Sunday, April 15, 2018

Andrew Sullivan: Power, Reason and Liberalism

Andrew Sullivan is a damn national treasure.
The second bit here, "Power, Reason, and Liberalism," is great. I've been thinking about this stuff for 30 years and probably couldn't have said it better myself.
Also nobody would listen, of course--but that's a different matter.
   I'd tweak a few bits and add a bit maybe, but why nit-pick?
   I haven't watched that podcast yet, but Ezra's been slipping toward the dark side for awhile now. Harris is not who I'd choose as the champion of objective reason...but it sounds like he did alright--and good on him for doing it.
   One thing I'd add that Sully didn't is: the postpostmodern mishmash that has taken over as the vocal vanguard of the progressive left is self-refuting. It argues that reason, science, etc. aren't (to put it briefly and a bit inaccurately) real, or aren't objective, or aren't actually doxastically efficacious...which, if true, would leave all the premises their position requires unsupported. Both the obviously true and justified ones like The U.S. has a long and terrible history of racism, and the false and nutty ones like All politically incorrect scientific conclusions are merely manifestations of white privilege. People tend to forget that the popomo mishmash is a collection of positive positions. And positive positions can't be supported by skeptical arguments. The popomos try to deploy skepticism selectively so that it undermines unwanted scientific conclusions like IQ is pretty heritable, but doesn't undermine favored historical conclusions about racism, colonialism etc. By their own lights, their position is no more well-supported than ours is: if they're right, then both are entirely unsupported. They both take on the status of something akin to mere preferences. And even by their own lights, their insistence that science is corrupt and can't be objective is entirely unsupportable.
   One could go on and on. It's true that almost every type of thing we humans have ever done has been afflicted by just about any kind of bias you can think of at some point or other. That's not an argument for giving up rational methods of inquiry. It's an argument for being more careful to weed such things out. It also can't be used selectively, to reject all and only un-PC conclusions. If you think that, say, there's likely to be racist bias in analyses of rates of police killings for blacks and whites, then find and report on the actual instances of bias. We all know they might be there. But until you actually find some, your assertion that they are there is just hot air. There could be bias in either direction. In fact I'd bet money that leftist bias is currently more prevalent in the academy than anti-black racism. If studies of the claims of BLM are going to err in one direction or another, they're probably going to err in a pro-BLM direction. But there's really no reason to play that game. We should just look for actual errors in the actual studiesThat is: get back to actually attending to actual science, instead of speculating about generalities from the swamp of the humanities.
   And do we have to talk about racism every time we talk about some racially-sensitive topic? No we do not. In fact, we shouldn't. That's exactly the kind of thing that injects bias into discussion. And it's exactly the attitude that leads people to reject certain scientific conclusions that might give ammunition to racists. Sometimes it's good to mention such things. And sometimes it's a matter of personal preference. But the idea that we must never discuss, say, the heritability of intelligence without talking about racism...that is the road to scientific perdition. There is simply no doubt: the scientific question is separable from the moral/political one. If that weren't true, there'd be no reason at all to do science.


Blogger Pete Mack said...

It'd be nice if he, you know, addressed the actual argument about Apu.

"Joke getting old"

8:58 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I didn't even read that section.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

I've been thinking a lot about positions in logical space that are dialectically unassailable. The "postmodern mishmash," as you call it, seems to be of this stripe.

They claim: "objectivity is inaccessible to subjects" or "everything is subjective." But when one attempts to go for the self-refutation, they will just claim that you are begging the question against them. After all, they think that objectivity is BS, so certainly they are not going to accept a conclusion that follows from something they see as emblematic of objectivity.

I also happen to strongly dislike dialectically unassailable positions-- looking at you skepticism!

10:36 AM  

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