Vocal believers in many peculiar ideologies such as CONservatism, LIEbertarianism and LIEbralism like to believe, or at least pretend, that they have optimal solutions to a host of problems and non-problems facing society. While these ‘solutions’ frequently sound reasonable, feasible and at least superficially rational- they are either unimplementable or attempts to do so end up causing far more harm than good.
So why do solutions based on ‘common sense’, ‘experience, ‘rationality’ or other authoritative sounding words fail so badly? Why are so many of these solutions unimplementable?
Some of you might say that human beings themselves are the source of their own suffering. Entire religions and similar belief systems have been built around the general idea that human beings are somehow ‘born in sin’ or not evolved enough. However these belief systems have not made things any better and frequently end up screwing things even more. So what is happening? How can every attempt to fix things fail or make it worse?
I believe that the most important and widespread problem underlying all attempts to improve humanity is based in the highly subjective nature of human self-image. The vast majority of human beings desperately want to believe that they are right, good, justified, moral, chosen or deserving inspite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The Spanish Conquistadors actually believed that killing and enslaving mesoamericans was the christian thing to do- in addition to being a highly profitable way to make a living off stolen gold. The various muslims invaders of North India actually believed that killing and enslaving infidels was their religious duty- in addition to being very profitable. The southern whites who used black slave labor to build their fortunes actually believed that they were good christian people engaged in a morally correct behavior. The guys who ran concentration camps and gulags actually believed that they were good workers and many of them took great pride in their efficiency at killing Jews and political prisoners. I am sure that many american soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan also believed that they were doing the right thing- even if the evidence around them did not support their beliefs.
The sad fact is that most human beings cannot face the reality of who they really are. They are either unwilling, or unable, to look at the world around them in an objective manner. In that respect, children are far more realistic and objective and we try hard to make them lose the ability or courage to keep on being objective or realistic. Humans are therefore not inherently irrational, subjective or delusional. It takes many years and a lot or practice to become an ‘adult’. Now I am not saying that human beings are inherently ‘good’ by any objective or subjective measure. Indeed, what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is too often a very subjective judgement. My claim, instead, is that most human beings are not inherently fucked up in the head and are capable of a basic level of objective thinking.
The real question then is: Why do people believe in things and concepts that just don’t add up? How can being a member of religions that promises enlightenment and peace translate into committing theft and genocide? How can being a good worker for an organisation translate into pride in killing other human beings? Even scientists who consider themselves as the paragons of objectivity believe in things such as dark matter, dark energy and anthropogenic global warming.
The answer to these questions is deeply linked to the original question posed in this post, namely why solutions based on ‘common sense’, ‘experience, ‘rationality’ or other authoritative sounding words fail so badly?
Let us, for a minute, consider the possibility that human beings are rather different from what we want to believe about ourselves. I have partially tackled these issues in a couple of my recent posts (Cults, Religions and Ideologies Merely Unmask Human Nature and Cults, Religions, Ideologies and Willful Self-Delusion). The gist of those posts was that the behavior of human beings is functionally closer to mindless, poisonous and invasive weeds than sentient apes. It is just that humans ego is unwilling to accept its quantifiable self-image. Belief in religions, secular ideologies and institutions are merely complex justifications and self-rationalizations for acting in a manner that is contrary to the idealized self-image.
Believers are faithful, followers are unquestioning and zealots are zealous because they have invested much more than simple faith in their worldviews. In many cases, their whole self-image and self-worth is linked to, and dependent upon, continued belief in whatever fairy tale they choose to believe in.
But what does belief in adult fairy tales have to do with real world problems and our inability to solve them? Why is the ability to believe in bullshit so detrimental to human happiness? What is the connection between a malformed mental model of the external world and an inability to solve problems or practical importance.
It comes to two interlocking problems- willful blindness in some areas complemented by ‘seeing things’ in other areas.
Let us look at the second problem first.. People often go into hysterics about things that don’t really matter. I see these as made up ‘problems’ which don’t really exist.
For example- many people express outrage at other people using recreational drugs or having some forms of consensual sex because they are concerned about “public morality” and “want to protect the children”. It it really your problem if some other people prefer opioids, stimulants or marijuana over alcohol or tobacco? Isn’t the criminality and high cost of “illegal” drugs predominantly because they are “illegal”?. You could easily churn out high-quality morphine, methamphetamine and high-grade marijuana at a 10-20 cents per adult dose and still make a profit- if they were legal. Instead we spend tens of billions of dollars per year to fight the failed ‘War on Drugs’, not to mentioned the tens of billions more to incarcerate and punish millions of predominantly non-white “offenders”. In the USA, alcoholism is a disease while “illegal” drug use is a moral failure.
Similarly the USA spends tens of billions trying to control prostitution which, as many of you know, is the most honest and equal male-female relationship out there. However we do count alimony, child-support payments or buying bigger homes etc for wives as payment for sex- though I cannot see any other justification for those money transfers and transactions. Let us face it- prostitution compares rather favorably with marriage and even long-term relationships in the amount of great sex per unit of money spent on obtaining it. Yet people never tire of coming up with newer solutions to the non-problems of “illegal drug use” and “prostitution”.
Here is the thing.. you can only solve a problem if it is real. Trying to classify a non-problem as a problem and then trying to solve it will always make things worse than before for almost every person in that society other than the scumbags who profit from such ‘holy’ crusades.
On the other end of the spectrum, people ignore very real, highly visible and serious problems by claiming that they don’t really exist. We ignore youth unemployment and underemployment by believing that the problem will just go way if we ignore it- inspite of the fact that we no longer live in a high-fertility world. People keep on telling themselves that the ‘problems are temporary’, the ‘young have a poor wok ethic’, ‘life is unfair’ etc without factoring in that we have run out of the constant supply of naive youngsters to screw over. We try to solve these problems by kicking the can down the road, asking everyone to take loads of debt to go to university, talking about a ‘bright’ future etc when almost anyone can see that things are in a death spiral.
In future parts of this series, I will write more about how the bizarre tendency to convert non-problems into problems while ignoring real ones defines human beings as a species.
What do you think? Comments?