Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Take Control of Your Own Destiny, Take Control of How You See the World

Take Control of How You See the World.  Huh? You may ask, or maybe just "easier said than done".

The most common human reaction, when we begin to feel like we have been systematically lied to by the "mainstream" whatever, is to quickly jump ship to some leaky lifeboat of a new system of explaining everything (or at least everything that matters), which, more likely than not, will be more of a deceitful mind-controlling system than the one we started with.

I call this pseudo-skepticism.  It might also be called "Out of the frying pot, into the fire".  If we drop the assumption that the "new system" will be worse, we can call it an epistemic break.

Cases in point:
  1. France, late 19c: From awe of the king, and belief in the Catholic priests to one system, then another (the French Revolution went through several distinct epistemic breaks, or at least changes in who controlled the center of action, and tried, at least to define truth (their ideology).  The last couple of phases involved were most preoccupied with trying to kill off ideological rivals.  The epistemic break became so extreme and disorienting that time was redefined: the year was declared to be "Year 0", and a new calendar, abandoning the names of months associated with the old "superstitions" was declared.  It did not stop until Napoleon was emperor, which started a new era in which millions would die.
  2. Russia, 1917 and thereafter: From awe of the Tzar, and belief in the Russian Orthodox priests to belief in Marx and Lenin's all-encompassing all-explaining system, and belief in the "Dictatorship of the proletariat", and giving all power to the most ruthless faction so they could nationalize and/or redistribute everything, and ultimately to worship of the new "Red Tzar", Stalin whose power was unimaginably beyond that of the old tzar.
  3. U.S. 1970s: From mainstream Christian to Jim Jones disciple to mass suicide.
In the U.S., we have had plenty of epistemic breaks by one faction or another which separates itself, sometimes physically (or just with mental armour), and goes into their own separate reality.  The results are sometimes amusing (in a sad way) but occassionally horrific.

So far, we have been luck not to see a mass stampede of an epistemic break taking the whole nation on some nightmare ride.

Sometimes I use the internet to go in search of people who might be thinking along some of the same lines that I am.

I struggle to find words for a lot of my thoughts.  Sometimes a phrase emerges, and I go looking on the internet for instances.  One such phrase was the "Echo Chamber Effect" -- I don't think I knew the actual phrase when I tried to put my finger on something that was bothering me -- which lead to a post on this blog, and also an odd relationship with a blogger who always refers to Obama as Il Duce. He had written something about the Echo Chamber Effect before I did.  I think he's wildly misguided on most things (at least the ones he talks about on his blog), but we manage to have conversations from time to time.

A wikipedia article on "Echo chamber effect" begins with:
The term "media echo chamber" can refer to any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an "enclosed" space. Observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true.
My friend, the Christian Libertarian (and I suspect Jonah Goldberg disciple) "The Lurking Vulture" starts off his meditation on the subject with:
In what perhaps may be an apocryphal quote, Pauline Kael is supposed to have said regarding the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in 1972, "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anybody who voted for him

From my echo chamber posting:
Part of the point of a "Truth Project" is the hope that people on both sides of many issues - those who aren't active and conscious propagandists at least, really would want to know the truth if it turned out that everything they think is wrong ... if they'd even consider the possibility.
But here is what worries me:
There is something a little special about the internet. If you have to find books and magazines in libraries and bookstores (unless you only go to Islamic bookstores / Christian bookstores / "Radical" bookstores ...) you go to a store and you have to at least walk by books and magazines with other points of view. On the internet, you can go to your favorite blog, and never go anywhere except via links from that blog (or from your other favorite blog).
I have been an autodidact on a number of subjects, especially history.  Autodidacts, by coming at a field without being plugged into the culture of the field, sometimes have brilliant insights.  There are, however, many more crackpots.

I spent a few years long ago studying mathematics with people on their way to doctorates, and got a real appreciation for pedagogy from that.  I'd have gotten nowhere without the culture of professors and textbook writers who have thought deeply about how to pass on the subject.

History was more autodidact-friendly, although an awful lot of autodidact historians have a bug up their ass about some particular obsession, which usually makes for really annoying and not very enlightening historians.

Often the idea of the autodidact serves as a romantic idea that lets us fantasize that we don't need other people.

I found an article,

Autodidactic and Alternative Schooling Meta-Learning

The author has put some deep thought into what makes self-learning work or not work.

I think maybe I will do better to work with google hits on:

   google { facilitating self-learning }

(1) Facilitating self-learning or autodidacticism, and (2) the attempt to restructure the world of media(?), and also our cultural biases and practices, so that individuals will have a greater tendency to converge on truths, rather than separating into warring "echo chambers" are, I think, closely related enterprises.

[to be continues]

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