Saturday, February 09, 2008

Appeals to authority

It is the nature of intellectuals to think that they know better than anyone else. So they rarely defend the status quo. They mostly want to change it in some way that would suit themselves -- mostly to get the money away from those dumb capitalists and channel it in a direction that will be better for intellectuals. In short, intellectuals usually lean Left to at least some degree. Conservatives can take the status quo or leave it, depending on what the particular status quo happens to be. But a loathing of the status quo is intrinsic to Leftism -- so much so that they may often oppose a status quo that they themselves have been instrumental in creating -- with the now-common Green/Left opposition to windfarms (a shout-out to Ted Kennedy here) being one rather amusing example.

One outcome of all that it that Leftists generally find much comfort in the outpourings of intellectuals -- with G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx being early players in that field. So an appeal to authority often suits Leftists. They say, in effect: "All these wise men say we need to change the way we do things so that must be right." The most notable tendency of that today is of course the constant Greenie claim that there is a "consensus" among scientists about the human origin of the slight degree of global warming observed in the late 20th century (but which has been conspicuously absent since 1998). The Greenies luxuriate in having so many authorities on their side and they do their best to discredit the many experts who reject the Warmist view.

Sadly, of course, authorities can often be wrong. Even the smartest of intellectuals can make big mistakes when speaking outside their own field of expertise. Albert Einsten had clearly Marxist views on the economy, for instance. You can read his now mostly archaic thoughts on the matter in the old Marxist publication Monthly Review. And the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, admired Communism so much that he actually emigrated to Russia. He lasted three weeks there and came back with distinctly modified views. Albert at least was wise enough not to put his money where his mouth was.

And experts can even go wrong when speaking WITHIN their field of expertise. Almost all of my academic career was devoted to exposing the flaws in the Leftist theories conventional among political psychologists. I was repeatedly able to show that the reigning consensus was contradicted by the facts. I don't believe I changed anybody's views, however. Ideology is not easily knocked off its perch by mere facts. But for anybody willing to look, I think I was able to show very clearly that the consensus within my own field of expertise was just plain wrong. You can see therefore why I regard ALL appeals to authority as very third-rate thinking -- as a rather pathetic substitute for looking at the actual evidence.

Given that the Green/Left have so conspicuously hitched their wagon to appeals to authority, however, it does on occasion become necessary to reply in kind. If a Leftist says: "All the experts say... " one needs to reply: "But THESE experts deny ..." if one is to have any hope of making a persuasive case. In other words, although appeals to authortity have little objective merit, they do have considerable persuasive power for many people and one has to recognize that and fight back by questioning the authority concerned -- and an easy way to do that is to quote OTHER authorities with different opinions. And I do that often on my Greenie Watch blog.

It is is also because of the Leftist authority-orentation (an orientation which makes it all the more amusing that Leftist psychologists constantly brand conservatives as "authoritarian") that I occasionally make mention of my academic background and the fields wherein I can speak with some authority. I would much rather discuss ANY issue on the basis of the facts but if a Leftist insists on personalized arguments in a field where I happen to be an authority, then I feel that I might as well take the easy way out and squash the Leftist using his own hammer. It might just conceivably teach him something about the inherent inconclusiveness of relying on arguments about persons rather than on arguments about the facts. I do however draw the line at claiming any GENERAL authority. Leftist academics very often do implicitly claim that. They get credit for pronouncements made outside their own field of expertise. A linguist like Chomsky, for instance speaks on all sorts of topics outside of his field and Leftists seem to get great comfort from his "authoritative" misrepresentations. They are fools do do so. Arguing from an irrelevant authority is in fact what logicians refer to as one of the informal fallacies.

I was rather amused recently, however, when a very skeptical reader asked for my list of academic publications. He evidently thought that I must be the sort of fraud one so often finds on the Left. When he was referred to a full list of the relevant citations, he lost that battle but as a comeback complained that many of my publications were quite short. He seemed to think that you could judge the worth of a research article by its length! I am sure that a lot of acadenics wish that were true. Writing reams of waffle seems to come very easily to many of them. If there is any criteriality in the length of a research article, I would tend to think that merit is more likely to lie with short articles. If you know what you are talking about and your results are clear, you don't need to ramble on.

I certainly do strive for succinctness in all that I write. People are more likely to read and understand what one has to say that way. But there are of course some topics that NEED to be discussed at great length -- histories and literature reviews, for instance -- and for my sins I do sometimes write at length in those areas. Most notably so here and here and here.

With my academic background I suppose I could be said to be an intellectual but I sedulously avoid that label. Intellectuals generally seem to me to be a rather miserable bunch who are puffed up with oversimplified theories and who are prone to parasitizing others. By contrast I have always been happy with my lot in life. I have the gift of contentment and "just the facts" will do me fine. And when I do splash out big with money (usually by giving it away. My own needs have always been small), I do it with money honestly earned in business -- not with money ripped off the taxpayer under some pretext. But being someone who has been successful in business as well as in academe does make me an odd bod, I guess.



The company Hillary keeps: ""Valley of the Wolves Iraq" was an anti-Semitic, anti-American film featuring American actor Gary Busey as a Jewish U.S. army doctor who cuts out the organs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and sells them to wealthy foreign clients. It also set box office records in Turkey. In "Valley of the Wolves, Iraq," American soldiers are portrayed as, "violent, brutish, trigger-happy, civilian-murdering, hyper-religious, sadistic gun-nuts." And, that is just for starters... Never mind the evil Jewish doctor selling body parts from Abu Ghraib prisoners. The Kurdish News reported that the producer of one of the most hostile anti-American films made in Turkey "Valley of the Wolves-Irak" is a Hillary Clinton mega-donor and bundler and was appointed a delegate by Hillary Clinton to the Democratic National Convention later this year"

A challenge for McCain: "McCain cannot get elected without the conservative vote. Unless he goes out of his way to assure conservatives that he is as conservative as he likes to tell them he is, many will simply stay home, as they did in 1976, 1992 and 1996, and regroup and find an acceptable candidate for 2012. Rush Limbaugh probably stated it as clearly as anybody when he told a reporter that Mr. McCain could not succeed as president, and that he'd rather see a Democrat fail than a Republican. Unless Mr. McCain makes some very definite proposals, Mr. Limbaugh could have plenty of company... Conservatives will never agree with Mr. McCain on everything. They will never forgive him for what they perceive as his abuse of the First Amendment in McCain-Feingold, for his stand on immigration, and for his initial opposition to the Bush tax cuts. But with his record as a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, his generally strong stand on spending, national security and pro-life issues, he is in a position to correct much of the damage that's already been done."

Mad black attempts aircraft hijack "A woman stabbed two pilots and threatened to blow up a plane during a harrowing mid-air drama on a New Zealand domestic flight early today, police said. The pilots reported that a passenger attacked them in the cockpit, inflicting minor injuries, before making threats that she had a bomb. Police said a mayday call was received at 7.40am (5.40am AEDT) from an Air National flight heading from the provincial town of Blenheim to the main South Island airport in Christchurch. Inspector Kieren Kortegast said a woman attacked the two pilots before being restrained. The plane landed safely in Christchurch 20 minutes later and the passengers were taken to a private room. A 33-year-old Blenheim woman of Somali descent was taken into custody... Passengers on domestic flights out of Blenheim are not subject to security checks." [Perhaps the complacent Kiwis will now learn something about aircraft security]

Muddled achbishop: "Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, said on Thursday the introduction in Britain of some aspects of sharia, Islamic law, was unavoidable. His unexpected comments were welcomed by some Muslim groups, but the government was quick to distance itself from them, saying it was out of the question that the principles of sharia could be used in British civil courts. Williams, speaking to the BBC, said other religions enjoyed tolerance of their laws in Britain and he called for a "constructive accommodation" with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes. Asked if the adoption of sharia was necessary for community cohesion, Williams said: "It seems unavoidable. Certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system." [Even if you are]


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"Why should the German be interested in the liberation of the Jew, if the Jew is not interested in the liberation of the German?... We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time... In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.... Indeed, in North America, the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world has achieved as its unambiguous and normal expression that the preaching of the Gospel itself and the Christian ministry have become articles of trade... Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist". Who said that? Hitler? No. It was Karl Marx. See also here and here and here.

The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialistisch) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party".


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