Bullshit Links - May 2023
I had a great time chatting with Jim O’Shaughnessy on the Infinite Loops podcast last week. We talked about all things bullshit, from status to signaling to happiness to morality. Check it out here.
In advance of the conversation, Infinite Loops basically deconstructed my entire worldview. It’s a great introduction to my writings if you’re new here.
The podcast “Two Psychologist Four Beers” devoted an episode to discussing my forthcoming academic paper on how political ideologies are bullshit. Here’s the paper, and here’s a brief summary of the general gist of the paper.
Want to know the best way to stop people from feeling compassion for a person’s suffering? Call the person “immoral”. It even works when the person’s immorality has nothing to do with why they’re suffering. The study, which you can read here, provides yet more evidence that morality is not nice.
While we’re at it, here’s even more evidence: when a political issue is framed as “moral”, we’re more likely to spread fake news about it. The ends always justify the means, don’t they?
Speaking of fake news, “why do people share fake news?” According to this study, it’s because we’re worried about what will happen if we don’t. If we refuse to jump on the fake news bandwagon, we’ll get scolded by our peers, and we’ll feel left out.
Speaking of being gullible: we tend to think other people are gullible (especially our dumb political rivals), but not ourselves. The more we think of others as gullible sheeple, the more terrified we are of “misinformation”, and the more eager we are to spread misinformation about the dangers of misinformation! At least, that’s the gist of this deliciously ironic paper.
In case you’re wondering whether “authenticity” is bullshit, it is. See also this study showing that we feel most authentic when we’re bullshitting about how wonderful we are.
A reader wrote a pithy review of my post about the meaning of life: "So edgy I shaved with it." My reply: "Must have been Occam's razor."
When we’re all on the same team, we punish freeriders and promote cooperation. But when there are different factions, we punish our rivals more than our allies, undermining cooperation and making us all worse off. That’s what this study shows, which basically explains everything that is wrong with the world.
Nice paper from the philosopher Adam Gibbons on why politics is so full of bullshit. As always, the answer is: bad incentives. It’s incentives all the way down. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how incentives explain everything.
“Across four studies participants (N = 818) rated the profoundness of abstract art images accompanied with varying categories of titles, including: pseudo-profound bullshit titles (e.g., The Deaf Echo), mundane titles (e.g., Canvas 8), and no titles. Randomly generated pseudo-profound bullshit titles increased the perceived profoundness of computer-generated abstract art, compared to when no titles were present.” See here for the study.
Nice essay by Ewan Morrison on “cute authoritarianism”, the tendency to mask coercive dominance with heartwarming imagery and cheeriness. Supports the idea that dominance, if it is to occur, cannot be explicit: it must be cloaked in cuteness, idealism, or moralism.
We often puzzle over hypocrisy and other mental inconsistencies. But this cool paper argues that the real puzzle is consistency. Given that it’s impractical to check every new belief for conflicts with all our pre-existing beliefs, it’s amazing that any of our beliefs are consistent. Hypocrisy is the default.
We tend to believe that, deep down, people have a “true self” that is morally good. This belief is found across cultures—even among self-identified misanthropes!—according to this study. If we just believed that we ourselves were morally good deep down, or that our group was morally good deep down, that wouldn’t be surprising. But the weird thing is: we seem to believe this about a random, hypothetical person. That is, if Joe Shmo goes from being a bad person to a good person, or vice versa, we think the “good Joe” was, somehow, his “true self”. Any ideas why this is? I’m stumped. Let me know if you have any ideas in the comments.
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