Links and Comments: World Getting Better; Choosing What to Believe; Questions for Atheists; Mathematical Ideas; Trumpian Cruelty

Vox: 23 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better. From 2014, but updated this month. These data echo the theme of Steven Pinker’s recent books.

File under: human progress, despite conservative paranoia and fears


Slate: How Trump Chooses What to Believe, subtitled “He trusts dictators but not climate scientists. Here’s how he justifies it.”

Noted, among the many many condemnations of fearless leader, because of its allusion to that Thomas Gilovich book, HOW WE KNOW WHAT ISN’T SO: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life.

The essay by William Saletan explains,

To understand Trump, you have to start with a distinction drawn by psychologist Thomas Gilovich in his book, How We Know What Isn’t So. Gilovich explains that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves whether, despite contrary evidence, we can believe it. When we don’t want to believe something, we ask whether, despite supporting evidence, we must believe it. Each of us sometimes cheats this way, alternating between the two standards. But Trump cheats constantly and spectacularly.

So: does he have to believe climate scientists? No; he can thinks of reasons. Does he want to believe denials by Russians and Iranians? Yes, so he does.


Alternet: ‘How Can You Be Moral?’: Here Are 9 Questions You Don’t Need to Ask an Atheist — And Their Answers.

Handy guide for those who ask naive questions to those who don’t share their religious convictions. How can you be moral without believing in God? The same way everyone believes killing and stealing are wrong, with having to consult a holy book to check. (If you have to check your list of commandments to know right from wrong, you’re seriously deficient.)


Aeon: Mathematics as thought, subtitled “Mathematical ideas are some of the most transformative and beautiful in history. So why do they get so little attention?”

Bookmarking this to consult, later perhaps; long. There are all sorts of philosophical issues surrounding the relationship between mathematics and reality. Math is hard; it’s slow thinking, which most people aren’t good at. I’ve always thought that a sign of truly advanced intelligence (e.g. by some alien species) would be the ability to perceive deep mathematical truths as obvious.


The Atlantic: The Cruelty Is the Point, subtitled “President Trump and his supporters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear.”

The conservative mindset, enabled by Trump.

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

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