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Ken Barrows

Dave, I try to fight my confirmation bias all the time and hope I usually succeed. Do you ever have to fight that bias or have you moved beyond that?

Cookielemons .

In order for a democracy to work, an educated citizenry is required. We don't have that in the US right now, which is why the plutocrats who really pull the strings of power have found it so easy to manipulate the masses through the use of media.

You're exactly right that the media only focuses on who won and who lost, instead of the public good. I recall that Hitler allegedly said "how fortunate for leaders that men do not think." Hitler is now the name of a fallacy in philosophy, since he is invoked in the media to demonize anyone deemed "crazy," yet this very same media, in part by invoking him in such a way, helps to confirm his statement above. It is, in part, the reason for humans being so ignorant and thus why democracy doesn't work.


I think part of the reason that politics and media are such a window into human behavior, as well as being the windows through which humans "see" the world, is that they both feed what is probably a very basic human need... the need for answers.

Now, when I say "answers", I mean answers, not facts, not truth, not reality, not justice, not fairness, etc. Just answers.

Think of it like this. Anybody who is a parent will recognize the situation where their young child is incessently whining or crying or nagging them about something that a) you cannot address adequately at all, b) don't have the time to address adequately, c) is way beyond the child's ability to understand, or d) you don't actually give a fuck about at that moment. Example... your child saw a friend having ice cream and wants to know when she can have ice cream, and now she will not let it go. The correct way of dealing with this is to simply answer something like "Tuesday". About 99.9% of the time, this will satisfy the child and she will happily trot off to get into some other kind of mischief. This is because she didn't really care about the ice cream all that much. She had an itch that needed to be scratched. She had a question that needed to be answered. Nevermind that "Tuesday" might have the same meaning to her limited understanding of time as "yesterday", "tomorrow", "next week", "2015". The facts, meaning, accuracy, truth of the answer was unimportant. It was the receiving of an answer that was important.

I think that humans generally exhibit this same behavior all their lives, only at a slightly more sophisticated level. As adults, they want answers, but now those answers have to fit some slightly more complex unconscious image they have of the world. This is what both politicians and the media excell at, providing answers that pass this initial unconscious "sniff test", that feed people's confirmation bias. Once people have the answers, they trot happily off to cause more mischief. Combine this with the social group dynamics and the modern ability to expose yourself almost exclusively to only that information feeds your exising confirmation bias, and you end up with our current situation. A world in which the need for answers is satisfied by pablum as opposed to leading to the search for reality, facts, truth, justice, fairness, etc. The reality of the situation is that we don't really need reality. The fact is that almost any answer will do, thank you, regardless of its connection to reality or its implications. We have an itch. It needs to be scratched. And there are plenty of politicians and media outlets out there eager to scratch the itch.

Politics (and today's media) make you stupid. Or, maybe they just let you be as happily stupid as you would like to be.


As a New Zealander I definitely notice how partisan American culture seems to be. I don't notice it so much here, I'm not sure why that would be. It's almost like political affiliation in America is some kind of cool kids club, and both sides think they are the cool kids. It's pretty easy to guess an Americans beliefs (from my web based interactions with them) based on their political affiliation and vice versa. Definitely no active thought going on, just primal instincts to be part of the troop.

As you say Dave, barely scratching the surface, but a good place to start.

Would it be safe to say "politics proves you are stupid" rather then "politics makes you stupid." Correlation, causation, cause and effect etc.

Dave Cohen

Ken --

Re: confirmation bias

No, Ken, I haven't "moved beyond" that problem. It's a constant concern for me (at least in my writing).

I mean, look at it this way -- there may actually be some Good News out there. Maybe I've glossed over it or dismissed it too easily.

For example, take "peak oil" -- Please! said the old comedian Henny Youngman. I'm the only former (or current) "peak oil" writer who said he was wrong in certain assumptions about the future oil supply. Those assumptions have been to a certain extent falsified by current developments. Yes, the price of oil will always be high, we can't grow the world supply nearly as fast as we used to, but on the whole, from a pure energy standpoint, fracking in "tight" (shale) rock was Good News, and new oil discoveries are doing better than they had for decades. Part of this came about because the price went up.

So, in this case I avoided confirmation bias, unlike just about every other person I used to know who wrote about or had an interest in peak oil. Those people are still beating the peak oil drum, oblivious to new developments which change the story. As I said in this post, that's their story and they're sticking to it (e..g. Kunstler, Greer, Heinberg, and on and on). If they don't constantly beat that drum, they may lose their audience. I myself don't give a shit about losing my audience anymore.

Regarding the oceans, I see no Good News, and the problem comes in when humans, as they typically do, try to put lipstick on every pig, even degrading marine ecosystems.

For the vast majority of humans -- the optimists -- there isn't any Bad News ever. That poses a problem for the Realist, who must constantly sift through mountains of bullshit to find out what's really going on. The danger is that there may be "false negatives" where the optimists are right, or at least partially right, and I might miss that or overlook it because of confirmation bias.

So, confirmation bias is a continuing problem, but it wouldn't be a problem at all if humans weren't so out of touch with Reality to begin with, which makes the bullshit filtering necessary. My filter isn't perfect, and that's too much to expect anyway. Sometimes I don't have enough information to make a call either way, although Human Nature tells me that people have gotta be slinging huge amounts of bullshit around in any case.

And I want you to know, Ken, that I paid a price for my peak oil heresy. There are people who used to contribute money to DOTE who hate me now because I betrayed the cause. I am now a traitor to those people. And if you re-read today's post carefully, so will understand why they feel that way.

Perhaps that answered your question.

-- Dave

Alexander Ač

What to add, great post, as always!

Politics makes us stupid, no doubt, and one could also say "our stupidities are most exposed in politics, and even most exposed in environmental politics..."

And well, "Good news" about peak oil were also "Not-so-good news for climate AND ocean destruction..."

But then again, who really cares? We have created what we managed, like the Chinese for example:

Beijing entombed by mega smog, AGAIN

By the way, what is the "politics of air pollution"?



If politics makes you stupid, I can't decide on an adjective that suitably describes what economics makes you. Over to you Dave. :)

Here's the Flatland version of something else you've focused on before, from the Guardian newspaper:


At least someone in the mainstream has half an eye open.


I've read that article today, great article! The comments are interesting too, some are very informative.

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