Sunday, July 23, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: The Paradox of Late Modern Conservatism

MODERATOR: Welcome to another episode of Clash of Worldviews. Tonight we’re fortunate to have with us in the studio Fred Gulpa, self-described alt right transhumanist; Rich Goldfarb, a fiery young Jewish conservative debater; Adam Garnett, noted liberal secular humanist; and Heather Fogarty, hypermodern skeptic and gadfly. Welcome to all of you and to our viewers joining us from around the world. Tonight the topic is postmodern conservatism. What does it mean to be a conservative in the twenty-first century, under advanced technoscientific, postindustrial conditions? Who would like to start us off?

RICH: That’s a preposterous question and you’re an imbecile for asking it. Your hair is all messed up and I’m appalled by your cheap aftershave, which I’m aghast to say I can smell all the way from over here. So you must be a closet liberal, which is unfortunate because all liberals are evil.

MODERATOR: Uh, oh…kay? That wasn’t quite the response I was looking for. I understood that you’re a professional debater, Rich. Have you learned about ad hominem attacks?—not to mention red herrings, since I’m just the moderator here.

RICH: You see that’s just like a liberal. Run from your liberalism all you like, but it’s a disgrace.

You want to know what conservatism means today. I’ll tell you: it means standing up for divine or natural rights against tyrannies like the liberal state that holds a gun to your head to push corrupt liberal values down your throat and to collect ill-gotten taxes to grow its Mafioso hold over the population. The liberal government is an incompetent bureaucracy that can’t do anything right except shake down its citizens, disrupt the free flow of market competition, and expand the cushy public sector for the pack of liberal cronies. Conservatism means respecting the traditions that connect us with what’s right in the world so that we can oppose what’s evil. And liberalism is evil. Liberalism boils down to kleptocratic communism: the liberal state wants to redistribute money that was earned in market transactions, which means the government steals from the rich to give to the poor—like Robin Hood, except that instead of a hero, the government is evil. Stealing is wrong. And like cancer, the liberal state needs runaway growth in its tyrannical powers to protect unnatural liberal morality, including silly rights for women’s equality with men, for the killing of babies, for politically-correct recognition of absurdities such as the wholesomeness of homosexuality, and for government boondoggles like its nonsolutions to the overhyped problem of global warming.

ADAM: I mean: wow. Just, wow. It’s safe to say there must have been a hundred strawmen in that screed.

RICH: Everything I just said is obviously correct. You’re an execrable monster and a charlatan and a demonic insect for suggesting otherwise.

HEATHER: Uh, Rich, I think someone neglected to inform you that Clash of Worldviews isn’t like the infotainment newshour shows or campus debates you’re used to having, in which the goal is to pwn your opponent with vile hate speech and cheap zingers. We’ll actually expect some arguments here and won’t be impressed by schoolyard tactics.

RICH: Thanks for the tip. But everything I said is still obviously correct. There is no counterargument for liberals, since all liberals ever do is call conservatives bad names. Liberals are the ones with no arguments, and that’s because liberals are—

ADAM: —evil. That’s what you were going to say, right? Yeah, that shtick’s going to get old real fast. You’re starting to sound like Ben Shapiro.

RICH: I’m waiting for the rebuttal.

Theocracy, Natural Rights, and the Tyranny of Liberalism

ADAM: Alright. First of all, you said a lot more about liberalism than about conservatism, even though liberalism isn’t our topic. But fine, maybe we can arrive at the nature of conservatism indirectly, by focusing for a while on its opposite.

So just for starters, your slide from social democracy, or the so-called liberal establishment, to communism or tyranny is a grotesque oversimplification. In a democratic country with a capitalistic economy like the United States, the government needs certain powers to protect the social fabric and thus to prevent an outbreak of chaos, as in what’s called a failed state. The selfish impulses that capitalism nurtures are utterly amoral. For example, enterprising businessmen in early American history had no compunction against selling slaves; likewise, even today there’s a thriving business of human trafficking of sex slaves. Responsible governments collect taxes not just to protect private property or to defend against foreign enemies, but to preserve the public welfare, which means upholding its culture’s ideals. Slavery is against both Christian and Enlightenment values, but as long as there’s a supply of and demand for slaves, capitalism itself isn’t going to end slavery. Thus, the government needs to step in as a bulwark against capitalistic greed.

I mean, there are a hundred other grotesqueries in your rant, but let’s leave it there for a minute. Tell us, then, how are all liberal governments communistic or tyrannical? 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Club Punishes Talk Show Audiences for Drowning out Guests with Lingering Applause

Dateline: LOS ANGELES—Investigators have uncovered a club devoted to shaming audience members of American talk shows whose clapping and other loud reactions to the guests’ remarks often drown out what the guests are saying, wasting the time of the viewers at home.

Based in LA, the club is called Citizens for Silencing Audience Noise. Ray Akaji, CSAN’s spokesperson, expressed befuddlement at the audacity and self-centeredness of the studio audiences.

“If you watch Real Time with Bill Maher,” said Akaji, “almost a quarter of what you hear is the clapping, hollering, laughter, and other obnoxious noises made by the audience. The live audience members seem to think they’re more important than the millions watching around the world—as if anyone on earth is tuning in because they want to hear a single peep from Joe Blow sitting in the studio audience. No, of course we want to hear only the celebrity guests themselves.

“That’s what truly makes no sense. The noise-makers think they can interrupt the guests with impunity, wasting valuable airtime in an hour-long show with their cacophony of worthless cheering, as though there were no danger of reprisal. Well, not on CSAN’s watch.

“We treat the noise-makers as thieves, because that’s what they are: they steal the meaningful content that could have been, the funny jokes the comedian would have said had he or she not been rudely interrupted by the infantile noise-makers. Sure, the live audience buys the tickets to enjoy the show, but that doesn’t entitle those members to curtail the show’s content with their idiotic noises. Make annoying sounds at home if you insist, but not in what is effectively a public space.”

CSAN members have thus taken it upon themselves to camp outside television studios, wait for the offending audience members to exit at the parking lot, and yell in their ears or work party horns, blowouts, and kazoos such as you would find on New Year’s Eve.

“Our mission,” said Akaji, “is to render the offenders unable to hear themselves speak—at least until they reach the comforting silence within their vehicle. That way, the analogy should strike home and they may desist from repeating their bit of foolishness in the future.

“They should be asking themselves, ‘Isn’t it annoying to have some strangers blast nonsense in your ear so you can’t hear what you’d rather be hearing? Isn’t life better when those who should be quiet keep quiet, so you can get stuff done?’ That’s what the insolent noise-makers should be thinking when CSAN has taken vengeance on behalf of the millions of more polite audience members at home.”

TV critic Marsha Marshmallow and CSAN member reasons that the sources of the disturbance may be Los Angeles and New York in particular, those being the cities where most American talk shows are taped.

“These self-centered fans who get tickets to sit in the TV studio audience come from parts of America which aren’t known for their humility,” said Marshmallow. “Most are relatively well-off, so they feel entitled and are thrilled at the prospect that their clapping might somehow match the guests’ discourse, as though they were on equal ground. They thus forget that they’re nobodies whatsoever in comparison to the celebrity guests, and should therefore oblige the vast audience at home by shutting the hell up when the cameras are rolling.”

The TV show producers often whip the crowd into a frenzy, inviting the wider viewership to tune in by holding up signs about when to clap and using that in-studio noise to create the impression that the show is entertaining.

“CSAN understands that side of the television business,” said Akaji. “But that doesn’t entitle the audience to drag out its mischief, squandering the precious airtime and causing a backlash of frustration. It’s the same reason listeners are quick to tune out a radio program when even the guests talk over each other so no one can understand what they’re saying. Who wants to listen to noise?”

Not everyone agrees with CSAN, however. Ted Cruikshank insists that he prefers the noise, including the audience clapping or laughter. “I just go ahead and fast-forward whenever the guests are talking, because I like to hear on TV only the eruption of applause. Guess you could call me a connoisseur of noise.”

Cruikshank lets the clapping, laughter, or booing wash over him, testing his peculiar ability to discern what strike him as interesting variations in what would otherwise seem to be the equivalent of so much space-wasting rubbish.

“The clapping in particular just appeals to me—much more so than the opinions of the actors, professors, and pundits who, I take it, are the starring attractions for most viewers. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but there’s no accounting for taste, right?”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

News Media Confuse Viewers by speaking as if all Oligarchs are Russian

Dateline: TENNESSEE—American corporate news media baffle viewers by presupposing that all oligarchs are Russian citizens.

“You never hear CNN speak of American oligarchs,” said news media watcher Alonzo Plompus. “For some unknown reason, whenever you hear about oligarchs on cable news, they’re always Russian.”

An oligarchy is a state ruled by only a few people, or by a small minority. Officially, the United States is a democratic republic, not an oligarchy. But Russia under Vladimir Putin likewise holds elections, giving at least the appearance of being democratic.

According to Plompus, viewers of CNN are perplexed by the cable news meme “Russian oligarch,” because they’ve become “familiar with the phoniness of American democracy.”

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, said Plompus, but lost in the Electoral College, and that "college of elites" was “established by the Founders as a bulwark against democracy.”

In 2001, George W. Bush was handed the presidency by the Supreme Court, which ordered Florida to stop its controversial, grossly-dysfunctional vote count.

And a 2014 Princeton study found that because American governmental policies for four decades have demonstrably favoured the wealthy and ignored the majority’s stated preferences, and because the richest ten percent therefore has held a virtual veto on public policy, the United States is effectively a plutocracy, which is a type of oligarchy.

“Then there’s the gerrymandering that renders the congressional elections a total charade in numerous states,” said Plompus. “Because of corruption in how redistricting was done to lock in arbitrary advantages after the 2011 census, many Republicans found they could pick their voters rather than the other way around.”

According to the Forbes list of the world’s 500 richest people in 2017, only 28 are Russian citizens. The United States has over 200. The richest Russian is only 46th on the list, whereas 8 of the world’s richest 10 billionaires and 14 of the richest 20 are American.   

“But you never hear the phrase ‘American oligarch’ on US cable news,” said Mr. Plompus. “Even the business elites who ruled in the American Gilded Age are called ‘robber barons,’ never ‘oligarchs.’

Mr. Plompus held a contest to brainstorm hypotheses to explain this puzzling news media phenomenon. The winner, whose solution was voted most promising, received a basket of assorted muffins.

One of these hypotheses is that journalists are lazy and so once they devise a meme, they become glued to it because they’re averse to creative thinking. But this hypothesis leaves open the question of how the meme got started.

Another solution is that the word “oligarch” sounds vaguely Russian to the “clueless egomaniacs” who read the news on the corporate news channels, according to the teenager who suggested this explanation. The word “oligarchy” is actually rooted in ancient Greek.

The winning possibility, raised by Delilah Butte, is that the news media believe that all the world’s oligarchs packed up and moved to Russia, “because they like vodka or because Russia is so geographically enormous that it can better fit all their gargantuan possessions.”

Ms. Butte generously shared her muffins with the others who attended the contest.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clash of Worldviews: Is Philosophy a Boon or a Con?

MODERATOR: Good evening, denizens of the interweb, and welcome to a special edition of Clash of Worldviews. We have a stacked panel here to discuss whether philosophy is a boon or a con, a topic that should naturally branch out into the meaning of life and the nature of happiness. Please put your hands together for Adam, noted liberal secular humanist; Heather, postmodern pessimist and cynic; Lindsey, Catholic conservative; Fred, popular alt right blogger and President Trump supporter; and Tariq, Muslim writer and intellectual. In addition, we expect two special guests to drop in later.

But in the meantime, let me put this question to the panel: Who here has a negative view of philosophy? And let me be clear, by “philosophy” I mean not just the academic subject, but any use of critical thinking to answer life’s most general, fundamental questions. 

Scientism and Normative Myths

ADAM: There’s a problem with that definition of “philosophy,” though, and once we see what that is, we’ll see what’s wrong with philosophy. If you’re talking about “any” use of critical thinking in those areas, you’re talking about cosmology, physics, and mathematics, but those are sciences. So the reason philosophy is indeed a fraud is that philosophy has been rendered obsolete by scientific progress. Thus, those engaging in the old-fashioned discussions are wasting their time.

LINDSEY: All hail Western scientism! Tell us, Adam, which scientific theory has established your liberal values or demonstrated that capitalism and democracy are the best ways of organizing a society.

ADAM: No political opinions are known to be true. We don’t need to think critically about them. Instead, different societies try out various political and ethical ideas, and majorities gravitate to the most attractive options. Capitalism and democracy rule in most places because they work well, not because of any argument or experiment. History is a process of trial and error.

HEATHER: Oh, so it’s good to know that, according to that bit of pragmatism, it isn’t exactly true that humans have rights or that women should be treated as men’s equals. I suppose those bits of liberal Enlightenment wisdom just happen to work for a while until the next fad comes along, correct?  

ADAM: Correct, but there’s no need to be smarmy about it. For a belief to be true, you need a fact to correspond with the symbols making up the thoughts that constitute the belief. And there’s no fact of the matter when it comes to what we ought to be doing.

HEATHER: Really? Then won’t you tell us more about how the Western lifestyle works relatively well. I take it you mean that individualism, capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law are most effective in achieving certain goals. What are those goals, I wonder. 

ADAM: Presumably, the point of a social structure is to make people happy or to ensure that some members are more powerful than others.

HEATHER: So if history discards some cultures and lifestyles and preserves others, as being more or less effective at achieving those goals, how do we justify those ultimate goals themselves? Not through history and not through science. How else, then?

ADAM: Who says they have to be justified? That’s just the way things are: we want to be happy or to dominate weaker persons.

LINDSEY: So if you lived in a dictatorship and you came to be dominated by the corrupt ruling elites, Adam, you might feel the power distribution is unfair, but you’d still maintain there’s no way to prove the elites are in the wrong? You’d just say, “Oh, well, that’s how things are around here in the torture chamber.”

ADAM: I might fight back or try to reason with the torturers, but even if I were to succeed, that wouldn’t show it’s empirically true as a matter of fact that their conduct is wrong.

HEATHER: No, not “empirically” true, just philosophically so. Nice try with the word game. 

MODERATOR: If I might interject, Adam, are you saying that philosophy doesn’t exist or is some sort of illusion, or instead that philosophy has been outmoded by science?

ADAM: The latter, of course. Talk about word games—that’s all philosophy is now, because the substantial issues are handled by the sciences.

LINDSEY: Like the issue of whether we should strive to be happy or should rebel against dictators? Yeah, right!

ADAM: People still engage in philosophical speculations—and religious ones too—but that doesn’t mean those are respectable practices. You won’t come to know anything from philosophy or religion that you shouldn’t instead be learning from science.

HEATHER: He means you won’t learn anything from philosophy or religion in the scientific way. So are you going to blame philosophy for the fact that you’re now playing another word game, even though you supposedly reject philosophy?

Can we move on from this scientism? Philosophical questions are meaningful, not to mention profound. Indeed, their profundity can be measured by the extent to which their answers are potentially subversive.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Miracle of Intelligent Selection of Events

Do miracles happen? Is the notion of the miraculous still useful, after the Scientific Revolution? I think so, contrary to the strawman originating, perhaps, from David Hume’s criticisms of natural theology. Hume misconceived of miracles as violations of natural law, defining “natural law” as an inductive generalization that’s based on observations of mere correlations between events. We perceive loose patterns in the world and add causal connections via the imposition of instinctive expectations or heuristics (cognitive rules of thumb) onto the more open-ended data. We thus naturally simplify the world’s infinite complexity to make rational sense of it, as opposed to wishing the world operated according to the gratuitous, occult dictates of divine commandments. Natural laws are thus opposed to religious dogmas, for example, in that the former are based on the brain’s interpretive mechanisms, whereas the stem from strategies for social domination.

This Humean view is right as far as it goes, but it’s not sufficiently atheistic. There are no objective natural laws, since “law” in this case is euphemistic. There are regularities which we understand according to our models which simplify and idealize to further such pragmatic ends as our interest in exploiting apparent natural processes. But all laws are social agreements, given atheism rather than deism or theism. Strictly speaking, there are no natural laws and thus there can be no violations of them. Thus, the notion of a miracle as a violation of a natural law is useless. Here, though, is a worthwhile notion of a miracle: a miracle is an anomaly that astonishes or terrorizes those who appreciate something of the strange event’s significance. Notice that this definition is consistent with the foregoing account of natural order. Again, there are perceived regularities which are understood in light of our subjective and social resources, including our cognitive rules of thumb and experimental models. The regularities themselves are objective, as are the data that inform our models, but the way we understand and explain the phenomena are largely anthropocentric. Even scientific understanding, which bypasses the crude anthropocentrism in the metaphors implicit in natural language, inherits the animal’s prejudice for the utility of working tools or traits. The chief standard for scientific explanations is their workability in the civilized project of taming the natural world. Like all gross, bullying demonstrations of power, technoscience will likely prove to be self-destructive. In any case, we become accustomed to the regularities we observe, because we’re in terror mainly of what we don’t understand. Anomalies, then, are those natural events which are rare and which we don’t understand. Some subset of anomalies is, further, miraculous, because a philosophical suspicion of its cosmic importance subverts the predominant way of life.

There have been at least three miracles in this viable sense. First, there was the proto-physical event that sparked the universe’s creation from quantum weirdness rather than from any intelligent design. Virtual nothingness proved to be unstable and so particles popped spontaneously into being. Then the seed inflated and evolved into spacetime which fragmented into the galaxies of solar systems we see today. Second, life developed from nonlife. At one time, physical processes occurred despite there being no one to wonder at them. Some such processes created a rudimentary form of biological life, and that life form complexified by natural selection and by other such evolutionary means so that organisms acquired various body types, including senses and brains for interpreting the environment. Third, some organisms developed also a vision of how the world should be and boldly sought to modify how the world naturally is, according to that ideal.

The Miracle of Artificiality

Let’s focus on the third miracle, which is the miracle of artificiality, of art and of all other idealistic contrivances. Part of this miracle is present in the way the natural patterns of some system persist despite interference from the system’s environment. This is why working explanatory models are ceteris paribus, why they include some humble recognition of the model’s limitations or partiality. The model is about a special occurrence that “tends” to happen but that may or may not actually happen, depending on the circumstances. In the laboratory, those circumstances are controlled for, so the phenomenon can be studied in isolation and in its pristine form, whereas in the wild, factors which aren’t covered by the model can intervene and prevent the causal relationship from materializing. There are, then, possible outcomes, one of which speaks, as it were, to what we think of as nature’s structure, to some signal or meaningful bit of information, whereas the other outcomes are so many confounding noises. Only a theory of the totality of the universe would bypass the need for this distinction between system and environment, between the part and the whole, in which case the places of every part would be understood according to their interrelations that make up the whole of everything; more precisely, the whole would be understood as a unity with no divisible parts.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

President Trump attended Secret Workshops to learn how to Lie like a Politician

Dateline: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have been holding secret workshops with President Trump to teach him how to lie well.

According to an anonymous source who attended some of the meetings, there has been widespread frustration in Washington that Trump has been giving politicians a bad name due to the “pitifully weak” quality of his lies.

“The problem isn’t that Trump lies all the time,” said the source. “No one expects a politician to tell the truth. The problem is that Trump has no idea how to lie well.

“A politician is supposed to be such an expert at lying that even though you know it’s the politician’s job not to tell the truth, you go along with the lie because of its plausibility and the smoothness of its delivery.”

Trump’s problem is that “he’s too old to keep track of his infinite lies, and he lies about things that are obviously not as the president is making them out to be, so he gives the game away. A classic example was his lie about the size of his crowds at his inauguration.”

Moe Backalley, a presidential historian believes the problem may be a deficit in President Trump’s short-term memory capacity.

“The president seems unable to remember what he said a week ago on Twitter or at a press conference, when he later says the opposite, and so some of his lies are easily exposed because the press can just check the record and confirm the contradiction.”

Trump’s defenders insist, on the contrary, that he’s a master of deception. “No one know which way is up or down anymore,” said a Trump voter. “That’s all thanks to Trump’s audacity. He’s gaslighting the nation, creating a whole new narrative and making the facts—so beloved by the establishment—irrelevant. That means he’s winning!”

The workshops included tests of Trump’s understanding of the difference between truthfulness and deception. Trump was shown a plate with one apple on it, and was asked how many apples are on the plate. He answered, “There are three apples. Very, very nice apples. Shiny and red. One of my companies sells apples, you know. The best apples in the world. You should buy some.”

The apple was removed from the plate and Trump was asked, “What’s on the plate now?”

The president answered, “There’s a dog turd on the plate.”

But there was in fact no such dog turd.

“And where’s the dog that produced that turd?”

“In my coat pocket,” said the president.

According to the source, the president then swiftly devoured three of the ten present politicians and their bodyguards, somehow unhinging his jaws like a snake and swallowing the men and women whole.