Monday, June 26, 2023

Gell-Mann Amnesia: What is it?

 I recently learned about a term created by Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, Jaws and Andromeda Strain. He identified something he labeled the Gell-Mann Amnesia. (Crichton named it after a friend, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann who discovered and named the quark.)

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.”

I have seen amnesia in action with people I know. As an example, I know a married couple who are devout Catholics. They distrust the reporting of The Boston Globe because they believe the Globe harbors an anti-Catholic bias. Yet they believe everything else the Globe says! I guess the Globe is biased only on one subject. Right?

I think there is another version of Gell-Mann Amnesia. Here is an example. During the Trump administration the media harped endlessly on his alleged collusion with Russia. When the Mueller report showed that there were no such ties, the people I know who bought into the Russia-gate story conveniently forgot how they were misled for years then move on to the next story. Their faith in their trusted news sources remains intact.


Monday, May 1, 2023

Tucker Carlson: Should We Care That He Is Off The Air?

A friend posted his reaction to Fox pulling Tucker Carlson’s show off the air by saying that he will shed no tears over his departure. Why? Because Carlson didn’t advocate individualism, free markets or limited government but represents “right-wing tribalism” and a push for conservative big government. Several other people expressed their agreement for my friend’s position.

Why do I bring this up here? Why should Objectivists or libertarians care? I’ll get to that later but first want to give my initial thoughts on Carlson’s silencing.

My opinion of Carlson isn’t quite as negative as my friend’s. I won’t shed tears for Tucker either but for a different reason. He probably will land on a platform where his audience will be even larger (like Joe Rogan who has an audience at least three times larger than Carlson’s) and will make much more money. (However, will he have as much influence?) What bothers me is how Democrats such as Chuck Schumer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) openly called for taking Tucker off the air and, for whatever reason, Fox complied. (I’ve heard various theories what lead to his sudden silencing. My guess is that it was a combination of factors.) I find it interesting too that Schumer or AOC aren’t demanding Fox to remove Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham or Jesse Watters. It bothers me that I haven’t seen much dismay among those who posted on my friend’s Facebook page about Carlson. I don’t feel bad for Carlson; I’m more concerned about the concerted effort to silence people who question the dominant narratives.

Despite his flaws, Tucker played an important role in challenging and questioning many of the narratives pushed by the Left and their media cheerleaders. He questioned or revealed Biden's financial ties to China (Tony Bobulinsky interviews), DEI's (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) adverse impact on meritocracy in the fields of airline piloting, medicine and corporate America, the incestuous relationship between pharma, government and media in pushing the vaccines and lockdowns while silencing and de-platforming doctors who disagreed, and the shady collusion between the various Federal agencies and Twitter (plus other social media platforms) to suppress mostly conservative voices. (Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, who Elon Musk recruited to produce the “Twitter files,” call this relationship the Censorship Industrial Complex. Shellenberger and Taibbi have been guests on Tucker’s show.)

None of the other mainstream media outlets said a peep about Bobulinsky or the Twitter files. Carlson’s shows on the January 6th protest/riot revealed a different version than what we were told by other media; his revelation of video on what happened when Jacob Chansley [“QAnon Shaman”] was inside the Capitol ultimately led to his release from prison. Chansley’s lawyer didn’t have access to this video before Carlson’s show.

Yes, Carlson has questioned our involvement in the Ukraine war, has talked about the claims of Zelensky’s corruption and the lack of accounting for how the funds and military hardware we sent are being used. Even if we endorse supporting the Ukraine militarily, concerns about Zelensky’s regime and lack of accounting for what is being done with our military equipment shouldn’t be minimized or ignored.

I'm not saying Carlson is an individualist or even a free marketer. I'd say he is a conservative populist. I know from watching Carlson he believes we have a uni-party government consisting of elites who impose laws and regulations that affect us but not them. So, OK, Carlson could argue that these perks for the elites should be stopped. Agree. But since the elite control the levers of government is that likely? Probably not. So, I speculate that Carlson argues instead for policies that could benefit the middle class. In principle, I disagree because it doesn't address the cause of the problem. As a practical matter, I don't like the idea, but I don't think it's cause to claim Carlson is the enemy and a Luddite.

According to Megyn Kelly, Carlson wasn't fired. His show was taken off the air while Carlson is still under contract which was renewed in 2021 and expires in 2024. There is speculation that this was done to muzzle Carlson so that he won't influence the 2024 election. In any case, Carlson and his executive producer supposedly contacted a lawyer to work out a deal with Fox to end his contract.

In evaluating Tucker Carlson, we need to weigh his positives and negatives. Others have covered the negatives, so I won’t repeat them here. I’d narrow Carlson’s positives to two themes. One, his concern over the breakdown of civilization. Two, his desire to protect free speech. (They are interconnected.) We can yearn for someone advocating individualism to take his place. I don’t see anyone coming to the rescue, and I’m not holding my breath! Meanwhile you can tell that, despite his flaws, Tucker was effective when you see the paroxysms of glee his departure has spawned on the left.

You've heard the saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good. It seems that some Objectivists think we should dump (or dump on) Carlson because isn't a perfect representative of our side and therefore there is nothing good about him. To me this is like the position Rand and some of her followers took about dealing with libertarians. I recall that they chastised David Kelly for giving a talk at a libertarian event.

What can we learn from Carlson’s influence? He argued strongly and with moral conviction against the trends such as the push to favor diversity over merit. Whether or not we agree with Carlson’s moral principles we can see that his passionate moral stand made a difference. Objectivists certainly have moral passion on their side! Moreover, Carlson marshalled facts and arguments, leavened with sarcasm and mockery, to punch holes in the various narratives. It’s not enough just to claim you have the moral high ground. You need to build up to that moral high ground with facts and logic.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Scott Adams on Censorship and Voting

Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert and host of daily video blog Coffee With Scott Adams on YouTube and Locals) posted this tweet with a provocative thesis.

Censorship determines the narrative. The narrative determines public opinion. Public opinion determines the vote. The vote determines who runs the country.

We have replaced voting with battles over who gets censored.

In response I posted this:

Behind the censorship is the postmodern idea that those who have the most power can decide and determine what is true.

Although I agree with Adams, I think he doesn’t go back far enough to the source of the censorship. The censorship Adams talks about doesn’t spring out of nothing like the Big Bang. We need to identify the beliefs that people use to justify imposing censorship that prevents certain ideas from being expressed or facts from being uncovered.

I believe postmodernism plays a role in many issues. I summarize postmodernism as the belief that there is no objective truth. Therefore, “truth” is determined by those who have the most power over the tools of communication such as social media, news media and over our language which includes the meanings of words and what is considered acceptable uses of these words. (There are some who claim that even silence can be oppressive because if you don’t vocally repudiate something that means you secretly support the “offensive” idea.)

Therefore, I now use the term “partial news” when referring to the news media. (I know, it's not as catchy as Trump's "fake news." I’m also thinking of using “skewed news.”) Here the word “partial” has two meanings. The first meaning refers only part of the story being told so that leads us to the conclusion they want us to reach. The second meaning refers to our news outlets as being partial rather than being impartial (i.e., objective). Postmodernism lies behind this because postmodernists believe there is no objective truth. When the truth and facts no longer serve as a yardstick, your political agenda takes over. News stories can then be crafted to steer us to a predetermined conclusion rather than presenting other sides of the story. 


Monday, November 1, 2021

Learn to Think with the Best of Them

 This is the title of a section in Peter T. Coleman’s The Way Out: How To Overcome Toxic Polarization. Coleman’s book strives to show ways to deal with the strident difference of opinion we see all around us. I’ve chosen to put on long quote that I like. It relates to my July 29 post, Favorite Twitter Follows/Examples of Objective Thinkers. I believe many of the names in the table of that post present good examples of people with whom I don’t necessarily agree with but feel they strive to be objective. Prime examples would be Scott Adams, Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald.


As creatures of habit in a highly polarized era, most of us tend to follow the rule, “move toward similar others and away from different.” We are automatically inclined to surround ourselves with and therefore think with similar others who share “congenial information” versus “uncongenial information” – simply because it is easier and more comforting.


Most of us tend to close ranks and prefer to listen to those we mostly agree with during such tense times (it just feels so good!). This tendency to move toward the similar is intensified by the internet sorting algorithms employed today by many of the major technology platforms that automatically direct us to news, information, and opinion content that is complimentary to our own. This all serves to significantly reduce the nuance and accuracy of our understanding of complicated issues.

One check on this echo-chamber effect is to actively choose to think and learn with different people; that is, intentionally choose to hear from people across the divide. No, it does not mean that you need to tune into the nut jobs on talk radio and cable TV that spout nonsense and conspiracy theories. But it does suggest that there is much to gain from seeking out the best representatives of people you disagree with and thinking through complex issues (although not necessarily agreeing) with them.


So, if you are interested in gaining a more accurate understanding of a particular issue, learn to seek out the best thought leaders on the other side. [Emphasis added.]

I’d say there is another reason to do this: to test our beliefs. Someone who disagrees with you might present information we hadn’t considered when reaching our position or they might reveal a potential weakness in our argument. It doesn’t mean we have to ditch our position; it might mean acknowledging that we need to tweak it.

Monday, October 4, 2021

New Neuroscience Reveals 7 Secrets That Will Make You Emotionally Intelligent - Barking Up The Wrong Tree

New Neuroscience Reveals 7 Secrets That Will Make You Emotionally Intelligent - Barking Up The Wrong Tree: Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes

Eric Barker who wrote Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong also has a blog where he shares his insights based on Barker’s research. I recommend his book. I also recommend reading his summary of another book which I read recently. It’s Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes by Ian Leslie.

I’ve been reading several books lately on how to overcome the extreme polarization we see, particularly in politics. So far, I haven’t come across anything in these books that I found to be earthshaking, “eureka!” insights. But there is one that I believe deserves promoting; Eric Barker agrees. He devotes a long blog post to capturing the key points of Conflicted. Below I’ve provided Barker’s summary of these key points. I debated whether to do this because you might read the summary below and think, “Eh, what’s the big deal?” If so, I invite you to read Barker’s entire post to get a better idea what is behind these key points.

Without further ado, here is the final section of Barker’s post.

Sum Up

This is how to have emotionally intelligent disagreements:

  • Remember The Relationship: Enemies don’t say, “You are right. I am wrong.” Friends do.
  • De-Escalate: If your disputes sound even half as snarky as my writing, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Stop Trying To Control What They Think Or Feel: When their autonomy is threatened, people attack or shut down.
  • Help Them Make Their Argument Stronger: If you can’t disprove the best version of their argument, then you’re not “right”, you’re just playing tricks. And, more importantly, “steelmanning” shows you’re listening and that you’re sincere. [HCS comment: steelmanning is the opposite of using a straw man argument in which we purposely oversimplify or exaggerate someone’s argument in order to discount it. Steelmanning involves trying to strengthen the argument of your conversational partner before trying to rebut it.]
  • Disrupt The Script: Constructive conversations have ups and downs. Don’t escalate tension. Make a joke or say something positive.
  • Get Curious: So those aliens that talk to you, do they give good advice?
  • Help Them Question Their Own Thinking: Therapists don’t say: “That’s ridiculous. Where in your brain did the stroke occur for you to have an idea so stupid?” No, they ask questions until you start to question your own thinking and it crosses the blood-brain barrier that what you’ve been saying is the equivalent of 2+2=147.



Thursday, July 29, 2021

Examples of (mostly) objective thinkers

 If you read this blog regularly you know that I like to keep track of people who try to think objectively. Those who do are hard to pigeonhole into the usual categories such as liberal or conservative, global warmer or warming skeptic, true news or fake news, and so on. Some of the people on the list below, such as Tucker Carlson and Bill Maher, clearly fall into one category or another. Carlson is a conservative while Maher is liberal. However, both of them sometimes take unexpected positions on some subjects. Carlson has taken on the Republican establishment at times while Maher has strongly criticized Islam and the COVID shutdowns. Given my libertarian leanings I agree with Carlson more than I do with Maher. Nonetheless I follow Maher partly because he reveals the direction the left is taking but mostly because he occasionally breaks ranks with his colleagues (and takes heat for it).

In the climate change debate Judith Curry has expressed concerns over those who claim global warming is man-made. While she says we do have some affect Curry believes the true story is more complicated. Same with Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Shellenberger, both of whom believe we affect the climate but think the people who try to scare us into drastic action on global warming grossly simplify the true story.

Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are on the left, yet Greenwald fears the push to control free speech by some on his side of the fence. Taibbi, who hated Trump, feels the objectivity of the news media vaporized in the heat of their hatred for Trump.


Below I’ve picked my favorites out of the 900+ people and organizations I follow on Twitter and put my absolute favorites in bold. If I ranked them in order of priority it would be Scott Adams, Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Turley. 


  

Category

Name

Twitter Handle

Climate Change

Bjorn Lomborg

@BjornLomborg

Climate Change

Judith Curry

@curryja

Climate Change

Michael Shellenberger

@ShellenbergerMD

COVID

Alex Berenson

@AlexBerenson

COVID

Ethical Skeptic

@EthicalSkeptic

COVID

Gummi Bear

@gummibear737

Critical Thinking

Peter Boghossian

@peterboghossian

Free speech

Glenn Greenwald

@ggreenwald

General

Andreas Backhaus

@AndreasShrugged

General

Critical Thinking 101

@critical18495985

General

Greg Lukianoff

@glukianoff

General

Hotep Jesus

@HotepJesus

General

Jonathan Haidt

@JonHaidt

General

Jonathan Turley

@JonathanTurley

General

Jordan Peterson

@jordanbpeterson

General

Megan McArdle

@asymmetricinfo

General

Mike Cernovich

@Cernovich

General

Scott Adams

@ScottAdamsSays

General

Steve Hilton

@SteveHiltonx

General

Steve Pinker

@sapinker

General

Bari Weiss

@bariweiss

News Bias

AllSides

@AllAidesNew

News Bias

Ground News

@Ground_app

News Bias

Just The News

@JustTheNews

News Bias

Left Right News

@leftrightnewsus

News Bias

Sharyl Attkisson

@SharylAttkisson

News/Politics

Martin Gurri

@mgurri

News/Politics

Matt Taibbi

@mtaibbi

Personal Development

Naval

@naval

Politics

Alan Dershowitz

@AlanDersh

Politics

Bill Maher

@billmaher

Politics

Dave Rubin

@RubinReport

Politics

Greg Gutfeld

@greggutfeld

Politics

Tucker Carlson

@TuckerCarlson

Race

John McWhorter

@JohnHMcWhorter

Reporting

Andy Ngo

@MrAndyNgo

Reporting

Jack Posobiec

@JackPosobiec

Reporting

Lara Logan

@laralogan

 


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual - TK News by Matt Taibbi

Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual - TK News by Matt Taibbi: Reviewing "Repressive Tolerance" and other works by Herbert Marcuse, the quack who became America’s most influential thinker

We hear a lot about what is called the “Cancel Culture” and wokeism, especially from those on the political right who see these forces as threatening our civilization with its law and order. I’ve seen many on the right such as Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity bemoan this destructive trend but without offering a good explanation why this is happening or what can be done to stop it. For explanations of the ideas behind these forces of deconstruction I recommend Stephen Hicks’ book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault and Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay.

I would now add Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual, an insightful essay by Matt Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone and wrote books such as Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another. Taibbi comes from a journalist background and is politically on the left. However, I’d say he is closer to being a traditional liberal than a progressive one. His essay builds a case for explaining a lot of what is happening stems from Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher. My blog post won’t be able to do justice to Taibbi’s article, so I won’t try to summarize his argument or key points here. Instead, I’ll share some key quotes that stood out.

Here are selected quotes from different parts of the essay.

Most Americans have never heard of him — he died in 1979 — but his ideas today are ubiquitous as Edison’s lightbulbs. He gave us everything from “Silence Equals Violence” to “Too Much Democracy” to the “Crisis of Misinformation” to In Defense of Looting to the 1619 Project and Antiracist Baby, and from the grave has cheered countless recent news stories, from the firing of Mandalorian actress Gina Corano to the erasure of raw footage of the Capitol riot from YouTube.

He was the real-world embodiment of Orwell’s utopian linguists who were impatient to rid the world of all those annoying words for shades of difference. Once you have a lock on “good,” why bother litigating degrees of its opposite? Bad is bad. He thought in binary pairs, and freely conflated concepts like inadequacy, misgovernment, and indifference with cruelty, repression, persecution, and terror, a habit of mind that’s inspired a generation of catastrophizing neurotics who genuinely don’t know the difference between disagreement and an attempt on their lives.

We saw it in health officials who went from condemning anti-lockdown protests to, a week or two later, declaring that racism — not on their radar prior to the murder of George Floyd — was a “lethal public health issue” superseding the pandemic. We saw it with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applying the transitive property of whatever nineteen times over to make Ted Cruz’s decision to refuse certification of the Electoral College mean he was “trying to murder me” and “almost had me murdered.” Same with the New York Times employees who declared their lives were thrust in peril by soon-to-be-fired editor James Bennet’s decision to run an editorial by Senator Tom Cotton.

Summing up, this is a theory of an intellectual elite forced to seize absolute power on behalf of racial minorities, the disabled, and other oppressed groups, while canceling free speech and civil rights for all others, and especially for the corrupted mass of working-class people, who are no friends of the revolution but actually ignorant conservatives obstructing the road to “pacification and liberation.” Does this sound familiar?
It does indeed sound all too familiar!

I find Taibbi’s respect for facts and objectivity refreshing so I always look forward to his commentary and analysis, even when I disagree with him. These disagreements give me the chance to test my beliefs.