The united nations of stupidity

I think this is less true in the era of memoir and blogging, but I will always prefer conscious foolishness to blind faith.

Paper is kindly, because it teaches this humility and opens one’s eyes to the vacuity of the ego. Someone who writes a page and, half an hour later while waiting for a bus, realizes that he understands nothing, not even what he has just written, learns to recognize his own inconsequence, and as he dwells upon the fatuity of his own page realizes that each person takes his own lucubrations to be the center of the universe. And there you have it in a nutshell — everybody does. And perhaps the writer has a fraternal feeling towards that myriad of everybodies who, like him, fancy they are souls elect as they trundle their whims towards the grave; perhaps he realizes how stupid it is, in our common, jostling rush towards nothingness, to do each other injury. Writers constitute a universal secret order, a freemasonry, a Grand Lodge of stupidity. It is no coincidence that they themselves, from Jean Paul to Musil, have been the ones to compose essays and eulogies on Stupidity. (Claudio Magris, Danube)

How bad is it? Give me a sign…

If there’s one thing about the collapse in the U.S. media’s credibility and sustainability that disturbs me most (aside from its effects on my own potential income), it’s that I can’t tell how deep the crazy in today’s politics really runs.

Like in this NYT Tea Party article here.  Excellent feature, but it doesn’t really indicate that anything but a very small minority of Americans has taken leave of its senses. Which isn’t anything new. Yet the Democrats seem to be collapsing. Why? How genuinely widespread is the crazy and not-crazy opposition when they’re not being shown on a 24-hour news channel?

Or is offscreen even a relevant political category anymore? Maybe I’ll just watch Fox for a while, that should clear up any questions I have.

Somebody has to do it

A man in a puffy tan jacket stops in front of the memorial commemorating the night the wall fell. It is difficult to determine his age under his white knit hat, but bits of gray hair and a roughness to his cold-chapped skin mark him as old enough to remember the night the barricades had opened and people had streamed across the bridge.

He takes a rag from his pocket and carefully wipes the last day’s accumulation of snow from the plaque. The old parking lot nearby, and even the parts of the sidewalk that haven’t been shoveled are covered in inches of snow. But the memorial has barely any, even before he begins his work. He has been here every day, making sure these words can be read, though he knows that no one else will read them today. Everyone passes with their shoulders tense against the cold and their eyes scanning the sidewalk for treacherous bits of ice. That doesn’t matter to him.

When he goes, the flakes immediately begin re-whitening the brass surface. An hour later the letters have vanished; but he will be back tomorrow.

Libertarian paternalism, or: Gov’t out of my idiocy!

Here in this article is the future of political conflict. “Libertarian paternalism” against a theory of human existence based on the supremacy of reason and rational choice. Choose your sides now.

A bit of background:

In the economics world, behavioral economics is aimed at looking at how people actually make choices, instead of assuming that everybody has excellent information about the given state of markets and the future consequences of their options, and will choose what’s best for them, given their preferences.

In most experiments (and in anybody’s experience of real life) it turns out that people don’t always act to maximize their interests. We make stupid choices. We discount future gains too heavily. We smoke, drink, do drugs, party, don’t exercise, watch porn, drop out of school, quit our jobs and move to Europe to be writers in dying mediums. Null point pour les neoclassicism. Continue reading →