Daily Archive: 16 Nov 2013

Nov 16

The Three Types and the Truth

Three Kinds of People When it Comes to Truth

Austin Frakt posted this image over at The Incidental Economist (it is originally from Dog House Diaries.)

It got me to thinking who these three types of people are. I think the “Awesome” people are your general liberally minded people. I don’t mean “liberal” in a political sense. I just saw that 60% of Republicans are in favor of raising the minimum wage. (Fewer are for adjusting it to inflation.) So there are a fair number of reasonable people who consider themselves conservative even though they are, as I said, “Liberally minded.”

The “Dangerous” types are really quite common. I once had this insurance broker who told me that he had no misconceptions. The world was neatly divided into what he knew was true and what he didn’t know. He was, of course, a Republican. This kind of certainty is entirely typical of conservatives. It is similar to the Dunning–Kruger effect where people who have little skill in something overestimate their abilities while people with much skill underestimate. But in this case, it is that people who are most certain of something tend to be the least right. And on a larger level, people who are most certain about a lot are least knowledgeable about everything. You know, a conservative!

But what about that “Run” group: are there really people like that outside of a mental ward? I think there are: Christian conservatives. These are the people who really skew things. These are the people who dragged a once great political party into its current state where science and even facts are nothing but opinion. These are the people for whom Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness.” The “Dangerous” crowd can still be convinced of things. They at least admit that there are more things in heaven and earth than exist in their perfect truth bubble.

The “Run” group have all the truth that is necessary and that truth is Jesus! Or at least the Jesus that they’ve been taught. You know, the God who loves the sinner but hates the sin, but couldn’t be bothered to make man without Original Sin? That guy! The one who loves you but will consign you to the fires of hell. To suffer in agony. Forever. Because you masturbated or somehow otherwise offended him by doing something he designed you to do. That’s the “Run” group!

In my experience, the “Run” group divides up their ultimate truth three ways: one part “Jesus loves me!” and one part “God hates abortion!” and one part “God hates non-productive ejaculation!” So you see, the graph is wrong. It isn’t that the “Run” types have beliefs that expand to fit the big universe; they have just reduced the truth to just about the most pathetic set of things imaginable.

It is a good idea to run from them. Unfortunately, here in the United States, they are everywhere. I’d say they are 20% of the population. But I’ll admit, that number is very possible outside the truth bubble.

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Nov 16

Socialist, Communist, and Doodie Pants

Kshama SawantThere has been a lot of excitement about the fact that Kshama Sawant seems to have won her race for the Seattle City Council. The reason is that she ran as a socialist. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t mean that much. The world “socialist” has lost most of its meaning both on the left and on the right. And it is mostly a very good thing.

The Republicans are mostly to blame. They are experts at vilifying words. But they tend to take it too far. As I found myself asking conservatives a lot during the first two years of his presidency, “If Obama is a socialist, what was Stalin?” If you listen carefully to conservatives, you will quickly notice that to them, any deviation from their current ideology is, “Socialism! Socialism, I tell you!”

Obama was called a socialist. Clinton was called a socialist before him. Is there any doubt that any Democratic president will be vilified as a socialist? This kind of name calling can only work for so long. After a while, the word becomes nothing more than “doodie pants.” Okay, we get it: you don’t like the Democrats so you call them socialists. But it doesn’t mean anything more than that.

Look, it would be one thing if Republicans actually did stand for some kind of libertarian utopia. But they don’t. They are among the biggest supporters for the three biggest socialist programs we have: Social Security, Medicare, and the military. That’s 80% of the federal budget, folks. So if the difference between “Socialist!” and “Patriotic American!” is that remaining 20%, I think we can say that the Republicans are being a mite hyperbolic. (And note: the Republicans are also for most of the remaining 20% too.)

Some time in the 1950s, it seemed that the definition of socialism got watered down. If you wanted to talk about central planning dictatorships, you talked of “communism.” If you wanted to talk about the theoretical worker utopia, you talked about “Marxism.” Socialism came to mean those nice European nations where people were free but the society wasn’t dog-eat-dog.

What this all means is that “socialism” became just a slightly more robust version of the system that we have. But the conservatives couldn’t scream “Communist!” at liberals because that was patently false. So they depended upon the historical connection between “socialism” and the Soviet Union to do their dirty work. But it doesn’t work anymore—at least not for people under 40 years old. To them, socialism is just another word for the kind of political system that they prefer. The truth is that most of what Sawant stands for is very much what they believe in.

But is Sawant an actual socialist? In a word, maybe. I’m not especially clear on all her positions, but when you get into the weeds of policy, she seems to have some ideas (or at least Socialist Alternative does) that I wouldn’t support. But from a practical standpoint, she’s just a real liberal and that’s why she has been elected. As I talk about all the time here, the United States has been pulled so far to the right that it would be years of leftist control before things got balanced and I started to disagree with anything the left wanted to do. Regardless, Sawant and her party seem pretty far removed from nationalizing the corporate world, which is what a real socialist would do.

If we start getting more aggressive liberal politicians running under the banner of socialism, you know who to blame: the conservatives. They distorted the usage of the word socialism for their own purposes for decades. And now the liberals are distorting it for their own. And I’ll be clear: I’m thrilled. I’ve always thought, “You think Obama’s a socialist?! I’ll show you a real socialist!” And it looks like that time may have come.

Afterword

It is interesting to think about Elizabeth Warren becoming president. She is not at all a socialist, but you know the kind of freak out we would see from the right! Suddenly they would talk about how reasonable Obama was but this Warren chick is a… Socialist! Communist! Doodie pants!

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Nov 16

Two Greats, One Composer, One Actor

Paul HindemithIt’s a big day in drug history. Seventy-five years ago, Albert Hofmann synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD. I remember a story (possibly apocryphal) dating back to the 1970s. On the first day of Introduction to Chemistry, a certain professor would walk in and write “C20H25N3O” on the calk board. He would say, “This is the chemical formula for LSD. I don’t want to be asked for the rest of the year!” Of course, it would take at least another year of chemistry to gain the skills in organic chemistry to learn how to make it. In his way, Hofmann was as much an advocate for the drug as was Timothy Leary. And he was so right up to his death a few years ago at the age of 102.

On this day in 1907, the great actor Burgess Meredith was born. I don’t even know where to start in talking about him. I think that everyone knows and loves him. Here is a little gem. In 1961, Meredith starred in an American television version of Waiting for Godot with Zero Mostel as Estragon. It is done more as straight comedy, but I rather like it. Since then, Beckett’s notes of the play have become public and now everyone does it exactly the same way. This is a very different approach and it looks quite good, although I haven’t finished watching it. But go ahead, I’ll wait; it’s only two hours.

[Update: the video is gone. Here is a short scene from it. -FM]

Other birthdays: Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 BC); mathematician Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717); the last king of Hawaii Kalakaua (1836); composer W C Handy (1873); playwright George S Kaufman (1889); libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick (1938); speaking of LSD, Terence McKenna (1946); actor Lisa Bonet (46); and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal (36).

The day, however, belongs to the great modern classical composer Paul Hindemith who was born on this day in 1895. I always thought of him as a really difficult composer. But as I went back and listened to some of his work this morning, I had a realization, “He isn’t difficult to listen to, he’s difficult to play.” That isn’t to say that he’s exactly easy listening. But it is quite fun. He uses counterpoint much more aggressively than most modern composers. A lot of his work has a distinctly Bach flavor to it. Here is Glenn Gould playing the fourth movement of Hindemith’s Piano Sonata Number 3. This is especially appropriate because Gould was renowned for playing Bach and this movement is (nominally) a fugue:

Happy birthday Paul Hindemith!

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