Building a bridge

Smug, conceited asshole afflicted with a Stage 4 case of SSC™ (Shitlib Superiority Complex) is Doin’ It Wrong.

Imagine you bought a book with the title How to Talk to A Contemptible Idiot Who Is Kind of Evil. You open the book, and read the author earnestly telling you how important it is that you listen, and show empathy, and acknowledge why the people you’re talking to might believe the things they believe. If you want to persuade them, he says, you need to treat them with respect! But all the way through the book, the author continues to refer to the people he wants to persuade as “contemptible idiots who are kind of evil”.

He has no interest in “persuading” anybody. His interest is the same one he shares with every other shitlib, which is actually three-fold: 1) strutting about like the Church Lady in joyous celebration of his clearly superior intellect and virtue; 2) rationalizing his equally-clear mania for viciously smiting his enemies; and 3) crushing any and all disagreement with his clearly-superior religious beliefs—which, although he’d purple with rage at such a vile insult, is exactly what they are.

At one stage he even says: “When speaking to a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil, don’t call them a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil! Many contemptible idiots find that language insulting.” But he continues to do it, and frequently segues into lengthy digressions about how stupid and harmful the idiots’ beliefs are. Presumably you would not feel that the author had really taken his own advice on board.

This is very much how I feel about How to Talk to A Science Denier, by the Harvard philosopher Lee McIntyre.

Ahh, there we are. I knew that particular resume item, or something so close to it as to be indistinguishable, would be cropping up in there sooner or later.

But there’s a bigger problem. McIntyre’s big question, as mentioned, is asking: What evidence would it take to change your mind? But at no point does McIntyre ever ask himself what it would take to change his mind.

For instance: when he was talking to the Pennsylvania coal miners, he accepted that they were just trying to feed their families. I assume he’d also acknowledge that Chinese coal mining is allowing that country to get richer and improve its citizens’ way of life. But I don’t think I’m misrepresenting him when I say that he thinks coal mining is a disaster.

When he talks to a friend of his about GMOs, though, that friend says that even though GMOs can save lives now (in the form of golden rice), they’ll cause disaster in the future. McIntyre says, OK, so the kids who can’t get the golden rice now, they’re just going to die? And his friend says yes. McIntyre says that’s easy for him to say, “because he had money and wouldn’t be one of the ones who suffered”.

The exact same question, though, can be asked about coal mining. Sure, McIntyre can say stop using coal, and it’ll help prevent future disasters. But it will also presumably mean some number of tens or hundreds of millions of Chinese people losing electric lights and functioning hospitals, and a smaller number of Pennsylvanians losing their jobs. McIntyre himself would be fine, except for somewhat higher electricity bills.

Is the tradeoff worth it? McIntyre clearly thinks so (and I think I do too): but what would change his mind? I can tell you: I would update my beliefs significantly if you showed me a utilitarian calculation showing that more people would be harmed by ending coal mining than by continuing it. But McIntyre never asks himself the question. He is stuck on transmit, never on receive.

Again: a garden-variety, Mark-1 Mod-0 characteristic common to all shitlibs. In fact, the obstinate refusal to humbly admit to any possibility that one could ever be wrong, about anything, is part of the core curriculum, a subject covered early in Liberalism 101.

(Via Insty)

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SteveF

But at no point does McIntyre ever ask himself what it would take to change his mind. … obstinate refusal to humbly admit to any possibility that one could ever be wrong

I noticed the same in listening to podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts, 10-25 hours per workday. (I usually listen at 2.5X, for almost the entire time I’m working the day job.) A number of times the host and the interviewed expert will discuss techniques of persuasion, today’s apparently irreconcilable differences in interpreting facts, or even how to get along with your wrongheaded family members or coworkers. Almost every time it’s suggested to get the other person to admit that he might be missing some important fact or that he might be letting his prior beliefs interfere with his reasoning. Not a single time did either the host or the expert say, “And of course I need to apply that to my own thinking and question whether my beliefs, no matter how logical I think them to be, could be wrong.”

Francis W. Porretto

We’re into some interesting stuff here, especially this fragment:

McIntyre’s big question, as mentioned, is asking: What evidence would it take to change your mind? But at no point does McIntyre ever ask himself what it would take to change his mind.

Both McIntyre’s question and the writers riposte are staggeringly important. To dissect it all, we’ll need to visit two of my favorite expository tropes, Smith and Jones.

If Smith has evidence that Jones is misinformed about something, he should assure himself that it’s:

  • Temporally persistent,
  • Objectively verifiable,
  • Observer-independent,

…before presenting it to Jones. Many persons speak of “evidence” (or worse, “proof”) that can’t satisfy the three criteria above. Then they go on to represent themselves as infallible, which compounds the damage.

Jones, for his part, must be clear about what he will accept as evidence. When presented with evidence that undermines his convictions, he must not dismiss it simply for that.

In a way, this is a restatement of the conditions necessary for honest inquiry and discussion:

  1. Evidence is supreme above all else.
  2. Anyone can be wrong.

Sadly, there aren’t many people who understand that today.

Ironbear

Is the tradeoff worth it? McIntyre clearly thinks so (and I think I do too):

I notice that Tom Chivers never explains, in all of that blather, why he thinks so too that that idiotic tradeoff would be worth it..

I get the impression from that that Chivers doesn’t actually disagree with the smug, conceited asshole, he just wishes McIntyre hadn’t undercut his own arguments.

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