Those Who Believe Things that Are Not True, and Those Who Try Not To

  • There’s a spectrum of people from those who settle into narratives, believing things that are not true, and those who try to escape those narratives and try to perceive the real world;
  • Paul Krugman on how MAGA is not grounded in reality;
  • Right-wing obsessions with the Super-Bowl, and the congressional border bill, being “rigged,” for nefarious reasons; which I see as examples of the narrative bias gone carcinogenic;
  • Philip Glass’s String Quarter #5

I suppose everyone believes things that are not true, if only because of the intuitive biases inherent in human nature that evolved to help the species survive, intuitions that help us live in the world we experience (especially the ancestral world on the Savannah), one of particular scales and durations, yet which are *not* true when applied to other scales and durations. (These latter are where the best of science fiction chimes in.)

But some people believe more things that are not true than others. As in all things, there is a range, a spectrum, of attitudes; not a black and white divide. Humans are driven by narrative bias and tribalism, and so rely on flattering stories about their own tribes/communities/nations for group cohesion and survival, and can dismiss objective facts up to the point (or perhaps beyond [vaccines]) where such denial actually does harm. Many people live their entire lives inside such narratives, of religion or nationalism, and as long as they manage to reproduce and create the next generation, blissfully unaware of the vast universe around them, dismissal of those facts does little harm.

The scientist and philosopher tries to think around those biases of human nature, to rely on evidence and reasoning instead, in order to perceive the truth of the greater reality of the entire natural world, the cosmos. They try to escape the provincialism of self-enclosed narratives. They’re at the far end of the spectrum, and a tiny minority of the human race. But it’s that minority that has driven the advancement of the human race, in terms of knowledge and health and technology, and which has thus built the modern world.


So perhaps the key question is, at what point does living inside a narrative, and believing things that are not true, do actual harm? If not to those inside that narrative, but to society in general, or even to the species?

Paul Krugman, NY Times, 29 Jan 2024 (though in today’s paper): MAGA Is Based on Fear, Not Grounded in Reality

We’ve seen these themes again and again, but in this piece Krugman spells them out perhaps more bluntly than ever before. He begins with commonplace Republican calumnies about Europe. No, Europe is not a hellscape; he’s been there.

Yet such fantasies are now the common currency of politics on the American right. Remember the days when pundits solemnly declared that Trumpism was caused by economic anxiety? Well, despite a booming economy, there’s still plenty of justified anxiety out there, reflecting many people’s real struggles: America is still a nation riddled with inequality, insecurity and injustice. But the anxiety driving MAGA isn’t driven by reality. It is, instead, driven by dystopian visions unrelated to real experience.

That is, at this point, Republican political strategy depends largely on frightening voters who are personally doing relatively well not just according to official statistics but also by their own accounts, by telling them that terrible things are happening to other people.

With another summary of how well the economy is actually doing, despite Republican rhetoric. Krugman reviews the polls.

Again, these misperceptions are strongly associated with partisanship, with a startling willingness of Republicans to believe things that aren’t true.

As I keep saying.


Shorter items.

How Republicans/conservatives are obsessed with everything being “rigged”:

CNN, 30 Jan 2024: Right-wing media figures target Taylor Swift with absurd conspiracy theory ahead of the Super Bowl

Right Wing Watch, 29 Jan 2024: Latest MAGA Conspiracy: The Super Bowl Is Being Rigged to Help Taylor Swift Help Joe Biden

Joe.My.God, 29 Jan 2024: Ramaswamy: The Super Bowl Will Be Rigged So That Taylor Swift And Travis Kelce Can Then Endorse Biden

And when this doesn’t happen, will they withdraw their charges and apologize? And even if it does happen, so what? Doesn’t the right have any number of pseudo-celebrities to endorse Trump?

And another theory:

Media Matters, 29 Jan 2024: Laura Ingraham claims congressional border bill is part of a plot to give “woke people” jobs to increase immigration

To be clear, this conservative/Republican obsession with conspiracy theories is presented as evidence of the “narrative bias” in human nature, gone carcinogenic. These news items can be thought of as psychological case studies.


Today, a beautiful string quartet by Philip Glass.


Every day I reread and copy-edit my post from the evening before. If this comment is still here, I have not yet done so for this post.

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