Cognitive Psychology

Humans are the Problem

It has been a momentous week in a turbulent year that followed an alarming pandemic during an ominous assault on our democracy, hasn’t it? It would be easy to follow in the footsteps of Young Werther given all this merde raining down on us. If that’s where you’re at, then mayhaps you should give this blog post a miss and skip straight to rating, liking, and sharing it, or even the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Let us list the ways that ways that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has royally fucked us from beyond the election:

  • ROE v. WADE: The Supremes just overturned the fifty year precedent taking away a right for the first time in US history, unless you count the emancipation of slavery as taking away the right to own other human beings as long as they were Black.
  • 2ND AMENDMENT: The Supremes think gun laws must conform to the history and tradition of our gun laws, which is awfully recursive considering it was written to overturn a gun law that was from 1913 and could be considered a very important piece of our history and tradition. The history and tradition that the Supremes seem to be referring to comes from those old John Wayne white might makes white right movies and not from any legal doctrine.
  • CHURCH & STATE: The Supremes decided that tax dollars should support private religious schools even though churches don’t pay taxes. Between the abortion ruling and this one, we are just his side of creating a state religion.
  • OTHER RIGHTS: Clarence “How’d this pubic hair get on my Coke” Thomas wants to overturn same-sex marriage and contraception, but not interracial marriage, at least not his, unless, of course, he’s too much of a chicken-shit to seek a divorce and this whole overturn Roe thing has been just so he could get rid of Ginni. That couldn’t be it, could it?
  • TEXAS GQP PLATFORM: Texas Republicans got in on the fascisting of America by creating a primer for what the #GOPDystopia will look like come 2024 when they take the House, Senate, and Presidency.
  • THE DEADPOOLING OF LAKE MEAD: The latest climate change travesty that we collectively lack the collective huevos to adequately stop.
  • ADD YOUR OWN: Go ahead and bring up another story of how we’re so fucked in the comments. We’d love to hear from you and discuss all the ways we’re circling the shitter.

With all of the ways that the US is royally fucking up this decisive moment in human history, it’s almost enough to make you believe in conspiracy theories, but you’d be better off believing in science instead, because, when you look at our collective failures to actually address the numerous and exponentially worsening problems that we confront, you have to consider that we just may not have the right stuff to do it as a species.

Consider these fun facts, and, then, we’ll see where they lead us:

  • The human brain weighs about three pounds or 1300 – 1400 grams, so it comprises about 2% of the body’s total weight.
  • The human brain uses approximately 25% of the body’s oxygen and 70% of the body’s glucose! That’s a lot of resources powering only 2% of our overall mass, so that hog has to be reined in or else it will starve us to death!
  • Cognitive shortcuts evolved to help us conserve our energy and resources. These shortcuts are hardwired into us. It is these shortcuts that are making it so difficult to resist the authoritarian assault on our democracy, mitigate the pandemic, slow climate change, and preserve our rights.

These shortcuts evolved when we were hunter-gatherers living in groups of 100 – 150 in an environment that was largely unsullied by pollution, populated by plentiful food supplies, albeit difficult to get to, and incredibly dangerous. Those who could use these shortcuts successfully survived to reproduce; those who couldn’t, got eaten. Argot, those with the genes that programmed the shortcuts, passed those genes on; those who didn’t, had their genes removed from the gene pool.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in groups of 100 – 150; we live in groups of hundreds of millions. Somehow we’re expecting 40,000 year-old hardware that specialized in maximizing the success of a small group in a technologically primitive, very dangerous, rugged environment to help us solve highly complex technological problems in a tortuously convoluted multifaceted society comprised of groups a million times larger than is optimal.

Sounds like a recipe for a freaking disaster, don’t it?

Emotional Decision Making

On the savannahs of our hunter-gatherer forebears, we used emotions to make decisions. Gee, I wonder why?

  • Emotions are fast.
  • Thinking is slow.
  • Emotions are always working.
  • Thinking works only when needed.
  • Emotions are energy efficient.
  • Thinking uses lots of energy.

When a hunter-gatherer type encountered something she liked, it was probably good. If she didn’t, probably was bad and it would kill her. If it surprised her, she focused on it, and it helped her survive it. If it didn’t surprise her, it was something that was normal and wouldn’t kill her. See how this is working?

The problem we’re experiencing now is that the GQP is whispering sweet nothings into the ears of MAGA, and they like it. Argot, it must be good — it isn’t. All of the policy stances of the GQP — read the Texas platform — are destructive. We need immigrants; they make us stronger. Planned families are stronger. Managing our reproduction lifts us out of poverty. Transitioning to renewable energy sources saves our climate. Equality gets the most out of EVERYONE in our society at a time when we need all the help we can get.

Protecting Our Interests

We on the left get all smug and boast that we protect the interests of others. We want things to be fair. We don’t bully people or violate their rights. We want everyone to have the same rights and be treated the same before the law.

Doctor House was right. People lie.

A study by Dan Batson explored the influence our morals have on our decision making and how fairly we behave. Here’s the set up:

  • Participants answered questionnaires weeks before the study gauging their sense of social responsibility.
  • Each participant was “paired” with another — they weren’t really, the other was a confederate.
  • Each team had to answer a series of questions and in the end they would get a single raffle ticket that would be randomly awarded to one of them.
  • The participant was told that they could decide which one of them got the raffle ticket and their “partner” wouldn’t know.
  • The participant was told they could use a coin sealed in a package to help with their decision if they wanted, but they didn’t have to.

So, what do you think happened? Go ahead leave a guess in the comments; we’ll wait.

  • Half of the participants opened the packaged coin. Did they use it? Batson doesn’t know. He didn’t film them or anything.
  • Participants rating the highest on social responsibility were the most likely to open the packaged coin.
  • Ninety percent of participants decided to award the ticket to themselves, even those who opened the package. Apparently, they disregarded the coin toss when it came out against them.

Moral of the study: We find it damn hard to put our self interest aside and do someone else a solid.

The only way Batson could get participants to fairly award the raffle ticket was to have them decide in front of a mirror. We’ll be fair, but only if we’re shamed into it.

My take away, MAGA is all id. They only want what they want and everyone else be damned.

The Intergenerational Goods Game

Are people really willing to limit their own consumption and endure any hardship so that future generations might could survive? You’d think we would, wouldn’t ya?

However, there is a certain percentage of us who are seemingly unaffected by the low esteem that others might could hold them in if they violate normative behavior, common sense, or, even, just good advice.

Researchers from Harvard and Yale teamed up to determine whether people would leave enough public resources for future generations to use even though future generations couldn’t reciprocate or seek revenge upon them. They had participants play the Intergenerational Goods Game:

  • Participants were divided into five teams of five called generations.
  • The first generation got 100 units of non-renewable resources to use.
  • Each member of a generation could take up to 20 units of the resource. Hint: if all five members took 20, then they took them all.
  • The next generation got whatever they didn’t take. If the next generation inherited 50 or more units, then that generation got 100 units!
  • There are two strategies:
    • Cooperators took few enough units to leave plenty for the next generation.
    • Defectors took more than ten units.
  • Take a moment to do the math and leave a comment about what you think is going to happen.

The results:

  • Two-thirds of the players were cooperators, taking ten or fewer resource units.
  • One-third were defectors taking more than ten units.
  • Just over a fifth of the games played resulted in the second generation having enough resources to carry on.
  • Half of the games that got a second generation had enough resources for a third.
  • No one had enough resources for a fourth generation.

The only way that any game made it to five generations was when they made each generation a democracy and they could vote on how many resources each player could take. Then every game played made it five generations. Now, you understand why corporate America fears “socialism?”

Do you honestly think that we’ll be able to convince ourselves that we should take fewer resources than we’ve grown accustomed to unless we absolutely have to? Who do you think the defectors are in our society? Who do you think is willing to screw later generations for their benefit today? Now that the Repubes have unleashed the id of MAGA, do we have a chance at retaining our democracy or our rights or overcoming crises like the pandemic or climate change?

Share this depressing post!

Everyone needs to realize just how human we all are, right? So, share, share, share

Like or rate this post!

Comment on this post! Tell me what you think about our prospects of beating climate change or saving our democracy.

Follow Ye Olde Blogge or join the email list!

Image Attribution

human rights day” by Catching.Light is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

29 replies »

    • Howdy Carol!
      I’m sure Lake Mead is the first of many victims of climate change. Hopefully, we will be able to save some of them. However, I have to say I’m skeptical.

      It is hard to look at my young students or La Petite Fille and realize that their lives are going to be so much more difficult than my was.


      Liked by 2 people

  1. An author or two have broached the notion of prescient memories, of memories not of the past but of the future. Hence in Childhood’s End the Overseers held back revealing their physical characteristics for fifty years, fearing an immediate display of horns, hooves, wings and forked tails would terrify the general population.

    Consider this: if we make it off this ball of rock, we will have been turned out of the garden …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Ten Bears!

      I’ve gotten to be very pessimistic about our chances of making it. Of course, the wealthy will survive whether it is here or off world some place. They will happily abandon the masses to the inhospitable climate-changed environment where no one can survive.

      In fact, it is probably the fast approaching climate collapse that is driving conservative elites headlong rush into authoritarianism so they can secure the jack-booted thugs needed to keep the rabble off of them as MAGA wakes up to having been had.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Our species was programmed with the same tool for both survival and self-destruction.

    Our cerebral evolution was derailed by shortcut filters and the ever lurking amygdala.

    In primitive humans the amygdala was very important for survival. The fight or flight response was a more vital and frequent function back then.

    These days the more conservative and authoritarian personalities retain a larger more active amygdala.

    They fear losing control of their world and power over others, so they inflame the fear response in as many other people as they can to keep their positions of authority.

    A few links to articles and discussion on the subject:

    Liberal vs. Conservative: A Neuroscientific Analysis with Gail Saltz

    Article from Scientific American in 2020:…

    Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults

    Conservatives and liberals DO think differently. Research shows different ways of solving everyday problems linked to political ideology

    Virginia Tech scientists find that biology influences political ideology

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dear CalicoJack,

    Thank you very much for showcasing so clearly and commendably the insidious nature of Trumpism perverting democracy for nefarious purposes and for justifying, obfuscating or muddying the waters of systemic racism, historical negationism, illiberalism and curtailment of civil rights. I concur with you regarding the tricky and treacherous nature of such matters. In a similar vein, one of my latest posts highlights the various traps awaiting us from the fallouts of the main event regarding the SCOTUS’ decisions on abortion and its striking down Roe v. Wade, which can have various implications and ramifications for the following:

    Reproductive freedoms…
    LGBTQ freedoms…
    Contraceptive freedoms…
    Migrants freedoms…
    The freedom of liberty (common sense gun safety, and police reform)…
    The right to vote…

    Given your position and concerns, you are hereby invited to peruse my latest post entitled “🏛️⚖️ The Facile and Labile Nature of Law: Beyond the Supreme Court and Its Ruling on Controversial Matters 🗽🗳️🔫🤰🧑‍🤝‍🧑💉“, as I am certainly very keen and curious about what you will make of my said post published at

    Please enjoy my latest post!

    Yours sincerely,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear CalicoJack,

    Indeed, we “Humans are the Problem”, as you have some excellently discussed. We are often long on emotions and short on thinking. Worse still, We have Paleolithic Emotions; Medieval Institutions; and God-like Technology, as discussed in great detail in my post available at

    I welcome your input and feedback there. Please enjoy!

    Yours sincerely,

    Liked by 1 person

      • Dear CalicoJack,

        Thank you for your reply and acknowledgement. I look forward to your perusing and commenting on my said post whose title bears the good turn of phrase, which is actually a mnemonic tricolon (pithily juxtaposing three disparate domains) that sums up the Achilles’ heel of humanity.

        May you have a wonderful and productive weekend!

        Happy Independence Day to you and your family soon!

        Yours sincerely,

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Sound Eagle!

          I had the good fortune to listen to the podcast, Hidden Brain, this morning. It was about the inherent conflict between our values of equality and our painfully unequal society as embodied by Thomas Jefferson. It w was a truly remarkable show. I recommend it highly.


          Liked by 1 person

          • Dear CalicoJack,

            Thank you for your reply and recommendation of the podcast. I am currently expanding my latest post entitled “🏛️⚖️ The Facile and Labile Nature of Law: Beyond the Supreme Court and Its Ruling on Controversial Matters 🗽🗳️🔫🤰🧑‍🤝‍🧑💉” with many more paragraphs and two more images, and then I shall respond to the comment that you submitted there as soon as I can with a bespoke reply that you have come to expect from such a creature as SoundEagle. Meanwhile, I look forward to having the pleasure of perusing your forthcoming comment submitted to my post entitled We have Paleolithic Emotions; Medieval Institutions; and God-like Technology.

            Happy Independence Day to you and your family!

            Yours sincerely,

            Liked by 1 person

            • What’s the old saying in academcia? You’re never done with an essay or project, you just run out of time. That’s the way I feel about many of my posts. There’s always more to say than what I can reasonably fit into a post.


              Liked by 1 person

  5. Can we overcome the emotional logic of “First I will get mine, then we’ll see what’s left for you.” Well, LSD didn’t turn out to be the universal empathy pill (Sorry, Aldus, Timothy, et. al.)

    And, there is another problem with Humans, the problem which must not be named, that there are many more of us than this little planet can long support in a modern way of life, and many more than it can support without that way of life. The Population Bomb went off some time ago.

    “Crawling at your feet,’ said the Gnat (Alice drew her feet back in some alarm), `you may observe a Bread-and-Butterfly. Its wings are thin slices of Bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.’

    And what does IT live on?’

    Weak tea with cream in it.’

    A new difficulty came into Alice’s head. `Supposing it couldn’t find any?’ she suggested.

    Then it would die, of course.’

    But that must happen very often,’ Alice remarked thoughtfully.

    It always happens,’ said the Gnat.”

    ― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      The psychological work on pro-social behavior is interesting suggesting that kinship is a necessary ingredient in most altruism. In ultrasocieties, direct kinship isn’t possible, unlike ants, where everyone is a sibling. We’ve also made the mistake of over emphasizing individual importance and individual needs.

      It isn’t that we aren’t capable of great sacrifice to achieve a greater need, though. World War II showed us that. We just have to have that huge recognizable external threat. You’d think #COVID19 or climate change would fit that bill, but there are forces that are circumventing that possibility.

      It’s one reason that I think we are good and truly fucked.


      Liked by 2 people

        • Howdy Bob!

          That sounds like a good rule of thumb.

          The problem of managing our ultralarge societies may be one that most of our social scholars may not have fully anticipated. It may be an area that more authoritarian regimes have an easier time managing. Democracies may be too vulnerable to appeals to our biases and the destructive divisive side of identity politics.


          Liked by 2 people

          • That seems likely, but there is a catch, or two. Authoritarian regimes tend to be dominated by one racial, ethnic, religious, or identity group (frequently, a minority) which seeks to dominate, convert, or eliminate all others. And, they tend to breed an insulated elite that becomes increasingly corrupt and kleptocratic. I’m reminded of this: “Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”
            [Genghis Khan] and this: “You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.” [Catherine the Great]

            Liked by 2 people

            • Howdy Bob!

              I am struck by the examples of authoritarian regimes that China, North Korea, and, Cuba provide. While China has an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse population their government is fun by the memory group, and N. Korea and Cuba are not diverse populations. China has to work to keep its Ban Chinese population happy. Cuba and NK must only keep them in line.

              Given the rapid decline that we’re seeing in our environment, the elites only need to suppress any dissent for a few years.I imagine they are banking on automation, 3D printing, a small corps of desperate dedicated workers, including a savage paramilitary, and a pitifully poor and powerless mass who can barely survive.


              Liked by 2 people

              • It may turn out to be a difficult trick to keep that poor and powerless mass believing they have anything left to lose, and even a little bit to gain. Once that fails and even fear fails, they can turn to simple destruction, because, “Why the hell not?”

                And, when it is something as big as climate change happening, I think any elite who think they can be immune for long, technology and goons not withstanding, are fooling themselves.

                Liked by 2 people

                • I think when it comes to climate change, cooling yourself is the order of the day. Fool being the operative term there. However, we’ve see how thoroughly we can fool ourselves into believing just about anything.


                  Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I’m reading several sources on our ability to evade reality and what it does to our brain. That should be a post in the next few days.

                      I’ve also.started Steven Pinker’s book on the Enlightenment, which should also be worth posting about.

                      This week’s Hidden Brain on Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to slavery and dealing with the inherent contradiction with his Enlightenment ideals is well worth lists ing to it you haven’t already.


                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Hey, Jack, Yes, that Hidden Brain episode is great. America still has not found a way to resolve Jefferson’s contradictions, including the legacy of those mixed families, mixed in terms of race and of free & slave.

                      It has been several years since I read Pinker with my Humanist discussion group. Despite temptation, I will forego spoilers and wait to see what you think.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      So far, I’m enjoying Pinker’s book, but it doesn’t seem as substantive as I would’ve hoped, like say The Angels of our Better Nature was. Perhaps it is because I’m still in the introductory part of the Enlightenment.

                      A Humanism discussion group sounds like it would be a nice thing to belong to. I am somewhat envious.

                      Those are the two great axes of American social-cultural-political life: racist minority-rule authoritarians on one side versus the egalitarian humanistic liberal democrats on the other. For the most part the liberal democracy has won the conflicts, but it is not guaranteed, and the minority-rule racists never seem to go away. In fact, their numbers never seem to really diminish.


                      Liked by 2 people

                    • I was about to say that times of rapid change tend to bring out the minority-rile racists, but then realized that this nation has been in states (along varying parameters) since before its independence, indeed, since Europeans found their way across the Atlantic Ocean (not counting the Vikings who briefly set up, but didn’t stay). But, of all the ways and measures of change we have been through, it is demographic change, or the prospect of it, that brings them out of the woodwork in the largest numbers. Deep in our cultural and genetic memory we know it can be stolen from us, because that’s how we got it.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      It is damn near impossible to imagine someone reacting differently than what we would. It’s one reason that racist mass shooters think they’ll set off a race war by shooting a bunch of Black people and are completely surprised when Black people follow their Christian ideals and forgive them. White people can’t imagine that Blacks don’t harbor murderous rage against them for the oppression we’ve visited upon them, since they harbor murderous rage against Black people and anyone who tries to take their white privilege away.

                      It probably is one reason why racist demagoguing is so effective in bringing out the white vote. We’ll see if the blatant transgressions of people’s rights through abortion prosecutions and threats against contraception and marriage equality, as well as putting off action against climate change will turn to the tide.


                      Liked by 2 people

                    • The “conservatives” appear very likely to overplay their hand. In part, that is because they feel they have to grab as much as possible while they can, and they are just that full of themselves. But, as we wait to learn how it all plays out in the election, the Gang Of Six at SCOTUS will be hearing carefully chosen cases to advance their agenda. We will not hear the decisions on those until after the election.

                      I was thinking about majorities and minorities in politics, especially when authoritarians get involved. Everybody trying to establish minority rule claims to be the majority. That’s how the small communist party in Russia during the revolution came to call themselves the Bolsheviks and left the more numerous liberal democrats to be the Mensheviks, the minority.

                      Liked by 2 people

Howdy Y'all! Come on in, pardner! Join this here conversation! I would love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.