Category Archives: Human behavior

Quote of the day: Dangerous political nostalgia


A resurgent far right is gaining power not just in the U.S. but in other nations as well, promising a return to a past golden age.

Samuel Earle, freelance writer and recent masters graduate from the London School of Economics, writes about the dangers of that nostalgia in an essay for Jacobin:

On the surface, conjuring up a happier past may seem benign. But much of today’s nostalgia comes with its own set of noxious side effects. The bonds between those who belong to the remembered time are strengthened — they all feel at home — while for those who do not, their separation becomes all the more pronounced.

Only through the marginalization of others — foreigners, immigrants, LGBTQ people, all those who “don’t belong” — can the reactionary nostalgists turn their remembered past into a site of empowerment. To turn back the clock, others must be turned out. With little else to latch on to, excluding others makes their past feel all the more precious, a thing that can truly be claimed as their own.

This is the dark irony beneath the nativist’s angry refrain to the immigrant “Go back to where you came from”: it is the xenophobe who, more than anyone, wants to go back to where they came from — to an imagined, pure point of origin, a moment in history where their country was a homogenous mass. The racist, like all great nostalgists, is homesick for a home they never had.

This nostalgia, and its dark underbelly, will be a difficult beast to reckon with. While the future can be fought over and the present is there to take or leave, the past can be — may always be — whatever we want it to be.

Quote of the day: The rush to kiss Trump’s ass


The day Littlefingers became president of the united States also brought down the curtain on the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the gathering of 2,500 leading corporate moguls, banksters, elected officials, economists, celebrities [George Clooney attended this year], and media figures in the elite Swiss resort town of Davos.

One of those in attendance was former World Bank Chief Economist, U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, a man who played a central role in the deregulation of American banking and the unleashing of the derivatives market.

In of the other words, he bears much of the responsibility for bringing on the Crash of 2008 and the ongoing global Great Recession.

But even he abhors the rush to embrace President Pussygrabber by his fellow Davos elites, as he writes in Financial Times [subscription only]:

I am disturbed by (i) the spectacle of financiers who three months ago were telling anyone who would listen that they would never do business with a Trump company rushing to praise the new administration; (ii) the unwillingness of business leaders who rightly take pride in their corporate efforts to promote women and minorities to say anything about presidentially sanctioned intolerance; (iii) the failure of the leaders of global companies to say a critical word about US efforts to encourage the breakup of European unity and more generally to step away from underwriting an open global system; (iv) the reluctance of business leaders who have a huge stake in the current global order to criticise provocative rhetoric with regard to China, Mexico or the Middle East; (v) the willingness of too many to praise Trump nominees who advocate blatant protection merely because they have a business background.

>snip<

My objection is not to disagreements over economic policy. It is to enabling if not encouraging immoral and reckless policies in other spheres that ultimately bear on our prosperity. Burke was right. It is a lesson of human experience whether the issue is playground bullying, Enron or Europe in the 1930s that the worst outcomes occur when good people find reasons to accommodate themselves to what they know is wrong. That is what I think happened much too often in Davos this week.

Charts of the day: The global migrant death toll


From the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project:

blog-migrants

Caution: Selfies may be hazardous to your health


Not just hazardous, but lethal, as two new stories reveal.

We’ve noted before the sometimes calamitous nature of our indulgence in digital narcissism, with selfie-snapping stupidity now listed as a cause of more deaths than shark attacks.

Wikipedia even maintains a list of selfie-related deaths and injuries.

And now we have two more tragedies to add to the list.

We start with a fatality

First from the Press Trust of India:

A 21-year-old engineering student died when he was hit by a speeding train while trying to take a selfie here in the wee hours today, police said. The incident occurred past midnight when the student was returning after celebrating New Year, they said.

Gunasekharan, a resident of Dindigul district studying at a private college in the city’s outskirt, died on the spot when he was trying to take a selfie with the train in the background using his mobile phone, police said.

The victim was hit by the train and hurled at a distance of around 100 feet, they said.

And a near-lethal bite from a crocodile

And while the consequences of the second selfie disaster weren’t lethal, they could’ve been.

From Radio France International:

A French tourist has been bitten by a crocodile in a Thai national park as whe tried to take a selfie with the beast. She was taken to hopsital and is expected to recover.

The crocodile bit 47-year-old Muriel Benetulier on the leg when she ignored warning signs and approached it to take a selfie, park officials said.

The incident took place at the Khao Yai national park, three hours north of Bangkok.

Local media posted pictures of park rangers dressed in camouflage carrying the victim strapped to a stretcher, a thick bandage around her knee. Another photo showed a ranger pointing to a pool of blood close to a sign saying in Thai and English “Danger Crocodile No Swimming”.

Quote of the day: Call him President Bubble Boy


From a long, fascinating story by Washington Post reporter David Farenthold on his long efforts to find out about Trump’s claims to have given millions to charities:

By the end of the election, I felt I’d done my job. My last big story about Trump started with an amazing anecdote, which came from a tip from a reader. In 1996, Trump had crashed a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a charity opening a nursery school for children with AIDS. Trump, who had never donated to the charity, stole a seat onstage that had been saved for a big contributor.

He sat there through the whole ceremony, singing along with the choir of children as cameras snapped, and then left without giving a dime.

“All of this is completely consistent with who Trump is,” Tony Schwartz, Trump’s co-author on his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” told me. “He’s a man who operates inside a tiny bubble that never extends beyond what he believes is his self-interest.”

“If your worldview is only you — if all you’re seeing is a mirror — then there’s nobody to give money to,” Schwartz said. “Except yourself.”

Mexican company introduces “digital detox” resorts


From CCTV America, the inevitable next step in capitalizing on distraction:

Program notes:

When it comes to work, being connected to the internet 24 hours a day has its benefits. But some people need help disconnecting when they’re on vacation. One business thinks it has the answer. A so-called digital detox program was started at two of Mexico’s beach resorts, but it’s still struggling to get people to unplug.CCTV America’s Martin Markovits reports.

Why millions believe Trump’s idiotic tweeter-twaddle


As anyone who pays attentions to the utterances, tweeted and otherwise, of our President-elect, Donald Trump is, at best, the source of profoundly absurd declarations of nonsense, gleaned from sources that regularly write about a cabal of lizard people ruling the world, rampant voter fraud, a secret fluoride mind control program, and other blatant twaddle.

While the rational among us would at first glance reject such absurdities, they gain traction, eventually forming part of the core belief systems of millions.

The question, then, is why?

A perceptive analysis by Lisa Fazio Assistant Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, writing in the open source [Creative Commons] academic journal The Conversation, offers some key insights:

In the weeks since the U.S. election, concerns have been raised about the prominence and popularity of false news stories spread on platforms such as Facebook. A BuzzFeed analysis found that the top 20 false election stories generated more shares, likes, reactions and comments than the top 20 election stories from major news organizations in the months immediately preceding the election. For example, the fake article “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” was engaged with 960,000 times in the three months prior to the election.

Facebook has discounted the analysis, saying that these top stories are only a tiny fraction of the content people are exposed to on the site. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said, “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way – I think is a pretty crazy idea.” However, psychological science suggests that exposure to false news would have an impact on people’s opinions and beliefs. It may not have changed the outcome of the election, but false news stories almost definitely affected people’s opinions of the candidates.

Psychological research, including my own, shows that repeated exposure to false information can change people’s beliefs that is it true. This phenomenon is called the “illusory truth effect.”

This effect happens to us all – including people who know the truth. Our research suggests that even people who knew Pope Francis made no presidential endorsement would be susceptible to believing a “Pope endorses Trump” headline when they had seen it multiple times.

Repetition leads to belief

People think that statements they have heard twice are more true than those they have encountered only once. That is, simply repeating false information makes it seem more true.

In a typical study, participants read a series of true statements (“French horn players get cash bonuses to stay in the U.S. Army”) and false ones (“Zachary Taylor was the first president to die in office”) and rate how interesting they find each sentence. Then, they are presented with a number of statements and asked to rate how true each one is. This second round includes both the statements from the first round and entirely new statements, both true and false. The outcome: Participants reliably rate the repeated statements as being more true than the new statements.

In a recent study, I and other researchers found that this effect is not limited to obscure or unknown statements, like those about French horn players and Zachary Taylor. Repetition can also bolster belief in statements that contradict participants’ prior knowledge.

For example, even among people who can identify the skirt that Scottish men wear as a kilt, the statement “A sari is the skirt that Scottish men wear” is rated as more true when it is read twice versus only once. On a six-point scale, the participants’ truth ratings increased by half a point when the known falsehoods were repeated. The statements were still rated as false, but participants were much less certain, rating the statements as “possibly false” rather than closer to “probably false.”

This means that having relevant prior knowledge does not protect people from the illusory truth effect. Repeated information feels more true, even if it goes against what you already know.

Even debunking could make things worse

Facebook is looking at ways to combat fake news on the site, but some of the proposed solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. According to a Facebook post by Zuckerberg, the site is considering labeling stories that have been flagged as false with a warning message. While this is a commonsense suggestion, and may help to reduce the sharing of false stories, psychological research suggests that it will do little to prevent people from believing that the articles are true.

People tend to remember false information, but forget that it was labeled as false. A 2011 study gave participants statements from sources described as either “reliable” or “unreliable.” Two weeks later, the participants were asked to rate the truth of several statements – the reliable and unreliable statements from before, and new statements as well. They tended to rate the repeated statements as more true, even if they were originally labeled as unreliable.

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