Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Questionable Major Premise in the Case Against Trump


Whether you think that Trump acted unethically, or criminally, or impeachably (is that a word?), what exactly is the argument? I have often said that, when you are trying to analyze an argument in real life, the first thing to do is to figure out the major premise of your opponent's argument.

All arguments have one big, universal premise. In the argument, 

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates is a mortal

The big, universal premise is the first one, "All men are mortal." It is called the "Major Premise." In formal logic, it is always stated first. But when we argue in real life, we generally omit it altogether--usually because everyone is assuming it. Usually it involves the common believe of those on both sides of the argument. But  many times, it goes unstated because the person making the argument knows it is questionable and he doesn't really want to draw attention to it. 

Let's take the major premise at the stasis of the current argument over impeachment: that there was a "quid pro quo" in aid to Ukraine. Here is the argument as it is commonly stated, missing the major premise:

The Trump administration's aid to Ukraine involved a quid pro quo
Therefore, the Trump Administration's aid to Ukraine was an impeachable crime.

What is the missing, major premise? "Any action involving a quid pro quo is an impeachable crime." Here's the complete argument, with the major premise highlighted:

Any action involving a quid pro quo is an impeachable crime
The Trump administration's aid to Ukraine involved a quid pro quo
Therefore, the Trump Administration's aid to Ukraine was an impeachable crime.

And here is where the defense of the President (a defense originating with him) has gone down precisely the wrong path. The administration and his defenders in Congress have implicitly accepted this major premise, when what they should have done is question it from the beginning.

This is where Trump's defense is terribly, horribly mistaken and it will cripple his defense until the process plays itself out. This was part of the point in a recent article in Human Events


The response they should have given to the charge that there was a quid pro quo is "So what." There are a lot of governmental actions that involve a quid pro quo, and none more obviously than foreign aid. Foreign aid not only can, but always involves an implicit or explicit quid pro quo. With the possible exception of humanitarian aid, we don't give taxpayer money away to foreign countries unless we expect something back. And there is the implicit understanding that if a country is receiving foreign aid, then it can be taken away the moment it displeases us.

And not only do we implicitly consent to the quid pro quo behind all foreign aid, we expect it. Foreign aid has never been purely charitable, and has always been a tool of foreign policy. Of course this what precisely Mick Mulvaney's point in his controversial remarks at a White House press conference. The problem with Mulvaney's remarks was not that they were incorrect, but that they went against the official narrative.

Now let me anticipate an objection here. An anti-Trumper could say, "But it is not just the fact that it is a quid pro quo; it's that the quid pro quo is one that helps him personally and politically. Once again, let's look at the major premise. The argument is stated publicly without it:

The President's Ukraine action is one that helps him politically
Therefore the President's action is an impeachable crime

Missing premise?

Any action that helps a president politically is an impeachable crime
The Trump administration's aid to Ukraine involved a quid pro quo
Therefore, the Trump Administration's aid to Ukraine was an impeachable crime.

Again, almost every act a president engages in while in office is designed to help him politically. Every policy decision, every public declaration, every presidential domestic trip helps him politically. There have even been objections to taxpayer-funded presidential junkets in the days leading up to elections in which the president is running that they are really campaign trips and shouldn't be paid for by taxpayers. But despite this, it happens all the time, and even those who protest never say that such trips are impeachable offenses.

Once again, no one can plausibly argue that acts by presidents that politically benefit them are either impeachable, or criminal, or even unethical. The major premise is just wrong.

Let's just take the most famous case of foreign aid, which is our longstanding foreign aid to Israel. Not only is there a quid pro quo (the expectation that we will receive something back from it)--that we will enjoy cooperation and support from Israel in our Mideast foreign policy, but there is a very obvious political benefit to any administration that continues our foreign aid to Israel. Every President, whatever else he may expect from aid to Israel, understands that it helps them greatly with Jewish voters. 

So neither a quid pro quo in foreign aid, nor the fact that political advantage is gained from it are either unethical, criminal, or impeachable--nor would they be so if they both involved a quid pro quo and resulted in political advantage, since two bad arguments don't make a good one.

But here is the problem: The Trump administration has mistakenly chosen what ground it will fight on, and, unfortunately for him, it is not the high ground. And to shift his position now will look like pure opportunism. He will have to admit that there was a quid pro quo, which undoubtedly there was in some form, despite the fact that he has been denying it all along. I will look like a rhetorical retreat.

And yet, I don't see another alternative. 

In either case, the President is not going to get convicted, as I have said before. But if you're going to get impeached, you might as well get it right, win or lose.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

How to Interpret an Election--And How Not To


Sometimes it seems as if the interpretation of election results has about the same objectivity as an astrological forecast. In the case of the recent state elections in Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi, the analyses we have are mostly the customary partisan interpretations--either that they showed that Trump was weak because of the loss of Matt Bevin in Kentucky, or that Republicans did not do well in Virginia because Trump never showed up there.

Everybody has the interpretation that makes their side look the best, although it was interesting that analysis of the New York Times "The Daily" podcast was more flattering to Trump than the one offered on Ben Shapiro's show--partly because Shapiro knew less about what was going on in the ground in Kentucky than The Daily's reporter, who actually bothered to spend some time in the state in the weeks leading up to the election.

In Kentucky, I think there are objective reasons to believe that Bevin's loss had little to do with Trump other than Trump was able to stave off a much more crushing defeat. Bevin was, after all, the least popular incumbent governor in the country. The fact that he only lost by 5,000 votes is, in light of that fact, something of a miracle.

The key observation is, of course, the fact that the down ballot Republican candidates dominated their Democratic opponents, several winning by close to 2-to-1 margins. This clearly indicates that something was happening to Bevin that was not happening to the others. Bevin was personally unpopular, particularly with teachers who, despite the fact that he led the effort to fully fund the pension system and put it on solid footing again--something that previous administrations had failed to do--blindly followed their largely Democratic-leaning liberal union leadership. But Bevin made it worse for himself by using rhetoric that teachers took personally.

Partly because of his personal unpopularity, Bevin had to run on national issues in a non-national election. The result was predictable.

In other words there are factors in the governor's race that make it a bad weather vane for either the political fortunes of Republicans in Kentucky or the fortunes of Republicans in other red states next year. A far better indicator would be the down ballot races, where Republicans swept the Democrats by large margins. 

Now there are two things that make the sweeping nature of these races significant. The first is that there is good reason to believe this was partly due to Trump visiting the state the night before the election. It is hard to believe that he did not have any effect at all. 

But perhaps more significantly, this happened in an off-year election. I don't know the history of why Kentucky's election is on a different cycle than the national election, but one thing is sure: it doesn't help Republicans in a red state like Kentucky, that benefits from a strong conservative candidate heading a national ticket. Trump's visit was meant to re-create the effect a simultaneous national race would otherwise have had. Whatever assistance Trump's appearance may have had the day before the election, it would not be able to fully duplicate the effect of a presidential election on the same day.

In other words, imagine what things would have been like had this election been fully nationalized. The fact that Republicans were able to do as well as they did in an off-year election in a red state bodes well for Republicans in legislative races in 2020 and is an indication of how well Trump will do in Kentucky in 2020.

I can't think of a good reason that won't be the case in other red states. And if you have Elizabeth Warren threatening to take away the cushy union health insurance of blue collar workers in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump might stand a good chance of winning again.



Monday, October 07, 2019

Three Questions about Impeachment


There are three questions to ask about impeachment: 1) Did the President commit a crime? 2) If the President committed a crime, is it an impeachable crime? 3) Are the Democrats running the impeachment process qualifiedethically or politicallyto judge him.

Did the President commit a crime? I'm not sure we know this. I think a lot of people think he acted unethically, but not all unethical behavior is criminal. By saying someone committed a crime, we mean one of two things: either he violated statutory law, or he engaged in behavior that legal case law has adjudged to be criminal.

The President's opponents accuse him of 1) asking a foreign government for a partisan favor, and 2) the request was contingent on the foreign government receiving aid from the United States.

If he violated a statutory law, which one did he violate? Federal laws have numbers. "Pub. L. No. 108-45" is the 45th law passed by the 108th Congress. What is the number for the statute Trump violated?

If he violated the findings of some judicial ruling, then what ruling was it?

I'm not saying there are no good answers to these questions. I'm just saying that, as someone who has paid pretty close attention the debate, I have not heard a single person address these questions. It is supposed to violate campaign finance law. Which one? What does it say? Some people say it could violate several laws. Which ones?

For all the certainty about the fact that Trump violated laws, it is curious there has been so little discussion about the laws themselves.

This is important, since laws are stated in ways that often invite interpretation. But when you have no particular law you can refer to, it's kind of hard to figure out whether the activity you are pointing to violates it or not.

If the President did commit a crime, was it an impeachable crime? This is even more murky, since the Constitution says that a president may be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" What makes a crime or misdemeanor "high"? The Constitution gives no guidance on this, nor, apparently, does case law. Given that fact, the determination is a political judgment.

We as a people have to decide, through our representative government, whether it qualifies or not. If we decide it does, then it does. If we decide it doesn't, it doesn't. Period.

The outcome of that process is yet to come.

Are the Democrats running the impeachment process qualified to judge him? This, in the end, is the most important question. The one that will really tell.

For Americans to see Trump's actions for what they are, they are going to have to have confidence that the people doing the judging themselves be above politics and partisanship. They are going to have to know that the process is fair.

On this ground alone, impeachment hangs. Even if the other two questions are answered in the affirmative, the answer to this one is determinative. And to mark it worse, it is the one of which Trump's enemies seem clueless. 

The Democrats will kill their own impeachment agenda. No one except the most blind Democratic partisan believes that the partisan Democratic politicians who are now engaged in the impeachment inquiry are even remotely fair and nonpartisan. 

First, House Intelligence Committee Chariman Adam Schiff has already stepped in it twice--once by rewriting the President's comments in the transcript of the call to the Ukrainian president, and then again when he lied about when he knew about the whistleblower complaint. 

Schiff cannot play both sides of the track here. He cannot act as a partisan one moment, and in another pretend to be scrupulously judicial. It hasn't worked so far, and will continue to plague the investigation.

Second, the Democrats would impeach Trump of anything if they could, legal or illegal, ethical or non-ethical, and the voters know this. They were talking impeachment before he even took office. Americans have seen a parade of charges, one after another, each eliciting a cheer from Democrats as the think that will take down Trump, and each fading into obscurity. The Ukraine call is only most recent of these charges.

At some point (and I think we have reached it), voters just say, well, Democrats just don't like Trump and they will stop at nothing to bring him down. This is just another attempt, and it will fail like all the rest.

Can we talk about something else now?

Third, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's failure to call a vote on articles of impeachment makes the Democrats look even worse in this regard. Trump's defenders know this, and are honing in on this weakness. The administration is now refusing to turn over documents until this is done, which is the smartest thing they could do, since it puts Pelosi in a dilemma: either she calls an impeachment vote, which she knows, at this point, her party really doesn't want, or she doesn't call it, in which case she denies the administration legal protections that the formal impeachment process provides. 

Pelosi won't call a vote on impeachment, but not because she doesn't have the votes. She may have the votes, but that doesn't mean members want a public vote. In these kinds of cases, there are people who will vote yes when it comes to it, but they don't want to pay the costs of such a vote. They are the ones that, right now, are approaching Pelosi and discouraging her from calling a vote. 

Democrats have managed till now to convince the public that they are now operation according to some "formal process" of impeachment, when, in fact, they are not. The only "formal process" when it comes to impeachment is impeachment. And the only thing that qualifies as impeachment is a vote for articles of impeachment.

The only claim the so-called "impeachment inquiry" has to formality is their own rhetoric. This is what the Trump administration is betting on: that they can make this clear by refusing to provide documents.

And let's be plain about this: Pelosi doesn't have the votes for articles of impeachment. The only support she now enjoys is support for an "impeachment inquiry." And those aren't impeachment votes. This is why the Democrats will continue to punt on actual impeachment and continue equivocate about an  "impeachment inquiry" constituting a "formal" impeachment process.

All of this goes, again, to the issue of fairness. The Democrats are accusing Trump of using his office for partisan gain. But if the public becomes convinced, as I think many already are, that the Democrats are only using the impeachment process for partisan gain, then how, they will ask, are they any better than the man they are trying? People will not accept the legitimacy of a process in which the judge is guilty of the same crime as the person being tried. They just won't.

So far, the Democrats are playing right in to Trump's strategy here. Some people think his tweets hurt him. They don't. They further anger his Democratic opponents, and they overreact, looking partisan themselves, and play right in to his strategy.

They will continue to do this. This is why Pelosi won't win her vote, and why, even if she does, the Senate will acquit. And will help Trump in the 2020 election.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Matt Bevin and His Fashionable Media Enemies

The fact that there is liberal bias in the mainstream media is not exactly headline news, nor is the idea that it has been going on a long time. But there is one noticeable difference in the liberal media now as opposed to, say, twenty years ago.

It used to be that reporters saw themselves as unbiased and were just unaware of the attitudes that made their way into their stories. But that pretense has pretty much been abandoned in the Twitter age. Reporters now regularly Tweet their real feelings, and, surprise surprise, they are almost exclusively left in their political orientation.

This manifests itself in a lot of different ways, but one them is to take note of things conservatives do that they say they consider objectionable which they never seem to notice their ideological soulmates doing, despite the fact that they do it as well. To put it bluntly, the rules conservative Republicans are completely different from those for liberal Democrats. 

A liberal runs the race without impediment, but as soon as the conservative approaches the hurdle, it is raised a foot or two.

I recently got into a Twitter war with several reporters, one with the Courier-Journal, and two others with the Lexington Herald-Leader, who had tweeted about the infamy of a group supporting Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin producing a campaign ad assailing Andy Beshear's support for a piece of legislation (the so-called "Equality Act") that would "destroy girls sports" by allowing biological males to compete in women's competition.

Actually two of them tweeted about this. The other just chimed in.

Now there are a number of legitimate ways to attack this ad. You could argue that it makes assertions that are not true. You could question whether it would really "destroy girls sports." You could throw doubt on the fact that the  the "Equality Act" would allow men into women's competition. You could try to undermine the implication that Andy Beshear really supports such a thing.

All that would have been perfectly rational. But what did they do instead? Here was Daniel DeRochers with the Herald-Leader:

Instead of deploying an actual argument, Desrochers does what most progressives now do, which is engage in virtue-signaling, in this case, by accusing Bevin supporters of being "transphobic." 

"Transphobic" is a term made up by gender ideologues who, lacking the integrity to establish their positions rationally, instead invent Devil words to try to scare away anyone who has the temerity to appeal to reality.

It's an invented word designed by ideologues for ideological purposes. It is considered legitimate solely on the grounds that is used so often by all the right people. It's the word you say in order to drive thoughts about the actual biology of the situation from your mind. 

If you analyzed its Latin and Greek etymology it would mean something like "fear of change." But if you analyzed its actual usage you would get something like "Don't confuse us with your stinkin' science." 

To the progressives in the media (as with all progressives), opposition to the kooky assertions of gender ideology is proof of moral turpitude. If you disagree with the fashionable opinions on gender, you are evil. "Transphobia" is not just a disease (soon, surely, to be recognized by the increasingly politically correct medical authorities), it is a moral sickness. It is simply not possible to honestly believe that someone cannot decide what sex they are.

"Transphobia" is a cross that politically correct progressives wave in the face of the evil conservative vampire in order to make him cringe. And it often works when it's done to weakly-constituted Republicans.

Then there was the Courier-Journal's Mandy McLaren:

So just taking a position on the unfairness of biological males competing in women's sports constitutes bullying of transgender people?

All this means is that disagreeing with the fashionable opinions of liberals is now considered a thought crime, and is to be dealt with by hurling epithets like "transphobic." Just say the word and all those bigots who don't take their gender ideology medicine scatter.

I asked what, specifically, was wrong with the ad, which was followed shortly by this from Desrochers:

Well, first of all, there is no explanation of how the ad "exploits fear and misunderstanding of trans people." The ad just expresses opposition to biological males competing in women's athletic events, and calls attention to the fact (undisputed by Desrochers and McLaren) that Andy Beshear supports a bill that would (again undisputed) encourage or mandate this. Again is the mere opposition to such a thing bigotry? Is Martina Navratolova, who has called this practice "insane," a bigot? And even if it did, is it any more egregious a moral act than calling people "transphobic," as if they have some kind of psychological disease?

Let me just say this: I don't think Desrochers even believes any of this. Virtue-signaling is inherently disingenuous, which is just a way of saying that the people who do it really don't mean it. It's one of those perfunctory gestures you are expected to make when you are a political reporter at a liberal newspaper, which accounts for the weak defense he put up for it when I challenged him.

Note that he pairs the "fear and misunderstanding" charge, which he doesn't even try to justify (and for which there is really no case to be made anyway) with "in order to score political points." Scoring political points in a campaign ad? How shocking and unusual.

Is there a politician somewhere who doesn't do this? Again, this is just hand-waving. But somehow combining one charge that makes no sense with another charge that is virtually meaningless, we're supposed to think that it is a meaningful statement.

The real crime is to believe that boys are boys and girls are girls. In a world now apparently run by crazed professors out of some Womens' and Gender Studies department somewhere, this is a hanging offense.

Of course, the Twitter comments of McLaren and Desrochers are flatly partisan, showing, as I said before, that the partisan masks are off. But we're still supposed to believe that their reporting is objective.

It's not impossible, of course, but its getting harder and harder to believe.

And finally, let's just observe that any stick is good enough to beat a conservative gubernatorial candidate with. If there were a liberal Democrat running who took the side of the women who have complained about the unfairness, nothing would have been said.

That's how it works in places like the Herald and the Courier. And it's one of the reasons they have become largely irrelevant.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Woodstock was the coming out part for the Worst Generation

My column on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock is up at Intellectual Takeout:
It is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and we're already being subjected to dreamy reminiscences about it from people whose accounts cannot really be relied upon because they are based largely on memories of people who were in a drug-induced stupor.
 If you were on drugs, Woodstock seemed great. Of course, if you were on drugs, anything seemed great ... 
Read the rest here.
.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Blaming Everyone but the Shooter


I hate to employ the word because it is so overused, but left-wing progressives are having one big meltdown over the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Now there are a lot of appropriate responses to the shootings, such as sorry, grief, and anger. And note that none of these reactions is political in nature. 

The most remarkable thing about the reaction of liberal Democrats is that it is purely political, as all things are for postmodern nihilists.

When you point out that there are other non-political factors that, according to a wealth of research, play in to actions like those of mass shooters, you are immediately rebuked by the Democratic scolds who have taken to the airwaves to condemn Donald Trump and all his works. 

We know for example--from plain common sense if not science--that if boys sit at screens all day shooting people or blowing things up in video games in which that is what you do, then they are more likely to think that shooting people or blowing things up is not unacceptable. And when you think that something is not unacceptable, it is more likely you will be willing to engage in it.

It's not rocket science.

And we know another thing: that mass shooters have been known to copy the mass shootings of other mass shooters when they observe the attention mass shooters get on television news coverage of mass shootings (Notice that CNN is not taking credit for the shootings).

Another common denominator among mass shooters is that they are alienated loners, a factor less sociological than psychological. 

Again, it doesn't take a lot of mental acuity to figure this out.

We still don't know exactly what factors played a role in the motivation of the shooters [there is more news on this about one of the shooters which I will address tomorrow], but if you openly wonder whether any of these things played even a small role, then you are labeled a racist.

Why?

These factors are non-political. They are cultural or sociological or psychological, and they do not well-serve political ideology--ideology being the belief that everything is political.

For left-wing Democrats, the world is the setting for the war of the Children of Light (themselves) and the Children of Darkness (conservative Republicans), and to even deny that this is so is proof that you are evil and must be eliminated. If you disagree with them about anything, you are anathema.

In fact, the mere denial that you are evil is itself proof that you are. To say you are not a bigot is proof you are a bigot. To say you are not a racist is to condemn yourself to being that very thing.

This is what ideology does to people. In fact, this kind of thinking is remarkably similar to the thinking of many of the shooters themselves, who are, in large part paranoid and conspiratorial.

Most of what the left accuses people of is "hate"--defined as disagreeing with progressivism. And, ironically, their response to those they accuse of hate is to hate them in turn. They are right now in the throes of a veritable hatefest against Donald Trump. And the thing about it is that, if you were to take the things Trump has said that could be considered hateful and set them down next to the things the left is now saying about him in scope and volume, there really would be no comparison. 

Those who talk the most about the evils of hate seem to be the harshest practitioners of it.

But there is one more thing. 

Another aspect of ideology is its tendency to blame impersonal forces rather than hold individuals responsible for their behavior--except of course, when one person can be seen as the embodiment of political or social forces--the "enemy of the people," the role Trump now serves for the left. Trump is now the equivalent of Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell's 1984, who is the enemy of the Party, and who is the object of the daily Two Minutes Hate, in which Party members gather and express their hatred (orchestrated by the Party) toward the evil totem representative of some politic force.

For left-wing Democrats--who take their cues from Marx on this--evil resides in institutions and movements, never truly in an individual. The locus of evil is some vague and ill defined force such as bigotry or racism or hatred. It can even lie in some inanimate object or objects, like guns.

So far, no Democrat seems to have blamed the actual shooters involved in these crimes, only the impersonal forces that may or may not have influenced them--or the embodiment of them in the figure of Trump.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Democrats Fake Outrage on Immigrant Detention

So let me get this straight: The Democrats--who supported exactly the same immigration policies during the Obama administration and who have been pushing for open borders (a policy which even the U. S. House, which they run, has not passed) and telling the world of their intentions to provide free medical care to all immigrants and thereby issuing a global invitation for people to come here--are upset that conditions at border detention facilities are overcrowded.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

When Did We Give Up On Human Beings? Another example of how computers are making us stupid


Our genius educrats have somehow gotten the idea into their heads that computers are going to help them to educate children. In fact, a few of them want to replace teachers with machines (check out Larry Cuban's books). But in reality, computers do little to make us smarter and a whole lot to make us more stupid.

I have many examples of this, but today's lesson in how computers are sucking our brains out involves trying to make a reservation at a hotel. 

I have a conference I am supposed to attend in the coming weeks and I am not sure whether a reservation for me has already been made by our conference person, who I can't reach on the weekend. So, this morning, I call the hotel to ask if I already have a reservation in my name so that, if not, I can go ahead and make one.

Now this is a simple logical procedure. Admittedly, I have written three logic textbooks, so I have an understandable advantage in being able to think about how this should go:

If I do not have an existing reservation, then I would like to make one. And if I do have an existing reservation, then have a nice day. It's not that complicated. In fact we can put it in simple logical notation:

~P > Q.P > ~Q

But this is overcomplicating things because ALL I NEED TO KNOW IS WHETHER I ALREADY HAVE A RESERVATION AND IF NOT I NEED A ROOM.

So I call the hotel, and a person answers. Ha ha, just joking. Of course it is not even conceivable that that could happen and, instead of a person answering, I get an answering system with five options, none of which exactly fits my situation. But I remain confident that if I can outwit the phone system and talk to a real person he or she can simply look my name up an see if it is already on the system and, if not make a reservation for me.

Finally I get to a point where I can press '0' to talk to an operator. I press the button, and an actual human being answers. I tell her what I need. See if you can find any reservation on the system and if there is not one there, then sign me up.

And here is where things begin to gets Kafkaesque.

I have to go through a battery of questions, none of which is relevant. "Can you provide me your confirmation number sir?" 

"If I had a confirmation number," I say, "then I would know that I had a reservation. But I don't know that I have a reservation, therefore I don't know of any confirmation number" (thinking that a simple modus tollens form of reasoning might have some force with this person). But no.

"Okay sir, so when will be your arrival date?" I give her a date. She asks me to confirm it. "The departure date sir?" I give her the date. She asks me to confirm it again. "And what's the purpose of the stay sir?" I tell her. I remind her that I am not sure I am not already in the system, and if so, all these questions are irrelevant and could she please just search my name to see if it is not already there.

"Okay, sir, so how many rooms and adults?" 

"Uh, one," I say, despondently. She confirms.

"Can I have your name, sir?" I tell her, now with some hope that we might be getting the crux of the issue--THAT I MAY ALREADY HAVE A RESERVATION. She asks how it is spelled. 

"Okay, sir, are you a Hilton Honors member?" Now we're back to square one. I ask again about whether I am already on the system so we don't have to go through all this. But it is as if I never said anything and I am confronted with another question.

It dawns on me that this operator is not only not hearing me, but is not aware of my actual existence. She does not recognize me as a fellow human. She is not cognizant of my being-in-the-world. She is, in fact, not aware of any other important concepts that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger attempted to capture in terms with way too many hyphens. She does not acknowledge me other than as a voice on the other end of the line which is feeding her information that must be converted into data that must be typed onto the keyboard and transmitted to some central system somewhere that is controlling this evil hotel.

The computer she is punching information into has, Borg-like, taken over her soul. She is not operating the computer; the computer is operating her. 

I quickly try to think, what can I say that will help me escape from this surreal vortex? "If ~P, then Q and if P, then ~Q," I say, thinking this may be language the Master Computer behind all this will understand. But no. Even logic does not fit into the algorithm. The voice on the other end simply asks the next question in the sequence.

Finally, realizing that this call could go on for days without a resolution of the thing that needs to be resolved, I say, "Ma'am, I think it might be easier if I just try to see if I can contact the person that normally handles my convention arrangements."

"Okay sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?" I consider suggesting that she take the red pill and escape the Matrix, but then think better of it.

I eventually just conclude that it is unlikely I am already registered at the hotel, take a chance and manage, on another inordinately long call, to simply schedule a reservation.

Now I realize that a lot of people will read this and think that this is no big deal. This is just the way it is. And maybe I am just getting old and curmudgeonly (a reality which I long ago embraced), but are we really that far gone? When did we give up on simple things like judgment?

This is not an insignificant question. When did we give up on human beings?

I'm sure some people would laugh now at the section in Plato's dialogue Phaedrus about Socrates' warnings about the invention of the technology of writing: that, rather than increasing knowledge and wisdom, it would do precisely the opposite. But I'm totally on board with this idea. And if writing only threatened to do this, more sophisticated modern computer technologies have closed the deal.

I'm sure the people on the other end of calls like these are nice people just doing their jobs. But the process in the context of which they were no more important than some random circuit in the computer they were wired into apparently excluded them from making simple judgments that would have cut through all the technological nonsense.

Human beings don't need an algorithm to operate, and even when they need to do something that requires a procedure, they can abandon the procedure at any point at will. A computer does not have an algorithm that allows it to escape the algorithm, but humans do. 

The people who think that we can replace teachers with computers by sitting whole classrooms of children down at Chromebooks to be taught (yes, this is actually happening in public schools, and on a large scale)--that, in other words, teachers can be replaced by computers--need to find another line of work.

The only thing such an education will be able to produce is a bunch of socially-challenged button pushers who can follow a script, but can't make simple judgments about basic things.

The public school policymakers who blather on about "critical thinking skills" and think that somehow computers are going to help in this process need to employ a little critical thinking themselves, and I'm not confident they know how to do that.

Monday, July 01, 2019

A Review of Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, Part I


Patrick Deneen's new book, Why Liberalism Failed, has caused a bit of a stir, largely because it implicates thinking of those on both sides of the political spectrum on the problem of what is wrong with our culture. It won't make those who call themselves conservatives happy and it won't make those who call themselves liberals happy either. And the reason for this is that conservatism—at that strain of conservatism that fashions itself "libertarian"--shares the same basic assumption as the liberals.

The difference between liberals and libertarians—as I have said many times—is only three or four letters.

In fact the reason I'm blogging on it now, is my recent Twitter exchange with Andrew Walker, the former Baptist ELRC director who recently left that organization to return here to Kentucky to take a position with his alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Andrew and I worked together as lobbyists several years ago, and so we know each other well. I took the opportunity of yanking his chain about a tweet with an endorsement (and link) to Paul D. Miller's "Against 'Conservative Democracy'," an article which was remarkable largely for its lack of insightfulness. I see he has since redeemed himself by tweeting a link to the far more insightful thinker, the British philosopher Roger Scruton, even though what Scruton says and what Miller says are quite different, if not completely inconsistent.

Anyway, it prompted me to ahead and start on Deneen's book, which I will be reviewing in several posts over the next week or so.

Deneen takes an admittedly hard line against our twin liberalisms, one espoused by Democratic progressives and the other espoused by people who call themselves conservatives but whose thought bears little similarity to the thought of Edmund Burke and T. S. Eliot, the thinkers between whom Russell Kirk sandwiched the history of conservatism in what remains the greatest book about conservatism yet written: The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot. Most people who call themselves conservatives in the United States, in fact, are no different in their fundamental assumptions about politics--a prominent theme of Deneen's book. 

The central tenet of the book is that liberalism is immolating itself in the flame of "freedom" and more liberalism will just feed the fire. The problems with liberalism are inherent in its very nature, and cannot therefore be solved by anything within liberalism. "Liberalism," he says, "has failed—not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself." The "ruins it has produced are the signs of its very success."

The aspect of this book that I suspect will be most suspect—at least among conservatives—is the implications of his analysis for America itself. America "is the first nation founded by the explicit embrace of liberal philosophy, whose citizenry is shaped almost entirely by its commitment and vision."

According to Deneen, what we are seeing now in what all sides of the political spectrum recognize as, if not a crisis, at least a problem, is the breakdown of an ideology, and the kind of breakdown common to all ideologies:

Among the few iron laws of politics, few seem more unbreakable than the ultimate unsustainability of ideology in politics. Ideology fails for two reasons—first, because it is based on a falsehood about human nature, and hence can't help but fail; and second, because as those falsehoods become more evident, the gap grows between what the ideology claims and the live experience of human beings under its domain until the regime loses legitimacy.

Deneen argues that this is indeed what is happening: Liberalism is based on a false view of human nature and now in a crisis of confidence in politics, economics, education, and science and technology.

We'll talk about how in the next post.

Suffice it to say for now that the book is about not just the failure of liberalism and the inevitability of that failure, but also about the nature of true conservatism.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Why Are We No Longer Visiting Our Nation's Historical Sites?

My latest article at Intellectual Takeout:

According to Jennifer Tiedemann and Karen Marsico at The Federalist:
History museums across the country are seeing similar problems. In 2012, only 24 percent of Americans older than 18 visited a historic site in 2012—13 percent lower than in 1982. Attendance drops are particularly pronounced among younger Americans. Only 20.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 visited a historic site in 2012—down about 8 percentage points from just 10 years earlier.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

U of L medical professor taken out in ideological purge files suit

Yesterday's press release from The Family Foundation:

LEXINGTON, KY—”Once again, in the name of tolerance and diversity, the University of Louisville is practicing the exact opposite. And, yes, once again people who pretend to champion science are instead imposing an ideological party line,” said a spokesman for The Family Foundation.

The comments came in response to a lawsuit filed by Dr. Allan Josephson, former head of U of L’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology. The lawsuit charges that Dr. Josephson was demoted and then effectively terminated for comments he made at a meeting of the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he offered his personal professional views about the best treatments for children experiencing gender dysphoria.

“Holding conservative beliefs has always been unpopular among the leadership at U of L, but now the disapproval of the Tolerance Police has turned into an ideological purge,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation.

“Our universities should be places in which opposing ideas can be discussed in an environment of civility and reason. Instead, the Ideological Enforcement Division at U of L is trying to ruin the careers of people who hold to traditional scientific positions rather than acquiesce to the latest political fashions.”

The suit was filed on March 28 of this year by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Is science the only way of knowing?

An economist friend of mine recently recommended Peter Boghassian's book Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. I had heard of the book, but my friends very high recommendations of it prompted me to order it. 

My friend and I had been discussing the issue of "critical thinking skills" and how much of the movement that has developed around this concept has been co-opted by postmodernist thinkers.

Since I had to wait for snail mail, I looked the book up at Oxford University Press. Obviously I can't adequately assess the book until I get it, but I notice that the summary at Oxford indicates that that his main line of argument is that postmodernists that postmodernists assume science is not the only way of knowing the world.

This chapter introduces a thesis that is enormously influential in the contemporary academy – Equal Validity: there are many radically different, mutually incompatible, yet ‘equally valid’ ways of knowing the world, with science being just one of them. It explains in a general way how constructivist views of knowledge might be thought to underwrite this thesis.

Boghassian presumably argues against this thesis. Of course, on this particular thesis, I would find myself on the side of the postmodernists. There are clearly other ways of knowing than science. Science could never have been developed if there weren't. 

I have addressed this issue a number of times, including here, here, and here.

Now this doesn't necessarily affect the usefulness of Boghassian's arguments against the postmodernists. In fact, this is the interesting thing about arguments between modernists (of which Boghassian is one) and postmodernists: They're both right in many of their critiques of each other. Modernists limit their toolbox to only one tool, and postmodernists seem to reject limits altogether. 

The holes in modernism's epistemological net exclude things that should not be excluded and the holes in postmodernism's net are so big they let too many things through.

It seems to me many scholars like Boghassian use the word "science" in the same way that they charge postmodernists use "knowledge" or even "thinking skills," that is to say, without clear definition.

If you define science narrowly--as that method by which the hard sciences come to their conclusions, then you exclude universally acknowledged forms of reasoning (such as those practiced by philosophers like Boghassian) that, of necessity, he must himself practice in his critique of postmodernism. And if you define it so broadly as to encompass rational inquiry in general, then to call it "scientific reasoning" is misleading, since it implies only that form of reasoning used in the hard sciences is valid.

In fact, asserting that "scientific reasoning is the only valid form of reasoning" is itself vulnerable to the argument against postmodernism Boghassian apparently uses in one of his chapters; namely, that the assertion is a performative contradiction: If the assertion "scientific reasoning is the only valid form of reasoning" is true, then scientific reason cannot be the only valid form of reasoning since there is no way to arrive at that conclusion using scientific reasoning (unless, again, your definition of scientific reasoning includes all forms of rational inquiry, which, again, is misleading).

In any case, I await the book.