The War on Sensemaking

This article went viral: The War on Sensemaking

This is one of those popular type of articles these days that repackages old ideas and observations as harbingers of a paradigm shift, thus confirming our own biases about our own perceptions of the world, and in the solipsistic sense, strokes our egos because these ideas are presented as coming into existence as soon as we conceive them, when the historical evidence shows that these insights are not new and were conceived hundreds, it not centuries, ago.

As our ability to make shared sense evaporates and as meaning and purpose are fragmented into so many shards, it becomes increasingly difficult to make good choices. In fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to even want to make good choices.

The Dutch tulip bubble is evidence bad choices predate the modern era.

But I hope that soon there will be a deeply shared acceptance that none of our current institutions are trust-worthy and a deeply shared conviction that we can and must (re)build trust ourselves

Such distrust also goes far back, as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, etc. show.

All I am certain of about Syria is that I really have no fucking idea what is going on. And that this state of affairs — this increasingly generalized condition of complete disorientation — is untenable.

Hasn’t it always been this way. I cant imagine the typical Parisian knew much about the English Civil War on the opposite side of the English
Channel. Some signal, even if it’s mostly drowned out by noise, is probably better than zero signal, although one can make the argument that misinformation is worse than no information.

For example, one might see the anti-Trump protests evidence of the imminent demise of America and even Western civilization. But this is just a single city (Berkeley) and just a singe day out of the year. There are 360 or so days out of the year in which there are no major protests, and the majority of protests are peaceful. If this were happening everyday, in multiple cities, and if the protests involved significant violence and destruction of property, yeah, it would be a cause for concern, but it’s not.

Take a look at Syria. What exactly is happening? With just a little bit of looking, I’ve found at least six radically different and plausible narratives:

Whatever is happening in Syria, as bad as it is, pales in comparison to the early-mid 20th century: Small pox, Spanish flu, Holodomor, WW1, WW2, polio, Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, etc. Then you have the ‘Taleb’ argument that all this peace is on borrowed time due to potential catastrophic ‘black swans’ and other epistemic uncertainty, such a nuclear war, that can undo in seconds decades of stability. Let’s look at it this way: in the first half of the 20th century, approximately 100 million people died due to combination of despotism, disease, and war. Adjusted for today’s population size, that is 300 million people. By contrast, the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq since 2002 may have killed about a million people.

As discussed in the post Why There Isn’t More Civil Unrest in America, and Why I’m Not Worried, we’re better at detecting civil unrest, due to social media and the 24-7 news cycle putting a megaphone and magnifying glass to everything, but I don’t think there is more unrest relative to population size now than in the past. Due to the ‘distortion field’ of the media, there’s this huge disconnect or chasm between people’s perception (which is negative) of the economy and reality. Just as the government thrives off confusion and fear, so does the media.

Some see entropy everywhere. But specifically, they are looking for entropy, victims of confirmation bias. If one focuses on everything at the very moment that is going wrong, everything will seem like it’s going wrong. The inability of empirical reality to conform to your idealization of reality is Gnon slapping you across the face telling you you’re wrong.

The strength of the US economy is in the billions of dollars being spent every quarter on Google and Facebook ads, the millions of TV shows and movies streamed everyday on Netflix, intellectual property being exported all over the world, and innovation and technology such as Tesla. If you think some article on Zerohedge or Pajama Media portending to the end of the world will overturn that, that’s just wishful thinking. I’m not saying its impossible, but it’s highly improbable. So many people since 2009 have gone broke betting high-IQ stocks like Facebook and Tesla, gone broke betting against the stock market and against the economy.

The reason why these doom and gloomers are always wrong yet also so persistent in being wrong is because they are not in the business of being right; rather, they are in the business of collecting ad dollars from the clicks their articles and websites generate. CNN, RT, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Info Wars, Fox, Brietbart–the entire media complex (both left-wing and right-wing) have airtime they need to fill. The Unfilled airtime is ad dollars left on the table. People such as myself and Bryan Caplan put own on money and reputations on the line in being right.