It Bears a Striking Resemblance to Cognitive Distortions
This post was originally going to be another one about dangers of techno-utopian thinking, which is supposed to be the subject matter of my next book . That one is going slowly for the time being, but I described it a bit in a previous piece on transhumanism-as-religion here.
It was originally inspired by Tristan Greene’s “Why developing AI to defeat us may be humanity’s only hope” because at first glance I thought that was going to be another “AI will fix everything” piece along the lines of Fully Automated Luxury Communism (which is TL,DR: a full blown Marxist version of The Singularity is Near)
But as I read it I found myself unable to even parse out the rationale behind what the author was proposing. The suggestion was that because “[t]he rational end game for humanity is self-wrought extinction” we should intentionally create an existentially threatening AI and then turn it loose against ourselves, in order to unite humanity…
“with concentrated redirection, maybe our passion for adversity could become a strength for our species.
Maybe we need an AI adversary to be our “Huckleberry” when it comes to the urge for competition. If we can’t make most humans non-violent, then perhaps we could direct that violence toward a tangible, non-human opponent we can all feel good about defeating.”
The singular premise upon which he scaffolded his logic is that “the entire history of humanity is evidence against [world peace] ever happening. We are violent and competitive”
That had been “proved” citing a single study out of which he had plucked flawed statistic:
Since World War II, homicide rates have actually increased rather than decreased in a number of industrialized countries, most notably the United States.
The US homicide rate did increase after the end of WWII until it peaked in 1980, it has been coming down ever since and has dipped below the end of WWII rates at 4.5 per 100,000. In fact it may surprise many that the US is toward the lower end of the spectrum at 0.7% when it comes to the national homicide rate. But when you listen to some people talk about this, you would think it’s murder and mayhem everywhere, perhaps at the level of their southern neighbour Mexico, where the homicide rate is a staggering 6.07%
It was understanding these statistics that interjected some reality over Greene’s underlying premise that apparently justified his over-the-top idea. It was so devoid of intellectual rigour as to be a non-sequitur (not to mention that even if humanity accepted and went ahead with this idea, there’s no recognition of the possibility that it might not work and we end up being exterminated by an AI we invented to unite us. Unintended consequences abound.)
What the piece did do was make me think of one of the cue cards I carry around with me in my pocket journal at all times.
This is a list of the Big Ten Cognitive Distortions.
Cognitive distortions are biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time.
When somebody is depressed or suffering from a full blown depressive episode, their thinking can be distilled down to these cognitive distortions.
Depression is a characteristic of being human that probably everybody struggles with at one time or another. When it intensifies or persists, it can cross into the realm of mental illness and it can be devastating. Like its close cousin, alcoholism, of which I’m personally all too familiar with, depression is pernicious in that it’s a type of mental illness that tells you you’re not sick.
The mind folds in on itself and spins out a hall of mirrors to convince you that reality is objectively hopeless and foreboding.
What struck me was that the author was succumbing to more than one of the Big Ten Cognitive Distortions in putting forward a pretty extreme policy (intentionally creating an adversarial AI and unleashing it against humanity) because of a conclusion he had arrived at that probably seems perfectly objective and beyond refute to him (that the human race was irredeemably violent and regressive).
But when you run down the list of these cognitive distortions you realize not only this particular idea, but on examination, what I call The Four Horsemen of the Woke-pocalypse (systemic racism, climate alarmism, anti-capitalism and cancel culture) – in other words Wokethink in its totality, actually relies on and is defined by these cognitive distortions.
The other thing I realized about all this was that in normal depressive or anxiety episodes, the sufferer is in effect irrationally brainwashing themselves that they are flawed, unworthy, alone or overwhelmed. In some way they feel inferior or incomplete. In the extreme woke, the überwoke, these same 10 cognitive distortions are oddly inverted in order to convince themselves that it is the world outside that is irredeemable, unworthy and doomed. Meanwhile they The Woke, are attempting to save it.
The Woke are not flawed. They are not even suffering from normal human uncertainty or healthy doses of self-doubt and skepticism. They have no need for introspection because they have their hands full taking everybody else’s inventory and Literally Saving The World™.
Here are the 10 cognitive distortions that comprise #wokethink,
We can riff off a quick example or two for each one, but as we step through them, we’ll realize the current MSM driven zeitgeist is saturated with it. It actually gets pretty creepy when you look at it.
#1 All or Nothing Thinking
My personal view of left vs right thinking comes from a book about the human brain by Ian McGilchrest called The Master and the Emissary. He examines the two different hemispheres of the brain as “two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world.”
But despite those ways of experiencing the world being incompatible, most people are able to integrate them in order to unify both sides of their brain into our subjective experience of “I”. (In McGilchrist’s analogy one side will act as an “emissary” for the dominant side, the “master”).
I am probably guilty of mangling this book to make a tortured analogy about the political spectrum. Right and left thinking may very well be whole and incompatible strains of political thought. But a healthy society needs both sides of the political spectrum, functioning coherently. Both. At different times throughout history they may trade the roles of master and emissary, one may be dominant, the other may be ahead of the curve and setting the overall agenda or identifying the imperatives. But the important point is that they co-exist and cannot function without each other. To the degree that one side, left or right, is marginalized or persecuted, society becomes unhealthy.
In today’s environment I will accuse the Woke Left of dominating the narrative and operating on the basis that anything right of center is not only wrong, but morally and ethically impermissible to exist. Any conservative thought or libertarian leanings will in due course become negatively branded by being hitched to narratives of white supremacy or climate denialism and genuine dissent is in danger of being criminalized.
Under Wokethink, everything society has accomplished until now (if you’re reading this it means “you’re soaking in it”), is not an accomplishment at all but an affront and a crime against humanity. Everything has to be dismantled, deconstructed and decolonized.
It all has to be burned down.
Moving right along…
#3 Mental Filter – Dwelling on the Negative
Without this cognitive bias the whole “capitalism has failed us” thing would be a bust. We usually hear a lot of this either via hipsters tweeting about it from iPhones in the back of an Uber on their way to art gallery openings, or otherwise – from super rich celebrities, industrialists or monarchs hectoring us about our carbon footprints.
It seems as though it’s the people ensconced within the very cushiest enclaves of our erstwhile free enterprise, liberal democratic system who are ruminating the loudest about how much better things would be if we were netzero carbon emissions and living under democratic socialism. The only way these assertions can be made with a straight face is to very deliberately ignore the myriad benefits that capitalism has delivered for nearly everybody in the modern era.
#4 Disqualifying the Positive
While it’s true that capitalism and classical liberal democracy hasn’t yet solved everything, and there has been a lot of shitshows and injustice along the way, that doesn’t mean we should completely reject the foundational basis of civilization entirely.
Despite the central banks best efforts to undermine capitalism via central larcenous Cantillon Effect interventions, capitalism has delivered in a few hundred years what the monarchs, emperors and feudal lords of the previous millennia couldn’t: a world wherein everyone was free to select their goals and work toward finding their own station in life atop a rising tide of technological advancement and productivity gains resulting in previously undreamt of living standards.
Sites like HumanProgress would be very educational (possibly jarringly so) to those who think we wallow under the jackboots of an irredeemably oppressive system.
In the year before she died I gave my mom (an incorrigible pessimist) a copy of Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist and she asked me if I really believed what he said in it. I told her that even with my own misgivings about the current policy tracks we’re on, and the unavoidable disastrous consequences they will cause, they will in the overall scheme of things be temporary chapters in time and humanity will most likely forge ahead and keep on iterating and improving.
On a similar note when my daughter was in grade 6 she came home one day asking me if it was true that the world was going to end in 12 years because of climate change (thanks Greta). I gave her a copy of Hans and Ann Rosling’s Factfulness and it made such an impression on her she made it her speech topic that year.
#5 Jumping to Conclusions
Two words: Kavanaugh Hearings. Two episodes during those are forever etched in the public mind. The first was when Zina Bash, sitting behind Kavanaugh in frame of the TV cameras, scratched her forearm, and the entire population of Never-Trumpers went batshit crazy for days.
Bash, a Hispanic Jew whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, was accused of flashing a symbol of white supremacy, in the “OK” sign. Amy Siskind, tweeted that it should have been grounds for disqualifying Kavanaugh from the SCOTUS post. The idea that an innocuous hand gesture was a symbol of white supremacy originated as a troll from the bowels of 4chan and has been refuted as such by the Anti-Defamation League. It is precisely because of this cognitive distortion that Wokethink can propel trolls to such spectacular success.
The other was the #BelieveAllWomen reaction to what remain unsubstantiated, and in later iterations, provably manufactured claims of sexual misconduct that were motivated entirely by political calculus. #BelieveAllWomen became mantra. A rule. One that violates fundamental legal principles and codifies a cognitive bias. (At least until arguably more credible claims of actual sexual assault were made against Joe Biden. Then #BelieveAllWomen suddenly became less of a thing in the Western media).
#6 Magnification and Catastrophizing
If I had to pick just one cognitive thinking bias and limit my comparison of Wokethink to it, I would choose this. It’s the one where everything from a tweet, or a smirk, to a standard-issue inconvenience or inevitable negative outcome in the world is made out to be either something steeped in cosmic injustice or a civilization-ending existential threat.
This happens via judicious mis-application of CNN panels, bluecheck tweetstorms, “think pieces” in the left media and all amplified via Big Tech platforms run by woke social media barons.
#7 Emotional Reasoning (Feelings == Reality)
I have to mentally restrain myself from at least figuratively slapping anybody who makes the argument whenever somebody is being deplatformed or canceled that it’s because “they make others feel unsafe”. Speech is not violence, silence is not complicity.
One time I saw a clip of a reporter trying to interview Kanye West asking him to remove his MAGA hat because “it made him feel unsafe”. West basically told the guy to fuck off.
Statistically you have a higher probability of being killed by your own furniture than an act of terrorism, let alone being attacked by anybody in a MAGA hat.
The reality is that you face more physical danger from Teslas than you do from people with opposing political views.
#8 Should Statements
This one captures that outer-directed inversion of the cognitive bias that makes Wokethink so aggravating.
When normal self-examining individuals struggle with these cognitive distortions, we think of them in terms of “should” statements : we should be better people. In those moments our perceptions of our own failings can become exaggerated and threaten to overwhelms us.
There have been periods in my life when I was convinced that I was lousy husband, shitty father, incompetent CEO, clueless investor, mediocre guitar player, inconsiderate to my pet (and a windbag of a writer).
When I feel any of these coming on, especially more than one at the same time, that’s when I realize I’m being overrun by these cognitive distortions and I have trained myself to break out the cognitive biases cue card and walk through all the ones I am falling prey to in that moment. Journaling them out can be therapeutic.
But because of the “othering” of the cognitive distortion around Wokethink, none of it ends up being about “I should try to be a better person” and the existential angst we all struggle with around measuring ourselves to our own ideals and aspirations. Most of us are our own harshest critics. That is, until some überwoke comes along.
Under Wokethink it’s you! YOU should be a better person! You are the problem! The collective you, the specific you, it’s always about you.
You shouldn’t be this, you shouldn’t say that, you shouldn’t like that,
YOU SHOULD NOT THINK THAT
It’s all should, it’s all outer directed and there is a complete lack of self-awareness around any of it.
In the course of getting sober one of things other sober people taught me was to always ask “what was my part in this?”
The überwoke don’t do that. They may instruct the rest of us to examine our part in whatever it is they’re droning on about this time. But it will never occur to them to examine themselves or their premises. They are operating from a perch of higher morality and advanced evolution, handing down pronouncements from an exalted state.
We should listen to them, apparently.
#9 Labeling and mislabeling
Where would Wokethink be without labels and mislabeling?
As you can see in the cue card, my struggle with these biases is that ever since my hellish existence as an awkward nerdy pipsqueak in middle school, I’ve never been able to fully shake that voice in my head that tells me, incessantly “I am a loser”.
Your voice may tell you something different, but as is our theme today, these are internal struggles many of us face with our own ghosts and demons. In the normal course of the human condition our lives are largely about facing and overcoming these internal voices.
But under Wokethink, once again it’s outward directed: You are problematic in some way that violates some self-referential norm that for these people, may not have even existed yesterday. But somehow you are offside of something they find offensive and they expect you to accept their labeling of you and to do something about it that suits them.
Again, in our own personal struggles we may succumb to the temptation to ascribe responsibility to ourselves for negative externalities that we objectively could not have foreseen, let alone have impacted in any meaningful way.
Sometimes I suffer from this one and my therapist reassures me that this is simply a form of grandiosity and that I need to get over myself.
For the woke, the pattern by now is clear: You personally and you collectively are responsible for crimes that occurred before any of us here today were even born, and you will also be held responsible for things that didn’t go their way in the present…
Is anyone archiving these Trump sycophants for when they try to downplay or deny their complicity in the future? I foresee decent probability of many deleted Tweets, writings, photos in the future
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 6, 2020
That’s on you.
And that’s #WokeThink.
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