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The disconnect over romanticism, and what that says about unbelief

by Greg Krehbiel on 24 February 2017

This is one of those posts where I’m trying to grasp at something that I feel, but don’t quite have a handle on and probably can’t explain all that well. As usual, that won’t stop me from trying.

In my experience, there’s a correlation — not a perfect correlation, but a noticeable one — between people who (1) make light of things like love and romance and sentimentality, and (2) people who don’t believe in God. (I need a better description for what I mean by the things that fit in category 1. It’s something like transcendence, but not quite.)

From one perspective this makes perfect sense. If you don’t believe in meta stories, or meanings that go beyond the details, or … purpose, or something like that … then you’re not going to believe in God, which requires that sort of mental frame.

The two groups — people who don’t believe in God and who don’t believe in love — seem to have a broad characteristic of wanting a certain kind of proof or evidence.

Unbelievers like to say that they only want to believe things for which they have proof, but that’s a conceit. It’s not “proof” they want, but a particular kind of proof. They don’t want a philosophical proof, for instance, because that seems too squishy and unquantifiable. They want a measurable, tangible proof.

They’re reductionists at heart. They don’t want to see some tangible thing in the real world as an illustration of This Larger Thing in some other reality. They’re not looking for Meaning that lies behind the details, because “meaning” isn’t a “real” thing anyway (from their perspective). They’re content with the details. They’re “practical,” in that secularist sense of the word.

For such people, love and romance (and feelings in general) are just biology and social conditioning. They don’t point to anything greater. There’s no reason to “rise above” the mechanical and the ordinary because there is no above to rise to.

That all seems to hold together and make a coherent picture in my mind.

But from another perspective this portrait seems incredibly sad and foolish.

If you really believed that life was just the here and now — biology and blind, meaningless chance and all that — wouldn’t you want to be the existential hero and invent some meta story to spruce things up a bit?

If there’s no meaning, why not invent one? If there’s no Goddess of Love, why not pretend there is? Why not gild the lilly of your best human experiences by creating a meta story to go along with them?

It almost seems that it should be the skeptics and the unbelievers who should be the most avid devotees to Valentine’s Day and romantic love and … I don’t know, patriotism and whatnot.

The believers don’t even need that stuff. They already have a Transcendent Meaning to warm their winter evenings.

It’s precisely the unbeliever — the crude skeptic, the guy who wants facts and figures and only believes what he can prove — who needs Venus and Bacchus. So why doesn’t he just pretend?

“Because truth is too important to me,” I can hear him say.

Oh, BS.

What has truth ever done for you? “Truth” is the one meta story you cling to, because it justifies all your other psychological problems.

And that, I think, is the real answer. It all has to do with “the psychology of the individual,” as Jeeves would say.

Imagine for a moment that there is a place in the mind — or the brain, or the heart, or whatever works for your preferred anthropology — that makes sense of transcendent things. It’s the area of the mind that processes Meaning and Truth and Purpose and whatever it is that I mean by my category 1 above.

What if that area of the brain works differently in different people?

There is some evidence of a correlation between atheism and autism, which might be a related phenomenon, but that isn’t quite on point for what I’m talking about here.

What I’m suggesting (or wondering) is that there’s some faculty — call it the imaginative faculty, perhaps, or the “big picture” faculty if you prefer — that makes sense of things like love and romance and God and meaning and purpose. And, for that matter, some forms of philosophy.

If so, then perhaps the people who won’t invent Venus and Bacchus to give some joy and meaning to their lives actually can’t do it. They might try, but it just doesn’t work. They can’t convince themselves to play act that way. They internalize this as a respect for “truth,” but it’s really a failure of this imaginative / big picture faculty.

Or is it?

This is all just balderdash that I’ve dreamed up out of my own fevered mind, so don’t take it too seriously. But I do have a feeling there’s something to this, or something like it. Somewhere.

9 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-24  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Why facts don’t change our minds

by Greg Krehbiel on 23 February 2017

This is an interesting article. Why facts don’t change our minds.

Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted.

As with most studies like this, I think the conclusions are probably running ahead of the evidence. But it’s a phenomenon we see (or think we see) all the time, so we’re kinda primed to believe it.

My experience is that moderately educated people believe this — about other people. It’s like the old Don Francisco song, Everybody Else But Me.

It’s very rare for someone to read a study like this and question their own thought processes.

2 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-23  ::  Greg Krehbiel

“Teach your child to hold its tongue …”

by Greg Krehbiel on 23 February 2017

“… he’ll learn to speak soon enough.” — Ben Franklin.

I thought of that when I read this story. NFL QB says girls should be quiet.

2 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-23  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Will the Democrats go further left?

by Greg Krehbiel on 23 February 2017

I have heard from political analysts — you know, those people who got the last election completely wrong and actually laughed on camera in the face of the people who had it right — that when a party suffers a serious loss it often goes through a predictable cycle.

First it misreads the loss as a sign that it wasn’t crazy enough and tries to be even crazier. Then it suffers some time in the wilderness of ideological purity and in-fighting until it realizes it has to come back towards the center.

Whether that’s an accurate description of the past is for others to say, and even if it is there’s no guarantee that it helps anyone decide what to do now. I mention it simply because it seems to describe what the Democrats are about to do.

Signs seem to indicate that the party is going to go even further towards socialism, identity politics, and defining themselves by protest. I.e., angry people with signs who sometimes break windows.

My reaction: go for it, Democrats. Make yourselves even more odious than you are now.

I would love to see the Democrats break into a hard-left party and a more centrist party.

It would be nice (I think) if we moved away from a two-party system, but I would like it to happen while Republicans are in control. Not because I trust Republicans (I don’t, and I’m not one), but because leaving the Democrats in control for any length of time would be suicidal.

Let the Democrats split and create a couple smaller parties, and then let the Republicans do the same. Let’s have four or five political parties.

Power needs to be distributed more widely, and the political parties have too much power. They need to break up, and now seems like a good time.

 ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-23  ::  Greg Krehbiel

“Extend” the 2nd Amendment to “weapons of war”? What were these judges smoking?

by Greg Krehbiel on 22 February 2017

I’ve said before that I think the 2nd Amendment is anachronistic and needs to be rewritten to fit with modern times. We no longer have citizen militias armed with muskets and swords. For good or bad we have standing, professional armies. As a result, most of the purpose and intent of the 2nd Amendment isn’t relevant any more.

Still, the 2nd Amendment is the law of the land and it grants citizens the right to keep and bear arms. It’s reasonable to ask “What kinds of arms?”

The 4th Circuit took that up in review of a Maryland law banning so-called assault weapons. The opinion says “we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war.”

“Extend”? What is he talking about? That’s silly talk. The entire context of the 2nd Amendment is “weapons of war.” E.g., “a well-regulated militia ….”

That raises the question of where to draw the line. Can citizens own tanks? F-15s? Nukes?

Yes. Precisely. That’s why the 2nd Amendment needs to be changed.

People talk about the 2nd Amendment as if it’s about hunting, or sport shooting. It’s not about those things at all. It’s about war, and it’s about citizens keeping and bearing “weapons of war” — so they can fight off aggressive neighbors or an oppressive central government.

But that doesn’t make any sense any more. No bunch of citizens with AR-15s is going to stand up to the U.S. military.

Totally aside from the 2nd Amendment, people have a natural law right to protect themselves, and that’s why they should be able to have small arms. But government has a perfectly legitimate role in putting caps and limitations on that. Which is why the 2nd Amendment needs to be changed.

12 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-22  ::  Greg Krehbiel

How do you solve a problem like Milo Yiannopoulos?

by Greg Krehbiel on 21 February 2017

I’ve mentioned Milo Yiannopoulos before. He’s a flamboyant homosexual who claims to be serious about his Catholic faith and is somewhat conservative in his political views. He has some very entertaining videos on YouTube and is very good at tearing modern cry-baby liberalism to shreds.

He also calls Trump “Daddy.”

Yes, he’s disturbing, in more ways than one, and he intends to be.

I think he’s a genius — very quick on his feet and a talented speaker — but I don’t agree with everything he says. I’m glad he’s out there in the marketplace of ideas, but I don’t particularly like the guy.

He’s made a name for himself by being a provocateur, so his comments are often way over the top. I don’t like that sort of behavior, but … that may be one reason he’s offered $250K book deals and I’m not. (I’m reminded of all the people giving Ann Coulter advice about the tone of her books, which sell 20 times as many copies as the books by the people lecturing her.)

Milo’s flamboyant self promotion and provocative comments are also one of the reasons his $250K book deals are yanked by skittish publishers (and a speaking engagement is canceled) after he is (falsely) accused of promoting pedophilia.

If you’ve read anything about this, most of what you’ve read is probably wrong, just as the stories about Trump’s comments on Sweden were wrong. (The media decided to criticize Trump for things he never actually said.)

When “conservative” blood is in the water (scare quotes because Trump and Milo are not all that conservative), all pretext of objectivity goes out the window. If you don’t know that by now, you’re not paying attention. Whenever a conservative is summarily executed by the media / social media mob, you should suspect as a matter of course that they’ve misrepresented the story. You’ll be right ten times out of ten (allowing for significant digits).

I read a transcript of the offending conversation, and NPR seems to have it about right:

Yiannopoulos appears to condone statutory rape and sexual relationships between boys and men.

That’s fair.

It’s not fair, near as I can tell, to accuse him of supporting pedophilia, which is a different thing.

The distinction is that pedophilia is attraction to children — people who have not passed puberty. Sexual attraction to people who have passed puberty but are still not adults is called ephebophilia. The distinction is a fine one, but it’s a valid distinction. Kudos to NPR for speaking precisely.

Even though Milo says (in the transcript) that the current age of consent (16 in the UK) is “about right,” I don’t see how you can read his comments without concluding that he supports the idea that it’s okay for boys younger than 16 — even as young as 13 — to have sex with older men. IOW, as NPR says, “statutory rape and sexual relationships between boys and men.”

Unfortunately, we’re on hair-trigger offense these days, especially when the offender is a conservative, or at least to the right of The New York Times. The sharks on social media want blood immediately, and it’s not acceptable to take a day or two to get a clarification. Consequently, the cowards at CPAC uninvited him and the cowards at Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal.

Both decisions were wrong, for different reasons.

Disagreeing with the current age of consent is hardly a hanging offense, especially if S&S ever wants to publish anything by Muslims. Remember that Mohammed married a 9 year old, and it seems the Koran would permit marriage to a girl who had reached puberty. So I don’t see why Milo’s comments are enough to cancel a book deal. I’m not trying to promote Muslim views on the treatment of women by any stretch, but I think we have to admit that in the modern world there can be reasonable discussions about the age of consent. It’s hardly enough to cancel a book. It’s not as if S&S publishes Sunday School curricula.

CPAC is another matter. If “conservative” means anything, it does not mean supporting homosexual sex between 13 year olds and older men. They should have expressed their concerns and given Milo a chance to clarify his comments. Jumping on board with the left’s proclivity for execution first and facts afterward is also not “conservative.” If Milo chose to persist in his support of underage sex, CPAC should have disinvited him — after hearing him out.

11 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-21  ::  Greg Krehbiel

The evil social media platform of the future

by Greg Krehbiel on 20 February 2017

Social media platforms take a lot of heat generally — and particularly in the last election cycle — for furthering “fake news.” For example, somebody cites an erroneous statistic, links to a phony “news” story or some other baloney, and suddenly it’s “viral.” Millions of people all over the world now believe this little piece of nonsense.

Allegedly “responsible” platforms want to do something about that. They don’t want to be the means by which awful things happen. (I’m speaking somewhat ambiguously, but you know the real deal, which is that they don’t want to be the means of electing a Donald Trump.)

This has caused some social platforms to re-evaluate their role and come up with a new way of policing content. And yes, it is policing content, whether that’s a crackdown on hate group speech and recruitment, Twitter banning Milo Yiannopoulos or allegations that Facebook censored conservative news.

As I mentioned before, Facebook has changed its mission statement along these lines.

This may seem slightly irrelevant, but it’s not. Bear with me.

Did you know that artificial intelligence is getting so good that computers can now write news stories? They can. There was a talk on it at a publishers conference I attended, and I’ve read about it in other placed.

Now please keep that in the back of your mind for a minute while you consider this, which might also not seem relevant, but it is.

Different types of arguments appeal to different people based on their political views. I’ve discussed Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations” before, but there are others who have recognized that liberals and conservatives rely on different moral factors when judging an issue. Along those lines, you might take a look at this: The Simple Psychological Trick to Political Persuasion.

The author claims that an argument based on patriotism and loyalty is going to be more effective with conservatives than an argument based on fairness. Similar tricks can be done on liberals. If you cast increased military spending as a poverty-fighting tool, liberals are more likely to get on board.

Now, pull the pieces together.

1. Social media platforms are very effective at spreading a point of view.

2. The owners of the social media platform want to promote good thinking and discourage bad thinking.

3. These platforms might know more about you than you know about yourself, by tracking what you click on, what you like, who your friends are, etc.

4. There is a science to manipulating people to accept a certain point of view based on their political leanings.

5. Artificial intelligence is able to write (or rewrite) stories taking all that data into account.

The conclusion is rather obvious, isn’t it?

Social media platforms will use these technologies to present the positions they approve of in a way calculated for maximum persuasion based on that individual user’s profile.

6 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-20  ::  Greg Krehbiel

I believe in white privilege, but I don’t believe it’s all that significant

by Greg Krehbiel on 19 February 2017

An old friend and I jog around the DC monuments from time to time, and the other day we got on the subject of white privilege. He doesn’t buy into it because his ancestors never had slaves and had to work very hard to get ahead in life.

I think he was reacting to the idea of white guilt, not white privilege. “White guilt” is a kind of “sins of the fathers” thing that makes contemporary white people feel bad for what their ancestors did. That’s a weird thing no matter how you cut it, and I generally agree with his opinion on white guilt.

“White privilege” is something else. It means that the playing field is tipped in favor of whites, and that whites enjoy special privileges. An example might be that white people generally go to better schools and have better job opportunities.

Some people make counter arguments, e.g., by pointing out that if a white man and an equally qualified black man apply for a job, the black man will probably get the job because of affirmative action. How is that white privilege? Or they might ask how much good “white privilege” is doing all the incredibly poor people in Appalachia.

In my opinion this is all to say that the math is complicated, and it’s not as if every white guy enjoys just as much white privilege as every other white guy.

Still, I think it’s undeniable that whites have somewhat of an advantage in our culture. We can debate over causes and who’s to blame and all that sort of thing, but the reality remains.

The bigger question is how significant it is, and what to do about it.

I admit there is white privilege. But I don’t think it’s as big a deal as many people do, because I think there are far more powerful privileges at play.

There are lots of privileges in life. For example, I am enormously privileged to have been born in America to an educated, married woman who was well nourished and healthy, and not a drug addict. As far as I can tell, any one of those things — (1) born in America, (2) to an educated woman, (3) who was married, (4) who was not a drug addict, and (5) was healthy — is far more influential than what race she happened to be.

Or let’s put it another way. If we were to compare the fortunes of people who are born to a healthy, married, educated, drug-free woman to the fortunes of people who are born to an unhealthy, single, poorly educated, drug-addicted woman, I think those factors would be enormously significant, and that race would be mostly irrelevant.

So yes, there really is white privilege, but other privileges are far more consequential. Rather than worrying about “white privilege,” we should be working to create an environment where as many children as possible have the kinds of advantages that truly make a difference.

13 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-19  ::  Greg Krehbiel

Is Facebook’s new mission a little ominous?

by Greg Krehbiel on 17 February 2017

Facebook is changing its mission statement.

Here’s the old one.

To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Sounds like something that should be printed on the inside of a Dove candy wrapper, or on the side of a Celestial Seasonings tea.

The article doesn’t say what the new mission statement is, but there’s this.

[There are] five goals: to help users build communities that are supportive, that are safe, that are informed, that are civically engaged, and that are inclusive.

I read that as their intent to nanny things a little more.

9 comments  ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-17  ::  Greg Krehbiel

“The failing New York Times”

by Greg Krehbiel on 17 February 2017

I love the image to the right. (I stole it from Instapundit. Click for a larger version if it’s too hard to read.)

Trump is continuing his war on the media, and some of them are acting as if this is a Great Constitutional Crisis. As far as I know, the president still has freedom of speech and can say what he likes. Attacking the press may or may not be smart, but it’s hardly a threat to our democracy.

Let’s take it as given (polls seem to bear it out) that the public doesn’t believe or trust the media. So … if the public doesn’t believe or trust the media, why are they still in business? Who is the “check” on media power?

It should be the media consumer. If we quit buying The Washington Post, or visiting its website — or if we take a page from the rabid left and pressure advertisers not to support them — then the Post is no more. Right?

Uh … no. Jeff Bezos comes along and props it up. Just as, for example, the Unification Church has propped up The Washington Times.

Since media is so ideological (let’s be honest and quit the silly pretense about objectivity), it’s not subject to the kind of market forces that, say, Twinkies would be. Nobody considers it a social obligation to prop up Twinkies, but some people — Bezos and the late Rev. Moon, for example — have considered it important to prop up certain kinds of journalism.

Which is all to say that while media is subject to market forces, it’s not a pure market. There is a sense that professional media is a public good. That sentiment has led to things like taxpayer funding for “public radio.”

If the media is not accountable to the market — at least not completely — to whom is it accountable? Who watches the watchers?

President Obama frequently complained about Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. And he had every right to do so — whether or not his criticisms were just. He can say what he likes.

President Trump can refer to “the failing New York Times” and call CNN “very fake news” if he wants. That’s perfectly okay.

In fact, I’m loving it. It’s about time somebody stood up to these stuffed shirts and told them they’re not the demigods they seem to believe themselves to be.

 ::  Add your comment  ::  2017-02-17  ::  Greg Krehbiel

2017-02-16 :: Greg Krehbiel // General
Thinking about thinking
+ 1 comment
2017-02-15 :: Greg Krehbiel // General
What? Scientists lied?
2017-02-14 :: Greg Krehbiel // General
Who are the brown shirts here?