Saturday, February 18, 2017

Don't over-screw the little guy"

Incivility. Honorable disagreement appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Depending on the day, I have been called a left-winger, a right-winger, a corporate shill, a "sniveling little demon," and (my personal favorite) "another Jew liar and deceiver [who] writes for Monsatan."

Not to be curt, but of those accusations, how many are inaccurate? It is possible that one person who has leveled an accusation at you is clueless, while another person has you pegged, despite neither displaying tact. Calls for civility and decorum are nice, but when the expectation of tact becomes so stifling that the truth can no longer be directly expressed, people will eventually toss good manners aside and engage directly. No, it doesn't make things cordial, but a level of congeniality and good manners can be expected only once a certain level of agreement and mutual respect already exists. If that breaks down and you no longer have a common culture, you can expect that civility to disappear along with it.

"Anti-Intellectualism.  "Alternative facts" may very well be the term-of-the-decade. Expert opinion has been thoroughly rejected as "elitist.""

I think you're mixing up "expert opinion" with "arrogant presumption". Many of the people who peddle the charge of anti-intellectualism can't distinguish between the two. For example, suppose a doctor offers a political opinion about abortion. There is a segment of society that thinks that their opinion should be given higher weight due to their background. However, that makes two separate mistakes.

The first is that it confuses the type of issue. A doctor may have superior knowledge of biological processes, but the objections to abortion are predicated on ethics rather than biology, meaning that while people may generally agree on the facts they will not agree on the proper course of action because they hold different ethical principles. The "Mad Scientist" archetype found in film and television is not without historical antecedents.

The second mistake is that it substitutes ethos (the Greek term for "authority" -- of which expertise can be regarded as a type) for logos (Greek for "logic"). Although a doctor may have intricate knowledge of the biology, that does not mean that their deductive reasoning is necessarily valid (where the conclusions follow from the premises), nor does it mean that it is sound (meaning that the argument is valid and the premises are sound).
In fact, the expectation that people defer to experts is a polite way to try to avoid examination and disputes over logic and whether or not arguments are actually true. By forbidding the translation of the Bible into the "vulgar languages" (those commonly spoken by the people) during the medieval era, the Catholic church was able to maintain a monopoly on Biblical interpretation. It didn't necessarily make them more right, but it did squelch dispute. Outsourcing one's thinking to expert opinion is a fool's errand.
"Tribalism is an "us vs. them" mentality, and it has two primary manifestations: (1) Ideological purity, so that any deviation from orthodoxy is considered heretical; and (2) Hypocrisy, because people will accept/condemn behavior that they otherwise would not if the behavior had been done by a person from the other team."
I don't think that point (1) is actually problematic, and I think point (2) ignores the issue of enthymemes.
For ideological purity, while each person has their own conception of ideological purity, ironically the more committed to that people are, the more they are being consistent, which contradicts the accusation of hypocrisy. Whether or not any of those particular ideologies are sensible is another question, and that's where I think the main problem lies and where there is very little consensus. As the film Office Space says, "Why should I change? He's the one who sucks."
On the charge of hypocrisy, I think this problem is grossly overstated. People tend to argue in enthymemes, i.e., arguments where premises are not explicitly stated. For example, if I were to tell you that it is wrong to break into and enter somebody's home, and then forcibly remove them from the home, you'd probably agree. Under normal circumstances that would consist of 2 crimes: breaking & entering, as well as abduction. But is this really a lock-tight argument? For fun, let's add some additional information to the scenario without changing anything established before.
Now suppose I told you that in addition to what I said above, the person whose home was broken into was on fire, and that the person who was forcibly removed from the home had gone into hysterics. Let us also assume that the person breaking in did not keep the person in their custody once removing them from the home.
Does it make people hypocrites to condemn the person who broke in given the information they originally had as a terrible kidnapper, but who then change their opinion once they have the additional information to being that the person who broke in is a hero? No. What it illustrates, however, is that political and ethical thought is often times highly contingent on sets of unstated assumptions for which there is a remarkable, but not complete degree of overlap.
If I say that it is okay for Congress to threaten default on the national debt unless CDC gets additional funding, but then decry threatening default on the national debt by people who insist that we appropriate more funds for infrastructure spending, does that make me a hypocrite? No. It reveals a certain set of priorities, and people organize themselves into political parties based on the combination of those priorities as well as their political principles as to what's right or wrong, wise or foolish, into relatively coherent platforms. Without that level of "tribalism" we'd be completely disorganized and we'd descend into chaos all the more quickly.
With a large slate of issues and a seemingly incalculable number of combinations in regards to priorities, it's actually impressive that we have 2 political parties that are as coherent as they are.
While I think the points I made above are fairly commonsense, it also took a hefty amount of exposition to express them. Much of American political opinion is expressed in a more concise manner as people weigh the trade-offs but don't have the time or aren't willing to expend the effort to fully explain them. At first blush, I think my comment may be longer than your article, and I don't get paid for this!
    My reply:
Tremendous job! I hope you're retired -- as am I -- because otherwise you've wasted much time and talent "schooling" someone who doesn't deserve it and won't benefit from it, time better spent serving self and family.
"Incivility": bluntness that challenges arrogant, undeserved self-regard, and sweeps away the shield of condescending "politeness".
Tribalism: Humans are social animals who gain emotional and material benefits from group membership. The embrace of an accepting and loving group is a good thing. But inter-group rivalry happens, which can lead to violence, which is a bad thing. It is this social disharmony and the accompanying threat of violence that the author is unhappy about, but he blames "tribalism" rather than the specific bad acts of a particular tribe. He won't point a finger at specific bad acts because that would require pointing at specific tribes, his among them, and particular culpable individuals in positions of tribal leadership. For the author, these are the hands that feed him, so mums the word, and "tribalism" gets the blame.
Anti-intellectualism: Being smart, and educated, is much desired and much admired and a path to prosperity. But when it is phony smart and phony educated and leads to incompetent and corrupt governance, the peasants may revolt. Be pompous and snobby and superior all you want, that's your business -- "There was a young man from Nantucket" -- enjoy, ... just be careful you don't over-screw the hard-working little guy.

    No comments: