How many animals of each kind did Moses take into the ark?
So many people simply answer the question without realizing the inherent problem with it (see the end of the article for that explanation) that it has been dubbed the Moses illusion. It is an illustration of surprise and anticipation.
As it turns out surprise is a great tool for surviving on the savannahs as a hunter-gatherer: if it surprises you, it just might kill you. Pay attention. And, it just might save us from the predatory dangers of Trump’s open naked racism, xenophobia, and misogyny.
Trump’s tone brings the racists, xenophobes, and misogynists out of the woodwork. Trump stands at his podium barking about the dangerous Muslims, rapist Mexicans, the Blacks, fat women and is narcissistic enough to think (a) he will never be held accountable and (b) it has no effect other than to benefit him!
Now, people are being openly racist and committing openly racist violence, and, unfortunately, they are becoming normal. Go figure! As pointed out in Hate Begets Hate, exposure to disparaging humor and denigrating material increases tolerance of prejudicial behavior. Gee, you think we are seeing an increasing tolerance of prejudicial behavior in action? Ya think?
How do things become normal? How does the brain create normal? According to Daniel Kahneman, normal is created out of events that occur regularly. Events, thoughts, actions, emotions that occur regularly in a similar time frame become associated. The more regularly two things occur together, the stronger the association. The stronger the association, the more normal it all seems.
The more often it happens. The more often it happens. The more often it happens. See? Get it? The more often it happens! Get it? Get it?
Open the screw top of your skull and peer inside your brain and you’ll see that it consists of a network of associations! These associations let us predict shit and expect things unless you’re David Brooks, then you never predict anything because all of your associations are twisted and disconnected. If you can predict, then you determine the consequences of our actions — unless you’re a rednecked hickenlooper, then maybe your last words are Hey! Watch this! Taken together, this network of associations allows us to interpret our world, however, sick and twisted that may be.
Surprise is the best gauge of normal. If you are a curmudgeonly bastard, then nothing ever surprises you (at least that you’ll let on) and you never know what is normal. But, if you’re like everyone else, if an event or emotional reaction surprises you, then it isn’t normal. There are two types of surprise, events that you actively expect and events that you passively expect. Surprise occurs when an actively expected event doesn’t happen. You expect lunch at a certain time every day. You know this because of your hunger pangs. As lunchtime approaches, your stomach growls more. Your stomach is actively anticipate it. If you cannot take your lunch at that time, your stomach does a little protest pee-pee dance in your abdomen and your co-workers all make fun of you… and you’re pissed. Low blood sugar equals going postal.
Passively expected events are events that we are not actively anticipating, but when they occur, do not surprise us. Hunh? What’s that professor? We are not consciously anticipating their occurrence. If the event should occur, we are not surprised, and if we become aware that it hasn’t occurred, we are surprised. Hunh? The main point is that it is not something that we are consciously aware of anticipating. Hunh? For example, EgyptAir flight MS 804 crash on Thursday 19 May was not a surprise. We were not actively anticipating a plane crash, but we are not surprised when one occurs. More importantly, we will not be surprised if it turns out to be terrorism, but we will be surprised if it turns out not to be terrorism. Terrorist attacks are now normal. Let that sink in a bit.
The Trump Effect
Trump makes a speech or a tweet or an appearance on a news show. Trump says something sexist. We are not surprised. We are passively anticipating a racist, xenophobic, or sexist remark from Trump. When it happens, we are not surprised. In fact, when it doesn’t happen, we are surprised. A presidential candidate being racist, xenophobic, or sexist is now normal. Let that sink in a bit.
Trump holds a rally. A protester is violently attacked. We are not surprised. In fact, when it doesn’t happen, we are surprised. Trump rallies having violent racist, xenophobic, sexist incidents are now normal. Let that sink in a bit.
In fact, we are actively anticipating violence at Trump rallies. People go to Trump rallies to witness the violence they are sure will occur. For example, we all remember the girl who was groped and pepper sprayed at a Trump rally in Wisconsin back in March. As this video clearly shows, the smug prick in the red hat moved into position to pepper spray someone. He was anticipating a situation that would allow him to do real harm and violence to another human being, so he was prepared: he brought his pepper spray; he had it in his hand; he saw his opportunity; and he moved into position to assault this poor girl. Jesus on smoking BBQ pit, the smug bastard was proud of himself afterward.
Kahneman demonstrates that a single incident can cause a future repetition to be less surprising. One act of violence at a Trump rally, and it is anticipated and not surprising at the next.
Couple this with the prejudice norm theory, and those who are susceptible — like your drunk uncle — to discriminatory thoughts and actions are increasingly tolerant of prejudicial acts. The current openly racist and xenophobic rhetoric opposing undocumented immigrants and Muslims is becoming the new normal. We know this because we are no longer surprised by violence enacted against these groups, even when the targets are simply mistaken for the group.
There is a long list of items that are becoming normal:
- 30,000+ dead Americans a year due to gun violence
- The newly minted religious freedom right to discriminate
- Transphobic bathroom laws
- Voter ID laws suppressing the votes of minorities, the elderly, the poor, and the young
- The curtailing of abortion rights
- Mass shootings of any and all conceivable targets from first graders, to movie goers, to church basements
If you are not surprised by an event you read about in the news, it is because it is becoming normal. The exploitation of the all too human tendency to accept events that occur regularly and frequently as normal by cynical politicians is a dangerous trend. This is the real problem with Trump’s candidacy. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, violence, loud profane confrontation are all becoming normal. We casually accept violence, prejudice, oppression of Americans and human beings alike nowadays. Your drunk uncle is the new normal. Let that sink in a bit.
The Moses Illusion
Noah took the animals onto the ark, not Moses. But, since we recognize the situation as a Biblical event and Moses as a Biblical figure, we are not surprised when they occur together in the same sentence. Consequently, we accept Moses without further scrutiny and answer the question. Only after our cruel inquisitor has humiliated us for our oversight do we begin to acknowledge the error of our ways. Good times, amiright?