William Faulkner Foresees the Internet

Because what somebody else jest tells you, you jest half believe, unless it was something you already wanted to hear. And in that case, you dont even listen to it because you had done already agreed, and so all it does is make you think what a sensible feller it was that told you. But something you dont want to hear is something you had done already made up your mind against, whether you knowed—knew it or not; and now you can even insulate against having to believe it by resisting or maybe even getting even with that-ere scoundrel that meddled in and told you.

—William Faulkner
—The Town (Volume 2 of the Snopes Trilogy)
—published 1957

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14 Responses to “William Faulkner Foresees the Internet”


  1. 1 1 Zazooba

    Good Faulkner quote. I think it shows that human close-mindedness precedes the internet and is, in fact, something fundamental to humans.

    I found Jonathan Haidt’s book eye-opening on this point. (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.) After reading it, I tend to get less mad at people for not arguing honestly or rationally. (But only up to a point.)

    Humans just aren’t reasoning machines, and getting mad at them for not being quickly and coldly rational is like getting mad at a fish for not singing.

    (BTW, ignore Haidt’s section late in the book about group selection. Its wrong. See Pinker’s succinct takedown.)

    Plus, you can smugly pat yourself on the back for transcending these human limitations by being so much more reasonable and open-minded than most other people.

    It also increases your respect for people and professions who are genuinely open minded and quick to change their minds. They are out there.

  2. 2 2 Neil

    Are there supposed to be images of DJT imposed over your text?

  3. 3 3 Manfred

    Isn’t this an old English version of what we nowadays call confirmation bias?

  4. 4 4 Sub Specie Æternitatis

    @Zazooba:

    Agreed on The Righteous Mind which I recently (i.e., belatedly) read.

    The only part of the book that left me hopping mad is Haidt’s discussion, drawing on Durkheim, of the “hive mind” where he slips from the descriptive to the normative and the norms he preaches are among the silliest I’ve seen an intelligent man embrace.

    Examples of control by the “hive mind” (all but one from Haidt and he could not deny that one): (a) savages dancing themselves into a stupor around a fire in the jungle, (b) young Nazis joyfully surrendering their will to the Fuehrer while marching in Triumph of the Will style formations, and (c) collegians chanting nonsense rhymes in unison while becoming intoxicated at football games.

    Conversely, examples of control by the “chimpanzee mind” would be: (a) a mathematician doing research on the blackboard, (b) traders haggling over price, or perhaps (c) the sort of logical and reasonable discussion we are trying to have here.

    So far, so good. Then Haidt goes on to praise one of these mindsets as noble, sacred, elevated, higher, etc. and condemns the other as profane, lower, diminished, lesser. That’s normative, but ok.

    Where Haidt lost me is identifying the higher state as the hive mindlessness and lower as the chimpanzee mind, including its rational parts. At this point, I cannot even (as I’m told the kids say these days).

  5. 5 5 Ken B

    @SSA, Zazooba
    I agree it’s a book with much great stuff BUT …Group Selection.
    The group selection stuff in the book is awful, simply awful. Trump level awful, Sanders level awful.

    No. Harold on Michael Brown level awful.

    Anyone who doubts should read Pinker and Coyne on the topic.

    (Note for the hard core: the infamous Nowak Wilson paper has been comprehensively destroyed, and you can find links via Coyne’s site if you are persistent.)

  6. 6 6 Ken B

    “Never let a dead horse go to waste.”

    https://youtu.be/-kcJhb1f3Mk

    This is a serious criticism of US policy. That I think it misguided does not relieve me, or anyone who mocks Trump for this, of giving reasons why we think so.

  7. 7 7 Zazooba

    @SSA

    The only part of the book that left me hopping mad is Haidt’s discussion, drawing on Durkheim, of the “hive mind” where he slips from the descriptive to the normative and the norms he preaches are among the silliest I’ve seen an intelligent man embrace.

    @Ken B

    I agree it’s a book with much great stuff BUT …Group Selection.
    The group selection stuff in the book is awful, simply awful.

    Haidt is real mix of (what appears to be) profound brilliance and naive childishness. The first part of the book was so strong that I have been willing to overlook a lot of his silliness. In no particular order, and with no particular conclusion, here are some of my thoughts (some of which look kind of duh upon re-reading).

    1. His big insight about how close-minded people are and how fruitless it is to frontally try to change their minds seems like an old insight. Steve’s Faulkner quote supports this, and iirc, it is a basic insight of Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends …” that you should never contradict someone you are attempting to persuade. (Evelyn Waugh’s “Up to a point, Lord Copper” is another example.)

    It should not be surprising that it is an old insight because anything fundamentally true about humans would have been noticed by many insightful humans over history and passed down as received wisdom. I’m surprised I can’t think of a Shakespeare quote to support this insight.

    2. So why then, DO people tend to argue vociferously against views they disagree with? Why does trolling work so well? This suggests that there is a purpose to openly confronting opposing opinions. Perhaps it is the courtroom paradigm where you are not trying to change an opponent’s mind, but are appealing to third parties and trying to force an opponent to look bad. After writing this, this seems pretty obvious. Any society needs a dispute resolution mechanism and open courtroom-style debate is one obvious example. The purpose is not to change minds, but to prevail in a forum. Duh. So, the Dale Carnegie/Haidt approach is appropriate when trying to “win friends and influence people” but not when trying to win an election.

    2. It is interesting to watch Jonathan Haidt putting his strategy into action. Here is a video of him trying to persuade the psychology field to be more open to conservative ideas:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAE-gxKs6gM

    He seems pretty effective, especially when he appeals to liberal ideals of “inclusion”, but I can’t help being turned off by the namby-pamby vibe. I’m pretty sure, though, that my reaction is a sign of my failings rather than his. I’m just too naturally fierce in intellectual matters.

    But, Haidt’s approach depends on the honesty of the opponent. Against people whose livelihoods depend on a faulty premise, this doesn’t work. (Which is why BLM is so pernicious. There is now a large racial grievance industry that depends on a dishonest orthodoxy. Note how the industry and Haidt himself have settled on the description of Michael Brown as “an unarmed black man killed by police”. Memorize that phrase so you won’t let heretical facts slip out.)

    In such a situation, hammer and tongs confrontation is required.

    4. Bottom line? Use Haidt’s approach when trying to convert the convertible (college students are a good example), but confrontation against the self-interested who not open to persuasion (political opponents and Stalinists for example.)

  8. 8 8 Ken B

    “I can’t think of a Shakespeare quote to support this insight.”

    Cast your net wioder my friend. “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” — Swift

  9. 9 9 Zazooba

    @Ken B

    This is a serious criticism of US policy. That I think it misguided does not relieve me, or anyone who mocks Trump for this, of giving reasons why we think so.

    The libertarian exhortation to stay out of foreign affairs? Not sure what you are referring to. Classic George-Washington-isolationism is looking pretty good right now.

  10. 10 10 David Wallin

    I rather enjoy the observation that follows. I do not know the original source.
    For decades, people have speculated that if you got enough monkeys and enough typewriters, you’d eventually get Shakespeare. The internet has clearly proven that conjecture false.

  11. 11 11 Ken B

    @9
    I think the claim that ISIS was allowed to flourish in the break-down of order attendant upon ()take your pick) is a reasonable position to argue. The position that it is a *reaction* to anyone’s foreign policy is deluded. (Its roots are religious and long pre-date any recent policies.)
    Hewitt suggested Trump meant the former, and Trump demurred.

  12. 12 12 Harold

    “Note how the industry and Haidt himself have settled on the description of Michael Brown as “an unarmed black man killed by police”. Memorize that phrase so you won’t let heretical facts slip out.)”
    That is an accurate phrase. It may not be the whole story, but it is accurate.

    Ken B “No. Harold on Michael Brown level awful.” You failed to provide any evidence that your story was better than mine, other than you thought it more likely. A rare Ken B fail. I am surprised you raise it again.

  13. 13 13 Ken B

    When Joseph McCarthy was running for his first office he talked to people about how much his incumbent opponent had taken from the treasury. Quite a lot as it turned out, and as much as Joe claimed too, salary for all those years.

  14. 14 14 iceman

    Huh I thought Faulkner wrote better than that

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