Books, Uncategorized

Is The World A Good Place?

The people who read the newspapers believe that people are at each other’s throats. But, the probability of I being murdered, or your child being kidnapped is way too low. The reason is, of course, that the media discusses journalistic concretes, but not fundamental abstractions. To answer the really complex questions, we need broad empirical evidence and abstract reasoning. This is why news, especially Indian journalism is worthless. Aakar Patel claims that the world is a good place, though the newspapers might tell you otherwise.

People are not continually at each others throats. True enough. But, if we judge people as bad only if they’re at each other’s throats, we are setting the bar way too low. People are quite awful. Deception is the norm in human interactions. But, do people believe that the world is a “bad place” because the newspaper tells them so? I think not. People read news reports on deception or politicking in human subgroups as if it is “news”. It doesn’t occur to them that this is the norm, and not a transient cultural abberation. Now, why do people overestimate the risk of homicide or burglary, but underestimate the extent of deception in the market or the marketplace of democratic politics? I think David Livingstone Smith a good explanation:

“The power to deceive is our main weapon in the struggle for social survival. Like it or not, without it, we are sheep in the company of wolves. Similarly, the power to read intentions from nonverbal expressions is our best safeguard against victimization by others. Without it, we are at their mercy.”

“Immensely rapid, specialized unconscious modules are humming in the background of our minds twenty-four hours a day. We could not get along without them. We could not get manage if we had to consciously coordinate our bodily movements, choose words in a conversation, or laboriously parse streams of sound from people’s mouths into choppy words and sentences. Fortunately, our brains come equipped with pre-installed cognitive software for these tasks, and the same holds true of our ability to understand the meaning of social behavior.

“All social inferences flow from a common set of assumptions, an informal folk-psychological theory of human nature. If the theory is biased, it will deliver faulty appraisals of everyone: not only of oneself, but also of other people. Commonsense assumptions include gems of sagacity such as the notion that self-deception is abnormal, that good people do not lie, that so-called normal people are not motivated by self-interest, and that politicians aspire to serve the public. Such homilies cannot serve as a basis for sound social reasoning, but they are terrific gimmicks for Machiavellian manipulation. The knife of self-deception cuts two ways: you cannot maintain a highly distorted conception of yourself side by side with a true estimate of others.“—Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith

As Aakar Patel points out, the homicide rate in the US is very low. But, it is still many times higher than the homicide rate in, say, Japan. There are some pretty good arguments why this is so, in Satoshi Kanazawa’s “Order By Accident”. Japan is a conformist society which punishes both criminals and geniuses, because both geniuses and criminals are non-conformists. The US is more individualistic and produces both. But, white collar crimes are far more common in Japan than in individualistic Denmark because we all descended from criminals, aka alpha males. The people in Japan are not likely to refuse if their bosses ask them to do something wrong. 88% of them said that they’d do it. Only 52% (!) in Denmark said that they’d do things for their bosses. People are weak and pathetic. They do not see this as wrong, and wouldn’t admit that the people who toe the official line are rascals. What we call crimes today, like murder, were strategies that helped people acquire status in the past. When the modern governments defined murder or burglary as a crime, what did people do? They channeled their criminal instincts into acts that are not too visible to the naked eyes of the mush-headed. 

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