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Comments by CK MacLeod

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ strangelet:
Hi, strange. It's nice to have something to agree about for once.

I thought it was the Pew Poll you were endlessly citing, not the Murray graph, but either way I noted your comment at the American Scene post and would endorse it if only you could manage to avoid your needlessly abrasive language and eugenicist/genocidalist baggage. Conservatives attempting to force GW-denialism or any other form of anti-science populism on a public that prefers, or should prefer, an attitude of impartial objectivity and "openness" are seeking to cross a bridge too far. Whatever-you-are's who want to force spiritual/moral denialism are attempting the same crossing from the other side.

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@ adam:
I feel that that's a one-sided, one might say classically one-sided, view of the situation. The Left has its claims against the Right, too, and the claim and counter-claim will go on forever along the Unger-Simmel model: We seek to discover the points of fruitful connection or contiguity between apparently irreconcilable viewpoints, but if we fail to reach and generalize them intellectually, the world will still resolve them materially. It's the role of the political system to manage the material or objective reconciliation of contradictions with the least possible violence - and least practicable impairment of future reconciliation.

My assumption isn't that the immoralities balance out fairly, only that life goes on, or at least has gone on so far. The American system, as in my view the authentically conservative position on the American system, doesn't assume perfect solutions - to the contrary, it makes them virtually impossible and seems to be based on the assumption of their impossibility and of the undesirability of any other assumption.

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@ narciso:
Well, then, the next time I head out to shoot brutals, I'll know not to wait for you. Harumph.

On “Limbaugh over the line

I've long meant to read Oren's book, thanks for reminding me about it.

I put up the Youtube clip because our banishment from Contentions put me poignantly in mind of the Exodus, and also of the outsiders/criminals celebrated in the song. Then, when I went to see if the song was in Youtube, I ran across the video I ended up posting. And somehow it all resonates with Commentary/Contentions' status as defender of Israel.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ narciso:
More to the point, I liked ZARDOZ. Still do.

What's not to like?

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narciso wrote:

the left was forecasting global cooling

Where do you get the idea that "global cooling" was leftwing?

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@ Joe NS:
No - a democratic political system can't be about deciding whether GW is real or not. Only nature can do that. If the GW-ists persuade enough people to feel strongly enough that it's worth the time, energy, resources, inconveniences, moral compromises, etc., then all that time, energy, etc. will be forthcoming, whether or not it was all based on a fiction. If a durable majority of our fellow citizens decide that believing in that fiction gives meaning to their lives, the rest of us will sooner or later be forced to stand back as they kneel down, whether we like it or not.

Preventing this from happening will certainly include arguments on the science, but the political equation is something different. When a large segment of the citizenry and our major international allies feel urgency about an issue, then our political life is being held hostage to a hearing of their complaints, concerns, and recommendations that is generally accepted as fair. Conservatives continue to win on this issue precisely because the warmists are so far from providing a practical means of achieving their end that doesn't also kill the hostage.

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@ adam:
I think the place that we have to resist commenters is when they say that the discussion has moved on and it's time to say one last thing! These are Zombie Contentions, man - they never die.

As for conclusions already inscribed in arguments, I think you could go down the list of issues and formulate typical left or right positions in such a way that the outcome was pre-determined by respective modes of discussion. That was part of Unger's point, as we were discussing some weeks ago. It begins to look impossible to resolve an issue like abortion, for instance, because the world view of the person arguing it from the pro-choice side is already at odds with the world view of the pro-lifer.

A closed worldview eventually ceases to function, however - eventually loses contact with social reality. What the political system does, almost spontaneously or perhaps materially, is locate the points of contact in such a way as to hold each side's larger project hostage to its particular commitments. It may be inherently a coercive and violent process, since sooner or later everyone is forced to accept something "immoral" from his or her own point of view.

In a cosmopolitan setting such conflicts and compromises multiply astronomically, as Georg Simmel pointed out. It's hard to be a saint in the city.

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Note: Thanks to everyone - everyone - for their input. I enjoyed the discussion and it also helped me recognize some things that I could and should discard in the post, which has now been cut down by around a third. If I keep on hacking at it, I might end up discarding the whole thing - but then we'd lose the thread...

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adam wrote:

The riskiest thing is to impair that power of improvisation.

Agreed - which I believe qualifies as a corollary to Manzi's proposed grand strategy. In other works he's also factored in geo-engineering proposals. I think the work that got the most attention, however, was where he calculated the on-the-charts worst case scenario of total cost of GW, and showed that it would have a much smaller impact on world GDP than the main CO2-mitigation schemes. As for the off-the-charts super-alarmist scenarios, he has shown how they have to be addressed. Speculative geo-engineering proposals play a role here, too. If I were Joe Scientist, I could get totally on board. Someone somewhere needs to calculate, with total cynicism, assuming a direct correlation between socio-economic rewards and scientific "results," but with attention to Chicken Little feedback effects (e.g., Climategate), a "sustainable" path for scientific economic development - i.e., how under a conservative grand strategy all those greedy wards of the superstate will, over the middle and long term, do better than if they cause a tragedy of the scientific commons overfeeding at the AGW trough.

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narciso wrote:

their imput doesn’t get
into the textbooks, or the audiovisual supplements, are scrubbed from Wikipedia.

I'm sorry, but that's flat wrong or at least greatly exaggerated and unnecessarily defeatist. I've just finished reading PHYSICS FOR FUTURE PRESIDENTS, awarded the (oh no!) Pulitzer Prize, written by a tenured professor at Berkeley (OMG!), and it addresses several of the topics you raise from a conservative-congenial perspective. The book was published in 2008, paperback last year. On GW, the author is quietly devastating on Gore, predicts something like Climategate biting the alarmists (though I don't recall him using the term) in the ass, produces ample stats and charts demonstrating the ridiculousness of Kyoto-like pseudo-solutions. There is nothing about this book - or its respected, popular, peer-reviewing, public-serving, eminent professor-author - to be afraid of unless you're such a committed denialist that you refuse even to consider the opinion of someone willing to present the GW case dispassionately, although he seems to think that ocean acidification may turn out to be a much bigger problem than GW. He therefore favors some kind of carbon credit scheme to encourage India and China to convert to carbon sequestration as soon as practicable.

He's far from an alarmist, however, and, as I said, far from un-critical of the GW movement. I would be, overall, quite comfortable if I learned that a conservative administration pursuing a Manzi-like "grand strategy" appointed him as a top science adviser.

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adam wrote:

If a few hurricances or a hot summer a few years from now will re-start the AGW hysteria, then what we need is not a few of our own irons in the fire, but a diagnosis of the irrationality of public opinion and a hold on its most rational elements–and then we have to hope that the more rational elements will be the more enduring ones. The bigger problem is the collapse of rational risk assessment within public discourse (as Frank Furedi at spiked is always arguing)–if not AGW, then some new disease, or some scare about genetically modified crops, or something else will lead to a panic for political entrpreneurs to speculate upon.

That's the point, Adam. In pursuing a "my hysteria is more hysterical than your hysteria" + "science bad" approach to AGW or any other issue, conservatives are contributing to all of those problems, when a scientifically open, unafraid, inquiry-encouraging approach with a focus on rational risk assessment/management (something Manzi is quite good on, incidentally) offers an excellent position, arguably the commanding policy heights, for conservatives to seek to occupy.

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@ narciso:
Who's "they" in your comment? Many science- and intellect-positives are quite open to the arguments you allude to. To me, your comment suggests the common rhetorical practice of imagining a monolith on the other side, then demanding one on your own to oppose it, the main effect of which is to drive the opposition together and scare off those in the middle, in a political self-fulfilling prophecy spiral.

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@ Joe NS:
Post amended to address your misreading.

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@ Joe NS:
Manzi is not making a scientific argument or pretending to, Joe. He is making an argument about Levin's approach to the topic.

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Barbara wrote:

So even if Levin’s chapter wasn’t up to Manzi’s high standard of scientific purity, Levin was still right and the chapter is still old.

I have to disagree with you there: Levin's chapter wasn't up to much of any standard, and Manzi's standard isn't one of scientific purity: It's one of treating oneself, the opponent, and observers with intellectual respect, in the interest of getting at a better approximation of the truth. The great polemicists - Burke, Lincoln in his political speeches and debates - are able to lay claim to understanding their opponents arguments as well, or better, than their opponents do. They can take the opponent and the audience through them logically to their own polemical purposes. In some cases, the method requires the polemicist to make a better case for the opponent than the opponent is able to make.

Put differently, at the current relative low point politically for GW-ists, the coalition of Denialists + Unsure Realists + Believing Realists is bigger than the coalition of Alarmists. By insisting on a Denialist line, the right risks building an opposing majority made up of the other 3 groups. If you watched the British debate the other day, btw, you can see that whatever the state of things here, the "GW consensus" seems alive and well among our allies. An unusually hot year or two, a bad hurricane or flood, and the momentum may shift right back. If the public grows convinced, rightly or wrongly, today or ten years from today, that the GW-ists were right, then say hello to all sorts of things you think you've beaten.

@ adam:
Speaking of Lincoln, "Have faith that right makes might." In the meantime, the truth may or may not set you free, but it will out. Oh yeah, and one other quotable quote: We don't run away because we're afraid; we're afraid because we run away.

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@ Ken:
Well, though I don't much care for Brooks and Frum, I think I can get my mind around where they are and why. Since, as noted elsewhere, it's National Poetry Month - here's Robert Burns:

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel’s as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.

http://www.bartleby.com/100/315.19.html

You mention your own squelched discomfort with a statement to the effect that the Constitution is based on the Bible, and I like very much your interpretation of what you believe the Founders meant by "God-given." You're probably aware, however, that there's a significant and vocal current of very public conservative comrades who are rather militant, at least verbally, about putting the Big Guy up front first and foremost, among other things because they expect to earn the appreciation of religious people who are happy to see God spoken of, and approvingly, in public. Thus, you rarely hear a mention of "natural rights" from them without an underlining gesture "from God." Belief in God (expressed as such) nearly equals belief in America or authentic constitutional Americanism in this discourse.

I've always thought that a key to Huckabee's persistent appeal was in the same phenomenon, and likewise Palin's and Bush 43's: Their other stands or acts are almost secondary compared to their willingness and ability to "testify" - an act of no little value in independent protestant/evangelical traditions (part of the very meaning of "evangelism"). Conversely, no matter how intimately Romney embraced the social conservative agenda, and no matter how consistently McCain voted a social conservative line, their inability or reluctance to evangelize made them suspect. Beck is able to circumvent Romney's problem because he's not running for anything and isn't subjected to scrutiny in the same way: In my own limited sampling of religious Beck fans, few have any idea at all that he was raised a Mormon (I have no idea whether he's observant).

But to bring us back to scientists, intellectuals, and Robert Burns, when they hear the testimony, many hear - or believe they have reason to hear - a threat or at best a lost cause. This doesn't need to be the case at all, and it's a shame that Pope Benedict's rather brilliant defense of reason in a religious context hasn't obtained wider circulation. But overcoming the prejudice from this stratum, which our occasional visitor strangelet is always happy to put forward in the most abrasive manner possible, may require some effort.

On “Limbaugh over the line

@ Ken:
A tyrannical government is, for an American, a government that is functionally "not worth living in." Of course, as in all things, there are degrees of tyranny, and you could, in theory view the federal government as tyrannical or verging on tyrannical and not feel obligated to strap on a bomb vest or form a revolutionary cell immediately. All the same, every interaction from everyday life to the great political struggles relies on a willingness to achieve a civil and less than completely one-sided resolution of most disagreements.

In the meantime, the vast majority proceed with an intuitive, gut-level awareness that order is vastly preferable to civil war. The Founders made it clear that they considered revolution a decision to be taken with the utmost seriousness, after the exhaustion of alternatives, and with care to protect as much of what worked about their society, their heritage of democratic norms and assumptions, as possible.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

@ Ken:
I believe that the Pew Poll - you can check the link - is focused on what you might consider "real" scientists. The softies who fall under the general category of intellectual elite may not be as credible on science-related issues, obviously, but over time they may be even more influential on opinion formation, on setting the bounds of allowable discourse, even on what people mean when they report that they're "conservative." I just don't think it serves conservatives well to be complacent, or constantly to be complaining that life's just not fair.

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@ bob:

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stevens-ancedote.html

On “Limbaugh over the line

@ Geoffrey Britain:
There's almost without a doubt some guy or gal somewhere, probably more than one, at this very moment, posting a nearly identical comment from the left, utterly convinced that the right has for decades been lying and scheming and cheating and killing, driving the country to destruction, betraying the most fundamental moral precepts of democracy, playing from a stacked deck, and so on.

Contrary to your assertions, when the right was in power, the left expressly accused the the Bush-Cheney administration of betraying the Constitution, eroding constitutional freedoms and circumventing constitutional protections, using a compliant media to advance a fundamentally anti-American and immoral agenda. Today, many on the far left accuse the Obama Administration of being thoroughly corrupted by corporate America, pursuing an agenda that vastly enriches or bails out big business and Wall Street and the expense of the people, and on and on.

Such accusations have always been made, from both sides. 50 years ago, the right was always ready to accuse the left of preparing to sell out to Communism. The left was always ready to demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that the right was full of warmongers ready to destroy the nation and even the world. The right believes the left seeks a distorted and contradictory vision of freedom. The left believes the same about the right.

We have a political system for reconciling such differences. In the meantime, the jumping-off point of this discussion wasn't an economic prognosis, it was a post that asked what was categorically different about Limbaugh's rhetoric and what Limbaugh was complaining about. The answer, nearly 50 comments later, remains "nothing."

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The ‘hypothesis’ is now the only theory that fits the facts and, your evident unwillingness to face the writing on the wall… changes that ‘future history’ rushing at us, not a whit.

Until the economic apocalypse is upon us, then the idea that our current level of debt will cause such an apocalypse is an hypothesis. No one can say - though some think they can say - exactly how such dreadful events will unfold. They could be right. I myself am more in the soon-come camp than the don't-worry-be-happy camp, but the notion remains a strongly held minority opinion among informed economic observers, not an already established and incontrovertible fact. It's therefore cannot be a basis for the indictment as you stated it. In the meantime, we have a situation where the retrospective opponents of TARP accuse the doomsayers of '08 of being chicken littles... and then immediately turn to crying that the sky is falling.

The Debt-to-GDP ratio argument is based on an inference, not a demonstrated law of economics. Krugman was taken to task for pointing out that US Debt-to-GDP far exceeded 100% on the eve of our greatest period of economic advancement and military and political dominance - that is, at the end of WWII. It's obvious that we aren't in a remotely similar position, and that in many respects what we had going for us in 1945 we have against us now, yet in other respects we have more advantages now. The economists whom I most respect predict a difficult decade ahead, including likely stagnant growth in the US and Eurozone, a severe downward adjustment in expectations for India and China, and a worrisomely high chance of economic collapse and instability in the periphery.

No one knows what the future holds - not you, not me, not the neo-neocons, no one. In the meantime, our political system allows us to make mistakes, and occasionally to learn from them. If things go south, it won't be the first time, it's unlikely to be the worst time, we're very unlikely to get the worst of it compared to other countries, and the fall will be from a much higher level of consumption and power than in the past.

And it doesn't come close to justifying the criminalization, or worse, of political differences - which is what a lot of this rhetoric that I have been protesting implies, though for now the people spreading it remain afraid to accept or embrace the implications of their own words. If you're not plotting or prepared to support revolution, then either you don't really believe what you're saying - or you need a different way of saying it.

On “Limbaugh over the line

Zoltan Newberry wrote:

Now, we have our dear Tsar demanding we provide him with pwoof

No - I request that you attend to the argument I'm making, rather than the argument you prefer to attack.

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