Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why they can't be reasoned with

I can explain everything. When I taught high school in a blue collar-ish community decades ago, I found that the bulk of my students sincerely believed that they knew everything they needed to know--that what we teachers were trying to teach them was either true but useless or wrong (wrong if it intruded on any of their assumptions and prejudices). Their shining belief in their own mental perfection was a wonder to behold. What you see here is the subset of such folk who never grew up emotionally. They're still that cocky, callow kid who's convinced he knows more than the teachers do.

Actually this makes some sense, evolutionarily speaking. A 17 year old member of a primitive hunting and gathering tribe actually does know most of the knowledge he'll need in life. Where to find water, where to find game, which plants are good to eat or useful for other things, which are poisonous, how to chip a chunk of obsidian to make a blade, how to tie that to a stick to make a spear, what your tribes rules of engagement are, how to fight other tribes...honestly not a super-long list.

But look at what these kind of people would need to know to participate in an science forum--or for that matter to understand exactly how Wall Streets Master of the Universe managed to transfer the bulk of the wealth of the American middle class into their pockets. How an airplane flies. How the fine print in the contract you just signed is going to ruin you financially in three years. Why it matters that China cornered the market in rare earth production while Bush's Washington slept. What subatomic physics now knows, even at the descriptive level. Why fractal math can spot patterns but only make predictions probabalistically. How political solutions that are emotionally satisfying are often ruinous. How human brains contain heuristics that skew our understanding of probabilities in everyday life. 

Think of what most of us had to learn in the course of getting our college degrees, and then how much more afterwards, and how much of what we know keeps getting obsoleted. I learned how to use Pie Writer because it was the best word processor on the Apple II. So what? I haven't used a DOS command at the command line prompt for years. Everything I learned about subatomic physics in high school was wrong. "computer" no longer means "punch card sorter." I have some idea of how Greece's ills--which are totally beyond any American politicians's control--could tip the scale as to who gets elected President in this country. I only learned a few years ago that ocean Ph determines whether coral reefs can survive all the CO2 we're pouring into the air (turns out they won't--it's too later no matter what we do now). Over the years I learned how propaganda works on the human mind--how to do it, how to resist it.

Our Joe Lunchbox type o' guy didn't need to know any of that to be a proud, respected member of his tribe. 

So he's waaay over his head trying to grasp what's going on around him. He senses this, dimly. And it's emasculating. And it's counterintuitive. He KNOWS he knows enough--his intuition tells him so, and it would be right if it were 10,000 years ago. 

And we're the ones getting in his face with all this stuff that he will never grasp, no matter how long he lives. So we're the ones emasculating him. Do you then wonder that he lashes out? That so many ordinary Americans are deeply anti-intellectual. They don't mind smart if it's Romney-smart that only tells them what they want to hear, over and over and over. That's fine. They like a smart guy like that. But if an Al Gore stands up and awkwardly tells them they have to give up their hard-won lifestyle for some tree owl they've never seen...well, he must be lying. He just has to be.

Transitional fossils--it's so pitiful when you see these people trying to wield concepts when they just got them from some pandering website and have no organic sense of what they're trying to talk about. It's like listening to a jailed felon trying to be erudite in order to argue his case, but getting it all wrong. 

Really, I'd pity these science deniers except for them helping the truly dangerous people who are directing them without them even realizing it. They guys are just pawns. Foot soldiers. Distractions. 

But in their unpaid volunteer service to powerful, ruthless, greedy people, they're dangerous themselves. 

See why they can't be reasoned with? They don't hear what you think you're saying to them. They hear something really different, and it centers on feeling like you're talking down to them (you are; I am), and that's all they hear. The actual factual stuff just goes in one ear and out the other. It's all happening on the process level.

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