Friday, November 18, 2011

Creativity and ideology

I'm still working on a longer article about ideology but in thinking about the subject I came to something of an epiphany.

Now I'm sure most people recognize that individuals involved in creative endeavors tend be more liberal. But have you thought about why this is the case?

Undoubtedly conservatives will claim it's because of the influence of leftist professors, or attribute it to a lack of pragmatism from naive fools with too much time on their hands or some other insulting explanation.

However, I think the reason is far more profound. I propose that the reason people who work in creative fields tend to be liberal is because creativity itself is a liberal trait.

The core distinction between left and right ideology is that the right assumes all that which needs to be known is already known and there for we should leave things well enough alone or move back to an earlier idea that worked better, while the leftist thought is predicated on the idea that through new ideas things can be improved.

Consider, what is a prerequisite to thinking things can improve? The ability to imagine a better reality. Unless one can imagine something different than what has come before you can only refine existing ideas, not come up with truly new ones.

Now I'm not saying that self proclaimed conservatives can't be creative. I actually think personal ideology is more nuanced.

However someone with a prevailing conservative bias will tend towards refining existing ideas as opposed to seeking out completely new ones.

This is why the more experimental a creative activity is the more liberal the participant will tend to be.

This is why scientists tend towards liberalism while engineers have a more conservative tendency. Seeking the new vs refining the old.

One can see example after example in various creative fields. Consider acting, think about well known conservative actors, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis , not exactly guys who take parts with a wide range, in fact if you really think about it in most of their work they pretty much play the same part just with a different name under different circumstances.

Well known liberal actors however? People like Matt Damon, Ben Afleck Dustin Hoffman, and Sean Penn these guys take a wide range of roles from traditional leading man hero's to criminals on death row Angels and on and on.

Now of course there is a bit of a chicken and the egg thing going on here, is it simply that more liberal people are more likely to take up creative activities or does taking up more creative activities train one to be more liberal?

We know for instance that liberals and conservatives end up with brains that are fundamentally different we just don't know whether it's a case of nature (genetics) or nurture (learned traits developed as the brain forms).

This of course has a number of  ramifications.

The most important of which is why it's so difficult for liberals to change a conservative's mind. Understand we know that about 25% of the population are authoritarian thinkers. These are people who want certainty in their lives and have no interest or patience with wishy washy doubters. They tend to believe a view point mostly on the basis of how certain the proponents are of their positions and how they reinforce their preexisting assumptions.

They tend towards fundamentalists religions and are the most likely to doubt scientific conclusions that are at odds with their preexisting beliefs.

Liberalism because of it's core aspect of always questioning; intrinsically lacks the certitude that the authoritarian requires from a concept. Because part of being able to imagine something greater is an admission ignorance. In order to innovate one must first admit to a lack of knowledge.

Consider science, the reason these authoritarian types won't believe in scientific theories such as evolution or human caused climate change is primarily because scientists don't tend to talk in absolutes, instead couching everything with qualifiers, such as  "probably","we think", "data suggests" etc, you'll almost never hear a scientist describe something in absolutes.

Conservative leaders never use qualifiers. No matter how wrong they might be and how many times they've been shown to be wrong they will barrel right on through insisting that it's dark outside when the sun is plainly visible. And their followers rather than saying "hey he's full of shit" will turn around and explain to you that you shouldn't trust your lying eyes.

Ok I exaggerated that last a tad. Conservative leaders tend to keep their lies in places where there is some ambiguity of what the correct answer may be. But the fact remains that the quickest way to lose those authoritarian types is to admit to error.

That's why the GOP base doesn't like "flip-floppers" in general and Romney in particular. Changing ones position is a sign to them that one lacks certitude of conviction.  

This couching answers in qualifiers is part and parcel of the creative act, without the ability to accept ignorance of a potential outcome one can not come up with new ideas.

So what is the practical benefit of this observation? Well I'm still working through that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Paranon Crossroads

The Paranon Crossroads,

or the random musings of an opinionated nobody.

The Paranon Crossroads was the name of the fictional tavern that one my characters ran in the Call of Ctuthulu role-playing game I played as a teenager. Skex obviously not my real name was the result of using a friends method of creating D&D character names by picking a title of a show from the TV guide and spelling it backwards. The full name is Skex Relbore which was Roller Sex spelled backwards phonetically with a typo.

Is any of that important? Not really as I said random musings.

Despite being quite the prolific forum poster (troll?) going back to when Usenet was still used for something other than digital piracy I’ve never tried to put all my thoughts into a single place. My life isn’t really important to anyone other than myself and my immediate family and as such I doubt anyone is all that interested in reading about it.

But it turns out that I have a blogger account thanks to their association with Gmail and well why not use it? Sure it will probably be just another of those random blogs that no one reads, then again perhaps someone out there might actually be interested in what I have to say. Unlikely sure, but if millions care what an idiot like Glen Beck rants about then there are probably some like minded souls floating around in the ether who’d be interested in my thoughts.

If anyone else does end up reading this you can expect to political tracts and rants to be the primary stars of this bit of self-aggrandizement, you’ll also be subjected to trials and tribulations of the ongoing saga of trying to raise my ADHD aspersers son.

To start I’m an unashamed unabashed leftist liberal, or commie pinko to the right wingers. I’m also an Atheist, a secular humanist, and I believe in reality based reasoning.

The core guiding principal of my personal belief system can be summed up in the following sentence.
If your base assumptions are wrong then you can only be correct by accident.

I’ve endeavored to keep my base assumptions as simple and limited as possible limiting my a priori assumptions to “the universe I perceive is real”. Everything beyond that is subject to observation testing and falsification.

I consider that to be the minimum a priori assumption that is functionally useful. Sure I could drop that one as well but I consider sophistry to be wool gathering naval gazing nonsense, in the end has no practical effect on my life and provides no value in determining the nature of reality. If I am a butterfly dreaming I’m a man does that have any effect on how I should behave? No, so I stick with the universe I perceive is real.

My core value is honestly with myself. I would rather know the unpleasant truth than live in the blissful ignorance of a pleasant lie. This was the driving impetus to my final conclusion of atheism. I absolutely refuse to believe a thing simply because it makes me feel good.

While it would be pleasant to think that my consciousness would continue once this body was gone, all the available evidence indicates that sentience and consciousness are intrinsically interlinked with our physical brains. Survivors of traumatic brain injuries demonstrate that. Neurological deceases like Alzheimer’s and Mad Cow provide further evidence. 

We know that cognitive functionality and memory is affected by physical trauma so it’s obvious that our consciousness is the manifestation of a physical process. The upshot of this is no immortal soul, that even if there is some sort of mystical “life-force” it would lack identity without the physical construct of our brains and the memories of experiences stored there in. Of course since there is no evidence of any sort of “life-force” either so out that goes.

My entire worldview has been shaped and is based on those two factors, minimal a priori assumption and an aversion to self deception. While it may not be instantly obvious, every one of my beliefs are natural conclusions based on those factors.

Apparently this was always a part of my psychological makeup. Most of the stories told about my childhood by my family revolve around my tendency to argue about anything and everything. From pretty much the moment I could talk I started testing idea’s via such trials by fire.

I believe that any idea worth holding should be able to stand up to rigorous hostile debate as such I have always been more than happy to have those debates. I’ve been accused at times of being stubborn or extremist in my views. Many people who don’t know better think I’m rigid, inflexible and opposed to new ideas.

This is simply nonsense. Because the corollary to the earlier point is that any idea that can’t survive such trial by fire is instantly abandoned. One old friend of mine once described winning and argument with me as being each of us commanding a warship blasting back and forth then suddenly when my idea failed I’d be standing on the deck his ship beside him helping to put my old ship down like I’d been there all along.

It wasn’t until later that I saw why his explanation was true. Once an idea is falsified it needs to be abandoned and scuttled post haste so it’s only natural that I should switch to the stronger idea.
Many people have described me as an oddball, a contradiction to their natural assumptions.

I’m a former Marine, I dress conservatively and still wear a Marine haircut, and I’m a white male member of generation X from a Bible belt state.  

So naturally people’s first thought would be that I’m a conservative.  This leads to an interesting view of life where those conservatives who don’t know better will often jump to the same conclusion and show their asses by saying some bit of racist or other outlandish crap that they’d normally never breath out loud.

The fact that I’m also a rabidly partisan left liberal surprises most people at first.

There is no contradiction. I joined the Marines because at one point I was “young dumb and full of cum” as we said back in the corps, I joined for the same reason most young men join the military. The lack of sense of the young, combined with a child’s fascination with the warrior ethos and an upper lower class under-achieving white males lack of opportunities.  Essentially I wasn’t ready to “grow up” I was failing at college from a lack of interest and the military offered a viable option to defer “growing up”.

I wear the hair cut because It’s convenient and as I often joke my hair tends to do whatever the hell it wants regardless of my wishes so I simply cut it down to the point where it can’t cause any trouble.

Back when I joined I was something of a rabid right winger, I was a big fan of Jerry Pournelle’s military fiction had grown up through Reagan’s “revolution” been subjected to all the propaganda of the time. I thought Iran contra was a good idea and thought of Oliver North as a hero, too much Rambo (actually I was always a bigger fan of Ruckus, the original version of the story staring Dirk Bennedict) not enough Platoon. I was still a big fan of capitalism and was na├»ve enough to believe the promise of the “free-markets”.

However I had long since decided that there were no gods that the universe was as it was and always would be. I would have best been defined as a libertarian or objectivist.

This all changed after one conversation with a friend in the Marine’s. We were arguing politics and I was rattling off the usual small government anti-democrat stuff and this friend told me “don’t listen to what the Republicans say, watch what they do”

That was the key to my ideological shift; this friend had framed his question in the perfect way to push past the lifetime of right wing brainwashing. He didn’t just tell me I was wrong and he was right, he didn’t spend hours on end arguing with me. Instead he challenged me. I thought ok I’ll show him and started watching and comparing and seeing all the hypocrisy and the dishonesty that was the GOP. In the end it that aversion to self deception I mentioned earlier forced me to re-evaluate my views.

I couldn’t reconcile the idea of a small government party that grew government faster than the supposed party of “big government”. Then we had the 1st gulf war and I remember sitting in the react room at the Kingsbay Security Forces barracks listening to the reports of Saddam sending his f-16s to Iran so we wouldn’t blow them up.

I watched us go to war to defend a hereditary aristocracy in the name of “democracy”? I watched us “liberate” a country from the hands of one dictator back into the hands of the former? Oh and a country from which we didn’t get any of our oil, I remember commenting at the time that we should let the British fight their own damned war.

The final straw though came when Bush the elder wouldn’t let the Kuwaiti’s give the troops who went over there a gold bar in gratitude, because “we’re not mercenaries”. Say what? The hell we aren’t he’d just rented out our military to Saudi Arabia and England and he had the gall to claim that we weren’t mercenaries. Notice he was later more than happy to collect his “reward” through the Carlyle group.

I watched the whole nonsense around don’t ask don’t tell. The argument that homosexuality was a choice just never made sense to me, I mean really we’re expected to believe that these people chose to adopt a lifestyle that would result in endless ridicule and the constant threat of violence aimed at gay people? I noted that with all the ass kissing and dick sucking that the brown nosers engaged in we’d never notice the difference.

But really what was going on was the long process of deprogramming. My mind was busy rebuilding my philosophy based on new data. From the understanding that our consciousness was a result of biological functions it was only natural to move on to a materialistic fatalistic world view; that since we’re simply biological robots our “choices” were illusory. I didn’t choose to be an atheist, being an atheist was the natural result of my biology and life experiences. Success and failure were mostly a matter of chance and merit had little to do with anything that happened in life.

Naturally it made no sense to me to hate people because of their skin color or sexuality. Bill Gates wasn’t rich because he was smarter than everyone else or worked harder he was rich because a fortuitous confluence of circumstances created an opportunity he capitalized on and the basic fact was that no amount of hard work and dedication was going to be able to create such once in a generation circumstances.

Yeah I know I’m rambling.

Every idea I hold, every opinion I have, went through similar processes. They were checked and double checked then subjected to hostile environments to test their mettle. Those that failed were abandoned along the way. After 40 some odd years of this my opinions do look very rigid and doctrinaire to the casual observer. I seldom end up jumping ship during an argument these days. 

Many people including my own mother have mistaken this as rigid ideology just as extreme and irrational as the nonsense of the right. Of course most of these people have not spent a lifetime of rigorously testing each and every opinion they hold. 

Most are victims to the various cognitive biases that cloud human thinking. It’s been my experience that most people don’t dissect each and every idea; they don’t follow them to their final logical conclusions. Instead they look at the surface and if the idea reinforces their existing worldview it’s in.

Now someone might ask, how do I know I’m not being influenced by such cognitive biases myself?
The answer is I don’t, I simply endeavor to remain cognizant of said biases. This of course is part of why I believe so strongly in rigorously testing ideas and concepts. I’m constantly asking myself the question “do I believe this thing because it best represents reality or because of how it makes me feel?” “Have I discounted this idea because of the source/conclusion or on its merits?” 

The possibility always exists that I could be completely and utterly deluded and wrong. It’s happened before so it is a possibility that has to be considered. That said I feel confident enough in my methodology to be reasonably certain that I’m not.