Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Russian Media Tactics and The Fate of the US

My observations of Russian media and argumentative tactics have lead me to believe that they don't actually want to try to prove anything.   They simply spread so much counter information and half thought-out alternative theories that they undermine any single coherent opinion on the issue. 

Believe or not, I think this is related to the current US election too.

Really what they are doing is to take advantage of the fallacy fallacy. The arguments and evidence their opponents are offering all have faults or counter evidence.  As a result, they must be false and so must their conclusions.

This is bad enough when it paralyzes people's ability to rationally chose a side or story to believe.  But sometimes it damages the idea of truth itself. This is possible when people believe their is one truth and it is obvious once the facts are all laid out.  That idea of truth though is not what logic, experience or science say truth is.  Any truth and the facts it is based on are not infallible, indisputable or singular. 

For many people the type of tactics Putin's Russia uses undermines the authority of truth and facts.  This leaves a vacuum that they can fill with power and force.  This is what keeps chaos at bay and keeps the country from disintegrating. 

For others, who still believe in finding a truth that fits all the facts, it leaves them scrambling to come up with some sort of conspiracy theory that however unlikely is believed because it fits the 'facts.'

In either case, their is so much uncertainty that a people cannot come together to agree on the issue.  In fact most individuals can't even take a coherent opinion on it.

This type of maneuvering is what Trump has in common with Putin's Russia, not foreign policy or business goals.  (Or maybe I should say this should be the only truly disturbing thing.)  It is that he uses these tactics more overtly and than other politicians in the US. 

Clinton uses them too but more subtly.  This kind of thinking allows her to get away with calling Trump a lair whenever he says anything she doesn't agree with. Or to call a whole speech of his a lie just because is has one provable falsehood in it.  (Granted he does have credibility problems, but that doesn't justify her taking such horrible advantage of it. That is if she is indeed concerned about policies and truth.) 
At the same time, whenever something ridiculous comes out of his mouth or is attached to him, she claims that that is the truth and the real Trump.   She does this without pointing out why or giving evidence.  It is just as illogical as the hyperbole that spews from his mouth.   Trump is a bad man, so any thing he says that is good must be a lie; he is the fault in the argument.  Trump is a bad man, so anything bad he says or is associated with must be true; again, he is the fault in the argument. (Or maybe this is just the genetic fallacy, and I am stretching too much when I relate it to the Fallacy Fallacy.  Still, it is no doubt a fallacy.)

What has made Putin's Russia so strong and powerful is what is helping to tear America's democracy apart.  People can't or don't,  at least not in public, make up their own mind on issues because the water is so muddy.  Only that will also tear America apart because their is no dictator who can or will take over to force unity on the American people.  I am glad to say that Trump is really not capable of that.  You may doubt that he will not try or doesn't want to try. But even if you are right and I am wrong, there is a balance of power in the US system.  There is no party in Congress or majority of Supreme Court justices that will back him making the US a dictatorship. 

Putin's Russia is wrong and ridiculous when it acts like this.  It is destructive and even dangerous.  The only thing that holds Russia together in light of that is Putin's power and often ruthless power plays.  People in the US need to stop indulging, and stop allowing the candidates and media to indulge in these tactics.  The US doesn't have a strongman, and the system won't allow for one anytime soon, that can keep the country from falling apart if we don't.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The US Election: What Does Putin Want? Why Should Americans Care?

I think this article misses the whole point of Putin or Russia saying or doing anything regarding this election.  The author is too shortsighted, which Putin is not.  

The Putin/Russian objective is to weaken American.  They can do that no matter who wins (or who is running) by aggravating the divisions amongst the American people and damaging the credibility of the election process.   (These are things they have done in their own country and neighboring countries for years.)

Clinton is playing right into their hands by having such poor information security that her campaign can get hacked.  She should know better. She helps Putin as well when she says the Putin wants Trump to win.   Voters shouldn't care what Putin wants when they go to the polls, the should vote based on who they think will make America stronger and more secure internally and externally regardless of what some dictator says or wants. 

Trump and his surrogates play into Putin's hand just as much, if not more.  The more they talk in such inflammatory language about the system being rigged, (no matter what evidence they do or don't have) the more they undermine confidence in the system.  That can only weaken American and that helps Putin.  The same goes for all of Trump's other divisive rhetoric. (And Clinton's.)

The press, the politicians and the people of the US need to stop playing the game Putin wants them to play: divide, smear and stoke fear.  They need to stop not because it is what Putin wants but because it is bad for the US in all respects and on all levels.  Putin wants it because it breaks down the US from the inside out, from the bottom to the top.  And that is why Americans (the media, the candidates and the citizens)  should stop: because it weakens the US in such fundamental ways.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dylan's Nobel, Mistake

"If you look back, far back, 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, that were meant to be performed, often with instruments -- and it's the same way with Bob Dylan."

This is the justification that Sara Danius from the Swedish Academy gave for why the great lyricist should be given the literature award. 

Let me give some historical perspective that should help people understand why, despite the fact that I am a Dylan fan, I think this is a mistake. 

If we look back 2,500 years, literacy was not anywhere near as common as it is today, not even in Ancient Greece.  Not only that, but books were very rare and very expensive.  I have heard the comparison that one small book back then would cost as much as a car would cost a family today.  If that is true, then even if you were rich, you wouldn't be going to the bookstore often to pick up the latest releases-- even if a bookstore existed.  It was all just not very practical, not even realistic.  If poets wanted to have their work appreciated by more than a select few, it was essential that they have it performed. 

In comparison, today many more people can read; books are quite inexpensive and easier to get than ever.  Yet, people spend their time on (mostly) mindless entertainment via the internet or TV.  The only obstacle most people have to reading a book of poetry is their own will to do so.  These days, poetry does not have to be performed to be accessible. People have the ability and means to read, but do so less and less. 

So why did the Swedish Academy choose a musician that so many people have already heard of and hear often when instead they could shine a spotlight on a great writer that many don't know of and in the process maybe get a few more people to actually read a book?  I can't think of a single reason for them to do so that isn't a mistake in the long run. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Intellectual and Liberal Snobs (My Definition)

These two types of snobs are people that believe in their idea of truth or vision of the future so strongly that they are willing to dismiss and ignore people who have different ideas and visions than them.  Often their belief is wholehearted and pure, authentic.  But the way that they treat others who have different (and often just as authentic) ideas and visions is what sabotages them.  

They may find their truth or realize their vision, but in doing so they will have alienated so many people that it is seen as useless or even oppressive.  Those others will see that future as a dystopia because their concerns, ideas and beliefs are not part of it.  Those others will see those truths as conspiracy and lies because it doesn't take into account their values, experiences and beliefs.  

I think a big part of the political establishment is made up of snobs.  The result, the counter movement, is the rise of anti-establishment and anti-intellectual movements.  The ignored move to the margins, huddle there and become even more marginal. They become a caricature of themselves as they start to simply defy everything the snobs affirm.  This is, in part, because those in the huddle are so diverse that they really don't have anything they can stand united for.  (They are not conservatives or religious or anything but 'anti-s' at that point.)

The snobs bring this upon themselves because they are unwilling to take seriously the others.  Yet, they are so snobbish (even self-righteous) that they can't see this, and they blame the others all the more and in ever more degrading ways.  They refuse to really listen, care or compromise.  

The sad thing is that they, the snobs, are usually very intelligent and very hopeful people.  The problem is that their abstract ideas of truth, humanity, etc. keep them from seeing and dealing with real people unless those people share those abstractions.

It comes down to this: Individuals don't find truth, and even if they do, without a community to affirm it, it is meaningless and hollow, ineffectual.   Individuals don't make futures, and if they somehow can, that future is merely a tyranny unless the community feels they are meaningfully participating in and benefiting from it.

It is about community, which means it has to have listening, care and compromise as part of it.  This is something snobs, however well intentioned or correct, just don't get. And so, there is just so much they can't get right. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Oh THOSE Close Minded People

Saw a meme today that said, 'The problem with closed-minded people is that their mouths are always open.'

That may have been true at one point though I think it is a bit different today. The current problem with closed minded people is that no one looks at the real reasons for why 'they' think what 'they' do. To put it another way: 'Their' mouths are always open and 'your' ears are quick to close. All 'you' do is throw insults at 'them:' close minded, racist, sexist, etc. All that does is close 'them' off even more and show that 'you' are just as close minded as 'you' think 'they' are.

The fact is that in the highly polarized climate in the US right now 'you' are 'them' to 'them' and 'they' are convinced 'they' are as right as 'you' are convinced 'you' are.

Yes, someone maybe factually right and others factually wrong, but that is not the whole story. You can't dismiss a person's worries, fears, hopes or beliefs just because facts are wrong. Most people are not (and have never been) that coldly logical. You need to deal with those fears, worries and beliefs, not believe and insist that citing facts will make them magically disappear. On the other hand, playing on worries, fears, hopes and beliefs is counter productive too.

Going past the facts (not ignoring them) and connecting with people-- understanding their worries, fears, hopes and beliefs-- is what is called being human and compassionate. Right now both sides are at most paying lip-service to compassion. One side is focusing on being factually correct, the other on being tough. Both think that is their path to being effective.

But in both cases being effective comes at the cost of bulldozing over those that don't agree with them. That is horribly damaging to unity and compromise. When it comes to having a functioning democracy, unity and compromise are often more important than being effective, especially when general trust is at such a low.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The problem of Anti-Intellectualism and the Problem with Mainstream Intellectualism

It is quite clear that anti-intellectualism is widespread in America. Some argue that America has always been rather anti-intellectual, but I am not sure that is true. Americans, I think, have always disliked arrogance and being talked down to. They hate being told what to think and how to think. But that isn’t necessarily anti-intellectualism. I think the current rise in anti-intellectualism has more to do with the change in what it means to be an intellectual in America, especially in main stream culture.

What does it mean in America today to be an intellectual? This is not a silly question because that is not a clearly defined or understood term. (Like so many other words, we throw it around as if there is one clear meaning that we all know.) It used to mean simply someone who was intelligent and often implied that they were well educated and well read. Today the meaning seems much narrower, especially when we talk about anti-intellectualism.

To be an intellectual today often means to be scientific. Let's face it, everything today tries or claims to be a science or scientific. When we judge how true, important or reliable something is, we want to know how scientific it is. Science is the measure of truth and reliability. When someone is an intellectual, they should be truthful, have important information and that information needs to be reliable, so they need to be scientific. Economics strives to be scientific and is based more and more on data and math, less and less on theory and ideas. Psychology relies more and more on data and clinical trials, less on the individual and the practitioner. (I think that a result of this is the greater and greater reliance on medication as opposed to the work done between the patient and practitioner.) Even some branches of art and literary criticism/ studies are trying to become more scientific: data driven and objective.

Here it is necessary for me to clarify what I mean by science. This will necessitate me contrasting science with scientism. Science is a method of inquiry used to understand the physical world. It is primarily descriptive and aims to tell us what is there and how it works. It relies on repeatable events, and thus more and more on numerical data, and uses data to formulate and support theories that account for the majority of the events and factors. It has its own set of assumptions and rules: the understandability (or even logical nature) of the physical world, it limits itself to the physical world, etc. It also relies on a tradition and authority of its own that needs to be respected. This is a very valid and useful human pursuit. This is what I will refer to as legitimate science, or simply science.

Science turns to scientism when it does any or several of the following: goes beyond talking about the physical world (usually to categorically deny that anything out side of the physical exists), tries to be prescriptive, thinks that it can answer questions of meaning and significance (or insists that they be ignored because they are not scientific and therefore not important), denies its own assumptions, thinks its own rules ought to apply to every human pursuit (or any pursuit of truth or knowledge), or denies that it has its own tradition and hierarchy of authority and as a result claims that tradition and hierarchy of all types need to be dismantled or disrespected. In short, scientism is when the very legitimate discipline of science over steps its bounds or misrepresents itself. Often it is a case of non-scientists misunderstanding what science actually is.

Science is therefore about how things are, and what is happening, all of this in the physical world. In contrast, theology (and its practice in the everyday world, which we call religion), philosophy and the arts are about why and what for: meaning and value. For lack of a better blanket term, I will simply call these the humanities. These are not at all limited to the physical world and not limited to questions of what and how. In fact, they are more focused on the world of ideas and questions of meaning, significance and value.

Another distinction between science and the humanities is the difference between descriptive pursuits and prescriptive ones. Science is by and large limited to being descriptive; its aim is to accurately describe the world and how it works. Though the humanities often start with description of what is as a foundation, they primarily are prescriptive. They talk about what things could be or should be, or how they should be understood or valued.

Science is descriptive like a photograph or diagram in an instruction manual. It gives a detailed account of what is and what is happening. Sometimes, based on that, it talks about how we can manipulate or use these things, but really that is more technology than pure science.

The humanities are prescriptive in that they tell us about meaning and value: how we should see and act towards things and people. The word mythology fits well here, but I hesitate to use it because of its negative connotations. Myths are stories that are not literally true but that contain truth. (In a world where science is seen as the measure of truth, a world where scientism pervades, something not being literally true is taken to mean that it is false and therefore unimportant.) Meaning and values are not things that are in the world itself. They are things we create or things that are revealed to us, if you believe in a higher power or something transcendent. Myths tell us about those things in a way that resonates with us.

What is often referred to as science in the main stream is too often scientism. One of the results of this is that the humanities are either colonized by scientific ideas and methods, or they are discredited and mocked. This is especially true in the case of religion. Of course religion and theology should yield to science when it comes to understanding the what and how of the physical world, but at the same time science should not insists that the religious approach and religious conceptions be totally abandoned. Religion and science deal with two different things that are closely connected but different. The humanities should not be trying to explain the what and how in a descriptive way; they should and usually do look at it in a way that is prescriptive and looks for meaning and value. At the same time science should not be trying to explain or dismiss questions of meaning and value because the pursuit of them is not scientific.

The humanities should yield to science in areas where science is the more appropriate method of inquiry and scientific research is more developed. This is seen as common sense for many. What is less common is the opposite: that science needs to yield to the humanities in certain spheres. Yet, that is just as true.

The borders between science and humanities will never be totally clear and there will always be some tension and even conflict. This is natural. Legitimate science ought to acknowledge this and respect the purpose and methods of the humanities, even religion and theology. A failure to do this is a slip into scientism which is really a form of scientific fundamentalism. The opposite needs to be the case as well: the humanities need to respect legitimate science. To not do so is a slip into any number of forms of fundamentalism which we see all too often today and rightly condemn. However, it is important to condemn them as that discipline overstepping its boundaries, not of the discipline as a whole. But the latter is often what happens.

When intellectualism is really scientism, then it is perfectly understandable that anti-intellectualism increases. Some people are more scientific minded, they want descriptive truths that deal with what and how. Others are more humanities minded and want truths that are mostly prescriptive and that deal more with meaning and significance. Both are necessary for a sustainable civilization or culture.

Yes, anti-intellectualism is a problem, especially in a democracy. However, when intellectualism becomes scientism there does need to be resistance and a fight against it. That is why I do sympathize with anti-intellectualism as a response to an intellectualism that is largely anti-humanities and anti-religious, a hostile form of scientism. The problem is that that response is merely reactionary and just as myopic as the scientism it is trying to counter. Science is not going to be put in check and scientism rooted out by a movement that is anti-scientific and anti-authority. That just feeds the animosity and makes the situation worse.

The Root of All Evil

Being at one is godlike and good, 
but human, too human, the mania
Which insists there is only the One, 
one country, one truth and one way.
-- Friedrich Holderlin

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Great US Bathroom Debate

This whole bathroom debate in the US has strengthened my suspicion that liberals in the US want to use the exception as a basis for the rule, while the conservatives want to ignore the fact that there are exceptions to the rule at all.

On the left, they want to use anecdotes or outliers that show how a small number of people are being oppressed or disadvantaged to re-write the rules and norms.  This is what the far left is doing when they talk about the idea that gender is just a social construct and that we should really just get rid of the gender question on forms and gendered bathrooms.  This extremely is silly if you ask me.  It fails to understand what a rule is and what normal means.

On the right, they want to keep the old rules and norms, not change them and refuse to admit that there are any exceptions, outliers.  This is just as silly.  For a person to have a gender is the norm, that is true.  But, not all people are normal and those that aren’t shouldn’t be treated as if they are horrible or evil, or whatever.  They are different and we need to understand that and accept it.

In the end, I think it is about being realistic about what is normal and useful: the rules and norms.  At the same time we have to have tolerance and realize that there are exceptions and deal with them in a constructive way.

The rules and norms are useful for society in general, and I don’t think we can give that up, nor should we.  But those norms and rules shouldn’t be used to vilify or attack people.  Rules like this are rules based on what is normal, in other words most prevalent.  That is what this kind of rule should be, not something based on the unusual or anecdotal.  But, rules always have exceptions because what is normal is never 100%.  So the idea that there should be no exceptions is ridiculous.

How we deal with exceptions is what makes us human and not machines or computers that just follow rules unthinkingly and without compassion.