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[politics|culture] Opinions and those inconvenient facts - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-04-16 05:46
Subject: [politics|culture] Opinions and those inconvenient facts
Security: Public
Tags:culture, politics, process, writing
Among other political and cultural hobby horses of mine, I rattle on a lot about evolution denial in education. Likewise the gross historical revisionism of the Texas Textbook Commission. There's a reason for that, beyond my dedication to intellectual honesty and my aversion to hypocrisy.

Opinions, even those that come in the form of sincerely-held, passionate beliefs, do not substitute for facts. Especially inconvenient facts that contradict those opinions.

Yet when we teach kids in school that the objective evidence of the natural world can be disregarded for a subjective religious belief, we are teaching them exactly that. We are fundamentally undermining critical thinking and replacing it with magical thinking.

Magical thinking is something you see all time in adults. I don't know a single writer who doesn't indulge in it as part of preparing their writing mind. (Myself included.) Anyone who has a lucky hat, or cannot write without their tea in a special mug, or any other ritual, is doing this. But most of us understand that. I'm feeding the mythos part of my mind when I say I can only write on the Mac laptop, not the Dell. There's no objective reason I can't do it the other way around.

But I know I'm doing this. I don't confuse my own rituals and magical thinking with the objective reality of the world around me.

One of my big quarrels with the contemporary conservative movement, both in its media form (FOX, etc.) and in its political form (GOP, Tea Party) is the pervasiveness of magical thinking they indulge in, and their overwhelming tendency to confuse opinions with facts. Yes, that's human nature, and we all do it, but movement conservatism has institutionalized this as policy.

Note this item from a recent New York Times/CBS poll of the Tea Party:
Regardless of your overall opinion, do you think the views of the people in the tea party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans? 84% of the self-identified teabaggers said yes. Only 25% of the general public agreed.

These people honestly believe their view is a majority view. They're not interested in facts. These people also honestly believe that Obama is a Muslim and was not born in the this country.

And outside of the fringe, you see the same magical thinking. Every time the Republican leadership gets into the media and talks about America being a center-right nation, they're wrong on the face of both the polling and the electoral results. It's a narrative they believe in, and need to be true to back their political stance, but it simply isn't true. Any more than their narrative that a majority of Americans want to repeal HCR is true. Similarly, back in the 2000 election, when the Clinton economy was going strong, Bush advocated tax cuts to stimulate further growth. When the economy began to collapse in the face of an oncoming Republican victory, Bush advocated tax cuts to combat economic contraction. That's like saying you use the gas pedal in your car both to speed up and slow down.

All this confusing opinions with facts? A lot of it comes down to how you're educated and socialized in the first place. The conservative attack on education, which in its current form has been in play since at least the Reagan years, is about nothing more or less than raising citizens who don't know how to question their own position, who will uncritically accept passionate statements as truth, and who, like evolution denialists, eagerly embrace their own opinions as facts, unswayed by the reality of the world around them.

Censoring reality is profoundly unAmerican and unpatriotic, and it's a core conservative value, starting in the grade schools and going right on to the memory hole of FOX News, the GOP and the Tea Party. Reality is unforgiving, those opinions still aren't facts; but politics is infinitely malleable, as the activists and leaders of this movement well know.

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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2010-04-16 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Funny you should write this. I've been thinking along the same lines myself.

Many of us grow up believing in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, then we learn those things aren't real. Many people move on. But it appears some double down on the Invisible Leprechaun because they really need that magic in their lives to feel complete.

I find myself wondering why. We are obviously hard-wired to believe in magical Leprechauns. We have a real need to feel sense-of-belonging. It makes us feel safe and VERY special an Invisible Sky Leprechaun would take the time out of his busy day to care about us and even *gasp* create us. We must be special if that's true. And how can it not be true, because here we are!

Thank you, Invisible Sky Leprechaun, for creating the universe and ME. I like not having to participate in critical thinking and self-reflection skills. I like being an ignorant baby in a blanket who trades opinion for fact and magic for science. I like having your hob-nailed boot on the metaphorical neck of my innate skepticism. I like the societal privilege my believing in you automatically grants me. I revel in the knowledge that believing in you is superior to those godless commie heathens who believe in science. Why, if I had to actually use my critical thinking skills, I might wonder why an omniscient supreme being with the powers of space and time at his fingertips would ever have to "rest" after only six days of work.

But there you have it. I don't have to think. You do all my thinking for me. And I LOVE that.

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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2010-04-16 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This tendency makes me crazy. The folks of this ilk are actively making people dumber.

Ultimately, it is an evolutionary force. Will deliberate idiocy win over moderate rationalism? You would think the answer would be obvious, but it's not. Moderate rationalism takes time and effort. Deliberate idiocy is easy. The only thing moderate rationalism has going for it is concrete results, but when people are deprived of the ability to see those results, it makes the whole thing null.

I really think there needs to be more willingness on the part of non-crazy politicians to stand up and say, baldly, "You're lying. Here are the facts."

Obama has an interesting tactic, which is simply to refuse to engage the crazy people and get on with the business of governing. So far it's working, and I hope it continues to work, but the crazy people are getting crazier in that "How dare you ignore me!" kind of way. We see the same thing with small children, who all go through the phase of throwing tantrums when Mommy and Daddy aren't catering to their whims.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2010-04-16 18:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Wow, my take on Obama is 180 degrees different. He seems to have spent over a year in office incessantly pointlessly trying to engage the crazy people, and thus wasted huge amounts of time and reneged on many campaign promises, e.g. involving gay rights (when will he ever lift "Don't Ask Don't Tell"?), in the process, apparently due to not wanting to offend them and wanting to achieve bipartisan agreements with Republicans who automatically oppose anything he might propose, even though the Democrats already had a majority. I voted for him so he would do the stuff he said he'd do, not so that he'd waste time trying to convince Republicans that they want to do it too.

But then he disappoints in other ways too, e.g. promising to dismantle various of the evil mechanisms Bush set in place, like keeping people in prison indefinitely with no trial, and now we see that instead he's embracing these new sweeping presidential powers and going further than Bush in some cases, e.g. recently ordering the assassination of a US citizen with no trial. But I digress...

Edited at 2010-04-16 06:49 pm (UTC)
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Doctor Pipe
User: dr_pipe
Date: 2010-04-16 19:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You have a link or a source regarding this assassination, I assume?

I agree that he did spend a lot of time trying to get some bipartisanship, without any real return on that effort. But it was a good effort to make, and in the end he did go ahead and push the biggest piece of progressive legislation in decades through the congress. Likewise, Don't Ask Don't Tell is being nudged out. Guantanimo is taking longer to close than I'd like, but it's getting there.

I think too many liberals are overly critical in ways like this. Your choice is someone like Obama, who is having more success with progressive goals than any president in decades, or someone who would fare worse. Or a republican. I am happy with my choice for Obama because I realize that this stuff is not easy and he's doing a better job than anyone else we've had since, I don't know, FDR. Or LBJ, anyway.
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russ: quo vadis
User: goulo
Date: 2010-04-16 19:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:quo vadis
Sorry, I thought the assassination story was generally known. Link here:
http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/04/07/assassinations/index.html

I don't disagree that overall it's better having Obama than McCain/Palin elected. But man, I am disappointed with his performance so far compared to what he promised and could have done but wasted time trying to appease Republicans instead, not to mention the actively bad stuff he's done - things that he and we condemned Bush for doing. It's rather disillusioning.
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Doctor Pipe
User: dr_pipe
Date: 2010-04-16 22:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hm, that is interesting. I hadn't heard about it and it does sound strange. However I would need to do a lot more reading on it before I decide it's good or bad... My first thought is, I don't care whether or not he's an American--targeted killings might be okay in some wartime situations, but I would hope there is a responsible process in determining who to hit, and I would want this to be the case for non-Americans just as much as for Americans. I would also hope that any such target would be apprehended rather than killed should the opportunity arise. I would hope the assassination option is only used when the target is in sight but no apprehension is possible. Again, this applies to non-Americans and Americans equally.

Some might say no assassination is ever acceptable, and I might be persuaded to agree if the argument were well supported, but upon first consideration my instinct is that taking out Hitler early might have been beneficial. That's an extreme case obviously, but it suggests that there could be a legitimate place for targeted killing in warfare. I just don't know enough to know if it's being done responsibly.

Anyway, thanks for the link...
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Msconduct
User: msconduct
Date: 2010-04-17 06:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My first thought is, I don't care whether or not he's an American--targeted killings might be okay in some wartime situations, but I would hope there is a responsible process in determining who to hit, and I would want this to be the case for non-Americans just as much as for Americans.

Thank you for saying this. Some Americans appear to think that us non-Americans will understand perfectly that actions such as wiretapping and assassination carried out by America against non-Americans is America's undisputed right, whereas if they're against Americans it's an outrage. We aren't terribly enthusiastic about it happening to us either, to be honest.
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rahkan
User: rahkan
Date: 2010-04-16 14:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Similarly, back in the 2000 election, when the Clinton economy was going strong, Bush advocated tax cuts to stimulate further growth. When the economy began to collapse in the face of an oncoming Republican victory, Bush advocated tax cuts to combat economic contraction. That's like saying you use the gas pedal in your car both to speed up and slow down."

I don't see the contradiction here that you do. Bush believed that tax cuts stimulate economic growth. In both of these situations, he wants economic growth. Ergo, tax cuts would be the solution whether you're in a boom period and want to keep booming or if you're in a recession and want to get out of it.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-04-16 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't see the contradiction here that you do. Bush believed that tax cuts stimulate economic growth. In both of these situations, he wants economic growth. Ergo, tax cuts would be the solution whether you're in a boom period and want to keep booming or if you're in a recession and want to get out of it.

By that logic, cutting taxes is always a solution to everything. Which doesn't actually align with providing services or reducing deficits, assuming you want to fund anything government does. It is, however, the usual conservative logic.

In reality there's a wide gap between "I don't like paying taxes" (who does?) and "cutting taxes will improve [whatever]". But those two ideas have been very successfully merged in our political rhetoric.

The whole "supply side economics" meme, which essentially said, "lowering taxes always increases revenue" was never credible except as political rhetoric. It certainly never succeeded as economic policy.
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ulfhirtha
User: ulfhirtha
Date: 2010-04-16 15:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I prefer to likening it to the family who runs up their credit card & decides the answer to paying their bills is work part-time instead of full-time. Just as you say - opinion over facts (where only some, comparatively few, tax cuts are actually stimulative).

barbarienne is right: "The folks of this ilk are actively making people dumber" with deliberate idiocy. We see it in the Texas BoE. The conflation of Opinion (and half-remembered quotes and so on) with actual facts has been a mainstay of Ideological Purity for a long time. Bush II and his disdain for the "reality-based community" as an example or Reagan and his non-existent "welfare queens". The furor of the Tea Partiers is but the latest case in point. It is like watching "I, MUDD" when someone points out the dissonance between their slogans and reality - "you want smaller govt & get Social Security & Medicare?" - and the collar blinks while the mind seizes up.

Obama is doing what precious few have done in a long time - acting like an adult. An emotionally and intellectually mature person makes a refreshing change. It is also interesting to watch him sometimes indeed do as she suggests - listen politely then slap some Talking Point down with actual facts and analysis based on them. Satisfying as it is, it is also sad to think that seeing someone do that when the stakes are the course of our country & the world seems so rare.

As for writers, I'd expect that some of these rituals are useful not just for "magic" but simply to relax your mind, get it in a comfortable intimate place so it can open up. So it may serve a valuable function. Things like "my bed must always face North" are a bit much, though :-)
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2010-04-16 18:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think of the writing rituals as Creative Use of Science. That is, by training one's mind in Pavlovian fashion to associate certain rituals with the onset of writing, it might help get the writer into writing mode faster.

This is why I don't have writing rituals.
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2010-04-16 19:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't have writing rituals either, though in my case the reasoning is less deep. Basically they just always struck me as falling into that category of things that look like writing and feel like writing but actually aren't writing, and thus cut into energy that would be better spent writing.
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Msconduct
User: msconduct
Date: 2010-04-17 06:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, very much so. I don't have writing rituals primarily because I go a long way to avoid associating things in superstitious ways, but aside from that they seem to me to have as many drawbacks as they do advantages. I've written in carparks, in the back of taxis, and at the interval in the theatre: that's a lot of writing opportunities which would have been squandered if I couldn't write without my lucky Dell or whatever.
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2010-04-20 04:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am rather intrigued at the fact that the conservatives- who claim to be based on "core values" etc.- are in practice more post-modernist than most post-modernists; they are seriously denying that there are any such things as facts. At all. It's ALL opinions and hand-waving.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2010-04-16 21:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>>"I don't like paying taxes" (who does?)<<

I'm pretty close to the liking, if not quite there. I'm one of those who appreciates the bazillions of services that my tax dollars help pay for and without which we would have a lesser existence (in my opinion). There's even been a popular email message going around recently describing how many tax-paid-for things affect us daily.

I suppose this helps plant me firmly in the liberal camp, as higher taxes do not automatically anger me. (They don't always cheer me up, either, but again I try to think of the alternative, having fewer services.)

Of course, I'd prefer to keep my money, but I can't say that Paying Taxes is the worse of the two so-called inevitabilities.
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gvdub
User: gvdub
Date: 2010-04-16 15:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
None of it is new, though. My current commute audiobook is Dick Teresi's Lost Discoveries and one of the things he talks about is how the Greek insistence on purity and logic while rejecting the 'impure' and empirical did a pretty efficient job of stalling serious mathematical advances (despite the cultural trope about how we owe everything to the Greeks). I can easily imagine certain elements of current society deciding that they were going to take a stand against irrational numbers because God would have never allowed anything so imperfect to exist. π=3, anyone?

Edited at 2010-04-16 03:17 pm (UTC)
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-04-16 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There is nothing new under the sun. This is human nature we're talking to. The comfort of belief is always more appealing than the challenge of evidence. Absent socialization and training, mythos will always win over logos, because logos is more work.
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