“The worship of reason is… an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion. It’s the idea that reasoning is our most noble attribute….”
Jonathan Haidt wrote those words in his book, The Righteous Mind.
…we must be wary of any individual’s ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire a pulse along its axon. A neuron by itself isn’t very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way, you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.
In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons…. But if you put individuals together in the right way…, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system.
I don’t believe that emergence is happening yet.
Assuming ebola does not turn out to be the 21st century version of the Black Death, people are going to be studying the transmission of ebola fear, misinformation and ignorance for decades. (On that point, check out Irwin Sherman’s engagingly flat recitation of “Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World.”).
Some preliminary data points, from a pool too wide to sample, even superficially.
– What is the DHS Secretary’s “real motive in refusing to restrict travel from West Africa?” A writer on a website that boasts it has been thinking for ten years discovers “a link” between DHS Secretary Jey Johnson and black power politics. The argument is painful to unpack (you can read it here ), but the conclusion is “…the long-dead communist [Stokely] Carmichael’s dream of sticking it to ‘whitey’ via the White House and its apparatchiks is coming true.” Michelle Obama is also partially to blame; but I could not quite figure out how or why.
– From Harpers – Giant Microbes, a web retailer, reported that its $9.95 Ebola plush toy, whose product tag describes the virus as “the T. Rex of microbes,” had sold out worldwide. I checked. It’s true. Giant Microbes can’t start shipping ebola plush toys until mid-November.
– And hold those holiday travel plans. North Korea – wanting to upstage the United States again - plans to ban foreign tourists because they might spread ebola.
– The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt looks to save readers from researching who’s to blame for… well, ebola in America. Here’s what he’s gathered:
• President Obama, for caring about Africans more than he cares about us.
• Republicans, for starving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of funds so it could not prepare for Ebola.
• Michelle Obama, for tricking the CDC into promoting exercise and healthy eating instead of preparing for Ebola.
• Republicans, for starving the National Institutes of Health of funds so that it could not discover a cure for Ebola.
• The NIH, for squandering the ample funds generously appropriated by Republicans on lazy bureaucrats and self-indulgent research.
• Democrats and Republicans, for forcing the NIH to spend money on illnesses with well-organized constituencies (e.g., cancer) and not in areas with the most potential return on investment.
• Sierra Leoneans.
• Republicans, for denigrating Washington so regularly that good people don’t want to serve in government.
• Democrats, for coddling government unions that drive good people out of government with mindless anti-meritocracy.
• President Obama, for not standing taller against denigration of government service or coddling of government unions.
• The World Health Organization, for missing the ball as the epidemic bloomed.
• Obama, for not listening to the World Health Organization’s warnings on Ebola.
• Anti-smoking activists, for pressuring the World Health Organization to detour from its core mission.
• The National Rifle Association, for opposing a nominee for surgeon general because he wanted to reduce gun violence.
• Congress, for taking orders from the NRA.
• CDC Director Thomas Frieden, for not keeping that nurse off the airplane.
• NIH official Anthony Fauci, for not telling Frieden to keep the nurse off the plane.
• Obama, for not at least banning dogs with Ebola from airplanes ….
• Ron Klain. He was appointed Ebola czar …. Why hasn’t he solved the problem yet?
– Tara Haelle adds to the collection:
In one corner of the Internet, we learn that President Obama created the Ebola virus—or Obama-Ebola—to “infect the DNA of Christians and to destroy Jesus so that a New Age of Liberal Darkness can rise in America.” Obamacare, we are told, is the cover organization to find the cure, and the virus will infect all Americans in the next month.
In another corner, we learn that Ebola doesn’t actually exist at all. The disease currently raging through West Africa was brought there by the Red Cross, who injected people with an illness so that American troops could be sent to steal Nigeria’s oil and Sierra Leone’s diamonds. Another explanation is simple: All the negativity and selfishness in the universe caused Ebola. Yet another tells us that two women who died from Ebola have risen from the dead and that the zombie apocalypse is beginning….
Haelle claims the last rumor is not true.
– Andy Borowitz may have the most accurate reports. Some of the headlines over his recent stories:
Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News
Poll: Majority of Americans Favor Quarantining Wolf Blitzer
Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes
Christie Sworn in as Doctor (Saying that he was “sick and tired of having my medical credentials questioned,” Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) had himself sworn in as a medical doctor on Sunday night.)
– Here’s something not as amusing. It’s from Mark Thiessen in the Washington Post:
Ebola has up to a 21-day incubation period — more than enough time for terrorists to infect themselves and then come here with the virus. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place — say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids…. Or, the virus could also be released more subtly. Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.
There’s lots more of this “fearbola”. But that’s enough for now.
We will all die. Something’s going to get us at some point. But what are the odds?
Justin Schumacher summarizes data from the National Safety Council on the odds of people in this country dying from a variety of causes. His full list is here. Some excerpts:
- 1 in 5 [deaths]—Heart disease
- 1 in 7 —Cancer
- 1 in 23 — Stroke
- 1 in 67 — Influenza, i.e. the flu
- 1 in 112 — Car accident
- 1 in 2,000,000 — Ebola (worldwide odds, so far)
- 1 in 3,700,000 — Bitten by a shark
- 1 in 10,000,000 — Hit by falling airplane parts
- 1 in 20,000,000 — Killed by a terrorist
Not that data means that much to anyone whose mind is made up.
Three more children died in a school shooting on Friday.
It’s the 50th shooting this year and the 87th since the December 12, 2012 killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Also on Friday, two California sheriff’s deputies were murdered.
In 2011, 32,351 people died from firearms, that’s roughly 88 people a day.
… Gun violence — in schools, in workplaces and across our communities — has become virtually normal in America,” writes Eric Liu
It should not be. It cannot be. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to have over 30,000 gun deaths a year. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to expect educators and parents and first responders to have plans at the ready for a shooting at their school. It is not normal, in a civilized nation, to assert that the best solution to gun violence is for more people to have more access to more guns.
I know a guy whose 13 year old son, in passing, mentioned something about another boy in his class.
“Stacy said ‘It would be really easy to kill someone. All you’d have to do is take a gun, pull the trigger, and there’s a bullet in their head’.”
Not a big deal. My friend’s son didn’t feel threatened.
“He’s always saying stuff like that. He likes to shock people. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”
So, what is a delusion? Haidt again:
…a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that has no existence in fact.