers-are-graying-but-their-passion-pays-for-fox-news.html?_r=0

      (2). “The viewers of Fox News, old, mean age 65, white, bigoted or as a minimum shocked that a race they have been taught to consider inferior has placed one of its own in the White House.”

      I have no evidence, but suspect that you are correct, and race is the driver for much of the fanatical opposition to Obama.

      (3). “These people reflect the belief systems of our ruling elites, who for the most part reside on the political right.”

      I agree with this partially. I work with lower tier members of our ruling elites, and they are conservative in many ways — especially about money-related issues.

      But not so much on social issues. Social issues are the fissure in the Right. Their coalition has maintained cohesion because the elites have satisfied the social conservatives with symbolic gestures and rhetoric more than policy (the evangelicals and such know this, a driver of their feelings of disenfranchisement and alienation).

      (4). “Their supporters are willfully ignorant, a frightening thing when you think about it, because this ignorance denies, history, facts or even the use of the scientific method.”

      That’s the big apple. Solutions to deal with this are vital, and difficult. Note, however, this describes the Right but not the 1%.

      (5). “Until the body politics replaces the elected representatives of this group, things will either stagnate, or get worse”

      I agree, but political success is the last step in the reform process. We have not even laid the foundation for starting.

      (6). “We are not in a position to engage in a civil war, thought at times I think that is where we are headed.”

      I disagree, totally. Our problem is the political passivity of the American people. If we were capable of a civil war there would not be a problem.

      (7). “No comprehensive steps can be taken – unless the present administration can by executive order re-install the “fairness doctrine” to the air waves.”

      A two-fer! Nostalgia for the airwaves’ intellectual diversity of the 1950s AND the Magic Law. Since the action on Left and Right is on the internet, I suspect the result of such a thing would be minor.

      (8). “Otherwise forget about it and wait till enough of the “old white guys die off.”

      Only if the 1% fail to recruit new generations to their side. I suspect they do so with great efficiency. They have their great apparatus built over generations to recruit and train activists — see bios on The Shame Project — but also inequality itself helps. The best and brightest see the opportunities lie on their side and enlist.

      It is a great historical law that people prefer winners.

    2. One question in pursuit of clarity. How was it that a substantial number of what was then the equivalent of today’s 1% was once Liberal, supporting FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson? What drove them away?

    3. Choirboy,

      “How was it that a substantial number of what was then the equivalent of today’s 1% was once Liberal, supporting FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson? What drove them away?”

      What a great question! There is a large body of political science research on this subject, with which I am not familiar. So I’ll guess (I’d never do this in a post, but am lax in comments). Guesses:

      (a) They’re older. “He who is not a radical at 20 has no heart; he who is a radical at 40 has no head.”

      (b) Kennedy’s policies were liberal (some more, some less) in 1960. What would they be today?

      (c) The Right devised plans, which I’ve cited, to mobilize their resources and propagate their message. They’ve built scores of think-tanks and action groups and media outlets. They have recruited and training thousands of activists. Patient investment pays, as it should. Their reward is a New America.

    4. Follow-up to Choirboy’s interesting datum about median age of cable networks for for prime-time shows, from the NYT per Nielsen:

      MSNBC:..60.6
      CNN:…….59.8
      CBS:…….56.8
      ABC:…….54.4
      Fox Broadcasting:..50.2
      NBC:…. .47.7

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