Thursday, August 15, 2019

Something to Look At Redux

I find myself baffled by some of the responses to the previous.

Call the reading "Trump is just a sociopath" #1, and the "Ray of Hope" reading #2.

I am not asking anyone to believe either one. You can read it either way, or in some other way, that's a personal matter.

All I am asking is that you accept that some people -- people who are not you -- might read it the other way. If you land on #1, accept that someone else might land on #2. And vice versa.

You might well say, as a good leftie, that #2 is a ludicrous reading. Fine. That is just another way to select reading #1, but with vigor and commitment. Laudable, but irrelevant. So what if it's ludicrous? Lots of people believe ludicrous things. You probably have a couple of your own, although at present you don't think they're ludicrous.

The undercurrent I think I detect among Good Lefties is this: Everyone actually thinks #1, but Trump supporters are lying and pretend to think #2 which is, well, it's wrong.


  1. Surely there is a point to be made but you’ve chosen the wrong example to illustrate it.

    I speak only to people who accept the same assumptions that I do: There is such a thing as objective truth and pure moral relativism must be rejected. Accepting that, we cannot accept that there are people who would choose the “Ray Of Hope” interpretation any more than we can accept the mutterings of a drunkard who pushes by us on the sidewalk, talking to himself. We don’t question that the drunkard is driven by some internal demon just as we must not question the fact that every Trump supporter—every last one of ‘em—is driven by hate or irrational fear or their upcoming plans to shoot up a school. These thoughts are not part of reasonable political discourse.

    I know lots of people who disagree with me about this or that issue. Our disagreement isn’t ludicrous; their un-Braverman like thinking is probably a sign of good sense instead of a symbol that there aren’t two (or more) sides to any question. But none of these people who disagree with me are standing outside the Tallahassee Civic Arena wearing a MAGA hat.

    I am fully aware that in making this point, I’ve consigned nearly half the population of the United States to a point outside the mainstream political spectrum and possibly within the mainstream spectrum of the mentally disturbed. Is that surprising? You should pick up a newspaper sometime.

    BTW, we know exactly what Trump was thinking at the moment this picture was taken. The same is true about pretty much every other moment in his life because he is almost always compulsively talking or texting. As we holding the baby, he was going on—in a probably false manner—about the size of the his crowd versus the crowd that Beto drew on a previous occasion.

    1. It sounds like you are in the "Ok, people might read it #2, and they are idiots" which is perfectly normal.

      When anyone disagrees with me, I suffer a pang of "well, they're wrong, and probably an idiot, at least on this point" and depending on context and relationship I am polite or not about it. Of course we think a person who disagrees with us is wrong -- if we didn't, we'd agree, right?

      I certainly think Trump supporters are wrong.

      My goal here is not to find agreement with Trump's supporters, or to apologize for them, or to justify them. I want merely to understand them.

      I reject the idea that they are a band of moronic psychopaths on the grounds that it seems unlikely that there are so many, as well as on the grounds that if there ARE that many, then the correct course of action is to start digging a bunker in the back yard which I don't want to do.

      To change the world, I think we need to understand it.

    2. You don’t try to understand what the drunkard is muttering to himself, do you? Nor do I advise that you start. Play with your kids, roast Ming Thein. You’ve got more important things to do.

    3. If there were 50,000,000 of them controlling who sets the policy in my nation I might try to work out what they're saying, yes.

      One? Eh, sometimes, but usually not.

  2. I think your undercurrent is spot on. There was a conversation between Sam Harris and Scott Adams I heard, probably on Harris' podcast, where Adams made his case for Trump being a "master persuader" and Harris making the point that he found Trump utterly unpersuasive. They mostly talked past each other, not a bad metaphor for the larger culture.
    I would have thought that the occasion was too solemn for a media photo-op but then I come from a more reserved culture (Canada). I further think that the culture would have been better off had this photo not been taken and shown, but I also think that my standards may be a bit high. In some vague way, I believe in moral and intellectual osmosis. If we surround ourselves with shite and stupid, that will become the new norm.
    It could very well be that in 2-3 months time, this photo may surface in contexts in which people don't know the back story, and just see their two heroes smiling with a baby in their arms. I think that may already be true, I am trying not to assume that everyone knows about the El Paso shootings. I also think it's nuts to think like this, but there you go.

  3. Hi Amolitor, when I saw the picture in the previous post, I expected these reactions. This is not a surprise. I agree with Paul Braverman when he says that is not probably a good example. For me, it is too much emotional for the moment and for that reason is almost impossible for people to stand back from the picture and to try to see it in different ways (i. the way their political opponents would see it); you can not expect that for now. I also agree with him about the disturbing relativist considerations, for the same reason as him. I think that there are enough accumulated facts about Trump behaviour to conclude in a fairly objective way that there is not much to hesitate about the interpretation to be given to the picture. So your initial point for me is interesting, obviously, but I believe you did not choose the right picture to illustrate it. This is of course a very personal opinion.

    BTW, when you answer that there is room for variations and that people elected Trump, this is a slippery position : many dictators and openly anti-democratic people were elected by the past (and still now) in the world. This does not make them more acceptable for that reason; this just emphasizes how stupid people are.

    1. It is certainly a pretty extreme example, but I think it's vitally important that people who see it one way make some effort to grasp how it might be seen another way.

      Neo-fascism is making substantial strides in all of the west, and part of the problem is that the "good guys" (that is to say, you and me) are terrible at grasping the points of view of other people.

      We tend to dismiss them as dummies, as bad people.

      They *know*, and they don't like it. Their dislike of being (as they see it) looked down on, misunderstood, dismissed, has grave political consequences.

    2. Yes, I agree of course. I am not saying that they are fundamentally and by essence "bad" people; the vast majority of them are just dumb/afraid/self-centered people (only a minority of them is very cynical). But I guess we agree too that (i) both points of view (them and ours) are not morally and ethically equivalent and (ii) this does not make these people less dangerous as they are very easy to manipulate and behave as a pack. I have no problem to make the intellectual effort to understand their motivation, but this is not equivalent to consider that both positions are by essence equivalent because it only depends on which side you are; this would be relativism and relativism allows some people to justify about anything. "My opinion is as valuable as yours" is their motto, and I cannot agree with that. That was my point.

    3. It happens that I *am* a moral relativist, but also that I think I am right and am prepared to fight on that point ;)

    4. I am not sure to understand the subtlety here (do you mean you disagree on my point?). To make things clearer: we are not talking here about opinions for which there is no "moral" or "ethical" reference, as we would talk about personal tastes for food. We talk here about opinions/behaviors for which *there is* a moral (and even a legal) frame. This makes a huge difference and this is where relativism is the poison; it pretends that opinions/behaviors do not have to account for that frame when it does not suits your views.

    5. I do not disagree on your point.

      For me, moral relativism is an academic point, not a practical one.

      Lacking a God, I cannot argue effectively that someone else's "I seek to maximize my personal pleasure, if necessary at the expense of everyone else" is in some fundamental and provable way better than my "I seek to maximize total human happiness" (or whatever, pick anything).

      I still despise the guy who thinks that way, though, and agree that he should be stopped. Vigorously, if necessary. Painfully, if possible. I cannot, however, back my fists up with a rigorous argument. It's just fists.

    6. Interesting indeed. Although I have no God either, I guess religion could have been (at least partly) developed as this necessity to define a moral frame (you should not) beyond the legal one (you cannot). It could thus be viewed in this social science as required in a society, up to a given maturity of the society, as one can argue that religion is not needed anymore when personal ethic is developed enough (I put here aside religions for which legal and moral aspects are one single thing, of course).

      We are now far far away from photography, I am afraid. Sorry for this off-road discussion. But it is a nice ride.

    7. As a former mathematician I may have a more rigorous, pedantic, and precise notion of what constitutes a sound argument. What many people would consider to be a sound argument based on assailable grounds I consider to be, well, not that.

      Ayn Rand once said in an interview (in her crappy fake Euro accent) that she had placed ethics on firm logical grounds, and I just had to laugh. You can't even do that with mathematics, I don't even have to look at her argument (whatever speed-addict ramblings they were) to know that she had done no such thing.

    8. I never heard of Ayn Rand before and so I've quickly read a bit about her philosophy (well,.... on Wikipedia). This sounds to me like the typical American view on how the world should be; no surprise that she is not well known on this side of the ocean. This will always surprise me how much some American people are against anything related to collectivism. Pretty selfish views at the first sight, at least. And totally irrational when you see the social mess you are in in the US. It sounds like the usual bullshit capitalism has been serving us for decades. Anyway.

  4. "Millions stand behind me." Google it.

    1. Millions DO stand behind Trump. I've seen the signs. And, yeah, millions stood behind Hitler. Much as I chafe against the idea that Trump is "basically Hitler" I will let it stand.

      Dismissing Hitler's supporters, and Trump's, as basically just unsalvagable racist idiots is neither true nor helpful. While I do not know a great deal about the forces arrayed against Hitler, it is evident that they failed. I do know a great deal about the forces arrayed against Trump, and they are setting up to fail.

      The correct answer, in both cases, is this:

      "We have to out-market, out-sell, this motherfucker"

      because in both cases we were up against *master* salesmen. Goebbels' ideas are literally indistinguishable from modern product marketing ideas, because they are the same ideas. Ditto Trump.

      And we have shithead wonks who sit around openly deploring vast swathes of the market, offering up "plans", and nobody whatever *selling*. You don't sell ice cream cones by sneering at 50% your customers, and you don't sell if by shouting the ingredients list at the other 50%.

      Pro-tip: if you wanna sell to someone, even a deplorable someone, you gotta know what makes them tick.

      You wanna out-market this motherfucker, or you wanna sit around bitching about what an asshole he is?

    2. Oh, you didn't get it. You, a photographer.

    3. I got distracted by the reference to Hitler, because I could not make much sense of the obvious reference to money in politics. I mean, sure, it's a thing?

      Are you just saying that the rich also support Trump? Ok, true, and interesting, but not precisely on-topic that I can see?

    4. That said, you are right. The best that could be said is that I was sloppy. mea culpa.

  5. Getting back to the picture...
    Out of its historic context, it's about hands. There are her elegant very expensive hands and the toad's corny disgusting thumbs-up, and the baby's little clutching fist that always seems to be saying, "please don't drop me."
    I'm worried that a vast proportion of the American people know the Left consider them deplorable and stupid, etc, and therefore they will never respect any reasoning or arguments presented to them from educated, articulate people. The more you present the scientific and historic evidence, the more they will dismiss you as a bore or antichrist.
    I remember JD Vance explaining that his hillbillies didn't hate the Obamas because of their race but because they were big city Ivy League-educated lawyers. It reminded me of my father; for him, a mustache alone could damn a man.

    1. I am likewise worried. My political mission, tiny and ineffective as it may be, is to point this out, and to try to make my little itty bitty corner of the Left have some empathy for the people they deplore.

  6. It is not at all difficult to understand why people supported Trump. They would have supported anyone who was seen to be against the current "power structure" (sorry, couldn't find a better way to put that). Middle class income has stagnated since the 1980s through no fault of their own, they did not benefit from all the deregulation and opening up of markets and especially not from the high-tech boom. And there seemed to be no solution to this being put forward by anyone.
    Have a listen to the Joe Rogan podcast with David Yang. I have no idea if the policies being put forward by Yang would work, even in theory, but he does an excellent job pointing out what has gone wrong in the culture.
    If you paint anyone into a corner, they're going to become deplorable very quickly. What is their other option? In this current case, it's doubly sad because they signed up with a grifter.
    As for Ayn Rand libertarianism, you have very powerful people like Charles Koch openly saying that he does not believe in Medicaid, public highways or any form of social programs at all. And he has the lobbying muscle to push those ideas, and has. Politicians now represent guys like him, not citizens, that much is pretty obvious (to me anyway).
    I think that in some ways, pictures like the ones above are a sideshow, a distraction.
    I am utterly astounded at the casual acceptance of Trump throwing paper towels at people after the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, for example. That one act alone would lose him an election, in saner times.