Sunday, February 26, 2012

The problem isn't education

Here is Chris Mooney explaining that the more educated a conservative is, the more wrong they are. Specifically, he is talking about climate change, and how surveys show that more educated conservatives are more likely to deny climate change, and assert more confidence in that denial.

This is old news to anybody who talks to conservatives, but what Mooney also talks about is the control group. That is, they surveyed to see if the same effect worked on liberals, using a classic liberal bug-a-boo: nuclear power.

Short answer: it doesn't. Liberals start out with a negative view of nuclear power, but exposure to information and science makes them more accepting of it.

What this tells us is that there is a more fundamental divide than just values or policies; conservatives and liberals differ on what truth is. What Mooney doesn't say (because he is an Accomodationist and desperately trying to stay in Religion's good graces) is that this is also the difference between the empiricist and the metaphysician, between the atheist and the believer.

Some people think the world derives from truth; and some people think truth derives from the world. Some people think 2+2=4 because it is a law of mathematics; and some people think 2+2=4 because every time we add 2 and 2 together they come out 4. The latter implying that 2+2 could equal 5; it just doesn't.

Given the notion that the world derives from some cosmic set of first principles, one could be forgiven for assuming that once you learn those principles, your judgements are infallible and therefore don't need to be checked against actual reality. And this describes the believer, whether it is woo, religion, or ideology. Scratch a true believer, and underneath you will find the assumption of personal infallibility. Always. Trust me on this, I'm not wrong.

The empiricist (or rationalist, scientist, liberal, pragmatist, or just plain sane - all equally valid synonyms) on the other hand, always assumes that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Any and all claims require validation. Always. If you can't check it for yourself, at least in principle, it's as good as not true.

This may sound inverted to most people. After all, isn't it the empiricists who flatly state that miracles don't occur, psychics are frauds, and God doesn't exist? How can they be so authoritatively negative if they're supposed to be open to the unknown?

The answer is simple: because all of those claims fail the test of investigation. Meanwhile, the people advancing them are authoritarians; they are not even concerned with evidence for or against their proposition. They have derived the matter from first principles, and they look no further than that.

As always, the issue of "open-mindedness" comes down to projection. The people who are open-minded are the ones refuting miraculous claims, because they have applied the tests of validation, and the claims have failed. The people who are close-minded are the ones who insist on their claims regardless of all logic, evidence, and investigation. They are not open to alternate explanations for the phenomena under discussion; they are assuming that their personal interpretation of their experience is infallible and unquestionable.

You can change the empiricist's mind; simply present sufficient evidence, and he will embrace your claim. But you cannot change the authoritarian's mind with any amount of evidence, because he didn't choose his position based on evidence in the first place. When dealing with an authoritarian, there are only two possible avenues of approach: internally, wherein you demonstrate that the principles the authoritarian embraces actually lead to a different conclusion; and externally, which is to say, with a baseball bat.

The problem with the first approach is that once the authoritarian decides that you are the enemy as a first principle, nothing you say matters anymore. You can point out contradictions galore, and they are simply ignored as lies (or often, responded to with naked hostility). The problem with the second approach should be obvious, and yet, fundamentally, it is all we have left.

This is not a call to violence, or even a justification of it: it is a simple recognition that reason is a participatory exercise. You can't force someone to be reasonable. You can only make it expensive to be unreasonable.

In this case we use law and custom to make unreason expensive. You can give your money to a cult but you can't make us give to it; you can make your own decisions for whatever reason you want but public policy has to be set by public logic, evidence, and debate.

But when the body politic has decided that public (aka empirical) logic is a tool of the enemy, then you have a problem. If you can't marginalize those people to the extremes and the fringes, your democratic, educated, liberal society is doomed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Obama's new campaign slogan

"Well, the American people aren’t stupid."
The evidence would seem to indicate otherwise; they elected Bush twice, and in 2010 gave the House back to the Republicans.

But Obama has to be right. We know the American people are childish, self-indulgent, and a little bit racist; but if they're actually stupid enough to reward the Republicans for four years of open sabotage, then democracy is over.

The poison is already spreading: Tea party tactics have snuck through customs in Kevin Rudd's luggage. Rudd was the Prime Minister, before he was ousted by Gillard in a minor coup. She gave him Foreign Minister as a consolation prize, possibly hoping that keeping him out of the country would keep him out of trouble (hey, plenty of Roman emperors tried that).

Instead, it exposed him to Washington politics. He watched the Tea Party threaten to bankrupt the nation and largely get away with it. He saw that an uninformed, self-centered populace pays so little attention that only the name at the top takes any blame; the rest of the government can hold the entire nation (including themselves) at gunpoint making idiotic demands without any negative consequences.

So now he's trying it at home. The Labor government came to power without enough seats; they had to sign on all three independents just to form a government. Losing even one seat means they can't wield a majority, which means there has to be a new election. But nobody wants a new election - even the leaders of the opposition (the Liberals) are afraid they'll lose their leadership positions. So, despite the unpleasantness, everyone tacitly agreed to just muddle on.

Until Rudd walks in the door and threatens to wreck everything unless they make him boss. Seriously, this is exactly like a mobster threatening to machine-gun both his old gang and the cops if they don't make him the mob boss.

Under normal circumstances, it is a strategy so self-defeating that only a suicidal lunatic would try it. But with America setting the fashion trend, expect more and more of it. This next election is a chance to turn it around, make it clear that irresponsible politics leads to loss of power. It may be the last chance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Down but not out

Another reason I chose to raise my daughter in Australia.

However, the sheer difficulty of filing my American taxes almost made me give up the whole idea. And this year was easy - next year will be actually difficult, because I might not fall under the foreign wage exclusion.

Come on, America, get that dollar up. If it falls any further I'll have to start sending money home!

Anyway, I got the taxes done, and am now busy with edits for the sci-fi novel, which will now be called THE KASSA GAMBIT. I think that name goes well with the cover, so that's good. After that maybe I can get back to some kind of regular posting.

Ah, who are we kidding?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More proof that Americans are stupid

Take a look at the following statement:

"Permanently raising the federal tax rate by one percentage point for those in the top income tax bracket would increase federal tax revenue over the next 10 years."

This is a bit like saying if you jump into a swimming pool you'll get wet. When researchers at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management presented this statement to a "panel of distinguished economists," 100 percent of them agreed with it. But when the researchers presented this statement to the general public only 66 percent of respondents agreed with it. Only fifty percent of Republicans agreed with it, compared to 80 percent of Democrats. "This difference exists in spite of the fact that this statement is factual, not political," the researchers observed. "Indeed, all economists, regardless of their political orientation, agree with it."

Dismal Scientists Vs. Credulous Public

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why mockery is necessary

The importance of blasphemy is in providing a language of power. To decree certain views, certain ideas, certain practices, even certain thoughts, as taboo is to demand that certain forms of power cannot be contested. The importance of the principle of free speech is, on the other hand, in providing a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence in acting as an ever-present test to authority.

Beyond the Sacred

This is why mockery is necessary. It is not enough to respectfully disagree, because the people in power will make simple disagreement disrespectful (as they have done before).

We must be free to mock, to jeer, to point and laugh at figures of power and authority; or we will not long be free. The American system recognizes this; it is why every President attends an annual event where the press makes fun of him, to name just one of the many traditional and institutional defenses of mockery.

Conspicuously missing from most religious traditions, however, is the duty or the right or even the ability to question basic premises.