Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rust Belt Philosophy Makes AI Cry

Larry Niven's is a fine mind, but he has a tragic, incurable infection. He is an example of raving, fanatical progressivism. Well, he could try reading the Open Letter, but the prognosis is not good.

I'm not being facetious, it really is sad.

I see this, and I know he's not alone. I see not just him, but whole armies of fine minds going to waste. Absent this corruption, what would they have accomplished? What heights could they achieve? Think about it. What things, which now don't even exist, would be ubiquitous in a world where this disease had never taken hold?

Instead of making those things, coming up with those ideas, he's picking on the weak.
"[t]he China infant milk scandal, even though it has so far not damaged any American babies, has exposed a major defect in the concept of free trade. It's dangerous to buy products from a nation whose economy is not based on Judeo-Christian morality."
But, we expect that Republicans - especially the kind Niven is fond of showcasing - to be very Christian. For Phyllis Schlafly, basically anyone she doesn't like will be labelled 'un-Christian' and therefore 'dangerous.' It's a code phrase, not to be taken seriously. Let me translate.

"[t]he China infant milk scandal, even though it has so far not damaged any American babies, has exposed a major defect in the concept of free trade. It's dangerous to freely buy products from a nation who is immoral."

Frankly, this doesn't strike me as "dodgy reasoning" but rather as tautological. If free trade is a moral proposition, by the principle of self-defence, you don't open your borders to immoral people.

So, is China immoral* because it's not Christian? Frankly, who cares? People will always label other people they don't like as the out-group, which is what Schlafly is doing here. Schlafly isn't a philosopher, - and hopefully doesn't pretend to be - and we shouldn't expect her to be epistemologically sound, because it's hard to be epistemologically sound.

*(Niven: "China does not exactly qualify as a trustworthy exporter")

So I mention all this to demonstrate my concerns. (Well, convictions, but there's no substitute for 'convictions' with the connotations of 'concerns.') Also, we can see exactly what Niven is responding to; he has been labelled as out-group, and so, by reflex, he must out-group Schlafly. His codes are different. His sect has learnt from the mistakes of Schlafly's, and doesn't have a synonym for 'heresy,' and instead deploys sarcasm, misdirection, and intentional misunderstanding. There's no way to convince me that Niven couldn't have understood that Schlafly speaks in code - he already thinks she's dishonest, both to herself and others - if he wanted to.

Having written this, I seem to have gotten something out of my system, and I've noticed that the person who wrote the above is, to some degree, a mask. I have assumed that Niven really is incurable which, frankly, seems pretty likely. But, what do I really know? Have I even tried?

Well, sort of. I have been pleasantly surprised by Niven before. Perhaps this is just election fever, and he will return to a more respectable mode in the future. However, even in this, Niven is an exception; he sometimes rises above his creed, but rarely disappoints it. But still, what do I know?

Here's what I should say:

"Basically, Niven, you need to go after liberals. Idiocy is far from monopolized by the right. "This blog will seek to expose fallacies in today's mass media so that philosophers can better practice their craft." As in, not a progressivism advocacy blog, which is what you've written.

"In the piece at hand, because you're picking on the weak (Schlafly is not a philosopher, and hopefully doesn't pretend) you're essentially attacking a straw man. If, without reminding her of China, you go and ask Schafly about Japan, trade, and Christian morality, she is going to say something contradictory - but that contrad
iction works for her. She trades with Japan, but not China. The fact is, she does not herself know the exact reasons why this is, as, I repeat, she is not a philosopher. Townhall is an advocacy site. Analyzing her as if she did is dishonest. And you are a philosopher, and I expect, nay, demand better.

"You are also just as guilty of confusing, apparently intentionally, correlation with identity.
"but many followers of the Abrahamic religions still manage to muck things up (see e.g. the entire banking industry in the U.S. right now)."
"This has nothing to do with trade. If Schlafly were a philosopher, she might respond, 'The situation of a financial system has little to no connection to quality of consumer goods and general trustworthiness of exchanged products, unless the exact products in question are financial.'"

That's the main thrust, but I could go on.

"Most obviously, they don't care much, if at all, about human rights (Judeo-Christian or otherwise). Schlafly herself also points out that the poison-producing Chinese companies "enjoyed inspection-exempt status called 'mianjian'" under which "companies that passed quality tests for three years [are] trusted to regulate themselves." Such self-policing has a truly dismal record, so she could equally easily have concluded that any particular industry which serves as its own overseer will be vulnerable to these kinds of abuses"

All of which are rolled into Schafly's code, which basically translates to out-group badness.

"Apparently, for her, poisoned pet food, toothpaste, and paint on children's toys are all forgivable offenses, or perhaps she just operates on the old four-strikes-you're-out policy."
Mockery is not an argument. Engaging in it only discredits yourself. Think about it; either you're in a position of strength, socially speaking, and the mockery can work - but is unnecessary. Everyone already agrees with you. Or, if you're in a position of weakness, it will accomplish nothing but counter-derision. In other words, by using it effectively you prove that you should not have used it at all.
"The sheer stupidity of this argument might not be ultimately attributable to Schlafly's age, but whatever the cause, her claims in this case simply beg to be rejected."
Assuming you're an uncharitable, left-leaning fanatic and intellectual bully, I agree. (I shouldn't say this part.)

In this particular case, I know exactly what the coat-maker would have bought absent the broken window. Niven would be executing a project I myself often have the urge to do; back when I read papers, I wanted to whap the journalists upside the head with their own papers for their astounding intellectual gaffes. And indeed, many of them can be responded to exactly as Niven responded to this one.

However, because I also fell into the trap Niven has stumbled into here, I began to find it necessary to disprove someone using their own statements - to reference their system of values, not mine. Similarly, to ask if Schlafly ("
has exposed a major defect in the concept of free trade") was aware of previous disappointments by China, ("for her, poisoned pet food, toothpaste, and paint on children's toys are all forgivable offenses") or if rather the others were somehow different in her view. For instance, if she missed the toys, then none of the products were aimed at vulnerable children. (Incidentally, in a commercial context, are their non-children's toys for which we need to differentiate?)

Do note that there are valid uses of mockery. For instance, if someone self-contradicts, you can go right ahead and make fun of them for it. In this case, the mockery highlights something which goes unnoticed (nobody self-contradicts on purpose) and can, in fact, turn a hostile crowd into a supportive one...I think, anyway. I can't exactly test that right now.


larryniven said...

Wow - way to lower standards. "These people aren't philosophers, so evaluating their arguments is unfair." If logic makes you cry, maybe you should quit reading blogs where logic is taken seriously and stick to "advocacy sites," which apparently don't have to pay attention to things like reality.

larryniven said...

PS - http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2009/01/he-is-example-of-raving-fanatical.html

Alrenous said...

I feel as if I should respond to this somehow.

I could mention that Niven is just trying to start a fight. Seems a bit pointless though. Nevertheless I'm not going to read his response. (Was going to say it will be a 'rebuttal' like UR is an 'advocacy site.' However, see two paragraphs down.)

I also wonder about how Niven found this, especially so long after I wrote it. Further, I clearly discredited myself in his eyes. (Duh.) And then he...came back? Cuz he thinks his 'rebuttal' will change my mind? (More probably, he's been hurt and trying to hurt back. Perhaps he can clear up this matter if he comes back...yet again...)

Okay, I can't resist. Niven accuses me of reading advocacy sites. Apparently he didn't actually read my post. I accuse him of writing an advocacy site, and cite this as the primary reason I don't read it, despite the potential I see there.

I try to take people seriously, but sometimes it's just impossible. Since he didn't read it, I guess it's not surprising he doesn't understand what I said, either.

Also note he uses the exact tactic I deplore, except now on me.
I would thank Niven for confirming my fears. I feel better now about being right. Unfortunately, it's clearly the case that writing it down was a waste of my time from the point of view of communication.

Oh I know what I should say. Here we go.

There are two reason I posted this. The first, more conscious, more respectable reason is as an experiment. I read the Open Letter and I thought it plausible. I test these hypotheses by applying them.

To be honest, I'm not fully convinced I'm right, not when I wrote this, and not now. The problem is I can't say I'm completely wrong, either.

For this goal, if I were either, there would be no point in writing it down. I find that writing it down forces me to put it into a coherent, logically form which can be analyzed, and further motivates me to scrutinize it - now it can embarrass me. (As indeed Niven and his readers will conclude.)

The second, less conscious, less respectable reason, is more or less mere reaction. Reading Rust Belt gave me bad initial reactions. While I knew I should look deeper, eventually I was overwhelmed by the suspicion, and ended up putting it down in concrete form.

This is bad from the point of view of philosophy; I shouldn't baldly state such things when I can't fully justify them. (On the other hand, it's not like I'm a national outfit with ethical obligations not to damage other people's stuff. My support or lack should be mostly irrelevant to Niven.)

On the other hand, it's a lot easier to examine the motivations and ideas of myself if I put them down in writing. "What? Do I really think this?" Yes. Yes I do. And perhaps I shouldn't.

To return to the communication purpose, clearly writing it down in a public forum just leads to acrimony. If this is the case, even if I'm completely 100% right, there's no point in spending a single character on the issue. Stop following Niven, move on. Lament privately.

Doing this doesn't add to the discussion. It just ends up with Niven baiting me. (Successfully.) It could even be argued that this is just because I baited him. (Successfully.) This is partially borked because I specifically didn't give him the heads up. I wanted to at least give myself time to change my mind and recant. Unfortunately Obama was just inaugurated. I've had no opportunity to see Niven absent election fever, nor have I even tried.

(Moreover, I clearly can't write something like this and then ignore the reaction of the target, no matter how much it may seem justified by what I've written. I Accept my Ignorance; perhaps I'm wrong, and their reaction will be much different than what I expect.)

Or perhaps I should. Perhaps I should write this down, perhaps I should think this. Perhaps everything I said is even true.

I'm going to have to leave this up, though. I want to leave the opportunity open for someone to come and show me the contradiction in what I've stated.

Did you see the evolution of my thought in this essay? How I went from "I should probably write something" to "I write these things down so I can see my thoughts in concrete form" to "I can't very well ignore his response with any credibility."?

That's the exact kind of thing I hoped to learn by writing the original piece. It hasn't mostly worked.

Is Niven insulting me because he's upset, or because I was right? I still have no idea how to tell the difference.

Alrenous said...

And by 'insulting me because he's upset' I meant 'insulting me because I fell prey to the exact trap I accused Niven of doing, and ended up viciously slandering a person of good standing, at which point he understandably got upset.'

"Why hello, hypocrisy circuit. How are you doing today?" See how easy it is to do a self-serving thing while completely masking this fact?

Nevertheless, I would have thought that if this were the case, Niven would react in a way that isn't exactly how I predict. Tis a puzzle.

Laura said...

Alrenous, I don't know how much you know about Phyllis Schafly, but I've been watching her in action for over 20 years. And when she says "Christian", that's precisely what she means. She has no respect for anyone who doesn't subscribe to her narrow-minded, bigoted, retrogressive set of beliefs. And the idea that unChristian=immoral is, to say the least, a little troubling. When people like her talk about "Judeo-Christian" morals or ethics, they mean Christian, and a very right-wing of Christian.

Schafly is in no way a person who is too weak or too much of an amateur to attack. She's made a living out of persecuting people whose lives and values she finds objectionable. She's vile and contemptible in every way. Before defending her, maybe you should do a little research.

Alrenous said...

And the idea that unChristian=immoral is, to say the least, a little troubling.

Yes, that's why you don't like her. I didn't say I though Christian=moral. I said that's how she thinks.

As for

She has no respect for anyone who doesn't subscribe to her narrow-minded, bigoted, retrogressive set of beliefs.

You're doing the same thing as she is.

"narrow-minded, bigoted, retrogressive set of beliefs"="Immoral"

I note you don't simply use 'untrue.' See, it doesn't matter whether it is bigoted or retrogressive. It matters whether it's true or not.

Schafly is in no way a person who is too weak or too much of an amateur to attack.

I don't like saying things that are obvious. Ergo, if this were easy to see, I wouldn't have said it.

She is too weak to attack - logically. The things she writes can barely be called arguments. It's like arguing with a barking dog. The barks aren't subject to fallacies and it just annoys the dog.

She's made a living out of persecuting people whose lives and values she finds objectionable.

Wait, hold on. I'm confused now.

...you think that's a bad thing? I thought you supported it, as long as the values were 'narrow-minded, bigoted, and retrogressive.'

And this is what I'm trying to point out. Shlafly is doing exactly what you're supporting. The only difference is that she values different things than you do.

And as far as I'm concerned, you don't want to make this a fight about who's values are less inconsistent.

She's vile and contemptible in every way.

She is? Oh dear. That could reflect badly on someone. Now if I could just figure out who...

larryniven said...

You could actually talk to me in the second person, you know - I'm right here. And, for the record, I googled the name of my blog, is how I found this post (I don't check the trackbacks as often as I should). I don't actually think I can change your mind (about what?), but I know for sure that I won't change your mind unless I try. The same goes for loony Christians online: the odds of me actually making a difference are tiny, but nonzero. So, then...

"Niven accuses me of reading advocacy sites."

This was entirely tangential. You yourself identified Townhall as an advocacy site, which - seemingly - explained satisfactorily the fact that so few of the articles posted there use good reasoning. The point wasn't that I think you make a habit of reading such sites, just that, if indeed you think logic is so unimportant, you should stay the hell away from sites like mine that take it seriously. But again, this was almost entirely tangential - I had an entire post after that, or didn't you see?

"I test these hypotheses [in the Open Letter] by applying them."

What?! This is the silliest thing you've probably ever said in your life. First of all, which hypotheses would these be? There are, in fact, no hypotheses in that letter, just a bunch of descriptors (progressives believe this, progressives act like that, etc.). Second, how, exactly, did you test them in my case? You still - still! - have not actually addressed me directly except to point out a typo in one of my posts. If you want to know what I think and why I think it, why not just ask me instead of sneaking around behind my back and writing passive-aggressive posts about me?

"I find that writing it down forces me to put it into a coherent, logically form which can be analyzed, and further motivates me to scrutinize it - now it can embarrass me."

If this is the best defense of your position you can muster - which it may not be - then I can say with total and complete sincerity: fuck you. That's the weakest answer possible, "I know what I think is incoherent and illogical, but I want to believe it anyway, so don't ask me about it or I'll just make some stuff up and then refer you to someone else's blog that's not really even relevant." So if this is really how your head works, then you're right - I absolutely can't change your mind, although you still ought to be ashamed of yourself for believing and acting the way you do.

Look, I can see what it is you're trying to do here. You want to understand the thought processes of people and analyze their behavior based on those, for probably some personal reason. Strangely, that's very similar to what I'm trying to do, except I'm doing it with an eye towards figuring out the truth, whereas you seem to be doing it just for kicks. As such, I identify groups of people - conservatives, theists, baseball fans - who I think are very wrong, whereas you just get to poke at everyone who doesn't display your same obsession with thought processes. That might make you feel better, but it doesn't get you any closer to an accurate picture of reality. The way you've been talking, it seems like you might not even care about having such a picture, though, in which case you're just as bad (although not just as wrong, it seems) as Schlafly et al. This is ultimately your problem: I couldn't care less about you as a person, or if you read my blog. But it's cowardly in the extreme to continually distance yourself from anything that might implicate you as being wrong, and it only compounds that cowardice to write posts like this one.

Alrenous said...

No, this is what not caring looks like.

I could rebut your post, but that would take work and in the end you'll just throw some more ad-homs. And so, it's weeks before I can even be bothered to do this much.