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On Being Fearful of the Truth

Stretching Truth

I answer, that it is assuming very much more. There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action: and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right. ~J.S. Mill in “On Liberty”

I am a huge fan of John Stuart Mill –  despite the fact that he pretty much loathed conservatives. Classical liberals are the kind I like –  the ones that believed truth was ultimately subversive. But here, Mill is responding to the contention that it is essentially proper to “forbid bad men to pervert society by the propagation of opinions which we regard as false and pernicious.” He defended free speech because he believed that truth would ultimately prevail, and that the market place of ideas is necessary because absolute certainty can rarely be found. Building that market place is a hard thing to do, maintaining that market place in the face of political ideology is a fearsome chore.

Why am I entertaining an entry like this? I’m hoping it’s close to a self-evident truth –  ask yourself why our current administration is so rabidly opposed to using words like terrorist, radical Islam, Jihadist, etc. Or for that matter, why policy wonks, politicians, and university administrators and department heads would tie research funds (any funding for that matter) to ideological purity? What in the world happened to Karl Popper’s notion of empirical falsification? Why are social scientists so loathe to actually seek contradictory evidence to a pet theory? I would suggest that it’s simply a matter of the left wanting to squelch honest debate and reasonable inquiry.

From a Spanish language newspaper, La Vanguardia, Woody Allen said, “it would be good…if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly.” Ok, that’s a nut case movie director… How about MSNBC’s Chris Matthews? You know, the guy that just won’t get off of Obama’s leg? “Why doesn’t the president go in there, nationalize an industry and get the job done for the people?” asks Matthews on Monday’s  Hardball. I don’t even feel like chasing down the New York Times editorial that suggested we should be more like China…

Why am I entertaining an entry like this? Because an online buddy sent me a flier that concerned the education of government workers about race. Why are blacks “over-represented” in prisons? Is the use of the death penalty discriminating against blacks? Is it possible that some test scores for advancing firemen actually reflected preparation for the test rather than discrimination against people of color? Is the received wisdom actually true? Or has the truth been squelched for the purpose of not permitting its refutation? Perhaps.

…the logic of validation in the social sciences is identical to that of the other sciences.

But you wouldn’t know this from social sciences as it is, by and large, practiced today… and while there is no doubt some good work being done in each of the social sciences, the general state of attempts to understand human behavior has degenerated to the point that it is far from clear that we are better off for their existence.

There are many reasons for this, but primary is the massive infusion of political ideology into the social sciences. Nearly all of the essays included here concern issues for which ideological desire has replaced curiosity as the prime mover.  ~Steven Goldberg in “Fads and Fallacies in the Social Sciences

White Devil

Think about some of these and prepare to challenge your own assumptions about the received wisdom you walk around with each day. Let us see if the facts are worth finding. Let us see if we can search out the truth for the purpose of action. And to challenge some of the received wisdom of the day, here’s another video from Zonation over at PJTV concerning Blanco Diablo: Fear & Loathing & Hatred & Racism in Arizona. As usual, PJTV won’t let me embed their video, but take a trip over and watch Zo –  it’s a great bit of mockumentary.

And speaking of those white devils, there was a great article in The Weekly Standard a bit ago about “The Critical Trio” –  the chuckle heads from the Frankfort School –  that were pretty much opposed to “tolerance, democracy, and free speech.” I’ll close this bit of rant with his most excellent closing:

It is, perhaps, even more striking to observe the degree to which the group’s key thesis—the notion that the freedoms and prosperity offered by the United States and other advanced industrial societies are meaningless because they lack spiritual depth or, as Marcuse put it, are “one-dimensional”—has been taken up not by scholars eager to publish books about “late capitalism” but by true believers determined to destroy what some of them call “the Great Satan.”~James Seaton inThe Weekly Standard

Is it Open for Discussion?

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  1. Jeff
    June 3rd, 2010 at 11:49 | #1

    I drive my wife crazy with things like this. She thinks I’m intolerant because saying “think outside the box” to me elicits the response “define the box and why it’s so bad.” Received wisdom can be as complex as social theories or as simple as those annoying sayings corporate consultants are so fond of.

    Things that make my skin crawl when I hear them are “no weapons of mass destruction were found,” “Bush stole the election,” and now “how about that racist Arizona law.” It shows a staggering lack of knowledge and a dismaying amount of mimicry. Responses, of course, are “read the freakin Duelfer report for yourself,” “learn about the election process,” and “read the damn law.”

    I used to say I was Libertarian, now I think I’m more of a Constitutional purist. I don’t know if that has a name or not. But the effect of the leftist pressure in my life is actually making me look at your average Republican and forgive the parts I don’t agree with just so I don’t drown in a sea of controlled press, controlled teachers, and controlled entertainment industry.

    If you really want to shatter something most people think they know a lot about, read the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. I consider myself reality-based, but after reading only the first third of that book I can see I was as ignorant as any “Bush lied” shouting head – at least about Columbine 😉

    Love your posts, Steve.

  2. June 4th, 2010 at 10:15 | #2

    As always, well written and thought provoking. I often am challenged by my two sons to look at what I believe and why I believe it. They both enjoy pointing out my old fashioned conservatism and many of my assumptions. And, they are often right to do so. For example, I have always believed that elections in the US were fair and honest. Since moving to Oregon 6 years ago and not going to a polling place since (vote by mail only in Oregon), I often wonder what really happens to my vote after it gets in the mail and how many people vote multiple times.
    Did Marcus Aurelius have it right? “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
    .-= tom Vail´s last blog ..Advice for the President – Stop the Leak =-.

  3. June 6th, 2010 at 10:11 | #3

    @Jeff I drive my wife crazy with similar issues. I think part of it is growing up during a time when the battle cry was “challenge the dominant paradigm!” …words to that effect. We had a similar conversation when an ad campaign used the notion of “coloring outside the lines.” While I understood the intent, I thought the commercial itself was facile and actually promoted superficial thinking. I grumbled about it.

    She said, “Sometimes you should color outside the lines.” I said, “Why bother buying the coloring book in the first place? Get a blank piece of paper and make what you will… why make the coloring book look like shit?” Thanks to my tactless point making, the conversation degenerated from there. Like Lazarus, Finster’s second rule of domestic tranquility applied: When in an argument with your lover, and you discover you’re right, apologize, AT ONCE! OK, perhaps I wasn’t precisely right 😀

    I think my essential “peeve” is similar to yours – be careful of your own presuppositions, you picked them up like you picked up most childhood diseases… uncritically from your family and friends. As a consequence, I tend to share that skin crawling sensation for virtually the same reasons – ESPECIALLY with those annoying little corporate sayings.

    I’ve read Columbine – totally freaked me out. Initially, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how poorly the media reported the story. Had their little bomb detonated…?

    Glad you like the posts – maybe we can hash out what a Constitutional purist is, I like the sound of the name 😉 I don’t want my kids drowning in a sea of central (control) planning either. Hopefully most of America will start following Texas’ lead with their textbooks. Perhaps a solid grounding in America’s founding will help the next generation of leaders. I think what will help them more is what their family instills… those first principles, those presuppositions that they’ll (hopefully) challenge and not find wanting.

    Cheers buddy!

  4. June 6th, 2010 at 10:38 | #4

    @tom Vail Thank you Tom. I find my daughters manage that same thing for me – I have sometimes changed or refined my thinking on some issues thanks to their unique take on some issues. I’ve pretty much trusted our electoral system, and even pooh-poohed Jimmy Carter’s “denunciation” of our elections processes – all the way up until I took a serious look at some of his charges. Part of the reason I’m enjoying your series at Responsibility is that it seeks not only to challenge but to persuade. The more perspectives I absorb, the more likely I am to find the truth? 😀

    I believe Marcus Aurelius was wrong. I do think the lion’s share of what we hear is probably opinion, but I also think there are valid and invalid opinions – opinions that are more likely to conform to reality. If there is only perspective and opinion, and the truth and facts are a fiction, then these conversations about seeking the best path are really meaningless. For me, the simple fact that we are able to communicate, however poorly, constitutes evidence of an objective reality.

    And I’m really bummed that I missed an important part of that objective reality! I couldn’t swing a trip by your vineyards, and I was really hoping to make that happen on Memorial Day. 🙁 I think that on my next sunny weekend, my wife and I will climb on the Harley and at least drive by your vineyard and shoot some pictures of the countryside. I once worked in the private sector near there – beautiful country!

    Cheers Tom.

  5. June 7th, 2010 at 22:04 | #5

    If you drive by and don’t stop to say hi, I’ll be pissed. I was already a bit whizzed just from holding my breath for your arrival over Memorial Day weekend. Nah. Just make sure you stop by and pull us out of the garden, vineyard, or olives (where we live during daylight hours when not at day jobs).
    If your weekend is Thursday Friday (?) we are likely in the yard from 5:00ish until almost dark. It is a beautiful time to take a ride. Hope to see you soon.

    .-= tom Vail´s last blog ..Advice for the President – Stop the Leak =-.

  6. June 10th, 2010 at 05:30 | #6

    @tom Vail I’m going to Wed/Thu weekends in July, so I’ll be looking for you then! I’ll have a couple cameras cause I like riding my motorcycle and finding things to shoot 🙂

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