Critical Thinking

People Are Less Gullible Than You Think

By default we veer on the side of being resistant to new ideas.

|

Look at all the gibberish people believe. That the earth is a flat disk surrounded by a 200-foot wall of ice. That high-up Democratic operatives run a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint. That former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could teleport and control the weather. Who could doubt that human beings are gullible, that we accept whatever we read or hear?

Yet these beliefs are the exception rather than the rule. By and large, we don't credulously accept whatever we're told. We have evolved specialized cognitive mechanisms to deal with both the benefits and the dangers of communication. If anything, we're too hard rather than too easy to influence.

One popular, but wrong, way of thinking about those cognitive mechanisms is to imagine them as the result of an arms race: Manipulators evolve increasingly sophisticated means of misleading receivers, and receivers evolve increasingly sophisticated means of rejecting manipulators' unreliable messages. This is what we get, for instance, with computer viruses and security software.

The arms race model leads to an association between gullibility and lack of mental acuity. When receivers, because they are exhausted or distracted, cannot use properly their most refined cognitive mechanisms, they're allegedly defenseless against the manipulators' more advanced cognitive devices—much as a security software system that hasn't been updated leaves a computer vulnerable to attacks.

That's the perception. But it isn't how our minds work at all.

Brainwashers and Hidden Persuaders

Thousands of U.S. soldiers were captured during the Korean War. Those who managed to escape brought back tales of horrible mistreatment and torture, from sleep deprivation to waterboarding. When the war ended and the prisoners of war were repatriated, these mistreatments acquired an even darker meaning. Not simply an example of the enemy's wanton cruelty, they were seen as an attempt to brainwash U.S. soldiers into accepting communist doctrine. Twenty-three American POWs chose to follow their captors to China instead of going back to their homeland. This, The New York Times stated at the time, was surely "living proof that Communist brainwashing does work on some persons."

Brainwashing supposedly functioned by shattering people's ability for higher reflection, through "conditioning," "debilitation," and "dissociation-hypnosis-suggestibility." In the 1950s, the idea that people are more easily influenced when they cannot think also showed up in a very different context. In the midst of a movie, it was feared, messages such as "drink Coke," flashed too quickly to be consciously perceived, would make people want to buy a can of Coke. Such messages would soon be called subliminal, meaning "below the threshold"—in this case, the threshold of awareness.

The scares surrounding brainwashing and subliminal influence rely on a pervasive association between inferior cognitive ability and gullibility: The less we think, it's assumed, the worse we think, and the easier to influence we are.

This idea is historically pervasive, and it is often linked to the idea that some populations are better cognitively equipped than others. In the 19th century, the psychologist Gustave Le Bon suggested that crowds shared the "absence…of critical thought…observed in beings belonging to inferior forms of evolution, such as women, savages, and children." (In a striking illustration of motivated reasoning, Le Bon's colleague Gabriel Tarde claimed that because of its "docility, its credulity…the crowd is feminine"—even when "it is composed, as is usually the case, of males.") In the 21st century, we still find echoes of these unsavory associations, as when Brexiters are dismissed as uneducated plebs.

In the contemporary academic literature, the link between unsophistication and credulity takes the form of dividing thought processes into two types, called System 1 and System 2. According to this view—long established in psychology and recently popularized by Daniel Kahneman's 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow—some cognitive processes are fast, effortless, and largely unconscious. These, which belong to System 1, include reading a simple text, forming a first impression of someone, and navigating well-known streets. These intuitions are on the whole effective, the theory goes, yet they are also susceptible to systematic biases. For instance, we seem to judge a person's competence or trustworthiness on the basis of facial traits. Such judgments may have some limited reliability, but they should be superseded by stronger cues, such as how the person actually behaves.

System 2 relies on slow, effortful, reflective processes. It takes over when System 1 fails, correcting our mistaken intuitions with its more objective processes and more rational rules. If System 1 consists of rough-and-ready mechanisms and System 2 consists of deliberate reflection, we might expect System 1 to be associated with credulity and System 2 with critical thinking.

Psychologist Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues performed an ingenious series of experiments to tease out the roles the two mental systems play in evaluating communicated information. Participants were presented with a series of statements; right after each one, they were told whether it was true or false. In one experiment, the statements were about words in Hopi, so participants might be told "a ghoren is a jug" and, a second later, told "true." After all the statements had been presented, participants were asked which had been true and which had been false. To test for the role played by the two systems, Gilbert and his colleagues intermittently interrupted System 2 processing. System 2, being slow and effortful, is seen as easily interfered with. In this case, participants were asked to press a button when they heard a tone, which tended to ring when the crucial information—whether a given statement was true or false—was being delivered.

When it came time to recall which statements were true and which were false, people whose System 2 had been disrupted were more likely to believe the statements to be true, irrespective of whether they had been signaled as true or false. These experiments led Gilbert and his colleagues to conclude that our initial inclination is to accept what we are told, and that the slightest disruption to System 2 stops us from reconsidering this initial acceptance. In Kahneman's words, "When System 2 is otherwise engaged, we will believe almost anything. System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy."

As Gilbert and his colleagues put it in the title of their second article on the topic: "You Can't Not Believe Everything You Read."

I Hope You Did Not Believe Everything You Just Read

The arms race analogy may be intuitively appealing, but it doesn't fit the broad pattern of the evolution of human communication. In arms races, a parallel escalation tends to preserve the status quo. The United States and the Soviet Union acquired increasingly large nuclear arsenals, but neither nation gained the upper hand. Security software hasn't wiped out computer viruses, but the viruses haven't taken over all computers either.

Human communication, fortunately, is very different. Think of how much information was exchanged by our pre-human ancestors—or, as an approximation, by our closest nonhuman relatives alive today. Clearly, we have ventured very far from that status quo. We send and consume orders of magnitude more information than any other primate, and we are vastly more influenced by the information we receive. The bandwidth of our communication has dramatically expanded. We discuss events that are distant in time and space; we express our deepest feelings; we even debate abstract entities and tell stories about imaginary beings.

A better analogy than the arms race is the evolution of omnivorous diets.

Some animals have evolved extraordinarily specific diets. Koalas eat only eucalyptus leaves, and they will not eat a eucalyptus leaf if it isn't properly presented—if it is on a flat surface, for example, rather than attached to the branch of a eucalyptus tree. This strategy can backfire if such animals find themselves in a new environment.

Omnivorous animals are both more open and more vigilant. Rats and humans need more than 30 different nutrients, and none of their food sources can provide all of those at once. They have to be much more open in the range of foods they're willing to sample. Indeed, rats or humans will try just about anything that looks edible.

This openness makes omnivores fantastically adaptable. Human beings have been able to survive on diets made up almost exclusively of milk and potatoes (early 18th century Irish peasants) or meat and fish (the Inuit until recently). But their openness also makes omnivores vulnerable. Meat can go bad, and most plants are either toxic or hard to digest. As a result, omnivores are also much more vigilant toward their food than specialists. Using a variety of strategies, they learn how to avoid foods that are likely to have undesirable side effects.

In terms of communication, the difference between human beings and other primates is similar to the difference between omnivores and specialists. Nonhuman primates mostly rely on specific signals. Vervet monkeys have a dedicated alarm call for aerial predators; chimpanzees smile in a way that signals submission; dominant baboons grunt to show their pacific intentions before approaching lower-ranking individuals. But humans can communicate about nearly anything they can conceive of.

People are thus vastly more open than other primates. Take something as basic as pointing. Human babies understand pointing shortly after they reach their first year. Adult chimpanzees, even in situations in which pointing seems obvious to us, do not get it.

If we are vastly more open to different forms and contents of communication than other primates, we should also be more vigilant.

According to the arms race theory, we have evolved from a situation of extreme openness—of general gullibility—toward a state of increasingly sophisticated vigilance made possible by our more recently developed cognitive machinery. If this machinery were removed, the theory goes, we would revert to our previous state and be more likely to accept any message, however stupid or harmful.

The analogy with the evolution of omnivorous diets suggests the reverse is true. We have evolved from a situation of extreme conservatism, a situation in which we let only a restricted set of signals affect us, toward a situation in which we are more vigilant but also more open to different forms and contents of communication. This organization, in which increased sophistication goes with increased openness, makes for much more robust overall functioning.

In the arms race view, disruption of the more sophisticated mechanisms makes us credulous and vulnerable. Things look different if openness and vigilance evolved hand in hand. If our more recent and sophisticated cognitive machinery is disrupted, we revert to our conservative core, becoming not more gullible but more stubborn.

Brainwashing Does Not Wash

If disrupting our higher cognitive abilities, or bypassing them altogether, were an effective means of influence, then both brainwashing and subliminal stimuli should leave us helpless, gullibly accepting the virtues of communism and thirsting for Coca-Cola. But in fact, both persuasion techniques are staggeringly ineffective.

Consider those 23 American POWs who defected to China. This is already a rather pitiful success rate: 23 converts out of about 4,400 captive soldiers, or half a percent. But in fact, the number of genuine converts was likely zero. The soldiers who defected were afraid of what awaited them in the United States. To gain some favors in the camps, they had collaborated with their Chinese captors—or at least had not shown as much defiance as their fellow prisoners. As a result, they could expect to be court-martialed upon their return. Indeed, among the POWs who returned to the United States, one was sentenced to 10 years in jail, while prosecutors sought the death penalty for another.

Compared with that, being fêted as a convert to the Chinese system did not seem so bad, even if it meant paying lip service to Communist doctrine—a doctrine the prisoners likely barely grasped.

More recently, methods derived from brainwashing, such as "enhanced interrogation techniques" that rely on physical constraints, sleep deprivation, and other attempts at numbing the suspects' minds, have been used by U.S. forces in the war on terror. Like brainwashing, these techniques are much less effective than softer methods that make full use of the suspects' higher cognition—methods in which the interrogator builds trust and engages the subject in discussion.

Similarly, the fear of subliminal influence and unconscious mind control turned out to be unfounded. The early experiments allegedly demonstrating the power of subliminal stimuli were simply made up: No one had displayed a subliminal "drink Coke" ad in a movie theater. A wealth of subsequent (real) experiments have failed to show that subliminal stimuli exert any meaningful influence on our behavior. Even if it were flashed on a screen, the message "drink Coke" would not make us more likely to drink Coca-Cola.

What about the experiments conducted by Gilbert and his colleagues? They did show that some statements (such as "a ghoren is a jug") are spontaneously accepted and need some effort to be rejected. But that doesn't mean that System 1 accepts "everything we read," as Gilbert put it. If participants have some background knowledge related to the statement, this background knowledge directs their initial reaction. For instance, people's initial reaction to statements such as "soft soap is edible" is rejection. The statements don't even have to be obviously false to be intuitively disbelieved. They simply have to have some relevance if they are false. It is not very helpful to know that, in Hopi, it's false that "a ghoren is a jug." By contrast, if you learn that the statement "John is a liberal" is false, it tells you something useful about John.

When exposed to statements such as "John is a liberal," people's intuitive reaction is to adopt a stance of doubt rather than acceptance. Far from being "gullible and biased to believe," System 1 is, if anything, biased to reject messages incompatible with our background beliefs, or even merely ambiguous messages. This includes many messages that happen to be true.

How To Be Wrong Without Being Gullible

If the success of mass persuasion is, more often than not, a figment of the popular imagination, the dissemination of empirically dubious beliefs is not. We all have, at some point in our lives, endorsed one type of misconception or another. People believe everything from wild rumors about politicians to claims about the dangers of vaccination. Yet this is not necessarily a symptom of gullibility.

The spread of most misconceptions is explained more by their intuitively appealing content than by the skills of those who propound them. Vaccine hesitancy surfs on the counter-intuitiveness of vaccination. Conspiracy theories depend on our justified fear of powerful enemy coalitions. Even flat-Earthers argue that you just have to follow your intuition when you look at the horizon and fail to see any curvature.

Yet even though many misconceptions have an intuitive dimension, most remain cut off from the rest of our cognition: They are reflective beliefs with little consequences for our other thoughts and limited effects on our actions. 9/11 truthers might believe the CIA is powerful enough to take down the World Trade Center, but they're not afraid it could easily silence a blabbing blogger. Most of those who accused Hillary Clinton's aides of pedophilia were content with leaving one-star reviews of the restaurant in which the children were supposedly abused. Even forcefully held religious or scientific beliefs, from God's omniscience to relativity theory, do not deeply affect how we think: Christians still act as if God were an agent who could only pay attention to one thing at a time, and physicists can barely intuit the relationship between time and speed dictated by Einstein's theories.

Sometimes, belief and action, even costly action, do go hand in hand: Rumors of atrocities committed by the local minority are followed by attacks on that minority; bogus medical theories lead to harmful medical practices; excessive flattery of a ruler results in obedience to the ruler's regime. But by and large, the beliefs follow the behavior rather than the other way around. People who want to attack the minority group look for the moral high ground. Quack doctors like their therapies to be backed up by theories. The political conditions that make it a smart move to obey an autocrat also encourage sycophancy.

This even applies to the misconception I'm criticizing in this article: The idea that people are gullible provides post hoc rationalizations for actions or ideas that have other motivations. Until the Enlightenment, scholarly claims of uneven credulity were routinely used to justify an iniquitous status quo—mostly by people who benefited from that status quo. The masses, these scholars insisted, couldn't be trusted with political power, as they would be promptly manipulated by cunning demagogues bent on wrecking the social order. Scholars on the other side of the political spectrum, who defended the people's right to a political voice, also asserted widespread gullibility—which helped them explain why the population hadn't already revolted (or, more generally, why people so often make the "wrong" political choices).

We aren't gullible: By default we veer on the side of being resistant to new ideas. In the absence of the right cues, we reject messages that don't fit with our preconceived views or pre-existing plans. To persuade us otherwise takes long-established, carefully maintained trust, clearly demonstrated expertise, and sound arguments. Science, the media, and other institutions that spread accurate but often counterintuitive messages face an uphill battle, as they must transmit these messages and keep them credible along great chains of trust and argumentation. Quasi-miraculously, these chains connect us to the latest scientific discoveries and to events on the other side of the planet. We can only hope for new means of extending and strengthening these ever-fragile links.

Advertisement

NEXT: D.C. Circuit Dispatches with Congressional Emoluments Suit

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. In the absence of the right cues, we reject messages that don’t fit with our preconceived views or pre-existing plans.

    Bigotry and prejudice are part of human nature. Duh.

    Overcoming the negative parts of our natures is what education and civilization are all about.

    1. I thought bigotry and prejudice were learned, or are you mocking those who say it isn’t, I can’t tell

      1. Bigotry and prejudice are learned behavior on the part of traditional straight white Western males, it’s why they must undergo sensitivity training to understand and unlearn their behavior. Anything that might appear to the untrained eye to be bigotry and prejudice on the part of anybody else is not true bigotry and prejudice but merely part of their inherent nature. People of Color are incapable of racism, women are incapable of sexism, Muslims are incapable of religious extremism, progressives are incapable of intolerance, foreigners are incapable of cultural appropriation, and so on and so forth. Traditional straight white Western males who claim otherwise are merely demonstrating that their learned behavior of prejudice and bigotry has not been sufficiently unlearned.

        1. I was being serious. Yeah I know the leftist point of view.

          Seriously, do you think racism/sexism is learned or human nature. I would argue that it is learned.

          1. I would say the basis is biological, a rational cautious distrust of the different and the unknown. If you start out with a certain bias, it’s easy enough to fall into bias confirmation however and the original rational caution ramps up to an irrational level.

          2. Prejudice and bigotry are part of human nature, but the specific types of prejudice are learned.

            Simple analogy– The use of language is instinctive to humans, but the actual languages themselves are all learned.

          3. Yes, just look at the animal kingdom. Strong family, tribe, group bias.

            Racism is the default for humans. Whether it festers and becomes dangerous or is sequestered by education and culture is our concern.

          4. Its an innate behavior. You learn *a target for it* – but creating in- and out-groups is something we’ve done since before we were people.

  2. “The spread of most misconceptions is explained more by their intuitively appealing content than by the skills of those who propound them.”

    Are you saying that I might want to consider giving UP my sweet warm thoughts about how Government Almighty LOVES me, more than I can eve know?!?!?

    NOOOOOO!!!!!! Ye infidels!

    Oh ye of little faith! “This, too, shall pass”. Keep yer FAITH in Guv-Mint Almighty, PWEASE, ah BEGs of ye! Then ye shall see! The veils will be lifted!
    To get us thru for a wee tad here, I am going to lead us all now in prayer and praise…

    Scienfoology Song… GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

    Government loves me, This I know,
    For the Government tells me so,
    Little ones to GAWD belong,
    We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
    Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
    Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
    And gives me all that I might need!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    DEA, CIA, KGB,
    Our protectors, they will be,
    FBI, TSA, and FDA,
    With us, astride us, in every way!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

  3. THE RUSSIANS USED FACEBOOK TO BRAINWASH GULLIBLE PEOPLE TO VOTE FOR TRUMP! THAT’S THE ONLY EXPLANATION FOR HILLARY LOSING! AAUUGHHH!

    1. Shhhh, when reason talks about motivated reasoning. You aren’t supposed to point out how it applies to them over the past 4 years.

      1. It’s also interesting how the pizzagate thing got lumped in with flat eathers. We already have connections between high ranking politicos and pedophilia. The UK is especially bad about that and there have been so many examples where it was exposed. So I would say that while the pizzagate narrative was seriously unlikely it also wasn’t preposterous.

        1. Exactly.
          The attitude seems to be that “Epstein’s Lolita Express servicing elite pedos was a reality, but an alternative pedo service in Washington? That’s just nuts”.

          1. The nuts part was that people thought everything else was code but not the location itself. Seriously, that’s just silly. Assuming arguendo that you’re going to take the trouble to code word everything else the idea that you would then not code word the actual location events were taking place at is completely moronic.

  4. I suppose that’s good news. But people are still more gullible than they should be. For instance, many Americans believe — with absolutely no evidence whatsoever — an absurd conspiracy theory that goes something like this:

    “The Deep State” was surprised and embarrassed by Drumpf’s victory in 2016. Government officials therefore immediately began planning to remove him from office by any legal means necessary, aided by a mainstream media that is effectively the public relations division of the Democratic Party.

    I mean, it’s just crazy. And yet there are probably tens of millions of Americans who believe this nonsense.

    #LibertariansAgainstConspiracyTheories
    #LibertariansForMSNBC

    1. Tens of millions? How about the hundreds of millions who believe in politicians in general? People for whom lying is part of the job description are routinely supported, either enthusiastically or as “the lesser of two evils.” And you can’t blame Facebook or even TV news for that:
      It’s been going on long before either existed.

    2. Yeah, that’s fucking kooky too, Trumpian. I mean, not as crazy as some of the other QAnon bullshit you guys believe in, but pretty close. Repeat after me: if you want to get rid of out of touch bureaucrats, vote GOP. They’ll do the job.

  5. You want me to believe people are less gullible than I think? Hey, I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Just because there’s an infinite amount of nonsense they don’t believe and a finite amount of nonsense they do believe, it looks like the balance is tipped toward non-belief in nonsense but even a finite amount of belief in nonsense is a staggering sum.

    And when nonsense forms the basis of the belief, everything built on that foundation is nonsense. I’ve said it many times – human beings aren’t just rational creatures, they’re rationalizing creatures. Everything has to happen for a reason and if a reason isn’t readily apparent they’ll just make up some shit to explain it because they cannot accept that some things happen for no reason or that some things happen for reasons we are incapable of ever understanding. Whether it’s magic or God or Satan or science or Top Men or the Illuminati, somebody’s behind all this because it’s simply unacceptable to believe things happen for no reason and it’s more comforting to believe there are malign forces running the Universe than to believe there’s nobody running it at all.

    And from that basis, we conclude that all things are knowable and that once we gain that knowledge we can build a perfect society and a perfect planet, that we can control the weather, micro-manage Nature, push that button, pull that lever, turn that dial and we can control droughts in the Midwest, forest fires in Australia, floods in India, poverty in Haiti, political unrest in Indonesia, the population of polar bears in the Arctic and manatees in Florida, settle the differences between the Jews and the Arabs in the Mideast, create perpetual motion machines and immortality pills, build colonies in distant galaxies – all these things can be done because we can do anything we put our minds to and there’s no way we’re getting smacked by a giant meteor three months from now that’s going to extinguish all life on the planet and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it.

    1. The Illuminati??! Ha! I learned a while back, what it is REALLY all about! Read and heed!

      What I have heard is that the Islamofascists are cooking up yet MORE evil ways to bring down aircraft! They have deviously devised aluminum-eating genetically engineered microbes, which, as we speak (write and read), are being secreted into and onto the main weight-bearing aluminum structural elements of American and allied (non-islamofascist) aircraft, military and civilian alike. At the release of secret radio codes, these aluminum-digesting microbial GMOs will destroy aircraft in-flight.

      What are the microbes called, you say?

      Wait for it now…

      … The Aluminum-Eatee!!!

      1. Nope, not funny. In fact very stupid.

        1. We were ALL breathlessly awaiting your opinion! (Ooops, I mean Revealed Wisdom).

          Now that we all can Behold The Holy Magnificence of Your Sacred Highness, we can get back to our weekend!

          THANK YOU for your pearls of wisdom!

          1. You’re welcome.

          2. Fuck off, Mary.

  6. “The United States and the Soviet Union acquired increasingly large nuclear arsenals, but neither nation gained the upper hand.”

    The Soviet Union doesn’t have a large arsenal now, does it?

    1. The whole idea that Mutual Assured Destruction as a strategy was a terrifyingly tenuous stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States is proof of the gullibility of people. The Soviet Union may or may not have been bluffing with their nuclear arsenal, the United States had Hiroshima and Nagasaki as proof that we weren’t fucking kidding. As the popular Washington Crossing The Delaware meme has it: “America. We will cross a frozen river at night to kill you in your sleep on Christmas Eve. We’ve done it before.”

      From exterminating the Indians and enslaving Africans to the brutal and bloody Civil War to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the assassinations of multiple Presidents and civic leaders to the tolerance of guns in our society, Americans have shown themselves to be insanely violent people and you fuck with us at your peril. Just as the honorable kamikaze pilots of Japan found out the Islamic jihadists are someday going to find out, your willingness to die for your cause doesn’t impress us a damn bit, if you’re willing to fight to the death we’re more than willing to take you up on your offer.

      1. Patton said something like that. He didn’t want his soldiers to die for their country; he wanted them to make the Germans die for their country.

  7. When it came time to recall which statements were true and which were false, people whose System 2 had been disrupted were more likely to believe the statements to be true, irrespective of whether they had been signaled as true or false. These experiments led Gilbert and his colleagues to conclude that our initial inclination is to accept what we are told, and that the slightest disruption to System 2 stops us from reconsidering this initial acceptance.

    So…..applying what we have learned. You’re talking to your boss about a promotion and a raise. Basically, you want some kind of distraction to his/her ‘System 2’ so s/he is more likely to say or recall saying yes – to both? 🙂

    1. Never hurts to show a little leg either. Or something, as the case may be.

      Another trick is to keep a squirrel in your pocket. When the boss is distracted release the squirrel.

  8. That figure of “23 American POWs” who did not return got me curious. A bit of googling found this and several other sites; not sure how reliable any of them are, but that one seems the least incredulous.

    23 POWs to start with. They were kept in a neutral camp in the DMZ for a 90 day “cooling-off period”. 2 did come back and were court-martialed, for 10 and 20 years. The others refused. The article does not itemize all 21. Three were black; one refused to come back because he was tired of US racism. The article makes a big deal of this, but only reports the one’s racism decision, not the other two. One soldier felt that dumping MacArthur was betrayal. “By 1958, 7 more of the soldiers had left China. By 1966, only two remained in China.” and one more quote: “As the soldiers trickled back to the US, an additional reason was revealed: A handful apparently had informed on their fellows while in POW camps, and rather than rejecting the economic and political situation in the United States they were simply afraid to return.” but otherwise is surprisingly non-specific about most of the non-returnees. 23 is already just a “handful”; it would be nice to have more clarity.

    I conclude that this article’s “all were afraid” and “zero success” are hyperbole, and do not know the correct values.

    1. One other google result, here, has some odd styling which makes it hard to read; lines crowded together and almost overlapping, ugly font, etc.

      No mention of any threatened death penalty. Says the 21 remaining were dishonorably discharged in absentia, which precluded any courts martial if/when they did return.

      Compares the 23 Americans with no Turks and 1 Brit, as if this meant Americans were weak pussies; but there were 326,863 Americans and 14.198 Brits in the war, which is the same 23:1 ratio; and 5453 Turks, which is less than half; there’s nothing remarkable there.

      For that matter, 3 blacks out of 23 Americans is pretty close to the population ratio. Falling back on racism for just them implies they were the only ones with valid reasons, and that the 20 whites were just plain weak-minded; I wonder if any of the racist-theory proponents realized that implication.

      Repeats the one soldier who felt that firing MacArthur was betrayal.

      Mentions a group of three 1955 returnees and implies they feared punishment as collaborators, but is not very specific.

      Says by 1968, only two had not returned, and repeats “handful” without being specific: “A handful apparently had informed on their fellows while in POW camps, and rather than rejecting the economic and political situation in the United States they were simply afraid to return. At the other extreme, another half dozen seemed to be more radical ideological converts”. Two remained in China into the 1990s, and two others “followed their wives” to Poland and Czechoslovakia (whether these were old American wives or new Communist wives is not reported). It says “The largest group probably lay somewhere in between, combining anger at the United States for prolonging the war, fairly strong ideas about China, and a hearty dose of adventurism.”

      Anyways, maybe one should not be too gullible about this particular article.

    2. And … this particular line —

      Compared with that, being fêted as a convert to the Chinese system did not seem so bad, even if it meant paying lip service to Communist doctrine—a doctrine the prisoners likely barely grasped.

      rather annoyed me, with its glib hand-waving about the 21 POWs being too dumb to understand Communist doctrine. Nothing hard about it at all — no private property for landlords and factory owners to use to abuse hard workers. That’s pretty much all you’d need to learn, and his assertion implies he gullibly fell for the idea that the 21 POWs were just stupid.

    3. He does say one thing I agree with wholeheartedly:

      Quack doctors like their therapies to be backed up by theories.

      It has always amazed me the great lengths Stalin and Hitler went to in order to appear legitimate. I have the impression that kings of old issued decrees to punish people just on a whim; but while Stain and Hitler (and others) also murdered people without a second thought, they also had great show trials and rump legislatures to dress up their decrees. In their early days, maybe they only did so to fool the natives, but they kept on doing so long after the natives were helpless to protest. I don’t know enough about Mao, Mussolini, or most other 20th century dictators to know if this was universal or not.

      1. The Nazis kept meticulous records of their victims and property confiscated. All of it was dressed up with legalities and authority. This was not so much for the benefit of the public it was to make it easier for the concentration camp guards and murderers to mentally accept.

        The methods of the SS einzatzgruppen early on where they would round up all of the Jews and others they wanted to get rid of in a village, have them dig a pit and gun them down was producing many psychological casualties. That is why they switched to the death camps and other methods. Soldiers in battle suffer as it is but shooting helpless innocent women and children looking straight at them is something else. There are not enough true psychopaths for the job.

        Himmler gave a famous speech to the SS to bolster them psychologically and convince them of the true courage of their actions.

        “ They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew. [a few people laugh] And … [audience cough] [carefully] … none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And … to have seen this through and — with the exception of human weakness — to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. Because we know how difficult things would be, if today in every city during the bomb attacks, the burdens of war and the privations, we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and instigators. We would probably be at the same stage as 16/17, if the Jews still resided in the body of the German people.”

        Evil is difficult to fathom and we all know about “gazing into the abyss”. Jerryskids pointed out about rationalizing. We do that all the time.

      2. ” they also had great show trials and rump legislatures to dress up their decrees”

        The judiciary under Hitler had far greater independence than that under Stalin. Hitler’s murders like the SA, communists, and mentally challenged were extra judicial and secretive. Hitler’s reign had public legitimacy until near the very end when he had to put Himmler and the secret police in charge of domestic affairs, because by then the public were sick of Hitler and Naziism. With the USSR, show trials were public and at least made a show to follow familiar court procedures. Communist legitimacy was always a sore point from day one on. In China, legitimacy is conferred from the heavens. They fear earthquakes and other disasters are a sign that the mandate of heaven is being withdrawn and regime change enters the picture.

  9. The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.

    Friedrich Nietzsche

  10. I don’t know. Apparently there are some people out there who still believe that Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie are actual libertarians!

    Although most of those people are probably Reason staffers posting under sockpuppet handles, so maybe the thesis is true.

  11. Look at all the gibberish people believe. That high-up Democratic operatives run a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint.

    That Joe Biden is a “front runner” for the presidency!

    1. “Democratic operatives run a pedophile ring”

      *cough* Epstein and Weinstein *cough*

  12. “People Are Less Gullible Than You Think”

    Are we talking regular people? Or libs? I’ve seen some doozies that libs buy off on.

    1. +100

    2. Don’t forget the Trumpistas.

      Anyone who believes any politician is just another gullible PT Barnum devotee.

      1. “To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
        To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the Job”

        Douglas Adams

    3. +1000

  13. An article of 40 paragraphs on gullibility . . . with one sentence mentioning religion/superstition?

    1. I just surprised you weren’t the opening photo.

    2. Watch out Reverend. Comments like that start me thinking of launching into one of my Sunday sermons and nobody wants that.

      1. Let if fly. Make the clingers happy in the little time they have left.

        1. Was hoping you could help me out a little bit here Rev. not much to go on thus far.

        2. I’ll give you a little starter.

          It is often misunderstood both within religion and by its critics that there is a conflict between religious belief and science.

          No such conflict is possible.

          If you read the account of creation in Genesis it follows a very plausible order from nothing through matter and energy, the earth itself with oceans and landmass, lower to higher order life and finally at the pinnacle of creation humans.

          Yet the rest of the story goes on to describe human imperfections, Adam and Eve, Cain and Able and on from there. So why is this last creation so flawed? We don’t think of the mountains, sun and moon, or animals as flawed.

          The article is about the science of the human mind. It is the gift we have to create for better or worse and to learn about the true nature of the universe around us. It is not by accident that we were given this marvelous tool.

          To find something in science and reject it is to put limits on God and nobody can do that.

          If we were perfect none of that would happen. We would cease development and striving for change.

  14. This is interesting, but it excludes data on longer-term experiences that clearly condition people to think in specific ways:
    – Instead of looking at shorter-term data on American prisoners of war, look at longer-term data on socialist slaves from birth in Russia, China, and North Korea. In the documentary One Child Nation, many people volunteered their thought that what the government did was necessary and was for the greater good.
    – Instead of looking at shorter-term susceptibility to inputs about Coca-Cola, look at susceptibility to childhood-long exposures to government-monopoly schools that condition to people to support big government. Most people emerge from this experience thinking that government people solve problems and add value.

    Sure, people aren’t as gullible as popularly suggested; but people are demonstrably manipulable. And the means of control are much-more-fully approaching total.

  15. Science, the media, and other institutions that spread accurate but often counterintuitive messages face an uphill battle, as they must transmit these messages and keep them credible along great chains of trust and argumentation.

    HAHA. While Climate “science” seems to be one of the few fields where religion surpasses scientific method, almost all the MSM are Propagandists who lie through their teeth.

    Expect more articles like this to prep Americans for the upcoming Lefty Propaganda to save the Democrat party from obscurity.

    1. “While Climate “science” seems to be one of the few fields where religion surpasses scientific method”

      How so? Religion is human’s attempt to communicate or intervene with the super-natural world. Climate science relies on the tools and theories of chemistry and physics, which are bound to the physical world. You seem to be confusing two very different endeavors.

      1. Image science does not rely on those things. In fact climate science actually often goes in the face of science. We literally have scientists corrupting data to march their models.

        https://jennifermarohasy.com/acorn-sat-v1-vs-v2/

        They have models that ignore basic first principles. They admit to tuning their models with nebulous factors like air particulates where no models agree on these factors but all used to hind cast.

        It is a religion at this point. Mann is still preaching treemometers for fucks sake.

        1. “It is a religion at this point.”

          But how? I already explained that religion is human’s seeking to intervene in the supernatural world. What you’ve outlined in your comment is simple fraud. Which is different from religion. Perhaps your idea of what makes something a religion is different from mine. That’s why I asked ‘how so?’ It’s an innocent question but has apparently flummoxed loveconstitution1789 into silence.

          1. If you can’t see the link between religion, climate science, and fraud, you are intentionally blind. The climate science religion has its core belief in fraud of the hockey stick, fraud of the IPCC models, fraud of the sea level measurements, fraud of the historical temperature revisionism, fraud, fraud, fraud. Sure, there are some true believers in both religion and climate science; but most of it is pure fraud by con men who get rich from suckers. Why does Michael Mann get high speaking fees? Why do pedo priests and cardinals and the Pope and mega church preachers live such profitable and unaccountable lives?

            1. “If you can’t see the link between religion, climate science, and fraud, you are intentionally blind.”

              Why is climate science a religion? Why is anything a religion? I’ve already stated my definition of religion as human seeking to intervene in the supernatural world. What is your definition of religion and how does it encompass climate science? It’s a question none of you seem able to answer.

              1. You’re being intentionally myopic. Science fiction is just as unbelievable as religious paradigm for many stories, especially in science fiction that goes against actual science. Creating a mythos based slightly on science does not make it any less religious. Gods were initially created to describe natural events after all.

                1. What is your definition of religion and how does it encompass climate science? It’s a sincere question and I’m not trying to trap you. I suspect when you use the word religion, you really want to use the word ‘dogma,’ which you can look up in a dictionary if it’s unfamiliar to you. Religion is a set of beliefs and practices supposed to help us communicate with the other side. It has nothing to do with science, climate science or science fiction.

                  1. Religion is finding non physically provable explanations, I.e. supernatural, for physical phenomena.

                    1. Not sure about that. We can’t physically prove or disprove the big bang, yet it’s an established part of science. We infer it from what we can observe and measure. That’s what science is about. Proof is the province of mathematicians.

                      And you haven’t explained how climate science is a religion, as so many here seem to fervently believe yet are, to a man, incapable of going any further to explain.

                  2. Religion is a manifestation of dogma. Religion is a belief on something bigger than self. Thos can be god or it can be science. People forget how religious Einstein and others are as they marveled at the god given beauty of science. Religion does not require spirits and Angels.

                    1. “Religion is a manifestation of dogma.”

                      I think I can see what you are driving at. Religion is a manifestation of dogma, climate science is a manifestation of dogma, therefore climate science is a religion. Problem is it’s a logical fallacy. Think of it this way: a schnauzer is a dog, a poodle is a dog, therefore a schnauzer is a poodle. Logic works in a different way.

          2. It is a religion because it had gone on for millennia. There is always a constant death cult that always thinks they are the last generation left. History is littered with stories of people starving themselves because they were certain of a second coming and such. Climate alarmist is the same behaviors, just wrapped in science. It started in the 60s as the population bomb and now continues through the theory of climate disaster.

            1. “It is a religion because it had gone on for millennia.”

              Millennia seems too long. Climate science as I know it dates back to Tyndall, around 1860, when he first observed the heat trapping qualities of gases like CO2.

              Are you backing away from your claim that climate science is a religion? Now you are saying that climate science is part of a death cult, another term you don’t appear to want to define. I define religion as a set of beliefs and practices aimed at facilitating our interaction with the supernatural world. I’ve repeatedly asked you for your definition but it’s not forthcoming. What’s detaining you?

              1. Okay, now you’re just being dishonest. No I’m not backing away from anything. Climate alarmists like Mann assume a theory or belief apriori and dismiss it in opposition to evidence.

                I dont know why you think religion cant be wrapped in a patina of science. You completely ignored the whole gods coming forth as an explanation of physical manifestations. You’re being dishonest.

                Here is wiki. I’m starting with the simplistic philosophical argument since you seem so hell bent on trying to be dishonest.

                https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science

                1. “No I’m not backing away from anything. ”

                  Maybe not, but you are not defining religion as I asked you to. Unless you do, I can’t understand what you are trying to say. I understand you think Mann is a charlatan, but I don’t see how this makes climate science a religion, which is what I’ve been asking all along.

                  1. I did define religion in a prior post. Again, you’re now being dishonest. You’re trying to weasel your way into strict definitions to avoid a philosophical argument. Strict definitions do not exist on broad concepts such as religion.

                    When you want to stop being dishonest maybe we can have an actual conversation.

                    1. I tried to ask loveconstitution1789 how climate science was a religion but he refused to answer. You figure he understood my question was dishonest from the get go?

                    2. “When you want to stop being dishonest…”

                      Says the KING-QUEEN-DICTATOR of dishonesty!

                      With reference to Trump, JesseAZ says…
                      “He is not constitutionally bound on any actions he performed.”

                      For just ONE example, JesseSPAZ will NEVER back down from TOTAL endorsement of ALL aspects of Trumptatorship!

                      JesseSPAZ is a CLASSICAL example of a TrumpBot!

                      https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ambigamy/202002/toward-general-intuitive-psychological-theory-evil
                      Toward a General, Intuitive, Psychological Theory of Evil
                      The trumpbot lifestyle that makes humankind tick like a time bomb.

                      If it sounds good, it’s about me. If it sounds bad, it’s about my competitors.
                      Confirmation bias is another name for the trumpbot’s algorithm: “If it confirms me I’m listening if it doesn’t affirm me I’m not listening.”
                      Almost all people recognize confirmation bias in others (“I hate know-it-alls”) but many people think that because they see and hate confirmation bias in others, they must not be susceptible to it. I call this move, “exempt by contempt.”

                      All who disagree with JesseSPAZ, are STUPID, and so, are summarily dismissed! Arrogance = evil!!!

              2. As an aside you’re trying to be too cute with your argument.

                Base hard sciences, like math, can be verifiable. But much of what we call modern science is theoretical and filled with untested hypothesis. Or it is simplified explanations for chaotic systems. In the latter science can become a religion.

                We arent talking religion of science as proof that water can freeze. It is the abstract concepts that can become a religion. It is the Catholic church burning Galileo based on scientific principles of heliocentric observations based on the science and math of parallax. The story of Galileo is often told wrong. In reality it was scientific scholars arguing against each other, both sides insisting on their science.

                So stop trying to be a weasel with your arguments.

                1. “But much of what we call modern science is theoretical and filled with untested hypothesis.”

                  At the core of climate science is the observation that gases like CO2 trap heat in the atmosphere. There’s nothing untested about that. From that we can infer more CO2 means a warmer atmosphere, much in the way we can infer a big bang from observing the motion of the stars.

                  Galileo avoided the stake by his soft pedaling his ideas. It was Bruno, a much more outspoken and interesting character, in my opinion, who was ignominiously burned at the stake by the church.

                  I’m not at all sure about what Galileo has to do with climate science, though I basically understand his quarrel with the religious authorities of the day.

                  1. “But much of what we call modern science is theoretical and filled with untested hypothesis.”

                    JesseSPAZ religion needs NO tests! They are articles of FAITH, dammit!!!

                    So says Trump the Father, JesseSPAZ the Son, and the Holy Republican Church! All who say otherwise, are HEATHENS, to be condemned on sight!

                    I have tried and tried and tried to show JesseSPAZ that He needs to work on HUMILITY (a prime attribute of Jesus Christ, for example), but JesseSPAZ will have NONE of it! There are NO signs of THAT changing, any time soon! Trying to get Jesse to listen, is like arguing with a brick wall!

                2. “Base hard sciences, like math, can be verifiable.”

                  Mathematics is not empirical and cannot be tested nor proven. It is a tool based on logic and therefore very useful.

                  You can develop a mathematical model for example about the number of smokers expected to develop COPD if they continue smoking. Then you measure outcomes over time and the model proves the expected outcome is as predicted. That shows something in the biological sense which relies entirely on measurable outcomes. It does not prove anything about the model. Only that it is useful in predicting outcome. That is falsifiable as often happens.

                  The difference probably does not matter much as without one the other is of little use. In a sense you are operating from different ways of thinking.

      2. Climate science not a religion, although there are those who treat it as such.

  16. All in all this wasn’t a bad article. Somewhat informative.

    Good job Mr. Mercier

  17. “People are thus vastly more open than other primates. Take something as basic as pointing. ”

    I’m not sure what the relevance is, but dogs are capable of understanding the import of pointing, unlike primates. And certain birds can follow a human’s gaze, unlike dogs and primates. Does this make them more open? And octopuses can communicate with their neighbors by changing the color and patterns on the surface of the skin, at will, unlike humans who can only do this involuntarily while blushing or angering. Does this make octopuses more open?

    “But humans can communicate about nearly anything they can conceive of”

    My sense is that you could say the same of any animal. Humans certainly aren’t the only species to be able to communicate with others.

    1. Well the animals around here certainly communicate effectively. Not just their needs and wants but clearly can sense and express emotion.

      The Far Side was so awesome.

      https://images.app.goo.gl/qvDTY9de9dBymSuk7

  18. Great article and very appropriate for Reason. Of course as a libertarian, an untried unclear political philosophy most people have never even heard of, obsessed enough to spend time posting on a political blog, I am entirely rational and everyone else is nuts.

    As WC Fields once said “everyone has to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

    1. I am entirely rational and everyone else is nuts.

      Having realized that everyone else is nuts, a rational person would have to question whether he is an exception to what seems to be a universal rule or whether, being nuts himself, he is incapable of recognizing his own nuttiness. As difficult as it is to accept, I’ve come to the conclusion that if humans as a rule are insane, I as a human must therefore be insane as well.

      If it seems uncomfortably as if this idea that an insane person can rationally conclude that he is insane might be a paradox, I’ve heard of an easy fix to this problem – it involves slipping an ice pick through the back of the eye socket and doing a bit of rooting about until one feels comfortably as if the paradox has resolved itself. While I merely suspect this might be a general resolution to the problem of human beings having developed brains bigger than what is optimal for the survival of the species, I am quite certain it would make re-runs of Three’s Company much more entertaining. And isn’t that good enough?

      1. The only real question there is is it Janet or Chrissy. I was always more of a Janet guy myself.

        1. I once saw an episode of Three’s Company where Mr. Roper saw something happening between the three of his tenants and misconstrued it. Very amusing.

          1. They did at least replace him with Don Knotts at some point which was an improvement.

  19. People Are Less Gullible Than You Think

    As demonstrated by the number of people with a popular view of socialism?

  20. And yet a substantial portion of the population think that Marxism will work “this time”

    Of course I don’t think that is due to a con or deception, just gross naivety.

  21. ‘Christians still act as if God were an agent who could only pay attention to one thing at a time…’ This isn’t at all true. I doubt very many Christians prescribe to the thinking that God only pays attention to one thing at a time. In fact the Bible states it completely differently, that God is aware of everything that is happening, all the time. Talk about gullible, the author obviously has only a passing acquaintance with Christianity.

  22. This entire article seems based on a very dubious assertion. That one can somehow ‘fool’ the frontal lobe and test whether it has been fooled – as if that is the intention of the mass manipulation to begin with.

    Everything I have seen and experienced re this indicates the process is:
    1. Create or invoke a strong emotional reaction to a thing/event via our limbic system. This automatically reduces any individualist/cognitive attempt to interpret the thing. Because the whole point is that ‘action is needed NOW. No time to think or contemplate our navels.’ And the more other people around us go along with that picture of external reality, the more we will too. We may resist the notion that this works – but it is solely because we like to cling to the delusion that we humans are unique – rational – individual – in charge of our futures. But it is precisely when the herd is scared, frenzied – in action – that that notion is proven a delusion. We are just an animal. And the more we learn that that is what we are – the easier it is for some to manipulate that knowledge to ‘domesticate’ the rest of us.

    2. Once we are in that public mode of – take action NOW; then only one item is allowed on the public agenda – what do we do about this NOW. That may give each of us the impression that we are acting rationally because it appears rational. We are looking at options and choices and all the stuff of ‘rationality’. But in fact, we are excluding everything that doesn’t fit that agenda. And that exclusion will tend to persist forever. Just look at the post 9/11 ‘terrorists are now a threat’. We are still in permawar everywhere and acquiescing to strip-searches at airports – with not a fucking peep from anyone. Or the TARP banker bailout, where that first specter of pitchforks in the streets has led to a decade-plus of free money to pump up asset prices for those whose assets were ‘at-risk’ of repricing down. More debt-fueled asset bubble that is called ‘growth’ – with nary a peep here in the US.

    Are we less gullible to individually targeted scams like Nigerian princes in need of our bank account info? Probably – and so fucking what. Those individual scams are completely irrelevant compared to mass societal scams.

  23. I make a big amount online work . How ??? Just u can done also with this site and u can do it Easily 2 step one is open link next is Click on Tech so u can done Easily now u can do it also here

    ……………………. Read more

  24. Please order your “I Am Not Gullible” T-shirts by mailing cash to this address…

    1. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

  25. I ve made USD66,000 so far this year w0rking 0nline and I’m a fulltime student. I’m using an 0nline business opportunity I heard about and I’vemade such great m0ney. It’s really user friendly AKe and I’m just so happy thatI found out about it. Here’s what I’ve been doing……. Click it here  

    1. *The whole article* is about not being gullible.

  26. By default we veer on the side of being resistant to new ideas.

    Gullibility is not about embracing new ideas. Its insufficient suspicion when someone tells you something.

    Progressives can be gullible – they take the statements of their college professors at face value without subjecting them to examination (especially for how you accepting those statements benefits the person making them) – while also being really resistant to new ideas.

    Because by that time, they’re not new ideas. They’ve been slowly percolating throughout society for a generation and now are coming to fruition among a new generation who hasn’t heard anything else.

  27. Hi Everyone…………..

    I am making 80$ an hour… After been without work for 8 months, I started freelancing over this website and now I couldn’t be happier. After 3 months on my new job my monthly income is around 15k a month… Cause someone helped me telling me about this job now I am going to help somebody else…
    Check it out for yourself ..
    CLICK HERE►► HERE IS INFO

  28. I am creating an honest wage from home 3000 Dollars/week , that is wonderful, below a year agone i used to be unemployed during a atrocious economy. I convey God on a daily basis i used to be endowed these directions and currently it’s my duty to pay it forward and share it with everybody, Here is I started…… Read more

  29. “People Are Less Gullible Than You Think”

    Which is why many Liberals who comment on articles in the Washington Post (for example) think that the homicide rate is at an all time high, that hundreds of school kids are killed every year by assault weapons, and that everyone in the South is a racist redneck wearing a MAGA hat – when a minute or two on-line would show that none of this is true.

    It’s easy to be gullible if the lies fit your preconceptions.

  30. 60 million voters voted for trump, so yeah, I am saying gullibility is pretty high……….

  31. ★I get paid over $90 every hour telecommuting with 2 children at home. I never thought I’d have the option to do it however my closest companion gains over 10k a month doing this and she persuaded me to attempt. The potential with this is unending. Heres what I’ve been doing…….Read MoRe

  32. Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic post.Thanks Again. Really Great.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.