Lies and Belief

Lies are quick and easy, truth is slow and laborious. Lies are fun and sticky and quick, truth is complicated, counterintuitive and boring.

What is a lie? What is belief?

I think we know why people have the feeling we call “belief” — either a statement conforms to what we already believe (confirmation bias), or believing it somehow profits us (motivated thinking); we tend to believe things that are easier to remember (availability bias and the illusion-of-truth effect); we believe statements by people who resemble us (need citation); we trust and believe people whose names are easier to pronounce (need citation). We believe thing that create adherence to a group to which we belong. None of these have anything to do with a belief being what eggheads call “true.”

True, sometimes we believe statements after checking them against other statements that have passed a gantlet of tests. That’s much of science and scholarship. Nobody can know everything, so one relies on a body of credentialed individuals and an accepted body of knowledge; and we might know enough to judge whether a bit of knowledge is crazy or believable, even if we don’t understand all the details. But this is a niche definition of belief, mostly used for academics. I was going to say, for “business and academics,” since you’d think that business decisions would be driven by concern for adherence to what we like to call “facts,” but my speculation is that this is a sometime thing.

There is a belief about business that, due to the profit motive, everyone is somehow on peak performance and efficiencies are optimized. But the point isn’t to maximize to an ideal degree, but to surpass competitors. And anyone who thinks there’s not a ton of loafing and goldbricking in successful companies hasn’t worked for one. Even, maybe especially, in the C-Suite.

But anyway. There are flavors of “belief”, so when Don Jr says things about the “Democrat governor of Texas”, many people will believe that and repeat it. How many I don’t know. Would be interesting/horrifying to find out.

The power of the lie is that it is quickly made with little effort. Liars will apply a heuristic evolutionary algorithm, which is just fancy talk for come up with many lies, one after the other, with no concern for consistency, and some of them will die on the ground where they fall, and others will sprout and reproduce, like Dawkins’ memes or mustard seeds. If you only get one in a hundred or one in a thousand to take off, they are so cheap to do that this can be a successful tactic.

Telling the truth can be complicated and counter-intuitive and take energy. Telling a lie is instant and easy. See the old cliché, A lie goes around the world before the truth can put its boots on.

Just as there are people with an uncanny ability to remember and tell jokes or to tell stories in an entertaining, memorable way, there are those who are better at lying than others. Look at #45 — here is a compendium — and the various flavors of lie. Simple statements of exaggerated numbers, when few people know the real numbers. Or memorable fables of strong men weeping tears of gratitude. Compare that with Don Jr’s ham-fisted lie about the “democrat governor of Texas”.

What about the most recent Big Lie about Biden shutting off power to Texas? Where did that originate? How many people believe it? What would be actually involved in doing that?

But maybe you don’t need to be a good liar any more. Just a liar.

There is an element of religion in this acceptance of lies, as there is in the Qanon phenomenon. If you go to a religious service, and the leader of the congregation makes a statement about, say, the sea parting, it would be a serious breach of protocol to raise your hand and ask, Really? How do you know that? When the congregation is supposed to “repeat after me,” they just do; to do otherwise would be hideously disrespectful.

When I was little, my parents would send me to a friend’s house (the Kemps, if you must know) for Seders. I remember, during the ritual, asking if the story of the Exodus actually happened and everyone stopped and looked down as if I had farted. They kindly explained to me that that was not the kind of question one should ask. The question of “truth” was a rude question. Being a polite and cowardly little boy, I knew when it was time to shut up. But I didn’t understand why I had been rude for many years.

So, what does the religious right want? I mean, that it doesn’t already have…

Listening the the 538 Politics Podcast, the recent episode, What Could the GOP’s Future Look Like? Very interesting, quite right-leaning panel. One of them (I think Henry Olson) said that the clear center of the Republican Party included religious people who wanted to fight for a country where they did not feel cast out into the wilderness. They want to express their beliefs openly and in public. I paraphrase, I don’t have a transcript.

My first thought was, who’s stopping them? Anyone who wants to pray can pray, they want to tell everyone their beliefs, they can. They already have that. I suppose what they don’t have is the reaction to that that they might prefer, which is of course approbation. Not everybody will react and think, What a good person — they’re a fervent Christian, so they must be good and I’ll listen to what they have to say and (if I can get over my inner wickedness) maybe even be persuaded.

So they’re not getting the reaction they want. This is a fairly common whinge on the right (though not exclusively), where they say, What about my freedom of speech, as they’re speaking freely. What they mean is they don’t like the reaction they get to their speech, which, I emphasize, they are doing freely. The speaking I mean.

Another component is they want to feel differently. That I can’t help with. They want a country in which they feel differently… more in charge, perhaps? I would say they’re too in charge as it is. But I think that the sentiment that they want to feel less cast out is code for, they want to be more in charge and inspire subservience, if not fear, on the part of others.

I can see how a tribe held together by a belief in their ultimate victory in an eternal sphere, in which their Big Boss (God) defines morality by burning it into the very fabric of the universe, so that all those who believe differently then they are, by definition, to one degree or another, immoral. And what kind of world would it be, I ask you, if the moral did not try to impose their beliefs, by force if necessary, on the immoral? This is not a new stance. We’ve seen something like this since the dawn of religion, or with the dawn of cities, which is where this unitary punishing God took shape as a necessary adaptation to get groups greater than 150 to cooperate.

And it was a successful invention! The partisans of these religions took over in a Big Way.

So, when someone complains about not having something, and you give them the thing, and they still complain, something else is going on.

New Gear!

I updated my tablet, from a Galaxy Tab S2 to the S5e. The S2 I bought in December 2017 when I was working in Lyon, France, and my prior Android tablet, a Dell Venue, just gave up the ghost. The S2 worked well, until the battery finally died in March 2020. I replaced the battery, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. Opening up the S2 ended up being not that hard, and the battery is right there. It was taped in, but came out vey easily. The aftermarket battery was not as long-lasting as the original, and just about now, eleven months later, is going the way of the earlier one — lots of annoying spontaneous restarts, when the device is telling me there’s 25% left.

I had been wanting a larger tablet anyway. Black Friday came and went and I didn’t see anything cheap enough. Eventually, on eBay I saw that US Cellular was getting rid of pre-owned tablets. I got one that they classified as Excellent condition, and it really is flawless.

Around that time, my newly-minted son-in-law gave me a carry pouch with the Curaleaf logo. It just fits the tablet, along with a second pocket for additional gear. I felt I needed a little keyboard… and got a Plugable keyboard. I love Plugable products, and this is just as solid and well-made as their other products. It comes in a little case that also serves as a tablet stand. Elegant! It is just on the edge of fitting in the pouch, but does (and obviates the need for a dedicated tablet stand). So I have room for a cleaning cloth and my Google Buds.

I’m on the keyboard right now. Sweet setup. Now if only I could go to Alanna’s Coffee and sit there typing… Maybe soon. My 65th birthday is May 11, and with any luck I’ll have an appointment for a vacccine on May 12.

Stay safe!