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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Popular Delusions

George Monbiot beats yet another 9/11 conspiracy flick to pieces and decries the madness which is supporting these theories:
Counterpunch, the radical leftwing magazine, commissioned its own expert - an aerospace and mechanical engineer - to test the official findings. He shows that the institute must have been right. He also demonstrates how Building 7 collapsed. Burning debris falling from the twin towers ruptured the oil pipes feeding its emergency generators. The reduction in pressure triggered the automatic pumping system, which poured thousands of gallons of diesel on to the fire. The support trusses weakened and buckled, and the building imploded. Popular Mechanics magazine polled 300 experts and came to the same conclusions.

So the critics - even Counterpunch - are labelled co-conspirators, and the plot expands until it comes to involve a substantial part of the world's population. There is no reasoning with this madness.
The definition of psychosis includes a genuine divorce from reality, and cultures do buy into psychotic delusions, often with horrific results. That's an observation more in SC&A's line of work, but it's true:
...it is clear for all to see that modern day Arab world political and religious expression is authoritarian by nature. “Our way is best. Our interpretation is correct. You must accept that God sees things our way only,” and so on.

It because of thinking like that there has been so much death, destruction and mayhem in the Arab world. It is because of that kind of thinking that political and religious disagreements end with calls to violence and cries of ‘DEATH TO…’ All the while, the average Muslim wants to go to work, take care of his family and do right by his kids. Tragically, neither the political or religious leadership in the Arab world give a damn about him, his family or his dreams.
Take away free societies and democracies, and our world would look exactly like much of the Islamic world today.
This story about the NASA astronaut attacking a woman who she considered to be a rival for a man (not her husband's) affections left me gaping. At the bottom there's a link to the arrest affidavit. Technical or scientific training don't make a person act rationally once that person loses pyschological stability, and our technical and scientific knowledge won't guarantee that our society remains stable or productive. SC&A's post is long but very important.

The Kyoto Treaty is beginning to lose its magical aura as those pushing the CO2-caused global warming hypothesis have scared people enough to cause the realization that Kyoto itself will accomplish absolutely nothing. Not that the carbon tax plan Ann Applebaum advances will do any better, in fact it will do worse, but at least she's willing to take the issue seriously, whereas the Kyoto Treaty is a pretense at a solution for a problem that's not understood and may not exist, which problem is now being defended by the tactic of revising scientific finding to support a politically determined conclusion. This now reminds me of Soviet Lamarckism and Nazi medical authorities supporting the ideas of the Untermensch. When science becomes political it not only becomes deeply irrational, but often turns lethal.

Here's a nice economic delusion for you. Most people have read a constant stream of commentary about the US housing market stabilizing in the press. Instead, it's doing anything but. Vacancies are at an all-time high of 2.7% (and given that the historical average is for about 5-6% of all housing to turn over each year, that means that about half of the annual sales inventory is vacant!!!), homebuilders are reporting worse and worse results and bigger and bigger writedowns of assets, the pending sales report for December shows a market still worsening year over year, and costs of credit are rising rapidly for the the most marginal borrowers (who made up about a fifth of the market last year). Foreclosures and defaults have gone above normal and are rising at an astonishing rate (last spring they were still way below normal). This is a "stabilization" which bears an astonishing resemblance to the hours on the Titanic when everyone was being assured that the collision with the iceberg was no problem.

Anyone who reads the builders' financials will see what is going on for themselves. Anyone who bothers to read the Jan 2007 Fed Funds statistical supplement can understand the scope of the problem:
This happened during a period in which real incomes stagnated, and nominal household incomes increased very minimally. Is it a surprise that we have negative national savings rate, which has not happened since the Great Depression? We simply don't have the resources within our population to repay all of this debt.

Delusional societies are impaired societies, and the link between these stories is that westerners are buying into delusions across all class and national lines, which indicates that we have developed a deficit of critical thinking. We have tons of information, but either we don't know how to use that information or we lack the psychological stability to use that information. When we recover the ability to use the information we have we'll recover the ability to deal with our problems, but we will make no progress until then. Both the left and right are pushing delusions upon the public, so neither is a political refuge at the current time.

The US is still a land of incredible opportunity, and the moment we begin to deal with reality we'll surge ahead. We are, however, going to have to deal with scientific, social, political and economic reality in order to make progress again.

Facing reality...I might have talked about this here earlier, but I think people's perception of reality is enormously influenced by their professions. If a person is a farmer, an engineer, or a machinist, they are going to view reality as being something a lot more "real" and inflexible than will a journalist, a lawyer, or a professor (outside the hard sciences.) For the latter categories, "reality" becomes largely a matter of verbal formulation.
David, you are probably right about that. I have noticed the same thing. There must be more going on than just professional inclinations, however. Why is it that some psychologists, columnists and sociologists can reason logically and others cannot?
So the critics - even Counterpunch - are labelled co-conspirators, and the plot expands until it comes to involve a substantial part of the world's population.

"If your Conspiracy Theory doesn't fit the facts, Invent a Bigger Conspiracy."

Ever figured that the reason conspiracy freaks are always so bitter is they're the only person in the entire world who isn't part of The Conspiracy?
Profession clearly isn't the only factor, but I wonder if family history, from a professional standpoint, might play a role. For example, the columnist whose father was a farmer and whose mother was a shopowner probably has a very different worldview from a columnist whose father was a lawyer and whose mother was a professor.
Headless - Everyone's against them.... Dr. Sanity has written a great deal about paranoia.

David, that's an interesting suggestion. You might have something there. The other possibility is that the more removed a person is from actual data points, the less likely they are to maintain the type of worldview that subjects itself to reality. This might account, for example, for the difference in worldview between practicing psychiatrists who actually treat patients and the administrative psychiatrists who are on college faculties and committees.
MOM, I just linked in from CR's site & had a great time, GOOD JOB! I'll be back, Bailey
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