Je Vous Dis, Merde! 14: Cognitive Walls in The Age of Trump

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

When President Donald Trump called for the construction of a physical wall along the southern US border in order to exclude and persecute Mexicans,

or when he signed an executive order creating a legal wall in order to exclude and persecute travelers, immigrants, or refugees from predominantly Muslim countries,

those acts were and are both rationally unjustifiable and immoral, if what I’ve argued about culture wars and open borders in The Age of Trump-POTUS is correct.

But there is another kind of wall that is even more morally insidious and pernicious: what I call a cognitive wall.

A cognitive wall is an entrenched or habitual belief, memory, stereotypical mental image, feeling, or emotion that acts as an effective screen against reality and the truth as it actually presented by sense perception, reliable testimonial evidence, or rational argument.

A simple, morally benign example of a cognitive wall is the fact that ordinary, healthy people with normal stereoscopic vision all have their noses right in the middle of their visual fields, yet normally don’t see them at all.

Hence the familiar admonishing comment, “it’s as plain as the nose on your face!”

Of course, the nose-blindness phenomenon can be easily corrected by someone else’s touching (or punching) your nose, or by self-consciously touching your own nose, crossing your eyes inwards, or looking in a mirror.

Nevertheless other cases of cognitive walls, by sharp contrast, are not only extremely hard to correct, but also morally malignant.

Take, for example, the sociologiocal and psychological phenomena known as the persistence of false beliefs and the backfire effect, that you can learn more about here and here.

In a recent article, “Why Are People So Averse to the Facts?,” Tristan Bridges writes this:

“[f]acts about all manner of things have made headlines recently as the Trump administration continues to make statements, reports, and policies at odds with things we know to be true. Whether it’s about the size of his inauguration crowd, patently false and fear-mongering inaccuracies about transgender persons in bathrooms, rates of violent crime in the U.S., or anything else, lately it feels like the facts don’t seem to matter. The inaccuracies and misinformation continue despite the earnest attempts of so many to correct each falsehood after it is made. It’s exhausting. But why is it happening?….

There is more than one reason this is happening. But, one reason I think the alternative facts industry has been so effective has to do with a concept social scientists call the “backfire effect.” As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.

To study this, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (2010) conducted a series of experiments. They had groups of participants read newspaper articles that included statements from politicians that supported some widespread piece of misinformation. Some of the participants read articles that included corrective information that immediately followed the inaccurate statement from the political figure, while others did not read articles containing corrective information at all.

Afterward, they were asked a series of questions about the article and their personal opinions about the issue. Nyhan and Reifler found that how people responded to the factual corrections in the articles they read varied systematically by how ideologically committed they already were to the beliefs that such facts supported. Among those who believed the popular misinformation in the first place, more information and actual facts challenging those beliefs did not cause a change of opinion — in fact, it often had the effect of strengthening those ideologically grounded beliefs.”

In other words, the backfire effect shows that cognitive walls, especially those concerning false beliefs, memories, stereotypical mental images, feelings, or emotions are self-reinforcing.

The more you try to confront a person’s cognitive walls with contrary correct facts, the higher and thicker he builds his walls, without even knowing what he is doing and fully convinced that he is in the right.

So cognitive walls are the basic vehicles of self-induced, self-deceiving mental slavery.

The reason for this, clearly, is that a person’s cognitive walls are essentially of two kinds:

(i) walls concerning his sense of individual identity as a person, and

(ii) walls concerning his sense of group identity as a card-carrying member of some important social community or institution.

Breaking through or tearing down those cognitive walls in any way, therefore, would mean that he would have to undertake a fundamental change of heart or a fundamental shift in group allegiance — in effect, a cognitive revolution — and most people are desperately afraid of doing this.

Paradoxically, moreover, as George Orwell’s 1984 and the psychological literature on “mind control” clearly show,

(i) although cognitive walls themselves not only can be but also almost always are coercively compelled or imposed from the outside, most often without our even realizing it,

(ii) nevertheless breaking through or tearing down cognitive walls is a self-conscious act of free will whereby the subject takes moral responsibility for who he is as an individual or as a social being, hence it cannot be coercively compelled or imposed from the outside.

Self-liberation from mental slavery can only be encouraged, or primed, by a public process of critical, radically enlightening self-education in which the students and educators are reciprocally learning from and teaching each other.

As I’ve argued in “The Cabinet of Dr Trumpolini,” “Trump and the Logic of Mindfuck” and “Trump’s Twitterverse,” as the world’s leading bullshitter — le bullshitter par excellence — Trump is a wicked, Dr Caligari-like psycho-political artificer who specializes in creating cognitive walls in others and in himself.

In the end, this is far more important than whether Trump has already violated his Oath of Office, via the First Amendment and his attacks on freedom of the press, and whether he’s The Siberian Candidate or not.

That being so, what can be done about breaking through and tearing down the rationally unjustified and immoral physical, legal, and cognitive walls in The Age of Trump-POTUS?

First, we must clearly recognize that cognitive walls are the underlying psychological causes of Trump’s physical and legal walls.

Second, therefore, if we want to resist Trump’s physical and legal walls in a way that is truly effective, then we will have to address their underlying causes, cognitive walls, by means of a public process of critical, radically enlightening self-education in which the students and the educators are reciprocally learning from and teaching each other.

Putting this same basic point graphically, here is what Stephan Lewandowsky and his co-researchers propose in “Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing”:

Third, above all, as educators, rationally responding to the backfire effect by “affirming worldview” and “affirming identity” means that cognitively and morally resisting Trump’s physical and legal walls, and his endless escalating spiral of bullshit, is only the initial step in the public process of radically enlightening reciprocal self-education.

All the really important work will lie in reaching out not only to the people who voted for Trump and who falsely believe in his physical or legal walls, but also to those who demonize, fear, and hate such people — and in both cases, reaching out with empathy, critical insight, a passionate concern for all humanity, rational self-discipline, and infinite intellectual and moral patience.

I repeat: those who voted Democrat in the 2016 US Presidential election are every bit as likely to have cognitive walls that need to be broken through and torn down via radically enlightening reciprocal self-education, as those who voted Republican.

The existence of cognitive walls and our burning need for cognitive revolution and a public process of mutual cognitive self-liberation do not obey traditional political party divisions.

And to those who say that this border-crossing, wall-destroying, and wall-transcending cognitive revolution and radically enlightening reciprocal self-education are impossible, and therefore should not even be attempted,

Je vous dis, merde!

***

“Je vous dis, merde!” (literally, “I say to you: shit!” or more loosely, “You’re so full of shit!”) is a morally and politically defiant slogan invented and first published by an early 20th-century Catalan anarchist who used the nom de guerre “Miguel Almereyda.” Almereyda, who was murdered in a French prison in 1917, was also the father of the famous French film director Jean Vigo, who immortalized the same slogan in his breakthrough 1933 film, Zéro de conduite, aka Zero for Conduct.

Here is the seven-part platform of The Wake The Fuck Up! Party , aka The WTFU Party —

1. Universal Respect for Human Dignity (URHD):

· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.

2. Universal Basic Income (UBI):

· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.

3. A 15-Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs):

· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an eco-job, paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.

Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.

The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call job-work and life-work.

***

Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.

(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.

(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.

(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.

(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.

(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.

***

4. Universal Free Higher Education Without Credentialing (HEWC):

· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.

· But HEWC would be open to anyone with a high school degree, no matter how old they are, provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.

5. Universal Free Healthcare (UFH):

· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.

6. 2-Phase Universal Open Borders (2P-UOB):

· Phase 1: Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the USA, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

· Phase 2: Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a Global Refugee Consortium (GRC), with three-way open borders to any political refugee, economic refugee, or asylum seeker from anywhere in the world (aka “global refugees”), who will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA, Canada, or Mexico, and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the three GRC countries, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the GRC and elsewhere in the world.

7. Universal No-Guns (UNG):

· No one in the USA, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.

· UNG would be implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in 2021 and then universally banning the possession or use of guns thereafter.

I’m also assuming that Universal Public Education (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.

Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part WTFU Party package, thereby making it a eight-part package.

Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, 3 March 2017

The WTFU Party is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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