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Old 05-13-2018, 11:22 AM
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Default Random long-form writings

I have a habit of just throwing out three or four thousand-word replies at various sites off the cuff. I’m starting this thread to keep them all in one place (with the exception of the ones for Marathon Chronicles, which I just added to my signature; those already are more or less in one place), as I suspect I’ll want to work elements of many of them into a longer writing I’ve been working on. I’m not really doing this with the expectation of generating any sort of discussion, and I can’t promise I’ll reply if it does. But people have been complaining that there’s too little interesting content here lately, so hopefully this’ll help liven things up a bit. I’ll provide links to the pieces within their original discussions, as there may be bits of context that would otherwise escape explanation. Over the next few days I’ll probably also start gathering the other long-form replies I remember and am still able to find.

Anyway, here’s something I wrote about seven hours ago.

I mentioned I’d probably have more to say later. I’m not sure I’m really in the best frame of mind to say it right now, though. We’ll see how this works out.

I’d never actually heard of Frightened Rabbit before this piece got posted, so I can’t speak of Hutchinson’s death from the frame of mind of a fan of his work specifically. I can speak from the framework of a person who has absorbed quite a lot of creative works, many of them quite emotionally bleak, and who has created a not insubstantial number themselves.

I’ve contended for a long time that the creative process generally requires both a narcissistic and an altruistic streak. (I’m speaking colloquially here; I’m not using “narcissism” clinically. I feel it necessary to clarify this because for most of the rest of this piece, when I use any other psychological term, I will in fact be using the clinical definition.) Narcissism, because showing a creative work to an audience is essentially saying, “look at me.” Altruism, because the creator’s hope in most cases is that the audience will enjoy or derive meaning from the work. A creator generally aims to enrich the world by creating a work of value or meaning. There are exceptions – people that go into creative fields purely because they want money and without any particular artistic aim, for example, or people who are purely hoping to propagandise for some hateful cause. But those exceptions aside, most creators have strains of narcissism and altruism.

These impulses are not easily balanced. And I can’t speak for every creator, but on the whole, when inspiration strikes, I tend to feel almost compelled to follow my muse. In some media, there’s an element of time; if you don’t write down a musical or literary idea, you will tend to forget it. But even for media where ideas generally aren’t time-sensitive – game development, for example – I tend not to feel satisfied until I get something working the way I want it to. It’s as though there’s a piece of me that’s simply missing, and making my idea work restores the missing piece.

I’ve described this almost as a compulsion, and I am in fact a sufferer of psychological compulsions. I was diagnosed with what was literally described to me as “components of obsessive-compulsive disorder” around half my life ago. I should be clear that this is not full-blown OCD, and I don’t actually completely understand what it means, but I don’t feel compelled to count ceiling tiles or check to make sure my door is locked twenty times or repeatedly wash my hands. I do get smaller manifestations, though. When I was a child, I studiously avoided stepping in cracks in the sidewalk even if it required walking oddly. Tears in paper drive me insane (and I’m not using that entirely figuratively) – this has actually caused me occasional difficulty at work. I suspect that, when I feel compelled to work on creative works, it is a manifestation of the same psychology.

I agree completely with the Le Guin quote I posted above. There is some sort of romantic view of suffering as contributing to the artistic process. I don’t find this to be the case at all; it’s quite the opposite. In some of my past comments I’ve described a long nonfiction work inspired in part by a friend’s Academy Award-winning film. I wrote the bulk of this (it currently sits at some 70,000 words; I once described it as an essay but I think it’s already long enough to qualify as a book) in a stretch from mid-March to late April 2017. It’s not remotely coincidental that I was uncharacteristically happy while I was working on the book. In fact, the moment I started suffering serious psychological disorders again, I lost my capacity to work on it, which is a large part of the reason I haven’t yet “finished” it; in fact, for months it became almost impossible for me to write more than about five paragraphs at once.

(I idiosyncratically don’t believe that creative works are ever properly “finished”; creators just decide that sinking additional time into the works is a waste of time compared to beginning new ones, but for lack of a better term, I’ll use the commonly used one with scare quotes. I could go into this in much greater depth, but it’s not relevant here.)

Eventually, I regained my ability to write large amounts of text at once. On enough occasions over the past several months that I’ve lost count, I’ve started typing and, without really noticing, reached some 2,000 or 3,000 words within an hour or two. This has coincided almost perfectly with my psychological recovery. I’m not as well off now as I was when I wrote the bulk of my book, but I don’t feel constantly miserable.

I’m not going to say suffering is entirely valueless. I’ve also gone into detail before about how I feel that facing meaningful consequences for failure is a necessary factor in developing a sense of empathy for others, and that it is also probably the most valuable teacher a person can have. I’ve heard “experience is the best teacher” stated before, but “failure is the best teacher” is probably a better way of stating it.

But, once again, this goes back to what Le Guin states above: “If it hurts, repeat it.” There’s a strain of society that actually believes this, and it’s colloquially insane (“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” as the possibly apocryphal Einstein quote* goes). Yet a not insubstantial segment of society actually seems to think this is beneficial.

The thing is that in certain narrowly defined contexts this may be somewhat true, and it may be why artists have a difficult problem with psychological disorders. In order to truly master a creative discipline, you have to practise at it. A lot. And, by some definitions of the term, you’re technically doing the same thing over and over, and eventually you will get a different result – you’ll progress from an unsatisfying result to one you’re at least marginally satisfied with.

But by a more accurate definition, you’re not doing the same thing over and over; you’re actually doing a similar thing more effectively. The distinction is subtle, but it’s crucial. If every attempt to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” ended exactly the same as one’s first attempt to play it, no one would ever learn it. And this goes back, once again, to why I feel failure is a crucial teacher. In order to learn to perform a difficult musical work (and to do numerous other tasks in life), you have to fail in many different ways in order to learn how to stop failing.

But our society’s view of creativity is deeply destructive. We (I’m speaking collectively about American society; I think the viewpoint I’m describing is madness) romanticise the tortured artist, to some extent, but we’re extremely hostile to failure. The entire fact that “loser” is colloquially used as an insult is indicative of what I would consider a pathology in American society.

And it’s a pathology that has profoundly affected me. I’ve probably written before about how, when I’ve suffered depression, I’ve never suffered any form of denial about it; I just accepted it for what it was as soon as I realised it was affecting me. But when I was diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder, it took me years to accept that I even had the disorder, and decades to come to terms with what it meant as an identity issue. (And it is an identity issue; this is a matter I will address in great detail in my book whenever I finally feel satisfied enough with it to release it.)

While a number of possible explanations suggest themselves for this, the only one I read as plausible has to do with cultural attitudes I’d internalised to these disorders through my exposure to largely American popular culture. There was something romantic about suffering. There was nothing romantic about autism; it was the province of freaks and weirdos, and I had no visible role models in society proving it was possible to live a functional life with the disorder. (There are a few famous, successful people with the disorder, but I either didn’t know who they were – e.g., Temple Grandin – or didn’t know they had it – e.g., Dan Aykroyd.) So my brain outright rejected the idea that I could suffer the disorder.

As I’ve said, I lost some fifteen years of my life to this madness. And I’m not using this term colloquially; I was literally mentally ill. Depression is a mental illness in the most literal definition of the term; it’s a case of the brain being too ill to perceive reality accurately. I failed out of my first college and lost scholarships totaling some tens of thousands of dollars, despite a perfect SAT score, excellent AP scores, and high enough grades to have made several honour societies. I did fantastically in high school; I was not remotely prepared for college. I spent most of the years 2001-2015 depressed, with the exception of a largely happy relationship that lasted for most of 2003-2005, and it was not romantic or rewarding or a source of personal growth. Depression actively worked against all of those things.

I didn’t entirely waste those years – I would not be a tenth the writer I am without them, for example, because I learned how to express myself precisely enough that neurotypicals won’t wildly misread my intended meaning – but I probably squandered about ninety percent of the opportunities that came to me during that time, because for an awful lot of them, I was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. With rare exceptions (my relationship being the main one, and few others past its dissolution in early 2006), I did little productive over that entire time period that didn’t involve writing. I have little doubt that, if I’d had a healthier mental attitude for the past 17 years, I would by now be working as a programmer, as an IT security consultant, as a writer in Hollywood, at a game development studio, or at any of a number of other fulfilling occupations. My current occupation isn’t unfulfilling, to be clear, but it’s also about to disappear.

My mental illness contributed to my remaining in a job I hated for three and a half years longer than I should have stayed there. It led to my pushing far too many people I cared about away from me. It led to me entirely neglecting real-world friendships for over a decade. None of these things made me more capable in creative fields; in fact, I suspect they actively worked against my creative expression, because I have fewer experiences with in-person interaction than most people my age would have, and with writing in particular, knowledge of human nature is crucial to writing effectively. I could go on.

I would like to address something others have said about “enjoying” emotionally dark creative works. I think this is a point where our language fails us. There are numerous experiences we describe as “enjoyment” that are wildly different subjective experiences. Eating good food, being in love, listening to good music, experiencing an orgasm, giving another person an orgasm, engaging in an act of charity, seeing a respected high school classmate win the 89th Academy Award for Best Picture, and experiencing an emotional catharsis are, in some regards, all acts that most if not all well-adjusted human beings will derive enjoyment from. However, they are not at all the same; while some of them are similar, many of them are vastly different. But the same umbrella term, “enjoyment”, in some regards applies to all of them.

And even under the same umbrella, there are very different types of enjoyment one can derive from seemingly similar acts. The enjoyment I receive from listening to a black metal album is very different from the enjoyment I receive from listening to a progressive rock album, which is one reason I listen to both genres. The enjoyment I derive from the song “Dťlivrance” by Alcest is very different from the enjoyment I derive from the song “Sur l’ocťan couleur de fer” by the same artist, despite their superficial musical similarities. (Note: despite Alcest’s overall reputation as a metal artist, neither of these songs are remotely heavy; in fact, most people could easily sleep to either of them.) The latter is a profoundly sad song, whereas the former – well, its name is a cognate to English and it feels like its name.



But we describe all of these as “enjoyment” because our language is, it seems to me, very limited when it comes to emotional expression. The fact that we borrowed the emotion Schadenfreude from German seems fairly indicative here – we’re talking about the Germans here. But the English are noted for their stiff-upper-lip approach, and there’s a rather macho strain in American culture that disdains emotions as something not manly. As a result, we have dozens of terms for a given emotion that largely overlap, perhaps differing in intensity. Rage, anger, fury, wrath, ire, indignation, vexation, resentment, the list goes on. Some of them are stronger than others, but they all mean different degrees of the same thing. Yet indignation at a perceived wrong to oneself is a different thing entirely than indignation at a perceived wrong to a loved one, which in turn is a different thing entirely than indignation at a perceived wrong to others one has no personal connection to, but perceives as defenceless. And so on. We can arrive at some of these distinctions with modifiers, but the fact that we have to place the modifiers in speaks to me of a deficiency in our language as it relates to our thinking – because, as linguists have often observed for years, language often shapes thought in surprising ways.

So it is with enjoyment. The term can mean a number of different things, not always closely related. There would ordinarily be something pathological about saying that you derive happiness from the fact that another human being is suffering. It’s understandable in the cases of particularly vile humans like the president*, but on the whole it’s not the sort of thing a well-adjusted human being does. But there is something understandable about experiencing a creative work that expresses severely negative emotions – even depression or despair – and deriving strength from it.

I think part of it is the simple “you are not alone” factor. The fact that other human beings have experienced the same thing you have is… well, comforting. And when you express it that way, it sounds rather callous. But humans are social animals. We need to feel like we belong, and a profound emotional disturbance can shake that feeling from us. Experiencing a work like Blood on the Tracks or Shoot Out the Lights or The Downward Spiral or Closer or Pink Moon can help us realise that, no, other people have been down this road before as well, even if not all of them made it out. So the term “enjoyment” might get applied to these albums, because our language lacks a more appropriate noun to describe our emotional reaction to them.

I’ve spent a long time speaking generally about creative works, about the process of creativity, about psychological disorders, and about how they all can interact. I unfortunately can’t speak specifically to Hutchinson’s circumstances or to his own work because, as I said, I’d only just heard of him, and I haven’t had the chance to get around to checking out his work. (I may do so tomorrow.) But many of these factors I’ve described are, I suspect, universal constants among creative works, among their creators, and among their audiences.

This was a long comment, and there was no particular reason I should have needed to write so many words. Yet I kept typing until I reached this point, because I wasn’t satisfied until I did so. I am, in fact, extremely hungry right now. It’s 11:15 pm right now. I last ate sometime around 3:40 pm. Yet the urge to finish writing this comment overpowered my biological urge to eat. I’d had thoughts floating around in my brain since reading Simon’s piece, and until I wrote them down I wasn’t going to feel satisfied. If I didn’t write them down, I was certain to forget a large number of them, and then they would likely be lost to me forever. (My short-term memory is particularly unreliable lately due to psychological issues that aren’t terribly relevant here.) The necessity to preserve these thoughts was, thus, more important to me than a basic biological necessity.

Such is the process of artistic creation. As I said, it often resembles a compulsion. Perhaps it often is a compulsion. In some ways, it can’t ever truly be satisfied; as I said, you may frequently reach a point where you think it’s no longer worth your time to work on a creative work, but it’s very seldom you reach a point where you think it can’t be improved at all. Often artists are their own harshest critics (or at least pretty high up on the list).

Perhaps, in this light, it isn’t surprising that so many artists have such a cocktail of psychological disorders. I just wish our society were more understanding and supportive of them – we might romanticise the tortured artist, but we romanticise the myth of rugged individuality more, and we have a major stigma against asking for help, even when we need it. I think American society would be a lot better off if we focused more on that other feeling I was describing just now: “you are not alone”.



I might go revise this further in a bit, but for now, the only other thing I feel it absolutely necessary to add is to reiterate McAllen’s call for anyone who needs it to call a suicide hotline. A particularly unpleasant quirk of human psychology is that discussion of suicide can sometimes trigger suicidal thoughts in others. If you need help, there’s no shame in asking for it – it would be a much larger shame to leave your friends and family devastated at your absence, because they will be should you choose to end your life.

*The earliest citations of the quote all appear to be linked to Alcoholics Anonymous, so it was probably actually originated by one of AA’s key figures like Bill Wilson or Dr William Silkworth.
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Old 05-15-2018, 06:02 AM
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Default Re: Random long-form writings

Hereís a particularly big one. Itís about four months old now but most of it is still relevant.

Your comment seems largely like a rhetorical rant and this thread is really moldy already, so Iím not entirely sure how much detail you were expecting as a response, but I kind of just used your comment as a prompt to start writing, and it went much further than I was expecting (i.e., 4,750+ words). This seems to be a trend for my responses lately (itís happened at least three times in about a week), so I think I can officially declare my writerís block dead. And good fucking riddance.

(Iím contemplating also posting this downstairs, since I think otherwise a lot of people will miss it, but then again, doing that might also annoy people whoíve already seen it, so I might not. Dear other jackals, please give me sage advice to decide for certain.)

In any case, I think one answer is that at least 1/3 of the country has locked itself into filter bubbles (look this up for further info if you arenít familiar with it, but essentially it is a media infrastructure that results in a personís preconceived notions never being challenged. Iíd like to provide links, but I donít want to go into link prison). This was always a potential problem, but itís worsened substantially as a result of first the right-wing puke funnel and secondly the Internet. (To be clear, the Internet has offered plenty of benefits to humanity, too, and on balance Iím not sure Iíd be willing to conclude itís been a net positive to humanity or a net negative; itís honestly changed things so much that I still donít think weíve come close to evaluating all the effects itís had on us. Itís certainly reduced the amount of book-length reading I do, for example, but I doubt that means Iím actually absorbing less information, and I couldnít possibly evaluate what that means for my perceptions of the world. Now expand that to billions of people online and you see the problem.)

The central problem creating the filter bubble is has several causes, and I think Iíll start at the biological level, as our perceptions and our memory are amongst the most basic causes. Simply put, both our perception and our memory are far more imperfect than most people generally realise. The human brain, simply in order to make sense of the world, filters out information it perceives as unimportant. This is necessary purely for us to concentrate Ė as one banal example, we wouldnít be able to pick out a voice in a conversation in a crowded bar or restaurant if the brain wasnít capable of filtering out background noise. On the whole, this is a necessary survival tool and itís beneficial that weíre capable of doing it.

But a major downside is that weíre not actually conscious at a biological level that it occurs. Most people donít even know this on an intellectual level, much less, for lack of a better term, feel it on an emotional one. (These words are crude, and perhaps there are better terms for them that I havenít considered yet, but I consider it necessary to distinguish between a fact we have intellectual knowledge of and a fundamental understanding of the world to which we have deep emotional connections.) And this has deep implications for the way people comprehend reality: essentially, people are no more aware of their unconscious biases than a fish is of water.

This might be something of a digression, but for about six months Iíve been dealing with a mental illness that severely damages my perceptions of reality. Itís not that, for the most part, I donít perceive reality accurately. Iím justÖ disconnected from it most of the time. Itís as though things arenít happening to me; theyíre happening to someone else. I donít feel like a person most of the time; I feel like an actor performing my lines or, perhaps more to the point, a character in a novel (probably a poorly written, over-the-top Philip K. Dick pastiche). My recent memories feel distant, as though they were implanted from someone elseís memories. Thereís a veil separating me from reality. And so on.

At the same time, though, this isnít a psychosis; I maintain intact reality testing. Iím fully capable of understanding intellectually that Iím not actually a character in a bad PKD pastiche. But knowing this and feeling it are two separate matters. My symptoms arenít actually as consistently bad now as they were a couple of month ago; I think a medication change has helped somewhat in this regard (the new one attempts to target anxiety rather than depression), and I think Iíve gotten better at coping with my symptoms as well.

So, returning to the difference between knowing and feeling: Most people donít even know that they arenít perceiving reality accurately (i.e., they donít know what they donít know), much less feel (or understand, if you prefer) the ways that their perceptions may be unreliable.

As a result, we (as a species) understand the world based on narratives weíve constructed for ourselves based on unreliable perceptions. So in short, those perceptions are self-reinforcing. We subconsciously discard information we instinctively regard as irrelevant because weíve already trained our subconscious to discard it as irrelevant. And I havenít even gotten to the best part yet, which is our memory. Our internal narratives are based on our memories, and this is where things really get fun.

Thereís this common conception in American popular culture that thereís nothing more reliable than the testimony of an eyewitness. This is actually horrifically wrong Ė in fact, eyewitness testimony is probably one of the least reliable forms of evidence a court will accept (not the absolute least, to be clear; some horrifying kinds of pseudoscience that ill-informed judges have admitted are probably worse. Probably). The primary reason the FBI has its agents write down memos about conversations they have with people they think might be liars lying isnít that they have a deep love of written records in and of themselves. People think of the human memory as essentially permanent, as something that crystallises into form like a diamond. But itís actually the exact opposite; itís a stream (or, if you prefer a sillier metaphor, Silly Putty). It is continually evolving and very malleable.

The simple fact is that the act of thinking about a memory changes the memory itself. This means that eyewitness testimony is, rather than being ironclad evidence, highly subject to tampering. (And really, that commonly used adjective, ironclad, is itself questionable. It might help to recall that iron, when sufficiently heated, is in fact highly malleable.) So itís not just that weíve constructed narratives for ourselves based on imperfect perceptions; and itís not even just that what we perceive is affected by our previous perceptions. Itís that what we even remember is actually affected by how weíve perceived what we remember in the past.

If youíve read my comments here, at LG&M, or elsewhere for a long enough period of time, you might notice that I usually hedge my words when speaking of things that occurred to me a long time ago. Iím not using weasel words here (I value precision and dislike weasel words); I just donít consider my memories as reliable as most other people consider theirs. Even, or especially, memories that had deep formative meaning to me. In fact, the memories I have the strongest emotional connection to are usually the ones I trust the least, because Iíve probably spent the most time thinking about them Ė and thus, Iíve changed them the most from their original forms. I havenít kept a diary for most of my adult life (a decision Iím coming somewhat to regret), so Iím unwilling to attach perfect certainty to any formative events I donít have specific records of (photographs, emails, message board posts, whatever).

Iím still sorting out the implications of what these observations mean even for my own life. Iíve seen most of them made independently before, but to be honest, I havenít yet seen an academic study or writing that really, to me, did justice to their implications when combined. But I already laid out what I consider the primary implication above, which I shall now reiterate: people are no more aware of their subconscious biases than a fish is of water.

However, even if the majority of people lack awareness of how deep-seated their biases are, or how much theyíve allowed their personal narratives about the world to affect their thinking, there is still a large gulf in the amount of control people allow these narratives and biases to control their lives. Itís a banal observation that politics in America are divided because of a fundamental difference in philosophical views about the world, but an often underappreciated contributor to this is that one of those worldviews fundamentally rejects empiricism and the scientific method, while the other does not.

This is not to say that liberals and the left are consistently good about science (they are just consistently much better than Republicans, which is so low a bar it might as well be a floor tile), but it has had clear effects on American politics regardless. A lot of people have probably forgotten this already because it happened two thousand years ago in 2016, but there was a news story indicating that the Macedonian teenagers who were writing literal fake news stories quickly abandoned the idea of trying to pitch them to Democratic-leaning audiences, because those audiences largely rejected them. This is not to say that there havenít been any leftish groups who have swallowed false narratives (as one flagrant example, the entire Bern It Down contingent), but the proportion of liberals and leftists who were willing to swallow such nonsense was much lower than the proportion of reactionaries, fascists, and other Republicans. (With rare exceptions, several of whom I enumerate below, they donít deserve the label of conservative, which is a topic I may address further in another comment, though Iím sure Iíve already delved into it before, too.) Say something like 10-20% of the leftists and liberals were willing to fall for such stories, or even click on them; by contrast, the numbers were probably upwards of 50-60% for the Republicans. (Hedging my language because I havenít seen the exact story in awhile.)

As far as I can ascertain, this is because the Democratic side has not abandoned the idea that there is such a thing as objective reality, and that we have tools to ascertain it. We accept that science and its conclusions have value, and because of this, our side seems likelier to employ its methodology. If nothing else, weíre likely to consider a source and evaluate how reliable it seems. As I will explicate later, this doesnít necessarily mean weíre any good at evaluating this, but on the whole, weíre at least still in the habit of trying. This is in direct contrast to Republicans.

Iíve spent decades studying political science by now, and I have to confess that many aspects of the Republican mindset still confound me. But I at least have a vague understanding of the psychological processes that underpin it, and an awful lot of what weíre seeing (what the esteemed Charles P. Pierce memorably refers to as the prion disease that began when the party ate the monkey brains under Reagan) stems from the Republican Partyís rejection of the scientific method Ė and indeed, seemingly, even any acknowledgement that there is any sort of thing as objective reality. A thing that may have really gone down the rabbit hole, even though it was widely mocked for several years, is Karl Roveís declaration in the mid-2000s that ďwe create our own realityĒ and mocked the ďreality-based communityĒ. Many would find it tempting to reduce this (and Democratsí subsequent self-adoption of the latter term) to pat sloganeering by opposing political parties, but it genuinely represents a fundamental philosophical difference between the political parties. Democrats accept reality, and try to centre their worldview around it. Republicans are completely disdainful of it.

Itís tempting to call the Republican Party nihilists, and indeed I have done so at times, but nihilism is at least a serious attempt to grapple with one of the fundamental human dilemmas Ė namely, what humans are to do if there truly is no intrinsic meaning to life, the universe, or everything. (Theyíre wrong, of course, as the meaning is clearly 42, but we still donít know what the question is; the results of this are for all intents and purposes identical.) I donít often agree with many conclusions of many philosophers who are commonly called nihilists (though, while weíre on the subject, Nietzsche wasnít a nihilist, nor was he an antisemite Ė indeed, if anything, Nietzsche actually liked the Jewish people more than he seemed to care for the bulk of humanity), but at least they are making serious attempts to contribute to humanity.

The popular definition of nihilism, as memorably stated in The Big Lebowski, is ďWe believe in nothink, Lebowski! Nothink!Ē (Also queue ďat least itís an ethos clip here; Iím avoiding links so I wonít put it in myself.) Republicans, however, cannot be fairly described as lacking beliefs. They may lack any fixed principles other than the three I commonly enumerate (Cleekís Law, IGMFY, and accuse opponents of all oneís own failings), but they certainly believe, with all their might, in what they are doing, even if their belief ultimately becomes cyclical and centres back to the righteousness of their own cause. Put another way, my reading of the Republican Party cycles back to 1984:
Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

This, however, doesnít provide a perfectly satisfying explanation to me, because it only explains the actions of their politicians. Perhaps the authoritarian followers get a vicarious thrill in believing that the leopards wonít eventually eat their faces too, but I gained a much deeper understanding with a piece that ran in Scientific American shortly after the election.

The explanation rests in a poorly understood phenomenon known as blue lies. We all know and understand white lies: theyíre lies to spare anotherís feelings. We might even say theyíre benignly intended (if not always benign in outcome). Children usually start telling these around age seven. Black lies are also easy to understand; theyíre lies to benefit the self without concern for others, and children start telling these at a much younger age, possibly three or four.

Blue lies are in some ways a combination of these. Theyíre lies to benefit an in-group at the expense of an out-group. This isnít a commonly seen idea in popular culture, and to be fair itís definitely more complicated than the other two categories of lies. Reflecting this, children donít start telling them until age ten. We actually see these in plenty of places where itís not really thought about much, though Ė espionage, for instance. Theyíre the only explanation that makes sense of the lies told by Trump and his followers (or for that matter, other authoritarian movements elsewhere in the country), and I think the reason theyíve started showing up in our politics is because twenty-five years of right-wing hate media has convinced the Republican base that Democrats are an existential threat to the country.

So as a result, they donít even really care whether what theyíre being told Ė or what theyíre saying Ė is true. You can give as much evidence and reasoning as you care that Donald Trump has no intention of ever giving people ďthe best health careĒ, but they wonít care Ė first, because itís a liberal telling them this, but also secondly, because if itís necessary for lies to be told to stave off what they perceive as an existential threat, theyíre willing to accept those lies.

And that is why, on my most pessimistic days, I despair of the fundamental divide ever being bridged. (And of course, since every accusation is a confession, the Republicans actually arean existential threat to the country, but with one exception which I explain in my next paragraph, I donít endorse lying in response to their lies Ė that would just create an arms race of lies that I see everyone ultimately losing.) However, itís not hopeless Ė itís just that we probably arenít going to be the direct cause of any of these people changing their minds.

There are two remedies that seem to work. One is, if you have the capability, cutting off an elderly relativeís exposure to Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, et al. ďNo, Iím sorry, Grandpa, I donít know why the cable box wonít pick up Hannity anymore.Ē This is somewhat deceptive, but people who have successfully been able to accomplish it have reported that in many cases it miraculously undoes the paranoia that has been induced by constant exposure to the right-wing puke funnel. Ultimately, even though itís deceptive, Iím not willing to frown on it very hard, because by and large, the people who subsist on this diet are miserable. Theyíre mostly imbibing a steady diet of paranoia and fear. This country is, gun violence aside, amongst the safest itís ever been, but you wouldnít know that from listening to the Wingnut Wurlitzer. While it might be deceptive to deprive them of access to those media sources, I can see an extremely persuasive argument that itís substantially less deceptive than those media sources are.

The other solution isnít, unfortunately, something we are capable of doing ourselves. But people caught in a filter bubble of blue lies may be willing to listen to arguments they perceive as coming from a member of their in-group. So if I say the Muslim travel ban is an attack on the Constitution, no one in the Republican base is likely to give a shit. Iím an agnostic, queer anarchist of Jewish descent who hasnít been to a religious service in probably more than ten years and wouldnít piss on most Republican politicians if they were on fire (especially since Trump would enjoy it. Allegedly). But if someone like Glenn Beck says this (and Beck has actually been surprisingly generous to refugees Ė for instance, he raised some $2 million for undocumented Central American immigrants a few years ago), he might actually convince members of the Republican base.

This is why Iíve been more willing than many other people to give cookies to conservatives like Jen Rubin, Max Boot, David Frum, Bill Kristol, Glenn Beck, John Schindler, Tom Nichols, and others who have been willing to break from Republican Party orthodoxy at times, no matter what heinous acts they may have in the past. That doesnít mean those acts should be forgotten or forgiven. But at the same time, their current criticism of the party has real value above and beyond the traditional value that any criticism of iniquity has Ė honestly, it probably has more value in some ways than our criticism does. In many cases, it feels like a lot of our criticisms, as insightful as they are, are simply preaching to the choir.

This is already way longer than I was planning Ė I wouldnít be surprised if Iíve been typing for two hours now, and itís several thousand words by now Ė so Iíll just add a few other observations that I didnít link into my argument. (If I were writing this from an outline, or even substantially revising it, I would try to dovetail these logically into the above explanation, but I think theyíre still comprehensible in this form.)

One of these is the observation that people Ė and this goes regardless of oneís political orientation Ė are very bad at evaluating the credentials of people theyíve concluded are experts, particularly in fields they donít have intimate knowledge of themselves. If youíve concluded someone is an expert in statistics, but your own knowledge of the discipline is undergraduate level, then it may take a major black swan event Ė say, assigning a 95%+ probability to an outcome that fails to materialise Ė to convince you that your conclusion may have been wrong. And thatís merely for expertise; being able to conclude someone is malicious or lying may be even more difficult. This is, in fact, the most widely accepted explanation for the results of the Milgram experiment.

This, honestly, explains a lot of 2016 that remains otherwise inexplicable to me. While much of Pravda on the Hudsonís conduct since the election leads me to suspect that Republicans may have kompromat on significant figures within the newspaper, the entire U.S. media covered the entire election as though Clinton were already the president. I felt long before November 9 that this was grossly irresponsible behaviour, but in hindsight, I donít think I have sufficient evidence to conclude that the entire media actually wanted Trump to win. I think many of them probably just thought it wasnít possible. (Hanlonís Razor.)

And where would they get that conclusion? Well Ė the many poll aggregators that assigned upwards of 90% probability to a Clinton victory, mostly. I am by no means an expert on statistics, and to be clear, I myself was affected by this. I thought the 98% predictions of Clinton victories were absurd and possibly even irresponsible, but I still thought there was an outside chance at best of Trump winning. I think most reporters, lacking detailed backgrounds in statistics, just looked at convincing-sounding arguments from statistics sites and ultimately went with what the balance of them were saying Ė thus concluding ďthereís no way heíll really win, right? The American people couldnít possibly be that stupid.Ē

This also is the most parsimonious explanation I can find for Comey. To be clear, if thereís any justice, his absurd interference with the election will go down with the ignominy it deserves; hopefully heíll be remembered for his self-righteous indifference to norms and blithe unawareness of how his actions eleven days before an election could affect its outcome. But thatís what seems like the more likely outcome to me than that he actually wanted Trump to win. Given that he persisted in investigating Trumpís connections to Russia long after the election, to the extent that Trump fired him exactly because of that, I find it implausible to consider him a Trump partisan. Itís more likely that, like our media morans, he concluded that his actions couldnít swing the election to Trump.

So here we return to the problem of people being unable to evaluate expertise in fields they donít understand. It didnít help at all that the only statistical analyst that actually got the 2016 election right, Nate Silver, completely whiffed the primary. Silverís model consistently and egregiously underestimated Trumpís chances of winning the primary, and thus a common reaction to his stories about the general, particularly given his status as an outlier next to the other aggregators, was that he was simply overcompensating for getting the primary wrong. But in retrospect, we can see that this was wrong. (To Silverís credit, heís generally been pretty willing to admit when heís fucked up. Most of us should probably have assigned more importance to that in 2016.)

A lot of people just look at the numbers and say ďSilver got it wrong, too; he assigned only a 30% chance (or whatever the number was) to a Trump victoryĒ. But thatís a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics. First of all, a 3 out of 10 chance will come up 3 out of 10 times you run a given scenario. Silver had higher odds than any of the other major aggregators. On a superficial level, that makes him less wrong than the others.

But thatís not actually the important part. The important part was that, before the election, Silver was outlining as a plausible scenario exactly the set of dominoes that ultimately fell to cost Clinton the election. He didnít merely present the possibility that Clinton could lose; he predicted, with significant prescience, exactly which states wound up being decisive. Moreover, none of the other major aggregators seem to have identified these weaknesses, and if they did, they certainly werenít raising the alarm in advance of the election to the extent that he was.

Unfortunately, the left Ė and I fully include myself in this grouping Ė largely tuned out Silver, partially because we overstated the importance of his failures in the primary, but probably more because he wasnít comforting us. Ultimately, while weíre a lot more accepting of empiricism than the right is, this doesnít mean we actually practise it very well.

I have only one further point I feel necessary to cover in this case study, which is my biggest complaint with 90%+ probabilities. Itís something akin to physicsí bystander effect: The act of observing a phenomenon changes the phenomenon being observed. This is true in physics and also, it seems, in politics. (And Iím back to talking about everyone here again, not just the political left.) Precisely because Clinton was perceived as inevitable, she consistently received more negative coverage than Trump, who was consistently perceived as a joke, and figures in significant positions of authority made decisions that affected the election, thinking that Clintonís victory was a foregone conclusion.

I havenít worked out all the implications of everything Iíve written here, and this is in large part an abstract of a much longer (currently just under 70,000 words) writing Iíve been working on off and on since March of last year. There are major themes of this writing that I didnít even get to here, most importantly how people typically assume others share their preferences, perceptions, and methods of self-expression instead of recognising how widely all these factors vary between individuals Ė and, consequentially, how this ignorance contributes to political and social oppression, without even requiring any conscious intent on the part of those perpetuating it. All of this actually relates directly to all of ruemaraís original rant, and if I hadnít already written a short novel (again, MS Word is telling me this is over 4,750 words), Iíd summarise my analysis of this tendency in depth, too, but I think Iíve probably already surpassed the amount that any one person is likely to absorb in any one sitting, so Iíll hold it off for some other time. (I will almost certainly get to it at some point, though. This is a particularly personal issue for me since, as a person on the autism spectrum, my perception and methods of expression often vary tremendously from the average personís, despite my best attempts to mirror their body language, and even if I tell them that, most of them continue to underestimate how decisive a factor it is; as a result, I am continually being misunderstood in nonverbal communication. And thatís not even the only way this causes me problems.)

In any case, while many of the ideas Iíve outlined above are things Iíve seen discussed at various places through the Internet, Iíve also gone through some implications Iím not used to seeing discussed either in print or online. This doesnít mean they never are, but it does mean that, to the best of my awareness, theyíre not firmly in the popular consciousness. Iím not trying to seem like a know-it-all or anything Ė if anything, I hope Iíve emphasised how coming to a truly accurate understanding of the world requires a constant questioning of oneís own perceptions, biases, and assumptions Ė but I at least hope this essay mightíve raised consideration of factors people havenít otherwise considered.
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Old 05-15-2018, 05:45 PM
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Default Re: Random long-form writings

Here's a link to SA article about blue lies: How the Science of "Blue Lies" May Explain Trump's Support - Scientific American Blog Network
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Old 05-16-2018, 03:25 AM
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Interesting posts. I agree with some of what youíve written and disagree with other parts of it. Some of it I still have to think about.

I suppose your posts deserve long and thoughtful responses, especially the analysis of creativity and its implications, but I donít feel up to it at the moment. (I disagree with you on the narcissism/altruism stuff, for example, with respect to creativity.) Maybe thatíll change and Iíll get in the mood to write something more substantial than this. But Iíve concluded that posting thoughtful pieces on message boards is a waste of time. It used to be different, but times have changed. Weíre a Twi**er culture now, a culture of imbeciles, and making posts of more than 140 characters, or 280, or whatever the fuck it is now, just outs one as an old fart who still reads books. Who needs books or even message boards when you have Twi**er and Tr**mp? And, regrettably, :ff: does seem increasingly to be a dead letter.

For the time being, I will only say that blaming the orange monsterís election on Comey and the ďmoransĒ of the news media is both false and self-defeating. Hillary did not lose the election because of Comey or news media ďmorans.Ē She lost it because she was a shitty candidate. Unless Democrats internalize this reality, Drumpf will win again in 2020 because the Dems will put up another shitty candidate, while still whining over Comey and the NY Times. Itís completely self-destructive behavior. And yes, Hill won more popular votes than Drumpf but so did Gore over Bush; the point is that as long as we have an Electoral College, it doesnít matter how huge Democrats run up margins on the coasts; flyover land has the upper hand in deciding who becomes president.

As to grandpa and Sean Hannity, fuck grandpa and the horse he rode in on. I donít propose to covertly block grampsís access to Hannity. I propose to tell gramps to get the fuck out of my country. You go live in Arkansas, gramps, and Iíll live in New York or California, where most people are smart and not fucking stupid like you. The Union should be dissolved. Recently, Pat Buchanan apparently has come to the same conclusion. Even though Buchanan is a racist prick, he still expresses many views that I agree with, including the need to dismantle the American empire and destroy the War Party, and now this ó peaceful separation of irreconcilably different regions. That, if not the solution to all our problems, is at least a solution.
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Old 05-16-2018, 02:47 PM
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Default Re: Random long-form writings

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Originally Posted by Crumb View Post
Thanks for this, Crumb! If I had known the term "Blue Lies" I would have been able to make my point here a lot better.

From the linkWe must make accuracy a goal, even when the facts do not fit our emotional reality.


My point in a nutshell!
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