Why do we believe what we believe?

Geodesic house
© Wayne McCall 1975

Why do we believe what we believe, and why do we differ so much? We pretty much agree on yes, that’s a sunset and this is heavier than that, and we may disagree on whether we like the taste of fennel, but beyond that, consensus is hard to find. Here are some claims for consideration.

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What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

I offer this Reddit discussion about the FOX News article Honduran man charged with raping, killing jogger in New Jersey had been deported twice as an example of how hard it is to discuss politics. I am posting as PhilAndMaude.


Person-A:
A-fucking-nother one. How many illegals have killed American citizens this year. We should compare it to mass shootings and see who has killed more. Read more ›

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The Four Forces Driving Political Conflict

Years ago, I thought I was going to die. The streets were dark and slick with rain. I was getting a ride back from a weekend encounter group where all our emotions had been laid bare, and the driver and the other passenger entered into such a screaming match over politics I thought a car crash was inevitable.

Why are political discussions so intense? Something has to generate all that political energy and cause the two sides to differ on issue after issue. Read more ›

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Why There is a Crisis of Fake News

Call it the law of unintended consequences.

The internet is a disruptive technology comparable to the Gutenberg press. Initially it was seen as a global encyclopedia, making all human knowledge available to everyone.

Then social media arose, and I saw this as revolutionary for two reasons:

  • It allows people around the world to see each other and recognize their common humanity rather than being portrayed as faceless enemies to be feared.
  • Radio, TV and the press are one-way media that promote the interests of the rich and powerful. Peer-to-peer communication by passes these gatekeepers and allows other ideas to compete.

What I missed in this optimistic analysis was that the gatekeepers also performed the valuable task of checking facts and assembling a coherent, credible story, albeit with the possibility of bias.

With great power comes great responsibility.

The power we have is that peer-to-peer networks facilitate the dissemination of news that does not fit the ruling narrative.

The corresponding responsibility is that we must check the facts and assess the credibility.

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You Only Have Six Original Thoughts in Your Life

By an original thought, I mean putting together existing ideas and observations and coming up with a new thought or product or process that you’ve never met before.

All developments are constructed from the raw materials of our present knowledge, and new discoveries are often made independently by a number of people. There are many examples of such duplications such as the point-contact transistor, protein denaturation and calculus.

There is a huge range of creativity, from very little for some people all the way to thousands of ideas from someone like Richard Feynman; six is just a guesstimate for the average, taken from my personal experience.

It follows that nearly all of your beliefs, whether big or small, are those of other people:

  • What is consciousness?
  • Is there a God?
  • How should society be organized?
  • Does this hat look good on me?

Just because those beliefs didn’t originate with you doesn’t make your answers invalid, of course, but it does place on you an obligation to look into the basis for your beliefs.

Welcome to the New World of Perpetual War

Spontaneous street protest at start of Iraq war

It’s a New World of Perpetual War:

All this for only $2,000 each (that’s $8,000 for a family of four) or $4,500 each when you count indirect costs.

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Censorship on Conservative Sites

I have long had the experience of being censored on conservative sites, despite making a point of being meticulously respectful. On reddit, I have been blocked from the subreddits conservative, askaconservative and The_Donald, but they are famous for being hyper-sensitive. I did not anticipate censorship from a prestigious publication like the National Review.

David French wrote an article with the tongue-in-cheek title Does the Left Lose because It’s Too Civil? and most of the comments were extremely uncivil about the left, thus refuting his point. I engaged with one of the commenters and found that some of my responses were being deleted. After the first one, I did screen captures:


I found it ironic that the article complained that civil discourse with liberals wasn’t possible, yet a polite dialogue was being disrupted.

I reached out to David French and the National Review about this, but heard nothing back.

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Identity

The entire canon of Western thought, from Aristotelian logic to George Boole (he of boolean arithmetic) to the divide-and-conquer approach of science, invites us to view and categorize the world according to its differences, not its similarities. A table is a table and a chair is a chair.

Language is the tool we use for this dissection. It is the framework within which we place all experience. And yet this cannot be the only way to understand the world. Before language was invented, say 100,000 years ago, we managed to live and survive in the world; we understood the world, but in a very different way. Yet that way must still exist within us, although eclipsed by language.

To know it, we must set aside language – a very difficult task. Meditation is one way to do this. For instance, zazen involves watching and counting the breath. Whenever a thought arises, start counting from one again. This is extraordinarily difficult, yet it demonstrates that attention without thought is possible. Yet what we find there remains there. We cannot bring it back and speak about it: it is, by definition, unspeakable.

Arthur Koestler coined the word “holon” to mean something that is complete in itself, yet also part of a larger whole. A human is composed of organ systems like the respiratory and digestive systems; each is constructed of cells, and so on, down to the quarks and leptons of physics. But individuals are also part of larger groupings: a species, a phylum, and life.

This multiple existence is hard to acknowledge.

So we are indisputably these larger groups at the same time as being our individual self, in the same way that a cell is indisputably human as the same time as it lives its life as a cell.

This is the realm in which we find the greater self, and to find it we must transcend the ego, not in the sense of denying it, but of not remaining attached to it.

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Only Protest If It Is Invisible

Street protest at outbreak of Iraq war.Do you remember when BLM was protesting in the streets and people said “I support their right to protest, but not at the expense of inconveniencing other people?” So players avoided inconvenience by kneeling during the National Anthem, and that still upsets people. It seems that protest is only allowed when it is completely invisible and can be ignored.

The Financial Value of DACA

This graph* shows the net value to society of a person as they age. Initially, a child costs money for food, health and education. During the working years, they generate more value than they consume. In retirement, living and health costs reduce their value, but at death, there is, on average a small net value, and accumulated over many lives and millennia, these net values have accumulated to create the social assets we all share: roads, museums, libraries, scientific knowledge and technical skills.

The potential value of a person is greatest at the end of their education, and that is precisely what we are rejecting when we deport DREAMers. The benefits will all accrue to the other countries.

* The graph is an average across the population, and the exact shape will be different, e.g. there will be a steep drop at end of life. Nevertheless, the graph as drawn illustrates the point.

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