Quote of the day—M.E.

Perhaps this is almost too obvious/tautological/stupid to say, but although widespread change must eventually reach the majority, it does not often start there. Writer Rebecca Solnit put it this way:

Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. How the transformation happened is rarely remembered, in part because it’s compromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of center stage. Our hope and often our power.

I understand this, but thing that has always bothered the sociopath in me is the collective amnesia that everyone experiences. No one admits, I used to be homophobic but then I realized I was wrong. Instead there is rampant hypocrisy. There is no humility. There is no healthy skepticism of their feelings of moral certainty. The moral certainty just shifts beliefs, from anti to pro or vice versa.

April 1, 2016
Changing our minds
[I read M.E. because of the insights she has into the population at large and to a certain extent her self analysis. She, in essence, has no empathy for other people and tries to make rational sense of their actions. Because of her somewhat unique viewpoint she sees the nonsensical behavior and can generalize more quickly than I do. I find it fascinating to catch a glimpse of the world through her eyes.

The shifting of moral certainty applies to so many things. Gun ownership, religion, freedom of speech, due process, enumerated powers of the government, recreational drug use, equal rights for women, global cooling/warming/climate-change etc. People, in general, do not know and/or care to distinguish truth from falsity or right from wrong. They “just know”.

Politicians take advantage of this and claim political positions which they believe will yield the most votes. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Chavez, and many others in all countries were extremely popular in the beginning and in hindsight extraordinarily disastrous. It shouldn’t have taken hindsight. And with so many examples in history it shouldn’t take hindsight to see the errors being made today. But yet it appears to be the case.

Why is this? I think there are only three relatively easy to discern conditions necessary to predict the worst of, but of course not all, disasters.

  1. Many political options can be eliminated as “a bad idea” with very little analysis. But they are not eliminated because they are the same political options that are among the most powerful vote getters in a population that is unable to distinguish truth from falsity.
  2. A government which has essentially no limits on power.
  3. High social and/or economic stress.

When such a government is directed by people who either have no interest and/or ability to distinguish truth from falsity then disaster is nearly inevitable. It can easily become a powerful monster with an agenda of destruction with absolute moral certainty.

Welcome to the current political world of the United States.—Joe]


8 thoughts on “Quote of the day—M.E.

  1. Much of it stems from the disastrously short time-preference for politicians – the longest any of them have to worry about is six years (US senator) – and low skill / low information voters. So the pols push policies that look good in the short-term, much like a drug pusher flogs his product talking about how great the high will be. “Work hard, save, and invest” sounds a lot less sexy and cool than “promoting a social safety net for the working poor” for example.

  2. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that many politicians at all levels — federal, state, and local — are enormously invested in raising an entire generation of voters with no interest in discerning truth vs. falsity, who vote based on feelings rather than right or wrong, and have no compunctions whatsoever about abridging others’ rights to advance their own — for a while.

    Welcome to the current U.S. University system.

  3. Look a bit closer at her assumptions and you’ll find that she’s almost totally wrong on everything.

    “…when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist…”
    Uh, like when was that? I’ll say “absolutely never, not even close, you’ve got the wrong story pumped into your head” and leave it up to you to prove otherwise. It’s essentially Obama’s view of the U.S. as having been founded by racist patriarch imperialists on racist patriarchic imperialist principles and so on and on and blah blah blah.

    She does however make a decent conceptual point and about change, without any references to what the goal (what we are supposed to be changing into) might be.

    Mainly I smell the very typical leftist default positions being articulated in a way that makes her feel smart. Likely she’s read and enjoys Noam Chomsky.

  4. Al Sharpton, convicted slanderer, racial rabble raouser, is now a respected political adviser, TV pundit and social leader.
    Those who used to holler queer slogans during mass in St. Patrick’s Catherdral in NY City now lead their causes.
    Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, went from being a Democrat to a Republican who brought down the Soviet Union without a world war.

    So it can work both ways, going from “extreme” to “mainstream” and we should take advantage of being extreme, for our own purposes. Scream for constitutional carry long enough and you either get it, or get things closer to it than we are now.

  5. Joe,
    I find it difficult to pin down my own actual process for determining truth from falsity. When I think about it, I’m not determining anything other than what I trust. Are you saying that this is outside the norm and that I should have a concrete, set formula for finding truth? If so, what is yours?

    • My answers:
      1. First of all, my own observations. It’s necessary to apply some skepticism: “did I observe accurately? is this a valid generalization given the data? do I understand this stuff well enough to judge the data and justify those conclusions?”
      2. Second, observations and conclusions from others whose judgment I have come to trust. Trust comes from previous performance, and from having demonstrated intellectual integrity and competence. You’re essentially asking the same questions as under #1 above, but about that other person.
      3. Third, observation and conclusions from “recognized experts” if and only if I can convince myself that their status as expert is justified and that they are working in their actual area of expertise. Also, “expertise” only counts in subjects that legitimately qualify as science (such as math or physics, but not sociology, and only extremely rarely economics). Here too the questions are like those under #1 — do you feel comfortable that the answers are indeed “yes, this is valid”? If not, don’t rely on that “expert”.

      Some red flags — indications that a conclusion cannot be relied on, and (in nearly all cases) that its purveyor should not be relied on for anything at all:
      a. Argument from authority “trust me, I know what I’m talking about. You’re not expected to understand this”
      b. Secret data. “Here are the conclusions, but you can’t have the data they are based on”.
      c. Tampered data. “Sure, you can have the data. Here are the observations adjusted for seasonal variation”.
      d. Work outside one’s area of expertise. For example, doctors pontificating on gun control as if guns were bacteria, or William Shockley talking about genetics. If someone’s views are touted as expect judgments but the credentials held up as “proof” don’t fit, every statement attributed to that person is probably untrustworthy. An example would be a Nobel Peace prize.
      e. Opinion polls. Senator Whitehouse says that 65% of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity. But as I pointed out to the WSJ, if facts of nature were decided by opinion polls, we would not be here, because the earth would be flat and Columbus sailed off the edge.
      f. Intimidation: “if you disagree with this you must be evil and need to be punished”.
      g. Bad faith. In general, I don’t trust anything I hear from socialists, purely on the principle that they are people of bad faith who do not have the best interest of others in mind.
      h. Flawed logic. Look at the explanations, the chain of logic from observation to conclusion. If something in there isn’t clear, or especially if it actually looks wrong, challenge it. It might be an innocent mistake, but even mistakes often invalidate the conclusion. Or it may be a deliberate snow job that you happened to catch. (The answer you get will tell you which it is.)

    • Outside the norm? No. I used to think so because I learned it in grade school. But much later I learned that nearly all people treat it as if were something they learned in geometry class when they went on to business school. They believed it just didn’t matter to them. It didn’t sink into me until one time, in extreme frustration, I asked my ex-wife, “How do you determine truth from falsity?” Her answer was, “It depends upon on how I feel.” We went to high school together. We took four years of math, most of it in the same class, in high school and a multiple semesters of math in college. She got as good or better grades than I did in these classes. She knew how to do formal proofs. But, to her, this had no application in real life.

      That explained so much.

      I have since asked this of many people that I find myself being frustrated with when trying to arrive at what, to me, is a blindly obvious conclusion. The most public example is in this blog post.

      Yes, I am saying you should have a concrete, set, method for determining this. You probably already do, you just haven’t articulated it such that it you feel comfortable stating it. The simplest test I have seen for truth/falsity/knowledge is encapsulated in this QOTD. The rigorous process is known as the “scientific method”.

      • That quote is fairly reasonable, but “previously validated knowledge” implies something that’s not correct. The scientific method requires that all knowledge be scrutinized over and over in the light of new data, and if new data says that “previously validated knowledge” is not in fact correct, that previous “knowledge” must be discarded and new theories constructed in its place. So I would say “currently validated knowledge” instead. For example, Einstein’s theories of relativity (both special and general) contradicted “previously validated knowledge” but it turned out that it was the previous validation that was incomplete and in fact incorrect, not the new theories that contradicted it.

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