…the great drama of Russia is not the “transition” between communism and capitalism, between one fervently held set of beliefs and another, but that during the final decades of the USSR no one believed in communism and yet carried on living as if they did, and now they can only create a society of simulations. For this remains the common, everyday psychology: the Ostankino producers who make news worshiping the President in the day and then switch on an opposition radio as soon as they get off work; the political technologists who morph from role to role with liquid ease – a nationalist autocrat one moment and a liberal aesthete the next; the “orthodox” oligarchs who sing hymns to Russian religious conservatism – and keep their money and families in London. All cultures have differences between “public” and “private” selves, but in Russia the contradiction can be quite extreme.
“The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.”
Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.
An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.
In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe.
Depressing, yet very accurate.
Age of Ignorance [NYR]
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.
Political advice bestowed on Richard Nixon by Nikita Khrushchev:
If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.
Charlie Rose Talks to Jeremy Grantham [Businessweek]
History speaks pretty clearly that the markets do better with Democrats. Republicans’ ideas of what constitutes fiscal responsibility simply are not good for the stock market. Democrats have many tendencies, but one of them is to look after the workers, and actually that tends to be good for demand and good for markets. These capitalists who are desperate to elect Republicans should study their history books.
—Jeremy Grantham, co-founder, GMO asset management.
Contrary to popular belief, people generally do not become more conservative as they age:
Amidst the bipartisan banter of election season, there persists an enduring belief that people get more conservative as they age — making older people more likely to vote for Republican candidates.
Ongoing research, however, fails to back up the stereotype. While there is some evidence that today’s seniors may be more conservative than today’s youth, that’s not because older folks are more conservative than they use to be. Instead, our modern elders likely came of age at a time when the political situation favored more conservative views.
In fact, studies show that people may actually get more liberal over time when it comes to certain kinds of beliefs. That suggests that we are not pre-determined to get stodgy, set in our ways or otherwise more inflexible in our retirement years.
Do people become more conservative as they age? [DiscoveryNews]
Richard Sulik, the speaker of the Slovak parliament and head of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, explains why he hopes the Euro bailout fund will fail and why troubled countries like Greece shouldn’t be bailed out:
[The banks] took on too much risk. That one might go broke as a consequence of bad decisions is just part of the market economy. Of course, states have to protect the savings of their populations. But that’s much cheaper than bailing banks out. And that, in turn, is much cheaper than bailing entire states out.
A few years back, we [Slovakia] survived an economic crisis. With great effort and tough reforms, we put it behind us. Today, Slovakia has the lowest average salaries in the euro zone. How am I supposed to explain to people that they are going to have to pay a higher value-added tax (VAT) so that Greeks can get pensions three times as high as the ones in Slovakia?
The Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) on the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement:
These are not rants against the system. They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it…
This is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium…
What gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.
Former White House advisor for the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren on fair taxation:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory – and hire someone to protect against this – because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Forget the upcoming election battle. This is spot on and I could not agree with her more.
A famous 1951 U.S. civil defense propaganda short film for children in which Bert the Turtle shows what to do in case of nuclear bomb attack.
Duck and Cover was a suggested method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear weapon which the United States government taught to generations of United States school children from the early 1950s into the 1980s. This was supposed to protect them in the event of an unexpected nuclear attack which, they were told, could come at any time without warning. Immediately after they saw a flash they had to stop what they were doing and get on the ground under some cover—such as a table, or at least next to a wall—and assume the fetal position, lying face-down and covering their heads with their hands.