Monday, July 19, 2004
Berkeley is strange
Which makes strangenesses about Berkeley even stranger. Consider these strangenesses (The evils of English refuse to accept "strangenesses" as a word, by the way):
"Naa, let's go to Fat Slice instead. Blondie's is too greasy."
No comment necessary.
Do you support free speech?
In a PoliSci class a few years ago that I sat in on, the professor was making some points about polls, in particular, the order in which poll questions are asked, and the difference between general and specific. So she polled the class. "Do you believe in free speech for everyone, regardless of message?" About two thirds of the class raised their hands. "Do you believe the KKK should be allowed to hold a rally on Sproul Plaza?" About a fifth of the class raised their hands. Now, this isn't too strange. After all, it's what the prof was trying to prove. What was strange is how no one seemed the slightest bit troubled by the paradox they had just voted for.
"I am exercising my first ammendment right to watch the police!"
Anyway, happy 19th of July, for those of you who know what this day celebrates.
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Thursday, July 15, 2004
Policy vs. Opinion
"Are you a conservative?"
"How could you support the ammendment against same-sex marriage? Are you evil?"
What's wrong with this conversation?
The post title ought to give it away. Let's face it. Most of us don't control policy. Yet strangely, we spend obscene amounts of time arguing about policy. It's a rather simple reason, of course. Arguing about opinions isn't going to accomplish much. "I oppose same-sex marriage." "Oh, yeah? Well I support it." "Oh. Um. You're stupid!"
But of course, policy isn't opinion. I oppose same-sex marriage, but I don't want to see policy enacted that makes same-sex marriage illegal.
So instead, we argue about "If I was in charge, this is what policies I would implement. These policies have these consequences, which are good, according to such and such set of values which I expect you to share." (Stupid people argue "good, according to such and such set of values which I don't expect you to share.") But what kind of people are we, then? Would we really do these things if we were in charge, and accept the responsibility? What responsibility is that? Whatever our master plan to make the universe perfect is, somebody's going to get shafted if it ever goes into effect. Do we really have the audacity to say "These people not only have to suffer, but their suffering is, in fact, good"? Who the hell do we think we are?
I suppose you could try to get out of it by saying "Well, sure, somebody's going to have to suffer, but my super-genius plan makes things best for most people." All of a sudden, we've become judges who can determine the worth of every human life. That's bold.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Ahoy there, chums
Some people demand more from their polemic. These people want ideologues to do more than just affirm. They want some hard-core convincing action. (Bring on the porn searches) Our "rational discourse" has become so irrational that not only can you not divide two integers to get it, you can't even divide two real numbers. Take the following:
"Let's just agree to disagree." In bizzaro world (i.e. Earth), this is considered a civilized ending to a successful discussion. In the real world (i.e. uh... Fake Earth?), this is simply a sign that both discussors TOTALLY FAILED. If discourse was like (romanticized) bushido, "Let's just agree to disagree" would be followed by messy hara-kiri.
"So, I went and saw the latest Michael Moore film..." While we all like to make fun of Mikey's weight, or his ego, or his assholishness, the real disturbing thing about Mikey is not Mikey, but his audience. His audience knows that Mikey is going to use half-truths and "creative editing" to lead his audience into making conclusions which aren't necessarily true and which Mikey would never say for fear of lawsuits, and yet they still lap it up. There are whole websites devoted to pointing out such activities. (Moorewatch is mostly complaining opinions rather than specifics, so I don't recommend it. This article points out Bowling's misleading info about the NRA convention in Denver, which was mostly cancelled due to the Columbine shooting, and other goodies) Of course, these websites are pretty pointless because, as I've pointed out above, nobody cares but people who already don't like Mikey, anyway, which puts such complaints equally solidly in the "affirmation, not convincation" category. (Technically, convincation is not a word, but it fits better with the rhythm of the sentence than convincement. Interestingly, an obsolete definition at dictionary.com gives convince as "To prove to be wrong or guilty," which is not obsolete at all, since that's what we shoot for these days when it comes to "convincing arguments.") Naturally, this overall point can be extended to any random ideologue. (Yes, on both sides, which brings me to...)
"I have black friends." This particular example is usually meant to mean "I'm not racist, even though I'm talking smack about black people," but more generally, this category includes "I object equally to the arguments presented by both the left and the right" (which is much more common than "I agree equally with the arguments presented by both the left and the right") and similar statements. What are these statements getting at? Credibility. "Oh, you can believe me. I'm not really being one-sided. I'm totally objective." Now credibility is important when trying to convince someone that you really have no idea where that dead whore came from or how she got into your trunk, but only in Bizzaro World is your credibility related to whether the abstract ideal you are presenting or the evidence totally unrelated to your person you are providing is worth listening to.
"The left and the right." We all know that in whatever dead language we base chemistry terms on, the word for left has the same origin as "sinister." It should be obvious, then, that the right is in the right. Oh, wait, that makes no sense at all. Neither does the binary deliniation system we use to describe our infinite-dimensional space of ideas. Sure, the dimensions aren't independent, but neither are they completely determined by a one-dimensional left-right scale. I used to think I was pretty clever when I used to consider myself an "uppist," but then I discovered that libertarians consider themselves "uppist," in their totally revolutionary two-dimensional description of our infinite-dimensional space of ideas.
In conclusion, I hope I have reaffirmed your opinions if you already agree with me, and simply angered you if you do not. Because hey! That's what discourse is for.
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