Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Difference between Feeling True and Being True

In her book, Being Wrong, Kathryn Schultz explains that being wrong feels exactly like being right! It is our nature to assume that the knowledge we possess is correct. Our level of certainty tends to remain constant regardless of whether we are actually right, or if we just mistakenly think that we are right. We enjoy an ongoing sense of rightness until the very moment we are proven wrong. 

In teaching General Psychology, I found that each chapter we cover carries the underlying message that, as humans, we are nearly always wrong about nearly everything. Our memories are erroneous. Our sensory perceptions are flawed. We are unable to conceptualize large numbers and great spans of time. We are easily fooled by appeals to emotion. Our innate tendency to make sweeping generalizations based on tiny bits of information creates an environment of near-chronic wrongness.

Despite chronic wrongness, it is natural for us to trust our feelings, our thoughts, and our perceptions. Navigating human life would otherwise be impossible. Our sense of rightness enables us to make decisions and take necessary actions. It is an unfortunate side-effect of living in this bubble of pleasant certainty that we experience shame when proven wrong. We stubbornly resist opportunities to improve on the accuracy of our respective funds of knowledge, because being proven wrong is so unpleasant. We are mortified as the false perception, “if I am proven wrong, then I am made a fool,” emerges. Evidence abounds to suggest that the accurate interpretation should be, “if I am proven wrong, then I am learning, developing and improving.”

  • Make friends with being proven wrong. The moment you understand that being proven wrong is necessary to becoming a better you, a world of opportunity materializes. As Dudley Field Malone said, “I never in my life learned anything from a man who agreed with me.”
  • Be a skeptic. Skeptics are not the same as pessimists. Pessimists are characterized by feelings of negativity and hopelessness. Skeptics are simply people who require evidence before believing a piece of information. Being skeptical is the opposite of being gullible. 
  • Don’t be fooled by emotionally persuasive manipulations. Arguments that are supported by appeals to tradition, popular opinion, common sense, weak analogies, attacks on character, and false generalizations all exploit the human tendency to trust gut feelings and emotional responses.
  • Learn to identify actual evidence. Very often, actual evidence will conflict with gut feelings and emotional responses. True evidence is measurable and empirical. I may feel that this was the hottest summer ever. However, if measurable data indicates otherwise, I must trust the empirical evidence over my feelings.

So, if I am interested in finding the truth, then I must understand that, while gut feelings are useful, they are an extremely fallible resource. I must continuously test my gut feelings against objective litmuses like logic, mathematics, research results, and physical properties. I must learn to trust real evidence, especially when it conflicts with my emotional leanings. 

The ability to override gut feelings enables humans to operate beyond the confines of biological and environmental programming. Every animal on the planet is a slave to intuition. Throughout the majority of human history, we have operated exactly like every other species in this respect. However, logic, mathematics and the scientific method provide a means for humans to break the bonds of primitive thought processes. Determining the difference between feeling true and being true is the mechanism for transformation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Are You an American Patriot, or an American Nationalist?

In his book, Capture the flag: a political history of American patriotism, Woden Teachout distinguishes American patriotism from American nationalism.[1] American nationalism requires love and support for our country. I relate nationalism to the commitment one feels for a favorite sports team. Regardless of who is playing on the team, who is coaching the team, who owns the team, and how well the team is doing this season, the fan proclaims, “My team is the best!” Likewise, regardless of the foreign policies of this country, domestic policies of this country, and data on how this country ranks in the world on myriad issues, the nationalist proclaims, “America is the best!” Nationalistic flag waving support for any and all military actions initiated by the US very much resembles a sports fan rooting for his/her favorite team. The mantra of the American nationalist is, “AMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!”

Conversely, the focus of American patriotism is love and support for the ideals of our country. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution articulate these values:

·         Popular Sovereignty: The people are the ultimate source of the authority for the government. It derives its right to govern from their consent.
·         Majority Rule and Minority Rights: While decisions are ultimately made by the majority, these decisions may not infringe on the rights of the minority
·         Limited Government: The powers of government are limited by law and kept in check through separated and shared powers, due process of law, and leadership succession through elections
·         Basic Rights: Life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.[2]

There is a significant correlation (.78) between the nature of legislation passed in the US and the desires of the economic elites in America.[4] There is a near zero correlation (.03) between the nature of legislation passed in the US and the desires of the average citizen in America.[5] These statistics demonstrate that popular sovereignty does not currently exist in the US! The American patriot is outraged by such information that cuts to the heart of our democracy. The nationalist may shrug it off as, “just politics.”

American patriots ensure that minority rights are protected. The Constitution is very clear on this point. However, disregard for the rights of minorities are in the news every day. African Americans represent 13.2%[6] of the US population, but are arrested at a rate “10 times higher than people who are not black.”[7] Unfairness to any minority group is repugnant to a patriot, but may be seen as trivial or even "getting what they deserve" to the nationalist.

American patriots support the separation and limitations of power in government. Laws like Citizens United nullify the checks and balances put into place by the framers of the Constitution to ensure that power is never in the hands of a privileged few. When the economic elite fund politicians from both sides of the isle at all levels of government, there is no longer any real separation of power. Any process that undermines our democracy will outrage a patriot. Nationalists, however, will continue to wave the flag and shout, “We’re the best!”

American patriots support the natural rights of everyone everywhere to live freely and pursue their own happiness. Freedom is a fragile and complex notion. Initially, a capitalistic, free-market economy is a healthy environment to foster freedom. However, anyone who has played the game Monopoly knows that it always ends the same way. One player will own everything while the other players have nothing. Monopoly is an unrestrained capitalist, free-market economy. In the real world, if a society wishes to preserve freedom, capitalism must have checks and balances that continuously even the playing field. Regulations on banking, Wall Street, and others at the top of the food chain protect liberty and freedom for the average citizen.

American patriotism, by its very nature, prohibits nationalism. A true American patriot holds government accountable to the people. The Iraq War, which ultimately killed between 144,745 and 166,468 civilians and orphaned over half of Iraq’s children, was initiated despite the CIA’s “best Intelligence” indicating Saddam Hussein did NOT have weapons of mass destruction.[3]  A war precipitated by ignoble motivations is tantamount to mass murder and should be repellant to a real American patriot.

The fundamental values outlined in the Constitution are forever in the hearts of American patriots. American liberals and American conservatives should also be American patriots. Nationalists wrapped in the American flag, who claim patriotism, need to be outed for what they really are.

[1]  Teachout, Woden (2009). Capture the flag: a political history of American patriotism. New York, New York, USA: Basic Books. p. 230. 
[3] Taylor, Peter. "Iraq War: The Greatest Intelligence Failure in Living Memory." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
[4] Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin I. Page. "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest
Groups, and Average Citizens." Perspect. Polit. Perspectives on Politics 12.03 (2014): 564-81. Web.
[5] Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin I. Page. "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest
Groups, and Average Citizens." Perspect. Polit. Perspectives on Politics 12.03 (2014): 564-81. Web.
[6] "USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau." USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

[7] Heath, Brad. "Racial Gap in U.S. Arrest Rates: 'Staggering Disparity'" USA Today. Gannett, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

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