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Political Consequences of Mental Models

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    Posted: 09 October 2015 at 8:22am
The Political Consequences of Mental Models
by Ian Welsh

There comes a point where one must ask—ok, well, this point has come again and again, but really: Are the West’s leaders destabilizing the Middle East deliberately?

Q. “st**id or evil?”

A. “Both.”

I know someone who worked with Cheney and believes that Cheney honestly thought that removing Saddam would make the world a better place. Also (and the person I know is a smart, capable person) that Cheney was very smart.

But smart in IQ terms (which Cheney probably was) isn’t the same as having a sane mental map of the world. Being brilliant means being able to be brilliantly wrong and holding to it no matter what. Genius can rationalize anything.

Human thought is mostly an unconscious and uncontrolled process. What comes up is what went in, filtered through conditioning. We are so conditioned and the inputs are so out of our control during most of our lives (and certainly during our childhood) that our actual, operational margin of free will is far smaller than most believe.

We interpret what we know through the mental (and emotional) models we already have. Thoughts are weighted with emotion, recognized and unrecognized, connotations far more than denotations.

Machiavelli made the observation that people don’t change, they instead react to situations with the same character and tone of action even when a different action would work better.

This doesn’t mean one cannot undergo ideological changes, it means character changes only very slowly, and that we have virtually no conscious ability to change our thinking, actions, or characters on the fly.

This is true for both the brilliant and the st**id, though the tenor of challenges for both is different.

You see much of this in Hilary Clinton’s vast hatred and enmity towards Russia. She is a child of the Cold War.

You see it in the repeated use of force in situations where force has failed to work over and over again.

You see it in the inability to tolerate democratic governments of opposing ideologies despite the fact that destroying them, after a period of autocracy, generally leads to worse outcomes than simply working with them. (See Iran for a textbook case.)

And you see it in the belief that the US needs to run the world in tedious detail, that regular coups, invasions, garrisons, and so on are necessary—along with the endless, sovereignty-reducing treaties described in “free trade deals.”

These policies are insane, if one assumes a minimum of public spiritedness. They have not worked. They will not work.

But they do work in the social sense: They create successful lives for the people who devise and implement them. They are rewarded with money and social approval, they receive feedback which screams, “Continue!”

Over fifteen years ago Stirling Newberry told me, “Insiders understand possibility, outsiders understand consequences”.

Insiders are rewarded for acting in accordance with elite consensus, and very little else.

Outsiders, not being part of that personal risk/reward cycle are able to say, “Yeah, that’s not going to work”.

They are both right and wrong.

The science of conditioning, which was strong from the late 19th century through to the 60s, has faded out of the intellectual limelight. But viewed through the lens of conditioning, much that makes no sense makes perfect sense.

We are ruled by people who are what they have been conditioned to be, and we are what we have been conditioned to be: We are passive consumers who s*****p and do what they are told by their teachers or bosses.

Conditioning extends well beyond observable behavior and into thought, and the structure of knowledge. Intellectual structures are felt, and each node and connection has emotional freight. This is true even in the purer sciences, and it is frighteningly true in anything related to how we interact with other humans and what our self-image is.

It is in this sense that the disinterested, the outsider, those who receive few rewards for acquiescence, are virtually always superior in understanding to those within the system. Outsiders may not understand what it “feels” like, but the outsider understands what the consequences are.

This is true far beyond politics, but it is in politics where the unexamined life, the unexamined belief structure, and the unexamined conditioning, are amplified by long levers to brutalize the world.
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