بازی انفجار حضرات : Idea Labs and Echo Chambers — Wait But Why


انفجار حضرات
بازی انفجار حضرات بت

This is Chapter 8 in a blog series. If you’re new to the series, visit the series home page for the full table of contents.

Notes key: Type 1 - fun notes. Fun facts, extra thoughts, or further explanation. Type 2 - less fun notes. Sources and citations.

Chapter 8: Idea Labs and Echo Chambers

“Sheep wish no taste but woolly sweet conformity.” ― Kevin Focke

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Chapter 7 began with a question: “Why do we believe what we believe?”

We spent the rest of Chapter 7 thinking about thinking in 2D, exploring how our thinking process changed as we moved up and down the second dimension: the Psych Spectrum. At the end of the chapter, I reminded us that the entire discussion was only looking at a 2D cross section of what’s actually a 3D space of human thinking and behavior.

The good news is the third dimension is something we already became familiar with early on in the series: Emergence Tower. Here it is in all its fully extended glory:

We’d all be having maximum fun right now if we were about to dive into a discussion about the multiversesphere. Unfortunately, we have human concerns to deal with first. So we’ll zoom in here:

Seeing in 3D

The reason we need our second dimension—the Psych Spectrum—is because humans exist along a span of the Psych Spectrum. That’s why it’s a dimension.

We need our third dimension for the same reason. You don’t really need a third dimension to think about the behavior of ants or polar bears, because they exist almost entirely at a single point along Emergence Tower. Ants never function as self-important individuals—they’re always cells in a colony who live entirely for the well-being of the colony. Polar bears are almost1 always solitary selfish individuals, rarely sacrificing themselves for the well-being of neighboring polar bears.

But humans are more complicated. Like ants, humans often function as cells in a larger tribe giant—but unlike ants, humans are also complex enough to function as true individual entities the way polar bears do. Just like our relationship with the Psych Spectrum, we function at multiple points along Emergence Tower simultaneously—as I worded it in Chapter 2, we travel up and down Emergence Tower’s elevator.

Every human phenomenon becomes a little clearer when we look at it in 2D with the help of our Psych Spectrum. And things start to make even more sense when we also consider Emergence Tower. Seeing in 3D allows us to consider both of these ideas simultaneously.

The visuals can get a little complicated here, especially when I’m the graphic designer, but try to bear with me. Emergence Tower is kind of like a z-axis we can flip on its side and add onto our x-y graph:

The Psych Spectrum takes a spectrum of human thought and behavior and turns it into a square—adding Emergence Tower goes a step further and turns the story of humans into a cube.

This is our full “loaf” of human thinking and behavior. And like a loaf of bread, we can cut it into slices.

When we’re focusing on what goes on in our heads, we’re thinking about the very bottom of Emergence Tower—the ground-floor slice—which is the realm of individual psychology. We spent all of Chapter 7 here:

To broaden our vision into 3D, let’s take a super oversimplified example of 500 people living as a community somewhere.

500 indivi

And let’s say those 500 people are divided perfectly into 100 five-person families.

100 families as slightly darker and larger red dots

A five-person family is a mini giant. Now let’s imagine that each of those families is part of a small five-family community.

And finally, those 20 communities are all part of the larger 500-person community.

This simple example reminds us how a 500-person community doesn’t just exist as a 500-person giant on the “hundreds of people” slice of the loaf—it permeates the entire part of the loaf below it.

Likewise, that 500-person community is itself a smaller piece of the larger communities, factions, and nations that exist on the slices above it.

To really understand the 500-person community and why it is the way it is, we have to examine each layer of smaller units that make it up and the larger giants that encompass it. To really understand what’s going on with a group of any size, we have to consider how it interacts with all parts of the loaf.

The same goes for understanding individuals. The people within our 500-person community don’t exist as isolated minds. Each person is an individual organism, an “organ” in the mini giant of their family, a piece of tissue in the larger giant of their small community, a cell in the 500-person community giant, and an organelle, molecule, atom, and subatomic particle in the subsequent even larger giants above—all at the same time. Each of those slices plays a role in influencing the thoughts and behavior of the individuals, and in turn, each person plays a small part in influencing the giants they’re a part of.

This only gets more complicated when we move out of simplified hypothetical land and into the real world—where the actual tiers of giants are messy, overlapping, and highly variable.

And the thing is, every entity in the loaf—every couple, family, community, company, university, religious institution, political party, nation, even the species as a whole—is doing its own thing in the other two dimensions. Each of them moves around the first dimension—the What axis—as its thoughts and behavior shift and evolve. And each is in its very own Psych Spectrum struggle along the second dimension.

To make sense of all this, we need to discuss the critical, invisible force that ties all of the loaf’s slices together: culture.

Culture

Culture is the collection of unwritten rules, norms, and values around “how we do things here.” Every human environment—from the two-person couples to the 20-person classrooms to the 20,000-person companies—is embedded with its own culture. We can visualize a group’s culture as a kind of gas cloud that fills the room when the group is together.

A human society is a rich tapestry of overlapping and sometimes sharply contradictory cultures, and each of us lives at our own unique cultural intersection.

On the largest scale, we’re all a part of a few vast pan-national cultural clouds—where customs like shaking hands, waving hi, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, card games, sports fandom, and tipping, to name a few, have taken on broadly shared meaning. Each nation is a smaller cloud with its own sub-culture. Americans who believe they have nothing at all in common with certain other Americans are taking for granted the rich set of specific norms, customs, and values they actually share.2

Inside of the broadest cultures are thousands of smaller communities—each with their own cultural vibe that exerts influence on its members. Someone working in a tech startup in the Bay Area is simultaneously living inside of the broad human community, the global Western community, the American community, the U.S. West Coast community, the San Francisco community, the tech industry community, the startup community, the community of their workplace, the community of their college alumni, the community of their extended family, the community of their group of friends, a few other bizarre SF-y situations, and a dozen other communities their particular life happens to be part of (including, if they’re a regular visitor here, the Wait But Why community). Most immediate to each of us are the micro-cultures of our immediate family, closest friends, and romantic relationships. Going against the current of all the larger communities combined tends to be easier than violating the unwritten rules of the most intimate mini cultures in someone’s life.

A culture’s rules, norms, and value systems pertain to a wide spectrum of human experience. A group of friends, for example, has a way they do birthdays, a way they do emojis, a way they do talking behind each other’s backs, a way they do bragging and self-deprecation, a way they do conflict, and so on. They even have a way they do cultural adherence for each area—one group of friends might find it delightful when a certain friend regularly appalls them with their uncharacteristic-for-the-culture bluntness while in another, the same violation might be grounds for dismissal from the community. Some cultures apply pressure to live a certain kind of lifestyle or abide by a particular structure—a culture that shames being single at 30 incentivizes people to be on the lookout for a life partner in their mid-20s, while another one might not apply that pressure at all, driving different behavior.

Living simultaneously in multiple cultures is part of what makes being a human tricky. Do we keep our individual inner values to ourselves and just do our best to match our external behavior to whatever culture we’re currently in a room with? Or do we stay loyal to one particular culture and live by those rules everywhere, even at our social or professional peril? Or do we just go for full authenticity and let our inner values drive our behavior, unaltered, for better or worse? Do we navigate our lives so to seek out external cultures that match our own values and minimize friction? Or do we surround ourselves with a range of conflicting cultures to put some pressure on our inner minds to learn and grow? Whether you consciously realize it or not, you’re making these decisions all the time.

And these decisions matter—because the cultures we spend time in have a major influence over us.

Cultural Incentives

Remember Moochie from Part 1?

The Johnsons drove Moochie’s behavior in a certain direction by adding Snausage rewards and electrocution penalties into his environment. This whole thing:

In Part 2, we looked at how the brutal dictator King Mustache did the same thing by imposing harsh penalties for saying the wrong thing, and how liberal democracies then turned the tables on the Power Games by writing their own set of rules that punished the violation of inalienable rights. We also looked at how free economic markets reward the creation of value with money. These are all the same idea, just with different zaps and treats.

Cultures use incentive systems too. Instead of physical shocks or jail time as penalties, cultures enforce their values with social and psychological punishments like criticism, ridicule, shame, and ostracism. Instead of Snausages or money, they use rewards like praise, acceptance, approval, respect, and admiration.

In other words, in a species that collectively never really leaves middle school, cultures determine what kind of behavior makes you cool or uncool. For social creatures like humans—creatures with a big, fat mammoth in their heads—these cultural zaps and treats work just as well as (and often far better than) the more tangible kinds of incentives, helping to align the behavior of people in a group.

Which brings up an important question: why does a particular culture enforce certain values and not others?

Culture, in 2D

In your head, your Higher Mind and Primitive Mind compete for control of your psychology. On the group level, the two minds jostle for control over the group’s culture. When people are around other people, their Primitive and Higher Minds band together with others of their kind in a group-wide power struggle. And like a human’s personality, a group’s culture has a general Psych Spectrum equilibrium it tends to default to.

The psych equilibrium of a culture exerts a vertical pull on the individuals within it—filling each culture with a kind of electrical current.

In higher-minded culture, the pervading values are Higher-Mind driven, making it a positively charged culture that exerts an upward pull on the psyches of their members. The behavior rewarded or zapped by the culture align more with the Higher Mind’s values, and interactions carry a generally high-minded tone, which empowers the Higher Minds of the people within the culture.

In a negatively charged culture, the Primitive Mind is on its home turf. Conversations are pettier, values are more superficial, conformity beats individuality, and things tend to feel a lot like middle school. A culture like this speaks directly to the Primitive Minds in the heads of its members, continually stoking their fires and forcing their marginalized Higher Mind counterparts to swim upstream.

As always, the power struggle exists on a spectrum, not as a binary switch—and cultures, like people, can often be somewhere in the middle. But in groups, where this kind of “coalition” can form, one mind gaining control over the culture is like an extreme home-field advantage in sports. Control over the electrical charge of the air and power over the painful zaps and pleasurable rays that police cultural dissidents is such a leg up that, for the “away team,” it can be very hard to overcome.

Culture, in 3D

So far, we’ve been focusing on the relationship between culture and individuals. In that realm, culture functions as the rules of engagement. But when we move up to higher levels of emergence, where groups of people function like giant organisms, a group’s culture becomes the giant’s personality.

The culture cloud that surrounds us as individuals is, to a giant, a field of energy radiating through its body and coloring the way it thinks and acts.

A giant’s culture also affects how it interacts with the emergence levels above it, as each giant’s prevailing culture determines how it plays with other giants, and which types of other giants it will gravitate towards.

With all of this in our mind, let’s return now to the world of human beliefs.

We spent last chapter thinking about thinking here:

But human thinking, like all things human, happens up and down Emergence Tower—in 3D. Where we are on the Thinking Ladder at any given moment is affected by what’s happening on the emergence slices above us—by the giants we’re a part of, and where they are on the Thinking Ladder.

For the rest of this post, we’ll zoom in on one specific type of culture: intellectual culture. There are all kinds of intellectual cultures out there, but we can slot them into two broad categories:

Idea Labs and Echo Chambers.

We all know what an Echo Chamber is. An Idea Lab will be our term for the opposite. Let’s discuss:

Idea Labs

When the Higher Mind is in control of a single human’s intellect, the human becomes a high-rung thinker. When a group of Higher Minds band together to take over a group of people’s intellectual culture, they form what we can call an Idea Lab. An Idea Lab is an intellectual culture where high-rung thinking thrives and where it can be done well communally. Idea Lab culture abides by the Higher Mind’s intellectual goals, values, preferences, and tastes, and it sees thinking, ideas, discussion, debate, questions, answers, information, and knowledge through the Higher Mind’s lens. Any size community can be an Idea Lab if the intellectual culture in that community is Idea-Lab-like.

We’re going to take a look at both cultures from two emergence perspectives:

1) The individual level—how the culture affects the individuals within it

2) The group level—how the culture affects the group itself, as a larger-emergence giant

How Idea Labs affect individuals

To a person, a community is kind of like a mini nation, and as a mini nation, an Idea Lab is a lot like a liberal democracy. Both are rooted in values: a typical liberal democracy is premised on Enlightenment values like freedom and equal opportunity; an Idea Lab centers around the Enlightenment values of truth and free expression. A liberal democracy is governed by rules about the way things are done, not the end result—and this binding process is outlined in a constitution. An Idea Lab has a binding process too: the scientific method.

Unlike communities of actual career scientists, most real-world communities don’t exist solely to find truth, so it’s not exactly the literal scientific method happening as much as it’s an intellectual culture that’s scientific-method-esque, generally abiding by the same principles.

This makes an Idea Lab’s cultural point system pretty straightforward—the cool kids do stuff that serves truth, and those who do otherwise are lame. A few examples:

Idea Labs like independent thought. In an Idea Lab, people are more interested in what you have to say if they think your thoughts come from a self-determined place, and they’ll begin to tune you out if they suspect you tend to just repeat what you heard from another source. This is partially because independent thinkers usually respect other independent thinkers and find low-rung dogmatics to be transparent and boring. But it’s also for practical reasons. An independent thinker, regardless of their viewpoints, is an active brain in the room, contributing something original to the system. A dogmatic who simply regurgitates the same viewpoints, without independent critical thought, contributes little.

Idea Labs like intellectual diversity. An Idea Lab is a place of intellectual pluralism. It’s a miniature marketplace of ideas where multiple, varied viewpoints coexist. High-rung thinkers know that intellectual diversity is the key quality that fills a community with the rich collection of idea puzzle pieces needed to find truth. On topics where everyone seems to agree, people in an Idea Lab will have an instinct to prod that consensus with contrarian ideas and to play devil’s advocate. Thoughtful contrarianism is valued because there’s an implicit understanding that the evolution of knowledge works like the evolution of life. Only through mutations does evolution happen. In the natural world, a mutant is a biological weirdo. In an Idea Lab, bold, quirky, contrarian thinkers—intellectual weirdos—are seen as critical innovators in the lab who provide mutant ideas to the community.

Idea Labs respect thinkers who stay close to the humility sweet spot tightrope.

In an Idea Lab, conviction is used sparingly and with caution—because conviction levels in an Idea Lab are used as “degree of certainty” stamps. The more conviction in your voice when you make a claim, the more you’re saying: “You can trust me that this is truth. I’ve already done the hard work to vet this information, and it’s safe to incorporate it into your beliefs without much testing.” For trusted thinkers in an Idea Lab, conviction offers fellow members a beautiful knowledge-acquisition shortcut and saves them the effort and opportunity cost of re-vetting what has already been tested.

I’ve always been a fan of this cartoon that explains what volts, amps, and ohms are.1

In communities, info flows in a similar way. Amps are info. Volts are conviction. And ohms are skepticism.

In an Idea Lab, this system is geared around letting truth in and keeping bullshit out. In a good trust network, the Skepticism character (i.e. the Belief Bouncer) is able to trust the Conviction character, which can spare everyone a bunch of work. When a proven high-rung thinker expresses info with a lot of conviction umph, the listener will lower the skepticism ohms without thinking too hard about it.

On the other hand, unearned, false conviction is a major no-no in an Idea Lab. Conviction from a trusted source opens a clear path directly into someone’s most sacred intellectual space: their beliefs. And when conviction is used carelessly, it infects those beliefs with misconceptions, slant, and inaccuracies—the Idea Lab’s toxins—like feeding someone food that will make them sick. Super uncool kid thing to do—and the Idea Lab will punish you by lowering your Rung Rating and damaging your reputation, boy-who-cried-wolf style. Getting caught abusing the use of conviction means you lose the ability to believably communicate your degree of certainty when you say something—because people will know you have a spotty history. Now, when you up the volts and express conviction, listeners will take it with a grain of salt, keep the skepticism filter tight, and feel the need to further verify it.

For all the same reasons, humility wins you major respect in an Idea Lab—where “I don’t know” is a very cool thing to say. People in an Idea Lab are high-rung thinkers, so they know that knowledge is hard. They know the world is a foggy, incredibly complex place, and they’re well aware that no single human knows that much about it. So humility is seen as evidence of honesty and self-awareness—evidence that you “get it.” A reputation for humility makes you intellectually powerful in an Idea Lab—because when a typically humble person does express conviction, it carries a ton of meaning and everyone’s ears perk up.

Idea Labs love arguments. Truth is a sacred value in an Idea Lab, and ideas themselves are seen as nothing more than puzzle pieces to be used in its service. Idea Labs treat all beliefs as works-in-progress, and they see an argument as not only fun, competitive, and intellectually stimulating, but also as a useful exercise for everyone involved, because they know you can only get to knowledge by rigorously testing hypotheses. That’s why Idea Labs are cultures of disconfirmation, debate, and argument. These values mean an Idea Lab doubles as a miniature marketplace-of-ideas gauntlet, a place where no idea is safe. In an Idea Lab, ideas are meant to be criticized, not respected; kicked, not coddled. But the aggression never falls on the thinker—arguments are often heated, but they don’t get personal. As a necessary condition of truth finding, people in an Idea Lab are safe to express any viewpoint they want.

Spending time as a citizen of an Idea Lab mini nation—whether it happens at dinners with your spouse, in classroom discussions, in book club get-togethers, in text conversations, on long scrolls down Reddit threads, or anywhere else—makes you smarter. It shows you where the holes in your knowledge are; it grants you access to a network of intellectual trust that floods you with new, accurate information; it introduces you to a variety of perspectives; it teaches you how to effectively judge others’ ideas and claims. It’s a constant intellectual workout that keeps you sharp.

But even more importantly, an Idea Lab helps you fight the good fight in your own head. I don’t care how good a thinker you are, your intellect will always be in an uphill Psych Spectrum battle against gravity. Even if you get good at thinking with your Higher Mind, your Primitive Mind never gives up and is always looking for a loophole—some personal insecurity, some emotional attachment, some lingering psychological baggage from your past—to latch onto as an opportunity to re-hijack the wheel.

No one thinks like pure top-rung Scientists all the time. More often, after a brief stint on the top rung during an especially lucid and humble period, we start to like the new epiphanies we gleaned up there a little too much and we quickly drop down to the Sports Fan rung. And that’s okay. It might even be optimal to be a little over-confident in our intellectual lives. Taking a rooting interest in our ideas—a new philosophy, a new lifestyle choice, a new business strategy—allows us to really give them a try, somewhat liberated from the constant “but are we really sure about this?” nag from the Higher Mind.

The Sports Fan rung alone isn’t a problem—especially since, like cheering fans in a stadium who know deep down that their fandom is a little silly, somewhere behind the fog of a Sports Fan’s confidence is the self-awareness of a still-pretty-present Higher Mind. The problem is that inviting some fog into the equation is a bit like closing your eyes for just another minute or two after you’ve shut your alarm off for good—it’s riskier than it feels. Getting a little attached to or emotional about an idea is a small step away from drifting unconsciously into Unfalsifiable Land and into the oblivion of the intellectual slums down below. We’re programmed by evolution to be terrible thinkers, so we should never get cocky.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a Higher Mind support network, where a bunch of people suffering from a disease—one in which the animal they live in has become fixated on using alcohol to ruin their lives—can get together and help each other fight the good fight. An Idea Lab is the same thing for our intellect—Dogmatics Anonymous.

People in Dogmatics Anonymous keep each other from falling too low down the Thinking Ladder.

The social pressure helps: if it’s considered cool to think with your Higher Mind, you’re more likely to do so.

And the intellectual pressure helps: If the people around you are good enough at thinking to notice when you’re being biased, hypocritical, conveniently gullible, or selectively unempathetic—and if they’re culturally encouraged to call you on it—you’re less likely to keep doing those things or fall into a well of false conviction. In an Idea Lab, the room is usually too well-lit for the Primitive Mind to get away with anything too sneaky.

When you spend enough time in an Idea Lab, humility and self-awareness are inflicted upon you, whether you like it or not. When you float upwards on the Knowledge-Conviction graph, Idea Lab culture pulls you back down to the tightrope.3

Or, depicted far more hilariously: People in an Idea Lab are like this squirrel trying to get to a bird feeder, and Idea lab culture “greases the arrogance pole.”

All of these forces combine together to make an Idea Lab a big magnet on top of our ladder.

And that’s just the benefits of an Idea Lab to the individuals within it. Bringing our attention upwards on Emergence Tower, a community starts to look less like a mini nation of people and more like a single giant organism—and here, we see just how powerful Idea Lab culture can be.

How Idea Labs affect groups

An Idea Lab is a giant, high-rung thinker with super-human intelligence. At its best, it’s the ultimate Scientist. The group’s mini marketplace of ideas is the giant’s brain, with the individual members’ brains as its neurons.

This single, multi-mind thinking system is far superior to its individual members at learning new things and separating truth from fiction. If the mind of a single high-rung thinker is a truth-seeking tool, the mind of an Idea Lab giant is truth-seeking factory.

Instead of a single Attention Bouncer, bound by the limits of his time and the scope of his curiosity, the Idea Lab organism has a team of Attention Bouncers importing information.

Instead of a single Belief Bouncer trying his hardest to judge the accuracy of info, the Idea Lab giant has a squadron of Belief Bouncers at the door of the community’s generally accepted beliefs. In order to make it past the gate, a hypothesis or piece of information has to make it past each of the bouncers. Even if a convincing falsehood succeeds in duping most of the community, all it takes is one person’s Belief Bouncer discovering it to be flawed and they’ll quickly expose it as fraud to everyone else. The beliefs of high-rung thinkers are readily falsifiable—so this is a fast process that leaves the bad information with little hope.

Instead of a single Puzzler working on building hypotheses out of scattered information, the constant hum of discussion in an Idea Lab makes puzzling collaborative. With everyone mostly saying what they’re really thinking, the line between puzzling together a hypothesis and testing that hypothesis in a gauntlet of criticism blurs. When dialectic and debate are core parts of an intellectual culture, new ideas can be tested as they’re being formed, in real-time, making the step-by-step knowledge-building process of the individual high-rung thinker into a single, dynamic process.

As a giant organism, an Idea Lab is an example of emergence at its finest: a system that is far more than the sum of its parts.

The Idea Lab giant is an organism that takes in raw information and converts it into knowledge and wisdom. Its immune system specializes in sorting truth from fiction and rooting out falsehoods and bias—the toxins that threaten the knowledge manufacturing process.

One of the coolest properties of an Idea Lab is its ability to play nicely with other Idea Labs and seamlessly meld together with them into larger Idea Labs. Take the simplest example: two couples.

To continue exploiting the Johnsons from Part 1, let’s imagine that in their marriage, they have formed a strong, high-rung intellectual culture together. When they’re together, they form a tiny Idea Lab—a two-mind system that’s always working on a lifelong, collaborative mission to become a little less wrong and a little less foolish. They disagree about ideas all the time, but their intellectual arguments rarely double as fights. They get heated alongside smiles and jokes and light-hearted jabs at each other. Like any humans, they’re both prone to sink downwards on the ladder, but they keep each other honest, and they both have a history of changing their mind when the other makes a point so good they can’t deny the truth of it—an intellectual “offer they can’t refuse.”

Now, let’s also imagine that they have their next-door neighbors, the Smiths, over for dinner one night.

The Smiths are also an Idea Lab couple. So very quickly, the dinner becomes a rich discourse, full of original ideas and critical thinking, as the four of them seamlessly merge their two-person Idea Labs into a four-person Idea Lab. The dinner table becomes a four-person marketplace of ideas, with double the knowledge, double the intellectual diversity, and double the keen-eyed Bouncers and Puzzlers at their service. The hangout goes on for hours after the food is done, and everyone leaves feeling a little bit smarter than they were before. The two couples, sharing high-rung intellectual values, both end up feeling positive about the experience, as the large amount of critical thinking that happened made the dinner super interesting and fun.

The thing going on here is that Idea Labs are micro-divided, and macro-united. On a micro scale, Idea Labs and the people within them disagree often—that’s the intellectual diversity component.

On a macro scale, all Idea Labs are broadly united by a common set of intellectual values—a shared understanding that they’re all ultimately on the same truth-seeking team.

This allows Idea Labs of all sizes to combine together just as easily as the Johnsons and Smiths did. Two can become four around a dinner table. A six-college-friends Idea Lab can become part of a larger one 50 students strong when those friends walk into one of Bridge USA’s many university clubs dedicated to ideological diversity. High-rung science departments can “team up” with other departments by criticizing each other’s findings.

Even farther up Emergence Tower, every Idea Lab in the U.S. is a tiny piece of the grand American Idea Lab—the U.S. marketplace of ideas—each of them a little pocket of neural tissue in the giant U.S. brain. In the U.S., the joint effort of hundreds of thousands of Idea Labs of all different shapes and sizes generates that big, bright orb of light held by the collective nation’s giant Higher Mind.

The U.S. marketplace of ideas is in turn a lobe of tissue in the largest Idea Lab of all—the uber-giant brain of the collective high-rung thinkers of the human race. Through a worldwide mega-web of different size Idea Labs, each individual high-rung human thinker is able to link into the giant species brain as a single tiny neuron.

Idea Labs can blend together so effortlessly because the only glue needed to tie them together is a simple set of high-rung intellectual values, all centered around a common mission to get closer to the truth.

This is what Thomas Paine was getting at when he said:2

Science, the partisan of no country, but the beneficent patroness of all, has liberally opened a temple where all may meet. … The philosopher of one country sees not an enemy in the philosopher of another: he takes his seat in the temple of science, and asks not who sits beside him.

Idea Labs are awesome because they’re awesome at every level of emergence.

They’re great at the individual level. Individuality is valued, people are respected, and communities are safe spaces to share whatever ideas you’re thinking about, without fear of negative consequences. An Idea Lab is a good mini nation to be citizen of. Spending time in an Idea Lab makes you smarter, wiser, humbler, more realistic, and helps pull your internal battle upwards.

Idea Labs are great at the community level. The same people encouraged to retain their full individuality at the low-emergence level also get to enjoy the benefits of being a cell in a larger, superintelligent system, with all of the social and community perks that come along with it.

Idea Labs are great at the national and pan-national level. We have Idea Labs to thank for the collective knowledge tower we’ve built as a species, for the evolution of our species’ psychological maturation, and for the development of our growing philosophical clarity.

Perhaps most importantly, Idea Labs bring to fruition a fundamental right:

The Free Speech Puzzle

Given how naturally Idea Lab culture fits into the broader spirit of the U.S. constitution, you might assume that at least Idea Labs would be the norm in a place like the U.S.—but they’re not. The U.S. was a country built to give the underdog Higher Mind a chance, but it wasn’t built to enforce the Higher Mind’s ideals on any citizen. Doing so would violate the core premise of the country: freedom from authoritarian rule. The Constitution puts its citizens in an environment where neither the government, nor other citizens, are allowed to impinge on any citizen’s right to live in a high-minded environment. But like the case with power, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness—the Constitution offers only the opportunity to enjoy the ideals of the Enlightenment, not a guarantee of that kind of life. In the U.S., you’re so free that you’re free to be unfree, if you so choose.

We can apply this to the world of discourse. The reality is that while all Americans are living under the protection of the First Amendment, many aren’t living with freedom of speech. Constitutional lawyer Greg Lukianoff highlights this distinction:3

Though often used interchangeably, the concept of freedom of speech and the First Amendment are not the same thing. While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press as they relate to duties of the state and state power, freedom of speech is a far broader idea that includes additional cultural values. These values incorporate healthy intellectual habits, such as giving the other side a fair hearing, reserving judgment, tolerating opinions that offend or anger us, believing that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and recognizing that even people whose points of view we find repugnant might be (at least partially) right. At the heart of these values is epistemic humility – a fancy way of saying that we must always keep in mind that we could be wrong or, at least, that we can always learn something from listening to the other side.

Free speech, like any Value Games privilege, requires both the government and the culture to be on board. The U.S. Constitution makes free speech possible—but only within the right culture does the freedom come to fruition.

Let’s apply this idea to t-shirts. The Constitution gives all citizens the right to walk around wearing t-shirts in public. As far as we’re concerned, there might as well be a T-Shirt Amendment that protects this right for all citizens (the right to bare arms?). But if I live in a community in which one of the unwritten cultural beliefs is that wearing t-shirts is evil—and anyone who does so will likely be permanently shunned—I’m not gonna walk around in a t-shirt. Sure, the T-Shirt Amendment means that I can’t be imprisoned by the government for wearing a t-shirt—but my entire social life would be destroyed by doing so, which is just a different kind of incredibly harsh penalty. Being deeply invested in a community allows the culture of that community to essentially override my constitutional rights. The actual enjoyment of a constitutional right relies on finding a community who agrees with the Constitution about it.

Likewise, in cultures that impose their own harsh penalties for saying the wrong thing, freedom of speech all but vanishes, along with the presence of the marketplace of ideas. This is why Idea Labs are so important. Idea Labs are fully bought in to the value of free speech—they see it as a constitutional gift and make it a way of life. Idea Lab culture is the critical second piece that completes the free speech puzzle.

If the Idea Lab were the only intellectual culture out there, things in the human world might be simple. But Idea Labs aren’t the only human intellectual culture, because the Higher Mind isn’t the only human mind. Liberal concepts like free speech are thoroughly artificial constructions, and no matter where they exist, they’ll always be the underdog, constantly fighting against the gravity of human nature.

Some people do manage to spend most of our time in the little pockets of Higher-Mind-run cultures that have managed to subsist inside of the broader primitive ocean. But many of us aren’t so lucky. The typical human today, around the world, and inside the U.S., is spending their life inside communities that are culturally charged the old-fashioned way.

Echo Chambers

Imagine you’ve just had your first baby. Super exciting right?

And every day when you look at your baby, you can’t believe how cute it is.

Babies have a pretty high success rate at being cute. It’s one of the only things they’re talented at.

But the thing is, there’s also that one baby out of every five or six that manages to not pull it off. The Upsetting-Looking Baby. We all know a few.

And I’ve noticed a funny pattern—when I talk to the parents of an Upsetting-Looking Baby, they somehow don’t seem to realize what happened.

The reason is the Primitive Mind is pulling one of its tricks. When you have a baby, your Primitive Mind knows that, cute or upsetting, baby survival is the key to its genetic mission, and it’s critical that you as the parent are fully obsessed with it.

So let’s just say it turns out that your baby looks like this:

You’ll never realize it—because when you look at the baby, your Primitive Mind will quickly flood your head with delusional smoke and make you see what it wants you to see.

This is why everyone thinks their baby is super cute.

But now imagine some friends come over.

A couple’s baby is their most sacred object. And everyone who visits the house knows that—so they go with the flow and confirm the parents’ delusion, fully and unquestionably.

When a culture holds an object to be sacred, the culture becomes embedded with an implicit set of iron-clad social rules about how that object must be treated. Praising the object becomes a very cool thing to do, while saying anything bad about the object is considered an act of unredeemable blasphemy. When something becomes uncriticizable to a culture, the culture becomes the opposite of an Idea Lab about that thing. It becomes an Echo Chamber.

It doesn’t mean the culture is necessarily an Echo Chamber in general—it may be a classic Idea Lab most of the time and simply flip to the other side when the conversation turns to one particular topic. If you’re a sports fan (actual, not metaphorical), you’re well-accustomed to this kind of situation.

Every home that’s populated entirely by lifelong Packers fans is an immediate Echo Chamber when it comes to Packers fandom. They may happily argue about everything else, including Packer-related topics (e.g. “Are they good enough to make the playoffs this year or not?”), but on the specific topic of “who are you rooting for in this game?”, any answer other than “the Packers” is blasphemy. Packers fandom is the sacred baby in the house, and everyone damn well better call it cute.

So why do some objects or ideas become sacred to certain humans and certain cultures?

As we’ve discussed in previous chapters, it often has a lot to do with identity. Every human is an impossibly complex, fluid, ever-evolving unique personality—and to the Higher Mind, that’s more than enough of an identity. But the Primitive Mind doesn’t understand human complexity or uniqueness, so it sees your innermost self as a blank page. A non-identity. For the Primitive Mind to feel secure about your identity, it needs you to attach external things to it—symbols, resources, profession, family name, status, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, nationality, hometown, college alma mater, social group, music tastes—anything really, as long as it’s crisp and clear and tangible enough for its simple programming to grasp.

The Primitive Mind is always hungry to meld you into larger giants, so its favorite kinds of external things to stitch to your identity are those that also stitch you into a group. When an object can help it define both who you are and which tribe you’re in, it latches onto it.

Sports fandom is a classic Primitive Mind identity attachment because it checks a lot of these boxes. It’s crisp and clear. It’s linked together with other identity attachments like hometown and, in the case of something like the World Cup, nationality and even ethnic group. It binds you together with everyone else who likes the same team. There are even uniforms you can wear, painting the good-guy Us colors directly on your body, as you root for them against the bad-guy Them team with their bad-guy Them fans from their bad-guy Them hometown wearing their bad-guy Them colors.

If we didn’t understand the Primitive Mind, we might think it’s a bit odd that a group of out-of-shape people sitting in a living room in sweatpants will scream “We won!” when a bunch of professional athletes they don’t know won a game they had no part in. But to the Primitive Mind, the athletes and the game are just vehicles to do the important thing—bind you together with other people. The Primitive Mind is so well-programmed to bind together with others that using only something as superficial as sports fandom, you can seamlessly become one with a total stranger you know nothing about—like the time at a Red Sox playoff game when I cuddled with a big, scary, mean man I never spoke to before or since.

Which brings me back to our Packer fan family. When the son changed his rooting interest, all he said was, “actually I’m rooting for the Vikings.” But the Primitive Minds of his family members heard a cascade of betrayal, up and down Emergence Tower.

He violated a sacred object—but really, he violated the core sense of unity and safety the Primitive Minds of his family members feel. That’s why a football team became a sacred object in the first place.

But the reason sports fandom isn’t a bad thing is that it (usually) doesn’t harm anybody—it’s a form of fake, role-play tribalism. Jonathan Haidt gets at this when he provides the analogy: “Sports is to war as pornography is to sex.”4 Sports fandom lets humans exercise primitive tribal drives—which you can plainly see every time triumphant fans instinctively throw their arms up like a conquering tribe of apes, or heartbroken fans cover their heads and faces like apes being attacked. But they can exercise these drives without actually going to war. Sports fans, deep down, know the whole thing is just a game, which makes sports a harmless thing to build an Echo Chamber around.

But other Echo Chambers aren’t as harmless.

Echo Chambers become problematic, and even dangerous, when they don’t come along with deep-down self-awareness; when the sacred object is more sacred than the well-being of people; when the tribalism they generate is more like war and less like sports. We often see this kind of Echo Chamber in the worlds of religion, ethnicity, race, nationalism, economics, and, as we’ll get fully into in the next part of this series, politics.

Let’s head back into 3D land and take a closer look.

How Echo Chambers affect individuals

To understand how Echo Chambers work, just think about how Idea Labs work and then imagine the opposite. For example:

Where Idea Labs are cultures of critical thinking and debate, Echo Chambers are cultures of agreement and confirmation.

There are a few reasons for this:

First, it comes from a core distinction between how the two cultures view ideas. Idea Labs see people and their ideas as separate entities—people are meant to be respected, ideas are not. In Echo Chambers, a person’s ideas are part of their identity, so respecting a person and respecting their ideas are one and the same. While people in an Idea lab argue with each other for fun, disagreeing with someone in a culture of agreement is seen as rudeness, and a heated argument about ideas in an Echo Chamber is indistinguishable from a fight. To put a visual to it, Idea Lab culture views agreement and decency as separate, unrelated axes, while Echo Chamber culture views agreement and decency as a single axis:

Second, Echo Chambers are devoted to specific ideas. While the constitution of the Idea Lab mini nation is devoted to a kind of thinking, an Echo Chamber is an idea temple whose constitution is a set of sacred beliefs themselves.

The Idea Lab’s quest for knowledge and truth becomes the Echo Chamber’s quest for confirmation of the community’s sacred story.

Changing the goal from truth-seeking to belief-confirmation flips a bunch of other values to their opposites.

The intellectual diversity of the Idea Lab’s pluralism is a major threat to an Echo Chamber, which replaces it by the intellectual uniformity of purism. For the same reasons, Echo Chambers don’t like intellectual mutants—inconvenient independent thought is frowned upon in an Echo Chamber, where abiding by collective groupthink tends to go over much better.

In assigning Rung Ratings, Echo Chambers are concerned only with what you think, not how you got there, basing judgments not on accuracy but on loyalty to the sacred ideas.

The cultural incentives follow suit. The orange, downward-charged air of an Echo Chamber, like the blue-green, upward-charged air of an Idea Lab, administers rewards of acceptance, approval, and respect, and electroshocks of criticism, ridicule, shame, and ostracism—but the criteria for the incentives is almost the exact opposite.

In an Echo Chamber culture, which sees knowledge as easy and obvious, conviction is seen as a sign of knowledge, intelligence, and righteousness (assuming, of course, you have the right viewpoints), and it’s socially rewarded with respect and deference. Humility, on the other hand, is looked down upon in an Echo Chamber, where saying “I don’t know” just makes you sound stupid and ignorant. Changing your mind too much in an Echo Chamber gets you zapped with negative labels, like wishy-washy and flip-flopping and waffling.

An Echo Chamber’s sacred ideas are the community’s newborn baby. And the best way to both express your allegiance to the community and prove your own intellectual and moral worth is to call the baby cute, as fervently as you can. Otherwise known as:

Virtue signaling comes in a few forms:

1) Talking about how cute the baby is (i.e. how correct the community’s sacred beliefs are)

2) Talking about how uncute the rival babies are (i.e. how wrong the community’s ideological opponents are)

3) Talking about how great the community itself is

4) Talking about how awful the rival communities themselves are

So some form of the statement “We are so right / knowledgeable / smart / virtuous and/or They are so wrong / ignorant / stupid / evil.”

Virtue signaling is your Primitive Mind’s way of expressing your sheer Us-ness. While conviction in an Idea Lab expresses your degree of certainty about what you’re saying, conviction in an Echo Chamber expresses the degree of your Us-ness. The baby isn’t kind of cute. It’s not maybe cute. It’s deeply fucking cute. Period.

When a group of people is together expressing their Us-ness at the same time, it not only makes each individual feel safe and loved and accepted and included, it provides a binding energy that unites the group. Participating in one of these sessions—as we all have—showers you with cultural reward, and it feels great in the same way eating Skittles feels great. It’s a classic form of primitive bliss.

Positive incentives go a long way to unifying the Echo Chamber’s viewpoints—but in a community fused together by shared belief, they’re not enough. So they’re coupled with their partner in crime: taboo.

Taboos exist in an Idea Lab, but you have to say something pretty extreme to violate one—and almost always, the offense is an attack on a person, not their idea: a mean-spirited racial slur, a degrading jab, a nasty low-blow. The only way for an otherwise-respected thinker to get culturally zapped by the sole expression of an idea itself is to express a viewpoint so inane that it totally lowers people’s opinion of their intellectual ability.

The over-application of taboo is the bane of free speech, so pro-free-speech cultures use it sparingly. This frees the Idea Lab’s Speech Curve to freely line up with its Thought Pile.

Echo Chamber Nation, meanwhile, is more like Hypothetica.

In Hypothetica, the dictator, King Mustache, deemed himself to be the country’s sacred newborn baby, and he used his mute button to electrify any sentiments other than calling him tremendously cute.

In a country like the U.S., the harm principle prevents Echo Chamber communities from using physical penalties, so they use taboo as their mute button instead.

Taboo is an Echo Chamber’s censorship electric fence—a police force that slaps members with the social fines of status reduction or reputation damage, the social jail time of ostracism, and even the social execution of permanent excommunication. In your criticisms of the opposing viewpoints and those who hold them, you’re free in an Echo Chamber to be as personal and as vicious as you please—cutting slurs, degrading jabs, and nasty low-blows included. Not only is this kind of expression not considered taboo, it’s a sign of moral and intellectual awesomeness. But disagree with the sacred beliefs and you’ve committed blasphemy in place of worship—and you’ll be promptly electrocuted.

The Idea Lab’s criticism gauntlet, a safe place for people and a dangerous one for ideas, provides a type of resistance that elevates truth and wisdom and pushes the whole entity, along with each of its members, toward intellectual and moral growth. An Echo Chamber’s taboo minefield makes it a safe and protected space for all ideas that confirm the sacred beliefs and a very dangerous space for ideas—and people—that don’t. This type of resistance has the opposite effect, discouraging new ideas and intellectual innovation and repressing the growth of the community and its members.

Of course, both of these make sense, given the cultural objectives. High-rung thinkers want their perception of reality to change and get closer to reality, so they invite the productive kind of resistance. Low-rung thinkers want their perception of reality to remain untouched. They view safety not as safety to speak certain ideas but as safety from hearing certain ideas—making an Idea Lab a place of danger for them. So they invite the repressive kind of resistance.

Liberal democracies were built to be bubbles of free speech in a world of censorship—bubbles where Higher Minds could band together and form high-minded giants, safe from the bullying of the Primitive Mind.

Idea Labs are communities born of this spirit, taking full advantage of the privilege afforded to them by the liberal constitutions. But the Primitive Minds in our heads don’t understand any of this. They run on automated software, unable to see the present day or understand its liberal values. No matter what country they’re in, they want to do what they were programmed to do: play the ancient Power Games by banding together into the old-fashioned kind of giant.

And the thing about Primitive Minds is, as simple and unthinking as they may be, they can also be highly innovative. It’s like what Jeff Goldblum said.

You can put as many constraints on Primitive Minds as you want to, but some of them will usually find a way to get together and play the Power Games. In a country like the U.S., the Echo Chamber is one way they do it. The Echo Chamber is a mini dictatorship—a cultural dictatorship—of Power Games inside of a liberal democracy. A non-free-speech zone inside of a free speech nation.

This kind of mini dictatorship has the opposite effect on its citizens that an Idea Lab has. If an Idea Lab is Dogmatics Anonymous, an Echo Chamber is a dogma keg party.

Some reasons why the dogma keg party sucks:

An Echo Chamber makes you more primitive. Spending time in an environment full of primitive smoke gives the Primitive Mind home-field advantage in the battle inside your head. In an Echo Chamber, people are constantly releasing the human version of wolfpack pheromones—the words they use, the virtue signaling, the in-group / out-group social structure, the binary worldview. This isn’t simply the Primitive Mind’s way of thinking, it’s like gas in the air that ignites our primitive fires. Tribal language is the Primitive Mind’s way of signaling to each other: “Let’s fucking do this. Let’s band together and go to war.” Your Higher Mind is already in a serious uphill battle for sanity—but trying to tame your Primitive Mind in that kind of environment is like trying to get a shark to refrain from eating while surrounding it with the scent of blood.

An Echo Chamber makes you arrogant. On top of the general downward pull on your psyche, an Echo Chamber pulls directly downwards on your intellect. When everyone around you believes humility is for the weak-minded and conviction is a sign of intelligence and righteousness, it’s going to have an effect on you. Even in an Idea Lab culture where humility is the ultimate intellectual virtue, we have a very hard time actually being humble. So when you take away that cultural pressure and apply the reverse pressure, shaming humility—good fucking luck.

At the same time, the strength of your beliefs goes up. In an Idea Lab you’re always being reminded that opposing ideas have validity, that all ideas are flawed, that you and everyone else is prone to bias, and that the world is ridiculously complex. This is like an air jet that blows the fog of delusion out of the environment. In an Echo Chamber, all of those reminders have been filtered out by the system, allowing the fog to grow thick. Members of an Echo Chamber tend to share both an oversimplified conception of the world and an inflated view of their own intellect. When everyone around you shares your delusions, the communal fog strengthens delusion, which allows conviction to rise to laughable levels.

Instead of pulling you toward the Knowledge-Conviction diagonal, the Echo Chamber pulls you upwards into the arrogant zone.

This is why people who spend too much time in an Echo Chamber end up as an intellectual contradiction—holding views that are strongly felt but weakly supported.

An Echo Chamber makes you intellectually helpless. Those who want to become better thinkers will have a hard time in an Echo Chamber, where the constant barrage of confirmation of a single viewpoint, along with the prohibition of dissent and open debate on the sacred topics, removes all the most critical tools of knowledge-acquisition from the environment. It’s an environment where A) people think knowledge is easy, B) accuracy isn’t taken into account for ideas that confirm the dogma, C) honest new hypotheses are rarely being formed, and D) the testing of existing assumptions or new incoming confirmation, through dissent and criticism, is culturally discouraged. A + B + C + D = an environment of imposed ignorance. How could anyone learn real stuff in that environment? They couldn’t.

And when you’ve been ignorant for too long, you don’t just lack knowledge, your learning skills dull. Learning is a skill like anything else—it takes practice—and your ability to think critically atrophies. People who surround themselves by Idea Lab cultures get constant practice at defending their ideas and challenging others. In the Echo Chamber’s safe-from-dissent-space, you remain an amateur, which makes the prospect of trying to migrate from your environment to a more argumentative one incredibly daunting.

An Echo Chamber makes you more of a dick. When the Primitive Mind gets control of your heart, it’ll happily toggle your ability to feel empathy up and down to suit its purposes—and resisting this is all the more difficult in an environment totally isolated from the maligned group, where myths and stereotypes about them permeate every conversation, and where it’s believed that hating the right people is precisely what makes someone a good person. When you come to believe that people outside the Echo Chamber are not worth talking to, it’s easy to forget that they’re full, real people just like you.

An Echo Chamber bullies you into submission. Those who manage to remain self-aware enough to try to improve will be met with the social aspect of the Echo Chamber’s cultural rubric. If you try to step outside the standard groupthink viewpoints, the Echo Chamber will dock your social status, and your likability, and your credibility. Your friends will talk behind your back. Your family will discuss how you’ve changed. Your co-workers will exclude you from happy hour drinks. Your fellow dogmatics have built their identities, their sense of stability, and their self-esteem around the Echo Chamber’s set of delusions—and trying to improve will be subconsciously perceived by others as a personal threat. But since self-awareness is scarce in Echo Chambers, they’ll consciously just think you’re an asshole.

All of this adds up to an Echo Chamber culture being a big, fat magnet at the bottom of the How You Think ladder.

While the pull of an Idea Lab makes you smarter, wiser, and more humble, the Echo Chamber magnet makes you ignorant, arrogant, delusional, unempathetic, and inept. Living your life in an Echo Chamber tastes as good as Skittles…and it’s just as bad for you.

Riding up the emergence elevator, from the world of individuals to the world of giants, we’re reminded why Echo Chambers exist in the first place:

How Echo Chambers affect groups

If an Idea Lab giant looks like this:

An Echo Chamber is more like the old-school kind of giant:

When you think about Echo Chambers not as a collection of individuals, but as a primitive human giant playing the Power Games, all of the Echo Chamber’s odd characteristics make much more sense—in the same way individual ant behavior makes the most sense when you zoom out and look at how the colony works as a whole. Revisiting the above Echo Chamber qualities from the giant organism perspective helps us see them in a new light.

To survive, a giant needs to be glued together well, and the Echo Chamber is glued together by a shared set of beliefs. While an Idea Lab draws its strength from its intellectual diversity, the Echo Chamber thrives on intellectual uniformity:

The multi-colored brain network in an Idea Lab is a marketplace of ideas that functions as a super-brain—a giant, superintelligent thinking machine. But the Echo Chamber’s network isn’t a giant brain at all. It’s a solid-colored agreement network—a bloc of hijacked brains, tightly glued together by shared beliefs in order to generate brute strength in numbers.

For a giant glued together by shared beliefs, confirmation of those beliefs are like the giant’s food—the giant relies on a steady incoming stream of confirmation for sustenance and strength. So Echo Chambers are factories that specialize in confirmation manufacture.

The Echo Chamber’s collective Attention Bouncers scour the world for bright red information cherries that support the giant’s core beliefs—anything that helps promote the “We are so right / knowledgeable / smart / virtuous and They are so wrong / ignorant / stupid / evil” manifesto. The standards for confirmation cherries aren’t high—it can be random anecdotes or statistics, strongly worded opinions, out-of-context quotes, whatever. It’s not important whether the confirmation is true or something that would pass for confirmation outside the Echo Chamber—most people in an Echo Chamber already believe, and all they need from confirmation is a nice continual flow to keep morale high and the belief glue at full strength.

Social pressure in an Echo Chamber plays its role, lining up with the main mission. Expressing confirmation is socially rewarded in an Echo Chamber, so the giant’s circulatory system—the communication network—ends up flooded with the very ripest confirmation cherries. When new, juicy nuggets of dogma-supporting info are discovered, they spread through the system like wildfire. The confirmation factory is also great at twisting the less bright cherries to make them better—through a game of telephone, one person’s somewhat-relevant anecdote can quickly morph into a confirmed, undeniable fact about the world that members treat as further scientific proof that the sacred baby is obese and adorable. This is its own kind of market that pushes the best supporting arguments—real or manufactured—straight into the beliefs of the Echo Chamber’s members, since the Belief Bouncers of low-rung thinkers usually give an immediate free pass to friendly, confirming information.

If the Idea Lab giant is the ultimate Scientist, the Echo Chamber is the ultimate Zealot. And like any zealot, an Echo Chamber relies not just on belief but on full conviction. An Echo Chamber’s conviction isn’t just a trademark quality of the Echo Chamber giant—it’s the giant’s lifeblood.

But strength that relies on conviction is brittle, and vulnerable. In many cases, the conviction of many Echo Chamber members is entirely sourced in their trust in other members’ conviction, many of whose conviction is derived from the conviction of others still. It’s like a conviction Ponzi Scheme. In reality, the Echo Chamber’s dogma baby isn’t usually very cute at all, and the fervent belief that it is relies on the complete absence of questioning or real discussion about it. For a giant that relies on conviction to survive, doubt is deadly.

In an Idea Lab, people know that the information stream entering the system will be full of toxins—deceptions, slant, falsehoods, bullshit surveys and studies, cherry-picked research, misleading statistics, etc.—and there needs to be a strong immune system to keep their body of knowledge healthy. Their immune system is the idea gauntlet with its culture of dissent and disconfirmation. Information and suppositions that manage to make it through the gauntlet are very likely to be non-toxic—and the continual re-examination of the Idea Lab’s accepted assumptions help to root out toxins that somehow slipped by.

An Echo Chamber works the opposite way. The Idea Lab’s toxin—bias and misconception—is the Echo Chamber’s immune system. The Idea Lab’s immune system—doubt and dissent—is precisely the Echo Chamber’s toxin. Each immune system is made of that which the other immune system is built to guard against.

For an Echo Chamber giant, doubt that threatens to infiltrate the system from the outside, where it can catch on and spread, is like a deadly virus. So the Echo Chamber’s immune system is a multi-layered filter system that leaves little to chance. To successfully generate doubt in an Echo Chamber’s neurons, dissent has to first make it past the cherry-picking filter. Then it has to survive the filter that specializes in misinterpreting, distorting, and re-framing inconvenient info (or, if all that fails, discrediting the source). Dissent that makes it this far has to figure out a way to spread through a social network that punishes members for sharing it. Finally, when the occasional devastating stat or damning news story or well-reasoned dissenting op-ed does manage to reach the minds of Echo Chamber members, there’s a last line of defense—denial. Most Echo Chamber members are low-rung thinkers, which means they’re unfalsifiable—they enforce Echo Chamber rules inside their own heads, and their cognitive biases provide the final blockade.

But even with an airtight immune system in place to thwart invasion by doubt viruses, the Echo Chamber is vulnerable to an internal threat. H. L. Menken said, “The most dangerous man to any government is a man who is able to think things out for himself, and without regard for the prevailing superstitions and taboos.” Same story for Echo Chambers. In addition to the large number of Attorneys and Zealots who believe every part of the dogma, there are some people in every Echo Chamber who don’t actually believe the dogma—just like there are some people who visit new parents who are well aware that the baby isn’t actually cute. These are the most dangerous people to an Echo Chamber, because as trusted members of the Us group, dissent from their mouths can circumvent the immune system and trigger dangerous cognitive dissonance in fellow members. If dissent from the outside threatens to become a doubt virus in the body of the Echo Chamber giant, dissent from the inside threatens to become a doubt cancer. This is why Echo Chambers go beyond making it uncool to express unpopular ideas and make it taboo. Cancer must be nipped at the bud.

This is the kind of intense information control you see when reality is not your friend—when ideological purity is a survival requirement.

When we look at how giants interact with other giants, we see a final distinction between Idea Labs and Echo Chambers. As we discussed earlier, Idea Labs merge seamlessly together with other Idea Labs, because while micro-divided in their viewpoints, they’re macro-united by common values like civility and truth. Echo Chambers, as expected, are the reverse—micro-united in their viewpoints, macro-divided with other communities who don’t share those viewpoints.

Since Echo Chambers are built on agreement, they can only merge with other communities who are like-minded.

Take the Millers.

The Millers are an Echo Chamber-y couple. When they were on the dating scene, both of them judged potential suitors based on like-mindedness, and their closeness as a couple is based on how much they agree on. Today, there’s a long list of viewpoints that, if expressed by one member, would cause a huge fight. In their social life, they judge things the same way—they seek out like-minded friends and see those who disagree with them as assholes and idiots.

Of course, all people bond with others over shared viewpoints—but for the Millers, it’s the only way bonding happens. When they have new potential friends over for dinner, the more agreement that happens at the table—especially around the ideas the Millers hold most sacred, like politics and child-rearing—the more they’ll like the new friends and pursue them as long-term companions. Get-togethers at their house end up feeling very different from the Johnson-Smith dinner we observed earlier.

For Echo Chamber couples, it’s pretty easy to keep things glued tightly together. But as Echo Chambers grow in size, it becomes a greater challenge to hold them together by shared ideas—so usually, the binding beliefs are honed down and simplified to the common denominator ideas that the whole community can get behind. So while Idea Labs get even smarter and more nuanced as they grow, growing Echo Chambers become even dumber and more sure of themselves.

Remember the “me against my brother; me and my brother against our cousins; me, my brother, and my cousins against the stranger” cartoon from Part 1 of this series? Hatred or fear of a common enemy—an opposing group of people or ideas—is often the common denominator that unites large Echo Chambers. Without a prominent Them foil, an Echo Chamber’s Us is liable to split into rival Us/Them factions. So Echo Chambers don’t usually combine all the way up to the nationwide or species-wide level the way Idea Labs do—they grow until they hit a stable two-rival situation (think political parties or economic paradigms, to name two obvious examples). The hatred/fear mechanism to unite otherwise-divided Echo Chambers means that growing Echo Chamber coalitions don’t only get more ignorant—they get meaner and scarier.

Earlier, I said that Idea Labs are awesome because they’re awesome at every level of emergence. Well Echo Chambers suck—because they suck at every level of emergence.

At the individual level, they repress free speech with a minefield of taboos, hinder learning and growth, and foster delusional arrogance. As mini nations, they’re more like old school dictatorships than constitutional democracies, and they pull their citizens downward on the Psych Spectrum.

At the community level, Echo Chambers are more than the sum of their parts only in raw power. Intellectually, the Echo Chamber giant is less capable of finding truth than a single independent thinker.

And at the national and pan-national level, we can thank Echo Chamber coalitions for fun parts of our history like war, oppression, bigotry, and genocide. The grand, species-wide Idea Lab is why we’ve made progress. Giant Echo Chambers are why that progress hasn’t happened a lot faster.

All of us are living in at least a few Echo Chambers right now. To discover the Echo Chambers in your life, think about the different communities you’re a part of, and ask, “Is there a sacred baby in the room when I’m with those people? Are there ideas or viewpoints that are socially off-limits?”

Here’s one other trick:

The Asshole Litmus Test

I’m a long-time fan of Randall Munroe and his always-delightful site xkcd. But I have a quibble with one particular xkcd comic:

What Randall’s trying to do here is put an end to people claiming that their First Amendment rights are being violated when in fact, they’re not.4 And the comic does a good job at that. My problem with the comic is that it doesn’t address the difference between the two kinds of intellectual cultures we’ve discussed—and as such, it serves as perfect justification for both the Idea Lab and the Echo Chamber.

For me, the critical word in the comic is “asshole.” Both kinds of intellectual culture agree with the comic—what they disagree on is the definition of asshole.

Communities that define asshole as “someone who in arguments attacks people, not ideas,” or “someone who expresses conviction on viewpoints where they don’t actually know very much,” or “someone who never admits when they’re wrong” are Idea Labs. They eject from the club those who turn arguments into fights and hinder the community’s ability to search for truth.

On the other hand, communities that define asshole as “someone who disagrees with what the community believes,” or “someone who holds views that we find offensive,” or “someone who criticizes the community or defends our rival community” are Echo Chambers. By “showing the door” to anyone who doesn’t say their baby is cute, they purge their community of dissent and ensure that things remain intellectually pure.

The xkcd comic is a comic about intolerance—but the key question it leaves open is: intolerance of what? When you consider your own judgments and those within your communities, think about the criteria for intolerance. Ask yourself: How exactly is “asshole” being defined?

Liberal Democracy: Cultural Coexistence

This is a post series about both psychology and sociology, because to understand what’s going on in the world around us, we need to think about both. If we view humanity in 3D, we see that psychology and sociology are really studies of the same human system, just from different vantage points along Emergence Tower.

What Idea Labs and Echo Chambers show us is that the Higher Mind – Primitive Mind tension isn’t just happening in each of our heads—it’s raging up and down Emergence Tower, at the heart of both our psychology and sociology. It’s a 3D struggle.

This 3D struggle is the backstory behind human history and behind everything going on in our world today. It can also help us understand why the U.S. forefathers designed the system the way they did.

The key innovation in a country like the U.S. isn’t to force higher-minded cultures and free speech upon anyone—it’s to allow people and communities to be whoever they want to be, in peace. The important thing is that membership in any community or culture, including a mini dictatorship, is purely voluntary. If the only threat zealots have is to kick you out of their social circle—to “show you the door”—higher-minded people are free in a liberal democracy to say, “goodbye!” and head elsewhere. That’s liberal democracy’s secret sauce.

In countries like the U.S., Idea Labs and Echo Chambers coexist. Echo Chambers may slow down the country’s progress—but they can’t forcefully hijack the whole system like they do in the Power Games. Whether the Echo Chambers like it or not (and they usually don’t), a liberal democracy’s Idea Labs, with enough tenacity, can continue to power their country’s slow, steady forward march of progress.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to be. Remember the words of a wise man, Jeff Goldblum. Life finds a way. Liberal democracies do a great job of capping the power of the Primitive Mind and even harnessing that power as an engine of progress. But like an animal in a cage, the Primitive Mind yearns for its natural habitat—the Power Games. And even the best system isn’t infallible.

I look around the U.S. and other parts of the world today and I worry that something is off—that in the chaos of rapid advances in technology and media, our worst tendencies may be quietly breaking free. In the next part of this series, we’ll hold our noses and dive into everybody’s favorite topic: politics. If we can look out at the world around us and see it in 3D, we might just be able to figure out what’s really going on.

Chapter 9: Political Disney World

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___________

Three places to go next:

Some thoughts on how to pick a life partner (pro tip: go for someone you can disagree with)

The social world has a whole set of other problems: 16 comics about awkward social interactions

In case we’re all getting a little self-absorbed with humans here: 4 mind-blowing things about stars




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بازی انفجار حضرات : جمعه وبلاگ نویسی: بازی مرتبط با ماهی مرکب


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جمعه وبلاگ نویسی: بازی مرتبط با ماهی مرکب

نامیده می شود “ماهیگیری ماهی مرکب

طبق معمول ، می توانید از این پست ماهی مرکب برای صحبت در مورد داستانهای امنیتی در اخباری که من آنها را پوشش نداده ام ، استفاده کنید.

رهنمودهای ارسال وبلاگ من را بخوانید اینجا.

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عکس نوار کناری بروس اشنایر توسط جو مک ایننیس.


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بازی انفجار حضرات : Political Disney World — Wait But Why


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This is Chapter 9 in a blog series. If you’re new to the series, visit the series home page for the full table of contents.

Notes key: Type 1 - fun notes. Fun facts, extra thoughts, or further explanation. Type 2 - less fun notes. Sources and citations.

Part 4: Politics, in 3D

“Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education.” – Henry Adams

Chapter 9: Political Disney World

I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts in the 80s and 90s. Newton back then was a pretty diverse place—a 90,000-person suburb with a wide range of ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. To live in Newton, there were only two requirements: you had to be a Red Sox fan and you had to be a Democrat. I was both, so things were chill.

When I was six, my second-grade classroom voted on the 1988 presidential election by circling either “Michael Dukakis” or “George Bush” on a little sheet of paper, folding it, and placing it into a shoebox on the teacher’s desk. It was the first time I had been sentient for a big political event. Later that day, the teacher revealed the results:

Dukakis 20, Bush 1

Duh. Dukakis was the nice good guy candidate and Bush was the bad guy candidate. I still don’t know who the one sick fuck was who voted for the bad guy, but other than that, the results made sense. Pretty boring.

Then the actual election happened and—somehow—Bush won.

I was floored. What kind of medieval shit did my country just pull? How could so many people have gotten it so obviously wrong?

I assumed when I was older and understood the world better, it would make more sense.

But I got older, and the storyline stayed the same. There was the Obviously Good Party, who cared about poor people and black people and flowers and smiles—and the Obviously Bad Party, who were all these two men, teaching their sons about offshore bank accounts.

And every election, the vote would split very near 50/50. I figured there really just were a lot of bad people in my country. Shame.

Then I went to college. It was 2000. Bush-Gore year. While everyone I grew up with was obviously rooting as hard as possible for Gore to win, it began to dawn on me that I had made a very strange group of new friends in college. Some of them were rooting for Gore, but they hated certain things about his beliefs. Others disliked both candidates. And some of them were fervently rooting for Bush, even though they had previously seemed like reasonable people.

I knew exactly where I stood, of course, and made my opinion clear. When I explained that I was unquestionably voting for Gore, instead of giving me a high five, my friends asked me why. I had all kinds of explanations, but when they’d push me to talk in specifics, I’d run into a problem.

I didn’t really know the specifics.

I knew Gore was the better choice, just like I knew the Democratic Party was the better party—but when pressed about my underlying reasons for liking any specific policy of Gore’s, I’d end up in an uncomfortable place.

Gore will be much better for the poor.

Why?

Because he won’t cut taxes for the rich as much and there will be more money for social programs.

Which social programs are you talking about? What about them do you think has worked well? Why are you so sure increased government spending on those programs is the best way to help the poor? And why are you so confident that tax cuts for the rich don’t end up positively affecting poor people?

Um well Gore will be better for the environment.

How so?

He talks about it more and seems to care about it more.

Right but what kinds of policies do you hope he’ll put in place that Bush won’t? And do you think government regulations or incentives will accomplish more than a market solution like a carbon tax?

Well fucking shit. When continually pressed, my underlying reasoning for my positions would always seem to boil down to some combination of, “Because that’s what seems intuitive to me based on what everyone I know has always said” and “Because the Democrats are the good guys”.

Being challenged by people who didn’t agree with me made me realize I didn’t actually know anything—I just strongly believed a bunch of things.

I didn’t know anything because I hadn’t ever needed to know anything to feel like I had all the answers, and I hadn’t ever been interested enough in the workings of government to put in the serious effort to truly understand it. All I knew was how to articulate the beliefs I assumed were right, in a pretty surface way.

I had always thought of myself as a well-educated thinker, an independent thinker, and a thinker whose opinions were based on evidence and facts—but freshman year, I was smacked over the head with the truth about myself. When it came to politics, at least, I wasn’t really a thinker at all.

___________

If I had to describe politics in modern societies, I’d say it’s—how should I put this—it’s a fucking nightmare. It’s just awful, for basically everyone. It makes us angry. It makes us anxious. It makes us hateful. It makes us our worst selves.

But why?

Politics is just the domain of how people live and work and make decisions together, which on its face seems like a fascinating puzzle—a joint project each society works on together, for all of their benefit. Sure, it’s contentious and involves competition and disagreement, but there are a lot of worlds like that that aren’t a fucking nightmare and don’t consistently bring out our worst selves: science, sports, tech, entrepreneurship, and the arts, to name a few. What is it about politics that makes it so much more miserable than all of those other vibrant centers of human development?

Let’s pull out our tools and discuss.

Politics, in 2D

I don’t know about other countries, but the entire U.S. talks about politics as if it’s one-dimensional:

In this chapter, let’s try looking at politics in 2D instead. We spent Chapter 7 talking about the Thinking Ladder. What would a Political Ladder look like?

The Probably Time For a Refresher Blue Box

We started this series by defining what I see as two fundamental elements of the human psyche.

I call them “minds,” but really, they just represent two states a person (or group of people) can be in. When the Primitive Mind is in control in our minds, we’re often not being our best selves, not making very good choices, and not especially self-aware about what we’re doing or why. When the Higher Mind is in control, we’re being more of a grown-up. It’s not binary though—it’s more of a tug-of-war between the two states. The tug-of-war ebbs and flows in each of us and often, we’re somewhere in the middle.

The Psych Spectrum is our way of visualizing the state of this tug-of-war. When the Higher Mind has a strong presence in our heads, we’re higher up on the spectrum. When the Higher Mind’s voice gets lost in the fog of a riled up Primitive Mind, we sink lower down on the spectrum.

I find that when I’m thinking about any What of life—what we do, what we say, what we think—things make a lot more sense once I bring the Psych Spectrum into my thought process. The ladder is our way of doing this visually. If we simplify any What of life so we can represent its possibilities on a one-dimensional, horizontal spectrum, we can then slap the Psych Spectrum onto it as a vertical y-axis. The resulting square forces us to add another dimension to our thinking and reconsider the What of life alongside the question, “but how is the Psych Spectrum affecting what’s happening here?”

I call the square a ladder because thinking of it in terms of rungs focuses the discussion in on the Psych Spectrum, which is the skill I want us to gain in this series.

To define the rungs of any ladder, we need to start by asking ourselves how the Higher and Primitive Minds “do” that part of life. This defines the y-axis’s two extremes. Each person, in thinking about their own psyche, might define it a little differently. When it comes to our intellectual lives, I see the Higher Mind as motivated to seek truth (because that’s the rational thing to want) and the Primitive Mind as motivated to confirm what it already believes (because that was the best way for a human to survive 50,000 years ago). My specific definition of each rung of the resulting Thinking Ladder is derived from those two definitions (I call the Thinking Ladder’s y-axis the “How You Think” axis for clarity—but it’s really just “the Psych Spectrum, as it applies to thinking”):

So what would a Political Ladder look like?

It’s a little more complicated than the Thinking Ladder. A huge element of politics is “political thinking,” and for that element, we could just use the Thinking Ladder. But politics also involves action. To bring this element in, we should also ask ourselves: What would the Higher Mind and Primitive Mind’s political goals be?

Everyone can take their own crack at this, but here’s mine: The political goal of the grown up, rational, universal-thinking Higher Mind is to build a more perfect nation. And the political goal of the ancient, survival-obsessed, Power-Games-playing Primitive Mind is political triumph against the bad guys, whomever they may be. A discussion of politics should incorporate both political thinking and political activism:

Using two political ladders in this post would be terribly cumbersome, and also pretty redundant. I’m sure there are instances when someone is simultaneously at different y-axis positions when it comes to their political thinking and activism… but you know people—most of them will be in a similar place on both. So to simplify, we’ll combine these into a single Political Ladder.

With our view of politics now in 2D,1 we can return to our question: Why is politics such a nightmare?

The answer: The Political Ladder is bottom-heavy.

Bottom-Heavy Topics

Religion, like most things human, exists all up and down the Psych Spectrum. At the top, you’ll find people who think about religion as a set of cultural traditions, as a basis for community, as a moral framework, even as an enticing set of possibilities for the unknown. Every single major religious text has high-minded ideas in it, and every single major religion includes millions of high-minded members—those whose religious adherence isn’t mutually exclusive with, but right in line with, top-rung intellectual and moral thought. Religion, when done the Higher Mind’s way, is a lovely thing.

And in each case, as you work your way down the Psych Spectrum, high-minded conceptions of religious culture, community, and philosophy morph into complete and utter zealotry, tribalism, delusion, and depravity, as they’re transferred from the Higher Mind’s domain into the clutches of the Primitive Mind.

What makes religion a major cause of some of the largest, most intense Echo Chambers isn’t that religious thinking spans the Psych Spectrum—most topics do—it’s that the distribution is bottom-heavy. For every deeply religious person thinking about religion from the high rungs, there are even more people down below. Some reasons why:

So it makes sense that religion would rile up our Primitive Minds and damn religion to eternal Psych Spectrum bottom-heaviness.

And if I had grown up in a religious Echo Chamber—and if I were surrounded by religious dogmatists in my life today—and if my country were currently being torn apart by religion—then I might have decided to write a big post series about religion. Instead, I wrote one about politics.

Like religion, politics is a pro at igniting our primitive fires.

The Primitive Mind mistakes politics, like it does religion, for a life-and-death situation. This makes sense, because in the ancient world where the Primitive Mind still thinks it lives, politics was a life-or-death game. For almost everyone who lived before the Enlightenment, and still for many people in today’s world, being on the losing end of the game of politics put you in grave danger at the hands of your enemies. And being on the winning side meant having the power to vanquish those enemies. If politics went wrong, nothing else mattered—you were fucked.

It’s not that today’s politics no longer deals with critical life factors like freedom, safety, fairness, and resources—it’s that today, in a country like the U.S., the stakes in each of those games are far lower than they were in ancient times. Modern politics is about whether taxes should be higher or lower—not about which people should have food during a period of low resources and which should starve to death. It’s about where the line should be drawn when certain rights butt up against other rights—not about which people will be slaves and which will be masters. Politics today is an argument about whether the criminal justice system is applied consistently—not about which citizens the written law itself will and won’t apply to. It’s about the way police do their job and police accountability—not about which citizens should be protected by the government during a genocide and which should be the subject of government genocide. It’s not that modern liberal politics doesn’t have life-or-death consequences for some people—it’s that today, those cases are the exception, not the rule.

But our Primitive Minds are hardwired to see politics the old-fashioned way, regardless of how the world has changed. That many people will read the above paragraph and think, “politics is still all of those things, just in better disguise,” is reflective of how bad we are at thinking reasonably about politics.

And politics doesn’t just rile up one part of your ancient mind—like religion, politics is a one-stop-shop for nearly every concept that lights the Primitive Mind’s fires:

The Primitive Mind is obsessed with the concept of power hierarchies—and politics is literally the allotment to some humans of power they’re allowed to use against the rest of the population.

The Primitive Mind is obsessed with binary moral divisions—and politics, like religion, is a prime arena for the fiercest disputes over what’s righteous and depraved, fair and unfair, pure and toxic, good and evil.

The Primitive Mind is deeply concerned with defending your identity—and political alignment, like religious affiliation, consistently forms a piece of people’s core identity.

Politics sometimes even overlaps with the world of religion itself, in the continual dispute over how political laws interact with religious laws.

And of course, there’s the way politics lends itself beautifully to tribalism, the Primitive Mind’s favorite game. The Primitive Mind sees the whole world through a Power Games lens, and it’s always looking for ways to divide its surroundings into Us people and Them people—it just needs a vehicle. And politics provides a perfect one.

This all adds up to politics being a bottom-heavy thing for us. But don’t just take my word for it—

The Some Actual Science Agrees That We Suck at Politics Blue Box

We’re still learning about this, but there’s some interesting research that helps explain why politics so often takes place on the lower rungs of the ladder.

A 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports presented people with “arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and nonpolitical views.” The results were pretty stark: people were much less likely to have their minds changed when it came to their political beliefs.1

In other words, political thinking was taking place in Unfalsifiable Land, while other thinking was not.

Even more interesting is that while conducting this study, the scientists used an fMRI scanner to measure participants’ brain activity, revealing that people actually processed challenges to their political beliefs with different parts of their brains than they used to process nonpolitical contradictions.2

In particular, they found that having nonpolitical beliefs challenged lit up regions of the brain like the orbitofrontal cortex that are involved in decision-making. Having political beliefs challenged, on the other hand, generated less activity in those areas and more activity in the Default Mode Network—a group of brain regions associated with creating a sense of self and with disengagement from the external world. The scans also showed that having a political belief challenged caused more activity in the insula and the amygdala—emotional, fight-or-flight parts of the brain—than having a nonpolitical belief challenged.

So when the participants had one of their political views challenged, they were more likely to withdraw from the external world and go into the internally focused parts of their brains that deal with their identity, as well as the parts of their brains that deal with danger, fear, and other primal emotions. And while doing their thinking this way, their minds were far less likely to change.

This is just one of dozens of studies I came across in my research that examine the relationship between political beliefs and the likelihood of changing one’s mind—and the findings seem to be pretty consistent.

The study above examined people who identified with the American Left, but of course, the phenomenon spans the political spectrum. Another study found that in their questioning, “people whose political identity was made salient were less likely to believe in an anthropogenic cause of climate change and less likely to support government climate change policies than those whose identity was not made salient; particularly when those people were aligned with the right-wing of politics.”

Another found that “even under conditions of effortful processing, attitudes toward a social policy depended almost exclusively upon the stated position of one’s political party.” This study also examined participants’ awareness of their own political dogmatism and found, predictably, that “participants denied having been influenced by their political group.” But of course, “they believed that other individuals, especially their ideological adversaries, would be so influenced.”

One study suggests that showing people belief-disconfirming scientific evidence not only leads them to reject the evidence but to lose faith in science in general—finding that “relative to those reading belief-confirming evidence, participants reading belief-disconfirming evidence indicated more belief that the topic could not be studied scientifically and more belief that a series of other unrelated topics could not be studied scientifically.”

Then there are the studies about the backfire effect that find that not only do “corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group … corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.”

The study suggests an explanation: “When confronted with counterevidence, people experience negative emotions borne of conflict between the perceived importance of their existing beliefs and the uncertainty created by the new information. In an effort to reduce these negative emotions, people may begin to think in ways that minimize the impact of the challenging evidence: discounting its source, forming counterarguments, socially validating their original attitude, or selectively avoiding the new information.”

In case you’re assuming that well-educated people might fare better here—mountains of evidence (not to mention real-world observation) suggest that they don’t. One study looked specifically at what happens when education and science knowledge butt heads with political dogmatism. It found that “more knowledgeable individuals are more likely to express beliefs consistent with their religious or political identities for issues that have become polarized along those lines (e.g. stem cell research, human evolution), but not for issues that are controversial on other grounds (e.g. genetically modified foods).” So for controversial science-related issues that were not politically polarized, more education meant less dogmatism—which seems intuitive. But when the science-related controversies were politically (or religiously) polarized, that correlation went away, and their beliefs simply lined up with their tribal alliance. In our terms: well-educated people are likely to be high-rung thinkers…until the topic is politically or religiously polarized, at which point they drop down the ladder and become obedient partisans like anybody else.

Taking a moment to look at some research is a nice reminder that high-rung thinking is actually neurologically different than low-rung thinking. Low-rung thinking isn’t really thinking at all—it’s self-preservation. Our relationship with intellectual culture follows suit. When our psyche is up on the high rungs, we know that thinking is just thinking. This makes us interested in truth and open to changing our minds—so we like Idea Labs. When we’re lower on the ladder and confusing thinking with self-preservation, confirmation of our beliefs feels like safety—so we seek out an Echo Chamber as a protective bunker.

The good news is that politics isn’t confined to the low rungs. There’s plenty of political activity up on the high rungs—it’s just that politics has an ugly high/low ratio. I think, with some work, we can improve that ratio. But first, we have to see the political landscape for what it is. You can’t improve upon a bottom-heavy distribution if you can’t see the bottom-heavy distribution, and you can’t see it if you don’t know there’s a vertical dimension to be at the bottom of in the first place.

It reminds me of the whole “Inuit people have 428,085 words to describe different kinds of snow!” thing. Whether that’s true or just a fun myth (it’s a myth), it gets at an important concept: the level of nuance in our thinking is limited by the level of nuance in our language. Before I encountered the delightful term “humblebrag,” I found it vaguely irritating when someone would humblebrag, but it was more of a subconscious irritation and one I’d have had a hard time articulating to someone if I tried. But then this term entered my thinking and my vocabulary, and suddenly, humblebragging became a distinct thing in my head. I clearly noticed it now, and I knew exactly why it irritated me. I also noticed myself doing it, which helped me do it less. Labeling a nuanced concept sharpens our ability to think about that concept and communicate our thoughts to others. With the right labels, nuance becomes a breeze.

That’s what we’re trying to do here. Like, consider these four political thinkers:

The two thinkers on the left side, at least on the topic at hand, share a common viewpoint. Same for the two thinkers on the right.

But the two high-rung thinkers share a common way of thinking. They’re humbler, more nuanced, and their opinions about the topic were hard-earned. The two low-rung thinkers are more sure of themselves while knowing less than the thinkers above them—and there’s nothing you could really do to change their minds.

Our societies are great at talking about the horizontal distinction. We’re experts at identifying what people think and grouping people that way, because we’ve been trained to look at these four thinkers and see two left-wingers and two right-wingers.

But we’re awful at talking about the vertical distinction. When I listen to arguments or read op-eds, I constantly hear people trying to make vertical distinctions in their arguments about politicians or ideas, but because A) many people forget that there is a vertical axis, and B) those who do think vertically lack a common language with which to talk about it, those attempts are usually misunderstood or missed altogether.

When people notice a vertical discrepancy between thinkers, it’s like me before I learned the word “humblebrag”—they often can’t quite tell what it is that they’re noticing, so they’ll misattribute the qualities that distinguish the thinkers to something they do have a vocabulary for. I hear people refer to high-rung political thinkers as being more centrist, or more moderate, than low-rung thinkers. But those are What You Think words. They refer to the middle part of the x-axis—as if holding viewpoints in those areas is the mark of a good thinker, and vice versa. Often, high-rung thinkers will end up at more centrist or moderate positions than low-rung thinkers, but there are plenty of cases where the opposite is true. Vertical terms like high-rung and low-rung make our discussions a bit less constrained and a bit nimbler.

So let’s try taking a breath from left-wing and right-wing politics and focusing, for the rest of this chapter, on the worlds of high-rung and low-rung politics.

The Political Arch

Every country has their own special political squabble around the What of politics—the parties, the stances, the ideologies. We’ll be using U.S. politics as our “demo system” in this discussion—because as an American, it’s the system I understand the best and will be the least wrong about. But this discussion can apply to any country, as the high-rung / low-rung distinction is something that all political systems share.

If we mapped out the American political landscape in the traditional way—by bunching everyone up in one dimension, paying attention only to What people think—it might look something like this:

Now let’s bring the landscape into 2D:

This tells a more interesting story. The American political distribution now forms a St. Louis Arch-esque shape.

Of course, since no one talks about the Psych Spectrum, there are no Gallup polls, Pew research tables, or Our World in Data graphs showing us the exact shape or distribution of Americans on our two-dimensional graph. All we can do is guess—and my best guess is that we’re dealing with some kind of St. Louis Arch situation.

Let’s start at the top of the arch and work our way down.

High-Rung Politics

Not everyone who participates in high-rung politics approaches politics like a Scientist. Up in this realm, you’ll find some super-objective, unaffiliated top-rung thinkers. But you’ll probably find even more somewhat partisan, pretty confirmation-bias-y political Sports Fans. You’ll even find some hopelessly partisan, highly tribal, fully unfalsifiable political Attorneys.

The thing that makes high-rung politics high-rung is that it takes place within high-rung political culture.

High-rung political culture is the political version of the high-rung Idea Lab cultures we discussed last chapter. It subscribes to all the same high-rung intellectual values and supplements them with the high-rung political notion that the good of the country trumps the good of any political tribe. It’s a culture that makes it safe for Scientists to be Scientists, and it lets Sports Fans do their thing while keeping their worst tendencies on a leash. Attorneys who abide by the culture’s norms and don’t inhibit good conversations can stay. When Attorneys are policed by a strong high-rung culture, their one-sided arguments can provide potential truth material or serve as useful criticism of prevailing ideas. The right political culture can turn a wide collection of thinkers into a productive thinking system.

In high-rung political culture, people are micro-divided in their viewpoints and macro-united, in a broader sense, in their values.

They’re macro-united because they’re almost all liberals. Not “liberal” the way it’s often used in the U.S., as a synonym with “Left”—liberal the way the Enlightenment thinkers used it. Liberal meaning “committed to liberal values”—values like truth, human rights, freedom of expression, and equality of opportunity.

They’re macro-united because they share a common notion of reality. Their opinions will differ wildly, but they’ll usually agree on facts or the lack thereof.

They’re macro-united by a shared humility—an understanding of just how hard politics is and a self-awareness that knows it’s impossible to fully understand the values or the worldview of people who grew up in or live in circumstances different from your own.

They’re macro-united because they get how democracy works. They know that a successful democracy is one where everyone gets what they want only sometimes—where regular and widespread frustration and disappointment means the system is working.

Finally, high-rung political thinkers and activists are macro-united around the broad shared goal of a more perfect nation, along with a mutual understanding that they can move towards that goal only by being micro-divided within a vibrant marketplace of ideas. High-rung political discussions are boxing rings, where ideas get their asses kicked, but people don’t. When it’s safe for people to say what they’re thinking, Speech Curves line up with Thought Piles, turning high-rung thinking communities into giant superbrains.

And what exactly are people micro-divided about in the high-rung political world? Their debates center around three core questions:

Question 1: What Is?

You can’t figure out how to make a more perfect nation if you don’t have a good sense of what the nation currently is. What does the population look like, and how has it evolved over time? What are the current policies, and how do they work? Which experimental programs are being attempted, and what does the data say about their efficacy? How are resources currently distributed? How is the status quo being experienced by citizens of all kinds and in all circumstances? The study of What Is is the domain of science. Embedded in What Is, and critical to its understanding, is the study of What Has Been—i.e. how did What Is become What Is? This is the domain of history.

Both science and history are the search for truth—the quest to see reality as best you can. High up on the ladder, there’s disagreement around Question 1, but not too much conflict. Conflict happens when disagreement is accompanied by conviction, and two high-rung thinkers won’t usually both feel strongly about conflicting conceptions of reality. Conviction on the high rungs is a function of clarity, and if there’s clarity around a certain set of facts, high-rung thinkers will usually agree with each other. When things are hazier, two differing high-rung thinkers will both speak with doubt, and they’ll consider the points where their conceptions differ to be areas for joint exploration as part of a collaborative knowledge quest.

Question 2: What Should Be?

Unlike What Is, What Should Be is a matter of philosophy and often the subject of fierce conflict on the high rungs. High up on the arch, almost everyone’s goal is a more perfect nation, but thinkers hold different notions of what kinds of policies and systems are the fairest, the most morally right, and the most philosophically consistent. They’ll dig deep on lots of hard questions with no objectively correct answer:

What should the role of government be? Which freedoms should be restricted in the name of citizen protection and which shouldn’t? When does a fetus become a human being? What are the criteria for “equal opportunity” to be considered equal? How big and how powerful should government be, and where should the boundaries be drawn between state and federal government power? What should the country’s role be in the world, and under what circumstances should it involve itself in foreign affairs? When is it appropriate for the military to use force against other countries or police to use force against citizens? Which resources are rights, and which are privileges? The list is long, and the debates are heated.

Question 3: How to Get There?

What Is and What Should Be, when compared, yield the gaps between reality and the ideal. These gaps define the political objectives of the high-rung thinker. But even when high-rung thinkers do agree about What Should Be, they often completely disagree about the best way to bridge the gap from What Is to their vision of something better. No one is an expert at how to run a country, and there’s rarely a consensus about the most effective way to fix an identified flaw in the system. Two people who agree that the middle class should be larger than it is can completely disagree about which tax structure or government structures will best achieve the goal. Two people who feel the same exact way about the history of race in the U.S. can hold opposite viewpoints about the efficacy of affirmative action. Two people who both hate the current healthcare system can come up with entirely different government healthcare programs as their proposed solution.

Parsing political arguments using these three questions can help us isolate what the arguments are really about. Sometimes thinkers who agree philosophically will disagree strategically. Some who seem to agree strategically may actually be aiming for different outcomes. Some will disagree on all fronts.

Other times, disagreements may be more fundamental. Here, it may be appropriate to *cautiously* apply what have become two of the most unpleasant words in American English: Progressivism and Conservatism.

If we’re going to discuss these words—and the core concept behind each—the first thing we’ll need to do is put aside the baggage.

Well done. Now, anytime in this post we’re going to use politically charged words, we should make sure to agree on the definitions we’re using.

If you want to confuse yourself, google around for a while reading about “Progressivism” and “Conservatism.” Each of the words has been the banner for a huge range of political, economic, social, and philosophical ideas—some of them overlapping, some that are unrelated to each other, and some that are totally contradictory with others.

In the U.S., giant political Echo Chambers have appropriated these words as banners for themselves and for their enemies. And we’ll come back to what the words mean in that low-rung context, but let’s remind ourselves that the words themselves actually have pretty intuitive literal definitions, and I think those meanings provide an important and useful distinction in political thinking. At their most literal—and, because we’re dealing with Higher Minds at the moment, their most charitable:

Progressivism = concerned with helping society make forward progress—positive changes to the status quo. That progress can come from identifying what you deem to be a flaw in your nation’s systems or its culture and working to root it out, or by trying to make your nation’s strong points even stronger.

Conservatism = concerned with conserving what is already good about society—either by fighting against the erosion of what you deem to be your nation’s strong qualities, or by pushing back against well-intentioned attempts at positive progress that you believe, in reality, will prove to be changes for the worse, not for the better.

Put more simply, if a nation is a boat, high-rung Progressivism tries to make improvements to flaws in the boat and build newer, better features, while high-rung Conservatism tries to protect the existing boat against damage and deterioration.

Given that any nation, like any boat, has some things working well and others working poorly—along with the capacity to be both improved and damaged over time—Progressivism and Conservatism, the way we’re currently defining them, are simply the two sides of the “Let’s make this the best boat we can” coin. Two halves of a single noble quest for a more perfect nation.

As high-rung thinkers trudge their way up the mountain into a foggy future, some of the most fundamental disagreements will be those between a progressive and conservative mindset—the “to change or not to change?” disagreements, and their underlying “how well is this part of the system accomplishing what it’s supposed to?” and “what does a more perfect nation even look like?” disputes.2

It’s easy to see looking at this diagram why Progressivism is important. No country is perfect, and you can’t become a more perfect nation without making changes. Progressivism drives that change.

But Conservatism is just as important. Firstly, there are some aspects of a country that are working beautifully—and in these cases, the conservative impulse to resist the inevitable calls for change will be wise. Further, a country like the U.S. is permanently tasked with figuring things out as they go, and when it comes to running and adjusting a massive country in a rapidly changing world, everyone is an amateur. Mistakes will be made, and some changes will prove with time to have been ineffective or detrimental. In these moments, the voice urging the country to press the undo key and go back to the way things used to be will be the wisest voice.

Secondly, Progressivism is the collection of lots of different ideas—most of them untested—and inevitably, most of them will be bad ideas. Nations evolve the same way species do—through beneficial mutations. Coming up with mutations and pushing them into the national genome is the job of Progressivism. But for every beneficial mutation to a species, there are many more mutations which prove to be detrimental to survival. The conservative resistance to all progressive ideas provides a critical filter—a gauntlet that relentlessly tries to expose flaws in each progressive effort at mutation. Forcing progressive ideas to pass through intense conservative resistance in order to implement their desired change helps separate the wise ideas from the foolish or naive and protects the country from the latter kind.

It’s worth noting that I’m using these ism terms and not “progressives” and “conservatives” because the latter implies that people are either one or the other, and high-rung culture doesn’t equate people with their ideas. High-rung thinkers may tend to think in a more progressive or conservative way—but they are no line of thought.

Even using the words as adjectives for people—declaring yourself to be progressive or conservative, in general (as opposed to “holding a conservative viewpoint” or “tending to be progressive in a certain area of your thinking”) is an implicit presumption of uniform thinking across the board and through time. A single brash label for a person, or for their thinking, boxes in a person’s intellect and boxes in their evolution—and high-rung thinkers don’t like to be put in boxes, by themselves or by anyone else. This non-boxable phenomenon is apparent when I think about the high-rung political thinkers I know or know of, as it can often be frustratingly hard to figure out what their “deal” is politically.

But while the individuals in high-rung politics may bounce back and forth between the two camps, what is consistent is a substantial group of people falling into each bucket on any given issue. If we bring things into 3D and venture upwards on Emergence Tower, we can visualize the two groups as a progressive giant and a conservative giant.

If high-rung politics is a grand political courtroom, these giants are the two lawyers.3 When the “defendant” is the nation’s status quo or its traditional values, the progressive giant is the prosecutor and the conservative giant is the defense. In these cases, Progressivism will be the voice of negativity and criticism, while Conservatism will paint the rosier picture of the country as it stands, and its history.

But when it comes to how to change the country—when the defendant is the country’s evolution—the roles switch. Progressivism, now in the role of the defense, will tend to be a vocal proponent of change, while Conservatism, as prosecutor, will be critical of and resistant to change.

In both cases, each giant acts as a counterforce against the other and helps keep it in check. When the conservative giant gets riled up, it can drift too far into “Our country is perfect just as it is” or “Our country used to be perfect” territory. When the progressive giant gets out of hand, it can fall too far down the “Our country is and always has been awful” hole. The presence of its rival giant restrains each giant from becoming a ridiculous caricature of itself.

The clash of these two forces lies at the heart of the parts of society that evolve. I have a friend who’s a new mother and decided not to breastfeed her baby and use formula instead. She explained her reasoning to me and it made sense. I mentioned this to another friend, also a new mother, who thinks the first friend is crazy. Her reasoning made sense too.

Another friend of mine makes a compelling case about how women who can afford to should consider using a surrogate for pregnancy instead of getting pregnant themselves. I found this interesting and have brought it up with a few other friends, to hugely negative reactions.

I’m not sure who’s more right in either case, or if there even is a clear right and wrong side—but I know that some people having a progressive, “we should challenge the status quo” instinct in each area is important for our ability to evolve and improve, and some people having a knee-jerk conservative instinct to criticize and push back against progressive ideas is important for our ability to proceed prudently and effectively in our evolution. Together, they are the two lawyers that allow societal evolution to undergo “due process” in the marketplace of ideas.

This same tension exists at the core of debates about nutrition, wellness, parenting, education, professional sports rules, holidays, company culture, employment practices, and 100 other things. In each area, evolution is driven by progressive ideas and policed by conservative sensibilities. In any of these situations, people with a progressive mindset feel like they’re dragging more conservative people upward to a better place, while people on the conservative side feel that the progressive effort is dragging things downward to a worse place.4

Most of us will find ourselves on the progressive side in some of these “courtrooms” and on the conservative side of others. Even people who find themselves falling on the same side of most the debates I mentioned would hesitate to box themselves in by attaching their identities to that quality and letting that label automatically determine all of their viewpoints. High-rung political culture simply extends this way of thinking to politics as well.

Some political debates aren’t about “to change or not to change.” Instead, they’re about a spectrum of possibility and the debates are about where exactly on the spectrum our policies should lie.

In spectrum battles, which side ends up backed by the Left vs. the Right doesn’t always map on very well to “progressive” or “conservative,” but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that each side of the spectrum has a group advocating for it. This allows the marketplace of ideas as a whole to home in on a point that represents a reasonable compromise. As the debates rage on and public opinion evolves, that point can evolve along with it. It’s democracy at its finest: everyone disagrees with each other in an unpleasant marketplace of ideas, and it results in a policy that represents a broad compromise that most people are somewhat unhappy with. There a lot of these types of issues in American politics:

Sometimes political issues revolve around priorities and where we should direct our attention. Here, again, high-rung politics usually organizes into a two-sided structure. A recent paper explored how the two giants differ in which parts of Emergence Tower they focus on. Here are their results (they call progressives “liberals”):3

In our language, that translates to:

The Left sometimes seems overly focused on the global and the universal, and the Right can be a broken record about individualism and community and family values—but when you remember that each is half of a two-part system, it all makes sense. They’re both just doing their part of the job.

It’s like a company having two founders, one who focuses more on operations and the other who thinks more about growth. Progressivism and Conservatism each worry about one half of every issue, and together, they make sure we’re paying enough attention to everything that matters.

Every person involved in high-rung politics has a Primitive Mind in their head that wants to identify with political parties and treat politics like a tribal war. But up on the high rungs, the Higher Minds have the edge—one that they protect with a pervasive high-rung culture. The culture keeps everyone—even the more partisan people—aware that ultimately, they’re all on the same team. As fierce as the debates between the high-rung giants can be, they know deep down that what they’re really doing is working together to navigate their way up the mountain, towards a more perfect nation.

But politics is bottom-heavy. And even the high-rung-thinking grown-ups among us are prone to morph into childish low-rungers when it comes to politics.

When our Primitive Minds get ahold of our political thinking, our political worldview, values, and general mentality jump in a time machine back to hunter-gatherer times. Politics ceases to be about figuring out the truth and building a more perfect nation and becomes geared toward ideological confirmation and triumphing over the bad guys. We forget how to do the Value Games and revert to the old human ritual—the Power Games. That’s why low-rung politics looks like this:

Politics done the Primitive Mind way leaves us in a place that can really only be called one thing.

Political Disney World

I’m pretty into most Disney movies. But especially The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. I’ve never been sure if those are objectively the best four Disney movies or if everyone just thinks whichever Disney movies happened to come out when they were between the ages of 7 and 12 are the best Disney movies. Either way, clearly those are the four best Disney movies.56

The thing about those movies, though, is that they’re definitely fake movies, and definitely not real life. Right?

Like, kids might think Disney movies are the way the real world is, but everyone else knows that actually, the real world is not like Disney movies.

Right?

This is what I thought too—and then I started writing this post series.

After spending most of the last three years thinking about hardcore political partisans and their hardcore political Echo Chambers, it hit me: like 80% of the U.S. thinks they live inside a Disney movie.

I know it seems crazy.

I know it seems crazy that like 280,000,000 adult humans in 2019 think they’re a beautiful Disney princess living inside a magical Disney castle perched on a sparkling Disney landscape on a fluffy Disney planet—

But that’s the situation.

Let’s discuss.

Analog and Digital

When I wrote about Neuralink, one of the concepts I got into was the difference between analog and digital information (brain waves are analog signals, but they need to be converted to digital information in order to be processed by a brain-machine interface).

The thing is, ever since then, I can’t get analog and digital out of my head. I see it as a metaphor for all kinds of things in the world. Here’s what I mean:

Analog is what actually goes on in the natural world. It’s a perfect representation of reality: information in its natural, messy state. Sound is a nice example.7 Sound is analog information that can be represented by a wave:

Digitization is a way to approximate analog information using a set of exact values. Like this:

Information in digital format can be expressed as a series of 1s and 0s—an exact, binary format computers can process. When you listen to an mp3, you’re not listening to the true analog information made by the band’s instruments, you’re listening to a digitized version of the sounds—a big string of 1s and 0s that approximates the analog sound wave of the song.

Above, the sound wave has been digitized to eight incremental values, by rounding all parts of the wave to the nearest value. Eight values can be expressed by three “bits” (a three-number string of 1s and 0s). You can compress an mp3 into a smaller file by making your approximations of the analog wave cruder—by making the digital “steps” bigger, using only four values. Now you only need two bits.

The more you compress a sound file, the smaller the mp3 file gets, because bigger steps require fewer 1s and 0s to express the sound. But the song also sounds worse, because more “rounding” is happening to make cruder approximations—i.e. the sound has become lower-res. The size and sound quality of a digitized file all depend on how far down the digitization spectrum you go in your conversion.

At the far end of the digitization spectrum, you’d have only straight 1s and 0s—a tiny file that would sound almost nothing like the original song.

The same concept applies to visual information. Each pixel is a datapoint. You can make a photograph file smaller, and worse-looking, by making the pixels bigger.4

Another way to make it smaller is by reducing the real-world’s infinite gradients of color to 10,000 gradients, or 100, or 15.

The typical goal when we work with audio and visual information isn’t to try to go as high-res as possible—it’s to try to find the sweet spot: the crudest approximation you can get to while still accomplishing your goal. You want to weigh the costs of high file size alongside the costs of quality reduction and choose the optimal compromise for whatever you’re trying to do.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because the general concept behind the digitization spectrum and the compromise it represents is relevant in all kinds of places. If someone asks you a time-related question, without realizing you’re doing it, you’ll answer the question at what you believe to be the optimal point along the spectrum. If you didn’t do this, you’d be a weird person.

      

In our thoughts and our conversations about life, society, politics, or anything else, we’re always negotiating this same balance. Digitization/approximation, when used appropriately, is an incredibly handy efficiency tool that leverages the human mind’s talent for pattern recognition. But digitization is inherently lossy—it intentionally does away with nuance—and the appropriate amount of digitization is up to whatever point where the lost nuance isn’t important, meaningful information—or at least where the lost nuance is less important than the gained efficiency.

Back to Disney movies.

The real world is analog—gray, amorphous, and endlessly nuanced. What Disney movies do is they digitize the shit out of the real world. They go the full distance, converting all that gray into clean black-and-white 1s and 0s.

Real people are complex and flawed, full of faults but almost always worthy of compassion. Disney characters, on the other hand, are either entirely good or entirely bad.8

It goes beyond characters. In the real world, each turn of events is mired in potential positives and potential negatives, which is a mess to sort out. Disney movies get rid of that messiness. Something that happens is either clearly good, or it’s clearly bad. Disney even digitizes the weather.

Disney digitization spares no one. Not even the birds.

Going full digital is logical in Disney movies. Their core audience is little kids, who aren’t ready yet to sort through gray. Before a person learns to think in nuance, they first need to learn the basic concepts of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, safe vs. dangerous, happy vs. sad. It’s the same way you wouldn’t teach a beginner poker player about the difference between how to slow play a big hand when you’re in early vs. late position—you’d start by making sure they understood what a pair is, what folding means, and how the betting works. Going straight to the higher-level strategy would only confuse them.

If good Disney characters are shown to have deep character flaws, kids may misinterpret the message and think they’re supposed to mimic those qualities.910111213 And if bad guys are humanized, kids will get upset when things turn out badly for them in the end.

Digitizing an analog world into perfect cartoon simplicity makes sense. In fictional Disney movies. Made for kids.

But over-digitizing the real world is pretty bad idea—and unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Primitive Mind likes to do. So low-rung politics ends up feeling, to its participants, just like a Disney movie.

Up on the high rungs, people know the world is a mess of analog complexity. They look out at that world, with clear eyes, and see fog. They also know that people are little microcosms of the messy world—each person an evolving gray smattering of virtues and flaws.

Political Disney World is much more fun. Everything is nice and crisp and perfectly digital. Good guys and bad guys, with good ideas and bad ideas, respectively. Good politicians and bad politicians with good policies and bad policies. Right and wrong. Smart and ignorant. Virtuous and evil. Safe and dangerous.

1s and 0s.

In the foggy minds of Political Disney World, it’s all quite clear.

At the heart of every faction in Political Disney World (PDW) is a guiding narrative. PDW narratives are all-encompassing versions of reality—they come with their own worldview, their own telling of history, their own description of the present, and their own explanation for the causes behind all of it. A unique, customized Disney movie for the tribe, by the tribe.

Every country has a Political Disney World, each with their own factions and their own narratives. I live inside “Political Disney World, U.S.,” where there are two major factions: the low-rung Democrats and the low-rung Republicans. Their narratives digitize both people and ideas.

How PDW Narratives Digitize People

Central to each narrative are the main characters. In some stories, the protagonists live here—

—while the bad guys are some version of these:

In other stories, the protagonists have this vibe—

—while the bad guys are more doing this thing:

The important thing is that the characters can be divided into clear digital 1s and 0s, because that’s the kind of story the Primitive Mind understands the best.14

In the U.S., when the Democrats imagine their Republican opponents, they tend to see them as Mr. Mean Man. Mr. Mean Man takes a few forms, usually one of these:

In the Democrat Disney kingdom, the traditional narrative tells the story of righteous Democrats in a continual struggle to pull the country upwards to a liberal utopia as mean, bigoted Mr. Mean Man uses all his weight to try to pull the country back down into an underwater Backwards Land of all-powerful corporations run by gun-swinging Nazi rapists.

On the other side of things, the low-rung Republican narrative paints their Them group—the Democrats—as Miss Shitty Pants, who might be depicted like any number of these:

In the Republican Disney kingdom, the standard story looks a little different. It’s about the honest, hard-working families doing their best to stand their ground as the stupid, lazy, morally defunct Miss Shitty Pants tries her hardest to pull the country down into a dystopian hell of a tyrannical government run by ivory tower elitists that gives endless handouts to hordes of gay, Muslim immigrant terrorists.

In high-rung politics, it’s understood that people aren’t 1s and 0s—they’re all 0.5s, each in their own messy, complicated, unique way. And to people who see people as 0.5s, it’s clear that PDW narratives not only dehumanize their opponents, they dehumanize everybody into fake cartoon people.

Digitizing people is a practice in moral dualism. The world of low-rung religion (Religious Disney World) does this all the time, with their gods and devils, their believers and infidels, their heaven and hell. Political Disney World does the same thing, just using different terms. A digital people mentality is why people in PDW rarely marry someone with opposing political views (something people in the high-rung political world do all the time). It’s why people in PDW tend to feel an endless well of compassion and understanding for bullies, blunderers, and criminals within the protagonist group, while dropping all semblance of empathy for bad actors on the evil side.

How PDW Narratives Digitize Ideas

Political Disney World is also big on digitizing ideas, using one of PDW’s defining features: the checklist. A narrative’s checklist allows its thinkers to trade in the gray mess of nuanced “What Is,” “What Should Be,” and “How to Get from A to B” debates for a perfectly digitized list of binary issues with a Good, Correct Stance and an Evil, Wrong Stance. In the U.S. narratives, the current checklist includes items like these:

In each case, what is treated as a complex debate up on the high rungs digitizes out to perfect cartoon simplicity down below.

Some telltale signs that people are deriving their viewpoints from a checklist:

  • They abide faithfully by the entire list of protagonist viewpoints, with no exceptions. They can scan down their side of the above checklist and, without hesitation, check off every box.
  • For each issue, they tend to see the Them stance as having 0% merit.
  • They have strong feelings about the specific issues highlighted by the checklist but have little to say about all the other issues that matter to their country. Issues played up in the media are like plotlines in the Disney movie narrative, which you’ll hear constant emotional discussion about, while other issues are like plotlines that didn’t make it into the movie’s final cut—and in PDW, you won’t hear people talking about them at all.

Anytime a bunch of adults are pretty sure that they live in a Disney movie, there can only be one explanation:

They’ve been sucked into the Power Games.

New World, Old Games

The Power Games, as you’ll recall, is what humans evolved to do a long, long time ago. They’re super simple, with the only rule being:

Everyone can do whatever they want, if they have the power to pull it off.

Our Primitive Minds only know how to make sense of the world through the Power Games lens—and when people in modern societies are playing the Power Games, it’s a sign that Primitive Minds have hijacked the culture. Primitive Mind smoke is like a virus, and when a culture becomes permeated with it, it spreads through minds like an epidemic. Soon, almost everyone is convinced that they live in a Disney movie, where everything is 1s and 0s, and they’re the good guys—allowing the Power Games to rule the day.

In Chapter 4, I laid out the American notion of fairness using this graph:

The graph is a bit complicated (go here for a full refresher), but the basic idea is that the U.S. is based on a freedom/equality compromise. The U.S. Zone represents the region of compromise that the country is supposed to stay in at all times. The areas outside the U.S. Zone are restricted because those areas would mean the Power Games has taken over.

In theory, the two American political parties are somewhere around here:

Inevitably, a lot of Americans who read this chapter will yell at me and say I’m committing a gross false equivalency. Their reasoning will be that while their party is indeed behaving themselves neatly inside the U.S. Zone, the other party is playing all kinds of Power Games in the restricted areas.

People on the Left will say it’s like this:

People on the Right will tell this story:

The thing is though, there are ample studies that suggest both parties are pretty similarly intolerant and similarly biased. Whether one is a bit worse than the other in any given year or decade is less important to our discussion than the fact that both are bad.

Both parties are a bit challenged on the adult vs. grown-up thing, buying fully into the middle-school-esque “in-group/out-group” social structure—a classic sign of the Power Games. And both are totally down with gross negative generalizations of the out-group (John Cleese explains further).

On both sides of PDW, people would struggle to name three policies they like of a president on the Them side of things and three legitimate areas where an Us president has gone wrong—even though every president does a lot of good and bad things. People on both sides tend to believe that if only everyone in the country shared their viewpoints and values, all national problems would be solved. All signs of simplistic, tribal thinking. All signs of the Power Games.

Probably the clearest sign of the Power Games is rampant hypocrisy. High-rung thinking is all about values and principles, and there’s an effort to remain consistent about them in the face of the inevitable tug of tribal attachment. But the Power Games has only one principle: power. As George Orwell succinctly said it in 1984: “The object of power is power.”

Channeling more Orwell, writer Andrew Sullivan sums it up nicely:

George Orwell famously defined this mind-set as identifying yourself with a movement, “placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” It’s typified, he noted, by self-contradiction and indifference to reality. And so many severe critics of George W. Bush’s surveillance policies became oddly muted when Obama adopted most of them; Democrats looked the other way as Obama ramped up deportations to levels higher than Trump’s rate so far. Republicans, in turn, were obsessed with the national debt when Obama was in office, despite the deepest recession in decades. But the minute Trump came to power, they couldn’t be more enthusiastic about a tax package that could add trillions of dollars to it. No tribe was more federalist when it came to marijuana laws than liberals; and no tribe was less federalist when it came to abortion. Reverse that for conservatives. For the right-tribe, everything is genetic except homosexuality; for the left-tribe, nothing is genetic except homosexuality. During the Bush years, liberals inveighed ceaselessly against executive overreach; under Obama, they cheered when he used his executive authority to alter immigration laws and impose new environmental regulations by fiat.

In the Power Games, principles will lose to power every time. While people in high-rung politics are criticized for flip-flopping on their principles (as in the above paragraph), PDW flip-floppers are criticized for the opposite reason: you get in trouble on the low rungs for flip-flopping on policy positions in an effort to stay consistent with principles. Integrity matters up high, loyalty matters down below.

Liberalism itself is a set of principles, and in Political Disney World, people won’t hesitate to go illiberal if it helps with tribal victory. Beyond common PDW illiberal practices like selective empathy or being selectively supportive of core liberal rights like free speech, there’s the illiberal way people in PDW view democracy. When people in low-rung politics lose an election, they scream that they’re disenfranchised, they insist that the system must be broken,15 and they have an impulse to overthrow the opposition leader. When their candidate wins, they say things like, “faith in democracy restored!”—i.e. democracy is only working when my candidate wins. This isn’t the mindset of someone who believes in democracy—it’s the mindset of someone who believes in dictatorship but who is stuck in a democracy.

This is why it’s bad that the U.S. has come to redefine the word “liberal” as a synonym for “progressive.” While “progressive” is an x-axis word, “liberal” is a y-axis concept.

When we do a “zoom-up” on Emergence Tower, we’re reminded that what feels to PDW members like being a protagonist in a Disney movie is actually just being a uniform cell in a big, dumb, Power Games giant.

Variations in the Us/Them Divide Blue Box

People with a Power Games mentality will almost always divide into the Us vs. Them format—the thing that varies is how big the giants in question are. This is what that Bedouin proverb is getting at (feel free to refresh yourself on my cartoon depiction):

Me against my brothers; my brothers and me against my cousins; my cousins, my brothers, and me against strangers.

During primary season of elections in the U.S. the Us/Them divides move down Emergence Tower to the “me against my brother” level, as factions within each side go at it.

During a war, the Us/Them divide moves upward on Emergence Tower to the “whole family against strangers” level, temporarily uniting the country as one big Us.

But those are special circumstances. In normal times, the U.S. likes to be at the “cousins” level in between, where one half of the U.S. is pitted against the other half.

Since this is the norm, we’ll focus on these two big national factions.

Keeping the giants glued together

Each giant’s guiding narrative, which feels so much like reality to the people inside it, is just another superglue story.

If high-rung politics is micro-divided and macro-united (people disagree, giants work together), low-rung politics is the opposite: micro-united (people in a giant all agree) and macro-divided (giants are enemies with other giants). Keeping things this way is the critical objective of the superglue story:

Keeping things micro-united

A low-rung tribe is like an ant colony, and it needs all of the ants in solid agreement and working together. This isn’t always easy, given the motley crew that makes up a PDW faction. This crew includes a few classic types, each there for their own reasons.

Some prominent members of any PDW faction:

Zealots: People who believe every word of the narrative.

Tribalists: People who love being part of a big, powerful in-group and talking shit about the out-group. These people were usually either super popular in middle school and use politics to relive their glory days or super unpopular in middle school and use politics to revel in the other side of things.

Opportunists: People who use politics to gain social status or career advancement, to sell books, to get clicks, or any other number of ways politics can generate profit.

Soul-searchers: People who have been convinced that politics can be a get-rich-quick scheme for meaning, purpose, intellectual conviction, moral conviction, self-esteem boosting, or any other parts of life that are, in reality, far harder than that to achieve. These people are also great candidates to buy weight-loss pills guaranteed to make you skinny with no work and snake oil balm guaranteed to make your hair grow back or your money back.

Intellectual townies: A me-coined term I’m super proud of. People who never “move out of their childhood hometown,” intellectually or morally.

Undercover high-rung thinkers: These people’s minds are up on the high rungs, but the low-rung culture they’re immersed in has successfully intimidated them into keeping their mouths shut.

As far as the giant is concerned, this odd coalition falls into two categories:   

And the important thing is making sure that on the outside, things stay like this:

That means making sure that everyone who believes the narrative continues to believe the narrative and everyone who doesn’t believe the narrative continues to pretend like they do (either out of fear or profiteering). The sacred narrative baby must always be said to be cute. This is what it means for a tribe to be micro-united.

Keeping things macro-divided

As the Bedouin proverb reminds us, in the Power Games, the best glue of all is a good common enemy. And the bigger a giant you want to build, the bigger the common enemy you’ll need to keep things glued together—because if the Them giant isn’t big enough, the Us giant will inevitably fracture into a new Us/Them structure. To serve this cause, low-rung political giants will typically frame politics as a zero-sum game—one in which the goals of the good guys can only come as a result of the bad guys losing (and vice versa). And they’ll focus a ton of energy on the part of the narrative that talks about how stupid, ignorant, evil, bigoted, opportunistic, sneaky, toxic, backward, selfish, and most importantly dangerous the bad guys are, making lots of memes like this:5

And this:6

Citizens of Political Disney World will be even better trained to rattle off the narrative’s story about how bad the bad guys are than they are to rattle off why the good guys are good.

The bad-guys-are-bad part of the narrative is especially important because on top of its common-enemy glue benefits, it is the critical foil the story’s protagonists need in order to feel like protagonists. Without Jafar, Aladdin is no longer a hero—he’s just some guy. That’s why Mr. Mean Man has to always be super mean and Miss Shitty Pants has to always stay shitty-pantsed.

Protecting the glue

Power Games giants glued together by belief in a certain story need a very specialized environment to survive. Unlike the inherent robustness of values-based high-rung giants, Power Games giants are brittle and vulnerable. When you rely on people fervently believing an all-encompassing, mostly fictional reality when real reality is all around them, you need to maintain a lot of control to keep things in order.

The sacred narrative would be torn to shreds in the marketplace of ideas outside the kingdom’s walls, where high-rung thinkers roam and no idea is safe from criticism. Loyalists would be not only told but shown clear evidence that Disney World isn’t a real place, like when a shitty five-year-old bursts the kindergarten class’s bubble by spilling the truth about Santa Claus. Unacceptable.

Traditionally, brittle Power Games giants have avoided having their bubble burst with strict laws that control the flow of information—like King Mustache’s laws in Hypothetica. But in a country with laws like the First Amendment, Echo Chambers are forced to police speech with culture. The right culture can serve as a filter system, which both enriches the giant with glue-strengthening narrative confirmation and protects the giant from every Power Games giant’s kryptonite—doubt.

The PDW Giant’s Filter System

1) The Media Filter

In today’s world, every political Echo Chamber giant has its own media channels, which serve as the giant’s eyes and ears. These media channels are for the Echo Chamber, by the Echo Chamber, and they’re the first line of defense in upholding the giant’s belief in the sacred narrative. To keep the giant strong and well-fed, they sensationalize the stories that confirm the narrative, like an amplifier. To keep the giant free of intellectual contamination, they downplay stories that challenge the narrative or neglect to report them at all.

On any given day, just do a side-by-side at foxnews.com and msnbc.com, or breitbart.com and huffpost.com/news/politics, or townhall.com and salon.com, and you’ll see the two major U.S. filters at work. One amplifies a story, the other muffles it. When they do report on the same story, their framings reverse who the protagonists and antagonists are, to mold the story to fit the narrative (Scott Alexander lays out some good examples here—and this is kind of interesting).

2) The Sharing Filter

If the Media Filter determines what ends up in the PDW giant’s brain, the Sharing Filter sets the rules about how information circulates through the brain.

A key safeguard against those in the tribe who don’t actually believe the narrative, the giant’s political culture provides powerful social incentives to keep everyone’s Outer Selves in line and saying the right things.

Expressing narrative confirmation is socially rewarded while challenging the narrative is laden with taboo. Because remember how the Agreement-Decency thing works in an Echo Chamber:

The Media Filter will never be perfect, but the Sharing Filter can clean up the mess. When compelling alternative viewpoints make it into the giant’s brain, they have hard time making it very far, as every neuron in the brain is socially incentivized not to pass it along to other neurons. The same system works as a market for narrative confirmation. When people share narrative confirmation, the most snappily worded and convincingly argued receive the biggest rewards when they’re shared, which then incentivizes others to share them too (Twitter retweet numbers are a nice example). The best of the best pieces of confirmation go viral, spreading like wildfire through the Echo Chamber.

3) The Individual Bias Filter

Any scraps of compelling dissent not caught by the first two filters usually meet their doom at the gates of the final filter—the biases of the giant brain’s neurons: individual minds. Those who do believe the narrative are thinking from the low rungs, in Unfalsifiable Land, where they’ll use all of those low-rung tricks from Chapter 7 to make sure to stay unconvinced by any dissent that manages to reach them.

Low-rung political thinkers, Reasoning While Motivated, will do the “Can I believe this?” / “Must I believe this?” toggle on their Skepticism Meter:

Like trains in biased motion, they’ll see any skeptics of their beliefs as worse thinkers than they actually are, making it easy to disregard the info right off the bat.

The Thanksgiving Dinner Table Hideous Political Conversations Blue Box

It’s this third filter that lies behind phenomena like the whole “Oh my god I’m dreading the political conversations at the Thanksgiving dinner table so much” thing. When I hear someone say this, I know one of three things is happening:

1) The person talking about their Thanksgiving dread is part of a low-rung political giant and they’re dreading the one day of the year when they’re with high-rung political family members who will challenge them.

2) Same as #1 except the dreaded family members are also low-rung political thinkers, from the opposite Disney kingdom.

3) The person is a high-rung political thinker who is dreading their annual interaction with low-rung political family members.

Low-rung dreading high-rung, low-rung dreading low-rung, or high-rung dreading low-rung. The one thing I know is not the case is a high-rung thinker dreading interaction with a high-rung thinker who disagrees with them, since high-rung thinkers don’t dread having political conversations with each other. At least one of the parties involved in a nightmarish Thanksgiving political conversation is from the low-rung political world. And they’re dreading it because it’s a moment when their usual info guardians—the Media Filter and the Sharing Filter—will not be able to shield them. They’ll be exposed to challenges to the sacred narrative they identify with, and they’ll have no tools to handle that interaction. So the third, final filter of individual unfalsifiability will be left to fend off the challenge, which tends to make for an unpleasant interaction.

We can imagine these three filters looking something like this:

While high-rung giants gauge their filters to expose the truth, we can see how PDW filters work hand-in-hand to keep the giant glue strong.16

But Political Disney World doesn’t stop there. The filter system is great for managing the world’s real information, but when real information doesn’t cut it, a political giant has to take matters into its own hands.

Fallacies

If there’s one thing we’ve established in this series, it’s that humans aren’t good at reality. For us, trying to figure out what’s right and what’s real is like an obstacle course lined with cognitive pitfalls. The smartest people I know spend a huge amount of effort trying to become experts on their own irrational tendencies in order to become better thinkers, and they’re still pretty bad at reality. That’s why the high-rung Idea Lab culture is so important—it turns the reality obstacle course into a team effort.

But what if reality isn’t your goal? What if reality is itself the obstacle?

Political Disney World turns confirmation bias into its own team effort—it does confirmation bias on a systematic, industrial scale. And when the mission relies on people getting reality wrong, human cognitive deficiencies are invaluable tools.

One such tool is the fallacy. If human reasoning is an outdated 1.0 software program, fallacies are the glitches and bugs.

We fall victim to fallacies by mistake all the time. A classic example is the sunk cost fallacy. As an untalented illustrator, I learned long ago that it’s usually a terrible idea to draw elaborate backgrounds in my illustrations. Just draw the three stick figures talking over a white background—skip the street and the trees and the sky and the sidewalk they’re standing on. And yet—sometimes I forget that lesson and decide to get all Bob Ross, like “well what if…what if I just put a happy little tree over there next to the people…well that looks weird like a floating tree…so I’ll make some ground…how do you make ground again?…I’ll try drawing a line…that looks bad…ooh okay I’ll draw grass…” Suddenly it’s 18 minutes later and I’m drawing individual strands of grass and questioning my entire existence.

At that point, a little part of my brain is like, “So you’re about halfway into finishing this background. The background doesn’t look good. It looks bad. The drawing would be better without it. It was a cute idea but it failed. So just delete the background and move on.”

And then a much bigger, glitchier part of my brain is like, “Huh? No. Of course I’m not deleting this bad background I just spent 18 minutes doing half of. That would be a total waste of 18 minutes—which would be incredibly unsatisfying. I’m not allowing those 18 minutes to go to waste. I’m finishing the background. If it makes the drawing worse, then that’s just what’ll have to happen.”

So I spend 18 more minutes finishing the background.

Rationalist Julia Galef likens this situation to walking to a store that’s 20 minutes away, only to learn 10 minutes into the walk that the store is closed… and then deciding to “finish the job” and walk all the way to the store anyway, since you already started. Obviously that would be deeply inane—but that’s exactly what I’m doing when I finish my bad background. To avoid having the 18 minutes I already spent go to waste, I’ll waste another 18 minutes, even though the first 18 minutes is already gone and spent either way. It’s a sunk cost.

We all commit the sunk cost fallacy. Sometimes it leads us to stick with jobs or relationships we know deep down are wrong for us. Sometimes we go the full distance with a long project even though, after having put some work into it, we’ve come to the realization that it wasn’t such a great idea. Sometimes we read the last 250 pages of a book we’re not liking very much because we’ve already read the first 100. In all cases, we do it because we simply can’t bear to acknowledge that some of our time has officially been wasted. So we double (or quadruple) down.

It’s a reasoning error. It makes absolutely no sense—as Julia’s example illustrates—but we do it anyway. Because we’re bad at reality.

The sunk cost is a famous one, but there are a lot of common fallacies. Wikipedia lists over 100 of them here. Our reasoning software sucks.

But fallacies aren’t always mistakes. If you’re trying to win an argument and you’re not doing so well, you might try pulling a fallacy out of your bag of dirty tricks. If your opponent doesn’t catch it, it’ll appear to be a beautiful point in your favor.

Political Disney World is pretty big on both accidental and intentional fallacies. Let’s go through some of the most prevalent, in three categories:

Category 1: Fallacies that misrepresent reality

The practice of misrepresenting reality falls on a spectrum with “slight data nudging” on one end and “total fabrication” on the other. Low-rung politics has a long tradition of misrepresenting reality by concocting questionable studies and misleading statistics or by spinning real events in a way that best fits the narrative.

A common type is what I call the Trend-Anecdote Swapper.

It’s simple: If you come across an anecdote that supports the narrative, you put it through the swapper and frame it as evidence of a larger trend to make it seem representative of broader reality. Meanwhile, if there’s an actual trend happening that really is representative of broader reality—but it’s a trend that makes your narrative look bad—you just put it through the swapper, and it’ll come out the other side framed as nothing more than a handful of freak anecdotes.

For example, imagine your tribe’s narrative says that dogs are almost always good boys (and anyone who says otherwise is a bigot), while most raccoons are dangerous, vile creatures (and anyone who says otherwise is a bigot). Now imagine that one week, these six news stories happen:

The actual reality here isn’t really your friend. Your narrative, like all PDW narratives, leaves no room for mixed messages. Dogs are good. Raccoons are bad. Period. Meanwhile, the actual information at hand here suggests that maybe both can be good sometimes and bad sometimes. So you pull out the Trend-Anecdote Swapper and get to work.

You start by categorizing and color-coding the stories as they actually seem to be.

Then, when there’s an inconvenient red trend, you use the Trend-Anecdote Swapper to reframe it as nothing more than an anecdote: 

When there’s a helpful green anecdote, you use the Trend-Anecdote Swapper to make it seem like part of a larger trend.

By the time you’re done, the colors have sorted themselves out nicely: red on the left, green on the right.

Another common fallacy uses what I call the Causation Arrow. The most 101 concept in Statistics 101 has to be: correlation does not imply causation.

A nice example, courtesy of Jonathan Haidt: A 2013 study found that people who have sex more often make more money. If you weren’t being cautious with your Causation Arrow, you might read a headline about the study and jump to the conclusion that having more sex caused people to make more money—or that making more money led people to have more sex. In reality, the study found that a third variable—extraversion—lies behind both the sex and money trends.

Any correlation stat—”variable A is correlated with variable B”—actually leaves us with four possibilities:

In high-rung politics, people assess every correlation and try to determine which of the above is actually going on. But in Political Disney World, people just go with whichever of the four possibilities best supports the narrative. They grab their Causation Arrow and point it in the most convenient direction.

 

Of course, presidential debates are full of fighting over Causation Arrows. The incumbent candidate will claim that every positive trend during the past four years was caused by his presidency and every negative trend happened in spite of his great policies. The challenger candidate will say the opposite, in both cases.

Returning to dog-raccoonville, imagine that this graph starts making the rounds on Twitter.

If you’re in the “dogs good / raccoons bad” tribe, you won’t hesitate to pull out the Causation Arrow and use the graph as evidence that raccoons are hurting the city. If you’re in the pro-raccoons tribe, you’ll call the correlation a coincidence or ignore it altogether (and call anyone who shares the graph a bigot). In neither case will you actually be getting to the bottom of why unemployment is going up—which makes sense, because the goal in PDW isn’t a more perfect country, it’s political triumph.

This is an example of how the Causation Arrow can also be used as a Blame Arrow. The pro-dog crowd could use the arrow to further nudge the day’s news in their favor by fiddling with blame in two of the stories: 

Then, to top things off, the pro-dog media channels will add on their own twist:

Of course, that’s just the pro-dog side of things. This whole time, the pro-raccoon tribe has been outraged about a whole different set of stories:

One of the critical defining features of high-rung politics is a shared sense of reality—a shared understanding of What Is. In Political Disney World, the beliefs and viewpoints of people in different tribes are premised on entirely different conceptions of reality. Of course they can’t find any common ground.17

Category 2: Fallacies that misrepresent an argument

In Chapter 7, we talked about how a viewpoint is nothing more than a hypothesis until it’s gone through testing.

The real test of any argument is how well it stands up in the face of rigorous criticism. When you’re confident in your viewpoint, you love a chance to throw it into the ring with other arguments and watch it show off its strength. Like real boxing, the stronger the opponents you’ve beaten, the better your ranking. That’s why a strong college paper always includes a strong counterargument—it lets the thesis “show off” in front of the professor.

But what if you’re not so confident in your viewpoint? And you still want to make it seem like it can do well in the boxing ring? As a procrastinator who wrote a lot of hasty, shitty papers in college, I can tell you firsthand that one of the trademarks of a paper with a weak thesis is an even weaker counterargument.

When exposed to real opponents not afraid to tear apart bad arguments, oversimplified PDW narratives end up TKO’d in round 1. That’s why political Echo Chambers are so intent on making it taboo to criticize the narrative—it’s their way of banning anyone from landing a good hit on their sacred baby.

But to generate the kind of intense conviction in its members that of COURSE the narrative is correct, political Echo Chambers need to make it seem like the narrative is a champion heavyweight boxer who demolishes anyone who tries to prove it wrong. So how can this happen when no actual living, breathing dissenters are allowed to fight the narrative?

Here’s the trick: The Echo Chamber stages scripted fights that seem real to the Echo Chamber’s members, but where the narrative always comes out on top. To pull this off, they use one of the most tried and true tools of the low-rung intellectual world:

The man machine takes real criticism of the narrative and converts it into easy-to-beat opponents. Here are three of the most common:

The Straw Man

To make a Straw Man, the man machine reframes the wording of a strong dissenting argument, transforming it into a much weaker argument.

To see how it works, let’s first watch a standard low-rung political narrative face off against real dissent from outside the Echo Chamber.

As expected, that didn’t go very well. But the man machine can save the day.

We’ve all used this tactic.

When we create Straw Men, we sometimes do it knowingly, sometimes cluelessly. Most of the time, we probably do it with our subconscious knowing what we’re doing but our conscious mind in denial that we’re pulling a cheap trick.

In public arguments, the goal of an arguer isn’t to change the opponent’s mind as much as it is to win over a viewing audience. Here, arguers will use Straw Men in hopes that the audience isn’t smart enough to notice the sleight of hand.

Using a Straw Man can make you appear victorious to unwitting viewers, like a boxer who takes a swing at the balls mid-match and hopes the ref won’t see it. You wouldn’t think it could work, but humans are bad at reality, so straw-manning often goes unnoticed.

In a courtroom or debate stage, the opposition at least has a chance to object to or refute a straw man attack. But usually, the opposition doesn’t get a voice at all.7

In Political Disney World, when a cleverly worded Tweet or op-ed straw-mans the opposing side, it goes viral, and soon, the farce boxing match is played on loop throughout the Echo Chamber, ad nauseam.

The Weak Man

The Straw Man is a well-known fallacy. But in the past decade, people have begun talking about what political theorist Robert Talisse calls the Weak Man fallacy.

Straw-manning takes a strong argument and distorts it into a weak one. Weak-manning takes a strong argument and hand-picks the weakest part of it, or the weakest version of it, and attacks that. When you handily defeat the weak argument, you then frame it as if you’ve defeated the argument, in general.

Partisan media are big fans of the Weak Man. People like Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson have made entire careers out of weak-manning.8

Weak-manning is why everyone in low-rung politics sees the other side as absolutely indefensible and unforgivable. They’ve been presented again and again with the worst of the other side’s low-rung giant, and they’ve come to believe that it’s representative of the other side as a whole.

The Hollow Man

The Hollow Man does away with the work of distorting or cherry-picking the dissenting argument and just fabricates one from scratch. Often framed by “some people say” or something else vague, the Hollow Man is the ideal opponent for the narrative—the easiest match possible.

In 2004, in order to refute opponents of the Iraq War, George W. Bush said:

“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern…I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily—are a different color than white can self-govern.”

In other words:

The Hollow Man argument is a viewpoint held by no one at all, created just to make the opposition look as bad as possible. It seems like a ridiculous tactic—until you remember that Political Disney World is a ridiculous place. Today, in the enchanted castles of PDW, Hollow Men are roaming around everywhere.

In PDW, the power of the man machine goes beyond winning individual arguments. In 1961, social psychologist William Maguire wrote about what he called the “inoculation effect.” Vaccines work by exposing a person’s immune system to a weak version of a dangerous virus. After the body defeats the weak version of the virus, it develops an immunity against all versions of the virus, including the strong ones. Maguire found that people’s beliefs worked in a similar way. He wrote:

[B]eliefs can be “inoculated” against persuasion in subsequent situations involving forced exposure to strong counterarguments by pre-exposing the person to the counterarguments in a weakened form that stimulates—without overcoming—his defenses.

If Straw Man, Weak Man, and Hollow Man arguments are repeated enough inside a political Echo Chamber, they become people’s ubiquitous conception of what dissenters to the narrative think—eternal proof of how right the narrative is and how stupid anyone is who says otherwise. Soon, any version of dissenting arguments—even the strong ones—will be disregarded as nothing more than better-worded versions of the well-known absurd dissent. People will have become “immune” to changing their mind on the topic.

This also makes it even less likely that anyone inside the Echo Chamber will dare challenge the narrative—because the second they do, people will hear it as a defense of all of those terrible arguments and evidence of the challenger’s own stupidity and awfulness. Social penalties will ensue.

But argument-misrepresenting fallacies can do more than attack opponents. They can also be used for defense.

The Motte and Bailey

The “motte and bailey” fallacy is a recently named piece of age-old trickery (coined by Nicholas Shackel and further popularized by Scott Alexander).

The name comes from a type of two-part medieval fortification common in Northern Europe between the 10th and 13th centuries. It looked something like this:

The bailey is an area of land that was desirable and economically productive to live on but hard to defend. It would always be vulnerable to attack. That’s where the motte came in. A motte is a hill in or adjacent to the bailey with a wooden tower on top of it. When the bailey was threatened, inhabitants would run up the motte and into the tower. The motte, unlike the bailey, was easy to defend and nearly impossible to conquer—so invaders who captured the bailey would be unable to conquer the whole fortification. Eventually, with arrows raining down on them from the motte’s tower, the attackers would give up and leave, at which point the inhabitants could resume life in their pleasant and profitable bailey.

Shackel used the motte and bailey as a metaphor for a cheap argument tactic, whereby someone holding a convenient but not-very-defensible “bailey” viewpoint could, when facing dissent to that viewpoint, quickly run up the motte and swap out the viewpoint with a far stronger “motte” position.

 

The motte and bailey is using the man machine reverse—instead of swapping an opponent’s strong argument for a weaker one, it swaps out your own questionable argument for an irrefutable one. The goal is to make it seem like the two arguments are essentially the same, and that anyone who agrees with the motte statement must also agree with the bailey argument. It’s an attempt to stitch one position to another and use it as armor.

Political Disney World is a land of sprawling baileys, dotted with motte hills. And if you listen carefully, you’ll notice people darting up to their trusty mottes, using them as trump cards whenever their views come under fire.

Fallacies that misrepresent arguments let people twist, mold, and fabricate arguments in order to engineer faux boxing matches. These tactics go a long way toward making the PDW giant nearly invincible to the outside world. But when all else fails, low-rung political thinkers can reach into their bag for the dirtiest trick of all:

Category 3: Fallacies that misrepresent people

Paul Graham once laid out what he calls his hierarchy of disagreement, which can be summed up like this:9

According to Graham, the lowest forms of disagreement are attacks on the person arguing against you instead of the argument itself. On the very bottom level, name calling is the trashiest form of argumentation and the trademark of someone who knows they have little ability to win a real debate. Name-calling is also often a sign an argument’s substance isn’t really relevant because the disagreement is mostly a vehicle two people are using to vent anger onto each other. In any case, no one in human history has ever gotten to the bottom of anything while throwing insults. It can be fun though.

One level up, you have the slightly more civilized ad hominem fallacy. People often use “ad hominem” as an umbrella term that includes name-calling, but here, we’re referring to the specific practice of discrediting dissent based on who the dissenter is instead of attacking the argument itself. Another form of ad hominem fallacy is bringing up your own authority on the matter as a way to add credibility to your argument.

In Political Disney World, ad hominem arguments happen constantly, partially because people on the low rungs are childish arguers—but also because on the low rungs, ad hominem arguments are incredibly effective. The reason they’re effective is that the less someone knows about the substance of an issue, the more they’ll form their judgments based on how much they trust the messenger. In low-rung politics, people who seem trustworthy also tend to seem correct and well-intentioned, regardless of the quality of their arguments. And vice versa.

Standard tribalism takes care of most of the trust allotment. Earlier this year, professors Steven Sloman and Elke Weber compiled a wide range of articles exploring the science behind political polarization. Many of the findings confirmed the intuitive: that people are highly uncharitable in their assumptions about those in their political out-group. For example, if an opposing candidate has mostly mainstream views but holds a few extreme positions, people tend to make the assumption that the candidate’s supporters voted for them because of, not in spite of, the candidate’s extreme positions. But there’s no evidence that this is true. Another study found that “constituents are likely to attribute the actions of in-group leaders as intended to benefit the country (national interests), and the actions of out-group leaders as intended to benefit the political leaders themselves (egoistic interests)”—even when the actions in question are identical.

So people in PDW are already predisposed to not trust those who challenge the narrative—and therefore, to not believe their arguments, regardless of the substance. But a strong tradition of ad hominem reasoning helps cement this key stability mechanism.

Enemies of a political Echo Chamber are regularly discredited based on their background, their religion, their race, their gender, their education, their profession, their friendships—none of which addresses whatever clearly-wrong, not-even-worth-listening-to argument they’re actually making.

Dissenters are smeared by quotes pulled out of context, a tactic that can double up on misrepresenting the person and misrepresenting their argument. Often, a regrettable quote from a decade earlier is reason enough in PDW to rule out anything a dissenter ever says again—even if the dissenter swears they no longer believe that thing they said back then.

If those don’t do the trick, there’s always mind-reading—where disciples of a narrative will assume the worst about the dissenter’s real, true, deep-down intentions (like people assuming that opposition candidates are motivated by selfishness while being more charitable with their preferred candidates). Political Disney World scales this up until everyone in the Echo Chamber is convinced that anyone who wants to curb immigration is racist, or everyone who opposes a war effort is unpatriotic, or everyone who supports tax cuts is greedy, or anything else that helps the Echo Chamber write off those who challenge the narrative.

In the most extreme Echo Chambers, the discrediting of arguments and people form an interlocking chain of dismissal. Once a given position is branded as terrible and wrong, anyone holding that position is automatically branded as wrong-headed, which in turn leads people to write off all of their other positions as well. In other cases, once a well-known person is deemed by an Echo Chamber to be bad, their viewpoints become tarnished with the same reputation, which then extends to anyone else who happens to hold those same positions. It’s like a discredit disease that spreads.

With a further step back, we can see how all of these fallacies work in tandem with the Echo Chamber’s information-filtering system. The filters let friendly info in, the fallacies twist it to make it even friendlier, then the filters further refine things by elevating the best-manipulated info into further prominence. This ongoing tag-team effort is so effective that not only will everyone in PDW have the same digitized viewpoint on every issue, they’ll be saying the same exact sentences about it, word for word.

When everyone is saying the same thing, a feedback loop takes hold—the kind we talked about in Chapter 1 (when we were supposedly talking about our ancestors):

You can take humans out of the Power Games…

Politics in 3D

Our Psych Spectrum has helped us see the usual left-center-right—

—in 2D, where it looks more like an arch.

Our third dimension—Emergence Tower—lets us see an even bigger picture. What looks like an arch of 300 million individuals on the lowest floor of Emergence Tower looks like four giants from higher up on the tower:

The people who make up the high-rung giants aren’t that different from the people in the low-rung giants. But the giants themselves are nothing alike. Low-rung giants are the product of ancient human survival software—they’re the kinds of giants that the software builds when it’s able to run the show. In the high-rung giants, Higher Minds have managed to band together to define the culture and override the software’s usual output.

In Part 2 of this series, we kept things simple and imagined how a country like the U.S. might work in an ideal scenario. Under the First Amendment’s protection, the U.S. would become a grand marketplace of ideas where the minds of individual Americans would link up like neurons and form a giant superbrain. Individual thinking on most topics would yield a Thought Pile with a clean bell curve shape, and that shape would be lit up with activity by a Speech Curve that would sit right on top of it.

As people talked, the big brain would think, and over time, it would ooze its way along Thought Spectrums to ever wiser places.

This is kind of what does happen in the U.S. today. Except there’s a big asterisk.

What we didn’t talk about in Part 2 were the inevitable Echo Chambers that would resist Enlightenment Values and function culturally like mini dictatorships. Echo Chambers are like frozen spots in a free nation’s superbrain—dark regions of the brain where thinking can’t happen.

If high-rung politics is a marketplace of ideas that yields bell curves along the Idea Spectrum, the frozen Echo Chambers of low-rung politics look more like tall vertical towers. Put together, they make most political topics look like a camel.

A camel curve moves slower towards progress than a bell curve. The science and business worlds can advance quickly because bad ideas fail quickly. In the world of ideas, Echo Chambers, with their sacred and taboo viewpoints, keep bad ideas alive way longer they would in a normal marketplace. With so many voters locked up in the humps, politicians have to spend a lot of their energy catering to the low-rung ideas and speaking to the low-rung political mentality. The humps distort the shape of the Overton window, making the national brain less intelligent, less adaptable, less rational, and less wise.

None of this means the system isn’t working. As we’ve discussed, the vision of the Enlightenment wasn’t to completely repress the human Primitive Mind—it was to ensure that unlike most societies in the past, the Primitive Mind wouldn’t be able to completely take over. It wasn’t meant to generate perfect bell curves of national thinking—it was meant to thaw out static frozen towers enough to end up with stubborn but movable camel humps. With a species like ours, this may be the best we can hope for.

Let’s zoom out further. If we move another floor up Emergence Tower, we can see a country like the U.S. as two huge political giants.

One way to do that is to slice our 2D political space down the middle vertically, leaving us with a Left giant and a Right giant.

The real Left—the complete Left—is the combination of the high-minded, high-rung progressive giant up top and the primitive-minded, Power-Games-playing blue giant down below. Same deal for the Right.

Each of these giants is like a large-scale human being—the product of an internal struggle between fire and light.

Each of us is on our own little mountain, ebbing and flowing in maturity and wisdom. We all have good days and bad days, good years and bad years. We’re each a mix of admirable qualities and character flaws, and we spend our lives trying to become a little better. We’re all human, and so is our society.

Like each of us, the political Left and Right are in a constant struggle to grow up. Sometimes they’re childish. Sometimes they’re wise. Like each of us, they can grow up with age—and like each of us, they also sometimes revert and go backwards.

Every person is working on two projects all the time: them against the world and them against themselves. High-rung political giants are in the same situation, fighting a two-front battle at all times: a horizontal battle against their high-rung counterpart, in the struggle to determine how the country changes and evolves; and a vertical battle against the low-rung giant that masquerades under the same political banner—a battle that, if lost, threatens to destroy their reputation, hijack its movements, and undermine its progress.

There’s another way political parties are like people: in both cases, the individual struggle of one can influence the individual struggles of others nearby.

When a couple gets into a fight, it’s often because their Primitive Minds have started going at it with each other. The Primitive Mind of one member of the couple doesn’t want to fight with the Higher Mind of the other—it wants to fight with its primitive little friend. When it’s worked up, it calls the other Primitive Mind out to play, and it usually gets a response. A vicious cycle takes hold as things quickly devolve into nastiness. When one of the Higher Minds in the couple manages to wrest control of their person for long enough to get a word in—something like, “I do see where you’re coming from, I’d feel frustrated in this situation too”—the fight pretty quickly winds down. Once the Higher Minds start communicating with each other, they can regain the edge and take control of the interaction.

Between what I’ve observed about politics and what I’ve read about history, political giants seem to work the same way. If, instead of looking at the two-giant U.S. as Left versus Right, we slice our political region horizontally, we see two pairs that function as teams as much as they do as adversaries.

The high-rung giants argue with each other constantly, but they know they’re ultimately on the same team with the same overarching goal. It’s harder to see it on the bottom, but the low-rung giants are a team too. Remember, without Jafar, Aladdin is just some guy. The low-rung giants need their counterpart. It’s the key villain in their narrative—the key uniting force that holds everything together. Nothing delights members of a low-rung giant more than the other low-rung giant behaving badly. It makes them furious, but in a super fun way. It lights their fires and injects meaning into their lives. And it justifies a wave of their own childish behavior, which in turn fires up their rival giant even more—like what happens to a couple as they descend into a nastier and nastier fight. When the low-rung giants really get each other riled up, the high-rung giants become increasingly helpless and muted.

People in the high-rung political world think of politics as a positive-sum game, and the way they do politics, it is. The clash of the high-rung giants is a classic Value Games clash—it yields progress and wisdom.

In the low-rung political world, politics is seen as a zero-sum game—when one side wins, the other loses, and that’s that. But the actual game they’re playing ends up being negative-sum. Their fighting pulls the country downward on the same mountain the high-rung giants are trying to climb.

I finished Part 2 with a depiction of the U.S., trudging up the mountain on its mission to become a more perfect nation:

Back then, we could only see the nation as it looked on the surface. Now, with some more tools in our bag, we can look deeper into the image and see the situation for what I’ve come to believe it really is: an eternal tug-of-war between the nation’s collective Higher Mind and the nation’s collective Primitive Mind.

This is the real political picture in the U.S. It’s not only Right vs. Left. It’s High vs. Low. Forward vs. Backward. Wise vs. Foolish. Value Games vs. Power Games. It’s not only wing politics—it’s also rung politics. Many of our political struggles are, in fact, horizontal. But that’s all in the shadow of the big political tug-of-war. Which is vertical.

___________

This was me, heading off to college:

The world was my oyster. It was exciting. But then the political conversations started.

For the first time in my life, my political views were being challenged. It was like I was standing there living my life and these new friends were trying to shove me off a cliff:

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was standing on a very common intellectual path, commonly referenced as the Dunning-Kruger effect.18 Here’s how I think of it.

It’s a lot like a roller coaster. At the time, I had spent my life doing the roller coaster’s big first creeping uphill part. Suddenly, I was at that terrifying moment where the car levels out and starts to tilt downward…

I was left with two options:

Option 1: Stay up on Child’s Hill. I could decide that I didn’t actually like these friends after all, that they were arrogant ignorant assholes, and distance myself from them. I could seek out new friends more like the people I was used to talking to and try to forget about this whole bad early college experience. Re-isolate myself from dissent, reconfirm my established beliefs, and restore my confidence (which the backfire effect suggests wouldn’t have taken long).

Option 2: Take the plunge. Let go of my comfortable conviction and embrace these new bad feelings of self-doubt and existential confusion.

I went tumbling.

As I tumbled, it sunk in that to be as opinionated as I had been entering college, you either have to be an expert or full of shit—and I wasn’t an expert. I was a Democrat mostly for the same reason that I was a Red Sox fan. They were my team, and that was that.

Pretty soon I had no idea what I thought or who I was or what was right or wrong. I didn’t feel like a proud Democrat anymore. Tim the Democrat was a fraud and I was determined not to be a fraud ever again. But a Republican? Me? A Republican? No way. I had been indoctrinated too hard for too long to fully switch teams. I started to dread political conversation because I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be when these conversations happened. It was a bad situation. I was here:

Insecure Canyon is where you are when you’re past the “Wait I actually don’t know shit” epiphany, but not yet past the “Ohhhh no one else knows shit either” epiphany. The two-part epiphany, when still incomplete, leaves a thinker self-aware enough to know what they don’t know but not yet wise enough to know that not knowing is a healthy, productive state. The unpleasant feeling of existential confusion and intellectual insecurity is the gateway drug to real intellectual growth—but when you haven’t had the complete epiphany, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels shameful and embarrassing. You feel stupid and wishy-washy, and you hope no one finds out how little you know. That’s where I was.

And then it happened. I was in my freshman dorm room and one of my roommate’s friends was hanging out, and he said something like, “And really, all the reasonable people are centrist anyway.”

It all clicked. I was a Centrist. It was the perfect new identity. Fuck all those political extremists. I was a thoughtful, nuanced, moderate thinker who acknowledged that both sides had some good points and some bad points.

We all look back on our previous selves and cringe about certain things. We’ve each got a list. Right near the top of mine is me coming home for Thanksgiving during my freshman year of college and declaring to anyone who would listen about how I was a Centrist. Wincey as fuck.

People in Insecure Canyon are super vulnerable. They’re perfect targets for indoctrination into a new dogma, because they’re still too hazy to understand how knowledge works, and they’re dying to feel smart again. That’s why many people in Insecure Canyon end up making the mistake Tim the Centrist Moderate Independent made—they jump onto another dogma boat. This feels like a step forward. But it’s the opposite. It’s a young chick flying for the first time, feeling the cold winds, and making a U-turn right back to the nest. This is what I did. I had tried to solve the bad feelings of Insecure Canyon by running back up to the top of Child’s Hill, just with a new identity cloak on. I went from a Fraud Democrat to a Fraud Centrist.

The whole thing reminds me of a drawing from another post.

Thankfully, some self-awareness eventually crept in. My brief foray into Centrism turned out to be like getting out of a long relationship with a crazy person only to immediately jump into a rebound fling with the next person I met. But the fling had taught me something. If I were ever going to really figure out who I was and get myself into a healthy future relationship, I’d have to be okay with being single for a while.

So my identity shifted again, this time to a guy who was Still Asking Questions. I became a SAQist.

Over the next few years, I started to look up for the first time and notice the y-axis of the political space. This whole time, I had been staring down at the ground, searching for the right spot along the What You Think axis—when the real answer was above me.

Looking up at the vertical axis for the first time, I felt like these monkeys.

On the roller coaster, I was now standing here, a born-again SAQist, ready to start a life of climbing:

I’d like to tell you that it’s been a straightforward trudge up Grown-Up Mountain since then.

But old habits die hard, and it turns out it’s really hard to stay on Grown-Up Mountain. When I declared myself an unattached SAQist, I didn’t realize just how attached my Primitive Mind was to the color blue.

I’d go through all the right motions—reading op-eds by the most convincing conservative writers and seeking out flaws in Democrat politicians or their platforms. I played the “Why?” Game with myself about my lingering instinct that the left’s policies were more logical and more reasonable and search for evidence that those instincts were no more than a bad habit. I genuinely began to feel conflicted and confused about whether the Right or the Left made more sense when it came to fiscal and foreign policy and the optimal size of government.

But then election season would come around, and I’d feel like I was rooting for the Red Sox again. The Democrats still felt like “my people,” no matter how hard I tried to shake the feeling off. Were the Democrats actually just more in line with my values, or was it just my Primitive Mind doing this? Or was it a little of both?

Whatever the cause of my attachment, the Republicans of the 2000s—with their Iraq War and their snowballs and their traditional marriage and their stem cell bans—weren’t helping the situation. As I tried to rid myself of the notion that the Democrats were “my people,” the Republicans—with their Sarah Palin and their Sean Hannity and their Perry ad and their just watch this for 30 seconds—would continually make it crystal clear that they were certainly not my people.

Well good news! Over the past decade, the Left finally did it. They regressed so far that they became as “not my people” as the Republicans. They actually went insane enough to free me from my tribal handcuffs. I spent a lot of years saying I was “an Independent” while not truly believing it. Today, I can say it with a straight face.

It’s amazing how much clearer your vision gets when you really—actually—separate your identity from a tribe. I can see reality better now. The bad news is that I don’t like what I see with my new eyes. It’s…the situation is pretty scary.

We’ve got a problem and we need to fix it.

This whole series so far has been getting us ready to dive head first into that problem, with clearer eyes than normal. That’s where we’ll be headed in the final group of chapters.

Chapter 10: A Sick Giant

___________

If you like Wait But Why, sign up for the email list and we’ll send you new posts right when they come out. It’s a super unannoying list I promise.

Huge thanks to our Patreon supporters for making this series free for everyone. To support Wait But Why, visit our Patreon page.

___________

More vertical tugs-of-war:

The productivity tug-of-war

The social tug-of-war

The awareness tug-of-war

___________

Sources and related reading

At the heart of an effort to grow in our political lives has to be a continual effort to get better at thinking and communicating. There are a lot of great writers on the internet dedicating themselves to helping people think and argue more rationally. I’ve learned a lot from them. Some of my favorites:

The mecca of rationalism, Less Wrong, run by Eliezer Yudkowsky and his ragtag gang of rationalists. Whenever there’s a cutting-edge new idea making the rounds, Eliezer was writing about it 5-10 years ago. A deep dive on Less Wrong will make you smarter. This collection is a nice place to start.

A Less Wrong offspring, Scott Alexander’s blog Slate Star Codex is a giant pile of clarity. If you liked this post, you’ll really like SSC. Specific further reading on ideas in this post: Scott on motte-and-baileying, weak-manning, and the inoculation effect.

Another big pile of wisdom: Paul Graham’s essays. You can read about his “hierarchy of disagreement” I referenced here.

Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, is a great explainer of rational concepts. Go on a spiral through these sometime.

Adam Grant spends his life using research to embarrass conventional wisdom. Exceptional communicator but very bald.

Shane Snow dives deep on how we can think better, and he makes it fun. His awesome article on intellectual humility is especially relevant to this series.

Other resources:

A great collection of research that I referenced in the post: The Cognitive Science of Political Thought. And a summary of some of the findings.

The study I referenced about how we process challenges to our political and non-political beliefs with different parts of our brain. By Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel and Sam Harris. The article’s citation list is full of interesting research. Other studies I referenced about how politics makes us bad at thinking: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Some nice examples of straw-manning and weak-manning in politics, by Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse (who seems to have coined the term “weak man”). To go deeper, here’s their paper on the topic.

Research on how progressives tend to be more concerned about the global and conservatives more about the local. By Adam Waytz, Liane Young, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt.

Cool interactive exploring how Fox, CNN, and MSNBC differ in what stories they cover and how they present them.

Wikipedia has nice compilations of cognitive biases and fallacies.

Rapoport’s Rules for how to be a great arguer by doing the opposite of straw-manning (sometimes called steel-manning).

The original explanation of the motte and bailey doctrine by Nicholas Shackel, who coined the term.

The original explainer on the inoculation effect.

Fun reminder of how idiotic it is to assume correlation implies causation.

A book to remind you that you don’t know shit.




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وبلاگ نویسی جمعه مرکب: فیلم طعمه شکار ماهی مرکب غول پیکر

خارق العاده ویدئو از یک ماهی مرکب غول پیکر در اعماق بین 1827 و 3،117 پایی شکار می کند.

این یک پیگیری از است این پست.

طبق معمول ، می توانید از این پست ماهی مرکب برای صحبت در مورد داستانهای امنیتی در اخباری که من آنها را پوشش نداده ام ، استفاده کنید.

رهنمودهای ارسال وبلاگ من را بخوانید اینجا.

ارسال شده در 18 ژوئن 2021 در ساعت 4:06 بعد از ظهر
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بازی انفجار حضرات : سال 2020 است و شما در آینده هستید – صبر کنید اما چرا


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بالاخره دهه 2020 است. بعد از 20 سال که نتوانستیم به دهه ای که در آن هستیم اشاره کنیم ، سرانجام همه ما آزاد هستیم – به روشنی برای 80 سال آینده تا سال 2100 ، که در آن زمان تصور می کنم AGI متوجه شده اند که دو دهه بین سالهای 2100 تا 2120 چه نامیده می شوند.

ما اکنون در دهه 20 زندگی می کنیم! هیجان انگیز است “دهه بیست” فوق العاده قانونی است و بسیار قدیمی است. دهه 40 قدیمی است. دهه 30 حتی بیشتر. اما هیچ چیز مدرسه قدیمی تر از 20s Roaring نیست.

اکنون ما مسئولیت ساختن این یک دهه خنک را برعهده داریم ، بنابراین وقتی مردم 100 سال دیگر به این فکر می کنند که دهه های 2020 چقدر باورنکردنی هستند ، قدیمی است به روشی جذاب و جالب و نه شلخته و خسته کننده.

همچنین عجیب است که برای ما ، 2020s به نظر می رسد مانند یک دهه آینده گرایانه است – و اینطور است که دهه 1920 امروز برای مردم 100 سال پیش به نظر می رسید. همه آنها به 19 نوجوان عادت کرده بودند ، و ناگهان مانند آنها شد ، “اوه باحالیم دهه بیست! ” سپس آنها از فکر کردن در مورد اینکه زندگی خود در سال 1910 چقدر دورتر است فکر می کرد که تا سال 1920 ناراحت شوند.

در هر صورت ، زمان مناسبی برای یکی از آن پست های “گه ما پیر هستیم” است.

بنابراین در اینجا برخی از حقایق مربوط به سالهای جدید سال 2020 آورده شده است:

هنگامی که جنگ جهانی 2 آغاز شد ، جنگ داخلی برای آمریکایی ها به همان اندازه دور بود که WW2 اکنون با ما احساس می کند.

صحبت از جنگ جهانی 2 است ، جنگ های جهانی بسیار نزدیک به هم بودند. اگر جنگ جهانی دوم امروز آغاز می شد ، جنگ جهانی اول تا قبل از 11 سپتامبر احساس می کرد.

فروپاشی اتحاد جماهیر شوروی اکنون به همان اندازه خاطره ای دور است که ترور JFK هنگام فروپاشی اتحاد جماهیر شوروی بود.

با رفتن به سراغ موضوعات نابخردانه ، Super Bowls از سال 1993 Cowboys – Bills SB بیشتر از قبل بوده است.

و پیروزی آلمان جهانی در جام جهانی 1974 به اولین جام جهانی در سال 1930 نزدیکتر از امروز بود.

The Wonder Years از سال 1988 و 1993 پخش شد و سالهای 1968 تا 1973 را به تصویر کشید. وقتی این سریال را تماشا می کردم ، احساس می کردم مدتها قبل این سریال تنظیم شده است. اگر امروز فیلم Wonder Years جدید به نمایش در می آید ، سال های بین 2000 و 2005 را پوشش می دهد.

همچنین ، به یاد داشته باشید چه زمانی پارک ژوراسیک، شیر شاه، و فارست گامپ در تئاترها بیرون آمد؟ نزدیک به فرود ماه نسبت به امروز.

Y2K؟ نزدیک به دهه 70 نسبت به امروز.

در همین حال ، دادگاه OJ Simpson اکنون بین دهه 1960 و امروز نیمه راه است. و نزدیک به دادگاه چارلز مانسون است.

در مورد شما ، اگر 60 سال یا بیشتر دارید ، نزدیک به دهه 1800 نسبت به امروز متولد شده اید.

افراد 35 ساله امروز نزدیکتر به دهه 1940 نسبت به امروز متولد شده اند.

گزینه های زیادی برای این نوع محاسبه وجود دارد ، اما به نظر من این دو گزینه مأیوس کننده ترین بود. لازم به ذکر است که مادربزرگ 94 ساله من نزدیکتر به دولت اندرو جکسون نسبت به امروز متولد شده است.

اگر شما مثل من در دهه 1980 متولد شدید ، امروز بچه ای که در سن 1990 هستید ، یک نسل کاملاً 30 ساله از شما کوچکتر است. آنها دوران ریاست جمهوری اوباما را همانگونه که شما از دوران ریاست جمهوری ریگان به یاد می آورید به یاد می آورند. 11 سپتامبر برای آنها ماه است که برای شما فرود می آید. دهه 90 به همان اندازه که دهه 60 برای شما به نظر می رسد باستانی به نظر می رسد. برای شما ، دهه 70 کمی قبل از زمان شما است – آنها اینطور فکر می کنند که دهه 2000. آنها دهه 70 را می بینند که شما دهه 40 را چگونه می بینید. و هیپی دهه 60 برای آنها به همان اندازه قدیمی است که رکود بزرگ به نظر می رسد.

اما عجیب ترین چیز در مورد بچه های امروز: بیشتر آنها با دیدن دهه 2100 زندگی می کنند.

با عرض پوزش اگر این شما را تحت فشار قرار داد. سال نو مبارک!

PS فصل 10 از داستان ما هفته آینده

___________

اگر Wait But Why را دوست دارید ، برای سیستم ثبت نام کنید لیست ایمیل و ارسالهای جدید برای شما ارسال می شود. هیچ چیز آزار دهنده ای نیست.

اگر جدول زمانی را دوست دارید ، احتمالاً باید این کار را انجام دهید سر بعدی.




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بازی انفجار حضرات : وبلاگ نویسی جمعه مرکب: دوربین های زیر آب برای مشاهده ماهی مرکب


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وبلاگ نویسی جمعه مرکب: دوربین های زیر آب برای مشاهده ماهی مرکب

جالب هست مقاله تحقیقاتی.

طبق معمول ، می توانید از این پست ماهی مرکب برای صحبت در مورد داستانهای امنیتی در اخباری که من آنها را پوشش نداده ام ، استفاده کنید.

رهنمودهای ارسال وبلاگ من را بخوانید اینجا.

ارسال شده در 28 مه 2021 در ساعت 4:09 بعد از ظهر
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بازی انفجار حضرات : کیف دستی شماره 2 – صبر کنید اما چرا


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من الان مثل 4 سال یک Patreon هستم. اما اکنون که کتابی منتشر می کنید ، آیا باز هم به حمایت من احتیاج دارید؟ برنامه های شما برای آینده چیست؟Kyros J. (بارسلونا ، اسپانیا)

در مورد نحوه فکر کردن درباره Patreon از طرف ما اینگونه است:

پترئون وسیله ای برای آزادی خلاقیت است. بدون Patreon ، پول قسمت قابل ملاحظه ای از روند تصمیم گیری ما خواهد بود. ما مجبور به حمایت مالی خواهیم بود ، محصولات را می فروشیم و از paywall ها استفاده خواهیم کرد ، خواه احساس خوبی داشته باشیم یا نکنیم. Patreon به ما اجازه می دهد هر کاری را که فکر می کنیم واقعاً برای ما منطقی است و سعی می کنیم انجام دهیم. این به ما امکان می دهد لیستی بزرگ از پروژه های بالقوه تهیه کنیم و آنها را بر اساس آنچه بیش از همه هیجان زده ایم و مهمترین آنها فکر می کنیم اولویت بندی کنیم ، نه بر اساس آنچه که بیشترین درآمد را خواهد داشت. Patreon به این معنی است که ما پروژه هایی را انجام خواهیم داد که درآمد کسب می کنند و پروژه های دیگری که نتیجه ای نخواهد گرفت و دیگر نگران نباشید که کدام یک هستند. این به ما امکان می دهد پادکست بدون اسپانسر را شروع کنیم و نگرش “اگر و در صورت احساس صحیح اسپانسر می شویم” را داشته باشیم. این به ما امکان می دهد داستان ما را به کتاب تبدیل کنیم ، زیرا در این مورد منطقی است و فرصت های دیگر مجموعه های پست را به کتاب رد می کنیم ، زیرا این چیزی نبود که احساس می کردیم منطقی است. فقط به ما این امکان را می دهد که در مورد کالای موجود در فروشگاه خود ، برای خوانندگان ایمیل ارسال کنیم ، در حالی که واقعاً هیجان زده می شویم که در مورد آن محصول به آنها بگوییم. داشتن پول به عنوان یک نگرانی ثانویه یک لوکس خلاقانه باورنکردنی است و باعث می شود Wait But Why مکانی بهتر باشد.

در مورد نحوه فکر کردن من درباره پترئون از طرف شما اینگونه است:

خالق اینترنت مستقل یک چیز کاملاً جدید است و من فکر می کنم همه ما هنوز از نظر اقتصادی بهترین راه های کار را پیدا کرده ایم. Patreon به خوانندگان عادی سه گزینه می دهد:

1) من کار این شخص را دوست دارم و دوست دارم برای آن هزینه ای بپردازم

2) من کار این شخص را دوست دارم و دوست دارم هزینه ای را برای آن بپردازم ، اما در حال حاضر توانایی پرداخت هزینه را ندارم

3) من کار این شخص را دوست دارم ، اما چیزی نیست که بخواهم برایش هزینه کنم

نکته مهم در مورد داشتن مخاطبان قابل توجه این است که اگر بخش کوچکی از خوانندگان ما در گروه 1 قرار بگیرند ، ما تحت پوشش قرار خواهیم گرفت. تاکنون دقیقاً همان اتفاقی افتاده است. خوانندگان رده 1 کاملاً باورنکردنی ترکیب شده اند حمایت مهم از ما و آزادی خلاقانه ای که من در مورد آن صحبت کردم

اما این همچنین بدان معنی است که ما هستیم کاملا باحال با دسته های 2 و 3.

افرادی در گروه 2 که مایلند از ما حمایت کنند اما بودجه لازم را برای صرفه جویی در اختیار ندارند: نه تنها اشکالی ندارد بلکه لطفاً بدانید که آخرین چیزی که می خواهم این است که پشتیبانی WBW هزینه ناخوشایند یا استرس زایی در زندگی شما باشد . من ایده رایگان WBW را برای افرادی که فقط در یک زمان مشخص از زندگی خود قادر به مصرف محتوای رایگان هستند دوست دارم.

افرادی که در گروه 3 هستند و صرفاً ترجیح می دهند دلار خود را برای اهداف دیگر بگذارند ، لطفاً این کار را ادامه دهند. این نکته جالب در مورد مدل اهدای داوطلبانه است – فقط برخی از افراد مجبورند این کار را انجام دهند تا کاملاً کار کند. دسته 1 افراد دیگری را شامل می شود.

اگر شما از طرفداران دسته 1 ما بوده اید ، در آغوش فراوان ، ما شما را دوست داریم و بی نهایت سپاسگزاریم. همچنین درمقابل توقف هرگز نباید احساس غریبگی و گناه کنید. حمایت از ما به معنای حمایت از ما برای همیشه نیست. هنگامی که یک دسته 1er هستید ، همیشه یک دسته 1er هستید ، مهم نیست که چه زمانی متوقف می شوید.

سرانجام ، Patreon تنها یک راه برای حمایت از WBW است. همچنین چیزهایی برای خرید وجود دارد که ما می فروشیم و ، احتمالاً مهمترین چیز ، اشتراک WBW با دیگران است.

در مورد آینده Wait اما چرا:

در حال حاضر تصور زمانی سخت است که بخواهم به غیر از ایجاد کارهای جدید در این سیستم عامل دیگری انجام دهم. “لیست موضوعات آینده” من طولانی تر از آن است که در زندگی یکسانی داشته ام و تا کنجکاو باشم ، از طریق آن تلاش خواهم کرد.

در آن تصویر وسیع ، تعداد زیادی فرصت سرگرم کننده وجود دارد. ما قصد داریم پلت فرم را از نوشتن به نوشتن ، صوتی و تصویری گسترش دهیم. ما می خواهیم چیزهای جدید و همکاری های جدید (مانند موارد دیگر) را امتحان کنیم برنامه ما با Kurzgesagt) ما می خواهیم با رویدادهای حضوری بیشتر در جامعه عمیق تر شویم. ما برنامه هایی را برای یک سایت جدید و بسیار بهتر ترسیم کرده ایم.

چند سالی است که آرام روی یک پروژه بزرگ و بزرگ کار کرده ام ، اما هیجان و انرژی من هرگز بالاتر نبوده است. امیدوارم وقتی 80 ساله هستم هنوز چیزهای خوبی می سازم و امیدوارم هنوزم اینجا باشی.




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