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March 30, 2017

I often marvel at all the things that fill our lives with progress from FM radio  to the interweb. I'm awed by skyscrapers and cantilever bridges and Moorish arches. I'm even impressed with plastic spatulas and indoor plumbing. The legacy of our progress is filled with amazing things. But when I'm in the world, people act so stupid. They cut me off to slam on brakes at the next red light. They leave the cardiologist and order the double bacon cheeseburger and a diet soda. These people are morons. I see stupidity in human action everywhere. Yet if everybody was as stupid as I suspect then the world would look more like some topsy-turvy Wonderland, would it not? 


No, people do too many amazing things to label humankind as just plain stupid.


So why, then, do people act in such infuriatingly backwards ways? And why do they stick to these ways even after the overwhelming evidence proves they're dead wrong? They have delusions. Let's talk about plain folks and their delusions.


Recently, a couple low-ranking elected officials in Snohomish County, WA made news because they were blatantly racist in a staffing meeting. Called out, they then decided to double down on their behavior. The men had engaged in a discussion weighing the pros and cons of hiring "cheaper" Mexican paramedics. Someone interjected that these Mexican medics' work would be inferior because, well, you know, immigrants. (BTW one of the commissioners was named Chan, clearly an immigrant of East Asian decent.) 


Racism isn't so delusional as it is an inferiority complex in disguise. This story gets delusional when the men became subject to a reprimand at the next public meeting. The commission they sat on introduced a motion to impose disciple which the two voted down in a 2-2 tie. That's right. They got busted for racist banter in a staff meeting. They faced a consequence at the commission. And at the public meeting they voted to absolve themselves. Delusional. When the meeting's public record was released they faced an even harsher rebuke.


Infamous delusional thinking came a dozen years ago with the fake claim that vaccines cause autism. It was wrong. The single study at the root of the autism scare was proven to be a farce. The study's author even admitted to the misinformation. But like a hacking cough that will not quiet, the idea persisted. The more doctors refuted it, the more some folks believed. Diseases  we'd eradicated in the US like small pox came roaring back because of a refusal to vaccinate children. The communities least likely to vaccinate were areas like Marin County, California, places with affluent and well-educated residents who weren't weren't stupid. They were absolutely delusional.


Which returns us to the question, why do so many seem so stupid?


Simply put, they'd been allowed to wallow in their delusions of identity and status. Parents believed if everyone else vaccinated they wouldn't need to run that "risk" with their kid.  The Snohomish commissioners believed they could operate as racists without consequence, delusional about the changing values of their community. People will remain delusional as long as others allow those delusions to go unanswered. 


Delusions are very comforting.


Delusional thinking might even be a key survival trait. A good delusion allow us to continue on with confidence when our situation is truly dire. That works in the short run. But these delusions collect like dryer lint. After a while that lint will catch fire. If they're not wiped clean long-held delusions tend to make us seem, stupid. Like the guy who lets his Maytag catch fire. The final question is how much pain and embarassment are we willing to endure to maintain these pet delusions? 



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