Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Kingpin of Quebec Medicine!

kingpin standingSomehow I feel that the medical system in Quebec has a loose resemblance to an organization that Hell’s Kitchen’s Kingpin would run. To start, I have had my share of bad experiences with the medical system in the last 15 years. None of which I am insinuating are the current Kingpin’s fault. But all of which have been the fault of every other political drone who refuses to initiate real change in our system. There’s lots of talk, and lots of promises, but no real difference in the actual services we are getting.

gaetan barrette standingPersonally, I feel some of the recent tactics the health-care system is employing could be ones that Wilson Fisk himself would use to enrich his evil empire. For instance, this week a family member of mine, living around the corner from Lasalle Hospital, was told by that hospital that they couldn’t do anything for him and that he would have to go to the new McGill Superhospital, which is a 20 minute drive away with a $25 parking fee (he can walk to the Lasalle Hospital.) He does not have a car – so it’s well over an hour to get there by bus and metro.

Today, my father couldn’t even make it to his appointment at the McGill Superhospital by car because of detours and blocked roads.

This is crazy!! It’s like a money-making scheme gone bad. People show up to local hospitals where parking is free or much less than $25, and they are turned away and told to go to a hospital that has very difficult access and which is very expensive to park at. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THIS CRAZY PROVINCE OF OURS!!!

The glass is getting pretty full. I’ve had administrators of hospitals give me the run around. Ombudsmen ignore me. Nurses don’t take me seriously AND doctors flat out lie to my face! My grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, is being pumped full of drugs in a government-run health-care facility to keep him docile. My grandmother has been manhandled by the system and is now waiting and waiting and waiting for an operation. My father has had a number of incompetent doctors and nurses mess up major medical procedures which have caused him considerable discomfort and pain and hassles. AND my son was recently given a prescription that was basically wrong and revisited by another doctor one week later! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!

I have officially had it with Quebec Health Care!

Is anyone one else as frustrated as I am? Or is it just me?

Any real solutions out there?  Please. I’m all ears… Honestly.

– Alex Vinetti

It Takes a Village to Raise an Asshole

doc49e604fccdeee3587077101It takes a village to raise an asshole. Doesn’t happen overnight. One indulgent parent won’t do, nor will an indulgent spouse. Nope, it takes a village. Countless people have to look the other way. Countless people have to keep their mouths shut. Countless people have to do nothing because they’re too lazy or scared to act. And let’s be clear: I’m not talking about people who struggle with mental health problems. Not talking about those mouthy men with Asperger’s. Nor am I referring to those sociopathic souls who were born without the moral emotions. I’m talking about perfectly normal people, mentally healthy people—people who could, at one time, locate their E.Q. somewhere within the normal range. These aren’t monsters Mother Nature made; they’re monsters we’ve made. I’m talking about people who’ve become cruel—and nasty and inconsiderate—because we’ve allowed them to get away with bad behavior, again and again and again and again.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)

How the Grinch Stole the Plateau!

Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! . . . the more the Grinch thought of the Who-Christmas-Sing.
The more the Grinch thought, “I must stop this whole thing!”
—Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957)

How the Grinch Stole The Plateau!We have a neighbor from hell. She hates kids. She hates dogs. And she hates parties. Not just late-night parties mind you. Midday mirth too. This past summer, in the midst of our ten-year-old’s birthday party, she came storming down the fire escape, ranting and raving about how much noise the kids were making in the courtyard. Our guests (unaccustomed to her insanity) were shocked. The kids weren’t really making that much noise—but that’s besides the point: It was the middle of the day! The very same woman has already succeeded in getting two of my neighbors evicted. In both cases, she put so much pressure on their landlords that they eventually gave in to her demands and evicted them. We were sorry to see them go. And they were sorry to leave. These were good neighbors, and good friends. And they’re gone. Because of her. Continue reading How the Grinch Stole the Plateau!

St. Paul, Activism, and the Importance of Depersonalization

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”—Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version)

Deniro“If you really wanna change the world, put down Rules for Radicals and pick up The Bible”—that’s what the radical priest said to us, with a wry smile, before going out for a smoke. He reminded me of Father Bobby Carillo, De Niro’s character in Sleepers (1996)—only taller, better looking, and Marxist. We were in a church basement—a crowded church basement—that smelled funny. January was surprisingly cold in Baltimore that year, The Living Wage Campaign wasn’t going well, and we were at our wit’s end. The faithlessness of the people running Johns Hopkins University seemed to know no bounds. They had lied to us, fought dirty, and abused their power on numerous occasions—by monitoring our correspondence, sabotaging our careers, and suspending our funding. All of us were at some point threatened with expulsion. Some of us were threatened with deportation. Alas, this was no longer simply about our political commitment to social justice—it was getting personal. Our opponents were no longer merely misguided MBAs—they were demonic agents of evil in the world. They weren’t just stuffed suits defending the status quo—they were monsters.

When the priest returned—with a coffee in his hand, and a pack of smokes in his shirt pocket—he clarified his meaning: “What we’re doing here is important. Really important. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t take it personal, or you’ll burn out—or grow ugly, real ugly—before you know it.”

In “Soul of the Party,” the Marxian philosopher Slavoj Žižek—a self-professed atheist—maintains that one of the Christian tradition’s great strengths is its depersonalization of the struggle for social justice: “It was St Paul who provided a surprisingly relevant definition of the emancipatory struggle: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers [kosmokratoras] of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens’ (Ephesians 6:12). Or, translated into today’s language: ‘Our struggle is not against concrete, corrupted individuals, but against those in power in general, against their authority, against the global order and the ideological mystification that sustains it.’”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)

A Nightmare on College Street

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”—victim’s statement read aloud at Brock Turner’s sentencing

3516858-freddy-freddy-krueger-33746737-500-614The monster in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger, kills his victims in their dreams. So long as you can stay awake, so long as you can refrain from sleeping, you’re safe. But, as you might expect, the young people who Krueger stalks can only stay up for so long. Eventually they fall asleep. And when they do, as they all eventually do, he uses a glove armed with razors to slice his victims into pieces.

The monster in Emily Yoffe’s Slate article on sexual assault “lurks where women drink like a lion at a watering hole.” Though mitigated with caveat after caveat, Yoffe’s advice to young women is about as stupid as that given to the young people in A Nightmare on Elm Street. So long as you can stay sober, so long as you can refrain from drinking, you’re safe. What’s ironic is that Yoffe clearly views her advice as pragmatic. It is, in fact, quite idealistic. It’s also unrealistic.

Drinking has been a central part of youth culture for thousands of years. There are plenty of good and bad reasons for this. But that’s another conversation for another day. What matters here is that we pragmatically acknowledge one simple fact: partying is a central feature of college life, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. As such, asking young women to avoid it—for their own good—is profoundly unfair. Why should they have to miss out on a big part of the college experience? Is it any wonder that they ignore us? I would.

The nightmare on Elm Street is caused by Freddy Krueger. He’s the problem. Not the young people who keep falling asleep. Likewise, the nightmare on College Street is caused by sexual predators like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on January 17th, 2015. They’re the problem. Not the young women who keep drinking.

I partied like a champ back in the day, as did most of my friends, and it did lead to some stupid decisions. It occurred to some of us to take on a bouncer twice our size. Or a football player three times our size. Fair amount of fighting happened. But it just didn’t occur to any of us to rape. And we were regularly around passed out drunk girls. That’s why I just don’t buy this whole “WHOOPS, I RAPED HER” defense. There are plenty of things that guys who are “totally out of control” refrain from doing almost all the time (e.g., stabbing pets to death, stealing from friends, sticking forks into electrical outlets, cutting their own dicks off for fun, etc.). If drunk guys were just as likely to rape as they were to cut off their own limbs, or jump out of penthouse windows, I’d be prepared to take the diminished capacity argument seriously. But we all know that’s simply not the case.

If drunk words are sober thoughts, drunk actions are sober fantasies. And full-blown fantasies aren’t born full-grown. To rape when you’re drunk, you’ve gotta be fantasizing about it a whole lot when you’re sober. And what kind of a culture produces a steady supply of kids who fantasize about raping each other? Um, I don’t know, maybe a rape culture.

There have always been, and there will always be, a small number of weirdos and outliers with strange desires (e.g., cannibals, necrophiliacs, bestialitists). These people are rare events, black swans, freaks of nature. The parents who produce them, and the communities who nurture them, can’t be held responsible for their fantasies, nor can they be held responsible for their actions. The same cannot be said of the Brock Turners of this world. Because their fantasies are anything but rare. And their crimes are all too common.

There are people in our midst who think it’s totally appropriate to use someone else’s body like a blowup doll with a pulse. If we’re ever to wake up from this nightmare on College Street, your tragedy must cease to be their fantasy.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

BEWARE OF BRIGHTLY COLORED BORES!

“An outré appearance generally hides a conventional mind.”—Aaron Haspel, Everything (2015)

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WARNING: OBJECTS BEHIND THIS INTERESTING PERSONA ARE DULLER THAN THEY APPEAR

In nature, bright colors are often a warning: I’m poisonous! Don’t eat me! Stay away! Insect-eating birds avoid any butterfly who looks like a monarch, intelligent residents of the Amazon refrain from handling poison dart frogs, and only a fool would eat that bright red mushroom in the meadow. However, in the forest of social life, bright colors are often an invitation: I’m friendly, gregarious, approachable, somewhat outrageous, thoroughly interesting, and definitely not poisonous. My friend Janice Simpkins taught me a handy heuristic based on this insight, which has served me well on numerous occasions: “If you find yourself stranded in a room full of strangers—at some social function—talk to the person wearing the loudest outfit, because that person is invariably the friendliest person in the room.”

10460856_10152231489437683_4107503743666771997_o-008But alas, in nature and in social life, we sometimes encounter false advertising. Biologists call it mimicry. For instance, the red milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila) is not poisonous, nor is the equally harmless scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides). Yet predators steer clear of them both because they look like the deadly coral snake (Micrurus fulvius). Likewise, in social life, we sometimes encounter brightly colored bores—viz., middle-class hipsters who dress like bohemians but talk like accountants. The sense of betrayal that washes over you when you find yourself stuck in a pointless conversation with one of these philistines is surprisingly intense: their mimicry seems to offend our innate sense of social justice. Brightly colored bores should come with a warning. Something like: WARNING: OBJECTS BEHIND THIS INTERESTING PERSONA ARE DULLER THAN THEY APPEAR.

A student with a signed copy of The End of Faith and a subscription to Skeptic magazine once asked me: “Why does Taleb spend so much time trashing people like Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, and so little time trashing Science’s real enemies? You know, people like the climate deniers, the anti-vaxxers, creationists; people who go on Oprah and talk about chakras or the power of prayer.” I said that I couldn’t speak for Taleb, but that my guess was that he didn’t see these people as a serious threat to Science. These people are losers, underdogs, soft-targets; and Taleb never goes after soft-targets. He picks on the powerful not the powerless. Like Nietzsche, Taleb only attacks causes which are victorious: “I only attack causes which are victorious; I may even wait until they are victorious” (Ecce Homo). Although I stand by this explanation, I’ve since discovered that Taleb’s choices are as ethical as they are guttural.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb unwittingly answered my student’s question on Facebook this morning: the double-standard he found so troublesome is clearly a function of reason as well as revulsion: “I finally figured out why I am gripped with so much revulsion at BS vendors dressed in the garb of high priest of scientists, intellectuals, or logicians, (say Pinker or Shermer or Harris or some scientist under Monsanto’s control), to the point of total maddening anger, and why I do not experience any disgust when I see a fortune teller, a market commentator, or some new age meditation guru such as Deepak Chopra. . . . A part man-part animal is vastly more horrifying than a full wild animal. Extremely eerie are monsters who look like humans with small differences. The uncanny resides in the resemblance, not the difference.” In other words, Taleb’s rage is rooted in the very same sense of betrayal elicited by brightly colored bores.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

What is Love?

“Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. He said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.”—Matthew 14:15-21 (King James Version)

If you want to justify your own heartlessness, your crass unwillingness to share with others less fortunate than yourself, if you’re looking for sophisticated rationalizations for your own selfishness, your greed, there are today—as there have always been—plenty of people ready to give you what you’re looking for. These purveyors of comforting sophistries are now—as they have always been—rather obvious enemies of the poor, the destitute, and the weak. But the needy have other, less obvious, enemies.

There are today—as there have always been—plenty of well-intentioned people who believe they know what’s best for the poor. Some of these well-meaning folk have managed to do good in the world, despite their hubris. But others have, albeit unwillingly, destroyed the very communities they sought to save. They’ve created social programs that have hurt the people they were supposed to help. What’s worse, they’ve often robbed the poor of one of their most precious possessions: their dignity.

At bottom, presuming to know what’s best for the poor is a function of a deep-seated contempt for the poor. This is an ugly truth, and, as a consequence, intelligent dogooders have come up with all sorts of ways—often ingenious ways—to reconcile a theoretical love of the poor with an actual contempt for the poor. None has proven more adaptable than Marx’s notion of false consciousness, though Freud’s idea of denial will do in a pinch—same is true of Gramsci’s (largely circular) concept of hegemony. Regardless, positions of this stamp invariably devolve into some species of Leninism: the poor are, according to this view, deluded idiots, and, as a consequence, social progress depends upon some sort of a vanguard party: a small minority of enlightened experts (who see things clearly, unlike the poor). According to this logic, the poor should, if they know what’s good for them, defer to the superior wisdom of these enlightened experts. If they fail to do so, well, then, they deserve their fate.

The poor are today—as they have always been—so often caught between a rock and a hard place: between a heartless conservatism that blames the victim, and a demeaning dogooderism that shames the victim. The radicalism of the feeding of the 5000—recounted in Matthew’s Gospel—must be understood within this context. Jesus doesn’t hector the hungry or lecture the lame; he just gives them what they need. No questions asked. No strings attached. People are hungry. And they are fed. Giving people what they say they need—as opposed to what you think they need—can be dangerous. No doubt about that. It’s a risky business. To say otherwise would be foolish. Some people—especially self-destructive people—desire and demand that which will destroy them. So you’ve got to use your head, you’ve got to be smart. Nobody’s saying you have to check your capacity for reason at the door. But Matthew is saying that reason isn’t enough, that real, open-handed generosity is a function of faith and respect as well as reason.

If you’re going to feed the 5000, you have to respect the humanity of the humble, and the dignity of the destitute. If you’re going to feed the 5000, you have to have faith in their capacity for reason—viz., you have to believe that, more often than not, the needy know what they need better than you do. If you’re going to feed the 5000, you have to be humble enough to ask them what they want, and wise enough to shut up and listen. Finally, and above all else, if you’re going to feed the 5000—if wish to help those in need—you have to temper your aspirations for what they might become with a respect for who they are—who they are right now! Because the new and improved person, the redeemed sinner of the future, is always to some extent a product of your imagination. And loving products of your own imagination is a kind of idolatry, a species of self-love. Jesus didn’t command us to love products of our own imagination. He commanded us to love one another. And you can’t love another human being in the future or the past. If you want to love them, really love them, you have to love them now, as they are, and where they are.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)

Why the Open Society Needs Difficult People

“Is it because Voltaire wasn’t afraid to be nasty that he did so much good? Almost certainly. There is no convincing evidence that writers can do their job by being nice.”—John Ralston Saul, The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense (1994)

Ancient Greek Troll (commonly known as Socrates)
“Classical Greece was infested with trolls, then called philosophers.”—Aaron Haspel, Everything (2015)

If Socrates was alive today and on Facebook he’d be that annoying guy that keeps asking uncomfortable questions, bringing up annoying facts. This was, writes John Ralston Saul, his modus operandi: “He spent his life wandering around Athens annoying everyone in the city.” Trolls used to wander around the internet doing the same thing. But they’ve been doing it less and less these days because it’s getting easier and easier to block them. In the Wild West days of the internet, when online communities tended to govern themselves anarchically, troll management was all about extinction. Hence the expression: “DON’T FEED THE TROLL!” But these days it’s all about creating “safe spaces” with the likeminded. This is decidedly unwise because the muscles of the mind atrophy in these echo chambers: moral clarity gives way to sanctimony; shared values give way to groupthink; ethical reasoning gives way to circular reasoning; sound judgment gives way to a reactionary adherence to dogma; and a clear conception of who your real enemies are gives way to a fanatical demonization of all who disagree. To wit: safe spaces may be comfortable, but they’re anything but safe.

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“Remember next time you attend a university lecture that the same people who teach Socrates today would have voted to put him to death then.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (2nd edition)

Refusing to engage with a nasty little troll is everyone’s right, but silencing them altogether is rarely a good idea. In Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (2010), Barbara Ehrenreich maintains that getting rid of all of the “negative people” in your life is a recipe for disaster: “What would it mean in practice to eliminate all the ‘negative people’ from one’s life? It might be a good move to separate from a chronically carping spouse, but it is not so easy to abandon the whiny toddler, the colicky infant, or the sullen teenager. And at the workplace, while it’s probably advisable to detect and terminate those who show signs of becoming mass killers, there are other annoying people who might actually have something useful to say: the financial officer who keeps worrying about the bank’s subprime mortgage exposure or the auto executive who questions the company’s overinvestment in SUVs and trucks. Purge everyone who ‘brings you down,’ and you risk being very lonely or, what is worse, cut off from reality. The challenge of family life, or group life of any kind, is to keep gauging the moods of others, accommodating to their insights, and offering comfort when needed.”

Just as ecosystems become less resilient, and more fragile, when you reduce their biodiversity (by eradicating species), epistemic communities become less resilient, and more fragile, when you reduce their intellectual and ideological diversity (by eradicating radical ideas). Numerous studies have demonstrated that the only thing worse than thinking through important political matters alone, is thinking through important political matters amongst people who share all of your assumptions. We need to be exposed to challenging unorthodox ideas on a fairly regular basis. But social media (and search engines like Google) are making it easier and easier for us to silence radical voices (by dismissing them as “trolls”), and retreat into homogeneous online echo chambers. This is a worrisome trend. The ease with which we can Facebook “block” trolls ought to give pause to all who value democracy, intelligent debate, and the open society. Why? Because no amount of intelligence or education can replace this kind of diversity. Because smart people with MAs and PhDs are blinded by bias.

Reasoning researcher David Perkins has demonstrated in numerous studies that IQ is a remarkably poor predictor of a person’s capacity for “fair and balanced” reasoning. Most of his studies look something like this: 1) Give the person an IQ test to establish their score. 2) Ask them how they feel about a contentious political issue. 3) Now ask them to come up with reasons and arguments to support the other side. 4) Ask them to come up with reasons and arguments to support their side. As you might imagine, pretty much everyone sucks at finding support for the other side. What’s interesting, though, is that people with high IQs suck just as much as people with low IQs. All of this changes, however, when people are asked to come up with support for their side. There you see a big difference. Test subjects with high IQs can come up with many more reasons and arguments to support their position—regardless of which side they happened to be on!—than those with low IQs. What’s more, Perkins found that people with high IQs are exceptionally good at presenting their position in a clear, elegant, and logically-consistent fashion, which, as you might imagine, makes whatever they happen to be saying seem that much more plausible. Alas, you might say that people with low IQs are like terrible lawyers, whilst people with high IQs are like really good lawyers—but neither, Perkins maintains, is particularly fair and balanced: “people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly.”

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), Jonathan Haidt maintains that higher education only makes this problem worse: “high school students who generate a lot of arguments are the ones who are more likely to go on to college, and the college students who generate a lot of arguments are the ones who are more likely to go on to graduate school. Schools don’t teach people to reason thoroughly; they select the applicants with higher IQs, and people with higher IQs are able to generate more reasons.” Haidt concludes that moral rationalists, such as Sam Harris, who think that education—and an obsessive adherence to argumentative hygiene can save us—are sorely mistaken; just as mistaken, in fact, as Tedsters and technocrats who think we should sideline the citizen and put the nerds in charge.

The open society our grandparents fought for desperately needs difficult people—even though they’re often full of shit, even though their motives are frequently somewhat less than noble. The truth or falsity of what difficult people say is to some extent irrelevant, as is their mental health. Fixating on either of these questions invariably leads to a convenient rationalization for silencing them. Besides, as my friend Graeme Blake rightly observes, “one unusual feature of life is that intelligent, thoughtful people can have violently opposing opinions.” Consequently, the guy who looks like an angry asshole to you might look like a passionate activist to me, and vice versa. Alas, quips Blake: “Trolldom is in the eye of the beholder.” Or, to borrow a phrase commonly attributed to former Attorney General Ramsey Clark: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Don’t bother psychoanalyzing the difficult people in your life, or speculating about their motives. Trust me, I’ve done it, and it really doesn’t get you anywhere interesting. For instance, there’s this famous YouTuber named Anthony Fantano who I’ve been psychoanalyzing for the last five years. This guy is maddening. The worst kind of critic. Someone who seems to actively seek out things he knows he won’t like just so that he can trash them on The Needle Drop (his blog/vlog). I actually think I hate this guy. And yet I find myself staring at his video reviews regardless, from time to time, the way other people find themselves staring at traffic accidents. In the last five years, Fantano has managed to trash every single new artist I love. His most recent crime: he trashed Grimes’s new album, Art Angels (2015). I loathe this man. Such a nasty piece of work. His reviews are mean-spirited, petty, and unfair. Being married to this guy would be a living hell. Being him would be worse! That being said, I’m really glad he’s out there, in the world, on YouTube, making money, and doing his thing. Because the open society needs assholes like him.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

In Praise of Authoritarian Parenting

“Let’s say that you are a small child and one Sunday afternoon you have to do the boring duty of visiting your old senile grandmother. If you have a good old–fashioned authoritarian father, what will he tell you? ‘I don’t care how you feel, just go there and behave properly. Do your duty.’ A modern permissive totalitarian father will tell you something else: ‘You know how much your grandmother would love to see you. But do go and visit her only if you really want to.’ Now every idiot knows the catch. Beneath the appearance of this free choice there is an even more oppressive order. You seem to have a choice, but there is no choice, because the order is not only you must visit your grandmother, you must even enjoy it. If you don’t believe me, just try to say ‘I have a choice, I will not do it.’ I promise your father will say ‘What did your grandmother ever do to you? Don’t you know how much she loves you? How could you do this to her?’”
—Slavoj Žižek, “The Superego and the Act” (August 1999)

phil-dunphyŽižek argues that the old-fashioned authoritarian father is, strange as it may sound, far less demanding than the progressive parent of the North American suburbs. Why? Because at least the old-fashioned authoritarian father allows you to maintain your inner freedom. He doesn’t insist that you like going to your grandmother’s house. Nor does he even insist that you act like you like going to your grandmother’s house. He merely insists that you show up, play cards with her, listen to her stories, eat some biscuits, and refrain from saying anything stupid.

By contrast, showing up is never enough for the permissive totalitarian father. He’s not satisfied with control over where you put your body. He wants to control how you feel and what you think too. The permissive totalitarian parent doesn’t just want you to do the right thing, she wants you to want to do the right thing. As such, your job, as a kid, is to convince her that you actually feel like going to your grandmother’s house, that there’s really nothing you’d rather do on this sunny Sunday afternoon.

Though it pains me to admit it, most of what passes for “progressive parenting” these days consists of emotional manipulation of precisely this kind: modern permissive totalitarianism. For instance, we often force kids to apologize when they aren’t ready to apologize, and then cynically chastise them for their lackluster acting job: “Say it again with feeling, son!” Are we not teaching our kids, albeit inadvertently, how to fake it? How to hide their true feelings? How to lie to themselves and others about what they really want? And how is this a big improvement over authoritarian parenting? What’s more, how is all of this good for democracy? Doesn’t “the open society” depend upon citizens with precisely the sort of inner freedom that modern permissive totalitarian parenting destroys?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

p.s. I’m having second thoughts about this—it’s such a tough call—because these two things are equally true but hard to reconcile: (1) we know we don’t want to raise bullshit artists; & (2) we know that much of the socialization process involves playing parts that start off as acting but end up real. What’s more, we know that some kids need to be told what the appropriate emotional response to certain situations is (because it’s not entirely as obvious to them as it is to other kids). After all, just as there are slow intellectual learners (who learn how to read later than most of their peers), it stands to reason that there are slow emotional learners (who learn how behave like civilized human beings later than most of their peers). Modern permissive totalitarian parenting might be just what these kids need.

“Believing” The IPCC: How Scientific Consensus Differs from Mere Mass Belief

(This is a revision of something I wrote three years ago.)

“With respect to science, the assumption behind consensus is that science is a source of authority and that authority increases with the number of scientists. Of course, science is not primarily a source of authority. Rather, it is a particularly effective approach to inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science; consensus is foreign.” 

“With respect to science, consensus is often simply a sop to scientific illiteracy. After all, if what you are told is alleged to be supported by all scientists, then why do you have to bother to understand it? You can simply go back to treating it as a matter of religious belief, and you never have to defend this belief except to claim that you are supported by all scientists except for a handful of corrupted heretics.”

– Richard S. Lindzen, “Climate Alarm: Where Does it Come From?”, lecture presented to the Marshall Institute on 1 December 2004

(from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Science )
 

The second of these two paragraphs is sort of true, in the sense that as a practical matter most of us defer to the consensus reached by scientists rather than going to all the trouble of retracing each and every one of their steps by which they reached that consensus – i.e., we’re too busy or too lazy or (sometimes) insufficiently trained to repeat their work, to confirm it by the same repeatable methods involved in their peer review, which led to the consensus, and thus we “must”, in a sense, “take it on faith”, despite the fact that we could in theory confirm it ourselves. 

But the trouble with Lindzen’s argument overall is that it conflates evidence with those who present it. It’s the preponderance of evidence, gathered collectively via the scientific method, that should be convincing, not the preponderance of scientists themselves, simply as an aggregate of individuals. Thus I have to disagree: it is indeed science that is the source of authority, just not the scientists themselves. This IS a meaningful distinction. 

It’s their method that matters, a method which has the skepticism to which Lindzen refers built into it already, not their numbers. Reality is independent of the percentage of people who see it, whether that percentage is large or small, and the scientific method has been shown time and time again to be our best means to approach that reality. It’s true enough that you shouldn’t necessarily believe something to be true just because a majority or even a totality of a group of people believe it (something that is the bulk of the persuasive force of religion, for instance), but in the case of science and scientists, it is NOT simply a matter of belief. Thus, consensus is NOT merely “a sop to scientific illiteracy”; that assertion is a slippery, and, I think, borderline dishonest bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand:

Lindzen posits a curious, and I think unwarranted, opposition between skepticism and consensus, one which ignores the temporal sequence in which they operate, one in which they operate complementarily. As I imply in my title, scientific consensus is NOT merely belief en masse. It’s not merely possible, but highly probable and necessary for a group of scientists to come up with a consensus – one which, like all scientific conclusions, is provisional, open to revision – which is itself the product of a long process involving skepticism at every step of the way. The better that a group of scientists practices the scientific method, the more skepticism will be involved in the formation of whatever consensus is reached. It’s very likely they will have engaged in very sharply critical debates along the way, but at some point, consensus IS reached. Science doesn’t just consist of endless arguments; agreements are reached as well. Otherwise, no advances would ever be made! The scenario that Lindzen seems to be implying here, of conclusions being reached en masse with little or no skepticism involved, whereupon the brave (and presumably vastly in the minority) skeptics step in to question it all, is just silly. It’s just not the way it works. Scientists are already plenty skeptical. It’s just that their skepticism has a goal: the reaching of a well-founded consensus. It’s absurd to say that “consensus is foreign” to science. Actually, good consensuses (consensi?) are the main POINT of science. They are always open to revision, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid at all.

(The deniers who call themselves skeptics also have a goal, but it is not the honest one of reaching a well-founded consensus. Their goal is usually the defence of their status quo. They use the terminology of the scientific method to make their armchair critiques seem thoughtful and constructive, but closer examination reveals a lack of the kind of critical efforts in which real scientists must and do engage. They don’t do their homework; a hallmark of their debating techniques is to throw the burden of proof onto whomever challenges them, asking for citations, etc., when they’ve already had plenty of opportunities to seek out the documentation themselves, to come to the debate already having done the relevant research of readily available sources, IF they were truly sincere.)

Lindzen asks, “if what you are told is alleged to be supported by all scientists, then why do you have to bother to understand it?” Well, the point he omits is that you CAN understand it, should you take the trouble and time to do so. The scientific method is just as available to you as it is to them. You can read their papers; you can follow their reasoning. Science works, and works best, by open review. If you bother to make the effort, you can read the IPCC reports. They’re freely available. If you don’t, that’s your problem. It’s not a valid critique of the reports to say that they are the result of some mass collusion to agree on some pre-arranged, politically motivated conclusion, as many deniers (who incorrectly call themselves skeptics) do. How would you know that unless you read them and checked them out yourself? You have no prior reason to believe that such a nefarious conspiracy exists – other than your own resistance to having to re-examine your own comfortable existence – and that’s insufficient. Skepticism in good faith (so to speak; I’m not invoking faith in the sense of unsupported belief), as opposed to emotional resistance to one’s pre-existing assumptions (“It’s just sunspots! I can go on driving my Hummer!”) being challenged, involves taking a serious look at the evidence whenever a scientist raises an alarm based on his analysis of it. Skepticism is NOT merely thinking, oh, well, they must be conspiring, therefore I don’t need to look at what they’re presenting. One has a responsibility to meet scientists on the common ground of the scientific method if one’s critique of their conclusions is to have any validity. 
 
A scientist may certainly believe in a conclusion once he or she is satisfied that the criteria required by the scientific method have been met, but belief, whether individual or en masse, is not the source of the conclusion’s truth; rather, it’s a consequence of it. It should be kept in mind that the methods that individual scientists use are independent of the contingent facts of who they are; another person equally well-versed in those methods should be able to and will reproduce the same results, the same conclusion from the same evidence, to the degree that their efforts aren’t clouded by prejudice and unwarranted assumptions and what Richard Feynman referred to as one’s tendency to fool oneself first of all.  
 
Thus, it is the scientific method itself which is the source of authority, not the scientists who wield it. The consensus we speak of – e.g., the IPCC reports – is a consensus of facts and their implications (what we call a “theory”, which is not the same as a mere guess), not merely a consensus of a group of people’s opinions. The authority resides only in the well-formulated and well-tested theory, and not at all in whoever comes up with it. (If someone other than Newton had come up with the laws we refer to as his Three Laws, they would be just as valid.) If a scientist who has produced a good theory before comes up with a clunker on her next attempt, the validity of the earlier theory does not magically accrue to the new, flawed one. The new one has to stand on its own, and in no case does any authority reside in the scientist per se. It resides in her results to the degree that they are the product of good methods.
 
If you ignore what it is that is unique to the practice of science, then yes, it’s possible to make the mistake of saying that accepting what a majority of scientists say is no different than accepting what a majority of priests say. It IS different, and it is the independent scientific method which makes it so.