Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The revolt of the public and the “age of post-truth” | the fifth wave

The revolt of the public and the “age of post-truth” | the fifth wave

I found this essay to be rich and highly thought-provoking. It talks about the nature of narratives, the relationship between the elite and the public and the political battles over what constitutes the truth.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ways to Burst Your Filter Bubble - Bloomberg View

Tyler Cowen offers some ideas for how we can overcome 
confirmation bias, "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses" per Wikipedia.

Cowen introduces the subject as follows:

Often readers send requests, and last week I was asked for “Good Rules to Avoid the Filter Bubble.” My correspondent meant, how to avoid reading too many of the people he agreed with, maintaining a balanced perspective in a time of increasing polarization. Of course, a “balanced” perspective isn’t always a more correct one (sometimes one side really does have more truth on its side). But still it seems valuable to understand the views of others, and to keep in mind the limitations of one’s own.
The sad thing is, this isn’t as easy as it might sound.

He offers several suggestions. My personal favorite is the ideological Turing test in which "you could write out the views of a Trump or Clinton supporter, or of some other point of view contrary to your own, in a way that would be indistinguishable from the writings of supporters." I also rely on Arnold Kling's Three Languages of Politics because I think his model helps identify the main focus liberals, conservatives and libertarians use when expressing and defending their positions. (Quick summary. Liberals talk about the oppressed/oppressors. Conservatives refer to civilization vs. barbarism while libertarians see things in terms of rights versus coercion.)

For a more detailed analysis of confirmation bias and other factors that affect our ability to be objective check out 
Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Interesting Oscars Comment: Related to Kling’s Three Languages of Politics

I’ve written a number of times about Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics. Basically he says that each of the three main political groups in the U.S. prefer to use a language that centers on an axis. Liberals talk about the oppressors vs. the oppressed. Conservatives worry about the effects of barbarism on civilization. Libertarians coach their positions in terms of freedom versus coercion.

With this as background a comment was made during the acceptance speech for best movie at the Oscars by Marc Platt, a “La La Land” producer. His comment was lost in the drama that unfolded shortly after he made this comment due to the award being given to the wrong film. I don’t know if Platt is familiar with Kling’s book. (Probably not.) Or if he was trying to appeal to conservative in his phrasing. (Also probably not.) But I found his statement a potential use of Kling’s ideas to express an idea that could span the two groups, liberal and conservatives.

Here is what he said with the key text highlighted: “Here’s to the fools who made me dream: my uncle Gary Platt; my mentor, Sam Cohn; my parents; my children; my wife Julie, on whose shoulders I’ve stood for 40 years because she insisted I reach for the stars. And to the Hollywood community that I’m so proud to be a part of. And to the Hollywood and the hearts and minds of people everywhere, repression is the enemy of civilization. So keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our lives tomorrow.”

I know he uses repression rather than oppression but I think the terms are close enough. Oppression involves keeping a person or a group of persons down while repression deals with the ability to express oneself. In any case, I find it interesting how Platt starts off with the liberal’s preferred term of repression to tie it to a conservative’s preference for civilization. I’m sure Platt would argue that a “civilized” world needs to allow freedom of expression, not the traditions conservatives want to protect such as religion.

What about the libertarians? They probably would say that the best way to prevent repression and protect civilization is by protecting individual rights.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Maverick Philosopher: A Note on Ayn Rand's Misunderstanding of Kant

This post by Bill Vallicella ("Maverick Philosopher") sheds some light on why Rand hasn't been taken seriously by professional philosophers.

First a personal admission. Years ago I tried to read Kant to see if I agreed with Rand's conclusion that he was "the most evil man in mankind's history." I didn't get very far! I found his language too obtuse (and my patience way too thin) to get more than a few pages into his Critique of Pure Reason. So I can't attest to the accuracy of Vallicella's interpretation of Kant. Per his profile, Vallicella "taught philosophy at various universities in the USA and abroad before abandoning a tenured position to live the eremitic life of the independent philosopher in the Sonoran desert."  

I won't try to summarize Vallicella's analysis here; I recommend reading his post.  

His conclusion:
the question is not whether Kant's ethical doctrine is true or reasonably maintained; the question is simply whether Rand has fairly presented it. The answer to that is in the negative.
So I persist in my view that Rand is a hack, and that this is part of the explanation of why many professional philosophers accord her little respect.
That being said, I'll take Rand over a leftist any day.
While I disagree with Vallicella's harsh labeling Rand as a "hack" I believe he makes some key points about Rand's approach to Kant. My impression is that Rand didn't have the patience (or interest) to digest Kant (and other thinkers). She read enough to get a sense of the thinker's direction. She thought in broad strokes, identifying key principles, but perhaps did not have the temperament to dig into the details of how these principles played out when applied to tough test cases. (I recall an interview with John Hospers in which he pointed out an issue with applying one of her ideas to a real world case that he felt wasn't so clear cut. [I don't remember the issue he brought up.] If my memory is correct, I recall that Rand's response to the point Hospers made was, "You bastard.")

Rand laid the broad groundwork for her philosophy but didn't write a definitive treatise to define and defend her philosophy in the kind of patient detail that is expected among philosophers.