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Birther addiction

imageThe closest thing I can come up with for such irrational optimism is gambling, only in the case of the lottery, somebody wins. The birthers will never win.

– Dr. Conspiracy, June 2013

I have a collection of insights that help me make decisions and through which I try to make sense of the world. One of those insights is the addictive nature of intermittent reinforcement1, thought to be a mechanism behind gambling addiction. Intermittent reinforcement (sometimes behavior is rewarded, and sometimes not) can be more effective than positive reinforcement in animal models. I apply this principle in understanding primitive religion (throw maiden into volcano to make the crops grow next season), to risky speculative financial behavior2, and to my own hope that someday I will break even playing Windows Solitaire.

Michael Shermer’s book The Believing Brain explains the conspiracy theory phenomenon through the physiology of the brain and how particular regions of the brain carry out tasks such as pattern recognition and nonsense rejection. (Conspiracy theorists have too much of the former and not enough of the latter.) I think, however, that intermittent reinforcement may also be significant in understanding the extremes of birtherism.

My opening quotation goes against my thesis in that it suggests that birthers are never rewarded, but that isn’t true. Then never win in court, and they never win presidential elections, but they certainly feel like they win or they anticipate winning. Is not the expectation of a reward a happy thought, a reinforcement in and of itself? Orly Taitz often reads signs of victory. In 2009, Taitz misinterpreted something from Judge Carter and proclaimed that her lawsuit would would go to trial on the merits, which would have been vindication for Taitz, and just recently Taitz read into a dismissal from a Maryland judge a promise of a favorable outcome. Sheriff Arpaio’s involvement with Obama’s birth certificate was hailed widely by birthers as the certain undoing of Obama and Zullo/Gallups do everything they can to foster anticipation. It seems to me that the roller coaster swings between exuberant optimism and loss, experienced by the birthers, mirrors the feelings of a gambler’s winning and losing.

This brings me to a September 2013 article by Cody Robert Judy, birther litigant and presidential candidate, titled “The Birthers are Losers! The Birthers Are Winners!” Despite some misinformation about ObamaCare, the article is pretty mainstream. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually have any examples of birthers winning. Never mind. :oops:

Even blogging can be a response to intermittent rewards, when some articles are well-received and some barely commented on. There’s that anticipation of one big scoop.


1I always called it “variable rewards.”

2I just finished an audio book project (as a proof checker) of The Three Clerks by Anthony Trollope, which contains the story of a young man ruined by speculation.

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23 Responses to Birther addiction

  1. avatar
    Upgradedd March 16, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    I don’t bestow compliments often… Here is some positive reinforcement for you.
    I’ve been reading your blog for 3 years and commented for the first time last week.

    You are very good at what you do and more diligent, persistent, polite and patient in dealing with the “birfaholics” than what they deserve and in a manner I could never achieve .
    Thanks…

  2. avatar
    bgansel9 March 16, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Any Day Now!

    Is it just me or does there seem to be a huge uptick in the efforts of birthers recently?

    Vogt, Strunk and Moore are all pushing for hearings right now. It seemed to me the birthers stopped filing these silly cases for a while and now are starting back up again, or am I wrong?

  3. avatar
    Joey March 16, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    As a companion piece to studying Operant Conditioning/reinforcement theory, I suggest reading or re-reading The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.
    Wikipedia ‘s synopsis: “The book analyzes and attempts to explain the motives of the various types of personalities that give rise to mass movements; why and how mass movements start, progress and end; and the similarities between them, whether religious, political, radical or reactionary. Hoffer argues that even when their stated goals or values differ mass movements are interchangeable, that adherents will often flip from one movement to another, and that the motivations for mass movements are interchangeable. Thus, religious, nationalist and social movements, whether radical or reactionary, tend to attract the same type of followers, behave in the same way and use the same tactics and rhetorical tools. As examples, the book often refers to Communism, Fascism, National Socialism, Christianity, Protestantism, and Islam.”

  4. avatar
    alg March 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Sort of like Pavlov’s dog. Now, if only we can teach these people to roll over and play dead. :-)

  5. avatar
    Joey March 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    alg:
    Sort of like Pavlov’s dog.Now, if only we can teach these people to roll over and play dead.

    Now THAT was funny! HEAL, birthers, heal.

  6. avatar
    #Birther Watch March 16, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Hi, my name is #Birther Watch and I’ve been addicted to birfers for over 5 years, lol

  7. avatar
    Jim March 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    alg:
    Sort of like Pavlov’s dog.Now, if only we can teach these people to roll over and play dead.

    And to quit drooling on the carpet with every Taitz/Zullo announcement! :D

  8. avatar
    Keith March 16, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Jim: And to quit drooling on the carpet with every Taitz/Zullo announcement!

    ummm… That isn’t drool… they just get excited, that’s all.

  9. avatar
    Yoda March 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

    Bitther ism is a cult religion.

  10. avatar
    RanTalbott March 16, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Joey: HEAL, birthers, heal.

    Sounds like Preacher Gallups getting carried away by his enthusiasm, and forgetting what kind of congregation he’s addressing.

  11. avatar
    Jim March 16, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    OMG!!!

    OH NO!!!

    After reading Doc’s article…I just know I’ve got it.

    Please help me!

    Every time I see one of those birthers…I just wanna!!!

    http://oi43.tinypic.com/14e408h.jpg

    ANTI-BIRTHER FEVER!!!!

  12. avatar
    bgansel9 March 16, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    From Cody Robert Judy’s post: “We’re not devastated as much if we do lose because we understand the game can be played again and we’re not as cocky when we win understanding that we could lose and be expected to “be a good loser” at the same time.”

    Hawaii is always going to verify Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Sorry birthers, you can’t win that one, ever!

  13. avatar
    Bonsall Obot March 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Cody Robert Judy sez:

    … we’re not as cocky when we win …

    Says the Birfer who has never won, ever.

  14. avatar
    Benji Franklin March 17, 2014 at 1:23 am #

    bgansel9: From Cody Robert Judy’s post: “We’re not devastated as much if we do lose because we understand the game can be played again

    Karl Gall Oops!: “Okay, Listeners, we’ve got Robber Cooty Jody and God on the phone with us today to debate the Presidential Eligibility of President Obama! Go ahead, Rupert Codeine JuJuBee.”

    Coney Rockford Julie:” I put it to you, Almighty God and Creator of the Universe, that Obama is ineligible to the Presidency of the United States of America for any one, some, or all of a thousand different Constitutional, statutory, moral, or petty reasons. I rest my two brain cells.”

    Karl Gall Oops!: “Well, who could dispute the fact that we are about to hear the final word on Obama’s eligibility from a source that every Obot will have to admit is the ultimate determiner of all facts, and speak freely, God, because here on Free Dumb Fridays, we’re not afraid to call a Black President a spade! So let the Obot devils have it oh Ruler of All Things, as you settle this issue once and for all!”

    God (booming voice coming from everywhere directly into every human ear):”Uh, Karl, let me be clear about this, Obama is in every way, Constitutionally, statutorily, morally, and hygienically eligible and qualified to be our United States President. Additionally, I unequivocally state that every Birther objection and allegation challenging Obama’s eligibility is 100% bogus, so help me…….uh…. so help me, ME.”

    Karl Gall Oops!: “Well, we must have had a poor connection with God there because we couldn’t hear-“

    Kobe Roblert Shooby:” I heard it here, Karl, and I’m lighting the fuse on my exploding bible so’s this smart-alec God, at least will feel my wrath no matter where it goes off. Has he forgotten? He’s EVERYWHERE!”

    Karl Gall Oops!: “Hang on there, Coly Rhomboid Scooty, I was telling our listeners we couldn’t quite make out what God was trying to say, but we’ve got John on the line who comments on Doc C’s site, what say you, John? And what’s that clanking racket coming over your line?”

    John: “Oh, that noise is the rock-tumbler that keeps me from having to learn to use Spell-Check. But as for what God said, what he SAID was not as important as what he DIDN’T say. He was critically evasive in not responding to the most important category of qualification that Corduroy Robarf Jookee mentioned. I can’t trust God’s confirmation that Obama is Constitutionally, statutorily, and morally eligible to the Presidency when he very suspiciously did not respond AT ALL to the part of Colon Rollert Junee’s charge that Obama was ineligible due to God knows how many PETTY REASONS!” For me, that’s the whole bull of whacks! Case closed – Obama’s ineligible!”

    God (loudly from the Heavens):”No, I said Obama is completely eligible to the presidency in every way!”

    Karl Gall Oops!:” Terrible garbled connection, -could you hang up there, God? We’ve got perhaps a more knowledgable expert on the phone now, Sherodd Run Dough, who publishes the Pest and He-Male, what’s your take on this Sherodd?”

    Sherodd Run Dough:”My headlines tomorrow will be, REPORT: Is God Running Scared From Obots?, and PAPER: The 2016 Election – THIS TIME, Can Cozy Rah Pert Moody Make a Name For Himself?”

    Karl Gall Oops!:”Excellent articles, Sherrod. And, honestly, we’ve got to put this response from God behind us, so I’m going to ask Cokee Rahbort Joosie , if he’s still on the line, to accept your expert tease, and see if we can get a really final and impartial non-partisan answer from you on Obama’s eligibility.”

    Coney Rockford Julie:” Okay, I put it to you, Almighty Sherrod Run Dough and Creator of the Pest and He-Male, that Obama is ineligible to the Presidency of the United States of America for any one, some, or all of a thousand different Constitutional, statutory, moral, or petty reasons. I rest my one surviving brain cell.”

    Sherodd Run Dough:”I agree, he’s completely ineligible! And that’s official!”
    Karl Gall Oops!:”WOW! Finally, there it is – the Universe-shattering MARCH announcement confirming that Obama is ineligible! And it’s in Sherrod’s major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major, major media!”

    Co-Pay Roburke Juicy:”Sherrod, if you’re still on the line – how was that again, that you said, I could make a name for myself?”

    God (pulling out a hunk of hair and a piece of bone):”Good LORD!”

  15. avatar
    bgansel9 March 17, 2014 at 1:54 am #

    Benji Franklin: “Well, who could dispute the fact that we are about to hear the final word on Obama’s eligibility from a source that every Obot will have to admit is the ultimate determiner of all facts, and speak freely, God…”

    Well, if God DID inspire every word of the Bible (I don’t honestly believe that, but I understand many of our birther friends do) then I’d like to remind them of a certain scripture (not that I want to get into religious scripture wars here, but, I wonder how they can hold the view that God inspired every word and yet act contrary to that book in so many ways – case in point):

    “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” – Romans 13:1

  16. avatar
    Benji Franklin March 17, 2014 at 2:14 am #

    bgansel9: I wonder how they can hold the view that God inspired every word and yet act contrary to that book in so many ways

    They don’t hold the view that God inspired every word – only the words they think they will be advantaged by emphasizing OR distorting.

  17. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 17, 2014 at 2:32 am #

    “Even blogging can be a response to intermittent rewards, when some articles are well-received and some barely commented on. There’s that anticipation of one big scoop.”

    It’s a great blog, Doc. And seems to me your articles are always well-conceived even though sometimes I’m not in commenting mode. And, this last week, you out-scooped em all.

    Lawyering is definitely a profession of intermittent rewards. And some of the best cases are real long shots and may be very controversial.

    I guess life is about intermittent rewards. It certainly isn’t about consistent rewards.

  18. avatar
    interestedbystander March 17, 2014 at 3:56 am #

    A really thought provoking piece Doc – thank you.

    As until recently a long term cancer patient, I spend quite a lot of time on advanced cancer forums. You see the same sort of thing there. A random cure with no evidenciary basis will be taken up on the word of a single anonymous poster and lauded, while well researched alternatives are derided as preposterous, always with the logic that if it worked we would have heard about it. To which I reply I am telling you about it but you won’t listen – and if you won’t listen to me, here are 200 academic papers that agree with me.

    I also have the tiniest measurable smidgen of sympathy for birthers, because as a campaigner for medical marijuana, I am used to the eye rolling and casual dismissal of real evidence – let alone fake evidence. It can be terribly frustrating – because in this case, it isn’t politics, real lives are at stake. For someone like me that is pragmatic in the extreme, and just likes whatever works with the minimum of harmful side effects, to have my government lie to me about it’s efficacy is quite disturbing.

  19. avatar
    ArthurWankspittle March 17, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    Birthers are rewarded but it is only from within their own ranks. To continue the gambling analogy, it is like a casino stooge being sat next to them saying “Ooh,you were so close.Ooh you nearly won” but the player is too stupid to realise that continuing to play only benefits the casino.

  20. avatar
    Bovril March 17, 2014 at 5:44 am #

    Based on a lot of the terminology of the typical Birther, there is a substantial linkage to an apocalyptic blind faith meme.

    I tend to call it

    Cliques, Clades and Confusion or Intolerance, Incoherence and (Logical) Incontinence

    The schizophrenic splintering and mutual fear and loathing between the “faithful”

    The belief system tends to, amongst other items…..

    A firm hold on unsubstantiated “magical” thought,
    Predetermination with little if any belief in free will
    “Revealed knowledge”
    “Vengeful” Lord (tres Old Testament)
    Inevitable adversarial conflict
    Black or White, no possibility of Grey
    Inability to discriminate between fact and fantasy
    Rapid movement from Follower to Messiah to False Prophet
    Shunning and Shaming
    Intability to accept “unacceptable” thought
    Red Queen Hypothesis and Syndrome

    “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

    “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”

  21. avatar
    The Magic M March 17, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    ArthurWankspittle: To continue the gambling analogy

    Their legal shenanigans lead me to believe they do see the court system as some kind of gamble where you are bound to win once, provided you play long enough. As in “no way a coin will come up heads 200 times in a row, tails are bound to come up any time now” = “no way we will lose 200 court cases in a row, we’ll find our honest judge any day now”.

    ArthurWankspittle: it is like a casino stooge being sat next to them saying “Ooh,you were so close.Ooh you nearly won”

    Or somebody saying “Look dude, you’ve tried Blackjack and failed, why don’t you come over to my friends for some rounds of Poker, you’ll fare much better there”.

    Or somebody saying “Look man, this casino is obviously cheating, but I know this honest back room casino where you are bound to win, just follow me”.

  22. avatar
    Rickey March 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    While the gambling analogy makes sense to me, I also see a similarity between birthers and people who fall for the 419 scams which apparently originated in Nigeria. Once a person is invested in conspiracy theories – whether that investment is financial or an investment in time and effort – it is very difficult to let go because it is hard to accept that the investment was based upon false pretenses.

    One of my liberal friends was in D.C. on 9/11, and he was in a taxi when the Pentagon was hit. He insists that he heard a report on WTOP (24-hour news) that a truck bomb had exploded next to the building. He was convinced that the Pentagon was not struck by a plane. I obtained a transcript of WTOP’s broadcast that morning, and there is no mention of a truck or a bomb. I showed it to my friend, who read it and insisted that it had been scrubbed.

    He also insists that if there had been a plane, he would have seen or heard it. When I pinned him down on where he was at the time, it turned out that he was a few miles east of the Pentagon. American Flight 77 struck the west side of the Pentagon, so the plane was never close enough to my friend for him to see it or hear it.

    He still believes that American Flight 77 never struck the Pentagon.

  23. avatar
    Keith March 17, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    Rickey: While the gambling analogy makes sense to me, I also see a similarity between birthers and people who fall for the 419 scams which apparently originated in Nigeria.

    I don’t disagree with your point here, but I just thought I’d fix your misunderstanding about the origins of ’419 scams’. These scams have been around forever, in one variation or another, they have just had different names. ’419 scam’ is a recent description.

    From Wikipedia ’419 scams’:

    There are many variations on this type of scam, including advance-fee fraud, Fifo’s Fraud, Spanish Prisoner Scam, the black money scam scam and the Detroit-Buffalo scam. The number “419″ refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud.