How To Convince An Ethnic Group To Kill Itself

I am told that killing a human individual is more difficult than people anticipate, at least. It takes more effort than expected, the sounds and smells are worse, and the cleanup is far more involved, at least according to local officers who track down first-time murderers. But killing off a whole ethnic group might be even easier.

It seems like something that should be done in some old-fashioned manner, like the British with their Boer concentration camps, the open pit executions in Eastern Europe, or the Communists starving whole regions into submission. In reality, it is more like hacking a computer: you just have to hack minds and lead them, in pursuit of some illusion, over a cliff and to their deaths.

We can be hacked through mental viruses, or even just deceptive language, because humans have programmable minds that respond more intensely to symbolic data than to direction perception of their surroundings, mainly because the latter requires much effort:

Book One, first verse, of the Book of John in the New Testament says cryptically: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This has baffled Biblical scholars, but I interpret it as follows: Until there was speech, the human beast could have no religion, and consequently no God. In the beginning was the Word. Speech gave the beast its first ability to ask questions, and undoubtedly one of the first expressed his sudden but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what this agonizing struggle called life is all about. To this day, the beast needs, can’t live without, some explanation as the basis of whatever status he may think he possesses. For that reason, extraordinary individuals have been able to change history with their words alone, without the assistance of followers, money, or politicians.

This means that if you find a way to put into people’s heads that their demise is the right thing to do, or provides the best life possible for them, they will follow their doom as if it were their salvation. This reminds us of a great metaphor but also great hoax, the parable of the lemming, in which we were programmed to think ill of a species of small rodents purely by media manipulation:

So why is the myth of mass lemming suicide so widely believed? For one, it provides an irresistible metaphor for human behavior. Someone who blindly follows a crowd—maybe even toward catastrophe—is called a lemming. Over the past century, the myth has been invoked to express modern anxieties about how individuality could be submerged and destroyed by mass phenomena, such as political movements or consumer culture.

But the biggest reason the myth endures? Deliberate fraud. For the 1958 Disney nature film White Wilderness, filmmakers eager for dramatic footage staged a lemming death plunge, pushing dozens of lemmings off a cliff while cameras were rolling. The images—shocking at the time for what they seemed to show about the cruelty of nature and shocking now for what they actually show about the cruelty of humans—convinced several generations of moviegoers that these little rodents do, in fact, possess a bizarre instinct to destroy themselves.

When you think about the news media or entertainment, most of what it shows us is people who are engaging in self-destructive behavior and having fun or at least seeming important for doing so. And there is no mention of the cliff, as if it did not exist at all.

Why So Much Of Published Scientific Research Is Meaningless

At Genocide Report, we thrive on scientific research. However, just as when shopping for used cars, you have to choose carefully. Most research is sponsored and reflects either (1) the needs of those paying or (2) a desire to say something that flatters or interests the audience, in a process that makes science into entertainment.

Others have published insightful critiques. Consider this criticism of peer review:

At this point we at the BMJ thought that we would change direction dramatically and begin to open up the process. We hoped that increasing the accountability would improve the quality of review. We began by conducting a randomized trial of open review (meaning that the authors but not readers knew the identity of the reviewers) against traditional review. It had no effect on the quality of reviewers’ opinions. They were neither better nor worse. We went ahead and introduced the system routinely on ethical grounds: such important judgements should be open and acountable unless there were compelling reasons why they could not be—and there were not.

Our next step was to conduct a trial of our current open system against a system whereby every document associated with peer review, together with the names of everybody involved, was posted on the BMJ’s website when the paper was published. Once again this intervention had no effect on the quality of the opinion. We thus planned to make posting peer review documents the next stage in opening up our peer review process, but that has not yet happened—partly because the results of the trial have not yet been published and partly because this step required various technical developments.

The final step was, in my mind, to open up the whole process and conduct it in real time on the web in front of the eyes of anybody interested. Peer review would then be transformed from a black box into an open scientific discourse.

In other words, peer review — a closed forum — is less effective than an open forum. This leads us to wonder why anyone would choose peer review unless their goal was to limit criticism. Among those who are counterparts in a profession, the primary self-interest burden consists of wanting to advance the profession itself, making people less critical.

This is consistent with what one famous survey of peer review found, which is that most findings are not reproducible or otherwise demonstrate scientists rejecting non-conformity data so that they can find facts to fit a theory, not a theory to fit all the facts:

The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance. Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.

Peer review functions as a bias and self-interest amplifier because it limits criticism to those with interests outside of the results themselves; people like to advance their careers, and they do so by generating interest per the nature of a utilitarian system such as ours, so the incentive for them is to approve of research on the basis of funding or popularity.

It’s something to think about as you read through the myriad of studies out there.