The Middle-Aged Genius’s Guide to Almost Everything 10 – On Bullshit
April 8, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we were talking about the nature of bullshit off tape. Now, you wanted to look into different aspects of that.
Rick Rosner: Let me take my specific situation, I have this YouTube project, where I, a
liberal, argue with my conservative buddy Lance who is steeped in many hours a day of listening to conservative podcasts.
So, he espouses the conservative take on all these issues. He accuses me of being brainwashed by the what he considers the liberal media or the mainstream media when my consumption is primarily CNN, MSNBC, Huff Post, Slate, Salon, I would occasionally go over to Drudge to see if they’re covering the things that I think any reasonable news outlet would cover.
Sometimes, I’ll go to Fox News, I probably got most of my information from Twitter, which leans liberal but I feel that most of my new sources also lean towards the most reasonable interpretation of the truth.
I am at least somewhat trained in statistically evaluating whether something is likely to be true or not, which could be a self-deceptive thing. Paul Ekman, he is an ancient professor who’s been studying whether people can tell whether people are lying for decades and for the most part people fool themselves.
People who think there are thorough experts on whether people are telling the truth; cops, nurses, do no better than chance at telling, unless they have been trained in specific tells, at guessing whether somebody’s telling the truth or not even though they think they can tell.
You can probably also be self-deceptive in a similar way about whether the information you are getting from the media you follow is truthful or reasonable or not. But in that way, I checked IDs for 25 years in bars.
It was my job to tell whether people were lying to me or not. I generally couldn’t go off of people’s behavior acceptance with certain specific exceptions. If people have not too emotionally loaded a reaction to being carded, somebody who looks barely twenty-one is shocked that somebody would think that they wouldn’t be 21 and is checking their ID.
That is the wrong emotional reaction. But generally, there aren’t that many tells at least that I could see based on based on demeanor. Instead, I had to use informational traps, “What is your zodiac sign? What year did you graduate high school? Oh, you have a big fat wallet; show me to other forms of ID from your inch thick wallet that have the same name on them or turn to their friends and go ‘What is her name?’” That stuff.
Anyway, I have had many semesters of training in statistics and probability and I to mathematicize stuff, I to assign probabilities to stuff; so I to think of myself as somebody who is not entirely naive when it comes to evaluating whether stuff is bullshit or not.
For instance, there is the Trump Stormy Daniels story that in 2006 Trump had an affair with a porn star and then ten years later. In 2016, through a secret Delaware corporation, he paid the porn star a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to shut up.
Now, my conservative buddy, Lance, says there is no evidence of this. He entirely denies it and thinks that I am brainwashed for buying this story that he thinks is fabricated. I think that probabilistically given all the news sources I have seen and all the stuff that is going on; I think that probabilistically that there is a near certainty that most of the details of the story are accurate.
He thinks that this is a conspiracy to screw over his president Trump. He thinks a lot of things are conspiracies. He thinks the FBI conspired to illegally put the Trump campaign under surveillance, which is because they did not like Trump. He believes a lot of things that I think are statistically unlikely.
And that means that I have to wonder whether he believes all this stuff or whether some of this conspiracy stuff is rhetorical that he presents it as if he believes it in order to win arguments. And so those are two forms of belief or disbelief in if you are presenting stuff that is questionable or unlikely.
And then there are different degrees or different variations on belief; there is outward belief covering inward uncertainty. You talked about a friend of yours who belong to a cult, who while espousing the cults’ belief system seemed to have serious reservations, that he had all sorts of evidence of being of more than one mind.
And under any reasonable theory of mind, including I see, it is possible to be of more than one mind about information you’ve got. In argument with Lance, I tend to compare balls of facts around an issue to turds.
That the ball of what we know about a particular issue. Trump and Russia is a big stinky turd, a messy turd and that liberals pick out the peanuts and conservatives pick out the corn. Everybody cherry-picks their information to support their point of view about the situation.
But often the situation is unresolved or there is incomplete information. One of the biggest incompletely resolved situations of the past eighty hundred years is who assassinated President Kennedy.
There are arguments to be made on both sides; the single lunatic or a conspiracy where he was the Patsy. I do not know that there is ever going to be enough information to resolve it conclusively one way or the other; though, I would guess given the passage of time and everything that I think the truth is leaning towards a single lunatic whoever managed to pop up in all sorts of weird places before he became the assassin.
But anyway, the truth is messy. It is not unreasonable to have all sorts of beliefs within your head about what you are espousing.
Jacobsen: From a perspective of mass psychology and juxtaposing with the idea of a useful idiot, my sensibility is such that large groups of people have been duped into being groups of useful idiots for the advancement of ideological stances that eventually, for instance, economically kick them in the face.
If you look at the policies of people like Paul Ryan at all, they quietly behind the scenes of the bluster and ranting of Trump change policies that kick their constituencies in the face. And I do not think these people deserve ridicule in any way. I think these are people that have legitimate grievances.
Rosner: They have legitimate grievances but off tape we were talking about building a bridge to those people versus shaming those people.
Jacobsen: I do not, and should be shamed, but I do not think the bridges should be built with the ideas. I think it should be built with the people.
Rosner: Yes, I have a more pessimistic point of view about a lot of these people.
Jacobsen: You may be right.
Rosner: It may not matter whether you try to shame them, whether you try to build bridges; it may be that you have to get more people to turn out to vote on your side and do not spin your wheels trying to change their beliefs, try to overwhelm them demographically.
Jacobsen: One of the bad parts of internet and social media as an era is the overwhelming amount of information that has almost identical but repeated content, so people can or easily get some mild novelty while staying in their bubble and feeling as if they’re getting a diverse set of viewpoints.
Rosner: Yes, you do not even have to be on the Internet. You can be watching MSNBC or CNN and then announce breaking news twice an hour. Many times a day. It is almost always the same. It is 98% the same news that you’ve already heard plus this little extra detail that is not as shocking or it is not the game-changer that they presented as being.
The habits of 24-hour news presenters are terrible. They have been reinforced in all sorts of awful ways. To get back to whether to believe BS or not, Lance as a hardcore conservative believes in a whole bunch of linked conspiracies.
Hillary and Uranium and the FBI and then the people who have been assassinated by the Clintons for knowing too much. I do not know if I were conservative that I would find it more reasonable, but as somebody who is inclined not to believe any of this stuff I find the math of it unlikely.
You have to believe in a hundred super complicated conspiracies all linked together where the saying I like is “never attribute to malice what you can account for through stupidity.” Trump and the Republicans, there is a lot of stupid there.
There is a lot of stupid every place, I guess. So, I do not think either side is smart enough to pull off all the conspiracies that the Conservatives are saying they’re being pulled off, but on the liberal side we have to believe in the Trump-Russia conspiracy. But at least, that is a dumb conspiracy.
It left an obvious trail committed by dupes who had no idea that what they were doing in many cases was illegal. So, the math of it is on the conservative side. You got to believe in a lot of conspiracies, seems mathematically unlikely.
On the liberal side, you have to believe in one big stupid conspiracy. I mean not even that big, but big in terms of political importance that it might result in the president being prosecuted or impeached or whatever.
To wrap up, it is hard to tell whether in this most BS of times because this is a new era of people picking and choosing what version of the truth they want to believe. In these times, it is hard to tell whether people who believe in unlikely versions of the truth believe them or exactly what the nature of their belief is.
There are a bunch of different flavors of belief. There is a fake rhetorical belief. There is straight-out earnest belief. There is defensive belief, where you distrust what you are believing but you’ll fight for it even harder; it is hard to tell how the belief works. There is belief where people actually do not believe what they say they believe but they do not even realize that they do not believe what they say they believe.
So, it is one more messy part of a messy situation largely in America. You brought up off tape that I am usually talking about the American mess, but that there are other countries in the world and they have their own messes.
India, China, and those are important messes because those are huge, important countries and other smaller countries have their own weird little messes but maybe will not affect the rest of the world as much as India, China, and us.
Jacobsen: If you look at, as a particular example, India, they have a caste system. No one wants to be an untouchable or Harijan.
Rosner: Yeas the people who deal with shit: the shit workers.
Jacobsen: Their lives come predetermined with those social and economic roles with no chance to move up as far as I know. As well, there is the practice of sati where widows, sometimes, they will be burned on the funeral pyre of the deceased husband’s corpse.
Rosner: Yes, they belong to the dead husband. So, they have to be dead along with the husband.
Jacobsen: It is seen as akin to the global culture of those that would take the Ten Commandments from Exodus seriously in the Tenth Commandment, where women come in a statement somewhere along the value lines of a donkey.
Jacobsen: Chattel and property.
Rosner: So yes, India has 1.3 billion people, maybe even more now and has some hundreds of millions of people living in hardcore modernity, full as people fully wired into the technological world as well as people in any other developed country.
But India also has hundreds of millions of people living in various versions of poverty and backwardness. India’s only now waking up to crazy rape behavior and it may take India decades to catch up with the rest of the developed world in terms of preventing rape.
We have not even mentioned the Islamic world with something like 1.7 billion Muslims who live at various levels of modernity, where you have hundreds of millions of Muslims living in situations where young women still have their clitorises amputated.
Then to be fair, we can talk about the tens of millions of people living under BS versions of Christianity that subjects them to various kinds of repression and backwardness.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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