But no, he wasn't thinking along those lines, even though he identified one of the brain's primary functions as to protect us. He was referring to the way the brain receives information and puts it in virtual drawers, or what he called "buckets." We categorize the world and evaluate things based on whether they might be harmful or beneficial to us. Categorizing helps us learn associatively: New Object X is similar to Familiar Object Y, and Y is good, some X is most likely good too. This is also an aspect of the brain's protective function.
The downside, as I observe it, is that our brave new Web-Wide World exposes us to more stimuli and information than our brains can properly process. Too much of the information is inaccurate or incomplete, and we need Snopes or some equivalent as a third-party bullshit detector, but that's a side-issue. If our brains do not have time to figure out which bucket something belongs in, we tend to winnow down the number of buckets we use.
Too often, that number of buckets is reduced to two. We stuff information haphazardly into buckets labeled "harmful" and "beneficial." Perhaps later we'll devote the time to examine something and categorize it appropriately, but perhaps we won't.
Perhaps the speed of the flow of information is less impactful than the way our corporate media function as abusive parents: telling us what and how to think, punishing us for daring to think outside the boundaries they establish or to ask the "wrong" questions. Our educational institutions, from Kindergarten through university, are often guilty of following that same model. Thoughts that deviate from the prevailing narrative, that are difficult to associate with anything familiar, are shunned, and those who think them are ostracized.
This "cognitive miser" metaphor and its implications go a long way toward explaining what my interlocutor called "black-white thinking," or the binary/dichotomistic thinking, against which I have railed in this-here blog.
Some otherwise very smart people fall into the trap of dichotomistic thinking. In the US, some people even smarter than those very smart people are busy spinning and maintaining the dichotomistic narrative: e.g., the Cold War dichotomy, with America the avatar of all that's GOOD, and Russia all that's BAD. Within that narrative, it is easy to see everything that opposes the US and its neoliberal imperialism as BAD—and, by extension, Russian in origin.
This is like...if I say I'm not a fan of the Houston Texans, and you reply that I must therefore like the Dallas Cowboys, who are paying me to say I'm not a Texans fan. Illegal Fallacy of False Alternatives, 15-yard penalty, replay the down.
America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
—Allen Ginsberg, "America," 1956
Caity, Glenn, and Liberal Trump Derangement Syndrome
And yes, we're talking about narratives in light of a recent post from Caitlin Johnstone. Caity has become a leading amateur theoretician on the power of narrative, and on how narrative helps the establishment control information and ideas (and thus, in this Information Age, the world). But the present post is also inspired by this recent Twitter conversation involving Glenn Greenwald—even more so by the replies (read them if you dare):
- liberals who admired Greenwald and Julian Assange back in the '00s for exposing the dirt on the Bush Administration now hate them both for daring to suggest that elected Democrats do shitty things too;
- liberals who hated Dubya Bush & Co. back in the day are rushing to rehabilitate that whole neocon crowd just for daring to suggest that they have some quibbles with 45 on matters of style; and
- in the eyes of these liberals, anyone who disagrees with (or even questions) the establishment's narrative on Russian interference with US elections in 2016 is either a paid Russian asset or merely a useful idiot. Oh, and you certainly can't be a real journalist.
The Truth Is Out There, Outside Your Comfort Zone
It all comes back to these very important facts, which I hope will not need links to substantiate:
- The United States has long acted as an imperial power in ways similar to the old Russian and Soviet empires, with perhaps even more brutality and higher body counts.
- On top of that, we have the phenomenon of American exceptionalism, whereby the US gives its multinational corporations permission to colonize sovereign nations (mostly those with dark-skinned citizens) and impose Chicago School economics on them.
- Though it may carp about human rights, the US government (whichever party controls it) de facto doesn't give a fuck about human rights. This is borne out by our super-special alliances with nations such as Turkey, Israel, and number one human rights pariah Saudi Arabia.
- Russia does not have military bases all over the fucking planet; the US does.
- Many Russian capitalists are evil, but they learned their evil tricks from US capitalists, just as Hitler learned about the US keeping indigenous Americans in concentration camps.
- The US military has a history of lying to us and leading us into wars.
- The US intelligence apparatus has a history of lying to us and leading us into wars.
- The US media-industrial complex has a history of lying to us and leading us into wars.
Americans, on the world stage we are not the Good Guys. I can say that because I have this amazing power called thinking for myself. It's not that difficult, really; you can do it too, if you have the courage to step outside The Matrix. I see and use more than two buckets. More to the point, the separateness of your buckets is an illusion carefully crafted by your own Cognitive Miser: Those buckets are connected, forming a trough. Very little in this world is all good or all bad.
As my friend Kate BionicDance Fahr has said literally thousands of times, "Don't run on automatic. Instead, please--think!!!"