Saturday, February 13, 2021

After Virtue

I ran across the following quote today.  I have not read the book quoted but am likely to, after seeing the other provocative quotes from it

   [Protesting] is now almost entirely that negative phenomenon which characteristically occurs as a reaction to the alleged invasion of someone’s rights in the name of someone else’s utility.The self-assertive shrillness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure that protestors can never win an argument; the indignant self-righteousness of protest arises because the facts of incommensurability ensure equally that the protestors can never lose an argument either. Hence the utterance of protest is characteristically addressed to those who already share the protestors’ premises. The effects of incommensurability ensure that protestors rarely have anyone else to talk to but themselves. This is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective and that its dominant modes of expression give evidence of a certain perhaps unconscious awareness of this. Alisdair MacIntyre After Virtue,1981.
As the rational argument cannot be either won or lost by either side (in these days, because of the incomensurability, the lack of common ground or common measure in 20th C assumptions, which he attributes to the influence of Nietzsche), there is no use for argument unless it can be weaponised. Those who would attempt to discover truth are not refuted, but merely ignored.  I usually regard this as an evasion by those who wish only to argue a particular side, not engage in a discussion. Yet it may be, as Lewis predicted in The Abolition of Man and Macintyre claims (elsewhere, not in this quote) After Virtue, that they are not even capable of such a thing. The faculty may have atrophied.  they may not even have been taught it at a critical time.

Those who think only in terms of Will to Power will assert that a particular source of information, such as an author, a newspaper, a group cannot be relied upon because they are hopelessly biased.  They have a stake in the outcome and their pronouncements should be disregarded. When a rational opponent agrees in part, but points out that this applies equally to the other sources that the protestor is relying on and makes the counter assertion that some things can be known at least approximately, and a common ground should be sought, this is in practice ignored.  Whether the concept is acknowledged in principle or draws only a blank stare is irrelevant. The rational point is disregarded - because who is in power is all that matters.

I have been very hard on liberals on this score for years.  Not because they are incapable of reasoning - many are, and some better than I, but because they have tolerated this sort of nonsense as a practical matter regardless of what they are otherwise capable of.  A frequent example that something reported on Fox News is dismissed because that source is biased.  When I counter that the sources they rely on are equally biased and perhaps worse. The closest I get to a response is that sometimes the person will make a general comment that of course every source is biased and then proceeds as if the last thirty seconds of the conversation have not occurred. This is not merely with known fools or highly defensive people who fear they will be outgunned if they engage with me, but educated people who show ability to weigh pros and cons in other circumstances. 

They do it because they can get away with it.  They do not have to respond, because they can increasingly erase difficulties. Problems just go away. Like this one.

This is increasingly true of conservatives as well, including, now that I think of it, the similar question of news sources. If they were merely asking How are we to know anything - about Covid, or climate, or political accusations then they could be answered, as i have attempted four times in different places over the last two days.  There are ways we can at least get rid of some claims, and we can identify various strengths or weaknesses of Tom's numbers, or Dick's or Harry's. But the followup responses have been very disappointing.  they have amounted to "No, we can't really know anything because I am rejecting Tom and Dick. Therefore I will believe Harry." I heard many times since Trump started winning things in early 2016 that once "we" have power, we will be able to do the same thing.  We won't have to listen. And many didn't, and now they still are not.

We might see through a glass darkly, but we can at least get a sense which direction the sun is. 

MacIntyre again, same subject:

 What this brings out is that modern politics cannot be a matter of genuine moral consensus. And it is not. Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means,

Update: JMSmith makes some excellent distinctions in the comments, which I would refer you to, including " It is charity that disappears when party gives way to faction, not reason."

 


14 comments:

james said...

He does have some interesting quotes.

“We should therefore expect that, if in a particular society the pursuit of external goods were to become dominant, the concept of the virtues might suffer first attrition and then perhaps something near total effacement, although simulacra might abound.”
That's bang on.

"Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words." I've seen some sad effects from the loss of sex roles. But in general, I wonder if a similar effect of leaving youth without guides can happen with an avalanche of stories, all chasing novelty.

Galen said...

If you read the first few pages of “After Virtue”, you will immediately get the philosophical basis for “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” Miller got there first with his imagination. MacIntyre’s work is profound.

Unknown said...

I had a mentor in the 90s who was very into Alisdair MacIntyre and quoted liberally from him in both lectures and conversation.

So of course I wanted to read After Virtue for myself, but I never got very far. It reminds me of the beef roast that appeared at our house last week. My wife was surprised at how inexpensive it was, but we soon found out why -- while it was extremely flavorful, the time required to masticate it made for an excessively long and not really enjoyable mealtime. The remainder got sliced thinly for me to use in sandwiches, and after the first attempt I took the whole baggie of it to dispose of secretly at work.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Perhaps my putting in "best of" quotes was the ticket, then. I didn't do that intentionally, but sometimes things work out that way.

JMSmith said...

Classical political philosophy described this as the difference between the politics of party and the politics of faction. A political party pursues the interests of its members but does not deny that members of an opposing party have legitimate interests, and that members of both parties are united in a single polity. A political faction seeks to destroy the opposing party, to delegitimate its interests, and to defame and discredit its members. I think the United States has entered the politics of faction. There is plenty of evidence for this, but one item I find interesting is the disgust many on the Left now express for the Union's failure to impose hard Reconstruction on the Confederates. To my mind, this was an admirable return from factional politics to party politics, and I think it is very ominous that many on the Left now believe the Union should have been more vindictive.

It is charity that disappears when party gives way to faction, not reason. The will changes, not the mind. And this makes the descent into factional politics all the more fearsome because there is no turning back when love dies. It is like a couple that begins to quarrel, and very soon things are said that cannot be unsaid, blows are given that can never be forgotten. When I was in college a sadist lured me into a "sparing" match. He was an experienced boxer and he beat me to a jelly. I think of that when people with opposing opinions invite me to rational debate.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That is an excellent set of distinctions. I will comment on this later, but for now will merely highlight this in the OP.

Zachriel said...

Alasdair MacIntyre: This is not to say that protest cannot be effective; it is to say that it cannot be rationally effective

This is inherent to the human condition. As an example, the U.S. Declaration of Independence builds its arguments on certain premises, which, if accepted, create a convincing syllogism. Among these premises is that "all men are created equal," but as MacIntyre points out, "there are no self-evident truths." Certainly, King George III rejected the premise, believing instead in a natural hierarchy based on aristocracy and duty to sovereign. Consequently, the utterance of the Declaration was "addressed to those who already share the protestors’ premises." The resolution required violent revolution.

Assistant Village Idiot: A frequent example that something reported on Fox News is dismissed because that source is biased. When I counter that the sources they rely on are equally biased and perhaps worse.

While all sources exhibit biases, not all biases are equal (i.e. black-and-white fallacy).

--
Seth Meyers: “The smaller the story Fox News is focusing on, the bigger the story they’re ignoring is."

https://img.huffingtonpost.com/asset/60237211250000581591b36d.png

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Zachriel - the simple answer is that the traditional sources are more numerous, more powerful, more of an echo chamber, and significantly more biased. In the long list of bits of evidence I would give in support of this, I would start with the stories they do not report, or report for a day and then bury.

I fully understand that you believe them and think they are much closer to the truth. I have seen your arguments for this in the past and have found it unimpressive - in fact, making your case less convincing. I have previously stated, and here repeat, the evidence for the premise that they are more reliable must start with you yourself. You have to demonstrate that you have at some point modified your opinion by a counter-argument presented to you, or I am justified in dismissing your claims as merely post hoc reasoning for what you already wanted to be true.

I acknowledge that not all commenters here could present such evidence either. There are some who are unmoved by any evidence. I give you the compliment as intelligent opposition that I single only you and a few others out. And yet it remains. That is the required evidence, that you can demonstrate an ability to be persuaded.

Anecdotes of how Fox or some other conservative source got something wrong is therefore irrelevant. I readily concede most sources are knuckleheads. I am interested only in your ability to discern among them.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: the simple answer is that the traditional sources are more numerous, more powerful, more of an echo chamber, and significantly more biased.

They are more numerous, as well as much more diverse. There are a variety of measures of bias and accuracy. Mediabiasfactcheck.com rates media sources. Here's a few of their ratings.

Associated Press: least biased, highly factual
Reuters: least biased, highly factual
UPI: least biased, highly factual
New York Times: left center, highly factual
Washington Post: left center, highly factual
CBS News: left center, highly factual
NBC News: left center, highly factual
ABC News: left center, highly factual

Fox News: right biased, mixed record on factuality
CNN: left biased, mixed record on factuality

So, the traditional media sources tend to the center or just left of center, but are highly factual. Compare to Fox News or CNN. Indeed, Tucker Carlson says he is not beholden to journalistic standards of factual reporting, and Fox News has asserted much the same in court.
https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/917747123/you-literally-cant-believe-the-facts-tucker-carlson-tells-you-so-say-fox-s-lawye

Assistant Village Idiot: I fully understand that you believe them and think they are much closer to the truth.

Factual would more accurately reflect our position.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I will note that you have evaded the important request and there is no point in investigating the reliability of what you have put forth as evidence.

Pony up.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: You have to demonstrate that you have at some point modified your opinion by a counter-argument presented to you

We generally lurk and learn. We commented because we were interested in the MacIntyre quotes and thought the example of the U.S. Declaration — among many that came to mind — was relevant. Pointing out that not all biases are equal was more of an aside to the discussion.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

You are unable to do so. As suspected. Noted. Say what you will, others can respond as they like

David Foster said...

Paul Graham, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist, wrote an interesting post abouut Orthodox Privilege:

http://www.paulgraham.com/orth.html

I think a lot of people perceive, consciously or otherwise, the benefits of such privilege, and are careful to do nothing that might put them outside of the charmed circle of orthodoxy. This includes their media-consumption decisions.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

An excellent article, David. Orthodox privilege. Given my reading, I immediately thought of Greek or Jewish Orthodoxy, so it took me a paragraph to catch up.