Month: August 2014

Opinion Entitlement? You’re missing the point.

So, I Fucking Love Science has posted this up at least three times that I’ve seen in the last year, one more time today:

To some degree, it says what’s perfectly reasonable: uninformed opinions have less value than informed opinions, so if new information that would upset your opinion comes around and you disregard it, then you’re wrong and you ARE NOT entitled to your opinion. It should change.

Naturally, people often get new information without changing their beliefs in response. This is one of those points which liberals try and use to club conservatives over the head in debates.

Now, conservatives deserve some of this, since they bullshit in debates all the time. The conservative position is, by Western propaganda standards, not an optimistic one, and in order to keep from getting trounced by sunshine, conservatives dodge all sorts of uncomfortable realities. For example, libertarian-leaning conservatives constantly say that free markets will result in more wealth and a better standard of living for all, and that less government regulation will result in this coming to pass. Not only is that not always true, but it’s often wrong and conservatives – who created the EPA and several other regulatory branches of the government – know this. Law enforcement, after all, is behavioral regulation, and it’s obvious that conservatives consider it necessary. There is a subtle argument to make, but subtlety sucks in debate, so it’s more convenient to parry. They cannot, regardless of the likelihoods in any case, simply say that people should have to accept less wealth on principle, nor can they state the still less pleasant fact: that conservatives always fundamentally believe that social stratification and inequality is both inevitable and necessary for society to function. Historically, this is unassailable, but no one will stand for it.

But there are two other factors to the “not entitled to your opinion” argument that liberals – and IFLS is stridently liberal, btw – assiduously avoid.

First, questions of the trustworthiness of the information is rarely given play. If I had a professor tell me things like “research has proved X,” the first thing to do is to consider the political leanings of the professor, which will probably tell you where that professor allocates his attention and therefore what sources of new information have been ignored. Next, look at the leanings of the scientists, which similarly will have them running experiments to prove what they want to prove. The answers will not be unbiased when the questions were not unbiased, and who knows how many experiments, factors, and methods of collating data are being used to twist the reality. It’s the same in every political issue and with every side. The left likes to treat educators and scientists as if they’re above agendas, but we’re talking about distinct cultures here, so don’t count on it. There is no absolutely trustworthy institutional source of information and enlightenment on this Earth, and mankind hasn’t really thought there is since the Protestant Reformation. Everything is up for doubt. And frankly, I trust neither professors nor the “scientific community” to provide information which is truly unbiased. There really is no such thing.

I can say this with confidence because of the second factor. It’s a simple philosophical maxim stated by David Hume: you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is.”

In other words, just because you have a bunch of factual information, it says nothing about your interpretation of those facts, whether the situation is good or bad, nor do they demand any action for the same reason. In fact, in a postmodernist world, calling any interpretation “right” or “wrong” is invariably a subjective point of view and has nothing to do with any grand, metaphysical value some facets of reality supposedly have.

Professional philosophers often disregard this today, because political philosophy in particular is built on certain premises that are taken to be simply correct, to the point where anyone disagreeing with them would be considered a sociopath (like me). A decent number of economists and philosophers have attacked the IS/OUGHT problem through their disciplines as being resolved, or as ridiculous, given that there are certain things that basically everyone wants, like nutrition, medical care, companionship, legal protections of various sorts, add infinitum. Any exceptions to these universal desires can be handled on a case-by-case basis without interfering with the desires of the majority.

I’d like to remind these people that, just because your point of view is broadly accepted and pragmatically seems workable doesn’t mean that it is true. The vast majority of people believing in Christian ideas a millenium ago didn’t make those true, either. Values are never anything greater than subjective perspectives. And I would further like to remind people that their world still functions because it is hierarchical, because we still practice a form of education indistinguishable from brainwashing, and that conflict is everywhere. Conflicts of interest are not aberrations to a rule of rational humanity, either.

An telling example is climate change. Scientists and hacks often like to make it a black-and-white issue when it isn’t. Not even close. Climate management is, rather, a politicized game of odds: the question is the probability of ecological catastrophe over what period of time and to what degree. It’s not “build more windmills or we’re all gonna die!”

Respectable analysis says that increasing emissions may cause $2-8 trillion in damage over the next couple of decades, mostly to coastal areas. There is no shortage of individuals who would not be affected by it directly, nor is there any shortage of people who would profit from it. Any regulation would have its costs that WOULD affect them, though, given the applicability of law and tax collection. All of this plays out into political wrangling over economic effects, and while well-meaning people might simply say that the right thing to do is obvious, it isn’t. There are any number of policies that could make things worse, secondary effects are rarely considered, and since we’re talking about giving the political left essentially total control over environmental – and hence, economic – policy decisions, you’ll need to be rational and understanding towards those who would rather not see that happen. At least, if you want to be consistent, that’s what you should do.

Meanwhile, in our everyday individual actions, there are a million things we can do to bring down carbon emissions that we aren’t doing, and the left gives the people no grief, as this entire situation folds into a broader narrative about corporate manipulation. The ecological platform of the left conflicts directly with the economic platform, which somehow thinks it can bring down consumption of resources by the people while simultaneously bringing up economic consumption through Keynesianism, and for this to just work out.

It’s treated like good versus evil, the virtuous common people who would rather buy environmentally friendly goods or investments, but the corporations are purposefully holding them back from the markets because fuck you. Really? Grow up.


Here’s what this whole situation tells us: first, we’ve learned nothing at all from postmodernism. No one has “gone past” the postmodern perspective and no one wants to, as everyone wants their point of view to be considered right in some greater way than as just a matter of self-interested subjectivity. The degree to which we are all unified as a species has been radically exaggerated, and it’s been exaggerated for exactly the reasons you would expect: because we’re all trying to dumb down the debate for the sake of winning the debate.

Second, life is conflict and only a pampered group of individuals – the privileged WEIRD – live in an ideologically insulated world where logical action and morally correct action are the same thing. To hold certainty in the past was a matter of religious conviction; now it’s a matter of supposed “reason,” as we’re all rationalists with Judeo-Christian values now, which are supposedly “natural.” They aren’t, we aren’t, and try actually thinking about it from a standpoint which isn’t taught in universities, for once. If the university perspective was universal beyond the individual self-interest, then most of these problems wouldn’t exist in the first place. They do, because making anything happen on an institutional level requires individual self-sacrifice, and no one is lining up to give up their agency to any institution in modern society.

That’s the point. You cannot separate individual self-interest from institutional self-interest, and therefore you cannot expect those who would benefit from the weakening of the institutions you care about to identify with you. This isn’t cynicism. This is the underlying, unspoken logic of living in a world after the Death of God. It’s here. It’s happening. We’re just getting less polite about it, less tolerant of real pain, and less trusting of each other, with good reason.

If you can’t tell the difference between being rational and being cynical, then something has already gone very wrong with your culture’s ideology. What’s wrong with ours is that we tell people very seriously that’s it’s for their own good, that laying themselves on an altar and trusting without verification is somehow rational. Nope. It’s an act of faith and faith alone. Your culture is no longer capable of producing this faith without bullshitting people. Nothing new, and we’ve dealt with it before… but the solutions to the problem are not going to be science-based, I promise you.