Sunday, October 28, 2018


     If God were the sort of Being Who writes out the requirements for a creature before setting to work on it, the requirements document for Mankind would have been very long. Mind you, I don’t think He did any such thing. Producing an explicit requirements document is the sort of activity that arises from having a paying customer who’ll demand that your product pass an acceptance test before he signs the check. All the same, it’s fun to contemplate what the requirements document for the human body would include.

     One of the less obvious but more vital requirements would be the inclusion of a functioning anti-infection subsystem. The one we’re equipped with is impressive. It’s not unbeatable, of course; that’s impossible in the nature of things. But it displays an ingenious degree of flexibility and responsiveness.

     The central element in our anti-infection subsystem is the antibody: an organism the body generates in response to the detection of a hostile bacterium or virus. I’m not a biologist and can’t detail exactly how this works; I only marvel that it does. The human anti-infection system is able to invent countermeasures against invading organisms it hasn’t encountered before – and those countermeasures are usually sufficient.

     This morning my thoughts are on the mental equivalent of the antibody and how it’s produced.

     One of the inner requirements of organized thought is for terms with specific and agreed-upon meanings. Without agreement on the meanings of the words we use, effective thought and discourse are impossible. Indeed, you can dismiss – not refute; simply resist – any argument simply by refusing to accept the meanings of the terms critical to it.

     Probably the best current example of this gambit is the Left’s perennial rejection of the word socialism as applicable to any real-world case. “That isn’t / wasn’t real socialism!” is their immediate reply to anyone who cites North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, or the Soviet Union as a case for study. But under no circumstances will the Left attach a firm definition to the word and stand by it; that would expose them to counter-arguments and counter-examples that would destroy their claims.

     A few years ago we witnessed a comparable phenomenon: the application of the word science to computer simulations of the global climate system. “The science is settled!” the warmistas would chant...when there was exactly no science in their methods, just a bunch of programs that embed assumptions about how the Earth’s climate behaves. Not one of those simulations has successfully predicted any aspect of the world’s climate. Many of them can’t even use historical data to “predict” historical climate conditions. To call this “science” is to destroy the meaning of the word.

     But then, destroying the agreed-upon meanings of words short-circuits any attempt to apply evidence and logic to the Left’s claims. Refusing to allow such destruction is a prerequisite for the development of mental antibodies to specious ideas.

     The phenomenon of large numbers of persons demanding to be protected from encountering ideas they dislike is a recent thing. It’s producing masses of Americans who have no defense against hostile ideological currents. It is the encounter with a disliked idea that stimulates the development of counter-arguments to it. Because such encounters are shunned today, quite a lot of people have no capacity for intellectual self-defense: no mental anti-infection system with which to repel an invading idea. The consequences are all around us.

     Take the ludicrous notion of “degrowth” I mentioned yesterday. Today’s universities are producing graduates incapable of refuting this extraordinarily silly notion. Their “educations” haven’t compelled them to develop the mental tools required to fashion counter-arguments:

  1. Awareness of relevant historical evidence;
  2. The ability to distinguish causal forces from incidentals;
  3. The ability to formulate tests capable of falsifying a claim.

     The sciences are better off in this regard. Scientific inquiry embraces those three things. You can’t do science without them. But very few recent graduates have been exposed even lightly to the methods of science.

     It’s not always the case that a specious proposition is obviously false. (Besides, we’ve been here before: “obvious” really means “overlooked.”) If you suspect that a claim is false, analyzing it with evidence and logic is demanded of you. Looking for what a proposition implies and testing the veracity of those implications is vital, for a true proposition cannot imply a falsity. Indeed, even if an idea seems obviously true, it’s wise to examine it closely, and to test its implications as rigorously as possible. The more often you do this, the better you’ll get at it, and the readier you’ll be to defend yourself against hucksters and con men.

     But instructors don’t compel their students to face ideas they dislike. Indeed, the kids aren’t even asked to analyze ideas they find attractive. Instead, the persons and institutions they look to for knowledge and wisdom pontificate to them, expecting that they’ll accept what they’ve been told without questioning them. Education – the drawing of an untutored mind out of the darkness of uncertainty and confusion, into the light of hard thought – has been displaced by indoctrination.

     And so a great many persons – especially young Americans – are being infected with stupid ideas whose stupidities they can neither detect nor refute.

     This is a superficial treatment of a complex subject: the cultivation of the ability to analyze and judge an abstract proposition. Yet the bones of the thing are there: exactitude in the use of words, and the willingness to confront adverse ideas, tease out their implications, and develop arguments against them.

     How can we reassert these antibodies of the prepared mind in the educational institutions of today?


Kye said...

"The phenomenon of large numbers of persons demanding to be protected from encountering ideas they dislike is a recent thing."

I would say it's phenomenon recent in America but not recent per se. I've seen films of Bolshevik show trials, Nazi show trials and Chinese and Cambodian show trials which clearly halted ideas they disliked. They wouldn't even let the defendant speak lest he hurt their virgin ears. I've watched tapes of communist trials where the defendant was verbally and psychologically abused so badly even after admitting his guilt he ran to receive his welcome punishment. BTW, just as the victim was usually an ardent party person who made (or was just accused) one error and this was the result.

Unknown said...

“How can we reassert these antibodies of the prepared mind in the educational institutions of today?”

We should inculcate in all people, young and old, the practice of asking “How do you know that?”

That five-word question has two parts.

[1] The last word “that” is a trigger to ask people to state precisely what they are claiming to be true; to dig through the vapid generalities and platitudes to get to something concrete and specific. "What do you mean by that?"

[2] “How do you know” pushes the advocate of some ‘truth’ to clarify which of four possible ways of knowing something to be true he is claiming:
[2.1] I know it’s true because God revealed it to me;
[2.2] . . . because I trust so and so who says it’s true;
[2.3] . . . based on the following deductive reasoning;
[2.4] . . . based on the following evidence from which I have made the following reasonable inferences.

I think asking such a question will reveal that many, many statements of 'fact' are pure nonsense or at least are completely unsupported by evidence or reasoning. This will show that the advocate of such 'facts' has no clue how to prove them to be true.

The advocates won't usually rely on #1 [God told me]. And #2 [I trust so and so], just allows us to ask, "Well, then, how does so and so know that it's true?" And ultimately we get to the evidence and reasoning fields of play.

One advantage to having this question at hand is that is does not even require a prepared mind. You don't yet need to know history and counter arguments to at least push the advocate to prove his case. I don't mean that's all you need, the history and reasoning skills must be developed. But my five-word question is a good starting point.

John Liljegren

Unknown said...

“Without agreement on the meanings of the words we use, effective thought and discourse are impossible.”

So true! I am a school bus driver for a private company under contract with a wealthy suburban Portland, Oregon school district. The district made its entire staff undergo implicit bias training over the past summer and decided we bus drivers and office staff needed it too last month.

I was aware of the bias training garbage but had not seen it up close and personal. The district equity official leading the ‘training’ and using Oregon dept. of ed. materials, started with general stuff about needing us to come to agreement and consensus. That was my opening.

So I started asking him to define bias, implicit, and implicit bias. Of course, neither he nor the state official who wrote the darn thing [and to whom I wrote and exchanged a couple emails] could ever come close to providing a clear definition. Let alone how to detect and measure them. Let alone how to define, detect and measure the cause-effect relationship between the alleged implicit bias and the alleged bad things that it allegedly causes.

How do we reach agreement and consensus if the words we use have no agreed meaning? I don’t believe it’s possible. There can never be a ‘meeting of the minds.’ [Admittedly, I’m assuming the implicit bias advocates have minds, a fact not yet supported by evidence.]

We haven’t had the follow up meeting or been forced to take the implicit bias test/survey yet. Can’t wait for the fun!

John Liljegren