2013 April 25 Thursday
The Freedom Manifest Destiny Delusion

The reasoning that has brought us Team America: World Police.

George W. Bush was emotional: "In the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. . . . My deepest conviction . . . is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom. I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart."

Do terrorists want everyone to be free? Rapists? Murderers? Wife and child beaters? How about Bernie Madoff? Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Mao Tse-Tung? Or the people in France who voted into office a government that has imposed a 75% top tax bracket?

Today delusions are celebrated. A defining characteristic of the current era: People put on airs of being morally superior by denying human nature. Support an unachievable vision of humanity to demonstrate your high mindedness.

What is the mechanism that is causing this to happen? Do people want to be flattered by someone who tells them how pretty lies about their potential? Why is it that we live in a society whose elites outwardly embrace a secular mythology of humanity?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 April 25 10:14 PM 


Comments
destructure said at April 26, 2013 7:52 AM:

What is the mechanism that is causing this to happen? Do people want to be flattered by someone who tells them how pretty lies about their potential? Why is it that we live in a society whose elites outwardly embrace a secular mythology of humanity?

I know what you're asking. To understand, you need to know two things. First, "Why are people so naive?" The answer can be found in liberal vs conservative morality. For that, see Haidt's moral foundations theory. He wrote a best-seller about it called The Righteous Mind. The short answer is that morality is based on 5 main values. Liberals have 2 but conservatives have all 5. Basically, liberal morality isn't firing on all cylinders.

And, second, "How did they get that way?" The answer can be found in an old joke ó a Democrat is a Republican who hasnít been mugged yet. But it's more than a joke. Studies show that fear, danger, adversity, etc really do push one towards the right. Thatís why people tend to be more liberal when things are easy but more conservative during or after a period of turmoil.

Because people evolved in tough environments, they still need some hardship to develop psychologically. But people today have it so easy that many don't get enough hardship. That's particularly true the wealthier and more influential someone's family is. There are other factors such as genetics, peer pressure, etc that influence one's moral psychology, too. So you still have a lot of wealthy conservatives and poor liberals. Regardless, moral psychology isn't rational and has little to do with intelligence. It operates on more of an emotional level. Thatís why you canít reason with most people about social, economic and political issues.

Paul M. Jones said at April 26, 2013 10:40 AM:

"Do terrorists want everyone to be free? Rapists? Murderers? Wife and child beaters? How about Bernie Madoff? Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Mao Tse-Tung? Or the people in France who voted into office a government that has imposed a 75% top tax bracket?"

Those persons still want freedom for themselves, even if not for others.

Abelard Lindsey said at April 26, 2013 12:22 PM:

The "missionary" (interventionist) foreign policy is the problem. It may have been necessary during the cold war. But it certainly has not been necessary since the implosion of the Soviet Union. The interventionist foreign policy appears to be driven by two motives. The first is the missionary part. Americans like to believe the rest of the world is just like them. Thus, they are driven to believe that the rest of the world aspires to American-style freedom and life-style. This belief is shared by both the left and the right factions of the political class.

The other motivating factor driving our interventionist foreign policy is the perception on much of the right that enemies lurk all around us. Thus, we must be prepared to Hold The Line, and to make sure than no other society can challenge us militarily. We must intervene all over the world to make sure their governments like us. This belief is shared by those on the right.

Since both the left and the right believe in some motivation for the interventionist foreign policy, there is little chance of reduction or elimination of it in the foreseeable future.

Stephen said at April 26, 2013 10:04 PM:

Do people want to be flattered by someone who tells them how pretty lies about their potential?

I think this is it. The history of the world shows that if you tell a population that they're special / god's chosen etc, then they'll happily act against their own self-interest to support the leader who is lying at them to their face.

ASPIRANT said at April 26, 2013 11:00 PM:

This topic is of huge concern to me.

High-minded moral superiority seems to me something secular people hold onto like a religionÖ Several friends of mine have it Always ready to make with a triumphant story about some unfortunate individual in Africa who made a "difference," always ready to talk about how important almighty environment is to shaping someone's character. They're otherwise smart up-and-coming engineers and and doctors, not given to liberal goodthink or that shaming reflex that a lot of them get whenever someone says something "problematic." They even complain about most of the left's most sacred minorities on a daily basis. But whenever the conversation turns to HBD, evo-psych, game-theory (both the one about women and competing deal-making strategies), they just completely lock up and stop speaking in anything other than a stammering "eh, ummmmÖ" These people can babble on for hours about quantum physics and philosophy; these aren't concepts that are beyond their ability to comprehend. It just seems like this particular brand of cognitive dissonance is too much for them to take. They won't even tell me why they don't like to discuss this stuff, they just kind of trail off whenever the discussion goes down one of those dark alleyways until the conversation drifts back to happier things. I really wish they'd give a straight answer; it almost seems like they're afraid they'll come to the same conclusions I did. Maybe the lies are just too pretty to throw away.

It's frustrating that they won't even examine something so central to the decisions they make every day and I'm starting to think that even in this case I'd be wise to just shut up about it.

> Liberals have 2 [of the moral values] but conservatives have all 5. Basically, liberal morality isn't firing on all cylinders.
Don't have anything to add except you're basically the exact thing randall is calling out (even though I'd say he'd agree with you, and I as well to a limited extent), and you missed the point of the post.

> Thus, we must be prepared to Hold The Line, and to make sure than no other society can challenge us militarily. We must intervene all over the world to make sure their governments like us.
I do think that's a good explanation for why we developed this gregarious morality that calls for us to share it by coercion if necessary. But so many people don't even follow the chain of thought that high up; to them, our democracy is God's gift to the world. End of story. Any attempt to convince a group of people like this otherwise turns into an an awkward monosyllabic conversation with shifty-eyed suspicious glances, as if they're thinking to themselves "how can this guy not love America?"

>Do people want to be flattered by someone who tells them how pretty lies about their potential?
This is probably the best answer out there, but it's so unsatisfying. How can people throw away so much actual potential chasing down an illusion?

Hahah, reading over this, my post here makes it sound like I'm someone who goes around arguing with people all the time. That's only partly true, you know.

ASPIRANT said at April 26, 2013 11:13 PM:

Also, the theory is fairly well documented that being able to take in ideas like this and follow them unquestioningly is great for group cohesion. In the veldts, probably the only impact theories about the world could have would be to unite a group that may not have anything else to unite it (ie religion). So critically thinking about what you believe would probably have been less of an advantage for an individual than finding out what the consensus belief was and sticking to it. This is why ideas like that are so hard to shake, and why so much of our reasoning capacity is used justifying our beliefs after we've already settled on them emotionally.

It's only recently that human pontification could have a real impact on the world, through science and politics.

Stephen said at April 27, 2013 2:17 AM:

Aspirant said, "It's only recently that human pontification could have a real impact on the world, through science and politics.

Quite right. In fact, in evolutionary terms, it surprises me that abstract thinking wasn't actively selected against because its very bad for group cohesion.

Recently I've warmed to Julian Jaynes' hypothesis that abstract thought only arose in the last few thousand years.

Randall Parker said at April 27, 2013 9:57 AM:

Aspirant,

I wonder if we can reach the deluded thru a sort of intellectual back door. Deliver the concepts in order to explain behavior in other species, like dogs or chimps. Then deliver the understanding about humans but for aspects of human nature which are less likely to trigger their defenses. Or come up with other more palatable ways to deliver the truth.

I also wonder whether the people today most deluded by a secular ideology are the same sorts of people who would have most intensely embraced a religion in a previous century.

Stephen,

You are referring to that Julian Jaynes book about the breakdown of the bicameral mind? I'm skeptical. If it happened then it happened due to genetic mutations that spread. Humans split off into separate races much earlier than that. The human genetic branching around the Bering Strait crossing probably happened 20k+ years ago.

destructure,

I think part of the problem is that people do not think statistically. However, non-statistically thinking people used to have more accurate views of human differences. What sequence of developments led us to a mainstream conventional wisdom that is in such a deluded state? I get Haidt's argument. I posted links to his findings on FuturePundit years ago. But how exactly did we get to this set of delusions? Did some factions see major advantages in deluding people. What is it going to take to break the hold of major portions of the current secular mythology?

destructure said at April 28, 2013 5:25 AM:

But how exactly did we get to this set of delusions? Did some factions see major advantages in deluding people. What is it going to take to break the hold of major portions of the current secular mythology? -- rANDALL

How we got here is that people are sheltered from the negative consequences of their actions. Some people benefit socially and financially from holding their delusions. After all, who would benefit -- the person who holds popular delusions or the one who holds unpopular truths? In the short term, it would likely be the former.

What it's going to take is for people to face negative consequences for their delusions. Or, at the very least, to remove the costs associated with unpopular truths. You'll find people tend to believe and support those things with real, immediate benefits and oppose those things with real, immediate costs. What's right, what's true or what's good for the long term has very little to do with it.

***

Don't have anything to add except you're basically the exact thing randall is calling out -- ASPIRANT

I couldn't care less about being morally superior, high minded, righteous, etc. My point was that people are psychologically motivated. And these psychological motives have real consequences. More specifically, people evolved these psychological motives because they tend to work well in dealing with individuals and groups. I don't think someone who has all 5 values is more moral than a squirrel who buries his nuts for the winter. It's not smarter or more righteous. But it will help keep his little furry tail alive.


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