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Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

University of California Press, 2000 (first published 1997)
314 pages
Author: Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

La versione in lingua italiana, dal titolo “Lo spettacolo del fascismo”, è acquistabile qui.

The section “The Mussolini Myth” is especially important and useful; it collects all the (seemingly) bizarre mediatic tactics Mussolini used to project youth, masculinity, strength, power, and, ultimately, immortality – in a gradual transformation from cult of personality to a deification.
In the meantime, a nation of people identified the leader’s projections as the quality of the nation itself, even if the nation was actually lacking them. A form of mass hypnosis and escapism, leaving such a deep cultural influence that I believe Italy has never managed to fully wake up from it.
It can be easily recognized how some contemporary leaders, like Putin, are employing the same tactics to project a carefully crafted powerful image to their people and, perhaps even more meticulously, to other countries’ citizens.

The chapter “The Politician as Artist” shows us how perfectly Mussolini understood the weaponizing power of media and the nature of politics as entertainment in a modern sense before any other leader. And the next chapter, “From Art to Violence”, leads us to the natural consequences of that realization.

Almost all the western world has gradually shifted towards an infotainment-dominated form of public politics since the end of WWII, so these topics are extremely current. And worrisome.

8+/10

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John Rawls – Giustizia come equità: Una riformulazione

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

Feltrinelli, 2010 (first published 2001)
259 pages
Original title: Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

A very important point Rawls makes in this book is the inability of the welfare state to realize his two principles of justice; he advocates instead for a property-owning democracy. This point was touched briefly in A Theory of Justice too, and here isn’t discussed as in-depth as it should have deserved, but it’s discussed and stated explicitly nonetheless.
The vast majority of both admirers and critics of Rawls seem to completely ignore this important and integral part of his theory.

8+/10

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Stuff Seen, Apr+May+Jun 2017

Posted by StepTb su luglio 1, 2017

Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (Mario Bava, Franco Prosperi, 1961) [7]
Conquest (Lucio Fulci, 1983) [6]
Basic (John McTiernan, 2003) [7]
Carne (Gaspar Noé, 1991) [short] [7]
Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) [7]
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) [9]
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) [7]
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) [6] [whoa, what a letdown]
Bleeder (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1999) [7]
Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All (Deedle Lacour, Matt Riggle, 2013) [7]
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) [7-]
120 Seconds to Get Elected (Denis Villeneuve, 2006) [short] [6.5]
Maelström (Denis Villeneuve, 2000) [7]
Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve, 2009) [7]
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010) [6.5]
The Guardian (William Friedkin, 1990) [6]
3-4 x jûgatsu / Boiling Point (Takeshi Kitano, 1990) [7.5]
Twin Peaks, s3ep1 (David Lynch, 2017) [8]
Twin Peaks, s3ep2 (David Lynch, 2017) [8]
Twin Peaks, s3ep3 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep4 (David Lynch, 2017) [7] [Twin Peaks s3 = Eraserhead+Blue Velvet+Colorado Café]
Twin Peaks, s3ep5 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Milius (Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson, 2013) [7]
The Hunt for Red October (John McTiernan, 1990) [6.5]
The Firm (Sydney Pollack, 1993) [6.5]
Get Me Roger Stone (Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep6 (David Lynch, 2017) [6.5] [definitely the worst episode until now; I’m puzzled by how much this new season oscillates between highs and lows]
Twin Peaks, s3ep7 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep8 (David Lynch, 2017) [8] [David Lynch meets Guy Maddin? With 2001’s Kubrick, The Tree of Life’s Malick, Tarkovsky, Carpenter and Cronenberg nodding in the background? What a superb, powerfully cinematic episode; some of the greatest stuff seen in contemporary TV]

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Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Turtleback Books, 1998
350 pages
Author: David Keirsey

This book systematized and popularized MBTI, and it was interesting when it came out, but it’s now outdated.
Only because of popularity and a huge marketing machine behind it, Recruiters, HR Managers and people of all sorts are still using MBTI today to make strategic decisions (especially in the Anglosphere), which testifies the lack of scientific thinking in our society.

Anyway, it must also be kept in mind that the Big 5 (or 6) model, which is currently regarded as the most reliable one in psychology, was influenced by MBTI:
The I/E dimension remained the same.
The S/N dimension roughly corresponds to Openness-Intellect.
The J/P dimension roughly corresponds to Conscientiousness-Orderliness.

The trickiest dimension, and the most obviously wrong, was the T/F one. On paper, T/F seems to be a classification of decision-making preferences, but those preferences are very sketchy and poorly explained/supported. Decision-making ‘based on facts vs. feelings’ doesn’t really mean anything, so what T/F really measures seem to be raw brain power and emotional stability mixed together, so a mix of the Intellect and the Neuroticism dimensions.
But, if you read all the F personas described in PUM, you can also see how they’re all depicted as highly Agreeable. At the same time, though, the T personas are *not* described as low in Agreeableness.
So basically, just like in feel-good astrology, Fs were told they were highly A (skipping the I and N interpretations), and Ts that they were highly rational (skipping the A and N interpretations).
And, if you take a look at discussions in online MBTI forums and groups, you can find plenty of people who scored high on T/F because of each one of those three (I, A, N) very different reasons (with the most common ones being low Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring T, high Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring ExFx, and high Neuroticism as a predictor of scoring IxFx).
Mixing those three dimensions into one and trying to portrait idealistic archetypes made the whole model extremely confusing and unreliable, and the Big 5 put some order to that.

Then of course there’s the binary choice problem: MBTI is black and white and puts people into 16 exact boxes, so it ends up saying that a person who hypothetically scores 49% on one dimension is more similar to someone scoring 1% on the same dimension than to another one scoring 51% – which is completely absurd, since 49% and 51% are basically the same result.

The book’s most useful and insightful points are the ones talking about the 4 different types of intelligence, and the ones about mating strategies. NT-NF couples really seem to work extremely well.
(Also, luckily Keirsey completely ignores the theory of “cognitive functions”, the most pseudoscientific part of MBTI.)

P.S. For the curious among you: I score as INTJ.

7/10

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The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Free Press, 2010 (first published 1994)
912 pages
Authors: Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein

It’s the most famous book by Murray, and most likely also his worst.
It must be noted that a lot of people attacked and still attack TBC without having really read it – the book is deeply flawed, but it’s not a racial eugenics manifesto, and doesn’t even focus on race.

The book was published only 4 years after the Human Genome Project started, but presented as definitive, established facts things that were not, and still aren’t. The authors, who are not genetists, misrepresented the state of genetics by taking simplistic stances and presenting them as if they were the scientific consensus.
Even worse, the book damaged the possibility of seriously debating biology-informed policymaking, by proposing policies based on that simplistic misrepresentation and not even really backed by the book’s own content.

The whole book flows from a catastrophically wrong assumption: that “heritability” means “genetic determination”.
This alone is enough to make TBC a pseudoscientific work.

There are also other fallacies. The authors are always careful enough to mention studies showing that the relationship between genetic components and environmental contributors is so complex that we basically don’t know how to separate them, and we don’t really know how and why IQ/ability does or doesn’t increase both inter-generationally and during the first 15 years of life, but then they go on with their conclusions as if those studies were irrelevant or not even mentioned a few pages earlier. In reality, most of the contradicting studies they quote, like the documented increase of 7 IQ points per decade in 18 year olds in The Netherlands and Belgium from the 1950s to the 1980s, are enough to falsify their conclusions.

So what’s there to save? The first chapters in particular, where the authors describe the phenomenon of social, economic and cognitive clustering in the American society, which wasn’t as clearly perceived as a problem in the 1990s as it is now (we’re only now, maybe, waking up to the nefarious effect on Western democracies of bubbles and polarization, combined with other issues). But TBC doesn’t analyze it the way it should (again, the authors like the simplistic and wrong explanation of “genetic determination” too much to do that), and Murray wrote another book in 2012 talking about the same process more at length.
Another interesting and important point is the steady decline in fertility of high-IQ women, but, again, it’s not really analyzed.
The heated debate stirred up by TBC also contributed to a widespread revision of the “blank slate” assumption, and underlined some negative externalities of some policymaking based on strict and fixed demographic categories.

More in-depth and very balanced reviews that I fully agree with, and that explain all the other problems with TBC way better than I possibly could:
http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html
http://reason.com/archives/1995/03/01/cracked-bell/

Check the textbook Psychology, chapter “Intelligence”, for a correct overview of what science knows about it.
Check The History and Geography of Human Genes for a serious book about genetics and human differences.

4/10

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Il potere è noioso: Il mondo globalizzato raccontato dal più anarchico degli economisti

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Baldini&Castoldi, 2016
125 pages
Author: Alberto Forchielli

Forchielli è un personaggio incredibile, larger-than-life si direbbe negli USA, e si sentiva la mancanza di un libro che ne catturasse allo stesso tempo pensiero e personalità. Quindi, un ringraziamento a Mengoli.
Il libro è infotainment di alto livello, completamente all’opposto di ciò che viene invece propinato continuamente dai MSM italiani, ai quali funge da antidoto. Si parla di economia, business, geopolitica, policy, WW2, valori etici e cenni autobiografici, con particolare attenzione a Italia e Cina. E, dall’inizio alla fine, si spara a zero su tutto e tutti, con passaggi esilaranti infilati in mezzo a una sfilza di osservazioni scomode e amare. Gli argomenti toccati sono dozzine, e per tanto nessuno di essi viene davvero approfondito – il testo non va dunque preso come un saggio, ma più che altro come un lungo blogpost, o una lunga chiacchierata a cena.
Ciò che oltretutto colpisce di Forchielli è l’avere in sé in parti eguali lo spirito della piccola città italiana degli anni ’60-’70 e lo spirito globalista e futuristico della corsa al progresso tecnologico ed economico più avanzata. In questo lo vedo come un perfetto “ponte” tra due mondi, uno capace di spiegare e indicare al primo la via per il secondo, ma resta purtroppo un esemplare rarissimo.

Frase-chiave: “Un’azienda si può sempre acquistare, ma un modello socio-economico non è ancora in vendita”.

8/10

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Stuff Seen, Jan+Feb+Mar 2017

Posted by StepTb su marzo 31, 2017

Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki / Violent Cop (Takeshi Kitano, 1989) [8]
Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015) [7]
Er ist wieder da (David Wnendt, 2015) [7-]
Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) [6.5]
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015) [7]
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) [7]
Talking to Americans (Geoff D’Eon, 2001) [TV] [7]
Status Anxiety (Neil Crombie, 2004) [7]
Beruseruku: Ougon jidai-hen I – Haou no tamago (Toshiyuki Kubooka, 2012) [6]
Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015) [4]
Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015) [5]
Hail, Caesar! (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2016) [6]
Inequality for All (Jacob Kornbluth, 2013) [7-]
Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009) [5]
Bill Burr: Why Do I Do This? (Shannon Hartman, 2008) [8]
Bill Burr: Let It Go (Shannon Hartman, 2010) [7.5]
Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same. (Jay Karas, 2012) [7.5]
Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (Jay Karas, 2014) [7]
Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (Jay Karas, 2017) [7]
Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) [8]
Predator (John McTiernan, 1987) [7.5]
Commando (Mark L. Lester, 1985) [7]
The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) [8.5]
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) [7.5]
Hjernevask, ep. 1-7 (Terje Lervik, 2010) [7]
Silicon Valley, s1 ep. 1-8 (Mike Judge, 2014) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep1 (Niels Arden Oplev, 2015) [7.5]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep2 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep3 (Jim McKay, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep4 (Nisha Ganatra, 2015) [6.5+]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep5 (Jim McKay, 2015) [6.5]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep6 (Deborah Chow, 2015) [6]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep7 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [6]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep8 (Christoph Schrewe, 2015) [7-]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep9 (Tricia Brock, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep10 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [6-]

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In what country is High School the hardest?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 18, 2016

(Titoli alternativi:
– Alle superiori in Ita si studia “troppo poco”: uhm, davvero?
– Siamo pigri, dobbiamo fare come gli asiatici che invece a scuola si fanno il mazzo. O forse no…
– Bla bla vari su stakanovismo studenti non-Ita o riforme scuola Ita che mancano totalmente il punto)

To answer, I think we should take into account three metrics:
1. How much time you need to spend in class
2. How much time you need to spend doing homework
3. The material’s difficulty level

I don’t know about 3, but we can find an answer to 2 here: Homework around the world: how much is too much?

China (Shanghai) dominates the chart, with 14 hours/week, followed by Russian Federation (10), Singapore (9.5), Kazakhstan and Italy (9).
All the other countries are below 7.5, with most of them around 5. US, Hong Kong and Australia are around 6.
At the bottom of the chart, we can find the students from Finland, Korea and Czech Republic, who spend an average of 3 hours/week.
Poland also scores relatively high (6.6). Canada, Netherlands and France are around average. Israel, Austria and Denmark are below average. Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Japan are near the bottom.

As for 1, some OECD data about “average number of hours per year of total compulsory instruction time” can be found here.

For “Age 15 – typical programme”, the countries surpassing 1000 hours/year are Austria, France, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands and Spain.
China has only 750 (most likely evening lessons are counted as tutoring/private study, hence why they top the other chart but not this one).
Finland 856, Russia 912, Czech Republic 950.
Poland, Chile, Greece, Hungary and Sweden are at the bottom, with less than 700 h/y.
US hours vary a lot between different States, but, judging from this, it seems they’re around 950–1000 on average.
I couldn’t find data for Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In another chart, Education resources – Teaching hours – OECD Data, “teaching hours” in “upper secondary” education, the countries at the bottom are Denmark, Greece, Russia, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Korea (contradicting the other data), Israel and Poland.
Italy and France here are around the OECD average.
Argentina, Chile (contradicting the other data), Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Netherlands top the chart.

Korea, the current #1 performer in nearly every international assessment, seems less demanding and more balanced than both China and Italy.
Singapore, another top performer, is likely very demanding, near the Chinese level.
Japan, another top performer, seems on the other hand less demanding than all four.
Finland, another regular top performer, is instead much more relaxed and less demanding not just than all the other five, but even than the OECD average.
Poland, Netherlands, Russia and Canada seem all fairly demanding, with above average demands correlated to top results. Hong Kong is probably the same.
Israel, Denmark and Czech Republic seem to be highly efficient (even if less than Japan and Finland), producing more than what they demand.
Italy strikes as highly inefficient: it demands top commitment and dedication from students, but it doesn’t top charts.
The examples of, above all, Italy, Japan and Finland, suggest that making school ‘hard’ and making it ‘efficient’ are two different things.

Now, some observations on #3 and Italy:
In the Italian case, the only type of institute being equally demanding in both Humanities+Philosophy and Science+Math areas is the so-called Liceo Scientifico (Science High School).
Plus, difficulty varies a lot on a regional/local basis, with some regions like Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia being particularly hard on students, and many others being softer (see Quant’è generosa o severa la tua scuola superiore alla maturità? and Maturità, la geografia dei voti racconta un Paese diviso).
Probably, at the end of the day, Iocal differences weigh more than the institute’s type, and a good HS in the 5–6 ‘hard’ regions is still hard.

A final consideration on the Italian case:
Not many people know Italian HS actually demands top commitment both in lessons hours/year and in homework hours/week when compared to the rest of the world (points #1 and #2).
The material’s difficulty and teacher’s strictness (point #3) are two metrics that vary a lot between regions and institutes, especially in the Italian case. If we take into account this big internal heterogeneity (that can help us understand why the national system as a whole isn’t a top performer, even if it’s not enough) and we add it to the previous observation, it means the ‘hard’ regions (Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Liguria, Piemonte, Veneto – more or less in this exact order) and the ‘hard’ institutes are actually *really* hard.
Conclusion: if you attended an Italian Liceo Scientifico in one of the ‘hard’ regions, you attended one of the hardest and most demanding high schools in the world.

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Posted by StepTb su settembre 9, 2016

Random House, 2007
401 pages

Nina’s review is spot-on.
I’m a big supporter of “contrarian thinking”, but I think Taleb is an intellectual hack, and the amount of credit he gets leaves me speechless.
Everything he does is:
1. Re-packaging and re-marketing well-known concepts (mainly from Complexity and Behavioral Finance) people started to introduce in the 1980s as something he himself discovered/defined, creating a personal jargon in an attempt to make them sound new (and as a rethorical trick to beat opponents in discussions, since that way he’s the one defining the playing field, instead of any actual discipline);
2. Re-packaging and re-marketing them as “paradigm shifters” that, as he “demonstrates”, easily “destroy” entire disciplines… that is, the same disciplines that actually *introduced* them, or that have already been discussing/analyzing/rejecting/absorbing them for years, if not decades;
3. In the process, insulting and mocking entire fields, completely rejecting the concept of intellectual humility – the most important trait a philosopher, scientist or thinker must have. I’ll repeat myself, but Apology is a book everyone should read, understand and apply to their lives – we’d avoid so many problems, including people falling for cult leaders and scammers (ironic, since Taleb enjoys citing Roman and Greek thinkers – probably just because, superficially, he sees them as an opposite to a contemporary world he doesn’t like);
4. Using a self-contradicting, aggressive, “prophetic” rethoric typical of cult leaders and scammers:
A. Nobody knows anything! [them]
B. …But I know everything! [us]
C. (so here’s the solution I’m selling you: myself and my books) [come join us]

Shameless.

If you find Taleb’s books brilliant and/or insightful, I recommend you Rational Choice in an Uncertain World and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Taleb’s “turkey fable” and all his observations about historicism are stolen from Popper and Russell), for starters.

5/10

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Charles Murray – The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Posted by StepTb su settembre 7, 2016

Crown Business, 2014
144 pagine

A book divided in four parts.

“On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” [7]: many good points, but, in some others, Murray just sounds like a grumpy nostalgic man out of touch with the contemporary workplace realities. A lot of people seem to judge negatively or ‘sarcastically’ the entire book because of this part, but it’s also the only actually grumpy and clearly conservative one.
“On Thinking and Writing Well” [7]: a more technical, dry part. Murray tried to put together a very short list of dos and don’ts of writing well, but you can already find the topic discussed better and much more in depth in The Elements of Style, Words Fail Me and Common Errors in English Usage, that the author himself cites, plus others like On Writing Well and the contemporary The Sense of Style.

The second half of the book is easily the best one.
“On the Formation of Who You Are” [8] is a highly practical and highly insightful series of life advices concerning career, experiences and ethics. His advice targeted at the ‘elite kids’ is particularly sound.
This great section is everything books like The Start-Up of You and tons of other self-help fluff should have been, and are not.
It seems like its chapter about being judgemental is the one most people have a problem with. In fact, it’s not controversial at all. Murray roughly says three things: not all opinions are equal (experts exist), we can’t avoid judging, and, since there’s no choice anyway, we should do it with a ‘bigger picture’, ethical goal in mind. All these points make perfect sense.
Rejecting the concept of ‘being judgemental’ as outlined by Murray implies a point of view similar to ‘all opinions are equal’, which in turn implies rejecting the concept of expertise – a rapidly and dangerously growing position in the Internet era, that leads to populism, pseudoscience, scammers and other bad stuff triumphing. And also a ridiculous position, because, if it were true, we should have already eliminated all higher education institutions and all job titles (hence Murray’s point about the hypocritical nature of it).
(plus: people leaving one-star harsh reviews because they don’t agree with the author’s views on being judgemental: don’t they see the irony in all this?).
Finally, “On the Pursuit of Happiness” [8] contains wise advices on how to deal with fame, fortune, religion and marriage. And it ends with two essential recommendations: reading The Nicomachean Ethics, and watching Groundhog Day repeatedly. What’s not to love?

7.5/10

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Tina Seelig – What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

Posted by StepTb su settembre 6, 2016

HarperOne, 2009
184 pages

The assignment described at the beginning of the book doesn’t make much sense. If you give a problem to solve with a fixed amount of money and a fixed amount of time, adding external resources and time isn’t “thinking outside of the box”, but answering a different problem, since, in real life situations, what is fixed is fixed. I’m surprised a PhD in Neuroscience doesn’t see the logical error.
The rest of the book is a nice read, but, being heavily Valley-centric, most young people coming from very different backgrounds will have trouble relating to its examples and stories – the author herself recognizes the power of cultural differences (the anecdotes in the chapters “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley” and “No Way… Engineering Is for Girls”), but she doesn’t go in depth very much.
Anyway, it provides a good introduction to topics like teamwork, problem solving, entrepreneurship, and “giving yourself permission”.
The most interesting chapter is probably “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley”, with its observations about failing and failures (especially if we consider this was published a couple of years before The Lean Startup), and, in particular, the link between people working in the creative industries and their usefully comfortable relationship with failure (since it has always inherently belonged to their sector), and all the others, who have a radically different approach to it.

7/10

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Humphrey B. Neill – The Art of Contrary Thinking

Posted by StepTb su giugno 15, 2016

Caxton Press, 2010
201 pagine

First published in 1954 and updated in subsequent editions by the author until 1963, this book predates various observations and topics of modern behavioral economics.
To understand and appreciate it, you need to keep in mind it was written during the era when Keynesianism was ruling undisputed (roughly from 1945 to 1973), and both social scientists and policy makers were thinking of the prosperity puzzle as solved and of human economic activity as predictable.
Neill was going against the grain, part of a skeptical minority. This also explains why he doesn’t seem to apply the same strict contrarian rules to his own ideological biases – which become obvious in some black-and-white thinking passages (other than when he self-describes as “Libertarian”, “conservative”, “realistic reactionary”, and when he cites, p. 150, “Ayn Rand’s wonderful new book, Atlas Shrugged” – ugh).
The book is heavily and explicitly influenced by Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Charles Mackay, 1841), Les Lois de L’Imitation (Gabriel Tarde, 1890), and Gustave Le Bon (La Psychologie des Foules, 1895; Psychologie du Socialisme, 1896).
The edition I bought (6th ed., Caxton Press 2010) has way too many typos – the editors did a poor job.

Some key passages:

pp. 42-44:

The public is perhaps right more of the time than not. In stockmarket parlance, the public is right during the trends but wrong at both ends!
One can assert that the public is usually wrong at junctures of events and at terminals of trends.
So, to be cynical, you might say, “Yes, the public is always wrong when it pays to be right – but is far from wrong in the meantime”. […]
The “time element” is the most elusive factor in economics. We need to get that fixed firmly in our minds. (Insofar as I am aware, there is no known method of timing events or trends).
Therefore, when we adopt a contrary opinion, as a guide, we must recognize that we may be too far ahead of the crowd. This is because economic trends often are very slow in turning, or reversing.

p. 80:

Students of crowd psychology know that the average voter pays scant attention to the fundamental facts concerning either the candidate or the platform. He accepts “what he feels”. The forces of suggestibility and contagion form the image in his mind.
Mystery is an al-powerful tool. “Tell ‘em nothing and promise ‘em anything”, counsels the politician; “and, above all, never reason with voters; affirm but never explain; repeat what you’ll do for ‘em, but never argue”.

pp. 83-85:

The aim of this writer’s contrary comments is to proffer interpretations in the field of economic psychology, still largely unexplored. One does not find, for example, the title “Economic Psychologist” used as yet. The few writers who are paying serious attention to the study of human behaviorism and its influence upon economic trends refer to themselves as sociologists, economists, or psychologists.
However, it is evident from studies and papers presented in recent years – and from the surveys of consumer intentions and attitudes which have been conducted for the Federal Reserve Board – that the field of economic psychology is one in which serious concentration will be focussed in coming years. […]
So, while we cannot foretell the future, we can be confident that economic psychology will be a required subject for study as we learn more about economic trends and cycles – and what starts and stops them.

p. 92:

However, we need not to be too discouraged, it seems to me, because the whole field of economics remains a “guessy” one. Little, if any, progress has been made over the years in attaining profitable accuracy in economic forecasting. And, mind you, this condition still exists, notwithstanding the extraordinary volume of statistics that is now available to students and which was not known to former forecasters.
It seems to me that the long history of economic forecasting clearly demonstrates that “psychology” is the missing key. You may have all the statistics in the world at your finger tips, but still you do not know how or when people are going to act. Accordingly, the statistics frequently lead you astray.

p. 94:

A basic usefulness of contrary opinions is to guard against predicting the unpredictable; or, to put it another way, to avoid being ensnared by faulty general predictions. […]
I believe it is correct to say that the theory [of Contrary Opinion] is more valuable in avoiding errors in forecasting than in employing it for definitive forecasting.

pp. 101-102

Making predictions has become a mania. Practically all economists are called upon for their future views – and many go out of their way to write articles and make speeches about “what’s ahead”. […]
But the significant fact for us to hold before us is that the more prominence predictions receive the more inaccurate they are likely to be. […]
If you believe the predictions, you go against them to protect yourself. Thus, you help the predictions to go haywire.

p. 104

Most of us can’t stand being alone more than half an hour, and our idea of reflection is merely to reflect and repeat what someone has told us! (We’re imitators, that is.)

pp. 106-107

[Entrepreneurs] built so fast and furious that their second step – of combining enterprises and pyramiding one on top of another – has led to the submersion of individual effort and the fostering of group effort and the conformity of the individuals to a mass pattern. […]
Business organizations have become too large for individual management. We have entered the era of group management. Mass conformity has, naturally, gone along. […]
May it not be that cyclical movements will be of greater (rather than lesser) intensity in the future, because of this development of mass conformity?

pp. 110-111

It takes us average humans a considerable interval to shift our viewpoints, once we have established a given mental outlook.
That is, if we have (mentally) accepted a trend as moving in one direction, we are not inclined to change our outlook until well after the trend turns. […]
However, if we adopt a contrary course and try to anticipate a change in the current, we’re more likely to recognize the signs of an approaching whirlpool or precipitous drop than if we merely assume that if the river is smooth here it must be smooth all the way.

pp. 113-114

As you browse over the opinion which have been published through the years – in eras of good times and bad – you are struck over and over again by how often the prevailing conditions produced the opinions; […] Little effort was made to analyze what had happened previously – things which would cause a change in the future.

p. 118

When economic affairs are booming and “everybody” feels cheerful, optimistic, and prosperous, no one wants to hear disparaging remarks or bad news about how things are going. […] If someone suggests that booms and periods of optimism always overshoot the mark and bring about corrective reactions, that said someone is called a “prophet of gloom”. He is politely (or unpolitely) told to shut his pessimistic mouth. […]
At another time, when the economy has been slumping and “times are bad”, then the opposite psychology prevails. People […] get into the frame of mind that allows them to believe that everything is in bad shape. What is more, they expect things will remain that way. […]
Rut-thinking is a common trait. I have said that the art of contrary thinking may be stated simply: thrust your thoughts out of a rut.

p. 125

The “crowd” is most enthusiastic and optimistic when it should be caustious and prudent; and is most fearful when it should be bold.

p. 128

I’m confident you are aware of how different a wellthought-out opinion is from one that is caught on the fly, so to speak, or one that is merely a reflection of a crowd’s fears or hopes. An individual may think out his opinions, whereas a crowd is swayed by emotional viewpoints rather than by reasoning or reason-why arguments.
Emotional and thoughtless opinions spread widely from imitation and contagion.

p. 131

Being positive, specific, and dogmatic is about the most harmful habit one can fall into. […]
The value of the contrary approach is the opposite. It prevents one from being a dogmatist; one avoids being positive about conjectural matters; as one reads, he mentally needles the writer or commentator.

p. 133

Instead of leaping abruptly from affirmation to its opposite (from general opinions to contrary opinions), we need to consider the synthesis (combination) of parts of general opinions and their opposites. […]
Take the leap from the General Opinion to its Opposite (or from affirmation to negation) and then, from the ideas thus released, work back to a speculative and reflective conclusion, or synthesis. In this way, we may avoid denying facts which are elements in the generalized opinions we are analyzing contrarily.

p. 140

It is evident, I think, that propaganda, skillfully engineered, manipulates opinions. […]
We are now witnessing, and shall increasingly experience, “thought and desire manipulation” which is almost firghtening to contemplate. I do not hesitate to assert that contrarianism offers protection against the Depth Manipulators.

pp. 155-156

Remarking that to be able to be caught up into the world of thought – “is to be educated”, Miss Hamilton emphasizes that the Athenian method of education was not geared to mass production. It did not produce people who instinctively all went in one way, and were conformists. There were countless contrarians in Greece back in Socrates’ day.

p. 166

Many devotees of chart reading, for forecasting stock prices, subscribe to the idea that a chart is worth a thousand words of analysis and statistics. Permit me to twist this around. I maintain “the right contact is worth a thousand charts”.

pp. 173-174

The sameness of writings on business, finance, and economics – and of course on the stock market – is such that it is almost impossible for an individual to think for himself. He is brainwashed.
The protection against brainwashing is contrary brainwork. It is hard work to think, but it is worth it.[…]
If Washington experts appear before our television screens with brave predictions of things to come, let us not forget that they are there to persuade us to think their way. The open-mouth policy is a scheduled phase of modern government.[…]
There is one noticeable trait – a paradox – that is pertinent to today’s trends of opinions: a) A person is commonly slow to change his mind, while being b) Quick to pounce on a new fad or shift to a new fashion.
Which is to say we are quick to conform, but slow to differ.

pp. 182-183

It seems impossible that in the gret Tulip Mania in Holland in 1640 the human herd could be such utter fools as to bid up tulip bulbs to 5500 fiorins each (equal to approximately $3,000) and crack a nation’s banking system in the process.[…]
And did it really happen in our lifetime that clergymen demanded “a life (sentence) for a pint”; and the confiscation of automobiles and the closing of huge hotels for what is now completely legal?
When mass manias are tied to a personality (Napoleon), patriotism (war), or God (the Crusades, or witchcraft), the hypnotic contagion of the crowd has no limits. It must wear itself out, as in the case of the Crusades, that took two hundred years.

7.5/10

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Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha – The Start-Up of You

Posted by StepTb su febbraio 12, 2016

Cornerstone Digital, 2012
272 pages

Bonnie’s review nailed it.
The more or less useful 20% of the book can be completely found for free by watching this talk and this talk.
The other 80% is basically just a long infomercial for LinkedIn, and, even worse, is written in an annoying, pseudo-inspirational, fluffy self-helpish style.
It’s not a good representation of what Hoffman (a very interesting and insightful man) has to say at all (you’ll hear way more of that by watching this, this, this, this, etc.), and is therefore a big let-down and a lost occasion. His actual active involvement in the writing process was likely very limited.
For something with substance and written in a normal, digestible way, read The Millennial Game Plan, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead instead.

5-/10

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Stuff Seen, Oct+Nov+Dec 2015

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 31, 2015

Zui hao de shi guang / Three Times (Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 2005) [6]
Le voyage du ballon rouge (Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 2007) [6-]
Tian xia di yi quan / Five Fingers of Death (Chang-Hwa Jeong, 1972) [7]
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971) [7+]
Dr. Phibes Rises Again (Robert Fuest, 1972) [6]
The Harder They Come (Perry Henzell, 1972) [6.5]
The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) [8]
Thriller – en grym film (Bo Arne Vibenius, 1973) [7]
Cani arrabbiati (Mario Bava, 1974) [Arrow Video 2014 restored edition] [8]
Blade Runner [The Final Cut] (Ridley Scott, 1982-2007) [9]
Gorky Park (Michael Apted, 1983) [6.5]
Witness (Peter Weir, 1985) [8]
Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino, 1985) [7.5]
El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970) [7]
My Name Is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) [7.5]
So Dark the Night (Joseph H. Lewis, 1946) [7]
Terror in a Texas Town (Joseph H. Lewis, 1958) [6.5]
They Live by Night (Nicholas Ray, 1948) [7.5]
On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray & Ida Lupino, 1951) [7]
Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956) [7.5]
Gonin [Director’s Cut] (Takashi Ishii, 1995) [7.5]
La rose de fer (Jean Rollin, 1973) [6]
John Wick (Chad Stahelski & David Leitch, 2014) [6]
The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010) [5+]
Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma, 1998) [6.5]
1408 (Mikael Håfström, 2007) [6.5]
Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992) [6.5]
The Telephone Book (Nelson Lyon, 1971) [6.5]
Spy (Paul Feig, 2015) [4]
Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma, 2002) [6]
The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma, 2006) [5]
Redacted (Brian De Palma, 2007) [6]
Crime d’amour (Alain Corneau, 2010) [6]
Passion (Brian De Palma, 2012) [7] [underrated, and an uncommon example of a Hollywood remake far superior to the original]
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) [7]
The X Files, s10 ep1 (Chris Carter, 2015) [5]
The Great Flamarion (Anthony Mann, 1945) [6.5]

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Stuff Seen, September 2015

Posted by StepTb su settembre 30, 2015

La promesse (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 1996) [7.5]
Rosetta (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 1999) [8]
True Detective s2 ep1 (Justin Lin, 2015) [6]
True Detective s2 ep2 (Justin Lin, 2015) [6]
True Detective s2 ep3 (Janus Metz Pedersen, 2015) [6]
True Detective s2 ep4 (Jeremy Podeswa, 2015) [7] [a very well directed+edited final part rescues the whole ep]
True Detective s2 ep5 (John Crowley, 2015) [7] [finally an ep with a decently written script, the characters act and talk like humans for the first time]
True Detective s2 ep6 (Miguel Sapochnik, 2015) [6.5]
True Detective s2 ep7 (Daniel Attias, 2015) [6.5]
True Detective s2 ep8 (John Crowley, 2015) [6.5] [whoa, what a letdown this second season was. the plot is messy and unbalanced (making no difference in the way important points and useless details are treated), dialogues are overly descriptive and lacking subtlety, characters’ dark aspects feel forced (and, mostly, just sketched) and their behaviour robotic (the underrated Colin Farrell is the only one who managed to translate the stiff, mechanic material into a human performance). in general, the writing takes the 1st season’s few flaws and multiplies them, without keeping any of its strengths. the direction is nothing special and lacks atmosphere – even if Crowley and Podeswa did a better job than the others. we can also see TV series fanboyism in action once again: audiences and critics hated “The Counselor” (2013), but both the direction and the script of that movie are better than most TD s2, which in certain aspects seems to imitate them (being Pizzolatto an obvious fan of McCarthy), especially in the way the story ends – but again, TD’s ending is the worst one of the two, given its smothering moralism (the lead male characters aren’t stupid and displayed both negative and positive traits, but they sinned, so they all must be punished in the end) and meek conventionality (the women remain alive and safe). anyway, is Pizzolatto a one-trick pony? were Fukunaga and Arkapaw the real driving forces behind s1? I guess the answer is positive in both cases.]
The IT Crowd, s1 ep1 (Graham Linehan & Ben Gosling Fuller, 2006) [7]
Le gamin au vélo (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2011) [6.5]
Deux jours, une nuit (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2014) [8] [it’s unbelievable how many missed the point of this film, and apparently stopped watching it before the last, unambiguous, 5 minutes. yes, cruel workplace politics, the contrast humanity vs. business economics, and the socially destructive power of financial problems are all recognizable themes, but most of anything else this is a movie about depression, and the hard journey to overcome it. after being pushed and forced by her husband to have a series of difficult face-to-face interactions, the protagonist discovers the true nature of a supposed ‘friend’ and, on the other hand, the existence of new, this time real, supportive friends too. at the end of her ordeal, she’s a better person (see the immediate negative answer to her boss’s offer), and she realizes that finding the strength to fight again and a human ‘safety net’ of support was what she needed to feel alive again, even if things didn’t turn out right. it’s, of course, also a political film; but there are enough subtleties and complexities to make it acceptable, and its heart is in the right place. all in all, one of the absolute 2-3 best works by the Dardenne brothers.]
The Emerald Forest (John Boorman, 1985) [7.5]
Long men kezhan / Dragon Inn (King Hu, 1967) [7]
Xia nü / A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1971) [7.5]
Da zui xia / Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966) [6.5]
Dareka no Manazashi / Someone’s Gaze (Makoto Shinkai, 2013) [short] [6]
Kong shan ling yu / Raining in the Mountain (King Hu, 1979) [6.5]
Beyond Rangoon (John Boorman, 1995) [6]
The General (John Boorman, 1998) [7]
Les revenants, s1 ep1 (Fabrice Gobert, 2012) [6.5]
Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980) [8]
The Running Man (Paul Michael Glaser, 1987) [7]
Pitfall (André De Toth, 1948) [7.5]
American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014) [7]
Hai shang hua / Flowers of Shanghai (Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 1998) [7]

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John McWhorter – The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language

Posted by StepTb su settembre 24, 2015

Oxford University Press, 2014
208 pagine

Sensationalistic title. You’d expect a work of total debunking but you won’t find it here, since the material isn’t suitable for something like that (not overwhelming, black-and-white incontestable enough).
The actual content isn’t much, and you can already find it, explained in a neutral/non-polemical way, in many books that cover the subject.

6.5/10

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August 2015 Log

Posted by StepTb su agosto 31, 2015

VIDEO:
Ah fei zing zyun / Days of Being Wild (Kar Wai Wong, 1990) [8]
Dung che sai duk / Ashes of Time [Redux] (Kar Wai Wong, 1994-2008) [7.5]
2046 (Kar Wai Wong, 2004) [7]
La spiaggia (Alberto Lattuada, 1954) [8]
Redline (Takeshi Koike, 2009) [6]
Bron/Broen, s1 ep1 (Charlotte Sieling, 2011) [6]
Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu / Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967) [7]
Kari-gurashi no Arietti / The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) [7.5]
Kokuriko-zaka kara / From Up on Poppy Hill (Gorô Miyazaki, 2011) [7]
Colorful (Keiichi Hara, 2010) [6]
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014) [7+]
Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki / Wolf Children (Mamoru Hosoda, 2012) [6.5]
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) [6.5]
Bob le Flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956) [7]
Le doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1962) [8.5]
In Search of the Perfect Human Diet (C.J. Hunt, 2012) [6]
Trudno byt bogom / Hard to Be a God (Aleksey German, 2013) [8] [I’m not sure how to rate this one – it’s so unique there’s almost nothing you can compare it to. It can be a frustrating experience, because of the dialogues and narrative chosen form, which eliminated all the linearity and the philosophical substance from the original 1964 novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, making its story obscure and incomprehensible; but, at the same time, it’s an astonishing accomplishment in terms of visuals and originality. More than anything else, it’s the remarkable testament of director Aleksey German, who passed away just before its completion, and dedicated 15 years of his life to make his nightmarish vision a reality. Critics have compared its scenic design, image composition and hallucinated feel to Bosch and Bruegel, but, even if those are probable influences, I’d say the main tone is more akin to a twisted, dark Rabelais.]
The Bank Dick (Edward F. Cline, 1940) [7.5]
L’armée des ombres (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969) [6.5]
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) [8]
L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) (Bertrand Bonello, 2011) [8+]
Night Mayor (Guy Maddin, 2009) [short] [7]
Glorious (Guy Maddin, 2008) [short] [6]
A Trip to the Orphanage (Guy Maddin, 2004) [short] [6]
Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair (Guy Maddin, 2009) [short] [6.5]
Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett, 1961) [short] [8]
21-87 (Arthur Lipsett, 1964) [short] [7.5]
A Trip Down Memory Lane (Arthur Lipsett, 1965) [short] [7]
Pandora (Derek May, 1971) [short] [7]
Le cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970) [8.5]
Un flic (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972) [7-]
Permanent Vacation (Jim Jarmusch, 1980) [6]
Yin shi nan nu / Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, 1994) [6.5]
Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984) [7+]
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) [7-]
Mystery Train (Jim Jarmusch, 1989) [5]

BOOKS:
Ivan Turgenev – Padri e figli [LINK] [8]
Platone – Apologia di Socrate [LINK] [9]

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Stuff Seen, May+Jun+Jul 2015

Posted by StepTb su luglio 31, 2015

Take the Money and Run (Woody Allen, 1969) [7]
Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973) [6.5]
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (Woody Allen, 1982) [6.5]
Q (Larry Cohen, 1982) [6]
The Jerk (Carl Reiner, 1979) [6.5]
Nine to Five (Colin Higgins, 1980) [5]
TRON (Steven Lisberger, 1982) [5]
The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson & Frank Oz, 1982) [6.5]
Missing (Costa-Gavras, 1982) [7]
History of the World: Part I (Mel Brooks, 1981) [7]
Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981) [7]
The Incredible Shrinking Woman (Joel Schumacher, 1981) [6]
Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981) [6]
Firefox (Clint Eastwood, 1982) [6]
The Entity (Sidney J. Furie, 1982) [5]
The Beastmaster (Don Coscarelli, 1982) [6]
Sorceress (Jack Hill, 1982) [5-]
The Sword and the Sorcerer (Albert Pyun, 1982) [6]
Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) [5]
Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, 1980) [6]
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014) [6.5]

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Stuff Seen, March+April 2015

Posted by StepTb su aprile 30, 2015

Hustle (Robert Aldrich, 1975) [5]
Stay Hungry (Bob Rafelson, 1976) [6]
Murder by Death (Robert Moore, 1976) [7]
Over the Edge (Jonathan Kaplan, 1979) [6]
The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) [5]
When a Stranger Calls (Fred Walton, 1979) [6]
The Muppet Movie (James Frawley, 1979) [6.5]
Elvis (John Carpenter, 1979) [6]
The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980) [7.5+]
Escape from New York (John Carpenter, 1981) [8]
The Howling (Joe Dante, 1981) [7.5]
1941 (Steven Spielberg, 1979) [7]
Stripes (Ivan Reitman, 1981) [7+]
National Lampoon’s Vacation (Harold Ramis, 1983) [7.5]
Outland (Peter Hyams, 1981) [7+]
Prince of the City (Sidney Lumet, 1981) [8]
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982) [8]
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975) [7.5]
The Edge (Lee Tamahori, 1997) [7]
House of Cards s3 ep1 (John David Coles, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep2 (John David Coles, 2015) [7]
House of Cards s3 ep3 (Tucker Gates, 2015) [6]
House of Cards s3 ep4 (Tucker Gates, 2015) [7]
House of Cards s3 ep5 (James Foley, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep6 (James Foley, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep7 (John Dahl, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep8 (John Dahl, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep9 (Robin Wright, 2015) [7]
House of Cards s3 ep10 (Agnieszka Holland, 2015) [6]
House of Cards s3 ep11 (Agnieszka Holland, 2015) [7]
House of Cards s3 ep12 (Robin Wright, 2015) [6.5]
House of Cards s3 ep13 (James Foley, 2015) [7] [some good moments here and there, but, overall, this 3rd season was a letdown]
Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982) [7]
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982) [7.5]
Gloria (John Cassavetes, 1980) [6.5]
Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980) [6.5]
S.O.B. (Blake Edwards, 1981) [7]
Creepshow (George A. Romero, 1982) [6.5]
Twilight Zone: The Movie (Joe Dante/John Landis/George Miller/Steven Spielberg, 1983) [6]
The Postman Always Rings Twice (Bob Rafelson, 1981) [8]
…All the Marbles (Robert Aldrich, 1981) [7+]
On Golden Pond (Mark Rydell, 1981) [5]
Swamp Thing (Wes Craven, 1982) [5]
Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1977) [6.5]
Heavy Metal (Gerald Potterton, 1981) [6.5]
Death Wish II (Michael Winner, 1982) [5]
Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) [7]

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Il complottismo non ha un colore, ma forse ha una causa

Posted by StepTb su aprile 25, 2015

Post sul complottismo che mi tenevo in canna da un po’ di mesi.

Colgo l’occasione perché non molto fa è uscito un articolo su Scientific American (link) che ricorda tre dati a proposito delle tendenza a credere alle teorie del complotto.

1) “Surveys by Uscinski and Parent show that believers in conspiracies “cut across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level, and occupational status.” People on both the political left and right, for example, believe in conspiracies roughly equally, although each finds different cabals.

Come hanno confermato vari poll e studi prima di questo, il complottismo non è né di destra, né di sinistra.
Qui userò l’aneddotica: come chiunque capace di ragionare, anche a me capitò, appena iniziato a capire cosa fosse la politica, di imbattermi nel “pensiero” estremista di un colore e dell’altro, e di riconoscerlo in entrambi i casi come imbecille ad essere generosi. Ciò che non focalizzavo ancora bene era il fatto che entrambi utilizzassero della retorica complottista per portare avanti le proprie tesi – questo perché ho scoperto cosa effettivamente fossero i complottisti solamente una volta avuta l’ADSL e finito per sbaglio nel pozzo online delle paranoie in libertà di cui prima ignoravo l’esistenza.
Tuttavia, nel frequente caso in cui il grosso degli anni giovanili venga passato in ambienti saturi di litania anti-USA, anti-Israele e anti-“sistema”, ci si può facilmente convincere che ormai, in quest’epoca post-WWII e post-68, il complottismo abbia trovato casa per l’appunto nel pensiero sessantottino del “fight the system” e bla bla; tale è stata per un certo periodo anche la mia sensazione. Un confronto, anni dopo, con utenti americani, mi ha svelato che, ironicamente, nel Nuovo Continente il complottismo viene al contrario visto come “di destra”, a causa del loro peculiare assetto politico in cui la dx (che sia conservatrice o libertarian) non è mai dx sociale, ma sempre contraria alle politiche stataliste, e quindi è la dx quella ad essere scettica e, nei casi estremi, paranoica nei confronti del “sistema”. Ma anche la loro sx è mobile, e abbraccia con disinvoltura aperture complottiste nel momento in cui le fa più comodo (dal noto esempio dell’omicidio JFK a tutte le paranoie contro le corporation, non ultime quelle sulla Monsanto e su tutti gli OGM).
La prova empirica di quest’assenza di colore, nel nostro panorama nazionale, è stata data dall’entrata nell’arena politica del M5S; costruito su più basi sedimentate (il seme originario può essere individuato negli spettacoli grilleschi anni ’90), sfruttando un’onda lunga di sentimenti antisistema, non s’è fatto scrupoli ad accogliere e far leva a livelli diversi su complottismi d’ogni genere (1, 2, 3, 4), e, allo stesso tempo, ha pescato a strascico lungo tutto l’asse da dx a sx.
A distanza di tempo, appare evidente come le ideologie estremiste poggino le proprie basi su complottismi più o meno celati: per essere estremisti, costoro necessitano di prendere una posizione manichea secondo cui “l’altro” è il nemico assoluto che li opprime, mentre ammettere proprie colpe e mancanze finirebbe inevitabilmente per trasformare il bianco/nero in una scala di grigi, e dunque ricadere verso posizioni centriste.
Più o meno celati, perché spesso il ragionamento complottista si annida dietro talmente tanti strati di retorica che può diventare difficile riconoscerlo come tale. Un caso che non può più essere celato, perché la Storia ce l’ha consegnato già analizzato e sviscerato, è quello del filone antisemita che culminò nel periodo nefasto cui resterà indissolubilmente legato. Un caso molto più insidioso, perché nascosto dietro problemi sociali realistici e al ricatto morale del politicamente corretto, è quello, tipicamente di sinistra, del dividere la popolazione in gruppi identitari a cui rivolgersi politicamente e ai quali vendere il concetto (complottista) secondo cui ogni loro problema è causa di un altro gruppo identitario, stavolta di maggioranza, che li ha sempre oppressi – ignorando platealmente il fatto storico che, lungo il corso del tempo, anche in quella stessa maggioranza il potere è sempre rimasto nelle mani di una minuscola élite.
E infatti,

2) “Group identity is also a factor. African-Americans are more likely to believe that the CIA planted crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods. White Americans are more likely to believe that the government is conspiring to tax the rich to support welfare queens and turn the country into a socialist utopia.

3) Infine, “42 percent of those without a high school diploma are high in conspiratorial predispositions, compared with 23 percent with postgraduate degrees.
– Come mostrano i dati, la variabile dell’educazione da sola non basta a spiegare la tendenza al complottismo: nonostante si rilevi una riduzione, quasi un quarto di chi possiede titoli superiori alla laurea triennale ne risulta ancora non immune.
Potrebbe quindi essere spiegata col benessere economico? Pare di no (vedi più sotto).
Io ho una teoria su quale sia il fattore principale, che ho dedotto da una ricerca sul web in cui ho confrontato varie fonti.

http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_National_ConspiracyTheories_040213.pdf
La prima pagina riassume un po’ tutto il discorso di poc’anzi. C’è una distribuzione equa di chi crede ai complotti, che varia grandemente a seconda di come viene formulata la domanda (non essendoci una definizione universale di cosa sia esattamente un complotto, la formulazione della domanda può contenere questo o quell’altro bias e variare di molto il risultato), ma anche del tipo di complotto (NWO e global warming schiaccianti tra i repubblicani, e invece pari sulla guerra in Iraq).

911worldopinionpoll_Sep2008
World poll sul 9/11, condotto nel 2008. Nigeria e Kenya figurano meno complottiste dell’Italia.

A cui va aggiunto http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9760.2008.00325.x/abstract
Si legge solo l’inizio, ma riporta che nel 2006 il 22% dei canadesi credeva al 9/11 come complotto attuato dagli stessi americani. Più della media mondiale, e di varie nazioni nettamente più povere, di due anni dopo.

http://www.911truth.org/images/ZogbyPoll2007.pdf
Poll sul 9/11, la correlazione dell’income non è evidente. Si abbassa e poi si alza quando si passa alla fascia di reddito più alta. Quindi nemmeno la variabile del reddito basta a spiegare la tendenza al complottismo.

http://www.aei.org/files/2013/11/06/-public-opinion-on-conspiracy-theories_181649218739.pdf
Vari poll condotti nel tempo. Pochissimi considerano la variabile income, ma, dove c’è, mostra variazioni di pochi punti. La variabile dell’istruzione ne mostra di più, ma ci si aspetterebbe maggiori variazioni, soprattutto tra high school e college. Il dato ricorrente è di nuovo che, pare, siano equamente distribuiti demograficamente e politicamente, e che varino a seconda del tipo di complotto. Ad esempio, il complotto sull’assassinio di King vince nettamente tra le minoranze etniche e i democratici.
Nelle loro parole:
We don’t find compelling evidence from the data in this document that particular demographic groups are susceptible to a belief in conspiracy theories. It depends on the theory. Middle-aged Americans are more likely to believe in the JFK assassination conspiracy than older or younger ones. Young people and Democrats are most likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories about 9/11. Women are more likely to believe foul play was involved in Princess Diana’s death. While the demographic data presented here are by no means exhaustive, we’re hesitant to endorse what much of the literature concludes – that the young and less educated are more prone to conspiratorial instincts.
– Quindi sia il loro risultato, sia quello più diffuso, mostrano come correlazioni principali delle altre rispetto alla povertà.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02018.x/abstract
Studio che mostra come ci sia una correlazione tra un tipo di personalità machiavellica e la credenza ai complotti. Chi crede ai complotti, è probabile ne farebbe uno.

http://www.psypag.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Issue-88.pdf
Compendio di vari studi. Alle pp. 8-9 elenca la serie di correlazioni finora emerse da essi: bias cognitivi, alti livelli di rifiuto delle norme sociali, autoritarismo, sensazione di impotenza, basso self-esteem, bassa fiducia, cattivo carattere, alti livelli di cinismo politico. Conclude sostenendo ci siano vari meccanismi sia cognitivi che sociali in gioco, e che, per ora, oltre alle correlazioni trovate, gli studi siano ad uno stadio troppo precoce per avventurarsi nell’individuare quali siano invece le cause.
Alle pp. 23-24, parlando della possibile ma in realtà sfuggente correlazione tra complottismo e autoritarismo, secondo me c’è il passaggio che riassume tutto:

Several studies by Monika Grzesiak-Feldman have shown that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in Poland are more likely to be held by authoritarians. Likewise, a study in the 1990s by Yelland and Stone found that authoritarians are more amenable to persuasion that the Holocaust was a hoax, orchestrated by a massive Jewish conspiracy. Viren Swami, a psychologist at the University of Westminster, has demonstrated that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are associated with authoritarianism in a Malaysian sample as well. But there’s some evidence pointing the other way as well. In a separate study, Swami and his colleagues at the University of Westminster showed that 9/11 conspiracy beliefs are associated with negative attitudes toward authority, and John W. McHoskey found that people high in authoritarianism were more likely to be anti-conspiracist when it comes to the JFK assassination. So what’s going on here? It looks like the content of the theories is what matters. The research on the psychology of authoritarianism has long shown that authoritarians tend to derogate and scapegoat minorities, which seems to be what’s going on in a lot of these anti-Semitic cases: a minority is being blamed by the majority for the ills of society. Swami’s Malaysian study actually proposes that the anti-Semitism shown by the Malaysian respondents might be a proxy for anti-Chinese racist attitudes: there are very few Jews in Malaysia, so Malaysian authoritarians might displace their ethnic aggression from a relatively powerful and socially accepted minority group (Chinese) onto one that is almost non-existent in their society and so can be scapegoated without consequence (Jews). In contrast, a lot of modern conspiracy theories have a very populist and antigovernment tone. They blame authorities for the evils of society, not minorities – the American government blew up the Twin Towers, MI6 killed Princess Diana, and so on. So it makes sense that authoritarians would be less likely to believe that their governments are conspiring against them and anti-authoritarians would find this idea more appealing. There’s no uniform association between authoritarianism and conspiracy belief – it seems to depend on the specifics of the theory in question.

Scapegoat, ovvero scaricabarile. De-responsabilizzare psicologicamente se stessi caricando qualsiasi colpa sulle spalle di un capro espiatorio.
Riassunto del tutto: la correlazione tra complottismo e povertà non è abbastanza consistente da poter essere indicata come la principale, sia per ciò che emerge dai risultati esistenti, sia perché mancano ancora studi in materia, e, allo stesso tempo, non c’è una correlazione solida quanto ci si aspetterebbe con l’istruzione.
C’è invece una correlazione ormai provata tra complottismo e varie attitudini psicologiche individuali, tra le quali emergono soprattutto alienazione, “scapegoatism” aka scaricabarile, senso di impotenza, sfiducia nel mainstream (e quindi anche nelle istituzioni) di qualsiasi tipo.
Ipotesi mia finale: da questo si può ipotizzare che un paese come l’Italia, nel quale indoli come scaricabarile e sfiducia sono diffuse, e il declino (che la nostra pessima classe giornalistica si ostina ancora a chiamare “crisi”, ma questo è un altro discorso) è manifesto ovunque da troppi anni, produca più complottismo di, ad esempio, un paese con meno benessere ma avviato verso lo sviluppo, in cui i cittadini hanno iniziato ad avere fiducia nelle istituzioni perché stanno funzionando.
Il dubbio che resta è di essere nel pieno di un circolo vizioso: le persone che tendono ad avere tali qualità negative, e dunque credere ai complotti, magari lo fanno solo per via di una proiezione sul prossimo di ciò che (consciamente o meno) “sanno” di loro stesse, ma ciò significa anche che, se tali persone ne avranno la possibilità, costruiranno o popoleranno istituzioni disfunzionali che avranno l’effetto di propagare una sfiducia verso le stesse sul resto della popolazione, e dunque a loro volta alimentare i sentimenti che danno vita ai complottismi.

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