If You Meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the Road, Kill Him.

An excerpt from a talk I’m working on, to be delivered a month and an ocean away:

True, but irrelevant.

Two thirds of North America believes in Angels ; only half accept the reality of global warming. 78% believe that human beings were created by an invisible sky fairy, and 46% believe that this fairy created them in their present form ten thousand years ago (up from only 40% in 2011). Almost half of the adults in the US cannot correctly answer the question “How long does it take for the Earth to complete an orbit of the sun?” even when the question is presented as multiple choice.  The level of scientific literacy in North America is nothing short of pathetic.

Ignorance would be bad enough, but North Americans have gone further. They don’t just endure ignorance, they embrace it: are not just  ignorant of science, but actively hostile to it.  And so tens of millions of N’Americans reject outright the reality of anthropogenic climate change, of evolution by natural selection, of even the effectiveness of vaccination for chrissake, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary. They don’t care about evidence; anything they find objectionable, they dismiss as lies and conspiracies by intellectual eggheads who are not to be trusted.

This was recently driven home to me on a very personal level.  A couple of years back I was on trial in the US for asking questions during a border search; that’s a felony in the US, punishable by up to three years in prison. While preparing our defense my lawyer consulted with various colleagues, and during one such consultation I remember feeling vaguely confused over something they obviously considered a major issue:  how to counter the body blow the Prosecutor would deliver when she referred to me as “Doctor Watts”. At first I couldn’t see why they were so worried; what difference did it make? But after a few minutes I realized that in the United States, being called “Doctor” was an insult: this jury would be hostile to me the moment they learned that I had an advanced degree, for no other reason than that I had an advanced degree. Educated people are not trusted in the United States of America; educated people are the enemy.  And sure enough, the prosecutor went out of her way to call me “Doctor Watts”, and my lawyer went out of his way to point out that I didn’t really use that term, that I really wasn’t one of those people.

A number of pro-science advocates actually blame scientists themselves for the public’s attitude.  Scientists should reach out more, they say, climb down from their ivory towers and make science accessible to the common man. People just don’t understand science; if we only explained how cool it is, people would get it. Back in the day you had Carl Sagan, the geek-cheerleader’s cheerleader; these days you’ve Neil DeGrasse Tyson. We need more of this, the argument goes.

I’m not convinced. I think it was Einstein who famously said that you can’t reason someone out of a position they did not arrive at through reason— and America’s fundamentalist beliefs were not arrived at through reason. People may not understand science — it’s blatantly obvious that many do not — but I don’t think that’s why they hate it. They hate it because it tells them things they don’t want to believe. Science is the messenger they can shoot.

And the more you know about how science works, ironically, the easier it is to shoot at.

Science follows the creed of disproof, after all. The whole edifice is founded on the admission that everything we know might be wrong, that any of today’s “facts” might tomorrow be tested and found wanting. Science is pretty straightforward as a concept; in practice it’s messy as hell, full of arguments and counterarguments, noise and statistical filters. It’s a perfect target to those who crave certitude and simplicity: every dispute over detail can be twisted into an indictment of the entire process, every new discovery lets the Ignorantsia thump their bibles and say “See, the scientists can’t even keep their story straight amongst themselves! Why should we take any of that global-warming bullshit seriously?”

Case in point: yesterday’s momentous announcement that so much of what we once called “junk DNA” — all those bits that we once thought accumulated for no other reason than the sheer Darwinian selfishness of parasitic nucleotides — actually serve a host of vital regulatory functions. (Update: Or maybe not. Apparently the ENCODE people simply redefined “functional” to apply to code sequences that actually aren’t; “junk DNA” can breathe a sigh of relief.) To a scientist, such moments of enlightenment — the chance to discard the old and replace it with something better —  are what the whole endeavor is all about.  And yet it took less than 24 hours for the creationists to turn that into “Hah! Wrong again!  Everything plays a part in God’s Plan!

It’s just what people do. It’s been suggested that reasoned debate didn’t evolve as a truth-seeking strategy at all, but as a means of persuasion and social control.  Lofty rhetoric evolved to serve dogma, not rationality: the things we call empiricism and logic are just side-effects, and not especially strong ones. Given the endless litany of cognitive glitches that interfere with our thought processes — confirmation bias, sunk-cost fallacies,  the Semmelweis reflex to name but a few — it’s hard to argue that we’re in any way optimized for impartial analysis.  If we’re optimized for anything, it’s denial: the ability to reframe unwelcome facts in a way that justifies our own preconceptions.

So while I have nothing but admiration for the likes of ol’ Neil, forgive me if I don’t regard attempts to “educate people about science” as an unmitigated good: too often they just play into the hands of the enemy.  Most arguments are not joined with any sincere desire to arrive at the truth; they are joined to be won. It doesn’t matter how many decimal places your results are significant to, or how homoscedastic your residuals turn out to be; people weigh arguments in their guts, and the gut is blind to statistics.

If I’m full of shit, tell me now.  I have maybe two weeks to change my mind.

(Retro edit: Lightly deharshened 11/9/2012)

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday September 06 2012at 04:09 pm , filed under scilitics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

124 Responses to “If You Meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the Road, Kill Him.”

  1. I wish I had something compelling to call BS on but there are a lot of dumb folk who are proud of their ignorance, especially in the southeast US. I know, I live among them. At least there’s people like me who celebrate learning instead of fearing it and gladly calling people on their BS when they see it. Maybe we can just crowdsource science cheerleading to more people who are intelligent but not necessarily scientists. I am a technical person and logical and rigorous problem solving is what puts food on my table. I educate and share discoveries as a hobby. Maybe if more people gave a shit when others are full of shit that would have an impact? And maybe not. It’s pretty depressing to think about.

  2. You may not be able to educate many (chronological) adults about science, but making science more accessible/interesting to kids as a counterweight to the idiocy of their parents/churches/cults is absolutely worthwhile. Additionally, if you consider that the ignorance of at least some of those adults is not willful, but rather a product of their failed education, then providing access remains important.

  3. “We won’t have the fact checkers dictate our campaign. We will not let the truth get in the way.”

    This was made by Neil Newhouse, a guy who works for Mitt Romney’s campaign

    (Link: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/08/president-obama-quotes-romney-pollster-dismissing-fact-checkers/ )

    Excellent post, Peter. As much as I enjoy reading the musings on neurobiology and consciousness, the bitter ones about how fucking stupid we are becoming are my favorite. It’s nice to know someone else is also pissed off at the same thing!

  4. Typo on the title, “Neils”.

    As for the subject, I agree that appeasing doesn’t work. I’d characterize Tyson as more of a “picks his battles” sort though…

  5. /strives for an intelligent comment

    Um – sunk cost bias might not be that great an example, Peter! I read an awful lot of papers on the topic, and it’s not nearly so clearcut as a quick read of Kahneman & Tversky might have one think: http://www.gwern.net/Sunk%20cost

    (Might want to replace it with a better bias.)

  6. First, a side note, but I also heard from someone I would expect to know better that as a WRITER…you must be “well off.” Yeah. People sometimes think the same of actors, not realizing that over 97% of that profession does not actually make their living at it (and that number may have grown considerably since celebrities pushed into the voiceover biz in the 90s).

    Full of shit? Clearly not.

    But it’s not just science. It’s EDUCATION. I was explaining to a friend on the subway one day last decade how there is the ignorant-and-proud-of-it mindset and how I’m afraid that has only increased since I lived in (as Seth said) the southeast. There’s a “self-sufficient” thing (farming and hunting, often multigenerational), there’s the “carpetbagger” thing (don’t need no yankees tellin’ us nothin’), and of course the insular…not having been exposed to much foreign from their immediate surroundings apart from what and how the idiotic mainstream media has presented it largely dumbed down because this same customer won’t watch it unless it is…won’t watch it unless it tells him what he already believes to be true.

    So, it’s ultimately close-mindedness. What causes that? I’ve usually found fear is at its base. Fear that the crap your parents told you was wrong. Fear that the universe is not the way you envisioned it. Fear of change.

    The most often asked question I recall in high school was, “Why do I need to know this?” These were often asked of some of the best teachers in the system. They were good. Their smart students competed and won awards, were engaged, went to college. It’s the need for education itself that hasn’t been done properly, hasn’t had its case presented effectively.

    The reason I used to hear was, “So you can get a good job.” This was typically followed up with the questioner’s intended occupation and a query as to how (whatever subject or subsubject, such as calculus) would relate to it (such as farming).

    And how can education compete with euphoria? With peer pressure? With reinforcing ideas that run counter to it? Yeah, I think that Einstein dude was on to something.

    (And, yeah, I know…opinions are like…).

  7. Hmmm, Peter, I do some of this stuff (discussing the scientific literacy of USans) for a living. The fact is that, insofar as we have any serious comparative international data, the general population of the U.S. actually does very well on tests of basic scientific literacy. Yes, their scores on evolution and the Big Bang are probably pulled down by religious fundamentalism, but the fact that they *still* do better than comparable populations in Europe, Canada, and much of the rest of the world is all the more impressive.

    My non-peer-reviewed take on this is that the U.S. population is still benefiting from the fact that more of their adult population has benefited from a semi-respectable high school education (i.e. all the way to grade 12) while many other countries (in Europe, let alone in Asia) only started offering mass high school education after World War II (with a somewhat progressive take-up). Add to that an economy that was the industrial marvel of the world from the days of Henry Ford down to the 1980s, and a research establishment that was peerless from roughly Hiroshima to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and you get a population that was scientifically informed because a sizable fraction *needed* to.

    My non-peer-reviewed and somewhat speculative take on the above is that science gets dissed today in the U.S. because it hasn’t been living up to its billing in recent years. As we all know, aside from a few flashy toys, the standard of living of the 90% has been relatively stagnant in recent decades and much of the U.S. isn’t seeing a very bright economic future in the offing. In short, if you wish to revive respect for science in the U.S., you need to recreate the postwar boom. :-) (And make sure the rest of the world no longer send their kids to high school.)

    (I have an additional thesis about the Golden Age of SF and residual productivity growth in the 30s, but that’s unrelated, up to a point.)

    So, you could say I agree with you. Respect or understanding for science isn’t going to be gained through reasoned argument. But neither are they going to be gained through emotional appeals unless there is some (economic) substance to those appeals. My two cents.

  8. I don’t know if you should change your talk – probably not. Being inflammatory can be really helpful to a debate. But I do think there’s a fallacy in your argument above, which is that the people who are being targeted by the rah-rah SCIENCE! crowd are the same people who are pro-ignorance.

    I don’t believe that the US population is binary – dumbasses at one end who valourize anti-intellectualism and rationalists at the other. There are those people, sure, and they are loud. But I’d argue that most people are somewhere in between those extremes, and those are the ones who can be swayed one way or another. If there’s no one on the side of science offering accessible information, then those middle ground people have a much harder road to travel to get to the side of science. Which, considering the vocal minority on the other side, would be a shame.

    It’s not that the Sagans and deGrasse Tysons of the world are trying to change anyone’s mind. They’re trying to offer something new to those minds.

  9. I know as little about The Bible as I do about The Periodic Table of The Elements. Yet I count myself as a Christian, a Lutheran, a sci-fi fan and a Peter Watts facebook friend. I find that anyone who generalizes about one group as an adversary of another just because the sixth SIGMA on either end has an opposing view is at the very least pandering, and at the worst end Hitlering. At no other time in history would the musings of Isaac Asimov on Sociology be more apropos than today.
    PW, you make the case that the prosecutors used your advanced education to ostrocize you from the jury, based on class prejudice. How about the fact that whenever they repeated your title, they were reinforcing a group thought: “This guy’s supposed to be a doctor. How come he didn’t know any better?”
    And speaking of knowing better – ecouraging random people to kill a real living person on the road? You’re supposed to be a doctor…

  10. John: And speaking of knowing better – ecouraging random people to kill a real living person on the road? You’re supposed to be a doctor…

    Dude. Duuuude. That title was a riff on a famous book title.

    Google is your friend.

    How about the fact that whenever they repeated your title, they were reinforcing a group thought: “This guy’s supposed to be a doctor. How come he didn’t know any better?”

    Better than what? Better than to ask questions about a search that violated official BP protocols in two different ways, as admitted by a Border Patrol spokesman in that very case? Does the whole faith culture really discourage enquiry to that degree?

  11. You’re full of shit.

    Ceasing to try and educate N’Americans about science, especially young N’Americans, is not an option. Looking at the notes and acknowledgements in the article on no-longer-junk DNA, I note that the overwhelming majority are citing N’American researchers and or publications, not to mention that the ENCODE Project Consortium itself is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. If we’d stopped trying (and apparently at least somewhat succeeding) to educate people about science, this research would never have taken place and this moment of enlightenment – brought to you by the US Government and N’American trained scientists – would not have occurred.

    So there.

  12. To someone who isn’t well-read, your blog post title looks like a death threat. To someone who is well-read, your title is an obvious reference to a Buddhist parable. That’s kind of a demonstration of the problem, isn’t it?

    And for the question “why do I need to learn X”, the answer should be “the more true things you know, the more coherent and sophisticated your understanding of the world will be, and the better you’ll be able to get along in it.” But unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of survival benefit in the modern world to knowing more than a certain amount about how the world works.

  13. Not excusing the many moronic adults in this country, but there are at least some very bright kids out there still. Not enough mind you, but some.

    I know about all this nonsense already, and still hearing it always aggravates the living hell out of me.

    I have experience with the subculture of proud stupidity in my country. I lived in rural Georgia for about 3 years. Couldn’t have an interesting conversation about anything in biology or science without someone’s eyes glazing over. The people there definitely treat you differently if you have any intelligence above high school.

    Unfortunately, many of the redneck stereotypes are talked about for a good reason.

    Sadly, very few of these people actually want to learn anything new, and they really don’t care for things that challenge their preconceptions of the world.

    It’s really frustrating to have to deal with people like this. At the end of the day, they will end up fucking over the learning curve for everyone, if they haven’t already.

  14. Steve VanDevender:
    And for the question “why do I need to learn X”, the answer should be “the more true things you know, the more coherent and sophisticated your understanding of the world will be, and the better you’ll be able to get along in it.” But unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of survival benefit in the modern world to knowing more than a certain amount about how the world works.

    That’s pretty close to one of the answers that was given. The reply to that was a blank stare.

    Of course, this entire discussion is shooting off in at least three different directions.

    A) Borders – answer: authoritarians, reactionaries and Wall Street. If you question, you are disturbing and disrupting these groups who have found each other in a darkened alleyway and are having a circle jerk. I just wish they would leave the rest of us out of it. Wouldn’t Craig’s List personals have worked as easily?

    B) Policy – Policy based on faith instead of science. That is to an extent what the issue is. Those who don’t care to wait to see if angels come down and fix climate change and overpopulation are forced to by a group of people who take it on faith that those who say what they want to hear are sincere as opposed to having Globochem’s hand up their ass and stealing from the very same people they have convinced of various lies.

    C) The state of affairs – Does it really make sense, given the level of development as opposed to only looking at population, that China and India are cranking out so many more engineers, for example?

    What’s kind of perhaps ironic is that typically, is that the leaders of the education-hatred movement often are educated themselves. It’s about marketing stupid as a virtue and playing to that. And why not? If debt can be an asset, why not ignorance a positive attribute?

    As for advancements in science, yes, it seems that crowd control, surveillance, and how to blow shit up are taking the lead. See again A. The down side, the reactionaries are going to have to come up with a new excuse to torture since a simple scan will soon take care of interrogations:

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/02/01/mind-reading-breakthrough-hailed-by-us-scientists/

  15. Whoa, there’s another Seth. That’s eerie.

  16. The title gets red biro through it for being a cliche. I’m not really comfortable with the association between pop-scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Sagan with the buddha but mostly it’s just a bit cheap. Now if you had used Brian Cox that would be another matter!

    I’m struck by the parallels with some aspects of UK society. There’s a class war element to the way scientists and engineers are denigrated. The leisurely old school rich think they’re trying too hard. The working poor think education is not for the likes of them. The left have long had an undercurrent of anti-intelligensia. And the educated liberal arts grads dislike the dirty finger nails.

    Time to go back and read Brave New World again, I think. “I’m glad I’m a beta”.

  17. Not FULL of shit.

    We’ve got to try everything, shouldn’t we. There’s no one fix for all, it’s bound to work for some people. Richard Dawkins has thousands in his converts corner, many once fanatical zealots, etc.

    Those thousands start to add up once every popularizer gets them. Some you’ll never reach, but that doesn’t mean give up. Try everything, all guns blazing all the time.

    Progress shows we’re winning. Just that we may be winning too late to save anything. Got to try, nothing to do otherwise but cook and live in servitude to sky-fairies.

  18. I guess that you are mixing two different things. Conivincig of adults is achieved by different methods than educating the youngsters. Saga, Tyson of Einstein might failed in convincig of hardcore believers, but their works are useful in for discussing mid-grounds. Scientific education (and Jodie Foster) is important to ensure that rational side will have ammo in future.

    I agree that scientific argument (based on peer review, with all considerations and soft spots) might not be nearly as effective as good reply, meme or Jodie Foster breast in “Contact”. It’s not scientific proceeding with white gloves. It’s all out struggle of approaches. Other side might have confirmation bias on their side, so it’s important to create scientific narrations on our own (like Apollo 13).

    But real practical problem lies in deciding between scientific legitimacy (how much IPCC do we want to quote) and communication efficiency (on what grounds take discusion, what language use to reply).

  19. [...]  —Peter Watts, „If You Meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the Road, Kill Him.” [...]

  20. What, you need to re-establish your reputation as a misanthrope with unlimited pessimism about the future of humanity?

    “Most arguments are not joined with any sincere desire to arrive at the truth; they are joined to be won”

    When was it ever any fucking different? It’s the ones you can win that matter. A 0.1% success rate still moves us forward.

    OK, I don’t know who the audience will be, or the entire talk. But my reaction was that you’re about to tell every doctor who convinces parents to vaccinate their kids, every person who contributes to programs for clean water or medicine in the third world, and above all every teacher who tries to make a difference that THEY ARE WASTING THEIR LIVES.

    Maybe that’s your intention. If you want to piss people off, I’d say it will succeed.

  21. Entirely shit-free, Peter.

    You could even put the boot in harder: a minor but significant problem with the conversation is that the most famous popularizers of science – Tyson, Dawkins, Bill Nye The Fucking Science Guy et al – proceed on a basis of winning debate and bringing their Bright wisdom to the Great Unwashed… which never helps, and is unscientific to boot.

    To quote noted woo-woo practitioner Grant Morrison:
    ‘This is not a war. This is a rescue mission.’

  22. gwern: (Might want to replace it with a better bias.)

    Okay. We can choose one from here.

    Jean-Louis: The fact is that, insofar as we have any serious comparative international data, the general population of the U.S. actually does very well on tests of basic scientific literacy. Yes, their scores on evolution and the Big Bang are probably pulled down by religious fundamentalism, but the fact that they *still* do better than comparable populations in Europe, Canada, and much of the rest of the world is all the more impressive.

    My understanding was that in terms of overall high school scores, the US came in seventeenth. And I was surprised to discover that that two-thirds-believe-in-angels figure applies to Canada as well as the US. The US also seems to have a pretty definitive lead when it comes to the denial of global warming, which to me suggests a lack of scientific awareness. That said, though, I don’t make my living at this stuff, so your stats are probably better than mine.

    (I have an additional thesis about the Golden Age of SF and residual productivity growth in the 30s, but that’s unrelated, up to a point.)

    Actually, that’s pretty close to where I’m going with this talk…

    EnsleyG: Ceasing to try and educate N’Americans about science, especially young N’Americans, is not an option.

    Totally agree.

    …Looking at the notes and acknowledgements in the article on no-longer-junk DNA, I note that the overwhelming majority are citing N’American researchers and or publications, not to mention that the ENCODE Project Consortium itself is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. …

    Granted, but at least some of that has got to hail from the inertia of bygone, freshly-postwar days when science was not a dirty word. Those guys have already been in the business for a while. But look at recent trends: denial of global warming is on the increase in the US; so too is the belief in literal creationism, if that 40-46% increase over the past year is legit. To paraphrase Max Headroom, N’Am has a great future behind it; I’m just worried the current climate isn’t producing talent up to that standard.

    Mirik: Those thousands start to add up once every popularizer gets them. Some you’ll never reach, but that doesn’t mean give up. Try everything, all guns blazing all the time.

    Fair enough. Emphasis on the “everything”, though.

    Progress shows we’re winning.

    It’s legitimate at this point to ask, “What progress?” It’s been blinding in some areas — genetics, electronics — but man, back in 1969 the US had men on the moon; today they can’t even get out of low orbit. A few years back I read a piece in Science about the failure of satellite infrastructure: our ability to monitor the earth was in decline not because the technology had regressed, but because nobody was willing to pay for maintenance and our skeyes were succumbing to entropy, one by one. There are places in this continent where they’ve stopped maintaining roads, where they’ve laid off police forces, where half the streetlights are left unlit at night because local governments can’t afford to keep them on. In a very real way, “progress” has gone into reverse; Gibson’s future has never been more unevenly distributed.

    Marcin Zaród: Other side might have confirmation bias on their side, so it’s important to create scientific narrations on our own (like Apollo 13).

    Yes! Exactly! Narrative!

    Hugh: What, you need to re-establish your reputation as a misanthrope with unlimited pessimism about the future of humanity?

    Actually, if you read the whole talk you’d probably dismiss me as childishly optimistic. I suggest putting more faith in science fiction.

  23. darusha: I don’t believe that the US population is binary – dumbasses at one end who valourize anti-intellectualism and rationalists at the other. There are those people, sure, and they are loud. But I’d argue that most people are somewhere in between those extremes, and those are the ones who can be swayed one way or another. If there’s no one on the side of science offering accessible information, then those middle ground people have a much harder road to travel to get to the side of science.

    This is true, of course. Unfortunately, it’s possible that the ones in the middle tend to be drawn to the extreme over time. The above excerpt originally contained a paragraph addressing that, but I deleted it because it was lifted from an earlier post I made on this very crawl and I didn’t want the rerun quotient to rise too far. But since you’ve raised the point, here it is:

    Recent network analysis by Xie et al suggests that a belief held by as few as 10% of a population can, over time, become a majority belief so long as that original 10% is sufficiently closed-minded and fanatical. It’s a ratchet effect, basically: the more open-minded you are, the more willing you are to entertain the notion you could be wrong. So when a fanatical believer tries to sway an open-minded skeptic, it’s the skeptic who’s more likely to give ground— which increases the proportion of believers in the population, which increases the frequency with which open-minded skeptics encounter believers, GOTO 10. It’s basically a positive-feedback loop predicated on closed-mindedness.

  24. Nice post, PW, as usual. You’re right on the money, of course. It’s not careful reasoning or a sincere desire to get to the facts that led people to those asinine views. So trying to interact with them by appeals to careful reasoning and the facts often has bizarre Kafka-esque undercurrents. And I’m sympathetic with your point about the seeming futility of the battle. But what exactly is the alternative? A lot of these views are, as you say, derived from their guts, and any new information will be judged by their guts. But it’s not really an option available to us to try to appeal to their baser natures to win them over. We can’t model crappy reasoning, manipulative rhetorical tricks, or visceral appeals in order to get them to see the light. If we’re going to interact with them at all on the topic, I don’t see any alternative to conforming to higher standards of reasoning, and then hoping that perhaps by example and by trying to talk to their pre-frontal cortices instead of their limbic systems we can maybe get the attention of the right parts of their brain and bring them around slowly. Harris says, “No society ever suffered from too much reasoning.”

    And by the way, when are you coming out with a new novel, dammit?

  25. I will defend the ignorant because I doubt any of them would take the time to read this site/article.

    The question of how is this going to help me in the future is a very serious question. I actually feel 12 years of school and no life experience with anything is a terrible waste of time, then to say go to college get more education and even less real world experience.

    I was fortunate to have a father that was a mechanic and didn’t take bullshit from kids. So I got to learn how tools work and how things are put together, organization skills and how much I hate cleaning engines.
    (This relates to a lot of things in life though, I learned that I’m not just a victim of not knowing. I can grab that manual figure it out be organized and put it together… figure it out and fake it tell you make it. The first couple of times will suck until you figure out the tricks.)

    What I have noticed after college and while I was in college, you have these “smart” people that can’t do anything (besides talk about it and act elite). So, I think the argument of education is a double edge sword. I think all aspects need to be taught, and when someone says, “Why do I need to ____?” The response is so that you don’t look like a dumbass, and/or so you can actually think through problems if you are on your own.

    (Eh, wasn’t a very good argument for the ignorant… I failed.)

  26. No, actually, you make a good point; and it bears emphasizing that a lack of formal education by no means connotes stupidity. In my experience the relationship between education and intelligence, while statistical real, is pretty weak. (I learned about Saul Bellow from a high-school drop-out who just devoured everything she could in the local library, for example). I’m not that kind of elitist.

    But in this society, with these resources, believing that dinosaurs and humans frolicked together 6000 years ago, or that Noah managed to cram every species on the planet into an arc? No excuse. I’m totally elitist when it comes to those guys.

  27. To get a population to accept something new or different, there has to be an immediate and tangible incentive to accept it. At the moment there’s no incentive for the average person to be well educated in science, so why would the majority of them bother to learn anything beyond the ability to dress themselves in the morning and trade currency for food?

    Of the ten highest paid professions in Canada (http://canadianimmigrant.ca/guides/moving-to-canada/moving-to-canada-top-jobs-and-what-they-pay), only four (Engineering Managers, Dentists, GPs, and specialist physicians) require any sort of scientific knowledge. We don’t incentivise a scientific education by pay.

    We are ruled by a political class that doesn’t require any kind of scientific knowledge to gain power. The democratic system is designed to cater to the average, rather than the brightest. We don’t incentivise a scientific education by power.

    Fertility and education are closely linked (there’s a good graph here: http://www.prb.org/presentations/i_secondary-enrollment-gender.ppt). Women who are better educated tend to be better educated about reproduction and also tend to choose to have fewer children. Education itself is a detrmient to having children . . . nature itself is not incentivising a scientific education.

  28. I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise because of Carl Sagan. I’ve learned a lot of other stuff because of interesting things that this Peter Watts guy writes about. I hear Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the radio and go home and look up stuff he talked about.

    IMHO, your speech comes off kind of elitist and condescending, and that has a lot to do with why people don’t trust people called “Doctor.” Your phrase “playing into the hands of the enemy” sums it up for me — if you are looking to change minds, then there is no enemy. At least not a human one, because if you view people who don’t understand or care about science *as* an enemy, you’re defeating yourself right out of the gate.

    And just to be clear — I don’t mean that as an editing issue, I mean it as a low-level mindset issue. There’s a major fault in your foundation.

    Also, to be clear, I agree with you completely. But if you’re going to attack an Ambassador of Science for his methods, you should really suggest an alternative method of getting people to give a shit — and antagonizing them isn’t it.

    I would also posit that, since we’re talking about Science, we’re not far from the discoveries (some would say we’ve already found them) that illustrate how some brains are formed to reject Doctors and Science. I don’t think that’s “nurture,” I think that’s Chemistry. As well as Irony.

  29. Given that you are talking about America, specifically its history and hostility to the well educated, I don’t think you want to use that title. We have a pretty long history of grabbing well educated black men and murdering them on the side of the road, simply because they were well educated and black.

  30. Peter, most people aren’t intellectually curious. It’s very difficult for intellectually curious people to understand that they (we) are in the minority.

    I once did graphic design for a presentation a mathematician was giving to Canadian parliamentary officials. He was told to gear it to a grade 5 level. Seriously.

    If you want people to embrace science, you have to dumb it down to the point where it’s not really science anymore, it’s just another form of religion.

  31. Depends on who you audience is and what you want them to do in reaction to your talk?

    If you have an angry, pessimistic, misanthropic audience, and you want help them feel justified in that stance, you’re golden with this as is – the tone, the painting North Americans as all one way: the ugly stupid unwashed tide that is sweeping all the clued in people away – perfect. And sometimes, that is exactly the audience, and exactly all you need to do is let them feel the unity. Plus it’s fun and entertaining. That’s an easy talk.

    If you want to convince a more general but educated audience that science eduation is important for the future, and that we need to act on that, that’s much harder. I’d personally take a different selling strategy, especially unless you know your entire audience is vehemently atheist. Not useful to tell people that their religion categorizes them with the stupid; that just turns their ears off to the rest of the argument. If you’re selling an idea, the argument should be about them, not what bugs you. Make it about them.

    Another factor is the age and function of the audience – are they young, middle-aged, in a position to make changes in re education? Just at thought.

    The only part where I think you might be manure-filled is on whether Tysons and Sagans help or hurt- dude, they help! If we need to convince young people that science and discovery and analysis are Cool, somehow, Tyson is, and Sagan was, Cool. I know, makes no sense, but that is how young people react, and they are motivated by Coolness nearly as much as by sex. We need proponents who can say the right buzzwords, mention the right pop bands, whatever the current inside personal identifiers are, in order to be opinion makers. Jesus, if we could get Beiber or Gaga to write a song about it….

    I also don’t think we should discount the role of fictional science guys on TV, either, no offense to Tyson or Sagan. Big Bang, for instance, has a definite view of educated people, and it’s different, from say, Star Trek, where the main characters after the Swashbuckling Hero are a supersmart Science Officer and a Physician.

    Given the endless litany of cognitive glitches that interfere with our thought processes — confirmation bias, sunk-cost fallacies, the Semmelweis reflex to name but a few — it’s hard to argue that we’re in any way optimized for impartial analysis.

    Hahahaha! Sugar, those don’t interfere with our thought processes, those are our thought processes? I totally agree that we are not optimized for impartial analysis, but we can’t disown what we are: we use a very mixed strategy in our cogitating, and the majority is non-rational.

    Good luck on your talk! I’m sure it will be entertaining, in any event.

  32. Steven Fetterly:
    Fertility and education are closely linked (there’s a good graph here: http://www.prb.org/presentations/i_secondary-enrollment-gender.ppt).Women who are better educated tend to be better educated about reproduction and also tend to choose to have fewer children.Education itself is a detrmient to having children . . . nature itself is not incentivising a scientific education.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

    There was a brief time, while the ‘Net bubble was still growing, that being a nerd or geek was kinda cool. Would seem to be failing now, but maybe Silicon Valley cranked out some chil’ens back then that have yet to make a splash being all innovatey.

  33. There are a couple of points I’d like to make.

    1. Education about science is a pretty ill-defined phrase. If it means requiring, say, plane geometry and a clear demonstration of critical skills, independent of the scientific content, then I’m all for that. If it means applying those skills to problems in elementary sciences, such as physics and chemistry, including actual labs, I’m all for that too. If it means showing glossy documentaries with cool people talking about sciency things, not so much. Science is only so approachable and unthreatening. As the Onion noted, Science is hard. So what do we do about a general population that is woefully ignorant of science?

    2. There are far too many bullshit academic degrees. Degrees in Hotel Management are not equivalent to degrees in the hard sciences. Credentials should really mean something, There are far too many people who claim to be educated because of a BS or BA that doesn’t include rigour as part of its course-load. So these people feel completely free to BS about science because, after all, it says right here that they’re educated. This is self-reinforcing because other people, equally educated, give weight to their opinions. A step in solving this would be to have the National Academies start to take on bullshit-education. If you want a BS or BA in anything, then you need to demonstrate real competence in some core subjects. I don’t care if these are not relevant to what you want to do. Education should not be seen as job training. Job training should be certificate programs. If you want to be part of the club, then really work for it. Conservatories are a different animal. BFA’s are truly different– everyone knows this.

    I don’t see this actually happening. Educationography is a large-scale industry. For example, business colleges are the cash cows of most universities. Imagine requiring these degrees to be rigorous.

  34. Steven Fetterly: Fertility and education are closely linked (there’s a good graph here: http://www.prb.org/presentations/i_secondary-enrollment-gender.ppt).

    Um, there’s nothing about fertility on that figure.

    John Stotler: Your phrase “playing into the hands of the enemy” sums it up for me — if you are looking to change minds, then there is no enemy — I don’t mean that as an editing issue, I mean it as a low-level mindset issue. There’s a major fault in your foundation.

    Yes, we’re battling for hearts and minds — but it’s not those hearts and minds that I define as “the enemy”. The Enemy are the Pat Robertsons and the Charles Kochs and the Bill Dembskis, all those people with deep pockets and nuclear-powered megaphones and vested interests in making sure that scientific findings never interfere with their short-term bottom lines. I don’t feel “condescending” to those fuckers in the least; I feel rage. If you want condescension, though, I’ll cop to that, and ask a question: how do you not feel condescending about a population that believes in angels by a 2:1 margin? What other reaction would you suggest?

    Also, to be clear, I agree with you completely. But if you’re going to attack an Ambassador of Science for his methods, you should really suggest an alternative method of getting people to give a shit — and antagonizing them isn’t it.

    I think Tyson is cool; I thought Sagan was, too. I think they serve a valuable role, and I squee a little every time I see Tyson talking dark matter on the Colbert Report.

    But there is a difference between cool scientific factoids and the process of science; my fear is that essential strengths of that process — the inherent uncertainty, the competition between models, the constant recognition that everything you think you know could be wrong — it’s very easy for the snake-oil salesmen to twist all that around and towel-snap it with the comforting brand of simpleminded certainty they’re peddling.

    Also, in terms of coming up with alternatives, well, that’s what a good chunk of the talk is about. But I fear it may be too little too late.

    I would also posit that, since we’re talking about Science, we’re not far from the discoveries (some would say we’ve already found them) that illustrate how some brains are formed to reject Doctors and Science. I don’t think that’s “nurture,” I think that’s Chemistry. As well as Irony.

    Yeah, well, now we’re getting into the “nobody’s responsible for the way their brains are wired therefore nobody’s culpable for their actions” school of thought. I agree with that; but even us determinists recognise that while it may be logically incoherent to blame the Koch brothers, they’re still dangerous to society and the planet at large. Even if the monster stomping your city is an automaton, you still try to take it down.

  35. Daniel:
    Given that you are talking about America, specifically its history and hostility to the well educated, I don’t think you want to use that title.We have a pretty long history of grabbing well educated black men and murdering them on the side of the road, simply because they were well educated and black.

    Yikes. That never even occurred to me. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but — yikes.

    For what it’s worth, that’s not the title of the talk — it’s just a cheezy Buddha riff that came to me in the pub last night while I was writing — and this excerpt isn’t even the major thrust of what I’m talking about.

    Kelly: If you want people to embrace science, you have to dumb it down to the point where it’s not really science anymore, it’s just another form of religion.

    Actually, I was hoping there might be a middle path…

    Hljóðlegur: Depends on who you audience is and what you want them to do in reaction to your talk?

    Assorted academics, scientist types mainly. Relatively secular country. May also give it to SF fans in the next country over a few days later, but that remains up in the air.

    If you have an angry, pessimistic, misanthropic audience, and you want help them feel justified in that stance, you’re golden with this as is – the tone, the painting North Americans as all one way: the ugly stupid unwashed tide that is sweeping all the clued in people away – perfect.

    Let me say it again, Hljóðlegur: A 2:1 majority. Believe in. Angels. We can quibble about “ugly”, but how can “stupid” not apply?

    The only part where I think you might be manure-filled is on whether Tysons and Sagans help or hurt- dude, they help!

    I know, I know! I like those guys! But again: science is messy and fraught with uncertainty, and people by and large seem to crave simplicity and absolutes! Am I really so crazy to worry that the more science’s gloriously-dirty laundry gets aired, the more those people will turn away?

    Tell me I’m wrong: I’d really, really like to be wrong.

    I also don’t think we should discount the role of fictional science guys on TV, either, no offense to Tyson or Sagan. Big Bang, for instance, has a definite view of educated people, and it’s different, from say, Star Trek, where the main characters after the Swashbuckling Hero are a supersmart Science Officer and a Physician.

    Exactly. Narrative again. People relate to stories, not stats. Which is where this whole thing is gonna end up leading, I think. It may not be much, but perhaps it’s all we got.

  36. Peter Watts:
    But again: science is messy and fraught with uncertainty, and people by and large seem to crave simplicity and absolutes! Am I really so crazy to worry that the more science’s gloriously-dirty laundry gets aired, the more those people will turn away?

    That sounds like the core problem where those folks are concerned. Isn’t Tyson essentially trying to avoid the dirty laundry? Present things as “this may be the way things are and it’s so different from what we thought ten years ago” in a non-threatening manner. Isn’t it what is being called “dumbing it down” exactly trying to reach those who otherwise would say, “They just don’t know. Why should I care about a debate over a theory? I have certainty over here and therefore can conduct my life without worrying about which it is. I choose the simpler reality that makes me happier.”

    And there, I think we can to some extent point out the relative ease of life compared to 150 years ago (don’t mind that bump they called the Great Depression). We have expectations of being happy more often than not nowadays, most NAmricans. * Maybe that was the fallacy. Maybe that lifestyle is to some degree unsustainable, if only because those nuclear dicks want more, or when that is no longer possible, just for others to have less in order to increase their relative wealth and power.

    When I think of browbeating as motivation, I tend to think of Gordon Ramsey. That style is effective for a couple of reasons and likely has only limited scope. It forces people to reflect on their own actions, it tends to re-light the fire of passion (at least when combined with some sort of prior success that means future success is possible; tearing them down and building them up). So, it works on the choir when the choir is the problem. I’m not sure still if that is the case, or if so, completely or partially, as defined. Is this “go get ‘em teachers and think outside the box because what you’ve been doing isn’t working”? Seems like it. The part about what others think and believe is a secondary audience, yes?

    The belief in a happy afterlife, in invisible friends, however you want to put it, serves a function, though, doesn’t it? Placebos are more effective now, too. Delusions can serve as fitness or survival tactics (think that was discussed amongst the characters in Blindsight at some point). What does science offer as an alternative if the goal is one or the other? Most obvious answer would seem to be pharmaceuticals, which come with all sorts of problems of their own typically. Maybe the answer lay in defining science’s role.

    (That was all rather stream of consciousness. Sorry if it seems jagged as a whole.)

    (* I’m shrinking it a little).

    (By the way, 67% is down from nearly 75 that I recall from a handful of years ago but then we don’t have the underlying data and methodology to compare.)

  37. As regarding to persistent belief in angels and weird meta-rapist skymonsters with a really weird murder fetish (come to think of it, Yahweh’s forgiveness could allegedly only be solicited through a process that allegedly involved torture and not-quite-murder of Yahweh’s alleged son…), there’s more to that than mere lack of scientific acumen (plenty of scientists are infected with those noxious memes, for one).

    Reasonable arguments fail because most people haven’t been argued into those peculiar beliefs (hell, some of them don’t know their Bibles all that well ;) yeah, John, this one is looking right at you ;) ) so arguing them out of it ain’t working.

    Those beliefs provide their bearers with all kinds of pleasant small-time subjective experiences.
    Those beliefs contain implicit and explicit beliefs directives, such as common-yet-baseless assertions about the inherent necessity of believing in a god, or the implication that spread of “improper” beliefs to people you care about is a grave threat to their well being (try to imagine yourself in the shoes of somebody who really believes that people not sharing your brand of skymonster fairy-tale is going to “hell”, and it will become quite obvious why many religious people outright hate people with different belief systems)
    There’s also often quite a lot of investment (in terms of time, effort, money, you name it) taking place after you get involved with religion (and most other forms of “woo” for that matter), and as we all know, people are quite reluctant to admit they have invested in a steaming pile of shit.

    But I don’t think that’s reason for despair, Peter.
    Come to think of it, 80 years ago, the percentage of N’am folks who believe in angels was likely somewhere > 95%

    And, as to ENCODE, 03, who is right here reading this but isn’t in a position to type, has asked me to leave this here.

    P.S.:
    Speaking of angels, old testament ones were so much cooler than pansy-ass Christian ones…
    http://www.horrorwallpaper.net/wallpapers/horror_wallpaper_128-1280×1024.jpg

    http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/17057731/images/1322608528855.jpg

  38. PW,

    When I crossed the border into Canada in 2003 and 2004, I knew better than to ask ANY questions of my interrogators. Come to think of it: when I crossed the border into Germany in 1998 and 2000, I also knew this truth. The truth is that ANYONE in authority has the power on any given day to make your life miserable, from Barney Fife all the way up to Caesar. If you hate it, you’re not alone. You answer their questions, make polite small talk, try not to make too big of a lie that you can’t back up under further questioning, and GET THROUGH THE GATES!

    Question later. Bitch later. If the cost of achieving a higher level of education is eventual exile, then you MUST see why a doctorate is not a high priority around here. And why your title was succesfully manipulated against you.

    Hurry up and get back to the states, PW and bring Red with you. That Canadian air is messing with your defaults.

  39. John:
    Question later.Bitch later. If the cost of achieving a higher level of education is eventual exile, then you MUST see why a doctorate is not a high priority around here.And why your title was succesfully manipulated against you.

    My title was not successfully used against me. The jury threw out everything the guards said because “they couldn’t get their stories straight”; at least two of them spoke out publicly on my behalf; one of them even wrote a letter to the judge decrying the process and stood with me at sentencing, a stand that resulted in ongoing police harassment of her and her family. But I suppose that would only make you deride her stupidity in taking a stand against Barney Fife. I guess she was asking for it.

    When I crossed the border into Canada in 2003 and 2004, I knew better than to ask ANY questions of my interrogators.Come to think of it: when I crossed the border into Germany in 1998 and 2000, I also knew this truth. The truth is that ANYONE in authority has the power on any given day to make your life miserable, from Barney Fife all the way up to Caesar. If you hate it, you’re not alone. You answer their questions, make polite small talk, try not to make too big of a lie that you can’t back up under further questioning, and GET THROUGH THE GATES!

    Then they’ve beaten you. You have been cowed into submission, you keep your eyes down and and your voice lowered, you repeat unto yourself the endless mantra that anyone who doesn’t grovel deeply enough deserves what they get. Avoid eye contact, talk softly, move slowly; these are strategies for dealing with wild animals. I give these people more credit, more respect than you do: I look them in the eye and treat them as human beings.

    I’m also surprised that you felt similarly cowed in Germany. I’ve been there a couple of times myself over the past couple of years; also Poland, Australia, and France. I have never encountered anything but decency and professionalism at any of these places; only the US seems to revel in the casual, thuggish belligerence that you seem to find so normal. This is more than personal anecdote. According to a 2010 piece in The Economist, a survey of international travellers revealed that US border crossings were the most unpleasant in the world, by a factor of 2:1.

  40. Not full of shit, until FOX is dismantled and the remains sacrificed to the Elder Things and the Tea Party exiled to Jesus-stan general adult public science education in the USA will be a constant, never ending, sometimes life destroying/threatening, uphill battle against ingrained and culturally reinforced ignorance. Plus it doesn’t sell TV time vs the “reality” TV crap.

    Anyhow:

    And the more you know about how science works, ironically, the easier it is to shoot at.

    Sort of, the more you understand philosophy of science, the more anyone demanding certainty appears to be utterly ignorant. And if you run into someone knowledgeable about science pulling the “certainty” shtick, frankly it’s a sign they’re probably unable to think beyond their political/religious beliefs and like many humans merrily partitioned stuff to protect it from the steely knives of critical thought. Or worse, they’re a lying sack of shit taking the company coin to spin a PR line of stuff they know is bullshit.

  41. And the ENCODE results? Fucking amazing.

    A bit like the Hubble Deep Field results if I may grasp at an analogy and it’s going to drive those working on gene expression in human genetics mental for years to come.

  42. After reading some of the ENCODE stuff, and some of the comments, I developed a lingering suspicion that initial publications were specifically constructed to give IDiots priapism and stuff a bee in everyone else’s bonnet.

    Which worked like a charm.

    Peter Watts: I look them in the eye and treat them as human beings.

    I do remember someone (maybe even me) suggesting that your interests would be better served by treating LEAs as post-stroke vampires ;)

  43. What’s also interesting is how belligerent Americans are considered as tourists when at visiting other countries.

    @John:

    “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
      —  Edmund Burke

  44. “science is messy and fraught with uncertainty, and people by and large seem to crave simplicity and absolutes! Am I really so crazy to worry that the more science’s gloriously-dirty laundry gets aired, the more those people will turn away?”

    I’m not sure I buy the “people crave simplicity and absolutes” story. The bible, after all, is not exactly simple, it’s a convoluted contradictory mess that takes a huge pile of retconning to tie together even superficially. Most people never think these things through. That’s not what it’s for. People want to have something to say that gets them socially validated and accepted in the group they live in. When other groups disagree, this can get amplified into a display of tribal allegiance. Any personal reassurance gained from this probably doesn’t have much to do with the content. You need to have something to say to legitimize what you are doing or going through, something that is acceptable to those around you. For those not having the time or inclination to really think things through (and that’s always going to be the majority), whatever is actually said has to be fairly formulaic and simple. This would be no different if the content was more scientifically accurate – you’d still get slogans.

  45. (Oh, by the way, a happy belated 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement.)

  46. Are you saying that less than half of Americans know that the sun revolves around the earth?

  47. Perfectly plausible.

    I’ve met well-educated people (doctors, lawyers, biologists) who don’t know how many planets are there in Sol, so, say, a lawyer not knowing what revolves around what in Sol is quite imaginable.

    That’s basically what specialization does to you.

    And due to Lem’s law, unless we discover some radical brain augmentation/uploading thingamajig, we’re going to become more and more specialized.

  48. One more thing from this morning’s Times Herald:

    http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20120909/NEWS01/309090010/James-Adair-retiring-from-bench

    Note the (again) misattributed quote, fifth paragraph from the end of the article. It’s Hamilton, and slightly misworded. Here’s the actual:

    “I think the first duty of society is justice.”

  49. Anonymous:
    Are you saying that less than half of Americans know that the sun revolves around the earth?

    No, I’m saying slightly less than half (46%) don’t know that a year corresponds to one orbit of the earth around the sun. The stats on how many Americans know that the earth orbits the sun in the first place are somewhat more cheerful: only 25% think that the sun orbits the Earth. Stats here.

    Of course, this survey dates from 2001. People could have become stupider since then.

  50. Whoever: One more thing from this morning’s Times Herald:

    Glad to see he survived Squidgate. Some were talking about how public outrage over his decision would get him voted out of office the next year.

    He was a nice guy. I would have liked to have had a beer with him.

  51. Why it’s difficult to discuss things with people from The Bible Belt:
    http://wumocomicstrip.com/2012/09/05/

  52. Peter Watts:

    Of course, this survey dates from 2001.People could have become stupider since then.

    Peter, in all fairness, most of the “non-work related” knowledge I still maintain (and that includes pretty much all of astronomy, biology, and a good deal of physics) I maintain due to my interest in sci-fi, general curiosity, and due to sharing a… uh… club with a lot of various biologists and medical sciences (BTW, the prevalence of flesh jockeys in that…club… is actually a little bit staggering, to say the least ;) ).

    If I had lower general curiosity, had no interests that facilitate at least some acquaintance with scientific facts and no social connections that would require such knowledge to maintain effectively, recollections of simple (and not so simple) facts regarding stars, planets, microbes, cells and many other things would have likely been eroded away.

    You can’t blame people for not retaining knowledge they don’t need in their daily life and having low general curiosity (and/or little private time).

  53. @01: Okay, sure, but seriously: not knowing what a year is? Do you really want to give a pass to that level of ignorance?

  54. Note to WHOEVER:

    When my teachers were trying to tell me why an advanced education would help me on the farm, they should have been telling me that my heroes (sp) all had to ‘nerd-it-up’ through college to be able to become Steve Dahl, Howard Stern and John Belushi. Too many children from my generation thru today’s gen think they have all the ‘game’ they need to be just like their idols (think: Peter Watts, Man About Town – I can do that!) without laying in a base of training and experience with which to draw from. This is why there is so much Crap-Culture available today: because there is so-o-o much more chaff than wheat.

  55. Call your talk Verging on Diglossia.

    You said: “Actually, if you read the whole talk you’d probably dismiss me as childishly optimistic. I suggest putting more faith in science fiction.”

    and I was very glad to read this, Watts, because it’s part of what I was going to suggest. Science fiction is the most accessible informal science education available. Like Woody Allen told himself when he was wondering how to save mankind, “Make funnier movies.” Yeah, people should keep writing and reading science fiction.

    I’m also in agreement with the Defender of the Ignorant, AV, above,who said
    he was “… fortunate to have a father that was a mechanic and didn’t take bullshit from kids… I learned that I’m not just a victim of not knowing. I can grab that manual figure it out be organized and put it together… figure it out and fake it tell you make it.”

    Since the overshadowing of the mechanical world – on which rationalism found so fertile a plain – by the iAge, the average citizen has lost confidence in their own ability to figure things out. We are witnessing a struggle between two camps: one a vulgate still vaguely fluent in deciphering linear diagrams, but unprepared for the abracadabra mysticism of the deep digital exam we are now undergoing. (Oh, AV, don’t you long for one more look at a exploded view of an automotive transmission!! ahahahah. If you want to cite an example of dumbing down information, compare the owner’s manual provided for a new car in the 60s with one handed over in the 80s or 90s. One expected the the car owner could read specs, and the other shows you how to turn on the windshield wipers.)

    In a layer over this union of the dis-educated and disowned rests a second camp, a self-credentialed priesthood of popomo real estate agents teaching courses in miracles, angels, indulgences, past lives, and deep distrust of anyone who’s done a doctorate, even anyone who’s done a doctorate in theology.

    There is a threat that into the broadening gap between these two lopsided groups waves of pugilistic Dignity Squads will rush, batons in hand, to thump independent thinkers at the border.

    Drain out your fear, Watts. Thumpers at the border? Thank you for taking the lumps for liberty, by the way. I admire you. Ignore suggestions to Shut It, but now your fans will have to recognize, sadly, that your input into conversations south of the 49th will have to be virtual. If you wish to bodily visit your friends in that holy land you’ll have to learn to exhibit your sheer contempt a little less forcefully. That’s not so hard, is it? That would be the rational choice, surely, and give you a bigger stump on which to stand.
    So, regarding the shitness or not of your argument in the initial post, I have this to say:
    The solution to averting diglossia is more sci fi and more auto mechanics. Even Steve Jobs claimed he had a ‘mechanical genius’ as a stepdad. More stepdads! Yeah!

  56. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance

  57. North Americans have always been proud of their ignorance. Cries of “I’m more interested in the Rock of Ages than the age of rocks” has always rung through our society. Even among well educated, intelligent people. (There is a fear of facing reality at work here.)

    I see no evidence of an upward trend in North American ignorance, admittedly there isn’t much room on the graph to plot a downward trend. If anything our society has improved over the past couple of decades. We don’t persecute black people like we used to. We are on the verge of giving gay people marriage rights. Despite the banter most North American women have access to abortion and birth control if they want it. (They don’t even need a lot of money, but they do need some.) One can get all sissy over being bitch-slapped by an asshole border guard, but, in the 1950′s, Noble Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling had his passport taken away simply because he was “insufficiently anti-communist”.

    The beauty of North American society is: one is free to be an ass if one wants to be. The only thing that concerns me is that the politically correct crowd wants to take away my right to mock these assholes mercilessly. I want to be my kind of asshole without being sent to sensitivity training for writing a good rant.

    Our species is going to ignore global warming to our detriment, just as the stromatolites ignored their creation of an oxygen atmosphere to their detriment. Who can blame us because, well fuck, I like: hot water, fast cars, and inexpensive flights to exotic locales where they serve fine wine and good food for cheap. I’m sure the insects will enjoy this planet after humans go. (The cockroaches may miss us a little.) And we will go. If not by our own hand by whatever took out the dinosaurs. When whatever that was comes after us our science and feeble technology won’t make the slightest difference. But there will likely be life here until the sun starts to go red dwarf on us. Incidentally, did you know 6 out of 7 dwarfs aren’t happy?

  58. Don’t know that I can agree, Sean. I think you are describing the 1990s pretty well. However, there is a huge upward tick in radical rightwing hate groups (largely under-reported because DHS caved to political pressure and softened their assessment) and the behavior of ICE, for example, is rather fascistic, disturbing, and extra-legal. Your right to be an asshole is at risk, I assure you.

    Here’s a sample:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-09-06/cop-drones/57639048/1

    Sounds good, doesn’t it? Why doesn’t anyone even ask themselves why arming domestic botflies–er, I mean DRONES–that it’s even a question?

    Finding hokey excuses and new methods to fuck with you is America’s new “manufacturing” sector.

  59. Peter Watts: @01: Okay, sure, but seriously: not knowing what a year is? Do you really want to give a pass to that level of ignorance?

    Okay, Peter, imagine you’re oh, I don’t know, a CSO at a credit organization.
    Most of your social circle, save maybe a few facebook-friends, are also IT folks of some kind, or some kind of economist/banker/trader kind of persons.

    Unless you have very good memory, or naturally curious about astronomy (or some sufficiently related field), the information regarding actual phenomena underlying the concept of “year” (those being among facts our hypothetical CSO has likely been exposed to by the education system, but that was loooong ago) may very well become blurred and ultimately replaced by something along the lines of “that value in the database that we increment on 23:59:59 december 31st “:)

    That’s not the problem. Not like you can’t look it up when / if you need it.

    The problems start is when Dunning-Kruger effect hits such specialized people, making them believe they know jack shit about economics/astronomy/biology/religion/culture/younameit.

    I think the scary thing about N’am isn’t that many people are ignorant of “simple facts”, the scary thing is that so many of those believe themselves to be quite adequately informed….

  60. I get the impression that the crux of the argument is that people won’t believe anything they don’t want to so don’t even bother trying to tell them otherwise. (Please correct me if I am misinterpreting). I think this is flawed in a few ways.

    First of all, not ALL people are like that. Personally, I was reasoned into agreeing that I am an atheist (rather than an agnostic/deist). This is not a conclusion I came to instantly, but one I decided after considering the points of argument over weeks. I think the time it requires one to make these sorts of decisions gives the false impression that people don’t change their mind. It’s just exceedingly rare for someone to say “Dog gone it! You are totally right and I’m going to change my entire world view!” the moment the pertinent facts are presented.

    Secondly, I think that for people to come to any sort of decision in the first place, they need information. Some people have no real basis for what they think — they’ve never considered it. If you happen to be the first person to educate them on an issue, that could have a hugely pivotal role in how they consider something (regardless of their immediate response).

    Third, the concept of not bothering to educate people because those of opposing viewpoints won’t change their minds ignores the people who are more middle-of-the-road in their mindsets, and ignores people who are interested and in general agreement, but still a layperson to the topic at hand. I’m much more likely to read a compelling, “popularized” book on science (by Carl Sagan or the like) than a textbook, regardless of my interest level. The reason for this is that I don’t have a scientific background and a simpler sort of discussion on the topic is easier for me to grok. I really love pod-casts and novels that discuss science on a more accessible and friendly level.

    As to your “Doctor Problem”, I seem to recall Orson Scott Card once writing that if you wanted to make a character seem more villainous, just make them seem smarter. That is so depressing, but definitely true. I feel like this is more the case in the USA than Canada but I’m sure I’m deluding myself (which is why I use the term feel instead of think).

  61. Yeah. This is all really helpful.

    So helpful, in fact, that I’ve pretty much cut it from the current draft of the talk. It was tangentially relevant but not fundamental, and it’s pretty obvious in hindsight that I was ranting more than arguing cogently.

    Thanks to all of you who poked holes; this is why I keep you around.

  62. Just ’cause it’s interesting:

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/11501-what-motivates-rejection-of-climate-science

  63. High Watts, last time (http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=2644) you heard from me was when we had a discussion about blasting alien brittlestars with laser created from the reaction engine of a fictional starship you wrote about, as well how am a total dick that would make fictional vampires and aliens quail.

    Finally have some time to get on the internet again since my little girl is sleeping and my once again preggars engineer wife is out with friends. I’ve gotta say that as a holder of an MS and soon to be holder of a PhD, your vision of how laymen view science is perhaps more a a product of the era in which you were educated, similar things can be said of Tyson or Sagan. Modern graduate degree holders don’t act like you or them, at least in my anecdotal experience.

    I and a lot of natural scientists were taught a more “brutal” methodology than that which very professors instructing us were taught by their own admission. It was reiterated over and over again that science is not a philosophy, it is not a worldview, it is a tool to create predictive models. To insure that the data used to created the models is as unbiased as possible we’re encouraged keep discard all subjective expectations during the data collection process. I was taught, and agree with, the point that one should not even feel curiosity when you are doing the actual observation and experimentation. So “scientific” to me just means capable of contributing to the creation of predictive model. And I think that by excluding all ethical, moral, emotional, or religious feelings you can get as close to objective as possible. I have never felt wonder at anything, just a kind of cold curiosity and these days I make sure to set that aside the second I am actually assessing the problem.

    This might just seem like SOP for the scientific method but it really isn’t so far isn’t if you consider the way science was taught at the graduate level up until the 90s. From what I have been told Rationalism, the philosophy not the thought process, was still present in the 80s. These days it has been excised to the betterment of the methodology in my opinion.

    >Almost half of the adults in the US cannot correctly answer the question “How long does it take for the Earth to complete an orbit of the sun?” even when the question is presented as multiple choice. The level of scientific literacy in North America is nothing short of pathetic.
    You must be careful with these surveys, only the PEW survey really is worth anything because it actually has decent methodology. In the US people hate getting surveyed and will often answer randomly or feign ignorance. For example according to the NYT only 3% of people know which side the US fought on in Vietnam but when I ask people personally which at this point is a sample set of hundreds almost all of them know that we fought on the side of the South. This is merely an example and is not indicative of them knowing about anything else but I have always been skeptical of these surveys because I cannot replicate the results. And I associate almost exclusively with drilling rig operators and blue collar workers so they are not history buffs by any measure.

    >not just ignorant of science, but actively hostile to it.
    This I have never experienced personally nor seen. Almost everyone I work with is blue collar and they treat me just as one more technical guy, me being born a hick probably has something to do with that. The hostility is directed almost entirely toward the liberal arts who are seen as useless. And as a brutal practicality minded bastard I have to agree with that assessment to and extent. But the point is that if you have a STEM degree and don’t act as though this gives you any special insight outside your area of expertise

    >And so tens of millions of N’Americans reject outright the reality of anthropogenic climate change,
    This is actually common due to a philosophy that says Man cannot be powerful enough to interfere with the hydrosphere on such a large scale. However when I explain it to people they quickly change their minds in most cases. Though as I told you in my post back in January the current consensus regarding climate change in the geologic community is hardly dire and could be best described as “ignoring it and adapting to it is the best option” might have something to do with their acceptance of it.

    >of evolution by natural selection
    This is one of those things that is extremely rare in my experience though I suspect that my sample set is significantly baised toward accepting evolution since the Catholic Church and the Eastern Protestant denominations never really had a problem with it.

    >of even the effectiveness of vaccination for chrissake
    Mistaken correlation of autism with vaccination due to a change in the medical definition of Autism created an apartment correlation between Autism rates and Vaccination rates. Though there are very rare cases of extreme allergic reactions to vaccinations and medications leading to brain swelling and retardation that don’t help the issue. That’s why you get bloodwork done on your infants before agreeing to any vaccination, find those allergies immediately, minimize all risks no matter how small.

    >A number of pro-science advocates actually blame scientists themselves for the public’s attitude. Scientists should reach out more, they say, climb down from their ivory towers and make science accessible to the common man.
    Perhaps, but I have found talking down to people pisses them off and makes you look amateurish. The ivory tower attitude is just about dead in my generation, if it was ever even there outside a college campus which given my older peers in petroleum geology I kinda doubt, to the point that almost everyone I knew in graduate school saw themselves as blacksmiths that fell in love with their anvils.

    >People just don’t understand science; if we only explained how cool it is, people would get it. Back in the day you had Carl Sagan, the geek-cheerleader’s cheerleader; these days you’ve Neil DeGrasse Tyson. We need more of this, the argument goes.

    >America’s fundamentalist beliefs were not arrived at through reason.
    Watt’s you yourself hold humanist egalitarian(the philosophy of minimizing pain) views and values that have no basis on objective assessment. Reason is merely the internal consistency of a series of suppositions or concepts not even always based on an accurate observation, it does not imply that they are supported by any form of objective data. Even my values which are based almost entirely on an interest in survival and propagation, with even my personal survival just being means by which I can provide for my kids, are technically subjective. I may be a machine that lives merely to facilitate my base instincts(breed, protect kids, stockpile shit for kids) who hadn’t read a fictional book for five years until my wife made be read some stuff including your Blindsight and doesn’t never even bothered to fuck anybody but my wife because I see it as a waste of time

    >Case in point: yesterday’s momentous announcement that so much of what we once called “junk DNA” — all those bits that we once thought accumulated for no other reason than the sheer Darwinian selfishness of parasitic nucleotides — actually serve a host of vital regulatory functions. (Update: Or maybe not. Apparently the ENCODE people simply redefined “functional” to apply to code sequences that actually aren’t; “junk DNA” can breathe a sigh of relief.)
    Ah, see Watts this is part of the problem, you too excited about shit. I told you before that journals like nature are there to get controversial shit out into the open. Besides they’ve been talking about “junk DNA” regulating the activation of genes of suites of genes for years. This shit is so complicated it will take decades of plodding to figure it out.

    >To a scientist, such moments of enlightenment are what the whole endeavor is all about.
    Nah, for me its about making as accurate a model as possible regardless how the model is made, if the old model was fucked up you replace it and keep it in storage in case the new one doesn’t work either. Then again I am a heartless bastard who has accomplished everything through slow plodding rather than flashes of inspiration.

    >It’s been suggested that reasoned debate didn’t evolve as a truth-seeking strategy at all, but as a means of persuasion and social control. Lofty rhetoric evolved to serve dogma, not rationality: the things we call empiricism and logic are just side-effects, and not especially strong ones.

    >Given the endless litany of cognitive glitches that interfere with our thought processes — confirmation bias, sunk-cost fallacies, the Semmelweis reflex to name but a few — it’s hard to argue that we’re in any way optimized for impartial analysis.
    Aren’t these less glitches and more base assumptions that are used for when you have quickly make guesses about shit when you have a dearth of data?

    Sorry to bend your ear but I don’t know if I will even post again for another 9 months since my kid, knocked-up wife, and work consume time and I only even bother to use the internet if I have nothing to do at all.

    Here is something funny http://pastebin.com/66qntM33. I made that back in 2007 when I was an undergradutate. And I found it tonight, apparently it has be circulating for 5 years. Just thought you might find it interesting even if it is a little over-enthusiastic. These days I am convinced we’d have to send humans after any Von Neumann devices to manage them in order to get them to work right.

  64. Oops just realized that I fucked up something when I copied and pasted to the input field and lost a paragraph.
    >America’s fundamentalist beliefs were not arrived at through reason.
    Watt’s you yourself …blah blah…never even bothered to fuck anybody but my wife because I see it as a waste of time, [ am making fairly objective assessments based on a subjective assumption. That assumption being that surviving and propagating has value. Someone like yourself obviously has differing priorities and so even if we both were perfectly empirical and objective in our assessments of what behaviors facilitated our goals those goals are still based wholly on subjective determinations of value. You for example value seem to value happiness while I cannot really even understand the concept except at and intellectual level. While I focus purely on adopting whatever behaviors or social structures seem to best facilitate my goals, which you as I recall found to be bleak and heartless. This doesn't mean we are wrong or right, but nor should it mean that we fall into the trap of weak moral relativism. People should be biased toward their goals, because goals by definition indicate a bias exists. It's just a smart thing biased toward ones goals if you actually want to achieve them.]

  65. Hi Peter,

    Some data from a recent EU poll: http://www.bpb.de/nachschlagen/lexika/pocket-europa/16710/eurobarometer

    -52 Prozent of those questioned in the 25 EU-states believe in a god
    -27 Prozent view themselves as transcendent, meaning: believing in a spiritual power
    -18 percent do neither
    -3 percent didn’t answer

    While that means that 87 percent are somewhat spiritual it means also that 30 percent are not organized in a church. That is of some importance. I know plenty of well educated people that are not religious in a classical sense but believe in some higher undefined power. They are by and large very much pro science. But that last part is just my personal observation.

  66. I think there’s overlap between 1 and 2. Should be 76-79%, right?

  67. Whoops. 79-82.

  68. Well, by some accounts, you could call my belief system “spiritual”.

    “Spiritual” is sufficiently vague to include a great many things.

    I wonder, could a Wattsian vampire have a belief system that could be called “spiritual” :F ?

  69. Whoever:
    I think there’s overlap between 1 and 2. Should be 76-79%, right?

    As often, the devil is in the details. Oh, here I go with some religious remark to lead off…

    Anyway. If you want your old time religious fundamentalist you need to be category A. That was the meaning. Having some vague notion that a higher force exists is not quite the same thing.

    Now, we might think, oh how bad. So many people are religious. But is that really what gave rise to Peter’s wrath? I think the answer is no. He laments the rise of religious funadamentalism and the war on science. In the US these two go hand in hand.

    To start off, I’m not religious, so I’m not here to defend my faith. But just because someone is somewhat religious does not equalize him with the banner bearing nutjobs on TV. There are a lot of faith types that acutally don’t have a problem with science or even the theory of evolution.

    What it boils down to is tolerance of the other. As far as I can tell, that is less a problem here in Europe than in the US. There is no war on science here. Though we find other reasons to sit on our hands and do nothing about climate change.

    I think the question should be how many religious fanatics are actively trying to impose their values on the rest and what are their resources. If we want a more open and tolerant society, one needs to pick one’s battles.

    To finish, here is some more data (though in german, sorry, but there is always translate ;) )
    Here is a recent article form the NZZ about the rise of atheism in Europe.
    http://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/kopf-und-zahl/gottlosere-welt-1.16507962
    Apparently especially the Tcheck people and the east germans are like that. Though it is a trend all over.

    This europol asked europeans for their values – personal and for europe
    Religion ranks last here. Among the three most important values on a personal level only 7 percent rank it. And only three percen see it as a top european value. High values are for piece (52%) respect for human live (43%) and human rights (41%).
    http://hpd.de/node/1252

    Of course, this data can be read differently. But the picture is not quite as bleak as some embattled atheist might make it out to be.

    Further thoughts?

  70. Well, I kind of can maybe sorta see why US rednecks and ignorami are so viciously upset.

    They used to live – and expect – a much simpler world. A world with imaginary friend, a blatant physical enemy, and deceptively straightforward “old style capitalism” (hence their comical lionization of “markets” as “inherently accurate” be all and end all decision making tools).
    Yet they inhabit a civilization of staggering technological sophistication, with incredibly complex relationships, featuring phenomena that, as far as they are concerned, are pretty much IRL witchcraft (“what do you mean a person from across the globe has obtained my “PII” from a “compromised” “database” and started an offshore company in my name?!”), and their imaginary skyfriend is not returning calls while their beloved markets have grown vastly beyond their (and some might argue, any human being’s ;) ) ability to comprehend, to an outright Lovecraftian degree.

    The down-to-earth salt-of-land types want to get back to living life easymodo (especially apparent in goldfuckers and their obsession with “gold standard money”), and yet no matter what they do, they get tangled up in ballooning complexity, and they can’t help but take Shaw’s “conspiracy against the laity” all too seriously.
    One can’t really blame them – we live in a 21st century civilization, while most of the “republican value voters” (and their non-US brethren) live in a scary world that is, to them, more akin to weird fantasy than anything they used to expect of “reality”.

    P.S.:
    Upon typing this out, I was visited by a funny thought – if this was D&D, and the salt-of-land-guys were commoners, would I have been a multiclass Dread Necromancer/Alienist, given that I am an ITSec person working at a credit organization :D ?

  71. Oh, those ignorant, disgusting subhumans! What are we ever going to do about them? They’re clearly too pathetic to be educated, and we are far too moral to wipe them out (though non-god knows they surely deserve it!), so I guess we’re stuck with them. Ah well, at least they give us something to feel superior to.

  72. Lawful Neutral:
    Oh, those ignorant, disgusting subhumans!What are we ever going to do about them?They’re clearly too pathetic to be educated, and we are far too moral to wipe them out (though non-god knows they surely deserve it!), so I guess we’re stuck with them.Ah well, at least they give us something to feel superior to.

    You know there actually were two early Christian societies not far from each other geographically and one was interested in studying “God’s creation” while the other wrapped itself in superstition. Guess which one wiped the other over the difference and has, perhaps to some extent, lead to what we are discussing.

  73. Whoever, you’ve opened my eyes: not only are these people pathetic and stupid, but they’re dangerous and aggressive as well. Clearly I was wrong. Allowing them to exist while we feel superior is no solution: we must strike first and eliminate them. I can see that this is not the kind of us-versus-them, chimp-mind “thinking” that guides our enemies; it is instead enlightened self interest and high principle.

  74. Just calling it like it is. If you have a solution for fascism that doesn’t involve sitting through more holocausts and allowing us all to (again) pretend we have enlightened ourselves beyond all that (those of us who survive it, that is), I’d love to hear it. I note, however, that those adjectives and your solution are yours, not mine. I don’t even think they are in line with Peter’s.

    What do you do when your power structure succeeds in convincing enough people that what they are doing is not having effects that are going to force-reduce population? When someone else’s freedom to be wrong affects so many other people?

    Actually, I think you’re making a decent argument for neoliberalism and re-education camps. Not really what I had in mind but hitting the reset button isn’t either.

  75. Lawful Neutral:
    Whoever, you’ve opened my eyes: not only are these people pathetic and stupid, but they’re dangerous and aggressive as well.Clearly I was wrong.Allowing them to exist while we feel superior is no solution: we must strike first and eliminate them.I can see that this is not the kind of us-versus-them, chimp-mind “thinking” that guides our enemies; it is instead enlightened self interest and high principle.

    I am quite confident that over mid and long term, the danger “salt of earth” types pose is a danger, primarily, to themselves.

    Take for instance Randroids, as perhaps one of the most annoying type of “salt-of-earthers” (some might argue they are among the most dangerous as well, given that unlike other similar ignorami and retrogrades they have an unusual number of formally well-educated people among their ranks and given that unlike many other “commoners ;) ” the “simpler world” they crave had actually existed at a certain point in the past, but I would kindly disagree with such assessment)
    While over short term Randian nimrods can do much damage (to a whole country, in most outstanding cases), in the long term their ridiculous stillborn philosophy, their dumb market-worship and the massive ideological blinders virtually guarantee they will shoot themselves in the foot one way or another

  76. 01: I am quite confident that over mid and long term, the danger “salt of earth” types pose is a danger, primarily, to themselves.

    …in the long term their ridiculous stillborn philosophy, their dumb market-worship and the massive ideological blinders virtually guarantee they will shoot themselves in the foot one way or another

    The problem is, it’s OUR foot. What they do, once you’ve moved into the areas of international finance, climate change and ecological disasters affecting food and water supplies, pandemics, etc. is it’s not them sitting in the corner playing by themselves. They are playing with everyone’s toys.

    And you bring up a great point, it’s not always about education. This is what often complicates and frustrates attempts to discuss these things with broad brushes regarding groups. There are, for example, the William Kristols (social dominator, well-educated, clever) and then there are the Joe the Plumbers (authoritarian who listens to people who are pushing what Kirstol is selling, is not well-educated, not so clever). One is very smart and one is not.

    The underlying point is perhaps how to get Joe to realize that Bill’s bull is not in his best interests, that the “look over there at that ____” (insert any member of the usual groups that Joe has been told is out to do something horrible to Joe, his job, his family, his bible, his guns, his flag, etc.) is a trick designed to prevent Joe from realizing that he is a dupe for Bill and Bill’s wealthy, powerful friends. Even when Joe is vaguely aware of this, he just thinks kissing ass hard enough will “protect him” from, oh, having his retirement fund raided by Wall Street, signing off on a home loan that will result in his losing it, going bankrupt over a family illness and insufficient health insurance, etc.

  77. Lawful Neutral:
    Oh, those ignorant, disgusting subhumans!What are we ever going to do about them?They’re clearly too pathetic to be educated, and we are far too moral to wipe them out (though non-god knows they surely deserve it!), so I guess we’re stuck with them.Ah well, at least they give us something to feel superior to.

    Dude, I get the impression that you may be a little unclear on the concept of “sarcasm”. It’s generally assumed that the person making the sarcastic remark actually believes the opposite of what s/he’s saying — which would imply that you actually don’t feel superior to people who believe in angels, or who don’t know what a year is.

    If that is in fact the case, you’re not just Lawfully Neutral; you’re Cognitively Neutral as well. The good news is, there are vast swaths of the human landscape where you’ll feel completely at home.

    The better news is, this place isn’t one of them.

  78. Whoever: The problem is, it’s OUR foot. What they do, once you’ve moved into the areas of international finance, climate change and ecological disasters affecting food and water supplies, pandemics, etc. is it’s not them sitting in the corner playing by themselves. They are playing with everyone’s toys.

    And you bring up a great point, it’s not always about education. This is what often complicates and frustrates attempts to discuss these things with broad brushes regarding groups. There are, for example, the William Kristols (social dominator, well-educated, clever) and then there are the Joe the Plumbers (authoritarian who listens to people who are pushing what Kirstol is selling, is not well-educated, not so clever). One is very smart and one is not.

    The underlying point is perhaps how to get Joe to realize that Bill’s bull is not in his best interests, that the “look over there at that ____” (insert any member of the usual groups that Joe has been told is out to do something horrible to Joe, his job, his family, his bible, his guns, his flag, etc.) is a trick designed to prevent Joe from realizing that he is a dupe for Bill and Bill’s wealthy, powerful friends. Even when Joe is vaguely aware of this, he just thinks kissing ass hard enough will “protect him” from, oh, having his retirement fund raided by Wall Street, signing off on a home loan that will result in his losing it, going bankrupt over a family illness and insufficient health insurance, etc.

    Oh, they are shooting themselves in the foot allright, it’s just that they are doing it with progressively more powerful weapons, which results in increasing collateral damages (consider this: Koch Industries has no chances to survive economic meltdown that would inevitably happen in the should teabagger nonsense Kochs support ever become implemented in USA’s economic policies ).
    One could say that some of them are about to shoot themselves in the foot with a megaton nuke :)

    Do note that I also distinguish “formally” educated randroids/salt-of-earthers and people who just push for malignant policies to maximize their benefits.

    For instance, Kochs are crazy “formally educated” randroid conservatives who are actually pushing for policies that would gut everything including their precious corporate “mothership” and doom them to oblivion, and despite their education, fit the kind of “rednecks and ignorami” that I described to a T.

    Meanwhile, some oil company executive downplaying environmental risks of company’s operation so it can underfund its remediation budget has nothing to do with “simple-world” folks I mentioned and is an entirely different breed of fish ;), IMHO.

  79. Peter Watts (and we’re still uncertain whether to call him “Doctor”, “Professor”, “Academician” or maybe just Mr Watts or even Peter ;) ) wrote, in-part (and I am answering this without reading the rest of the thread yet):

    [...] A couple of years back I was on trial in the US for asking questions during a border search; that’s a felony in the US, punishable by up to three years in prison. [...]

    Doctor/Professor/Academician/Mr Watts or Peter ( 8-D ) I think we had this discussion, and I did try to get across to you that the real problem here, and it is in fact a problem, is that it’s not so much about you asking questions. It’s more about asking questions that are outside of the training of these ahem persons in uniform.

    Part of it, probably most of it, it that they are in a uniform and carry a weapon. You, the person not in uniform and not carrying a weapon, are expected to make the obligatory obeisances. You, a person from a context where this sort of crap is unencountered or at least really fucking rare of an aberration from form, had no idea that this was the protocol. It’s a bit like someone who knows nothing about cats, and walks up to a strange cat and tries to pick it up. Nothing good can come of this, but it’s hard to say whose fault it is. The cat likely hasn’t any idea to think that people might just come and try to pick it up, and the person who knows nothing about cats has no idea to think that cats can get all scratchy and bitey if someone they don’t know tries to pick them up. All I can say, within this metaphor, is that we thank the Great Sky Fairy that you didn’t run into one of those cats that waits until you get your eyes within range before it went all scratchy and bitey on you.

    Alas, I am a strange creature that can converse only through allegory; clearly nobody will ever wonder if I should be addressed as “doctor” or “professor”. Yet to continue to try to speak via allegory, when the cat scratched you, you flung it, which generally is a bit more of “set me down dammit” than the cat was expecting. Yet after the wretched incident was completed, I seem to recall that the cat came sort of slinking around at dinnertime, and over cocktails might have acted almost as if it wouldn’t mind rubbing up against your ankles if proper protocol were to be observed… after, of course, a certain obligatory bit of time passed, during which you and the cat would cast sulking looks at each other. But cats and people are sort of destined for each other, and I somehow suspect that some of our CBP bolgani are getting enough sensitivity training so as to be quite happy to be questioned by nice Canadian PhDs rather than acting like a strange cat grabbed by someone who doesn’t know any better.

    Perhaps they’ll have some sort of soul-searching epiphany and get their past cases reviewed, ultimately in your favor.

    Now off to get current with the thread…

  80. Lynn wrote, in-part:

    Not excusing the many moronic adults in this country, but there are at least some very bright kids out there still. Not enough mind you, but some.

    My own very weird experience of these, at least locally, is that those very bright kids are more interested in playing very destructive games with those “moronic” adults than they are in academic achievement. Seriously, for them, the academic accomplishments come easy; they’re smart, and the system is fairly easily “worked”. Yet even the “moronic” adults are an intellectual challenge when it comes to playing tricks on them as part of growing up and taking one’s place as a member of the adult world, as becoming known as someone to be dismissed out of hand only at severe personal risk. Could this possibly be one of these roots of anti-intellectualism? Because quite frankly I tire rather quickly of sophomores. No doubt there are people who tire quickly of me, for comparable reasons. Yet I think that both sides of that phenomenon will give insight into why a lot of people who may not be brilliant are leery of those who are. Someone smarter than one’s self is properly considered, on the basis of long experience, as likely to be trying to trick you. I’m not particularly stupid but some really bright people have decided to try to think rings around me, and in those instances where they have succeeded I have resorted to the common means to deal with it, which all of us “moronic” people know: you never give people an opportunity again to think rings around you, and when you see them with their ass hanging out to the wind, you pray as hard as you can for the wind to blow harder.

    That being said: being prejudiced against ideas because they came from people smarter than you, that really is moronic. Being prejudiced against people who are smarter than you because you have been rooked by them every time you discarded that prejudice, well, that just shows that you might be slow, but you’re still capable of learning.

  81. Well at least one Koch policy did get enacted, or rather one limitation put on their shenanigans got removed. (Keeping in mind that I am not an economist) It used to be that oil could not be traded while in transit. That is, it could be traded while in the ground or in barrels and stored but not while on boats in between. That actually has, according to some economists, contributed to the chaos we’ve seen.

    The oil execs are a different breed from who? The Kochtopus? Or their Randian/teabagger followers?

    Because I still see, for example, Islamophobia being stirred up just to rile people into supporting oil wars and don’t see that as being much different than teabaggers convinced they are fighting for some civil liberties apart from the Kochs not having to pay taxes and be responsible for what they do to drinking water.

    Another quasi-off topic phenomenon. Anyone else know people who say that they vehemently don’t want to live in a “socialist” country, don’t want the US to become one and yet are some of the most dependent on social services? I even know one whose favorite motto is “free is good” (as in the price of something). Not clear to me what they think socialist is.

  82. 01: For instance, Kochs are crazy “formally educated” randroid conservatives who are actually pushing for policies that would gut everything including their precious corporate “mothership” and doom them to oblivion, and despite their education, fit the kind of “rednecks and ignorami” that I described to a T.

    Following up on your D&D metaphor, I’d say that Objectivists and teabaggers wouldn’t have been misguided commoners, in D&D they would have been Atropal cultists, worshiping the calamitous, malicious corpse of a stillborn god.

    Whoever: Another quasi-off topic phenomenon. Anyone else know people who say that they vehemently don’t want to live in a “socialist” country, don’t want the US to become one and yet are some of the most dependent on social services? I even know one whose favorite motto is “free is good” (as in the price of something). Not clear to me what they think socialist is.

    Well, I’m inclined to believe it’s a sort of DK effect.
    Those people think they are hardcore enough to triumph in a radical, utterly laissez faire society, hence things interfering with their bright laissez faire future (like wealth redistribution and various forms of social safety nets) are “bad”.
    They do not internalize (refuse to internalize?) the fact that they lack skills necessary to triumph in a “non-socialist” system and that the US’s vestigial social security net is the one thing that keeps them from becoming worm chow.

    In my experience, it seems to correlate with first-second generation inherited wealth or (counterintuitively enough) blue collar background with a “hard working and steady win in life” personal work ethics. I wonder if anyone ever bothered to actually make a statistically sound study of such relationships

  83. There is nothing funnier than a bunch of smart educated people patting each other on the back about how clever they are.

    Unless it’s the group credo that because we’re brainy, we always know best.

    Well, actually, the second part is kind of scary. So funny and scary at the same time.

    *ducks tomatoes*

  84. Hljóðlegur: There is nothing funnier than a bunch of smart educated people patting each other on the back about how clever they are.

    Unless it’s someone so scared shitless of being called “elitist” that she puts herself on a par with people who think the world is 6,000 years old.

    One more time: I know what a fucking year is. If you really think that knowledge doesn’t make a difference, the Tea Party is always recruiting.

  85. Hljóðlegur:
    There is nothing funnier than a bunch of smart educated people patting each other on the back about how clever they are.

    Unless it’s the group credo that because we’re brainy, we always know best.

    Well, actually, the second part is kind of scary.So funny and scary at the same time.

    That pretty much sums it all up. And I think you have the credo down as well. “Look how clever we are” is what I think some of our crazier social dominator types spend their time “proving.”

    The thing is, like the Koch’s, it’s all about enriching themselves and therefore their definition of “what’s best” is different from most everyone else’s. It never fails to amaze me how, just listening to Ron Paul’s freedom rhetoric you would think he’d, for example, support gay marriage. And he got a lot of positive reactions from progressives because of that. But those words don’t mean the same thing to him and the tea party that it does to the liberals. It’s much the same with the rest of the spectrum, people read into it that the high taxes are coming their way when what the complainers mean is the uberwealthy and large corporations (for whom the government serves in a very big way) and not–here it is again–Joe the Plumber. Bill Maher once suggested maybe they think, ironically from watching TV, that any day now they’ll win the lottery and suddenly be in a position to worry about the top tax brackets.

  86. Whoever: Bill Maher once suggested maybe they think, ironically from watching TV, that any day now they’ll win the lottery and suddenly be in a position to worry about the top tax brackets.

    Yeah, I have always found it puzzling how the little people are worried about the fabulously weathly being over-taxed. Maybe it feels better to identify yourself with the rich and powerful? I have only met a few of the crazy-rich, only one have I known personally, and Fitzgerald is right – the rich are different.

    I think the ugly obverse of America’s lack of formal royalty and caste system is that money makes you royal. Get a bunch, and people start deferring to you, your opinions are suddenly more correct, you’re funnier, smarter, more attractive. I think money messes with people’s heads, especially if they tend to discount luck, and believe that everything that happens to them is under their control.

    Man, it must be galling to be the Koch Brothers and not be able to just tell the government what to do, after all – they proved they are better people by virtue of their wealth, didn’t they?

  87. Whoever: The oil execs are a different breed from who? The Kochtopus? Or their Randian/teabagger followers?

    Well, the combination of both.

    Many of the positions Kochtopuses infused into teabag rhetoric are smart in a self-serving (that is, Kochtopus serving) way, but according to the kind analysts my employer keeps around, larger implications of many of the economic policies radical right supports and political maneuvers those people perform could bode poorly for many of Koch Industries assets (not to mention that a large scale economic meltdown that Republicans were at the verge of triggering during the infamous debt standoff)

    One could say that having a lobbying machine of extreme scale and a very poorly controlled “ideology” of its own has effectively promoted Kochtopus to the level of their (and their adviser’s and analyst team’s) incompetence. Which is a common phenomenon in management.

    The self-destructively stupid thing to do right now is to keep fueling this trainwreck, which is exactly what Koch seem to be doing (come to think of it, given how vast Koch Industries is and how immense Koch fortune is, involving yourself in politics to such a degree rubs against the “Holy Principle of Economic Rationality”, since, well, from a purely profit-driven perspective, for an incumbent player like KI it would be more lucrative to spend money adapting to Unholy Socialist Policies and making sure that competition is suppressed even more than to fight the current POTUS red in tooth and claw. Which means that Kochtopus isn’t just reprehensible – they are also economically irrational, and they are being irrational in more than one way)

    03: Well, I’m inclined to believe it’s a sort of DK effect.
    Those people think they are hardcore enough to triumph in a radical, utterly laissez faire society, hence things interfering with their bright laissez faire future (like wealth redistribution and various forms of social safety nets) are “bad”.
    They do not internalize (refuse to internalize?) the fact that they lack skills necessary to triumph in a “non-socialist” system and that the US’s vestigial social security net is the one thing that keeps them from becoming worm chow.

    I’d say it’s just Randroids following the Transcendent Objectivist Teachings of Rand to a T.

    Don’t forget that Rand opposed medical support and wellfare during most of her physical existence, but when her paycheck as Objectivist Queen turned out insufficient to pay for cutting a fan most loyal that she brought up through years of smoking (which she made mandatory to stay in her little worshiper clique… oh the irony :) ) she quickly latched onto society’s plump Medicare jugular.

    Which, by all accounts, turned Rand into an Objectivist Leech Queen (an almost D&D-esque villain career path, if you ask me.)

    So the people who hate medicare but want it to pay for their precious penis pumps are just sticking to their faith’s founding principles ;)

    03: Following up on your D&D metaphor, I’d say that Objectivists and teabaggers wouldn’t have been misguided commoners, in D&D they would have been Atropal cultists, worshiping the calamitous, malicious corpse of a stillborn god.

    Well, given that Objectivism is, essentially, a stillborn philosophy that somehow refuses to leave public discourse, yes, Atropal makes for remarkably apt metaphor.

    Hljóðlegur:

    Unless it’s the group credo that because we’re brainy, we always know best.

    Well, I did mention that being formally educated does not prevent one from joining the ranks of “simple-worlders”, conservatives, and other de-facto ignorami, didn’t I :D ?

    As to brainy ones knowing best, functional definition of being comparatively smarter boils down to knowing better than the ones you are being compared to :p

    Oh, and I have to admit that yes, I do think that people who do not support a massive number of reprehensibly counterfactual and ridiculously baseless views (ranging from “trickle-down economics works” to “women who walk around in revealing clothes are provoking rapists” to “lumps of cells with no brain are somehow people” to “Muslims are going to take over West by militarized breeding” to “a silly picture of a mythical person is worth killing a human being for” to “men have a rape brain-module” to “ridiculously idealized heterosexual family is vital to US society and is somehow “threatened” by gay marriage” to “Earth is 6000 years old” to “an invisible sky monster is judgmentally observing my personal life” to “women are inferior as decision makers and “hard” scientists due to neurological reasons” the list could go on and on and on but I am tired of typing already) do deserve a pat on the back.

    They deserve a pat on the back because they do not support views that are either demonstrably wrong or preposterously unprovable while being outright deleterious to themselves and others.

    They deserve a pat on the back because they aren’t stuck in some ridiculous Lovecraft County.

    P.S.:
    the spam filter keeps discriminatin’ against me :(

  88. Hljóðlegur: Man, it must be galling to be the Koch Brothers and not be able to just tell the government what to do, after all –they proved they are better people by virtue of their wealth, didn’t they?

    I’m not sure that they don’t. One thing those cheap bastards * don’t mind spending money on is lobbyists.

    * Article talked about how one of them ran out of gas on a reservation and stole $5 worth of gasoline from a poor native farmer. That’s the mindset: it’s not about ‘freedom’, it’s about larceny.

  89. Whoever: * Article talked about how one of them ran out of gas on a reservation and stole $5 worth of gasoline from a poor native farmer.

    So, yeah – I’m gonna put my head down on the desk for a minute and cry very quietly? Just for a minute here, okay?

  90. Peter Watts: Unless it’s someone so scared shitless of being called “elitist” that she puts herself on a par with people who think the world is 6,000 years old. One more time: I know what a fucking year is. If you really think that knowledge doesn’t make a difference, the Tea Party is always recruiting.

    What, you want me to wear elitism proudly on my sleeve? In order to do that, I’d have to believe unambiguously in my own natural superiority, and the idea is hilarious, once you step back and look at it. Pfft. Please.

    And insult me all you want, but it’s still funny. If it stings less, I include myself in the group of smart/educated people patting myself on the back about how clever I am. My first instinct is always that I know better and if you’d all just do as I suggest, everything would be fine; only …. experience keeps repeatedly (paaaainfully) instructing me that often-as-not, I don’t know my ass from my elbow.

    Who could be exempt from the self-foolery wherein we confuse brains or knowledge in one area with skill or competence in another? If the Koch bros think they deserve to be running things because wealth = leadership skills, they are definitely in the group. It’s scarier because they have the power to make their self-congratulatory and iffy social machinations come true, but I can see a nation led by citizens selected for their IQ getting into equal – if different! – types of hot water than the current group of decision-makers.

    It’s great to know why the year has 365 days, it really is, but you can be a brilliant leader of men, the best president or PM ever, and not be a brain. Leadership doesn’t rely on brains or specific scientific knowledge. I don’t think astronomy info is a good litmus test for public policy or governance prowess.

  91. Still trying to get up to speed, I have to thank Peter Watts for pointing out:

    One more time: I know what a fucking year is. If you really think that knowledge doesn’t make a difference, the Tea Party is always recruiting.

    Peter, thanks for making the distinction by using the word “knowledge”. Honestly, I’ve seen so very many people who were really quite “smart” or “brainy” or even “crafty” get themselves into quite the predicament, or otherwise paint themselves into a corner, so-to-speak. I think the English would say “too clever by half”.

    But look, religious devotion — even to the point of mania or even florid psychosis — and intelligence or educability or even genius are not mutually exclusive. See also Isaac Newton’s treatises published between his treatises on gravity and the calculus, if I correctly recall the sequence. He went all batshit crazy for several years, at least as can be judged by his devotional publications. Then again, he might simply have recalled what happened to Galileo and thought he’d seed the waters with enough chaff that his actual grains might be thought, by the authorities, to be the aberration in his publishing history.

    My point being, of course, that if you bother to pay attention to the philosophical discourse of the religious intelligentsia, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that once the intelligent mind has accepted false premisses, it’s capable of producing astonishing volumes of consequents to the original bad data.

    Sorry for the digression.

    @ Hljóðlegur who wrote, in-part:

    It’s great to know why the year has 365 days, it really is, but you can be a brilliant leader of men, the best president or PM ever, and not be a brain. Leadership doesn’t rely on brains or specific scientific knowledge. I don’t think astronomy info is a good litmus test for public policy or governance prowess.

    It truly does not. I happen to be quite convinced that the year has 365.25~ days and that the Moon orbits the homeworld roughly every 28 days. I try my best to think clearly and slowly as leaping ahead without examining data or logic resourced as summary has been one of my major betes-noir. I think I am a thoughtful generalist but hardly anyone’s idea of a shining star of intellectual brilliance. But “I know stuff”.

    Nobody is likely to flock behind me as I lead them into a better day, I know it and everyone else evidently knew it better and before I came to realize it. I don’t have that particular species of intelligence that comes across as leadership. Yet I do think we should all be very concerned that some people are simply brilliant in social skills and occasionally also have real problem-solving leadership talent. We should rightly insist that they have a fairly firm grasp on the basics of reality if not of actual scientific method. If they have the grasp on reality, they can likely be taught scientific method, if it actually matters in the madhouse maneuvering that is modern politics.

    Honestly, though, I think we should be scouring the universities looking for people who have good social skills, leadership problem-solving skills, and a good grasp on reality. And while we’re at it, let’s look for a generally uncorruptable personality. Oh, and free money that falls out of the sky would be nice, as long as we’re wishing for the incredibly unlikely and preciously rare.

  92. @Peter Watts, who remarked, in-part: . [...] I have never encountered anything but decency and professionalism at any of these places; only the US seems to revel in the casual, thuggish belligerence that you seem to find so normal. This is more than personal anecdote. [...]

    Peter, with a great deal of apology set out here in front, let me hark back to a recent thread in which we were invited to a game of “guess Dr Watts’s ancestry”.

    With respect, you might easily have been thought to be a Scots-Irish American. While these fine people are usually some decent “sunday go to meeting christians”, they are also the backbone of our military and have been for many years, in part because nobody would ever confuse them for germanic (US v. Germany: long sad story) and also because they are notably fierce and excellent in all of the fine arts of a shitload of kicking some ass, and/or died trying and took out 40 before they got brought down. Probably 90 percent of White American cops have extreme attitude against such persons, especially if they themselves come from such stock. Generally the response is to grossly over-react and I think that might have been what happened to you. Discrimination against “poor white trash” is the last acceptable racism here in the States and it’s harder to root out than any other kind when it’s one kind of redneck hating on another kind of redneck. See also someone’s remarks about rednecks being more likely to lynch an educated black man than an uneducated one. I could be way off base here, as I don’t recall you ever mentioning the name of the officer nor indicating their ethnicity. It’s also possible that if the officer in question was black, they may have “took you for a cracker” in which case that there might be the best basis for any appeal.

    @01, @whoever, the “randroid subthread”:

    Oh, they are shooting themselves in the foot allright, it’s just that they are doing it with progressively more powerful weapons, which results in increasing collateral damages (consider this: Koch Industries has no chances to survive economic meltdown that would inevitably happen in the should teabagger nonsense Kochs support ever become implemented in USA’s economic policies ).
    One could say that some of them are about to shoot themselves in the foot with a megaton nuke :)

    Do note that I also distinguish “formally” educated randroids/salt-of-earthers and people who just push for malignant policies to maximize their benefits.

    Um, you do of course realize that the former Fed Chairman Greenspan was, in his impetuous youth, an actual and avowed Objectivist back when it was an actual political movement under an actual public figure.

    And to answer your ending statement, let me reply with my remark about “Libertarians: a bunch of wolves agitating for the repeal of laws against eating sheep”. The funny thing about the wolves? They’re a lot smarter than the sheep and generally can talk such a raft of polemic and rhetoric that even the sheep become convinced. See also “Tea Party” which started out as a movement by the sheep, but which was quickly hijacked by the wolves, who are really quite good at that sort of thing. The sheep, unfortunately, seem to be most skilled at predictably bleating whatever the wolves tell them to bleat.

    Re: the Kochs, et al, seemingly-inexplicably pressing for measures that are guaranteed to melt down the economy and thus melt down their own operations and holdings? Well, it might seem counter-productive until you recognize that perhaps they are trying to “immanentize the eschaton“. Not so much in the theological sense, but in a political sense. If they collapse the current system, while they are flush with money and have provisioned their fortress estates, it doesn’t matter if all of their money is valueless, they have stockpiles of things that do matter such as firearms, ammo, and defensible space containing lots of edibles and medical supplies. Oh, you did use a phrase amounting to self-serving, didn’t you. So maybe I am preaching to the choir. And off my meds. ;)

  93. Hljóðlegur: Who could be exempt from the self-foolery wherein we confuse brains or knowledge in one area with skill or competence in another?

    Someone who knows and *understands* DK ?

    Recent studies suggest that people can be trained to improve their capacity for accurate skill self-assessment :)

    Hljóðlegur: It’s great to know why the year has 365 days, it really is, but you can be a brilliant leader of men, the best president or PM ever, and not be a brain.

    I think here we disagree.

    Maybe in a simpler, “leave it to beaver” reality where women are in the kitchen and entire body of medical knowledge can be contained in a single library, where learning all there is to know about car maintenance could be accomplished on your own (and would ensure stable, if not particularly lucrative, employment), you maybe sort of kind of could become a functional leader without a sizable education and considerable amounts of that elusive “general intelligence” stuff.
    But those times are gone (some would argue, never were).
    World is complex.
    And while you can still take over through sheer “charisma”, without considerable education and “intelligence” you can’t make high quality decisions, can’t pick the “right” advisers, and become, essentially a managerial loose canon.
    Loose canons tend to destroy themselves and anyone foolish to be in general vicinity.

    But my point wasn’t about people with low “general intelligence”, dangerous as they may be in leadership roles.

    My point was about people who are enamored with a certain reprehensible “meme” while harboring beliefs that are either provably wrong or preposterously unprovable.

    I’m not concerned about people not knowing what astronomic processes bring about the thing we call a “year”. In fact, I believe that many intelligent and well educated (in a good sense ;) ) people might not retain such information simply because Earth is unlikely to run anybody over during its yearly rotations (and even if it does, the victim likely won’t sue ;) ) so the astronomical intimacies of planet’s existence are simply outside their “attention field”.

    I’m concerned about people not knowing shit (or having outright counterfactual beliefs) while nonetheless trying to claim expertise and spread their ignorance.

    Hljóðlegur: , yeah – I’m gonna put my head down on the desk for a minute and cry very quietly? Just for a minute here, okay?

    #creepy
    Mind if I watch ?
    #/creepy

  94. 01: I’d say it’s just Randroids following the Transcendent Objectivist Teachings of Rand to a T.

    Don’t forget that Rand opposed medical support and wellfare during most of her physical existence, but when her paycheck as Objectivist Queen turned out insufficient to pay for cutting a fan most loyal that she brought up through years of smoking (which she made mandatory to stay in her little worshiper clique… oh the irony :) ) she quickly latched onto society’s plump Medicare jugular.

    The fuck 0_0 No really. I didn’t know that.
    I think you have a point with Randroids being (de-facto) parasites.

    Still, I maintain that some DK is at play in cases when people adamantly refuse to realize that their chances of becoming rich are astronomically thin, and thus supporting various laws that favor rich is outrageously against their own enlightened self-interest.

    Hljóðlegur: If the Koch bros think they deserve to be running things because wealth = leadership skills, they are definitely in the group.

    I do not think their reasoning is that contrived.

    I think (based on some personal stories Kochs tell in some articles, like the apple-story, and stories others tell about them) that the Koch duo are far more… elegant in their thought process – unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

    Kochs seek to rule because they, physically, can.

    They don’t need any justification at all (whether it’s based on money, morality, self-percieved competence, divine mandate or anything else), they seek power simply because they have “all the necessary parts” for seeking more power, and question of “am I really qualified to rule X” never ever touches upon the decision making process of theirs. It’s a very elegant way of looking at the world, very efficient.
    And due to Iron Law of Institutions, they will gladly burn the country down if that’s what it takes to get a chance of further increasing their power.

  95. My snide, sarcastic, low-value comments have drawn a response from the master of the house! Honestly, no sarcasm this time, I am a little abashed that you noticed and took the time to show me the door, Mr. Watts. At the bigger blogs I frequent, mighty Pharaoh usually leaves the hangers-on to squabble amongst themselves in the comments. By the way, I’m a huge fan. Anyway, I suppose that’s enough vile sycophancy for one day.

    You’ve got me: I don’t believe in angels. I do find the belief ridiculous, and cateris parebis, I suppose I do consider myself superior to someone who does believe in angels. That said, I know plenty of people who do believe who are smarter, more moral, and more capable than I am, and I surely don’t consider myself superior to them. Moreover, belief in angels as I have encountered it is irrelevant to these people’s lives and behavior, much like the definition of a year, as 01 said above.

    They don’t talk to angels, they certainly don’t hear messages from them, and they think anyone who does is crazy, just as you or I would. Maybe they credit angels with saving them from a life-threatening danger, but they don’t carelessly put themselves in peril, confident that angels will watch over them. It’s really a thousand times less damaging then say, homeopathy, for example, which brings me to my second point.

    I notice that a lot of your examples (angels, god, climate change, evolution) paint Progressives as the champions of science and reason, and their opponents as backward, dishonorable, and ineducable. Now maybe this is simply the truth, but there is a reason the Nixon Diamond from formal logic is a poorly chosen example (http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/). When I look at this talk, I see US getting ourselves worked up about how bad, foolish, and dangerous THEY are, and how great WE are. That’s perfectly common and reasonable human behavior, but it rubbed me the wrong way. You chose a title for this post from a parable which teaches that believing that you have achieved enlightenment is a bad sign for your actual level of enlightenment; maybe your subconscious was trying to tell you something.

    Lastly, regarding the “Doctor” title: it’s obvious to the average N’American that the “Doctors” see him with contempt, and the natural response to contempt, justified or not, is resentment. You yourself are proud of that contempt. Telling the public they must listen to you because of your superior intellect and education, then telling them they can never understand science, and shouldn’t even try because they’ll just misuse it to support their delusions, is not going to improve the situation at all. It’ll probably feel pretty damn good, though.

  96. In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” –Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum.

    The main thing about what a year is, is that these people who don’t know were undoubtedly exposed to that information at some point in their eduction. It’s the non-curious, filing it away because it’s not important, attitude that is the problem. If they don’t recall something as simple as that, how can they possibly be expected to understand, the example so many people like to use apparently misattributed to Einstein, that disappearing honey bees is connected to their survival? (Note: I don’t actually think honey bees are disappearing…it’s just a decent example of reckless behavior slitting one’s own throat. Food chain was also the thing that made an Objectivist, my first encounter with one actually, take a second look at the Randian “Who cares about endangered species” mantra.)

    As for the religious problem, as defined by me as social dominators using it and other things to “trick” their forgetful or poorly educated followers into agreeing with handing over all their money to the same, the problem should be addressed by the “smart” believers. These people will never listen to atheists, gays, minorities, etc. Such criticism, to be effective, must come from within. If you are religious, American, white and a Watts fan, I’m talking to you.

  97. 03: The fuck 0_0 No really. I didn’t know that.
    I think you have a point with Randroids being (de-facto) parasites.

    Third, remind me to show you my “rand links collection”.
    I barely recall why I have it, but it’s a rather thorough investigation into sources documenting exactly how vile and noxious that woman was.

    Mr Non-Entity: Um, you do of course realize that the former Fed Chairman Greenspan was, in his impetuous youth, an actual and avowed Objectivist back when it was an actual political movement under an actual public figure.

    Of course.
    In the end, it didn’t play out too well for his precious legacy and ideology he so cherished, did it ? :D .

    Mr Non-Entity: Re: the Kochs, et al, seemingly-inexplicably pressing for measures that are guaranteed to melt down the economy and thus melt down their own operations and holdings? Well, it might seem counter-productive until you recognize that perhaps they are trying to “immanentize the eschaton“. Not so much in the theological sense, but in a political sense. If they collapse the current system, while they are flush with money and have provisioned their fortress estates, it doesn’t matter if all of their money is valueless, they have stockpiles of things that do matter such as firearms, ammo, and defensible space containing lots of edibles and medical supplies

    Well, anyone smart enough to hatch such a plan would also be smart enough to realize that there are numerous agents that, by nature of their modus operandi, will be better armed and trained (and likely more numerous) than any rent-a-grunt PMC structure they might arrange for, and with the “state” all but gone and monetary assets completely devalued, there’s nothing keeping such agents from, well, taking over the hard way.

    In fact, I’d say that with monetary stimuli becoming defunct, there’s nothing the rich could offer their own security forces to ensure their loyalty (and thus no way to ensure their own security forces won’t spill their precious red moisture to take the “pweety bunker on the hill” for themselves).

    As long as there are no fully-autonomous, self-repairing war robots to replace State’s law enforcement competencies, the rich remain in dire need to keep the State secure and at the very least strong enough to ensure the viability of some currency (so that the rich can at the very least buy physical security for themselves).

    Now, if Kochs were investing in experimental unmanned combat systems, I would have been more concerned ;)

    Lawful Neutral: They don’t talk to angels, they certainly don’t hear messages from them, and they think anyone who does is crazy, just as you or I would. Maybe they credit angels with saving them from a life-threatening danger, but they don’t carelessly put themselves in peril, confident that angels will watch over them.

    I vaguely suspect that there might be a notable difference between the definitions of “angels” being used in poll and one being used by people you mention.

    Lawful Neutral: I notice that a lot of your examples (angels, god, climate change, evolution) paint Progressives as the champions of science and reason, and their opponents as backward, dishonorable, and ineducable.

    Well, conservatism is “backwards” pretty much by definition, and proudly so.

    No way of somehow rhetorically disguising the simple fact that conservatism is a branch of philosophical and political thought based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change (thanks, uncle Webster), that is, a philosophy seeking to retard development.

    I am all for being polite, but this is case of just calling a spade a spade.

    Now, it just so happens that conservatives (both economic and social) are rarely supported by scientific evidence (ref: negative effects of pornography – or rather lack thereof, negative effects of gay marriage – or rather lack thereof, their various debacles regarding “evolutionary adaptations of female and male brain”, the bailout debacle, the effects of social safety net on economy and productivity, various absurd clusterfucks dealing with genetics of intelligence, the “deregulation” arguments and so long so forth… hell, it would probably be much more efficient to list the cases when conservatives – even the least crazy, mostly palatable fiscal-only conservatives – had solid research backing their claims) which may or may not be related to their aversion to progress.
    And, given that science has an obvious progressive bias, they tend to distort, misrepresent, or outright fake science (as exquisitely demonstrated by “creation science”, the kind gentlebeings who devoted their entire careers to the insurmountable task of somehow bending science into supporting sexual prohibitionism, gender discrimination, and “sexual re-orientation”, and the comparatively cute Austrian “school” economists), or claim that scientists are “lieberals” conspiring against them (as practiced by anti-AGW and anti-vaccine crowd).

    Now, I’m all for avoiding offensive labels, but severe lack of evidential support of one’s views, general disregard towards rigor and integrity in collecting evidence, a tendency for engaging in conspiratorial thinking and even forgery and distortion kind of suggest that the person or group of people with such a feature or a combination thereof are not very honest (and let’s not even go into “Objectivist honor” as so finely exemplified by Ayn “Medicare is bad unless it’s paying for my surgery, in which case it is kinda okay” Rand).

    Now, calling conservatives ineducable might be a bit extreme. I’m pretty sure you can teach them tricks, or something ;)

    Lawful Neutral: http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller

    MUST.
    RESIST.
    RANTING.
    ABOUT.
    HOW.
    MUCH.
    EVOPSYCH.
    SUCKS.

  98. @Whoever, writing in-part: As for the religious problem, as defined by me as social dominators using it and other things to “trick” their forgetful or poorly educated followers into agreeing with handing over all their money to the same, the problem should be addressed by the “smart” believers. These people will never listen to atheists, gays, minorities, etc. Such criticism, to be effective, must come from within. If you are religious, American, white and a Watts fan, I’m talking to you.

    Anecdotally, this is to some large degree being done, or at least has been done in the past, in my experience. Not being a believer back then, and not even a churchgoer these days, time may have changed and Your Mileage May Vary.

    Back in the day when the Hippies held sway, my pastor was something of a scandal to the traditional Presbyterian establishment, as he was doing the whole “Liberation Theology” thing, including such memorably stunts as using overhead projectors to show us the lyrics to “Loves Me Like A Rock” by Paul Simon, and then basing a sermon on it. He played guitar, etc etc. I slept through most of it. Had he been a hellfire-and-damnation Baptist I doubt I’d have slept through it. Could it be that faith is due to sleep deprivation and effective hypnogogia? ;)

    Yet this was in the Civil Rights era, lots of turmoil from the King Assassination to Women’s Liberation. In our church at least, we were definitely trying to “engage” the minorities, etc., which in our day and age and place mostly meant the black folks. A lot of progress was made, we thought… for example my mom was deeply active for about 40 years in “Women in Presbytery”, which promoted more leadership in the church. When she started, there were maybe 3 women clergy in the synod, and now this region’s clergy are majority female. She also spent years working directly for the synod helping basement churches of mostly Koreans to get their own church buildings, etc.

    Now, I might be far from a good and faithful Presby and I never really did buy into all of that Calvinism about “the Elect”. At times I have subscribed to the theory that for mom it was more about exercising her exceptional talents for organizing systems and then controlling them largely through building the consensus she wanted to make things go her way. But what was it, really, that drove her to spend years and years trying to open up the traditional bastions of a bunch of stuffy Scots and Scots-Irish to be not merely inclusive but to seek active outreach ongoing in the long-term? I don’t have a ready answer to that. I can’t ascribe it to her being one of those on-your-knees-all-day-every-day bible-thumping mental cases, and indeed she was about exactly the opposite of that. But whatever it was, if you can find that and spread it around a lot, I think a lot of the world’s problems might just go away, or at least be far less prevalent.

    Sorry to once again communicate in allegory and metaphor, but my summary point would be that what you’re asking for, it’s being done… just not everywhere, and perhaps not as pervasively or successfully as we might hope. And there are, of course, counteracting forces which seem to be making more headway with exclusionary militant fundamentalism. An interesting contest, to say the least.

  99. Wow, it seems that WordPress on this blog now allows “blockquote” tags? Awesome. But I don’t want to get too playful and make a horrendous botch. So I’ll still do it the old-school way.

    @ 01, quoting me somewhat:


    Mr Non-Entity: Re: the Kochs, et al, seemingly-inexplicably pressing for measures that are guaranteed to melt down the economy and thus melt down their own operations and holdings? Well, it might seem counter-productive until you recognize that perhaps they are trying to “immanentize the eschaton“. Not so much in the theological sense, but in a political sense. If they collapse the current system, while they are flush with money and have provisioned their fortress estates, it doesn’t matter if all of their money is valueless, they have stockpiles of things that do matter such as firearms, ammo, and defensible space containing lots of edibles and medical supplies

    [01] Well, anyone smart enough to hatch such a plan would also be smart enough to realize that there are numerous agents that, by nature of their modus operandi, will be better armed and trained (and likely more numerous) than any rent-a-grunt PMC structure they might arrange for, and with the “state” all but gone and monetary assets completely devalued, there’s nothing keeping such agents from, well, taking over the hard way.

    In fact, I’d say that with monetary stimuli becoming defunct, there’s nothing the rich could offer their own security forces to ensure their loyalty (and thus no way to ensure their own security forces won’t spill their precious red moisture to take the “pweety bunker on the hill” for themselves).

    Ah, but didn’t this discussion originally involve “faith” or “belief systems” etc etc? I’d love to take one side, in which you are pretending to overlook this quite possible motivator going far beyond what even money/medium-of-exchange could do to to motivate, to set up a later argument; or I could take another side, in which you simply overlooked it because it was late in the day and you were short of coffee. But this is me trying to understand how you think, which by all accounts would be something close to futile. ;)

    Look, let’s say that it’s not necessarily the Kochs, but some other wealthy types promoting policies sure to imminentize the eschaton. Only they’re not imminentizing the eschaton in a mere economic or political sense, they’re doing the very best they can to lay the groundwork in the mundane reality for the theological course of events to unfold. Okay, let’s say that there’s no Great Sky Fairy, we don’t get to see Hilary Clinton riding on the back of Behemoth coming along behind the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (Or maybe we do.) The trumpets don’t sound and the vials are not poured forth (or are they?) but the world sure goes to heck in a handcart and with all of the noise and vigor of an orphanage being thrown under a fleet of buses. For the vast majority of folks, hell arrives and life stops. Those who are both rich and have flocks of the homicidal faithful, they are the ones who inherit the earth because they’re not just in the class of people crazy enough to survive the catastrophe, they’re the class of people who precipitated the catastrophe and they know just what to expect. And furthermore, even those people who aren’t in on the big plot, but who share the same radical fundamentalist interpretation, such non-affiliated people all still know what to expect as the movie plays on, because they read the book. Furthermore, for those such who were less than perfectly dedicated to the cause or to the faith, they will see this as prophecy unfolding around them, and they will get with the program. Those same folks who launched this armageddon will be ready to play spin-doctor in every possible way that the program might be expected to move and get out of hand, to bring the faithful back to guard the gates here on earth so that they may enter the pearly gates in the hereafter, etc etc etc.

    Seriously, you might be over-estimating the motivation of money and the lack of motivation when it’s worthless, and under-estimating the motivation of faith (however twisted to start with, or after “handling” by the illuminati) as a means to get people to do all sorts of things that no amount of money could compel them to do. See also the history of the initial expansion of Islam, etc etc. IIRC it seems to me that SF is full of that sort of horror story.

  100. @01 and @Mr Non-Entity:

    There is a website devoted to telling you who lobbied for whom on what issue. I don’t happen to recall the website at the moment, but you should take a look at the Koch’s list. Often, there is a specific bill involved. Then you run across, as I recall, the generic “Defense.” No bill. No indication as to what it means.

    Additionally, the Kochs allegedly did business with Iran in recent, post-9/11 years. Very illegal. No investigation. No repercussions (and why would there be? Cheney and Halliburton did the same with Iraq in the 90s). See, embargoes merely mean you can charge top dollar, get a premium. IF you are the right sort to get away with it.

    Now, given all that, who do you really think will have the better-trained, -armed mercs at their disposal?

  101. Well, there is of course a possibility (however extravagant and remote one) that Kochtopus is funding autonomous warbots to defend their premises, I’ll give you that :D

    As to mercs, in an environment where monetary system and state are defunct, the rich libertarians won’t have many, if any, mercs at their disposal, because all they could offer is money, and that just became useless due to the apocalypse ;)

  102. “Creation”
    by Gene Wolfe

    1 August, Monday. Had a flash of insight today. Had been mulling over Gott’s (Harvard) notion that the universe contains just one magnetic monopole-because that’s its seed, the same way each raindrop holds just one dust particle. (Means the guys at Berkeley and U. of Houston are wrong about catching them in their balloon over Nebraska, of course.) Why not make one in the accelerator? Because you can’t move anything that heavy; monopoles should be ten billion times (or so) the mass of a hydrogen atom. Flash of insight: To make industrial diamonds, you get the pressure with an explosion. Why not use an electrical discharge? Had some time on the accelerator, tried it. Nothing. Shot electrons at Nothing to see if they were attracted or repelled. Got electrons, a few positrons. Probably equipment glitch.

    2 August, Tuesday. Anomaly in target. Took it out of accelerator, washed it, scrubbed with pumice, etc., still no good. put it under scope. Dark spot of water and cleanser that won’t wipe off. Heavy stuff seems to be settling out.

    3 August, Wednesday. Told Sis, Martha, How’d you like to say, “My brother (husband) the Nobel Laureate?” Martha: “Gene, you’re crazy, heard you talk before, etc.” Sis interested. (What I expected from both, in other words.) Told her about it-found monopole, made microverse, Gott right. Drove to lab. The microverse seems pyramidal. Strange. Tilted it, water flowed as by gravity, leaving some solids dry. Gravity interuniversal. Wanted to phone John Cramer about it, but he’s off Gastprofessoring in West Berlin. Had to lecture, didn’t get much done.

    4 August, Thursday. Rigged up light in lab so I can switch it on to study microverse. It’s no longer pyramidal, cubical now and bigger. Which only means it’s gone from four angles to eight. No doubt it’ll continue until it approximates a sphere, if I let it. Funny to think how I’ve written about this odd particle or that (like the monopole) existing “in some strange corner of the universe,” without guessing it might be true. (Special properties at corners?) Anyway, it seems no matter how big it gets, it takes up no “Room,” not being in our universe at all. When I measure the target with calipers, it’s the right size still. But ruler enters the microverse and loses a little length, making it appear the target has grown. (N.B. Remember to write on concept of “Room” for Physical Review C.)

    5 August, Friday. Introduced cellular material (scrapings) from the apple Sis put in my lunch. Astounding results. Green matter spread over all inorganic stuff above water. (That’s been growing itself, I think; it seems to be expanding with the microverse, though not as fast.) Went over to Biology and bummed tissue samples from rabbits, mice, and so forth, and put them in. Nothing-they seem to have died.

    6 August, Saturday. It seems I was wrong about the animal tissue. Today I saw a couple of little things darting around and one or two swimming. They seem large for microorganisms; wanted to catch some and bring them back, but they were too fast for me. What’s more surprising, the vegetable matter has turned itself into club moss, or something of the kind. With my good glass, I can even see spore pods hanging from the branches. Fascinating! Wanted to do the animal tissue thing again, but had tossed out the cultures. Scraped my wrist and put the scrapings in. They grew too. Caught the little critter before he got too lively and scraped him. Put him back. Soon running around as good as ever, and the tissue I had taken from him became another, much the same.

    7 August, Sunday. Decided not to go to the campus today though I knew it would mean (as it did) Martha would nag me about church. Slept late, watched baseball on TV. Got to talking about the microverse with Sis, and she wanted to tell the “people” about us. Silly, but she was so fired up I couldn’t refuse to help her. She made little drawings on a sheet of paper so it could be folded to make a booklet, beginning with the arc discharge and ending with me watching the Yankees drop one to the Angels. We went over to the campus and reduced it half a dozen times on the good copier, and she folded it up. Maybe I shouldn’t say it here, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt prouder in my life than when I showed her the microverse-she was that thrilled. (She’s already talking about putting in a few cells of her own.) But when I used the glass myself, why horrors! The critters were eating the spore pods or whatever they are. I want to have a better look at those, so I began casting about for a way of scaring them off. There was a fruit fly circling the apple core in my wastebasket, and I caught it and put it in. It worked like a charm, and off they scampered. Sis said we ought to title her book, but we couldn’t think of anything appropriate. After a lot of talk, we just wrote our names, “Gene” and “Sis,” on the cover and dropped it in.

    Gene Wolfe © 1983 OMNI Publications Int. Ltd.

  103. You should read the one by Reverend Elation. What was he smoking?

  104. Mr Non-Entity: Ah, but didn’t this discussion originally involve “faith” or “belief systems” etc etc?

    Interestingly enough, there’s very little (pretty much nil) known about Koch Bros’s beliefs beyond their sympathy to all things Randroid (one of the duo even sponsors stem cell research, which doesn’t match typical religious extremist modus operandi)

    The “bring about apocalypse” thing is cliche since approximately forever, and perhaps that’s why you bringing it up is interesting (consider this – fictional mad scientists, fictional mad tycoons, fictional mad communists, fictional mad magicians, fictional demons and mad Randian protagonists ;) are oftentimes all like “burn the world down, now”). Perhaps we, as a species, have a todeswunsh ? ;)

  105. 03: Interestingly enough, there’s very little (pretty much nil) known about Koch Bros’s beliefs beyond their sympathy to all things Randroid (one of the duo even sponsors stem cell research, which doesn’t match typical religious extremist modus operandi)

    Yep. This is why I differentiate between the leadership (social dominators) and followers (authoritarians). They, I assume, follow to some extent their father’s John Birch Society philosophy and that whole Ike-was-a-pinko-commie-cause-he-warned-about-the-M-I-C and all that. Meanwhile they use religion, TV,!-and the web as opiates. You know, “of the masses.” It does look like a self-fulfilling prophecy sometimes.

    And people like these want to live forever, hence the stemcell research.

  106. Mr Non-Entity: Look, let’s say that it’s not necessarily the Kochs, but some other wealthy types promoting policies sure to imminentize the eschaton. Only they’re not imminentizing the eschaton in a mere economic or political sense, they’re doing the very best they can to lay the groundwork in the mundane reality for the theological course of events to unfold.

    Ah, but that would fall under

    01: being irrational in more than one way

    at least as long as we use colloquial definitions of “rational” ;)

    Also, that’s run-of-the-mill cartoon supervillain territory (compare: Albert Wesker’s “upgrade plague / ascendance to godhood” plan. Do note that Wesker at least had a good sense of style, actual superpowers, and wasn’t fat.)

    Mr Non-Entity: Those who are both rich and have flocks of the homicidal faithful, they are the ones who inherit the earth because they’re not just in the class of people crazy enough to survive the catastrophe, they’re the class of people who precipitated the catastrophe and they know just what to expect.

    Methinks that military inherits the earth (or at least the country), since all those tanks, carriers, nukes, and grim men and women in greyish camo won’t vanish magically due to the fact that the system that used to give them orders is defunct.

    And while the resulting junta might have various degrees of religious overtones to it (a great opportunity to declare yourself an angry, fusion-fission-fusion fisted deity, if nothing else), I find it unlikely that gentlegenerals with nukes and whatnot under their armpits would agree to taking orders from a bunch of people whose claim to power boils down to “used to have money” and “has a bunker and a decent-ish PMC”.

    Though to a run-of-the-mill supervillain it might be less apparent due to intricacies of supervillain mindset.

    Mr Non-Entity: Seriously, you might be over-estimating the motivation of money and the lack of motivation when it’s worthless, and under-estimating the motivation of faith (however twisted to start with, or after “handling” by the illuminati) as a means to get people to do all sorts of things that no amount of money could compel them to do.

    No, I just have little faith :) in RL supervillain’s skill at cat herding, and we’re talking scared and borderline insane cats here.

    At best, hypothetical fundamentalist supervillain may hope to end up as a head of one of numerous moderate-to-well armed, notably fanatical militant groups.
    Which might seem like a fun idea until one considers that there would be many armed, militant post-collapse groups, and some of them are bound to be better armed, better trained, and start out with better organization due to being initially designed with things like global nuclear warfare in mind.

    03: Perhaps we, as a species, have a todeswunsh ?

    Well, not sure about species as a whole, but Randroids might indeed have one (they certainly have an eschatological madness streak the size of Mississippi, and propensity for magical thinking that gives occultists and religious fundamentalists a run for their money), after all, they are among the few (sub?)cultures that celebrate “burning the world down” as a good thing :D

  107. [...] about science and rationality being dismissed in the culture at large. SF author Peter Watts made a somewhat inflammatory post about this over on his blog, but it’s a topic that raises its head all the time in my [...]

  108. @ 01, who responded to me with The “bring about apocalypse” thing is cliche since approximately forever, and perhaps that’s why you bringing it up is interesting (consider this – fictional mad scientists, fictional mad tycoons, fictional mad communists, fictional mad magicians, fictional demons and mad Randian protagonists ;) are oftentimes all like “burn the world down, now”). Perhaps we, as a species, have a todeswunsh ? ;)

    Nah, we just really really like James Bond movies.

    The genuinely bizarre thing is that this sort of crap probably actually happens. Sorta. By which I mean, “mad plot by mad scientists foiled again by intrepid spooky bastards but nobody will ever hear about it until they dig up that ‘time-capsule’ in 2097 which they buried back in 1997″.

    And whatever did become of the 2nd-generation “sleeper” agents? Are they sitting around knitting sweaters while waiting for Mr Putin ot decide on whether or not he should re-activate any of them? Nope, I bet they’re infiltrating Fundie churches and fomenting Millennialism, or taking over Atheist Associations and 12-Step programs and turning them into hotbeds of under-age sex gangs of foreign teen ninja vixens on the prowl for corruptible father figures who happen to be cutting-edge researchers in organo-nanotech.

    Crap, plots have to come from somewhere. Why not real life? ;)

    @ Whoever: And people like these want to live forever, hence the stemcell research.

    I cannot remember the title, but that was a classic James Blish novella plot from maybe 1961 or so.

  109. Take a human. Generally a smart one. Remove remorse and a conscience. What’s left generally does look like run-of-the-mill supervillain to the other baselines. There’s often a reason cliches are cliches.

    Your dose of James Bond for the day:

    http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a090601putsshorts#a090601putsshorts

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0381061/

    Except of course in real life there are no consequences (apart from being rewarded).

  110. Mr Non-Entity: @ 01, who responded to me with The “bring about apocalypse” thing is cliche since approximately forever, and perhaps that’s why

    Math fact: 01 != 03
    (though of course there is a certain relationship…connecting us :) )

    Mr Non-Entity: The genuinely bizarre thing is that this sort of crap probably actually happens. Sorta. By which I mean, “mad plot by mad scientists foiled again by intrepid spooky bastards but nobody will ever hear about it until they dig up that ‘time-capsule’ in 2097 which they buried back in 1997″.

    Interesting, do tell more (or at least which book / movie that hails from… I enjoy time-capsule plots)

    Whoever: Your dose of James Bond for the day:

    http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a090601putsshorts#a090601putsshorts

    So…. hear rumors of increased probability of terror acts at a specific airline from ex-colleague(s) -> bet against poor air folks on the market.

    Nothing really “super” there (except that ex-colleagues are “three-letter persons”), just vanilla illegal (insider) trading, also known as “slow Monday” per standards of where I hail from.

  111. @Whoever:

    This is what I hate about Real Life.

    In the movies, the hyper-intelligent wealthy sociopaths with all of the political connections get their long-deserved comeuppance.

    In Real Life, “not so much”.

  112. And that, friends, would seem to be one of those things the Bible got right. But then living with the ancient Egyptians and Romans looking over your shoulder would likely alter your outlook on how the world works and what kinds of behaviors get what results in practice.

  113. @ Whoever: due to reasons entirely outside of the scope of this discussion, I am re-reading the book of Job from Scripture. I know that probably 90 percent of the readers will have *plonk*ed me by now because I do like to post chunks of this or that religious tract, and no doubt a lot of the readers here are various degrees of agnostic/atheist and in general I would be the first to agree that organized religion or even simple delusional systems that classify as “religion” have been an endless source of trouble throughout history. But usually my point is that we aren’t the first to notice this sort of thing, not by a long shot.

    Job 21:27-34 ["The Way" edition of "the Living Bible". Circa 1970. Youth for Christ International. Tyndale House, Wheaton Illinois.]

    I know what you are going to say –

    You will tell me of rich and wicked men who came to disaster because of their sins.

    But I reply: Ask anyone who has been around and he can tell you the truth.

    That the evil man is usually spared in the day of calamity, and allowed to escape. No one rebukes him openly. No one repays him for what he has done. And an honor guard keeps watch at his grave.

    A great funeral procession precedes and follows him as the soft earth covers him.

    How can you comfort me when your whole premise is so wrong?
    ——

    I’m not entirely sure when Job was composed, though I’d suggest that it was in the timeframe when the Greeks had occupied Palestine and the surrounding lands, as the whole book is an interesting Judaistic “take” on the whole Greek concept of the Dialogue and worthy of a place in Literature for that alone. If people don’t want to believe in the Great Sky Fairy they should still find this to be good, if very old, writing, yet pertinent to the modern day and basic condition of humanity. Of different style for certain, there’s also Proverbs. Yet ultimately, it all comes back to Ecclesiastes, usually summarized as “the same old tired shit keeps going around and coming back around like nobody ever heard of it before, all you can do is eat, drink and be merry, love and be loved, and be a good friend among good friends”. And with or without any Great Sky Fairy, that’s excellent and very old advice.

    I suppose we could add “and it couldn’t hurt to try to understand why and how we are what we are and why we do what we do”. The advice in Ecclesiastes is very old… and Science is pretty new. But can it break us free of being who and what we are?

    And to try to add some levity, is Mr Tyson the man to deliver unto us this prophecy? :)

  114. Job composition, I was told was long after the story was passed down verbally. It’s classified among those Div-Docs as a fable as I recall though I was never clear on what that actually meant (I think it was coming close to “we don’t know how accurate it is to the original).

    Well, I think what I was trying to say by bringing up the Romans, for example (’cause you know sometimes I don’t know why I write something until after I do it and I know I’m not alone in that), was that it served a purpose as an opposing force to the-way-shit-is. It was also one of the first religions, I’m told, that took Joe Plebian seriously. Typically God and gods only talked to the special folks. It was a rebellious philosophy. Now it’s been coopted by the very kinds of power it once opposed.

  115. That co-option is at least as old as J Caesar’s remark about “divide, and conquer”. For example, the Tea Party was started by politically-conservative Republicans who were of the type who were most concerned about the Constitution, including the doctrine of separation of church and state, and they also were making a move to work alongside the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats” who were the extreme fiscal conservatives and social conservatives on the other side of the aisle. Yet the election intervened and the original intention of a splintering from the main line of the Republicans, who were drifting into open Theocratic leanings, was subsumed and actually inverted… the concurrent threads of fiscal conservatism and constitutionalism were split apart, the fiscal conservatism was radicalized and accentuated, while the original constitutionalism was replaced with a rather bizarre revisionism alleging that the Founding Fathers never intended that separation of church and state, but rather were insisting that the new Federal government would never interfere with the activities of religious (read, “Christian”) organizations. They handily touted the “establishment clause” while throwing everything else out, including about two centuries of supreme court rulings. Let’s just say that no constitutional scholars take them seriously in terms of accurate thinking, yet that being said, they certainly do get the votes… especially in direct proportion to hate-mongering against the alleged “secret muslim” incumbent.

    Maybe we should try to resurrect the Psychedelic Movement. After all, a lot of folks were tuning in and turning on because they were chasing the rumor that the right psychedelics would allow any given individual a direct line to the Almighty. Thus, better living through chemistry promoting the ultimate democracy in access to the godhead. Of course this would suggest the notion of cutting out the recreational-chemicals middleman by turning everyone into wireheads jolting their own “god spot”, but I think Our Gracious Host covered that one pretty darn well. Well enough, I rather fear, that someone might just take him seriously and try to implement it. *shiver*

  116. There is a lot you’re right about here, but the idea that it’s impossible to change someone’s mind by reason (ie. Einstein’s quote) strikes me as wrong and fatalistic. It’s like saying people can’t be taught to reason, which is untrue. In fact, many many people have been persuaded by the likes of Tyson, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.

  117. Mr Non-Entity: Yet ultimately, it all comes back to Ecclesiastes, usually summarized as “the same old tired shit keeps going around and coming back around like nobody ever heard of it before, all you can do is eat, drink and be merry, love and be loved, and be a good friend among good friends”. And with or without any Great Sky Fairy, that’s excellent and very old advice.

    While the sentiment about “old tired shit keeps going around and coming back around like nobody ever heard of it before” had held true during the time of Ecclesiastes, it’s hardly true now.
    We have some radically new shit going on.
    By Biblical standards we already qualify as angels, if not God itself (synthetic life? Check. Reduce whole cities of people we find somewhat unsympathetic to nothing but a pit of molten glass and lethal radiation? Check. Bring dead back to life? Per ancient-Judean standards of establishing “death”, pretty much check. Booming voice from “the sky”? Check, so much check it ain’t even funnyEt cetera)
    Our capacity to harvest, retain, and transmit information is utterly unprecedented in natural history, and it’s about to keep growing for some time.
    If Ecclesiastes was to see any of that, he would have eaten his shoes (sandals?) out of sheer otherworldly terror.

    Mr Non-Entity: But can it break us free of being who and what we are?

    I contend that what we are is pretty radically different from what “people” (or even “kings”and “heroes”) were when Ecclesiastes was around. We are to a great degree shaped by an environment the likes of which have never existed – not totally (or, should I say, not yet totally) but to such a degree that some of us already have vanishingly little in common with our ancestors, at least in terms of thought process and behavior.

    We will only get more different as we learn to “tweak away” those parts of our biological heritage that are of dubious value for ensuring prosperity in this new wondrous anthroposphere of our own making (but not entirely of our intentional design)

    Jill: There is a lot you’re right about here, but the idea that it’s impossible to change someone’s mind by reason (ie. Einstein’s quote) strikes me as wrong and fatalistic. It’s like saying people can’t be taught to reason, which is untrue.

    I think that the quote deals specifically with cases of people arriving at some erroneous belief through causes other than, well, reason.

    People who arrived at an erroneous belief through erroneous reason (that is, reason, but with a fault to it) and thoughtless inertia of social “fad” can very well be rescued through reason ;)

  118. @ 03, who points out a lot of technical advances we live with today which would have seemed Divine to the folks in the time of Ecclesiastes:

    I couldn’t agree more that the surround has changed, and that we wield powers as a culture that would have overwhelmed the ancients as wonders. I’m struck with that thought, myself, while I was reading further in Job, were the persona of “the LORD” speaks to Job. It asks him all of these questions, as a rhetorical device, many of which were doubtless dumbfounding back in the day… but which seem like 10th-grade high-school science questions in the modern age. Once the persona rebukes Job with “were you there when I brought forth the earth from the void”, it asks him such things as “do you know whence comes the rain, do you know how the goat treads the hillside without falling off, do you know why a woman’s child grows within her”. And it strikes me that while any given individual may not know all of that, and may not know it in the way that an autistic knows numbers without needing to know how other people do arithmetic, and we may not be able to make things come to be by waving our metaphysical magic wand and saying “so mote it be”, still, almost everything that was a divine wonder and mystery of heaven to the ancients, is 1990s technology to us.

    But when you suggest — or perhaps I read the inference implied rather than directly stated — that because our culture commands godlike powers, that thus the nature of humanity has changed and the human being itself has changed, and that the same old shit doesn’t come back around as once went around, I beg to differ.

    If a woman decides she wants to break a man who spurned her, or to reject a suitor, she might be txting on a smartphone as she works a scheme on him along with her girlfriends, but though the technical means may differ it’s a story as old as the human concept of teenager. If a man resents a superior’s choice of another man’s work product and he kills his rival in a jealous rage, but does it by contaminating the rival’s dinner with fast-acting carcinogens, the means and method have changed to something far from a big rock and a fast bonk on the back of the head, but it’s still Cain and Abel. And if the court record is an unalterable database, or the Mark of Cain tattooed on the forehead of the convict, society will know to shun a murderer.

    If a smallish fellow manages to talk a big bruiser into taking a knife to a gunfight but doesn’t himself make the same mistake, that’s David and Goliath right there; different levels of tech but it’s the same basic human story. And if someone writes code to instruct a genetic fabrication system to print a vat of phage that will throw (figurative) monkey-wrenches into the metabolic machinery of the cells of people of only one specific sub-population, turning them all into grey goo or at least making them cough up blood until they die, it’s not a lot different in terms of being classic human behavior, as when some biblical patriarch said “go now into their lands, and if ye shall find an altar to Astarte, or to Moloch, or they be uncircumcised, put them to the sword even to the last man, and in every place you shall find them, throw down their cities so that not even one stone is left standing upon another”. Not quite up to the speed of a good old-fashioned Nagasaki-style nuking, but at least as effective. And ethically and morally as classic a case of man’s inhumanity to man. We’ve heard the name of Nagasaki, and of Hiroshima, but we don’t know a heck of a lot about the Etruscans, not after the Romans obliterated them (genocidally and culturally eradicated and then actually removed almost all reference to them from the literature and records).

    Same old stuff coming and going back around, it’s just that the scale and scope and occasionally the subtlety of the means and methods have change. We ourselves haven’t, not much, and in my humble opinion, not enough.

  119. I have a couple of co-workers who fall into the exact “self-righteous science hating” mindset you describe, Pete. They’re religious, yes. And sort of… smug about it. With good-natured smiles, of course, so no one suspects how full of shit they really are.

    The one argument I use, however, to shut them the fuck up, is: how do you think everything in your home and town and church was built? God? No. It was scientific inquiry that brought about modern architecture, the creation of materials, every single mode of transportation you ride in, and 99 percent of everything you use, eat, laugh at, shit in, and think about every single day of your life.

    Science did all that.

    Humans did that.

    Not God.

    They push eye-rolling arguments on me after this, but can’t really argue the point. The house they live in WAS a result of architectural reasoning and science. 100 percent of it was.

    Not that they care. Not that it makes any difference at all. Humans are so prone to the power of suggestion, often to institutionalized forms of it, that in my opinion, it’s a frightening genetic flaw that disallows any form of “progress” at all. Frankly I’m amazed science has gotten as far as it has in the world.

    Makes me respect the great people in the profession all the more.

  120. @ Jeff L:
    You wrote, in-part: The one argument I use, however, to shut [“self-righteous science hating” mindset [people]] the fuck up, is: how do you think everything in your home and town and church was built? God? No. It was scientific inquiry that brought about modern architecture, the creation of materials, every single mode of transportation you ride in, and 99 percent of everything you use, eat, laugh at, shit in, and think about every single day of your life.

    Jeff, it’s really easy to counter that argument, not that I am suggesting that one should counter that argument, by pointing out “if the raw materials, and operating laws, of Nature did not exist, we couldn’t have made such things”.

    Of course one can endlessly argue along “chicken and egg” lines about how it’s not necessary that there be a Creator for reality to exist as it does; reality does exist, we exist in it, and the laws of nature are such that we who are blessed with sentience and sapience and hands and the ability to use tools and language in purposeful goal-oriented behavior, well, we can and do use those tools and language. Whether or not there was a Creator of Creation, or whether Nature just sort of popped into being and continues to evolve along lines entirely predictable once you understand the nature and direction of the first moments of this Universe, things are as they are.

    If you’re taking an approach to such people which is as combative in person as your expression here, don’t expect to change minds or to win converts. Some people are perfectly happy to attribute the “magic” of “pi” to an Almighty Creator, and others are perfectly happy to not do so. Yet both sides of that divide can as easily use it in calculation.

    Where you might have real problems because you’re dealing with idiots, that would be the folks who have decided that because Scripture assigns to “pi” the value of three-point-zero-zero-zero, that this is how they should calculate while designing bridge spans.

    It might be hard to convince such people to change to a worldview that you might be able to understand, that being that if there is a Creator, then we could best understand that Creator by studying the intentional Creation, and that Science is the best tool that we have to understand that creation. (If g_d didn’t want us to do science and math, would g_d have made us capable of it? that’s a good talking point…)

    Point out that Scripture is a great source of spiritual inspiration, but when it comes to anything to do with math or technology, there are far newer textbooks and if they want spiritual guidance from the classic source, use it for spiritual guidance. But for interpreting the technical world, use a technical manual for technical guidance. And the newer the better.

    That sort of approach leaves both sides understanding that they’re talking to someone who doesn’t hold them in an abject, and frankly offensive, contempt. Dialog can then proceed with each side willing to hear and ponder what the other side has to say.

    “A quiet word may turn away much wrath”, as is to be seen in Proverbs.

  121. 03: While the sentiment about “old tired shit keeps going around and coming back around like nobody ever heard of it before” had held true during the time of Ecclesiastes, it’s hardly true now.
    We have some radically new shit going on.
    By Biblical standards we already qualify as angels, if not God itself (synthetic life? Check. Reduce whole cities of people we find somewhat unsympathetic to nothing but a pit of molten glass and lethal radiation? Check. Bring dead back to life? Per ancient-Judean standards of establishing “death”, pretty much check. Booming voice from “the sky”? Check, so much check it ain’t even funnyEt cetera)
    Our capacity to harvest, retain, and transmit information is utterly unprecedented in natural history, and it’s about to keep growing for some time.

    And if you and I are on par with angels, there are those who are on par with gods. Thanks a lot, neuroscience.

  122. Mr Non-Entity: But when you suggest — or perhaps I read the inference implied rather than directly stated — that because our culture commands godlike powers, that thus the nature of humanity has changed and the human being itself has changed, and that the same old shit doesn’t come back around as once went around, I beg to differ

    If a woman decides she wants to break a man who spurned her, or to reject a suitor, she might be txting on a smartphone as she works a scheme on him along with her girlfriends, but though the technical means may differ it’s a story as old as the human concept of teenager. If a man resents a superior’s choice of another man’s work product and he kills his rival in a jealous rage, but does it by contaminating the rival’s dinner with fast-acting carcinogens, the means and method have changed to something far from a big rock and a fast bonk on the back of the head, but it’s still Cain and Abel. And if the court record is an unalterable database, or the Mark of Cain tattooed on the forehead of the convict, society will know to shun a murderer.

    If a smallish fellow manages to talk a big bruiser into taking a knife to a gunfight but doesn’t himself make the same mistake, that’s David and Goliath right there; different levels of tech but it’s the same basic human story.

    It seems to me that such behaviors aren’t human nature, they (or close equivalents) pretty much necessarily emerge in any sufficiently intelligent, quasi-rational and rational game-theoretic agent operating in a complex environment.
    I’d say most of things you listed are definitely in the “nature” of competitive intelligence itself.

    P.S.:
    I’m not sure whether I should be mildly offended or mildly amused by your use of women as an example of “inherent” human capacity for nefarious scheming ;)

  123. @ 03, who wrote in-part: I’m not sure whether I should be mildly offended or mildly amused by your use of women as an example of “inherent” human capacity for nefarious scheming

    Okay, some preface. My mom was Teh Ubersmart One and she was not only really good with math and organization, she learned to be pretty darn good at getting people to do what she wanted. An excellent manager closing out her career with 30 years in the Federal government and then she went back to college at age 70 to get her MBA just so she could leave her kids lots of money when she died, and have as much fun as you can have as an elder, until she died. A fine example.

    My sisters? Also seriously smart. Comparable careers, but less… driven. My dad? His own special kind of intelligence. If something mechanical had ever worked, he could make it work again. Until everything went digital, this was his special talent in the civilian world. Yet when it came to getting along with people, well, with some people. Managing anyone? Not a prayer in hell, but knew when people were trying to manage him. Throw into the mix something like PTSD, a bit of generic paranoia, and a history as a veteran in one of the country’s premier military outfits of his day. Best kept calm and distracted dontcha know.

    Why argue by anecdote? Let’s just say, if you’re trying to decide whether you’re mad at me or not, some history is in order. My life is full of exceptionally smart women, many of whom have made choices in male life-mate which in my humble opinion are less than stellar. They’re alpha females in a city chock full of them, and they tend to pick certain kinds of alpha or near-alpha males, yet they want to be the alphas in the relationship, and that means that they have to be smarter if they chose their mate for a combination of fairly stable high intelligence, exceptional reaction times and reflex speed, and extreme physical prowess on top of generally aggressive personality.

    Managing or “handling” men is an essential survival skill that goes back to homo erectus or earlier. I strongly suspect that this is where a lot of humankind’s selection for intelligence occurred. Staying alive and keeping your kids alive long enough to raise their own kids, in the face of a brutal world full of violence and illness as well as famine and misadventure, that’s not easy. Teamwork is almost certainly essential. And if you need to do teamwork in cultures that denigrate women and deny them their opportunity to succeed in open ways, you go a bit clandestine.

    I’m not a big man, and I grew up sort of sickly in a subculture of football stars where bullying is the norm and an accepted mode, nay, a mode which is demanded. I didn’t become a survivor by being a manly man among manly men.

    They say that the true measure of respect is seen in whom you choose as your teacher. I survived by studying the ways of my mother and sisters… and I am always looking for new teachers.

    Plus, telecom its effects on society is my Big Hobby in anthropology. As is Teen Culture as seen in the States wherever I happen to be.

    @ Whoever, who pointed out, in-part:

    By Biblical standards we already qualify as angels, if not God itself (synthetic life? Check. Reduce whole cities of people we find somewhat unsympathetic to nothing but a pit of molten glass and lethal radiation? Check. Bring dead back to life? Per ancient-Judean standards of establishing “death”, pretty much check. Booming voice from “the sky”? Check, so much check it ain’t even funny … Et cetera)
    Our capacity to harvest, retain, and transmit information is utterly unprecedented in natural history, and it’s about to keep growing for some time.

    Um trust me, you are not the first person to field the argument, if not directly stated as such, that about 90 percent of various religions’ accounts of interactions between humans and “deity” read not too differently from those stories where in the early 21st century, we make First Contact with Stone Age Tribes from the Upper Amazon. But at least we are generally ethical enough to try to explain to them (insofar as we ourselves understand it) how our technology works, and to not play “the God Gambit”.

    If you haven’t ever read it, Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light” should go to the top of your reading list. Hugo and a Classic. Can’t lose.

  124. Jean-Louis,

    I’m not sure where you get your claims that the US has higher science literacy than Canada, or other countries for that matter. International tests of science literacy consistently show low scores in US students (see PISA results for instance, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011004.pdf, or look up TIMMS results). Those various tests show US students going back 17 + years doing worse than quite a handful of other countries, and those 15 year-olds then are in their 30′s now….nothing about news in the media about science in the US, which is generally quite poor compared to other countries (again, that’s the published research) would suggest that there would be any “recovery” in science literacy of those students as they became adults. If you have data to the contrary that has any credibility I’d love to know what it is.