The Christian Hangover: Rambling about Hegel, Marx and That Crowd

Over at John C. Wright’s wonderful blog, rambled in a comment about the above, and since having my disorganized thoughts not read in *2* places is way better than having them not read in only one, I link and post here:

Been reading Hegel’s “Science of Logic”, which underlies and illustrates your point. In it, Hegel is (commendably) clear about what he’s doing: he’s substituting ontology for logic. Logic is for the ‘little people’ like natural scientists and mathematicians. Real philosophers have gotten past all that and just get their knowledge directly, somehow.

So, Hegel lays down the rules: logic can’t get you anywhere; you can tell who the enlightened are by simply checking to see if they agree with me. Corollary: trying to use logic is sufficient proof that you are unenlightened and wrong – if you got it, you wouldn’t be trying to reason about it.

This leads to some interesting structures in his writing. In “Phenomenology of Spirit” he begins with several incomprehensible – even by his standards – pages where he lays out his findings in a series of logical contradictions, then gradually backs into some discussion that could be read as illustrating his findings. It’s clear he’s doing this because that “method” – understanding the sum of concrete reality in an alogical flash, then sifting through the details to see how they can be understood within that flash – is what he’s ‘developed’ to supersede and replace logic.

In the hands of Hegel, who, after all, was a happily married man in good standing at his local Lutheran church, there’s a certain, I dunno, harmlessness or good intention? that seems to be almost always on display in his writings – an example of what I’ve long refered to as the ‘Christian Hangover’ – having drunk deeply of Christ for centuries, cultures that have rejected or are in the process of rejecting Christ still tend to produce people who are roughly Christian in their outlooks.

For if you reject logic, you reject THE Logos.

Eventually, people sober up. Marx is almost right: he didn’t set Hegel right side up, but he does represent Hegel sobered up a bit – Marx realizes that Hegel’s rejection of logic is the rejection of God. But Marx hasn’t sobered up enough to see that his Utopia is still Christian insofar as it holds any appeal at all: no male or female, no Jew or Greek, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, they sold their belongings, gave the money to the poor and lived as brothers. And so on.

We now live in a world that is struggling mightily to sober up from their Christian Hangover, and doing a hell of a job. So, Mr. Wright, your attempts at logic are sufficient proof that you are on the wrong side of history. You have demonstrated beyond question that you are a member of the oppressor class. And your opponents not only don’t need to be rational, being rational would be abandoning their principles and joining the Dark Side.

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Offense versus Defense: Arguing With Moderns

(Note: Yes, I’m now descending into a sports analogy. Resisted for over 200 posts. Those without the ‘sports’ gene please bear with me – it will make sense.)

Here I compare basketball offense – attempting to score when your team has the ball – with modern argument. Continue reading “Offense versus Defense: Arguing With Moderns”

Christianity, Freedom, and All That

Just a ramble here: two things about Christianity that are both unique and endlessly fascinating – the sayings and life of Jesus and the Incarnation. One can ponder the Beatitudes, the Parables, the Cleansing of the Temple, the Birth or Crucifixion narratives, or Jesus’ burning questions, ‘Who do people say I am?’ and ‘Who do you say I am?’ for years and hardly scratch the surface of meaning and implications. In the same way, the idea of an Incarnate God – and not just any god, like a wood nymph or river god, but the One, the Creator, the Infinitely Divine God – that’s a head scratcher, to say the least.

Of course, Comparative Religions try to boil out the uniqueness of Christianity by a combination of magnifying the trivial in other ‘religions’ and glossing over the huge divide between any set of beliefs that came before or arose independently of Christ and all that has happened in His shadow. Thus, trivial harvest myths become the same as the story of the Resurrection, while creation myths involving endless gods and goddesses fighting, killing and fornicating with each other are seen as the same as the One God saying ‘Let there be light’ into the formless, dark void. And so on. Continue reading “Christianity, Freedom, and All That”

Falling Silent: Worse Than Yelling

Yesterday, took a look at a sterling example of the all-too-common approach to political discourse of yelling at your opponent to the cheers of your tribe, with not even the slightest attention paid to what your opponent is actually saying or to the accuracy or even reality of your own claims. This was contrasted to actual argument as pursued by level headed people who know how to argue.

Lat night, my wife told me of an encounter with a far worse approach than partisan haranguing: silence.

She attends a Bible study class as a favor to an infirm elderly lady who needs a ride. At this class, the discussion swung around to politics, and started getting heated. My beloved is the very picture of meekness – until you get her riled up. Certain people were espousing positions she found utterly ridiculous and false. Seeing as she is, in fact, one of those people trained in argument, she attempted to draw her interlocutor’s attention to certain factual errors and fallacies in her position. Her response: “I get my news from CNN” followed by – silence. My wife assures me that this woman is a fine and generous soul.

Setting aside the snide implication of the ‘CNN’ crack,  which, in my experience, is a way of dismissing your opponent’s views as reflecting ‘tainted’ media (Fox), withdrawing from the field when your assumptions are challenged is frankly tragic. Of course, with the rabble-rousers and demagogues who are passing for political commentators these days, it’s not hard to see why a gentle soul would simply flee – but that doesn’t make it a good thing.

Argument versus Yelling at People

Unhappily brought to my attention via the miracle of the interwebs, this fellow seems blissfully unaware of the old ‘better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool…’ dictum, and unleashes a monument to unreflective self-unawareness. I hate driving traffic his way, so please, if you go there, leave a comment that makes some rational counterpoint to his spittle-flecked ranting, or maybe point out where the stuffing is falling out of his straw men.

REMINDER: I am of the ‘Pox Upon Both Houses’ Party, and am not defending the GOP – the GOP can go waterboard each other. But I do care about idiotic diatribes that simultaneously violate every norm of civil discourse – let alone logical argument – while claiming the high moral ground. THAT does warrant a smack-down.

By interesting coincidence, Mike Flynn does the heavy lifting of spending some time on the internet attempting to get to the bottom of one of the outrageous stories Whittaker tells to support his handy, all-purpose contention that people who disagree with him are stupid, illustrating the difference between argument and yelling at people.

Here is an obvious point that separates the greenhorns from the playas, argument-wise: you must state your *opponents* position in terms he would agree with *before* you attack it. Note how Mike Flynn posts the link to the story, so that we know – in the words of the people who wrote the story – what he’s talking about. At each point in the essay, when he seeks to introduce a new bit of information, he quotes or links – AND refrains from putting words into the mouths of his interlocutors.

When you are yelling at people – like I am in my first paragraph – you start with your conclusions, complete with a restatement of your opponent’s position in terms he would never agree with, in terms, in fact, calculated to generate the maximum amount of outrage in those you are attacking while generating the maximum amount of head-nodding among those in your bandwagon. Too bad I don’t have a bandwagon. Yet.

An argument, in the hands of a pro, looks like this:

Statement of the general issue

Restatement of the position or positions contrary to the one you hold, in terms those who hold those positions would agree with. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself and your sycophants.  (a subtle point: there actually must be people holding the position you are arguing against – no fair making up position held by no one.)

Present the arguments used by the holders of the contrary position(s) as strongly as possible, again in terms they would accept.

Now, at last, present your position.

Present arguments that support your position.

Answer each of the arguments supporting the contrary position. It’s nice and honest to acknowledge whatever points in the contrary arguments you agree with.

Once you’ve done all this – which, for political arguments, often only takes a minute or two – you can get down to what you really disagree about and why.

Note that facts may or may not be a part of an argument, but are never arguments in themselves. You can assert that the world is about 4.5 billion years old, or that the Bible is the inherent word of God. So? What’s the argument? It is common nowadays to simply pile up facts and state a conclusion – this practice is not an argument. The argument takes place when you logically explain why your conclusion falls inevitably out of the facts (employing the metaphysics that allow you to say those facts mean anything at all – but that’s another topic)

The point here is that when people start with conclusions calculated to outrage their opponents and then list ‘facts’ that would almost never be accepted as stated by their  opponents, they are doing the 2-part dance of yelling at their opponents and firing up their tribe. No argument is taking place.

Thoughts on the TSA – Part the First

Just back from some business travel, and, since I used airplanes, I fell repeatedly under the tender ministrations of the TSA. Couple thoughts:

OK, I get it – because of this guy:

we all must now take off our shoes and run them through the x-ray machine before we board an aircraft.

And, while I don’t remember hearing about it at the time, I guess there was somebody like this guy:

Who, using only his (no doubt C-4 laden) belt managed to threaten to destroy numerous Americans and aircraft, because now we’re also asked to take off our belts and run them through the scanners. I don’t think the evil Belt Bomber actually managed to blow up the plane – the Shoe Bomber didn’t, either – because I’m pretty sure I would have heard about it.

But, following this inexorable logic,where’s the love for this guy:

If you haven’t flown commercially lately, I’m sure you’ll be shocked, not to mention *terrified* to hear that I and hundreds of millions of other people have gotten onto commercial aircraft *without having to run our underwear though the x-ray machine*! Why is our all-protecting government asleep at the wheel on this?

Slightly more seriously, let’s compare the cost of doing all this with the cost of just letting people walk onto planes with their shoes and belts (and underwear) undisturbed. Let’s optimistically allow 1 minute per flight per passenger to remove and replace his shoes and belt – that’s about 770 million minutes, or 20 *lifetimes* of 75 years each, per year, spent making us safe from dangerous shoes and belts. While I personally only spend maybe 20 or 30 minutes a year futzing with my shoes and belt to get through security, on the whole, we pay the price of flying a 20-person flight into the ground each year to protect us from the likes of those jokers above – who conspicuously failed to blow anything up or kill any Americans.

And there’s no guarantee, either that doing the stupid shoes-and-belts(-and-underwear) dance saves lives or that not doing it costs lives – we never did it before, and no airplanes were ever belted or shoed (or pantied) out of the sky.

It makes a fellah wonder: is the point of all this really our safety? Really? The Underwear Bomber looks like a fairly normal guy – but then, we don’t check underwear now, do we? I’d say there are numerous other indicators that All Is Not Right Upstairs with the Shoe Bomber and perhaps the hypothetical Belt Bomber that we could have maybe identified them as possible risk using common sense rather than x-ray machines. Ya know?

But I’ll save that for another post.

Conservatives & Science

To repeat: I am of the ‘A Pox on Both Your Houses’ party. I’m not attacking one and defending another. What I am doing is pointing out that this is a prime case of Lying through Statistics:

Turns out, according to a study, of all things, that Conservatives have less confidence in Science than others.

I hardly know where to begin. How about pointing out that ‘esteem’ and ‘trust’ are not words with any bearing on science – do I trust scientists? Hold them in esteem? Should anyone? Does the fact that Elle, for example, esteems certain women mean I should trust them? About what? Maybe climate change? Economic policy? The limits of scientific understanding? Where to get some totally pumped up kicks?

Maybe the problem has to do with ‘esteemed’ and ‘trusted’ scientists like Carl Sagan turning out to be disingenuous publicity hounds more interested in their Q-rating than, you know, actual facts that can be backed up with real science. Or fundamentalist loonies like Richard Dawkins, who believes that his admirable work on popularizing evolutionary theory means that we are obliged take his opinions on topics upon which his ignorance is blindingly obvious as Gospel. Trust either of those guys? Yes – if I need an estimate of total energy output of a main sequence star during different phases of its life cycle, or a plausible explanation of the evolutionary development of certain characteristics of beetles. But about the ‘probability’ of intelligent life in the universe? (hint: there’s no probability of a second case if there’s only one known case – there’s no probabilistic analysis of a single unique case). Or of the adequacy of science to answer ‘why’ questions when, by definition, science considers such questions irrelevant to science? Really?

And, then, let’s talk about the scientific validity of a study based on self-reporting by sample populations. The scientific conclusions from such a study can only be very timid – all you might be able to say is something like: the respondents of this survey who self-identified with the undefined category ‘conservative’ also self-identified as having less trust – another undefined term, in context – of science – ditto – than respondents who self identified as independents or liberals, terms which are also undefined.  If you think that conclusion is the equivalent of Conservative Have Less Confidence In Science Than Others, then, well, you might need to avail yourself of a remedial course on the scientific method.

But, hey, it’s clear from the rest of the article that the author either doesn’t understand or care about the scientific method – he’s interested in painting Conservatives as ignorant bumpkins, as opposed to the clearly more enlightened, urban and sophisticated independents and, especially, liberals. His efforts run aground on, what do you call those things? Oh yea, FACTS. You know, the stuff science is supposed to deal with?

Here’s one: If you have a degree from an American University, are you more likely to be a Democrat or a Republican? Turns out that you’re significantly more likely to be a Republican. But isn’t holding a degree an indicator of superior intelligence? So, how does one explain such a thing?

Conversely, if you are a high school drop out who votes, what are you likely to be registered as? What do you think? Why aren’t the results of  a study on this issue plastered all across the newspapers and interwebs? Since just about everybody but me agrees that academic achievement correlates almost exactly to native intelligence, shouldn’t the above issues be critical to our understanding about the relative intelligence of the members of political parties?

How about I write a survey – it’ll have to be a thought experiment unless somebody’s got a couple hundred grand or so to fund it – where I ask people who they voted for in the last presidential election, a series of true or false questions about the Chicago Political Machine, (Sample; over 50 people associated with the CPM are currently doing time in prison – true/false/don’t know)  and then ask them to identify sciences:

Are the following fields sciences?

– Freudian Psychology

– Jungian Psychology

– Other Psychology

– Sociology

– Economics

– Astrology

– Political Science

and then crunch some correlations. I’d be guessing the results might be informative.

Personally, I care little about whether members of the Stupid Evil Party had more or less success in school than members of the Evil Stupid Party. But I’m appalled and infuriated at the continued misuse of science for political ends by hacks like the authors of that study and the piece linked above.