Category: Weird Internet Ideas

The Other Kind of Alt-History

What do you call it when a military power, sends it’s navy and troops to somewhere else, lands there and claims the land as its own and under the direct control of that power?

You can call it lots of things but if you are in Australia just be really careful that you don’t call it an “invasion”. This is one of those issues where if you are outside of it the issue is simple and if you are inside it – well it is still simple but also a weird world of shibboleths.

Before I continue, I’d advise reading some of these links:

You’ll probably have noticed the strange topsy-turvy way in which people refering to an invasion as an “invasion” is denounced as “political correctness” by the people who typically denounce “political correctness” but usually reserve that term for when other people want to control language.

Why am I mentioning this now? Mainly because it ties in with the previous post about the US, the “South” and attempts to control history.

In the case of Australia there is a national myth – indeed more than just as a myth as it was enshrined as a principle “Terra Nullius” within Australian case law – that Australia was an empty place. Hence, according to that myth, it wasn’t anybody’s and hence when Britain claimed (and named) New South Wales it wasn’t an invasion per-se because the land was just sitting there. The myth is false, obviously, and eventually rejected by Australian courts in 1982 in the landmark Mabo case https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabo_v_Queensland_(No_1)

Yet here we are and apparently rational people will vehemently tie themselves into rhetorical knots to claim that an invasion wasn’t an invasion. Even given the willingness of some on the right to boldly assert irrational claims, you’d think they would avoid such an obviously silly one. The most powerful navy in the world (at the time) plonks a full on colony of citizens half-way round the world, displacing the people living there and claiming the land as its own is somehow NOT an invasion is such a silly claim that you might assume no public figure would be willing to make it.

However, the absurdity almost makes the ‘controversy’ stronger. After all, if you can boldy talk nonesense and demand that people listen to you and more sensible people nod their heads and concede that your point should be given due consideration, well what better expression of power and privelege can there be? To quote the Simpson’s movie “Have you ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring nobody listens to you.”

So we have an issue that requires little more than a basic grasp of English and some fairly simple moral principles to settle:

  • The word “invasion” means something and it is a decent fit to what Britain did to Australia.
  • Stealing people’s stuff (including land) is wrong.

Really, unless your ideology is stealingpeoplesstuffiscoolism this should not be a moral conundrum.

So why the rightwing passion in the opposite direction (a passion that commits them to arguing that words don’t mean what they mean and stealling is OK sometimes)? Now part of it is a natural knee-jerk defence of one’s ancestors – except, in the case of Australia:

  • It was Britain that did the invading and Australia isn’t Britain.
  • Many of the first settlers were transported criminals – Australia was (at least partly & initially) settled by settlers their against their own will.

So whereas we might look at blowhards in other nations trying to edit their nations history into hagiographic sequence of events where the nation or its originators only ever did good things and the bad things they did were always justified and for the best etc etc, you’d think that the Australian version of such people would still be able to rationalise the original British invasion (sorry “settlement”) without having to rewrite the dictionary.

But they can’t and they won’t. Because it isn’t about the distant past but about the recent past. To accept that the events 1770 and 1788 amounted to an invasion would require them to accept that modern Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.

It’s not a syllogism and “invasion” isn’t the premise, but the conclusion they are trying to avoid remains the same: Australia owes a debt to the people whose land was taken.

Weird Internet Ideas: A case of Scott Adams

I’ve not the skill or insight for a full discussion of Scott Adams, the lite-alt-right wannabe of Dilbert fame, but this piece crossed my path http://blog.dilbert.com/post/160696999931/how-to-know-you-won-a-political-debate-on-the and informal reasoning and rhetoric are on my list of required blog topics.

It is far from the worst things Adams has ever written but it does exemplify the profound shallows of his style of analysis. The piece is a guide to knowing when you have won an argument on the internet. I should put a mandatory statement about arguments not being about the winning but, well honestly sometimes they can be about the winning rather than the journey. Having said that…any time spent talking to people on the net should be judged against an informal cost-benefit otherwise you can waste your days trying to convince a Twitter bot that it’s wrong about pi being ‘fake news’. So this opening section from Adams is not terrible advice:

“Do you remember the time you changed a stranger’s political opinion on the Internet by using your logic and your accurate data?

Probably not. Because that rarely happens. If you were paying attention during the past year, you learned facts don’t matter to our decisions. We think they do, but they don’t. At least not for topics in which we are emotionally invested, such as politics.  (Obviously facts do matter to the outcomes. But not to decisions.)”

Of course, Adams is missing that in any net discussion there are rarely just two people. Bystanders and other people commenting play a role and sound arguments do help shape their thoughts. Also, not every internet argument is between people with entrenched immutable viewpoints. Nor is a change of mind necessarily immediate – people shift positions in their life, sometimes radically and exposure to alternate ideas can play a part in that. Additionally, strong arguments can shape the behaviour of people whose core opinion doesn’t change – they may avoid advancing a particular argument in that space again or they may adapt their argument over time. There is no simple test of whether continuing with an argument is worthwhile. My own criteria usually amount to “am I bored yet” or “are people I like distressed by this argument continuing”, rarely is it “I’ve won” although I can think of some occasions…

Adam’s continues:

“I propose the Cognitive Dissonance test. If you can trigger your opponent into cognitive dissonance, you win. “

I’ll not get into his use of the term “cognitive dissonance”, I’m not sure it is important but the general gist of Adams use is along the lines of: if your opponent is discombobulated then you’ve won. Yeah, maybe not.

‘You can detect cognitive dissonance by the following tells:

Absurd Absolute

An absurd absolute is a restatement of the other person’s reasonable position as an absurd absolute. For example, if your point is there is high crime in Detroit, the absurd absolute would be your debate opponent saying something such as “So, you’re saying every person in Detroit is a criminal.” ‘

This is not terrible advice in terms of identifying a weak counter-response but it is not a particularly good indication that the person you are arguing with is discombobulated. It may even be present as an idea when the argument starts and it is also a revealing argument – it shows where a misunderstanding (intentional or otherwise) exists in the opposing position. It may well reflect what a person has been told about your generic position. More maliciously, it is an argument that may be offered to intentionally wind you up. Of course, if somebody is just trying to push your buttons then it is worth considering whether your time is being well spent.

In addition, arguments may often turn to broader absolutes even when two parties are arguing with open minds and in good faith. The process of argument can lead you to a better understanding of what assumed & unspoken principles you are appealing to. On occassion, this may help clarify other issues inadvertently. Consider the use of some ‘absurd absolutes’ by defenders of “Obamacare” repeal when responding to the notion that people have the right to free-at-source healthcare – US conservatives have parodied the notion with spurious strawmen claims that this would be like demanding a right to food or a job or housing or…oh wait…, those really are being advanced as strawmen by the right but I agree, people should expect the government to try and ensure people have those things along with healthcare! The absurdity is not what they think it is. Extrapolation and generalisations of arguments and ideas is a productive process in thinking.

Analogy

Analogies are good for explaining concepts for the first time. But they have no value in debate. Analogies are not logic, and they are not relevant facts.”

This is an ignorant point. Analogies are deeply baked into nearly all aspects of our thinking. It is nigh on impossible to avoid them, as Adams then immediately demonstrates by resorting to an analogy about a plumber. Yes, analogies are unreliable, have limitations and are hard to formalise but thinking without analogies is like swimming without water when you are a cake or something else that can’t swim or think or use analogies.

Analogies are not logic? Yeah, sort of – I’ll give it a pass. What I’d say is that the main role of mathematics and logic in human thought has been to find ways of codifying/formalising analogies. It’s why we use the concept of ‘models’ i.e. formalised analogies with known limitations.

So what is Adams actually thinking of? Well, probably forced or spurious analogies. But what do they indicate? They can arise at any point in a discussion and I’d generally take them to be firstly an interesting insight into what the other person is thinking that may be more revealing than they realise and secondly an indication that the other person might still be making some effort to argue in something at least vaguely like good faith,

“Attack the Messenger

When people realize their arguments are not irrational, they attack the messenger on the other side. If you have been well-behaved in a debate, and you trigger an oversized personal attack, it means you won.”

Um, no. OK, yes, yes we can all think of personal examples where this was the case. You engaged in an argument and the other person flips out. Yet even a basic understanding of human behaviour tells us that people can lose their temper for many reasons beyond “cognitive dissonance”, discombobulation or the humiliation of having their argument pulled apart by a keyboard warrior.

What’s really toxic about this point from Adams is how you see it working with some species of troll. If you get to ‘trigger an oversized personal attack’ from your opponent then ‘it means you won’ is a trollish strategy based on following some shallow conventions of civility while finding buttons to push. That would be taking Adams’s point the wrong way as far as causality goes but it is easy for people to convince themselves that they are being reasonable and that their opponent is being emotional.

It is rather like winning a chess game by being so annoying that your opponent refuses to play anymore and walks away, thus forefit the game to you. That does not make you a canny chess player.

Put another way “winning an argument” is arguably one way of being so annoying that a person insults you gratuitously but it is just one way and is also comorbid with “being a smug pedantic git” which can often overlap with “arsehole”. I try to stay out of the last circle of that Venn diagram but not always with success. [Of course if it is Vox Day et al insulting you then yes, you won 😉 ]

More generally there are many ways of annoying people whilst simultaneously following the superficial formalities of polite debate and not making a “winning” argument, not least of which is treating some other kind of social interaction as if it were a debate.

“The Psychic Psychiatrist Illusion

The Psychic Psychiatrist Illusion involves imagining you can discern the inner thoughts and motives of strangers. I’m talking about the unspoken thoughts and feelings of strangers, not the things they have actually said.”

Maybe. It’s the least weak of Adams’s points and I’d broadly agree with it with exceptions.

Your Blood Group is Determined by Biology and is a Social Construct

I doubt this is original but it is worth going through because strange right-leaning people keep shouting about biology at me. Oddly though, I was prompted to write not by an argument about nature v nurture but a different argument about invention v discovery in mathematics. I’m not an expert on blood groups (which is sort of the point) so apologies for any biological errors.  Note also this is a description of one specific relationship between a social construct and biology. Others may have things in common but that doesn’t mean they are the same or have the same relationship between a biological aspect and the associated things that a society may construct around it [i.e. neither the social constructs of gender nor ‘race’ is directly analogous to blood group]. Anyway, here we go.

You probably know your blood group. Once upon a time I regularly gave blood and felt a moral obligation to do so. I’m O negative, which is a handy default blood type for donation as it contains neither A, B or Rh factors and hence shouldn’t trigger an immune reaction in most people of other blood types.

But ABO and Rh are just two blood typing systems and even with those two systems, there are variations. Group A can be further subdivided into approx 20 subgroups of which A1 and A2 account for most type-A people. In terms of inheritance, there are also exceptions to the commonly understood rules – CisAB (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cis_AB ). More generally there are tens of other blood typing systems that categorise other factors that can exist in human blood and which can potentially complicate blood transfusion.

The ABO/Rh system is a very effective simplification of a set of much messier, more organic categories. Yes, it is determined by your biology (you don’t get to pick) but the significance of whether you are “A” or “AB negative” etc depends very much on the existence and practicalities of a blood donation system. That system also has practical constraints but it is effectively something societies choose to do and requires political and social support as well as the existence of hospitals and an infrastructure to support them.

I also said that I used to give blood. I’m not allowed to currently because I lived in the UK during the height of the BSE/Mad cow disease outbreak. Concerns about the transmission of a prion disease via blood transfusion have meant that many countries place restrictions on blood donations. That rationale makes some sense given the extent to which prions are not well understood. What makes less sense is the restrictions imposed on men who have sex with other men (phrased that way to match the eligibility questions). Rules on blood donation to prevent the spread of HIV prevent people who have engaged in ‘at risk’ sexual behaviours (e.g. http://www.donateblood.com.au/faq/sexual-activity ). Such rules prevent many gay men in long-term monogamous relationships donating blood. The rules arise out of medical and practical considerations but such rules also have a social impact and arise because of social aspects (from international travel to personal and sexual relationships).

You should note another trick I employed above: I said ‘type-A people’. Once we have categories that can be applied to aspects of ourselves it is easy to see them as categories of people. I’m O negative, well no, no *I* am not, not really – my blood is O negative for the purpose of blood donation, it really isn’t much of a thing about who I am beyond that. The notion of me being O negative only really makes sense in the context of donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion (or a few other related circumstance). Prior to the development of safe blood transfusion and large scale blood donation, your blood group is not something people would know or care about. Even that history is entwined with complex social factors including the development of modern healthcare infrastructure but also the development of modern warfare.

Blood groups have also generated their own pseudosciences and racist theories – a kind of inevitable consequence of any system that allows a categorisation of people entails a dark desire to identify that categorization with other aspects including personality or as a means of identifying some inherent purity. Suffice to say there is little evidence of blood group actually determining anything other than the most likely blood needed in a blood transfusion (and as we’ve seen even that is a simplification – although a very effective one).

In most developed countries blood donation is voluntary but even such a primarily altruistic system has social implications. It isn’t had to imagine a situation in which blood donation was more heavily required or in which there were more significant socio-economic implications to donating blood. In such a situation the layers of social significance to blood type would be greater both in a direct sense and in the sense in which any social division generates its own myths and stereotypes. A world in which blood transfusions had to be more common and was connected to economic status, would with a capitalist-style economy lead to more weird (and unpredictable without knowing more details) stratifications by blood group.

So what’s my point if it isn’t a point about gender or race? The point is very much NOT that other social construct work the same way as blood group might in a fictional society. However, a broader point remains true. Critics of the term ‘social construct’ treat it as if a person is saying ‘wholly arbitrary’ or ‘completely made up’ or ‘fictional’. Treating the term like that makes it an easy strawman to knock down. No society exists in a vacuum*, so the things that our societies construct** are things that have practical limits and which are influenced by the environment that is constructed in INCLUDING the existence of other constructs. But the physical, ‘real’ influences on how a social construct has evolved over time do not mean that the categories, stereotypes or social expectations that arise apply in a deterministic way to individuals – some elements might (e.g. O- blood is safe for me to receive), others less so (e.g. whether there is a greater moral imperative for ‘O- people’ to donate blood) and others not at all (e.g. pseudoscience blood-group personality types).

tl;dr Societies and social attitudes are shaped by ‘real’ things including biology, but that does not imply that biology (or physics or chemistry) somehow validates them, makes them somehow extra true, or makes departure from them (either as an individual or as a direction for society) some kind of revolt against reality or science.

*[OK maybe there is a society of space squid, plying the void between the stars but that is a separate issue.]

**[You’d think that was obvious from the term ‘constructs’. Anything we physically construct has physical limits and depends on physical rules but can still be a work of creativity in which arbitrary, non-determined choices are made.]

Willful gullibility

Oh this is so delightfully wrong that I can’t help linking to it now even though I can’t write about it in depth until later: http://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/modern-science-is-non-science.html

I need a sort of happy little gif for times like these that captures the mix of delight and capturing a pokemon-of-wrongness with the sadness of how pervasive the wrongness is.

Hint: we’ve met the protagonist of the story before.

Weird Internet ideas: Are modern nazis imaginary? (spoiler: no, they’re real)

We’ve been busy watching Rabid shenanigans with books covers, but meanwhile over in Sad Puppy domains, Chris Chupik has decided that modern Nazis are largely imaginary. Chupik, for those who don’t know, is notable mainly as a regular commenter on Puppy blogs but sometimes he guest-posts at According to Hoyt. https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/03/25/coyote-gravity-by-christopher-m-chupik/

[This get’s long so more below the fold…also ‘Spencer‘ is usually an external link but each time to a different article rather than peppering this piece with quotes]

Continue reading

Is It OK to Thump People?

 

thump

I’ve watched several times a video of a guy thumping another guy recently. There is, naturally several sides to consider here:

  • Whether the violent act undermines free speech.
  • Whether, even if provoked by the objectionable views of the person punched, the act lowers discourse in general.
  • Whether violence is ever a justified reaction to a dialogue even with somebody obnoxious.

Having said that I think most people agree that the person doing the thumping was justified. Here is the video again (you’ve probably seen it already).

Yes, naturally I am talking about that time Buzz Aldrin hit lunar-landing denier Bart Sibrel in the face after Sibrel harassed and insulted Buzz and called him a coward and a liar. After multiple provocations, Buzz then, wack, thumps Sibrel in the face. What can one say? It is OK to both deplore violence AND accept that people have actual emotions and that when repeatedly provoked will react accordingly. Buzz doesn’t beat the guy up, he thumps him once.

The LA County District Attorney did not lay any charges on Buzz Aldrin and, according to Wikipedia, Sibrel (the man punched) later apologised to Aldrin.

So there you go. Yeah, maybe sometimes it is OK to thump people – you know if you are provoked enough it would be weird if people DIDN’T react that way. You know, like in the example above in which Buzz Aldrin is repeatedly harassed and called a liar by a guy whose ideas are based on stupidly elaborate conspiracy theories. Just don’t make a habit of it.

 

 

Oh, and apparently alt-right pro-genocide shit Richard Spencer was thumped the other day also. Whereas Sibrel was just a rude guy with an omnifallacious theory that in itself harms nobody, Spencer is a guy who promotes race hate and genocide. As far as I can tell the major ethical issue people have with this is that it wasn’t Buzz Aldrin who hit him.

Weird Internet Ideas: Yeah back to Nazis and left right spectrums again

 

I wrote this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/weird-interent-ideas-the-nazis-were-leftists-no-not-in-any-way-that-makes-sense/ in June 2015. At the time the rise of a quasi/neo/ohwhattheheckactual-fascists was mainly seen as a European thing and the US centre and right was still seeing US politics as naturally immune. In the meantime, the forces of the American right have decided to rally behind a demagogue who has surrounded himself with extreme nationalists with zero interest in quasi-libertarian window dressing.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I was presented with a live example:

Libertarians have kind of liked this idea for a long time. I assume it germinated in to a truism sometime in the 1970s but as I pointed out in the earlier post, it probably dates back to Hayek in the 1940s.

Of course, you can align political movements and ideologies onto any axis which you can think of an ordinal variable to describe…but more government v less government simply doesn’t work as a way of describing how left-right spectrums work in 20th and 21st-century Western politics. You can use that spectrum if you like but it will fail as a predictive model in describing who aligns with who and it fails as a descriptive model of who aligned with who in history.

In the earlier post I concentrated specifically on the notion of the Hitler-era Nazis being leftists (this is also the context of the Tweet quoted above) but in the post I thought I’d spend a bit longer looking at this more/less government thing in general.

To do so, consider counter-examples. Which ideology would be at the furthest end of the more/less axis? Anarchists! Now anarchists aren’t one thing, there are many different flavours and most believe in some kind of social structure that provides cohesion independent of government e.g.

  • anarcho-syndicalists believe in a society where trade-union like organisations provide the organising principle of society.
  • anarcho-capitalists believe in a society where the free-market (and some protection of individual rights) provide the organising principle of society.

Anarcho-syndicalists have, historically, been part of left wing movements. Anarcho-capitalists have, historically, been part of movements associated with individualism – not necessarily right-wing but not obviously left-wing and often critical of the left’s anti-individualism.

Ah, yeah-but! The anarcho-capitalists are even MORE against the government than the anarcho-syndicalists! – says an imaginary person. Hmm, I’m not sure that is true and anarcho-capitalists never amounted to a significant movement whereas the anarcho-syndicalists do actually have a track record of literally fighting fascists but, whatever, let’s imagine that is the case:

leftright

Let’s throw in some other cases. Milton Friedman flavoured conservative-libertarians. Not as anti-government as your classic Libertarian but supposedly more anti-government than those nasty leftists.

leftright2

Now, how about Margaret Thatcher? A vocal enemy of socialism who famously said that she would “roll back the frontiers of the state”, privatised several government-owned industries, was a believer in monetarism (at least nominally) but also increased centralisation of the British state, increased police powers, was militaristic, increased surveillance of citizens and attempted to enforce new government powers such as the “poll tax” (aka community charge). OK, we can still fit her into the scheme, just further along that whole more v less government thing:

leftright3

And let’s add in Augusto Pinochet – a friend of Thatcher’s and an authoritarian military dictator. Not a totalitarian dictator so technically less government than say, Stalin or Mao but definitely way over on the ‘more government’ side of things.

leftright4

I haven’t defined a centre, and it is only an ordinal axis, so I can’t say where the left half begins and the right half starts but I have a bunch of political positions listed below the line that cover a gamut of more (Pinochet) to less (anarcho-capitalists) government.

Let’s go above the line. How about, hmmm, George Orwell. A man with strong views on personal liberty, outspoken about excessive government control and, oh, a man who described himself as a socialist…Here maybe?

leftright5

We are well into apples & oranges now. Arranging the people below the line was relatively easy because one principle was relatively fixed – each of the positions nominally accepted that a laissez-faire approach to the economy was correct. Given that it becomes easier to look at how each position differed in terms of other aspects of government.

However, there isn’t a simple way of comparing libertarian-conservatives with Orwell’s libertarian (in a different sense) socialism. Less of what kind of government are we talking about.

Let’s add some more confusion to the mix. The 1945 Labour government. The not-entirely-post WW2 government nationalised industries (or kept them nationalised as a consequence of the war effort) and famously introduced the National Health Service. It also pursued a policy of decolonisation essentially ending the British Empire. Now if we compare with Thatcher, she privatised industries but not the NHS (although I suspect she would have liked to). Is the 1945 Labour government further down the more government end that Thatch or the less government? No idea. This is a silly scheme which can only function by cherry picking. Still, I’ll throw in Hitler and Stalin for good measure and assume that AT THIS RESOLUTION we can’t spot the difference (Stalin probably more government than Hitler I guess for those playing at home).

leftright6

The scheme does not help us sort left aligned positions from right ones but instead could be used for discriminating between different strands of left or right ideologies. How come? because more/less government is orthogonal to left-v-right as traditionally used.

Truth is we can make up all sorts of axes on our preferred issues. Take the issue of free trade unions. How might that look?

leftright7

But left-v-right is never a single issue. Indeed if it was a single issue there would be no need for the notion of left-v-right. The whole point of the intuitive left-v-right model is to bundle multiple issues and alliances and trends together to work out rough correspondences on a wide range of issues that may even wander over time.

Oh, and Nazis? Still not socialists, and still not left wing.