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The Impasse


Exhibit One:

Are we hard-wired for group-think? The data keeps rolling in. There are studies that show people experience genuine pleasure, a rush of dopamine, when processing information that supports their beliefs. It does not matter how accurate the information is, if it doesn’t support their views they tend to discount it. This is what William Van Orman Quine called the Web of Belief. In the web beliefs get stronger as you move towards the middle, so with a presentation of facts you might be able to sway someone whose beliefs are on the outside of their web, but the deeper you go the harder they are to sway until you reach the core values, or world view, which cannot be moved, and at that point the person will dismiss the facts rather than change those views. This is known as confirmation bias, “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs, and reject information that contradicts them.” It seems this is how we are wired to react. Mercier and Sperber in their new book “The Enigma of Reason” postulate that this comes from our social nature, where being part of “the group” help insured individual survival. As Elizabeth Kolbert paraphrased them, “Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”

Exhibit 2: Brian Resnick at notes five psychology points.

1) Motivated reasoning: rooting for a team changes your perception of the world
2) People who are the most well-informed about politics are often the most stubborn about it
3) Evolution has left us with an “immune system” for uncomfortable thoughts.
4) The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents
5) Many people seem unashamed of their prejudices
6) Fear has a powerful influence on political opinion

Exhibit 3: Of course that brings us to Free Will: Do we really have any?

If we are the creation of an omnipotent entity who knows, or has set, the future, then we have no Free Will because our paths are already laid, so it does not matter what we “choose” to do, we will end up doing what is foreordained. This by the way is why in this scenario Prayer doesn’t work; the entity already knows the outcome it has chosen, and no amount of petitioning can change the decision. But, if it is all foreordained then even the entity does not have free will for the game is decided in advance even for it. You have to step back one level, not knowing the future, to create any Free Will at all, and even then it’s better for the entity than us, for we can choose but it can be overridden. How many times did God harden Pharaohs heart? But now you have a situation where your “god” is running (and interfering with) a “scientific” experiment, and the final results are unknown to all. This by the way, matches up nicely with the religions of Abraham, and most others when you think of it, when you read the books. Now, take the entity out of it and you can have Free Will, well not really if you look at the chemistry of the brain. We are little chemical engines wired to react in certain ways. What we do when we exercise “Free Will” is react in the way we are chemically programed, nor without coercion of some type will we react in any other way. We are social and the coercion can be subtle, as non-aggressive as “following the crowd”, and society can change an outlook generation by generation, but we are wired in our initial reactions, and as shown in the earlier exhibitions, our deep wiring is practically unassailable. This inevitably leads us into “camps” of like thinkers and with the advent of the internet these camps are finding real structural growth. This is not to say that any “camp” is bad for society, for history shows that it takes members from all camps to keep a society functioning, as all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. In his Republic, Plato was going to divide the camps into their own sections of society, but if you notice no one has ever really been able to do that. People it seems are not so easily categorized, but we still gravitate into camps.

At the Exit:

And this is why we have voter detachment from their own reality. This is true always, but a few of the current examples are Wisconsin Dairy Framers, solid Trump supporters, who suddenly realize that if he does what he says about immigration, they will go broke, because their labor force is chiefly made up of immigrants, many undocumented. Or those who have insurance for the first time and are finding out that the GOP was serious about repealing the ACA and if successful they will lose their at times lifesaving coverage. Or earlier the Obama voters who thought he was going to change the world just by being in office. That Noble Peace Prize was for what exactly? We tend to vote our wiring, because how could that possibly be wrong? But at times, though we will never admit it, indeed we are seemingly incapable of admitting it, the wiring is wrong.



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from miss-guided souls who disagree.