Month: April 2018

Slack Chat: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Chocolate Donut

T: Hey J, did you see this?

Twelve senators seek FCC probe of Sinclair news scripts, pause in…

J: That’s interesting, although I doubt it’s going to make much difference. It’s concerning that Sinclair made their stations run that editorial… it does smack of trying to undermine non-Sinclair outlets’ news reporting.

T: You don’t think this has first amendment repercussions? I’m happy they’re getting called out, but at the same time, this is another example of how the first amendment can be curtailed through well meaning yet tyrannical control over the stray abuse.

J: Stray?

T: Well, you know what I mean.

J: Not really, but that’s not news.

T: Did you read FiveThirtyEight’s chat about Trump firing some of the various players surrounding the Mueller investigation?

J: I generally agree with their assessments; I think firing Rosenstein would be a little less of a Big Deal™ than they do, but it would definitely have serious ramifications.

T: Did you just trademark Big Deal?

J: Yes. As far as you know™.

T: Did you – never mind.

J: What do you think of Trump firing Rosenstein?

T: I think it would damage Trump’s credibility with the base, without really accomplishing his goals. If I’m Trump, I might just fire Mueller and keep yelling “witch hunt.” Since I’m not Trump, I hope he takes my advice. Because I don’t think it’ll work.

At this point Trump’s relationship with Putin is on shaky ground, no matter what he does. If he cooperates with Putin now, he looks guilty of collusion. If he fights with him, he damages his reputation with the base and enhances the public desire to get to the bottom of the collusion investigation.

J: Trump has painted himself into a corner on Syria; after criticizing Obama for being weak and caving in on his “red line” he can’t very well do the same thing. He’s already screwed up the response by telling the Syrians that the missiles are coming; by now they’ve moved everything they don’t want blown up to safe locations. I think that’s why he’s backed off on the rhetoric; he knows that a raid now wouldn’t have much, if any, effect, and it would just escalate tensions with Putin.

As far as the Sinclair thing, I think the bigger implication is the chilling effect that Sinclair has (or is trying to have) on non-Sinclair outlets. They’re trying to paint themselves as the only reliable source of news. That’s concerning when you have the local reach that they do.

T: Does Sinclair own local papers? I thought they were a national thing. Any local paper that isn’t independently owned is not a local paper, as far as I’m concerned.

J: Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the country; I don’t think they own newspapers, though they might. Their stations reach something like 72 percent of all homes. So yeah, they definitely have a concerning level of reach.

T: If Sinclair owns a local news station, that’s no longer a local news station. If the FCC wants to make itself useful, stop obsessing over tits and the word fuck and require all local stations to reveal their ownership during every broadcast. If a station isn’t locally owned, it can’t call itself local news.

I mean, the conflict of interest is monstrous. If you don’t live here, you CAN’T be allowed to control the local news feed. That would be like allowing the Russians to run our elections.

T: The Sinclair thing goes back to my argument about franchising. Some might say they like that they know what they are getting from Sinclair. Me, I’d prefer they are not allowed to EVER franchise the news, any more than they should be allowed to franchise food, drink or retail.

Groupthink can’t be helped, but we can mitigate the effects by controlling groupspeak. They can talk all they want but they can’t be allowed to spew propaganda and call it news.

J: I don’t disagree. I think the FCC does require disclosure of ownership, but most stations do it at 2 am or some such thing, just to comply with the requirement while still maintaining the pretense of local control.

T: I mean every broadcast, not just once a day. Every talking head has to tell the truth, at least once in every broadcast: Tell us who owns you, before you start spouting so-called facts. That way, we can at least consider the source.

J: As far as what the answer would be, I’d say we should reinstate the old limits on the number of stations that any entity can own. I think it used to be five. Even the Big Three networks weren’t allowed to own more than five stations. They could have affiliates, but the affiliates were locally owned and controlled. We need to return to that model.

T: We are in a dangerous place, with so few people controlling so much of the public conversation, and so many gullible morons who believe whatever their television tells them. They might as well be parrots, repeating a message they don’t understand.

J: That’s just it. The parrots don’t understand that they are being manipulated; they just take what they’re handed by Fox News (I suppose it’s true to some extent of any news outlet, but Fox News is the most egregious model) and spew it as the gospel truth, when in fact it’s at best slanted, and at worst just plain made up.

T: The grotesque reality is that we’ve never had better access to information, but instead of getting it right, like we sure as hell could if we tried; we stubbornly grab onto our confirmation biases like they are logs, floating in a sea of confusion. How do we get past that?

J: We have to figure out some way to teach people to think critically. Just stop before you post that meme and think “Is this really true?” That’s all. Take those extra few seconds to find out if what you’re posting is true. Of course, people will always post things that agree with their pre-existing biases, but if enough people develop the habit of critical thinking we could start to cut down on the overwhelming amount of bullshit that’s out there.

T: In my experience, most people really can’t control their critical thinking will, or even their free will. We all make choices, but most of us, most of the time, just make decisions automatically, based on our respective bundles of perception. This is why we hate outsiders, I think. They don’t share our bundles, and it makes us uncomfortable.

In the US, we think of it as a color thing, but it’s been around forever, and often it has nothing to do with color. How do you explain the Palestinians and the Jews? They look literally like brothers and sisters.

J: Most people don’t want to think critically, unfortunately; they have their preconceived notions and biases and prejudices, and anything that causes them to re-examine them makes us defensive and uncomfortable.

T: I think you have it backwards, J. Most people are incapable of critical thinking, like some 5-4 fat guy who wants to dunk a basketball. He’s not lazy, and he doesn’t lack volition. He just short of the needed load. He can want to dunk all he wants, but good luck getting up there without a trampoline.

J: I think the two-state solution is really the only workable one; it’s half a loaf for both sides but it would at least maybe get people to stop shooting each other in the name of a nonexistent God.

T: I don’t know what that means.

J: Let’s table it for now, since you are just going to wander off into some philosophical rant, anyway.

T: Hold my beer.

What you might see as laziness, I see as a lack of will. It’s not that they don’t WANT to think critically, it’s that they lack the will. The free will. The freedom to manipulate their will.

J: Maybe. Maybe people lack the will for self-examination. If they start thinking critically they might have to admit they were wrong about something, or change an opinion, or discard a long-held belief. That’s uncomfortable. It’s easier to stay in the bundle, to use your analogy.

T: I have been lucky enough to have ridden the rails of my capabilities quite a bit lately, between college and some challenging work assignments with the newspaper. I know there are lots of times when I want to use my brain a certain way, but I realize that I might as well be trying to go on an all-Brussels sprouts diet. I have the desire, but I lack the necessary will. The free will to use my brain the way I desire to use it. It’s a powerful thing, knowing that you aren’t smart enough to do something you can actually envision.

J: Are you, ironically, proving my point by refusing to consider my analysis? That would be super-meta.

T: What analysis?

J: My analysis that people lack the will for self-examination.

T: Oh, I agree that they lack the will; that’s pretty much my point. I guess you think of will as something easy, like you just pick it up. Will as in “I will go do something, so all I have to do is get up and go.” But that’s not how free will works. The “will” to do something your bundle didn’t predispose you to do is what I would call free will. And getting up and going, for most people, is part of the basic bundle. It’s just generic, paint-by the numbers will(ed).

Hey, is there such a thing as a disciplined predeterminism? As in deciding, ahead of time, how to approach a crux situat-

J: Focus!

T: Sorry, I thought I saw a bird. If will was easy, people wouldn’t get fat, drink too much or screw around on their spouses so much (or so little). We’d all do the right thing far more often, and we’d all do the wrong thing far less often if will was something easy.

th (23)I’ll go even further. I think the vast majority of the world lacks even the slightest hint of free will. Does Trump have free will? Of course not; he’s as predictable as a sneeze in a pepper factory. Did Obama have free will? I’m not sure; he was a good man, and a smart man, but did he ever get outside the political box? I don’t know that he did, and he did some things that make me believe he lacked free will, like not forcing congress to wait on the unemployment stimulus long enough to build a public works program.

J: I see “will” differently; to me “will” means making the choice to follow a course of action. It could be a simple thing like going to the kitchen and getting a chocolate donut, or it could be me trying to dunk on a 12-foot hoop. Of course, having “will” doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to do what my “will” is; I ain’t dunking on no 12-foot hoop unless I’ve got a rocket up my ass. There’s donuts in the kitchen though. So we might need to define our terms a little more.

T: Free will means that, when you go into the kitchen, literally no food is safe. From the donut on the counter to the Brussels sprouts in the crisper, you have no predisposed choice locked in. But we both know that’s not true, even for the smartest of us, and the freest of us .

Either the donuts are safe or the sprouts are safe. But they are never both in danger at once.

J: Well, the sprouts are safe from me at all times.

T: Well, me too. My bundle won’t even allow me to bring those little Soylent Green pod people home.

J: Me either.

T: I have the desire to tell the world to stop growing Brussels sprouts and grow something that doesn’t smell like wet, burned garbage and doesn’t make us gassier than a hot air balloon in a blast furnace. But not the will. They will continue to grow pod people, and the gullibly health-conscious will continue to eat them.

J: Well, that’s just lazy.

T: Touché.

And don’t get me started on Zuccchini … they sell that crap for 79 cents a pound in the grocery store? Who in the hell is dumb enough to –


T: Sorry. How about this? Free will is like a tree on a mountain. The tree is real, but we are mostly mountain. That donut on the counter is always in danger, because we are evolutionarily predisposed to love the fucking shit out of chocolate donuts. The sprouts are safe from most of us, but if they are in there, they are only in danger from someone who heads into the kitchen with the sprouts already locked and loaded in their minds.

Nobody roots through a fridge, smells cabbage farts and decides, “Hey, Brussels sprouts sound good right now. I could really go for some Brussels sprouts.”

J: Fox News is chocolate donuts; it goes down easy, tastes good, doesn’t cause you gastric disturbance later. NPR is Brussels sprouts; not as appetizing, might cause some stomach upset later, but much better for you than chocolate donuts.

T: Sure, that works. There are lots of examples like that. I suck up comedy like chocolate donuts, and skim past documentaries, even on subjects I actually care about, like I skip past the apple in the crisper and grab the ice cream out of the freezer. Yet if I eat an apple I enjoy it, like that documentary, because  it gives me a feeling of accomplishment, like I’m a better person for eating the apple while i watch “The Making of Blazing Saddles.” Plus apples have sugar in them.

I compared free will to always doing the right thing, but I think a key misconception about free will is that it always involves doing the right thing. Doing the right thing might actually be the least freewillish act of them all, right above a baby sucking on a nipple. Doing the right thing requires a previous bundle of perceptions to spit out the right thing to do.

Trump, in my mind, is incredibly predictable because he’s simple and obvious. Taking that to the next level, looking at him through the free will lens, so to speak, Trump is simple and obvious because he is utterly incapable of bucking even the most fundamental, obvious solutions to the questions that come out of his bundle. Given a scenario, he always does the predictable thing. He never surprises, never fools, never nonplusses us. He never shocks us; we are shocked at ourselves, that we put this mediocre human being in such a position of power. It used to be shock at his luck, being born incredibly rich and having a father who refused to allow him to fail.

And then we elected him President. Now we are shocked at us. We are shocked at us, giving that job to that person.

We think we’re shocked at Trump, but we aren’t, we are shocked at Trump like we are shocked at Mr. Magoo. Magoo isn’t shocking, he does the same dammed thing in every episode. “Trump does something shocking” is now a template, automatically substituted for “Trump does something.” Name something shocking he’s done. I defy you to surprise me with anything he has done.

He’s as basic and average as a guy can be, considering the life he’s been exposed to. He’s your basic, average guy with a billion dollars, who Magooed his way to the White House by stepping between every dammed mud puddle along the way. Trump’s good fortune? Shocking. Trump? As boring and predictable as a blind man plowing his car into a crowd of nuns and orphans.

J: What?

T: Don’t overthink the imagery.

J: Can I unthink it?

T: Ok, a crowd of Pat Boone fans.

J: Much better.

T: You’re welcome.

download (21)J: Well, anyway – how much of that unshockingness is our becoming inured to what would previously have been shocking? There’s never been a president, or any politician really, who flouted the established norms of political behavior the way Trump does. It’s become almost expected that Trump will not only do the wrong thing, but he will do it in the way that is calculated to cause the maximum amount of turmoil. It’s as if he thrives on chaos, and perhaps he does. It’s no way to run a railroad though, much less a country.

T: The perception of Trump is shocking, because our bundles expect political leaders to act a certain way. I used to yell at the computer screen during 538 podcasts because Harry Enten kept insisting that Trump would learn how to act presidential and pivot. You can scour our blog, and you’ll find all sorts of examples of me calling people out for predicting anything from Trump beyond what he’s always been.

I’ve seen tons of people – you, for example – talk about Trump as if he thinks about the repercussions of his actions. But he doesn’t think about anything. He reacts to everything, and his instincts always take over.

J: No, Trump doesn’t think about the repercussions of his actions. He doesn’t think about how they fit into his grand strategy, because he HAS no grand strategy, unless “make as much money as possible off the government” is a strategy.

But I don’t think Trump is dumb. He’s a venal, pathological liar; he’s greedy, unprincipled and ideologically bankrupt. But he isn’t dumb. He was smart enough to convince the Joe Lunchbuckets of the Midwest that he was going to be their champion when he had no intention of helping them, and in fact was planning on actively hurting them with his tariffs.

He was smart enough to understand that sound bites are good enough, and to use all the free media he got to sneak in ahead of Clinton. He’s calculating and pretty much uncaring about anything that isn’t Trump-business related, but he’s not dumb.

T: I think you are still attributing conscious thought to what, for Trump, were instinctual actions, based on his lifetime bundle. Trump doesn’t calculate. I submit, with emphasis, that Trump has never demonstrated the capacity to calculate.

J: I’m heading for the kitchen. And I am going to will myself to choke down a chocolate donut.

T: I should go eat a Brussels sprout, just to prove I have free will.

But we both know that ain’t happening.