Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Why are people so stupid?

with 6 comments

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I am always changing my opinion of the human race. Usually I’m revising it downwards. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The only humans I am generally familiar with are Americans. That probably has a lot to do with why my opinion of humans keeps going down, and why my foreign friends are often so amazed at American’s attitudes. Let me clarify, I don’t think Americans are bad people or stupid people. It’s just that their ability to think and reason critically seems to be eroding every year. As far as I can tell, the average American, no matter how smart, is more inclined to use their brain to reinforce their opinions than critically examine the evidence. This tendency can be found everywhere though. After much thought, I have developed a theory. I’m sure other people have come up with the same theory, so I certainly don’t claim it to be original. To wit: I think that if people are holding a position on an issue because of religious or ideological reasons, they more or less become immune to logical argument, and instead use various logical fails to reinforce their position if challenged.

Let me give some examples. Gun control. The anti-gun control people are convinced that any gun regulation is an infringement on their rights. And thus they use a vast panoply of false arguments to deflect, ignore, and reject any and all discussion of gun control. In fact I could, and probably will write a post on the amazing array of false arguments anti-gun control proponents use. Suffice it to say, most of them aren’t willing to debate the issue. Health care is another one. People that are anti-Obamacare or in general think the US has the best health care in the world, seem more or less obsessed with the idea that they shouldn’t be forced to help other people through their taxes. They see it as a forced redistribution of wealth, and are against that in principle. Again, suffice it to say, these people argue vociferously (and badly) for the status quo. Lastly, abortion. Anti-abortion people seem to fervently believe that they are “saving babies.” They are categorically against abortion for ideological reasons, and it short circuits any discussion on the topic.

As a codicil to this, when people’s thinking is channeled by ideology/religion, it leads them to adapt extreme positions that are often so off-the-rails it’s scary. Republicans have introduced several bills now that give rapists parental rights or worse. One recent bill makes it a crime for a woman to abort a pregnancy from rape,  the rationalization being that the baby is “evidence” of the crime. Right, anyone who can’t understand the insanity of a law making it a crime for a women to abort when she has been forcibly impregnated has lost touch with reality. Or the NRA’s call to arm teachers. Let’s see, putting tens of thousands of guns into schools every single day to prevent a crime that takes place maybe once a year is going to prevent gun crimes? This is one of those ideas that people proposing it didn’t think through. Which is sort of the gist of what I am saying here, if one tailors their ideas about social policy to conform to ideological limits, no real thought is required.

The worst aspect of this tendency is that it is exploited by institutions with an agenda. And while this has always been the case, the modern sciences of propaganda and advertising combined with the ubiquity of modern mass media has made this problem far worse. The NRA doesn’t discuss how to prevent gun violence for example, they spend most of their efforts convincing gun owners that the Feds are plotting to take away their guns. Thus short circuiting any discussion before it can begin. The health care industry does the same, by keeping people focused on the idea that there is something ideologically wrong with any attempt to rein in America’s out-of-control health care industry, any discussion of the basic problem … what’s the cheapest and best way to provide Americans with effective health coverage … never takes place. Basically exploiting this tendency in people short circuits any real discussion of the problem and how to resolve it. The pro-life people for example never actually want to discuss how to make every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy, they just want to ban it and insist that people women should only be having sex if they want to have children.

Why would people be so inclined to swear allegiance to an abstraction than deal with reality? Damned if I know. I suspect there’s some survival benefit to identifying with one’s “tribe” and acting to defend it physically and intellectually. It’s also a lot easier to do than to critically examine an issue or one’s attitude towards an issue.  Is this exclusively an aspect of right wing groups? No, but right wing groups are on the ascendency in the US. Republicans, the mainstream media, the energy industry, evangelical Christianity are the big players now. The biggest “leftist” player currently in the USA is the Democratic party, and while their false arguments are different, they use the ideas of pro-labor and pro-choice in a similar fashion to ensure the loyalty of their base. All of which fills me with gloom. On the one hand this is preventing any serious debate on the issues facing the USA. Worse, some of the ideological “solutions” to our nation’s problems are actually counter-productive. And scariest of all, there is the possibility that this will lead to something really really bad.

That’s for a future post though. I hope everyone is having a great weekend.

(The above image is so ubiquitous on Facebook that it might as well be public domain. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. I have no clue who holds the copyright, but I commend them for their creativity. So many “debates” on line are farcical these days. This is not what the communication revolution promised. Not that any revolution has ever led to something people expected.)

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Written by unitedcats

January 27, 2013 at 10:56 am

6 Responses

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  1. hey doug. what is the difference between stupid and “inability to think” ? ok, i give up…

    mary s. jackson

    January 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    • Stupid is low IQ, difficulty problem solving, slow learning, etc. Inability to think logically has no relation to stupid. I’ve met really sharp well educated people who couldn’t debate their way out of a paper bag. I’ve known stupid people who could think their way through a brick wall if given enough time. JMO. —Doug

      unitedcats

      January 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      • Haha, “Stupid is as stupid does”-Forest Gump’s Mom lol, always thought it was a good saying though, doesn’t really matter how smart you are, it’s what you do with what ya got.

        Pyrodin

        January 28, 2013 at 7:01 am

  2. Have you read The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer?

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    Zhoen

    January 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

  3. Well this is both hilarious and true… I find myself on that same downward slope…

    “I am always changing my opinion of the human race. Usually I’m revising it downwards. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The only humans I am generally familiar with are Americans. That probably has a lot to do with why my opinion of humans keeps going down, and why my foreign friends are often so amazed at American’s attitudes. Let me clarify, I don’t think Americans are bad people or stupid people. It’s just that their ability to think and reason critically seems to be eroding every year. As far as I can tell, the average American, no matter how smart, is more inclined to use their brain to reinforce their opinions than critically examine the evidence. This tendency can be found everywhere though. After much thought, I have developed a theory. I’m sure other people have come up with the same theory, so I certainly don’t claim it to be original. To wit: I think that if people are holding a position on an issue because of religious or ideological reasons, they more or less become immune to logical argument, and instead use various logical fails to reinforce their position if challenged.”

    Ditto ditto and ditto. And yes there is an obvious difference between ‘stupid’ and ‘inablity to think’… I had been following the DNA thing with Bigfoot… here is the last thing from NA Bigfoot:

    12/6-Just for clarity, Igor Bourtsev made a public statement this morning that the Bigfoot DNA Study is at a Russian Journal and presently under review…

    That is Ketchum’s study and was apparently ‘rejected’ by the various publications here in the States and was forwarded thru Igor in hopes of getting it published out there… none of that sounds very promising does it?

    Can the entire sequence be a hoax… last thing… united cats… we have 4 cats (or is it 5) and united is one thing they will never be… it is a ridiculous name and I congratulate you on it. And the picture too… I wish I could have been there!

    James

    February 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

  4. What a good blog, except for this posting. While much of what you say is correct, your take on gun control is missing some logic and is full of your own ideology and emotion.

    Any regulation of guns IS an infringement of my right as a human on this planet. What right does another man have to say that I cannot defend my life, family, or property, which is ultimately all that I have, against others who would threaten it? What right does another man have to tell me how or when or how effectively I may do so? Because a madman shoots his gun inappropriately, others who have no desire to do so should be punished with diminished capacity to resist force? Shall all breasts be outlawed and excised at birth to prevent breast cancer? Breast cancer is a drain on the health care system after all which we all contribute to; It’s for the common good. Of course not, and the absurd parallels are endless yet warranted as they fit the logic of so many that support the government’s restriction of the right of the people to resist force.

    Violence “is.” There are two ways to get another to do as you wish, persuasion or force. The ultimate level of force is the taking of life or the threat plus ability to do so. Violence cannot be legislated away. In fact, the very nature of legislation is using force, up to and including deadly force, or violence, to enforce said legislation. Violence is and always will be a part of human interaction. There is no other way of getting anything done as long as humans remain individual entities. Wishing, praying, or hoping for it to be otherwise is a futile effort. There is no debate. I can “debate” gravity with you all day long but an apple will still fall from the tree to the ground.

    An adult realizes that violence simply “is” and prepares himself against it in the only way possible, by matching, or projecting the perceived ability to match, the level of violence of his adversaries in order to bring the interaction back to persuasion rather than force.

    If a person has not matched (or successfully pretended to) the strength of his arms against his adversary’s, he will simply be forced, through threat or actual violence, to bend to his adversary’s will.

    The government IS trying to strip us of our ability to resist violence. Does legislation that would strip the citizens of armaments also applied to the state or agents of the state? If it does, as was the case with New York, is the failure to not exempt agents of the state not seen as an oversight that needs immediate correction? If the government, failing persuasion, chooses to legislate its will on the people with the familiar threat of “do what we say, or else” the people have then been threatened with force. At this point the people can in turn threaten force against the government and, without a shot fired, bring everyone back to the table for another round of attempted persuasion. If the words and actions of those in government have not shown to you that they do indeed intend to strip us of our ability to resist their force, then perhaps a study of history, strategy, and game theory would convince you. The armed populous is the only thing holding the US government in check against the people. The rational decision, from the standpoint of the government, is to strip the citizens of the means to resist force. They are attempting to “persuade” us to go along with it willingly because they are afraid of what would happen if they tried to “force” the issue.

    The government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is gone, if it ever truly existed. There is simply an adversarial relationship between our government and the people that depends on a balance of force that keeps us from actually using force instead of persuasion to settle our differences. Removing or diminishing the capacity of force from the people could possibly result in the United States devolving into a tyrannical oligarchy. Building one’s future on an adversary’s mercy and good-will has never worked out well.

    As the saying goes,”those that beat their swords into plowshares will plow for those who did not.”

    Violence “is.” If the second amendment falls, and it won’t without some very nasty conflict, then all other rights are null and void. Gravity “is”, people fall off cliffs, planes go down, and as such it must be reckoned with. There is no debate on whether we should allow gravity to to be in the hands of common citizens. Bad things happen with guns, madmen go on killing sprees, but violence “is” and must be reckoned with in the same manner as gravity.

    There is no “debate.” No “conversation.” I would just as soon jump off a building and flap my arms as I would walk this world with nothing between me and another’s desire and ability to “force” me to their will.

    Violence “is.” Get used to it.

    Cheers!

    J. smith

    February 21, 2013 at 4:20 am


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