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.

Pet Peeve # 7,347: X-Men, and why aren’t certain people more upset?

The kids thew on an X-Men III DVD,and I peeked in on it a bit. Can’t really watch it because the X-MEN CONCEPT IS SO STUPID. It’s not just that they get evolution wrong, but they get it wrong in the worst sort of way: the opening voice-over explicitly claims to be talking about ‘Eeevolution’ and asks us to accept that they’re like all scientific and stuff, while then going completely off the rails about how natural selection works.

This makes midichlorians seem a completely reasonable bit of storytelling by comparison.

‘Eeevolution’ is not waiting around for some cosmic mad scientist to roll the mutation dice. Evolution isn’t even, strictly speaking, a theory – it’s more of an observation. The characteristics of groups of living things appears to change over time in a peculiarly orderly way. The theory is, as Darwin so nicely put it, that species arise from natural selection in a manner parallel with how farmers and breeders ‘improve’ their crops and stock.We’ll call this theory ‘Natural Selection’ for short.

Key points of the theory of natural selection that are contradicted by X-Men:

– there’s no such thing as ‘progress’: cows are not intrinsically ‘better’ than dinosaurs, which are not better than slime mold. Dinosaurs and cows and slime mold would each almost certainly die if thrust into the environment for which either of the other 2 species is adapted. There is simply no place to stand *within the theory* from which to judge ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Natural Selection does not ‘leap forward’.

– Mutation are not directed. Mutations are ‘mistakes’ that are fatal or crippling about 99.99% of the time, indifferent about .009% of the time and potentially helpful maybe .001% of the time. In the X-men, there’s an unacknowledged *somebody* causing mutations that 1) are not fatal or crippling; and 2) clearly intended to be advantageous.

– Mutations do not, as far as is known, cause full-blown functional capabilities not remotely foreshadowed in current functionality. In other word, fish don’t suddenly, in a generation, go from living in the murky deep to breathing air and nesting in trees. X-Men do.

– Finally, natural selection works within the laws of the material world. Nothing ever evolves to the point where it can violate the laws of physics. X-Men are utterly unencumbered by any natural or logical law. Create mass (as wolverine does when heals without eating or getting smaller) out of nothing? Control non-ferrous metals using some mysterious power that doesn’t seem to need any power source other than a vivid imagination? Control the weather without even standing in front of one of those accu-forecast thingies? Not a problem for X-Men.

As my kids say; Dad, it’s just a dumb comic book. And so it is. But it speaks volumes that very very few people – I’m the only one I know – have their suspension of disbelief ruined by this utter misrepresentation of science. That’s why we hate midichlorians, after all – in a fairy tale, you don’t explain the structural engineering that allows the bean stalk to reach the sky or the aerodynamic properties of  flying brooms.

Where are those people, I wonder, who are so deeply concerned that some religious person might not accept evolution that they feel obliged, one assumes in charity, to attempt to browbeat and humiliate creationist bumpkins? Why aren’t they picketing theaters for the crime of X-Men, which presents evolution as magic, and scientists as magicians, and logic as unimportant, and the laws of nature as more like guidelines than actual rules? If they were really concerned about Science(tm), X-Men is a much bigger and more damaging challenge than mere creationism – because creationism doesn’t usually pretend to be science.

maybe promoting science isn’t really the motivating factor?

Converts, Reverts, Cradles, and…

…I can’t find the post some younger blogger made describing a 4th general class of Catholics – those who, educated by goofy hippies and crabby on-their-way-out-the-door nuns (and who of us educated in the 60’s – 90’s *wasn’t*?) came to the conclusion that, no, really, *that* was the Church. It falls out from this that only stick-in-the-mud reactionaries and mean-spirited fuddy duddies thought otherwise. Then, in the mysterious workings of the Spirit, they met something like a gentle and sympathetic college professor or some pious layman who radiated love, yet didn’t buy, for example, the assertion that a choir in the choir loft is a performance and therefore unacceptable under Vatican II, but a rock band in the sanctuary is *active participation*.  For example. Or that sex is for marriage, divorce is right out, that one should attend Mass every Sunday at least, that our obligations to care for the less fortunate aren’t completely fulfilled by voting Democrat – or whatever, the particular dishes served depend somewhat on whose cafeteria you frequented.

Her (I think it is a her) flabbergasting point: all those years when she was presumably sitting cross-legged on the floor singing Kumbaya and getting in touch with her feelings in a theology- and history-free environment, she was completely and innocently *convinced* that THAT was the Church, and carried that conviction into young adulthood.

Anyway,  my apologies to the author to whom I’d love to give credit and a link if only I could find the darn thing. What was shocking about this to me is that she is clearly observing a real thing which is almost completely foreign to the way I think.

My experience: all those kids who went through grade school in the 60’s and high school in 70s with me? With almost no exceptions, they stopped going to Mass and never followed the bulk of the Church’s moral teachings. In other words, I would and did say that they had ‘left the Church’. It really never occurred to me that they would sincerely believe that, no, they were still faithful Catholics! That it would never have crossed their minds to think they’d ‘left’ anything. They sincerely believed that they were, in fact, doing a good job tying to live up to the Church’s teachings.


See, I was more concerned with what was going on in the heads of the teachers than how the other students were taking it. And the teachers were not innocent, at least not completely. Even as a young teenager, when I heard – and I heard it a lot – that this or that goofball whim was ‘in the spirit of Vatican II’ and, besides, was being done for the sake of us young people – I knew it was a lie. Can you imagine anything LESS attractive to your typical teenager than sitting on the floor talking about your feelings under the dopey gaze of Mr. Dropped Out of Seminary Because They Frowned on Drugs and Sex? Or any kid voluntary listening to, let alone singing, Carey Landry or the St. Luis Jesuits? Pull-ease! Yo, Flash-Back: Nobody 15 years old thinks music peaked out with Peter, Paul and Mary. (aside: if only the stuff was as good as Peter, Paul and Mary – that would be huge step up!)

The other experience I had that is very different than what most kids had was joining the ‘Adult’ choir at our parish. As a small child my earliest memories of Mass were of hearing this big, glorious choir – I just LOVED the polyphony, the four-part harmony on those great foot-stomping hymns. I wanted to do that! So, age 14 or so, I signed up – just as the choir was cratering under the weight of the spirit of Vatican II, as administered shillelagh-like by all those loving, gentle Fascist hippies. But, before it got kicked out of the choir loft and subjected to slow death by Hagen and Jebbie scaphism, I got to listen to and see older adults who were None Too Happy – these were people who’d sung in the choir for years, tended to be educated, and – gulp! – had actually read the V II docs.  So I cruised through those docs a little myself.  Therefore, at an early age, I was aware that, very commonly, the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ meant doing exactly the opposite of what the docs said you should do. Hermeneutic of rupture, indeed.

Anyway, self-absorbed nitwit that I was and remain, I never really made the distinction between the teachers, who were it seemed to me somewhat aware and culpable, and the poor kids, who were and are much less culpable, if at all. If they don’t happen to meet someone who is more aware of the Church’s history and teachings – yet decent and loving about it – there’s little reason for them to change their view that They (along with Pelosi and Biden etc.) are the Church.

Sorry about that.

The Space Princess Equation!

While I readily admit the inexorable fell logic of John C Wright’s  Space Princess Corollary to the Drake Equation, I feel sadly compelled to exhume and add the even more scientific Lex Luther Theorem, as we’ve discussed here before and as revised to be even more scientifilicious:

FR = percentage of a population that is Filthy Rich, here determined to mean ‘worth $1B or more’;
SS = percentage of a population that’s super Smart, here using a 200 IQ as the cut-off;
HS = percentage of a population that are homicidal sociopaths;

Now, it should be clear that FR * SS * HS * Total Population = the probable number of super genius homicidal billionaires in a population at any one time. (1) If the number falls below 1 for a given population at a given time, it’s only a matter of time before one arises as people die and are born – Total Population can be viewed as all the people who ever lived over a long enough period of time.

A Filthy Rich Super Smart Homicidal Sociopath has the means and the motive to exterminate life on earth – or on any other planet where intelligent life arises – based on exactly the same logic Mr. Wright laid out above. One must conclude that, Nature being Nature everywhere, it’s only a matter of time before not only a FRSSHS arises, but a FRSSHS Space Princess arises! How ’bout them apples? Of course, Mr. Wright, it would seem, has already met several alluring young things that meet this description. In short: We’re doomed.

Finally, we have:

CA – chance that a FRSSHS will succeed in his attempts to Completely Annihilate everybody. So:

FR * SS * HS * Total Population over time * CA = chances all intelligent life on a planet will get exterminated. We could divide by time, and determine exactly how long, on average, an intelligent species will exist before a FRSSHS Space Princess arises and kills them all off.

The beauty here, as opposed to Drake Equation, is that we’re making (almost) no baseless assumptions: there really are billionaires, sociopaths and super geniuses walking the planet as we speak – something like a 1,000 billionaires, several thousand super geniuses and tens of millions of sociopaths. And I’d propose that CA (success rate of our FRSSHS) approaches 1 as technology improves – engineer a virus, burn off the atmosphere, poison the oceans – these are now pretty imaginable steps a sufficiently smart, rich and crazy man could take.

See how tidy and all-explaining this is, how logically rigorous? It does not deny the Drake equation, yet explains Fermi’s Paradox – and casts a doomed pall over all human life! Damn, I just love science!

1. Just in case some pedantic statistician (Flynn) drops in – yes, we’re assuming the variables are uncorrelated, for the simple practical reason that this is a blog post and I’ve long forgotten the math needed to tidy it up, if I ever knew it.