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Political cynicism and oversimplification

There's a very popular view which says that everyone in politics is a lying bastard out for their own interest, none of them can be trusted, and if only HONEST people got into power, everything would be much better! But alas, they are all lying bastards, and so we gots what we gots...

I don't buy it. I think this view stinks of magical thinking -- basically, it's the other side of the Green Lantern Theory of Power, Viridilanternism, the view that we can do anything as long as we WILL it hard enough. Conversely, if we didn't do it, then someone in power must have not wanted it... and that's the cynicism.


18:50:49 on 10/08/16 by danilche - Philosophical -

Steel men and aikido

No, not steely aikidokas...

Straw man is an informal fallacy wherein you take your opponent's argument, misrepresent it to make it weaker, and then attack that misrepresented version.

The opposite of a strawman is a steelman -- you take your opponent's arguments, fix their shortcomings, improve them, and THEN attack them, when they are in their best form.


07:18:29 on 03/30/16 by danilche - Philosophical -

The battle for the soul of the GOP: The TnPs are coming for their pound of flesh!

For years, the self-proclaimed real conservatives (mostly the pundit class) have been telling us that GOP is losing the WH races because it's just not nominating sufficiently pure conservatives. Nominate a real conservative, and the secret, silent stay-at-home conservatives will flock to the polls!

And for years, the nomination battles in the GOP have raged between the establishment pragmatist times, and the fire-breathing ideologue types (with religious nuts, GOP's third open locus of power, making an occasional token showing). And each time, when GOP loses, we hear: "We should have nominated a real conservative!"


07:15:56 on 03/30/16 by danilche - Philosophical -

Moral Tribes: Emotion, reason, and the gap between them

I promised a while ago to write a post about this excellent book by Joshua Greene, a researcher in the interdisciplinary field of moral cognition -- an intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neurology. However, the more I think about what it would take to convey the fascinating and complex argument, the more I realize that that would take another book. So instead, I will do 3 things: I will write a bird's-eye overview of Greene's argument, I will quote from Thomas Nagel's review thereof, and I will add my comments, as harvested from multiple bookmarks I made in the book.

Here's the short summary:
  1. What we regard as morality is evolved behavior that fosters survival of social groups via cooperation, by placing US over ME
  2. But while it fosters survival within groups, it also promotes survival at the expense of other groups, by placing US over THEM
  3. Thus, our intuitive, evolved morality is of little help when different cultures -- different 'moral tribes' -- find themselves in conflict over what's moral or not
  4. Different moral tribes can't even talk to each other meaningfully, because their 'moral languages' are so radically different
  5. However, while our moral sense is intuitive and emotive, we also have rational facilities available to us
  6. We, all of our different 'moral tribes', rationally recognize happiness as a worthwhile goal
  7. Thus, the calculus of happiness -- i.e. utilitarianism -- can be the rational 'lingua franca' for different 'moral tribes' to talk to each other. That doesn't make it true, it merely makes it a common basis for discussion
  8. Alas, when Greene tries to apply this approach to a concrete problem -- abortion -- he IMO fails.


12:40:33 on 09/27/15 by danilche - Philosophical -

Data, Information, Knowledge... Wisdom

Many have heard of the DIKW pyramid, and I thought it was worth a look.


What does it mean? The first three tiers of the hierarchy are kinda obvious:

Raw, unprocessed, meaningless information. Might as well be white noise. Meaningless without further processing.

Data that's been analyzed and made sense of. Not very useful without further context.

Information that's been placed in context, imbued with semantic load, meanignful and actionable.

This is where the tricky part begins. Many versions of the pyramid omit wisdom altogether, and most of the rest reduce it to mere judgement, usually value-driven judgement -- 'do the right thing'. I think it's a lot more...


20:26:39 on 01/12/14 by danilche - Philosophical -

On the shortcomings of "civil discourse under all circumstances" notion

I am sure you are familiar with the notion of Overton window. For those who don't know it, that's the range of views and positions, on any given topic, which are considered acceptable to have in polite society, i.e. the views which are not beyond the pale.

Overton window shifts over time. If some hitherto-unaceptable view gets calmly and dispassionately discussed by respectable people, others start treating that view as acceptable in civil discourse. Thus, Overton window can be manipulated -- if people make a concerted effort to have some crazy view presented in mass media as worthy of calm analysis and discussion, it becomes perceived as as worthy of calm analysis and discussion; the Overton window shifts to include it.


10:04:32 on 03/14/12 by Victor - Philosophical -

An eye for an eye makes the whole world better: The theory of vengeance.

We often hear repeated Gandhi's famous phrase: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". As popular as it is, it is wrong. It will make the whole world blind only if, upon someone poking out my eye, I go and poke out the eye of a random bystander. However, if I poke out the eye of the one who poked out mine, the result of the "eye for an eye" principle will be the rapid blinding, and thus neutralization, of the aggressive eye-pokers: the ones who poke out eyes unprovoked.

Gandhi's aforementioned dictum is often used to argue against vengeance, to claim that vengeance is a bad thing. That, too, is wrong, and for the same reason as the literal dictum itself.


09:02:59 on 03/16/11 by Victor - Philosophical -

Greed as power, and other forces

What is greed? Is greed good or evil? The case against greed is common and simple: greed destroys, deprives, creates pain and suffering! And it's true, greed does all that.

The case for greed is just as obvious. I will let it be put forth by someone more eloquent than I:

Greed underpins the free market, and the free market has done more to benefit mankind than all the foreign aid combined. So which one is it? Good or evil?


12:00:58 on 09/23/08 by Victor - Philosophical -

Abortion and the courage of one's convictions

I always thought that if the pro-life people consider abortion to be murder, they should react to it as if it were murder. If you saw a murder happening in front of you, wouldn't you feel obligated to stop it by any means necessary, up to and including killing the murderer? Yet abortion doctor killing are few and far between. I always took that to mean that the pro-life people don't actually consider abortion to be murder (which is the point of this line of argument, not the suggestion that they should kill abortion doctors), but an alternative explanation has been suggested to me; an explanation which, despite my initial revolted rejection, I now find plausible but incredibly depressing.

Someone suggested that instead, the answer might be simply cowardice. Human cowardice in general.


08:42:18 on 07/27/08 by Victor - Philosophical -

The Trap of Modularity

Someone referenced me to a very interesting article by Jerry Fodor about the faults of natural selection. Those faults are kinda subtle, and mostly conceptual; he certainly isn't arguing against evolution, but he is arguing for a better, more accurate (and less anthropomorphic and teleologically laden) understanding of it. This got me thinking about how such errors of scientific thinking plague us, and why.


16:00:37 on 04/28/08 by Victor - Philosophical -
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