Where this show is better than the New York Times (4-16-24)

The New York Times and the rest of the elite media consistently put out more compelling articles than I do, but in their abundance of production, they often create more confusion than clarity.

Why is this? Does it have something to do with our different incentives? Yes. I feel driven to write what I think is true without regard to profit or popularity. There are no sacred cows here. I don’t need to make money or garner praise for these essays. I just want to share things I notice. The New York Times and The New Yorker, on the other hand, publish to fulfill the desires of their subscribers (such as why Trump and conservatives are bad and Russia hacked the 2016 election).

I read The New Yorker today about misinformation regarding misinformation, and I thought, I’ve been saying this for years on my Youtube show. I felt full of myself. I wanted to yell to the world — Hey! My trad rules for life and my principles for how the world works are sharper than the shiny new offerings of elite discourse. Tune into Fordy to get ahead of the curve!

Covid was a dramatic turning point in my intellectual journey. I was pro-mask for limiting influenza spread even before reading Zeynep Tufecki’s New York Times op-ed March 17, 2020: “Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired – To help manage the shortage, the authorities sent a message that made them untrustworthy.

In early April of 2020, I read Paul Barry’s book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History and I immediately grasped the case for social distancing (though I was opposed to the closing of parks and beaches and other outdoor spaces because in an influenza epidemic, you want to get people outside and exercising).

Because I was sympathetic to public health measures trying to slow the spread of Covid (though many went too far, such as Michigan’s ban on the sale of seeds and gardening supplies), I parted ways with right-winger talkers such as Michael Fumento, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Michael Anton, Dennis Prager and the other conservative pundits who were dangerously wrong and irresponsible.

I made my first post about the epidemic Mar. 10, 2020: “Jews, Non-Jews & The Corona Virus

Before that, Corona came up on my show with Kevin Michael Grace on Jan. 31, 2020’s #415 1-31-20 Corona Virus Update, Brexit Live, Debating JF Gariepy On Israel and on my solo show Corona Virus, JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories, Doxxing vs Pseudonyms (2-7-20).

June 4, 2020, I posted: “Lacking sufficient knowledge, I did not oppose or support the Covid-19 lockdown. I was willing to give the [Los Angeles] mayor and governor the benefit of the doubt on their Covid-19 response. Now I don’t know any positive way of looking at their Covid-19 choices given that they threw away everything they previously stood for when BLM (Black Lives Matter) came calling.”

In retrospect, I give the mayor and governor great credit for their early Covid lockdown and I wish I had been more supportive of social distancing.

June 4, 2020, I posted: “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing reality TV and 10 representing nuclear cataclysm, I think of Covid-19 as a 7 (I think before it is done it will likely take away millions of years of quality of life from Americans, these [BLM] riots as a 3, and Russiagate and impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump as a 1.”

Here are signposts along the way of my intellectual journey:

* What Do We Mean When We Say A Person Has ‘Good Energy’? (4-12-24)
* ‘On knowing what you are not supposed to know and feeling what you are not supposed to feel’ (4-7-23)
* What Distinguishes Winners From Losers? (1-15-24)
* NYT: Secret Synagogue Tunnel Sets Off Altercation That Leads to 9 Arrests (1-10-24)
* Populism, Neoconservatism & Lessons in the Application of Power (12-17-23)
* New Yorker: How to Build a Better Motivational Speaker: The upstart motivator Jesse Itzler wants to reform his profession—while also rising to the top” (12-12-23)
* What Makes A Great Pundit? (10-5-23)
* Your Hero System Is Your Morality And You Get It From Your Tribe (8-21-23)
* Your brain on love (7-30-23)
* Decoding Dennis Prager (5-28-23)
* News is a stress test (3-15-23)
* What Should You Expect From The News? (1-21-23)
* How The News Differs From Reality (7-28-22)
* Rabbis & Rapists: A New Novel Exposes California Judaism (7-9-22)
* When Did Intellectuals Stop Supporting The Free Market Of Ideas? (5-29-22)
* Vouch Nationalism (5-28-22)
* Michael Anton Says He Does Not Know Who Truly Won The 2020 Election, But He’s ‘Moved On’ (2-27-21)
* Our Problems Are Not Our Problems, They’re Just Symptoms Of Deeper Problems (2-5-21)
* With or Without You (1-3-21)
* Are Our Opponents Demons? (8-24-20)
* I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help (8-23-20)
* How To Bypass Your Self-Destructive Tendencies (7-9-20)
* A Life That Works (7-8-20)
* Loneliness & Eccentricity (7-2-20)
Nobody Controls The Narrative (6-28-20)
* How to blow whistles for fun and profit (6-24-20)
* Looking Down From Heaven (6-21-20)
* The News (6-18-20)
* I Am My Show (6-4-20)
* Most News Is Unimportant (6-4-20)
* Be Not Afraid (6-4-20)
* Why Do People Over-Schedule? (6-3-20)
* What’s The Reward For Despair? (6-3-20)
* Bringing Souls Out Of Hiding (5-20-20)
* One man’s adventure beyond good & evil (5-15-20)
* Things I Didn’t Know 20 Years Ago (5-10-20)
* Will The Last Luke Ford Viewer Please Plug In The CPAP? (3-10-20)
* The Choice Between Life & Death On Social Media (3-9-20)
* It’s Never Too Late To Have A Good Relationship With Your Dad (5-6-19)
* Desmond Ford – 1929-2019 (3-10-19)
* The Politician’s Sex Life (11-10-17)
* Who Do You Love? (12-24-16)
* Gentile Nationalisms Are Sometimes Dangerous For Jews And Sometimes Good For Jews (9-25-16)
* What Forms Of Protest Are Allowed To The Palestinians? (9-19-16)
* Most Jews Don’t Have A Rabbi (8-16-17)
* How does the world work? (4-18-16)
* The Life Cycle Of The Blogger (3-14-16)
* Why am I here? (1-13-16)

Amidst all the mania about misinformation, I’ve said for years that we have great instincts for detecting when people are trying to manipulate us against our will. Schools and media and and Hollywood don’t turn Republicans into Democrats and religious people into atheists against their will. Propaganda doesn’t change minds. Why? Because we did not evolve to be gullible.

I got that phrase from Hugo Mercier’s 2020 book Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe, but I had the basic idea back in the 1980s when I fell in love with economics and its assumption that people make rational choices. While this sounds ridiculous, the premise encourages you to figure out why people act as they do, rather than to dismiss choices you don’t like as irrational.

Many of the arguments by the right-wing media for a Donald Trump presidency in particular and Republican politics in general fall apart under examination (such as Democrats are the real racists, government can’t help poor people, vaccine hesitancy, a rigged election in 2020, the Biden crime family, lock her up, etc). The left-wing media such as The New Yorker and The New York Times are usually more intelligent than their right-wing counterparts (The Wall Street Journal comes closest to this role) and elites often have good reason to mock conservatives. But you don’t judge a hero system by its dumbest talking points.

For the first time in decades, Republicans seem to be the party of the low IQ. For the first time in decades, eligible voters who don’t vote are more likely to choose Republicans. ABC News noted April 10, 2024: “The less you vote, the more you back Trump – A new poll suggests it’s Republicans who should be rooting for higher turnout.”

Inchoate desires drive us to make the choices that we do, and we then use our reason to defend and rationalize our inclinations, but our instincts don’t spring from reason, they spring from genetics, imprinting and social incentives. Our reason is weak when compared with the other forces that drive us.

The New Yorker reports in its 4-22-24 issue:

In January, the World Economic Forum released a report showing that fourteen hundred and ninety international experts rated “misinformation and disinformation” the leading global risk of the next two years, surpassing war, migration, and climatic catastrophe. A stack of new books echoes their concerns. In “Falsehoods Fly: Why Misinformation Spreads and How to Stop It” (Columbia), Paul Thagard, a philosopher at the University of Waterloo, writes that “misinformation is threatening medicine, science, politics, social justice, and international relations, affecting problems such as vaccine hesitancy, climate change denial, conspiracy theories, claims of racial inferiority, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” In “Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity” (Norton), Sander van der Linden, a social-psychology professor at Cambridge, warns that “viruses of the mind” disseminated by false tweets and misleading headlines pose “serious threats to the integrity of elections and democracies worldwide.” Or, as the M.I.T. political scientist Adam J. Berinsky puts it in “Political Rumors: Why We Accept Misinformation and How to Fight It” (Princeton), “a democracy where falsehoods run rampant can only result in dysfunction.”

Most Americans seem to agree with these theorists of human credulity…

In a masterly new book, “Religion as Make-Believe” (Harvard), Neil Van Leeuwen, a philosopher at Georgia State University, returns to Sperber’s ideas with notable rigor. He analyzes beliefs with a taxonomist’s care, classifying different types and identifying the properties that distinguish them. He proposes that humans represent and use factual beliefs differently from symbolic beliefs, which he terms “credences.” Factual beliefs are for modelling reality and behaving optimally within it. Because of their function in guiding action, they exhibit features like “involuntariness” (you can’t decide to adopt them) and “evidential vulnerability” (they respond to evidence). Symbolic beliefs, meanwhile, largely serve social ends, not epistemic ones, so we can hold them even in the face of contradictory evidence…

Van Leeuwen’s book complements a 2020 volume by Hugo Mercier, “Not Born Yesterday.” Mercier, a cognitive scientist at the École Normale Supérieure who studied under Sperber, argues that worries about human gullibility overlook how skilled we are at acquiring factual beliefs. Our understanding of reality matters, he notes. Get it wrong, and the consequences can be disastrous. On top of that, people have a selfish interest in manipulating one another. As a result, human beings have evolved a tool kit of psychological adaptations for evaluating information—what he calls “open vigilance mechanisms.” Where a credulity theorist like Thagard insists that humans tend to believe anything, Mercier shows that we are careful when adopting factual beliefs, and instinctively assess the quality of information, especially by tracking the reliability of sources.

Van Leeuwen and Mercier agree that many beliefs are not best interpreted as factual ones, although they lay out different reasons for why this might be. For Van Leeuwen, a major driver is group identity. Beliefs often function as badges: the stranger and more unsubstantiated the better. Religions, he notes, define membership on the basis of unverifiable or even unintelligible beliefs: that there is one God; that there is reincarnation; that this or that person was a prophet; that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are separate yet one. Mercier, in his work, has focused more on justification. He says that we have intuitions—that vaccination is bad, for example, or that certain politicians can’t be trusted—and then collect stories that defend our positions. Still, both authors treat symbolic beliefs as socially strategic expressions.

A key part of this article points out:

That’s why thoughtful scholars—including the philosopher Daniel Williams and the experimental psychologist Sacha Altay—encourage us to see misinformation more as a symptom than as a disease. Unless we address issues of polarization and institutional trust, they say, we’ll make little headway against an endless supply of alluring fabrications.

One of my favorite lines is that our problems are rarely our problems, they are just symptoms of deeper problems. We usually prefer to think about symptoms rather than the disease because symptoms seem so fixable while the disease seems too challenging for comfort. For example, I sometimes obsess about why I am not married and I blame it on bad luck and other external factors, but inside I know my bachelorhood is just a symptom of my deeper issue with connecting with others, which in turn is just a symptom of my ultimate disease – my troubled relationship with myself and with reality (religious people might call reality “God”).

The 2021 book All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists said:

Journalism is among the most powerful cultural industries in this regard—not for nothing has it been called “the primary sense-making practice of modernity.”

In 2016, no major pundit or journalist or academic, to my knowledge, predicted a Donald Trump victory. When that happened, our elite felt anxious because they had been revealed as blind to a significant part of reality. When people feel anxious, they often try to off-load their feelings as quickly as possible, and so for many Democrats and members the MSM, the notion that Russia hacked our election became an irresistible story. That there was never any evidence that Russia put Trump in office didn’t get in the way of the story because when our desires collide with truth, we usually side with our desires.

The New Yorker published April 1, 2024:

So You Think You’ve Been Gaslit: What happens when a niche clinical concept becomes a ubiquitous cultural diagnosis.

Sitting in Kafka’s office thinking of Dunn and Adaya, I found myself swelling with indignation on behalf of these gaslit children, taught to feel responsible for the pain their parents had caused them. But beneath that indignation lurked something else—a nagging anxiety coaxed into sharper visibility by the therapeutic aura of Kafka’s sleek analytic couch. I eventually told him that, as I worked on this piece, I had started to wonder about the ways I might be unintentionally gaslighting my daughter—telling her that she is “just fine” when she clearly isn’t, or giving her a hard time for making us late for school by demanding to wear a different pair of tights, when it is clearly my own fault for not starting our morning routine ten minutes earlier. In these interactions, I can see the distinct mechanisms of gaslighting at work, albeit in a much milder form: taking a difficult feeling—my latent sense of culpability whenever she is unhappy, or my guilt for running behind schedule—and placing it onto her. Part of me hoped that Kafka would disagree with me, but instead he started nodding vehemently. “Yes!” he said. “Within a two-block range of any elementary school, just before the bell rings, you can find countless parents gaslighting their children, off-loading their anxiety.”

We both laughed. In the moment, this jolt of recognition seemed incidental, a brief diversion into daily life as we crawled through the darker trenches of human manipulation. But, after I’d left Kafka’s office, it started to feel like a crucial acknowledgment: that gaslighting is neither as exotic nor as categorically distinct as we’d like to believe….

Ben Kafka told me that he thinks one of the key insights of psychoanalysis is that people respond to anxiety by dividing the world into good and bad, a tendency known as “splitting.” It strikes me that some version of this splitting is at play not only in gaslighting itself—taking an undesirable “bad” emotion or quality and projecting it onto someone else, so that the self can remain “good”—but also in the widespread invocation of the term, the impulse to split the world into innocent and culpable parties. If the capacity to gaslight is more widely distributed than its most extreme iterations would lead us to believe, perhaps we’ve all done more of it than we care to admit. Each of us has been the one making our way back into bed, vulnerable and naked, and each of us has been the one saying, Come back into this bed I made for you.

I remember one Saturday morning in 1983 or 1984, when my dad and I were running five minutes late for church. I stood in the driveway ready to go when my dad hastily backed the car out of the garage with his driver’s door open looking behind him. The car door then smashed into the garage door. My dad had done a stupid thing. He had the flu and he was not thinking straight. Rather than take responsibility for his mistake, my dad blamed me for the accident because I had made us late.

As The New Yorker notes, we all feel tempted to do this when our anxiety mounts and so we gaslight others about reality. Smart people in the media do this along with dumb people who dig ditches.

I started compiling in my head the principles of my worldview that I believe are superior to what is generally offered in the elite media:

* One way this show is better than elite discourse is that we recognize the hidden partisan nature of the dominant liberal-left ethos and reveal it to be just another hero system that is more adaptive in some circumstances than other hero systems and less adaptive in others. For example, the reaction by the liberal-left to the Corona Virus (have the government take away rights during the emergency to freedom of movement and worship and to gather together in large numbers and direct public policy to minimize the spread until we get vaccines, and then get people vaccinated as quickly as possible) was more effective than the herd immunity anti-government instincts of libertarians and the right. Public policy with regard to suppressing Covid is such a dramatic example of adaptive versus maladaptive responses to a challenge that I made a video January 1, 2024 titled “How Covid Explains My Worldview.” Sometimes a big government, expert-led left-wing approach enhances your odds for survival and reproduction and in other situations, a right-wing populist approach is superior (for example, imprisoning violent criminals for a long time and executing murderers deters crime more effectively than more liberal policies).

As Joel Kotkin, a scholar of urban America, wrote in 2014:

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.
The rise of today’s Clerisy stems from the growing power and influence of its three main constituent parts: the creative elite of media and entertainment, the academic community, and the high-level government bureaucracy.
The Clerisy operates on very different principles than its rival power brokers, the oligarchs of finance, technology or energy. The power of the knowledge elite does not stem primarily from money, but in persuading, instructing and regulating the rest of society. Like the British Clerisy or the old church-centered French First Estate, the contemporary Clerisy increasingly promotes a single increasingly parochial ideology and, when necessary, has the power to marginalize, or excommunicate, miscreants from the public sphere.

Left and right politics are evolutionary adaptations that have different levels of reproductive success depending upon the situation. As the 2013 book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences notes: “[T]he political left has been associated with support for equality and tolerance of departures from tradition, while the right is more supportive of authority, hierarchy, and order.”

* Democracy dominates our rhetoric, but almost all of life runs on hierarchy. Democracy and dictatorship are not mutually exclusive. All functioning democracies contains considerable elements of dictatorship, socialism, capitalism, and oligopoly. For example, the president of the United States has the same foreign policy powers as King George III. On the other hand, dictatorships such as Nikita Kruschev‘s Soviet Union often contain elements of democracy (witness the removal of Kruschev from power after the Cuban missile crisis). When dictator Joseph Stalin was fighting the second world war, he re-opened churches and allowed his people many things that they wanted in exchange for their efforts against the Germans.

Who’s the boss? The situation is the boss.

* We live in a post-modern world. There’s no one narrative that adequately explains reality.

* We’re all locked in an iron cage together and nobody is coming to save us. To survive, you want to become as strong as possible because you never know what might happen.

* We primarily know the world around us from the news, but this is a distorted prism directed not so much towards sharing important knowledge, but to meet the desires of viewers for excitement. It was exciting, for example, to create stories implying that Russia hacked our 2016 election, but there was never any evidence that Russia played a decisive role in this contest. It was exciting to portray American police as racist in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, but the boring reality is that police usually do the best they can in often difficult circumstances and many of those who die at police hands bear substantial responsibility.

* Personalities in politics are usually less powerful than situations. The news media focuses on personalities because that is a more compelling story than focusing on structure, but structure shapes the world more than individual whims. For example, as I write this in April of 2024, Bibi Netanyahu is Israel’s Prime Minister and his personality gets a lot of media coverage. If someone else were Israel’s prime minister at this time, Israel’s conduct toward its enemies wouldn’t change much. For example, if Bibi decided to support an independent Palestinian state, he would simply be removed from power because the majority of Israelis are not in a mood to give the Palestinians anything. If a Haredi Gadol came out in favor of Zionism, he would no longer be a Haredi Gadol. If Putin dies today, the next leader of Russia would follow similar policies toward Ukraine (because if the Monroe Doctrine is good for the United States, the equivalent is good for superpowers Russia and China).

A structuralist understands that what happens in Ukraine or Israel or Nigeria has nothing to do with America’s vital interests. To adopt a lesson from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, don’t confuse the urgent for the important.

What will usually determine the success of a political administration? Events, my dear boy, events.

Sometimes, however, individuals are more important than situations. If anyone but Hitler had led Germany during WWII, there would not have been a Holocaust.

Perhaps the most famous political scientist who tried to make predictions based on character was James David Barber, who wrote the book The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. This work hasn’t aged well and is essentially ignored.

* Different people have different gifts. Different plants and animals have different gifts. Life evolves differently in different situations and those mutations that are adaptive promote survival and reproduction.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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