L. Neil Smith's
Number 327, July 10, 2005

"Relegation Nation"

Hothouse Orchids versus Desert Cacti
by Ali Hassan Massoud

Exclusive to TLE

Psychologists and salespeople call it the "chameleon effect". People are thought to be more trustworthy and likeable if they imitate the body language of the person they're speaking with. A new experimental study has now shown that software programs can use this technique successfully as well.

"Researchers", reports Wired News, "at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab strapped 69 student volunteers into an immersive, 3-D virtual-reality rig, where test subjects found themselves sitting across the table from a 'digital agent'-- a computer-generated man or woman -- programmed to deliver a three-minute pitch advocating a notional university security policy requiring students to carry ID whenever they're on campus."

Moreover, most of the dumbasses bought into it too. So much for the "elite university meritocracy" theory of social evolution I guess. In my old neighborhood in the working-class community of Dearborn, Michigan, we would laugh in the face of such an idiotic notion. (IE: That code disguised as a person could convince us to do anything against our own interests).

Maybe it is a cultural thing, but most of us that were raised there were born and/or lived under some very repressive governments or had within our households or extended families someone who was. Therefore, the trust level for the government and other ruling entities are between infinitesimally small and zilch on their street cred continuum.

Apparently though the elite minds at Stanford are a different matter. They were mostly all raised in suburban comfort and given the best that life has to offer. Their beauty, style, and level of accomplishment are breathtaking as well. These kids have been to Europe, interned with think-tanks and major corporations, pounded nails with Habitat for Humanity, speak three languages, and can read music. So one imagines them as worldly and sophisticated young men and women eh? Nah, and not by a long shot either.

They remind me of the rare and exotic orchids I used to see when I visited the University of Michigan Botanical Garden in Ann Arbor when I was a kid. The UMBG had gathered plants of spectacular beauty and subtle delicacy from all over the world for their collection. However, the catch was this: They couldn't live very long if at all outside the hothouse. I suspect as well that if these Stanford kids were removed from the totally optimized environment created and maintained for them they would, like those delicate flowers, wither and die in less than a week. So too I suspect would the rest of the delicate flowers of America's elite universities if they were ever taken from their artificially maintained and optimized environment by some cruel twist of fate.

Yet these are the people that will eventually run the corporations, staff the law firms, bureaucracies, media, and academia. Which is why they screw up so badly when confronted with circumstances and data arrays from outside their immediate experience. This is why when a welfare program is revealed to be unsustainable, they look for "reforms". When a terrorist event occurs in the US (perpetrated by Saudi Arabians based in America) they bomb and invade Iraq in response to it. Napoleon said he could forgive a commander who is overwhelmed, but not one who is taken by surprise. Yet more than four years after the WTC attack and after billions of dollars have been spent on "homeland security", some nutball can still fly a Cessna right up to the Capitol building unchallenged and cause mass panic. The elites have a plan for everything except what actually seems to happen. This is the nature of America's elites.

The hothouse orchids from Stanford and the rest of the elite schools can write brilliant papers on national security while at graduate school, but have to run hell-for-leather out the door when a confused Cessna pilot buzzes them. Now see, the knurly old "desert cacti" at Farood's Coffeehouse in Dearborn, who have lived and survived under Saddam, Mubarak, the Ayatollahs, dictators, Shahs, and sheiks, would have no difficulty at all figuring out what to do. If a plane goes where it a danger to public safety, it is blown out of the air by a missile. If a program doesn't have the revenue to fund its obligations, you raise taxes to cover its deficit or else the program is cut back or eliminated. Is this subtle? No, but it doesn't take a Stanford master's degree to figure out either. It takes experience in real life.

This society could use a lot more input from the knurly old cacti and lot less from the hothouse orchids.



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