Monthly Archives: December 2013

Feeding the Ether

Went up into the hills yesterday with a friend of mine, to go hiking and make some far away inanimate objects dance around, by way of burning gunpowder. Great fun. Turns out, there’s a big bright round thing up in the sky and that might have something to do with why there are shadows and stuff. As we were walking along chit-chatting about this and that, we hit on the observation that some of the Internet-arguing people, the left-wingers debating non-debatable things endlessly under cutesy pseudonyms, flinging accusations around, moving goalposts, engaging all sorts of nonsense hyperbole and logical fallacies — they often act like this whole thing is, for them, some sort of a gig. They show all the surface-level passion of a car salesman in a teevee commercial. And I think you know what I mean by that: He acts more animated in delivering his message than a “true believer” would show in delivering his — you can tell he’s getting paid, or hoping to get paid.

Amateurs behave differently. They at least consider good, hard evidence that might upset their views. If someone is really and truly concerned about gun violence killing people, and their proffered solution is gun control, they may not ultimately accept or approve of the clear and obvious rebuttal, “Oh, like Chicago?” But that should at least slow them down a bit. My friend was getting frustrated because he was able to recall when the liberals put up bad citations, he had the citation of some other work that clearly proved the other one was faulty, fraudulent, a study made in bad faith, or some such; and, a little later in the comment thread, the lib would put up the same link all over again, as if he hadn’t dealt with that, like the earlier exchange never happened. Such frustrating behavior might very well be the work of an amateur, but it doesn’t seem likely. It certainly doesn’t reflect the characteristics of someone who’s truly concerned about the problem being discussed. And, it is exactly what you’d expect out of someone being paid.

We already have people who vote for a living. Could it be we have large number of people who argue on the Internet for a living?

I can recall when that was a very silly question to ask. Nowadays, there’s been a shift, I think, and we need to seriously consider it. Lord knows, it’s gotten much tougher to get a “real” job under Barack Obama, and there is a perceptible increase in strange, weird activities representative of the swelling ranks of people who, ya know, gotta pay the bills somehow. Registering the home phone with doesn’t seem to do a bit of good anymore, you just get the same dinnertime phone calls from companies conducting “surveys.” I’ve occasionally been tempted to ask the person on the other end what the terms of their employment are. Truth be told though, that conversation so rarely happens because when I take the time to pick up the handset and say hello, and hear some machine whirring away or clicking or whatever to connect me to some other human who couldn’t manage to actually dial me, I hang up immediately. It’s a great feeling. But it would be better to skip the whole stupid exercise.

I digress, though.

Are these teeming multitudes of “gotta pay the bills somehow” people being recruited by liberal activist organizations to argue on the Internet, hmmmm. I haven’t seen anything that would create an actual problem for the theory. And for the things already seen, it’s a bit tough to come up with some alternative explanations. The Internet-arguing lefty says, here is a study that says X; my buddy says, here is the study that proves your study is a sham; a dozen comments go by, over the next day or two, and the lefty puts up here-is-the-study-that-says-X all over again like the earlier exchange never took place. Frustrating, maddening, and downright weird. If it isn’t paid trolling, it looks like brain damage.

One alternative explanation has the virtue of being simpler. Simple explanations are valuable. They deserve our attention, and maybe they even merit a friendly bias. The simpler explanation is the one we have always been assuming: People who are passionate about something, just don’t listen very well.

By way of explanation, and perhaps making good use of the earlier digression: I recall a certain older male relative who received one of these phone calls from a real estate “firm” of questionable repute, who called him up and got him all excited about a house-flipping opportunity out in the crumbling suburbs of Detroit. There followed a flurry of hasty long-distance family-conference, during which time my brother and I endeavored to shake him from this. Boy, was it ever tough. My brother then took an interesting tack on the whole thing, conceding the point that going into house flipping was the RIGHT thing to do, since the senior relative wanted to do it so badly, but then outlining the steps that should be followed if this is to be done right. The oldster, surprisingly, conceded back that this plan made all sorts of good sense. But then continued to chatter away excitedly about the shysters who called him.

This intrigued me as much as it perplexed me. I spoke to him about it some more and directly inquired: Why is it, exactly, that we’re hoping for good results from following a bad process? Doesn’t it make better sense to hope for good results from a good process?

That stopped him, and made him think. For a moment or two.

Then, he continued to chatter away excitedly about the shysters. Some more.

This is Confirmation Bias.

A series of experiments in the 1960s suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs. Later work re-interpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people’s conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in political and organizational contexts.
Experiments have found repeatedly that people tend to test hypotheses in a one-sided way, by searching for evidence consistent with their current hypothesis. Rather than searching through all the relevant evidence, they phrase questions to receive an affirmative answer that supports their hypothesis. They look for the consequences that they would expect if their hypothesis were true, rather than what would happen if it were false. For example, someone using yes/no questions to find a number he or she suspects to be the number 3 might ask, “Is it an odd number?” People prefer this type of question, called a “positive test”, even when a negative test such as “Is it an even number?” would yield the exact same information.

I have noticed something over the years about confirmation bias, that might go a long way toward explaining the Internet behavior. Confirmation bias has a tendency to be LOUD. Ever notice that?

People who fall for this and start to engage the poor decision-making that results from it, seem to be a lot more interested in the confirmation than in the bias. They don’t want to do it all by themselves. They want to socialize their poor decisions. From watching how all this goes down, I’ve often formed the impression that there is real, and perhaps measurable, confirming going on here. The subject is perhaps 60% certain of the proposition before talking about it with others, and 80% to 90% certain of it afterward, even if no actual supporting evidence has been provided. For examples of this, I don’t have to think back too far or recall too much: As I drove home from the excursion, I passed one of those idiotic atheism billboards that said “‘Tis the season to apply reason” or some such. There. That right there is what I’m describing. Proselytizing a lack of belief. What’s it cost to rent a billboard? How does this emerge as a good decision, even if you have all the money in the world? Aren’t your resources still limited? Why do this? Seriously. Stupid.

A genuine and respectable atheist wouldn’t give a fig.

Humans have a way of welcoming confirmation bias, of working hard to make it happen to us. We all have an inclination, I think, to treat our own endorsements of something before audiences of familiars or strangers, as if it’s hard evidence. Blogging provides an enormous temptation toward doing that, by the very nature of the exercise. You have to work hard, with pretty much every paragraph, asking yourself “Waitaminnit, how do I know this is true?” The answer that comes easiest — few will admit it, but this is universally true — is: It must be true, I just wrote it down, and heck the whole Internet can see it! That, obviously, is faulty thinking right there. But you have to work to stay out of it, to not be sucked in.

No one is immune. And of course, it’s always fun and entertaining to point it out in the other side. But no greater harm in doing it, contrasted with not doing it. These things should be corrected. “Sayin’ so don’t make it so,” when someone just talks out their ass about the Tea Party being full of trigger-happy weirdos or something similarly slanderous and uninformed.

We’re all here by accident and there is no God? Sayin’ so don’t make it so.

The point to all this is: These people — assuming they are NOT being paid — are engaging in an ancient social pastime. They seem to inwardly know that their comments are not intended to observe the state of an object, quite so much as to change the state of an object. This is learned behavior from early on. You see it in classrooms of little kids arriving at a consensus about something; If some of the more charismatic ones happen to have their minds made up earlier than the majority, for whatever reason, they are very often heard using their “outside voices” inside. They are building a skill, which some of us are missing I notice. The skill of deciding and measuring things, that can be decided or measured only by way of including the human element.

Some everyday examples of this:

  • Where this emerging consensus is going;
  • Whether the decor in this room makes it delightful/cheerful;
  • Whether a newly discovered political figure has “charisma,” or as it is commonly phrased, “is the real deal”;
  • Whether a baby is beautiful, or ugly;
  • Whether the dance performance was worth a 10.0;
  • How to interpret an ambiguously worded test question, like “one hundred and one over five eighths”;
  • He’s a jerk (pass-fail assessment);
  • …but he’s an even bigger one (relative assessment);
  • He does, or doesn’t, “need” that money he has;
  • Joe Biden won that debate.

You go see a movie with a group of people, and one among you might say: “That actor really nailed the part, didn’t he?” The truth no one wants to acknowledge is that the “didn’t he?” is more important than the preceding statement. This is someone welcoming, on top of practicing, the exercise of confirmation bias. Actively seeking to have the bias confirmed. The question implicitly acknowledges the possibility that the actor didn’t really do that well. It grudgingly allows for this, in the sense that it seeks to eliminate it. There’s no point trying to eliminate something that isn’t actually there.

You can see the conflict, everyday, if you only take the time to look. As fewer and fewer people think Obama is a good president, the bullying-narrative that He is the greatest ever, has become more forceful. More intense. Any day now the site is going to be working wonderfully…it’s said over and over, although there’s no evidence supporting this at all.

Matters to be decided in that bulleted-list up above, share common characteristics and these are worth some serious thought. They are testable, it could be said; it could even be said the tests are reproducible. If a hundred randomly selected people all agree that a room is tastefully and pleasingly decorated or that a baby is beautiful, you can go pick out an additional two or three participants and they’ll probably agree. What distinguishes them from the harder and firmer stuff, like “what is 2 + 2?” is that the human element is required.

Some of these squish-ball questions work very hard at masquerading as something objectively measurable. “Mitt Romney doesn’t need all that money” comes off sounding like an assessment has been made of what the Romney family “needs,” and either the income or the net worth has been mechanically and coldly assessed at something far above this. That is the implied sales job. We all know that is not the case, and that is not what is being expressed.

I have occasionally commented, to the surprise of some people I know, that if Autism was as trendy when I was a kid as it is now, I’d be diagnosed for sure. I don’t follow it up with a “wouldn’t I?” because there’s no confirmation bias taking place there, you’ll have to take my word for that. I’m absolutely sure of it. Of all the things that are different between a middle-age Morgan and a school-age Morgan, one thing that has remained absolutely consistent is my poor performance on written tests, even on tests confined to subjects on which my conceptual understanding is complete and strong. Even achieving total command, best I can do is about 70% at the end of it because I keep running into idiotic stupid questions like this one…and, responding much the same way as this so-called autistic kid:

You see, when the biggest part of answering the question is resolving the conundrum of “What did the test designer really mean to say?” — well, ya know, that’s a problem.

But we have a much bigger problem than that, in our society. We are conflating these squishy questions with firmer questions. We are essentially intermixing questions that cannot be resolved…read that as, cannot be resolved without including the human element, questions that require the engagement of confirmation bias in order to be answered at all…with questions that rely on objectively measurable truth. We are making an everyday habit out of mistaking the former for the latter.

It’s only impacting those of us who never learned how to socialize our poorest decisions, never learned how to acquire and ingrain a sense of certainty about them. A sense of certainty that, it should be noted, never belonged there in the first place. Only we notice it, because only we have any reason to. And we’re not only being outvoted on this matter. We’re being diagnosed with learning disabilities that don’t actually exist, at least, not in the way they’re being portrayed.

The loud majority is fortunate…I guess they are. They get to run around saying risible, silly things like “the science is settled on climate change.” What they are doing is something they’ve been doing for a very long time, since back in those school days where, when the group is asked a question…the heads swivel left, then the heads swivel right. Everyone knows whether or not to put their hands up, after they’ve had a couple moments to check and see what everyone else is doing. They are affecting the state of an object while deluding themselves, and others, into thinking they’re just reading it. That object is ethereal and omnipresent — everywhere, surrounding us all, binding us together. It’s almost mystic. And they’ve managed to achieve some weird symbiotic relationship with it. “The actor really nailed the part, didn’t he?” feeds this ethereal object surrounding us and binding us together. They tell the ether what to think. And the ether rewards them by confirming their certainty, and in so doing, sustaining and nourishing them.

After a lifetime on the outside looking in, I’m still confused about whether I should feel jealous or not.

Their answers are always “right.” Until they’re not…and then, as we see in some examples of group-thinking error, like the “Obama’s gonna fix our health care” thing for example…they become not only estranged from reality, but resentful of it as well. The traumatic collision between theory and reality is airbrushed out of the recent history; it never happened. Anybody who brings it up is demoted to pariah status. Needs to leave. It is “futile to discuss” the matter with such people………….isn’t it?

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Right Wing News.

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Scrubbing Santa Claus

He was dressed all in organic cotton, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were nothing special, just the way YOU might look;
His skin was not really white, brown or black,
And he looked like a worker just opening his pack.
His eyes — they looked blankly! His expression not Merry!
His cheeks by his nose, and his nose he did carry!
His droll little mouth sat straight just below;
May not’ve had a beard  — doesn’t matter you know;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
But he burned nothing in it — Bad for you! Good grief!;
He had a plain face and an average belly,
That shook, when he laughed when he listened to Nelly.
He was not tall or short, fat or thin like an elf,
I ‘m not quite sure I saw him, in spite of myself;

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megyn2Quick, what color was Shaft?

You idiot, Shaft isn’t real!!!!!

I saw a meme post from “being a liberal” … picture of Megyn Kelly from a cheesecake photoshoot (because nothing pisses liberals off like a beautiful woman, especially if she doesn’t share their views) that was captioned:

Jesus was white
Santa is real
Fox is news

All of this went back to a segment during which Megyn Kelly said that Santa is white, and apparently that Jesus was white as well.

I don’t really watch cable news anymore.  I’ve caught bits and pieces of Megyn’s show over the years.  I’m aware she has a law degree from Albany, and she’s no bimbo. Not at all racist.  Just a conservative American journalist.  So, as I do when these firestorms get started, I have to go back and watch the segment that people are all upset about.

As usual, the truth doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker.

For those who know so much about how stupid this segment proves Megyn, Fox, and its viewers are, I have a multiple choice question for you.

What was the segment about?

  1. a teacher who was disciplined for chastizing a black student who had come to school dressed as Santa — that Santa is white
  2. An ACLU suit filed against a school district for allowing a white Santa to visit a mostly black school
  3. An opinion column that argued that Santa should, in fact, be a penguin.

I’ll wait……


If you picked (3), you win.

Did you watch the segment? In it, Megyn sympathizes with the columnist for her pain and compliments her writing, but also points out that the legendary character that is Santa Claus, in fact, caucasian — as was Jesus.

penguinclausThe segment is pretty light hearted, but her main point is that just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it has to change for everyone. But that’s where we are in this increasingly politically correct superculture. The one where the media, Hollywood, politicians, and the educrats live, that is.

The lefty critical theorists with their Pocket Alinskies immediately pounced.  This is what they live for.  Alinsky #5 is “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”  They really take this one to heart.  And while it is true it’s a pretty potent weapon, Alinsky was pretty flexible on the quantity of truth behind the ridicule, and so are they.

The main criticisms seem to be

  • You idiot, Santa isn’t real
  • You idiot, Saint Nicholas was Greek, not white
  • You idiot, Jesus was an Arab, not white
  • You idiot, you’re too pretty to be taken seriously, and you’re obviously racist

Well, Shaft isn’t real, either, but imagine the uproar if a re-make was made where Shaft was now white.  But that’s not all.  Santa is, in fact, much more real than a movie character.

Now before I go on, let me make clear that I don’t have a problem with black Santas or black or hispanic or even asian Santas or depictions of Jesus.  Not at all.   Y’all do what you want, I’m good with it.  But please stop trying so hard to wring all the European, Judeo/Christian elements of culture out of American culture.  Just because you’re uncomfortable with it doesn’t mean others should change it for you.  And you certainly shouldn’t be allowed to change it for them.

And don’t get up all in people’s faces for merely stating facts just because you don’t like their point of view.

Santa is a cultural character with a long history in European culture, tracable back to Saint Nicholas, who was Greek, maybe of Turkish descent.

cacaususTake a look at the map to the right.  The red ellipse marks the Caucasus Mountains.

What significance does this mountain range have?   Well besides being very pretty, they are the mountain range after which the caucasian “race” was named.   Now, why the scare quotes around “race”, you ask?

Up until fairly recently, if you were filling out a questionaire or form that asked about race in the US, your choices were typically Caucasian/White, Black, and maybe American Indian.

If you were asian, you picked white.  If you were hispanic, you picked white.  If you were Turkish, Jewish, Italian, Arab … you picked white.

And the kicker is … Jesus was a Semite.  An Arab.  So was St. Nicholas if he wasn’t actually Greek.   And Arabs are arguably the original Caucasians, certainly closer to them than northern Europeans.  So the whole “Jesus was white” and “St. Nicholas was white” question is answered.  Yup.  Does it matter?  Only as a matter of fact.

But Santa Claus isn’t real!!!!   Nobody said the man in the red suit was an actual, real being.  But he is a real legend and a real cultural figure (pre-dating the United States, no less – he’s an international figure) whose character was developed in Holland, Germany, Sweeden, England, etc.  He was always depicted as white, which should surprise no one.  A legend developed by people who were white based on a man who was caucasian – I’m gonna guess … probably going to end up being white.

Big deal.  Why should this bother anybody?   Who says a white Santa can’t “serve” a black child? It shouldn’t matter.  But it does — it bothers liberals very much.  And the reason is is that far from race being unimportant to liberals, race is sacred to liberals.   They need racial differences.  They can’t just be matter of fact.  They need the drama.  They need victims to save from the villian, and the villian is the white man.  They’ve saved one race, to be evil, sort of like Satan from all the angels.

And I don’t make the religious analogy lightly.  It’s a theology to them.  And to be redeemed, the white liberal must constantly beat his chest and point out the evil that is his race.

Gets a little confusing, of course, when non-whites victimize other non-whites, because it doesn’t fit the theology.  They either gloss over it and call you a racist if you even try to bring it up, or they make up even newer racial categories like “white hispanic”  (I guess only they get to decide which hispanics are white hispanics and which are non-white hispanics) so they can adjust the facts to fit the theology.

So Santa Claus is white because that’s who he is according to legend.  You can’t just unilatally change a legend for everyone.  That’s not how legends work.  Regardless of his race, it’s pretty clear he isn’t a penguin. You can replace him with a penguin in your tradtion if you want to, but that’s not Santa Claus, it’s a penguin and you can make up your own legend about it.

As a progressive recently chastized me in a discussion about Global Warming-Climate-Change-Chaos

You idiot, penguins don’t live at the North Pole!


(and the fact that I’d never suggested they do was apparently unimportant to him)

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