Category Archives: psychology

Attention henchmen! Voting machines and other flawed conspiracies

After some introduction, my remarks this time will swerve specifically toward a special set of individuals out there called “henchmen.” But the rest of you may find it interesting. 

Will the 2012 election be stolen?  And if it is… can the theft be reversed?

Given the abysmal reputation that President George W. Bush earned — even among conservatives — there is no doubt that most Americans would send a warning back in time, to prevent the theft of the election of 2000, if only they could.  (If you demur, please answer my 6 year challenge: Name one unambiguous metric of US national health that improved across the span of 2011-2009 GOP rule; nearly all such measures of health plummeted.) Even if the likely outcome would have been President McCain or President Jeb Bush in 2004.

Another squeaker, nail-biter election will be upon us in a week. The contest is not so much between Obama and Romney, or left vs. right, or Democrats vs Republicans, or even Red America against Blue America in Phase Three of the U.S. Civil War. It is, rather, a crucial stage in the latest oligarchic putsch to reverse a 250 year experiment. And possibly a return to the way of life known by 99% of human societies.

What will happen if the outcome teeters close, as it did in 2000?  Can we expect sudden, surprising shifts in vote counts from crucial precincts, as happened in that fateful year? Shifts that coincidentally always err in one direction? Or weird anomalies from the early-voting tallies?  Or from absentee ballots?

Of course we can.  Other writers have analyzed the potential for fraud that has been building for years, whether through voter roll purging, vote suppression or direct shenanigens by the companies who own and operate most of the nation’s electronic voting machines.  I urge you to get educated about these incredibly brazen campaigns to outright cheat the process we rely upon as citizens and heirs of the Founders, who counted on us to carry forward their Great Experiment. 

== The blatant examples are one-sided ==

I will only offer one detail here, though it screams out the situation in bald terms.  In most blue states (e.g. California) the voting machines are either fed a hand-marked paper ballot to read, or else they provide a printed receipt that the voter can inspect and drop into a separate box. Either way, all votes made in that precinct can be audited.  No matter how many back doors and cheats might be built secretly into the machines or their programs, no one will dare pull a major electronic switcheroo, if enough precincts will be randomly hand-counted and audited.

The same is not true in many red states, where GOP-run legislatures gave voting machine contracts to a trio of companies alll of whom have strong Republican Party connections. (The address of one of those companies?  ES&S: 11208 John Galt Blvd. Omaha, NE   I kid you not.  John Galt Blvd.)

Moreover, in most red states that use electronic voting machines, the process does not involve a separate box of auditable paper ballots. No way for anyone on Earth to catch a glitch or falsified result.  Now why… one might ask… would they do that? Why would anyone do that, except in deliberate furtherance of fraud?

This potential theft will be exacerbated by the fact that news organizations and polling firms are cutting down on exit polls, this year.  Exit polling has proved to be a major deterrent to cheating, because of its high degree of accuracy.  In precincts that are neither exit-polled nor auditable by paper receipts anything — including skullduggery and cheating — can happen.  And many folks expect that cheating will happen… say in Virginia or Florida… if the election is tight.

Now, at a macro level, this says an awful lot about the deep and growing difference in philosophy and psychology in Blue viz Red America. An attitude of win-at-any-cost prevails as a way of life in one realm, while the other moves deliberately in the opposite direction, toward accountability and adult behavior.  Want backup for that assertion?  Only in blue states have citizen revolts ended the foul practice of gerrymandering, returning a meaningful choice to voters.  In California, for example, districts are now compact, reasonable, and are much more competitive, giving citizens some real leverage, for a change. Even if you are a republican living in a largely democratic district, as the Berman-Sherman run-off shows, you now have a chance to be heard and heeded, as never before, because gerrymandering, a blatant crime, is gone in California.

No red state has done this.  The picture is complete; and I will say it even more starkly, below.

But first… I must now stop talking to the majority of you and address the bulk of message to a very small subset. (The rest of you are welcome to listen in! This involves you too.)

== Henchmen, pay attention ==

* There is an old saying. 

When you’re playing poker, if it’s not immediately evident who the patsy is…

…the patsy is you. *

I have something to say to a very special audience.  Those of you out there who are actually involved in endeavors to game or cheat the electoral process.

Yes, I am talking to you guys — the henchmen (because that really is the word) of those conniving Blofeld types who plan to manipulate voting machine results, or who are purging voter rolls or arranging for “accidental” losses of ballots or biased disqualifications or any of the other shenanigens at issue here.

You know that we know it’s going on. And despite that, you’ve already decided on your path. Perhaps you’ve let Roger Ailes convince you that your fellow citizens cannot be trusted with a decision this vital. Or that we have a muslim, commie, satanist-usurper in the White House and you are cheating for the nation’s good. Or else you are being very well paid! Or you’re being blackmailed. Or some combination of the above. You know that, in this day and age, it is vital to keep conspiracies small, but have you ever sat down and thought about why?

(Elsewhere I’ve made clear that I’m an equal opportunity skeptic. I stiffly opposed the USSR’s evil empire and I frequently inveigh against some of the idolatries and stupidities we sometimes see emerging from the extreme left, such as “Loose Change” conspiracy theories about the tragedy of 9/11.  Stupidities so awful that across any year they equal as much as a whole day‘s worth of the spew we get from Fox. Yes, that bad.)

I discuss the difficult situation of henchmen in both my novel EARTH and in my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?  For in this modern era, with cameras and recording devices getting ever smaller, the chances that you’ll get caught with firm evidence showing you committing illegal acts will grow with every passing day.

Indeed, if you have held meetings with co-conspirators in details of the scheme were discussed, you had better assume the other fellow was recording you, and stashing the record somewhere, in case he ever needs it.  To blackmail you.  Or to offer in a plea bargain.

Moreover, if you have not already done this — recorded your compatriots in secret, in case you will ever need leverage — then you have proved you are the patsy, the stupid one, the pawn who will be sacrificed, if things ever fall apart.

This lesson applies to all conspiracies, not just to present efforts aimed at stealing the U.S. elections.  If you are a henchman, but do not want to be sacrificed like the hundreds who die for the villain in every Bond film, then you had better prepare a little blackmail of your own.

== The henchman’s dilemma ==

If you are going to play these games, you really need to read up. Be knowledgeable, an intellectual henchman. Because you’re doomed otherwise.  Read up about positive sum versus zero sum games.  And especially about the type of “game” that fascinates scientists today, called “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” To save time, I’ll let you do a first-cursory wiki on that, before coming back here.  Go ahead, I’ll wait. (Later, read about it in detail and really understand what it means! Because it applies to you.)

You are in a prisoner’s dilemma with other members of the conspiracy. So long as the cabal stays very small and is richly motivated, there’s a chance that everyone will hold together. But consider… what if someone breaks?

Suppose some news reporter, or FBI agent, or unhappy spouse or younger brother, gets wind of the conspiracy well enough to start bugging the meetings?  Or to threaten one of your comrades and get him to turn states’ evidence?  Or someone decides they are sick of being blackmailed that that it’s time to be a man. Or suppose there’s a counter-offer on the table that’s hard to refuse?  (I’ll talk about just such an offer, in a bit!)

What’s to stop one of your colleagues from blabbing? Consider the tradeoffs.

Whoever blabs first will get:

–  Amnesty or a pardon.  Or else (at worst) a wrist slap.

–  A big fat book deal.

–  Aappearances on a hundred talk shows.

–  A top “security” job with one of the California tech billionaires who hate Roger Ailes.

– A new identity, if you want one.  (But it won’t be needed.)

– Admiration and adoration from grateful fellow citizens, plus positive mention in history books.

–  To be on the inevitable winning side.

All the other members of the Cabal will go to prison. For conniving to steal elections, they will be reviled and their names cursed, not only in this generation, but in tones now used for John Wilkes Booth and Benedict Arnold.

Oh, some of the top folks may have insulated themselves.  They are the ones who have already recorded you making incriminating statements and actions, but have been careful, themselves. They already have contingency plans and know who the patsies are, who will be tossed to the wolves if anything goes wrong. Be assured, you are one of them.

In fact, I believe these top fellows are wrong about their own insulated safety, this time. Transparency is likely to skewer them like bugs, when the light starts shining. But that’s a future thing, driven by coming technologies. I admit that, in past times, Blofeld often got away.

He did so by sacrificing pawns. And that’s your role in Plan B. Furthermore consider this. The very best way to sacrifice a pawn is to make sure that the pawn both takes the blame and is dead, so he can’t squeal. What? You think they wouldn’t do that to you? Gosh, there’s one born every minute.

== Happy with the position you are in? ==

Oh, but if I have planted uncomfortable thoughts, you can still shrug it all off.

 “Brin wants me to be the squealer.  He’s trying to talk me into being a whistle blower, so that he can help that Blue America filled with scientists and intellectuals and city folks and evil muslim-satanic-commie presidents!”

Go ahead and rationalize all you want.  But the fundamentals of what I’ve said here apply, no matter who is saying it, and you know that’s true.  They apply to all conspiracies. And yes even to good ones! Those that are working against tyranny.

Well, except for the part about book deals and talk shows and being a hero and getting to party with starlets and the rest. That will only happen if you blow the whistle on nasty stuff. And the public will call your cabal of vote stealers nasty. Sooner or later, even a century from now, they will hate you.

Oh, there’s one more thing.  I know some of those tech billionaires.  And take my word for it – they will match whatever you are currently getting from the conspirators!  If you spill the beans convincingly on a nasty cabal that is stealing elections — or anything similar — you will be paid at least as much as the Blofelds are paying you to help them cheat. And Blofeld can’t offer you the book deal, talk shows and starlets.

In fact, I am letting a cat out of the bag. (I have permission to say this much.) If we see a repeat of 2000, with weird electoral veers in suspicious precincts that stink to high heaven, those billionaires will go public with their offer! Millions in exchange for proof that is iron-clad and solid. 

Now look at your co-henchmen in the conspiracy. Consider that they have already recorded you. They have such proof, stocked and hidden away. While you twiddled your thumbs. They are positioned to take advantage of such offers, while you are not. And only the first one to blab will get the bonanza.

I’d get busy, if I were you.

== Other ways of stealing the election ==

Enough talking to henchmen. Now back to you regular readers.  

Of course, the problem is about more than electoral cheating. This putsch is being waged across a broad front. By far the biggest part is the tsunami of money, the insane degree to which our democracy is being bought.  The very same Supreme Court that gave us George W. Bush and the plummet of America that followed, has opened the floodgates of private cash — and even secret foreign lucre — to inundate our electoral process.

Who bought your candidate? See the top corporate donors for each candidate for the house and senate… and remember, we don’t get any of this info re the real graft… the super-PACS. Are you happy with this?

Not only are corporations people, but the tradition of One-Person-One-Vote will be replaced by Wallstreet-style “corporate democracy” in which votes are tallied according to the number of shares that you own.

Make no mistake, that is the objective.  Every “social” issue from abortion to religion to flag waving… all of those things are secondary. Mere ways to marshall emotion from Red America. The way slave-owners marshaled a million poor whites to march and die for the oligarchs’ privileges, during the first phase of the American Civil War.

== The Chief Result: an America that no longer negotiates ==

The utter demise of the species “moderate republican” is best illustrated in this fantastic graphic from the XKCD online series. It demonstrates how the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined and partisan political force in US history, marshalled and commanded by one man… Roger Ailes.

== What can the rest of us do? ==

Send emails to the news networks and polling firms, demanding that they beef up exit polling this year, instead of letting it decline.

Volunteer to do poll watching and/or get-out-the-vote.  And tell your friendswho despise both major parties to look at Gary Johnson.

Write about this online and maybe viral this posting you are reading now.

Start talking to others about the notion of a “henchman’s prize” to accomplish much the same good work that is being done by whistle blower laws.

Tell especially any henchmen you know!

Talk about how angry you will be, if 2000 is repeated, and how vigorously you will resist, if the election is stolen.  And — if it is — come back here.  I’ll have suggestions.

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Filed under economy, politics, psychology

Renaming killers – the idea spreads

Folks have been writing in, ever since I posted the latest version of my “Names of Infamy” essay.  In fact, during just the last few days there has been a noticeable media swell – – a growing movement not to mention the name of the Aurora/Batman shooter.

As reported by Molly Hennesy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times:  “Jordan Ghawi, 26, of San Antonio became frustrated by how much of news coverage focused on the 24-year-old Holmes. ‘Let us remember the names of the victims and not the name of the coward who committed this act,’ Ghawi tweeted Friday afternoon. The tweet went viral. When some Twitter followers noticed Holmes’ name trending on Twitter – something Ghawi said bothered his mother – they started a campaign to promote (a victim’s) name instead.”

On Sunday, Mr. Ghawi made his pitch directly to President Obama, who chose not to mention the shooter by name, in his public remarks.

Not a new idea, this worthy notion goes back to the last century, even long before I proposed it publicly in Salon Magazine (1999), describing the “Herostratos Effect” in which ancient peoples would sometimes expunge the names of those committing heinous crimes.

The pros and cons and means of doing this in a modern context, while preserving full memory, accountability and freedom of speech, lead to some interesting possibilities.

Although my most recent posted version of the Herostratos essay led to some radio time,  I imagine Mr. Ghawi and the others thought of this notion independently — and more power to them! Good ideas sometimes take time, before finally gaining traction.

Still,  the intellectual/historical side of things may be of interest, if this idea is to build momentum and become a factor in solving a terrible human problem.

=== The absurd nostrums on “gun control” ==

My “names of infamy” proposal is actually quite separate from another matter — the endless tussle over gun control.

And yet, the two topics inevitably get conflated at a time like this. At least, they were in a flood of emails, comments and assertions on facebook, twitter and this web log, proclaiming that “this sort of thing brings out  hordes of liberals campaigning to eliminate the Second Amendment and gun owner rights.”

Speaking as a Smithian libertarian, but one who finds liberals worthy to talk-to, may I respond with a simple request? Will someone please show me this campaign?  Point to specific bills, or sustained efforts, even solidly backed proposals with even a slight chance of enactment.

They don’t exist.  And this simple little cartoon from Tom Tomorrow sums it up neatly.

Only one serious gun control notion is getting even tepid mention: to restore the requirement that people get checked out and licensed before blithely purchasing full-on assault rifles with mega-sized magazines.  The very law that would have prevented the Aurora shooter-nut from easily acquiring his means to spray mass death.

That rule was passed, way back in the sane 20th Century, by an old thing called negotiated consensus between sober democratic and republican leaders… a pragmatic measure that led to no “slippery slope,” nor any decay in reasonable gun-owner rights. Alas, it was flushed away by the later, crazier breed controlling Congress in 2005.

Now before you call me a lefty nut, please pause for perspective: those who denounced the assault gun licensing requirement  — and who howl now against its restoration — seem to have no problem with the ongoing, 70 year old rule against private ownership of full-scale machine guns. So then, it’s just a matter of where you choose to draw lines, right?

Raising this question: when one whacko can kill or wound 72 people in a couple of minutes, so quickly that no brave bystander gets a chance to tackle him, isn’t that a “machine gun” style situation? Can you contemplate that maybe – just maybe – your line-in-the-sand may have been drawn just a tad too far? Is it possible to rediscover the sane art of pragmatic compromise, without fainting away or screeching in dread of a Slippery Slope?

I have shown a possible national compromise that would be a win-win… actually strengthening the constitutional guarantees of basic, essential gun ownership, while at the same time allowing pragmatic measures to be taken that reduce some of the worst calamities… all without a slippery slope.  (That is, I have shown it to the half dozen people who still have both curiosity and the patience to read careful arguments. If you choose not to actually read that proposal, please don’t gush forth generalized comments here, about what you presume it to be.)

Anyway, it’s all much, much simpler than that.

The Slippery Slope does not exist. Not anymore.  It’s a fantasy. And I can prove it.

The fact is – and, again let me remind you that I say this not as a “liberal” but as a Heinleinian-Smithian Libertarian – the right seems completely unaware of a seismic shift that happened under G.W. Bush —

— when many liberals started arming themselves.

Yes, they are. As is their perfect right.

Now tell that to your crazy uncle and watch multiple expressions pass across his face, as it sinks in.

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Filed under psychology, society

Longevity and Life Extension

I was interviewed about the likelihood that human lifespan can be extended indefinitely, any time soon. “When Will Life Expectancy Reach 200 Years? Aubrey de Grey and David Brin Disagree in Inteview” 

This is a topic I’ve covered in my article, Do We Really Want Immortality? Funny thing about these immortalist fellows.  Their calculations always seem to portray it happening in time to save them!  But in fact, the news from science seems to keep getting worse for them, not better… e.g. in recent insights into the vastly complex inner computation abilities of human neurons.  It is a case where I’ll be pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong.  But I feel grownups should focus on the guaranteed right bet… investing in our posterity.

To see how far back the fantasy goes, read about Gilgamesh and the Chinese First Emperor, who drank mercury in order to live forever… and died in his forties.  Or read the creepily familiar reasonings of very similar fanatics in Huxley’s brilliant (if slow) After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, a book that you find out on the very last page was actually a sci fi novel, all along!
This quasi-debate provoked a firestorm of controversy over on my Facebook page. One of my responses: I appreciate the enthusiasm of those urging me to BELIEVE(!) that tech-delivered eternal life is just around the bend. Indeed, I am told that BELIEVING(!) is essential to get there and that NOT believing might prevent it from happening. One fellow wrote:
“The power of your expectations is crucial. “

Um right. I get the same pitch from SETI zealots, who proclaim that detection of advanced alien civilizations will result in scientific leaps that may solve all our problems.

Now bear in mind that I am a scientist and sci fi author and I have explored concepts of both future and alien with far more eagerness, breadth and relentlessness that any hundred others you will ever meet. I want us funding ten times as much scientific research as now. I support SETI and have served on some of the commissions, and my name is on the first contact rolladexes. I know all the singularity guys and have listened to them for hours.

So why do I — and Vernor Vinge, the coiner of the term “tech singularity” react with sighs and eye-rolls to all this fervent “hossanah” shouting over salvation from above or an imminent Day of Transcendence, when Death shalt be no more and ye true believers will all be rewarded…

…because we’ve heard it all before. The terminology may be different, but the PSYCHOLOGY is still the same as in every tent show revival meeting across 6,000 years. It’s not just the substitution of anecdotes for actual capabilities. (Lots of stem cell papers, but not one regrown nervous system, yet.) Nor the coincidence that Salvation Day always calculates out to be just in time for YOU!

None of that offends me. Heckfire, I hope you guys turn out to be right. It might happen. I think simplistic notions are stymied by recent results showing how vastly complicated the internal processes of a neuron are — that the intracellular automata interactions and computations going on in there are FAR more complex than just unrolling an charting the incredibly simple and easy human genome……but sure. Let’s all hope. In fact, lots of stuff discovered along the way might be Earth-saving. Like cheap tissue culture meat. That’d be great

But no, I’ll tell you what bugs me. It’s the psychology. The incredibly self-centered, solipsistic, self-serving, “I-am Soooooo-darned-important!” narcissism of the fantasy is what bugs me. The hand-rubbing, chortling I-am-So-gonna-live-forever! zealotry that seems never to entail ANY of the virtues that we’ve long associated with adulthood.

Dig it, find me the extropian who understands how we stand on the shoulders of every generation of parents who tried to raise better kids than themselves, or who ever speaks about the beauty of that chain of pay-forward generosity, the most tragic-poetic tale ever told. Or the noble honor we’ll all have, even if we die, if we can only be one of the most important of the pay-forward generations. ALL I hear is paeans to how grand it will be to receive the end result. Never anything about the OBLIGATION that falls upon us, from that great chain.

I see the quest for individual immortality as kinda cool, tempting… and fundamentally *irrelevant* to the Great Project that I have inherited — that WE have inherited. To build and improve the Enlightenment Civilization of Ben Franklin and the others. To ensure we never slump back into darkness. To build something like Star Trek that deserves to move outward. To make kids who are better than us…

…so much better that THEY will have ideas about what’s wise and good and proper — wisdom that’s far beyond ours. (BTW, this is happening.) Building that posterity is a far greater challenge, yet one our ancestors were up to. It is a project that is far more noble, precedented and plausible than some grand leap to transcendent immortal suppersmart godhood. It is the project that should have YOUR loyalty. And if we happen to get some of the goodies while doing all that, well then fine.

=== Would Extended Life Bring Cowardice? ===

In a related article, Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute (and my frequent nemesis on the issue of METI), speculates that living forever may be a bad idea: “Here’s the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot — to millennia, rather than centuries — all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We’ll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world.”  

Sigh.  Seth is a smart fellow who often has interesting insights. Alas, he also keeps making broadly absurd declarations about what will automatically happen… Advanced aliens WILL do this&such!  They can only beam messages THIS way! If discussions about METI (sending messages to space) are opened up to a broad spectrum of sages and the public, the result will be a clamp of silence on Earth that will last… Forever!!!  Whatever just-so story enters his head — that is the way the universe operates, without exception.

In this case, the counter-examples are blatant.  Rich, healthy, long-lived folk are the principal source of participants in extreme sports, in thrill seeking hobbies and attempts to break world records. Will dynamic immortals, plagued by ennui, really sit and twiddle their thumbs, just because Seth Shostak decides “logically” that they ought to?  Feh.

=== and Related Science Matters ===

A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow has developed a ‘pioneering’ lighting system that can kill hospital superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile. The technology decontaminates the air and exposes surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light. It works by exciting molecules within the bacteria, which in turn produces ‘highly reactive’ chemical species that are lethal to it.  (Hey, didn’t I predict something like this in EARTH?)

Forty years after federal laws criminalized the use of psychedelics for non-medical purposes in FDA-regulated psychological and drug research, the study of these drugs is picking up again, and their use in treating certain patients shows promise. Researchers are finding that the drugs may help improve functioning and lift the spirits of those with cancer and other terminal diseases, as well help treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration have eased regulations and also given approval to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and New York University’s Langone Medical Center to study the use of psilocybin to treat death anxiety among cancer patients.

In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth’s largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.  ALSO… The past 12 months have been the warmest ever recorded by NASA. Until now, the hottest year on record has been 1998, when temperatures were pushed up by a strong El Nino – a warming event in the Pacific. This year saw a weaker El Nino, and that fizzled out to be replaced by a La Nina cooling event. So scientists might have expected this year’s temperatures to be substantially lower than 1998 – but they are not. Within the bounds of statistical error, the two years are likely to be the same.

On April 8, the networking hardware that routes traffic on the Internet got new marching orders: Requests for data from 15% of Internet addresses-includingDell.comYahoo.comMicrosoft.com, and U.S. government sites-were directed to go through China.

Recently NASA quietly moved its two long-grounded X-34 space planesfrom open storage at the space agency’s Dryden center – located on Edwards Air Force Base in California – to a test pilot school in the Mojave Desert. At the desert facility, the mid-’90s-vintage, robotic X-34s would be inspected to determine if they were capable of flying again. Provided they’re in flyable shape, it’s far more likely the space agency will make the X-34s available to private industry.

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Conspiracies and Wishful Thinking

To what extent is the world filled with conniving villains and dastardly plots… and how much of it erupts from our fertile imaginations? It may not surprise you much that I take both sides on this matter.

On the one hand, history is rife with schemers and secretive meddlers. You don’t need cryptic societies and Illuminati, just your run-of-the-mill feudal aristocracy that ruled almost every society that ever lifted itself to the level of agriculture. The mythology of inherited lordship – assisted and promoted by priests and bards – was the great scam that got pulled off on every continent, in every age.

On the other hand, we often see conspiracies where they are not. The psychological drivers are many and powerful. A need to explain one’s own poverty and failure. The allure of enticing pattern recognition, even when the patterns aren’t really there. And, above all, the warm feeling we get from being in the know. From being part of the elect group that can see what’s going on! While our foolish neighbors go about their business, bleating like ignorant sheep.

There are no richer, more voluptuous mental drug-highs than self-righteous indignation, resentment, and contempt for fools.

IS THERE A SYSTEM FOR RECOGNIZING THE DIFFERENCE?

In the latest issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, has an excellent article, “The Conspiracy Theory Detector“, in which he categorizes the characteristics of conspiracy theories. I’ll summarize a few of his points:

1. — The conspiracy only emerges by “connecting the dots,” linking events that are unrelated except through the allegation of conspiracists.

2.–The agents behind such a conspiracy would “need nearly superhuman power to pull it off.”

3.–The conspiracy presumes that a large number of people have maintained total secrecy, often for a substantial period of time.

4. –The conspiracy involves a grand struggle for control of a nation or economy, or even world domination (the larger the issue, the more likely it’s a conspiracy).

5.–The conspiracy “ratchets up from small events that might be true to much larger, much less probable events.”

6. –The theory assigns evil, sinister motives to events.

7. –The theorist mixes facts and speculations, probable and improbable events, is consistently suspicious of all government agencies, and refuses to consider alternative explanations, typically rejecting any evidence that fails to confirm such theories.

I must add that just because a notion has all these warning signs, that doesn’t mean the conspiracy theory is wrong! In fact, would not the conspiring geniuses fake some of these very traits, in order to discredit the idea and divert smart people away from it?

Still, Shermer’s article offers some tools, for you to use as a free mind.

JUST REMEMBER… YOU ARE THE EASIEST ONE TO FOOL

Richard Feynman said that. And I’m the one who said that self-delusion is the greatest of all human talents.

Indeed, recent science shows how good we all are at psychologically ignoring all evidence against our tightly clutched beliefs. Even when those beliefs are simply wrong. ”New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.”

While we’re on the subject, here is a systematic taxonomy of logical fallacies. No one should graduate high school without knowing these. Seriously, you are ignorant if you aren’t at least glancingly familiar with them.

(Hang on a month or so, and I will supply you with an even more important tool: the paraphrase challenge! Impatient scholars can dive into it here.

Dang, how has the species even survived to get this far? Obstinate, delusional… and desperately clinging to our delusions.

If this sort of thing is common among intelligent species, across the galaxy, then ah, the Fermi Paradox is no paradox.

THIS GOES WAY BACK, OF COURSE, EVEN IN SCIENCE

Controversies and public battles over science are nothing new, particularly when politics enters the fray. An article in New Scientist, “Einstein’s skeptics: Who were the relativity deniers?” begins, “When people don’t like what science tells them, they resort to conspiracy theories, mud-slinging and plausible pseudoscience.” Einstein’s battles to defend relativity were reminiscent of today’s climate deniers and creationists.

See my article carefully making this distinction.

In 1920, five years after he published his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein wrote, “This world is a strange madhouse, Every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political affiliation.”

Einstein’s publication provoked opponents across Europe and the U.S. who set out to prove that relativity was wrong. Objections were raised not just in scholarly journals, but in letters, newspapers, pamphlets and public lectures. Some groups promoted anti-semitic conspiracy theories; others raised theological arguments. Their tactics had much in common with those used by creationists and climate-change deniers today. The Academy of Nations, an international network of Einstein’s opponents, published polemics against relativity, which they believed symbolized the incomprehensibility of modern science, and its break from classical physics. The New York Times declared in 1919, that relativity was a theory that could be understood by “only twelve wise men.”

Arguments continue to this day. The website Conservapedia lists 32 reasons why the relativity theory is wrong, and allows users to document counterexamples to relativity theory.

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