Politics Is Complicated
"Common Knowledge" Supported by Math

I’m highly skeptical of the whole “Wisdom of Crowds" phenomenon and things like betting markets for probability because it all relies on the assumption that the general public is, at least on average, well-informed.  The problem is, it is entirely possible for public opinion to be based on totally incorrect “common knowledge”, especially about complicated subjects.  For example, the persistence of creationism in America shows an alarmingly large number of people (disproportionately on the political Right) who are ignorant or misinformed of basic, established facts of science.  Left and Right alike are also frequently highly misinformed about such prominent topics as the makeup of the U.S. federal budget.  Even the best political analysts can fail to take into account unusual circumstances.  Perhaps most importantly, even reasonably well-informed crowds taking part in simple tasks can be misled or pressured into giving wrong answers.  If you really want to laugh, cringe, and learn a few things, check out the List of Common Misconceptions on Wikipedia.

I mention all this for two reasons.  First, I’ve been wanting to complain about it to anyone who will listen for a while, and posting it online allows me to rant less in real life.  Second, it’s a preface to this article I just found, with the hyperbolic, paranoid-sounding title “Revealed: the Capitalist Network that Runs the World”.  Now, I saw the title and cringed, immediately expecting an incoherent rant that would’ve made me lose faith in New Scientist’s editorial staff.  However, what I found instead is an interesting read which confirms, through mathematical modeling, what the general public (especially, as I have noted before, the Occupy movement, various liberal publications, and myself) already suspected: a handful of huge financial institutions have enormous influence over the rest of the economy.  Highly unnerving.

Dumb Myths Die Hard

I have a Facebook friend who is extremely conservative.  He’s a member of the Tea Party of New Hampshire.  He is, however, typically a very well-informed and interesting person, and he actually became my friend because I argued with him on the comment thread of a mutual friend’s post.  However, today, he posted a joke aimed at his fellow ultra-conservatives that I felt (perhaps a little too harshly) needed to be argued with.  It went as follows: “A communist, a Muslim and an illegal alien walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What would you like to drink, Mr. President?”“  I can’t believe that this kind of thing is still going around.  Or, actually, I can believe it, but I am thoroughly sick of it.  So let’s break these myths down.

1. Is Obama a communist/socialist?

According to the 2008 Socialist candidate for President, he’s definitely not one. Yes, he’s for more regulation, but his policies are consistently capitalist in the sense that they prioritize profit. Look at the healthcare bill that he not only signed but actively promoted: it sets up universal access to for-profit health insurance. Where is the wokers’ control of the means of production or the prioritization of people over profit there? These insurance companies are hardly workers’ cooperatives, non-profit organizations, or government-run public services. As I mentioned in my previous post, how much in favor of a market economy you are and how capitalist you are are not the same thing.

2. Is Obama a Muslim?

Obama says he was raised agnostic and converted to Christianity. If he’s not a Christian, he’s doing a really good job of hiding it, since he has gone to various Christian churches for decades now. In particular, if he’s a Muslim, he’s not a very good one, since the Quran says only to lie about your religion to protect your life in the case of forced conversion and frankly nobody is forcing him to be a Christian. So I think it’s safe to assume he is one. Or, to put it another way, would you spend decades going to religious services you didn’t believe in? If not, then why assume that he would?

3. Is Obama a U.S. citizen?

The state of Hawaii says he was born there, as do newspapers from 1961 announcing his birth. Not only are the various Kenyan birth certificates people claim to have uncovered forgeries, they’re really obvious, sloppy forgeries that don’t even get major details like the name of the country right. And may I point out also that, even if the original announcement of birth or birth certificate were forgeries, he would still be a citizen by birthright: he still had one American parent, which qualifies him for U.S. citizenship no matter where he was born.




The Quran, Sura 16