Sunday, November 22, 2020

Post 7400 - Private Conversations

It is appropriate that this post occurs on a round number, as it is on a topic I have been grousing about for years - the prejudices that people show when they believe only "their own" are present.  I go over to Language Log from time to time, as it is primarily academic linguists writing for each other and whatever general audience is interested in language. They don't waste time on grammatical errors, though they will note unusual usages and phrasings, often with some humor. That is only a sideline for them, as tackling "well that's interesting" developments in language and discussing them is more their style. I always find an interesting thing or two there.  Yet it always ends the same way. A prominent political figure's comments or the statements of a group (authorised or unauthorised) will be discussed, and the political and cultural prejudices of the group will pour out for an entire comment thread.  Every time I think I am being unfair to academics, who are usually interested in their chosen field and have valuable things to say, I get brought up short by the unexamined assumptions and sometimes pantaloon-soiling bigotry they regard as everyday conversation.  Of course that sign had a threatening and violent interpretation.  That's what those people are like. The pattern is the same every time.  I raise a caution without much accusation, that there is some generalisation or imputing of motive that might be rethought, because all of us tend to color our views for group and personal, or even tribal advantage and it is best to be self-observing on such things.  The response is always the same.  Precisely zero commenters show the least evidence of stepping abck and saying "Y'know, there might be something to that - though here's why I still think my original observation was correct."  Y'know, like a reasonable person might do.  Every man jack off them doubles down, sometimes with sneering, or sometimes with that ultra-polite underplayed condescension that academics do. (I envy that ability.) I give one additional response with information that should prompt someone to at least pretend to rethink, but it doesn't happen. They aren't listening.  No amount of information will have the slightest effect. Life is too short. Maybe someone who didn't comment was able to hear, maybe a slightly contrary viewpoint will connect with something else they hear down the road. I am done, however. 

This is happening all over the conservative sites at present, with much more rudeness and even less ability to hear, if such a thing were possible. Between CoVid and the election there is a strong tendency for some to not even brook the slightest contradiction or modification, and these of course are the ones who had the most extreme views to begin with.  The difference on the conservative sites is that some people seem to hear, and to engage, and try to reconcile information.  The ones who don't are even more annoying than the liberals at the academic sites, bringing in evidence that has even less to do with the topic and making personal accusations. So that's the tradeoff, I guess. The average level of exchange is worse at the conservative sites, but at least some people listen, even if they disagree.  On the liberal sites, you are allowed to disagree about some things, the professional discussions (though even those get quickly twisted), but the general understanding that their tribe is the thoughtful, open-minded, and tolerant one is not ups for discussion. They just know, and questioning that seems simply unbelievable to them.

Living in two worlds I have spent my life listening to liberals when they think no one is listening in and and to conservatives when they think no one is listening in and I could stretch that to religious and non-religious people and break both of those down into smaller categories as well, such as woke vs center-left or liturgical vs informal/emotive worship. I've even had Jews speak to me about gentiles, as I were not as trayf as a ham-and-cheese sandwich. (Everyone seems to regard me as a slightly nonstandard member of their group*.)  I conclude that humans are often unattractive when they think only their own are present. Fortunately, it is not universal. 

We had a humorous example of this when my wife took our granddaughter to an historical museum. Nine-year-old girls are interested in what was life like for the nine-year -old-girls then? And the pets.  Tell me about the pets. The museums have largely figured this out and gear some of the displays to what children now seem to be interested in, even though that is sometimes not deeply related to the most important information. The sad truth is that in our political and cultural lives we are all pretty much nine-year-olds at the museum.  We care about people like us.  And the pets.

I am going to veer a bit to the side because I am tired of the political discussions going nowhere and prefer to switch to religious discussions going nowhere.  There are a lot of dead horses lying around, aren't there? In listening to my CS Lewis podcasts and looking up information afterward, I keep encountering those anti-CS Lewis sites I try hard to avoid.  They come to mind because this is another group of people who don't listen very well, and no amount of information has the least effect.  They know that Lewis can't possibly be a real Christian for the same whack-a-mole reasons, all of them.  He talks about magic without understanding that this is satanic. They know this because they have done "a deep study on demonology and the Scriptures," which means they read a book by a guy who read a book by another guy and they've heard preachers talk about it, preachers who have read pretty much the same books. Here's a place to give academics credit where it's due. The fact that a lot of college students get a degree without doing a lot of work does not mean that there aren't people who really have made a deep study of things, spending hours over weeks, months, and years reading eye-tiring old texts in archaic or foreign languages and following up with what a dozen other scholars said about each. That's a deep study.  It doesn't mean they are right about all things - they bring their own presuppositions, as above, but they actually have done ten times, a hundred times the work the guy who is parroting a fifth-level derivation of the Malleus Maleficarum, which is, you know, pretty much the same thing as scripture, because it's got scriptures in it.  

Yes, another fundamentalist trick is to make sure everyone brings their Bible, because they want you to be able to check that everything they say is completely Scriptural, so you can trust it.  Then they give you their opinion while quoting verses that they assure you prove their point, challenging you to "Look them up for yourself!  You can see those verses are right there!" Which they are, and if you are unwary you will become convinced that everything taught must in fact be the Word of God. (And what is wrong with all those other churches for not believing the Bible?)

Where was I?  Oh yes, Lewis punted on the idea of Purgatory, thinking it might be so, and he didn't see that the RC church was either the antichrist or satan's favorite tool, so that also tells you he's not Christian.  And he smoked.  Sometimes they mention that he drank beer, too. They quote a lot of Bible verses telling you not to listen to deceivers, and that there will be false teachers, and that we have to be steadfast, and have pure doctrine, and so...?  And so...? Well yes, the Bible itself is telling us not to listen to CS Lewis. You think I'm kidding?  Have you even gone over there? My children's Baptist schools were generally quite pro-Lewis, but there were a few parents who would quietly mention to you that he had some things terribly, terribly wrong, and it wasn't safe for children to be exposed...

I've wandered far afield.  The topic was people not listening, and being even more extreme when they think their own are the only ones around.  Even sports fans do way better than this, because they accept the idea that someone might root for another team and not think your hero was all that great.

 *I know a few of you in real life: Granite Dad, Sponge-headed Scienceman, engineerlite, bsking and her dad, occasional others. You may understand better than I how this happens to me.



james said...

Academics are trusting souls.
Not in their chosen specialty, of course, but outside that...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tell me more what you mean by that. There are a couple of possible meanings.

james said...

Even within your field, you have to take a huge amount on faith. It takes time to set up and do all the E/M experiments that show that Maxwell's equations really do describe E/M. For quantum mechanics there's double-slit experiments, photoelectric effect, neutron scattering off nuclei, Stern-Gerlach, just for starters. You can do them, but generally the student is only given a sampling of the experiments. And the more complicated experiments (e.g. for anomalous magnetic moment) generally aren't even shown with the abstract, just the summary result.

You learn to absorb quickly--and not just in your chosen field. And to do that, you have to trust. It produces a culture of trusting--except for the stuff you know inside out.

I read that one famous ESP-debunker (Randi?) said the easiest group to fool was scientists. Maybe you remember the quote; I couldn't find it quickly.

There's another story about a party with a variety of different profs attending, when the subject of Van Daniken came up. The historian said that V.D.'s Egyptian dynastic chronology was utter nonsense, but he had some interesting ideas about planets. The astronomer said V.D.'s orbital dynamics were insane, but the historical part sounded plausible.

When you hear that upteen-thousand physicists believe in anthropogenic global warming, bear in mind that virtually none of them have ever looked at any of the warming papers, much less analysed them for quality/problems.

JMSmith said...

I think james is correct. I've been a professor for thirty years and have seen it in others and myself. Many professors leverage their very narrow expertise into a preposterous omniscience. I think you have written before that much professorial knowledge is, in fact, at the mid-wit level of their lectures to undergraduates. I know much of mine is. There is also the fact that mastery of an arcane or impractical subject is supposed to require more intelligence than mastery of a complex but common subject like automatic transmissions or the tax code. Thus a professor who writes a book on the migratory habits of some species of butterfly presumes, wrongly, that he is smarter than the lawyer, doctor, or even farmer who lives next door. This hubris is on full display when, as you say, academics gather behind closed doors.

I would add one other sociological factor. Academia is a corporate enterprise, and keen competition within the corporation includes pushing competitors out of the corporation. This doesn't necessarily mean seeing that they are fired from the university, but rather seeing that they are excluded from the working groups, projects, boards, awards, etc. It is actually quite hard to distinguish between individual academics in the great bulging middle of the bell curve of quality, so unfashionable eccentricities are a real liability. The most unfashionable eccentricity are the three R's: religious, Republican and racist (i.e. insufficiently antiracist). The net effect of all this is a highly conformist culture in academia. Much of this conformist culture is a superficial, "dress for success" kind of show. But it's not in the least bit unimportant when wearing the wrong color tie will be used to throw you out of the competition.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am reminded of my family physician years ago trying to explain to me how I had misinterpreted a NT verse. Don't use your "I'm a doctor" voice on me, Phil. I work with doctors all the time.

I think I have the personality that could do this easily, so it's good that I never became and actual expert.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

JMSmith - that fits in with bsking's comment under "Cancel Culture," if you missed that.

PenGun said...

"I have spent my life listening to liberals when they think no one is listening in and and to conservatives when they think no one is listening in"

Amazing. Are you some kind of ninja that can sneak up on these guys and listen, while they have no idea you are even there. I am impressed.

James, I can recommend Leonard Suskind, one of my favourite professors, for quantum mechanics. I am content to believe people at this level, they do the experiments. ;) A rather fascinating discussion of Copenhagen vs Everett, well for me anyway as Everett is somewhat central to my understanding of Buddhism, using modern language:

james said...

Suskind is fine, yes.

PenGun said...

"Suskind is fine, yes." Interesting, who is not fine?

Sean Carrroll might upset you, but is a seminal contributor to quantum theory. Would he make the list?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

PenGun - This is not a hobby for James, it's his job for decades.

RichardJohnson said...

I've even had Jews speak to me about gentiles, as I were not as trayf as a ham-and-cheese sandwich.

On occasion, Gentiles have mistaken me for being Jewish, and during my freshman year at a school that had a student body that was about a quarter Jewish, a Jewish guy mistook me for being Jewish.I was eating in the cafeteria with some Jewish friends, and during a Jewish holiday I was eating matzoh crackers- though with the rather Gentile American addition of peanut butter and jelly.

PenGun said...

"PenGun - This is not a hobby for James, it's his job for decades."

What does that mean? What are his degrees, who did he study with? I have been digging for over 50 years but that does not make me an expert. I would love to discuss Everett with someone who has a clue though as its kinda central to many theories about how the universe actually works, which I largely agree with.

PenGun said...

OK. I guess I'll just continue with Leonard and 'Eternal Inflation' as that is useful for Penrose's theories about the universe. The math is not really hard, but challenging for me. I'm old and there are 4 vids but he is a masterful teacher. I'm about half way through the first one. ;)

Eternal Inflation

All this new stuff is fitting together very well, we are advancing our understanding of cosmology rather quickly right now.

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