Beware Intuition and Common Sense

Three tracks today:

  • Steven Pinker on how democracy and enlightenment values are not intuitive (even though they’ve led to the betterment of humanity);
  • Items about conservative meanings of ‘truth’ and ‘facts’; how evangelicals think sex is only for purposes of reproduction; and how conservatives keep threatening violence to get their way;
  • Update about the new Crowded House album, wherein I’ve discovered that “Teenage Summer” is the same as “Life’s Imitation.”

First up: Jerry Coyne links this interview with Steven Pinker today at a YouTube site called The Free Press

A key theme of this blog: the perils of common sense. At best, common sense, intuition, gut feelings, work in small environments where the range of situations you’ve encountered over your entire life is small enough that each new situation can be related to something already known. But they don’t work, and are often counter-productive, in new situations that are truly new, like those encountered in the big wide world beyond the boundaries of the local tribe or community. Which is where we’re all living now. (Except perhaps for those people in Oklahoma, yesterday.)

Though billed as a talk on “why smart people believe stupid things” (and other things) the part of Pinker’s interview that most fascinated me is where he talks about “why democracy and enlightenment values are contrary to human nature.” This fits right into my current thinking and reading, about tribal morality vs engagement with the wider world. Here’s the short passage in the interview where Pinker discusses this.

The whole concept of democracy is not particularly intuitive, but I think it’s intuitive to challenge a leader who’s arrogated too much power to take him out. But the whole idea of consent of the governed, and division of powers, freedom of speech… -– So Enlightenment values are always pushing uphill and have a natural tendency to slide back. If I’m right –- and I don’t have the data to demonstrate this empirically –- but the idea would be as the world retreats from Enlightenment values, so too will measures of global well-being go backwards. [This ends about 22:32]

Both science and democracy are products of the Enlightenment, and I’ve mentioned more than once that both seem to be under assault by the faction of conservatives we’re calling MAGA, which yearns for a mythical, simplistic past that never actually existed (except perhaps in the ancestral, tribal environment). Science takes work; pseudoscience and conspiracy theories are easier. Democracy takes work; settling back and letting an authoritarian tell you what to do is easier. In both cases the latter align with maintaining community solidarity and values (and thus in the ancestral environment had survival value, which is why those attitudes evolved as part of basic human nature); in both cases the former takes the ability and courage to think for oneself (as is being needed to solve problems that extend beyond the local tribes, now that humanity has spread itself across the planet). But the MAGA impulse is part of basic human nature, and will always be with us. (Unless its impulses tear down the infrastructure that will be needed to keep humanity alive on a changing planet.) That’s why Trump may win yet again.


Second for today: another round of political links, which on this blog tend to be examples of simplistic MAGA thinking.

This takes the cake.

Joe.My.God, 14 Jun 2024: Lara Trump: Unlike Dems, “We Speak Truth And Facts”

“We speak in truth and facts on this side. The other side is all emotion-based.” (Note she doesn’t mention evidence.) This makes a kinda sense when you realize what she meets by ‘truth’ and ‘facts.’ Conservatives claim the word ‘truth’ for religious ideology that they want to impose upon everyone; and ‘facts’ are those ‘alternative facts’ that go back to the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd — claims, or assertions, to support the cause. (Again, nothing about evidence.)

Truth? Facts? I do not think that word means what you think it means…


LGBTQNation, John Gallager, 18 June 2024: Evangelicals oppose IVF & hate LGBTQ+ people because of this one strange belief

I’ll cut to the chase: the belief is that sex should be *only* for purposes of reproduction.

Why this is wrong, as anthropologists and sociologists have noted for centuries: Unlike some other species, humans have sex all the time. Why? Primarily, to bind the male/female couple together for the long-term, the time it takes to raise a child. To keep the father around, putting it a bit more crudely. (Again, not to be teleological, this should be more precisely stated as: the fact that humans evolved to have sex all the time is what enabled paternal investment to raise children, already born ‘earlier’ than many other mammals because of their relatively enlarged craniums [thus the difficulty of child-birth], to stick around long enough to raise those children. Other proto-humans, from millions of years ago, without that sexual tendency and ability to stay bonded as a couple long enough to raise children… haven’t left children that were able to compete with our species, Homo sapiens.)

And by extension, to bind people (mostly couples) together, whether or not they’re in a position to raise children, whether or not they’re male/female. Can you imagine a society in which everyone was a solitary loner, and male/female couples only conjoined a few times in their lifetimes for purposes of conceiving a child? There wouldn’t be a society.

If humans were like some other species, who do in fact only mate very rarely, the males would have no investment to stick around for the time to raise a child, which among humans is quite a long time. This elementary observation undermines a central policy of the Catholic Church too, of course.


They don’t have evidence or reason on their side, and so they threaten violence to get their way.

Joe.My.God, 15 Jun 2024: Kristi Noem: Pick Up Your Rifles This Election Cycle

Speaking at Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA event in Detroit.


Finally for today, update on the new Crowded House album that I noted a week ago.

Well, *all* the tracks seem to be available now on YouTube with official videos; maybe I just didn’t notice them last time, since I was looking for the wrong song title. That is, the second song on the album, that I noted last time, “Life’s Imitation,” was released earlier as “Teenage Summer,” and is found on YouTube under that title. Here is is:

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