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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Leaving the Matrix

I've spent rather too much time in the last many years debating politics and philosophy with people, often on things that are considered, or at least edge in the direction of, conspiracy theories. My fascination with these is generally not the theories themselves. Nor is it with the psychology of the people who are easily duped by any good, emotionally gripping, conspiracy theory--as this is a fairly easily understood psychology. Likewise, at the other extreme, the die-hard patriots, mainstream religious zeallots, and TV-news-fed proles who blatently live within their alotted boxes, consuming blue pills* by the fistful either because their doctrine directly requires it or simply because they look like jelly beans.... they're a short story easily read in an afternoon. What fascinates me is the ridge in the very middle of this domain, which peculiarly divides a group of very intelligent, observant, objective, instrospective, big-picture folks into two opposing camps upon a line that is very consistent and yet very difficult to explain.

The importance of this rift, and of these people, can't be overestimated--these are decision makers and leaders, not followers, and their influence is huge--even when they don't realize anyone is watching them, implicitly looking to them to do the thinking so others don't have to. Of the two groups, the one I have struggled all these years to understand are those I would call the blue side, who are strikingly unmoved by any claim, argument, even first hand testimony, that doesn't get the stamp of approval from some "reputable" source, which empirically comes down to the mainstream media, the government, or multiple professors from respected universities who have never been referred to by their colleagues as "radical". (To be fair, the blue side would be the first to disclaim any special faith in the media, so that depiction is my empirical impression of their actual stance rather than one they would claim for themselves.)

So far, they sound pretty reasonable--nothing wrong with requiring one's sources to be reputable. But the rift emerges precisely when the claim on the table is one that, at least in part, challenges or undermines the reputability of those very sources.... And then suddenly this group which is usually in agreement over most things becomes polarized to an extent only possible if there were some huge difference in premises lurking below the surface. It is these differences I have been trying to narrow in on.

My most recent hypothesis is no doubt just one of many possible causes, but it rings true in retrospect for a large number of the historical examples that come to mind. And it is, quite simply, that the blue side holds as a premise that the system in which they live works pretty well. Again to be fair, I'm sure they would not call this a premise but rather an observation, and would rightly note that the vast preponderance of evidence is in their favor. Handily wielding Occam's Razor*, they put a sure end to anything that presumes to stray too far from this premise, because, well, not only is it highly unlikely apriori (because of its conflict with their premise), but even if it were true, it's both atypical and of only minor importance at best (as would have to be true for their premise to be true).

The red side, of course, questions the circularity of this reasoning, but has little compelling to offer -- just a little red pill, a choice, really, to set aside that comfortable premise long enough, and seriously enough, to explore the alternate hypothesis. Not just to entertain one magic trick revealed for them, for that is a mere anecdote, but to actually look around them through eyes of a different premise, to lift the rocks on their own so that they see it is not just the rocks all-too-conveniently lifted for them which harbor scorpions...

But seriously, if Laurence Fishburne lured you to a private penthouse and offered you a big red pill, would you take it? Hell no! But I digress...

A friend of mine did recently, and here is what he wrote me today.

I can speak personally that this had been the case with me.

You ever see one of those movies where a dark shadow version of the hero comes out of a mirror, or lake and the hero has to fight it. The hard part is, all the techniques the hero usually uses to win have to be discarded because the shadow version knows all his moves and is using them?

I can only speak from my own experience, but [the blue side] and I used to agree a lot so I think I can say that they believe they are fighting the battle that we believe we are fighting. Further that we have somehow been fooled by the other side - the Socialist left and their propaganda [in this case]. So they are going to fight just as hard, maybe even harder to get us back onto the "right" track.

That's what I was thinking. Oddly enough it was the Objectivist saying "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong" That kept going through my head every time I thought you (Simon) had started believing false Socialist propaganda. Eventually checking my premises worked out- as I've described in more detail before.

In my desire to fight growing Socialism and bring about a more Libertarian style government, over many years I became steeped in Neo Con Culture. In that culture, every day they drive the point home that the Socialists are constantly tweaking any news to make the Neo Cons look bad. That they will stop at nothing to win, even destroy efforts to make our country secure in the face of obvious Islamo Fascist threat. That in fact you often hear the Terrorists and the Socialists making the same points and arguments.

So why are the Socialists and Terrorists doing this? Because the Neo Cons are for freedom, and liberty, and capitalism.

So you can see how both sides think they are fighting the same fight for freedom, and think that the other side has lost it's way. I was even doing my fact checking every day to make sure that the information I was getting was valid. The facts always checked out. But the problem was the context the facts were wrapped in. The facts were being altered in a subtle way that I only saw when the Neo Cons started talking about Ron Paul.

Neo Con shows all do the same thing. They have a series of sound bytes from people - usually politicians - in the news. They set up the context surrounding the sound byte and then play it. The trouble is, being hyper aware of all things Ron Paul, I started seeing that the context they would set up was deliberately wrong.

Part of the context was telling people what the question was that the sound byte was answering. In the case of Ron Paul, the question they would say was asked would be completely different that the one that the real interviewer actually asked. It cast Ron Paul's answer in a completely different light.

Checking facts on stuff like that - if you didn't see the interview - the facts would fit close enough to have the lie believed.

So, given all that, I was being programed every day to automatically reject anything outside of the paradigm as propaganda, and to both prove it was propaganda and look for the "real" truth.

The messed up thing is there actually is a lot of truth with only a smidgen of deception to cast the truth into a lie.

It's subtle enough that it may not even be a conscious thing - just an unconcious re casting of facts told from a biased point of view.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com