“The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces.”

Michael Huemer, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado:

The problem of political irrationality is the greatest social problem humanity faces. It is a greater problem than crime, drug addiction, or even world poverty, because it is a problem that prevents us from solving other problems. Before we can solve the problem of poverty, we must first have correct beliefs about poverty, about what causes it, what reduces it, and what the side effects of alternative policies are. If our beliefs about those things are guided by the social group we want to fit into, the self-image we want to maintain, the desire to avoid admitting to having been wrong in the past, and so on, then it would be pure accident if enough of us were to actually form correct beliefs to solve the problem.

Based on the level of disagreement, human beings are highly unreliable at identifying correct political claims. This is extremely unfortunate, since it means that we have little chance of solving social problems and a good chance of creating or exacerbating them. The best explanation lies in the theory of Rational Irrationality: individuals derive psychological rewards from holding certain political beliefs, and since each individual suffers almost none of the harm caused by his own false political beliefs, it often makes sense (it gives him what he wants) to adopt those beliefs regardless of whether they are true or well-supported.

The beliefs that people want to hold are often determined by their self-interest, the social group they want to fit into, the self-image they want to maintain, and the desire to remain coherent with their past beliefs. People can deploy various mechanisms to enable them to adopt and maintain their preferred beliefs, including giving a biased weighting of evidence; focusing their attention and energy on the arguments supporting their favored beliefs; collecting evidence only from sources they already agree with; and relying on subjective, speculative, and anecdotal claims as evidence for political theories.

Full paper in PDF here.

Beznalichnye

Fascinating stuff from David E. Hoffmann, writing in The Oligarchs: Wealth And Power In The New Russia:

The Soviet system also had another kind of funds, known as non-cash, or ‘beznalichnye’. This was not banknotes or coins, but a kind of virtual money that was widely distributed as government subsidies to factories. The ‘beznalichnye’, or ‘noncash’, existed only as an accounting unit. A factory would be transferred subsidies in beznalichnye, which it would record on its books and might use to pay another enterprise—but it was not something you could put in your wallet.

The key dilemma for a factory manager was that the system was rigid: mixing the two kinds of money was prohibited. The factory manager was not allowed to take the beznalichnye and turn it into real cash. Both kinds of money were controlled by Gosbank, the official state bank, and by the central planners.

However, factory managers almost always needed more cash than they could get out of the system. The supply of cash was tight, but the supply of beznalichnye was very plentiful — maybe because there was not much use for it. The result was an imbalance in the value of the two kinds of money. Cash was much more valuable and sought after. By some estimates, a cash ruble was worth ten times a noncash ruble.

This imbalance was an invitation to huge profits. Someone who figured out how to turn the beznalichnye into cash would make a fortune. The planners’ greatest nightmare was that someone would do this and pump the relatively worthless state subsidies into real cash rubles.

Guess who figured it out.

Welcome To Fear City

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Welcome To Fear City: A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York is a pamphlet created by the New York Council for Public Safety in 1975.

Gothamist:

The pamphlet was put together as part of an anti-layoff drive of sorts. In 1975, the NY Times wrote, “For the second time in as many days, unions representing policemen, firemen and other public-safety officers won affirmation in court yesterday of their constitutional right to pass out ‘Fear City’ leaflets at transportation terminals, hotels an shopping districts. The unions, however, faced with mounting criticism of their tactics in attempting to pressure the Beame administration to rescind planned layoffs of 10,962 uniformed officers, continued to hold in abeyance distribution of the black-bordered, skull-emblazoned pamphlets warning tourists to stay out of New York because of rampant crime and inadequate fire protection.”

Barry Popik:

New York City was in dire financial straits and Mayor Abraham Beame had proposed heavy cuts in municipal services. The pamphlet—with a skull on the cover—was aimed to discourage tourists from visiting New York City. The pamphlet had received such negative publicity that it was not distributed, although the unions distributed other pamphlets to get their message out.

Negative nicknames for New York City during this economic crisis period included “Default City,” “Fear City” (by the police and fire unions), “Stink City” (sanitation unions), and “Stupid City” (teachers unions).

“There is very little doubt that what the next monumental achievement of humanity will be the first landing by an Earthling, a human being, on the planet Mars.”

Buzz Aldrin, via Reddit:

There is very little doubt, in my mind, that what the next monumental achievement of humanity will be the first landing by an Earthling, a human being, on the planet Mars. And I expect that within 2 decades of the 5th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, that within 2 decades America will lead an international presence on Planet Mars. Some people may be rooting for Elon [Musk, SpaceX & Tesla Motors founder & CEO] – I think he could, with his SpaceX, contribute considerably, enormously, to an international activity not only at the moon but also on Mars. I have considered whether a landing on Mars could be done by the private sector. It conflicts with my very strong idea, concept, conviction, that the first human beings to land on Mars should not come back to Earth. They should be the beginning of a build-up of a colony / settlement, I call it a “permanence.” A settlement you can visit once or twice, come back, and then decide you want to settle. Same with a colony. But you want it to be permanent from the get-go, from the very first. I know that many people don’t feel that that should be done. Some people even consider it distinctly a suicide mission. Not me! Not at all. Because we will plan, we will construct from the moon of Mars, over a period of 6-7 years, the landing of different objects at the landing site that will be brought together to form a complete Mars habitat and laboratory, similar to what has been done at the Moon. Tourism trips to Mars and back are just not the appropriate way for human beings from Earth – to have an individual company, no matter how smart, send people to mars and bring them back, it is VERY very expensive. It delays the obtaining of permanence, internationally. Your question referred to a monumental achievement by humanity – that should not be one private company at all, it should be a collection of the best from all the countries on Earth, and the leader of the nation or the groups who makes a commitment to do that in 2 decades will be remembered throughout history, hundreds and thousands of years in the future of the history of humanity, beginning, commencing, a human occupation of the solar system.

“The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger.”

David Graeber, via Strike:

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ’60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

“God here. I thought I would take the time to personally explain my absence in the Aurora shootings.”

Random comments section find:

Dear Christians:

God here. I thought I would take the time to personally explain my absence in the Aurora shootings. While I was at it, I thought I would also explain my absence during every murder, massacre and crime that has ever taken place in World history, and in every war, in every famine, drought and flood.

You see, I do not exist. I never have. Did it really make sense to you that I would create an entire Universe with billions of billions of planets and wait about 13,700,000,000 years just so I could focus on a few Jews from Palestine about 2,000 years ago while ignoring the rest of the 200,000,000 people on the planet at the time? Did I make those few Jews or did those few Jews make me?

Further, do you really think I would sit back and do nothing while Nazis killed 6 million of my “chosen people,” but find it important enough to intervene and turn water into wine to stop some hosts being embarrassed at a wedding in Cana? Why did I seem to be so active in the Middle East for a brief period about 2,000 years ago, but totally absent everywhere else on the planet and for the rest of recorded history? Did I make the Jews or did the Jews make me?

So, you really think my periodic miracles prove my existence hey? Then why not something inarguable and unambiguous, like a huge crucifix in the sky, or my face on the moon? Why is it always that believers have to construct my miracles out of perfectly explicable natural events?

This happens every time there is a tragedy or near tragedy of any kind, anywhere in the world and in all cultures. Captain “Sully” Sullenberger pilots a distressed plane to land safely on the Hudson River in New York City with no deaths, and it’s a miracle from God; a young girl is found in India, totally terrorized, but alive after being abducted and ra.ped for a week, and it’s a miracle from my competi.tor Rama (or Vishnu or Shiva) that she is returned to her parents; or a family in Northern Pakistan survives an errant American missile attack, and it’s a miracle from Allah.

What all these self-serving proclamations of miraculous intervention always ignore is the downside of the incidents. The fact that the passengers and crew of Flight 1549 were terrorized and the plane destroyed, that 11 innocent people are dead in Aurora, that the girl was held for seven days, ra.ped and sod.omized and will be traumatized for the rest of her life, or that a number of innocent civilians were killed by the missile.

Of course, none of these incidents really are “miracles.” When the totality of facts are taken into account, “miracles” turn out to be nothing more than believers who are desperate for some sign of my existence ignoring the downside of a set of facts, focusing solely on the upside and calling the quarantined “good” a miracle from me or one of the other sky-fairies. A CEO might as well ignore the liability side of his balance sheet and declare it a “miracle” that his company just doubled in value.

Another annoying habit my “miracles” seem to have is that they always seem to tag along, just behind medical science, like an annoying kid brother who won’t go away. Until the mid nineties, those with AIDS who prayed for a miracle were never granted one. Medical science finds a way to permanently suppress the disease, and all of a sudden I start to perform miracles with AIDS patients. No polio patient ever received a miracle until the Salk vaccine and I routinely ignored cancer patients until chemotherapy and radiation treatments were developed. Suddenly, prayers to me from cancer patients are regularly “answered.”

Why is it that I still seem deaf to the pleadings of amputees who would like their fingers, arms or legs back, to those who have physically lost eyes or ears, to the horribly burned and to all others who ail from patently visible and currently incurable maladies? Why is it that, at the very same time, I am very receptive to the prayers of those whose condition is uncertain, internal and vulnerable to miraculous claims?

Take five minutes to make two lists; one of those ailments I will miraculously cure and the other of those I will not. You will quickly find it coincides perfectly with those conditions medical science (or the human body itself) can defeat and those we cannot. Why do you think that is? It is almost as my miracles are created out of medical ambiguity isn’t it?

No, my human friends. I am afraid I do not exist. I do not read your minds (or “hear your prayers” as you like to call it) and you are not going to achieve immortality (or “eternal life” as you like to call it) no matter how many commandments from Iron Age Palestine you choose to “keep”. Move on and enjoy the few years you have. You were all dead for the last 13,700,000,000 years and it wasn’t that least bit uncomfortable now, was it?

God

“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living.”

Anaïs Nin, writing in The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934:

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.