Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trump's Remaining Fanbase and the Broken-Glass Proof

Apparently I'm developing a taste for masochism, as I sat through the entirety of Trump's televised Phoenix rally the other night. He kicked it off with an outright lie – claiming there were not many people protesting him outside – and things only got worse from there. Yet his outright lies and lies of omission mattered not at all to his remaining fanbase of supporters. Here's the actual transcript of a brief back-and-forth I had on Twitter while the rally was still ongoing:
ME: Trump just accused CNN of cutting off the feed to the #PhoenixRally. I'm WATCHING that lying narcissistic twit on CNN.

SOME TRUMP FAN: He never said CNN

ME: Yes, he did. You can check it yourself, once this travesty of a speech re-airs.

SAME TRUMP FAN: Awesome speech calling out the media.
It's almost as though "support for Trump" exists in a set amount, and as that support is divided among fewer and fewer Americans, it becomes evermore concentrated in those Americans who DO still support him — mere seconds after his ludicrous claim that the very networks airing his speech were cutting off their feeds (because "they" don't want Americans to hear his words), his fans insisted that no, he never said any such thing, and it's awesome how he said it. The hell of it is, I don't think these people are actively, consciously lying; they genuinely can't see or hear what Trump says or does, when his words or actions contradict reality. They don't even see their own contradictions.

Suppose instead that Trump and his fans admitted the truth about how relatively few people went to the rally versus how very many protested it outside, but said “See, now, this rally WOULD have been packed, if not for God-loving Americans' fear that the evil violent Antifa-types would attack them....” yeah, that would be dishonest and self-serving, but in a way which at least accepts certain undeniable aspects of reality – namely, the numerical amount of people who went out for or against Trump at the rally. But no – instead Trump and his fans went for outright gaslighting: there were YUUGE numbers of rally attendees, a TINY number of protesters, the very networks airing this speech are refusing to air it....

I recall a conversation I had on a certain chat forum years ago—the context was discussing why certain otherwise-intelligent people will deny evolution, or manmade climate change, or something along those lines. And I posited that maybe part of the problem was that such issues lack what I called a “broken glass proof.” By which I mean: suppose you and I are debating the nature of glass – I say it is breakable, you say it is not.

I could perhaps change your mind (or maybe, “You are perhaps capable of changing your mind, if you are intellectually honest enough to admit 'Hmm, my previously held idea was wrong'”) via persuasion, reasoning and deduction: here are the facts regarding glass' chemical formula, crystalline structure, molecular bonds and the relative strength of them all. Everybody knows that substances with these qualities can break, glass has these qualities, ergo glass can break.

But if reasoning and deduction won't convince you that glass can indeed break, it is extremely easy for me to illustrate the breakability of glass: Here's an unbroken glass object. Behold, I just broke it. I can repeat this experiment multiple times if necessary. And if look at those broken shards and still deny glass is breakable, there's two possibilities: you are either lying/dishonest regarding what you actually see, or you are downright delusional/insane. Either way, it's clearly not worth my time to debate you anymore.

Most of the great religious, political or scientific controversies that currently exist or once existed are controversies for which there is no broken-glass proof: you personally cannot see man evolving from lower animals, nor single-celled organisms evolving into complex multicellular life. There is no vantage point from which you can observe the Earth orbiting the sun, the way you can observe carousel horses circling the center of a merry-go-round. You can't even directly see increased levels of greenhouse gases leading to higher average temperatures, the way you can directly see “Huh, holding a lighted match to a pile of newspapers makes those papers catch on fire.” Smoking tobacco doesn't immediately and directly cause lung cancer in the way that swallowing cyanide immediately and directly causes death. Et cetera.

So disbelieving in the evolution of man, the earth orbiting the sun, the reality of man-made climate change – at best these suggest a MASSIVE blind spot, but don't necessarily prove outright dishonesty or delusion in the manner of someone who can look at glass breaking and still deny glass can break, because evolution, the movement of the Earth or similar things all lack that undeniable broken-glass proof.

But lately, this past week or so, the Trumpsters ARE going so far as to deny broken-glass proofs – looking at huge crowds of anti-Trump protesters, yet insisting there's hardly anybody there. Swearing that the very stations which aired his speech refused to air it, because “they” don't want Americans to hear the truth. Accepting Trump's revised accounts of his original post-Charlottesville commentary despite video evidence proving his revised accounts were wrong. And so forth. And that's why I've given up even trying to debate with Trump fans, anymore than I'd waste time trying to convince  people who don't believe those broken shards of glass they see is proof positive that yes, glass CAN break.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What REAL "Heritage, Not Hate" Would Look Like

My father was career military so I'm not really “from” any one particular place, but between childhood, adolescence and adulthood, I've spent more than half my life living in former Confederate states, so technically, I qualify as a “Southerner.” And I'm about as pale as you can get without crossing the line into full-fledged albino status, which means I'm among the whitest of white Southerners, too.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing argument which claims that my own heritage, history and/or culture is under attack, due to efforts to remove Confederate memorials from public places, or rename public streets and buildings named after Confederate heroes. To which I say: hogwash. Quit honoring Confederates; the only good thing to say about the Confederacy is that it lost. If private citizens want to continue honoring the memory of slavery and those who fought to defend it, that of course is their right, but the government should not be using taxpayers' money to glamorize such people.

Nor am I impressed by arguments that statues or road signs honoring Confederates are a vital part of “Southern heritage,” “Southern history” or “Southern culture.” Surely, there's more to the heritage, history and culture than those four years fighting for the right to own slaves? You could name streets after various Southern literary greats -- there's far too many to mention here, but off the top of my head I can think of Harper Lee, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Alice Walker. Or, erect monuments and name public buildings after the various genres of music which started in the South, or the Southern musicians who made those genres famous. One could honor famous painters and other artists from the South. Or Southern inventors and scientists ranging from John Pemberton to George Washington Carver …. if “honoring Southern history, heritage and culture” (rather than honoring white supremacy and those who fought to maintain it) were the actual goal, there are plenty of options which don't require fetishizing the four years white Southerners spent trying to secede from the United States so they wouldn't have to give up their slaves.

(To forestall any arguments a la “It wasn't about slavery; it was about states' rights! And tariffs!” .... bullshit. Read the actual Confederate states' own articles of secession, which explicitly mention the importance of preserving slavery and/or white supremacy. As for the counterargument “What about monuments honoring slaveowners such as Washington and Jefferson, huh? You wanna take THOSE down, too?” ... those men today are honored and remembered for other things they did despite the stain of slavery on their souls. There's a big difference between “refusing to honor famous people who happened to own slaves” and “refusing to honor people who are famous solely because they fought their own countrymen to preserve the right to own slaves.” Had slavery never existed in America, there would still be plenty of reasons for American history books today to remember the likes of Washington and Jefferson ... but no reason at all to remember the likes of Jefferson Davis.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

James Damore, Aaron Sobczak, and the Right to Free Speech

For the past couple weeks I've been facepalming on the sidelines of two online free-speech battles: a small skirmish generally unknown to anyone outside of the libertarian Twittersphere, and a larger, more recent war making headlines around the world.

First, the libertarian skirmish: during a libertarian conference on the weekend of July 29, the Ladies of Liberty Alliance, using the hashtag #MakeLibertyWin, went on Twitter to ask for suggestions on how to get more women involved in the libertarian movement.

In response, a young man named Aaron Sobczak, a Liberty University student who is or was the state chair of Virginia's Libertarian Youth Caucus, tweeted back a photo of a sandwich, alongside the witty and original suggestion that this is “The best way for a woman to #MakeLibertyWin.” Later – though I don't know the exact timeline of events – he doubled down on his comment by making a public Facebook post claiming that “screeching feminists” are why women shouldn't be involved in the liberty movement at all (except, presumably, as sandwich-makers for the menfolks).

In response, Reason writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown tweeted a screenshot of Sobczak's comedy stylings, under the observation “This is a young man who ostensibly wants a job someday, tweeting at professional women in his field under his own name,” and “RT to help ensure Aaron Sobczak’s prospective employers know this when they search for Aaron Sobczak’s name.”

Which made a lot of capital-L Libertarians furious – what kind of horrid groupthink is Brown promoting, suggesting that a man should suffer professional consequences just for spouting an unpopular opinion?

Though not usually prolific on Twitter, I decided to join the fray myself, re-tweeting Brown's comment along with this observation:
Libertarian hypocrisy: "We don't need anti-discrimination laws; The Market will punish sexism. Also, how DARE ENBrown call out this bigot!"
I'll be the first to agree: it would be awful to live in a world where merely “expressing an unpopular opinion” seriously hurts someone's chances of making a decent living. But what if that “unpopular opinion” specifically boils down to “I believe certain groups of people – many of whom are employees or customers of my employer – are inherently inferior, somehow”? If a libertarian-outreach organization refuses to hire Sobczak just because he wants to pre-emptively write off slightly more than half the human race, is that organization punishing him for non-conformity to groupthink – or making a sensible, defensible decision?

Kat Murti of the Cato Institute posted a 13-tweet thread explaining Sobczak's genitally focused idiocy in more detail;  for convenience's sake, I've combined all 13 tweets into a single paragraph here:
I stand by @ENbrown and those who critiqued the "sandwich tweet." Here's why... The tweet was posted in response to a discussion about women's role in the liberty movement and misogyny faced by libertarian women. The tweeter is a low-level representative of a liberty org who was attending a liberty conference and tweeting at fellow libertarians. No one searched out sexist jokes to make an example of their tweeters; the tweet was meant to be seen. It was made publicly, using the hashtag of the discussion, & tagged numerous libertarian women & orgs. It was not taken out of context. This was not a "joke." When called on it, the tweeter's response underscored these were his actual views on libertarian women. He (posting publicly on Facebook) said "screeching feminists" are exactly why women shouldn't be a part of the liberty movement. Suggesting that someone who hold these views is not a good ambassador for liberty is not an attack on his free speech. None of the people critiquing the original tweet called for legal repercussions or a violent response to silence the tweeter. However, some libertarian women who shared the tweet received anonymous texts with their home addresses & threats (actual doxxing). While I do think political correctness and call-out culture has in many cases gone overboard, this was not such a case. Libertarians must take a (peaceful, voluntary) stand against bigotry espoused by those who purport to be a part of our movement. Misogyny is not a libertarian value and standing against it is not an attack on free speech.
I've no qualms about admitting I agree completely with Murti's take: a man who espouses views antithetical to liberty shouldn't be employed in the liberty movement. But what about non-political (or apolitical) employers – is it acceptable for them to not-want to hire a man who publicly argues the inherent inferiority of women? Who is the source of the problem here: the man who repeatedly, publicly expresses a low opinion of women, or the women (and friends of same) who don't want to work with or for such a man?

A few years ago, the then-CEO of Mozilla resigned after it came out that he'd donated time and money to political efforts against gay marriage. Same conundrum: yeah, it stinks that someone lost his job merely for an unpopular opinion, but on the other hand that specific opinion was "Certain of my fellow citizens – many of whom work for this company, or use this company's products – are undeserving of full equal legal rights." Are the "un-equal" people in question being oppressors, if they say "Y'know, I really don't want to work for or with a man who is so convinced of my inherent inferiority?" Or "Given how many identical products there are on the market, I choose to use the product made by executives who don't seek to deprive me of equal rights?"

That said, the issue of former Google engineer James Damore is a bit trickier. Damore lost his job after publishing – on an internal Google message board – a ten-page pseudo-intellectual screed basically arguing that the reason companies like Google have far fewer women than men on their payroll is because of inherent biological differences. (He also implied – though never outright stated – that racial disparities in hiring are also due to biology rather than culture.)

My single favorite eyeroll-worthy paragraph from Damore's memo is probably this one:
Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”
If nothing else, I admire Damore's talent for creating semi-plausible deniability for himself: no, he did not specifically say that striving for full racial or sexual equality is as unrealistic as Communism's attempts to bring about full economic equality. And he doesn't specifically say that anyone opposed to sexism or racism is either a gorram Commie or unwilling dupe of same. All he did was post a historical fact about the repeated failures of Communism! And all Sobczak did was tweet a photo of a delicious-looking sandwich.


See if you can find the logical flaw in the following hypothetical statement: “Certain people will call us neo-Nazis 'bigots' just because we hate all Jews... yet those same people never call Jews 'bigots' even though they hate all neo-Nazis. That's because of hypocrisy.”
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