Monthly Archive: October 2016

Louis Gohmert and what it tells me about electorates

Over the years, I have been accused on more than one occasion of being an elitist.
One of the more amusing incidents was in 2004 when I was in a discussion on a discussion forum somewhere and I was called out as an elitist. I remarked that I was OK with that, but disappointed because the person making the comment had forgotten to prefix it with “latte-sipping”. I soon found out that my erstwhile opponent was totally irony-challenged, as he claimed to not understand my comment. In this view, I was being obtuse.
Those of you who have talked to me about politics know that I consider myself unelectable to any political office under any sort of current Western democratic process, especially in my adopted home in the USA.
I talk funny.
I use long sentences, and worse still, I tend to use Big Words.
I refuse to dissemble or pander.
I have a disturbing tendency to call bullshit out as bullshit.
I am intolerant of poor arguments.
How many strikes is that?
One of the truest but also sobering comments I read online recently was one from a statistician on a statistics forum. He reminded us “remember, by definition 50% of the population is of below-average intelligence”.
I am always reminded of this during every election season. Sometimes it is when I find myself watching or reading a prospective voter saying something that is some combination of poorly-argued, factually challenged or simply mind-bogglingly stupid.
And sometimes it is when I find myself listening to or reading a politician uttering something that is a combination of incorrect, stupid, poorly argued, or just plain weird.
In the case of Louis Gohmert, all of the above epithets apply.
The depressing reality about having to listen to Gohmert’s bloviations is not that that he talks like a complete idiot (which he is probably not, by the way). It is that he gets re-elected very 2 years in a landslide. Clearly, his verbal nonsense is appealing to a large number of people.
That, in a nutshell, is why my confidence and trust in electorates is limited.


Story about Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann

Feynman and Gell-Mann, as colleagues, always engaged in low-level one-upmanship. This story from Al Seckel at Feynman Online is a classic:

…I was with both Gell-Mann and Feynman and the subject of kooky letters and phone calls came up. Feynman started relating the story of how one crazy woman called the office about some ridiculous theory of magnetic fields. He just could not get her off the phone.
Gell-Mann responded, “Oh, I remember that woman. I got her off the phone in less than a minute”.
“How’d you do that?” Feynman asked.
“I told her to call you. That you were the resident expert in the topic” said Gell-Mann.


Obeisance and bad attitudes to dissent

Life is not a collection of binary actions and decisions. As all of us should know, life is messy, people are complex and illogical in their behaviors, and (contrary to the song that Donald Trump keeps playing at his rallies) you can’t always get what you want.
However, you wouldn’t know any of that if you read many of the postings that wend their way across my Facebook.
According to many of these postings, complex issues in life do have clear binary answers. There is a right answer, that the poster has of course signed on to. Then there is a wrong answer, which Other People have adopted.
Then it gets interesting and silly. It also appears that the Other People are not only wrong, but they are lesser individuals on multiple levels because they have a different worldview.
They can be many things, but smart and nice is not one of them. They apparently occupy some position in the world that makes them inferior.
They are unpatriotic. (The online world is full of self-proclaimed experts on who is a “Real American” these days)
They are stupid, moronic, or gullible.
They are retarded, perverted.
They are enablers of terrorism, atheism, homosexuality, perversion, communism, marxism, umpteen other isms

It seems to me that most of the people issuing these streams of denunciation are doing so because they cannot, on any emotional or logical level, handle and process dissent.
In a normal healthy social grouping or society, dissent is seen as useful. Dissenters often ask awkward questions that force people out of collective groupthink modes of operation. Dissenters have driven many of the great advances in human thinking and worldviews.
In unhealthy societies and groups where conformity is valued above independent thought, dissent is seen, incorrectly, as a form of disloyalty, subversive and therefore unacceptable. Cults, immature political movements, revolutionary groups, insecure businesses, narcissistic people and dysfunctional families all can adopt these attitudes.
In totalitarian dictatorships, the state takes over the job of policing obeisance and conformity. Dissenters are demonized, persecuted, and in many points in history, tortured and murdered, often with the full endorsement of the government.

Unfortunately, in many societal situations in the modern USA, I am constantly discovering individuals and groups who practice the policy of attempting to eliminate dissent, either by the expedient of tuning it out, or demanding that dissenters shut up or go away. They adopt the position that unless you openly profess unconditional fealty and credulous obeisance to a group or body in society, that you are opposed to that group.
There’s no polite way to summarize this. It’s utterly, moronically illogical, and has no seriousness or credibility. The people making these demands are, perhaps without realizing it, adopting the worst behavioral characteristics of totalitarian and cult leaders and supporters.
In the modern USA, there are numerous groups, event and symbols that many people believe have a right to enjoy perpetual, uncritical support. Provision of that uncritical support is seen by many people as some sort of litmus test of a person’s worth. The police, the military, the US flag, and and the National Anthem are all seen by many people as somehow above criticism and requiring uncritical fealty at all times.
There is a reason why the Bible included an injunction against idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of symbols, not people or processes. A flag is not a country, and an image is not a person. Students of history well know that totalitarian societies and dictatorships place great emphasis on the role of symbols in obtaining and maintaining uncritical fealty to the aims of the dictatorship. The film of Nazi rallies is chock-full of symbols of all types. Communist countries in Eastern Europe were full of air-brushed images of leaders displayed in public places.
In a healthy society that values individual freedom higher than unthinking group cohesion, no group or organization has a right to expect uncritical obeisance. Implementing that rule will ensure that the organization in question will, over time, slowly morph to behave in a thoroughly reprehensible way, since there is no possibility of it being asked awkward questions like “why are you behaving like a bunch of out of control assholes?”, and many humans, sadly, do what they can get away with, not what is right. World history shows this very clearly.
So, when I read postings that, shorn of flim-flam, say things like “you’re either 100% for this group or you are hostile to them and you need to shut up”, my considered reaction is to call bullshit on that line of reasoning. You can be married to somebody but see their faults, and discuss them with your partner. That’s not disloyalty, it’s smart and empathetic.
If your reaction to politely expressed dissent is to tell the dissenter to either shut up or go away, or to start down the road of juvenile ad hominem insults, you have the problem, not the dissenter, and I am going to call you on it.


The level of political civility

At election season, my political postings tend to write themselves.
Earlier today I pointed out to a commentator on Facebook that being pointedly rude about a person from the opposing party that he had probably never met was not exactly useful.
So then I found this on Twitter this evening. I do have some suspicion that the guy is a plant. Not many Trump supporters that I have seen sport what seems to be a fake suntan like this guy, who looks to be fairly fit. However, the message speaks for itself (unfortunately).


You accuse me of “arrogance”? OK, this is my take on it

Unbelievably arrogant.
Back in the 2012 electoral cycle, I got involved in what diplomats call a “full and frank exchange” of views over the merits of Barack Obama as the candidate for POTUS. The individual in question, who removed himself from my Facebook a long time ago, was engaging in juvenile put-downs (along the lines of “Obama is a huckster in a $1500 suit”). When I pointed out that this was juvenile. he accused me of “unbelievable arrogance”, and then started attempting to bully me by saying to his friends “I am copying this to my friends so they can say what they think of this”.
A couple of times, other commenters have accused me of being “arrogant” on Facebook.
So..what did I make of this?
Well, in the first instance that I documented, I had been a bit pointed in some of my comments to him, so I apologized. I wished I had not, but I was trying to be nice to a person who seemed to be terribly angry online. It didn’t exactly do much good, he never apologized for being juvenile in his comments, and he dropped me off Facebook anyway.
My general view of being accused of being “arrogant” is simple. If you’re accusing somebody of being arrogant, you’re not critiquing substance. You are fixating on style.
In the internet world, there is a term for this. It’s called tone trolling. The perpetual demands for “civility”, “respect” and “politeness” are variants of the same underlying tone-trolling reaction.
Now, at this point I have to point out that I am a proponent of polite discussion and argument. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, a fact that a lot of online commentators either ignore, or did not understand in the first place. As my Dad used to say, good manners cost nothing.
But holding argument hostage to communication style is a cop-out. From time to time I read people saying things like “I’m not discussing this until you are more respectful”. When I then examine the interaction, it becomes clear that what they are really saying is that they simply want whoever it is they are disagreeing with to either shut up and go away, or to agree with them. In other words, they cannot handle dissent and disagreement in a non-emotional fashion. Allegations of “arrogance” often originate from people with those sensitivities. They simply do not want to process contrary opinions, views or evidence. However, they know that to admit that is the equivalent of admitting “my mind is welded shut” which they know makes then sound…well, not very constructive. So they dress it up in some sort of style-related complaint instead.
So, my response to anybody who accuses me of being “arrogant” this election cycle will be a two-part one:

1. You are complaining about perceived style, not substance. Why don’t you talk about substance?
2. Are you really complaining about my style, or is it that you don’t want to process my message?


Evidence-free assertions and other lazy nonsense

Come on people, stop being wimps.
If you are going to post a meme with all sorts of extravagant claims about horrible things being planned by whatever candidate wins whatever election, at least have the cojones to stand behind what you post.
Responses like “I’m not providing any evidence – it’s all out there if you can be bothered to look” tell me one of two things.
(1) you can’t be bothered to cite any supporting evidence.
(2) you don’t have any supporting evidence.
Neither one of those options is complimentary. (1) tells me you are lazy. (2) tells me that you are way too willing to accept assertions in lieu of arguments.
Both of these behaviors strongly suggest that you expect uncritical affirmation of any cockanamie idea that you thought of or discovered out there somewhere.
That’s not how the world works. Demanding that people uncritically accept your ideas is the action of an authoritarian mindset. I’m going to face down that sort of nonsense and demand arguments based on evidence. You don’t like that? Well, I am sure you will find an echo chamber out there more to your liking. Have fun.


Sunday evening quick thoughts

1. Skeerdykats who sign on to hyperbole
Earlier today I found an article (linked from a Tweet) that alleged that if Hillary Clinton becomes President, she is going to stack the Supreme Court and arrange for the abolition of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th Amendments.
When I read this kind of “pure terror and fear” commentary being passed around, I can fairly safely conclude that the people signed on to this idea are, to use an old English expression, barking mad. My guess is that they spent way too much time in online echo chambers and watching legendarily objective sources of information such as Fox News. This sort of language, dripping with fear and trepidation, is exactly what I find on talk radio and in online echo chambers. Humans are horribly vulnerable to being impacted by what they just heard or saw.
Frankly, with this level of fear and anxiety, I am surprised that some of these people can even leave home in the mornings.

2. Affirmation and reflection of opinions

A good indication that a website or discussion thread is operating as an echo chamber is the presence of massive cursory agreement of commenters (usually responses like “right on!”, “agreed” etc. etc. ) and the almost complete absence of contrary opinions. On the rare occasions on which people do express contrary views, they are invariably dismissed as “idiots”, “sheeple”, “dupes”, or one of a pantheon of general purpose strawman insults (of which the most popular, among the authoritarian community, is “libtard”).
Here’s the uncomfortable fact about echo chambers that many people need to understand. If you inhabit that sort of environment, then you may feel comfortable and vindicated in your opinions and beliefs. However, it is likely that you will learn nothing while you are in that environment. The most you might get is a greater ability with juvenile put-downs.
Reading simply to have your opinions reflected back at you teaches you nothing. People don’t learn much while in a comfort zone.

3. The Deplorables on Twitter
A while ago I noted in a blog posting that most of the people whose Twitter handle includes some variant of the word “deplorable” were demonstrating, every time they said something on Twitter, that they were unattractive Donald Trump supporters. Specifically they were angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats.
I would like to withdraw that comment.
They are deluded angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats. They live in a weird parallel universe where black is white, up is down, and Donald Trump wins everything just by turning up.

4. Mike McCoy, we hardly knew ye
I am going out on a limb here to make a prediction that has nothing to do with election season.
If the San Diego Chargers lose next weekend, Mike McCoy will be fired during the team’s bye week. The Chargers are a mess, they lost again today, and ownership has to be seen to be doing something as they struggle to either get a better deal from the city of San Diego, or as they ready for a flight up the coast to Los Angeles.


Opinions, opinions…

Everybody is entitled to their opinions. And, in a forum that can adhere to fundamental principles of free speech, they are entitled to express those opinions.
However, free speech is, almost by definition, a two way street. You are entitled to express your opinions. And we, the receivers or readers, are entitled to comment and express our reaction to your opinions.
Now, what I am starting to see on Facebook, and I see it every election season, is people starting a posting with a variant of the phrase “this is my opinion and I’m entitled to it”.
I don’t think this is really what you mean. In fact I know that is not really what some of you mean. I know this because today somebody prefixed their posting with “I’m entitled to my opinion” but then suffixed it with “don’t try to argue with me on this”.
So what they were really saying was “I’m entitled to my opinion and i don’t want to read anything that contradicts it.”
Sorry, but No.
The only people who get to shut off dissent in that fashion in the real world are dictators.
The rest of us have the right and the ability to respond to opinions in any way we choose, within some limits (like not making personal threats). I intend to exercise that right whenever I determine that I want to.
If you don’t want to read any comments that might contradict your Extremely Important opinions, I suggest that you work out how to disable comments on your postings. Or you can moderate your comment threads, zapping any comments that you don’t like.
Of course I know you won’t do that, because you would love people who wrote in and said things like “right on!” or “Yeah!”. In other words, you love affirmation, but you can’t handle dissent.
That is sad, because dissent and argument are one of the mechanisms that help to advance human thinking and actions. When people all sit around agreeing with each other, nothing much changes.


Immature and tribal political systems

One characteristic of third world, tinpot dicatorships and immature democracies is how the ruling parties not only regard political office as a means to engage in blatant patronage actions for supporters (less politely, blatant corruption), but also how they regard gaining political power as an opportunity to legally persecute their opponents or members of the prior government. We have seen that sort of behavior unfolding in Africa for decades, and also in Pakistan, where the first action of a new election winner seems to be to try to have as many members as possible of the old government jailed.
We are now entering that kind of zone here in the uSA, courtesy of Donald Trump’s remark tonight that if he were elected to the Presidency, Hillary Clinton would be in jail.

Jessica Schulberg calls that out for what it is:


A quick word about political leadership

I hear all sorts of poorly expressed views about politics and politicians.
One complaint that surfaces is often expressed along the lines of how modern politicians are not great leaders. The discussion invariably involves a comparison between today’s politicians and earlier politicians. In the UK, the discussion would usually involve comparing current politicians unfavorably against Winston Churchill. In the USA, the current generation of Republican politicians are often compared unfavorably to Ronald Reagan (sometimes Dwight D. Eisenhower appears, among military veterans).
The comparison is misguided. It is misguided because I concluded many years ago, watching the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher in the UK, that electors, except in wartime or a national crisis, do not want leaders. They want panderers. They want politicians who will validate their beliefs, tell them everything in the world is fine, fix stuff For Them and make their lives (as they see it) better. They don’t want grand visions, big ideas, or anything that represents real change. (The phrase “policy wonk”, which I heard being used all the time in reference to Al Gore in the 2000 race, was not intended as a compliment). They only want leaders in a time of crisis. The rest of the time they just want validation, and a steady hand in government. You can see that whenever politicians give speeches suggesting big ideas or the need for the country to change. Most commonly the airwaves fill with bloviators ranting about the politician in question being “condescending” or “talking down” to people.
When countries hit a crisis, and enough electors determine that, there are two possible course of action. They can vote for an established politician with a bold vision who promises to lead. Or they can vote for an insurgent, usually somebody with big ideas, a grand vision, compelling rhetoric and a promise to turn the place upside down.
In the UK, Winston Churchill successfully led the UK through World War II. He was an established politician who returned from almost-retirement to take charge at a difficult time. Later on, the UK voted for Margaret Thatcher, a similar established politician. Thatcher’s leadership was not to a lot of people’s liking, including mine, but she did respect the fundamentals of democracy.
Germany, in the early 1930’s, where the established political process was deeply dysfunctional and ineffective, chose instead to vote for an insurgent Austrian-German with charisma and a promise to make Germany great again. His name was Adolf Hitler. We know how that turned out for Germany and a lot of the Western world.
The two points here?
1. I don’t believe electors demanding leadership from politicians. Most of the time they want no such thing.
2. If you vote for an insurgent, do not expect the insurgent to respect established norms such as democracy and due process. That’s why they are an insurgent. They want to turn the place upside down.

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