Two different stories originating in antiquity on the Isle of Right provided two theories about how the island had come to be.
According to one story, a giant rock fell from the sky. The rock was so big that a third of it still stuck out of the water. And that third is now the Isle of Right.
According to a different story, the earth growled beneath the ocean. Hot molten rock burst forth in great quantities. Eventually the sea and the air cooled the molten rock. And that once-molten rock is now the Isle of Right.
Sometimes, after a day of hard work, some of the people who believed that a giant rock in the sky birthed their island sat together around a fire and debated with some of the people who believed the island sprung from beneath the sea. Some of the people really enjoyed debating. But many more people enjoyed watching and listening.
And, it happened on rare occasions, that someone spoke up and said, “It actually makes little difference how the island got here. But here it is now. Here. And, in this moment, there are things that need to be done. And we could think together about how best to do those things so that they would be effective and enjoyable and cause as little harm as possible. And we all want those things. And we all know how to think and how to do things. So let’s work together on that.”
Such a one as this was met with blank stares, however. And the people went back to their debates.
Small harm done. Things were not quite as effective and fun and safe as they might have been, but on the whole, people spent the vast majority of their time working together to get things done regardless of how they thought their island was formed. Because, although the people enjoyed the debate, as a practical matter, they understood that they all needed fish and that the fish came from the sea and they traded ideas about how best to catch the fish and thus improved their fishing. So, by and large, the debates were little more than entertainment.
Those who did not themselves debate but enjoyed watching began to cheer for their favorite debaters. And since people liked a contest between bests, eventually one storyteller from each side would argue their side of the case. And, all the people listened.
The storytellers, to make the stories more interesting, began to embellish their creation myths with many further tales. For example, when the rock sank into the mud two third with only one third remaining above, that was, according to the storyteller, a sign that we too are sunk two thirds in the mud, and we must follow the “Way of the Rock” if we are to live a good life. And, by the way, the Rock makes the Sea look beautiful! (BTW, “The Way of the Rock” was something he or she totally made up at the moment).
“Oh, yeah!” Said his worthy opponent. “Well, if you follow “The Way of the Sea” you will not only live a good life here on this island, but after you die, you’ll go to a whole other island and another and another and another forever! For -EV-er! So follow the Way of the Sea! For it is the Sea that makes the Rock beautiful!”
The opponent however, was not so easily crushed, though they had to admit the unprovable claim of infinite reward was pretty cool. “Hogwash. Offering someone a reward, even if a bogus reward, doesn’t mean that if they take that reward and agree to believe as you say — that’s no argument for the validity of your position. That’s only an argument about the moral character of your followers. Not to say that that is why all your followers believe as you do. But the ones who take the bribe certainly don’t add any weight at all to the truth of your argument.”
Over time, as the storytellers became more and more skilled at rousing the passions of their audiences, they began to intimate that people who held the other point of view were not all that good at fishing, or farming, or raising children, or making love, or fixing meals. And because of this animosity, the people who believed their island came from Rock began to call themselves “The People of the Rock.” And they tended to avoid “The People of the Sea” whenever they could and for their part, “The People of the Sea” were equally loath to work or play with “The People of the Rock.”
I don’t need to belabor you with the details. You can guess the ending, right? All “The People of the Rock” and “The People of the Sea” are no longer arguing. They’re all dead.
And, they never did find out whether their island was formed by a rock from the sky or an undersea volcano. Ironically, if they had kept working together and focusing on what they could do, their science would have reached a point where they could actually and factually answer the question. It turns out, it was formed by a volcano…. But that’s kind of not the point.
There’s no-one left on the Isle of Right to care.
The coyotes certainly don’t care —just as long as there’s fresh meat aplenty.
The room smelled of old money, paneled as it was with Chestnut from a time when Chestnut trees grew to 100 feet tall. The draperies hung thick, blocking out the cheery morning sun. The trappings lent an air of solemnity and useless lavishness to the proceedings. Marvin saw one of the skirts sashay in with a tray of the sundry sweets and coffees. Everyone checked out their order — and the skirt which was appropriately short. Marvin could see from everyone’s expression that they were pleased. Apparently, she had brought the treats without messing up anyone’s orders for a change. Good, thought Marvin. A good omen. Let’s get this sucker started.
“All right gentleman. I hereby call this meeting to order. As you know, we have a weighty decision before us. Who is going to run our domestic business enterprises. Our first candidate has been running our Midwestern division for three and a half years. During that time, our profits have reached record numbers. Some of his detractors say he fudged the numbers. What we do know is that we have had a record number of lawsuits and fines from OSHA, the FDA, the EPA, and the EOC. We’ve tied all these suits up in the courts and they won’t be settled till long after everyone on this board, myself included, will be long dead.”
There were appreciative nods and chuckles throughout the room.
“I know there were those among you who didn’t think we should hire a reality TV show host instead of a competent and experienced engineer. And, it’s true that he’s shaken things up a bit. But I think, on the whole, the profit numbers speak for themselves.”
Marvin could see that Mark wrung his hands and bit his lip. He ignored it and pressed on.
Matthew broke in. “Marvin, I am just wondering: do the numbers really speak for themselves? Have we done any independent auditing of those numbers? And, if the profits are up, why is it taking four times as long per unit? Why are we losing so many sales people to the competition? Why are we having a record number of customer complaints?”
Thoughtful nods surrounded Marvin. He had to nip this crap in the bud. If Connie Boy didn’t get the job, Marvin knew he wouldn’t get his promised kickback or the 13-year old virgin he’d been promised. “Look, we can delve into the details in a minute or two and you can ask all the questions you want. But I just want to go over the high points first. So, let’s review more about his actual results before … “
Now, James interrupted. “Speaking of results, doesn’t it bother you that we’ve lost almost our entire Midwestern sales force? And no wonder! Connie Boy has repeatedly dissed them. He does it with his morning ‘Pep Talks.’ He does it on social media. And, there are reports that he goes out golfing almost every afternoon with the CEO’s of some of our major competitors. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?”
Marvin chewed his lips as though he were taking the objection seriously and opened his mouth to counter this new avenue of attack against the guy who would make him rich.
Too late, thought Marvin. Damn!
Luke, who rarely spoke, had launched into a new tirade. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we cannot ignore the fact that he’s clearly skimming off the top. The books are cooked, folks. This guy said he was independently wealthy so we didn’t even have to pay him a salary. I know we thought at the time we’d save some money for the shareholders, but actually he’s stolen far more than his salary and he uses the company cars and jet, not only for his own pleasure trips but for his family’s trips as well.”
Before Marvin could formulate a counter-argument, John piled on. “And, then there are his strange hiring decisions. He fired the Director of Engineering and replaced him with his caddy. He doesn’t know anything about engineering. And, he fired the VP of Logistics, who was highly respected in the field, with his son-in-law who doesn’t know diddly about logistics. In fact…have you met him? I’m not sure he knows much about anything. Anyway, he certainly doesn’t know logistics.”
Marvin jumped in by pounding on the table, “IF YOU PLEASE, Gentleman, I would like to finish my — look, I’m not advocating for Connie Boy, but I mean, he has been in the job and — yes, he has some foibles, but … “
“Foibles?” Questioned Timothy. “Foibles? From what I heard, his disdain of safety regulations is precisely why not one, not two, but three factories burned to the ground.”
Marvin scowled. “Those were accidents and you know it! Bad luck! No-one could have predicted that using smaller gauge wires than recommended would cause fires.”
Peter sighed heavily, “Of course it’s predictable! It’s simple physics.”
Marvin felt the blood in his temples pound. His heart began to race. The vision of the beautiful young virgin clouded up. “It’s not science! He says he knows more about science than scientists do! I believe him! I don’t know what’s wrong with you people! He was trying to save us money by buying thinner wires. Isn’t saving money a good thing?”
Marvin stood up and banged the gavel. “As Chairman of the Board, I am in charge here! And, we will have plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons later. I just wanted to review the record before his scheduled interview. It’s time for the candidate. Let’s table the discussion until we hear from him directly. I’m pretty sure you’ll be more amenable to his candidacy once you hear his plans for improving the entire domestic operation.”
He pressed the button near the gavel. Within seconds, the skirt returned. She smiled prettily and said, “Yes, Mr, Mitchell? What can I do for you?”
“Sally, bring in Connie Boy, would you?”
Susan reddened slightly. She thought to herself, I’ve worked here for four years and he still doesn’t know my name. “I’m sorry, Sir. He’s not here.”
Marvin clenched his teeth tightly. “Not here?! What the f+$# is wrong with you, Shirley? I’ve got the whole damned Board here! I distinctly told you to have him here at 9 am sharp!”
“You certainly did, Mr. Mitchell. And, he agreed to come. He confirmed when I called again yesterday. And, he texted me an hour ago that he would be here on time.”
Marvin knew that his face was turning purple but he didn’t care. “Well get him here now or I will fire your sorry ass!”
Susan reddened still more. “Am I the FBI? How am I supposed to find him. I’m not his … keeper.”
Timothy chuckled slightly. “Come on, Marvin, how is she supposed to make him appear?”
Marvin turned to Timothy. “How should I know? That’s her job! That’s your job, Sally! Or, was. You’re fired! Send in Betty! I’m promoting her. Clear out your desk.”
Susan took several deep breaths to calm herself. “There is no-one in the office named ‘Betty.’ Do you mean Barbara?”
Marvin knew he was skating on thin ice now, but he was past caring, “Send in the one with the biggest tits!”
“Certainly, Sir. That would be me.” She stared insolently at Marvin.
Marvin reddened, his blood pressure skyrocketing dangerously. “Fine. Get hold of him.”
Just then, Timothy felt his cellphone vibrate and he glanced at the face. He read it and held it up as he said, “It’s Connie. He wants to call in. Says his foursome got stuck behind a foursome of … well … of women — though that’s not the word he used. He’s going to call in on my phone. He didn’t have your number, Marvin.”
Marvin said, “Thanks. Put it on speaker.” Marvin made a sweeping gesture toward Susan as though he were brushing a fly off the desk. “Shoo. Shoo.”
The minutes went by in silence. Finally, the voice of Connie Boy came on. “Hey, guys! I hear you wanted to ask me some questions. I know it’s just a formality. But here I am. Ask away.”
Marvin tried to sound cheerful. “So, Timothy says you were stuck behind a group of … of … women and that’s why you’re late.”
Connie Boy yelled, “What? No, no. He misunderstood. We were stuck behind a foursome of pussies but I’m not late. It’s only 9:45 am.”
Marvin looked at the clock on the wall. It said 10:30. He glanced at his watch. 10:30. He checked his cell. 10:30. “Fine. Connie, can you please tell us about your plans for how you will improve our domestic operations if we make you President of that division.”
Connie thought in silence for a moment and then said, “But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.”
Marvin put his face in his hands. He didn’t want to see the reaction on the faces of the Board.
Marvin chewed his lower lip. Maybe Connie Boy was just nervous. “OK, Connie. That’s good. Say more. How would you improve things?”
“Well, I hear there’s another candidate, and he’s a communist. And, he will literally burn down your factories. Look at the news! Turn on the news! There’s a picture of a factory burning! That’s what will happen if you choose him! He’ll burn down our factories. Turn on Fox News right now.”
Marvin, grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV. Sure enough, there was a picture of a factory fire.
Thomas walked over to the TV and pointed at the caption. It said: ‘Kenosha.’ “Connie, isn’t that our factory in Kenosha? That’s one of the one’s you’re in charge of, right?”
“Yes! Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! It’s horrible! It’s terrible! If you choose that commie, he’ll burn down factories like this!”
Thomas looked long and hard at Marvin.
Connie continued, “Look, guys, I gotta go soon. Any other questions?”
Paul asked, “Connie, can you just say a little more about what you actually plan to do to improve domestic operations?”
Connie Boy launched into another answer. “Well, I took over this job as a rookie. You know. I was famous. I should have won three, four, maybe five Emmy’s for my show, but whatever. Politics. You know. But I was not familiar. Not experienced with running factories. One of the things that will be really great — you know the word ‘experience’ is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. I never did a factory before. I only was in the Midwest maybe I think 17 times. All of a sudden, I’m in charge of factories in the Midwest. I go to Chicago and ride down the Miracle Mile and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I don’t know anyone in the Midwest. No-one. But now I know everyone. Plus, I am a stable genius. So there’s that. Did I tell you I had a cognitive test? Yes, the doctors were like, ‘Oh, My God, this guy is a genius. He remembered the words.’ You know. Words. Like they tell me, ‘remember these words: Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn.’ Then they ask me the words and I say, ‘Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Film.’ Okay. But then, like a few minutes later, they say, ‘Hey, you know those words. Tell us them again. So, I’m like, ‘Okay, Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Star.’ And the doctors are like flubbergasted, falbergasted, whatever…amazed…they say, no-one in the history of the world has been able to remember five words like that. I got all of them. It was — I should win a Nobel Piece Prize — no-one else is such a stable genius. So that’s my plan. You know. And don’t pick the commie. Because he will set your factories on fire. Gotta go.”
Paul spoke up. “Before you go, why are we having such an unusually high number of employee complaints?”
Connie Boy said quickly, “Oh, that’s fake news. Nobody and I mean nobody has done more for our workers than I have! Nobody. Look it up. Everyone knows it. I’m the best friend any of those employees ever had. But now, I really have important stuff to get to. Bye.”
The line went dead. Marvin drew in a long breath. He felt like hiding under the table, but instead, he put on his most steely look and decided he may as well brazen it out. “Well, there you go. I say we vote him in. We don’t really need to waste time listening to the other candidate. You heard Connie. The other guy is a commie! We don’t need a commie running our factories.”
Marvin pushed the button and a dark-haired woman came in. “Where’s … who are you?”
“I’m Barbara. I’m Susan’s replacement. How can I help you?”
“What happened to Sally?”
“There is no-one here named ‘Sally’ — Susan — who was your secretary for four years — you fired her and I’m her replacement, Barbara.”
“You’re not … well, get Sally back! Anyway, never mind. Doesn’t matter. Cancel the other candidate. We’ve heard enough. Connie is our man. Right guys?”
Marvin kept his eyes glued on the gavel ready to shout anyone down who disagreed with him. “All in favor of appointing Connie Boy as President of domestic operations, signify by raising your right hand the ayes have it. Next order of business is….”
Peter spoke in a calm quiet voice. “Marvin. None of us voted for Connie the Con Man. Actually, you didn’t even raise your own hand. No-one thinks he’s competent to do the job. No-one.”
Marvin bit his lip so hard it nearly bled. “But. But. Sure, no-one’s perfect, but he was a TV Star! You heard him! He should have won Emmy’s!” Damn. I’m going to miss my chance on that virgin! thought Marvin. “Come on, guys! We’ve never had a porn star run one of factories before. He turned out pretty good though, right?”
Peter frowned, “Did you say ‘Porn Star’?
Marvin shook his head, “No, no. I said TV star. I didn’t say ‘Porn Star.’ Don’t be ridiculous.”
Much of our education trains us to make distinctions. Little of it trains us to see similarities. Both are important. If you are in the business of foraging for berries, it’s a very good idea to eat the edible ones and not the poison ones. This means that it’s a nice skill to be able to distinguish them.
On the other hand, for many purposes, it’s important to see similarities as well. When it comes to human beings, most of us spend far too much time noticing differences between people and far too little time noticing similarities.
In a large organization, focusing on differences among employees is often used as an excuse for keeping ineffective, inefficient processes, procedures and tools. For example, a manager might insist that all programming be done in a particular language that might have been state of the art decades earlier. As the organization continues to face deadline after deadline, it looks to the manager as though changing tools or processes will simply delay things further (indeed, it likely will for a time). So, year after year, the management delays a look at better equipment, tools, and training.
Part of their rationale is that some people are still very productive so it can’t be the tools and systems. It’s just that the other people aren’t working hard enough or aren’t smart enough so they promote the really good programmers to managers. Many of the best programmers will none-the-less eventually see themselves as getting more and more out of date in their technical skills and “jump ship” before it’s too late.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real differences in programmers. Of course there are. But those differences are too often used as an excuse for bad management. Quite likely, everyone would be more productive if there were changes, but individual differences serve as the “proof” that none are needed.
It isn’t just in programming. When we meet someone, we are much more likely to notice how they differ from others. Are they unusually tall? Short? Striking blue eyes? Or brown? Are they more muscular than average? More obese? Unusually skinny? As they begin to talk, we tick off other boxes: are they smart? Well-read? Do they have an accent? Where were they born? Where do they live? What job do they have? Are they well-off financially?
Very seldom do we take the time to reflect on how very similar this person is to every other human being and to us, and for that matter, even to other life forms.
Perhaps we should think more about trajectories and less about points.
For example, let’s say you meet someone and they are older than you and bald with a salt and pepper beard. His young son is with him. The son is neither bald, nor bearded, nor older than you are. The three of you are all different! — at this point!
What if you perceived these features, not in terms of points, but in terms of trajectories? For example, age is a moving target. Some day, if he is lucky, the son will be the same age as the father is now. He will likely also grow bald. He might or might not grow a beard but he could. If he did grow such a beard at a young age, it would likely start out all dark and gradually turn to white — not uniformly in time, but with a trajectory that will very likely look a lot like that pattern of change experienced by his father’s beard (and the beards of many other males).
In general, we have more commonality in our trajectories than in our momentary status. For example, your bone density might be greater or less than mine, but the bones of both of us will generally become less dense as we age. And that trajectory is true for virtually everyone. Furthermore, if any of us go up in space, our bone density will lessen quickly. Conversely, if we stay on earth and do weight-bearing exercise, our bone density will increase.
Trajectories are typically more diagnostic than statics.
For example, would you buy a used car based on simply looking at it, or sitting in it? Of course not. You want to make sure the car actually works. You want to take it out for a test drive.
For your annual physical, the doctor might look at your fasting blood sugar level. If it’s too high or too low, he may order a more sensitive test — a glucose tolerance test. How your body reacts to a sudden influx of sugar is more indicative of underlying health than is static level.
Similarly, your Doctor might simply “listen to your heart” or take a resting cardiogram. A stress test is more revealing of function though.
Aristotle is credited for saying “Character is revealed by choices under pressure.” This is the great truth of literature. It isn’t one’s current status that reveals one’s character. They might have been born rich or poor or blind or in peace or in war. It makes a different to them, of course, but what the reader wants to see is that they make of what they are. How do they bend that trajectory to inspire others, save lives, learn from their errors, reform themselves, or prove their loyalty. Or, on the other side, how do they exhibit mindless selfishness, or betray others, or refuse to change, leaving disaster in their wake.
It isn’t the challenge, per se that’s critically important. It’s how a person either bravely met a challenge — or how they showed their essential cowardice and refused to see the problem; refused to admit the problem; and blamed everyone else for their inevitable failure to solve the problem.
Trying to put emotion and politics aside, here’s one way to look at #45 from a purely mechanistic viewpoint.
He’s an open loop system.
He wants absolute control about what actions will be taken by our government.
He wants absolute immunity from accurate feedback about what the impact of those actions are.
Where in life would you accept such a system? Would you hire an engineer who designed such a system? Would you put your life in their hands? The lives of your friends and family into such hands?
I think not.
#45 likes to call his actions mighty and powerful. He does it himself and requires all his lackeys to join in the chorus. “Look at me! I’m powerful and mighty.” If you’re driving your car blindfolded, it is not a feature that you are also breaking the speed limit.
What Donald Trump cares about is feeling adored by millions. That’s literally all he cares about along with absolute power.
He does not care about how many people are killed or made unhappy.
Solution? Take him out of the White House and put him somewhere appropriate to someone with that mindset and his set of skills. And where would that be?
A Theme Park. Trumpland.
It is staffed mainly by paid actors. Donnie “makes decisions” (all absurd) and gives hate-filled speeches and sends nasty tweets to people. Crowds get to come in and watch the performances. There are other littler parts for other crooks.
There could be “Failed-State Department Land” where fans can watch PomPomPeo violate the Hatch Act and make nice with people proud to be brutal dictators. The decor? I’d say a child’s representation of various lands; e.g., Egypt = Pyramids; Australia = Sydney Opera House; France = Eiffel Tower; America = The Kremlin.
“Injustice Department Land” where Bilious Barr makes up evidence, ponders weightily the meaning of “suggests” and teaches a class on how to Epstein people. The decor here should be inspired by the London Torture Museum.
“Education Department Land” is run by Bet-She’s Devoid and every day, she takes Monopoly money from poor people and hands it to rich people so they can give their kids an educational advantage just because maybe having just a financial advantage and a health care advantage and a environmental advantage and a nutritional advantage aren’t enough. The decor is stolen directly from the game of Life. (Yes, of course, it would be a copyright violation; but it is Trumpland! Laws mean nothing!)
Bringing up the rear, we could have “USPS Land” where crowds roar in appreciation as Loser NoJoy takes apart TV’s and microwaves and then trades parts and re-assembles them to make them more “efficient.” Of course, to make it more fun, he knows nothing whatever about TV’s or microwaves.
In the center ring, of course, we have #45 himself sitting behind his Irresolute Desk signing Amazing Bill after Amazing Bill. Just to make it more fun, every once in a while, he will open up the dark leather binder and instead of a Bill signing ceremony, he will sign a check for a porn star to keep quiet.
Around the periphery of the Evil Office are arrayed a score of large screen TV’s showing every remaining news channel: FAUX NEWS1, FAUX NEWS2, FAUX NEWS3…FAUX NEWS20. They are all broadcasting the wonderful news about how fantastic #45 is; proclaiming that this is unprecedented, ground-shattering, galaxy-altering, universe tilting, amazingly amazing stuff, sanctioned by GOD himself and anointed with secret Oil of Q-Anon and OKKK’d by White Nationalists and Pedophiles for POTUS.
It’s all fine.
But, importantly, none of it is real. Executive orders are not carried out. People’s lives are not ruined. Innocent people are not killed. In the real world, laws and justice still matter and democracy is more than a slogan.
Trump is happy as a clam. It’s what he’s been striving for the whole time! In his own words, “I take no responsibility.”
Others may object that he is essentially being lied to.
Wait. What’s that knocking I hear? Hello? Karma, is that you? I thought so. Come on in.
He’s told 22,000 lies since being Putin office. It doesn’t matter to him if he’s being lied to. Why should it matter to you? He doesn’t want to know the truth. He can’t take the truth. Heel Spurs hasn’t got the courage. Fine. Let him play President in a pageant named after him in a park named after him. He’ll be happy. And America will not be destroyed as it is when the game he’s playing has actual consequences on real people’s real lives.
Now, it may be objected that although it would be good for America, it would also be expensive. It would be expensive to build. But there are many who could use the work. We have the highest unemployment in decades. However, it would pay for itself very quickly! The capital pay-back and the operating expenses would be covered by the 40% of Americans who would gladly pay for an up-front look see at Trump playing Trump in Trumpland. For an extra fee, they could have a signed MAGA hat! (The signature is just printed but who cares?). And these MAGA hats will all say “Made in America” on them! Of course, they won’t actually be made in America, but here in Trumpland, there is no rule of law. Lying is standard practice.
Good gracious! I almost forgot to mention McConnell-Food Court. Here, there is a giant turtle standing and spouting nonsense the whole time the park is open. Since, like every other amusement park, there’s no place else to eat, the hamberders are expensive and gristley, with a faint aroma of dead cat but in Trumpland, you can always grab some, er, covfefe or Clorox to wash it down. Nothing ever actually happens here except the droning sound and the buying and consumption of food. Needless to say, there are none of those horrible plant-based options available that hippies — or whatever they’re called these days — want to eat just to keep from ruining the planet for human habitation or some other weird liberal thing like that.
Trumpland: Put him where he belongs – running an amusement park – not running the country.
Trump would be happy.
Trump’s supporters would be happy.
The rest of America would be ecstatic.
It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s a lot better than what’s happening right now.
The main drawback is that Putin would not be happy.
In the immortal words of Melania Trump visiting kids in cages when their mothers brought them legally to America’s border to seek asylum:
Here’s an interesting thing about the way we learn. And, when I say “we” I don’t just mean all my 7.5 billion human brothers and sisters out there but also other, more distant cousins. What creatures tend to do is put particular emphasis on their first experiences. In my culture, we memorialize this truth with comments such as: “Now, make sure you look nice on your first day. It’s important to make a good first impression.” Given the prevalence of this kind of advice, I think most people seem aware of this effect when they go on job interviews, first dates, etc.
There seems to be an interesting asymmetry about our folk wisdom though. While most of us seem quite aware of how we can influence others by first impressions, we seem fairly oblivious to the impacts that others are making on us.
“I can’t understand it. They seemed so nice on our first date. And, then, every one of our six dates since, they treat me like trash. I might have to break up.”
Imagine instead someone saying this: “I can’t understand it. They treated me like trash on the first date. And on the second. And on the third. And every one of our first six dates. And, now, on the seventh, they seemed so nice!”
Many studies confirm the primacy effect under a wide variety of circumstances. In this case, the folk wisdom about the importance of first impressions is confirmed by science.
This has an interesting ramification for propaganda effects.
Let’s suppose that you live in a country where there are two competing parties. Each of them typically likes to put a certain “spin” on events. For instance, let’s say that there’s a big plane crash in the Colorado desert or a hurricane in Florida. These events are reported on the media. Now, the two parties might frame or reinterpret these events in different ways. One party might try to say that the crash was likely due to drug use on the part of the pilot and that drug use among pilots is because pot is legal in Colorado. And, they might claim that even though there is no real evidence. In fact, subsequent events actually confirm that the pilot was not on drugs, nor has there been any uptick in drug usage among pilots (they would lose their jobs) and these particular pilots lived in NY and just came from NY. They did not suddenly score a joint 30,000 feet in the air. But because people in the audience heard that story about pot usage being responsible first, some of them may recall it even years later — and are much less likely to recall the actual facts that came out later.
Conversely, let’s imagine another party puts out a statement that blames the crash on lax standards for air safety. It blames these lax standards on the other party. It further points out that the airlines who pushed for the lax standards were heavy campaign donors to the party who fought for the lax standards. If you hear this version of the story first, you will have a different first impression. It will be just as “uncomfortable” for you to now consider evidence that perhaps the pilots were high than it will be for the people in the scenario above to consider that lax safety standard were involved.
Similarly, one party might relate the hurricane and mention that global climate change makes for more and more severe hurricanes. Another party might use the opportunity to request funding to put up a hurricane fence around the Gulf of Mexico to keep hurricanes out. One of these explanations would be supported by the vast majority of scientists. Of course, no-one is saying that a particular hurricane could not possibly have happened without global climate change. But warming waters mean more energy goes into hurricanes in general. On the other hand, no real scientist would imagine a hurricane fence would do much to keep a hurricane out!
But if you hear about the hurricane fence story first, and then find that scientists think such a strategy is absurd, instead of rejecting the idea for the bunkum it is, you might check the Internet for someone to support the idea. And — given the nature of the Internet, you will definitely find someone to support the idea — a Russian troll, a nutcase, or an operative for the other party. Rather than using the Internet as a way of determining whether a particular idea is or is not reasonable given the balance of evidence, it will be tempting instead to use the Internet to find a way to reinforce your first impression rather than challenge it. Who gets the story out first has a big advantage.
You can see why parties compete to get their own version of stories out first.
The above scenarios were examples of reactions to external facts that “happened.”
But what if your party is not only reacting to disasters — what if they are intentionally creating disasters? This gives them a crucial and perhaps crushing advantage. Because they are creating the crisis, they can have a narrative for every story worked out ahead of time. They can release it contemporaneously or even slightly before an event occurs. In this way, they will be able to frame the narrative first every single time. And, equally importantly, people who eventually hear both sides of the story will underestimate how much they are swayed by the primacy effect.
Does it seem odd to anyone else that — no wait. Hold on. I was about to say: “Does it seem odd to anyone else that the Trump death cult is only united by their devotion to Trump and the only common value in their “platform” is that they value hate and dividing people, not uniting people — and yet, they are completely unified. They are unified about division.”
But then, I realized, in a twisted sort of way, this is actually logical. *Because* they are united in hatred and dismissing anyone different, they are terrified to stray from the pack. But what if they do it by accident? What if they see something that looks interesting or useful and head toward it? NO NO NO! They might be culled from the herd! (A fate that could literally be worse than death if they & Trump continue to destroy the rule of law). No-one in America will be safe. Neither red hats nor assault weapons will keep you safe from Trump’s predations which will include the same horrors that other cruel dictators have employed because they think it helps keep them in power and because they simply enjoy making others feel pain.
How can such a tight pack keep from disintegrating? By listening to Trump. To them, he is the ultimate authority on every single topic. In precisely this way, the entire flock knows exactly what to say (at least today; yes, it could change tomorrow, but they’ll be watching for his tweets again tomorrow or listening to Fox News to tell them what is real). They listen to the Oraclown and his reflection.
For some reason, the real-world evil and treachery of Putin’s puppet always makes me think of these *purely fictional* stories about a child sociopath.
(Not suitable for children or people without a well-developed sense of values. To reiterate, these are pure fiction meant to illustrate how a sociopath “thinks.” For details about Donnie’s actual life, try his niece’s book: