OKCupid

OKstupid

If OKCupid was a party, you would walk up to a girl you thought was interesting, she would start talking to you…

  • say “just a second”, 
  • look at her phone, 
  • scowl, 
  • scroll, scroll, scroll,
  • put her phone away,
  • then walk off like you no longer existed.

What used to be a very cool free dating site

What is there to say about this?

I’ve had an account for a very long time. It used to be that you could get points for having people who knew you give you awards and let others know that you weren’t a fake account.

This is me.
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Stop relying on your feelings to tell you what’s right

Reason and Feelings

People rely on feelings to guide their actions. In the world in which man evolved, this was necessary for survival. In fact, before we evolved higher brain functions, feelings were all we had. Here’s the bad news, relying on your feelings will not, in general, make your life or anyone else’s life better. The only thing that will likely make things better is evidence-based reasoning.

In the book Against Empathy, Paul Bloom discusses how feelings lead us to incorrect conclusions. Very often, people will do things not to make things better. Rather, they do things to feel they are making things better. It is this feeling that people seek. If confronted with facts that show that they may have done no good and likely have caused harm, individuals will often go to great lengths to invalidate facts that run contrary to things they feel are true.

Humans act to obtain perceived value. Often, this value is increased comfort. However, quite frequently, the value is that they are giving up comfort to achieve a noble goal. It’s important to understand what I mean by increased comfort and value. Paul Bloom speaks about value in The Origins of Pleasure TED Talk.

Just because something is obvious does not make it true

Plato believed that anything could be puzzled out through pure reasoning. The problem with this notion is that it is based on the idea that you have a reliable premise and data to start with. As it happens this is often not the case.

Aristotle stated that the speed at which a thing would fall would be proportional to its mass. This assertion was not questioned until Galileo refuted it in the 1500s. We don’t know if he actually dropped two balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa we do, however, know he was right. The point being, it was so very obvious to everyone that what Aristotle said was true that no one bothered to even question it let alone test it. Unfortunately for Galileo, people really dislike having ideas they know are true, questioned. As a result, he was imprisoned.

Still, to this day, people continue to assert their deeply held beliefs are true. This despite thousands of years of evidence that often deeply held beliefs are not. People will cite the flimsiest of evidence and ignore more concrete evidence if contrary to their notions. The need for individuals to feel right creates a sort of cognitive dissonance with evidence to the contrary. Given the choice between two mutually exclusive notions, people will often choose the one that presents them with the most positive feelings rather than the one that makes the most rational sense.

Examine the evidence

People make all sorts of assertions without evidence. Policy and lawmaking are near the top. People make all sorts of assumptions about policies that are ineffective and often harmful. Most law and policy-making is based on feelings and very little is based on the scientific method. To be clear, the scientific method is performed using a series of steps:

  1. Form a hypothesis
    A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
  2. Form a theory
    a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
  3. Test your theory in order to determine its validity
    Tests are implemented, controlled groups are implemented, peer-reviewed, are the results published

This is where people really fall down. There is in fact very little incentive to do things in an effective way.


About the featured image:
Galileo Galilei gazing at the wall of his prison cell
Portrait, attributed to Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, of Galileo Galilei gazing at the wall of his prison cell, on which are scratched the words “E pur si muove” (not legible in this image).

Trusting the media to report a story accurately is just stupid

Media,
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing

Once upon a time, there were relatively few, large, news organizations that served the public at large. The majority of these organizations traded on appealing to a broad audience and eliciting trust in their audience. Now we live in a world where the primary job of a news organization is to sensationalize stories in order to make them more sellable. There is a natural inclination on people’s part not to feel this is the case because it is uncomfortable to believe that you are drinking from a poison well when the water tastes so good.

How?

When we look at the media and observe how they manipulate the truth to elicit an emotional response from their audience, we see they consistently use certain tactics to mislead them. Tactics such as outright lies may constitute libel or slander when used to malign a person or set of people. Lies can be used. However, more typically in circumstances where the victim isn’t in a position to prosecute a case against the offending agency. Other tactics that avoid outright lies are manifold:

  • Lack of proper context
    People assume reasonable context. However, one can report a thing, removed from context, whose meaning is entirely different or totally opposite from the meaning in context. e.g. “I never said ‘Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.'”. It could then be reported as Mr. Jones said quote “… Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.”.
  • Reporting on reporting
    There is zero need to quote credible sources when using this tactic. This creates the illusion of credible reporting. When consuming news, listen for the special words used to remove all need for accuracy. Typically phrases like ‘Witness report…’ or simply ‘Sources have reported…’
    e.g. Sources have reported that Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.
  • Cherry picking
    This is the tactic of selectively reporting only those facts that support the narrative you wish to present and can be used in a number of different ways. The simplest way is just to tell a one-sided story. The more insidious is use cherry picking to give a totally false impression.
    e.g. A public figure acts like a jackass. He does this numerous times. This behavior is then reported when engaging a minority. Suddenly this person is a ____ist who picks on ____s. Nope. Still, just a jackass who is a jackass to everyone.
  • Manipulative descriptions
    This is the art of describing things in a way that leaves a specific impression that is typically unbalanced and manipulates the reader into a mental image divorced from the facts. Select, descriptive, terms give a particular impression in order to bias the audience.
  • Selective profiling
    This is when stories are only reported when specific groups are involved in specific ways. Stories emphasize that group’s involvement. Stories become big news. These would be virtually ignored were the gender, ethnicity, orientation, etc. of the parties involved different.
    e.g. Extremists repeatedly attack schools giving a western style education each time they murder the boys and let the girls go. The story gains traction when the extremists kidnap the girls. Murdered Boyare described as “students”; Kidnapped girls as “girls”.

Why?

Newsworthiness

The interesting thing about newsworthiness is the property that makes any story newsworthy. In short, what makes a story newsworthy is its ability to make the reporting agency money. This is the whole long and short of it.

Adjectives used to describe the ability of a story to make money are things like compelling, exciting, horrifying, tragic, frightening, outrageous, riveting, etc. These words all have one thing in common, they describe eliciting intense human emotion. Terms not used to describe newsworthy stories: thoughtful, informative, balanced, even-handed, fair, well researched, competent, etc. The reason is those things don’t create an emotional need to consume more.

Self-righteous bias

People love to feel they are doing God’s work. Whatever that god may be. Often it’s the god of moral righteousness. Forever there are people who feel they need to show the evils of the world and reveal them for all to see. The only real way to do that is to make the news more exciting. All the while they feel they are doing the right thing. Sure maybe the story they are reporting will mislead people, but in the end, it will be a good thing. This is because they, the good-hearted reporter, have raised awareness. Is it important that they have distorted the facts to do this? No. After all, facts only get in the way of the greater truth that will bring about a better world.

Only we, the virtuous, may judge others correctly

Here, let me cast the first stone

The days of live and let live are dead. We occupy an era of in-groups and out-groups. People elevate themselves by espousing those things they see as virtues and condemning those who do not share those virtues. Each and every virtue filled person is their own Templar on a crusade to rid their own personal Holyland of the heathen unbeliever, polluting its purity. Isn’t it too bad that you are a Saracen dog only fit for the sword?

Self-esteem here I come

No matter how crazy one’s ideas, somewhere there is a group to tell them ‘you are right and everyone else is wrong’. Isn’t it great that if you believe an evil government conspiracy framed some gay/infidel/feminism loving Muslims as having hijacked chemtrail spreading planes, running them into the twin towers which were all set up to be collapsed by explosives set on every floor by invisible government agents able to walk through walls on this flat Earth whose true shape is hidden from us by a vast NASA conspiracy, that somewhere there is a support group to tell you that you are a genius for having figured all that out?

Be all you can…
Be whatever your peer group says is cool!

You don’t need to feel compelled to accomplish anything. Go scream at people you don’t like and call them evil. Shout them down, make them afraid, throw paint on them, pepper spray them, censor them, lie about them, belittle them, call them names. Remember, your moral superiority makes all this okay when you do it, in exactly the same way it made others evil when they do it. The ends justify the means because your cause is just and right. What’s really important is that you feel good at the end of the day. Dress up in your colors and join the others. Feel the rush as do what you do. Shout the party slogans. Join the crowd, Take action. Make your contribution, shouting, throwing, intimidating. You are brave. More importantly, everyone saw you.

Making the world a worse place,
one tantrum at a time

People are constantly telling themselves that if they pick out some group, make them their political enemy, shout them down, and call them names, that they are making the world a better place. As it happens this is not the case. What is really happening is those people are creating artificial conflict, a conflict they can win. They win because they write the rules for the conflict and set the conditions for winning. The real horror show here is that even when someone is hurt or killed it’s a win.

Finally, if the past 20 years has taught us anything it’s that conflict radicalizes fringe groups and makes them more popular for disaffected youth. There is a fine line between fighting a bully and being a bully telling yourself you are fighting a bully.