Reason Lets Me Down

by | Feb 4, 2018

Thanks to evolutionary psychology and biology, I’m like most hominoids:  a big bundle of emotions, chemical reactions, automatic motor functions, instincts, illogic, and irrationality; plus a much smaller amount of reason and rationality, but at least a larger amount than the combined reason and rationality of Sean Hannity and Joy Behar.

Given my evolutionary make-up, my natural inclination is to react instead of think, to reduce the complexity of the world to simple memes, to seek out sources that confirm my biases, to follow an alpha-male or alpha-female leader, and to find safety and comfort within my national, racial, ethnic, political, social, and economic tribe.

Yes, I’m a mess. But, hey, at least I realize it.

Recognizing my propensity to be led and snookered, I try to stay away from people and sources that play to my emotions and irrationality for no good.  That’s why I don’t watch State of the Union addresses or speeches by politicians in general.  Instead of taking the risk that they will toy with my emotions if I watch them, I’ll later read what they said, as that gives me time to calmly reflect and research the facts.

After all, speeches by gifted orators with bad agendas can be deadly when given to masses of people like myself, who, more often than not, listen in chimpanzee mode instead of human mode—as Germans and Italians experienced in the middle of the last century, and as North Koreans and Venezuelans are experiencing today.  Maybe the world would be a better place if people sought emotional fulfillment from the theater, the symphony, literature, or a lover instead of politicians and others with a political agenda.

The problem is that politics pervades just about everything in daily life in America, including, most obviously, local and national news media, which bombard their audiences with memes and misinformation with either a right or left twist, depending on the ideology and partisanship of the bomber.  Politics even pervades the National Football League and other sports, including, for heaven’s sake, professional golf tournaments, where the CEO of a sponsoring corporation will make a staged appearance to engage in self-congratulation about how the company gives back to the community through charitable endeavors, as if the essence of capitalism—the selling of products and services at a profit that people want—is stealing from the community and thus requires repentance by giving back.

Of course, universities became de facto political institutions long ago.  Likewise, Google and Facebook, the main gatekeepers of information and advertisements for younger generations, reflect Silicon Valley’s progressive and politically-correct (and smug) zeitgeist.

So what’s the answer?

For me, it is to get news, information and analysis from fact-based, nonpartisan sources.  In addition to the Libertarian Institute, two favorites are the Cato Institute and Reason magazine, as well as Reason’s associated publications and videos.  Not only have I named my new puppy “Cato,” but I contribute to the Reason Foundation and have given subscriptions to Reason magazine as gifts.  I highly recommend that you go on line and check out both organizations.

A qualifier:  Being human, even Cato and Reason periodically demonstrate confirmation bias by cherry-picking facts that they agree with and ignoring counter facts.

For example, Cato, which is headquartered in Washington, DC, is a true believer in the benefits of free trade and Schumpeterian creative destruction, as am I.  The institute’s publications, videos, and seminars provide ample evidence of how free trade and creative destruction bring about widespread prosperity and scientific advancement.  However, the institute downplays the downsides, especially the collateral damage experienced by working stiffs in flyover country, where Trump was seen as the only candidate sympathetic to the economic travails of the locals.  Cato’s scholars cavalierly and coldheartedly say that the free market, if left alone, will eventually fix the problems caused by the free market—and that government remedial actions are unnecessary, even if temporary.  However, they don’t say that in person to the patrons of a Dollar General store in some deindustrialized town in Ohio.  Come to think of it, they’ve probably never set foot in a Dollar General store in some deindustrialized town in Ohio.

Reason has a similar problem with respect to drug legalization and immigration.

Regarding drug legalization, Reason has the facts on its side about the terrible consequences of the criminalization of recreational drugs and the folly of the War on Drugs—the high incarceration rate, the arrest records that follow job seekers around all their lives, and the drug lords and dealers who destroy lives and communities.  At the same time, however, Reason’s editors and writers tend to come across as hipster stoners who are out of touch with mainstream America.  To them, judging by what they write, there are no health problems from smoking pot, no adverse social consequences, no legitimate basis for parental concerns, and a zero possibility that pot is a gateway drug that leads to hardcore drug use.   Smoking pot, they imply, is no different from having a glass or two of a $60 bottle of Bordeaux.  Apparently, cultural norms at Reason keep its editors and writers from pursuing data that run counter to their fixed beliefs.

Regarding immigration, the prevailing meme at Reason is that immigration, including illegal immigration, is all good, and anyone who says the opposite is a narrow-minded nativist or right-winger.  (Curiously and perhaps tellingly, Reason frequently uses the adjective “right-wing” as a pejorative to describe conservatives but rarely if ever uses the adjective “left-wing” to describe liberals.)

This meme about immigration has become so fixed at Reason that contrary evidence is either not pursued or is pooh-poohed.  Likewise, articles in Reason magazine and other Reason publications sometimes have the taint of bias and selective editing.

A case in point was an article in a fairly recent edition of Reason magazine about the immigration raids conducted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa Country, Arizona, where I lived for 30 years before recently moving to Tucson—and where I voted for Arpaio’s Democrat opponent in the last election, because I see Arpaio as a buffoon, a control freak with Blackshirt tendencies, and an embarrassment to the Italian race.  The article highlighted a raid on a chain of car washes in metro Phoenix that resulted in the arrest of workers who were illegal immigrants. It portrayed the family that owns the chain as hardworking people who were just trying to make a living and provide jobs to the community.  Unsaid in the article was that it was such a shady business that the owners didn’t even pay FICA taxes on their employees.

In a case of statistical malpractice, another Reason publication, Reason Reader, recently quoted a Reason personality who said that the U.S. economy loses a net $2,500 per year for “every” immigrant denied entry.  He went on to say that “as of 2010, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.”

He did not give the sources for the statistics, which, in any event, are suspect for a number of reasons, chief among them that round numbers are always suspect.  If someone actually somehow calculated what the economy loses for every immigrant denied entry, the result was probably not an even $2,500.  It would have been something like $2,456.79.  Not only that, but it’s doubtful that the economy loses approximately $2,500 for “every” immigrant denied entry.  Maybe $2,500 on average for all immigrants, but not for each one.  Are we to believe that an Italian immigrant who becomes a made-man for the Mafia by committing extortion and murder was a net benefit to the economy?

The “40 percent” reference is also suspect and misleading.  After all, in 1700, probably 99% of businesses were founded by immigrants or their children, and not by Native Americans.  Granted, it’s true that a high percentage of Silicon Valley tech companies in particular were started by immigrants, particularly from India, and also by such non-Indians as Intel co-founder Andy Groves, a Jewish émigré from Hungary.

But as Reason knows or should know, immigration has not become a political issue because of East Indians starting tech companies (or buying and operating motels across the fruited plain).  Rather, it has become a political issue because of the large influx of poor, unskilled, uneducated emigrants from Latin America, who, despite the long-term benefits of them crossing the border and eventually assimilating, cause serious social and economic problems in some locales, such as burdening the social-welfare system and K-12 schools.

For example, Tucson, where I now live, is one of the poorest cities in the U.S.  It has a high dropout rate, lousy test scores, a rate of property crimes that is twice the national average, and per-capita income that is well below the national average.  At the same time, property taxes and sales taxes are as high as in wealthier Phoenix.  As a result, native Tucsonians, whether of Latin or Anglo descent, have security bars on their windows and doors, have to compete with illegal immigrants for low-wage service jobs, and have to endure potholed streets, seedy public parks, and lousy public schools.

To speak factually and honestly about these issues does not make one a right-wing nativist.  But to ignore these issues makes Reason seem like an ideologically-biased source of information.

In defense of Reason and the Cato Institute, they are in chimpanzee mode less than I am, and certainly far less than Fox News, CNN, the New York Times, Sean Hannity, and Joy Behar.  Given evolutionary psychology and biology, it’s understandable that they sometimes let their emotions, biases, and tribalism get the best of them.

Craig Cantoni

Craig Cantoni

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