Dialectic, not debate

I am learning to hate debate.

Really hate debate. It’s everywhere, and it’s bad and wrong, and I think it’s contributing to our social ills — all of social media is soaking in this ridiculous debate culture, and it’s stunting and poisoning our interactions.

Sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I can’t help it — my eyes cross and steam trickles out of my ears at just the word “debate”. And I’m not alone: here’s an article from a scientist who won’t debate science.

In fact, as a general rule, I refuse to debate basic science in public. There are two reasons for this: first, I’m a terrible debater and would almost certainly lose. The skills necessary to be a good scientist (coding, caring about things like “moist static energy”, drinking massive amounts of coffee) aren’t necessarily the same skills that will convince an audience in a debate format. It is very fortunate that things like the atomic model of matter do not rest on my ability to be charming or persuasive.

But second, and maybe more importantly: once you put facts about the world up for debate, you’ve already lost. Science isn’t a popularity contest; if it were, I’d definitely vote to eliminate quantum mechanics, set π to 1, and put radium back in toothpaste. I really, really don’t want sea levels to rise, rainfall patterns to shift, and heat waves to intensify. Climate change is definitely not my first choice. But physics and chemistry don’t care what I, or anyone else, wants.

On the first point: I agree, debate is a very specific skill, and it takes practice to do well. It’s not something that is part of scientific training. Maybe it’s used more in law, but law ain’t reality. There are useful skills involved in debating, like logic and rhetoric, and maybe it’s good for kids to do some of it in high school…but after that, it’s not relevant to most real world interactions, which are an order of magnitude more complex than anything dealt with in debating.

On the second point: YES. This is the cardinal sin of the debate mentality, that you reduce the problems of the world to two sides, and you settle the issue with rhetoric and a popularity contest. That’s not how anything works. It’s a garbage strategy for simultaneously avoiding dealing with the real issues, elevating the two artificially simplified positions to an equal standing, and allowing the most golden-tongued babbler to come away with a sense of accomplishment. So you’ve got hacks like William Lane Craig acquiring a reputation as a great debater, when all he is is someone who recites horseshit with great confidence.

This attitude that debate, no matter how bogus the subject, is healthy has permeated everything. So the media, instead of explaining a subject with sufficient depth that the consumer comes away having learned something, instead takes the lazy approach of pitting experts against assholes, putting them on panels and letting them yell it out, and allowing the audience on both sides feel like they won. This is why Kellyanne Conway still gets invited on talk shows — she’s a lying crapnugget, but the media munerators who organize these spectacles just want the conflict. This applies to Jack Kingston, Corey Lewandowski, any of that mob of demented liars who do the talk show circuit. Why? It’s not as if you’re going to receive any insight from them…but the media just keeps on booking the same ol’ goofballs and wasting our time.

This is why people are playing games with that flat earth nonsense. Being a contrarian gets you a platform, automatically, and the wrongness gets amplified.

So lately I’ve said on my youtube hangouts that I’m not going to bother with the creationists who beg me to invite them on — they have nothing of value to contribute. They’ve been getting a bit irate, like this flaming nutcase who calls himself seeksmostprophecy, or something goofy like that.

You like to talk about creationists, slandering them, calling them names and you don’t allow them to participate. No honest discourse there. You disqualify yourself as a scientist.

Yes, I call myself a scientist, which means I understand and accept the evidence that says the earth is old, and organisms evolved. Arguing otherwise disqualifies them from rational discourse — there are more interesting things to discuss than their ignorance. What really annoys them is when you tell them they don’t get to freeload off your expertise, and they’re not going to get equal billing with even a mediocre, unknown scientist.

But still, it’s incessant: every time you point out some failure of reason or knowledge by some guy on the internet, his defenders will rush in with their ploy to salvage his reputation: debate! Debate him now!

My God, your a professor! LOL,

Your dimwitted almost child like analysis of doctor Jordans immense knowledge wisdom and expertise is almost comical to the degree of being woefully sad and pathetic.

Id love to see this brainwashed tepid clown debate the professor.

He would chew what little you have to offer up and spit it out like the diseased refuse it is..

You could have just shown that he was wrong about the sum of 2 + 2, and they’ll whine at you that you have to resolve this great conflict with a debate. No, I don’t. I’ve just explained why he’s wrong, given you the correct answer, and you don’t get to prolong your time in the spotlight with more clueless yammering.

So, no, fuck off. Sometimes that’s all you can say.

Or you can be more, umm, smooth about it, like Jay Smooth. He’s suggesting that you don’t give the trolls air to breathe.

Note that this does not mean you ignore the trolls, but that you use whatever platform you’ve got to express yourself and your disagreement, and you don’t let them commandeer your platform to promote nonsense. Discuss and disagree, but don’t enable further promotion of bad ideas. Dialectic, not debate.



You might also check out a pair of philosophers arguing about “Is Debate Useful?” over tea, or whatever stronger stuff ContraPoints is drinking. They’re not quite as dismissive as I am, but still, they think it’s a question worth pondering.

I’ve come to my conclusion.

No, you’re not going to change my mind by debating me. But maybe if you can put together a coherent, constructive argument otherwise, I might consider it.

Remember the “Brights”?

Oy, that was an ugly misstep. It was foolish to try and label your identity something that makes everyone outside your group feel like you’re calling them dim.

But now some tiny group of people have started a really stupid meme campaign to relabel “white people” as “people of light”. I don’t think you can do that accurately, unless you’re so white you glow in the dark.

Anyway, I’ve put a few of their goofy memes below the fold if you want to laugh at them.

[Read more…]

Free speech, but only if you aren’t rude to Jordan Peterson

Lindsay Shepherd is suing Wilfrid Laurier University for causing her emotional distress and making her unemployable by criticizing her use of a Jordan Peterson clip in a classroom. I can sort of see both sides in that argument: it is stressful for a TA to receive a rebuke for their teaching style, and the faculty committee was a bit heavy handed. But on the other hand, the faculty also have a responsibility to regulate what’s taught in lab and discussion sections, so they were well within their rights to tell her that was inappropriate.

It’s a stretch to claim it affects her future employment, though, because it was Lindsay Shepherd herself who recorded and released the contents of a private meeting. If these faculty were contacting prospective employers and telling them “don’t hire her, she likes Peterson”, that would be a different thing…did they do that? No? Then what’s made her unemployable is her release of the recording.

But OK, this does sound like something that should be settled in court.

What doesn’t, though, is that now Jordan Peterson is suing Wilfrid Laurier for defamation…for statements made in private, that were made public by Lindsay Shepherd. He is not suing Shepherd.

Comments in the meeting included a comparison of Peterson’s speech to Hitler, and a comparison of his opinion to that of an anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-women white supremacist. They also called him “academically suspect” and said he exhibited “charlatanism,” according to the unproven Statement of Claim.

Despite the fact that the meeting was private, Peterson and his lawyers allege the faculty should have known the content of the meeting could have lasting consequences.

“Although the individual Defendants did not personally disseminate and broadcast it further… they could have reasonably anticipated that … [Shepherd] would inform others of what had occurred,” the statement reads.

I don’t get it. I’ve said that Peterson is a charlatan, both publicly and privately. Is everyone on the planet who has pointed out that he is an incompetent fraud now liable to be sued? Is this how Peterson’s version of free speech works?

I get YouTube comments

I thought my email inbox was full of crap, but this is just ridiculous.

how is he a nazi you know jordan b peterson isn’t even right wing right neither is he on the left now i i know in your ideology anyone right of Stalin is a nazi but he’s in this place called the center he despises any side that gets to much leverage and becomes extreme be it the right or left both are despicable once they get to much power the right and left need to be balanced for any real progress to be made both side’s need each other but once one side gets to much power and influence like the left has now he gets a whole host of problems and the divide is so great we can’t even talk to eachother anymore and nothing good could come from that and yes the professors are brainwashing their students i’ve seen way to much evidence to say other wise just look at what happen at evergreen college with bret weinstein for example this shit is going to far now look if you guys keep calling everyone you disagree with a nazi and keep crying wolf your going to make real nazi’s witch is already happen with the alt right a response from your nonsense they don’t even try to hide it all i hear is you saying he’s a lair he’s a white supremacist talking about how he’s misrepresentation the collage campuses while your misrepresentation every word he says and putting words in his mouth while as far as i could see is that you are the lair or are just in complete denial blind to whats really going on

Back in the good old days when we had to carve our words in stone with a chisel, people put a little more care in their compositions.

As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly

I don’t get Jesse Singal. I don’t pay much attention to him, but one thing I know is that he is the mainstream media’s go-to guy for ‘science’ reporting on trans issues, that he knows less about trans people than I do (and I don’t claim authority), and that trans people detest him. Julia Serano has been writing about this guy for some time.

Many people know of Jesse Singal as a senior/science editor at New York Magazine. Within transgender communities, Singal has garnered a reputation (particularly over the last two years) for repeatedly promoting ideas that are in opposition to, or which flat-out undermine, trans people’s perspectives on issues that impact our lives. He has done this in the form of seemingly serious-minded articles, but also in more flippant or provocative exchanges from his Twitter account (which he recently shut down).

He has a reputation, and not a good one. That should be the message you take from this. You could argue that it isn’t deserved (I’d disagree), you can say that you like his take on things or that he’s a good writer, but that’s all irrelevant to the main problem here: the community that he writes about, and weirdly frequently writes about, dislikes his take and frequently argues — calmly and dispassionately, as Serano did — against his opinions, and every time he intrudes into trans concerns, he is unwelcome and a lightning rod for anger. Serano isn’t the only one!

If you must know one thing about journalist Jesse Singal, it’s that he loves reporting on trans issues—trans kids, in particular. If you must know another thing, it’s that a lot of trans people, myself included, loathe his coverage of trans issues with a once-fiery passion that has since cooled into a dormant rage.

His reputation as a transphobe who is compelled to make frequent complaints about the trans community is the problem here…so why do major publications seek out his writings on the subject? They must know that transgender men and women are going to be angered by his positions.

On Monday, The Atlantic revealed that they are the latest mainstream publication to play host to Singal’s bullshit, publishing “When Children Say They’re Trans,” the cover story for their upcoming July/August issue.

I’m going to guess that the reason major publications like The Atlantic pay Jesse Singal to write is that they like dumping on the transgender community — that they are rewarded with profit by the cisgender masses, like me, for putting the seal of approval on Singal’s biases.

It’s a misleading article, too. The cover is all about the difficulties of transitioning and makes these alarming claims about 13 year olds wanting hormones (with pubescent kids, the question is about hormone blockers) and surgery (every article I’ve read by a trans person on this subject talks about how surgery isn’t required, that it’s a decision made only after long consideration, and why are you so concerned about what’s in their pants anyway?), and then the article itself focuses almost entirely on adults who detransitioned. It gives the impression that every trans man and woman eventually ends up unhappy and wanting to go back to their ‘natural’ state.

But here’s the big question.

Why has The Atlantic decided to publish as its cover story a cis writer’s article about trans people who aren’t trans—during Pride month, no less? Why is this the only detransition narrative that most media seems interested in covering?

Ooh, ooh, I can answer those! Because The Atlantic only wants to hear from the cis perspective, and they only want articles that cast doubt and discourage people from transitioning. And Jesse Singal is the man you go to if you want someone eager to express exactly those opinions.

Publications, take note: Jesse Singal is more than a little creepy on the subject of transgender issues. He is the last person you want gracing your cover.

Our president is a petulant little child

We now have the story behind this infamous photo.

“It was at this point, towards the end of the summit, that Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada got together with some of the allies and really wanted to press Trump directly to sign the communiqué, that talked about the commitment to a rules-based international order. Trump was sitting there with his arms crossed, clearly not liking the fact that they were ganging up on him. He eventually agreed and said OK he’ll sign it. And at that point, he stood up, put his hand in his pocket, his suit jacket pocket, and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything,’” Bremmer described to CBS.

You know, right now Angela Merkel has a stronger claim to being “leader of the free world” than does the American president, and it’s annoying how little respect she gets.

This isn’t the first time Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, has had strange encounters with her male counterparts. In 2008, Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi once tried to play hide and seek with the chancellor, and in 2009 he kept her waiting for a meeting while he chatted on the phone. In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin famously brought a dog to a meeting with Merkel, who is known to be afraid of dogs. And former President George W. Bush surprised Merkel by giving her a shoulder rub in 2006.

She’s not progressive enough for me, so this isn’t an endorsement, but still…she’s so much better than Trump. And Berlusconi and Putin and Bush.

Oh, and Trump paid a visit to Minnesota yesterday. Duluth is way over on the other side of the state, though, so I didn’t go (yeah, that’s the only reason). He lied about a bunch of stuff, promised to win Minnesota in 2020, praised that great guy, Kim Jong Un, and praised himself.

“Our people are the smartest and hardest working. You ever notice they call the other side the elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t and I’m representing the most lovely and best people on earth — the deplorables. You remember that?”

Hate the elites…and by the way, I’m more elite than they are.

And people cheered. That’s the most chilling part. People still cheer this cheesy old liar.

Dennis Markuze is back online

He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s posting on alt.atheism under a new name, “prophetofrevengerXX”, with “XX” a couple of random digits to help avoid searches. Then how do we know it’s Markuze? Take a look at one example of a post. Classic.

He harassed me for a couple of decades. I’m just mentioning this because, while he’s not pestering me now (I don’t think…but I have so many email filters to block him), his usual pattern is one of rising obsession and increasingly lunatic lashing out at the people he hates.

Visceral horror

For years, I was involved in these uncomfortable debates within the atheist community where one side would argue “Reason and Science!” and the other would say “Emotions matter!”, and I would uneasily argue that they both matter — uneasy because I’m happier talking about science and am not at all charismatic or able to draw on any kind of emotional sympathy. Old Nerd Talking, that’s me.

But right now, in the court of public opinion, we’re seeing the debate play out, and what’s clearly winning is emotion — and, I think, reason as well, but it’s the feelings that are driving the discourse. I think that’s important. It really settles the argument that both are necessary. What’s punching everyone in the gut so hard is that the Republicans have thrown away any attempt to mask their lack of humanity.

An example: when my kids were very young, I let them watch what I thought was a harmless, fun, children’s movie. I didn’t realize that it was a horror movie.

That movie was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Does anyone remember this character?

It was striking: my kids were fine with the movie, until this guy shows up — a villain called The Child Catcher who snatches up children and drags them away from their families. He affected them immediately in a way that no other monster movie ever did. They’d cover their eyes. They’d run out of the room. They probably had nightmares about him, because all I had to do was say the words “Child Catcher!” and they’d shudder. I think if they had the choice of being attacked by the wolfman or the Child Catcher, the wolfman would win every time.

I got to visit my little grandson a few weeks ago. He’s 7 months old. Babies are fine-tuned, sensitive people detectors, and you could see it in his behavior, the way his eyes would light up and he’d squirm with happiness when he saw his mommy and daddy. He’s barely a person, he’s new and squishy and helpless, and the first concept his newly developed brain is forming is a love for his parents. I realized that I’d die fighting anyone trying to separate them.

It’s totally irrational. But this stuff matters. Donald Trump and the entire Republican party have steered themselves right into Child Catcher territory.

I’d like to think this would lead to their downfall, but unfortunately, Trumpsters also love children, and the only way they can resolve the dissonance is to dehumanize brown children even more — they aren’t babies, they’re future MS-13 gang members! That’s precisely what we’re seeing right now, and it could make everything even worse.