Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ignorance is bliss?

Agentmancuso- a thoughtful Scottish Liberal- was kind enough to quote some words from this blog on the Our Scotland forum so I went to have a look.

The theme was "what is the most Fascist country in Europe?" One or two people suggested Russia, Croatia got a dishonourable mention, then a few suggested Estonia. I pointed out some fairly objective truths about the place, it is free and democratic for a start and adheres to various international conventions, including the European Union which really do prohibit states that are not objectively free.

I was therefore rather surprised to find a blizzard of comments in response based on nothing but unsupported assertions. No real evidence was presented, yet each seemed to have a passionate point of view which they clearly felt was as valid as any one Else's. Yet these positions were objectively false.

Absurd premises were made- that the Communist bloc did not practice state censorship, for example- that made me wonder whether we had not simply produced a generation of idiots. Intellectual debate depends on a series of logically constructed arguments, supported by evidence, yet the quality of much of the current political discourse is simply "well that's my opinion and it is just as valid as yours".

That way madness lies. In this looking glass world, black magic is as valid a truth as physics. It is not just the question of moral relativism, it is a question of knowledge versus ignorance and science versus superstition. If we reject the rigorous intellectual method of Western civilisation that insists on proof and provable method then eventually everything about humanity will collapse.

What is even more shocking is the number of people who when faced with that statement will simply shrug. However I can not believe in this essentially decadent passivity. It is incumbent upon political leaders to make their case with the full force of intellectual rigour behind them. Even if they are not explicit when they present their policies, there must be a fundamental intellectual logic.

The damnable thing about Tony Blair- and David Cameron if it comes to it- is that they trade on assertion and not worked out ideas.

- and that is a trivialisation of the political process and extremely dangerous indeed.

5 comments:

agentmancuso said...

Unfortunately, Cicero, the excitable reactions to your post on Our Scotland were in no way atypical of the standard level of debate there. The forum is largely dominated by fundamentalist nationalists, among whom virulence of tone is a frequent substitute for coherence of argument.

"Intellectual debate depends on a series of logically constructed arguments, supported by evidence"

Yes, out here in the real world that's generally the case, but the airtight bubble of nationalist oppression fantasy operates by different rules. Nationalism thrives on the avoidance of intellectual debate, and its replacement by emotionalist irrationalism.

It could be a long 4 years.

Tom Papworth said...

Have you not considered the possibility that the ISPs of all those anti-Estonians might be located several thousand miles East of Scotland?

margus said...

No real evidence was presented, yet each seemed to have a passionate point of view which they clearly felt was as valid as any one Else's. Yet these positions were objectively false.

Telling people that they're wrong - has that ever really worked? People tend to change their views only when the immediate detrimental effect of the 'wrong' idea on their personal lives is more significant than their status issues.

If we reject the rigorous intellectual method of Western civilization that insists on proof and provable method then eventually everything about humanity will collapse.

Definitely. But society can't rely only on 'trying things out by yourself to see how they work'. That would the wild west without sheriffs. We also need conformity and social control for society to work (let's try if murder really is that bad).
Very many intelligent and educated people are worried about global warming. Why? Is it because they have gone through the scientific evidence and agreed? No, the reason is because the media hype concerning the matter is overwhelming and they accept it as something that 'is'. The evidence against man-made global warming can be easily found over internet (CO2 effect is marginal compared to sun's radiation level changes - we would need nuclear winter to tackle global warming rather than CO2 emission reduction) but that is overlooked. The whole thing is based on environmentalists who are numerous and self-righteous. Just like hardcore socialists who think that the Soviet Union was essentially quite okay.

My point being - should we accept and acknowledge that people don't want to know things they don't like? Isn't one task of every government to hide sensitive information from the public that would otherwise turn them into a violent mob? Or should we try to educate ourselves and create the 'flat pyramid' active civil society? Maybe we should rid our school subjects of dull trivia and let teachers speak about controversial and harmful misconceptions? Not counting basic math, this is a must.

I would really like to know your insight on this.

Cicero said...

Agentmancuso- yes I fear the worst. It was pretty depressing seeing Salmond elected- especially knocking out Norah. However as an opposition it is incumbent upon us to hold the fantasists to account, and I hope that Nicol, Tavish, Iain and the rest will do so.

Well Tom, judging by style of English at least one of them was, but we do grow our own idiots too.

Tere Margus! Interesting points.

I am not suggesting that we do "try things out and see if they work"- in fact what I am suggesting is that we have a method of debate and proof which goes back to the earliest days of philosophy and of science. For we have Occams Razor and we have objective standards of proof which support the body of knowledge of Western Civilisation.

Based on these standards, we can give objective prooof of scientific and logical principles. There is therefore a large body of work which can be proven true. By contrast, although many may still beleive in it, black magic can not be proven and must fall into the catogary of superstition.
I think the point is that arguments need to be supported. Blind assertion is not sufficient to prove an argument.

Moving to your points on the civil society- clearly the media have a different agenda- what makes them popular or interesting may not be objectively true or even benefit society as a whole, a free press may not be an unbiased press. Thus the need to provide citizens with an education to evaluate the questions that from time to time come up before them. Apart from basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, a knowledge of basic scientific principles, of geography, of history and preferably at least one other foreign language ought to be on the syllabus for evryone. Unfortunately in the UK, even basic skills have not always been taught.

As far as your comments about the climate change debate are concerned, in fact, I think that the scientific case for man-made global warming has pretty much been made. There have been no scientific paapers at all that argue with the idea that the increased Co2 emitions are man made, and that these emitions are corallated to an increase in global temperatures. I agree that many campaigners have not relied of the scientific case to make their point, but there certainly is evidence that we need to be concerned about the effect of humans on what we now understand is a very fragile global weather system. Releasing this much carbon into the atmosphere is probably not a good idea. How we address the issue is a whole different question, and we can talk about this another time. However the debate should be conducted int eht terms of a question of science and not a question of oppinion.

margus said...

This is getting old so I'll just post some links about the human-induced climate change.

http://www.global-warming-and-the-climate.com/
http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.Facts&ContentRecord_id=8f5c9829-c459-4d17-89bb-3e3b04d8d444&Region_id=&Issue_id=

No better way to reassure yourself.