Friday, March 18, 2011

Epistemic Expertise - Preview Judgement Example

This example fails. (HT) My prejudice is basically of fluffiness. A vast, soft, substanceless cloud of fluff that wants you to pretend it is an argument. Perhaps not entirely false, but an inefficient use of my time.

As I mentioned previously, I've tested this method innumerable times, but if you want to see me test the prejudice against reality, by all means request that I do details.

"but out of the belief that a proper criticism of a school of thought should begin with elementary and charitable accuracy."
Indeed. Slander is cheap and worth the price. (P.S. Watch how fast this goes from zero to ironic.) True understanding is quite difficult and far more useful. A number of other hopeful signs are present, but...

"Thompson’s argument is outrageous by degrees—starting with what can only be understood to be a number of willfully inaccurate and uncharitable readings, and culminating with the jaw-dropping accusation that neoconservatism is comparable to fascism."
It is something of a bad sign when the distance between self-contradictions is zero sentences.

Willfully? Only? Jaw-dropping? This is not a charitable reading of whether it is charitable.

"This latter charge is so over the top that it threatens to obscure"

Indeed. Quite so.

Still, perhaps this is actually true...I obviously find the style of argument valid, so far...
"Thompson begins and ends his critique by raising the question of the nature of Americanism."
Utterly insubstantial issue. Taken seriously. Put up front. Points lost, paragraph skipped.

"This argument is clearly so willfully flawed to hardly merit response, but—resisting the temptation to throw back this accusation on Thompson by pointing out that many of his intellectual heroes tend to be foreign-born, ranging from Thomas Paine to Friedrich Hayek to Ayn Rand, if only to suggest how risible this effort is"

First, that's not resisting the urge. Second, if the effort is truly as portrayed, it in fact doesn't merit a response.

As doesn't, in all likelihood, the rest of this essay. There you have it - evaluate an essay in 30 seconds or less, and get the right answer more often than you actually need to.

Though I can't help but wonder if I could do it even faster.

First, let's skip the first sign: that it says 'Cato' at the top of the page. Mencius' analysis of how Cato and cronies are corrupt is spot on, and sufficient to predict intellectual failures such as this essay.

So: a blind squirrel is right twice a day and even a broken clock can have nuts in it. Or something.

"I do this not out of a fundamental philosophic sympathy with the broad contours of neoconservative theory—with which I have some substantive disagreements—"
This is a highly unimpressive thing to say, but I'm not sure why. It just makes me leery all by itself. I can see who he's trying to address, and it seems a reasonable caveat at first glance.

I've also learned that my instincts are smarter than I am. If they say something's fishy, odds are it is fishy whether I can understand why or not. So I do a simple counterfactual test. Would the essay fail if this had been edited out?

"I believe a proper criticism of a school of thought needs to start with a charitable accuracy, and I hope to show Thompson's portrayal does not uphold this standard."

No, the essay would be vastly better if it had been edited out. Indeed it fails on multiple levels. Deneen's style is outrageous, a point far more relevant than the outrageousness of any of Thompson's points. I can instantly recognize this, without even knowing why, and he should be equally capable of doing so, indeed more so if he has actual training, or, like, editors and shit. He's either doing it deliberately or doing so through incompetence. Either way, this essay is likely to be trash.

Because, sad as it is, you can judge a book by its cover. The most parsimonious explanation for Deneen's outrageous style of writing is an outrageous style of thinking. I would prefer to see more essays before judging this, but I can't recall a single instance of combining accurate and original insight with an outrageous style. (For example, even Swiftian satire generally doesn't work if you don't already understand the satirized subject.) Experience teaches me I should ignore Deneen, and I would be a fool to think I can outsmart experience, despite the fact this decision runs counter to every explicit piece of advice I've ever...experienced. At best, I could be naive, and replace parochial experience with better ones, and even this is unlikely since I've been explicitly seeking out a wide variety of sources and consciously evaluating them on these dimensions. While I would be an even greater fool to assume my experience can never be overturned by more experience, I should wait to actually encounter those experiences before I change my mind.

Basically, as soon as the train jumped that track from "criticism should begin from charity" to "Thompson's a scumbag (nudge wink wink)," I could have safely stopped.

I think.

That's judging really, really, really fast. It can't possibly be reliable...can it?

Hint: this is exactly what I thought when I first designed the slightly less fast method. Exactly. Completely exactly. This intuition is 100% correlated, in my experience, with the answer "Yes, it can."

This means my intuition has already performed the analysis. It came up with the exact same answer as last time, an answer I can now recognize and understand. I could perform a check but it is just reinventing the wheel.

Not that I can't defeat that problem, too, if I so desired. Let's do another counterfactual. Under what conditions would recognition be difficult? To ask is to know the answer - the spread has to be wide, and I need a good example of the upper reaches for comparison.

So is the spread wide? More importantly, can I give names of writers better than I?

Yes and yes. Deneen's writing evaluates far, far below, say, Mencius'. Hopelessly below this guy.

Deneen's doesn't seem that far different from newpaper journalists - my normalizing standard for mean free path between contradictions. (A subjective number, I mainly use it as a mnemonic.) Journos score 1. Mencius scores 90. Deneen is maybe 10 or so.

Comparing Deneen and Mencius is like watching an amputee compete in an olympic sprint...even though Deneen is at least ten times better than any newspaper journalist.

It is, in retrospect, not in the least surprising that I can accurately pre-judge an entire essay using only an incomplete first paragraph.

It is just the exact mechanics that elude me. Oh sorry, that's may elude me. Deneen is performing intellectual jockeying. His position is probably just BS that is useful to hold. He uses just enough true statements to hook a moderately competent audience - because his peers are moderately competent - and then launches into sly character assassination.

He does this because he's thinking of jockeying, and that primes him to think of examples of jockeying, which he then draws inspiration from. Or, from my perspective, primes him to copy the jockeying style which I recognize from seemingly endless articles by those indifferent to honesty and accuracy by virtue of its uselessness to them. Or,
"Before [that] I will concentrate on attempting to provide a more accurate assessment of neoconservatism, which may then permit fairer-minded but nevertheless serious critique."
Deneen doesn't actually describe his assessment of neoconservatism, which I'd actually be interested in reading as psychological research. It is an open question whether he's incapable or just doesn't see the need to actually follow through.

Having written this, not merely thought it, I suddenly became much more interested in its accuracy. A little ctrl-f 'neoconservative' and

"Above all, the neoconservative defense of robust and active central government, its belief in the need for a particularly talented and wise set of political leaders who have a concern for the common good, and its recognition of the need for a citizenry that is at least informally schooled in certain civic and moral virtues are beliefs that are all manifested by the Framers of the Constitution"

That was depressing. I knew it was bad, but seeing it there, so raw... Deneen takes three paragraphs after his "before" to start describing neocons, and even then fails to support even a single one of the assertions. Charity or fantasy? Three more paragraphs are over before he substantially returns to the supposed subject of the essay.

I really need to stop doubting my prejudices. That thing that was making me mysteriously leery, all those words ago? Yeah, it was a lie. After dodging like his life depends on it, Deneen lavishly defends neocons. "I have substantive disagreements" Yeah? Where?

If you're feeling masochistic enough to actually read the essay, perhaps you can kindly filter those disagreements out for me, because I can't justify any further effort.

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