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Information Anarchy Relief

The post-fact era of information anarchy has caused many people to be overwhelmed with useless and misleading information. That is causing us collectively and individually to make more irrational and destructive decisions, e.g. see the posts Has Your Mind Become Infected, When Distraction Becomes Catastrophic, Lulz Rules. Consequently, concentration and focus are becoming increasingly valuable faculties for maintaining a semblance of equanimity and increasing the effectiveness of personal time-management and productivity.

One means of sharpening focus that I have read about recently in the works of Nassim Taleb seems to work, at least on a personal basis it has. That is, training oneself to differentiate ‘noise’ from ‘signal.’  Signal is the message of a communication – the substance of what one is invited to consider. ‘Noise’ is the carrier wave it rides in on often jazzed up to jar your wits, have your emotion override your reason, or is just plain alarming distraction. We most often see ‘noise’ in the form of appeals to emotion rather than to intellect or understanding. Emotion does and should play a role in the weight we give to data. But, when emotion is overemphasized and manipulated to override reason and interject deception, irrationality and worse results.  In the past year in the US we have seen an unprecedented level of appeals to passion, prejudice, and particularly to anger (by both sides of the political spectrum). It has served in lieu of important issue education and understanding to influence decision-making. The noise to message ratio across established media and social media has risen to absurd levels in favor of emotional prejudice over intellect. Practice noticing the distinction between signal and noise and you might find that many ‘messages’ themselves are nothing more than ‘noise’.

More means of recognizing and rationally evaluating message before getting distracted in and unduly influenced by time-consuming and potentially destructive noise is covered in Nobel prize recipient Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.  One way is to learn to be wary of experts, particularly in the fields of politics and social sciences. Kahneman cites to clinical studies that evaluated the prediction reliability of the most commonly touted experts increasingly populating news and current events shows – those sitting on panels telling us how to view matters. Their long-term prediction success rates are well below 50% accurate when actually studied. In other words your chances of making correct decisions based on raw information – without relying on those ostensibly more qualified to make them for you – are better than if you waste a lot of time listening to those paid to tell you how to think. Taleb goes into this phenomenon in a lot more detail in his books as it pertains to economics and politics.

Kahneman provides more information that can serve as another handy index.  That is, studies have shown that – no matter how counter-intuitive it may seem – often the more absolutism and unyielding certainty an expert asserts or excudes, the less likely his predictions will be accurate.

Another useful noise-detection tool is contained in Kahneman’s book where he covers the ‘availability cascade.’  Here is a short section where he defines the term and describes the pitfall which capitalizes on the human tendency to follow like sheep:

An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports or a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by “availability entrepreneurs”, individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: anyone who claims the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a “heinous cover-up.”  The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.

It is not difficult to spot availability entrepreneurs if you apply some of the tips covered above. An increasing percentage of ‘news’ online and on television is reporting on the reactions to ‘news’ and then reactions to reactions, and reactions to reactions to reactions, and having those reactions evaluated by experts, etc.  If one could teach oneself to spot such and to identify availability entrepreneurs, one could be spared a lot of time, anguish and potential grief. And one might even wind up being a little bit smarter and happier.

Lulz Rules

 

How have we come to elevate a crypto fascist to the Chief Executive position of the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy?

A cursory reading of history shows that some form of anarchy precedes tyranny which is seen by the haves as necessary for restoration of some semblance of order (read, cling on to what the haves have in defense of the threat of the have-nots wanting to have what the haves have). Did anyone notice how rapidly the ultimate haves (Goldman Sachs/Exxon Mobil/et al), whom Trump vowed to collar, were invited into (and accepted) Trump’s bunker the second he won our sporting electoral college contest?  Chances are not for long – because far more vital information has intervened, like “trump tweeted a dis’ at Obama in response to his alleged dis’”, and “one Rockette isn’t going to show for the inauguration”, and “Michelle is ‘An Angry Black Woman’ for not praying at the Trump altar”, and “Hillary is steaming mad because Putin’s beef with her attempted intervention in Russian politics caused him to intervene in US politics”, and “Trump has already declared economic success for the common man’s economics because Wall Street speculation is bumping”, and “Trump vehemently asserts transition is a disaster and huuugely successful” (both in the same day), while on the same day America’s two most influential ‘intellectual’ media outlets report a speech on Israel as follows, clearly appealing to emotion in lieu of intellect: “Bibi Netanyahu Makes Trump His Chump” (New York Times) and “Kerry’s Rage Against Israel” (Wall Street Journal).

What form of anarchy preceded elevation of the big daddy who promises to restore ‘law and order’ at any cost (read liberty)?

We have created an information anarchy. In the age of information – where information reigns supreme over any other commodity – that translates into an anarchy in fact. We have created a public information sharing media that carries no penalty for purveying falsehood and deceit, penalizes in-depth and time-consuming investigation and presentation of relevant fact, and rewards appeals to emotion over intellect. Today’s information sharing does little to nothing to increase understanding. It does much to incite and inflame passion, prejudice and bias.

Worried about the arrival of ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here’ (yeah, break the spell for a day and read Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel by that title) in America? Fortunately, resignation to accepting realization of Lewis’ prophecy is slightly premature. Unfortunately, the only reason it is premature is that the information anarchy continues to grow exponentially. The beast that created today’s would-be Windrip (novel’s ‘populist’ tyrant) will devour Trump when he inevitably attempts to control the anarchy that created him. (Here’s a wild, ironic guess on how it might unfold: the ultimate self-interested information anarchist who helped sink Clinton out of sight will sink Trump out of sight just as soon as Trump helps him out of his legal bind – or he recognizes he’s in for the Christie-Giuliani treatment).  For the time being, lulz rules.

When Distraction Becomes Catastrophic

 

“Carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at the rate of 6 billion tons a year. By the year 2000 there will be about 25 percent more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than at present…

…The climate changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings.”

  • From Special Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee, dated November 1965, entitled “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” (Government Printing Office).

If one could manage to forego an hour of daily online distractions and spend that time instead on some directed google searches, one would find that the statistical predictions from the above report turned out to be pretty accurate.

If you would like to understand how these statistics affect our future as a species and how we are conditioned to ignore facts like these in favor of infotainment diversions, a meticulously researched book ably treats those subjects:  Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

At this moment, while a majority of the United States electorate is engaged in a game of who is punking who with ‘fake news’ and illegally obtained news, the climate-change denying president-elect is proposing the longtime head of Exxon Mobil (which acknowledged in writing internally as early as 1980 the truth of the above-referenced report, but buried it and continued to profiteer on oil for another 36 years and counting) to be our ambassador to the world at large, proposing a climate-change denier to uproot the Environmental Protection Agency (established by Richard Nixon largely based on the above cited report and its progeny), and proposing the most environment-antagonistic governor Texas ever had to establish our Energy policies (don’t forget, he vowed in 2011 to dismantle  the department he’s now been named to run). But Democrats and Republicans alike are cool with it because in the short term they think they might earn a few more coins in yet another fossil fuel bubble and a get a couple percentage points discount in taxes. Their kids and their grandkids be damned.

If you choose to look and think honestly with it, you may wind up asking yourself, “fifty years later, and I’ve been obsessing about what?”

The Pity Play

Apropos of current events, I offer for contemplation a passage from the book The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout. Ironically, after I introduced this book on my blog in 2010, some of its most fervent subsequent promoters turned out to be described to a tee within it. The answer to that paradox is in the book, even within the following passage.

From chapter 6 – how to recognize the remorseless

After listening for almost twenty-five years to the stories my patients tell me about sociopaths who have invaded and injured their lives, when I am asked, “How can I tell whom not to trust?” the answer I give usually surprises people. The natural expectation is that I will describe some sinister-sounding detail of behavior or snippet of body language or threatening use of language that is the subtle give-away. Instead, I take people aback by assuring them that the tip-off is none of these things, for none of these things are reliably present. Rather, the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.

I first learned this when I was still a graduate student in psychology and had the opportunity to   interview a court-referred patient the system had already identified as a “psychopath.” He was not violent, preferring instead to swindle people out of their money with elaborate investment scams. Intrigued by this individual and what could possibly motivate him – I was young enough to think he was a rare sort of person – I asked, “What is important to you in your life? What do you want more than anything else?” I thought he might say “getting money”, or “staying out of jail”, which were the activities to which he devoted most of his time. Instead, without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Oh, that’s easy. What I like better than anything else is when people feel sorry for me. The thing I really want more than anything else out of life is people’s pity.”

I was astonished, and more than a little put off. I think I would have liked him better if he had said “staying out of jail”, or even “getting money.” Also, I was mystified. Why would this man – why would anyone – wish to be pitied, let alone wish to be pitied above all other ambitions? I could not imagine. But now, after twenty-five years of listening to victims, I realize there is an excellent reason for the sociopathic fondness for pity. As obvious as the nose on one’s face, and just as difficult to see without  the help of a mirror, the explanation is that good people will let pathetic individuals get by with murder, so to speak, and therefore any sociopath wishing to continue with his game, whatever it happens to be, should play repeatedly for none other than pity.

More than admiration – more even than fear – pity from good people is carte blanche. When we pity, we are, at least for the moment, defenseless, and like so many of the other essentially positive human characteristics that bind us together in groups – social and professional roles, sexual bonds, regard for the compassionate and the creative, respect for our leaders – our emotional vulnerability when we pity is used against us by those who have no conscience. Most of us would agree that giving special dispensation to someone who is incapable of feeling guilt is a bad idea, but often, when an individual presents himself as pathetic, we do so nonetheless…

…When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person’s forehead as you will ever be given. A person whose behavior includes both of these features is not necessarily a mass murder, or even violent at all, but is still probably not someone you should closely befriend, take on as your business partner, ask to take care of your children, or marry.

The Only Good Scientologist…

 

Last year I told a member of ASC (Anti-Scientology Cult) royalty that had I foreseen the outcome of my efforts to encourage people to speak and write openly and publicly about scientology, I would not have undertaken them in the first place. I likened the majority of public Scientology discussion to a tabloid pile-on fest. Since then I have watched it degenerate from even that: from a blame-filled pity party into a hate-driven trolling fest. A relatively neutral review of the postings – and ‘discussions’ – on the go-to ASC forums reflects that.

ASC bloggers and moderators and their following regularly congratulate one another for poking sticks in the eyes of Scientologists. They don’t talk about how their blustering will reform anybody or any institution. Instead, they revel in how much ‘pain’ or destruction it will create. ASC’s media liaison Tony Ortega has taken the krew to new depths. For instance, he ‘reported’ on a woman who intentionally drove her vehicle through the front doors of the Austin Texas Scientology Church. The vehicle stopped after smashing through the door to the Scientologists’ nursery. Afterward the driver expressed regret that she had not struck someone with her vehicle. Not one ASC voice in disagreement was raised when Ortega characterized the crime as an act of “vandalism.” Ortega – and his ASC following by encouragement – demonstrated that he literally places more value on inanimate fixtures than the lives of Scientologists, including nursery-aged children.

Anyone who advocates a more objective, intelligent discussion on Scientology is quickly labelled and treated as an enemy by ASC members. Even outsiders simply reporting newsworthy facts. For example, Ortega ragged on TMZ chief Harvey Levin for months because his outlet reported the fact of the prosecution of a man who made death threats against Scientology’s leader. Ortega publically denounced Levin for “carrying water” for Scientology. Apparently in the head of the ASC’s daily anti-scientology meme creator, the only good Scientologist is a dead one. That was certainly the way he treated Cathriona White upon first news of her death; at least while he used his feigned concern to charge (with zero evidence) that Scientologists were somehow responsible for her death. All that changed when media reported facts that pointed suspicion away from Scientologists. Then, even a deceased Scientologist became fair game for an Ortega-led, ASC slime campaign.

The ASC fora are not only riddled with trolls, the bloggers themselves have become trolls. Their antics have little to do with education, imparting understanding, and least of all heroics. The latter was made clear by one ASC blogger pronouncing with an air of authority that scientology is “Fair Game” and one may “say or do anything against scientology” and get away with it scot-free.

Trolls are free to troll and no doubt will continue to do so with lots of derisive laughs, and with no sense of conscience about the cumulative effect such hate might have on others. Those who find themselves considering whether to join the ranks of troll followers who employ degradation and belittlement for entertainment might want to step back and evaluate before they get sucked into that vortex.

A couple of credible studies show that trolls are a special breed of ugly creature. Please see Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists.  The studies highlight an irony. ASC trolls wrap themselves in the ‘abolish disconnection’ flag to give their trolling some sort of noble justification. Yet, Dr. Golbeck notes that the solution to trolls is just that, disconnection. Just as modern psychology recommends be applied to any sociopath or psychopath who might cross one’s path (see e.g., The Sociopath Next Door – Martha Stout).

I imagine that is why most self-improvement, awareness-raising and religious groups teach the virtues of some form of disconnection. For more on that, see Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile Or Die. She traces the non-denominational disconnection tradition to the Transcendentalists – Emerson, Thoreau, et. al.  – who found societal forced-connection to be oppressive. Her book is a strong indictment of that tradition which in a way makes her account that much more credible. In attacking it, she reveals that the idea that ‘disconnection’ can be considered cathartic is as American as apple pie.

The specter of someone mustering the intelligence and courage to disconnect from sociopathic toxicity is seen as a clear and present danger to ASC leadership. I have seen them resort to deceit, attempting to break up families, bribery, infiltration, propaganda campaigns, intelligence ops, extortion and blackmail to prevent people from disconnecting from their klub.

Those in ASC leadership applying such tactics are also the ones most loudly and persistently complaining about Scientology disconnection. Paradoxically, those people made conscious decisions to disconnect from the ones they spend years wailing about having disconnected from them. They campaign other well-meaning people to join them in a war that promises to mend their familial rifts. By objective result, it has proven to be an avenue that only exacerbates the problems they sought to resolve. When someone is perceived as a threat to their hypocritical racket, ASC leaders apply their own version of disconnection; one that is far more arbitrary than that practiced in Scientology. That they can make a living on such hypocrisy is an interesting study in the culture of complaint our society seems to have devolved into. By wailing loud enough and long enough any wolf in sheep’s clothing can apparently draw a flock.

BLACKMAIL

 

I felt like I was pretty much done with the ASC (Anti-Scientology Cult) awareness-education business after the post How Gullible Can One Get?  However, within a couple of days of publication I received a blackmail threat from ASC headquarters (from ASC royalty in fact).  The demand requires me to shut down the exposure of facts and thoughts I have been sharing of late on this blog. The threat was that if I continue on that subject line my most well-concealed, secret crimes will be exposed.

Those crimes were characterized as fitting the bill of what Jeff Hawkins authoritatively spoke of in My Scientology Movie. Hawkins appears there stating with an air of grave profundity, paraphrased, “Rathbun has definitely not told all; he knows where all the bodies are buried.”

While I consider whether to cave and muzzle myself as ordered or to stand and carry on with exposing hypocrisy, I thought it would help to have the ASC rank and file weigh in. I have attracted scores of ASC trolls in the past couple of months, and discussion of my posts have dominated ASC comment-message threads. Now the followers have the opportunity to contribute something meaningful to their cause.

All they have to do in order to participate is pass a pre-school level cognitive-coordination challenge. This poll is going to be a test of their attention span, self-discipline, and motor-skills faculties. That is, they can weigh in with one word, either “cave” which means stfu (and every other unkind thought they feel compelled to hurl my way) or they can say “stand” which means “go ahead and express yourself.”  You must go by your regular cyber cult handle. That way ASC leadership (the blackmailers) knows exactly where you stand. It also allows us to see which of those who regularly read here and comment on me elsewhere have the nerve to defy ASC leadership standing orders not to read and discuss my posts anymore.

I anxiously await ASC input so that I may complete this most nerve-racking decision-making process.

Was It A Book Or Was It A Gun?

 

Was it a book or was it a gun in the hand of Keith L. Scott in Charlotte North Carolina the other day when he was gunned down by police?

How does that question relate to topics covered here since 31 August?