The Stock Market Shows Debt Ceiling Deniers a Little Slice of Reality

By Chris Mooney | July 27, 2011 8:10 pm

Today was the first day–and may not be the last–that the markets got measurably riled by the debt ceiling battle. Traders finally let fear get the better of them and dumped stocks (and much else). Lots of people have been saying this was going to happen; and it’s only a small slice of what could happen, since there was nothing to spook the markets today other than continuing Washington gridlock. It is not like a default has come yet, or a credit downgrade. Then, we could see a mega selloff akin to the collapse of 2008.

Why do we know that the debt ceiling impasse is starting to stoke fear? Simple: We have a measurement of it. Here’s CNN Money:

One sign of the increasing worries among investors is the VIX (VIX), also known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which jumped by more than 13% on Wednesday alone. The index is up nearly 20% in the past five days.

So traders have been inching towards being afraid, and today they finally gave in and ran.

Which gets me to what I don’t understand about right wing debt ceiling denial: It’s one thing to claim that President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner are bluffing, and the government will still be able to pay its bills after August 2. I don’t believe that, but I can see how Tea Partiers could believe it.

But even then, I don’t see how you could believe that the stock market, or the economy, will somehow survive this brinksmanship. Markets aren’t rational–they often run on rumor, and they often run on fear. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe what Obama says. It matters what the market will do if you force the issue. And now, the market is doing it.

But of course, there will be another rationalization available to debt ceiling deniers. When the market crashes even further, and their own constituents are further damaged, they will be able to content themselves by saying, “It’s Obama’s fault.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservatives and Science

Comments (32)

  1. Chris, they just don’t care.

  2. Chris, what Steve said.

    That said, where are all the normal wingnut posters?

  3. Chris Mooney

    I don’t believe they can not care. They will be hurt, and their constituents will be hurt, in the pocketbook. I don’t believe even the most ardent denier can fail to notice something like that.

  4. Chris Mooney

    In fact, let’s go further. Let’s think about this from the perspective of cognitive dissonance theory.

    1) Tea Partiers and constituents are financially harmed by the debt ceiling impasse spinning out of control.
    2) Tea Partiers and constituents are not willing to believe they are responsible for the harm (this causes too much cognitive dissonance).
    3) Tea Partiers and constituents need someone to blame for the financial hardship they have suffered.
    4) Tea Partiers and constituents blame and hate Obama *even more.*

    Did I mess up anywhere?

  5. Incredulous

    #2, Socratic Gadfly:

    Here, I will be one for you. :)

    The final budget compromise is most likely already printed out in some office down in the basement. At the last minute, it will come out and the Democrats will get the debt ceiling raised and say they averted disaster from the “Reckless Republicans trying to take money away from widows and orphans”, the Republicans can say they made the good effort to block “Reckless Democrat spending policies” but saving the US from the came first, and the Tea Party can say “Washington Sucks and choose our ridiculous candidates.”

    Then come election time, the United States public will re-elect the same losers and it will be business as usual for the next four years.

  6. Hank Fox

    It works if you assume there are TWO separate groups involved in the thing. One, the people who gain in power by making everyone afraid, and Two, the people who are not intelligent enough to see any big picture, and blindly follow the party line disseminated by that first group.

    This second group are mere cannon fodder for the first group. Useful idiots. Political kamikazes. They’ll do it even if it hurts them, because they can’t understand that it WILL hurt them.

    But the first group … I’m not even sure they have any big-picture idea of consequences. Their wealth gives them tunnel vision.

    Somewhere down at the base of all this, I see an obvious connection to religion and churches, which function as an active “crazy school,” teaching young people that a non-rational mindset is both desirable and consequence-free. Once you get a large demographic of adults carrying around that mental operating system, you can promote ANY idea, no matter how corrosive, and find numbers of people ready to absorb and promote it. Even as it eats away at them.

    Worse, once any one person travels along any of these paths, they’re sort of nailed into continuing that way. Anyone who’s driven one block from their house and discovered they’ve forgotten the grocery list, or keys, could tell you how hard it is to retrace your steps and fix a mistake.

    In this case, it’s worse because the core of the thing is denial. You don’t say “I’ve made a mistake but I’m not going back to fix it.” You say “I haven’t made a mistake! In fact, I’m the only right one.”

    It’s like sanity has an event horizon. They look crazy to us, way off other there, but we also look crazy to them. The only objective measure is real-world results. But then again, that’s something that always requires considerable hindsight to understand.

  7. Chris Mooney

    Hank,
    It sounds like you are talking about the relationship between social dominators (manipulative Machiavellis) and authoritarians (blind followers). See Robert Altemeyer
    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  8. ╦heBigo╦

    Markets are ALWAYS rational. Markets never EVER run on rumor, where did you get that from? If were typing about the stock markets, then it runs on current trends and published financial statements such as “Form 10-K”. Ever received a Form 10-K Mooney? i just received another one just yesterday. I can tell you right now anyone whom follows the markets based on rumor most likely lost their money there is a conservative rational that must be followed.

  9. Ross abbey

    “But of course, there will be another rationalization available to debt ceiling deniers. When the market crashes even further, and their own constituents are further damaged, they will be able to content themselves by saying, ‘It’s Obama’s fault.’”

    They may indeed content themselves, and the right wing echo chamber will undoubtably think of a creative talking points to pin it on Obama. But will big money fall for it? For a while there, the GOP did a decent job of yolking the radical right together with big money to win elections — by distracting the former (who have no love of Wall Street) with social issues like guns and abortion. Obama has succeeded in mostly taking those issues off the table, and the radical right is now dabbling in economics … based on their their radical and dangerously ignorant economic ideology. Hard to see big money sticking with these radicals if they succeed in their attempt at economic terrorism.

    Meanwhile, Obama’s continues to pull in the big campaign contributions; Bachman not so much.

  10. Hank Fox

    Chris, thanks! I definitely want to read this book. Now if I can just find a copy of it!

    (And by the way, here’s one for YOU to check out: http://www.amazon.com/Red-Neck-Blue-Collar-Atheist/dp/0615429904/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311820859&sr=1-1 )

  11. Chris Mooney

    Hank, Altemeyer’s book is a free download…from that site.

  12. Thank goodness for volatility and inverse ETFs.

  13. Sean McCorkle

    “The Authoritarians” is great. BTW, although not free, the Audible.com edition is not very expensive (Altemeyer narrated it, I think to help reduce the cost).

  14. Chris Mooney

    @12 yeah i guess if you were in VIXY you made money today

    http://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE%3AVIXY

  15. voxleo

    Unfortunately, it would seem that today’s complex society makes even it more difficult for people to see the direct relationship between cause and effect. When one adds all the technology and media and general busy-ness that one must navigate in any given day on top of a psychological ego defense mechanism of blame, its much easier to get away with the distraction from the truth and responsibility than if we were still trying to hunt down our food with sticks and stones. I suppose if people were as distanced from that understanding back then when survival was not involving cellular telephones or stock trades or rush hour traffic, that we would never have evolved to this point at all because we would never have adapted fast enough to survive.

    It is actually somewhat astounding how unenlightened most individuals are concerning how much power really resides within one’s own hands, but not terribly unbelievable considering that most people don’t actively THINK about things enough to unearth the understanding that situation A came about because of circumstances B or C when it is difficult enough to solidly agree upon a definition of what situation A actually is, much less which of the circumstances is most influential. There was an interesting article, in Wired Magazine I think, which talked about the way that housing/mortgage crisis came about; In essence, the compartmentalized roles that each participant played from the loan agent to the person who developed the algorithm for risk analysis simply didn’t include a large enough area of interest to encompass the actual cause and effect understanding. It is the phenomenon of individuals making optimum choices for themselves in a group which ends up having less than optimum results for both the group AND the individuals despite the fact that technical analysis of marginal costs showing that choice to be most economical.

    In the simplest way of putting it, the problem is using the wrong equation due to a failure to see the bigger picture. The fact that only the individuals immediate situation was analyzed instead of how it might be affected by things leads to weighing factors incorrectly and false conclusions. The only way that corrections to the system can be made is to look at the entire system and not only the part of immediate concern to one subsystem.

  16. Johnny

    So now Denier is going to mean anyone who disagrees with anything progressive?

    Whats next? Abortion Denier? Gay Rights Denier? Evolution Denier? Diversity Denier?

  17. Nullius in Verba

    “Chris, they just don’t care.”

    In a sense.
    I think the argument goes something like this:

    Government: Oh my! we’re 14 trillion dollars in debt (about $40,000 per capita?), and getting deeper every day! Our income is down, our spending is going up, and we’re about to hit our credit limit! Whatever can we do?!
    The options are:
    a) Raise taxes – Trashes the economy, reduces revenue – Bad!
    b) Cut spending — Really, really bad!!!
    c) Borrow more! More money! More spending! Wheeeee! Spend! Spend! Spend! I can’t see anything wrong with that, can you?

    Wingnut poster: You’re deep in debt, and you want to borrow more?! Don’t you realise that will only make things worse?

    Government: But trying to pay off the debt will cause a disaster! Stopping spending will be a disaster! Do you want to cause a disaster?

    Wingnut poster: A disaster is inevitable now. The debt will have to be paid off eventually – and that will inevitably be painful. It won’t feel any better later on. Borrowing more only makes the problem worse.

    Government: But it would hurt! I can’t believe you’d make us do something that would hurt us that much. You must be bluffing. You’d get the blame if you made us do it. we’ll make sure you do.

    Wingnut poster: If that’s what it takes to get you to stop spending more than you can repay…


    There are arguments against all that, of course, but don’t imagine that the Tea Partiers haven’t realised.

  18. Jeff

    I wish I could understand all this drivel about raising taxes when the taxes in question are, in fact, tax reductions that have been scheduled to sunset. These previous reductions, that were supposed to end already, only affect 2% of our population that make more than $250,000.

    Where did this new thing come from? There is nothing new about these taxes that were supposed to start back up again 2 years ago, but were extended in the obviously mistaken belief that having this money in the hands of this 2% of people would somehow benefit the wider economy. You can look around you and see how much hogwash THAT is!

    I’m sorry, but if you make more than $250,000 a year and you can’t handle a restoration of the puny bit of taxation you stopped paying before, then how the bloody blazes are you making that much money in the first place being that fiscally challenged? Do these high earners know nothing of budgeting because they don’t have to, so they’ve forgotten? And people actually BUY the case that these fiscally challenged high earners will significantly contribute to the economy, when they are only 2% of the population?? Yes, these 2% of individuals control something like 85% of American wealth, but if they’re that fiscally challenged so as not to be able to handle a restoration of a previous tax rate, either they’re hoarding all that money or they’re irresponsibly wasting it. Neither of those things could rationally be considered to contribute to the wider economy. Again I’ll say, just look around you, it hasn’t helped yet. As a matter of fact, isn’t it a definition of insanity to always do the same things while expecting different results? That’s exactly what we’re doing here.

    It certainly makes rational sense to me to take that 2-5% of money away from these fiscally irresponsible individuals to the benefit of our country, especially since the quote I think I remember in this regard is that 2-5% of taxation on these 2% of people will raise $800 BILLION. That’s a great help to our country, and (beating a tired drum) if you look around, these individuals HAVING that money is not helping our economy AT ALL. Seems like a no-brainer all around, especially when these top earners already pay a lower percentage of their income in taxation than I do.

    I wish I could understand this one thing in all this mess.

    Unfortunately, I’m autistic (Asperger’s), so it’s a bit challenging to me to understand how you normals can disconnect from reality this drastically. It frightens me, in fact, when everyone around me seems to not be able to see what’s in front of their nose (reality now), much less what’s 10 feet away (reality next week/month/year/decade based on your reality now choices).

  19. Incredulous

    #17 Nullius

    You left out an option: d) Sell a state!

  20. Nullius in Verba

    Hi Jeff,

    It works like this. Your in math class, and there’s a test. You score 98%, because you worked hard over many weeks and you’re talented and you’ve got good support, but almost everyone else goofed off and partied all night and spent fifteen minutes on the way in to class revising. Most of the group got around 1-5%. A few, of course, can’t help it – they work hard but can’t do math.

    So because you’ve got all these points you don’t need, and everyone else needs the grades to pass the exam, the teacher takes some of your points and shares them round the class. Now, everbody passes! Everyone has the grades they need to get into college. You get a much lower score, but that’s fair enough because you’re clever and can make it up. You still score slightly more than they do, so it is obviously more than enough.

    Now, you know there’s another test in a month’s time. You know the same system will apply. So you’re going to have to work real hard to get everyone through the test. You are going to work hard, aren’t you?

    And don’t expect any gratitude, either.

    You ask whether those 2% of the population can contribute to the economy – but they pay about 40% of the total federal income tax, which in turn is about half the total tax revenue, so I’d say they definitely made a contribution. Without them, you’d have a bit of a hole to fill. They might earn $250,000, but they won’t get that much. They have to pay some of it to you, first.

    The rest of it they tend to invest – in their own businesses, and those of other people. These are the businesses that give people employment, that make all the many things people need. The more that goes to the government in taxes, the less is left to create the wealth that fuels the entire process. The more they pass the costs on to their customers, making everything more expensive. The less motivation they have to make the effort, or to do it here. Pushed far enough, nobody works to feed the system and it collapses.

    My sympathies on the Asperger’s. But you’re not alone in not understanding it. It’s fairly normal for “normals”, too.

  21. Matteo

    “Debt Ceiling Deniers”? What the hell does that mean?

    I guess the whole idea that there are limits to the debt a government can take on without crashing an economy is only believed by oil-company-paid “scientists”.

    Or something.

    It must all be part of the “Republican War on Exponents”.

  22. Johan Fruh

    What I wonder, when people talk about big companies that make big bucks, that should absolutely NOT be taxed at all, so that more jobs are made…
    Are they talking about companies like General Motors, Bank of America etc…?

    And also… are they talking about the big companies that outsource most of their jobs to say.. India?

    I always found it quite disturbing to allow tax breaks for big companies, with the excuse of making jobs behind it…
    When what truly drives an economy is the buying potential of the masses.

    It doesn’t matter if General Motors has huge tax breaks….. if the whole population is burdened by small budgets due to taxes and health cost, not enough people will want to buy cars.
    And then General Motors will… oh but you probably know the rest of the story.

  23. TTT

    Wingnut poster: A disaster is inevitable now. The debt will have to be paid off eventually – and that will inevitably be painful. It won’t feel any better later on. Borrowing more only makes the problem worse.

    Death is inevitable, but murder is illegal. And that’s what this whole teabagger crusade boils down to: an economic murder-suicide. This really is no urgency to this issue, and there really could not be a worse time to have forced us to face it than now.

    The end result of the teabaggers’ folly will be a tax increase on all Americans, because the loss of our national AAA rating–which will happen even if we don’t default–will raise interest rates on pretty much every loan anybody needs to do anything.

    Your in math class, and there’s a test. You score 98%, because you worked hard over many weeks and you’re talented and you’ve got good support system

    Or, at birth you inherited a Guaranteed Pass Every Math Test card, which your grandfather did the actual work to get.

    The less motivation they have to make the effort, or to do it here. Pushed far enough, nobody works to feed the system and it collapses.

    Atlas would be replaced in one hour. There is nothing special about them–if they can do it, someone else can and would be happy to if they vacated. It doesn’t take the passage of a comet and the birth of a phoenix to produce someone capable of, say, managing a string of car dealerships or exploring for natural gas.

    And I wish them lots of luck in trying to find another country with lower taxes, better infrastructure and services, a more mild and livable climate, and drinkable water.

  24. ╦heBigo╦

    @TTT “”And that’s what this whole teabagger crusade boils down to: an economic murder-suicide. This really is no urgency to this issue, and there really could not be a worse time to have forced us to face it than now. “”"

    Basically “TEA” stands for Taxed Enough Already. It’s more of a stop big govt, stop spending, lower taxes movement. There is nothing suicidal about and just what the nation needs to get itself back on track. Also, why do you continue to label them as “tea-baggers”? don’t you know tea-bagging is a sex position what relevance does that have to the movement?

    “”The end result of the teabaggers’ folly will be a tax increase on all Americans, because the loss of our national AAA rating–which will happen even if we don’t default–will raise interest rates on pretty much every loan anybody needs to do anything. “”

    Wow, such economic and financial illiteracy. A tax increase does NOT result in the loss of a AAA rating. The loss of the AAA rating would take away the power to borrow and spend more. Which means living within our means with about 1.5 – 2.0 trillion in revenue already being taken in. Actually the U.S does not deserve a AAA credit rating, the same goes for every other country and yes that includes China. Actually to maintain the AAA credit rating would lead to a most egregious tax. The inflation tax, which is a form of shadow tax. As long as the U.S has a AAA rating, then the more that is borrowed the more pain would have to be felt in the future. The price for this borrowing is the devaluation of the dollar, which means a loss of purchasing power and standard of living via quantitative easing or “inflation”.

  25. Matteo

    A $2T increase in the debt ceiling to cover just over a year’s worth of deficit spending amounts to something on the order of $20,000 per taxpayer (assuming the burden were spread evenly, which it isn’t).

    And you geniuses see no problem with that?

  26. Nullius in Verba

    #22,

    “What I wonder, when people talk about big companies that make big bucks, that should absolutely NOT be taxed at all, so that more jobs are made…”

    Making jobs is not the aim.

    Making jobs is very easy – you can employ half the population digging holes in the ground, and the other half filling them in. Or employ two people where previously you had one. What’s hard is production: getting them to make enough goods/services that you can sell to be able to pay them.

    The aim is always to increase production of all the things people want and need, to make their lives better, longer, happier, more prosperous. Jobs are only a means to that end; a cost. The ideal being aimed for is that we produce more for a given effort so everything gets cheaper so we don’t need to work as much.

    “Are they talking about companies like General Motors, Bank of America etc…?”

    Big or small, an individual worker or a multi-national, I would make no distinction. Big companies often get big by being better at it. That sort of performance ought to be encouraged, not penalised.

    “And also… are they talking about the big companies that outsource most of their jobs to say.. India?”

    What do you have against the Indians? Do they not have the same dreams and aspirations? Families to feed? You would want us to hold them down in poverty?

    Anyway, giving jobs to Indians means there’s more for everyone, including us. It’s not a matter of either we produce or they produce – it’s perfectly possible for us both to produce, and with more overall production the world is a richer place. If jobs are being transferred to India, it’s because the Indians can do it more efficiently. The right way to respond is to find out what’s stopping people here being able to do those jobs as well, and getting rid of it. Or doing something else more profitable.

    “I always found it quite disturbing to allow tax breaks for big companies”

    Hmm. Is it the tax breaks you find disturbing, or the selectivity? That some get a government-enforced advantage over others?

    If the latter, then free-marketeers are in full agreement. One of the great economic evils is Protectionism; where particular industries or activities are protected from open competition. We argue the same, whether it is employers or employees.

    Free marketeers are against Protectionism of all forms – by regulations, tariffs, or subsidies – even those set up in favour of big business.

    “When what truly drives an economy is the buying potential of the masses.”

    That would be Keynsian demand-side economics.

    An economy is driven from both sides – it is people producing things other people want more efficiently than those other people could produce it themselves. Both the need and the ability to meet it must exist. And the masses only have the money to buy things to the extent that they produce things for other people in return.

    People buying things without producing doesn’t solve the problem, it only puts it off. “Printing money” or borrowing it isn’t a solution, it’s digging the hole deeper.

  27. Nullius in Verba

    “Atlas would be replaced in one hour. There is nothing special about them–if they can do it, someone else can and would be happy to if they vacated.”

    Then please do. I’m sure they could do with a break.

    If you want to reduce the salaries of the top industrialists, simply offer to do the same job for half the salary. Supply and demand works the same way everywhere. If enough of you offer, the salaries will tumble.

    If you can do the same job for less money, then I’ll applaud you, and wish you every success in your venture. It’s precisely what we want.

  28. TTT

    They have to leave before they can be replaced! Let them make good on their bluster to “go Galt” over a return to the Clinton tax rates. While they’re adapting to the novel temperature, disease, and personal security conditions in Dubai or Costa Rica or wherever else they surried off to, someone else here will step in to run the companies.

    Either that, or they stay where they are and pay the same taxes they did 12 years ago, admitting to themselves and the world that they could live with it.

    One way or another, their entitled whinging about taking their ball and going home will never serve as a plausible threat.

  29. Nullius in Verba

    #28,

    “They have to leave before they can be replaced!”

    No they don’t. You just demonstrate the capability to do the job, and the willingness to do it cheaper – same as for any job.

    “While they’re adapting to the novel temperature, disease, and personal security conditions in Dubai or Costa Rica or wherever else”

    My word, you do have some unfortunate ideas about foreign countries, don’t you? Hot, dirty, and full of foreigners, eh?

  30. Jeff

    Hi Nullius,

    While I appreciate your attempt by analogy to explain why this is all happening, I actually can make logical sense (pardon the conundrum) of motivated reasoning. While I do have autism, my entire mind is not different from a normal individual, therefore I do share some of these mechanisms. I seem to be a bit more aware of them than others around me, but that’s likely due to the necessity of having to be far more conscious of my mental mechanisms, in order to manage the consequences of the autism.

    What I don’t understand, however, is how we humans seem to be consistently blind to the realities around us. I understand the economic theory behind having those with money retain more of it, theoretically then increasing the economic base for business and jobs. However, reality doesn’t stack up to the theory. Reality is observably that those individuals that have money merely want to hoard more money, thereby effectively bankrupting the aforementioned theory even before it can be successful.

    The additional reality is that the hoarders are effectively creating a society in America that has resulted in a new caste system. Not because some people are more capable than others, but because individuals that have money, within our profit seeking structures, simply act to have more money, without any of the trickle down that Republican theory seems to indicate should happen. When do we all wake up and see that our theories don’t match observable reality?

    To echo one or two other posters, also, just because something is a certain way doesn’t mean it should be that way.

    Now, to your analogy, wonder of wonders, you’ve described something very close to my private high school experiences. While in private high school, I was the top of my class, on track to have a perfect 100 grade point (maybe more) on graduation. But then something happened. I connected with the others in that class with me, and things turned into part competition and part community action. I did derail some of my focus on studies, in fact, to focus some on motivational and tutoring work with the rest of my class. This inspired others that excelled in certain areas to do the same. For instance, while I could academically succeed in the social sciences due to testing well, I was not good at tutoring it. Others in my class were. This is just one example. The result of all that was that I ended up with a 98.6 cumulative GPA, while our class ended up with the highest cumulative GPA in the school’s 200 year history. Did I resent not attaining that 100% I was after when I first started because my focus was diluted aiding others? Not one moment of one day, ever. :)

    The example I describe above, at least to me, more describes those actions Americans have taken at those points in our history when we excelled. One example coming to mind is women taking industrial manufacturing positions during the World Wars, to make up for the loss of production from the men being abroad. When we haven’t excelled, like present day, we have behaved in separatist, elitist, entitled, socially destructive ways.

    Again, thank you for the attempt at understanding, however, the understanding I’m after is how it seems we just ignore the observable reality in front of our faces, seemingly indefinitely. While I see the mechanisms of the mind that lend to this trait, and do experience them myself, I simply can’t understand how this persists over time, since I seem to be fairly capable of detangling the biases from reality and eventually seeing reality.

    What I see if this persists indefinitely is the evolutionary end of the human species; we will simply degrade ourselves and our planet to the point we can’t survive. That is a rather unsavory outcome indeed, and yet we keep fooling ourselves that we aren’t headed there.

  31. Nullius in Verba

    “What I don’t understand, however, is how we humans seem to be consistently blind to the realities around us.”

    Because we all see a part of reality and are blind to other parts, but are not directly aware of it. We do not see what we cannot see. Believe me, others are equally amazed at the blindness of those who follow several of the views you have just set out. They are equally convinced that they can easily disentangle the biases from reality. It’s the way our brains are built.

    It’s logically impossible to disentangle all ones own biases and imperfections by yourself, because you are doing the disentangling with a machine that is itself imperfect. It’s like having a brand of pocket calculator that you know often has faults that mean they add up wrong, and checking for such errors using the calculator itself. Amazingly, you find by doing so that your own calculator turns out to be perfect, and everybody else’s is wonky. A lucky chance, that, eh?

    “What I see if this persists indefinitely is the evolutionary end of the human species; we will simply degrade ourselves and our planet to the point we can’t survive.”

    On most measures, we are healthier, longer-lived, more capable, more prosperous, and our planet is cleaner and more plentiful with every passing decade, and yet we keep on fooling ourselves time and time again that this is not the case. Malthus was the most famous – but our imminent and inevitable doom has been predicted for the 1930s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, 2015 and now 2050 and 2100. Every time it doesn’t happen, the date shifts down the road a little.

    Why do people keep believing it? You can probably say better than I can. I don’t doubt their sincerity, most of them. I still listen, just in case one of these times they turn out to be right. But it will take an exceptionally well-supported argument now to convince me. So far, none has been forthcoming. That’s why.

  32. Jeff

    “Because we all see a part of reality and are blind to other parts, but are not directly aware of it. We do not see what we cannot see.”

    Here’s the part where I lose most people who share your opinions, as stated. If we know that we don’t always see all of reality accurately, what I find is that we can then choose to act within that reality (again, pardon the conundrum), to become aware of this process. By becoming aware, you can change the way your mind processes information, etc. What I find that goes on in my mind is a constant double-checking exercise, again perhaps because of my necessity to BE more fully aware of my mental processes and by so doing intervene in those symptoms of the autism that provoke the most social awkwardness.

    I’ll draw you an example: Strong emotion on the part of others provokes an immediate, and what I would characterize as vehemently strong, flight reaction. I could have chosen, way back when, simply to react to the flight reaction and forever be socially awkward around passionate people. Instead, I chose to work within the reality of having the reaction. Here’s how that plays out: 1) I’ve developed a sense (in a way I can’t put words to) of when these reactions might be happening in others around me. 2) With that slight pre-awareness, I can “brace” myself for the reaction I know will come, in effect creating “mental distance” between my current cognitive stream and the reaction I know is coming. 3) With that “mental distance” I seem to have developed a way to redirect the energy (best term I can find so far) elsewhere, for instance into physical energy (you’ll know I’m in this process because my body temperature will increase and I usually start sweating due to the increase in temperature, I will also get a little fidgety, but fidgety is much better than simply wanting to run away).

    Along the same lines, I have very strong emotional reactions in general, thanks again to the autism. Again, I could choose to be at the affect of said emotions, or know that this is going to happen and design a way to manage it. I choose to manage it by cognitivel separating the physical actions that sparked the reaction from the reaction itself. In so doing, I seem to be able to minimize the effect, or at least reduce the amount of time the reaction takes place.

    Now, on to cognition. What I seem to observe in other people is that they primarily listen to the automatic interpretations presented by their minds in immediate response to stimuli, what some call “internal monologue.” This monologue, I usually observe, is interpretive in nature, making statements about what stimuli mean. “He hates me because he never says thank you.” “She must not like me because I can never strike up a conversation.” “That person must not like themselves because they don’t dress impeccably.” etc, and so on. Well, knowing that that happens within the brain, I found myself realizing this at an early age and disliking the inevitable trap of falsehood that usually develops when listening exclusively to that internal dialogue. I decided I didn’t like that, and that I’d mess about with my brain’s wiring. I’ll cut to the chase and make the bold statement that, after some years of practice, my internal monologue -generally- asks questions and makes statements pointing out possible false assumptions or possible cognitive errors, such as bias. All this developed from the simple premise of always practicing “I don’t know” when first approaching a new person, situation or problem.

    Now, on to your thoughts on the end of humanity. For one, I didn’t say there was a date when some calamity will hit us. What you seem to be telling me is that we’re better off now than we have been. Unfortunately, I have to tell you you’re deluding yourself and you need to do some research.

    Some high points:
    - our oceans are polluted with areas larger than Texas with masses of plastic breaking down and poisoning fish stocks and ocean ecosystems
    - entire fish stocks, coral reefs and ocean ecosystems have become unsustainable and are dying off at alarming rates
    - incidents of drought, famine and starvation are at their highest since the 1800′s
    - dramatic numbers of species are either going extinct or are measurably on that path, more than at any point where such information has been tracked within human history
    - while we are living longer as humans, we are leaving LESS healthy existences by many, many different measures
    - more of a percentage of our global population lives in poverty and less-than-minimal subsistence conditions than at any point in modern human history
    - our education and other social systems are resulting in further and further polarizations of our populations, consistently concentrating such things as capability and prosperity within smaller and smaller subsections of those populations
    - all measurement of social interaction, such as family units and how much strangers trust each other, have markedly decreased since as little as 30 years ago

    I could go on and on with the above list, all visible simply by looking around you. All of these things exist and maintain their existences because we as humanity continue to delude ourselves into thinking we know.

    I say, all we have to do is learn that we don’t know and learn a different way of thinking than the one we were taught. This seems simple and obvious to me, hence, I fail to understand why our human trajectory keeps measurably going downard, not upward as people such as yourself seem to believe.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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