Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Notes on argumentation

I just checked Facebook for the first time in a while (I’ve been busy), and found this from a Facebook friend:

I just think it’s interesting how you don’t seem to be willing to apply your own metrics, measurements and evaluations of such to things that don’t fit your ideology. One person makes up a story about getting her hijab stolen= we will probably hear many many more instances of this... I ask about a woman who fabricates a sexual assault story, and if you’d apply that same hypothesis to those instances (that you will see or have seen many many more instances of that) and its... lets wait for facts. Or, even better- let’s divert the attention to another topic altogether... I just can’t argue with you. Hell, with you, even FACTS are only those that YOU find. So, thanks. I’m done. I’ll leave you to allowing your friends and family to back you up and validate your every view point.

I have several replies to this, of course, but note that this is a reply to a comment of mine in which I said that we should wait for facts before assuming that Trump supporters are on a murderous rampage across the country. Here’s a reasonable summary of the case that that Facebook friend adduced; it’s from a newspaper vehemently committed to the anti-Trump cause: The Washington Post.

In reply, I cited a well-covered story of a hoax by a Muslim woman, who claimed that Trump supporters had been mean to her (Lafayette, LA) as evidence that we should wait for facts before leaping to conclusions. Of course, I could also mention the Rolling Stone magazine’s recent libel verdict. Or the African-American Columbia professor who hung a noose on her own office door as a bid to get tenure because she was so oppressed. Examples can be multiplied endlessly — so much so that, in the absence of actual, physical evidence, one should always assume that a left-winger alleging a “hate crime” is lying. After all, the folks who really do commit hate crimes are too stupid to cover their tracks well enough to evade detection.

This is the fundamental problem — well, one of two, anyway. When it comes to matters of fact, both parties in an argument must be willing to accept that they can be proven wrong — this is called “falsifiability”. If there is no conceivable circumstance that would cause you to admit that you were wrong, then your argument is no longer based on either logic or evidence and should be abandoned. And, furthermore, everyone must agree that mere assertions constitute neither facts nor evidence (except, perhaps, of the asserter’s biases).

The other fundamental problem has to do with those assumptions which cannot be proven. We on the right tend to believe in freedom, even if that freedom leads to bad results. With few exceptions, liberals/Democrats/Progressives believe that no one should ever experience any pain no matter what choices he makes and that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that everyone’s lives are free of pain. Alas for them, this goal in unachievable — and so far as it can be achieved, it leads to stunted, stupid, and incapable human beings, as can be demonstrated by all those flocking to the “safe spaces” on American campuses today.

But these are what logicians refer to as “priors” or “axiomata” — those things which you assume are so obviously true that no proof is required — and, which, once you delve into them, you discover are not susceptible of proof at all, like the existence of God or the reality of moral truth. If you and your interlocutor cannot agree on your priors, then agreement will never come to pass — even if you both agree that each other’s logic is valid. Although, in my experience, left-wingers are not able to recognize a valid argument if they disagree with the priors. But, then, they also consider logic to be patriarchal, hegemonic, imperialist, heterosexist, <insert other bad words here>, etc.

This, by the way, is what made the Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton contest interesting. Hillary was actually more likely to have priors that actually reflected (what I consider to be) reality — but Bernie’s logic was more valid.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Cass Sunstein, Jonathan Gruber, and Michelle Obama: Why Clinton Lost

I don’t think it’s enough to blame Clinton’s loss on her lack of charisma, inability to carry a speech, unusually unpleasant personality, or penchant for being wrong on every major policy issue, foreign and domestic. Still less can it be blamed on her genitalia.

Rather, it’s the product of the approach to governance of three unelected Democrats who have had an outsized influence on the Obama administration and on the Democratic Party as a whole:

  • Jonathan Gruber, who famously attributed Obamacare’s passage to American stupidity: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” (The Hill)
  • Michelle Obama, who led the fight for “nutritious school lunches” — which no one wanted to eat. (Washington Post)
  • Cass Sunstein, Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, who popularized the idea of using public policy to “nudge” people into making decisions that he would approve of. (Amazon)

The common thread is the idea that people who have the best credentials (MIT, Princeton, and Harvard, respectively) have the right — indeed, the obligation — to tell everyone else how they should live their lives and, naturally, to inform them at length of how wrong they are if they don’t do as they’re told.

Oddly, most human beings react poorly to such condescension.

More and more, the Democratic Party has been about telling people what they must and must not say, must and must not do, must and must not think, must and must not question, must and must not believe. Yet Americans do not seem to have the same faith in the moral superiority and infinite sagacity of Progressive technocrats that the Democratic Party (and, to a lesser extent, the Republican Party) elites do. This lack of faith is too often borne out by events: the stimulus, Obamacare, Libya, Syria — all dismal failures that Americans, unaccountably, blame on the Democrats who perpetrated them rather than the Republicans who tried to stop them, even though the Democrats have not ceased from explaining how everything is, always and everywhere, the Republican's fault. (E.g., Al Franken on Obamacare.)

It may be that Democrats have been seduced by their college-age voters, who do, in fact, want to be told precisely what to do and have no obvious ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately for the Democrats, most Americans are adults.

I suspect that they will be in the political wilderness for a while yet.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Art, Politics, Publicity, and Silence

Those of us who follow politics are aware that Tony Podesta, a Democratic lobbyist and fundraiser who also happens to be extremely wealthy (how could that have happened?) is also a major collector of contemporary art. Or “art,” as it should be styled.

Those of us who follow art are aware that the criteria for art have changed substantially over the years. At present, the chief desiderata are shock, ugliness, disgust, and sloppiness; anything that requires talent, is beautiful, or is pleasant to gaze upon is disqualified from all the best museums — and, of course, from the Podesta collection. In short, the art world is a playground for three-year-olds who somehow have grown adult-sized bodies.

So it is not surprising that the Podestas number among their friends one Marina Abramović, who is probably the most famous and well-regarded performance artist (“artist”) in the world today.

Tony Podesta is, of course, the brother of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. So, today, thanks to Wikileaks, we can witness the collision of the elite of the art world, who intentionally disdain and contemn the taste of everyone else, and the elite of the political world, who also disdain and contemn the common ruck — but while simultaneously attempting to win their votes. A challenge at the best of times, naturally … but even more so today, as Hillary Clinton regularly displays her overwhelming hatred for everyone who dares disagree with her in any way, however slight. One would ordinarily think this a deplorable failing in a politician, but these are not ordinary times. And, besides, the same approach worked (and still works) for Obama.

Abramović is a devotee of the Satanist Aleister Crowley, who, during his lifetime (1875–1947) was dubbed (not without reason) “the wickedest man in the world” and was one of the founders of what, today, is known as Wicca. She practices one of Crowley's made-up rites, “Spirit Cooking” — the disgusting details of which we will gloss over here, involving, as they do, bodily secretions and excretions of every sort — which fits in amazingly well with today’s contemporary art. So she invited Tony and John over for a Spirit Cooking dinner.

A (mostly safe) example of one of Abramović’s recipes can be found in an issue of Vogue which predates the Wikileaks revelation. More explicit (and less safe) images are now all over the place for anyone who wishes to look.

It is pretty clear that no politician who wants the votes of the majority of the American voting public would ever want to be associated in any way, or want any member of her staff to be so associated, with such a ceremony.

What is more interesting to me at the moment is the press coverage of this infamous dinner. It is absolutely certain that, were Trump (or any other Republican) to have engaged — or even been invited to — such a rite, the details would be on the front pages of every newspaper in the world. Since the Podestas are Democrats, the Clintonian omertà is in full force among the mainstream media, and even (for now) among the more respectable right-wing outlets, like National Review and the Weekly Standard. But the Drudge Report and the National Enquirer are, naturally, all over it, just as they were the only outlets to cover John Edwards’s deplorable (that word again) treatment of his wife while she was dying — without which, that cheating shyster could well have ended up President.

Needless to say, should Clinton win the election and manage to overturn Citizens United, anyone who dares publicize anything derogatory about Herself or any of Her minions would find himself in a Federal prison almost instantly. (Cf. Mark Basseley Youssef, the only person ever imprisoned for using an alias on the internet, for an educational example.)