CSotD: Futility and Belief

Joy of Tech asks a key question, which is why we seem to ignore major problems that impact the entire world, but obsess over less consequential issues if they impact us more personally and immediately.

The immediate answer — and the gag I think they had in mind — is that we are a bunch of self-absorbed, privileged, First Worlders with no view beyond the present.

And, lord knows, I would not reject that answer.

Though I’d point out that we aren’t going to do anything about Facebook, either. It just elicits more momentary fury. If there were a fourth panel here, it would look just like the second.

But there is a sense that Facebook (for instance) is here, in our hands, while climate change is out there in the greater universe. You could drop off Facebook, but it’s harder to go off the grid and also become a vegetarian.

Plus there’s a nagging sense that your own gesture would be futile, and, if you don’t feel that way, trust me that some True Believer will assure you that the basic recycling you do is pointlessly ineffective and that the small changes you’ve made in your diet won’t matter because …

… and then they’ll tell you why their way is the only way and that you’re just a fool to think your gestures are helping.

True Believers are everywhere, and their ability to foul up social movements is a problem on each side of the spectrum.


Kevin Kallaugher posted this cartoon after the Kanye spectacle but before last night’s 60 Minutes interview, and it holds up rather well.

I started to watch the interview but didn’t get very far into it. Leslie Stahl asked him about climate change and she politely pushed him a little, but he responded that some scientists doubt it’s caused by our actions and feel it will all self-correct.

She pushed a little more, but he simply offered the same kind of dull-witted, baseless beliefs you’d get from any barroom blowhard.

Now, had she been interviewing Barack Obama or Al Gore, first of all, he’d have agreed with 97% of the world’s climate scientists, but, more to the point, he’d have cited two or three studies and a couple of pending legislative initiatives on the topic off the top of his head.

Which is why Trump’s True Believers despise Obama and Gore as eggheads and wise guys and snobs.

But even Cliff Clavin would have come up with something more than an idle shrug.

Cliffie was a fool, but you can argue with a fool and every once in a while, he’ll buckle and admit that he was wrong.

By contrast, a True Believer can watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and go see dinosaur fossils in the museum and still believe that the universe was created about 5,000 years ago over the course of six days.

What sets True Believers apart is not their religion itself so much as their demand that the Universe make sense, that it have order, and that this order be consistent and obvious.

And that it have a point, that it exists for a specific reason, that there is a moral to it all.

Mostly, that there is a right side and wrong side, and nothing in between.


In that universe, as Jim Morin points out, a slavering, screaming mob can consider themselves a team, because they are on the right side, while a relatively well-behaved group of protesters can be dismissed as a mob, because they are in the wrong.

Granted, if they watched the Kavanaugh hearings, they likely didn’t see the many people peacefully picketing outside, but did see the few True Believers screaming and disrupting things and being dragged away inside. Fair is fair, and this notion of a mob was not made up from whole cloth.

Still, they are inclined to believe their opponents are a “mob” and that the people on their own side are not, despite the fascists who not only marched in Charlotteville but violently attacked counter-demonstrators, even killing one of them, and despite the hateful, violent “lock her up” rhetoric coming from their own, righteous side.

It’s that absolute compulsion to believe that Peter Beinart addresses in this Atlantic article.

Their belief in order and meaning inclines them to accept that, yes, perhaps Trump cheated on his taxes and on his wife, perhaps he has been in some corrupt business deals, but he’s a good man who is heading us in the right direction and so it’s okay.

Not only does this level of True Belief excuse Trump’s corruption, but I would contend it is why so many of the loudest preachers of morality turn out to be cheating on their wives, preying upon altar boys or closeted exemplars of the sins they most vehemently preach against.

They fear the feelings most of us simply accept and deal with.

And they believe that declaring a morality they doubt will cure their self-loathing weakness and bring them to righteousness.

And they believe that those who argue against Dear Leader (or Dear Preacher or Dear Coach or Dear Teacher) are doing Satan’s work.

Swift said “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired,” and, some 300 years later, that hasn’t changed.

So we’re back to medieval science, in which experiments are designed to prove what we already believe.


 Steve Breen suggests we’re heading for the Dark Ages, and it’s a bit ironic that, in the Dark Ages, the Muslim world was considerably more enlightened. However, he doesn’t say “back to the Dark Ages.”

Perhaps we’re headed forward to the Dark Ages, with Saudi Arabia simply leading the way we all will follow.


As Graeme MacKay notes, we have to be open-minded about this.

The president told both Fox News and Leslie Stahl that we are going to look into that whole Khashoggi business, and, if we find anything, well, then, there will be serious repercussions.

Mostly the kind that don’t disrupt our trade agreements.

Or anyone’s personal holdings in the area.

Or go against the intended moral direction of the universe.