The Irrational Opposition Supermeme

In The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse by Rebecca D. Costa, she outlines five supermemes that lead to the stagnation and collapse of civilizations: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. This healthymemory blog post will address the irrational opposition supermeme. According to Costa, Irrational Opposition Occurs when the act of rejecting, criticizing, suppressing, ignoring, misrepresenting, marginalizing, and resisting rational solutions becomes the accepted norm.   Again according to Costa, “When oppositional thinking and behavior is merely a meme, tenacity and evidence might be all that is required to allow rational solutions to prevail. But when opposition evolves into a supermeme, solutions to our greatest threats may be prevented from coming to fruition because the resources required to overcome the opposition may simply be too great.

The standing rule should be that if you oppose something, you need to propose an alternative solution, or justify why what you are opposing is not needed or that any adverse consequences are small or inconsequential. Take taxes, for example. The United States, or the colonies at that time, revolted against the British because of the taxes they were imposing were done without representation from the colonies. The proposed solution was a war that they won. Today many citizens and politicians are against taxes. Grover Norquist has made a career lobbying against taxes. Indeed he has encouraged politicians to sign pledges against raising taxes. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan the national debt of the United States has grown drastically, its infrastructure has deteriorated to an alarming extent, and the cost of a college education has risen to levels causing students to either forgo a higher education or to acquire ridiculous levels of debt. I do not believe I have ever heard Norquist queried regarding these matters. It is perfectly legitimate to be against taxes, but you most also address the consequences of being against taxes.

The typical justification given is that the person is against “big government.” For me “big government” is another supermeme. It’s something to be against, and presumably these individuals are for small or no government. But what does this mean? What is “Big Government?” Some would say that it is socialism. Again, this is a term used clearly in a pejorative sense that is not defined. There are many socialistic democracies that function quite successfully. If you are against “Big Government” you should define the services that should not be provided by government. These services would either be eliminated or provided by private companies. So who should provide the services, of defense, education, safeguarding food and drugs, safeguarding the financial markets, health services, special populations such as those who are physically or mentally challenged, veterans, and retirees, to name just a few. One can take the position that something is not the responsibility of government. So we could let the elderly without financial resources rot arguing that these people should have provided for themselves, it is not our responsibility. We shall just ignore the dying elderly we pass in the streets or have them arrested for vagrancy.

However, assuming that certain services are needed, a reasonable question is whether they can be better provided by government or the private sector. Many people have strong opinions regarding this, but here is the time to marry facts with beliefs. For me, if your opinion is based solely on your beliefs, I don’t want to hear it. You can wipe your keister with your opinion. So find your facts, first. Often there is no clear answer, but there is the option of doing controlled studies to pin the answer down. When we move from yelling our opinions without accurate facts, to justifying them with accurate facts, to doing controlled studies when the solution is in dispute, then we shall be deserving of the name homo sapiens. Clearly we are not there yet.

To understand why we are not there yet we can go to Daniel Kahneman‘s Two System View of Cognition. According to Kahneman, we have two systems for processing information. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. So we need to engage System 2, but System 2 is effortful. Thinking is hard. Thinking through ramifications of being against something and trying to think of a solution is hard. Ideologues, those who have a set of strong beliefs, are usually happy. Give them a problem and they have a solution to it. But they live in a fools paradise, because their beliefs and reasoning are flawed.

So, when you encounter the Irrational Opposition Supermeme, challenge it. Force the person to work through the ramifications and propose a solution. Force the engagement of System 2 processing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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