Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.
This is a recently composed notion of mine, unlike my “first law,” which I’d entertained for many years prior to writing it up HERE. Now if only I can come up with a third law, I’ll have a complete set. “Laws” like these always come in threes: Asimov’s laws of robotics, the laws of thermodynamics (although some de classé fools claim there are four of these), and so on. Anyway, I’ve got a ways to go to come up with #3, and in the meantime I’m here to talk about the second law. (Notice how I avoided saying, “I’m here to talk about #2” … )
So, “Never assume intelligence when stupidity will do the job.” Every conspiracy theory in the world is predicated upon ignoring this fundamental law of reasoning. This rule has been variously expressed as, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups” by the good folks at Demotivators, Inc. But while this latter formulation drops out as a corollary to the above, the Second Law is the more fundamental statement of the principle involved. So, my discussion here will start with a few examples of conspiracy theories, because these provide the clearest examples of violation of the law. But these are merely exempli gratia, and I don’t want them to overwhelm the larger problem of the ability of gross stupidity to make things unboundedly worse than they already are, without any shred of planning or design. Continue reading
Power relations and interpersonal relations – by which I mean, those that carry substantive sexual content, regardless of whether they ultimately lead to coitus – must be kept separate. When they are not, they both become twisted. The preceding invites immediate misinterpretation, and so I must take steps to clarify and set that misinterpretation aside. I’m not talking about the kinds of “kinky” sex games that go by the various titles of “bondage & discipline” (B&D) or that form of pain management that falls under the title of “sado-masochism” (S&M). Note, first off, that the two are not the same. Note, secondly, that, when engaged by two (or more) consenting adults, the power relations are what might justifiably be characterized as “pseudo power” relations. There is a pretense of power in real play. Indeed, insofar as any person in such plays or scenarios exercises real power, it is the “sub,” the “submissive” (who might be either male or female), because this is the person that can bring the whole thing to a stop with a single word. In all real play, the sub has the “stop,” the “safe,” or the “control” word, and can exercise it at any point of his or her choice. And herein lies the difference between consensual B&D or S&M play, versus genuine abuse: in the former, there is a pretense of power in real play, while in the latter, there is a pretense of play in real power.
This is where we find so many of the objections to the sexual fantasy Fifty Shades of Grey. (I decline to link to it.) Well, one of the objections; evidently the writing was not such as to be short listed for the Booker Prize. I’ve not read the book myself, so everything I say here needs to be viewed with some skepticism. However, I am reporting the evaluations of people I trust. So while that should mean nothing to you, it means a quite a bit to me. In any case, the female protagonist in the story never exercises any real power. Rather, she is the Stockholm-Syndrome participant in her own degradation. Persons can certainly appear, to all superficial observation, to be willingly consenting to such degradation. But this is the paradigm of the pretense of play in real power.
And it is twisted. Continue reading
Publication is almost upon us.
“The Quantum of Explanation advances a bold new theory of how explanation ought to be understood in philosophical and cosmological inquiries. Using a complete interpretation of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical and mathematical writings and an interpretive structure that is essentially new, Auxier and Herstein argue that Whitehead has never been properly understood, nor has the depth and breadth of his contribution to the human search for knowledge been assimilated by his successors. This important book effectively applies Whitehead’s philosophy to problems in the interpretation of science, empirical knowledge, and nature. It develops a new account of philosophical naturalism that will contribute to the current naturalism debate in both Analytic and Continental philosophy. Auxier and Herstein also draw attention to some of the most important differences between the process theology tradition and Whitehead’s thought, arguing in favor of a Whiteheadian naturalism that is more or less independent of theological concerns. This book offers a clear and comprehensive introduction to Whitehead’s philosophy and is an essential resource for students and scholars interested in American philosophy, the philosophy of mathematics and physics, and issues associated with naturalism, explanation and radical empiricism.”
This author’s profile can be found HERE.
More information on the book can be found HERE.
Let’s just say I’m a little excited.
The title is an ironic gesture to a disturbingly cheerful (some, like me, might say saccharin) tune by Bacharach and David, but my intention is to talk about what is less happily categorized as circular reasoning. This is one of those fallacies that has been recognized for so long that the medievals gave it a Latin name: petitio principii. It is also one of those painful failures of basic reasoning that goes beyond the narrow confines of formal logic, or introductory critical thinking classes. This is one of those monsters of bad thinking that empower authoritarian minded individuals and their enablers to unshamefacedly spout about “alternative facts” and other infantile drivel. You see, the problem with a circle, as well as with a mind that reasons in one, is that the circle is closed; inquiry, on the other hand, is (by necessity) open and ongoing.
I’ve talked before (several times, in fact) about what Altemeyer describes as the “compartmentalization” that occurs in authoritarian belief and ideology. One can scarcely dignify this latter as “thinking,” regardless of the degree of sophisticated cleverness employed in maintaining those compartments as air tight against all facts and logic. Authoritarian thinkers, following Hamlet’s example, keep their minds, bounded in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space, were it not that they have bad dreams. (Of course, Hamlet was being ironic, and mocking his interlocutors, something the Mango Mussolini’s enthusiasts entirely fail to grasp.) The thing is, these people choose to be bounded by a nutshell, all the while imagining themselves in princely command of infinite space. Meanwhile, their bad dreams (which are the trailings of reality, dogging them despite their dogmatism) are the sources of their willing embrace of Trumpian neo-fascism. Because the nutshell – the “nut house” – in which they have bound their minds is a tightly enclosed circle that permits no entry from reality. Continue reading
A “false flag” attack is a premeditated form of deception in which some disaster with a high number of casualties is inflicted upon a community, evidently by outsiders, but in reality by the community’s own leaders in order to fabricate the impression of immediate threat and danger within the community, so that the leaders may act with impunity by taking aggressive – and typically extra-legal – actions. This then establishes the leaders’ power, with the willing consent of those over whom they actually intend to exploit this power. If you are a movie buff, the “St. Mary’s virus” biological attack from the movie V for Vendetta, is an example of a false flag attack raised to the nth degree. Claims of “real” (note the scare quotes) false flag attacks are standard twaddle with childish conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and blathering histrionics of his “Infowars” website. Lest there be any lingering ambiguity, I do not hold much truck with such infantilism. People who have taught the subject know that such conspiracy theory drivel is used as comedy relief in Critical Thinking courses. Such material is swallowed with great credulity by a large number of authoritarian minded people, especially on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum.
But we are seeing a perfectly analogous move gaining traction on the political left, and it is worth our time to squash it before it gains any traction. Multiple peaceful protests have recently either been preceded by, or occurred in parallel with, violent actions that had no relationship to the original protest. One increasingly sees these violent behaviors decried as the work of “paid provocateurs.” There are more than a few problems with these accusations, not the least of which being that they come without even the tiniest scintilla of evidence to back up the accusation. And these accusations will often be made by the self-same people who will brush aside Alex Jones’s fatuous nonsense with a roll of the eyes and a sweep of the hand, all the while as they are doing the exact same thing as Jones: making hysterical, baseless accusations and assuming that the volume with which they make the accusations carries probative weight. Continue reading
Well, the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency bore no real surprises: the Butthurt Baby in Chief acted exactly the way you would expect a narcissistic psychopath with a fascist agenda to behave. Quite aside from the lack of organization, the total inability to grasp what governance is or ought to look like, executive orders pouring out like water from the fountains of the Nile, including the objectively illegal ban on Muslims entering the country (except, coincidentally, from those countries where Trump has business interests); indeed, there has not been a single terrorist attack committed by a refugee from any of the banned countries within the US since at least 1980. (One writer has suggested this ban is a “headfake” to test the loyalty of various departments, and the limits of what the courts will permit Trump to get away with.) We also have his infantile need to bring a cheer-leading squad along when he gives a press conference or a speech. He has declared the New York Times to be “fake news” for their failure to be his obedient and unquestioning mouthpieces, and has essentially put the Breitbart propaganda outlet in charge of the National Security Council, while removing persons with actual experience in and with intelligence. I mean that last in all the less flattering ways you can construe it. With regard to the non-voter fraud lie that Trump revels in spewing, the fact that such fraud is essentially non-existent is a matter of no concern for Trump: he doesn’t need facts, because the slack-jawed who swallow whatever lie that is spoon-fed to them by the paid professional liars at Fox “News” agree with Trump, so that makes it all true. This is so mind-numbingly childish that is seems to give it more credit than it merits to point out that it exemplifies the fallacy of the argumentum ad populum. And don’t even get me started on the Twitter storms …
What kind of a “man” does this? (And yes, I use the term “man” guardedly, because I take the word to mean something more than merely an adult featherless biped with a penis.) Well, I’ve already said a fair amount about how and why Donald Trump is a fascist. I’ve made it clear that I do not use the term casually, or as a throw-away fallacy. But what about the other terms I’ve been using? I’ve characterized Trump as a narcissist for a while now, and have recently shifted from describing him as a sociopath to a psychopath. What sort of legitimacy can I give those terms, especially since I’m not really qualified to make such a diagnosis with any expertise? Continue reading
So now this appears to be happening: several users out in the Twitter-verse apparently are crowing about the repeal of Obamacare while defiantly bragging about keeping their insurance through the ACA. Again, to all appearances, these people are real. Meanwhile, racist Trump designee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, questions whether women and LGBTQ people face any serious discrimination in the world. Examples could readily be multiplied. This is because fascism is a movement that does not center on any sort of intellectual framework, while its appeal is to persons of an authoritarian mindset that rigidly compartmentalizes concepts and experiences so that genuine intelligence can never get a foothold on the person’s thinking. Under such circumstances, exercising reason – genuine reason – becomes itself a revolutionary act.
But beyond that quip, what more can be said about the matter? Isn’t that a bit like dismissing Trump’s followers as being stupid? Even if this was true, would it really be an effective approach to dealing with the current consolidation of power by the fascists? In response, I would encourage people to read the above linked posts on the authoritarian mindset, but I’ll have a few more words to say about the nature of genuine intelligence below the fold. But mostly I want to think about the revolutionary aspects of reason around the topics of memory, logic, and leadership. Continue reading
It is certainly disturbing to see how many people prefer a convenient lie over a disquieting truth. But more importantly, we should make note of how many people will flee in abject terror to the warm, terroristic embrace of a convenient lie when confronted with an indisputable uncertainty, the unavoidable knowing that you do not know. I should get that tattooed somewhere … somewhere where no one will ever see it …
There is a formal structure to at least some kinds of disruptive uncertainty, and that structure is not all that hard to understand. I’ll mostly be discussing that logical structure, which often requires a kind of patience with inconsistency. But I will turn to the psychological issues of those who embrace inconsistency without thought at the end. What I wish to address here are kinds of inconsistency, most importantly noting that there are genuinely and importantly different kinds. I’ll mainly draw on investigations by Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom, coupled with developments by Jon Barwise and John Perry. Continue reading