How does the Taliban work? They keep people stupid. Women are witches. Jews are another species. Westerners are degenerate. Only the “wise and powerful” Taliban leaders know what the Koran really says, because they’re the only ones who can read, write, or tell everybody else what’s real.
There was a time when the Muslim world was enlightened. They invented the writing and math that we use today. They were the center of the world for science. But then, in some places, the Taliban took over.
And don’t for a minute think that it’s really all about religion. Religion is just used to manipulate the useful idiots. It’s really about money, power, and control. And that can only be held by thugs like the Taliban when the people are kept poor and stupid.
Here in America, there’s a new Taliban rising. They fetishize guns, just like the Afghan Taliban. They fear women and education. They want to keep the people stupid and in chains.
They’re the plutocrats and the billionaires who rose to power on the heels of Reagan’s trickle-down economics. And now, what’s trickling down to us is their stupidity.
Widespread ignorance of objective reality poses a genuine threat to democracy. The people of the United States have ignorance in abundance.
The way representative democracy is supposed to work is pretty simple: you protect the fundamental rights of the minority (so it doesn’t become two wolfs and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner), and then the majority of citizens, acting in their own rational self-interest, elect representatives who will pursue the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.
That’s the theory, but “rational” is a key word in that formulation. What happens when lots of citizens don’t have a solid grasp of what’s going on in the real world?
Consider some examples that are especially relevant to our current political scene.
- People Don’t Recognize Their Lack of Competence, Can’t Judge the Competence of Politicians
- Politicians Think Their Constituents Are Much Further to the Right Than Polls Suggest
- The Wealthy Think the Wealthy Should Pay More Taxes, But They Don’t Think They’re Wealthy
- Americans Like Sweden’s Distribution of Wealth, and Think They Already Have
- Government Spending Has Decreased Under Obama, But Nobody Knows It
- The Deficit Has Been Stabilized and Is Shrinking, But Only 6 Percent of Americans Know It
- Foreign Aid Is Pocket Change
- So, Should We Just Give Up On Democracy?
Interesting studies. Whenever I argue with a conservative, I always end up saying in frustration, “But it’s not that simple!” It appears that for some people, their inability to reason out complex ideas is what makes them conservatives, and not their hatred of the human race (although there may be some overlap there)!
In the four studies conducted by Scott Eidelman, Christian S. Crandall, Jeffrey A. Goodman, and John C. Blanchar published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc, they concluded, “(P)olitical conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking.
We think that compassion and empathy are a fundamental part of liberal values, and we note at times that it takes being in that specific situation for conservatives to grasp why, for example, liberals support universal healthcare for all. There are many studies that address that take on things, but this study is specifically addressing whether or not having low-effort thinking will produce conservative thinking initially, and they showed that it does.
In an innovative interdisciplinary study, neurobiological experts, radiologists and humanities scholars are working together to explore the relationship between reading, attention and distraction – by reading Jane Austen.
Surprising preliminary results reveal a dramatic and unexpected increase in blood flow to regions of the brain beyond those responsible for “executive function,” areas which would normally be associated with paying close attention to a task, such as reading, said Natalie Phillips, the literary scholar leading the project.
Pioneering in a number of respects, her research is “one of the first fMRI experiments to study how our brains respond to literature,” Phillips said, as well as the first to consider “how cognition is shaped not just by what we read, but how we read it.”
Critical reading of humanities-oriented texts is recognized for fostering analytical thought, but if such results hold across subjects, Phillips said it would suggest “it’s not only what we read – but thinking rigorously about it that’s of value, and that literary study provides a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”
Have you been following Doonesbury for the past few weeks? It’s been all about the progressive destruction of the American university, as the old model is replaced by the for-profit university, a hideous scheme in which state and federal support for higher education gets siphoned off to support lousy schools that grind through massive numbers of students, offering low tuition, flexible hours, and a fast-track to a degree…and with abysmal retention rates, low success, marginally qualified ‘faculty’, and an education that is worth less than you paid for it. These are the colleges you see advertised on cheesy commercials on television, in which some guy proudly testifies about getting his fancy diploma working only a few hours a week at night over two years, and never having to step away from his computer to do it.
As it turns out, the reason most Christians are so difficult to budge from their religious views is because they know so little about their religion. This may seem counter-intuitive, but this is the essence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, discovered and described by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, both then of Cornell University, in a 1999 paper titled: “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”
The D-K Effect was frequently suggested historically, notably by Charles Darwin -
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”
– and Bertrand Russell -
“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”
In a series of studies, Dunning and Kruger found this pattern across many skills, including reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis. Apparently, those displaying the D-K Effect are so lacking in competence that they are even unaware of their incompetence, thus they tend to overestimate their level of skill and fail to recognize skill in others. Conversely, people with high levels of skill or knowledge tend to underestimate their standing relative to others. It seems that the more one knows, the more he realizes how little he knows.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Dunning and Kruger also found the Effect operative in broad tests of logical reasoning skills.
The D-K Effect goes a long way toward explaining why those with the least competence in their religion are the most sure they are right about it. Similarly, those who know the least about science are the most certain that it has nothing important to say about how the world works. And, in general, those who are the least adept at critical thinking are the most confident they have the answers.
- Revisiting why incompetents think they’re awesome (arstechnica.com)
Now more than ever, the United States needs to change its laws surrounding religious subsidies. Last year, the state of Florida cut over $1.3 billion from the budget meant for public schools as well as $1.1 billion for police and firefighter pensions. If Florida had collected property taxes on religious institutions, the revenue would have been $2.2 Billion, almost enough to cover both of these budgetary expenses. In fact, the debate over religious tax exemptions has recently been distilled down to one number: 71 billion dollars. That’s the total amount that the government forgoes every year in religious subsidies, and clearly, there are places that this money could be put to use.
h/t: Planet Atheism
- Research Report: How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States (alwaysquestionauthority.com)
- The Yearly Cost of Religious Tax Exemptions: $71,000,000,000 (patheos.com)
- The Church Business (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Study challenges tax exemption for religious organizations – Kimberly Winston – USA Today (richarddawkins.net)
- U.S. Loses Over $71 Billion in Religious Tax Exemptions (atheistrev.com)
- Study challenges tax exemption for religious organizations (usatoday.com)
Richard Wilkinson is an epidemiologist and a leader in international research of inequality. He is also the co-author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger with Kate Pickett. Their book has been described by The Sunday Times of London as having “a big idea big enough to change political thinking. In half a page,” the Times says, “it tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”
His TED talk — “How economic inequality harms societies” — has garnered over 1 million views on the TED website since October 2011.
We caught up with him to talk about how inequality can be dangerous to our health.