Memo For File CXXIX

I finally figured out how we’re going nuts, and it doesn’t have anything to do with conservatism versus liberalism.

Well…that is perhaps overstating it…it doesn’t have much to do with it. Okay, maybe it has quite a bit to do with liberalism. But it has more to do with what you saw in Idiocracy. We humans in this day and age don’t have to do a whole lot to stay alive, and we have no natural predators. We’re starting to become idiots.

When I made a list of all the ways our thinking has started to suck green donkey b*lls, busted them out into their most simplistic elements and eliminated the duplicates, I found the resulting list had exactly thirty items. That seems like a good, round number. Let’s blog it.

This has actually been many years in the making. The plain truth that has to be recognized here is that we don’t really do an awful lot of thinking. Our day-to-day survival is not linked to our arriving at the right answer. Most of the time, when we make decisions about things, we do it for the sake of convincing those in proximity that we’re decent people. These are not decisions that are supposed to produce an outcome consistent with our stated goals. Things like “I’m going to vote for MONDALE!” are just ways of showing off our decency…and our absolute, complete credulity.

For decades now, we have not even been trying to show off any inherent ability. For the most part, what we’ve been trying to demonstrate to each other is harmlessness. Which, as you’re about to see, isn’t that harmless…

Our thirty widespread modern mental illnesses are as follows:

1. Given a factual observation, the recognition of one, and only one, valid conclusion to be drawn from it.

This is Number One for a reason. Too many people, on this point, are absolutely inflexible. Example: Sarah Palin made a reference to “our allies the North Koreans” and this means she is unqualified for the presidency…and she hasn’t declared herself a candidate for that office anymore than I have. But because she is unqualified for it, and this is “proven” by the fact that she momentarily mixed up her Koreas, she is to be hated. Oh, and you have to agree with all this. If you fail to, or if you even hesitate to, it just proves you’re crazy. Or you’re thinking with your little head; you want to wait until Todd Palin is looking at something else and then jump her bones. Or both of those. That Sarah Palin said what she said cannot mean anything else, and your failure to agree with that, also, cannot mean anything else. They are guarantees. Nice and simple.

People who think this way forget that one thing may mean — one thing, or it may mean any one of a lot of different things. It’s a very common problem. Poeple running around, like small children, all too ready to give voice to those magic words “Aha! Now this proves it!” Completely forgetting that someone else might have a different view of the situation and what it all means.

This is the most common mental illness, and it is by far the most damaging. People who are unable to express, or sustain, or give a decent respect to the simple idea: “I think A, but I do see how a reasonable person might think not-A.”

2. Insistence that there must be a certain point where (most) people have made enough money.

Ever run a potato-sack race?

If one foot can never be too far behind, then the other foot can never be too far ahead. The net effect is, not too much progress can be made.

It’s called communism. It’s been tried before; it always leads to suffering. That’s why.

3. Shadow-lurking; fear of unilaterally altering the outcome of a situation, even for the better.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and when you take steps to alter an outcome for the better, you need to put your name by the idea that the outcome is indeed being improved. This can be a scary thing. There is always the possibility that the outcome, when all’s said & done, is not being improved after all.

And so for the cowardly, it becomes an appealing proposition to leave all matters unchanged. You don’t get any credit for improving anything that way, but you might not get blamed for anything deteriorating either.

4. Irrational hatred of anybody who doesn’t share this fear of altering situational outcomes for the better.

This is understandable. If someone is being mugged and you stand down, allowing the mugging to proceed, it looks like a perfectly reasonable decision. Until someone else comes along to stop the mugging and then you look like a craven coward…which is what you are. But in that situation it suddenly becomes a great deal less subtle.

It’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it logical. It certainly doesn’t make it noble.

5. Directive 10-289: The belief that all human behavior is static; the failure to anticipate unintented consequences.

We see it time and time and time again with liberal policies. A tax rate goes up; subtract the old rate from the new rate, multiply the difference by the volume of commerce that comes under the tax, and the product is something you are absolutely sure to collect next year. Every single nickel! They do the same thing with tax cuts — a tax cut can be assessed to “cost” us a half a trillion dollars, or some such.

If humans were inherently non-intelligent, it might work out that way. But they’re not. When something becomes more or less lucrative, they change their decisions to adapt to the new environment.

6. Rejecting the delivery of a beneficial outcome, over trifling concerns about the process followed.

There is a simple test to discern whether this has crossed over into insanity: Does process matter over outcome? If the outcome falls short of the stated goal, is it acceptable anyway because a certain process was followed? If it gets that far, then what is being done is that a failure is being falsely regarded as a success. What if someone deviates from the stated process, but by so doing, delivers on the stated goal? If that is rejected then the reverse holds; a success is being falsely regarded as a failure.

From developing software, I have found the projects that really justify their existences are the ones that put humans in the role of being human. That is to say, all the repetitive work is systematically routed to the machinery, and all the creative demands are made upon the people. And yet, I don’t have to wait for too many years to roll by before I have to deal with the tiny minds, those who say that the proper place for the human “talent” is to do things exactly the same way some other human would do it; to follow the same process. In other words, the people should do the work of machines.

I have begun to view that as working backward. Wherever there are machines, humans should not do repetitive work. Not only is it tedious, but compared to the machines, people aren’t any good at it.

7. The feeling that if someone is wealthy, he must have done something morally reprehensible to become that way.

You almost can’t blame us for falling for this; it’s the better part of a century of programming straight from Hollywood. Wherever there’s a wealthy industrialist there must be a soul enshrouded in pure darkness, dedicated to evil. Facts are not considered. It’s just assumed.

But there’s something about this I don’t get: If you’re independently wealthy but have taken a leadership position in advancing the progressive agenda, suddenly you’re not evil anymore. If you’re Sen. John Kerry, you can dock your sailboat in another state to avoid paying taxes and you’re still wonderful. If you’re George Soros, you labor under no obligation whatsoever to “give back to the community.”

8. Oikophobia; the fear of the similar, or of the familiar.

This was once synonymous to “wanderlust.” Now it’s a polar opposite to xenophobia; it means, if someone is similar to your or your native culture, you’re afraid of it, or you’re automatically convinced it must be an evil thing.

9. Blame; every single situation leads to the same individual, group or class being at fault.

Do I even have to use the name “George W. Bush”?

10. Rationalization; every single situation leads to the same idea about what to do.

This seems reasonable because, and only because, humans in this day and age do not need to hunt for their food. And we do not toil away on the food chain underneath any natural predators.

Without a need to exercise basic intelligence, to vary our responses according to the flavor of the current stimulus, our ability to do this has begun to atrophy…

11. The denial of any difference between male and female physiology, psychology and/or aptitudes.

This was popularized during the 1970’s. If you acknowledged so much as a whiff of difference between the sexes, you needed to be educated.

It wouldn’t be possible to explain to anyone who was not slowly acclimated to the new order: Women could only be properly respected by people who pretended they were men. If you acknowledged there was anything different, and therefore special, about women that must have meant you were putting them down. This, necessarily, meant any acknowledgement of femininity was an insult — and that, in turn, had to mean women were inherently inferior.

In sum: Those who were really discriminating against women, successfully projected it on to others.

The tradition continues today.

12. Desire to be better than everybody else, coupled with a mutually-exclusive goal of resembling everybody else.

This is what Thing I Know #160 is all about:

Being better than everyone you know; being the same as everyone you know. You can have one, not both. I think we all get that. But too many among us want both. They know they can’t have both, but they’re unwilling to do things differently from the crowd, or to take second-place. They want it all. And they don’t know why they end up unhappy.

13. Upon hearing one side of a story, failing to factor in that there might be another side to the story.

The very essence of adult-like thinking. We’ve been losing it, a little bit at a time, for quite awhile now.

14. The cyclical and perpetual fantasy that all of human existence might be on the verge of extinction.

This latest eco-fad, too, has been going on uninterrupted since the mid 1970’s: The idea that man is about to cause his own distinction, inadvertently. That’s thirty-five years give or take. All along the way, ten years at a time, we authoritatively expect the oceans to dry up, become superheated, de-salinated, or otherwise uninhabitable…

Before the 1970’s, about every fifty years or so we have another prophecy of the end of the world. Whenever it fails to happen we come up with another prophecy.

Not healthy. Not even a little bit.

15. The insistence that the leader of a people, in order to be qualified, must be somehow different/superior to them.

This is really a fundamental split. Some of us think a leader is a sampling; his role is to meld the values and sensibilities of the people he leads, with some measure of common sense. Others think the leader is elected to bring wisdom that any other ol’ schmuck wouldn’t be able to offer up. The difference is that the second of those two groups, who are in search of some demigod to pick up all these ordinary people and move them to a place they wouldn’t otherwise be able to find, conflate values with wisdom. They see it all mixed together into one goulash which they want served up by someone who knows something they don’t, and therefore it isn’t their place to question any of it. Which takes a lot of the pressure off compared to actually thinking.

16. An exuberance about a stated method for solving a problem, enjoined with an inexplicable inattention to details.

My favorite example is sitting down to talk out our differences with our enemies. Nobody ever talks about standing around something with our enemies, holding wine goblets, admiring the artwork on the walls; no, it’s always sitting down to talk out our differences.

Once we sit down, what exactly gets discussed? The litany never seems to go here. Just sit down, that’s all.

17. Filtering out the facts problematic to a desired inference, with rage against anyone who doesn’t filter the same way.

This is what lazy thinkers do. They figure out what they want the conclusion to be, and then they treat all the evidence with selected hostility or gullibility, depending on whether the evidence befriends that conclusion.

They tailor the knowledge to fit the opinion, rather than the other way around.

18. Deciding on the morality of a proposed plan based solely on which classes of people it might help or hurt.

This is perhaps the most common. Certain people, you’ll notice, you can predict how they’re going to feel about a certain plan just by categorizing the plan as crudely as possible. Pro-white, anti-black…or…pro-woman anti-man. Pro-gay, anti-gay. It sets aside positions, or it gives away money. Or it imposes a new standard for child custody. To figure out how these people are going to vote, it isn’t necessary to wade into the details or even to figure out if something is required, not-required, prohibited, subsidized, taxed. Just figure out who it helps and who it hurts. Simplistic, childish thinking; right & wrong don’t enter into it.

19. Leaping to the conclusion that statistical over- or under-representation proves injustice, and therefore conspiracy.

My favorite example of this is women under-represented in Congress. People tend to forget, there’s a certain amount of self-imposed humiliation involved in running for something. Men are going to be more open to this. Women don’t like to be embarrassed, and that’s just the way it is. The same goes for hard sciences, computer technology, etc. If you can work miracles and fix things other people can’t fix, and make a huge difference, but not too many people are going to notice, then women are not going to be attracted to that particular field. Some will but most won’t.

When there aren’t too many people of a certain demographic group in a certain position…it very often might mean there’s a problem attracting willing candidates. It doesn’t have to mean there’s a conspiracy to keep them out.

20. Placing additional weight on opinions solely for the reason that they aren’t connected to a meaningful identity.

A candidate interviews for a job and you’ve got all these questions for him. One single wrong answer and he’s disqualified…but…a band of strangers says he’s capable of handling this job, the details of which are understood only by you and a few others. You don’t know who these strangers are and you have no way of finding out, if you cared. But with their signature upon a diploma or a certificate, suddenly you’re all done asking questions…

It’s cowardice. There’s no other word for it, since you don’t know anything about these people, they don’t know anything about you, therefore their signature provides you with absolutely no information that is useful to you.

In 2008, candidate Obama said, “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times…and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.” Had Obama used a hard reference to identity, like for example “Bob”…some guy somewhere named Bob, would look like a silly ass. “Other countries” somehow seems fitting.

We have this strange surreal reverence for the unknown, for the unidentifiable.

21. A lust for more and more guarantees; valuing security at the expense of opportunity.

Seriously, go to a country that is not America if this is your deal. There are scores and scores of them. Socialist mudpuddles who will cover you womb-to-tomb, but then tax away every dollar you make minus what you need to stay alive — to pay for all this “free” care. There’s no reason to extinguish the last candle of freedom on the planet. Just move.

22. Bundling; the inability to say “I agree with him on issue A but disagree with that same person on issue B.”

This is childlike thinking. Sure, some people are always wrong, or wrong so often it might as well be always; and some other people are right much more often than the average. But if you agree with everything a certain person says, or disagree with everything a certain person says, it can be fairly said you must not be paying attention.

23. Politics; people express opinions to manipulate others, instead of saying what they really think.

The real tragedy here is that people meet up and when they come to an agreement about what to do, they think they have done some vigorous thinking to reconcile different approaches and backgrounds. But they really haven’t. They’ve only made a point of expunging the ideas germane to the most incendiary conflict…which, nevertheless, might very well have been good, decent ideas.

24. Laodicean bell curve; the idea that if you take what is perceived to be the moderate position, you can’t go wrong.

The hazard here, which is actually an understated danger, is that an illusion of excellence is being imposed upon people who are actually cowardly. We mistake mediocrity for excellence, nothings for everythings.

25. Appeasement; laboring under the delusion that one side in a conflict can unilaterally decide the fighting will end.

It’s an extension of oikophobia. If fighting is going to continue only if both sides are resolved to continue the fighting — a proposition that anybody with the mental acuity necessary to graduate from sixth grade, should immediately recognize as ajbect nonsense — then, whenever one’s own country is involved in a conflict, it is one’s own side that should be prevailed upon to propose peace. Which means, to surrender. Since, to impose the same demand on the other side would involve all that inconvenient traveling and stuff.

26. Anti-Pillar-Five: The belief that nobody should be allowed to recognize patterns or trends.

It started out as a well-intentioned desire to fight stereotyping, like “blacks are lazy” or “Mexicans will steal all your stuff.” But now, any thought that begins with the word “whenever” has to be kept secret. We can’t even notice cultural differences anymore, like women from certain geographic origins wear certain clothes. If we do, non-judgmentalism is not good enough — it has to be immediately included with a lavish compliment, like “the sari that women wear in your country is so beautiful,” or else it’s a racist remark. No in-between.

27. The conviction that, if anyone anywhere thinks a certain thought, further action must be necessary.

Five seconds thought, and you realize this is an attack on freedom. You don’t have to legitimize bigotry to point this out; if further forceful, coercive action is to be expected when someone thinks a certain thought, that is thought control. It is the very definition of it.

28. We should expect to be punished, as a group, for the behavior of an individual who might be associated with us.

It starts at school, with the yard duty teacher saying “if I make one exception I’ll have to make a hundred.”

29. We should expect to be deprived of our livelihood permanently, if a complete stranger misunderstands what we say.

Sexual harrassment policies. Go to any training class, and what do they tell you: Intent of the accused does not matter, it’s the perception of the offended that carries weight.

Why is that, if the object of the exercise is to make the workplace non-threatening for everybody? This doesn’t achieve it. So who’s responsible for this rule? Who’s accountable?

30. Proxy offense; regarding the above, it is noble to invent ways an imaginary third party might be offended.

Especially if it causes REAL life-altering injury to the second party, a REAL, UNIMAGINED PERSON.

Maybe, in the weeks & months ahead, I’ll think of some more.

But one other thing to sort of staple on to the end here: Tax increases. I do understand how some sane and reasonable people would or might think they are necessary; the budget deficits are not pretty, the public debt that accumulates as a result is not pretty. And so I understand the conclusion…

…the excitement over it, though. The dedication to an entire way of life built up all around it. That, I don’t get. It seems to me to be unstable…unsettled…juvenile…nuts.

Update 1/29/11: You know, the President lately asked for a more civil discourse, and it occurs to me that with all thirty of these mental illnesses on an upswing, that is not possible. Somewhere…and I’m far too lazy to go out and look it up…I had conjured up a hypothetical about two answers to a single problem that appear to both be viable, but only one can be correct. I think I used a math problem, like two and two are four, or they could be five. That doesn’t work though, really…the guy who thinks 2+2=5 is obviously a jackass…therefore I cannot state with confidence that someone else must be insane, for thinking so. It would be perfectly understandable.

Here’s something that works: When, exactly, did the 21st century start. If I say it started at midnight local time on January 1, 2000 — and you say it started a year after that, which is actually a common situation where this question is concerned. It’s a simple matter to agree-to-disagree, and then pepper the conversation with cherry-picked “facts,” walk through the math involved, explore the concepts of counting from 1 versus counting from 0…we can relate it to counting the minutes from zero, and then we can relate it to counting the months and days-of-the-week from 1…

We can fulfill the President’s desire and have our civil discourse.

But! If one of us engages in any one of the thirty mental illnesses here, then we can’t. If every speck of evidence you present that the century began in 2001 makes me angrier and angrier with you, and earns you a preening snotty lecture from me about how you need to watch something besides Fox News, we can no longer have a civil discourse about this.

And that is why we cannot discuss politics in the workplace. Like I’ve been saying for years, we need to ask our friends the liberals about that. If we work shoulder to shoulder with them, we have to keep our mouths shut about political opinions in order to preserve our working relationships.

And I don’t think this is an accident. I think it is by design. A populace that is cowed into keeping its political viewpoints secret, or confined to the timid venue of blogs and threads, is an easier populace to drive into extremist leftward living. It becomes much easier to marginalize the people who think we all have a right to keep and bear arms…that babies are sacred and shouldn’t be aborted…that ObamaCare is likely to increase the public debt…that Saddam Hussein needed to be driven out of power…as fringe kooks, if there is a thick veil of anonymity between the sensible conservative and the sensible moderate. It becomes a simpler matter to deploy the bandwagon “of course everybody agrees” fallacy.

It arrives at the cost of this civil discourse we supposedly value so highly. Because then, having sold liberalism according to this “of course everybody agrees” technique, if you ever meet up with someone who doesn’t agree you have to bring down the Mighty Napalm Lava Hammer of Thor upon that person. You can’t go letting someone walk away in one piece if he says, where others can overhear, “Naw, y’know, I don’t think we need to have a carbon exchange system to save the planet.” In that situation, you become obliged to react the same way a Hell’s Angels gang would react to some skinny nerd wearing thick glasses calling them a bunch of ballerina p*ssies.

So no, Mister President, we cannot have a civil discourse about much of anything in this day and age. Because the most ardent fans of Your Holiness are going crazy in at least thirty different ways, and are determined to drag what’s left of our society along with them.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Washington Rebel.

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