Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thick Skulled Meat Robots

In his latest New York Times Op-ed, Paul Krugman has highlighted one of the most important lessons one can learn in life.

It’s a sad lesson, but anyone who seeks wisdom must suck in their gut and take it, like a wound that leaves a scar.

So sad is this lesson that it validates the lines of Ecclesiastes: “For in much wisdom is much grief, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”

What does Krugman say? Basically, that many people, even of high intelligence, cannot be reasoned with. They will not change their view, even if you have irrefutable evidence and the clearest most reasonable argument:

“When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.”

(Disaster and Denial, December 19).

Let that sink in. You can explain something perfectly, in easy to understand language, supply undeniable evidence, and still be ignored. A corollary to this rule, perhaps even more shocking, is this: people will reject your excellent advice and clear knowledge even after they have suffered again and again from their own mistaken views.

They can be crippled, sick or dying, and you could have the cure, and they will balk, with no good excuse.

You can be a professor and they will ignore you. Or a doctor. Or a highly published writer. Sometimes they will discount you just because you are one of these. The quality of your argument is irrelevant. You could make it simple enough for a ten-year-old to grasp.


You can make your argument seven times over seven days. Or for months, or years. Assume that every time you make your case, you do it so well there is no chance of a logical rebuttal.


The world itself could be crumbling. Still, many sturdy citizens will not listen to lucid rational warnings, ones that explain the unfolding disaster and provide an escape.

The myth of Cassandra has ample application.

You might be thinking that only the most ardent religious fanatic could be stupidly stubborn in this egregious way.


Take Krugman’s example. He talks about two times in modern history. First, the Great Depression. Unregulated banks fed it. They created a buying frenzy and loan disaster that went pop.

After the Depression, regulations were put in place, which supported a much healthier financial system. Witness the 1950’s and 60’s.

Corporate taxes were as high as 90% in the 50’s. I kid you not. This was so good for the average worker that one parent could stay home while the other worked (gasp!).

Second, Krugman talks about the recent process, ramped up under Reagan in the 1980’s, of deregulation. Letting go of the reins led to all sorts of fiscal bubbles and pops, culminating in the Great Recession of the present day.

As Krugman does, I want to specifically mention the Savings & Loan Bailout of the 1980’s. Reagan deregulated the S&L’s and effectively destroyed them. The taxpayer picked up the hefty funeral bill. The people who bled the S&L’s dry were never brought to justice.

Why do Republicans consider public healthcare a heavy tax burden while the various bailouts and busts induced by unethical and headlong private sector selfishness don't count?

Krugman points out how obvious it is that deregulated banks are greedy and dysfunctional. Eager as slot machine addicts with shiny new credit cards. And guess what? That’s a pretty good description of AIG, Goldman-Sachs and others today.

We need bank regulation by competent Feds as badly as we need traffic lights. Those obsessed with accumulating more and more profit can't regulate themselves.

But, as Krugman points out, much of our leadership in Congress still doesn’t get it.

How could this be? There is so much damning evidence. Lots of financial crashes and panics since the 1980’s. Corporate greed is ordinary, inexcusable, and the costs are monstrous.

For instance, this comment on Krugman’s piece, by Christopher Keith is telling:

“I was a long time executive at the NYSE ... It seems to me the government has had to intervene at least 10 times in the financial markets since Ronnie's inauguration. Not just the savings and loan crisis. The peso crisis. The CitiCorp crisis. The long term capital crisis.., etc. etc. leading up the grandest of them all the credit default swap crisis which was a sham within a scam within a flimflam within a swindle requiring 4 separate layers of moral corruptness. It seems to me if any individual had a similar record they would be at least declared incompetent if not committed. Why don’t you list them [these crises]. Why doesn't someone make that a basis for an awareness campaign.”

Keith is pointing out how truly ugly the ravages of Mammon have been. All kinds of bailouts. All kinds of crises. Isn’t it obvious that the banks need to be policed?

Clear as clean water. But people today have neither clean water nor eyes to see the truth.

Heed the words of Thomas G. Donlan:

“The lesson of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history.”

We live in a world of thick-skulled meat robots who believe in nonsense that is killing our society.

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