Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ah ah ah, now... A little too soon.

Poor judge.
He thought he was reading from the 2014 script, but it was the 2020 script. There are penalties for giving away spoilers to this story, you know.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Historical blindness

Here's something to consider.

The 20th century saw tens of millions of people dead at the hands of government. Largely leftist, socialist government. And we're not talking mere 'mistakes were made' deaths in large part, not accidental deaths, but out and out planned 'let's kill all these innocent people' deaths.

But religion gets tagged as the big existential threat by person after person.

Communism saw the rise of Lysenkoism, and suppressed research across the board in the name of ideological purity, complete with scientists being sent to gulags.

People don't know about this. But they damn well know about Galileo being harassed several centuries ago, and say religion is anti-science.

Religious people were murdered by socialists throughout the 20th century - churches destroyed, clergy threatened, faithful sent to re-education camps or just plain killed.

But atheists are the ones who have been historically bullied.

What amazes me about the above is not the facts themselves, but how so much of this data has been systematically wiped out of our common cultural memory. An amazing trick, and I wonder how it happened.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

He who makes a claim, has a burden

You should always be on guard against a person who is enthusiastic to assign burdens of proof in any exchange, and the best way to be on guard is to remember this: Whoever makes a claim, has a burden.

If a man claims that God exists, the burden is on him to argue and provide evidence for his claim. And if a man claims that God does not exist, the burden is on him to argue and provide evidence for his claim.

And so on, with every claim around, until you start hitting axioms.

While you're at it, never accept the following excuses: "But it's impossible to prove a negative!" "It's really hard to show that something DOESN'T exist!" If it's extremely difficult to satisfactorily support a given claim, the proper response isn't to weaken the burden, but to weaken the strength with which the claim is committed to.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to separate a sincere pro-lifer from an insincere one

An easy test. I doubt it will catch 100% of all false-positive cases, but I suspect it will catch most.

Ask this question: "Do you think reducing the number of abortions is important enough that men and women should be encouraged to alter, control or even discourage their sexual behaviors and desires to achieve that goal?"

This is a radioactive question for many people, because sex is supposed to be sacrosanct. Nothing can infringe on those acts or desires if they're consensual (at least while the crazier feminists are just barely restrained). And in our culture, answering affirmatively to this question is pretty well sufficient to separate one from the progressive mob. It's the cultural equivalent of a Christian spitting on a cross.

Catholics may object that a possible answer to my question is 'Use contraception!', so there's a loophole. In this case, I think it's a positive byproduct of this question. There's an intellectual payoff for the concession that encouraging contraception use is yet another form of control over sexual behavior.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What conservatives are not

Lately, I've had a theme going on with these posts lately: I point at the seemingly perpetual, incoherent rage among "progressives", I note how seemingly widespread it is, and I ask what conservatives - or hell, just plain non-"progressives" - are to do about it. I haven't offered up much on that front except to argue that 'reasoning with them' mostly isn't an option. These are not people amenable to sitting down and discussing things with those who disagree with them, at least not when it comes to issues rather than methods. They regard political or cultural disagreement with visceral hatred, an indication that they are dealing with subhumans who are to be wiped out culturally, or through the machinations of the state, end of story. You cannot reason with people for whom a mob mentality is a way of life, and hatred is a default attitude towards simple dissent.

And I admit, I've wondered if the proper response to such people is tit for tat. "Progressives" draw power - real political, gets-results power - not just from their outrage, but from the mob's resistance to reason. People who can be reasoned with can be talked down - they may well be convinced they should go away empty handed, because what they wanted was unfair, or a bad idea. Mobs are not reasoned with - they are either crushed or appeased, and appeasement is usually the default response because it costs less up front. On a certain level, they've figured that out, and the smarter ones have decided to therefore keep the rage machine going 24/7 whenever possible.

So why shouldn't conservatives do the same?

I've had trouble putting the 'why we shouldn't' into words until very recently. In fact, on the surface? It seemed like the only response we could offer, at least if we wanted to survive. Let's misread and misrepresent our opponent's intentions, their desires, their meanings. Let's try to match anger with anger, let's crucify a progressive for a single verbal misstep, or anything we could dishonestly paint as a misstep. It works for the "progressives." It may work for us. Is that not reason enough, if we're dealing with enemies who are historically bloodthirsty when they get into power? It makes sense on the surface.

But I don't think it's desirable, and I don't think it would work. It's not just that there are downsides to that kind of thing (progressives, when lacking an enemy, tend to eat their own - and let's not forget the obvious practical, policy-related downsides of refusing to admit the possibility of being wrong.) I have a strong suspicion that conservatives in general aren't psychologically suited for perpetual, hair-trigger outrage. For most of us, a state of calm is a desirable thing. We're after something other than revolutions and the excitement of perpetually chasing down dragons and threats - our collective natural response to heretics in our midst seems to be to expel them and get on with our lives, not ceaselessly hunt for them. Even when we're faced with threats, we tend to react by building walls. If our neighborhood becomes threatening, pitched battles are a last resort - we're more likely to leave for more peaceful locales. Put short, we don't have the progressive love of rage and outbursts. We don't "trigger" so easily, or with such animation.

So no. Even if it could be justified in a sense, I don't think conservatives would be wise to mimic the progressives. We would be outgunned on that front.

At the same time, we can't just ignore this anymore. We cannot just roll our eyes at the rampaging rage-machine when it's gotten as big as it has. So if we can't match rage with rage, then what's left?

I tentatively have an answer, and I'll post about it later. But for now, I offer my current analysis up for consideration and response.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Another way to drive the point home

Here's something that may be unknown to some.

There's a pretty famous scene (along the lines of the Brawndo debate from Idiocracy) in Billy Madison where a the moderator of a quiz gives the ultimate smackdown to Billy Madison. What a vicious, complete denunciation that guy gives out - and in a perfect tone of voice. Ouch.

What less people are probably aware of (Billy Madison wasn't the most popular of Sandler's movies, as far as I know) is that, immediately before that smackdown, the crowd's reaction to Billy's speech is shown.

He received completely enthusiastic, uproarious applause.

Now, this is all fictional. But it helps illustrate why I say I have zero surprise when I read about how progressives are reacting to this or that bit of evidence or political discovery with arguments and claims that are absolutely, positively absurd, contradictory, or even stupid on examination. Because in a way, it really doesn't matter. The only reason it mattered for Billy is because a moderator with integrity was in control. If that same guy were simply part of the crowd, he would have been overwhelmingly drowned out. If the goal was persuasion rather than 'making sense' or 'giving a good argument', Billy would have won.

In politics, there's typically no moderators except self-moderation.

Exactly how abundant do you find that to be?

The point is that responding to progressives of this type by taking their arguments apart and showing where they fail - if the goal is to convince said progressives they are wrong - won't work. You're playing a different game than they are, and there's a good chance they're not even listening to you.

You need another way, if that's your goal.

Hobby Lobby outrage, or trying to reason with a swarm of locusts

Malcolm has a post up where he marvels at the inane reactions progressives are having to the Hobby Lobby ruling - the suggestion that the justices being male somehow invalidate their arguments, or that an employer not being forced (by the government!) to pay for contraception is 'getting the government in their vagina' and the like. He seems legitimately surprised at the fallout from it all.

I'm more surprised at his surprise, and the surprise of other conservatives.

I've said before that the cultural gains that have been had by progressives were not borne on the back of powerful arguments or reason, or anything close to it. It has been powered, almost exclusively, not just by emotional appeals and rage, but by striving to avoid the very act of sincerely reasoning, of taking criticisms and the possibility of being wrong about one's position (or, God forbid, immoral about one's behavior) seriously. By and large, the modern progressive reasons the way Communists dealt with justice - any arguments or attempts at fairness are orchestrated for show, with the results decided in advance of any discussion. And lately, even the attempts at fairness have been discarded, because that would superficially suggest that at least attempting to understand and fairly represent one's intellectual opponents is the right thing to do.

For a lot of these people - more and more, I'm convinced, the majority of them - it's pointless to try and reason with them. Even the ones smart enough to realize that their slogans are nonsensical and their positions flawed or contradictory also tend to be smart enough to realize that *encouraging* rational, fair discourse will only harm them - so they end up simply encouraging the mob mentality, the senseless slogans, and all the rest.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying there's no room to criticize the Hobby Lobby decision - I'm not talking about mere dissenters here. I'm talking about the people screaming that this is a harbinger of theocracy, that by not forcing businesses to pay for contraception we're getting the government to meddle in "reproductive choices", and how the decision brings us back to the "dark ages". Yes, fine, they're reasoning poorly. They are acting crazy. I grant all that. But crazier still is trying to reason with such people, or acting as if the sort of person who thinks "The majority was MALE therefore they are WRONG" is the sort of person you'd normally expect rational discourse to work on to begin with.

I asked recently how to deal with these people - how to approach and converse with the sort of person who thinks George Will argued women want to be raped, and now how to deal with people who think the Hobby Lobby decision portends a theocracy. That's still an open question, but one thing is clear: reasoning with them is not an option, for the same reason the guys at Monsanto do not recommend persuasive arguments as a way to discourage locusts from ravaging your farmland. It's a pointless, even senseless gesture.