My ideological foundations are very difficult for most people to accept – I have known this for a very long time. Why there is such resistance to the ideas of freedom, responsibility, and virtue, on the other hand, is a question I still cannot fully answer. Partially, it is packaging. Not only is such philosophy hard to learn and harder to practice, it is often not the kind of truth we want to hear. In many respects, this means that the ideas of men such as Frederic Bastiat, Murray Rothbard, Leo Tolstoy, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Tom Woods, Tom Sowell, and many others who espouse it will forever be the will of a small minority. Hope does remain, but not for a culmination of the good in this life.
By why do people tie themselves to the state, the media, and the idea that there is no universal truth? Two biases hinder intellectual exploration by the average Western modern mind today. The first is Status Quo Bias (SQB). I do not think it can be stressed enough how dominant this bias is in the modern mind – to the point that it anchors the history of Western society to the cycles under which it has labored for a thousand years. Wikipedia explains SQB:
Status Quo Bias is a cognitive bias; an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss. Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo ante, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem.
Humans have an incredibly hard time to come up with alternative timelines, moral alternatives, or solutions to problems that are inherent in any system. A wonderful example is the unintended consequences of government regulation – and as an example I may be choosing a middle-point and not an original example, but… risk pooling in health insurance contracts. Insurance companies function efficiently by pooling individuals with similar tendencies toward sickness or injury in actuarial pools. The risks are then borne by the entire group, who pay premiums that assess the cost of treatments, the likelihood of sickness/injury, and the convergence of the two. However, the government, often thanks to lobbyists, passes laws limiting or requiring what may/must be covered, who may/must be pooled together, what choices of lifestyle will be prohibited/allowed by the risk-poolers, etc. For example, I may be in a pool, thanks to regulatory schema, that includes smokers (suceptible to cancer bc of a lifestyle choice), professional football players (susceptible to occupational injury), and married couples undergoing couples therapy (a required coverage under CA state law). Despite leading a very different lifestyle from these people, I will be forced to carry the burden of their costs. This distorts the market, and premiums go up for everyone, making health care more expensive. SQB is responsible for the next step. We do not step back and repeal any of the risk-pooling laws that drive the cost up. Instead, we make another law, that says everyone must buy insurance – after all, the reason things are expensive must be because the public is being forced to carry costs (yet another unintended consequence created by another law, of course). When this approach fails to do what is intended and drives the cost even higher, due to increased demand on the market, another law or regulatory scheme will be put into place, probably with caps on coverage, diseases selected for coverage, or caps on premium cost. SQB stops any and all true progress (as explained by C.S. Lewis, “If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back the soonest is the most progressive man.”). The example is one of literally thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of laws and societal norms that are perpetuated by the SQB. The worship of collective human power will continue as long as power is institutionalized by recurring patterns of thought (that is to say, probably forever). The SQB is inherent in the common law, where precedence is the foundation for the future – and it means very little will change any time soon, without full-fledged intellectual revolution.
The SQB is one to pay attention to when discussing moral, societal, or political issues with an American (or Westerner), because it is nearly always present – and always more fully in older people than younger. People have a hard enough time understanding the issues which face our country – the solutions are so different from the way we are doing things today that they might as well not be discussed. But often, they are not discussed, which leads to the second bias preventing people from accepting that the next 25 years will be very different from the last…
The second bias that keeps us in the cycles which we find ourselves as a society today is the Normalcy Bias (NB). One of my favorite books, Taleb’s The Black Swan (no, not the ballet one) is a reckoning of NB, and why random, large events trick so many smart people so often. Pick up the book to glean more than a passer-by’s knowledge of the concept. This one changed the way I think forever.
To elaborate on the NB, I would rather farm an explanation out to one who has done it at ZH better than I could:
Here is a short quiz for you. Ready?
- What’s the current situation with Lindsay Lohan’s rehab?
- Who won the latest “Dancing With the Stars”?
- Name five celebrities with “baby bumps.”
- Explain how the Cypriot banking crisis could impact the European economy.
If you answered the first three questions but are clueless on the fourth, you’re in good company. Estimates are that up to half the population in America is ignorant about the situation in Cyprus. Oh sure, they hear snippets on the evening news, but since it’s far away and happening to other people, they don’t worry about it.
These people are suffering from a Normalcy Bias.
Just what is a Normalcy Bias? Wikipedia defines it as a mental state that “causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects.” It’s sometimes called the “It can’t happen here” syndrome. The assumption is that since a particular disaster has never occurred before, it never will. Any disturbing indications that something bad may happen are dismissed or trivialized.
Originally, the Normalcy Bias referred solely to natural disasters. The scale of devastation and societal disruption from Hurricane Katrina can be attributed in part to a Normalcy Bias – the refusal of the people of New Orleans to believe their beloved city could ever receive a direct hit from a major hurricane, despite its physical vulnerabilities. I distinctly remember seeing a live news report from New Orleans on the evening of Aug. 28, 2005, that showed people partying in the street with a (then) Category 4 hurricane hours away from landfall. Disaster? Nah. It can’t happen here. Gimme another beer.
But the Normalcy Bias has been extended to include political and social disasters as well. The most extreme example is Jews (and to an extent, some Germans) during the reign of the Nazis. Despite all the warning signs, many people remained in denial. Concentration camps? Genocide? Nah. Too crazy. It can’t happen here.
When we hear the mainstream media assuring us in soothing, condescending tones that we’re in an economic “recovery” – despite all evidence to the contrary – we want desperately to believe them. We don’t want anything to disrupt our ordinary, comfortable lives. We genuinely believe that if we cling to our normal way of life and habitual methods of doing things – despite overwhelming proof that something dangerous is looming – then everything will be OK. It can’t happen here.
But the situation in Cyprus is potentially international in scope. North Korea is doing some serious saber-rattling. America’s debt is so out of control that an economic crash is a statistical certainty. Sweeping anti-gun legislation is being enacted in various states even as we speak. As Ayn Rand so memorably put it, “You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”
Right now life is still pretty good in America. Grocery stores are well-stocked, restaurants are busy, movie theaters are full. Some people know that perhaps they should think about putting some of their retirement savings into tangibles or buying up some ammo, but what’s the hurry? The government won’t seize our assets or take away the Second Amendment. It can’t happen here.
But underneath our feet there is a low-grade ominous rumbling, something perceptive people detected many years ago. All is NOT right in America and in many other places in the world. Something bad IS heading our way. People need to prepare – physically, financially and spiritually.
Canada Free Press (which is not afraid to print in-your-face stuff about America) published a fascinating article on how the U.S. government has an agenda to kill the dollar. “The ultimate objective is to implement an international currency in tandem with a system of global governance,” writes Doug Hagmann. “The problem is that most people are not thinking large enough, nor do they understand the magnitude of the lie. They are not seeing the larger picture as their focus is diverted elsewhere. For example, they focus on various tentacles of the octopus such as the gun confiscation initiative, the DHS armament acquisitions and economic woes as independent and unrelated events. They are not. … Many will die from what is coming. The level of evil behind this plan is incomprehensible to the normal human mind.”
See? Normalcy Bias. People continue to cling to the notion that our leaders are working for us, not for themselves. So people sit on their butts watching “American Idol” or reading about celebrity baby bumps. Can the U.S. economy crash? Nah. It can’t happen here.
There are many people who just can’t “see” anything wrong with our country. Any restrictions to our constitutional freedoms and liberties are justified as “necessary” to ensure domestic tranquility. When the TSA performs atrocities on children, the elderly, or the disabled, they are excused as simply being overzealous for our security. When the federal government buys billions of rounds of hollow-point ammunition or mandates another offensive policy for kindergartners or places drones in American skies, we close our eyes and pretend it’s all for the common good. And for those who claim deep dark conspiracy theories? Take off your tin foil hats. It could never happen here. Everything’s fine.
And when something big and bad does happen, these people will be surprised. What will they say if savings accounts or pensions are confiscated (Hungary, Argentina, Cyprus)? If door-to-door gun seizures occur (England, Australia)? If dissident camps aren’t rumors after all (Cambodia, China, Russia)? Where did this come from?
“Denial is an integral part of atrocity,” wrote the late Iris Chang, “and it’s a natural part after a society has committed genocide. First you kill, and then the memory of killing is killed.”
The fact is, very little happens that doesn’t give some sort of advanced warning. All it takes is vigilance and a determination not to depend wholly on the mainstream media, which tends to filter world and national events to support their agenda.
So what can be done about all these dire things? Well, the first thing to do is strip away your Normalcy Bias and acknowledge that the smoke on the horizon means a fire is coming. Awareness, as they say, is half the battle.
And then prepare yourself physically, financially and spiritually. Learn how to safeguard your home and family; learn how to safeguard your money; and learn how to safeguard your soul.
But most of you won’t. You’ll have endless excuses why it’s not necessary, at least not yet. You’ll remain in denial. You won’t do anything.
Shrug. I tried.
As did I…