Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘truth

Sunday Night Links

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* The New World Order One World Government wants to ban golf! Wake up, sheeple!

* …if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.

* From Aaron’s latest Sunday Reading:The Intellectual Situation of n+1. For U.S. universities, a failing grade in economics. The Irish Begin to Wake Up to the Fact That They are Repaying Money That is Then Burned. The Hand That Feeds. Historicizing the Conservative Think Tank. A short history of the vibrator. The Inside Story of How John Carter Was Doomed by Its First Trailer.

* flashes back to another This American Life truth panic.

* Roland Barthes’ last doctoral student describes the writing of his dissertation. Via MeFi.

* Scientists think they’ve figured out what’s causing Colony Collapse Disorder (again). Surprise! It’s pesticides. Also via.

* Crooks & Liars has some advice for Lakoff-style reframing.

1. Never say Entitlements. Instead, say Earned Benefits.
2. Never say Redistribution of Wealth. Instead, say Fair Wages For Work.
3. Never say Employer Paid Health Insurance. Instead, say Employee Earned Health Insurance.
4. Never say Government Spending. Instead, say The People Are Investing.
5. Never say Corporate America. Instead, say Unelected Corporate Government.

* And here comes the Romney shadow cabinet. It’s even worse than you think!

Superman, Socialist

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Superman, socialist. As the link notes, he’s an illegal immigrant, too.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 26, 2009 at 12:51 am

Monday 1

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* The trailer for the SF-infused Paul-Giamatti-as-Paul-Giamatti comedy Cold Souls causes io9 to ask whether “Charlie Kaufman” is officially a genre yet.

* Kari in the comments directs us to a defense of Holden Caulfield against the spurious assertions of irrelevance I blogged about yesterday.

* Bruce Schneier: SF Writers Aren’t a Useful Aspect of National Defense—a followup to an article I posted last month. Via Boing Boing.

* Also not useful: classifying “protests” as “low-level terrorism activity.”

* The Art of the Title Sequence considers the end of Wall-E. Via Kottke.

* What’s wrong with the American essay? I’m not sure anything is, but certainly not this:

The problem, of course, is not merely our essayists; it’s our culture. We have grown terribly—if somewhat hypocritically—weary of larger truths. The smarter and more intellectual we count ourselves, the more adamantly we insist that there is no such thing as truth, no such thing as general human experience, that everything is plural and relative and therefore undiscussable. Of course, everything is plural, everything is arguable, and there are limits to what we can know about other persons, other cultures, other genders. But there is also a limit to such humility; there is a point at which it becomes narcissism of a most myopic sort, a simple excuse to talk only about one’s own case, only about one’s own small area of specialization. Montaigne thought it the essayist’s duty to cross boundaries, to write not as a specialist (even in himself) but as a generalist, to speak out of turn, to assume, to presume, to provoke. “Where I have least knowledge,” said the blithe Montaigne, “there do I use my judgment most readily.” And how salutary the result; how enjoyable to read—and to spar with—Montaigne’s by turns outrageous and incisive conclusions about humankind. That everything is arguable goes right to the heart of the matter.

“The next best thing to a good sermon is a bad sermon,” said Montaigne’s follower and admirer, the first American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a good sermon we hear our own “discarded thoughts brought back to us by the trumpets of the last judgment,” in the words of Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” In a bad sermon we formulate those thoughts ourselves—through the practice of creative disagreement. If an author tells us “love is nothing but jealousy” and we disagree, it is far more likely we will come up with our own theory of love than if we hear a simple autobiographical account of the author’s life. It is hard to argue with someone’s childhood memory—and probably inadvisable. It is with ideas that we can argue, with ideas that we can engage. And this is what the essayist ought to offer: ideas.

It doesn’t seem to me at all that American letters suffers from a lack of hypotheses confused for certainties.

* And Shia Labeouf may live to ruin Y: The Last Man after all.

Another Round

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Another round: religion and politics.

* The U.N. has apparently passed a resolution banning the defamation of religion. In the U.S., at least, truth is absolute defense to defamation…

* Don’t tell the U.N.: quantum theory may make omniscience mathematically impossible.

* Richard Nixon analyzes an episode of All in the Family. Those White House tapes are a national treasure.

* Truth commissions vs. prosecutions.

* A visitor’s guide to Chinese conceptions of hell. Via MeFi.

* And are video games teaching kids the skills they need for the Apocalypse? The Onion reports.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 27, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Wikipedia and Epistemology

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Wikipedia and epistemology.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 23, 2008 at 8:57 pm

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Dreaming Up Our Own Worst Enemy

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Tim has some nice thoughts on enmity and honesty in the context of Al Qaeda’s supposed endorsement of McCain.

The point here is that the war on terror, in a historically novel way, abrogates the basic conditions of veracity that make politics a meaningful category of human discourse. If the possibility of a “terrorist” uttering a true statement is permanently witheld, there is no real enemy to fight at all–there is only our mirror image of who we are as a people. We are damned to perpetually dream up our own worst enemy–and fight ourselves to the death.

We didn’t need additional proof that I was a much less sophisticated and much more juvenile thinker than Tim, but my first reference for this incredibly silly argument was the Sicilian in The Princess Bride:

But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me…

Written by gerrycanavan

October 23, 2008 at 1:46 am

Global Warming and the Media

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The sudden hyping this week of Bjorn Lomborg’s Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (see the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Colbert, just in terms of links I’ve seen this morning) usefully highlights a few important features of our current media environment. First, of course, is the advertising function of nearly all non-breaking-news coverage. Second is a bias that might well be called the glorified middle—all debates are presented as having two sides (roughly mapped across the center-Democrat-right-Republican axis) in which the position directly in the middle is always the truth. The Wall Street Journal column in particular foregrounds this tendency explicitly as a kind of natural law:

In this world of Republicans and Democrats, meat-eaters and vegetarians, dog lovers and cat lovers, we have a new divide. On one side are global-warming believers. They’ve heard Al Gore’s inconvenient truths and, along with the staff of Time magazine, feel “worried, very worried.” Humanity faces no greater threat than a warming Earth, they say, and government must drastically curb carbon-dioxide emissions. On the other side are those who don’t think that the Earth is warming; and even if it is, they don’t think that man is causing it; and even if man is to blame, it isn’t clear that global warming is bad; and even if it is, efforts to fix it will cost too much and may, in the end, do more harm than good.

What I also love about this is the way the ever-shifting denialism (and, really, psychological denial) of the “anti-” side is misrepresented not only as a coherent position but as the rational, skeptical corrective to the-sky-is-falling “believers” in global warming.

I’m also amused by the way in which the need to binarize all disputes and then split the difference necessarily pushes the presentation of the global warming side further and further towards the apocalyptic fringe. Before a few years ago—and An Inconvenient Truth naturally played a huge part in this shift—the debate would have been between those who accepted the scientific evidence of climate change and those who didn’t, with Bjorn Lomborg clearly falling on “our” side. Now that the reality of anthropogenic global warming is widely accepted, the “truth” of the argument (and thus the middle point of the line) has to shift left—and since the line is always the same length we wind up with a debate that is now presented as the wacky environmental fringe vs. everybody else.

The third bias, of course, is the consumerist bias that tells us that not only do we never, ever have to change anything about the way we live our lives but that to ever do so in even the slightest way would mean the utter extinction of every pleasure that makes life worth living. If Bjorn Lomborg says we can have our cake and eat it too, well, God bless him, now we’re talking. Like the other biases, this one pollutes discourse in real life as well: it’s the same reason I feel such intense social pressure to apologetically present my vegetarianism as some random personality quirk rather than sort-of-maybe-kind-of a good idea.

And the fourth tendency is the one Ryan highlighted in his much-discussed (at least by me) David Graeber post not too long ago: the lassoing of values discourse by the political right creates a situation in which Lomborg’s suggestions to supplement or replace Kyoto-style protocols with alternative-energy and anti-poverty programs—an argument that more or less corresponds with what I think we can (and should) pragmatically do in response to climate change, by the way—can be taken up as “proof” against the global warming “side” in a political climate where none of those anti-poverty programs are ever going to be enacted, either, precisely because of the same political movement that doesn’t think that the Earth is warming; and even if it is, that doesn’t think that man is causing it; and even if man is to blame, it isn’t clear that global warming is bad; and even if it is, efforts to fix it will cost too much and may, in the end, do more harm than good.

Meanwhile, in actual science coverage, via those dirty hippies at Daily Kos, climate change threatens to turn the Mediterranean into another Dead Sea.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 13, 2007 at 12:23 pm

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