My Kind of American Exceptionalism

No offense to British children, natch.

Some People Don’t Understand Politics.. or Anything.

The following clip features Cenk Uygur arguing with Glynnis MacNicol on The Young Turks about whether Fox News is a legitimate news organization.

It’s frustrating in two ways. For one, MacNicol has utterly idiotic arguments. For two, Cenk has utterly weak retorts.

MacNicol argues that it isn’t the job of the White House to go after Fox News, that this isn’t a nanny state. One wonders how a person survives the fourth grade without knowing that the presidency and the White House are political organs of the government that have no responsibility except to the Constitution (and the laws of the land, by implication). This rather obvious, simple fact continues to perplex mainstream reporters and their ilk, and is the only reason that they fail so miserably at what they purport to do.

Not only does MacNicol fail at understanding the rudimentary functions and responsibilities of our government, she also doesn’t understand simple logic. Apparently the fact that Fox News has a substantial viewership in comparison to other networks is cause to assume that what they do must be legitimate–the very definition of an ad populum fallacy. But it’s worse than that. Not only is it illogical to believe such a thing in and of itself. It’s completely illogical when you assume it’s a valid argument. Fox News has, according to various Google estimates, about 2.8 million viewers during weekday prime-time on average. This amounts to an apparently monumental viewership of about 1% (edit: math fail) of the population of the United States. Clearly the vast majority of people.

Pretty Much

Via Gawker:

[Jake Tapper] knows that it is the objective reporter’s job to always object, to everything. If the President says the ocean is quite large, it is heroic reporting to demand that his spokesman acknowledge that outer space is even bigger.

That’s pretty much how it works, isn’t it?

Please Keep Steele Forever

LOL @ this “GOP accomplishments” page on the new GOP.com.

Two things to notice:

1.) Most GOP voters are fucking retarded about anything useful to not be retarded about, and will not realize that a party called “The Republican Party” passed these extremely liberal, federalized social and economic measures in the late 19th century and early 20th century (unless it somehow construes them to not be racist morons, which is the entire point of this page). If they were to read this thing, they would likely try and paint swastikas all over it. Yes, literally, all over their 6-year-old CRTs. Because of the dumb. KEEP DEH GUBMINT OUT MAH ROADZ, etc., et al.

2.) As implied by the previous observation, LOLWHATTHEFUCKHISTORYFAIL. Religious, conservative, economically ignorant cynics are going to try to coopt the platform of liberal, educated, secular and idealistic Yankees? And a hundred years late at that? Go for it! (if you must)

I’ll sit here and laugh at you, though, TEEHEEHEE, as will anyone else who’s read a book, ever, that is not by Sean “I love them in the sense that I want to destroy them” Hannity (cf. my last post).

Opposite Words Are Opposite

Michael Moore went on Sean Hannity’s show yesterday.

Sean Hannity said something in response to Moore that I think is profoundly intellectual:

Michael Moore: [Jesus said love your enemy, do you love your enemies?]

Sean Hannity: [Yes]

Michael Moore: [Do you love al Qaeda then?]

Sean Hannity: I love them in the sense that I want to destroy them.

Do not envy this brilliance. It comes rarely to this Earth.

All Dualism is Sloppy Dualism

This is in response to a post at Good Math, Bad Math by Mark Chu-Carroll.

In it, he criticizes Phil Plait for what, to me, sounds almost boringly obvious. Phil sez:

You might want to use the same reductionist reasoning on humans too, and say we are nothing more than machines and have no free will, no choice but to obey whatever laws of physics command us. And I cannot discount that, but I suspect we are richer than that. The laws of physics are not binary; they don’t say to us “Behave this way or that.” There are huge, perhaps even uncountable numbers of choices that lie before us. It’s not just a matter of cranking all our atomic states and field equations through a black box and determining what we must perforce do; there are probabilities involved, so that our actions may be predictable in a sense but are not fundamentally determined in advance

I wouldn’t necessarily put it that way, but I agree with it.

Mark counters:

This is what I call “sloppy dualism”… He’s claiming to argue in favor of a purely scientific universe, with no room for the supernatural. But he tries to sneak a little bit of space in to the fuzziness of how things work to make room for his own free will.

I think Mark is much too caught up in the philosophical and religious history of dualism here. I would rephrase Phil’s statement this way: that complex biological interactions (and thus physical interactions) give rise to the illusion of free will. And this illusion is of such persistence and seeming complexity that, to any being under its spell, it simply feels real. And objectively speaking the presence of this illusion clearly classifies objects in the universe. A nebula does not have this ‘free will’, because it doesn’t exhibit the requisite complexity. But a human being does.

Mark objects to classifying objects this way, calling it a kind of dualism. And I ask: why? Using the term ‘dualism’ for this kind of thinking offends the historical definition of that term. Phil’s description isn’t anything less than completely materialistic. There are no spirits involved. There’s simply a hierarchy of physical laws with a range of complexities. At the lowest hierarchy are ‘simple’ objects, such as electrons and muons and atoms that express relatively simple behavior. At the higher echelons are more and more complex objects and phenomena, like ‘free will’. But these higher echelons obviously depend on the lower ones and are determined in some way by them. Whereas the spirit and body are only connected via divine intervention in a classical dualism (and are completely detached otherwise), Phil’s ‘dualism’ is nothing of the sort. And so I would argue that it doesn’t make sense to even put it in those terms.

What Phil is doing is asserting that we are, somehow, different. He starts off OK; the way that physics appears to work, things are not completely deterministic. There’s a lot of fuzziness and probabilistic nondeterminism.

But moving from non-determinism to choice is a problem. If you’re consistent, and you reject non-physical entities and influences in the world, then you are no exception.

It’s not a problem at all if this choice only appears to be a choice to the one making it. If I were to further interpret Phil’s description of choice, I would appeal to a kind of complex if-then ‘rule’ schema. If A happens, I will choose B1. But there are mitigating factors C, D, E, and F. If C goes a certain way, but D doesn’t, I will choose B2 and not B1. But if C, D, and E are all go a certain way I’ll choose B3. One can imagine this schema extending into a very large ‘tree’ of if-thens, perhaps with some degree of probability in the decision-making. To a being controlled by such a schema it would appear that they had innumerable choices at every turn–the definition of free will. To that being’s biology, however, there would exist a very definite rule set.

Is this how free will works? Perhaps not. But this is what biology suggests. This is how all other kinds of organisms work. They have rules for responding to stimuli. If you imagine the simple rule set for a paramecium scaled up a billion, billion fold, it’s not hard (at least in my mind) to fathom how free will (or the illusion thereof) arises.

There’s no scientific reason to believe that we have free will. There’s no buffer zone that we’ve found in any of the physical laws of how the universe works to make room for free will. There’s non-determinism; but there’s not choice.

Yet. I suppose we should give up, though, in light of these destructive arguments. :)

Choice is the introduction of something, dare I say it, supernatural: some influence that isn’t part of the physical interaction, which allows some clusters of matter and energy to decide how they’ll collapse a probabilistic waveform into a particular reality.

There’s definitely no scientific reason to believe that.

There’s nothing wrong with believing that there’s something more than the simple physical to the world; something that allows this thing we call consciousness. But it’s not a scientific belief. And for all his hedging, Phil is clearly saying that he believes that the math of physics isn’t, and can’t be all that describes how the universe works. And once you make room for that kind of supernatural, it’s hard to explain just why your kind of supernatural belief is perfectly rational, and someone else’s kind of supernatural belief is silly.

This is really a weaselly argument. Nothing is a scientific belief until it’s demonstrated in an experiment. That doesn’t mean that some arguments aren’t more scientific than others, that some arguments aren’t more presupposition and wish-thinking than others, and some arguments aren’t more based in facts than are others. I hate to trot out the cliche, but the belief that unicorns don’t exist is not a scientific belief nor a rational one. But my confidence in that belief, based upon everything I know and everything science and history tells me, sets it apart from a toddler’s belief that unicorns really do exist. To think otherwise is post-modernism at its core.

Replace with Synonym, Put in Italics

Jerry Coyne and Andrew Sullivan are having a conversation about suffering and religion.

Jerry Coyne writes:

Humans do not have a unique capacity to “rise above suffering.” Every animal rises above suffering. It has to, if it is to live and leave offspring. It’s ADAPTIVE to be resilient!

Andrew responds:

One feels as if one is talking past someone.

Yes, resilience is obviously built into our genetics, but my point was the unique ability to transcend suffering, not just endure it.

Replacing a word with another word isn’t an argument. I don’t know why religious people think this is true (it’s probably one of those transcendent things). But if I were to interpret Andrew’s response, perhaps thinking too deeply about what he was even trying to say, I would respond this way:

In my humble experience, humans respond to suffering in two ways. They either forget their suffering (or more precisely, the reality of the suffering becomes duller over time) or they consciously (or unconsciously) avoid things or thoughts that they know cause suffering. Contrary to pop psychology, consciously recalling traumatic events in order to “deal with them” is incredibly damaging. That’s why PTSD is so insidious. Soldiers with PTSD can’t bring themselves to forget the extreme suffering they went through in the war zone. Their brains won’t let them forget. And that’s some of the most profound suffering I can imagine. I wish Andrew would give an example of someone ‘transcending suffering’ to better know what he meant. The only example he did give (getting over the pain caused by a close friend’s death) is (even if tragic) really not valid. As Coyne notes, and Andrew helpfully ignores, atheists experience the same exact phenomena in response to the death of a loved one. What Coyne doesn’t say, but I think he implies, is that there are bookshelves full of examples of other mammals expressing the same kinds of mourning behaviors that humans express. There are what look to be evolutionary precursors to the kinds of supposedly spiritual or transcendent behaviors that make humans unique. There are also examples of animals which starve themselves to death in response to stress or the loss of offspring.

If I were to guess, I would say that Andrew wouldn’t particularly disagree with anything I’ve written here. And yet he disagrees. But who knows why? I think the one who knows the least about why is Andrew himself. I certainly have no idea.

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