Monday, December 14, 2015

Today's Facepalm

So all these Democratic anti-Trump memes that have been flooding my newsfeed, which are designed to promulgate fear, anger, and hatred of Trump and his fans, will turn those who view them into social conservatives?  That would seem to follow.  But I doubt it's what the meme-maker meant.  Our fear, righteous anger, and Two Minutes' Hate are different, because we're the good guys, intellectually and morally superior to the Rethuglitards.

I understand the desire to vent -- I do it often.  I don't object to venting in itself.  I object because, having vented, Democratic loyalists don't balance their rage with informed discussion of the political scene or anything else.  So I also see stuff like this link to TV pundit Ted Koppel saying that Donald Trump is "the Recruiter-in-Chief for ISIS."

That's really not fair to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other people already in (and out of) power who don't just advocate violence but actually practice it, killing and maiming and displacing innocent people and thereby causing the blowback we've been seeing for a few decades now. Trump is scum, and no doubt he's helping to recruit for Islamist organizations in his own small way, but he hasn't actually killed anybody or invaded and destabilized a country ... yet. All the others have.  Party loyalists can't admit, even to themselves, that in this respect Trump and the other Republican hawks are just continuing and extending normal bipartisan US foreign policy in the Middle East.

The author of the article on Koppel concludes, "Critical thinking and nuanced reasoning don’t go over to well in Trump Land."  That's true enough, but they're no more popular in Democrat Land, or whatever you want to call it.  I've often pointed out the confusion exhibited by educated people as to what critical thinking is, but here are a couple of positive models.  Deborah Meier, in The Power of Their Ideas (Beacon Press, 2002), sketched the Habits of Mind fostered in the alternative high school she helped found:
They are: the question of evidence, or "How do we know what we know?"; the question of viewpoint, in all its multiplicity, or "Who's speaking?"; the search for connections and patterns, or "What causes what?"; supposition, or "How might things have been different?"; and finally, why any of it matters, or "Who cares?" [50]
In Without Guilt and Justice (Wyden, 1973) the philosopher Walter Kaufmann proposed a canon, "the heart of rationality, the essence of scientific method, and the meaning of intellectual integrity."
Confronted with a proposition, view, belief, hypothesis, conviction -- one's own or another person's -- those with high standards of honesty apply the canon, which commands us to ask seven questions: (1) What does this mean? (2) What speaks for it and (3) against it?  (4) What alternatives are available?  (5) What speaks for and (6) against each?  And (7) what alternatives are most plausible in the light of these considerations?

Now it may be objected that doing all this is rather difficult.  But has it ever been a condition of virtue that it required no great exertion?  On the contrary... [178]
Kaufmann also liked to quote Nietzsche's quip "A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!!!"

Both Meier and Kaufmann acknowledge that objections may be raised to their canons; that possibility is included in their list of questions, and Kaufmann considered them at some length.  Meier says that the Habits of Thought have never been formulated finally, and have changed somewhat over time.  That's to be expected.  She also says:
There are plenty of liberal-minded citizens who are uncomfortable with Central Park East's stress on open intellectual inquiry and would have us leave young minds free of uncertainties and openness until "later on" when they are "more prepared to face complexity."  First, some argue, "fill the vessel" with neutral information and easily remembered and uplifting stories.  But such compromises will neither satisfy the Right nor prepare our children's minds for "later" [81].
What a coincidence (or maybe not)!  What "some [liberal-minded citizens] argue" is the position of the Right as well.  Critical thinking tomorrow, indoctrination today.  But tomorrow never comes.

It's the spirit of critical openness these writers exhibit that is missing from the liberal and left partisans I'm discussing today, and have discussed before.