Monday, March 27, 2017

Two Conversations

Related to my Critical Thinking post (and to my Commenting post, Toxoplasma link - heck probably about 20% of everything I've posted) is this contrast between two FB conversations in the last 24 hours. One is with a high-school friend, the other with a second cousin I have not seen since childhood. In the former, my pal commented on a meme from Resistance Report, which is sort of like Occupy Democrats in that it's not a real source, it just collects things and puts them up, mostly just just niener-niener memes on topics of the day.  He had commented that Event X was typical of Republicans, who would be outraged if a Democrat did X but have no problem with Trump doing it.

Such constructions are not entirely useless, but they are perilous.  They do encourage the thought-experiment of asking oneself "Yeah..what if the situation were reversed?" But they are ultimately unknowable for certain.  If we want to make such an accusation, we had best be prepared to show that the Magentas got outraged by things very much like X when the shoe was on the other foot, and the Oranges weren't. The Serbs will tell you it's all the Croatians' fault, after all. We quickly got into other topics, somewhat related, but it was something of a whack-a-mole game. He was all over the map, but I thought it would be unhelpful to point that out.  (Eventually someone does need to point these things out to a person.  I come from a place where true things were denied, so no one said them. That uh, didn't work in the evangelism and character-development senses.  Things just got worse over the years, and the influence of that silence left some people unprotected.  So I don't mind pushing back.)

It reminded me of CS Lewis's writng about the impressions people have of history
The next thing I learned from the R.A.F. was that the English Proletariat is sceptical about History to a degree which academically educated persons can hardly imagine. This, indeed, seems to me to be far the widest cleavage between the learned and unlearned. The educated man habitually, almost without noticing it, sees the present as something that grows out of a long perspective of centuries. In the minds of my R.A.F. hearers this perspective simply did not exist. It seemed to me that they did not really believe that we have any reliable knowledge of historic man. But this was often curiously combined with a conviction that we knew a great deal about Pre-Historic Man: doubtless because Pre-Historic Man is labelled 'Science' (which is reliable) whereas Napoleon or Julius Caesar is labelled as 'History' (which is not). Thus a pseudo-scientific picture of the 'Cave-man' and a picture of 'the Present' filled almost the whole of their imaginations; between these, there lay only a shadowy and unimportant region in which the phantasmal shapes of Roman soldiers, stage-coaches, pirates, knights-in-armour, highwaymen, etc., moved in a mist
This was my friend's misty picture of current events: statements from the newspapers about Hillary Clinton, a misperception about law and interpretation, stereotypes from decades ago, but overall, an assurance that Republicans lie and cheat. Pointing out that individual accusations are false have no effect on this, not even a polite "Well yes, but..."

I had decided to say nothing further when it occurred to me that I might ask how he would try and convince a man from Mars about this. The Republicans say the Democrats lie, the Democrats say the Republicans do, how would he make his case? It seemed a giveaway that this would be an exercise in objectivity. He replied on some of the other topics - sort of - lurching to an ending line "A casual observer from mars would agree that the republicans are two faced, greedy and untrustworthy."I was dumbfounded.  I decided there was nothing to say to one who does not even know what a proper argument should look like.

On to my cousin.  I don't know her and have only connected on FB through other relatives, but I have every reason to think she's got the juice when it comes to smarts. She is equally liberal and sometimes unfair and snarky in her political comments, yet not dramatically so.  Today's post was interesting.  She had subscribed to WaPo and linked to an article about reimagining the Trump era as a Dungeons and Dragons game. Funny idea, I suppose, but I sighed a bit.  One of her comments was "And this article is journalism at its weakest:"hey let's quote a bunch of amusing tweets!!", but it made us laugh and that's something." I found that oddly comforting.  So you do know what a solid argument actually looks like. If pressed, you could make some sentient argument to a Martian why you thought Democrats are better than Republicans.

I think intelligence, in the sense of g-factor, must enter into it, though it is not any guarantee of self-observation.  Those who have spent a season or more among the very bright know this.  But this is a spot where I might give the nod to training rather than raw candlepower. Perhaps we have to have this drummed into our heads at some point or we never happen upon it ourselves.


jaed said...

I was dumbfounded. I decided there was nothing to say to one who does not even know what a proper argument should look like.

Are you sure he was trying to make an argument? Maybe you were playing the rational-argument-to-convince game and he was playing the signal-my-status-so-I-feel-good game. Possibly in other circumstances he might be perfectly able to make an argument and engage in logic, but in this interaction he was doing something completely unrelated to logic.

Maybe. I mean, someone of reasonably normal intelligence ought to be able to make a logical argument, and pretty much everyone needs to do it in day-to-day life. Maybe he can do it, but chooses not to in politics because he's doing something else that's means more to him than finding the truth via fact and argument.

I sometimes do feel when I'm talking to people that I and they are in completely different conversations.

Texan99 said...

A good friend brought me up a little short the other day when I made an off=hand comment about Huckleberry Finn, that kids wouldn't be able to read it now because it's been ruled racist. She very mildly replied that "some people" take that position. She, a stalwart liberal, of course does not. It was a good reminder that it's easy for me to over-generalize about a group of people who are irritating me severely en masse. Not that my friend has anything to do with the public schools, more's the pity, and I think my generalization may be more true in that arena than she'd like to think. Still, she was keeping me honest about my assumptions.

I do know that, if I'm going to argue with her, it's going to be a real argument, both civil and rational. Also, she's as smart as they come, so it's a good reminder that the problem with progressive errors is not that their proponents are too dumb to know better. I hope I'm providing her with a similar example of where conservative ideas come from.

Texan99 said...

PS, about science and history, I often think ideas in the public culture are based more on entertainment than on either science or history. Many people will believe uncritically almost anything they see in a movie, even if it's Raquel Welch running from dinosaurs in the year 1 million B.C.