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February 1, 2009

“Principles of the American Cargo Cult”
Posted by Patrick at 10:26 AM *

One of those pieces of web writing, by someone about whom you know nothing, that hits you directly amidships. I don’t even remember how I found it.

I wrote these principles after reflecting on the content of contemporary newspapers and broadcast media and why that content disquieted me. I saw that I was not disturbed so much by what was written or said as I was by what is not. The tacit assumptions underlying most popular content reflect a worldview that is orthogonal to reality in many ways. By reflecting this skewed weltanschauung, the media reinforces and propagates it.

I call this worldview the American Cargo Cult, after the real New Guinea cargo cults that arose after the second world war.

The outlined principles divide up alarmingly well into “stuff I recognize as generally true about the way Americans think” and “stuff I just now realized I think.” Damn.
Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness
Admitting alternatives is undermining one’s own belief.
Changing one’s mind means one has wasted the time spent holding the prior opinion.
Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s
When a person has studied a topic, he has no more real knowledge than you do, just a hidden agenda.

[…]

You can succeed by emulating the purported behavior of successful people

This is the key to the cargo cult. To enjoy the success of another, just mimic the rituals he claims to follow.
Your idol gets the blame if things don’t work out, not you.

[…]

If it’s good for you, it’s good

Society is everyone else.
Good intentions suffice
You can always apologize.
There is no long term
Don’t miss an opportunity.

[…]

There will be justice

Bad people get punished.
You, however, will be forgiven.
I’m doing it a disservice by quoting chunks outside of the author’s elegant outline format. Read the original.
Comments on "Principles of the American Cargo Cult":
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:00 AM:

Life is a fairy tale with a happy ending. It isn't? You're evil. Down with you!

#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Scary how much is seems to be bang on target.

I hate it when I see the second being brought into effect. I suspect it's a lot of the anger directed at, "educated elites".

#3 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:08 AM:

Interesting. Thanks. I'll just have to visit the library and print it out.
Agreed about personal responsibility, etc. But sometimes, when one follows the right ritual and things don't work out, it isn't their own fault. Nature dealt them a bad hand that they have not been helped proberly with, or someone higher up doesn't like their face/race/gender/whatever, or something like that. Been up against it a lot in this life. Yes, I can tell the diff tween this and what really was my fault. I've seen enough of both.
Having suffered unfair behavior makes some folks deny all personal responsibility all the time--playing the victim card. This doesn't help their cause. Me, I try to play the this-crap-is-gonna-stop card, but I often don't know where to start.
Also I notice, even though I don't watch tv or spend a whole lot of time on media other than some good websites, that another element of the cargo cult is, well, cargo. If you want to be all right, you have to buy this, buy that, have this or that done to you in the name of beauty or virility or whatever. If I had any money to spare right now, I still would make up my own mind about what to buy. Now I forget already (ADD) whether that article went into this, but it is still a good piece, and I know I can always find something interesting here.

#4 ::: Henry ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:45 AM:

Jim Henley linked to this a couple of days ago, which may be where you saw it.

#5 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:51 AM:

I'm not sure it's just the American Cargo Cult. I know people in the UK who behave this way.

I can only say that I wish people were judged more on their actions, and that more people were willing to accept that it's always more complicated.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:11 PM:

Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness

I have a manager who's like that.

#7 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:16 PM:
You can succeed by emulating the purported behavior of successful people

This is the key to the cargo cult. To enjoy the success of another, just mimic the rituals he claims to follow. Your idol gets the blame if things don’t work out, not you.

You would be amazed how many of the most annoying excesses of the self-appointed parenting police are down to this one. If you don't model yourself on whatever they've decided is The Thing You Must and Shall Do, you're implicitly suggesting that they don't have the magic ritual, and worse, that they don't actually have a deal with God.

There should really be an official correllary of Godwin's Law for breastfeeding.

#8 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:17 PM:

Very nicely delineated.

#9 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:31 PM:

Julia, it's not just infants, either -- it's everything having to do with raising children. If you don't spank your children, well, you're denigrating them for spanking theirs, because your failing to subscribe to their beliefs doesn't let them validate theirs.

And it's not just children. My wife had a lot of trouble at the university for having children instead of devoting her life singlemindedly to her physics career. Especially when our son got sick, her advisor was ... well, it was weird. The only possible way for my wife to succeed, in his eyes and in the eyes of many others, would have been for me to quit all work and become the faculty wife. (At the same time, though, she didn't need financial support because she had a husband. So ...)

People are always hostile when you fail to validate their worldview. I hadn't explicitly thought of it as cargo-cult thinking, but ... it is. Very nice post, Abi.

#10 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:37 PM:

Life should not hurt.
As an aspirational statement ("should not" as opposed to "does not") what is wrong with this?

#11 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 12:50 PM:

From Richard Feynman's speech on cargo cult science:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are
the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about
that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other
scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after
that.

#12 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:23 PM:

I've been seeing some of these principles for awhile now, but casting them as aspects of a cargo cult makes it clear how interdependent and mutually-supporting they are. This is one of the few patterns of thinking that I think makes good sense viewed as a meme complex. For one thing, it explicitly makes anyone who disagrees with you the enemy; group cohesion and passing of the memes to other people is supported by primate group dynamics. And it's a generalized set of memes; any kind of worldview can be supported by it.

Like Patrick I keep finding these same patterns in my own thinking. I find I have to constantly evaluate my own thinking processes to make sure I'm not making one of these errors unconsciously. Using these principles may be incorrect, but it's easier than rigorous thinking, and therefore very seductive.

#13 ::: annalee flower horne ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:30 PM:

BSD, I think what's wrong with "life should not hurt" is that pain (physical and emotional) is a perfectly natural thing. Pain is not necessarily a system failure. Often it's a system failsafe. An alarm that warns us when we are doing something injurious. And that means that, yes, sometimes life should hurt. It should hurt when we stick our hand in boiling water. It should hurt when someone or something in our life is tearing us down emotionally.

The alternative is, we get the injury without the warning. In many ways, we have a culture that strives for painlessness instead of striving to understand, prevent, and overcome the underlying causes. That colors how we look at medicine, mental health, conflicts, social systems, everything. And not in a good way.

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:35 PM:

"sometimes, when one follows the right ritual and things don't work out, it isn't their own fault"

Of course this is correct.

#15 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:38 PM:

certainty is strength, doubt is weakness.

I see this one in action a lot. If you're willing to admit the other/another viewpoint has validity then - Da-DUM - obviously you're really saying they're right and you're wrong. I hate that assumption. David Brin, as I recall, actually suggests the opposite - that it's a sign of maturity to be able to accept the possibility of other viewpoints also having validity. Note that's also, not an assumption that they are right therefore you are wrong. Many people find that idea - multiple valid viewpoints - threatening.

#16 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:42 PM:

BSD at #10: because it's delusional?

If there's one thing we all know, it's that life does hurt, and how we address that hurt, individually and collectively, spiritually, morally, politically, personally, matters. In order to respond properly, one must see clearly. I believe that the proper response to pain is compassion and whatever action flows from it. But to think that human action might somehow create a world without pain, even if we could manage to reach agreement on what such a world might look like -- well, it seems pretty off-base to me. Some folks have suggested that there is a purpose for pain, physically and spiritually speaking. Human beings who cannot feel their own pain because of neurological problems (nerve damage to the extremities, for example) tend to hurt themselves. Human being who cannot feel the pain of others because of brain malfunction (sociopaths) or spiritual damage (insert the name of your favorite example here, lately I've been choosing Robert Mugabe, but he's got lots of company)tend to hurt others.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you.

#17 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:49 PM:

"Life IS pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

#18 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 01:55 PM:

over at henley's i commented as follows:

this *does* describe some aspects of american culture.

on the other hand, it also describes some aspects of human nature all over the world.

face it: we’re just a whiney, stupid, grasping, simple-minded species.

the fact that the wealthiest members of that species in the wealthiest country of the world show these tendencies to a greater extent is not that surprising.

the original cargo cults were not found in america, after all. they were just human beings, being human beings.

(it’s also not unique to america to look at a problem and think, “this problem is unique to us!”)

#19 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:10 PM:

...which is not meant to express disagreement with the author's points, or derogation of their insight.

insights into universal tendencies in human nature, after all, are not worth *less* than insights into passing phases of the local culture.

but i do think that it's important, in thinking through what this author gets right and what they get wrong, to ask "is this a point about americans? about all people? about some americans? about transplanted wyoming plutocrats? how widely and to whom does it apply?"

and also, "is this the result of a local, reversible error, the kind that can be fixed with a software patch, or is this a flaw built into the firmware/hardware, one we'll always have to keep devising work-arounds for?"

so, e.g., the cultural revolution's infatuation with the little red book seems more like one of the first. my tendency to care more about people who are more salient in my environment, and less about people who are far away or out of sight, might be one of the second.

#20 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:17 PM:

I've long liked the formulation that pain is necessary, but suffering is optional.

One of the other problems with "certainty is strength" is the unwillingness to change when circumstances change that so many people show. It's an unremarked corrolary of Goedel's theorem that any classification system large enough to contain an equivalent of arithmetic must be either incomplete or self-contradictory. And the world is too complex for us to look at it without classifying things, the 'pataphysicians to the contrary.


Thinking about this keeps me from getting stuck in a rut.

#21 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:25 PM:

Angiportus @ #3:

To expand on what Patrick said at #14, I think that the point is that there's a difference between trying to do the right thing, and performing some ritual that claims it will make you rich/famous/thin/tan/happy/whatever.

For example, if someone comes to you and says that if you give him some money, he'll pool it with the other investments that he's been given and that means that you all have enough money to invest in the games that only the wealthy play, that's a ritual. He promises that if you act like the wealthy people, you'll become wealthy. Another are some of these diet pills advertised on late night television. The presenter claims that all he does is take the pills, and if you do that you'll look like him. That's ritual.

What's not ritual is trying to do the right thing. Go to school and get an education. That's supposed to help make you successful, but what if you're stuck somewhere the schools aren't good? Try to get ahead in your company, but you're passed over for the guy who just looks more like an executive.

My actual disagreement with this particular principle is the conclusion: "Your idol gets the blame if things don't work out, not you." This is probably true in the case of diet pills; these didn't work, but the next ones.... Where it's not true is something like prosperity theology. The minister says that he started off with nothing, but he gave it away and God rewarded him, now you should give it up and believe and God will reward you too. You can't blame God, so it must be your own fault. In general, I think it's a good rule of thumb, though.

#22 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Tom Whitmore@#20: It's an unremarked corrolary of Goedel's theorem that any classification system large enough to contain an equivalent of arithmetic must be either incomplete or self-contradictory. And the world is too complex for us to look at it without classifying things

Or, as the pioneering linguist Edward Sapir put it, "All grammars leak."

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:40 PM:

Michael @9:
Very nice post, Abi.

Wish I could take the credit, but it was Patrick.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:47 PM:

kid bitzer @19:

"is this a point about americans? about all people? about some americans? about transplanted wyoming plutocrats? how widely and to whom does it apply?"

I would say that the willful embrace of ignorance ("Your opinion matters as much as anyone else's: When a person has studied a topic, he has no more real knowledge than you do, just a hidden agenda.") is distinctly American at this point in time.

The remainder is substantially the same across the various cultures I've lived in.

#25 ::: George Smiley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Tom B @ 11: Many thanks for directing me (back) to Feynman's Cargo Cult essay [.pdf].

"You're a hell of a long way from the pituitary, man."

#26 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Rikibeth @17 summed up most of the actual *useful* value of this piece with that Princess Bride quote. Dark humor aside, that's a good point to burn into your brain so that you can access it quickly for real-life use.

Beyond that one point, the rest of the piece is just a run-of-the-mill example of the Internet Tough Guy genre. "I've been around, Junior. The scales have fallen from *my* eyes." Ok, fine, yes. Nature is complex and unforgiving. Death is scary. I've got *shelves* full of books, fiction and nonfiction, looking at these questions from thousands of different angles. Seeing them again in Powerpoint bullet form is not particularly enlightening.

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 03:06 PM:

Evan @26:

Huh? Did you read the piece?

It's not about the nature of the universe; it's about the particular self-deceptions regarding that nature that have caught the author's attention.

#28 ::: matt ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 03:24 PM:

I surfed to his main page and was surprised that one of the links was dimmed (indicating I'd visited it before). It was a link to a page on experimenting with evolutionary algorithms to discover the best keyboard layout. That was linked recently from reddit. Maybe that's how you came across it (just FYI).

#29 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 03:28 PM:

"Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s"

Actually, I think this is a necessary condition for democracy.

Mind you, I also think another necessary condition is "You have a responsibility to keep an open mind and engage in dialogue on substantive issues", which contradicts a lot of the earlier ideas.

Also, I think it's important to distinguish between "opinion" and "judgement". As I interpret it, anyone can have an opinion; professionals and experts have judgement.

The author's "item-subitem" format suggests that the subitem is a corollary or otherwise causally related to the item; that is, that "experts are just people with hidden agendas" necessarily follows from "all opinions equal". This makes sense in the larger context of the "Ignorance" section, but not in isolation.

As a complete package, the author's argument makes sense. But I think there are some babies in this bathwater.

#30 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 03:34 PM:

Yes, I read the piece, abi. And that piece is full of assertions about Nature -- that's the fundamental basis from which he's saying "see, you** are all self-deceived."


** "you" possibly being the reader, but generally, speaking, some group of people the author doesn't particularly like. In other words, the subject of the Internet Tough Guy essay, without which the genre cannot exist.

#31 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 03:38 PM:

#29, Andrew T:

"Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s"

Actually, I think this is a necessary condition for democracy.

What? That makes no sense at all. Your opinion has as much right to be HEARD as anyone else's, sure; but anyone who thinks my opinion on the stock market is as useful as Warren Buffett's deserves the investment advice I'll give them.

#32 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 04:03 PM:

BSD @10, it's pretty clear to me from its surrounding context that the author highlights it as a normalizing statement, not an aspirational one.

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 04:13 PM:

I think some part of these are basically technological--they represent ideas that come off best when your medium of communications is television. Complex explanations and tedious lectures by experts are boring, subtle interconnections between different problems require too much attention span from viewers, and are harmed by being broken up by ads and every-five-minute rehashes of Caylee and OJ and cute blond chick raped and murdered in the tropics news.

Another thing I'd add, which he kind-of has in there, but which I find kind-of striking: The fundamentally adversarial model of the world used in almost all news reporting and political rhetoric. When there's a disagreement, it's a rare news story that doesn't make one side or the other into either villains or victims of their own prejudices/ignorance and the villains that prey on them. The story often ends up being much less about the disagreement than about why the side the reporter has decided is wrong disagrees, complete with amateur armchair psychoanalysis. This is true in cases where (IMO) there's not really a reasonable argument (evolution), places where there's a reasonable argument but the weight of evidence and expertise is on one side or the other (global warming), and places where the data's ambiguous (the effect of gun control on violent crime in the US).

For a reporter, putting one side of a controversy in white hats and the other in black hats makes the story easy to tell. It's a hell of a lot harder to say "well, see, these climatologists are very convinced by their models, but those meteorologists over there find such models pretty unconvincing when extrapolating out of previously seen conditions...." than to say "these noble scientists are being attacked by those industry shills and dupes."

Another thing I see a lot, which tracks with both the Pain is wrong heading and the Good intentions suffice heading: People who call proposed solutions to painful problems into questions are evil.

This is the pattern I've seen about a million times:

a. Someone claims a solution to some painful or difficult or scary problem.

b. Another person questions the solution, saying it's unworkable or unproven or more expensive/dangerous than claimed or whatever.

c. The second person is held to be, not just wrong, but evil. How dare he destroy hope like that.

You can see this right now in the debate among economists about the likelihood of stimulus saving us from economic disaster, in almost any debate between proponents of some quack cure/woo for some incurable and heartbreaking illness (terminal cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, autism), in proposals for alternative energy, in discussions of the latest educational reform or antipoverty program, etc.

In the recent past, you could see that in the debates about antiterrorism policies (the patriot act, massive surveillance, torture, our financial policing of the world)--if folks who opposed those got any airtime at all post-9/11, they were almost always hammered at by the other side as being bad people who wanted terrorists to attack us. Similarly, the folks opposing the Iraq war within the administration were vilified for being defeatist, because they brought up all this depressing stuff like how ugly an insurgency would be or how much this might cost.

The people arguing that these hopeful things won't work get vilified, basically because (I think) they're undermining this hopeful (pain is unnatural, or more precisely, tragedy is irrational) belief. People like hearing the sort of "we know what to do, the only thing needed now is the political will to do it." That moves us nicely back into the good guys/bad guys narrative that's most comfortable for journalists, and it's reassuring, because it's clearly possible to muster the political will to do all kinds of stuff. Hearing "we don't really know how to solve this problem, and our best current proposals for how to address it are likely to have awful side effects and few benefits" is depressing, even when it's true.

For example, we still don't know how to address the risk of nuclear terrorism very well. We don't really know what the hell to do to fix the melted-down global economy[1]. We don't actually know how to decrease CO2 emissions enough to head off global warming without so much pain that the democratic governments who take those actions will almost certainly lose power[2]. We don't know how to close the black/white achievement gap in school or fix the worst inner city schools[3]. But those positions pretty much mark me out as an evil bastard, because it's so much more hopeful to say that we know how to fix the problem, and it's only the black hat wearing villains and their dupes and useful idiots keeping us from solutions.

[1] Plenty of people are right now offering very confident claims that they do know how to. A few of them may even have been saying consistent things five years ago, though most weren't. But note that most of what has been done so far, all over the world, has not worked. Some fraction seems to have headed off disaster (but we don't know for sure that it wouldn't have headed itself off, though who knows?).

[2] This isn't my field, and I could be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not. If you look at the size of change needed to head off global warming (not just decrease the rate of increase of CO2 emissions, not just level off to a constant rate, but actually cut emissions every year for long enough to start undoing the damage already done), I think it's almost impossible to see how that could be done with current technology, outside of extremely painful things. This ain't build a windmill and put CF bulbs in your house stuff, it's $8/gallon gas and two sweaters over your longjohns stuff so you don't run your furnace stuff.

[3] Of course, all that's needed is either more money, more testing, or more competition from private/charter/church schools. None of those have worked too well yet, which is simply proof that more needs to be tried. Anyone who disagrees with this is a racist bastard who wants poor black kids in DC to be screwed over.

#34 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 04:22 PM:

Uh ... well, it's still a good post, Abi. Just ... that Patrick seems to have posted it. (Now how did that happen?)

BSD@10 - I took the "life shouldn't hurt" thing to mean the American freakishness lately about outlawing all pain. Schools not permitting play on the playground because kids could get hurt, that kind of thing. That kind of thing is driving me crazy lately; my son has kidney disease that's bound up with his allergies, and let me tell you, that focuses your attention on how American life doesn't provide a good basis for health. Failing to live because it might hurt is a delusion.

Kids play on playgrounds, and occasionally they fall and break an arm or something. You can react to that in two ways: you can accept it, say, "Well, my great-grandfather broke his arm there, too," or you can say, "OMG TOMMY IS STANDING ON A CHAIR OMG OMG HE COULD GET HUUUURT!" Americans, increasingly, are opting for the latter. Especially in schools.

That said, working to decrease suffering is a good aspiration. Kids shouldn't die of cancer, and I don't care how natural that is.

#35 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 04:39 PM:

Lila @31:

"Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s"

"matters" does not mean "is useful" or "is correct".

#36 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 04:52 PM:

albatross @33: People who call proposed solutions to painful problems into questions are evil.

I've observed this -- the bits of it around the Iraq war were especially galling -- and I know that it exists. There's a flip side, which I also see a lot, which is the situation where a solution to a problem is proposed and everyone in the room comes up with reasons it won't work until the person who proposed it runs out of counterarguments or just gets tired of fighting and backs down. (A friend of mine calls this "stop energy".) I mostly observe it in engineering organizations and contexts, but I would believe that it exists elsewhere. And the problem with it is that solutions don't spring into being fully formed -- they need experimentation and validation against the real world -- and just because a problem seems insoluble at the outset of a project doesn't mean it actually is insoluble. But you also have to acknowledge those problems as present -- you can't ignore them, but you can say, "we don't know how to fix that yet, but we've got a couple interesting solutions, and we'll experiment with it until we get it right or prove to our satisfaction that a solution doesn't exist." There's a balance to be had, and it's a hard one to strike, but knowing that there exists a balance to strive for is a good start.

#37 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:14 PM:

I am reminded of the excellent film "The Incredibles", wherein can be found this exchange between mother and son:

Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Excellent post. I've always deeply appreciated the use of a cargo cult in "Dreampark" as well - it's one of the more unusual ways to die (not to mention humiliating, I mean, brought down by fake landing lights in the South Pacific? ouch.)

#38 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Er, just realized that my previous post could be taken as a spoiler for Dreampark. Sorry! And, it isn't. I think. What's the delay time for spoilers for novels?

#39 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:24 PM:

Kevin:

Yeah, the right answer here isn't to decide that anyone proposing solutions is evil or deluded, either. It's to think. But that's hard, and not a good fit for either the strengths or the agendas of TV stations, so it's not going to be encouraged. (It's not all that great a fit for newspapers either, though some try to encourage it now and again.)

Indeed, I think a lot of these patterns in the original article and in my post (and others people have noticed) are basically ways to avoid either the pain of despair or the pain of hard thinking.

#40 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:38 PM:

It was the "Ignorance is Innocence" part that struck me the most. That's something I've been seeing that's driven me crazy: the assumption that opinions held in ignorance are somehow purer than informed opinions.

The main problem I have with this piece--and, I think, one source of some of the disagreement above--is that it's too short. We have an outline but need an essay. Some of these statements could be true or false depending on context. Take "You have a right to your share." If you think you deserve a million dollar bonus for your work then, unless you've come up with cold fusion or a cure for cancer, you may be operating under a dysfunctional definition of "your share." If you're a woman who's discovered she's getting less pay than her male colleagues doing the same work... then, yeah, you're not getting your share, and you really should be!

#41 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:41 PM:

Ingrid, #37:

I am reminded of the excellent film "The Incredibles", wherein can be found this exchange between mother and son:
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

This has always struck me as one of those "is the glass half full, or half empty?" kind of things.

#42 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:45 PM:

albatross @ 39

Not to mention the pain of accepting responsibility for your own actions/inactions, your own bad decisions.

#43 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Kevin Riggle at #36 - Thank you so much for the description of "stop energy". We're working on fixing up my dad's house right now and it is so frustrating because any time we get close to finishing something, or suggest a fix, he comes up with reasons that it won't work. It's gotten to the point (after a year and a half) that I don't care anymore that he is living in a house that is falling down around him, and probably ought to be condemned, since every change I suggest is rejected as too much trouble, too expensive, or not good enough. "Stop energy - making the world a more depressing place to live since the dawn of time."

#44 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 06:58 PM:

I think he skirts around something that would be like "There are no unintended consequences." If it happens from what someone else did, they intended it from the first place; and only what I intend to have happen, will happen from my actions.

Naturally, the converse of each side isn't true.

#45 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 07:33 PM:

EClaire, not only is it depressing; sometimes that "nothing will work" blanket approach to everything is a symptom of depression.

#46 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 08:58 PM:

@ #37 and #42:

My response to that is: "No, it just means that everyone is different. Similarities are never as interesting as differences."

Also: A subsection of that list defines what mainstream Christianity means to me. Just one single subsection.

#47 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 09:21 PM:

A lot of these issues come down to the old tension between the "Pleasure Principle" (do what feels good, now) vs. the "Reality Principle" (do what needs to get done, first) described some thirty years ago by Scott Peck in "The Road Less Traveled".

For much of the article under discussion, you may need to map between "do" and "think" to uncover the link to Peck's dualism, but I'd say that's reasonable in context.

#48 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 10:22 PM:

Lila - It wouldn't surprise me at all, since the house really started deteriorating rapidly after my mom passed away, but he manages to have plenty of energy for the things he's interested in - Scouts, HAM radio, motorcycles. It's only home related things that never get done. His HAM antenna went back up the day after the ice storm.

#49 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 10:36 PM:

kid bitzer @ 18: "this *does* describe some aspects of american culture. on the other hand, it also describes some aspects of human nature all over the world."

Delusional, irresponsible, selfish people will be found all over the world, but it's pretty strange to find those qualities enshrined as virtues. That is what sets America apart: Americans aren't more ignorant than anyone else, but we're the ones who make it a point of pride to be ignorant, and grant ignorant people a place of respect and power within our culture.

"face it: we’re just a whiney, stupid, grasping, simple-minded species.

Which is an overly simplistic explanation of its own. Why is it that people are so reluctant to accept the range of human possibility? Why are people always asserting the greatest or the worst of humanity is somehow a truer representation of our essential human nature than everything else? The greatest and most terrible acts are equally products of human nature. To pretend otherwise is a failure of imagination.

Andrew T. @ 29: ""Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s" Actually, I think this is a necessary condition for democracy."

Democracy is not a system of determining facts. Your opinion doesn't matter in the slightest when it comes to whether the earth is getting warmer, or whether gravity exists. It is a system for collectively determining what society as a whole should do. It is dangerous to confuse the two.

Tom Whitmore @ 44: "I think he skirts around something that would be like "There are no unintended consequences." If it happens from what someone else did, they intended it from the first place; and only what I intend to have happen, will happen from my actions."

I think there's one more corollary there: Intention alone is sufficient. If I will it hard enough, then it will happen. If it fails, then it was a failure of will. (This interacts with "Consequences are things that happen to others" to ensure that the failure of will was on someone else's part.)

#50 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2009, 11:49 PM:
When there's a disagreement, it's a rare news story that doesn't make one side or the other into either villains or victims of their own prejudices/ignorance and the villains that prey on them.

Really? I'd say it's the rare news story that doesn't bend over backwards to be "fair and balanced" and "look at both sides," even if one side is crazypants hateful. You know - "on the other hand, Dr. Wharrgarbl of the Institute for Intelligent Falling disputes this characterization that gravity affects falling objects..."

I think what Evan's reacting to - and I see it there as well - is that you don't have to do more than push gently on many of these points in order to get some very nasty points of view that are less about thinking and more about shutting down dissent. As Wesley already pointed out in @40, "what is my share?" may have a different question when answered by the woman who's just discovered she's getting paid less, than when answered by her boss who thinks she's stealing money from men who have families to support. And the bits about responsibility and blame have gotten worn rather thin over the last eight years in blaming the poor and downtrodden for failing to pull themselves up by their Jimmy Choos.

(As for "life is pain," you know, really fucking sick of that posture. Because I've never heard it used in any other manner than to tell somebody who is complaining about appalling injustice that they need to STFU and stop being a big baby by, oh, calling attention to the problem and trying to stop it.)

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 12:29 AM:

mythago:

Really? I'd say it's the rare news story that doesn't bend over backwards to be "fair and balanced" and "look at both sides," even if one side is crazypants hateful. You know - "on the other hand, Dr. Wharrgarbl of the Institute for Intelligent Falling disputes this characterization that gravity affects falling objects..."

I was thinking about this, and there's some truth to both what I wrote and what you wrote. The thing is, what's needed is judgment. On one side, that means treating the cranks like cranks, rather than like there's a serious case to be made for the literal truth of the book of Genesis. On the other, there are a lot of issues where there is a serious case to be made on both sides, or where the evidence is ambiguous, and yet where the common media story becomes black hats vs. white hats. And hardly any of those deal with the underlying discussion or debate, largely because that stuff is:

a. complicated and hard to understand, and thus

b. completely baffling to the journalist trying to report it.

As far as the "life is pain" stuff, I sure didn't get the sense that the linked article was suggesting that pain or suffering isn't worth trying to stop. Rather, I think there's a kind of idea in the US (and probably the rest of the world, but I know a lot less about that) that there should never be painful tradeoffs or tragic situations.

And there are times when this is true, right? Proper sewers and water supplies are, like, 99.99% happy stories and averted needless suffering. A cure for or effective vaccine against HIV would similarly be overwhelmingly a happy story. But most of the real-world policy decisions we face have downsides--real human beings who will be hurt, people we probably care about or should care about who will suffer so that some broader goal may be achieved (or at least attempted). And it's the most natural thing in the world to either just forget about/discount that stuff for policy ideas you like[1], or to focus on it as a reason to condemn some policy you don't like.

This is almost a workable rule of thumb: Be very suspicious of any proposed policy to tackle some real problem that promises to either not hurt anyone, or to hurt only people who basically deserve to be hurt. There's no law of nature forbidding such policies from existing, but they're a bit like a promise of constant better-than-market rates of return from some proposed investment--they ought to make you suspicious up front.

[1] A common tactic here is to make the real humans who will be hurt into hated caricatures, so your supporters don't have to feel bad about hurting them. Think "Cadillac-driving welfare queens," or how Guantanamo was supposed to be housing (and torturing) only the "worst of the worst."

#52 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 12:38 AM:
Rather, I think there's a kind of idea in the US (and probably the rest of the world, but I know a lot less about that) that there should never be painful tradeoffs or tragic situations.

If we're talking generally about zeitgeist, it seems more that the feeling is the painful tradeoffs should happen only to the undeserving. Your 'welfare queen' example is exactly what I'm talking about; nobody really believed that upheavals in welfare would end all suffering, only that the people it would hurt were evil anyway, so big whoop.

But "life is pain" or "life isn't fair" are really STFU lines rather than explanations. There's a great difference between acknowledging life isn't fair, that's a terrible thing, and perhaps we should try to make it a little less unfair; and loudly insisting that's the way it is, so anybody who complains is not only unrealistic, but probably a whiner who just needs to accept what they're given and knuckle their cap in gratitude.

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 02:23 AM:

BSD, #10: Nothing. The problem is that in the cargo-cult view, that statement isn't aspirational, it's prescriptive. The corollary is, "If life does hurt, it's because of someone else's malicious intent." Now, sometimes that's true -- but a lot of times it's not.

dcb, #15: Many people find that idea - multiple valid viewpoints - threatening.

This is a natural outgrowth of One-True-Wayist thinking, whether you are taught it by religion, culture, schooling, politics, or anything else.

Ingrid, #38: I wouldn't call that a spoiler. The fact that the game includes Cargo Cult elements is part of the player briefing, so a new reader is going to find out about it well before they get into the puzzle-solving part.

#54 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 07:06 AM:

Tom Whitmore at #20:
"I've long liked the formulation that pain is necessary, but suffering is optional."

Suffering is pain that's lost its function; it's no longer a warning or a sign of anything, it's a thing in itself.

#55 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 10:19 AM:

Spherical Time @46 - I'd like to hear more about which sub-section defines mainstream Xianity for you, and why. No pouncing or "gotchas" - I'm genuinely interested.

#56 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 11:04 AM:

This has always struck me as one of those "is the glass half full, or half empty?" kind of things.

Isn't it rather a reworking of:

I've heard you say many times that you're better than no one
And no one is better than you;
If you really believe that, you know you have nothing to win
And nothing to lose...

which may or may not be true, but at least offers a way forward.

#57 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 12:12 PM:

Mythago @ #50: I thought Dr. Wharrgarbl was a fluid dynamics kind of guy. *

#58 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Heresiarch @49:

Democracy is not a system of determining facts. Your opinion doesn't matter in the slightest when it comes to whether the earth is getting warmer, or whether gravity exists. It is a system for collectively determining what society as a whole should do. It is dangerous to confuse the two.

I agree with each of your points, and they do not contradict my argument.

You are correct that it is important to distinguish between the value of opinions for determining facts, and for determining collective action. Failing to make this point was a weakness in my original comment.

Nevertheless: In a democracy, for the purposes of determining collective action, your opinion matters as much as anyone else's. If you think the majority is wrong about a matter of public policy, it behooves you to try to convince them of their error, not to change the system so that they can no longer influence the policy.

Saying that the herd should get out of the way and let the experts make decisions is antidemocratic. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; there are lots of arguments in favour of technocracy, and I think people mistakenly think of democracy as purely good. What's that Churchill line? It's the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.

#59 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 02:26 PM:

To the Cargo Cult list I would add:

You should be judged on your intentions.
But other people should be judged on their actions.

#60 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 02:44 PM:

The first principle caught my eye, because -- despite the writer's ironic tone -- it represents some of my attitudes towards philosophy and religion.

Context: I am an atheist with a Jewish family background.

"Complicated explanations are suspect." The simplest sort of God is the nonexistent God, and that is a buttress of my belief system. Of course the simplicity of that theology requires intense complexity in my view of the material world, but that's "bought" by the intense complexity I observe in the material world.

"Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness." I have always been an atheist. I don't remember ever feeling doubt. This fact doesn't bother me. (I've *thought about* other theologies, which isn't the same thing.) When it comes to ethical questions, I trust the certainties of my social monkey brain (say "conscience" if you like) to any edifice of moral rulemaking. (Returning to the above: ten commandments encompass right action far better than the endless rule tweaks of Leviticus and Exodus. One golden rule works better yet.)

"Your opinion matters as much as anyone else's." Yes, in this sphere, it is. The God experts out there have no better information sources than I do. (I retain from my upbringing the Jewish valuing of the *informed* opinion -- ideally the *studied* opinion, the opinion built upon the back of all foregoing discourse. To me, this does not contradict the notion that my opinion matters just as much as anyone else's. It seems I take the study part for granted. At any rate, I have no sympathy at all for elaborate church structures built to accumulate authority-in-the-guise-of-knowledge.)

"The herd should be followed." Okay, that one's a non-starter.

...So, last point aside, is this cargo-cult theology? (Atheology?)

...No, don't jump in and defend me. I'm not posting this as an attack on atheism (my own or anyone else's). I just want to point out a connection which isn't in the direct line of fire, but might get caught in the shrapnel anyway.

(Not directly relevant, but along the same line: I have cousins who are Quakers. Their point of view, as I understand it, is just as sympathetic to simplicity, direct perception, and -- whaddayacallit -- dishierarchiality...)

#61 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 02:57 PM:

As a completely separate point...

"Complicated explanations are suspect. All interconnection is apparent."

Okay, we level snark at those "principles". But we level equal snark at the conspiracy theorist. Right? The notional idiot who doesn't understand evolution is the same notional idiot who thinks that Proctor+Gamble are Satanists, or that the Jews and the UN are conspiring to put barcodes on our drinking water.

(...turns to look at the bottle of brand-name mineral water sitting next to him... no, no, I jest.)

The conspiracy theory *is* a cargo-cult phenomenon. You mimic the shape of the Great Discoverer story, the Joined The Select Few Who Know story, the Had An Edge And Triumphed (or Avoided Disaster) story.

So, are we describing two extremes which are equally far from the truth? Or is this just rolling up everything we dislike with a label?

#62 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 03:07 PM:

Andrew @ 60
The cargo-cult aspect comes in when it makes non-experts in a field more important than experts - to the cargo-cult people, if you actually know what you're talking about, you're automatically suspect as an intellectual and an elitist.

#63 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 03:16 PM:

Andrew @61: I don't know about the "black helicopter" crowd, but I do find a serious connection between Kennedy (for example, Marilyn being another, Princess Diana, etc.) conspiracy theorists and part 4: You're special, and bad things shouldn't happen to you. I've had a lot of discussions with folk about these theories, and a lot of them boil down to they were special people, and bad things don't happen to special people unless someone makes it happen. The belief that Fate (or insert your favorite deus here) makes some special people invulnerable seems to be a key component of this type of conspiracy theory.

Someone actually explained that to me (about Princess Diana) in those exact words. I must have looked like David Frost (in the movie), when Nixon says "if the president does it, it isn't illegal".

#64 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 03:29 PM:

P J Evans, #62: You forgot to mention that of course, all intellectuals and elitists are members of the conspiracy by definition.

#65 ::: Arachne Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 03:38 PM:

Thought-provoking article.

@mythago #52 But "life is pain" or "life isn't fair" are really STFU lines rather than explanations.

Speaking as someone whose life has been pain, I don't find it a STFU line, even though it has been used as such to me. Just admitting that life *can* be painful is a first for many people.

For instance, a lot of people are convinced that parents can do no wrong, that parental love is a biological imperative inherent in all, and parental abuse cannot exist.

Because, you know, that would be admitting pain into a part of life that people don't want pain to ever have existed in.

"Pain just exists" is of course another denial (that the pain needs to be addressed) but it's better than "you shouldn't be in pain." I find the latter far more insulting and depressing than the former.

#66 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 03:45 PM:

Andrew @ 60: Occam's razor says an explanation should be the simplest one that fits the facts.* I read "complicated explanations are suspect" as avoiding that level of rationality entirely: facts should be ignored or discounted to fit a simpler explanation. Which is quite the opposite.

I guess you said that. But I think that's the important distinction.

I don't know that I've experienced doubt about atheism, either, but I've certainly experienced wishful thinking.

--
* Wikipedia gives entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. Or as Einstein put it, ""Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

#67 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 04:12 PM:

Some of these I recognize as things I believe.

More of them, I recognize as things I believe the exact opposite of, which tends to get me in trouble. (Like believing my opinion always matters less than someone else's, that something is not good unless it involves me sacrificing for someone else, that I don't deserve anything except what someone else chooses to give me, that bad things that happen to other people are my fault and I should feel guilty for them. I would call most of these things "training that women get." That doesn't mean all women, or only women, believe these things, of course.)

Even the ones I believe, I tend to believe backwards -- like I do find myself believing that certainty is strength, and since I admit criticism and give it a hearing, I tend to consider myself weak.

It's interesting to chew over and think about. I'm not sure it's having quite the effect on me that it's meant to have.

#68 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 04:26 PM:

Emma #63:

I think conspiracy theories come out of the mental pathologies of many different groups, but not so much from the US mainstream media. Though the desire for a morally satisfying story appears in both. It's just not as satisfying to blame the plague that killed your wife or the famine that took your kids on impersonal physical laws and complex biological and climate systems, as to blame it on the Jews. (Also, it's really hard to run all the impersonal physical laws out of town and burn down all their houses.)

#69 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 04:53 PM:

Caroline #67:

I think the "certainty is strength" line is true, where "strength" is measured in terms of effectiveness in a debate or dedication to some grand cause. Of course, unwarranted certainty leads you to do dumb things, but it also makes you much more effective in doing them.

An interesting problem here is that in much of life, success comes from convincing other people that you're right, not from being right. In those areas, a strategy of unwarranted certainty is probably individually rational, even if it's often disastrous socially.

For example, you can demonstrably win elections (or stage coups) and hold power on the basis of very convincing, strongly-held beliefs that are 180 degrees off from reality. Many smart people were thoroughly convinced by the ideas of Marxism, all the way down to convincing themselves that Stalin was a humanitarian and the consistent poverty and dreariness of Communist countries was really a kind of more humane socialist prosperity. Although we forget it now, a lot of people were convinced just as strongly by the fundamentally crazy rhetoric of the Nazis. More recently (and not remotely on the same scale, evil-wise), lots of people were convinced by the certainty and forceful rhetoric of the neocons, w.r.t. using the US' military might to fix the world. Certainty and burning commitment wound up being great strategies for those ideologies to get and keep power, even if they weren't very good ideologies for running a country.

I think this is the rule, rather than the exception, in politics. I worry that it's often the rule in science, in places where experimental falisification is really hard to get, or where people holding one worldview end up in control of all the resources (research funding, journals, hiring and tenure decisions) in some field. And where you see that situation holding, I think that "certainty is strength" strategy tends to catch on.

If you care about being right, about learning instead of winning arguments, then unwarranted certainty is weakness.

#70 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Albatross @68: true. But that I can understand. It's the need to lash out when terrible things happen. One of the ugliest parts of the human psyche, but familiar.

The type of conspiracy theory I'm fascinated by is the one about the "golden child." So many people who do not believe in accidents if it involves a special person they idolize. Stuff happens, right? But to them, "stuff" is not possible unless someone does it. Or unless there's a massive conspiracy behind the whole thing.

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 05:17 PM:

I believe that doubt is the cardinal virtue of the rational mind, and that people who make a habit of absolute certainty are generally wrong.

I doubt everything except my own fallibility. Doubting your own fallibility is a logical trap.

#72 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 06:49 PM:

albatross @ 69, that's a good summary.

#73 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 07:31 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @#60 et seq.:

Yeah, rationality can break down in several different directions, but it seems to me that what you lose is always some element of balance. Careful thinking balances parsimony against detail, rumination against conclusion, consistency against learning, specifics against universals. Lose the balance on any of these (and probably others), and you can either "go into the weeds", or "freeze up", in any of several ways.

(As you might guess, my own morality tends toward the Aristotelian. Another Jewish atheist here, by way of Neopaganism.)

#74 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 07:54 PM:

The cargo cult analysis applies well to subsets of the media, such as personal health news -- the media promotes the illusion that if you eat only the recommended diet (which has changed from decade to decade), maintain a low weight, and exercise two hours a day, you will be healthy, free from scary things like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The corollary is that people who get ill deserve it because they didn't do those things. Meanwhile, the media also creates hysteria about the latest thing that either promotes cancer (Biphenyls!) or cures or prevents it (Chocolate! Blueberries)!

The health media promotes a Randian attitude towards personal health, one of the reasons why our health care system is so expensive (some people will pay anything) and so underserves needy groups. It also promotes shysters and scammers (acai-berry juice MLMs).

I've the sense that most commenters here are older than I am (38), so you can probably amplify. I think the first thing a national health care system in the US should do is fan out operatives all over the country to duct-tape the mouths and hands of health journalists in the newspapers, shiny magazines, and TV.

#75 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 07:56 PM:

You can succeed by emulating the purported behavior of successful people

. This is the key to the cargo cult. To enjoy the success of another, just mimic the rituals he claims to follow.
. Your idol gets the blame if things don’t work out, not you.

------

That one cuts close to home. In work-speak, we call that a BKM: Best Known Method. Also applies to our "Copy Exact" manufacturing principle.

Of course, Best Known Method is subject to change by finding something better, and people are not discouraged from doing that exactly (though they then have no one else to blame if it fails)

#76 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 08:23 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @61: [The notional idiot who thinks] that the Jews and the UN are conspiring to put barcodes on our drinking water.

I first parsed that literally (putting barcodes on the water, as opposed to labeling the container it came in), and it added an extra savory spice of lunacy to the notion.

"What, you can't see the barcodes on the water? That's because they're printed with water!"

#77 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 09:33 PM:
I thought Dr. Wharrgarbl was a fluid dynamics kind of guy.

There is no God but the FSM and Dr. Wharrgarbl is his prophet? That might explain the whole watched-pot-never-boils thing, at least when you're talking about cooking spaghetti.

#78 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 09:35 PM:

There was an ad many years ago that featured a (then) new inkjet system that was capable of printing a barcode on the unbroken yolk of a raw egg.

#79 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 09:45 PM:

"What, you can't see the barcodes on the water? That's because they're printed with water!"

I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but the printing isn't done with water. It's done with fluoride. Two birds with one stone, if you follow me.

#80 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2009, 10:03 PM:

Rob Rusick@76 -- I *meant* the image to be just that farcical. Clearly I underfarced.

#81 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 08:49 AM:

Andrew Plotkin @80: Ah, I had the right idea from the start. It was your next line that made me think I had read it too literally...

(...turns to look at the bottle of brand-name mineral water sitting next to him... no, no, I jest.)
...and I assumed that the barcode was on the bottle.

I could say 'great minds think alike', but I think we may be working in some other category of minds.

#82 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 10:54 AM:

Allen Baum @ 75:

I'm not really sure that your example is one of following cargo-cultish procedures, although it would depend on how much you try to do the best you can. From what you say, you know why you are doing what you are doing to be successful, and you are looking for ways to be even more successful. To follow something cargo-cultishly, it would be more like setting up your factory like the other guy claims to have done (even if they actually haven't) for no other reason than that's how you think you're supposed to do it. It's a matter of understanding.

#83 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 11:37 AM:

Andrew T:

"Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s"

Actually, I think this is a necessary condition for democracy.

No, that's not what a democracy needs (unless opnion = vote). What a democracy needs is for the participants to think the other participants are playing honestly; that they aren't out to screw the other players.

Which is why some level of homogeniety in outlook is neefdful. The rest of it can be widely varigated but if one group thinks the other groups are out to get them, they won't feel they have any stake in the process, and things will get strange before they get ugly.

I am (to digress to the present day) afraid the persecution rhetoric of the religious right is a sign they are edging into that mindset. The "Conservative" right has been trying to exploit it ("we are on your side, the nasty liberals want to destroy you; and they have all the power"), and the narrative they've got is proving pretty effective.

When one group gets too disaffected with the process they will either leave, or take up arms.

#84 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 01:47 PM:

Keith@82:

From what you say, you know why you are doing what you are doing to be successful, and you are looking for ways to be even more successful.

Well, there's what I do (the "question authority" meme from the 60's stuck with me), and what others do.

Often people are either too busy, intimidated by the reputations of those that proceeded them, or lazy (in that order, I suspect) to do anything beyond what the previous project has done.

#85 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 01:52 PM:

Terry, #83: The problem is that we cannot convince the Christianist Right that we are not out to get them, because of the way they have redefined the term "persecution". To them, being persecuted effectively means being told no. About ANYTHING, including being told that they don't have the right to persecute the people they don't like. It's a very 3-year-old worldview being promoted by adults.

#86 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 03:24 PM:

Lee, #85, some of the rhetoric I hear brings to mind images of the Christianists marching in close ranks, with banners flying.

Probably they get a newsreel promise of heaven directed by Leni Riefenstahl.

#87 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 03:33 PM:

As the Grand Inquisitor sang, "When every one is somebodee, then no one's anybody."

#88 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 03:46 PM:

re 71: Well, you have to doubt your doubt too. Doubt is, after all, based in confidence in one's critical faculties.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 04:01 PM:

Xopher @ 71...

Captain Kirk: Harry lied to you, Norman. Everything Harry says is a lie. Remember that, Norman. *Everything* he says is a lie.
Harcourt Fenton Mudd: Now I want you to listen to me very carefully, Norman. I'm... lying.
Norman: You say you are lying, but if everything you say is a lie, then you are telling the truth, but you cannot tell the truth because you always lie... illogical! Illogical! Please explain! You are human; only humans can explain! Illogical!
Captain Kirk: I am not programmed to respond in that area.

#90 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 04:31 PM:

I'm not really convinced that "cargo cult" is the right model for the kind of defects in science that Feynman complained about, but looking at this list, it seems to me to be a mixture of a bunch of standard human sins on the one hand, and a mishmash of behaviors taken out of context on the other. For example, if your are trying to start an enterprise, you do need a bit of a bias towards a certain kind of risk-taking; you cannot afford to be too tentative about what you are doing, or circumstances will outrun you. On the other hand, if you are engaged in an act of analysis you need to be conservative/skeptical in a particular way.

The one "cargo cultish" thing is the notion that success methods of others are readily reproduced through emulation. The successful form of that, franchising, is an American product; but it involves a crucial top-down input to the franchisees. It gets cultish in the success seminars where there isn't any business, but just Success. That too may be especially American.

#91 ::: straight ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 04:32 PM:

Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

What Dash misunderstands is that the phrase "Everyone's special" is an idiom that is not meant to be a factual statement (one which would be obviously false) but as a moral maxim which means "You should treat everyone the way you treat people you think of as special." It's roughly equivalent to the Golden Rule.

Although in this context, where Dash is whining, "Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special!" you might argue that his mom meant (or ought to have meant) it more literally as in, "Get over yourself. Everyone's special. Having powers doesn't give you some 'special' right to cause trouble at school and/or blow our cover."

#92 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 04:34 PM:

C Wingate: Yeah, "cargo cult" is the wrong term. And I don't know how much of this is America-specific. I honestly think a lot is broadcast-journalism specific, or living-in-non-falsifiable-belief-land specific.

#93 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 05:51 PM:

Re: Terry at 83 and Lee at 85.

No, it's not, The problem is that we cannot convince the Christianist Right that we are not out to get them, because of the way they have redefined the term "persecution".

More accurately, The problem is that we cannot convince the Christianist Right that we are not out to get them, because we ARE out to get them. We don't want people who think homosexuality is disordered in any position where that view matters; we don't want people who think man is made in the image of God to act as if that should make any difference to their treatment of people; and we CERTAINLY don't want anyone who thinks women should stay home and raise children, and men should earn enough to support their families, to be able to run a business in accordance with that view.

*Using "we" to mean "all right-thinking people".

#94 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 05:52 PM:

Sorry it took me so long to get back.

Responses to responses:

Avram, I think Lee is closer, but I think Lizzy @16 gets closest to a statement we could all agree on when she says to think that human action might somehow create a world without pain... it seems pretty off-base to me.

To think that pain IS removable is madness, but the reduction of pain (using pain purely as a signifier for "something bad has happened" -- everyone who stated such things as "pain has a purpose" are absolutely right, of course), is, however, a goal I can get behind. To take the playground analogy used in #34 by Michael Roberts, it WOULD be problematic to either remove jungle gyms entirely or to demand recompense for any pain caused by falling from a jungle gym, but I believe it would be reasonable to
a) Demand that jungle gyms be made with minimum dangers other than those inherent to their nature (be well built, be made of nontoxic materials, have maximum heights and minimum apetures appropriate to the ages and sizes of the intended users), in order to reduce incidences of pain,
b) prohibit actual malice (no pushing Timmy off the jungle gym),
c) instruct children in the proper use of the jungle gym ("Please do not deliberately nosedive off the top bars"),
d) minimize pain caused by likely incidents (as was done in my childhood playground after I departed from it, covering the brick with squishy stuff).

#95 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 06:29 PM:

I am very much interested in the question of whether these are American traits or human ones. I keep trying to write something on the topic, but I can't seem to make the words dance to my thoughts and feelings. My impression, the explanation of which keeps tripping over its own feet, is that these are all to some extent human traits. It's this particular grouping of them, and possibly their intensity, that is typically American.

To take one example about which I seem to be able to be reasonably clear, I'll take the principle, "If it's good for you, it's good", with the stated corollary, "Society is everyone else." I think that it's possible that everyone has this feeling to a greater or lesser extent, since we have access to our own thoughts, but only the actions of other people. (Actually, I think that explains quite a few points on the list.) However, in the US there are people who buy giant SUVs because they like them, but don't think about their effects on everyone else's drive or the price of gasoline. We like cheap goods and services, but don't think about the other people getting paid pittances for the privelege. We have fairly low taxes compared to European countries, and yet we complain when they would need to go up to support things like education and the poor. CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries, but it's perfectly acceptable for them to fire workers if the company isn't performing well.

I'm not saying that other people in other countries don't have similar feelings, but it just seems that intensity of belief makes it more American.

#96 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 07:34 PM:

On a side note, I went wandering around to see if the original author had an e-mail address on his site.

Couldn't find one. Anyone know if he's reading here?

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 08:12 PM:

SamChevre, #93: There seem to be differences in the way you and I are defining "we". I don't care what they think, although I disagree vehemently. What I do care about is that they not get to enact their personal religion as the law of the land.

They, OTOH, want to make it illegal for me to have different beliefs from theirs, and if I won't submit voluntarily, they want me dead or mindwiped. They define being prohibited from doing this as "persecution". There's no meeting ground between those two points.

#98 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 09:03 PM:

Serge, #89: (Star Trek snippet... er, snipped.)

Someday I'd like to see a fictional computer and/or robot respond to this kind of thing with a bored, dismissive "It's a paradox. What's your point?"

Have there been any?

#99 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2009, 09:15 PM:

Weesley @ 98...

Doolittle: Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Bomb #20: Of course.
Doolittle: Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
Bomb #20: I am always receptive to suggestions.
Doolittle: Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: Well, of course I exist.
Doolittle: But how do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: It is intuitively obvious.
Doolittle: Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?
Bomb #20: Hmmmm... well... I think, therefore I am.
Doolittle: That's good. That's very good. But how do you know that anything else exists?
Bomb #20: My sensory apparatus reveals it to me. This is fun.
(Later)
Pinback: All right, bomb. Prepare to receive new orders.
Bomb#20: You are false data.
Pinback: Hmmm?
Bomb #20: Therefore I shall ignore you.
Pinback: Hello... bomb?
Bomb #20: False data can act only as a distraction. Therefore, I shall refuse to perceive.
Pinback: Hey, bomb?
Bomb #20: The only thing that exists is myself.
Pinback: Snap out of it, bomb.

#100 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 12:12 AM:

The problem with a blanket ban on "cargo-cult thinking" is that cargo-cult thinking can work, and banning it can lead to skeptic's paralysis.

Before and after I work out, I perform a relatively elaborate (~10-20 minutes) series of specific exercises. I do these in an attempt to emulate people who have been working out longer than I have, because they tell me that these exercises will prevent me damaging my body when I work out. I don't know why they help, apart from a vague idea about "stretching" which doesn't really tell me anything. The same applies to the various exercises I do in the gym - I'm told that each will help me in various ways. I don't know why.

More generally, I find a bit of tension, if not contradiction, between the author's disdain for "cargo cults" and insistence that experts be trusted. As above, we have an essay outline, rather than an essay which might straighten this out.

#101 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 08:50 AM:

BSD #94 (and many others):

The phrase "life isn't fair," with all its variants, is a statement about reality (or perhaps the lack of automatic agreement between reality and the dictates of our ideas about right and wrong). It's a true statement. Right now, some ten year old kid is throwing up from the chemotherapy treatments that are going to fail to cure his cancer, some child in Gaza still in shock over having both her parents blown to bits in front of her, some kid in a schoolyard getting the hell beat out of him for being fat and uncool, some kid trying to relearn how to walk after the car wreck that took his mom and baby sister. There is nothing at all fair about any of this, and while some of it is in principle within the power of humans to change, we can't fix it all.

The problem is in taking that statement about reality, and turning it into a statement about what we should do. The fact that life is unfair doesn't mean that we should be. Nature is indeed red in tooth and claw, but if we catch you killing and eating your neighbors, we're not going to accept that as an excuse. It's a depressingly common error to mistake statements about how things are for statements about how things should be. And this leads to two common errors:

a. Accepting that the "is" statement justifies the "ought" statement.

b. Denying the "is" statement because you deny the "ought" statement.

Life is unfair, but where we can make a difference, it's worth trying to do that. If we can avoid future repetitions of the Palestinian kid having her parents blown up, or the fat kid getting beaten up, we ought to try to do that. The fact that this won't cure cancer or eliminate horrible car wrecks doesn't really have much to do with it.

On the other hand, we face constraints. Not only is the unfairness of the universe impossible for us to fix, different parts of it have different costs to fix, and those resources can be spent on many other things--fairness isn't the only value we care about.

For example, research money can be spent on childhood cancer (which is not really lifestyle-dependent, as far as I know) or on lung cancer (which is largely caused by smoking). In some sense, a lifelong smoker dying of lung cancer is more fair than a child dying of a brain tumor, or even than an adult of the same age as the smoker dying of a brain tumor. But I think the research funds should be spent on maximizing well-being rather than fairness, even if that means we spend more on curing lung cancer (or more realistically, treating emphysema) than on curing brain tumors.

#102 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 08:59 AM:

KeithS writes: To take one example about which I seem to be able to be reasonably clear, I'll take the principle, "If it's good for you, it's good", with the stated corollary, "Society is everyone else." I think that it's possible that everyone has this feeling to a greater or lesser extent, since we have access to our own thoughts, but only the actions of other people.

There is widespread opposition to cutting taxes in many European countries. Politicians win elections by promising not to cut taxes, and at least one EU referendum was defeated in Denmark because the Danes were afraid the EU would force them to normalize taxes, making them lower.

I don't think any of that sounds at all like America, and it's because people in countries like Sweden and Denmark are proud of their society, and don't want to see it Thatchered.

#103 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 10:44 AM:

albatross 101: Bravo! I remember one time when I was a kid and my dad said "Life isn't fair," and I replied "no, but YOU should be!"

He was NOT happy with me.

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 10:45 AM:

albatross 101: Bravo! I remember one time when I was a kid and my dad said "Life isn't fair," and I replied "no, but YOU should be!"

He was NOT happy with me.

#105 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 10:46 AM:

Meh. Sorry. Thought I caught that before it completed posting, but it seems I didn't. So, by apologizing for a double post, I'm now adding a third one. Meh.

#106 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 11:00 AM:

Wesley @98 - not exactly, but a robot character in Futurama turned out to have paradox-absorbing crumple zones.

#107 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 11:01 AM:

"I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that's an understatement. What you don't know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world."

"Funny, I've always believed that the world is what we make of it."

(From Contact)

#108 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 11:19 AM:

98: see Neal Stephenson, "Jipi and the Paranoid Chip", about a Filipina hotel greeter who has to talk down an AI hooked into a car bomb...

#109 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 11:21 AM:

SeanH @ 100:

I am not a dance, exercise or physiotherapy expert, just a user. At least part idea behind the warm-ups that you do is, quite literally, to warm up your muscles. When they are cold and unstretched they can't flex and stretch as well, and it's much easier to strain yourself. Someone more knowledgable than I can give you more details.

You say that you don't know why you do what you do, but you're told that it helps. I assume that you are seeing results and not simply waiting for the airplanes to return. You can ask someone who knows to tell you what the exercises do and why, and receive an explanation that makes logical sense in return. You don't have to be an expert to be a consumer of someone else's expertise.

You find a contradiction between dislike of cargo cults and appreciation of expertise. I don't see one at all. A true expert is someone who's studied their field for a long time and knows the ins and outs of it. To go back to exercise for a moment, I don't know enough to be able to work out various exercises from first principles, but other people do and pass the results along. I think that cargo cult exercise would be more along the lines of seeing people in a gym, then playing around with a few of the lighter weights while doing something that looks sort of like what everyone else is doing. Perhaps, and please tell me if I'm wrong, what you're more concerned with is being able to discriminate true experts from false ones?

albatross @ 101 and Xopher @ 104:

Thank you for summing the fairness argument so well.

Niall McAuley @ 102:

That's some of the best news I've heard. My only experience in Europe was when I lived in England. I'm aware that only half-counts, for various and sundry political reasons. Even so they still accepted that national health care was a social good, politicians seemed concerned about people living in poverty (whether they were concerned or not, they at least talked about them without trying to say that they were all no good layabouts), and things of that nature.

#110 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 12:19 PM:

I think promising to raise taxes can be seen as a part of "if it's good for you, it's good."

For instance, I like parks, buses, good schools for my kids, fire protection, police protection, emergency rooms with open spots if I get hurt.

Some really rich people can pay for these things themselves. Me, I only get them if everyone pays enough taxes. If my tax rate were 50% on everything I make, it would *still* be cheaper than buying enough land for a park, paying for a car and my own road to drive on it, private school tuition, and private health, security & fire service.

So I figure, selfishly, screw that .1 percent who would be better off paying for those services privately.

#111 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 12:57 PM:

re 101/104: The thing is that "that's not fair" isn't about fairness, but about authority. What it really means is the child saying, "I demand you adhere to my standard of fairness." Replying that "life isn't fair" isn't perhaps the best way for the parent to deny that obligation, to be sure.

#112 ::: Megan ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 01:49 PM:

#s 36/43:

Oh, 'stop energy' is brilliant. Thank you. I'll be using that concept.

#113 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 03:36 PM:

Re: "Stop energy".

What I've found works:
When in a problem-solving session, the brainstorming ideas part is all about coming up with potential solutions (not why it can't work). During this phase, have a blanket rule of no objections.

Only when the ideas stage is complete, with a hatfull of ideas, only then, does the 'reality check' stage commences. Some ideas that appear brilliant initially, may not pass this test, while a 'dumb' idea may not turn out so dumb after all. Separating the two stages allows a bit of space for ideas to form fully.

#115 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Soon Lee @113 -- yes, and it's also necessary to build in "check points" where one can look and see whether the implementation is having the desired effect, or something close to it, and secondary negative effects can be recognized and countered. It's a dynamic problem rather than a static one.

#116 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 05:25 PM:

The discussion on the inevitability of pain made me think of the Boston Garden's lovely, neglected Ether Monument. Back in 1866, when the use of ether in surgery was still new and exciting, it seemed worthwhile enough to erect a monument that would quote Revelations in saying
"NEITHER SHALL THERE BE ANY MORE PAIN"
and go on to say
"In gratitude for the relief of human suffering caused by the inhaling of ether, a citizen of Boston has erected this monument."

Whether the monument does us the more good by reminding us that we can in fact alleviate suffering sometimes, or by reminding us of the difference between pain and suffering, I cannot say. It has some neat sculptures, though.

I've also heard the monument described as having been meant as a memorial to Pain itself, on the supposition that to future generations pain would be a thing of hazy memory. Alas, I cannot find any evidence to corroborate this charming notion.

#117 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 05:51 PM:

SeanH @ 100

To add to what KeithS @ 109 said, I'd go even further and suggest that, rather than doing warm-up exercises because you've been told they're good for you (even if you don't know why), its as if you're warming up wearing say, purple and green clothes from (insert big brand name of your choice here) while you do so - or even skipping the warm up, but wearing the "magic" clothes - , because (insert sports person of your choice here) says that's what he wears while training and look where it's got him: that's why is says "emulating the purported behaviour"

#118 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 07:09 PM:

SeanH @ 100

It's important to differentiate valid from invalid emulation. All science (and all learning) depends to some degree on emulation working - if you do the same thing over again, it should work the way it did the first time, unless something changed. If emulation didn't work, nothing would ever work twice.

Where cargo cultism diverges from valid science is, in a way, a matter of degree, not kind: it is emulation only of the surface, most obvious, features of a phenomenon. Cargo cultism equals superficiality.

Once one understands the essential elements of a thing (and only then), one can emulate it successfully -- sometimes by stripping out inessential elements, improving on the process and making it more efficient. A cargo cultist, on the other hand, sees the superficial aspects of a thing and believes herself to understand the whole of the thing.

Huh. Until I wrote that, I never realized that excessive focus on efficiency can lead to cargo cultism. But it's obvious now that I think about it.

#119 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 09:54 PM:

Wesley @98, I remember reading a Star Trek parody some decades back, in which Kirk tries to 'splode a computer by saying "Computer: I am a lawyer. All lawyers are liars. What am I?" To which the computer replies "A bloody fool if you think I'm falling for that trick."

A moderately smart computer wouldn't even have to reject the whole thing outright. After all, having just been told that humans can lie, the computer is under no obligation to regard everything Kirk says as truthful, including Kirk's claim that Mudd always lies.

#120 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2009, 10:50 PM:

Data would yatter on about paradoxes and Gödel's Theorem and such-like until the human exploded.

#121 ::: Mycroft W mak ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 12:59 AM:

You know, I may be a master of "stop energy". In fact, I look for flaws in proposals, and challenge proponents to resolve or counter them. However, there's a fundamental difference (which I frequently fail at making clear; some people do think it's "stop energy" the way it's presented above, until they know me better (if that ever happens. I'm not saying I'm the easiest person to live with)) behind being a professional paranoid and skeptic, who fundamentally believes in progress, provided it is progress; and not wanting to do anything (or anything new), raising objections to make it impossible.

For me, ideas I don't want I can usually make clear without much thinking (although I can be convinced); it's the ideas that I like and want to have implemented that I will pick apart. Not to inevitable failure, however - resolve my doubts and I'll be full-on behind you; and my doubts may have just required a change in plan at the discussion stage that is much easier to deal with than when found in production.

Having said that, brainstorm session, break, resolution session (or as one society did it, drunk meeting, sleep, sober meeting) is a very good way of working; when I'm in a group using that paradigm, I work very hard to follow the "no criticism/commentary during brainstorm" mindset, and actively ask people to stop me if I start.

#122 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 01:10 AM:

albatross, I think it's pretty fitting that your post is numbered 101. Good summary of stuff that should be basic.

#123 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 01:26 AM:

albatross (@69): I am not so sure the neo-con way of running the nation/world isn't just as evil as the Stalin/Hitler sort of authoritarian gov't, they just didn't have as efficient a means of translating it to power. Partly this is because the instruments of the public involvement in the process is more established in the states (so they couldn't use That Tuesday in the same way the Nazis used the Reichstag Fire to completely suspend the gov't (though they tried).

As for effect (because they really do think they have a right to run the rest of the world... hegemonically, if not outright), and the effects of that rule (the excess deaths in Iraq, if nothing else, though there are a lot of other things I can lay at their feet, Hugo Chavez being a popular as he is, for one), I don't know that they are less evil than the other authoritarians.

They seem to want a two-class, have/have nots, society and all the misery that entails. That's pretty damned evil in my book, and pretty damned parallel in outcome too.

Sam Chevre: The problem isn't that we don't want such people, but that they views they espouse are entithetical to the idea of a democratically modelled society. They want the right to say some people are not to be considered as members of the social contract. That's a different model of how to run things. If, and when, they accept a pluralism as a valid model, the persecution complex will abate.

Lighthill: I love that monument. I saw it as both a memorialization of an advance, and a hope that better things would come along.

#124 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 02:26 AM:

I like John Scalzi's line about fairness: "You're in the wrong universe for fair."

And that's the first time I've looked at that sentence and realized it was a pun. unghhh, that's embarrassing.

#125 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 05:05 AM:

I still don't realize that's a pun. Explain?

Quoted from memory, so certainly not perfectly accurate:
"I always used to hate that life wasn't fair. Then I thought, what if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen came to us because we truly deserved them? So now I take great comfort from the general unfairness and hostility of the Universe." -- J. Michael Straczynski, in an episode of Babylon 5.

#126 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 07:16 AM:

SamChevre @93: I'm not sure that's fair. I am not "out to get" Dominionist Christians; if they want to enact gender roles in a particular way, that's up to them. I don't want them to be able to impose those gender roles on people who are not part of their sect, but I don't want to punish them in any way for living according to those (in my mind, wrong) principles. That's what democracy is for.

Also, I don't understand why you think it's a problem that there are people who think man is made in the image of God. There's a major Israeli human rights organization called "B'tzelem", which means in the image; their idea is that since people are made in the image of God, they are deserving of the highest respect and are not just things to be used and discarded for a political goal. I mean, ok, it's theistic language, but it is certainly a belief can have positive effects on people's actions. What negative consequences come about from Christianists believing that man is made in God's image? Do you mean because they only believe that men are god-like, and not women? Or that they harm animals and the environment because of giving divine status to selfish human interests?

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Terry #123:

I don't have any way to evaluate the inherent evilness of a set of ideas about government that's better than looking at what happened when they were put into practice. The Neocons did a lot of damage and brought about a lot of evil, but weren't remotely in the same league as, say, the Nazis or the Communists. That's ignoring the resource differences which make the US potentially such a massive force for good or evil in the world.

It may be that, given the power to do so, the neocons would have had anyone who spoke up against their ideas worked to death in a gulag, or would have rounded up gays and shipped them to murder factories. I don't think so, but I just flat can't know without more information.

I'm sure there were some neocons who would have been fine with those horrors. But since every movement has a fringe of crazies (often very vocal, not uncommonly important in their community), it's hard to use that to determine whether neocons, unopposed and unconstrained, would have made it into the top tier of evil governments.

#128 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 11:36 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 125

The first meaning is the obvious, "You're not in a universe where you can expect fairness."

The other one takes the statement as an Aussie colloquialism: "You really and truly are in the wrong universe".

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 11:48 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 125:

"'Fair' doesn't exist in this universe. If you expect 'fair', you're in the wrong universe."

"You're in the wrong unverse, that's certain." ("for fair" = "for sure")

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 01:26 PM:

Mycroft 121: A boss of mine once said of me "By the time you get Christopher to agree, you've solved all the problems." I don't think it was meant as a compliment.

Bruce 124: I'm not sure Scalzi knew the Aussie usage, or intended it as a pun. And I AM sure there's no way to find out for sure now, because if you ask him, he'll say of course he intended it. In either case.

#131 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 02:00 PM:

albatross: Looking at the stated goals (domination of the world, by America, for the interests of the well to do in America), and the implementation of those goals (the attempts to make the President a king, stripping of civil rights, suppression of dissent; to include arresting those who were entitled, by the laws of the land to engage in such dissent, the war in Iraq (which was explained by some of the central players as needed; not because Iraw was a threat to us, but so the rest of the world would know we were a threat to them), they are evil.

They have, to date, failed, not because they weren't evil (which is intent, not ends), but because they weren't sufficiently competent.

I forget who said that comments to the effect of, "At least they aren't shooting people in the streets" isn't a good sign.

The Nazis were a vocal fringe. The fundie religionists were a vocal fringe. Rick, "man on box turtle" Santorum was one of 100 senators. He ought to have stayed on the vocal fringe, but he was in the halls of power.

Given the power to do so, the neocons passed laws to "fix" one problem (Terry Schiavo) while doing squat to repair the city of New Orleans. It may be the wickedness of apathy, but it's no less evil for the quietness of its execution.

The way Immigration and Customs Enforcement is rounding people up, and then demanding they prove citizenship; because unless they can do that they "have no rights", when the charge is, at most, a misdemeanor (and on a first offense is an infraction). The way Bush, and Co. defined "Enemy Combatant, eligible for torture" as anyone the president want's to point the finger at... those are enough of a step toward the gulag and the laager for me.

It's what they lay the groundwork for doing, not what they got around to (and they got around to a lot... the "black sites" seem awfully close to an extranational gulag to me, YMMV) which makes them evil.

"One can't plan for what an opponent will do, only for what he can," and they seemed to be planning for some evil shit. That makes them evil. Did they do as much evil as Stalin and Hitler... no.

Am I going to refrain from calling them evil just because we didn't let them rise to their "best effort"? Hell no. "Never again" means being proactive.

#132 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 02:04 PM:

Joel @129: "for fair" = "for sure"

Is not an ‘Aussie usage’ I'm familiar with. But I don't pretend to know them all. Anyone have a citation?

#133 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 02:12 PM:

#131
A little nitpicking here: Santorum is 'man on dog'. Cornyn was the one going on about marrying a box turtle. (Which I'd say is an insult to box turtles - they're smarter than he is.)

#134 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 02:58 PM:

Epacris @ 132: Wasn't I who said it was Aussie. I don't recall where I've encountered the phrase before, though I'm pretty sure that I've done so once or twice. Googling turns up at least one example of the usage (last column, second paragraph after 'She "Cut Out" Slang').

#135 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 03:06 PM:

PJ... oops. When it comes to bestiality it's hard to keep them straight (which one was it who said all southern boys had knew what it was like to have sex with mules?)

#136 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 07:20 PM:

An Amen to Terry @#131:

The neocons were, and still are, just as evil as the Nazis in their day. The neocons didn't manage to do as much damage, because in the end, they lost the fight -- not against the terrorists, but against the decent folk of the country they were trying to dominate.

It's worth noting that the Nazis were able to take over their own country because Germany had lost a major war, with significant damage in lives and treasure. In contrast, the neocons were trying to play off a single attack -- which had left America distinctly shocked... but in the big picture, 9/11 was a pretty minor injury to a nation the size of America.

And that wasn't enough... no matter how vicious the neocons got, there were (and are) still plenty of people around who remembered what America is supposed to be like. That's why the "PNAC gallery" had to settle for their "blowout scam", instead of taking over for keeps. But if they could have turned the USA into a true fascist state, they would have, happily. Which in turn is why I think it's still important to stamp them out, as the real enemies of America.

#137 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 09:18 PM:

David:

By "stamp them out," you mean what?

#138 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 09:58 PM:

Beyond utterly removing them from influence, I'd want to discredit their movement and goals so thoroughly that they next time somebody tries a similar coup, the immediate and instinctive response by both parties is "Like hell! That's the sort of thing the neocons were trying to pull off...."

#139 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2009, 11:33 PM:

David, #130: Yes. That.

Thus do we demonstrate the difference between our ethics and theirs. Destroying their ability to implement their plans is sufficient for us; but they would happily have seen all of us dead rather than allow ideologically-incorrect thought to exist in their America.

#140 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 12:29 AM:

albatross: I'd like to see them with no more influence in the politcal game than the Whigs. That's stamped out.

I want them to be absolutely unable to persuade a single politician to do the least of their bidding.

Won't happen, but it's one of the things I work toward.

#141 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:00 AM:

Terry Karney@135

When it comes to bestiality it's hard to keep them straight

I'd think it would be...

#142 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 09:56 AM:

When it comes to bestiality it's hard to keep them straight

"I have one word for you, my boy. Reins."

#143 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 10:27 AM:

When it comes to bestiality it's hard to keep them straight

No wonder they seem unable to stick with chasing pussy.

(For that relief, much thanks.)

#144 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 02:42 PM:

re 136: The hyperbole is deafening. Besides, I count twenty years (or more, if you count the Clinton terms) of Neocons in power, and twenty years of Nazis from Mein Kampf to the fall of Berlin. And even if one starts on 9/11 (the neocon Reichstag fire?) conditions in this decade have hardly declined to the standards of 1940s Europe.

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 03:15 PM:

GODWIN!

Quit it, guys. The neocons can be their very own class of bad guy. You don't need to compare them to other classes of bad guys.

Indeed, if I may be quite blunt, you really need to not compare them to that particular set of bad guys.

Trust me on this.

#146 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 03:41 PM:

Abi...

I rather liked Archie Goodwin, especially when he did those cartoons as a replacement for his editorial page of Marvel's Epic comics.
("Serge, it's Godwin, not Goodwin.")
Oh.
Nevermind.

#147 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 06:54 PM:

Serge@146

Plus he was quite a capable detective...

Although that may be a different Archie Goodwin...

So would Goodwin's Law be a tendency for a discussion thread to quote from Nero Wolfe stories?

#148 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Michael I @ 147:

Doggedly so. And the story arc created thereby would be a caternary.

#149 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 12:28 AM:

Terry, #135, this is from the book I'm reading:

"bestiality: Come on, y'all. Let's look at the letters. It's not beast-i-ality. This, like zoology, is a word that is coming loose from its phonetic moorings. If you want it to be pronounced beastiality, then spell it that way. And then spell festive and festival that way--feastive and feastival--and pronounce them that way. And turn incessant into incease-ant, and pronounce pleasant pleezunt."

-- Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.

Really quite a book.

#150 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 12:35 AM:

#149: I once read an interview with a search engine exec who said (paraphrasing) "If people spelled it right bestiality would be the third most common search term."

Lotta people looking for advice about mules, I guess.

#151 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 12:41 AM:

Stefan Jones @ 150... If people spelled it right

"Whenever he goes on like this, I just think of how many different ways I can spell 'eviscerate'."
- Girl Genius's Dupree about her boss.

#152 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 10:29 AM:

Lee @#139: I think of it as more about short-term vs. long-term planning. The short-term thinkers figure if they can kill or otherwise smite their enemies, they've won. I want something more permanent than that....

#153 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2009, 11:19 AM:

Feastivus?

#155 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 02:33 AM:

My friend Karen just pointed out that Mike Daisey is apparently about to produce a play on the American economy as a cargo cult. The play's called The Last Cargo Cult, it'll be done in Melbourne (Australia) on March 9; he's apparently blogged about it at mikedaisey.com. Is it possible that the author of the original piece is following up on some of Daisey's blogging? Is it independent creation? Inquiring minds want to know.

#156 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 05:06 PM:

I'm sure it's covered in the "More here", but I once saw a business card for a "Liesure Support Specialist" - sales guy for an Amusements Company (pool tables, foosball, pinball, and the like). After I figured out why the card blew my mind, I realized that I had been hearing a lot of "Lee-zhr" at the time.

I've also loved people who fail moral checks and have their units loose steps.(and yes, I know there's such a thing as Moral Checks, but in this case, they mean Morale. Given that it's a Term Of Art in the wargaming community, and spelled correctly in the rules, one would think...)

#157 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2009, 11:22 PM:

How about people who fail to loose that extra o in lose? (If you're going to complain about other people's spelling, please watch your own, IOW.)

#158 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 05:52 AM:

Tom: My impression was that Mycroft's intent was to quote something with two errors in it.

#159 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2009, 02:21 PM:

Ah, I can see that interpretation now, David, but I didn't when I wrote. So let this point out again the difficulty of communication under the constraints of very limited bandwidth.

Trying to do two things at once can result in crossing the beams. Bad, very bad.

#160 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2009, 11:36 AM:

Cry havoc. And would you please lose those dogs of war? They're creeping me out.

#161 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2009, 12:40 AM:

Thanks, David. Yes, lack of tightening when failing to win is rather annoying.

Sorry, Tom, thought it was clear. Obviously, my irony push needs strengthening.

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