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Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Shortly before his party’s crushing defeat in last November’s elections, President Obama ruminated about why he and his policies had become so unpopular and offered the following thought. “The reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.” On another occasion, admitting that his administration “probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right,” he concluded that “anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R.”

If this is the way the president and his party think about human psychology, it’s little wonder they’ve taken such a beating. Their assumption seems to be that we are basically rational creatures who, left to our own devices, have little trouble discerning what our interests are and how to serve them. It’s only when our passions get the better of us, when we are angry or fearful or exuberant, that we make bad decisions. That’s really what’s the matter with Kansas, and with the Tea Party activists. So the administration has to work harder to “get the message out” and “sell” its program; to calm people it needs to give them clearer, more complete and more attractively packaged information about how it is working in their interests. Bring in the pie charts, by all means, but print them on glossier paper.
The wisdom of this approach depends on whether the underlying assumption about human nature is right. But is it? Not, at least, according to virtually every Western philosopher and theologian from antiquity to the 18th-century. From Plato to St. Augustine to Thomas Hobbes, the shared assumption was that human beings are fundamentally passionate creatures and that reason alone is too weak to contain our drives. In the “Republic,” Socrates makes the point by developing an image of the soul as being inhabited by three creatures: a multiheaded hydra of desires, a ferocious but tameable lion and a rational little man. On the face of it, the man looks outnumbered 2 to 1. But Socrates tries to persuade his interlocutors that the man can train the passionate lion, not by explaining things (lions are without speech) but by training him to be loyal as you would any animal. Then the lion will protect the man against the hydra. St. Augustine had a more pessimistic view of the passions, considered most sinful, and believed that only divine grace can help us restrain them. Hobbes was more pessimistic still, because he didn’t believe in grace. He said that human beings would become reasonable only when they ceased fearing one another, and that would happen only if they were more fearful of a powerful absolute sovereign who kept them all in check.

That’s pretty much where matters stood until the 18th century. As the economist Albert Hirschman explained in his classic, and again timely, book, “The Passions and the Interests” (1977), it was then that leading figures of the Enlightenment began exploring the idea of “interests.” Having witnessed the destruction caused by religious zeal and the chivalric ideal of honor in Europe, thinkers like Montesquieu in France and David Hume in Scotland began to consider how our drives, which they considered more essential to our nature than reason, might be channeled in less violent, more productive directions. They conjectured that if a third psychological force, a universal desire to improve our condition, were allowed to operate freely, it would be enough to bring individuals’ reason and passions into harmony.

This drew them to economics, not because they cared much about business but because they thought commercial activity and the promise of gain could indirectly make people more foresighted and restrained. They had no utopian illusions about creating a world of rational, affectless machines. Like Adam Smith, they simply thought that if the pursuit of private interest were treated as legitimate (not sinful) and were properly regulated (crucial), you could create a society in which military valor was less prized than business acumen, in which capturing a market was more attractive than looting a village.

That was the idea. But as Hirschman pointed out, this balance between enlightened self-interest and moderated passions disappeared in the rapid industrialization of the 19th century. Once self-interest was blessed, there arose a capitalist ideology justifying the limitless accumulation of wealth, and in response to it a socialist ideology justifying the violent defense of class interests. The passions of greed and resentment were excited and set against each other, causing violent conflicts that disturbed Western countries well into the following century. Contrary to Enlightenment expectations, the uncontrolled pursuit of interests, whether by an individual or a class, proved just as proficient at disturbing social peace as the mindless pursuit of glory. Neither reason, grace, nor considerations of self-interest could settle the problem of the passions once and for all. The lesson to be drawn is that the art of politics must be the art of engaging the passions, first by exciting them, then by moderating and directing them to a worthy end, one that reason may reveal but cannot achieve.

That also seems to be the lesson of recent American history. If we look beyond the jockeying of interest groups, parties and politicians, it’s apparent that the shape of American politics over the past half-century has been determined by two great waves of passion: the first running from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations through the ’70s, the second running from the Reagan administration to the departure of George W. Bush. What dominated during the first wave was excitement about a New Frontier, hope for a just and Great Society, fear of nuclear war, a desire for greater social freedom — and confidence that government could accomplish much. In the next era the same passions, nearly as intense, would be successfully redirected by Ronald Reagan. Now the excitement was about privatization, hope was invested in economic growth, fears centered on the family and the greatest desire was for freedom from government.

The Great Recession and the Tea Party’s ire, directed at Democrats and Republicans alike, suggest that this second political dispensation is coming to an end and that Americans’ passions are ready to be redirected once again. Having been dealt a bad hand, President Obama may have only a slim chance of doing that, but he has absolutely none if he limits himself to appealing to people’s interests. That’s not been the American experience of change. In our politics, history doesn’t happen when a leader makes an argument, or even strikes a pose. It happens when he strikes a chord. And you don’t need charts and figures to do that; in fact they get in the way. You only need two words.

George Plimpton used to tell the story of Muhammad Ali going to Harvard one year to give an address. At the end of his speech, someone called out to him, “Give us a poem!” He paused, stretched out his arms to the audience and delivered what Plimpton said was the shortest poem in the English language:
ME [pause]
WE!
The students would have followed him anywhere.


Mark Lilla is professor of humanities at Columbia University


Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Thoughts on this essay?


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Robert wrote: "Thoughts on this essay?"

Anybody on the losing end of an intellectual argument almost always finds some fault with those who disagree with them. No surprise at all in the essay.


Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Thanks Everyman. So, you think the author is just whining over sour grapes (to allude to Aesop). Any specific thoughts on his arguments would be welcome, should you so desire.


message 5: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments The essay raises controversial issues about the nature and function of modern political systems.
I'd like to hear everyone's ideas, but first let me give a link to the article in question, because the source is also important.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/mag...


Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Thanks Tyler...I actually chose to conceal the source because I was hoping that people would react to the essay based on its content, and not any preconceived notions about the publication.

I've had many people discount anything from the NYT outright simply on the basis of the fact that it came from the NYT.

So, maybe that was unnecessary, but there's my confession! (smile)

Yes, would love to hear other's reactions and assessments.


message 7: by Tyler (last edited Dec 22, 2010 12:14PM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments You've got a good idea, but if the article is copyrighted, it must be acknowledged on Goodreads.

Interestingly, the sheer fact that an article has been selected for publication often implies what we should think, even if its tone is neutral. Yet if people are suspicious of something because it appeared in the New York Times, then they for their part must give and perhaps defend their reasons for being suspicious.


Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Tyler, spot on. And you are correct on the Goodreads policy...I forgot about that. Thanks for the reminder.


message 9: by John (last edited Dec 22, 2010 04:00PM) (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Copying and pasting an unacknowledged source? Plagiarizing? That's a new low, even for you, Bobby!

But I knew something was going on. I was reading it, and realized it made sense and was well-argued, so I knew it wasn't yours.

Merry Christmas!


message 10: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Read a little more carefully John. I did acknowledge the author. I just didn't say it was from the NYT.

And please...try hard not to be so juvenile. You only incriminate yourself...you must realize that.


message 11: by Everyman (last edited Dec 22, 2010 09:20PM) (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Tyler wrote: "Yet if people are suspicious of something because it appeared in the New York Times, then they for their part must give and perhaps defend their reasons for being suspicious.
"


True. And equally, if they hear something on Fox News or NPR the same principle would apply. Frankly, I don't really care where something appears; I look at the thing itself. There is both wisdom and nonsense from Fox, NPR, the NYT, the National Review, and even I suspect the newsletter of the KKK, if they have one.

Edit: I should clarify, though, that while the source isn't important to me, the author often is.


message 12: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi John --

Robert did not plagarize anything. He attributed the article to the correct author and made no claim that it was his own.

I believe you work in the field of education somehow and you know what a serious accusation you've made. Many of your posts are ad hominems against a single member; a philosophy group is the wrong place for rhetorical license of that nature.


message 13: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Everyman,

Thanks. I would agree...all sources are potentially biased, whether the NYT or Fox,etc. For myself, I try, as you do, just to look at the content primarily, and assess it for what it is.

In this particular essay, I guess I was intrigued by the author's ability to draw on philosophy, history, and economics to explain what is going on in the deeply divided electorate and government that we are experiencing. It seems to me that the rational center has all but disappeared. I thought Lilla's ability to pull together such a sweeping analysis in a few paragraphs, and stay on point, was admirable.

I also happen to agree that the Obama administration has misjudged the American public. I agree that, with exceptions, our electorate as a whole does not tend to be driven by reason and analysis of the facts. Rather, we are driven by ideology and, in some cases, theology in a concoction that does seem to have its base in passion. So, to think about that within the context of the intellectual history that Lilla gives us was, for me, intriguing.

I also thought that Lilla stay fairly bipartisan in his analysis of the two great waves that have affected politics in my lifetime.

Of course, he then proceeds to give his own personal opinion that the second great wave...that inaugurated by Reagan, is coming to an end. That, of course, remains to be seen...I'm not yet sure he is right.

Thoughts anyone?


message 14: by Tyler (last edited Dec 23, 2010 09:53AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Robert --

The article raises questions about how the political system in the United States functions, and the direction politics is turning toward in other countries as well.

First Question: Is the political system moving in the direction you'd like to see it go?

Discourse in the mainstream media tends to drown out serious issues in a sea of words, and this article is an example. It introduces numerous issues that bear on political philosophy. So for now, I can only pick out a couple of general points.

One is the use of rhetoric versus reason in politics. The idea that politics can have a reasoned basis stems from the Enlightenment. But recently, that view, along with the general belief that the Enlightenment provides answers for modern society, has fallen out of favor.

The former view that politics is a matter of manipulating the public's passions is in vogue. So appealing to reason in a political campaign has fallen by the wayside.

So, Second Question: Is politics based on reason even possible?

****

Here are my comments on some specific points in the article.

It’s only when our passions get the better of us, when we are angry or fearful or exuberant, that we make bad decisions.

Most mainstream media programming appears designed to keep people in a constant state of alarm or fright about something or other, in order to keep us tuned in. This accounts in part for the kind of political messages the public receives. The rhetoric that best alarms the public is most likely to win votes. The idea of presenting a positive vision in a political campaign doesn't seem to work anymore. This represents a change in the political system.


...the art of politics must be the art of engaging the passions, first by exciting them, then by moderating and directing them to a worthy end

Of course, the end doesn't have to be a worthy one at all. Doesn't this approach breed cynicism as well?


If we look beyond the jockeying of interest groups, parties and politicians, it’s apparent that ...

But why should we look any further? Modern politics has little to do with the individual. It's about interest mediation among groups.


The Great Recession and the Tea Party’s ire, directed at Democrats and Republicans alike, suggest that this second political dispensation is coming to an end and that Americans’ passions are ready to be redirected once again.

Those two phenomena suggest no such thing. The author makes no sense in conflating the recession with the Tea Party. His inference that we're moving to something different is unjustified. The Tea Party does not represent anything new in politics, and Americans' passions about the recession have had little effect upon policy. The author has, in this paragraph, simply channeled readers' hopes down a blind alley.

At this point the fact that the article appeared in the New York Times becomes relevant, because that paper is part of the mainstream press. The mainstream press largely reflects the interests of those in power, so what we're reading is a roundabout endorsement of the status quo.

I think people generally are or would like to become rational thinkers. However, the percentage of people with adequate critical thinking skills is low, and even then, they must contend with a modern culture for which reasoned thinking has little value.

The political system has changed since I first became aware of it back around 1970. I don't think that change is for the good, but I'm open to any argument that it is.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

We tend to generalize in order to grasp historical events. I'm currently reading about Ike/ Nixon first campaign in the early 50's. They were both afraid to control McCarthy because of the possible political implications. In politics, emotions will dominate reason in most cases. I've read enough Canadian politics to believe the politicians, in some cases, have to protect the public from itself.

I think philosophy in general has a bias toward reason which makes it difficult for some to accept existentiaisim as a true philosophy. Existentialism is too close to emotions and unlilke Plato likes all kinds of literature. It's hard for me to get my head around "political science" as politics, to me, is more art than science. Most forms of government work if the political leaders are sincerely interested in their country and it's people. Although democracy is probably the best form of government it is also the most difficult to function effectively without a well informed public.

I would suggest the "news media" is responsible to giving the public objective information relating to big business, politics, and the public service. The quality of the news determines the degree of understanding of the public. Unfortunately the news media has it's own vested interests adn agenda.


message 16: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Tyler, thanks for a thought provoking analysis. Here's a few responses:

1. Is the political system moving in the direction you'd like to see it go?...
I think, at the moment, it is very unclear where the system is heading. So, not sure I can answer this question at this time. The election of Obama, and just 2 short years later the swing back to the right and the ascent of the Tea Party, say to me that predictions at this point are fraught with error.

2. is politics based on reason even possible?
I think that is a great question. My own sense is that it is probably not. I also think that was the fundamental point Lilla was making - that Obama's assumption that this was possible is a large reason for his political ineffectiveness (note - I didn't say governance ineffectiveness).

Your next comments on the tendency of the mainstream media to focus on what alarms us are, I think, largely true. I think what happened in the recent midterm election was largely based on fear and alarm.

...the art of politics must be the art of engaging the passions, first by exciting them, then by moderating and directing them to a worthy end

You said: Of course, the end doesn't have to be a worthy one at all. Doesn't this approach breed cynicism as well?

YES...I would agree. The end doesn't have to be a worthy one...it isn't necessary that it be so. OF course, the aim of those in power is to move it toward one that is worthy (if they are governing from a position of integrity). Obviously, what is "worthy" as an end, or not, is in the eye of the beholder and in the vote of the electorate. Therefore, if the electorate is driven primarily by the winds of ideology and passion,that necessarily makes for a wild ride, to say the least.

If we look beyond the jockeying of interest groups, parties and politicians, it’s apparent that ...

you said: But why should we look any further? Modern politics has little to do with the individual. It's about interest mediation among groups.

I don't think Lilla's point was so much about distinguishing between the role of the individual and the role of interest groups...rather, I think his point was the distinction between the impact of the most recent short term sway of interest groups, and more fundamental long-term patterns. I think he was pretty much on with that paragraph.

The Great Recession and the Tea Party’s ire, directed at Democrats and Republicans alike, suggest that this second political dispensation is coming to an end and that Americans’ passions are ready to be redirected once again.

You wrote: Those two phenomena suggest no such thing. The author makes no sense in conflating the recession with the Tea Party. His inference that we're moving to something different is unjustified. The Tea Party does not represent anything new in politics, and Americans' passions about the recession have had little effect upon policy. The author has, in this paragraph, simply channeled readers' hopes down a blind alley.

Here's what I think Lilla meant: all of modern change theory tells us that large scale change happens when the dissatisfaction with the status quo outweighs the natural reticence to take a risk. I think Lilla was saying that the recession was a fear-catalyst one which the Tea Party capitalized. In that context, I think he is spot on. I don't agree that the Tea Party presents nothing new in politics...I think it does. Not conservatism...that's certainly not new. Rather, it is the strong wave of anti-government passion by those who position themselves not as republican, or democrat, but as non-political. It is the libertarian ideal come to fruition. So, in that sense it is not entirely new - Ross Perot tried it a few years ago, but the time was not right. But now, when you take the evangelical religious right, libertarianism, frontierism, conservatism, and considerable anti-intellectualism, put them all in a pot and stir it up with a strong dose of fear as seasoning, you get the Tea Party. That "brew", in today's time, and the interaction between those factors, is what is new, I think.

On to the author's prediction: although I think he was right about the power of those two factors (recession and tea party), I'm not at all sure the country is again poised for a new fundamental dispensation akin to the two he mentioned. In my view, that would require a certain sense of direction within the electorate, and I don't see that. What I see there is essentially a bi-modal distribution...strongly bifurcated.

Finally, I have a much more pessismistic view of the electorate than you seem to have. I don't think that "people generally are or would like to become rational thinkers" at all. Yes, there are some like that but they are in the small minority, in my experience. What I see as I talk to many, many people is a strong tendency to avoid rational analysis. Rather, the attitude is akin to "my mind is made up - don't try to confuse me with the facts." In other words, not only are the skills for critical thinking in short supply, the paucity of DESIRE for critical thinking, in my experience, is palpable.

Finally, I would not disagree that the political system is in an unhealthy state (which I take to be the point of your final sentence). I think you are exactly correct!

When you say, "the political system has changed since I first became aware of it back around 1970", I'd love to hear you expand on that - in what ways has it changed in your view? What was it then, what is it now, and what has caused it to change, in your view?


message 17: by Tyler (last edited Dec 24, 2010 08:02AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Glen --

The appeal of existentialism in philosophy remains its focus on the individual. I think it will keep its place in philosophy, but I'm not sure the status of the individual in democratic political systems is as secure as it ought to be.

I don't know about Canada, but the U.S. public is either poorly informed about relevant political issues or led to false conclusions by the media. The idea of a public good as a proper role for the media has been eclipsed by the idea that advoccacy of a public good is an infringement upon free enterprise. Again, I don't know how Canadians see the role of their media, or whether it has any obligation toward a public good.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

It is difficult for any political decision to be completely based on reason. Out public in general is more accepting of government intervention and will probably continue to have more regulations on financial matters. Our current PM is very conservative (has a PhD in Economics) but has a minority government which means most legislation is closer to the centre of Canadian political spectrum. We have had a minority government for five years in January. The public obviously cannot create that situation intentionally but it happens when the public is not comfortable about the direction of government.

The Canadian media is basically similar to the American media. I have to read at least three newspapers to get any idea what is going on politically. I believe the media is becoming more cynical.

B.C. is known for its strange politics. Our present government which was re elected in 2009 with a comfortable majority introduced a provincial consumer tax to replace the sales tax. It covered more item and melded with the federal consumer tax which makes it more efficient to collect. It is also more fair as special groups have more difficulte getting an exception. Well, the gov't basically lied about introducing the tax before the last election. Our Premier had a lower rating with the public than Nixon had during Watergate. The part itself forced him out of office just recently even thought he has led a successful government for about 10 years. The leader of the opposition is a moderate within her democratic socialist party. Her party is unhappy with her as she reduced the influence of big labour within the party and generally as seen as not strong. (Taking on big labour in a socialist party doesn't take courage?)She also thought the new tax would be maintained. Anyway the party forced her out. We are now going to have two leadership races in the middle of the govnernment's term of office. Could you imagine if that happened at the federal level?

The anger of the public has suddenly died down. HOwever,enough signed a petition that the new tax will be voted on by referendum in 2011 and there is also a "recall" process" on certain MLA's which is absolutely absurd. Lead by the news media the public went overboard before understanding the new tax (which is already in the maritimes, and is being inroduced in Ontario) If we rescind the tax we have a disadvantage compared to Ontario and Quebec. After the political chaos, the public is starting to calm down and asking relevant questions. It didn't matter that one of the most influential national journalist said it was the right move. All the provincial papers played it for all it was worth.

Federally , the Liberal party forced out their leader after three conscecutive majority govn'ts. On the next elecetion they were elected as a miniority gov't whihc didn't last long. The conservatives won the next election and is still in power.

We all have similar problems just different actors and issues.


message 19: by Tyler (last edited Dec 24, 2010 09:36AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Robert --

What stands out in Lilla's article is the logical weakness of the penultimate paragraph, which I mentioned before. I think one question about that has to do with whether the Tea Party represents anything new. As I said, I don't, and I suspect the author must know that, too. That's why I think paragraph leads us down a blind alley with its hint that something genuinely new is about to happen.

There is something new, as you mentioned, to the extraordinary mashup of libertarianism, populism, religion and anger in the Tea Party. But the libertarians of the past have eventually acquiesed in conservative policies, and I think it's just a matter of time before the Tea Party comes out as a faction of the Republican Party.

That explains why I disagree with the implication in the article that something new may be upon us. The Tea Party channels populars anger back into the very solutions that caused the problems that made its members so angry in the first place.


When you say, "the political system has changed since I first became aware of it back around 1970", I'd love to hear you expand on that - in what ways has it changed in your view?

One of the ways I've seen it change lies in this ability of the media and the political system to send voters down blind alleys.

This is connected with another change, the upsurge in the propensity of voters to believe lies and canards. I think that, far from its original promise of opening up public discourse, the Internet has had the effect undermining it.

For example, the story about Obama not being a citizen was circulated as part of the 2008 campaign. Its originators had no use for it once the campaign was over, but unlike in the past, the Internet has given it a baffling immortality.

That's a really new development. While a certain portion of voters, say 2%, were always susceptible to this kind of thinking, that number is now far higher due to the constant attention on the Internet, which then becomes mainstream news. The example here ...

http://hendrawanm.wordpress.com/2010/...

... I don't intend to single out Fox news, but to make a general point applicable to all mainstream news sources.

In general, what I've seen is that the government has simply become less and less responsive to people over time, functioning more and more in a separate world.

One especially noticeable change is the absence of long-term planning by the government. This used to be a given. Now all decisions appear to be ad hoc reactions to whatever emergencies pop up. The American government, in other worlds, has no plans anymore for the future, only for the immediate present.

Even so, I do think people want to be rational and learn to use reason better. I think so because the ability to use reason is a survival trait of the human species that has evolved naturally. We rely on reason to survive, and to the extent that we don't reason, we don't survive. So we have a natural affinity for it. The problem is that we're all born into a culture that acts against this human impulse in every way, starting at a young age. So as adults, we all have a huge bias toward emotionalism to overcome. Many people, sadly, never get out of this social matrix, but it's not necessarily an impossible task.


message 20: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Hi Tyler,

I continue to be intrigued and enriched by the thoughts you offer...really, I do. Although, we do see some things the same and others differently.

I got your point earlier about the penultimate paragraph. Here's how I assess it (if I'm repeating myself unnecessarily, forgive the tedium): I think there is, indeed, an element of logical inconsistency in that paragraph. As you say, it is essentially in implying that we are poised for a fundamentally new direction - that doesn't follow, I agree. However, I don't find the confluence of the Great Recession and the ascendancy of the Tea Party to be irrelevant. I DO think that they are very important signals of change...I'm just not sure if that change is toward a fundamentally new direction (as Lilla says), or a further entrenchment in fear-based conservatism, or even more likely, a strengthening of the radical pushing of the electorate toward the two ends of the spectrum and the loss of the rational center.

When he goes on in the paragraph to point out that one grabs the public most effectively by striking a "chord", I think he is exactly right. That's what happened when O. was elected, and that's what happened recently. The disturbing thing, to me, is that this "chord" can change so radically in such a short amount of time.

I'll also say that I frequently, in these discussions, try to mitigate the strength of statements implying that the electorate is victimized by the media. I think the electorate is that way by their own fault...they SHOULD be able to see through it, to do what Glen talks about above, which is to get a number of different perspectives and make their own informed decisions. So, basically, I don't blame the media...I blame us.

I would point out that there is a potentially inconsistent seque in your argument above when you point out that people want to be rational and use reasoned analysis but then are so easily victimized by the likes of Fox news. Is it that you feel they WANT to be so, but are unable? How does that then fit into your evolutionary argument?

Finally, the whole influence of cultural trends are what they are, and as you point out, they are powerful. But what is culture? Is it some disembodied demoniac that tempts human beings away from their true nature? Isn't culture just the sum total of the societal views and habits that we ourselves create? I don't view culture as an independent variable - rather, it is a dependent variable, and that variable changes over time as we, in fact, change. So, in my mind blaming it on culture is akin to a little bit of begging the question.

I agree that it's not impossible to escape. However, escape requires desire to be free, and as I said before, I think that desire is in short supply. We are our own enemy on this matter.

As postscript - what was most interesting to me about the essay was the insight into the current phenomenon that is gained by drawing on intellectual history and the humanities...that's why I posted it in this group (smile). The rest of the controversy in logic is just icing on the cake for no extra charge (chuckle).

Thanks again, Tyler. Appreciate the dialogue. Although I may appear to be entrenched, your thoughts are causing me to think more deeply and in new directions!


message 21: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Glen --

Your post brings out a couple of differences between Canada and the U.S. I, too, used to read several papers to try to get some objective perspective. But this goes back to selection. There are some things that never appear in the press to begin with. I have to question not just what appears in The New York Times but also what’s been left out.

Also, you mention the B.C. public calming down after the facts of a proposal became more widely known. That was true in American politics in the past, but it’s not the case anymore. The confusions, misunderstandings and lies surrounding political proposals or actions have become immortal, and the press no longer tries much to cut through it. Our reporters seem content to say that there are two sides to everything that appears out there, and it’s not their job to judge.


message 22: by Tyler (last edited Dec 28, 2010 08:14AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Robert --


I think the electorate is that way by their own fault...they SHOULD be able to see through it …

They should be, but they aren’t. So why is that? Perhaps just about everything in our culture favors emotional excitement over reason. Since this bias starts in childhood it is much harder to overcome than if it had started later. Some people do break out of it, but not enough can see their way through the smoke, and a considerable number aren’t even aware of it. Those who think clearly get dragged down by the others and have to suffer the consequences.

… you point out that people want to be rational and use reasoned analysis but then are so easily victimized by the likes of Fox news. Is it that you feel they WANT to be so, but are unable? How does that then fit into your evolutionary argument?

The early indoctrination of children by this culture masks a natural ability; adults are unable to get beyond their whims and desires and think about what’s reasonable. My speculation is that there is a natural balance between our rational and emotional thoughts, but modern media has its thumb on the scales. This requires an enormous, continual expenditure of effort on the part of the media, so I’m not sure how successful it will be in the long run. It doesn’t work on some of us. It could easily start failing to work on even more.


****
…what was most interesting to me about the essay was the insight into the current phenomenon that is gained by drawing on intellectual history and the humanities…

Lilla mentions several philosophers. The Enlightenment brought about the idea of people acting as rational agents in the political system, and that idea is enfolded into various versions of the democratic process.

However, Enlightenment philosophy has come under attack from other philosophers. Max Stirner, author of The Ego and its Own, comes to mind, but Leo Strauss is more influential in modern political thinking. The reaction against the Enlightenment centers on the idea that liberalism makes a grave mistake by aiming for the equality of people who are manifestly unequal. An alternative to democracy, corporatism, is discussed in The Unconscious Civilization. It advocates group mediation as a replacement for individual participation in society. Another alternative is that of a ruling elite, a kind of natural aristocracy, and that idea is the one popularized by Strauss who, working at the University of Chicago, greatly influenced political thinking in the United States.

Setting that aside, though, I’ll ask you: What would it mean to you to apply the humanities to politics?


message 23: by Rob the Obscure (last edited Dec 28, 2010 08:42AM) (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Tyler wrote: "Enlightenment philosophy has come under attack from other philosophers. ..."

Yes...that of course, is inevitable, as every philosophical school will eventually be roundly attacked by later philosophers attempting to establish their own place in the scheme of things.

Yes, I am aware of the strain of thought accusing so-called "liberalism" of seeking to make everyone "equal". That, of course, is not the aim of most of those self-identifying as liberals. Rather, the aim could be generally summarized as an attempt to reduce the gap between the social standing of people at opposite ends of the economic spectrum by working against those trends that unjustly stultify upward movement. No thinking person actually thinks that equality is possible.

What does it mean to me to apply the humanities to politics? Simple - as done in this article, it is to draw insights from intellectual history (as pertains to the humanities) as an aid in understanding current political trends and the ability to actually make progress politically.

You say that the author "mentions several philosophers". He actually does quite a bit more than that, to the extent possible in a brief essay...he points out major ideas from that history and makes connections between those and what is currently happening in this country, and further, draws out implications for understand the enigmatic reaction we are currently witnessing to the efforts of the Obama administration and how attempts to improve that reaction can be made more effective.


message 24: by Tyler (last edited Dec 28, 2010 04:06PM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Robert --

That, of course, is not the aim of most of those self-identifying as liberals.

That's true, but what's under ferocious attack right now is any attempt whatever to reduce the gap. Speaking of things that are different these days, that's a big one.

to apply the humanities to politics? [...] is to draw insights from intellectual history [...] as an aid in understanding current political trends and the ability to actually make progress politically.

I like the history of ideas and there's a lot that I haven't read. One I have that you might like is Three Critics of the Enlightenment. It's not as bad as it sounds.

..he [...]draws out implications for understand the enigmatic reaction we are currently witnessing to the efforts of the Obama administration and how attempts to improve that reaction can be made more effective.

The only thing is I'm not quite sure where he thinks all this is heading, maybe because the shifts in politics do seem so enigmatic and counterintuitive. But I'm afraid public discourse has become so poisoned that the only next step possible will turn out badly.

I think technology has a lot to do with this trend. You have a different perspective, so I hope you can give me reasons to be more relaxed about the short term.


message 25: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Tyler wrote: "The only thing is I'm not quite sure where he thinks all this is heading, maybe because the shifts in politics do seem so enigmatic and counterintuitive. But I'm afraid public discourse has become so poisoned that the only next step possible will turn out badly."

Tyler, on this we are in complete agreement...I've been trying to say in previous posts that his thought that we are heading toward a new fundamental dispensation is shaky at best. So, we do agree. I also agree that the public discourse has degenerated to the point where real thinking about the issues and fact-based analysis is almost absent.

So...I can't really give you reasons to be more relaxed. I'm not relaxed myself. Rather, I'm nervous as hell about the future.


message 26: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Robert --

I can't really give you reasons to be more relaxed. I'm not relaxed myself. Rather, I'm nervous as hell about the future.

I thought about that as soon as I posted it. It's really I who ought to be finding reasons to be positive myself.

Any ideas? Anyone?


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Compare your situation to the past rather than worrying too much about the future.

I never expected to see a political left leaning black man as president of USA in my life time. We grew up with Little Rock, Mississippi bus strike, three assassinations in the 60's. What you are seeing is the right wing backlash to the new reality.

The major socialist party in Canada started in the depression. We have a provinical and federal separatist party which give these groups a political voice. Much better than violence or suspension of their civil rights.

I do not understand the tea party but it has become the voice of a group of people who felt they were not being represented. You may disagree with them but you can fight them politically and openly. Better they have a polticial voice rather than feel they have to resort to less acceptable choices.

The FLQ in Quebec could have become an IRA. I'd rather deal with a separatist party. I do not know American history that well, but I know in very early Canadian elections you had to deal with goons who would physically intimidate you if you were known to be voting against them.


message 28: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Glen wrote: "Compare your situation to the past rather than worrying too much about the future.

I never expected to see a political left leaning black man as president of USA in my life time. We grew up wit..."


There's wisdom in what you say. However, the future will soon be the past...that's the problem.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

The future to some degree is built on the past and present.I find the younger generation more progressive in race relations, gender issues, sexual orientation, etc.. USA and Canada already have a mixed economy. Much of the current argument is about the degree. Drucker said back in the 60's that todays's solutions are tomrrows problems. We will change things and create new problems. There never is only one right or wrong answer.

All people and countries have rough patches. Wasn't it Kennedy who said " don't ask what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" or something like that. When there is trouble , the stong people will eventually stand out.


message 30: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Robert wrote: "There's wisdom in what you say. However, the future will soon be the past...that's the problem. "

Or at least the problem from your point of view. Others may see it as a return to sanity.

There are some, perhaps many, in Russia who want to return to the days of the Soviet Union. There are many in this country who want to return to the days of the 1950s. (I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view; I'm not sure that computers, cell phones, social media, 100+ TV channels, represent positive changes.)

"Progress" always seems to proceed in a series of epicycles on the broad cycle of change.


message 31: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Everyman wrote: "Robert wrote: "There's wisdom in what you say. However, the future will soon be the past...that's the problem. "

Or at least the problem from your point of view. Others may see it as a return to ..."


What I meant was this: Glen suggested that I compare my situation to the past, as an alternative to worrying about the future. I was replying to say that...since the future will soon be the past...I didn't see a solution in that. That's what I meant...not any value judgment on the past as compared to the present.

"Progress" is obviously a subjective value judgment.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

You can't go back to the past except in the movies. Life expectancy for men in the 50's was my age (65 plus a few months). I guess it would be O.K. although I would likely die pretty soon.

It was a pretty good in the 50's if you were white, male, heterosexual and lived in USA or Canada. Many Europeans particularly Italians and Germans moved to our countries to make a fresh start. If you were Asian forget it. Indochina and Korea were war zones. Overthrowing governments in places like Guatemala were also questionable and we will never really know the complete truth.

I will celebrate what is positive to me and hopefully our strongest will be able to handle the challenges of the future. When Everyman talks about technology he talks in negative terms rather than the postive aspects. It's the half full, half empty proposition. I will always try to enjoy what we have, although my activity in politics has diminished significantly. It's the younger generations' turn.

Tonight I will play Scrabble with my wife who is a much better player. I'm probably fighting a losing cause, but I will stay in the game and she will appreciate it.

Happy New Year!


message 33: by Tyler (last edited Jan 02, 2011 04:44AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Patrice made this point, which relates to the problems we're having with the political system in the United States, and maybe in other countries.

[de Tocqueville's] point was that when you have two separate segments of society, one who contributes and one who takes, you have a powder keg of resentment. I think that's the situation we're moving towards and it has to be reversed if we're to be one America.

She makes the point, over and over, that the government will confiscate all our property and redistribute it. From her posts, she appears extraordinarly afraid of this.

I'm mentioning this here because it's a perfect example of the problems we've been discussing about the political system, especially the mainstream media.

The media in this country promotes the idea that the government is in the process of seizing private property to give it the poor, the unemployed, the sick and retirees, none of whom work.

The notion that grips political discourse in the United States is that people who don't work don't deserve assistance of any kind from the government. It is presented as a known fact. Yet most voters know that they either have or might in the future accept government assistance.

The media has created in this country a nation of people driven by one huge fear: That somewhere out there, somebody, somehow, is getting something for nothing. All public political talk in this country now dances around this fear.

The cognitive dissonance set up by the constant distinction in our media between deserving and un-deserving individuals undermines whatever self-respect these people have. That, by itself, calls for a rethinking of our political system.

A part of the problem in applying the human element to the political system is overcoming this deep fear. The mainstream media will do nothing but fan it, and in this respect freedom of the press has become meaningless.

Comments?


message 34: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 67 comments Check out Sam Harris's blog:

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_...


message 35: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 67 comments Patrice, would you mind explaining how the "media" is "leftist?" I hear that charge a lot by people who call themselves "conservatives." What evidence do you have to back that charge up? Could you explain it in more detail? What do you mean by all the terms you have used?


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

This situation is not new. How many "communists" did McCarthy claim were in the American civil service. Ike knew that USSR did not have any advantage in the the arms race but the Americans were buiding bomb shelters. One of our more famous journalist called you the "Excitable United States." Great numbers of Canadians , British, and Gemrans have been going on holidays to Cuba for years. Was Cuba a bigger threat than China all these years?

When you have great power, I believe, you assume that you can fix everything. Add patriotism and passion to that and people can get excited. Canada recognized Red China before USA but it only became economically important when USA recognized China.


I think the news media like the politicians, reflects the attitudes of the public. I don't think you are ever likely to get 300 million people on the same page unless the country's basic security is under attack. It took Pearl Harbour before the majority of the public really saw the threat of Nazi Germany.

I must admit it's hard as a Canadian to understand how Americans could be worried about the right to own private property. Land ownership is the many rather than the very few. You cannot compare it to the old Europe. In certain cases governments have the right to purchase private land for highways,military bsses, etc.

In Canada, like many others, the social engineers thought too many mentally ill were being warehoused in large psychiatric hospitals. The government did not build the necessary infrastructure before these patients were released to where? In the worst social problem district in B.C., the majority of people have psychiatric medical problems. It is cheaper to buy/build inexpensive housing infrastrutcture than the cost of policing, security institutions, and health costs.

There is legistlation to prevent people who are capable of working, not to live on welfare. These regulations are not completely effective and enforcment could be better. But you are dealing with a huge problem similar to tax evasion by the middle class. Of course a larger problem is the rich who can live off shore and large international corporations. Our banks which at the moment have a great reputation still have lots of money off shore. Our Conseervative minority government has talked about dealing with the issue but so far it's been mostly talk. You're fighting with people who are in the best position to fight back.

Getting back to private property. There are some socialist in our country that still do not believe in private property but they are a small minority. On that issue even the "left" is on the "right".

In the book I'm currently reading, the author talks about the great liberal news media in the USA. (Of course he was a conservative news baron) .One of the first Liberal leaders in Canada created the Toronto Globe and Mail which is our oldest national newspaper. The author I'm reading now, created the National Post to give a more Conservative version of the news.

In Canadian history, the press has always been very poliitical. I'm sure it has been the same in USA.


message 37: by Tyler (last edited Jan 02, 2011 10:44AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Patrice --

Tyler, I find that post of yours to be a bit condescending.

I don't intend it to be. I've tried to make it a fair summary of how you feel based on many of your posts. As I said, I think what you've said is important because it reflects the attitudes and feelings of a huge number of Americans, regardless of whether it's the media that keeps these ideas front and center or whether they came to these conclusions on their own. If my summarization of your feelings is in error, please point out where and I'll withdraw it.

And this issue has everything to do with feelings. My point is that feelings have become so detached from facts in the modern political climate that decisions are being made independently of reasons. The media has a role in creating this situation and uses it to manipulate people.


The contempt and condescension that exists for the common man is what has caused the anger.../People are not stupid, although the politicians think they are. They can see what is happening.

I agree exactly. Even if people don't know just how they're being manipulated, they do know on some level that they are. Broadcasters and politicians who manipulate the public, whoever they are, can only do so on the basis of cynical contempt for their listeners.


How about looking at the facts? If the "media [...] reports that half the people of the country pay NO taxes, is it the media that is at fault?

Yes. They lie when they present facts out of context, which is part of the manipulation. It's the stripping of facts from the context in which they came about that has become characteristic of the mainstream media.

A bare fact about the percent of Americans paying no taxes means nothing in itself. The media manipulates viewers and listeners by implying that every person should be paying taxes in the first place. Should they?

What has happened is that the left leaning media has distorted "facts" ...

The mainstream media I'm referring to is the media that reaches the great majority of Americans every day, regardless of what specific politics they espouse.


message 38: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Jimmy --

That article makes a good point about the idea of self-reliance becoming something of a creed in this country, an example of a fact stripped of context.

I hear the accusation that the media is leftist quite often, but all the mainstream media seems to be on the same page, using the same techniques and talking points, where it comes to key issues like the role of large banks. Every single outlet, right to left, takes for granted that these banks are a necessary part of the economy.


message 39: by Tyler (last edited Jan 02, 2011 11:20AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Glen --

I don't think you are ever likely to get 300 million people on the same page unless the country's basic security is under attack.

People aren't equally suceptible to the manipulation of the media, but our media do try to get everyone on the same page about key issues. The banks are one example. Another is the idea that the economic system we have right now is inevitable.


I must admit it's hard as a Canadian to understand how Americans could be worried about the right to own private property.

The American news media, as opposed to the Canadian, makes an issue out of it. But this is something that goes way beyond our media. It's part of the culture almost to worry about loss of property rights. Our supreme court has ruled that governments have a right to condemn private homes for the sake of turning that land over to a private developer who can build something more profitable on it:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8331097/n...

So the concern is not altogether unmerited.

Getting back to private property. There are some socialist in our country that still do not believe in private property but they are a small minority. On that issue even the "left" is on the "right".

The predominant view in the U.S. media is that socialism entails the abolition of private property. It is this that has people in the U.S. so upset. I don't think the American public sees the issue the way Canadians do.


message 40: by Tyler (last edited Jan 03, 2011 01:56PM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Patrice --

De Toqueville isn't part of the mainstream media, so he isn't part of the problem.

What you're saying about redistribution of wealth is that what you end up with is for someone else to decide. That's already largely the case, but it's not the government making the decision.


The irony here is that I am supposedly in a position to benefit from "redistribution". My husband and son both work for the state.

Your family benefits from the state and renders services in return for it. In the situation we're now in you don't need me to tell you how fortunate that is. But what the mass media does is to make people ambivalent about being paid by the government. The only way out of this ambivalence is in some way to conclude that you deserve the money while other recipients don't.

I think most people deserve the redistribution as long as they comply with the rules by which they get it. But it's true that if the government is broke, the money is being borrowed.

Patrice, I wouldn't waste a moment's thought about the government's empty coffers or accept a shred of the rebuke handed out to employees of the state. You didn't create the deficit and the politicians who did can balance the budget any time they want.

The mainstream media is manipulating the public on this point. Suddenly, everyone's screaming about being broke. At least, everyone in the media is. Here a healthy dose of philosophical skepticism goes a long way.

The first thing to question is why the media has selected this issue, just as it's helpful to ask why that factoid about half of Americans paying no taxes was selected as news. The very fact that something was selected by the media implies a certain conclusion to be reached. That's the manipulation.

I won't evade the point about the deficit though, because, as you say, it's reality. But the government has always been broke. This used to be offset by economic growth, but real growth hasn't been occurring for a long time. Sure, there have been short times like in 1996-2000 when the budget was in surplus and the debt was being paid. But greedy politician took that surplus, and they will again if there's ever another one.

Taxes won't go up. It's too politically sensitive. What's going to happen is this: The borrowing will continue and the state will allow inflation to eat away the value of the public debt. Because of the collapse in housing prices, the Fed is worried about deflation, and they'll do anything to stop it. Getting the value of the dollar to keep going down is the only plan they have to get the deficit under control.

The rest of it is smoke and mirrors, and it's to this cause that government jobs and salaries are being sacrificed. If they eventually end up firing every government employee, the politicians will still spend whatever amount they want under the current political arrangements, regardless of whether the money is there or not.

About Qatar, I'll say one thing. The global free enterprise system has a thousand ways of peeling those dollars out of their hands. It's just a matter of time before that happens. Their wealth is going to get spread around all right, and it will probably be more or less for the good.


message 41: by Bill (last edited Jan 05, 2011 02:00AM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 188 comments Tyler wrote: "This is connected with another change, the upsurge in the propensity of voters to believe lies and canards. I think that, far from its original promise of opening up public discourse, the Internet has had the effect undermining it.

For example, the story about Obama not being a citizen was circulated as part of the 2008 campaign. Its originators had no use for it once the campaign was over, but unlike in the past, the Internet has given it a baffling immortality.

That's a really new development. While a certain portion of voters, say 2%, were always susceptible to this kind of thinking, that number is now far higher due to the constant attention on the Internet, which then becomes mainstream news. The example here "


Did you forget about all those people who thought GWB did 9/11? It was pretty close to the same percentage who thought Obama was born in Kenya. And the percentage gets a lot higher when you add in all those people who think GWB invaded Iraq so Cheney could get rich through Haliburton, or through some scheme to make oil buddies rich, or simply because killing people gave him a hard on.

Which of those paranoid delusions do you think is the most serious and the craziest--the one that our president was born in Kenya, or the one that our president intentionally killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11 so he could invade Iraq to make Dick Cheney and other cronies rich and prove himself to his daddy (Maureen Dowd-a supposedly serious NYT columnist on the daddy thing)

(This question isn't an invitation to debate whether Iraq was a good decision. I believe it was a bad decision with evil consequences, but those kinds of decisions can be made with the intentions that the president and the government gave at that time. No further insidious paranoia is needed to argue against the Iraq war)

I have another question. In your memory, which paranoia caused the most consternation and hand wringing in the press about how crazy Americans had become. The paranoia that our president wasn't born in the USA or the previous paranoia that our president intentionally did 9/11 so he could invade Iraq to make his buddies rich and impress his daddy?


message 42: by Bill (last edited Jan 05, 2011 02:17AM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 188 comments I'd like to weigh in on the political situation in the USA.

We have roughly 30-35% of people who wear the democrat jersey and roughly 30-35% who wear the Republican jersey. (counting those who, after GWB, were ashamed to admit it being republicans, but are going back to the fold now). They are loyal, settled, and therefore politically irrelevant, constituents on both sides. The politically relevant are those 30-40% in the middle. More about them later.

Of party faithful on both sides, we'd be lucky if half of them (15% of each side for a total of 30% of Americans) know what the hell they stand for. Then of those 30%, we'd be lucky if half of them, (thats 15% of the total population, are capable of, or interested in, understanding where the other side is coming from and able to mount a cogent argument of their own.

Now--those 30-40% of Americans in the middle. They are the most clueless of them all. They vote depending on how the current economy is (simply assuming that its the Presidents fault), or they vote on how the man looks or talks or which of the candidates gaffes they personally felt was more gaffier, or which wife they like the best.

Thats right. I'm an elitist. Democracy is the best form of government; but its not because most people know who the best candidate is on any given election. Thats never been the case and probably never will be.

The corollary of "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time" is, to quote myself, "You can pretty much fool most of the people most of the time" Thats right. I'm an elitist.

Now, it isn't necessarily because people are stupid that, in the condescending terms of some of my fellow elitists (our President comes to mind), they can be fooled into voting 'against their interests'. A person doesn't have to be stupid to make an uninformed and stupid decision; complacency is sufficient. And complacency is a result of content.


But here is why Democracy is the best form of government. Because it gives the people the opportunity, every 4 years, to throw one party out of office for the other party. No other system is as effective at preventing parties, and their interests, from getting entrenched in power.

I'm personally quite satisfied with our system at this point. I see no reason to panic. Yet.


message 43: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 188 comments Patrice wrote: "As this is a philosophy board I think it's important to remember that the most important question is "how do we know"?

How do we know Bush's motives for the Iraq war? How do we know where Obama ..."


How do we know the moon landing wasn't faked?

How do know that God didn't make the world 4000 years ago, with dinosaur bones and fossils in it, just to trick the wicked who don't believe the Bible?

How do we know that rich, money grubbing Jooz don't control the world?

HOw do we know the world isn't flat?

How do we know that there aren't aliens with reptilian features hiding among us, and controlling the world and that Hillary Clinton isn't one of them?

It seems that these are all much more serious questions, with much more serious implications, then whether or not Obama was born in Kenya.


message 44: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 67 comments Here's one site to check that may help:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/...

Or just check out Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_O...

Hope these sites help you in your search, Patrice.


message 45: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 188 comments Patrice wrote: "Thanks Jimmy. Very interesting!

I had never heard of the forgery theory. Or that his middle name was Mohammed rather than Hussein which seems a moot point to me. What I had heard was that an of..."


Of course it was just a political ploy. I don't see why that is frightening though. No reputable news source ever perpetuated this although some may have mentioned it. There are plenty of nuts out there that spread paranoia, the only thing new is the internet enables it more. The information revealing the nuttiness for what it was has, from the beginning, always been available on reputable web sites and media outlets. Paranoid nutjobs (Jesse Ventura comes to mind) aren't interested in facts though, because kookiness is so much more fun. To them.


message 46: by Tyler (last edited Jan 06, 2011 11:15AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Conspiracy theories of any stripe have two problems to overcome. First is that the rule of "Argument to the best explanation" requires accepting the simpler of two accounts unless strong evidence indicates that a more complex one is the true one. Conspiracy theories are by nature rather complex.

The second concerns the people who advocate those theories. The first question to those people has to be, "What would you accept as evidence that your theory is wrong?" If no evidence will convince them they are mistaken, what they are engaged in is not a discussion. Fans of such theories typically will accept nothing as disproof. From a philosophical angle, this is a fatal error.


message 47: by Rob the Obscure (new)

Rob the Obscure | 261 comments Patrice wrote: "There is so much information out there and just as much misinformation. .."

So much information, but precious little wisdom, or even critical thinking.


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