The Power of Belief

When I was a young man, I dated a girl who had a crazy uncle. He was a math whiz and he had worked at NASA on the Apollo missions. He was one of those wacky professor types, who enjoyed being eccentric more than he was good at it. In other words, his eccentric routine was a bit contrived. Even so, he was a character and I enjoyed spending time around him. We would play chess and talk about history. He was not very good at chess, but he knew a lot about history and he enjoyed debating it with anyone interested.

The thing that was puzzling about him was that he was a way out where the buses don’t run Progressive. He would rant about how private property was the ruin of humanity and the cause of all trouble. This was a very smart man with a firm grasp of advanced mathematics and a deep knowledge of history. Yet, when it came to politics, he was as nutty as a sociology professor at a state college. As soon as current politics came up in conversation, he went from normal to moonbat.

I was reminded of it reading this post by Steven Landsburg. His blog exists to promote his books, but he posts about other stuff too. A fun book to read is The Big Questions, which is overly ambitious and hilariously wrong at points, but still a fun read. From the blog post:

For your consideration:

I submit that Hillary Clinton lost because she did not make even a minimal effort to make herself palatable to people like me — people who care primarily about economic growth, fiscal responsibility, limited government, individual freedom and respect for voluntary arrangements.

Because I care about those things (and for a number of other good and sufficient reasons), there was never a chance I would vote for Donald Trump. I gave money to Jeb Bush. Then I gave money to Ted Cruz. Then I gave money to the “Never Trump” movement that was trying to foment a revolt at the convention. Then I gave money to pro-growth Senate candidates. For me, the only remaining choice was between voting for Clinton and not voting for Clinton. (I also considered sending her money.)

I knew that if I voted for her, I’d never feel good about it. That was too much to ask. But I’d still have voted for her, if only she hadn’t gone out of her way to make me feel awful about it. And that she just would not or could not stop doing.

Landsburg is a bright guy with a broad knowledge base. He has a PhD in mathematics.Yet, he is instinctively drawn to the Cult like a moth to a flame. That post reads like a personal struggle. He was drawn to one anti-Trump cause after another, not for logical reasons, but emotional ones. That was inevitably going to lead him to supporting Hillary Clinton, which would nullify all of his previous arguments about economics, politics and philosophy. But, Trump, the terrible Trump!

If you have read Landsburg, you know he is an open borders fanatic and a free trade zealot. The fact that neither of these positions makes any sense is not important to him. They offer an outlet for his missionary zeal and a way to get grace on the cheap. Salvation is a huge part of what drives the fanatic. Since modern fanatics no longer believe in God or the soul, they have fashioned economic theories and arguments to fill in these blanks. At the heart of their zeal lies the age old religious impulse to save the world.

Now, there’s another aspect to this. The most prominent libertarians live on the adult day care centers we call the college campus. Others live in the satellite version called the think tank. Most of their friends are in the Cult and often quite passionate about it. As a result, the most prominent libertarians spend their days trying to carve out an exception for themselves that does not vex their peers. Going in for the lunacy of NeverTrump was a cheap way to earn piety points with the nut jobs on campus.

Still, it is a good reminder that you can be highly intelligent and also have a head full of nonsense. J. B. S. Haldane was, by all accounts, a brilliant man. He was also a committed Marxist, even when it became clear that Marxism was a death cult. Lots of brilliant people were attracted to communism in the 20th century, despite the irrationality of it. Today, the blank slate beliefs of Progressives are catnip for intellectuals, even though a walk around any shopping mall offers ample evidence to contradict it. It just feels good to believe.


59 thoughts on “The Power of Belief

  1. Belief comes first; it is the filter through which everything must pass in order to reach the mind. Paradoxically, the smarter the person, the better is he or she at formulating elaborate rationalizations to support their preconceived conclusions. This is why debating very bright people is no less a waste of time than debating a moron.

    There’s a perfectly plausible biological explanation for all this; it’s largely found in the support provided by Robert Prechter, Jr. for his application of Elliott’s Wave Principle to larger social phenomena, an evolving science for which he coined the term, socionomics. In a nutshell, as social creatures (a fact of our brain structures) humans herd. It really is that simple.

    As for (l)ibertarianism vs (L)ibertarianism, usually the distinction is philosophical vs political (which is itself an oxymoron.) I was once an anarchist-libertarian, as pure as can be, but eventually realized it’s incompatible with the nature of the vast majority of human beings.

    • I love this line, “Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.”

      Just about everything in that sentence is a lie.

  2. I have nothing to add. But I’m an idiot for not realizing that my previous comments were accepted. ha

  3. Just for a minute or two, I thought you mean Joe Landsdale. Reading on, I quickly realized my error. But thinking about it, Landsdale is a liberal who seems drawn by and fascinated with my redneck culture. He’s always on about it, anyhow. So there is a crazy similarity. Could be that it’s just me, though, making connections where there ain’t none.

  4. Time to allow free trade in higher education – break the out of date accreditation organizations that make four year degrees so expensive. Create free college degree programs. Unfortunately, this freedom may cause the demand for professors to drop but more competition benefits all just like free trade.

  5. Following Constitutional limits to power means open borders? Why do conservatives always say that?

    Oh yeah. You types are the ones to loudly proclaim, “But we just want to be left alone!”
    Yeah, sure, you betcha.

  6. I’m considered a little eccentric but I know what you mean about it being contrived. Every now and then I go “into character”. I think it’s called trolling.

  7. Two books: Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson, and Intellectuals and Society, by Thomas Sowell cover this fairly well. Sowell makes the point that immediately after straying away from their area of expertise (and this means the microscopic portion of the academic map that their research covers, even economists become idiots when they get out of their front yard) these people lose their bearings.
    I believe Haldane died of rectal cancer. He may have been smart but he was taking it in the ass from strangers for years. Yeah. Real smart.

  8. “The most prominent libertarians live on the adult day care centers we call the college campus.”

    No such thing. You have your child day care centers, and you have your seniors day care centers, but adults don’t need any such thing. I think the correct word is ‘Asylum’ .

  9. Landsburg is a professor of economics at the University of Rochester, according to his webpage. All these guys who suckle at the teat of academia for any length of time are nutty as Christmas fruitcakes when it comes to politics and social policy.

    I spent a day with an otherwise perfectly sane engineering professor emeritus from a major southern university recently. The guy was as sharp as a tack concerning engineering issues, but he sounded like a loop made from outtakes of the last 5 battiest NPR broadcasts when it came to anything having to do with politics.

    University campuses are never-never lands. Anybody who spends more than 4 or 5 years there is brain damaged for life. More than a decade and you’re irretrievably indoctrinated with no hope of redemption, no matter how much contradictory real world experience you subsequenty acquire.

  10. Egoism and political delusions seem to go hand-in-hand, and a text-book case is on display here.

    The rationalizations are sweeping: I KNOW that Hillary LOST because she didn’t bother to APPEAL TO ME, a goof-ball NEVERTRUMPER.

    Now, even progressives know that NeverTrumpers and their assorted issues were of no interest to, and have no constituency in, the Democratic Party, and that’s why Hillary didn’t waste her time espousing issues that would have alienated people who actually were going to vote for her. Yet this fundamental principle of electoral politics makes no dent in the make-believe world of NeverTrump, because the crucial importance of NeverTrumpers – both in terms of their decisive numbers and those high moral principles that they never tire of going on about – is self-evident to them.

    The first step in achieving the merest grasp of reality is the recognition that the world doesn’t revolve around you – but it’s a test that the NeverTrumpers managed to fail time and time again.

    • Right on. A couple of months ago a young, very Conservative, woman of our acquaintance was about to enter law school in DC. She wants to be President of the United States, maybe right after law school, I don’t know her short term plans, but she went solidly “Never Trump” when that pussy-grabbing tape came out. She was horrified and gave 50 reasons why she could not sully her high moral standards and vote for someone who said/thought such a deplorable thing. On Facebook I told her seriously to get a life, perhaps think about joining the US Military for a little real life experience relevant to the job she seeks to have in the future. She’s still in orbit around herself and has lots of flatterers encouraging her.

  11. I found it amusing that both instances of eccentric people were mathematicians. Both these individuals match the stereotypical mathematician with their strong opinions that fail when applied to the real world. I was in grad school when the Unibomber was captured. When it was revealed that he was a former math professor all of us engineers said, “Well, that explains a lot.”

    • Time to trot out a few Chestertons:

      1) “The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.”

      2) “Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.”

      3) “If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

      The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense, satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness.”

  12. A wise man once said (this may not be a verbatim quote):

    “You can never reason a man out of a belief he was not reasoned into in the first place.”

    Never give a SJW an even break. Never apologize. Never backtrack on anything. Never include a “disclaimer” in your stance on anything. Excise the word “but…” from your vocabulary. Mock them unceasingly.

    Hold Fast.

    • Check out the stupidity and excess verbiage of Jonathan Chenette, Interim President of Vassar College by looking up his add-on comments to the letter joined by a bunch of NE college presidents re:condemning the hate speech of Trump’s appointee Steve Bannon as Strategy Master for the incoming administration. Chenette claims that Bannon has a “shameful record of homophobic and misogynistic statements and support for other hateful speech.” Blechhh,

      Chenette is a Music Professor, not an English teacher, which perhaps explains his blathering on for several pages, Vassar used to have a well regarded English Department. Wish that I could draw here a red circle with a slash through it saying “Jonathan Chenette–not MY Interim President”! Salve, anyhow, ol’ VC.

    • SJWs deliberately position themselves to be humiliated. It is their raison d’être. Normal people don’t get it and try to help them out but it is akin to try try and talk someone out of being whipped at the Hellfire Club.

  13. More verification of Derbyshire’s Law even though no more is needed. “Political stupidity is concentrated at both ends of the bell curve.”

  14. Communism is not irrational, that is the problem. It is only rational. Dr. Johnson–All theory is against freedom of the will, all experience for it.–IMO less two points of view and more two types of people. Great post, always. Best stop in space for food and ammo.

  15. “It just feels good to believe” Especially when you are surrounded by fellow believers. When I was attending University graduations I used to tease my friends about the various faculty gangs identified by their colors.

  16. I am reminded of the Revilo P. Oliver talk, “Can Liberals be Educated?”, in which he discusses intellectuals of the past who believed in the Comte de Saint-Germaine, or little men with metal heads in the center of the earth. Closing quote:


    • Quote: ”Until such a statistical investigation has been made, it would be a little venturesome to guess what percentage of “liberal intellectuals” are intelligent enough to learn from their own experience. And certainly those who cannot learn in that way could never be educated in any other way.

      Without statistics, any opinion that may be offered must necessarily be a mere guess. Now I certainly do not want to seem discouraging, ladies and gentlemen, but my best guess, for what it may be worth, is that among the honest “intellectuals,” the percentage of recovery is comparatively small. They may mean well, but, like confirmed alcoholics, they have acquired the habit of escape from reality into the Wonderland Behind the Looking Glass.

      If candid, they would have to say of themselves what one of their idols, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, admitted to Boswell in an unguarded moment: “I cannot tolerate the world as it is; I must live in a world of fantasies.”

      Such habits, once acquired, are extremely hard to break. That is why I fear that many “liberal intellectuals,” like so many alcoholics, just can’t get along without their hooch.”

      • Liberalism is a religious cult descended from Deism descended from Protestantism descended from Catholicism. It has the same self-flagellating tendencies and holiness spirals and utopianism. The trouble with Liberalism is that, unlike Christianity, utopia is not destined for the next world, but this one. And, as it turns out, trying to immanentize the eschaton is a recipe for mass murder of unprecedented scale; just see Soviet Russia, Communist China (now communist in name only), and the Khmer Rouge.

        Frankly, this-world religious fanatics like Jean-Jacques “I cannot tolerate the world as it is; I must live in a world of fantasies.” Rousseau should be taken behind the shed and shot. Men such as he are more dangerous than nukes. At least nukes have the good sense to explode once and be done with it.

        225 years later and we’re still suffering from the stark insanity induced by the Cult of Reason.

        • The liberal believes evil can be reasoned with. Ask Neville Chamberlain how that worked out. Every time liberalism has tried to reason with evil, be it Nazis, communists, radical Islam, etc it always loses.

          • And then when push came to shove, Britain put Germany down like a dog…by allying with Stalin, dragging America into another not-its-war on the continent, and sacrificing its Empire, the greatest the world has ever seen, on the alter.

            Which implies another point: if liberalism was allied with communism (it was), perhaps liberalism is allied with Islam. They do have common cause—all three share a common enemy: Western civilization.

    • Dr Oliver was a badthinker of the first order. I too enjoyed “Can Liberals Be Educated?” as well as his classic “What Do We Owe Our Parasites?”.

  17. “J. B. S. Haldane was, by all accounts, a brilliant man. He was also a committed Marxist, even when it became clear that Marxism was a death cult. Lots of brilliant people were attracted to communism in the 20th century, despite the irrationality of it.”

    I am more convinced they (Haldane and other intellectuals) supported Marxism because it was a death cult and mass murder was rational within the system of thought. People were the problem- the people were not fit for a collective, classless society. The rational solution was to liquidate them.

    And yes, those believers were fanatics and fanatical belief feels good, no matter irrational the larger system of thought is.

    • Killing large numbers of people was absolutely rational within the framework of Marxism’s Lamarckian genetics. Just apply a strong enough external stimulus (say like killing large numbers of your friends and neighbors) and the remaining baby mamas will bear New Soviet Babies who won’t need religion, families, money, and all the other stuff big Karl couldn’t abide by.*

      Fortunately for us, Mendel turned out to be mostly right and Lamarck mostly wrong. I think that fact is the real root of postmodernism. Marxists in the West realized after the death of Stalin that they couldn’t kill their way to Communism. So they turned to Gramscian brain washing instead.

      * Seen in this light, even the camps make sense. Since according to Lamarck, genetic change could only be caused by survival-level stimulus, then putting badthinkers in camps where every day was a struggle for survival, was a relatively humane way to ensure that their children would be New Soviet Men. Cf. Lysenko’s agricultural experiments.

      • Ironically, they could have had their New Soviet Man, too, if they had just listened to Darwin. Of course, in that case they wouldn’t have been Communists, but National Socialists.

    • I keep saying, much about the left can be explained simply by regarding them as neo-Malthusians. Everything they do seems calculated to halt and reverse human population growth.

      • Oh, please. Overpopulation is at the root of many environmental and social problems, not to mention buggering quality of life. I’d like to “halt and reverse human population growth,” and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary.

        • African overpopulation is extremely dangerous. They were bumbling harmlessly along within some pretty harsh Malthusian limits for tens of thousands of years until we started feeding them.

          “Saving lives in Africa” is a handy litmus test to identify “reactionaries” who are still weeping-eagle conservakin at heart. Overfeeding the third world has not been a kindness, and the true grand-scale horror hasn’t even kicked in yet.

          I used to be a weeping-eagle conservakin myself, but Kim du Toit (remember Kim?!) was right: Build a wall around Africa.

          The Chinese are another problem. I don’t think they have it in them to really get it together. But I’ve been wrong before.

  18. “And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.”

  19. I remember Landsburg. I used to read him until this imbecility:

    tl;dr: There’s a naive fallacy that you can substantially affect the distribution of coin flip results by choosing when to stop flipping. He found a way to confuse himself so badly that he fell for that fallacy, then doubled down repeatedly with increasingly crazy reasoning and name-calling when people started showing him he was wrong. I wrote a quick Excel model that shows that he’s full of shit (I didn’t join the comments; I don’t join emotional arguments about arithmetic); I could recreate it if anybody cares. It’s trivial. That’s why you write math down instead of emoting about it.

    Culties like to emote about math. It makes their emotions scientific.

    • Thanks for sharing that one! It was long but I’m kind of a math nerd and was laughing through the whole thing. He was utterly and completely wrong but like the worst of internet trolls he was completely incapable of admitting the possibility. My favorite part is where he links to a comment on some math chat board as supporting whatever point he was trying to make when in fact the post simply says that when you do it right you end up with 50%!

      • Yeah. It just boggles the mind.

        I guess he got used to students not daring to argue, and figured he’s just infallible.

        What’s funny is I’m really not a math guy. I faked through my math requirement in college with a programming course. But, just, oh my God: n coin flips is n f*****g coin flips!

  20. One lesson I took from a decade of elite level athletics is that the “quest” is what gives purpose to the work and sacrifice, not end goal. Actually getting there was always sort of anti-climatic. So you set a higher one. Marxism fills that same role and differently from religious faith…there is a continuous “quest” to get to that final societal nirvana. For the more authoritarian minded it also come with a seemingly unending supply of nonbelievers that must be converted, perfected or dirt napped (if they fail to comply with sufficient vigor). In short, something for everybody from the theorists to the sociopaths.

  21. People create their own “realities” that they are comfortable living in. That is why it is typically useless to argue with people about what they don’t believe is true, but that they could plainly see, if they chose to look.

    The unexpected outcome of our modern society, in which information is free and available, is that people prefer to pick and choose the bits of information that reinforce their own preferred “reality”. People in the West have been able to live in all sorts of false “realities” and get away with it. So far.

    Delusional states start from within, and then are reinforced by charlatans who profit from those delusions. Strange times we live in.

  22. Intellectuals are subject to this sort of idiocy more than regular people because they live in a bubble isolated from real life, where success and failure determine whether there is food on the table, whether the bills get paid, or whether their family is safe from violence.

  23. Belief is easy, comfortable and safe. Also lazy. Faith is hard. Here’s Alan Watts on the issue:

    We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.

  24. Speaking of prominent libertarians, what do you make of Penn Jillette’s shocking turnaround regarding the election?

    In July he strongly and very publicly endorsed the Libertarian candidate for president, then just before Election Day, he announced that he’d voted for Hillary Clinton! There was some utilitarian excuse about vote trading – he traded his vote in contested Nevada for (supposedly) 11 friends’ voting for Johnson in their blue eastern states. As you say, it’s a way to carve an exception for himself among his Hillary-supporting friends. And the excuses were, at root, emotional. He claimed to fear that Trump would lead us to nuclear war, when the candidates’ own statements made clear that Hillary was the bellicose one. And he’d met Trump (in show business) and didn’t like him. Behold the triump of Rationalism!

    • Like all libertarians, Jillette likes to claim the sideline is the high ground. When pressed, however, he’ll always fall in line with the Left. The way I look at libertarians is they are the guy in the trench who will start shooting their comrades rather than go over the top and face the enemy.

      • Libertarianism is an uptopian ideology. Whenever they have to choose between reality and ideology they choose the latter. As allies to those fighting for reality, they are less than useless. They believe that once their utopia is achieved, all the problems of reality will magically vanish.

        • Libertarianism is a “uptopian” ideology?… Really??

          “Libertarianism is a political philosophy that affirms the rights of individuals to liberty, to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings, and considers the protection of individual rights the primary role for the state.” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

          It sounds like you’re craving a Dystopia Taco Town!

        • Yeah, neocons and fascists are not going to like libertarians. Oh, and people don’t need to “fight for reality”, but to adjust to it. Here’s reality: early America was largely libertarian. It was also the high point of America, in a lot of ways.

          If you can’t support voluntary society, you are just another believer in the Government Religion. You want a ruler, and you will have him. Good luck with that.

          “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” – Sam Adams

      • Forgive me for this odd, and perhaps simplistic view, but here’s how I picture the egghead Libertarian types- middle/upper class white men who LARP as head architects of a fantasy society, one that is based off of a model that greatly resembles the early 00’s video game, The Sims.
        I genuinely believe these types see the world this simplistically & fantastical, am I wrong?
        I’ve never been able to get into their headspace, but that could just be due to that icky damn estrogen fueling the hamsters in my noggin.

      • There are Capital “L” Libertarians – like Jillette – who like to virtue signal but still get invited to the parties. They are fairly worthless.

        I’m more of a small “l” libertarian who will always chose less government and more freedom – and I don’t much care how that’s perceived.

        • The difference I see betwee capital “L” and small “l” libertarians is that the capital “L” libertarians have a utopian outlook that they take as a matter of faith. Small “l” libertarians temper that with reality. Maybe.

          I see three main types of big “L” Libertarins.

          First is the Silicon Valley type libertarians. These guys, like the progressive left, believe their uptopia can be created on earth and this leads to some of the same sort of nonsense. These guys are gung ho about globalism and open borders, and get suckered into the left’s social justice garbage way too often.

          Second is the Ron Paul types. These guys believe in the utopia, but also believe that society is too corrupt to make it happen so they just complain full time. They are capable of being ambivalent to hostile to globalism and open borders because of their lack of trust in the institutions that would administer those. They don’t believe in government power over culture, so while they generally oppose social justice garbage as a matter of policy they are simultaneously opposed at using power to fight against it. They are pacifists in the culture war, and often more of a hindrance than a help.

          The third type are survivalist type libertarians. They don’t just believe society is corrupt, they believe it’s doomed. Their political policy can be summed up as when society self destructs, my heavily armed fortress in the countryside will be ready. These guys are mostly harmless, as they have more or less completely dropped out of the fight.

      • Yes, sadly, it has become evident that most libertarians are just liberals who like a lot of pot…

      • “Like all libertarians… always fall in line with the Left.”

        Say what??? You can’t possibly be serious!

        Ok, I get it… You fucks are closet NeoCons!

        It’s clear to me now I’ve wasted my time reading this blog. goes straight to the recycle bin.


    • I don’t think much of Penn Jillette, and here’s why:
      Here’s the money quote:
      ”He was financially supported in his last years by his friend the illusionist Penn Jillette, on whose floor he once slept, and who admired Goldstein for his First Amendment activism.[5] His final residence, prior to the nursing home, was a small apartment in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, paid for by Jillette.[58]”
      Read the whole Wikipedia article on Al Goldstein, seriously. That will tell you everything you need to know about Penn Jillette.

    • “And the excuses were, at root, emotional. He claimed to fear that Trump would lead us to nuclear war, when the candidates’ own statements made clear that Hillary was the bellicose one.”

      Hm. I’d like to see something from Penn Jillette about Hitlery’s complicity in the criminal conspiracies associated with #pizzagate.

Comments are closed.