Monday, January 17, 2005
Distinguishing honest error from sin
Intellectually honest interlocutors can always be engaged civilly, and usually fruitfully. People who share the goal of making progress in the discovery of truth and sense can generally help each other by helping to complete and correct each other’s partial understandings. The problem comes when an interlocutor is not intellectually honest. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.
The great divide in the human race is not between male and female, Christian and Muslim, or left and right. It is between people who think frontwards, following reason and evidence, and people who think backwards, starting with preferred conclusions and looking for excuses to discount contrary reason and evidence.
Superficially, these are not so easy to distinguish. Recall the riddle about the traveler who comes to a fork in the road where he knows he will find a truth teller and a liar. If he asks them which one is the liar, both will point to the other. The dishonest backwards-thinker is always accusing the honest frontward-thinker of being dishonest.
Thomas Sowell is surely correct when he complains that:
Too many people today act as if no one can honestly disagree with them. If you have a difference of opinion with them, you are considered to be not merely in error but in sin. You are a racist, a homophobe or whatever the villain of the day happens to be. ("I beg to disagree," 1/13/05.)
Sowell elaborates that what he is against is accusations of dishonesty and ill will that fail to engage the reasoning of the person who is accused. That is, he is against accusations that do not proceed from frontwards thinking, but he does not distinguish this clearly enough. The idea that there is something wrong with considering others be "not merely in error but in sin," needs to expressly qualified. Simply refraining from calling people dishonest is no solution because many people genuinely ARE dishonest. Michael Moore is constantly peddling the most malicious disinformation he can concoct, not just about his own country’s war efforts, but about every subject he touches. He is a pure backwards thinker, picking and choosing and twisting whatever can be used to support his agenda. Half the world engages the same cognitive style.
The two great cultures of lies in the world today are the socialist-green-Democrat-European-secular (anti-Christian) left and the Islamo-fascists. The left is fully half of the West, while the Islamo-fascists are the dominant voice (the only voice) in the Muslim world. Of course Doctor Sowell is frustrated that it is not possible to have a real conversation with these people, that they answer honest reason with charges of dishonesty and will never be honest themselves, but that is the reality that must be dealt with. They need to be called on the carpet for their dishonesty, and their sin.
If the honest people call the dishonest people dishonest, while the dishonest people call the honest people dishonest, does it just degenerate into a mud-fight, with both sides covered in the same slime and no way to tell one from the other? No, because honesty and dishonesty not hard for the HONEST person to distinguish. There is such a thing as reality, much as Dan Rather and Mary Mapes and Josh Marshall and Juan Cole and Atrios and Kos like to pretend that reality is whatever they say it is.
If one never steps outside of the echo chambers that the leftists and the Islamofascists create, those echo-chambers can look like reality, but in fact, these false depictions of reality are doomed. They fly in the face of the ever growing decentralized organization of information on the internet. Every year it gets easier to document the truth, and harder to pass off lies, when there is a whole blogosphere and internet of individuals and groups documenting truth. The backwards thinkers are steaming into their Coral Sea, where one after another they will be turned broadside and sunk. (See Hugh Hewitt’s book Blog for a picture of where we are headed.)
The Democrats, with their ownership of academia and the print and television media, had their day, when their echo-chamber could create a false picture of reality that few could get outside of. Many are still under the spell of these power centers, but more and more are breaking free and coming under the influence of frontwards thinkers. As Howard Fineman puts it "a political party [the mainstream media] is dying before our eyes."
During such a transformation, it can be healthy, now and again, to be VERY uncivil towards the backwards thinkers, explaining to them that the facts that they are studiously avoiding are fully available for anyone to see, and that their expressions of intellectual dishonesty, whenever they appear on-line, or in any public media, will brand them for ALL TIME as moral trash. Their world is imploding, and the point of being uncivil is to apprise them of exactly what judgment the new honest posterity will render. If they are alert to the needs of self-preservation, such a warning may chasten them, and speed the remission of backwards thinking.
Honest judgment is harsh indeed. Malicious disinformation about the nation’s war effort is TRAITOROUS! Lying about lying, as the New York Times did for a year after Joe Wilson was exposed to have been lying when he accused the president of lying about Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger, is BEARING FALSE WITNESS! It is a MORTAL sin. These people are on a par with child molesters and murderers. They are EVIL, and honest people should shout it from the rooftops.
When law professor Eric Muller continued to come up with absurd nits to pick with Michelle Malkin’s book on internment, using them as excuses to dismiss her patently correct conclusions, I wrote him a florid letter telling him how he was exposing himself for all-time as a world-class asshole. Malkin's book exposes the politically incorrect truth that many Japanese WERE disloyal, and she used declassified MAGIC intelligence to conclude that internment was a response to that threat, not a sop to West Coast racism. The disloyalty of many Japanese is a well known fact. Tule Lake internment camp housed 14,000 “no-no boys” who refused to sign a loyalty oath to the United States similar to the oath that every naturalized citizen must sign. 5,620 formally renounced their U.S. citizenship and asked to be repatriated to Japan. No amount of cavils can overturn the fact that there were real security concerns behind internment, and Malkin had been shooting down Muller’s cavils for weeks.
Being far more honest than Marshall, Moore, Cole et. al., Muller was amused at the idea that he should be condemned for what I characterized as his grasping attempts to dismiss Malkin’s work. He posted my email on his site, which was perfect, since a lot of his readers ("moderate" backwards thinkers?) are obviously of the same ilk and need to hear the same warning. Muller posted links to a couple of my articles and the thread that appeared on his site contained some textbook examples of backward thinking, most notably from Reason Magazine columnist Cathy Young.
Cathy is not a pure backwards thinker. She has analyzed many issues capably over the years, but she slips easily from frontwards thinking into unmitigated backwards thinking. See, for example, her grotesque critique of Ann Coulter’s book Treason. The first theme of Coulter’s book is to trace the evolution of the Democrat party from a party divided between communist sympathizers and anti-Communists into a party dominated by anti-anti-Communists. Cathy Young’s review claims that Coulter lumps all Democrats into the treason camp, supporting this claim with a few quotes where Ann Coulter is describing the party as purged of its anti-Communist elements. How dishonest can you get? Young denies that Coulter makes the distinctions that her book is built around!
Coulter’s second theme is how the accuracy and moderation of Joseph McCarthy’s efforts to expose Communist traitors within the United States government was successfully hidden from the American people at the time and ever since by a broad-based slander campaign depicting McCarthy as an unhinged hater who made false accusations that NO ONE SHOULD LISTEN TO. Cathy Young’s answer to Ann’s extraordinarily competent research is to dismiss her as an unhinged hater who makes false accusations that NO ONE SHOULD LISTEN TO. Like Muller, Young wants a very important compilation of previously unknown and underreported evidence to remain unseen. To anyone who read Coulter’s book, Young’s critique is astounding hubris, repeating exactly the strategy of slander that Coulter exposed.
To top it off, Young cites George Orwell’s comment that Communists and religious fanatics “are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent.” Orwell was here making the Thomas Sowell mistake. He failed to expressly qualify his objection to the characterization of opponents as dishonest. If we condemn ALL charges of dishonesty then real dishonesty can never be exposed. It is necessary to distinguish between the supported charges of dishonesty that honest people make and the dishonestly supported charges of dishonesty that dishonest people make. Ann Coulter exposed real dishonesty, and Cathy Young dishonestly attacked her for it, citing Orwell as authority for the position that it is wrong to expose dishonesty. We all need to learn from this not to strike a utopian note when expressing our wish for a more civil public discussion. It is crucial, when rejecting dishonest charges of dishonesty, not to also condemn honest charges of dishonesty, or we leave our words open to being used as cover by backwards thinkers like Cathy Young. The real incivility is dishonesty, and using appeals to civility as a cover for dishonesty is a kind of incivility squared.
Young reprised her backwards thinking mode in her comments on Muller’s site. Muller had linked to my Stanford Review article on how evolutionary psychology predicts a greater female instinct to appease an aggressor. We can presume that throughout human evolution, conquered females will generally have had their reproductive potential exploited, while conquered males will generally have either been killed or been reduced to non-reproductive status. According to the precepts of evolutionary psychology, the reproductive cost of being conquered should be lowest, and hence the greatest instinct to surrender greatest, for young women who have yet to bear children. We should expect the party of appeasement to be the party of single women, and this is certainly what we see in the world today.
But instinct is only half the equation. All human instincts must contend with human rationality and moral sentience. Since appeasement is generally irrational for a nation-state, especially a powerful one, steps should be taken to prepare the rational faculties to fight, which can be largely accomplished by protecting gun rights. Possessing arms tilts the rational calculation in favor of self-defense rather than submission and people who grow up in an armed society become familiar with this calculation.
Cathy Young’s response? Eric Muller’s comment section seems to have gotten wiped out, so I cannot link directly, but she called me a hateful sexist and said how much it scared her that there the Stanford Review would print such a misogynist screed. My reasoning was important and impeccable, but Cathy did not like where it went, so she slandered it and urged that NO ONE SHOULD LISTEN TO ME, just as she did to Ann Coulter and just as Eric Muller did to Michelle Malkin. See the pattern? Trying to get people to dismiss contrary reason and evidence? I urged readers of the site to weigh in with whether they thought my reasoning was biased in any way, but no one did, which I take to mean that they did not want to contradict their compatriots Eric and Cathy.
Cathy Young’s counter-example was that women impregnated by conquerors have been known to kill their babies. This was supposed to prove that women don’t have an instinct to survive and propagate by surrendering to aggressors. Nonsense. To the extent that conquered women DO kill their babies, their behavior is obviously CONTRARY to instinct, not driven by instinct. There is no way that an instinct to kill one’s children could ever evolve. This behavior can only be driven by a woman’s rational and moral consciousness. To claim that this example contradicts my argument about the expected differences in male and female INSTINCTS is absurd. But this is what backwards thinking does. It grasps at any excuse for discounting reason and evidence that leads where the backwards thinker does not want to go. Don’t go there! Don’t look! Don’t understand! Be appalled that such views can even be made public!
Half the culture proceeds consistently in this mode. Political correctness is all about “not going there,” when reason and evidence leads towards possibly uncomfortable truths. In his book The Blank Slate Stephen Pinker documents how research into the genetic bases of behavior was taboo for forty years thanks to academia’s powerful aversion to intellectual honesty. The actual reason that racism is wrong is that people should be treated according to their individual merits, but the P.C. thinkers latched onto a different theory: that if everyone would only assume that genes do not affect the human being that they construct, then there would be no grounds for treating people from different genetic backgrounds differently, ergo anyone who examines differences is enabling bias. For FORTY YEARS this astounding piece of stupidity cowed whole academic disciplines!
Some views are properly condemned: namely, those that are condemned by HONEST reason. But far from wanting such views to be hidden from view, the proper goal is to see them exposed, documented, and attached to their authors’ names forever. Analysis and documentation easily separates frontwards thinking from backwards thinking. The great task is to systematically identify and separate these two fundamentally different kinds of thinking. This is what the new media is going to enable.
The battle won’t always be civil, and it shouldn’t be. The only thing that should be credited as honest disagreement is honest disagreement. Dishonest disagreement needs to be exposed as such, always and everywhere, until intellectual dishonesty is just not worth it anymore. Nobody’s buying, and if you think backwards, all you do is expose your worthlessness. The Dan Rathers and the Michael Moores will be out of the information business, and the Cathy Youngs and the Eric Mullers, those who have it in them to think either frontwards and backwards, will be pushed in the moral direction.