Friday, July 14, 2006

Here's Where I Go And Get Myself Into Trouble

PZ Myers is wrong. Atrios is wrong. Everyone else who approaches politics this way is wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. Here's why: If politics is not to be just a matter of "might makes right" then it has to be rational. It has to be something that you can sit down and talk about over a cup of coffee. I can accept that, in order to prevent general badness in the short run, its necessary to take a pragmatic approach to politics. But what about the long run? PZ says
It's a tragic mistake to think most creationists will be won over by kind and supportive conversation over a cup of coffee, too, or by any kind of smokescreen argument presented because we think it's what they want to hear.
Ok, PZ, what's your long-term solution? Are you content with things as they currently stand, do you want the constant yelling back-and-forth of both camps to be the status quo in perpetuity? Atrios, want to explain how introducing "a more combative and caustic discourse" is going to help solve things in the long run? As I've said several time before, there seems to be a growing focus on the here-and-now within progressive culture to the detriment of the long-term outcome. PZ and Atrios both claim to be proud members of the "reality-based community", and yet they seem to have given up on convincing the opposition that their positions actually correspond to some objective truth out there somewhere. Why is that? Some reasons which spring to mind:
  • They've lost faith in the power of truth, such as it is. They no longer believe that ideas which correspond best to reality on the ground will eventually win out over ideas which don't.
  • They don't care about the long run; they're only concerned that "their side" win in the short term.
Neither of these is particularly savory to contemplate, but the latter, if it is true, can be attributed to the character (or lack thereof) of a single individual. The former, the lack of faith in the power of truth, has a much broader implication. To believe this is to believe that some significant portion of humanity is congenitally unable to evaluate the truth of an argument. Now I happen to believe that a great number of people are as dumb as a bag of hammers, and that this condition is responsible for a great many of the ills in the world. But I also believe that this condition isn't inevitable; people aren't destined to remain dumb unto the nth generation. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong, but if you do you have to accept the consequences of such a belief. You have to round these people up and make them wards of the state, tell them that they aren't smart enough to vote, sterilize them and take away their right to self-determination, etc. etc. etc. Am I ranting? You bet your ass I'm ranting. This kind of thinking pisses me off, and I think it bodes ill for the future that its gained such widespread acceptance.


Blogger PZ Myers said...

You are quite mistaken to believe I'm for abandoning rational argument. Quite the contrary, it's the heart of our position, and if we leave evidence behind than we've betrayed our principles. However, there are ideas, bad ideas, that need to be treated with unhesitating scorn. Where we lose is when we take extremely bad science, such as intelligent design, and dignify it by treating it with undeserved respect.

Where do you draw the line? If someone were to say, for instance, that we could improve the country by rounding up undesirables and sterilizing and deporting them, as you seem to have mentioned, should we stop and say, "Hmmm. That's an interesting idea. I disagree, but maybe we should get the proponents up on the national stage and debate this proposal"? Or should we stop and say "That's contemptible, and no, we're not going to pursue it...and the advocates of such behavior are nothing but Nazis."

I think the latter is the better strategy. They can try and argue for it as loudly as they want, but I'm not going to grant them any respect.

12:07 AM  
Blogger GG said...

PZ -

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my rant. You're absolutely right in say that some ideas are ridiculous on their face and worthy of dismissal; the vast majority of creationist nonsense falls into this category. And yet there are many credulous individuals who believe these dogmas without question.

Part of the issue, I believe, is that you're a sharp mind with specialized training; ideas which are obviously absurd to you may not appear as such to non-specialists. Before being dismissive it would seem prudent to consider the audience. Its one thing to be dismissive of someone like Dembski in private correspondence or on your blog (since I assume most Pharyngula readers are fairly literate), but I don't believe that the long term good is being served by being dismissive when the audience is the general public. The general public needs to be lead through the reasoning, even if it seems blatantly obvious to the specialist.

This is one of the reasons why I find myself so vigorously opposed to the approach which Atrios is endorsing. Political discourse has a broad audience, many of whom are not specialists in the field of politics. Being caustic and confrontational in this context is unlikely to win converts. Rather, the audience perceives that ideas which they have internalized are being rejected out-of-hand. In defense of their self-image they cling more tightly to the ideas we'd have them discard. So, from a pragmatic standpoint, it would seem to do little good. And then there's the argument from principle; abrasive tactics distort what should be a process of calm reflection, contributing to the perception that shouting at each other is an acceptable form of discourse.


10:09 AM  

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