Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Reason Rally: The Costs of Unreason

Assume that you are a powerful person with a plan.

That plan will earn you and your backers billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, there is excellent evidence that it will also kill about 100 million people over the next few decades and bring great suffering to a few billion more. You suspect that this might result in some political opposition. What you need is a way to gum up the political machinery for a few years - long enough to harvest those billions of dollars and buy yourself a nice home far away before the death and suffering becomes too obvious to ignore.

Or, perhaps you have a plan that will allow you to harvest the life savings of a few tens of millions of people - draining them of their retirement funds, costing them their homes, and in many cases costing them their jobs. All of that wealth is then diverted into your accounts and those of your backers. Again, what you need to do is muddy the waters enough to keep these results hidden until after you have safely harvested the money and made your escape.

Fortunately, nature provides you with a resource that is tailor made to fit this need. And, as a business person, you are well versed in the art of exploiting labor, capital, and other resources so as to make a profit.

A large part of the population has been trained in faith. They have been trained to hate science, to hate evidence, to "listen to their gut" (which is excellent at telling people what they want to believe, but not so good at telling them what is true). These people are well suited to accept the claims you need them to accept to gum up the political machinery as long as you can feed it to them in a way that leaves them with a good feeling in their gut.

The financial industry has proved particularly adept at harvesting the wealth of these people. Not only did their financial scheme rob them of their retirement money, their homes, their investment income, and ultimately their jobs. They also managed to collect hundreds of billions of dollars in government aid (passed on to future generations as government debt). Now, rather than pay back a portion of that money through higher taxes, they are insisting that they keep that money and that the government must instead cut benefits to the very people harmed by their earlier actions.

We can see in this the business model for Fox News. "Here's my deal. I will provide a tool by which you can get your propaganda to the gullible properly mixed to appeal to their gut feelings so that they will accept it. In exchange, you can give us a cut of the billions of dollars you expect to harvest through your plan in the form of advertising revenue."

How does Fox News attract the gullible?

Mostly, it does so by telling them how great and wonderful they are, how virtuous their unreasoned faith is, and of how the snobs of reason and evidence look down on them and fail to give them the respect they deserve. They tell the unthinking what the unthinking want to hear - what "feels right" to them simply because they like to hear such things.

Once they have the eyes and the ears of those trained not to think, they can then feed those people the political propaganda of those whose business plans will have certain unfortunate (for others) side effects, summoning them to gum up the political machinery long enough to harvest the money and head for safety.

We can include in this set of examples the Iraq War - exploiting the national mood after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to harvest over a trillion dollars in no-bid government contracts that threw the government massively into debt just in time for the finance industry to rob people of their houses and their savings - and their jobs - by actions that enriched themselves but threw the nation as a whole into an economic depression.

In this case, we also have to add to the costs not only the money spent, but the people killed and maimed and otherwise made to suffer as a consequence of these plans. These, too, are the costs of thinking unconstrained by evidence or rationality.

Of course, the original plan was not to harvest a trillion dollars in no-bid contracts. The original plan was to harvest the oil revenue from oil-rich states by installing friendly governments. However, when that plan blew up (because it was run by idiots who were raised in a culture opposed to reason and evidence), it was time to go to Plan B.

If one looks at the reasoning that got us into the Iraq War, it was all of the, "Determine your conclusions first, and evaluate the evidence on the basis of its apparent support fir the desired conclusion," sort that is rampant in anti-science, anti-reason, "trust your gut" crowd.

Remember, these were the idiots who either thought that you could change the laws of nature by rewriting science reports, or, in doing so, were actively covering up the evidence that the actions of their clients risked hundreds of billions of lives and suffering for billions of others.

I am not into conspiracy theories - secret plans that involve thousands of co-conspirators where none step forward to break the code of silence. In fact, the conspiracy theory requires a great deal of intelligence and reasoning capability. The systems of unreason that I am writing about only requires a mixture of greed and power on the one hand, with a substantial population that shuns reason and evidence on the other.

Both of these elements are found in abundance, and they are often (and not accidentally) found together. Where they mix, they produce outcomes that are potentially catastrophic for huge numbers of people - but not for the people who can harvest the money to escape those results.

We can add these to the costs that suffer as a result of unreason.

I hope that the Reason Rally this weekend will begin to provide an answer to this folly, and actually start to work to apply the principles of reason and evidence to avoid some of these potentially catastrophic costs.

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