Cognitive Psychology

The Cognitive Tom Fuckery that Causes MAGA Nation to be so Stupid

Two things happened this week at Ye Olde Blogge: First, we got TROLLED by a genuine MAGA troll who spouted real live MAGA things in the comments. It was kinda crazy and made me glad I didn’t live in the same country as him. And, second, I had real live thoughts about the troll and his beliefs. And, I got excited because I wanted to tell all y’all what I thought about the cognitive tendencies that caused the troll’s warped beliefs! And third, after I wrote the post, I realized it was a bajillion words long, which is TL;DR, so I had to split it in TWO: one is explains the cognitive errors that MAGA Nation is making and the other is the super interesting and fun story of being TROLLED by a real live MAGA troll.

I rarely ever get trolled on the blog or on my social media accounts. It’s really a bummer. Everyday, I see people complaining on social media about how James Wood or Kristie Alley has blocked them. No body ever blocks me! Or when I’m at the WordPress watercooler, all the other bloggers are kvetching about all the trolly comments popping up on their blogs, and all I can say is some guy a couple of years ago commented, You people are all a bunch of deranged idiots! All the cool bloggers just look at me with pity in their eyes.

That all changed two weeks ago, when someone wrote an innocuous comment on a year-old post about the reasons for Trump’s lack empathy for those sick and dying of #COVID19. Maybe you remember that post? The entire comment rivaled my favorite chapter in all of literature, My mother is a fish, from Willy Faulkner‘s incomparable, As I Lay Dying, for it’s layered complexity beneath its disarming simplicity. Mosckerr simply wrote, Dude Trump aint a Doctor. Duh. Well, no shit. No one ever said Trump was a doctor, so what the fuck did he mean, I politely enquired.

He answered with a long derpy screed. Long story, short, I answered with a polite statement saying that I wouldn’t publish disinformation and offered six “facts” contradicting some of his points. That set off a commenting storm that you’ll have to read on the story post.

Days later I found myself trying to refute every argument he made in my head. That’s the fascinating part and the part that got me to thinking about why the anti-maskers are so wrong… so stupid. What cognitive errors lead to such obviously dumb-ass conclusions? Luckily, there is an explanation. Let’s use one of his most ridiculous “arguments” to illustrate.

For example: do masks accomplish anything? A virus its [sic] incredibly small. The masks worn by people their mesh can no more stop a Covid virus from entering or escaping the mask any more than the filters of flour, designed to remove insects within the ground powder, these filters permit the ground wheat to pass through the filter screens because the grinding process makes the wheat smaller that the holes in the filter screens.

There are three cognitive tendencies that explain it : everyday reasoning, illusory knowledge, and collective intelligence. For a more in depth discussion of each, see the posts in the links.

Everyday Reasoning

Everyday reasoning is the reasoning we use to justify everyday decisions: to wear a mask or not, to punch the Walmart greeter asking us to wear a mask or not, to assault the restaurant hostess who asked for our vaccination card or not. You know, those kind of everyday decisions that in this time of #COVID19 we’re faced with everyday.

Should I wear a mask into the grocery store? Of course I shouldn’t, MAGA jeneus thinks. Masks don’t work anyway, so why should I wear one? Look if masks could stop a teeny tiny eensy weensy virus, then how do the huge — by comparison — air molecules get through? Hunh? See? I’ve run circles around you logically!

Once we’ve thought of all the good reasons not to wear a mask, we stop questioning ourselves about it. We have all the evidence we need. As soon as we have a reason that “makes sense,” we stop looking for reasons. It is human nature.

Collective Intelligence

Our second point is collective intelligence. Collective intelligence refers to the body of knowledge and skills that emerges from and is shared by a group when the group is attempting to solve a problem. This collaboration allows us to accomplish goals that no single person could achieve otherwise. Our world is too complicated for us to understand everything alone by ourselves. We can’t do it. Hunter gatherers couldn’t do it forty thousand years ago on the savannas of Africa. We can’t do it now. We have to rely on the experts to help us make these decisions. Here’s what the experts tell us about masks:

Studies Show

First, masks work. They stop the spread of #COVID19. You know how we know? Because of controlled experiments and the law of large numbers. Even if what he was saying about the size of the gaps between the threads in the fabric were true — it’s not, and I’ll explain why in a minute — we still know they work.

The controlled studies work like this. Take two thousand people. Test everyone for #COVID19 so you’re sure none of the two thousand have or have had #COVID19. Have one thousand of them wear a mask for a week, the other half go maskless. Have all of them keep an hourly diary of what they did, where they went, who they were with, and whether they were in enclosed spaces or not. You know that kind of thing. At the end of the week, test everyone for #COVID19 again. Presto, magico, sum cum loude, there is a statistically significant greater number of people who went maskless who got #COIVD19.

With a two thousand randomly chosen people from a population and then randomly assigned to each group, every other group variable regresses to the mean. There is no outlier affecting your results. You can be sure that the only real difference between the two groups was wearing a mask, ergo, the masks stopped one group from getting #COVID19. We’ve got millions of participants in mask studies. Literally millions from a dozen countries for over a hundred years. The evidence is overwhelming that the masks are preventing infection with an airborne virus.

Mask Engineering

Masks have multiple layers so that the gaps between the fibers don’t line up. A virus particle gets through some of the gaps in the outer layer, but then get trapped by the inner ones.

Besides, The virus don’t travel alone. It has a pimped-out ride! Droplets of mucous! Lucky for all of us, they are too small to be seen. These particles get caught on the fibers of the mask and molecularly bind with the them.

The biggest problem with cloth masks is that they don’t seal to your face, so the air goes around them instead of through them. Luckily, surgical masks do.

The Knowledge Illusion

The knowledge illusion tells us that we think we know more than we really do. You think you know how a zipper works? How does that little dummafletcher that you pull up and down get the two sides to enmesh and unmesh? What’s going on in there, really? You don’t know. I don’t know. Ain’t none of us knows, but we use them every damn day, so it seems like we know, but when you have to explain it, you find out you don’t. Now, be a smartass and tell me how a zipper works in the comments. Go ahead.

Mocskerr and everybody else in MAGA Nation thinks he knows how masks work, how #COVID19 is spread, and all kinds of other stuff, but they don’t. And when they tried to explain it, they can’t. Just like you and me can’t; although, I did explain how masks work and how we know they work, so there’s that.

Knowledge is a Collective Commodity

Knowledge is a collective good. We can’t possibly carry around everything we need to know. We have to work with others to achieve all the great things that people have achieved. What is the anti-vaxxers’ favorite line? Do your own research, by which they mean search Youtube for conspiracy videos, believe whatever they’re telling you, and buy the supplements they’re selling.

When they say that taking the vaccine and wearing a mask is a personal choice, they are negating the very essence of being human, which is pooling our knowledge, experience, and intelligence so that we can make good choices and accomplish great things together. They want everyone to be an island evaluating information on their own and coming to their own conclusions forgetting that the average person lacks the knowledge required to evaluate the science behind the vaccines, masks, and other public health measures.

The line, do your own research, sounds good. The idea of everyone evaluating information and coming to their own conclusion seems right (everyday reasoning, remember?), but it means that either we all become experts or we are vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation, and cognitive biases. It is an impossibility. It just ain’t human. MAGA Nation requires us to use our greatest strength as a species. Does that make sense to you?

If you liked the explanation of the cognitive Tom fuckery of MAGA Nation, then perhaps you’d be willing to do one or more of the following:

  • Comment: Tell us about the MAGA trolls you’ve encountered or how zippers work.
  • Like: Everytime a reader clicks the like button, a MAGA troll feels just a bit more rotten!
  • Rate: Giving this post a five-star rating will let you drink the bitter tears of MAGA Nation.
  • Share: Wouldn’t your friends, followers, family, and acquaintances love to know all about his Tom fuckery, too?
  • Follow: If you follow the blog, it’ll pop up in your WordPress reader.
  • Join: If you put your email in the blank below, I’ll send you an email and a link to every new post!

Image Attribution

“science cartoon” by safoocat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

32 replies »

  1. I’m another person who is transfixed by the authoritarian takeover of our country. My simple explanation is a third of the population has an authoritarian personality, a third are relatively progressive, and the other third apathetic, detached, or misinformed. This always plays to the advantage of authoritarians. They are loudest and most visible of the groups.

    The great majority of narcissists and sociopaths gravitate to authoritarianism. Conservatism wouldn’t survive without them. They know where the most gullible people are, and can easily indoctrinate and manipulate them.

    Back in the Bush/Cheney era, former Nixon aide John Dean wrote a book called, “Conservatives without Conscience”. He cites Bob Altemeyer’s study of authoritarian personalities and explains how they fill the Republican Party leadership. Authoritarian leaders have unquestioning authoritarian followers. It is their nature.

    I refer to Altemeyer’s site for a quick introduction to this viewpoint:

    Since then Dean and Altemeyer published “Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers”.

    The radical Right will lose it’s shroud of mystery when we understand where they come from. It is both nature and nurture.

    The authoritarian/conservative brain has a larger and more active amygdala, the primitive “fight of flight” emotional center of the brain.

    Some links I share with anyone interested:

    “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults”

    We found that increased gray matter volume in the right amygdala was significantly associated with conservatism.

    We speculate that the association of gray matter volume of the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex with political attitudes that we observed may reflect emotional and cognitive traits of individuals that influence their inclination to certain political orientations. For example, our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing. Individuals with a large amygdala are more sensitive to fear

    Conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions . This heightened sensitivity to emotional faces suggests that individuals with conservative orientation might exhibit differences in brain structures associated with emotional processing such as the amygdala. Indeed, voting behavior is reflected in amygdala responses across cultures.

    One of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex is to monitor uncertainty [16, 17] and conflicts [18]. Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views. Such speculations provide a basis for theorizing about the psychological constructs (and their neural substrates) underlying political attitudes.


    “Conservatives and Liberals Do Think Differently”

    “Virginia Tech scientists find that biology influences political ideology”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Dave!

      I’ve had similar thoughts about the proportions of our society. When you consider that two-thirds of Milgram’s participants were willing to kill the “learner” when told to by an authority figure, it really alters the way you view the harm that authoritarian and easily led people can have. I’m not saying that liberals are not authoritarian, though. They are. There are more recent findings that support this notion and they have a lot in common with conservative authoritarians. I think the Venn diagram of conservative, liberal, independent, authoritarian, and rebel goes something like this: most conservatives are authoritarian and only a few are rebellious; only a few liberals are authoritarian, and a lot are rebellious; and about a third of independents are authoritarian and a third are rebellious.

      But, the ways that our views are influenced probably remain remarkably similar. There are people with strong convictions, and I imagine that they are fairly evenly distributed across the political ideology. However, we all respond similarly to anger and fear. Conservatives may be more susceptible to fear mongering given their amygdalas, but just about everyone reacts more conservatively when fear and anxiety is activated.

      When people have been exposed to stress, fear, and agitation for an extended period of time, they react similarly, too. Thinking becomes much more difficult to do, especially critical and analytical thinking. The GQP base has been softened up with over thirty years of demagoguing debt, crime, immigrants, and the Other. Now, they are being tipped over the edge by prolonging the #COVID19 pandemic.

      What’s curious, though, is that exposing the propaganda techniques that induce this stress-based heightened state of manipulability and cognitive dissonance induced false beliefs seems to do nothing to dislodge it. Exposing the GQP treachery will not break their hold over their base. People at the edges keep getting peeled off, but the literature on cognitive dissonance suggests that there will be a core that will never give up their belief in all of this nonsense. It took 200 years for society to change sufficiently for the Medieval Witch Hysteria to come to a complete end.



  2. Now, be a smartass and tell me how a zipper works in the comments. Go ahead.

    Zippers? Seriously? And a dare, too!
    Let’s see. If you examine a zipper tooth you will see that each one has a cone on the top and a conical depression on the bottom. Each toot also has a projection that is used to attach it to the fabric of the zipper tape. The concave and convex shapes nest in such a way that they are difficult to be pulled apart by pulling them at right angles to the line of the zipper, but if you lose a tooth, you find the zipper undoing itself. This is because the zipper relies on the pressure between all the teeth to hold it closed, Once the pressure is released by, for example, the loss of a tooth this allows the unmated tooth to relax and lift upwards at an angle.
    The angle is important, since the angle of the cone allows the zipper to be purposely zipped or hooked (or unhooked) by imposing the correct angle in order to release the pressure on the stack of teeth (and give the room for the tooth to release) allowing the zipper to come apart in an orderly manner.
    What the dummafletcher does is surround the tooth line with a pair of zipper-tooth-containing tunnels. At the zipper-connecting end the two tunnels are basically one wide tunnel, which keeps the two rows of teeth parallel, while at the zipper-releasing end the tunnels are set at an angle such that the conical convex and concave mating parts of the zipper teeth can release (or engage depending on which way the dummafletcher is going, up or down the zipper).

    Hee Haw.
    Go ahead, prove me wrong.
    But don’t even ask me about those nylon coil things, I have no idea how they works as zippers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ogmpre? It’s clearly a typo, but … of what? Look, I don’t wanna be THAT GUY, but… me and the wife are discussing at some length what this was to be. Otherwise, good article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Daniel!

      Ogmpre! I can’t believe you’ve never seen THAT expression before. You’re either really young or really really old. Been around for decades.

      Good catch, man. And, if it drives a reader to make a comment, my job here is done. I usually notice the spellchecker redline and don’ let those typos slip through. But, you know.

      I’m just glad you and the missus got some amusement from it and you liked the post.



  4. We know masks work and are effective because long before I was even a twinkle in my fathers eye, professional medical people have worn them in performing their professional duties. Just look around when you go to any hospital or medical clinic. The medical industry wears masks to keep themselves safe from not only the coronavirus but from countless other bacteria and viruses which may harm them.

    The average person was even wearing masks during the 1918 flu pandemic long before scientists had even seen a virus through a microscope. (The electron microscope was not invented until 1935.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Jerry!

      And that is the point of both everyday reasoning and illusory explanation: to stop thinking. As soon as you hit an explanation that seems satisfying for whatever reason, you stop thinking. If anyone thought about it for a moment longer, they would see it for the load of crap that it is.

      Motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and active information avoidance combine to make some powerful cognitive biases to keep an irrational belief in place. It tells you something about how important groups are and agreement are to human beings.



  5. The magic of shared knowledge, our greatest strength and our greatest weakness when we don’t use it well (just like all the magic in all the stories) — Now, I have Mickey Mouse playing in my head as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia with the marching brooms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      Loved that scene from Fantasia. Always a favorite when I was doing drudgery, especially in the Coast Guard where there was lots of drudgery to be found.

      We have this interlocking series of cognitive biases that when they get steered in the wrong direction can be darn near impossible to overcome. The folks steering them are the disinformation meisters and their band of useful idiots. Agreement of belief is so important to maintaining groups and groups are so important to human beings that we have developed some powerful cognitive biases to keep them in place: confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, active information avoidance, cognitive dissonance, illusory explanation, everyday reasoning… anything to stop people from thinking too carefully about whatever it is.

      And, yes the thing that helped us evolve to the pinnacle of the planet, is now destroying us.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Human social interaction requires at least a minimally consistent consensus of what is real. When that is lost, social systems break down, and groups get to fighting about whose reality is true. That’s where we are. The catch is that one group can be operating on a reality construct that insufficiently matches the actual world to be functional.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          The parallel to the way our senses perceive the world is remarkable. We perceive the world just accurately enough to allow for our survival. Anything more, and we’re wasting energy that could be better used elsewhere. So too must our social construct of reality. It has to be just accurate enough to allow us to function and thrive, especially vis-a-vis rival social groups. Instead of fighting with sticks and stones or guns and bombs, we’re now fighting with perceptions of reality.

          Putin is upset that YouTube is airing videos made by his political rivals. He either gets YouTube to take select videos and makers down or he has to ban YouTube from the country. YouTube is one of his more effective communication tools for controlling the reality that his citizens construct. The same for the disinformation that he exports. YouTube has been silencing the troll farms and interfering with his ability to shape the dysfunctional reality that MAGA Nation has constructed.


          Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              If we thought it was difficult to disentangle people’s beliefs and assumptions from fake news stories, we’re never going to survive the age of deep fake videos. As a whole population, we have to get a lot more capable of managing our thoughts and assumptions. We can’t be as gullible as we’ve been in the ages of #COVID19 and Trump.


              Liked by 1 person

                    • That sounds like MAGA Nation. In addition to being in awe of just how much they have to twist everything to make it fit their preferred reality, they must be using an incredible amount of energy to do it. Information avoidance alone must really take up an enormous amount of their mental and cognitive time and effort. Sounds, like a blog post is starting to come together.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Ugh! Sorry about what happened to you mom. Fortunately, my parents were both life long New Deal Democrats who cast their first votes for FDR and never voted for a Republican, not even Ike. They got their news from the main networks, PBS, and BBC, and NYT. Neither of them lived to see the rise of Trump.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • My mom worked out a truce where we just didn’t discuss politics. It was nice in its own way. I’m not sure how she felt about Trump since we never discussed it. I’d like to think she saw through him, but you never know. She had been quite liberal in her own way given that she divorced in 1968 and was a single head of household who couldn’t get a loan without her long gone husband’s co-signature and denied a promotion because she’d be taking a job from a man who had a family to feed. She didn’t openly embrace liberal ideals, but she lived them.

                      My father’s mother loved FDR and JFK. She had three pictures on a living room wall, FDR, Jesus, and JFK. FDR provided her with a life just barely above poverty since she got survivor benefits after my grandfather passed from black lung leaving her with five boys to raise, my father an infant in her arms standing over his casket. That was the only picture I had of him. The impact of the New Deal on her generation cannot be overstated. It bought FDR and Democrats so much good will that they road it into the 1970’s. The Republicans have been terrified of a redux ever since.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Not just FDR, but their own TR too, the Trust Buster and creator of the FDA. The central question between modern “conservatives” and liberals (and even more so, progressives) is, “Who is the economy and the regulatory state for?”.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • It is a fundamental fascist tenet that the state exists to meet the needs of corporations. The idea of democracy, which promotes the needs of the individual over the needs of the state and corporate world, is antithetical to the interests of the fascist and corporatists. It is no wonder that the conservative movement in the world has evolved to become openly hostile to democracy.

                      In a liberal democracy the government is to protect the individual from abuses by larger entities, including the government. The regulatory state is to protect the welfare of the average person. The economy should be geared to meet the needs of the average person. But, that would limit the behavior and profits of big business and Le Guin’s Civilized Man.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes. We had a brief sort of semi-golden age when the three legged table still stood (roughly, 1946-1976) – Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor in balance. Reagan cut one leg (labor) and the structure fell over.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I’m amazed at how many of our current ills that can be traced back to Reagan. But, the Republicans never got over FDR’s New Deal and how it sealed the deal with so much of the country for the next forty or fifty years. And, they never got over Nixon being driven from office, or LBJ’s Great Society programs and Civil Rights and Voting Rights or black man having the uppityness to be elected president.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • A very influential part of that party never got over losing the Civil War and emancipation, even though their party used to be on the other side. They also never got over Nixon not going to jail, hence the October Surprise, Iran-Contra, WMD in Iraq, etc.

                      Liked by 1 person

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