November 17, 2009

POLITE SOCIETY

Related to the granting the premise idea, here's Roger Kimball on Lou Dobbs and what the media deems acceptable:

The English critic William Hazlitt once spoke disparagingly of "common place critics" who pretend to put themselves "in the middle, between the extremes of right and wrong." Something similar could be said of the rancid, illiberal liberalism of commentators like Krugman and Burns. They look upon their own opinions less as opinions than as universally applicable observations that reflect the state of nature. Their opinions are just what any enlightened, virtuous member of "polite" society believes. Only those who disagree with them have "fractious," line-crossing opinions unacceptable to such polite company as represented by Krugman, The New York Times and Media Matters. Here's what's really at stake in the controversy of Dobbs and CNN. It's not only Dobbs who's been rusticated: It's also the robust liberalism that thrived on disagreement, argument and polemic.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by: Sarah at 07:47 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 I hate it so much when people say use the term "the middle ground." 

The Middle Ground is a stupid idea.  The truth is never at either extreme, but never is it in the middle, either.  The idea of that in order to be "fair" one must split the difference makes me want to hurl.  It's just stupid and it exists only on the premise that the rest of us are stupid enough to fall for the idiotic premise that the truth is always at the 50/50 mark.

Well, that's crap. 

We will always need to compromise and work together, because that's how life is.  It's that way micro and macro (case in point - my house, which is neither the all-white-in-every-room preference of my husband, nor the bright-colors-everywhere that I would have chosen).  But that does NOT mean that you abandon all premise but "being on the middle ground" as if that is some sort of moral victory.

If you ask me, that is the absence of morals and a vacuum of moral thought. 

Either stick to straight news (which even the most PBS inclined among us has to admit gets very boring) or pepper your staff with both views and allow robust debate.  Defending our positions is how we learn, not by being surrounded by people in an echo chamber.

CNN reminds me of that book by Judy Blume - Freckle Juice, where the boy is told in the end that all perfect people do is sit and drink weak tea all the time.  BORING.  And totally not worth emulating, either.

Posted by: airforcewife at November 17, 2009 09:33 AM (uE3SA)

2 airforcewife,

The truth is never at either extreme, but never is it in the middle

I would say the truth is what it is. People think in terms of spectra. Suppose we define a spectrum in terms of 0 to 10. The truth could be at one extreme (0) or the other (10) or in the middle (5). Or the spectrum could be completely wrong, and the truth is really a negative number or infinity or A.

I do not rule out the extremes because existence is extreme. Either something exists or it does not. If "the truth is never at either extreme" and is never "in the middle," then something can never exist or not exist or be halfway between existence and nonexistence; it can only almost exist or almost non-exist. If nonexistence is 0 and existence is 1, then 0, 1, and .5 have to be ruled out, and the only possible values would roughly be 0.0001-0.4999 and 0.5001-0.9999. (The exact number of zeroes and nines after the decimal point would be infinite.)
But some things are binary in the real world. Ayn Rand's John Galt either exists or does not exist in real life. (Bad news: he doesn't exist.)

I am not saying truth is whatever we want it to be. I am saying that truth is independent of our fantasies and our mental shortcuts like 'the truth is never X or Y'.

We can compromise on things in the future. We can decide to aim for 5 instead of 0 or 10. But the past and present are less subject to negotiation; we can change our minds about them, but they exist independently of our thinking. When someone says the truth is always/never X, they are trying to project their desires upon reality. And they may not realize what powerful words 'always' and 'never' are. They are not synonyms for 'usually' or 'rarely'.

I realize I have simplified a complex subject. Not all reality is binary. Before we can speak of whether X exists, we have to agree upon what counts as X. Semantics is fluid. Language is just labels; reality exists independent of it. We can abolish a word, but its referent won't vanish from history just because its tag is gone.

If you ask me, that is the absence of morals and a vacuum of moral thought. 

The irony is that those who claim to be in the middle believe they are on the moral high ground. Quite the opposite. They are distorting reality. How can that be moral?

Defending our positions is how we learn, not by being surrounded by people in an echo chamber.

I strongly encourage people to listen to others who share some common ground with you but otherwise are diametrically opposed to what you stand for. Some degree of overlap is needed so you respect them and can keep listening to them. Otherwise you'll run away and won't be able to learn from them at all. I have rejected a lot of my old positions by leaving the echo chamber and reading blogs written by my partial opponents.

Posted by: Amritas at November 17, 2009 12:43 PM (+nV09)

3 Arthur Koestler has some relevant thoughts.

Posted by: david foster at November 17, 2009 02:45 PM (uWlpq)

4 I strongly encourage people to listen to others who share some common ground with you but otherwise are diametrically opposed to what you stand for. Some degree of overlap is needed so you respect them and can keep listening to them. Otherwise you'll run away and won't be able to learn from them at all. I have rejected a lot of my old positions by leaving the echo chamber and reading blogs written by my partial opponents.

Amritas, that is an excellent way to put it.  You have to be willing to listen to someone to hear what they have to say, and you're far more likely to do so if you can see the complex person beyond that particular opinion.  If someone is knee-jerkedly a "neocon" or what-have-you, you have made them into a caricature, which is easy to dismiss.

I think that I probably didn't explain myself very well about the scale, though.  And I was thinking in terms of the linear scale you used, too!  The truth is definitely the truth, but I think that there are truths and then there are truths.  One thing that I find so interesting about studying the history of conflicts is the reasoning people use for their participation.  There is truth, definitely, but there is also the greater good and the lesser evil.  And all these things work together to make an answer that we may not like in any way, and yet understand to be the best solution that is possible.  In the meantime, with each addition of a new aspect, the truth is sliding around on the 1 - 10 scale from one place to another, since very rarely are we analyzing things like "WWII happened", and more often we are analyzing things like, "We need additional troops in Afghanistan."

Yes, I think we do.  Because I want to win the war and it seems to me that the analysis says those troops are necessary to smack the crap out of AQ and move forward to a holding pattern with fewer troops.  Others might think we need NO troops, pull them all out, it's useless.  Etc, ad infinitum.

That's what I meant by the fact that there's truth and then there's truth.  And the scale never being at an extreme or the middle. 

If that makes sense.  I'm sure it's utterly boring - sorry for that.

Posted by: airforcewife at November 17, 2009 03:02 PM (uE3SA)

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