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The PR bubble, the “culture of stupid”, and “Smart is the new Cool”

 
soloflyer
 
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soloflyer
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14 September 2013 20:43
 

When I saw the title of this post it made me think of the changing word patterns that for a time made me wonder if there was something wrong with my mind - at least the part of it I know is okay yet.

When I heard the phrase somebody “has it out for me,” I thought, “Huh?”  My whole life it was “Got it in for me.”  But it seems like the “out” is what everyone is saying now. There’s another similar phrase that I can’t recall at the moment, but the same thing has happened with it. Really reminded me of 1984 that I’m still reading for the third time.

Not long ago I read somewhere that “woo woo” was replacing something, but what that was eludes me. And who made that decision?

One of my biggest irritants is the replacements over the years for “Oh, how nice!”  I say “cool,” or just keep my mouth shut. The one’s that makes my skin crawl Is SHUT UP!,”  and “SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!”

Who decides these things, and why do people fall in line until the next one comes along?

Another thing bugging me these days is the law being passed - or pushed, by guess who, that females must cover their nipples. They can wear those gowns with the curves showing, just so long as a nipple doesn’t pop out. I can’t see the difference in the female nipple and the male nipple. I think they’re both cute. Crazy, the things some people feel threatened by.

 
 
artistadomundo
 
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artistadomundo
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12 January 2014 21:49
 

Some thoughts on initiating change:

-One of the quickest ways to alienate someone is to tell them how right you are and/or how dumb they are.
-People operate from reason, but not everyone has all the best information to execute it.

With these two ideas in mind, I suggest we start by sharing information that excites us, promoting visual artists/businessmen/intellectuals/musicians who express and comment on intelligence, and take time to include people, even when they are in uncomfortable disagreement with yourself.

Personally, I have made it a point to understand and learn to express connection with folks who have opposing viewpoints, which encourages them to engage/maintain a relationship with me. In combination, I never de-friend someone or refuse to engage with them because they’ve offended me. By doing these two specific actions, I am able to reach more people and share the things that excite me. The things that excite me tend to relate to curiosity, technology, science, and self-improvement. All things I consider part of the “smart is cool campaign”.

I like what someone suggested above, “enlightenment is cool”. Makes me think of being aware and understanding.

Side thought: if you haven’t already, come out of the closet as an intellectual and non-theist. The world needs more examples to make opinion on. Maybe one day it will be “cool” through saturation. Very much like the gay-rights movement in the US.

Jenn

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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13 January 2014 14:52
 

artist -

Your post triggered some ideas:

- I’ll contend that “smart” is more of a mindset, than it is an endpoint. To some degree, smart is as smart does. I understand that some folks won the genetic lottery, but still, a LOT of folks could take on the mindset “I’m gonna get smart”, and could in fact, get a lot smarter.

-One of the quickest ways to alienate someone is to tell them how right you are and/or how dumb they are.

- Empathy and compassion, of course, but let’s start with honest assessment!

- If we hypothesize that a person can productively take on the “I’m gonna get smart” mindset, then perhaps we could isolate telltale signs of people who are just about to make that leap, and find ways in the world to support them.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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SkepticX
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13 January 2014 15:36
 

-One of the quickest ways to alienate someone is to tell them how right you are and/or how dumb they are.

Why so defensive!?

...

Kidding—solid concept to remember, actually. A bit complicated sometimes (delicate sensibilities/hot button tropics and words), but definitely something to keep in the perceptual and conceptual forefront as much as possible when communicating with others. This is part of what we naturally read, but it’s also easy to forget or ignore, particularly if we have our own under-managed sacred cows on the field, as the kids say.

 

-People operate from reason, but not everyone has all the best information to execute it.

Or the best tools, including the inclination.

 
 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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13 January 2014 19:08
 
artistadomundo - 12 January 2014 08:49 PM

Some thoughts on initiating change:

-One of the quickest ways to alienate someone is to tell them how right you are and/or how dumb they are.
-People operate from reason, but not everyone has all the best information to execute it.

With these two ideas in mind, I suggest we start by sharing information that excites us, promoting visual artists/businessmen/intellectuals/musicians who express and comment on intelligence, and take time to include people, even when they are in uncomfortable disagreement with yourself.

Personally, I have made it a point to understand and learn to express connection with folks who have opposing viewpoints, which encourages them to engage/maintain a relationship with me. In combination, I never de-friend someone or refuse to engage with them because they’ve offended me. By doing these two specific actions, I am able to reach more people and share the things that excite me. The things that excite me tend to relate to curiosity, technology, science, and self-improvement. All things I consider part of the “smart is cool campaign”.

I like what someone suggested above, “enlightenment is cool”. Makes me think of being aware and understanding.

Side thought: if you haven’t already, come out of the closet as an intellectual and non-theist. The world needs more examples to make opinion on. Maybe one day it will be “cool” through saturation. Very much like the gay-rights movement in the US.

Jenn


Interesting, Jenn. A couple of thoughts.


- I think what you (and in a later post Icehorse) are describing is ‘informed’ or ‘involved’. I think creating a culture that encourages engagement in ‘topics that matter’ (a nebulous idea, but probably one were you could find a lot of consensus regarding what those topics are) is a good thing.


- Regarding smart as in intelligence - I think this is also an issue, albeit a subtly different one. I think intelligence can be quite isolating in our society. I was reading yesterday about Aaron Swartz, on the anniversary of his death - his case is very complicated and his extraordinary intelligence probably made him an outlier even among outliers, but even so, I feel like gifted individuals often have certain traits that can make life difficult (I don’t know if this was necessarily true in his case - it seems wrong to psychoanalyze the deceased, but it made me think of it.) Idealism and perfectionism based on - well, ‘ideals’ - in an imperfect world that tends to run on rather petty politics much of the time. Chronic Cassandra Syndrome, wherein others don’t necessarily understand their ideas but assume that they do, and dismiss accordingly. A lack of relatable feedback from similarly-abled or, just as or more importantly, wiser peers. I see this sometimes in children I work with and very intelligent adults I observe.


Add to this a difficulty the fact that many gifted children have difficulty understanding conventional or institutional authority, and I think without counter measures you risk some of the best and the brightest becoming bitter and turning to the dark side (whatever your version of dark side is - an aside, that part is in no way a reference to Swartz, who, despite whatever frustrations he was dealing with, sounded like an absolute lamb - but I think for many highly intelligent youth, it’s a risk). I think societies have to engineer away from this - was reading briefly about Eric Hoffer the other day, and he had some gloomy ideas about what happens in a society where intellectual and creative aspirations are frustrated (and some interesting ideas about what attracts people to ‘mass movements’, as an aside). How to best encourage an environment that is intellectual-friendly, I don’t know, but I think it’s a good topic.


- Regarding seeing both sides and staying open - I think yes and no. There’s a difficult line between openness and being realistic there. Sometimes in life it is prudent - psychologically, strategically, etc. - to engage the ‘block’ or ‘ignore’ button. I am with you on erring on the side of caution here - in fact, I probably err towards ridiculous caution here, it takes a lot for me to ‘give up’, even temporarily, on a person. Being realistic about who you are dealing with, paired with a healthy skepticism that you might have misjudged and, hey, it’s just your perspective anyways - that’s a difficult tightrope to walk, but an important one, I think.

[ Edited: 13 January 2014 19:20 by sojourner]
 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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14 January 2014 01:02
 

Ever the engineer…

While I certainly applaud making the world a little friendlier for the gifted, I’m more focused on nudging that percentage of the population who are *almost ready* to get excited about being smarter. If someone is *almost ready*, it might not take much of a nudge to get their critical thinking ball rolling.

Harris cites stats that 44% of the adults in the U.S. think that Jesus will return - in their lifetime! It seems obvious to me that if you hold that belief, you’re far less concerned about behaving in ways that will make your great-great grand children appreciate your actions.

So, whatever the actual number is, if we could chip away at that 44% and get it down to 42% we might just start reversing a few close elections here and there. We might find that politicians have a bit harder time getting their constituents to buy concepts like “legitimate rape” or “global warming conspiracies” or “the immorality of stem cell research”. We might see GMO labeling laws win narrowly as opposed to losing narrowly.

 
 
sojourner
 
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sojourner
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14 January 2014 02:10
 

That part, Icehorse, I think essentially comes down to differential reinforcement. That’s beyond a vast simplification, but essentially I think behaviorism got that right - the biggest reinforcer wins in the end (and I believe Sam Harris has said the same - even things like ‘truth’ eventually reduce down to a subjective component when you consider their worth). I take a much broader view of reinforcement than most behaviorists would and mean it more in a subjective sense, though.


There are some studies that suggest religion provides significant rewards in terms of well-being. And I suspect we’re wired to some degree (at least many people) for religion, in which case, agreeing with an internal ‘sense of knowing’ - which feels ‘righter’ and more natural than overriding said sense - is its own kind of reinforcement.


If that’s the case, I think ‘convincing’ people is mostly about upping the subjective benefits of evaluating religion critically. The New Atheists have suggested “social cost” or essentially shaming people who engage in religious thinking - I disagree with this, as 1) If you’re a minority to begin with, it just puts people on the defensive and makes them defend even harder 2) It attracts jerks looking to lord it over someone to your movement (even if it’s a small percentage, this is still not a great dynamic). Better, I think, to go the opposite direction - instead of finger-pointing and saying “You symbolize something bad!”, be your own shining example and project “I symbolize something good.” Positive punishment vs. positive reinforcement, if you will. And there is a lot that’s good, exciting, inspiring, fair, etc. about science, a critical outlook, evidence based thinking, that type of thing. I say, better to emphasize that side of things.

[ Edited: 14 January 2014 02:12 by sojourner]
 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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15 January 2014 00:08
 

Hey NicLynn,

Help! Which part comes down to “differential reinforcement”?

Later in your post you talk about a link between religion and well being. I’d like to push back on that and say that my ad-hoc reckoning (i.e. no citations), is that there is a link between spirituality and well being, and that over the years religious middle men have somehow gotten a hold of spirituality and warped it for their own purposes.

So I’d propose that we could toss religion, provide spiritual guidance, and achieve well being.

But I’m not making the connection between this discussion and making smart cool?

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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15 January 2014 02:11
 
icehorse - 26 June 2013 08:20 PM

Odds are we can make some really good guesses about the people who visit this forum…

- Most probably own a lot of books
- Probably a higher than average percentage of college graduates
- Probably a low percentage of strict creationists

This forum exists in a self-selecting bubble. When we have discussions here we’re all - to some degree - “preaching to the choir” (sorry).

Stepping back (for those of us who live in the U.S.), we live in a culture that has basically glorified being stupid:

- Saying you’re a person of faith is seen as a virtue
- Our education system is failing [Khan academy is seen as awesome rolleyes  ]
- Creationism is gaining ground
- Evolution is widely doubted

You know the story. Dumb is cool. What? Strange but true.

There are some exceptions - many box office hits do have smart heroes (Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes…). But that’s the exception.

So the question is, how can we start a cultural shift so that: “Smart is the new cool” ?

What is the goal here?  Are you talking about creating a culture more suitable for the tastes of Icehorse?  Or are you saying that we need more smart people to deal with global warming and other impending crises?  Or is this some sort of utopian vision for the general betterment of mankind?

If we know the goal, then we can discuss means to that end.  For example, we may be able to deal with global warming if just the people with power are smart.  They could lead everyone else in the right direction, and the masses might give God the credit.  Who knows?

But seriously, I see what you mean that, to a degree, “dumb is cool” in the US.  It certainly is not in places like Singapore, South Korea, or other countries where education is highly valued.  Why this is so could be a discussion.  But perhaps that is off the OP?

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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15 January 2014 02:26
 

What is the goal here?  Are you talking about creating a culture more suitable for the tastes of Icehorse?  Or are you saying that we need more smart people to deal with global warming and other impending crises?  Or is this some sort of utopian vision for the general betterment of mankind?

Not sure what caused the personal attack, I’ll not take umbrage…

I’m just suggesting projects, in the project forum, of Project Reason, whose mission statement includes: “...to encourage critical thinking…”.

This particular thread is meant to explore just that, how to encourage critical thinking. It strikes me that if being smart isn’t cool, then we’re not gonna have a lot of luck with spreading critical thinking.

 
 
sojourner
 
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15 January 2014 02:58
 
icehorse - 14 January 2014 11:08 PM

Hey NicLynn,

Help! Which part comes down to “differential reinforcement”?

Later in your post you talk about a link between religion and well being. I’d like to push back on that and say that my ad-hoc reckoning (i.e. no citations), is that there is a link between spirituality and well being, and that over the years religious middle men have somehow gotten a hold of spirituality and warped it for their own purposes.

So I’d propose that we could toss religion, provide spiritual guidance, and achieve well being.

But I’m not making the connection between this discussion and making smart cool?


Hey Icehorse,


In terms of connection - because you asked about what would cause people to ‘make the leap’ - to my mind, reinforcement is it.


To reword what I was saying - essentially, there are many theories about how decision-making happens in the brain. But so far as I know, a basic picture of “a team of rivals” has emerged. For any decision we might want to make (and I think choosing to view a topic differently probably falls into the category of ‘decision’) there are competing viewpoints that will sort of “make their case”. A lot of this is subconscious, but for a more conscious example, think of something like “What should I have for lunch?” - I really want to eat chocolate cake. That would taste the best… But I’m on this New Years Resolution diet… Well it is sweater season, I don’t have to wear a swimsuit for months… There was a sale at Whole Foods, it would be good to save money… If I go to Panera I might run into my coworker and they’ll want that report I haven’t finished… But that might be the best in terms of healthy food that tastes good…


This could go on and on, with a wide variety of factors and goals competing - saving money, healthy food, taste, convenience, etc. In real time, though, all of that will probably happen in a matter of minutes or seconds, one voice will win out, and said person will go get lunch and get on with things. But what is the X factor that causes that one voice to ‘win’ over the others?


I think it’s positive subjective experience. So, for example, you have an atheist that has accepted hard truths about the world and given up on comforting ideas like heaven and God’s love - why is that? I would say that the idea of following empirical evidence is, in the end, the most reinforcing or preferable experience for that person. Maybe the idea of heaven is really reinforcing as well (which is why I said ‘differential’ - i.e., there are competing reinforcers) - but the subjective experience of following empirical evidence is even more reinforcing. Even if it results in negative consequences in other areas (my family disapproves, it’s sad to think there’s no God, etc.).


Of course, this is just the theory I favor, that’s not to say it’s necessarily correct. There could be some other factor or algorithm that drives which argument we ultimately ‘accept’. But my bet is on subjective experience, at least as a significant factor. I think religion ‘knows’ this. When I first started contemplating atheism, I was pretty terrified, just waiting for God to smote me. This is what I’d been taught to expect - doubting Thomas’s and all that, one of the worst sins is to question God himself. And there are a lot of built in explanations for people who try to lead you away from God - none of them good. It’s not something I normally would have done - the logical gap surrounding religion had always bothered me, but I was taught that’s the time to say logic doesn’t apply, God is inexplicable - for me, that annoyance alone wasn’t enough. But before becoming an atheist, I was trying to process a death that I just couldn’t make sense of and happened to stumble upon Sam Harris literally right (as in hours) before the funeral. Harris seemed kind and likable and had not thus far been smoted. There were probably a couple of other things - I met and made friends with the first atheists I’d ever really known not long before that, etc.


Anyways, for me, that was enough to tip the scales. My point is that religion has its own rationale for a lot of things - blind faith is a virtue and questioning faith is a terrible vice; anyone who asks you to question your faith is instantly a Bad Person so don’t worry any more about anything that comes out of their devilish mouth; something really, really bad will happen to you if you deny God, either now or when you die, etc. All of that creates a huge subjective ‘cost’ for questioning religion. I don’t think countering that cost with logic is enough - believers have lived in the same world as you and I, and more or less have been exposed to the same every day, common sense evidence or lack of evidence for an all-powerful deity, dogmatic claims, etc. If common sense “Hey, wait, this doesn’t add up with the evidence I’ve seen around me” was going to be enough, it would have happened already. I think the key is more in changing the subjective costs / benefits of being a dogmatic believer. Sometimes this involves increased costs on one side (i.e., the social shame sort of strategy of New Atheism - mocking religious ideas, etc.), sometimes it involves new benefits for modifying beliefs (personal gain, as in “Hey, I could make a lot more money if businesses stayed open on the Sabbath” or “Hey, I’d really feel a lot happier as a woman if I wasn’t subservient to men, even though the Bible says so…”, etc.) But I think tangible things like this tend to tip the scales for people because, again, I think decisions ultimately get made based on what is the most reinforcing or aversive.

 
 
icehorse
 
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15 January 2014 04:47
 

Ah got it. The theory you’re describing sounds a lot like what V. S. Ramachandran talks about and seems pretty well regarded at this point.

I don’t think countering that cost with logic is enough - believers have lived in the same world as you and I, and more or less have been exposed to the same every day…

This is where I want to push back. Remember the late, great comedian Bill Hicks? He describes being in a diner in a red state somewhere and reading a book. A bunch of locals come up to him and the leader asks: “Watch’ya reading… for?”

Call me pretentious or whatever, but all of the conversations here at PR exist on a fairly rarified level. This is not the stuff of common conversation. More supporting evidence from Harris (from memory, maybe slightly off):

- 44% of U.S. adults believe Jesus is returning - in their lifetime!
- Over half don’t believe in evolution.
- A big chunk are Young Earth Creationists.
- Corporal punishment at school is legal in more than 20 states.

In short, a HUGE chunk of the population HAS NOT grown up in anything like the same intellectual world that you’ve grown up in. Their day to day exposures are VERY different than yours. As I’ve proposed in other posts, a lot of folks don’t know what a fallacy is, and they’d be a bit shocked to learn that lies have official categories.

You mention the idea of “following empirical evidence”, that phrase would leave a whole lot of people completely nonplused.

To me the small steps start with shifts that are appropriate for the audience. Something as simple as shifting a person’s attitude so that they’d even consider reading any book, let alone a non-fiction book. Or - more generously - shifting from reading romance novels to reading a non-fiction book.

 
 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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15 January 2014 15:36
 

I always was of the opinion that smart was cool. I actually hope this assertion is nothing new.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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15 January 2014 16:22
 

I always was of the opinion that smart was cool. I actually hope this assertion is nothing new.

And I’m contending that if you’re the type of person who frequents PR, smart IS cool. But that for most of the population, smart is NOT cool.

 
 
sojourner
 
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15 January 2014 16:59
 
icehorse - 15 January 2014 03:47 AM

Ah got it. The theory you’re describing sounds a lot like what V. S. Ramachandran talks about and seems pretty well regarded at this point.

I don’t think countering that cost with logic is enough - believers have lived in the same world as you and I, and more or less have been exposed to the same every day…

This is where I want to push back. Remember the late, great comedian Bill Hicks? He describes being in a diner in a red state somewhere and reading a book. A bunch of locals come up to him and the leader asks: “Watch’ya reading… for?”

Call me pretentious or whatever, but all of the conversations here at PR exist on a fairly rarified level. This is not the stuff of common conversation. More supporting evidence from Harris (from memory, maybe slightly off):

- 44% of U.S. adults believe Jesus is returning - in their lifetime!
- Over half don’t believe in evolution.
- A big chunk are Young Earth Creationists.
- Corporal punishment at school is legal in more than 20 states.

In short, a HUGE chunk of the population HAS NOT grown up in anything like the same intellectual world that you’ve grown up in. Their day to day exposures are VERY different than yours. As I’ve proposed in other posts, a lot of folks don’t know what a fallacy is, and they’d be a bit shocked to learn that lies have official categories.

You mention the idea of “following empirical evidence”, that phrase would leave a whole lot of people completely nonplused.

To me the small steps start with shifts that are appropriate for the audience. Something as simple as shifting a person’s attitude so that they’d even consider reading any book, let alone a non-fiction book. Or - more generously - shifting from reading romance novels to reading a non-fiction book.


An aside - I’m kind of bothered by BIll Hicks. I grew up in an area that bordered some very rural areas, I ran into the “Watcha reading for” attitude sometimes, but I didn’t grow to hate people because of it. They were people, with strengths and flaws, not caricatures. I believe after this he would go into a gorilla impression which… I sympathize with his frustration, but can’t endorse the route he went with it. Sorry, OT.


I agree that exposure to critical thinking will vary - I still say in this country, though, you certainly could read a non-fiction book instead of a romance novel if you wanted to. So if people choose not to, there is a reason. It seems too difficult, too foreign, not exciting, not what their peers are doing, etc. This is what I mean by living in the same world - well, that and the fact that common, every day experience gives a lot of opportunity to confirm / disprove the types of dogmatic claims one sees in at least fundamentalist religion. I don’t see it as a matter of sheer opportunity to view empirical evidence.


Side note - I am going to take a short posting break, maybe a week or so. Wouldn’t normally note that, but I know you notice when people don’t reply to you. So, not ignoring you, just not online. Sometimes looking at websites and discussing the state of the world online just makes me frustrated and disheartened. Like that Rolling Stones song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Ain’t that the truth. There’s a lot of suffering in the world, knowing how limited my ability is to impact that is, is hard. I know it’s important to be realistic in life and do what you can - but for me, a part of that is periodic breaks - like I said, after a point looking at it just becomes too frustrating. So, off to find my Zen place, ha ha!

 
 
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