Link and Comments: science visions; the retrograde government; multiverse; faith; Wars v Trek; California as the future; Haidt on tribalism and the national rift

For today here are several links I’ve ‘saved’ on Facebook in recent weeks, with comments.

First, Plate Tectonics Movement During the Last 540 Million Years, a cool video animation, from a Facebook group called Geology Wonders, that shows the continents moving around and bumping back and forth together over that time. (Is this undermined by the misspelling as ‘tecnonics’ in the title of the post? I’ll assume not; I make my share of typos.)

Second, from Ars Technica, a 3D model of the Milky Way’s place in the larger universe, and how it’s being both pulled and ‘pushed’ by a void. We’re at the center of this map.

From Esquire, This Is Our Most Dangerously Retrograde Government in 150 Years, by Charles P. Pierce.

It’s been fun to point and laugh at the new administration. … But, while we’re doing that, slowly and steadily, an actual government has been forming, and it is the most dangerously retrograde government that our system has produced in at least the past 150 years. It is secretive and it is resistant to any empirical information that it does not want to hear. It is grotesquely anti-science. It seeks to roll back progressive achievements dating back to Teddy Roosevelt and it has the power to do so, even if it is in its own bungling way. And it really hasn’t gotten rolling yet.

From, Parallel Worlds, in which novelist Andrew Crumey wonders if the multiverse can explain the course of history, with references to PK Dick, Philip Roth, Stephen Hawking, and Lucretius.

And here’s a post by fantasy author Robert V.S. Redick, which captures a couple key points about ‘faith’ and why it’s so important to some to have some kind of it. (It’s not about interest in reality; it’s about tribalism.)

A man shows me a sealed wooden crate. “Do you believe that there’s a fluffy pillow in this crate?” he asks.

This is exactly how I feel when asked about belief in God. My own answer has to be no—and I don’t believe there’s a pillow in the crate, either, without evidence—but the question itself is fundamentally wrong. There’s no basis for belief in the pillow, and there’s no conclusive reason for disbelief. It’s a tactical query. It reduces faith, or lack thereof, to a small-minded loyalty test. Are you with Tribe Faith or Tribe Doubt? ‘Cause that other tribe is wicked, you know.

The New Yorker: Why Peter Thiel Fears “Star Trek”, by Manu Saadia. Part of the long Wars vs. Trek debate, on which I come down on the side of Trek, partly because Wars is Manichaean fantasy in which the solution to every problem is to blow something up, and Trek envisions a possible post-scarcity future in which progressive goals have prevailed. But that’s why Thiel doesn’t like it.

Asked by [Maureen] Dowd whether he was a bigger fan of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Thiel replied that, as a capitalist, he preferred the former. “ ‘Star Trek’ is the communist one,” he said. “The whole plot of ‘Star Wars’ starts with Han Solo having this debt that he owes, and so the plot in ‘Star Wars’ is driven by money.”

Journalist Tim Rutten: The Right’s Hatred of California Is Really Fear of a Future that Already Is Working.

What’s really at work in the right-wing’s demonization of California is not really loyalty to Trumpism or traditionalist devotion to the Electoral College. It’s fear of the future. When Trump vowed to “make America great again” the right read his rhetoric as a promise to take us back in time—to the years when white men went off to work and white women stayed home with the kids and minority races were just that, minorities who kept to themselves.

California, by contrast, already is what more of America will look like in the years to come. No single race is in the majority or enjoys a lock on political or economic power. Seventeen percent of all Americans live in California and 38% of them are non-Hispanic whites, 38.8% are Latinos, 14.7% are Asians, 6.5% are African American, 1.7% are Native Americans—numerically, the country’s largest concentration of indigenous people—and 3.8% describe themselves as of mixed race. More Californians—43%–speak a language other than English in their homes, though it will confound Trump supporters to know that immigration from Mexico slowed long ago and the majority of new immigrants come from Asia, mainly China.

California, the 6th largest economy in the world — we must be doing something right — went for Hillary, of course.

And from way back in November, just before the election, an essay in Wall Street Journal by Jonathan Haidt (author of one of my essential nonfiction books, The Righteous Mind — my review here and here and here), How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics: “understanding the psychological causes of our national rift can help us bridge it”.

Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict. Our minds take to it so readily that we invent myths, games and sports—including war games like paintball—that let us enjoy the pleasures of intergroup conflict without the horrors of actual war.

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

This resonates with my thoughts, in PvC #10, about how “society will become increasingly global and more inclusive, … the race will become more homogeneous as previously separated groups intermix…” It’s harder to hate someone when you get to know them, and find that their everyday lives and priorities and goals aren’t so different from your own. On the other hand, the online tribalism of social network groups and competing versions of truth on websites that cater to “motivated reasoning” are making that more difficult.

Haidt again:

Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.

Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.

Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.

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