It started in 5th grade, when I learned early that the School textbooks and teachers were indoctrinating me with lies (spin). The Italian part of my family was dominant, and that was the normal operating behavior: believe your own lies (self delusion), and repeat them to others until they believe them too (it didn't help that many were in sales). Then I noticed it in movies, TV, books, and Newspapers. The more I looked into everything I was being told, sold or cajoled on, the more bullshit and bias I became aware of. So cynical skepticism (distrust of what I'm told) was ingrained early, often, and imperfect skepticism served me well in most topics I dived into.
While I'm not easily sold on conspiracy theories (it's too hard to get people to agree, or keep secrets), I am on people's ability to delude themselves and sell those lies to others.
I was know-it-all precious child (with a Genius level I.Q.) that loved nothing more than memorizing facts, and regurgitating them to the amazement and annoyance of adults around me. Eidetic memory was one of my gifts, so like most kids, repetition and showing off was a pastime.
In 5th grade, I was doing my usual routine; I'd been assigned American History, specifically the American Revolution. So later that day, sitting around the dinner table, I was telling my parents all about it. How the Patriotic Americans fought insurmountable odds and injustice, and took on the largest empire in the world (the British empire), and defeated them. This was peppered with names, dates, and other trivia to drive the point home (I could recall anything in the text book).
My new step-Dad (born and raised in the U.K.), had probably had about enough of the know-it-all 10 year old (with a 10-year old's black-and-white view of history and life), so he said, "that's interesting, but it's not the History I learned growing up".
I thought, "what do you mean? History is facts and figures. There's no such thing as different Histories". But he plowed on.
He explained how in the U.K. he was taught about how a bunch of fanatics, zealots and kooks (independent types) who couldn't get along in "civilized" European society left or were driven out to start new lives in the Colonies. These Colonies were heavily subsidized by the British crown (managing shipping, infrastructure, government, defense, and so on)... and for that, they paid taxes that would be the envy of us today (a small fraction of our current taxes). But still, those rabble-rousers were unhappy, and started a petty insurrection.
Of course the mightiest empire in the world at that time could come in and crush them if they wanted. But this was one small colony among many all over the globe. And a funny thing happened... the French and later the Dutch used the revolution as a reason to get involved, attack the British fleet/shipping, and were surprisingly successful. Now shipping and control of the seas was very important to the British empire -- so they focused on that (and not the colonies). After years of the American Revolution being an excuse, the British weren't very upset to let the annoying colonies go, especially if it means removing that excuse from the French/Dutch -- so they "let" us go free.
Now that was quite a different view than I had learned.
And I went to the REAL library (not the school one), and looked up real books (not lame Elementary school History books) with the intent of coming back and proving him wrong. But a funny thing happened; his view was as valid (or as invalid) as the version of history I was taught.
There were multiple views of history, and it was much deeper (and more interesting) than what was taught in school. The more I looked at the levels of humanity and motivation by the different founding fathers, or the British, the more interesting it was. You really had to understand many sides, and many motivations to understand what happened?
I quickly learned to distrust the dogma I was being force-fed by public education. Those bastards had lied to me! And the seeds of critical thinking (skepticism) were sowed, by the distrust of my teachers. All because I accidentally got a diversity of views, that public school had suppressed.
Cause of the Civil War
One of the next things I found conflict with was about was the Civil War and Slavery and Honest Abe Lincoln. The same shallowness was being applied to the Civil war. They were telling me that it was all about stopping slavery, the Noble North against the evil and greedy slavers in the South, and how Liberty won out, and how great a President Lincoln was (the Great Civil Rights advocate, that believed in the equality of Blacks), and so on.
My curiosity was piqued, and I went to the Library and started studying the real civil war. How did the other side feel about it? What was the truth (or the rest of the story). And I was giddy with finding out all the stuff that I wasn't being taught: Lincoln was a racist (not an abolitionist). The North offered to let slavery exist forever (the Corwin Amendment) if the South came back: they declined. The South offered to give up slavery if the North let them go: they declined. The first shots in the civil war were fired over taxes and tariffs (Morrill Tariff), not slavery. Lincoln won without carrying a single electoral Vote from the South, and that's why South Carolina seceded... for the second time: taxation without representation. At best, Slavery was one of many catalyst and symptom of far bigger divides. The school book and teachers were again, crap. (You can read some of the details at: Civil War and Slavery)
I wrote this into a report many years beyond my grade level (with footnotes and citations)... and how do you think the teacher took it? If you guessed angrily, you would be right. Turns out bureaucrats didn't like things that challenged their dogma. It led to a big fight, because I wouldn't accept a C- for what was A+ work, and eventually I prevailed -- if by prevailing you think of it like a 11 year old and getting your grade fixed, but having a teacher hate you for the rest of the year. Experts without balance weren't experts, they were just close-minded bullies -- and I hated bullies. This led to a lifelong distrust of those who couldn't argue intelligently (understand the nuances/subtleties).
History class (and others) were full of bullshit. And I started to notice a pattern: the more conforming with left leaning or progressive values it was, the more the lies (spin) became obvious with just a cursory glance at the facts. There was certainly some spin the other way too, but it was pretty obvious in degrees, that there was a pattern. I was being taught Howard Zinn's propaganda (A People's History Of The United States). It wasn't just that it was dumbed down, it was that it was getting spun -- rarely totally pro-U.S. flag waiving tripe, or more often the completely anti-U.S. and pro-progressive kind of tripe. Kids were learning to regurgitate truths that just weren't true. And I would get punished for knowing more, researching more and arguing the other side of truths that were being squashed under the jack boot of 1970's Hippie Tolerance.
- I read/wrote on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and learned that the fawning caricature of the greatest President (as the school portrayed it) was complete crap. He focused power so that he could abuse it for personal gain: he and his family were corrupt. He was a liar that betrayed most people and nations that trusted him, often doing the exact opposite of what he promised. He violated the Constitution, his oath of office, and most of the worst shames in our history, happened under his watch (and by his hand). A lousy diplomat, a poor administrator, and was not particularly bright, according to people that were closest to him. But he was people smart and retained power by manipulation and abuse of power.
- I was taught how the U.S. didn’t NEED to drop the bomb”, we just wanted to teach those Japs a lesson and intimidate the soviets. I dove into Japanese culture and this history, and became more assured of how wrong this meme is, the more I learned. Another progressive fiction.
- Edward R. Murrow and the Democrats convinced the public of a fiction that wasn't true, about Joe McCarthy. It turns out McCarthy's name should remain synonymous with libelous witch hunts, not because he was the perpetrator of them, but the victim of it. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Freedom of Information act let us see what really happened, it turns out that McCarthy was right and exonerated, and those that attacked him were wrong, dishonest and doing so for political reasons. Most not only don't know this, but will attack anyone that challenges it with facts, like the state-programmed automatons they have become.
- The Vietnam War and history was full of lies -- from why we fought it, to what happened at Kent State, to Who lost the Vietnam War.
- Richard Nixon had a ton of nuance for why he did what he did (because Kennedy did it to him first, and he saw what Ike did to McCarthy). Again, I was getting a nuance-less variant of History.
- I got into reading about history and the Unintended Consequences of well intentioned policies. The more I read, and the more I brought this stuff up with teachers or friends, and the more hostile reactions I got to them, the more I knew which side I wanted to be on.
The teachers were often idiots or liars, the kids around me talking about what happened were gullible rubes that didn't check out the truth, so willfully repeated lies. To the point that if you corrected them, and showed them hard evidence, most didn't care. They were married to the lies they were told. If they re-thought any one thing (just because there was overwhelming evidence), then they might have to question and re-think everything: easier to deny or beat up the kid that challenged them (did I mention I hated bullies?). The truth was just too big for their puny minds and egos to handle.
It only got worse as I got older and watched more history happening. The lies ran on and on.
- The whole Iraq War thing was built on bullshit from the start (from believing there was WMD's), and then the Bush lied... people died was a worse correction. Most of Valerie Plame was wrong early on, and what people believe is false (proving the media did a poor job of informing).
- There was the myths about Peak oil and the Population Bomb
Basically, the canned view of many stories was overly simplistic. But the ones that were the big fictions were the ones that got cemented in my psyche as proof that people who just repeat party lines, or what they were taught in class, were not as smart as they thought they were. The ones I always thought were smart, were the ones who found holes in "common sense", or that challenged common knowledge -- like I did.
So History has multiple views: and both sides are not always equally valid.
Those that only understood one sides views, were more ignorant than someone who understood neither. At least the latter knew they were ignorant, while the former were convinced they were righteous. I vowed to not be that guy.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm the only person with a clue. Quite the opposite. But there's a huge difference between thinking I know more than everyone else, and knowing that I know more about the folks who only read things from the one side, and are 100% convinced of everything they've been programmed with. Those know-it-all ignoramuses are easy to spot, because they often use a megaphone, and probing questions brings out the worst in them: their inner bullies trying to beat down any variance from herd think. And as I've mentioned before, I don't like bullies.
Here's the thing, I learned from an early age that I was smarter than most people. Including teachers. This became obvious when I was tested. But the other side of that is that being smarter than 95% of the people on 95% of the topics, doesn't mean what most people think it means. The inverse of that matters too.
If I meet someone new, and the average person has deep domain knowledge on 20 topics, that means they probably know more than me on at least one of them. And being smarter than 99.98% of people (where my IQ falls), even on things that I really know well, means there's still 1.5 Million people in the world that know more than me, on that stuff I think I'm an expert on.
(OK. That's not exactly how the math works, and IQ isn't the same as domain knowledge, but it's a metaphor, work with me).
In the end, showing how much smarter I am than someone else is a waste of time. We all do it for puffery, at times. But the real value isn't in what I can teach them, but what I can learn from them. Are they one of that 1.5 Million? What are the topics that they know things I don't know? Even if we value IQ, the truth is that hard work and research matters more -- many people that aren't as innately "smart" are far more researched and can still crush me in their areas of expertise. (My IQ is higher than Einstein or Hawking, but that doesn't mean I think I'm anywhere near as "smart", especially in areas that they spent a lifetime thinking about).
So instead of being an arrogant douche (all the time), it's better to be inquisitive and find the things they know more on, and learn from them "the easy way" (by asking and listening).... then validating the most interesting parts with research (because as the article above discusses, trusting what you're told completely, is for rubes). I'm not an arrogant prick, most of the time, because I sincerely know that even a nitwit probably knows more than me on something, if I'm smart and humble enough to find out what that is.
Thus my inner douche only tends to come out, when someone is playing know-it-all and intellectual bullying on things they're not quite the experts they think themselves on. This goes back to those teachers that didn't like to be challenged, or bullies that would beat me up for challenging them or the teachers. If someone can't handle truths they don't like, then my reflex is to hit back. They don't have to agree with me on conclusions, but if they can't accept sub-facts because they don't fit their biases, I have to really stifle my natural tendency to torment them into growth. Which ironically, seldom leads to growth... and if I was as smart as I think I am, I could accept that these people hate mirrors and the person that would hold one up for them.
Links to more
- History: Civil War and Slavery, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dropping the Bomb, The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy, Vietnam, Tragedy of the commons
- Me: Genius is Insanity, Thinking outside the box, Unintended Consequences
2009.06.07, additions 2017.12.18