Summary; Another day, another “2 minute hate” — this time by the Left on my post The 97% consensus of climate scientists is only 47%. They’re the usual assortment of misrepresentations and lies prepared for their tribe, who accept them without question. I’ll do the usual fact-rich boring debunking of them tomorrow. But it’s more important to understand the game being played on us. Here is a brief description of the group dynamics that run America and makes reform almost impossible. Of course, these are generalities, and cannot apply to every situation, every time, or every individual.
Valuing Tribe over truth
Truth is impossible to know. But functionality requires the some ability to tell fact from fiction, albeit imperfectly. During WWII and the Cold War era, when the American middle class grew in size and wealth, our elites made a great discovery: they could lie to us with impunity (details here). Like so many innovations, this was first discovered by the NAZI government — and further developed by other western governments.
Each side of the political spectrum put this powerful knowledge into use to develop their faction into groups with tribal truths — resistant to rebuttal by logic or fact by the evil others, and producing followers of guaranteed loyalty and easy to manipulate. Hence our 21st C America.
This led to fear-mongering and debunking as the primary form of political communication. Unrestrained by criticism, each faction arouses its members with visions of doom. This game became commonplace in the late 1960s, and rose to dominate our national dialog during the past 20 years.
Since the 1960s the Right has relied on tales of moral degeneracy sparking civilization’s collapse, Red Dawn, fifth columns, Shari law, national bankruptcy, sleeper cells, Hispanic hordes, hyperinflation, rampant crime, collapse of the US dollar, etc. The Left warns of resource exhaustion, megadeaths from famines and pollution, ecosystem collapse, and imminent fascism (Bush is like Hitler).
Both rely on epistemic closure — each side relying on closed information networks — to prevent communication which would pop these balloons. These are largely faith-based worldviews, and so resistant to failure of their predictions. No matter how often wrong, people like Paul Ehrlich remain authorities for their tribe, as they say things useful for the leaders — and the followers value tribe over truth, making learning difficult or impossible.
The effectiveness of this should not surprise anyone familiar with 20th century history, or who has seen Triumph of the Will. This does not mean that anyone using these methods is a NAZI. It means that these tools, like guns, work for any user.
Hence the rise of fact-checking as a means to entertain the tribes with clickbait (dramatic simple stories) that also re-enforce loyalty. Both sides provide ample targets with their often outlandish beliefs, clearly seen by the other side. Since our tribes tend to believe without question, packaging rebuttals as “fact checking” allows combining fact and fancy with emotionally charged labels — producing an appealing media product.
A useful experiment would be fact-checking without tribal loyalty. For example, many of Obama’s statements about climate change contradict what we actually know. The Right — in between calling him a Muslim socialist (fact checking?) — has accurately debunked these claims, unheard by those on the Left. Today’s example is Obama at the Exit glacier in Alaska, conflating the past 2 centuries of warming with human-caused warming (“extremely likely that human activities caused more than half … since 1950”) — see this fun debunking here.
Imagine if Left or Right rigorously policed statements by its own people? That might lead to a true “reality-based community”, and unknown but large effects on America.
Fancies of the Left and Right
Each side sees itself as “reality based”. Their similar follies are understandable, since they’re both comprised of people like us. These claims are easily disproved. There are hundreds of posts on the FM website documenting the follies of our factions.
On the Left we have belief that thousands of species go extinct every year. That the IPCC is “too conservative” and so wrong about dangers such as the methane monster. That the horrific RCP 8.5, worst of the 4 scenarios used by the IPCC, is a “business-as-usual scenario”. That there is a campus rape epidemic. See more here.
On the Right, people believe a wide range of obviously false things, like these more false facts, with frequent predictions that valuable treaties and social reforms will produce disaster, and that Iran will have the bomb in a few years (often said since 1984). They have their own faux history and faux economics. See more here.
Both rely on forecasts of apocalypses, and are indifferent to facts that contradict their beliefs. Please comment if you would like to see more examples.
Price we pay for putting tribe before truth
In America lies ‘R us. Our government’s leaders lie to us. Our commercials lie to us. Our corporate leaders like to us. Our political factions each exist in a sea of lies. The news media has become a stream of clickbait. Facebook, Twitter, and ZeroHedge are the new model media (the first two we tweak to provide mostly tribal truths, the second provides a dramatic mixture of fact and fancy).
At some level of consciousness we know this. The price we pay for allowing this is a loss of confidence in our institutions (oddly similar to, if so far smaller, than that in the late Soviet Union). Our confidence in our governing institutions has collapsed. For example, Gallup’s Trust in Mass Media survey shows a drop of 1/4 since 1997. Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions poll shows a similarly steep decline over a longer period: down 1/3 from the early 1980’s. As for Congress…
I see this in the comments here and casual conversation everywhere: a pervasive loss of trust in our society. But we cannot exist as isolated atoms, and questioning usually shows their trust has not been lost so much as shifted to ideological or faith-based groups. For more about this see Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State.
The immediate result is that we remain divided by incomparable belief systems, mostly unable to communicate except by throwing insults. While we fruitlessly bicker the 1% continues its decades-long growth in power, as it harvests the largest fraction of America’s growing wealth.
This situation looks unstable. The rise of candidates like Palin and Trump — extremist clowns — vs. elderly mannequins like Clinton (age 67) and Sanders (73) suggest a system approaching some kind of inflection point.
A change of our loyalties from tribe to truth would rapidly change American politics. It could start with our becoming unwilling to tolerate leaders who so frequently lie to us. I doubt that will happen.
For More Information
- Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
- Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.
- Five steps to fixing America — Things you can do as an individual.
- The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?