Category: Politics

John C Wright is upset that people didn’t take his Left=Witches argument seriously

In a piece entitled “Rational and Magical Thinking”, Mr Wright attempts to deal with the criticism of his previous argument. Here’s a taste:

Here is the difference between arguing with a rational atheist and arguing with a Leftist: suppose for the sake of argument that you penned a column describing the psychology of Leftism as involving a neurotic (if not deliberate) confusion between symbol and object, commonly known as “magical thinking.”

Magical thinking is thinking where the believers believes that manipulating a symbol manipulates reality. By this definition, anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking.

Let us further suppose that when you list three or four examples of magical thinking about the Left, one of the groups mentioned is a coven of wicca who claim to be casting spells on Donald Trump. Let is finally suppose you call them by their traditional name, witches.

Now, a rational atheist will argue with you, and say that since the supernatural does not and cannot exist, therefore there are no witches, so your column errs in referring to these people by that term.

This argument is fallacious (it depends on the fallacy of ambiguity) but it can be addressed. Once you point out that the column is explicitly agnostic on the question of whether the witch’s spells actually are real, the question of whether the people calling themselves witches are real can be addressed. And that is a simple question of fact that the rational atheist can discover for himself.

Whether witchcraft is real or not is a question not addressed by the column. The people who think it is real are real.

Mr Wright gives a straw man example for a case of ‘magical thinking’: ‘anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking’. Ignore the straw man element here for a moment and consider the elements.

  • What are the symbols in this example? Words.
  • What is the ‘reality’ in this example? Racial hatred.
  • What kind of thing is that ‘reality’? A set of ideas and attitudes and emotional responses.

Put that all together and Wright’s example implies this: attempting to use words to change ideas, attitudes and emotional responses is magical thinking. Now, this is perhaps not far from his actual beliefs, in so far as he seems to believe in a kind of Platonistic spiritualism, but in this essay, he is ascribing this ‘magical thinking’ to the left, not to himself.

Looking back at his original essay you can see the same confusion. Aside from the actual examples of people overtly calling themselves witches, his other examples of people on the left engaged in supposedly magical rituals are all the same. In each case, it is people doing symbolic things in an attempt to effect how other people are thinking.

That is not ‘magical thinking’, that is ‘people communicating with other people’. In short, Wright is confusing cognitive psychology with magic.

‘Ah!’ Says an imaginary interlocuter, ‘You think minds are based in physical reality and so you do think physical entities are changing because of symbols being manipulated!’

Meh. We don’t even need intelligence or to delve into how minds might work to see that mechanical devices can exist which can effect physical change because of how I manipulate symbols. I’m doing that right now as I type on this laptop. That isn’t magic or magical thinking.

Mr Wright then complains that people on the left treated his argument with disdain:

But a Leftist does not argue in this way. Rather, his argument is that you are a stupid lunatic for being afraid of witchcraft, and for thinking that everyone on the Left is a practicing satanist.

Now, if you notice, there are three things wrong with this argument: first, you neither said nor implied what the Leftist accuses you of saying or implying. So it is a strawman argument, therefore irrelevant. Second, it does not address the argument you gave, merely mocks you as a person. So it is ad hominem, therefore irrelevant. Third, it is not an argument at all. An insult is not an argument.

One cannot argue with this for the same reason one cannot argue with poop flung by a monkey. The monkey poop is not attempting to discuss a difference of opinion nor come to a conclusion about the true answer to any questions being discussed.

Why would a Leftist in an argument make statements he knows or should know have no relevance to the argument?

The answer is as given above: the words uttered are merely symbolic. It is a verbal form of magical thinking.

He is correct here that the reaction to his claim was not a reasoned argument. He is incorrect that therefore the reaction was irrational or another example of ‘magical thinking’. Laughing at poorly constructed arguments with absurd conclusions is both reasonable and rational.

Mr Wright is capable of structuring argument but he often fails to do so and he has great difficulty in continuing a rational dialogue in good faith. Why, in such circumstance, should anybody on the left treat his argument with any kind of depth of analysis? His conclusion was false and easily refuted – the tortured root by which he reached a false conclusion (replete with much-overblown language) is of interest only from an educational perspective.

So what is magical thinking? Magical thinking is when people confuse their desires with reality i.e. when people confuse what they would like with what actually *is*. That might involve rituals or manipulating words, but it is just as frequent when people use their own powers of thinking to bemuse and befuddle themselves – just as John C Wright is apt to do on a range of topics from history to climate science.

Put yet another way, when a person ceases to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Demons and witches and the left

A follow up from the earlier post on John C Wright’s belief that the left (in general) is essentially a religion of witchcraft. I failed to include a link so here

And again, recently, many throngs of lunatics in a ghastly display of vulgarity, completely with nudity, swearing, and other degradations, wearing images of women’s genitalia on their heads. The gathering was called a protest, but no protester could articulate for what cause they gathered. It was yet again called a political movement, albeit, again, no law nor policy nor any specific political act was demanded to be done or undone. What was it for?

They are rituals, ceremonial, magical. They are sacraments, symbols intended to create the result they symbolize.

In the comments to my post, Doris V Sutherland pointed to some statements made by Wright’s fellow Dragon Award winner, Brian Neimmeier. I’ll link to one of his posts that goes into some detail:

Extraordinary demonic activity may occur in various ways. Some refer to these phenomena as “stages”, but they’re more properly called “areas”, since they don’t necessarily follow an orderly progression.

The areas of extraordinary demonic activity are:

External physical attacks: pain and/or harm inflicted by a demon.

Oppression: various external torments that often masquerade as extreme bad luck.

Obsession: uncontrollable, irrational thoughts induced by demonic activity.

Infestation: refers to demonic attachment to a place, an object, or even an animal.

Possession: one or more demons takes control of a person’s body (not the soul).

Subjugation: voluntary submission to demonic influence.

Brian then goes on to ask whether SJW’s show signs of demonic possession and concludes that most don’t show the signs but do show the signs of ‘demonic obsession’. He later concludes:

Since the current social crisis more likely involves external demonic obsession than internal possession, mass exorcisms aren’t required to address the problem. Just as physicians can mediate divine healing through their skill, ordinary people can mediate deliverance from evil through prayer and fasting on behalf of our afflicted brethren.

Phew! I for one, strongly encourage those concerned about SJWs to wholeheartedly put their efforts into prayer and (reasonable) fasting. Also, check under your bed for talking cats. Oh and maybe check your calendar to see if it is the sixteenth century still.

Oh, and one last sppoooookkkky thought – remember how the right keep projecting their own faults onto others? And now they think people are controlled by demonic forces? Sleep tight.

Swedes, Petitions, Climate & Trump

The Washington Times, that august organ of the Unification Church, has a breathless headline: Hundreds of Scientists Urge Trump To Withdraw from UN Climate Treaty:

Climate change contrarian Richard Lindzen has sent a petition to Donald Trump saying

We urge the United States government, and others, to withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We support reasonable and cost-effective environmental protection. But carbon dioxide, the target of the UNFCCC is not a pollutant but a major benefit to agriculture and other life on Earth. Observations since the UNFCCC was written 25 years ago show that warming from increased atmospheric CO2 will be benign — much less than initial model predictions.”

Interestingly (presumably because Lindzen accepts a lot of the basic science) it doesn’t claim zero warming but rather that the warming will be ‘benign’. And Lindzen has 300 scientists to back him up! Including this guy:

RØMCKE Nils Håkon Swedish emailer who wished to sign the petition

I’m not joking. That is the literal entry. Many of the entries have no particular qualification listed (although ‘Nils’ is the only one with ’emailer’ listed as a qualification gawd bless ‘im).

Twenty of the signatories are from Sweden and another 19 are from Norway. Which is odd, given that otherwise, the petition is mainly an anglophone thing. There six French signatories (I believe – there are some people whose nationality is unclear) and three from Germany. There don’t seem to be any Danes. This disproportionate number of Swedes and Norwegians seem to be centred on a group calling itself clumsily ‘CLEXIT’ – that is ‘climate legislation exit’. Perhaps the petition started life in Sweden/Norway or perhaps it found its way there and one passionate Swede made an extra effort. I only counted eight people with obvious UK ties – and one of those was the infamous Viscount Monckton of Brenchley.

Australia manages to still maintain its own cadre of climate contrarians – 17 by my count, so still outnumbered by Swedes. One of whom is a senator for the far right, anti-immigrant party One Nation. Malcolm Roberts’s UN climate conspiracy theory was once described by rightwing commentator (and fellow climate contrarian) Andrew Bolt as ‘utterly stupid’.

Having said that, the bulk of the signatories are probably Americans. I count 200 who are either clearly from the US or at leats not obviously from somewhere else. Not that there is a problem with non-Americans petitioning the US President (e.g. I’m happy to suggest to him that he resigns) – it’s just that this petition neither does ‘US scientists’ well nor ‘World scientists well’ but is just what you might expect: the usual names and lots, and lots, and lots of padding. Even with Niles-the-Swedish-emailer, it struggles to get to 300.

Yet, be prepared for various people to cite this as evidence that scientists are rebelling or whatever against what we already know to be true: the Earth is warming, it’s because of us, and that’s bad news.

No, but just one more thing and then I’ll shut up

The thing with the Evan McMullin killed Milo’s Career theory from our Puppy pals that really is bugging me is that it is just really, really, poor story telling. It’s too elaborate as a factual piece (unless, as I noted, moderate conservatives are pathetic at skullduggery) but worse, it’s just really bad as fiction.

No, if we are going to do fiction let us do it properly.

Who benefits specifically, with the timing and the events leading up to Milo’s fall from grace? I’ll credit the Puppies with at least getting you need a specific villain in a fictional story – the story can’t just be ‘people who don’t like nazi punks in general’.

Plotwise, for fiction rather than fact:

  1. You need a bad guy.
  2. It can’t be who you immediately expect.
  3. They have to directly benefit from both Milo’s rise & fall.
  4. When it is revealed, it all has to make sense in retrospect.

Ergo, Steve Bannon did it. I mean not really because we live in a real world where Ockham’s razor cuts such a story to shreds.

Bannon- Breitbart – Milo. Milo was great for Breitbart – stirring up shit, pulling in some angry young men and generally running interference for the alt-Right. But that was then. Bannon is next to the centre of power. Breitbart, which was once on the out fringes of conservatism is now accepted. CPAC will be Bannon’s chance to seal the deal – an alliance between wider conservatism and his own reactionary-nihilism.

Breitbart has a big presence at CPAC this year (in truth as well as in our fiction) and Bannon will appear with Reince Priebus. Donald Trump will give a keynote speech and…well some idiot invites Milo Yiannopolus. Can Bannon ensure Milo behaves? Probably not – after all he’s never needed Milo to behave, he has only ever needed Milo to stir shit. Worse, even Milo does behave at CPAC, everybody knows he has said some crazy shit which would alienate the still sceptical social conservative wing.

Solution (in fictional land): explode the scandal bomb early before it can do any collateral damage to CPAC, Trump, Breitbart or Bannon (that’s in reverse priority order).

Note only three things have actually happened to Milo:

  1. He got disinvited to a conference held by people he doesn’t like.
  2. He lost a book deal with a publisher he doesn’t like
  3. He ‘resigned’ from Breitbart.

Only one of those things looks like a betrayal…

Yeah, but in reality…nope. Events don’t need secret plots or sinister villains.

The cosplay of oppression: yet another milo post

Kate Paulk has now written a post at Sarah Hoyt’s blog which, well is not a shining example of coherent argument

The ‘je suis’ bit isn’t the most OTT bit, that’s just the first mangled reference.

Because people like them doing everything from looking the other way from the thick smoke rising from crematoriums near the “work camps” with the skeletal workers to joining in the “kick ‘em in the goolies while they’re down” party are the people evil regimes like the Nazis and the Communists need to stay in power. As long as the self-styled good people will look the other way when the fuckers target someone, they can consolidate their hold until they’ve got control of all the levers of power – the media, education, bureaucracy, government…

I’m torn between the absurdity of that paragraph and the mix of horror & outrage. The absurdity is clear and while the readership here don’t need reminding, in the US right now there is a spate of anti-semitic violence, continuing far-right terrorism, anti-semitic dog-whistles (and worse) from the Whitehouse, draconian action from the government targeting Muslims and immigrants, attacks against the independence of the judiciary. ‘When the fuckers target someone’ the fuckers are targeting people – literally with all the power of the state with nary a word of objection from puppy-quarters and a ‘guardedly optimistic‘ from the supposedly anti-state-power Hoyt.

Note: I don’t want to highlight Kate Paulk as an individual here, so much as the broader group whose ideas she is voicing.

But we get to see the mechanics of self-deception at work here. A successful white man loses a speaking gig and a book contract and this is what causes Paulk to bring out the Holocaust references. Not the militarised round-ups of immigrants, not the terror attacks from rightwing nationalists, not an increasingly authoritarian federal government. No, on these topics we get a ‘guardedly optimistic’.

Of course, we’ve seen this before in Puppydom – a predilection to clothe themselves in a theatre of horrors from Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany or Mao’s China, when faced with people simply disagreeing with them. And as always it has both been absurd to the point of being laughable AND horrific in the way they basically steal other people’s suffering and claim that is what is happening to them because…, well usually because somebody disagreed with them.

Paulk gets one aspect right: there are people who evil regimes need to stay in power. They are people who not only ignore what those regimes are doing but shout loudly about other things. They are the people who not only look the other way when the fuckers target someone but demand everybody pay attention to something else and demand that everybody acknowledge that they, because of some small or imagined slight, are the real victims while around them thuggery goes on ignored.

There is a point where Kate Paulk wanders near the truth but by this point, she is so turned around that she doesn’t see how her words apply:

I don’t care whether the target is a nice person or not. I don’t care if the target is the fucking Grand Poo-Bah of the KKK, the Big Wahoonie of the Black Panthers, or the fucking Biggest Bag of the Daeshbags. If you lie to destroy him, you are worse than he is. If you accept those lies, knowing that they are lies, because you disapprove of him, you are worse than he is.

It’s not just lies – it is disdain for the truth. If you accept what you are told and repeat what you are told JUST OUT OF PARTISANSHIP then you are no different than a liar. People have longer memories than a week, we KNOW how Sad Puppies would react if it had been a non-ingroup SF author who had said a fraction of what Milo said.

We saw the pile on of hate against individuals from Puppyland – including attempts to get individuals sacked – simply for the crime of NOT AGREEING with the Puppies or for political comments about them.

No. I can recognise an element of injustice in Milo’s current troubles but it is tiny and essentially the professional hazard that comes with being a professional controversialist. Even in the world of public-figures getting a hard time because of what they said, he’s got off lightly. And even that element of injustice that can be seen is instantly overshadowed by Milo’s own modus-operandi: this kind of shame and humiliation by manipulating public and social media IS WHAT MILO DOES – except his targets are often not people with the same kinds of support systems (or money) that Milo has. You can’t take a principled stand against those who deceive to destroy AND support Milo because HE IS the epitome of those who deceive to destroy.

In the meantime, but I regret to say not the last time, no dear conservatives, you are not somehow the modern day equivalent of the people who died in the Holocaust or the Holdomor or the Cultural Revolution or Cambodia’s Killing Fields. That isn’t the question of the day or the question of the year. The question is are you going to be the people who not only stood by while Jewish cemeteries were vandalised & white supremacists murdered people & while your government militarised your law enforcement, but cried ‘we are the real victims here!’ because the guy you wanted to speak at a conference didn’t get to go? Or, are you going to be the people who when asked afterwards ‘Did you fight this evil’ can say ‘yes’?

I’ll borrow Kate Paulk’s words to end: If you are truly conservative and you care at all about Western civilisation, the United States, or even looking at your festering vile mug in the mirror every morning, why in the fuck are you helping to destroy what you care about? Are you that much of a useless drongo?



Grice versus Trump

Somebody surely must have written this already – so apologies to whoever I’m unknowingly following.

Paul Grice was a philosopher of language and meaning He’s famous for looking at how conversations work as not just an exchange of meaning but a cooperative interchange of meaning with its own rules and principles.Central to this is what became known as the Cooperative Principle:

And following that Grice suggested four maxims which normal conversation attempts to follow. I’ll quote in full from Wikipedia:

Maxim of qualityEdit


  • Try to make your contribution one that is true.


  1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
  2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Maxim of quantityEdit

  1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
  2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Maxim of relationEdit

  • Be relevant.

With respect to this maxim, Grice writes, “Though the maxim itself is terse, its formulation conceals a number of problems that exercise me a good deal: questions about what different kinds and focuses of relevance there may be, how these shift in the course of a talk exchange, how to allow for the fact that subjects of conversations are legitimately changed, and so on. I find the treatment of such questions exceedingly difficult, and I hope to revert to them in later work.”[1]

Maxim of mannerEdit


  • Be perspicuous.


  1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
  2. Avoid ambiguity.
  3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  4. Be orderly.

Ok, an exercise for the unwary. Pick anyone of those. Now watch Trump.
Did the maxim hold? [Spoiler: it probably didn’t]

Trump is a non-gricean speaker. The maxims don’t hold – at least not in public. Now that is a little unfair – political speakers and press conferences aren’t normal conversations and even the most affable of politicians is trying to manage what they are saying in a way a normal person simply doesn’t have to.

Yet Trump isn’t doing what a politician normally tries to do. He isn’t trying to navigate round these maxims while appearing to be following them. Instead, he is ignoring them and when he hits one it appears more like accident than design. Ironically that makes him seem more truthful instead of less, precisely because he doesn’t sound evasive or hesitant.

In addition, notice how he often violates a surprising submaxim: “Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.” Trump overshares at times – revealing inner thoughts or perhaps comments/argument made by others..

This fluency with incoherence is why I imagine he possibly doesn’t follow Grice-like patterns in his normal speech to the same extent as others. By not following such maxims you spend less effort considering another person’s perspective on what you are saying. That makes it a lot easier to string words together! It’s just that those words don’t make as much sense as part of a conversation.

The Intelligence Community versus #TheRegime

So one down in Trump’s clique and it seems the intelligence community/Deep State/CIA had a hand in it. Naturally, the left is cheering (yay!) but holy effin shit: the CIA? The CIA helping topple governments is the thing we in particular hate.

Yeah but…let’s take a moment to reflect.

Flynn was compromised. When the content of his discussions with Russia were revealed, he had to resign. Russia and domestic intelligence services in the US knew about this. US intelligence services passed on the information to the DoJ (as they should) and the Whitehouse did nothing. That left Flynn in a position of power but open to blackmail.

So three choices:

  • do nothing – not viable because Flynn’s f*ck-up left open to blackmail from Russia.
  • use the information as a threat against Flynn – i.e. US intelligence services blackmail/pressure Flynn and thus gain power over the Whitehouse.
  • leak information so Flynn has to resign.

The best outcome would have been the Whitehouse doing something about Flynn but without that, the only ethical option was the last one. That’s pretty much how ethical whistleblowing should function – revealing information that exposes serious wrong doing.

The worry is the middle option. We don’t want a US government being effectively blackmailed by Russia but we don’t want a US government being effectively blackmailed by the CIA either. That is a worse precedent.