American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly

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.

Truth vs Lies

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).

Tribal Truth

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.

Fact-checking

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.

right wing and left wing

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.

Today' s special: lies

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…

Gallup: Confidence in Congress
Gallup: Confidence in Congress, June 2014.

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.

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10 thoughts on “American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly

  1. Kaity Thomson posted this youtube video of her conversation with Ted Cruz. It nicely illustrates what indoctrinated robots we’ve become. Cruz told here — correctly — that the satellites show no global warming in this century (by both of the NASA funded datasets, RSS and UAH). She knows he’s wrong, without any need to check. The subsequent conversation is more interesting, and somewhat like Sara Palin’s interview by Katie Couric in 2008.

    Kaity is young, but has good odds of remaining just as doctrinaire for the rest of her life. America overflows with people like Kaity, on both Right and Left.

    Ted Cruz insults University of New Hampshire, denies the earth is warming

    Cruz- “Can I ask you Kaity, is there a single issue on any public policy issue whatsoever that you disagree with the standard liberal position?”

    Kaity- “Probably.”

    Cruz- “Can you name one?”

    Kaity- “I’d rather not right now. This is what I really care about. Climate change. This is what I really care about. This is what I’m voting on.”

    Cruz- “And your professors are engaging in indoctrination rather than teaching facts and evidence.”

    Kaity- “That is absolutely untrue.”

    Cruz- “I would just encourage you to question what they are telling you.”

    Kaity- “I do. I question you.”

    Cruz- “But have you ever questioned the left?”

    Kaity- “Absolutely, every day.”

  2. Finally had Time to read this in detail
    Terribly accurate, extreme in scope it seems to my experience. Felt numb after the read. Implications are almost overwhelming,what can possibly begin a small reversal? Words and phrases have meaning and create reality.
    Very troubling

    Breton

    1. Breton,

      For the first few years after I began this project in 2003 I had an upbeat tone. Years of analysis showed two perspectives on our problems.

      First, we are ruled by greedy power-seeking people who seek to co-opt the Republic to their ends. As their kind did during the Gilded Age, decisively overturned only by the Great Depression and WWII — and the threat posed by communism. The remedial actions seem obvious. However, that is an inadequate view. Such people are, like the poor, aways with us. It does not explain the most important question: why have we allowed them to grow so strong?

      The second perspective answers that: we have grown weak. Apathetic, passive, gullible. It’s a commonplace, one factor explaining the ever-changing pageant of history. How analytically powerful, it gives only bleak forecasts for the future. How do we fix this? Where do we even start? My Reforming America posts give answers, but none seem particularly useful to me.

  3. 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.

    This kind of clinical discussion, reminiscent of an anthropologist describing the bizarre behavior of a primitive tribe, is not likely to win you many friends on either the Right of the Left.
    if you want to know why your blog isn’t as popular as Daily Kos or Instapundit, that’s probably the reason right there.
    The key to world-class success in blogging is preposterous clickbait like “SEE THE FIVE TERRIFYING INDICATIONS THAT THE LEFT IS ABOUT TO DESTROY AMERICA!” or “REVEALED: THE RIGHT’S SECRET PLAN TO DOMINATE THE WORLD AND BRING ABOUT ARMAGEDDON!”

    1. Thomas,

      You nailed it in one. In our tribal society, belonging is all that counts. When we set this up I was told it would never have a big circulation. We’re now over 6 million pageviews since the end of 2007, running at 80 thousand/month. More than I thought we’d get.

      Traffic ebbs and flows. We’ll build an audience on the Left or Right, depending on the current theme. Then change themes to something that violates their tribal truths and they’ll flee.

  4. N.B.: There’s real doubt that the national Socialists were the first to use sophisticated counter-reality state propaganda. The Soviet Union under Stalin engaged in incredibly elaborate alternative-reality propaganda during the Holodomor (1928-1933). Stalin’s export of 5.1 million tones of grain from the Ukraine and his order to blockade the region to prevent the starving peasants from leaving to find food resulting in an estimated 6 million Ukrainians dead. Yet Pravda under Stalin in 1930 accused the Ukrainians of trying to starve the USSR! (A true trip into an imaginary mirror universe.)
    The mass starvation was covered up completely inside the USSR. Soviet census statisticians who reported a population drop got purged; subsequent census-takers dutilfully faked the numbers and showed a bogus increase in population during the Holodomor.
    So the Nazis were far from the first exponents of systematic state-controlled alternate-reality propaganda.

    1. Thomas,

      “There’s real doubt that the national Socialists were the first to use sophisticated counter-reality state propaganda.”

      Yes, but they initiated its modern era. Comparing NAZI propaganda to the Soviet’s is comparing crude use of brute force with sophisticated science.

  5. Having just read this post, I ask was there ever a time that politicians did not lie to us to get their goals? Was there ever a time when the newspapers were honest with us? One sees historical quotes suggesting people knew.
    Perhaps, the difference is that more people are just now realizing it. And the internet makes it easy to debunk lies with its vast array of data.

    1. Jim,

      ” I ask was there ever a time that politicians did not lie to us to get their goals?”

      History is not a matter of “new” things. Rather it is variation of magnitudes that creates its ever-changing variety. So it is not a binary question of they’re honest or liars. But how often and how large the lies.

      In the past a reputation for honesty was considered valuable; a reputation as a liar a major disability. Of course, there were always exceptions — such as during wars. Eisenhower considered denial that the Russians had shot down Gary Power’s U-2, as the worst mistake of his presidency. It was considered shocking that a president would like to the American people (the Russians already knew the truth).

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