Sunday, October 10, 2010

Caveat Lector & Voter!

(Let the reader/voter beware!)

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!" - FDR

"The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." - Aristotle

Stephen Colbert's tongue-in-cheek rally to 'keep fear alive' is scary, but not because it will happen at Halloween time.

Its because we are being 'treated with too many tricks' and getting literally worn down by it.

This article explains it better than I can.
A few excerpts:

Stephen Colbert, relax: Mother Nature is on your side, already working hard to keep fear alive.

Your brain is continually looking for bad news. As soon as it finds some, it fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into memory storage, and then reactivates it at the least hint of anything even vaguely similar. But good news gets a kind of neural shrug: "uh, whatever."

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

All this makes human beings super-sensitive to apparent threats. Basically, in evolution, there are two kinds of mistakes: (1) You think there is a tiger in the bushes but there isn't one, and (2) You think the coast is clear, no tiger in the bushes, but there really is one about to pounce.

These mistakes have very different consequences. The first one will make you anxious, but the second one will kill you. That's why Mother Nature wants you to make the first mistake a thousand times over in order to avoid making the second mistake even once.

This hard-wired tendency toward fear affects individuals, groups (from couples to multinational corporations), and nations. It makes them overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources.


As if this natural trait of fear weren't enough to strongly influence us, here's another article about a particular pervasive, insidious practice that further distorts our ability to process information correctly - the avoidance of basic truth.
Again, a few excerpts to illustrate the point:

These three different but overlapping concepts — accuracy, honesty and intellectual honesty — are honored by our political culture in reverse order of their actual importance.

• Intellectual dishonesty, meanwhile, is so built into the Washington [DC] culture that you have to force yourself to notice it.
It even has a more familiar and less pejorative name: “spin.”
Spin is not just another word for lies.
A better definition might be “indifference to the truth.”
The really great spin artists, like Karl Rove and James Carville, are celebrated as masters of their craft.
Journalists crowd around them, longing to get spun.

• Far from being a “low bar,” absolute intellectual honesty is something I’ve never actually seen in anyone inside Washington or out, politician or journalist or diplomat. I aspire to it, as do many.


A third article brings the first two into the digital age, specifically involving the Internet.
Excerpts follow:

• The Web has given partisans license to find only the “facts” that fit their prejudices.

• Nowhere, perhaps, is the gap between the romance and the reality of the Internet more evident than in our politics. In the idealized narrative of digital democracy, greater connectivity has bequeathed more governmental transparency, more grass-roots participation and even a more efficient rendering of political justice.

• The explosion of accessible media and information on the Web, with its potential to give civic discourse a factual baseline and hold politicians accountable, has also given partisans license to find only the “facts” that fit their prejudices.

• ....“the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will” was supposed to be upended, so it would be “easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.” Instead, he concluded, we ended up with the reverse: social media increase the efficiency of the existing order rather than empowering dissidents.

• .....cyberspace is a “wild social ether where nobody knows who anybody is.”

• ....look at the political environment in our election year of 2010. The Internet in general and social networking in particular have done little, if anything, to hobble those pursuing power with such traditional means as big lies and big money.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable this year is the number of candidates who have tried to create fictitious avatars like the Facebook impostors in “Catfish.”
These candidates and others often fashion their campaigns to avoid real reporters (and sometimes real voters).
Some benefit from YouTube commercials paid for by impossible-to-trace anonymous donors.
In this wild political ether where nobody knows who anybody is, the Internet provides cover, not transparency.

• What you might call our “Catfish” Congressional candidates are a perfect match for the phantom donors. The power of the Google search hardly deters those politicians intent on fictionalizing their identities.

• ....In each of these cases it was old-fashioned analog reporters, most of them working for newspapers, who finally penetrated the falsehoods.

• When Christine O’Donnell ran an ad last week with the improbable opening line “I’m not a witch,” we once again had to marvel at the Delaware primary triumph of a mystery candidate with a falsified résumé, no job, and apparently no campaign operation beyond out-of-state donors and out-of-state fans like Palin “writing” Twitter endorsements.
O’Donnell’s Facebook page is by far the most palpable presence of an aspiring senator who shuns public events and the press in Delaware. In a brave new political world where candidates need only exist in virtual reality, it’s no wonder that Donald Trump believes he’s qualified for public office because of his relative gravitas as a heavy on a television “reality” show.


Does any of the above sound or seem familiar? Any local candidates avoiding public forums? Any support groups using 'spin'?

With our elections coming soon, I hope voters will be very careful about what they read, what they decide to believe, and the sometimes hidden connection with what -or whom- they are voting for.

Voting is our Constitutionally guaranteed right and a valuable direct link to our democracy, so let's not waste it.

Otherwise, we should consider changing Halloween to Election Day, because it's more scary!

"We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger."  - Tad Williams

"Losing my anonymity in this world I think is something that I find terrifying." - Alex O'Loughlin

"Liars when they speak the truth are not believed."
 - Aristotle

"The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!"
 - Mark Twain, in Eruption

"The freedom to connect to the world anywhere at anytime brings with it the threat of unscrupulous predators and criminals who mask their activities with the anonymity the Internet provides to its users." - Mike Fitzpatrick