Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Are Not So Smart BUT This Will Make You Smarter - So You Can See Through The Empire of Illusion

[This post started simply, but got more complicated (and much better) as I found things on the internet.]

I was struck by these titles in the bookstore in the San Francisco Airport.

On the blog this book emerged from, Dave McCraney writes:

The central theme here is that you are unaware of how unaware you are. There is branch of psychology and an old and growing body of research with findings that suggest you have little idea why you act or think the way you do. Despite this, you create narratives to explain your own feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and these narratives become the story of your life.

This is, of course, not that far from what I try to do here.  Get people (including me) to be a little more humble, a little less sure of what they think they know.  And start to see other ways to create meaning from the data.

BUT,  I was struck by the fact that the bookstore didn't put this next book alongside the first one.

It turns out both NPR and the Atlantic have posted on this book in the last 24 hours.  From the Atlantic piece (hype?):

"In 2011, with the help of psycholinguist Steven Pinker and legendary psychologist Daniel Kahneman, he posed an even grander question: What scientific concept will improve everybody's cognitive toolkit? The answers, featuring a wealth of influential scientists, authors, and thought-architects, were recently released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking -- a formidable anthology of short essays by 151 of our time's biggest thinkers on subjects as diverse as the power of networks, cognitive humility, the paradoxes of daydreaming, information flow, collective intelligence, and a dizzying, mind-expanding range in between. Together, they construct a powerful toolkit of meta-cognition -- a new way to think about thinking itself."
You can read all the answers online here.

It's important to realize we don't know as much as we think.  It's important to develop better thinking skills.  Because our thinking is being managed by our corporate moves to convert everything - people included - into dollars for their advantage.  The idea of the 1% both shows how successful they have been AND that some of the 99% have not lost the ability to see through the bullshit.

So, ultimately, this third book seems to me to be the most important of the three.

Poking around on line convinces me that Chris Hedges knows a lot more than most of us and has the moral courage to say the things that people don't want to hear - like criticizing the Iraq war early on -  and doing what is right despite the costs - like quitting his NY Times position (where he won a Pulitzer Prize) rather than abide by their subsequent gag rule.

Hedges speaks about Empire of Illusion in this long (1:22) 2009 video tape at the New School (founded in 1919 if that's new enough for you) at NYU. Hedges begins with the commodification of Michael Jackson. 

The end of his talk comes around 56 minutes.  He concludes this way:
"If we remain passive
We will soon be engulfed by a ruthless, totalitarian, capitalism.
If we remain passive as we undergo the largest transferrance of wealth upwards in American history, we will become serfs.
If we fight back, we have a chance.
Saturation coverage of [Michael] Jackson’s death was one of many examples of our collective flight into illusion.
It deflected the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, failing imperial wars, economic collapse, and political corruption.
As we sink into and economic and political morass, as we barrel towards a crisis that will create more misery than the great depression, we remain controlled, manipulated, and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave
The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain.
It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of impossible fame and happiness, and keep us from fighting back. 
And in the end, that was all the Jackson coverage was really about.  Another tawdry and tasteless spectacle to divert a dying culture from the baying wolf at the gate."
 Then at 58 minutes or so, the Q&A begins.  He talks about how wrestling in the past and today contains the narratives of the day.  There are different narratives from when his grandfather watched wrestling once a week.  Today's narratives are about:
". . . personal disintegration, sibling rivalries, personal abuse, there is no delineation between good or evil now.  Everybody cheats as soon as the ref turns his back.  Wrestlers play out the fantasies of revenge that in real life these people don’t have."
Some more points he makes during the Q&A:
  • moving from a literacy based society to an image based society and how this fits neatly into totalitarianism.  
  • the twilight of empires,  when people fall into a state of delusion.  The Egyptians built the pyramids at the end of the empire. 
  • If not prepared for the collapse, you act as a child, looking for someone to save you.
  • Sober reading of reality is the best possibility for survival and hope, if we continue in a state of illusion then hope is impossible because every decision we make is not reality based.
  • There is no working class movement, because we have no working class
  • He was asked about his comment about moving from literacy to images.  The questioner pointed out that Socrates was afraid of books and books haven't seemed to have harmed us.  Hedges responded that Socrates' fear of books (in answer to a question) was a concern that when moral philosophy becomes written down it freezes speech.   It becomes a form of orthodoxy. Socrates feared that that dialog, that struggle for the moral life was too ambiguous to ever be codified.  Today, he suggested that if you read something online, it is surrounded by moving images and movement like that interrupts thinking.  We now fear solitude and our technology is so powerful that most of us are hallucinating.  We're completely isolated from the real.  We've created a virtual reality that we mistake for the real. 
    And as someone who's been in war, when we (I include soldiers here too) come back, we can't compete with the very powerful, but false images of war in the media - like Saving Private Ryan.  Because people feel like they've had the experience, but they've been manipulated by very powerful technology.

He's published two books since this one came out.  Here's Wikipedia's list of his books:

One more book that I saw in the bookstore.

From the book's website:

". . .  we hope it will encourage voters to consider the source of the information they use to choose who will lead them. We’ve been doing political opposition research for 18 years, on a weird, extended road trip that no one else would take. The book is our way of taking readers along for the ride as we research politicians from presidential appointees to candidates for local school boards, finding what’s right and wrong about politics, political candidates, and the quirky cultural landscape of America."
It seems to have just come out and I haven't read it.  But I'm guessing it will help demonstrate Hedges' thesis that our reality is created to manipulate us.  

And it's one of the ironic twists of capitalism that these books too get placed prominently in the airport bookstore.  But then San Francisco is a pretty liberal place and they are more likely to sell there. 


  1. Ways of knowing are dictated by world views.

  2. Thanks Mary for that great link. To make it a little easier click here.

  3. We're finishing our greenhouse and we're getting ready to put your great deck chair in it, along with our Earth boxes. Viva Craigslist!


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