Tuesday, February 16, 2021

After Virtue Comment Thread

On my brother's FB page (which I never visit anymore, so it may be long gone) it says "When you're accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression."  Which is entirely true, and more deeply true of liberals than of anyone else, not just conservatives. No one cancels them.  The first time I saw the comment I thought "That's what I have been saying to you about media for decades. You have said it's not true, and your evidence always boils down to social rather than logical claims - that all the other media, and all your friends, and all the liberal fact-checkers all say it's not true.  So it just can't be."  I still think that every time I remember the quote. Bullies, remember, are not people who have low self-esteem who are overcompensating, but people with artificially high self-esteem that reality can never validate, so they strike out at others. 

JMSmith's comment about faction versus party was valuable, as it clarifies what type of discussion is taking place. A party wants to be heard and to negotiate a solution, as in a party to an agreement.  But a faction seeks only victory, to assert that its opinion is really a fact that is immovable. I had said there was a loss of rationality in our current discussions, now including conservative factions as well, but he is correct that it is not rationality that is lost, but charity.  It reminded me immediately of the GK Chesterton quote from Orthodoxy (I think also in Everlasting Man) “If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by clarity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” Yes, there is no proportion, no charity. The reason still functions, but in an odd, unrecognisable way.

So also, David Foster's link to Paul Graham's essay on Orthodox Privilege.  (Orthodox in the sense of being non-heretical according to whatever power holds sway in your environment, not Greek or Jewish Orthodoxy.) They do not know what they don't know.  They believe all opinions can be expressed, because they hold no opinion outside the orthodoxy. Insisting that you say only what is allowed just seems polite to them. To insult who they will but endure no criticism is considered only holding you to a standard of politeness, nothing more. To them the correct ideas are simply obvious because everyone they hang with holds them. Not all of them are sneering or mean. And none of them think they are.  they are sure it's all those others.  Some are quite earnest in wanting to explain to you where you have gone wrong, because look at all the people who believe x. They think if you will just let them explain it will be as obvious to you as to them.  There is no way into the circle. A new fact has no place to be stored, no cuphook it can be hung from.  It just drops away.

To give up a single point is to risk all. At some level there is an understanding that there will be no friends anymore - because they know too well the sneers and condescension they share about all outsiders. The entire intellectual edifice might fall, slowly, slowly at first and then suddenly. So there can never be an interaction, anything to give the other fellow his say. There is usually nothing but contradiction.  The most polite of them might hear you out uncomfortably, thinking they are being patient.


Zachriel said...

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence: "This seemed as natural to Newland Archer as all the other conventions on which his life was molded: such as the duty of using two silver-backed brushes with his monogram in blue enamel to part his hair, and of never appearing in society without a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his buttonhole."


Assistant Village Idiot: Which is entirely true, and more deeply true of liberals than of anyone else, not just conservatives. No one cancels them.

"Lock her up!" doesn't count?

While so-called cancel culture can overreach, most efforts concern media figures, people who have been granted inordinate influence by the crowd. A media figure certainly has the right to free speech — but so do their audiences. If J.K. Rowling, who is on the political left, makes a statement that riles up a significant portion of her fan base, then she may pay a price in terms of her public persona, though she has the wealth and power to weather most any twitter storm.

Cancel cultures springs from groups with historically low power. That doesn't excluse excesses; but, of course, those with wealth and power moan about the threat to their wealth and power.

Assistant Village Idiot: {JMSmith} is correct that it is not rationality that is lost, but charity.

We wholeheartedly agree. The goal should be genuine redemption, not punishment for its own sake. However, some people will hold to views that many others find outrageous. That is their privilege, but they can't expect not to be criticized by others.

Assistant Village Idiot: They do not know what they don't know.

There is not a single conventional culture. People have isolated themselves into separate and distinct mono-cultures and try to expel from their silos those who deviate from accepted truths. For instance, the Republican Senators who voted for impeachment are not just criticized for being wrong: Republican orthodoxy has made clear that their views are unacceptable.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, "lock her up!" does not count. Who lost their job? The problem of "cancel culture" is not mere criticism, as you seem to imply, or even boycotting someone, as with Rowling, but with such actions as having book contracts cancelled not because the book won't sell now that you've offended people but because someone wants you deprived of a right to speak in a certain venue. Or losing your job entirely.

Those doing the cancelling are not low power. What their history was is irrelevant. They are merely exploiting the nature of competitive fields where a lot of people want that tenure track (or even a lecturer position), or wide "newspaper" audience, or starring role. A small amount of pressure can make a big impact there, as the company can find replacements fairly easily. Students are powerful at colleges because they are the customers, and create a sizable part of the current events news about a school. After they graduate they have little power to harm the school or cancel anyone.

Some have sufficient uniqueness or power that they can ignore and weather any attempts at cancelling. They can easily get other venues. Yet those are few. Most people who are cancelled have to take a lesser job, and then a lesser still.

As to the Republican Senators, again I note that merely criticising others is not the same thing. I think you are dangerously minimising what is happening to people. Susan Collins got death threats. It may be that Trump Republicans now have the ability to turn their criticism into actual punishment of other Republicans they don't like, and that would create a change in the calculations. When your criticism can cause authorities to turn it into real punishment you are now in a different situation and need to take that into account. You may go forward anyway, but you now know you are part of getting someone fired or censured. As this is what the Trump Republicans felt was happening to them - though often quietly and behind the scenes - by the GOPe from 2015-2020 they should be cautious about it.

Texan99 said...

The Texas grid having failed spectacularly and embarrassingly in this severe cold weather, I was all set to gloat over the failure of wind and solar systems. Unfortunately for my prejudices, it seems that the biggest culprit was thermal generating plants' instrumentation, which is not as effectively winterized in these latitudes as it is up north. It wasn't an insane idea not to spend the money on winterization, considering that a cold snap like this one very rarely happens, but if you go cheap and get caught, that's the breaks. I hate having to acknowledge this, because I was looking forward to a good Green Nude Eel bashing.

I'm seeing two interesting threads develop in the public howling about this, now that many people are on their second full day of zero power. First, a great many people are absolutely convinced that what I would call a random patchwork of neighborhoods with and without power is a conspiracy, probably favoring rich neighborhoods or industrial plants or whatever. My guess is that they started with rolling blackouts, which would have felt vaguely equitable, but when 1/3 to 1/2 of the power generation went offline, they didn't think they could safely keep turning on areas that had been off a long time. You can ask people to turn everything off and turn it back on gradually when the grid comes back, but most won't. They said they were worried about long-term damage, so they just played musical chairs, stopped the music, and whoever had power, kept it, while whoever didn't, didn't get it back.

The second line of discussion is about how evil the power utility managers were in not expecting this level of cold and adequately winterizing everything. To me, it's a large-scale example of what we're seeing in households. Some people have so little confidence in the power grid, and are so unwilling to go without power for days on end, that they buy generators. Maybe little cheap ones that run a minimal number of emergency devices, or maybe big expensive ones that will run the whole house for a week. (Guess which camp I'm in.) But if this topic comes up, there's sure to be an infuriated reply along the lines of "Go give that advice to my impoverished elderly next-door neighbor, who obviously can't afford even a tiny generator" (and even more obviously, doesn't have any friends or neighbors willing to do the same).

A very few people appear to be looking at the facts we actually know and trying to figure out what they can reasonable do in their own lives to adjust to them, and then to help out their neighbors who didn't. Others keep posting furious rants about how they can't understand why the electric company would decide to deny them power when it's so cold outside. No information can penetrate; the only ideas that penetrate are the ones that scapegoat some group they already dislike.

Douglas2 said...

Texan99, I went searching online to get more info on a rumor/joke about sewers freezing in Dallas, and found exactly the same whining as you describe in the twitter messages directed at county leadership there.

As with people complaining to/about government last spring on the subject of PPE: I agree that it's potentially life threatening that they don't have it, but I'm not sure where they expect the authorities to magic it up from, as we're all in the same situation and (now that we see our emergency stock was woefully inadequate), the bottleneck is capacity to make it, not lack of current concern or effort on the part of the people who are being ranted at.

I've been hearing a lot of "Why don't we vaccinate everyone right away" also.

David Foster said...

Tex, what is the issue with the thermal-plant instrumentation?...all I've been able to find is gas supply constraints due to freezing, mainly at the wellheads, I believe.

Douglas2 said...


I'm suspecting that it's the same issues from this 2011 post-mortem:

David Foster said...

Unknown 4:46...thanks, an enlightening article.

Can't think of any reason why coal plants wouldn't have the same problems if they were built similarly.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It was good of commenters to note that the bashing government for not being prepared is exactly what could be levelled against individuals. I liked the distinction that maybe everyone shouldn't be overpreparing for every possible snake bite, and government does have a role in making some general preparations.

There has been a lot of "the government is all fools or knaves and sure let us down on the hamster shortage." Plenty of that is true, but a lot of the energy is from people who simply don't get that hard things are hard. They want magic.

Donna B. said...

They want magic and they want it NOW.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Any fantasy novel adventurer can tell you that magic is expensive, and may bring you more problems in the long run.

Texan99 said...

The snakebite point is right on. There are plenty of things it makes more sense to provide communally--surgical operations come to mind. Sure, I wish I had my own personal 24-hour emergency medical staff on duty on my own premises, but I'm not Bill Gates, so that's out of the question. I can, however, supply myself with a generator, a propane tank (both larger now after our hurricane experience in 2017), a rainwater cistern, and a septic tank. I don't need municipal power or water to get through a tough spell. It's partly a question of how expensive the prepping is and partly how often a problem develops when we're cut off from the normal communal solution. We'd be in a pickle if the country's food production shut down long-term, but we can sure make arrangements for brief periods when the local stores can't cope and the local power and water go off.

Texan99 said...

I'm about to go read the 2011 article about winterizing--thanks for the link!

What I've already read this week is that a lot of different ancillary equipment caused shutdowns. The nuclear plant not far from here, for instance, shut down one of its two units when a safety sensor malfunctioned in the cold. They have zero tolerance for malfunctioning safety systems. If hard freezes were more common that close to the Gulf Coast, they'd probably have some kind of backup or emergency warming--after all, they have practically limitless power to play with. Look what happened to Fukushima when it relied on diesel or batteries or whatever to power the pumps to keep the water out of the plant. So crazy to have a power system fail as a result of something a power system is uniquely qualified to deal with: keeping things as hot or as cool as they need to be. But it's always a cost-benefit balance. You can't plan for every contingency, no matter how remote. And yet this disaster blew out 34GW of generation, which was half of the unprecedented peak load as the cold settled in on Monday night all over the state.

I've read that other thermal plants, where gas or coal, failed because of some kind of frozen instrumentation. Others were down for seasonal maintenance and couldn't be spun back up immediately. I'm off to read the 2011 article about what else can go wrong.