Alternative Realities


Romans Pancs, my friend from what is slated to be the other side of The Wall, observes in an email that a substantial fraction of the US population attends church, where they are fed a steady diet of alternative facts and fake (old) news. Yet not many people seem terribly outraged by this, and in fact churchgoers are widely respected for the power of their fact-free, unconditional faith.

Why, then, all the angst and anger and disrespect for those who place their unconditional faith in the fake news and prophesies purveyed by Donald Trump? Whence the double standard?

I have a separate question, motivated by the same observation: To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the condiitions in which Trumpism can flourish?

I’ll be glad to hear your answers to either question, or to both.

Click here to comment or read others’ comments.

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86 Responses to “Alternative Realities”


  1. 1 1 Advo

    While religion – and in particular FUNDAMENTALIST religion – is bad for rational thought, and religious charter schools as well as home-schooling zealots tend to do their level best to suppress it in their victims/students, the more interesting question might be:
    “Why now?”
    A large part of the American population has been religiously irrational since the founding of the nation, yet it is only now that they have managed to somebody like Trump on us.

    Here’s data highlighting the relationship between creationism and support of the GOP and the development over time. Pew found a pretty strong relationship in 2013, much higher than in 2009.

    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/03/republican-views-on-evolution-tracking-how-its-changed/

    It appears that GOP supporters suffered serious mental deterioration over that time period. I wonder how that happened?

    And while we don’t appear to have any more recent poll data, given the results of the recent elections, I think it’s fair to assume that this trend hasn’t recently reversed.

  2. 2 2 Jonathan Kariv

    Well saying “Alternative fact” is kinda admitting that one is talking nonsense. The churches for all the nonsense they spew don’t actually explicitly state that they’re talking nonsense.

    Only tangentially related but you may enjoy this https://www.scribd.com/document/337471737/Proof-of-the-Riemann-Hypothesis-utilizing-the-theory-of-Alternative-Facts .

  3. 3 3 Miguel Madeira

    Most churches benefit from a kind of “grandfather clause”, saying exactly that “fake news” are acceptable if they are old? Note that this clause usually does not extend to churches with a new message, like Scientology (whose believers are frequently considered crazy) – and Mormons are somewhere in between.

  4. 4 4 Biopolitical

    “To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the condiitions in which Trumpism can flourish?”

    To only a marginal extent. For all practical purposes the demand of nonsense and hypocrisy is fixed and enormous. Religious and political enterprises just supply them in high quality and at low prices.

    Slight changes occur at the margin. The popularity and social acceptance of centuries-old nonsense probably makes any nonsense more palatable for a few people. But the opposite is also likely: some people may recoil from novel nonsense just because they are disgusted by the spectacle of the old one.

  5. 5 5 Roger

    The angst and anger and disrespect is for Trump. The Left hates him for his pro-America policies, his nominees, his proposal to build a wall, his style, his independence, his popular, and a few other things.

    The press is going to spend 4 years of name-calling against him. Get used to it.

    The leftism and globalism of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made Trump possible, not the churches.

  6. 6 6 Advo

    @Roger,
    I’m not bothered by the wall.
    I’m bothered by the fact that he is mentally ill, that he will deregulate Wall Street (with predictable results), that he will massively cut taxes for the rich and that he will take away the health coverage of millions of his naive supporters.

    That, and a lot of other things, most of which will become clear only over the next few years.

  7. 7 7 Tom

    Both Clintons lied repeatedly and for similar low-stakes items. Obama lied repeatedly and for much higher stakes (Iran nuclear deal, Obamacare, Clinton’s server, etc.). What makes Trump unique is that he lies badly and over inane issues, not the fact that he’s dishonest at all. The media didn’t care about Democratic lies and they care about Trump’s lies. Why invoke religion? Simple partisanship is enough.

  8. 8 8 Advo

    @Tom:
    The difference between the lies of Trump vs. those of other politicians is first of all the sheer volume and secondly the fact that other politicians are generally aware of the fact that there exists such a thing as empirical reality and that just because they want something to be a certain way doesn’t make it so.
    Trump is a classic narcissist and reality bends around him and his desires the way space bends around a black hole.

  9. 9 9 Manfred

    @Advo 8:
    “Trump is a classic narcissist and reality bends around him and his desires the way space bends around a black hole.”

    This sentence equally applies to Obama as well. “I won”, “I have a pen and a phone”, “If Congress does not act, I will”, executive orders with no legal foundation, etc

  10. 10 10 Steve Landsburg

    Roger: I understand that you admire Donald Trump. But when people criticize him for one thing and you announce (with no evidence and no reasoning, and quite incorrectly — which I know, because I am one of the people whose motives you are mischaracterizing) that what they’re really upset about is some other thing, you appear to be either an idiot or a deliberate liar.

  11. 11 11 James Kahn

    Just as I thought it was silly (though fun) to jump on Obama over a poorly phrased or misspoken thought (“57 states,” etc.), the “alternative facts” blowup is equally silly. It’s pretty clear in context that she meant, in effect, “Why are you wasting time reporting on these facts (crowd size), instead of these other (“alternative”) facts that are more important?

    There’s also the issue that the “facts” being asserted by the reporter were not exactly “e=mc^2, but rather a subjective and selective guess at crowd sizes based on photos of unclear timing and origin, which would have been laughed out of any court of law. (As an example, the side-by-side photo of 2009 vs 2017 was tweeted by Binyamin Appelbaum was tweeted at 11:20am, meaning that the 2017 photo was taken well before the actual ceremony.) So the media is just as bad as Trump, if not worse as they are expected to be purveyors of real information. Politicians are expected to spin and slant.

  12. 12 12 Zazooba

    A lot of issues here, so I will break my comments down into pieces. First, the Whopper Ubiquity axioms.

    Axiom WU (Whopper Ubiquity): virtually all people/groups in the political arena put forward blatantly false or dishonest “arguments” or “facts” (“Whoppers”).

    Axiom WUp (Private Whopper Ubiquity): most, but not all, people actually believe some Whoppers in their heart of hearts, even when they have no reason to expound Whoppers for political or personal gain.

    Corollary WUp: there exist some people/groups who rarely believe Whoppers when they have enough information to know that a Whopper is a Whopper.

    Proof by enumeration. Below is a list of Whoppers expounded by a wide range of people/groups:

    1- Trump’s claim that 2-3 million illegal votes were cast in the election.

    2- Trump’s claim (via Spicer) that attendance at his inauguration was higher than at any other inauguration.

    3- Ubiquitous false claims about Michael Brown’s attack on Officer Wilson and the subsequent shooting. Examples: Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that Brown was “murdered” in his book Between the World and Me published in July 2015, and Justice Sotomayer cited Coates’s book in a June 2016 opinion. (Before posting objections, read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown#Grand_jury_hearing.)

    4- Young-earth creationism. (Don’t even bother posting objections — just not interested.)

    5- Widespread credulous reporting of alleged hate crimes that refuses to acknowledge the ubiquity of hate-crime hoaxes and hides subsequent information revealing them to be hoaxes. http://www.fakehatecrimes.org/

    6- Trump’s claim he would bring back the mining jobs lost to improved efficiencies in the coal industry.

    7- Claims that women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for doing the same job while having equal qualifications.

    8- Republican claims that various nostrums will appreciably improve health insurance markets. Examples: selling insurance across state lines and tort reform. (Not as clear-cut a Whopper as I would like, but clearly a blatant overstatement.)

    9- Assertions that Trump said Mexicans are rapists. (Read the actual quote, in full, before posting objections.)

    10- Claims by universities that they are equal opportunity employers. Example from the U of Rochester: “… the University hires for all positions without regard to age, color, disability, domestic violence status, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, military/veteran status, national origin, race, religion/creed, sex, sexual orientation or any other status protected by law.

    11- Steve’s contention that the freedom to invite people “into your living room” is a serious argument for allowing unfettered immigration into the country. http://www.thebigquestions.com/2016/10/19/the-last-debate/

    12- Outrage at Trump’s pussy-grabbing comments and Anita Hill’s allegations, but silence about Juanita Broadrick et al. (Yes, I know the allegations are against Bill, not Hillary, but where was the outrage in 1998 when Bill was President? Where is the outrage that Bill campaigned for Hillary?)

  13. 13 13 Roger

    @Steve: I was not characterizing your motives. Your post was not even criticizing Trump so much, as criticizing churches and those who express angst for Trump followers. I did assume that you were referring to angst on Left, as that seems to be where most of the angst is.

    @Advo: Yes, lots of ppl are bothered by Trump’s proposed policies. And his popularism (I meant to say). That is why he is hated, for the most part. Steve may have other reasons for hating him.

    Saying Trump is mentally ill is just name-calling. He does not have symptoms that match any recognized mental illness.

  14. 14 14 Zazooba

    Some thoughts about religion and the lack of outrage about Whoppers.

    1- Religious Whoppers are technically not Whoppers. Religion is basically a belief in magic, and if you actually believe the world is magical, anything is reasonable. So, Steve’s fundamental argument is deeper. His argument is that religious belief itself is a Whopper. Given the success of the scientific world-view, I have to say I agree. Genuine religious faith is quickly fading.

    2- The fading of religious belief undercuts Steve’s hypothesis that religion has made Trump’s Whoppers possible. Since religion was stronger before today, Whoppers should have been more common than they are today. Similarly, the religion hypothesis predicts that Trumps Whoppers should be fewer and smaller than previous Whoppers and less acceptable to voters.

    3- I think that the human capacity for Whopper belief is more fundamental than religious belief and that religion is just one manifestation of human Whopper-affinity.

    4- An affinity for math and science is not very common today, and much less common than Whopper-affinity. This suggest that the math and science worldview is a relatively new adaptation relative to Whopper-affinity.

    5- Question: is Whopper-resistance related to an affinity for math and science? My guess is yes. Engineers are pretty strong evidence in favor of this.

  15. 15 15 Zazooba

    An alternate explanation for the alleged rise in Whopperism: an increase in diversity.

    Politics today is very tribal, and identity politics has been on the upswing. This is a natural outcome of an increase in diversity.

    Many political statements are simply statements of whose side the speaker is on, and Whoppers are useful for asserting that one tribe is good and deserving of power and another tribe is bad and deserving of subjugation. In fact, for much of the academic left, it is a basic law that arguments are simply assertions of power, so their Whoppers are virtuous Whoppers and all virtuous people must embrace their Whoppers.

    I used to think that we were moving toward a progressive utopia of equal rights and mutual respect, but the Obama years have made clear that tribalism and bigotry is widespread and widely acceptable. Maybe it was always been this way.

  16. 16 16 iceman

    Zazooba 12 – “domestic violence status”??

  17. 17 17 iceman

    James Kahn – nice. Yes it should be obvious to any thinking person that the point was one can paint a technically accurate but misleading picture by focusing on certain facts and ignoring others. Actually a time-honored tradition in politics.

    Kind of the converse maybe and struck me as funny – in the viral video du jour about a lady getting kicked off a plane for harassing her seatmate, one of her ‘zingers’ (in reference to climate change) was “is gravity a theory too?!” Umm, yeah actually it is…several theories in fact.

  18. 18 18 Advo

    @Roger,

    Trump has classic narcissistic personality disorder.
    Check the DSM-IV criteria and tell me which one doesn’t match.

  19. 19 19 Pat

    I go to church. I do not ever claim that my faith is a fact. It’s not. You can prove facts. Leaps of faith are not based on fact. Brilliant atheists are more likely to make cheap shots when discussing religion than when they discuss other topics

  20. 20 20 Manfred

    Pat @19:
    Let’s not forget as well, that there is long list of scientists who are deeply believing Christians. Just saying.

  21. 21 21 Manfred

    Advo @18:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder
    “Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings.”
    Yes, it describes Trump.
    It also describes Obama.
    And it also describes probably 75% of politicians running around this country.

  22. 22 22 Zazooba

    An alternate explanation for acceptance of Trump’s Whopperism.

    Perhaps a combination of (1) the banning of dissenting opinions to current orthodoxy, (2) reaction to the left’s own wall of Whoppers, and (3) the normalization of ethnic and gender hatreds by the left.

    When faced with things like a solid wall of Whoppers about Michael Brown, prohibition of voicing reasonable concerns about immigration, and open contempt based on ethnicity and gender, many voters responded by backing the only politician willing to relentlessly shout back. And there is no denying that Trump has seriously damaged the establishment’s Whopper-wall.

    Can only a Whopper-monger do this? I suspect so, but I’m not sure. Romney’s decency didn’t work, but it almost did.

    Or, are all successful politicians inherently Whopper-mongers? Probably, but not necessarily is my guess.

    Or do the most successful politicians communicate a core of conviction inside their Whopper-nados because Whoppers are the just the tools of the trade. Could be.

    In any event, many voters thought that Trump, a born Whopperist, was the best at shouting back.

  23. 23 23 Zazooba

    Another angle:

    Is anyone willing to admit that they, personally, believed an obvious Whopper at one time or another?

    Is anyone at least willing to admit that they, personally, put forward or argued in favor of an obvious Whopper?

  24. 24 24 Ken B

    Zazooba 12. I like your axiom. BUT …

    Citing 1 as a whopper is a whopper. We don’t know. We do know there are millions of illegal registrations. We do not know how many votes. Unproven and whopper are not synonyms.

    I do appreciate 11 though!

  25. 25 25 Ken B

    Zazooba 23
    I have believed a lot of whoppers over the years. For several I believed that Iraq did NOT have WMDs.

  26. 26 26 Dave Tufte

    I think Julian Jaynes made a similar point about hypnotism in his “Bicameral Mind …”. I don’t think he made the connection to politics though.

  27. 27 27 Zazooba

    A test for those of you who believe Trump is an unprecedented Whopper-monger:

    What fraction of the hate-crimes against minorities reported by the respectable media do you believe to be actual, genuine hate-crimes, i.e., not a hoax, or an unsubstantiated allegation, or a trivial incident blown out of proportion, or a mischaracterized innocent action.

    Off the top of your head, what do you know about this hate crime?
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/a-black-church-burned-in-the-name-of-trump/506246/

    Off the top of your head, how many examples can you give of demonstrably genuine hate crimes in the past few months? How many examples of hate crime hoaxes can you give off the top of your head? (The off-the-top-of-the-head requirement is meant to test how well the media has informed you about recent hate crimes.)

    Are you willing to admit that many reported hate crimes are actually hoaxes?

  28. 28 28 Roger

    @Advo: Yes, Trump has feelings of self-importance, but he really is the most important man in the world. Hence, not a disorder for him to think the truth.

  29. 29 29 J-man

    Did Steve get out of the wrong side of the bed?

    The best churches i have fellowshipped in have always encouraged critical thinking. To summarize: know what you believe and why you believe it.

    I think the uncritical compliance that you observe (and deride) in Christians is generally apparent in the population at large. I doubt this observation is all that different in nations without a Judeo-Christian heritage, as well.

    If the populations of other nations are secularly uncritical, then it is pretty clear that Church teachings are not to blame.

  30. 30 30 Zazooba

    13- The Washington Post pretended that some State Department officials were leaving because of disgust with Trump, but they were actually asked to leave. The Washington Post has not apologized.

    “The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2017/01/26/the-state-departments-entire-senior-management-team-just-resigned/

    “A number of career Foreign Service officers were informed this week that they will not be asked to stay on in senior or sensitive posts that are under direct White House control…”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-choosing-to-replace-several-senior-state-department-diplomats/2017/01/26/0c9e19e0-e3f8-11e6-a453-19ec4b3d09ba_story.html

  31. 31 31 Zazooba

    14- The Washington Post pretended that “the entire senior level of management” at the State Department resigned, but only one of the State Department’s six under-secretaries and three of the twelve people who worked for him were asked to leave. The Washington Post has not apologized.

    “The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2017/01/26/the-state-departments-entire-senior-management-team-just-resigned/

    “Kennedy [the Under-Secretary for Management] and three of his top officials resigned … Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_State#/media/File:US_State_Department_organizational_chart_Nov_2016.jpg

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2017/01/26/the-state-departments-entire-senior-management-team-just-resigned/

  32. 32 32 Zazooba

    15- The New York Times pretended that Trump’s order for all appointed ambassadors to leave their posts by Inauguration Day was a gross breach of precedence, and threatened to disrupt diplomatic relations with key countries. But it is customary to ask all politically-appointed diplomats to leave upon inauguration (with perhaps a handful of exceptions), embassies have career officials whose job it is to carry on operations in the meantime, and Obama did the same thing. The New York Times has not apologized.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/05/us/politics/trump-ambassadors.html

    http://www.snopes.com/trump-fire-all-politically-appointed-ambassadors-unprecedented/

  33. 33 33 Ken B

    @J-Man 29
    You must be new here. The regulars all know about Steve’s bed, which was custom built with only wrong sides.

  34. 34 34 David Cushman

    A low point for this blog, as far as I’m concerned. Landsburg presents no evidence for the blanket claim that, in effect all, churchgoers are “fed a steady diet of alternative facts and fake (old) news.” This surely does happen sometimes in some churches in some places, but I’ve been attending churches in many places for many years, and have never had a single serving of such, much less a steady diet. (Well, sometimes some bad economics.) The many churches, many of their members, and their higher governing institutions that I am familiar with, and many I have read about, are by no means pro-Trump nor anti-science. In fact, many despise Trump. I would add that faith is a bit more complicated for some thoughtful people than some black-and-white “magic” versus “facts” comparison. Finally, why would Landsburg want to alienate with this amateur sociological speculation those of us who do go to church, who are also pretty well informed about science (and economics, in my case at least), who may also agree with him on many other points, and who also despise Trump?

  35. 35 35 Ken B

    @34
    David, I think you missed a trick. By fake news Steve means fake good news — the gospels. And even if you are an Anglican you are occasionally served such in church.

  36. 36 36 Romans Pancs

    @Advo Re Why now?

    Clinton was a weak candidate. Had she been adequate, Trump would have lost, and we might have forgotten his fake-facts strategy, having convinced ourselves it did not work.

    That the fake-facts strategy can succeed so well in politics may be a discovery that took time to make—just as wheels on a suitcase—such an obvious idea—had to be invented.

    Finally, extreme political correctness has led to certain questions having never been discussed. Hence, when fake facts were put forward, they did not jar with facts widely known.

  37. 37 37 Ken B

    @36
    The premise of this comment seems to be that fakery is new to politics. I think this is a fake fact.

  38. 38 38 Zazooba

    A mosque burned today. Politico et al. think there is a high probability the fire was a result of Trump-fed hatred.

    What do you all think? Be explicit: what is the probability the blaze was set by Trump supporters?

    Do you agree with Politico’s probability assessment or is Politico living in a world of alternative facts?

    Lawyers Guns and Money Blog is predicting a wave of lynchings in the near future. Do you agree with LGM Blog or are they living in a world of alternative facts? What is your estimate of number of lynchings this year?

    https://thinkprogress.org/islamic-center-of-victoria-fire-8a683f632a7a#.567xc3fxw

  39. 39 39 Zazooba

    A Chuck Schumer Whopper:

    “Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded has been stomped upon”

    Except, of course, that immigration was severely restricted from about 1924 to 1965, and before 1924, there were numerous restrictions based on ethnicity.

    Apparently synagogues as well as churches are “training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking.”

  40. 40 40 Robert Euglossine

    If there is a false belief many people have believed for generations, it has proved itself mostly harmless. This selection process, in my opinion, allows religious beliefs to escape close scrutiny and also to escape stigma from others for holding these beliefs.

    I think this is fairly reasonable, especially given that many people hold beliefs that are true but that they cannot justify.

  41. 41 41 James Kahn

    14-Zazooba
    “His argument is that religious belief itself is a Whopper. Given the success of the scientific world-view, I have to say I agree. Genuine religious faith is quickly fading.”

    This seems to be premised on the idea that one must choose between religion and science. Since there is no shortage of “genuine” (whatever that means) religiosity among scientists, that seems to be untrue. While some religious people take a literal view of the Bible, that is not the mainstream. Religion and science deal with different things, and they both fail miserably when they try to invade the other’s sphere. The quoted statement is akin to saying, “Given the success of quantum mechanics, neoclassical economics is a whopper.”

    Incidentally, I agree with most of your other posts.

  42. 42 42 Jonathan Kariv

    40-James Kahn
    Any data on the claim that biblical literalism isn’t main stream? A quick wiki searh suggests it’s somewhere around 30% in the us. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_literalism Of course wikipedia can be wrong but I’m wondering why you say it isn’t the mainstream?

    On a related point, you say that one doesn’t need to choose between Science and Religion because empirically there are quite a few scientists are genuinely religious. OK fair enough such people exist but if you go to specific issues you do kinda need to choose how you weigh science and religion. If you’re considering, for example the age of the earth. Then you have on the one hand a bunch of scientific evidence (carbon dating, light wave data for big bang etc) on the one hand and scripture on the other. If you’re going to think about that issue then yeah you kinda do need a way to weigh these (bayesian/frequentist/justpickone?) . Of course you can say either “I haven’t thought about that one and haven’t formed an opinion” or “I don’t take that bit particular verse literally” but if you’re doing one of those on either issue I’m left wondering what truth claims you get from religion? If none I wonder what value you find in it?

  43. 43 43 Ken B

    Zazooba 38
    That article cannot even state the executive order accurately, much less provide any conceivable link! This is about par for Thinkprogress in my experience.

  44. 44 44 Ken B

    Jonathan Kariv 41
    I confess I can identify no truth claims I get from Mozart’s piano concerti.

  45. 45 45 Zazooba

    @James Kahn 40

    Agree.

    There are many decent and intelligent religious people. In fact, although I do not agree with religious people, I find most of them to be decent people and am happy to live among them and make no effort to change their minds.

    The statements you cite are purely my own beliefs about such things. Indeed, I disagree with Steve’s basic contention that religion is somehow driving the dishonesty we are seeing now (and at many other times).

  46. 46 46 Steve Landsburg

    James Kahn (#41): I agree with you that the existence of bright and thoughtful scientists who are also religious presents an enormous challenge to those who view religion as I do. But it also seems to me to be incontrovertible that are a great number of matters of objective fact that are addressed by both religion and science, on which religion and science give incompatible answers, and on which the religious answers quite consistently turn out to be wrong.

  47. 47 47 Jonathan Kariv

    Ken B-44. Sure there are things that people value which are not facts. In the case of Mozart I can see what you might value. In the case of religion it’s less clear to me what James is putting a value on so I asked. As he mentioned the science/religion conflict and that conflict is (in my head at least) usually about facts and epistemology I pointed at that. If one’s position is “I get my facts from science and other things from religion” then I’m left wondering what those other things are.

  48. 48 48 Harold

    Ken B. “Citing 1 as a whopper is a whopper. We don’t know. We do know there are millions of illegal registrations. We do not know how many votes. Unproven and whopper are not synonyms.”
    Trump claimed to know that there were the illegal votes AND none of those votes went to him. That is a whopper.

    Zazooba’s other items.
    3) That link to the grand jury documents a very unusual process “Legal analysts raised concerns over McCulloch’s unorthodox approach, asserting that this process could have influenced the grand jury to decide against indictment and that they were given too much material to assess.[73][74] The analysts highlighted the significant differences between a typical grand jury proceeding in Missouri and how Wilson’s case was handled.[36]”

    Usually at a grand jury the prosecution presents its case and not the defense case as well.

    9) Correct, Trump did not say Mexicans were rapists but that Mexican immigrants were rapists. Read the full quote before commenting.

    To Landsburg’s questions:
    “Whence the double standard?”
    It is out of a recognition that religion in the past has been a necessary evil, or if not necessary then a requirement for the expansion of humanity. Without religion, societies could not grow large and we would be left in small groups of hunter gatherers (or at least that is my contention – more details if anyone is interested). It is a recognition that one variety of false information has been useful in the past, whereas the other variety has no usefulness. It may not be a double standard if the standards are different. However, it is still a bad standard. Societies have now grown to such an extent that what was useful in the past has now become a liability. We should abandon the falsehoods of the past, however useful they may once have been.

    “To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the conditions in which Trumpism can flourish?”

    I think people separate religious falsehoods from Trump falsehoods. I don’t think we can blame this on religions training people to believe falsehoods. We have had religion forever, and Trump only comes now. If it is the fault of religion we would need a rise in religiosity to explain Trump.

  49. 49 49 Ken B

    Jonathan Kariv 47
    Well I’d say the point is simply that there are other things. No-one would raise an eye-brow if I were a historian who likes the novels of Walter Scott. We hear cited the fact that there are religious scientists, and are asked (implicitly at least) “how can that be if they are actually incompatible in their truth claims?”. And I think it’s easy to see how. The whole “they answer different questions” trope is evidence of people not looking too carefully at the differing claims. You and I and Steve might think they should, but generally they don’t.

  50. 50 50 mlanier

    Beyond the obvious tone in the question, the real answer to your question lies in the fact that Churches hold fellowship to be virtuous. “Let us not stop meeting with each other.” as the New Testament enshrines. Along with this comes the Lord’s various teachings on helping others. Too often what happens is that these two combine into a form of insipid tribalism. What becomes important is what side you are on. So Christianity becomes chiefly important for its excellent arguments for politics, rather than politics for its excellent arguments for Christianity. I have been fortunate to never hear a church tell me to knowingly disregard logic, on the contrary the church fathers (Augustine, Jerome) and more contemporary theologians (Kierkegaard, Lewis, Pascal) have made it a point to say otherwise.

  51. 51 51 Jonathan Kariv

    @KenB 49. I’ve acknowledged that these religious scientists are getting something other than facts/truths about the universe from their religious beliefs and that these things have value. I’ll also concede that it’s not super hard to compartmentalise things so you can get both facts from science and the other thing from religion. I still think it’s a pretty natural follow up question to ask what these other things are.

  52. 52 52 Ken B

    @51
    It’s a perfectly reasonable question, as long as it is not meant rhetorically. Pascal Boyer wrote an interesting book on the topic.
    Personally I differ from Hitchens and Dawkins when they say “there is no god, and a good thing too.” I wish there were a god, and for lots of the obvious reasons, all emotional rather than logical: a fair universe, a friend who loves you, moral certainty, Palestrina’s music.

  53. 53 53 Ken B

    Mlanier 50
    Surely you have heard in church “with god all things are possible.” This is a claim of exemption from logic and reason.

  54. 54 54 Jonathan Kariv

    @52. Not meant rhetorically at all. I’ll look for the book.

    I’ve never gotten the argument of “objective morality” or as you put it moral “certainty”. Ok one can have a moral framework which is based on the wish of a deity (or could if we had one). There are plenty of other moral frameworks out there (contractarianism, utilitarianism, Steve’s wish etc). What’s meant to be so special about the deity’s wish? Although I suppose this might be just another case of “not looking too closely”.

    On the fair universe and friend that loves you bit it depends on what kind of god you’re envisioning and you happen to be. Some parts of the bible depict god as not only loving you but hating your enemies (e.g. 10 plagues). I don’t think it’s that hard to see why this is something one might be hesitant in wishing for. As for Palestrina’s music, that might be another thing I need to look for.

  55. 55 55 Ken B

    54
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nx25GyJwXo

    Yes, I think not looking too closely is key.

  56. 56 56 Michael Kelbaugh

    “To what extent have the churches…created the conditions in which Trumpism can flourish?”

    Traditional religious practice coincided, and moreover motivated, the forces for political liberty during the American revolution. To blame it for the unraveling of that political system is more than a stretch.

    The inculcators of postmodernism – the public education system, leftist academia, the entertainment industry – have wielded far more influence over the American mind than conservative religion over the last 70 years. It is they who have impugned the political vision of the founders, preached moral relativism and cynicism, and claimed that all truth is subjective.

    Trump, the flawed anti-hero, is merely the product of an unmoored culture. The left has now supposedly rediscovered the value of limited government, morality, and objective truth, but it is they who labored for decades to undermine these ideals. The people who condemn today’s alternative facts are the same who have questioned the existence of any objective facts.

    The church may be guilty of not resisting Trumpism, but it did not create it.

  57. 57 57 James Kahn

    “But it also seems to me to be incontrovertible that are a great number of matters of objective fact that are addressed by both religion and science, on which religion and science give incompatible answers, and on which the religious answers quite consistently turn out to be wrong.”

    I don’t think religion “gives answers” on scientific questions. There are texts that make statements such as “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” that ought not to be taken literally (and generally aren’t). Religion primarily gives answers about ethical behavior, community life, along with doctrine that is not scientific in nature (“Jesus died for your sins,” “Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived,” etc.)

    42-”if you go to specific issues you do kinda need to choose how you weigh science and religion”

    Sure, at the risk of sounding glib, I go to science for for scientific stuff like the age of the earth. To the extent I go to religion, it’s for non-scientific stuff.

  58. 58 58 James Kahn

    And to answer Jonathan Kariv: “Any data on the claim that biblical literalism isn’t main stream? A quick wiki searh suggests it’s somewhere around 30% in the us.”

    By not mainstream I meant minority, and not in terms of individuals, but rather official stances. Also, “biblical literalism” is a vague term, so who knows what that 30% means. Orthodox Jews take certain aspects of the Bible literally (Moses was a real person, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, etc.), but absolutely reject literalism on science and even on religious law (were reliance is placed on oral tradition, the Talmud, rabbinic decisions, etc.).

  59. 59 59 Sprobert

    “Trump, the flawed anti-hero, is merely the product of an unmoored culture. The left has now supposedly rediscovered the value of limited government, morality, and objective truth, but it is they who labored for decades to undermine these ideals. The people who condemn today’s alternative facts are the same who have questioned the existence of any objective facts.”

    This has also been my thought throughout the election cycle. Those who have pushed so hard for individual, subjective truth are decrying one of the prime examples of their philosophy.

  60. 60 60 Steve Landsburg

    James Kahn (#57): Correct me if I’m wrong (and I mean that sincerely, as I am quite obviously not someone who has paid sympathetic attention on these matters, and so might well need correction), but I was under the impression that Orthodox Jews generally believe, among other things, that:

    —There exists an omniscient, omnipotent and incorporeal being who made a conscious decision to communicate directly with Moses, and then did so.

    —There is currently sufficient reason to be essentially certain that at some time in the future, a descendant of David will rule the Jewish people in accordance with Jewish law.

    —At some time in the future, a great many long-dead people will be resurrected.

    It does not seem to me that any of these beliefs is compatible with a scientific approach to the analysis of evidence.

  61. 61 61 iceman

    Michael Kelbaugh 56 – nicely said

  62. 62 62 James Kahn

    Steve Landsburg – 60: Maybe a tricky point, but I think of the realm of science as in the verifiable or refutable. None of those things you mention strike me as in that realm. They seem more like what I called “doctrine” (Jesus died for your sins, etc.). You might argue that the possibility of your last one (resurrection of the dead) can be scientifically refuted, but it seems to me as murky and ill-defined (scientifically) as the existence of that omnipotent being.

  63. 63 63 isomorphismes

    You’re mixing two things together which shouldn’t be mixed. One is preachers who feed fake political facts to their flock. The other is the “illogical” nature of faith/religion itself.

    Many (including intellectuals I’m sure are household names in your house) have written about the unhealthy merging of logic and mysticism. Speaking of Christianity—Christ was a mystic, and it was scholasticism centuries later that came up with “puzzles” like can G-d make a rock so heavy He cannot lift it. None of which bear the slightest resemblance to

    Americans do, and did, complain about and mock Christians who (a) believe false facts (b) prioritise the Republican religion over the Beatitudes.

    Christ’s teachings have never been more important politically than in the Trump Moment. I retweeted a tweet by @SkeletorCapital which I think you should take seriously, because your argument right now sounds like it comes from the era of blithe cynicism and cleverness, when in fact things have gotten deadly serious and showing off is no longer acceptable.

  64. 64 64 Harold

    #56. Can you provide some evidence that academia, entertainment industry and education system claim that all truth is subjective and question the existence of objective fact? That does not sound at all like the message I have heard.

  65. 65 65 iceman

    Harold – see “postmodernism”

  66. 66 66 nobody.really

    To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the conditions in which Trumpism can flourish?

    In other words, what relationship can we find between religion and accepting obvious nonsense without blinking? Landsburg observes the US as a place with a lot of religion. What can we observe about places with less religious practice? Europe has less religious practice than the US—and it fell into right-wing nationalism before we did. Or consider Communist nations where religion is discouraged: China, Cuba, N. Korea, USSR, etc. Do/did people in those nations seem less inclined to accept nonsense without blinking?

    Assume the answer is no. In this case, we might need a different hypothesis to explain the propensity to accept nonsense without blinking. For example, perhaps this is the human condition? In other words, perhaps some portion of any population is inclined to accept nonsense without blinking. Religion may be a manifestation, rather than a cause, of this propensity.

    Alternatively, assume the answer is yes. That is, perhaps environment can prompt people to behave more … what would you say? Skeptically? Cynically?

    And this begs the larger question: What do we mean by “accept nonsense without blinking”?

    Because humans have evolved as social animals, I surmise that our sociability has, on balance, more adaptive qualities than maladaptive qualities. Yeah, people who are prone to trust can be deceived. But people who are prone to distrust may lack the capacity to coordinate their actions with others, and may fall prone to stress-related illnesses.

    Can it be an accident that nigh unto all societies embrace some form of religion? This suggests that religion has a socially adaptive function. And yes, maybe it makes people gullible. Or maybe it merely exploits an innate gullibility. But maybe it helps bind people together who would otherwise have fallen apart, and it is only when people can bind together than we develop cultures by which to transmit learning from one generation to the next—for good and ill.

    The Music Man tells a story about a town of cynical people who are set upon by a con man. The con man, by exploiting a capacity for emotional intelligence heretofore unknown in the town, induces people to band together in a common enterprise. The enterprise proves to be a delusional scheme. But in the show’s conclusion, when the con man is forced to reveal his meager abilities to deliver on his promises, the townsfolk embrace those meager results. They found the joy of their common endeavor, even if delusional, more satisfying than the reality of their prior cynical lives.

    Ok, it’s just a fictional story; it doesn’t even count as an anecdote. But it illustrates the trade-offs between gullibility and cynicism.

    Many remark that Trump is new, but religion is not, so it makes no more sense to try to explain Trump on the basis of US religion than it does to explain the terrorism of the last few decades on the basis of Islam. If religion is the cause, it must be about the most lagged variable in history.

    Rather, it might make more sense to consider more recent triggers and the cause of more recent events. My candidates: the growth of inequality and the decline of the fortunes of many would-be laborers. I suggest that many of the changes we observe are manifestations of this dynamic.

    Why are people expressing anxiety about terrorism and immigration? To some extent they’re recalling an imagined past when America was more homogeneous (whiter, more Christian, more accessible to the working class). And to some extent they’re displacing anxieties about social decay and projecting them onto something else, much like people projected Cold War anxieties onto fears of alien invasion. This explains why Trump is popular in decaying small towns and rural areas, which contains few attractive targets for terrorist attack, but not in DC, NYC, LA, or Chicago, places with actual targets for terrorist attack.

    It’s easy to observe motivated reasoning in others. It’s harder to see motivated reasoning in ourselves. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  67. 67 67 Harold

    #66 nobody.really. The mechanism you describe is group selection. Biologists have debated this since Darwin. Darwin believed, or suspected, that selection could work on groups. A group that contained cooperating (or altruistic) members would out-compete a group containing only selfish members and could be selected for. However, subsequent analysis has shown that in a cooperative group, the selfish individuals would out-compete the altruists and would therefore take over the group. This sort of altruism or cooperation can only evolve in particular circumstances where groups grow, come together and mix, then split into random groups again. This is not observed.

    Cooperative societies like bees and ants only make sense when we focus the selection onto the gene rather than the individual. All cooperative societies are actually a form of kin-selection (probably). The genes for cooperation persist because members of the group are close relatives.

    Vampire bats have been the subject of much discussion. A bat dies if it does not feed for 2 or 3 nights. Bats often feed a group member that failed to find a meal, at significant cost to the donor bat. This could be reciprocal altruism where the donor bat expects a return favor when needed. However, it would then be necessary for cheating bats to be ostracized – that is if a bat fails to give a meal they will not receive one in the future. This has not been demonstrated and so it is more likely to be kin-selection as donor bats are usually related to receiver bats.

    However, this does illustrate the altruism could evolve and be selected for if it is reciprocal. For it to be reciprocal there must be a way of punishing or ostracizing the selfish individuals, who otherwise would take over the group.

    Applying this to humans we can speculate that religion provides exactly this mechanism. In a small human group, altruists can be sure of reciprocation because everyone knows everyone. The selfish or cheating individual can be denied help in the future. Reciprocal altruism can be successful.

    If the group gets too big the cheater can simply move on and cheat with another set of individuals within the group. Cheaters will out-compete the altruists because reciprocity has been lost. The group will be out-competed by another hypothetical group that had somehow managed to retain reciprocity in the larger size.

    A group that had a religion that convinced individuals they would be punished for cheating in say, an afterlife, would maintain reciprocal cooperation even if it grew large enough that individuals could not enforce reciprocity themselves.

    But how can individuals be sure that believers are true believers? We need to take this back the genes again. A society of individuals that had an innate need for belief in religion would be more successful than a rational one. The rational societies would fail to grow because reciprocity could not be guaranteed, so cheaters would take over. Only societies with individuals that could be relied upon to reciprocate – that is the gullible and irrational. would grow.

    Which is why we are where we are today.

  68. 68 68 Harold

    #65. You mean the existence of a minor branch of philosophy that questions the nature of truth and existence is proof that academia, education and media establishments claim that all truth is subjective and question the existence of objective fact? That is a nonsense claim. Philosophers have been talking about that for ever. You would have to demonstrate that postmodern philosophy had been widely taken up, and that is clearly not the case, even among philosophers.

    Go to a school and nearly all lessons will be teaching stuff as facts. Look at a paper from academia and they will be discussing what they refer to as objective facts. Look at a newspaper or TV news and they will be discussing what they consider objective facts and truths. Almost everybody acts as though they think there is a real world out there that we interact with and its properties can be at least partially ascertained.

    We could discuss the merits post-modernism philosophy but that has almost nothing to do with the conduct of the bodies mentioned above

  69. 69 69 Harold

    Following on from #67, it is the same with voting. Landsburg says that voting is irrational and I cannot refute that. However, we do know that if only irrational people vote then rational people will end up with a Government they don’t like.

    Just like group selection, strict rationality promotes the individual over the group. The successful groups will be those that cooperate and vote (the irrational), out-competing the rational non-voter.

    So far there are not very many strictly rational people. The system has creaked along based on irrational appeals to emotion, such as our parents fought and died for our right to vote. That has been the mechanism to promote group success over individual success.

    If we are to overthrow the irrational and maintain the possibility of rational Government we need an alternative, rational mechanism to encourage cooperation. I favor a law compelling people to vote, with modest penalties for those that do not comply, just tipping the rational balance in favor of voting. Spoiled votes are OK – you don’t need to actually vote for anyone if you don’t want. But once you have rationally decided to go the voting booth it is rational to select your preferred candidate.

    The choice is either that, or celebrate irrationality, or abandon the system we have now.

    We can get beyond the necessity for irrational behavior, but evolutionary theory tells us that we cannot do it without replacing the irrational mechanisms with alternative, rational ones.

  70. 70 70 nobody.really

    The successful groups will be those that cooperate and vote (the irrational), out-competing the rational non-voter.

    So far there are not very many strictly rational people. The system has creaked along based on irrational appeals to emotion, such as our parents fought and died for our right to vote.

    Visiting my brother in Chicago during an election season, I saw on TV a public service announcement promoting voting. The ad pans across tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery while a voiceover intones, “These people made the ultimate sacrifice to defend your rights. Won’t you honor them by exercising your right to vote?”

    The second time the ad comes on, my brother turns off the volume and, imitating the voice, say, “This election season, all these people will be voting. Won’t you?”

  71. 71 71 Harold

    #70. nobody.really. Reinforcing the point AND making a funny joke. Nobody really believes in giving value.

  72. 72 72 nobody.really

    #66:

    [I]t might make more sense to consider more recent triggers and the cause of more recent events. My candidates: the growth of inequality and the decline of the fortunes of many would-be laborers. I suggest that many of the changes we observe are manifestations of this dynamic.

    Why are people expressing anxiety about terrorism and immigration? To some extent they’re recalling an imagined past when America was more homogeneous (whiter, more Christian, more accessible to the working class). And to some extent they’re displacing anxieties about social decay and projecting them onto something else, much like people projected Cold War anxieties onto fears of alien invasion. This explains why Trump is popular in decaying small towns and rural areas, which contains few attractive targets for terrorist attack, but not in DC, NYC, LA, or Chicago, places with actual targets for terrorist attack.

    [Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris write,] “[W]hen people grow up taking survival for granted it makes them more open to new ideas and more tolerant of outgroups.”

    In effect, postwar prosperity in America and in Western Europe allowed many voters to shift their political priorities from bread-and-butter issues to less materialistic concerns, “bringing greater emphasis on freedom of expression, environmental protection, gender equality, and tolerance of gays, handicapped people and foreigners.”

    Not everyone experienced this new found economic security, however, and the number of those left behind has grown steadily. Those who do not experience the benefits of prosperity, Inglehart and Norris write, can see “others” — “an influx of foreigners,” for example, as the culprit causing their predicament:

    Insecurity encourages an authoritarian xenophobic reaction in which people close ranks behind strong leaders, with strong in-group solidarity, rejection of outsiders, and rigid conformity to group norms.

    According to the two authors,

    The proximate cause of the populist vote is anxiety that pervasive cultural changes and an influx of foreigners are eroding the cultural norms one knew since childhood. The main common theme of populist authoritarian parties on both sides of the Atlantic is a reaction against immigration and cultural change. Economic factors such as income and unemployment rates are surprisingly weak predictors of the populist vote.

    NYT, The Peculiar Populism of Donald Trump.

  73. 73 73 iceman

    Harold – you’re talking at the extremes and I’m at the margin where the interesting things happen, in economics and elections as well (which gets to the point of the post). Not a big secret I think there’s been a creeping intellectual trendiness to moral relativism, subjective truth etc. Not just as a ‘minor’ philosophy but a broad movement (or catch-all for many different movements) in the arts, which is fine for what it is (e.g. characters and themes are complex not good or bad), the issue is does it blur into other disciplines and become a substitute for critical thinking and developing ethical principles. (Ironically I hear “ours it not to judge” sentimentality increasingly in churches.) The hard sciences should be fine (God willing) but there are the humanities; history seems to be increasingly less about facts than subjective re-interpretation (again not always bad but what is crowded out); I took geography, my kids now take “human geography” (still not sure exactly what that is), and “theory of knowledge” (I better check that one out too). Teaching a generation to “question everything” is great, but they need to be equipped to look for answers too.

  74. 74 74 nobody.really

    #56. Can you provide some evidence that academia, entertainment industry and education system claim that all truth is subjective and question the existence of objective fact? That does not sound at all like the message I have heard.

    Harold – see “postmodernism”

    #65. You mean the existence of a minor branch of philosophy that questions the nature of truth and existence is proof that academia, education and media establishments claim that all truth is subjective and question the existence of objective fact? That is a nonsense claim. Philosophers have been talking about that forever. You would have to demonstrate that postmodern philosophy had been widely taken up, and that is clearly not the case, even among philosophers.

    A philosophy that questions the nature of truth and existence may not really be embraced by all of academia—but I think it has been embraced by the proprietor of this blog.

  75. 75 75 Harold

    Iceman, “Not a big secret I think there’s been a creeping intellectual trendiness to moral relativism, subjective truth etc.”
    There is certainly a debate to be had about that. A certain amount of moral relativism and acknowledgement of some subjective truth are a good thing compared to certain dogmatic virtue ethics, for example. Whereas a rejection of the existence of reality probably gets us nowhere in a practical sense. This move away from past certainties has probably contributed to people feeling less certain and more anxious, which probably contributed to current political outcomes. However that is a very different thing from claiming that education, media and academia question the existence of objective facts and claim all truth is subjective.

    I would hope that we have moved on in the last 300 years, and we do have a different view of morality than the founding fathers.

  76. 76 76 iceman

    74 – not quite fair I think — Landsburg talks about “honest truthseeking”, as opposed to questioning everything as an end in itself, with no expectation or even desire that there be answers.

    75 – yes as I said not all bad especially in the arts and as an offset to dogma; again the problem is this seeping into other disciplines where critical thinking is necessary, and value judgments sometimes do need to be made (as fact-informed as possible). However not sure basic moral principles should have changed that much since the Founding, rather figuring out how to apply them consistently in new environments.

    In fact, with the strong caveat that all theorizing about the election is suspect, I could argue opposite of this post, that the “victory of the anti-politician” reflects people’s tiredness with the mushy political correctness, the talking without saying much and acting even less, that can fairly be connected with these relativist trends. Aided by the mushy but rather responding with daily hyperbole that continues to reflect a lack of critical thinking and distinction-drawing.

  77. 77 77 iceman

    Last sentence supposed to be “Aided by the mushy thinkers not seeing it coming and still not diagnosing it correctly but rather…”

  78. 78 78 Harold

    Iceman “is this seeping into other disciplines where critical thinking is necessary, and value judgments sometimes do need to be made (as fact-informed as possible).”
    Not sure what you mean here, could you provide an example?

    “However not sure basic moral principles should have changed that much since the Founding,”
    Well, since many founding fathers were slave owners I think that statement is wrong.

    “rather figuring out how to apply them consistently in new environments.”

    That doesn’t really work as a get out clause to say we are just applying the same principles to new environments if we are talking about standards of the founding fathers and standards today. It is s distinction with no difference to say that we apply the same principles, but re-define to whom they apply, or to say we re-define the principle.

    “that the “victory of the anti-politician” reflects people’s tiredness with the mushy political correctness, the talking without saying much and acting even less, that can fairly be connected with these relativist trends.”

    My argument is that human nature has evolved to be irrational since rational groups would fail to compete with a certain variety of irrational group. The failure we have today is that the irrational structures that supported large groups (i.e. religion) have not been replaced by rational alternatives (such as compulsory voting). This means that we are always at great risk of populist totalitarian leaders. To rely on rationalism is possibly doomed to failure, because the rational individual will not support the larger group (for example will not vote).

    But on your specifics, political correctness is much like health and safety. A very good thing, but open to abuse. Nobody could argue that H&S was a bad thing, but we are constantly exposed to examples where H&S has been abused for other purposes. When examined more closely, these often turn out to be myths or scams, but nevertheless this give “elf”n”safety” a bad name.

    It is exactly the same with political correctness. Nobody,surely, can seriously say that racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic language should be acceptable. As such “political correctness” as a principle is accepted by all right thinking people. (You may accuse me of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy here, so I will exempt purist libertarians, but that philosophy fails on many other terms so there are very few of them.) The problem arises, as with H&S, that people abuse the concept to promote their own agendas. However, as with H&S these often turn out to be myths or scams. This should not deter us from championing political correctness any more than we should not champion health, oh, and safety. I am aware that the term “political correctness” seems to have slightly different meaning in the USA compared to the UK, so I am open to refine my view if my definition does not apply across the pond.

    The concepts of post-modernism have been abused by Trumpists (I was going to say right wing, but he defies such characterization). Leftists never really thought that facts were arbitrary and there was no objective reality, despite what a few philosophers might have said. No, the people that have abused the concept are bigots like Trump, who are quite happy to spout things as facts, though they are easily refuted. They call them “alternative facts” but they are just lies.

  79. 79 79 Destin

    “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” -Billy Graham, Parade Magazine, 1981.

  80. 80 80 iceman

    Harold – I mentioned subjects like history and geography becoming less “hard”, and of course there’s the new genre of assorted “(blank) studies” which seem essentially like degrees in PC. I’m all for civility but PC too often serves as a (very effective) strategy for ad hominem smearing and shaming to shut down conversation. I think universities in particular should be “safe zones” from *stifled* speech, places where open conversations about *anything* should be encouraged. (For one example of how we’re doing on that front, and possible “seepage” into harder sciences, see the dust-up over Larry Summers’ comments on gender and science a few years back.) I hope we’d agree the First Amendment *only* has meaning to the extent it protects the expression of ideas with which one disagrees.

    “Many founding fathers were slave owners” – sorry but I think that’s a dodge. They even recognized *at the time* the moral inconsistency vs. individual liberty, while trying to hold together a fragile new union. I also think it’s meaningful to say we can come to terms over time with other inconsistencies — this can reflect growth and the breakdown of biases and prejudices *because of* the underlying power of a principle, which is a wonderful thing. Regarding the timelessness of certain principles, I refer you to Coolidge’s beautiful speech about the “restful finality” of the declaration of independence versus “progressivism”.

    I think compulsory voting is in practice illogical, and in theory well…compulsory. To me someone casting an uninformed vote is clearly worse than not voting at all. So unless you think you can lead them to the poll *and* make them think, this seems to me to make it that much *more* likely to produce the populist leaders you fear. In which case your best hope is people tromp down to the polls and then either leave the ballot blank or write in Humpty Dumpty. Which means they’ve wasted a lot of collective time they could have been getting utility from watching reruns of Black Adder and eating crisps (yep I spent some time across the pond ). Rational ignorance, as an inherent feature of voting, is one of the strongest arguments for having government do as little as absolutely necessary.

    The meaning of “alternative facts” was discussed above. Fake news is alive and well on all sides. Rational ignorance is why we’re so susceptible to it.

  81. 81 81 Harold

    Iceman, slave owning was just the most obvious example – there are many, many more where we have moved on. Women now have the vote, for example, black people can marry white people and homosexuals are not locked up. We have moved a long way since then, and I for one think mostly for the better.

    We hear very often that politicians campaign to the baby boomers because they are the ones that vote. Compulsory voting stops that and politicians have to talk to everyone. I explained in detail why I think compulsory voting is one example where a rational mechanism can take the place of an irrational mechanism and so help us forward into an age of rationality. Without such a mechanism we are left with needing irrationality for the system to carry on. Maybe you are happy with that, but it is not satisfactory to me. Compulsory voting is the best I have thought of so far, but I am open to some other rational mechanism that gets us over the fact that rational people won’t vote, and yet the system fails if only irrational people vote. How can we overcome the group selection paradox? Groups do better with cooperation but the rational person does not cooperate?

    Fake news during the election was nearly all one way – favoring Trump. I don’t think it was ideologically led, simply that those stories were the ones that got the clicks and generated revenue. Have not heard what the fake news recently has been about. I do know that polls that Trump does not like are not fake news.

  82. 82 82 iceman

    Of course it’s for the better, i.e. it means we’re being more consistent / honest about upholding a *timeless* principle of individual liberty. The examples you give are ways in which some people were full of sh!t on that before, and they knew it. (Sometimes for pragmatic political reasons but nevertheless.)

    Voting is inherently an irrational act so good luck addressing that. Sure you can force people physically to go the polls but not to take the time to study the various issues in depth etc. given that each vote has no bearing on the outcome. That math is immutable. It’s simply more rational for people with normal utility functions to spend that time deciding what flavor crisps they like best (I think I stole that example from someone, perhaps the host of this blog). Do you believe someone casting an *uninformed* vote is better than them staying home? Doesn’t compelling the people that are more likely to be basing their decisions on superficial soundbites (or fake news?) — which is how politicians will then spend more effort “talking” to those people — seem more likely to produce the populist leaders you fear?

    Here’s the one rational proposal I can see that you might support, i.e. how to move the math more in your favor: have as many things decided on as local a level as possible, where the average Joe can have more influence. That’s an argument for smaller / more decentralized government.

  83. 83 83 Harold

    If you make everyone vote you are not selecting – you get (almost) everyone. If you leave it individuals you ONLY get irrational people. Which group do you think are more likely to be un-informed and base their decisions on superficial soundbites?

    True, there my be other self-selecting groups that currently exclude themselves, such as young people, but I am not convinced that the groups that DO vote are any better informed than the ones that don’t. There is also a likely effect that if forced to vote people would inform themselves better. I don’t know how strong the effect, but I am sure it would be a real effect.

    There is a valid objection to compulsory voting on ideological grounds. But there is also a valid objection to non-compulsory voting on ideological grounds that I outlined above.

    It strikes me that the rational/irrational paradox is a huge flaw if we want a rational society. We can’r really decry people clinging to irrational religion then expect them to cling to irrational voting at the same time. Maybe we don’t want a rational society, but if we do we must take some steps to substitute rational mechanisms for irrational ones.

    Maybe making decisions at a more local level is another way to do this – I am not wedded to compulsory voting, but I think it is a different way to look at the problem. How many votes in the election does it take to make your vote irrational?

  84. 84 84 iceman

    I agree there are valid objections to voting, period :)
    Which is why it’s best to have as few things as possible determined by this irrational process.

    Even at the local level the voting part per se is not super rational, but people can feel they can have an impact in other ways (and on more “daily life” stuff) so more “invested” in the process. I’m afraid that’s just as good as it gets.

    I agree if forced to vote there would be some effect of some people informing themselves a little more – but a little is not great and not even necessarily better i.e. plays to soundbites and fake news. My gut strongly says the overall effect would be a dumbing down. With non-compulsory at least I think they’re being irrational in a specific way you want, *spending “too much” time on this stuff*.

    To be fair I think many (most?) people who over-invest in politics do so because it’s a form of entertainment. Which helps explain why we spend so much time on salacious, personal “character” stuff. Funny how it’s usually only the other guy’s “character” that concerns us.

  85. 85 85 Harold

    This is an interesting discussion of the effects of compulsory voting. It is actually more widespread than I thought. Australia is well known, but I was not aware that most of S. America had compulsory voting. All the costs and benefits we discussed above are included.
    https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/beyond-turnout-consequences-compulsory-voting.

  86. 86 86 Jimbino

    Why can’t Someone, e.g. Pew Institute, run a simple controlled experiment to show that intercessory prayer has no effect whatsoever, or that there is no human DNA in the wine or wafers of the Catholic church’s communion.

    Without something like this, there is no hope for mankind. Superstition will win.

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