Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Salon ran a piece about how smart people enjoy satire and dumb conservative people don't, which is ironic inasmuch in the history of Salon articles as discussed here at WtH

Back in early 2017, Maria Konnikova wrote a piece that explained what happens to the brain when it has to incessantly process lies. She cited research that shows that the brain when it has to incessantly process lies. She cited research that shows that the brain has to first accept a lie as true, only to analyze it, then refute it. Over time, the brain tires of that process and slowly starts to accept the lies as true. She refers to a fascinating, if disheartening, 2015 study, that showed that if people repeated the phrase “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” enough times, the Atlantic Ocean started to seem like the largest ocean on Earth.

This is all to show that there is now proof that the mainstreaming of lies in the Trump era is indeed rotting our brains. It was first thought that one way to prevent the spread of false information would be to flag it by third-party fact checking, but the study cited above showed that that effort did not sufficiently help.

And that’s where the comedians come in. Thus far there have been no studies that have compared cognitive processing of satire with cognitive processing of falsehoods. But there is significant research to show that it may well be true that the best cognitive defense against Trump era falsehoods is satirical comedy. We know, for instance, that those who consume sarcasm are smarter, more creative and better at reading context. All are useful tools to process lies.

What is most interesting is that processing falsehoods and processing certain types of satire appears to follow a very similar cognitive path. In both cases, the brain has to be able to distinguish between what is said and what is true. And in both cases the brain has to reconcile ambiguity, incongruence and the misuse of words. It further has to process tone, context and body language to infer meaning.

We knew back when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on Comedy Central that their viewers were among the most informed on issues of any group consuming news. But now the role of satire in informing the public may be even more important — satirists may be the one thing that is keeping analytical thinkers engaged.

Satire viewers enjoy using their reflective cognitive abilities, which are effortful, typically deliberative and require working memory, over intuitive cognitive abilities, which don’t require higher order cognition. When I spoke with Pennycook about the potential of satire to serve as a defense against Trump era falsehoods, he remained skeptical that satire could strengthen mental fitness as a defense against falsehoods, but he did say that there may well be an overlap between people who are both willing and able to think analytically and satire viewers. “People do break down,” he explained, “according to the degree that they are willing and eager to engage in analytic reasoning.”

A number of studies have suggested that those who support right-wing ideology are more susceptible to bullshit, more governed by belief bias and less tolerant of irony and humorous exaggeration. But as the recent studies on fake news processing show, both the left and the right can fall for fake news. The critical difference, then, isn’t left or right political views, but analytical or intuitive thinkers.
The second part of the story is that processing humor cognitively involves pleasure. There is a cognitive reward for processing a joke that leads to laughter or amusement. Jokes engage both analytical and affective cognitive processes. Watching Samantha Bee or Colbert or Oliver dissect falsehoods is both analytically engaging and fun. The element of fun may be part of the reason why we keep getting the joke but can get worn down by incessant lies. When lies are processed through comedy, we don’t lose the ability to detect them as false.

And that may well be why these comedians keep being attacked as a danger to the NRA, the Trump agenda and right-wing extremism. Each time a comedian ironically makes fun of the right-wing mindset, they help engage our analytical thinking in a fun way.
And yet Salon ran an article in April 2014 that was one of the most egregiously inaccurate articles about Mars Hill I’d seen in a decade, inviting a question as to whether the writers and editors of Salon should have unmitigated confidence in their abilities to detect BS and use analytic reasoning. 


The article, the author assured WtH, did get fixed, but the point here is that Salon isn't any better than a publication that's conservative at sussing out BS when commitments have already been made. 

If the best defense against a TV show president is really a set of TV show host satirists I'm not really convinced that more of the same is going to be an improvement.  Are we sure Ted Koppel didn't have at least some kind of point telling Jon Stewart that his approach to comedy was going to cheapen the discourse of journalism?  Not that people couldn't say there were no problems with the Koppel or Cronkite era of journalism, obviously.  If the McCarthy era introduced us to the problem that sources in formal authority could end up being wrong or have no sense of decency; and the Watergate era showed us that the press had in some key ways been in bed with administrations on policy issues until a certain war proved to be too horrifying a boondoggle; we might have an opportunity to wonder whether or not the press in its mainstream forms doesn't simply embody the corruptions of its eras that it imagines it critiques.  The idea that Trump can't possibly be "our" president in an era of Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah or Amy Schumer doesn't seem ridiculous at all, it seems more like a correspondence.  We may be moritified that the executive at some level mirrors back to us those traits we find troublesome or those traits that we might find admirable that others find horrifying.  I have a nagging suspicion that a lot of white evangelicals with Republican sympathies were never wiling to consider that the POTUS could be an antichrist until a black Democrat had the office or there was a prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.  The possibility that antichrist is just the nature of the job description for any world level leader tends to be off the table right up to the point that the job is held by someone you wanted in there for whatever reasons.

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