Generalization and Comm. #2

Here’s a much more refined conversation about the issue: Starting at ~50 seconds, Cenk raises the fulcrum issue … at least the one I care about and raised in the previous post: “it’s complicated”. Again, the claim that liberals or liberalism is the failure is simply false. Liberals and liberalism tend toward “it’s complicated”, mostly antithetic to a crisp rule-based analysis of any given situation. Cenk is being a liberal, here, asserting that, yes, Muslims commit doctrinally justified/induced behaviors. But so does everyone else who subscribes to any religious beliefs. (I would go further and assert that everyone, regardless of religious belief, commit doctrinally justified/induced behaviors, which is the genesis of why “militant” atheists irritate me.)

It is the abstracted, detail-free application of predicates, rules, that distinguish liberalism from … conservatism, for lack of a better dichotomy.

And this is where Harris allows his liberal personality to show. But like all of us, Harris is complicated and, while sometimes he thinks like a liberal, sometimes he thinks like a conservative. When he claims liberalism has failed us with respect to radical Islam, he’s thinking conservatively, not liberally. Whether you agree or disagree with the point is irrelevant. Harris (and those who agree with him at this point in the rhetoric) are not liberals, or holding to liberalism, when they make these arguments because liberalism is not rule-based.

But the more interesting points of this conversation come later. Here is a brief transcript (because I can’t spend all day doing this sort of thing):

Sam: So there are circumstances where you can say “Oh yeah, there’s a massive political, economic contribution to this problem”, right? Then there are circumstances where you can say “There is zero political economic contribution to this problem and it’s pure ideology.” When someone in Marin county or Orange county, some white guy who is raised christian or jewish, wakes up and gets really into Islam and starts reading all the books and goes to the local mosque and gets “radicalized”, right? And he decides to go fight for ISIS. That’s not economics. it’s not politics.

Cenk: No, I disagree with you.

They get into it later and it’s good to listen to. But my 2 cents is simply that Harris does not know why that “white guy” decides to go fight for ISIS. He may think he knows. But I assert he does not. Harris is bright. But I’m hard pressed to think he’s solved every aspect of sociology and psychology already and is simply enlightening us morons. What he’s doing is assuming he knows and is thereby justified in applying his precompiled rule. And if I’m right and Harris really doesn’t understand “white guys” in Marin/Orange county as well as he thinks he does, then should I take him at his word and believe he understands your typical Muslim as well as he thinks he does?

I’ll repeat, though. Harris is a treasure! We need him and his deontological advocacy. But don’t buy into his mistaken concept of liberalism.


Generalization and Communication – Affleck and Harris

This kerfuffle between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris irritated me to no end, mostly because although I don’t like either Affleck’s or Harris’ primary professional output (of late, anyway), I think they’re both fantastic parts of modern culture. The world will be worse off when/if either of them retreats to a more private life.

The over-generalization of the Harris camp was the primary problem, here. And I land squarely in Affleck’s camp because of the fallacy Harris (consistently) commits. BTW, just because Harris commits a fallacy does not imply Affleck’s reasoning is flawless… but that’s not my point. Had Harris (and, Yog forbid, the entertainer named Maher) been explicit and specific in their language, the controversy would not have arisen. But Harris is consistently sloppy on this topic, even when citing statistics. Sheesh, we can’t even accurately poll our 1st world population as they exit election polling stations. What makes the Harris camp trust polls of war-wracked and poverty-striken populations?

I believe I can answer that: because the Harris camp believes it has the world figured out. They trust the statistics they (imprecisely) quote, without also presenting the accuracy and variance of those statistics because doing so confirms their bias. We could drill down into this issue by comparing, say, the number of Americans who can’t read a map with the number of Muslims who believe suicide bombing is justified, including all the sampling problems, and methodological considerations of taking such data. But I won’t do that.

Instead, I’d like to point out the inherent conflict (contradiction?) between Harris’ (and [cough] Maher’s) assertion that they are, in this dialog, defending liberal principles. It’s always seemed to me that liberals tend to be more open to situational complexity and less likely to base their ethics on static or absolutist rules. The openness to new experiences we see in liberal sensibilities is based, I think, on their tendency toward consequentialist or pragmatic ethics.

What the Harris camp is really doing, beyond a naive sense of over-generalization, is closing off certain thoughts. They are holding some values or principles as sacred, unquestionable rules. This is not liberalism. And the more often they claim it is, the more they reveal their familiarity with Newspeak. If I thought Harris was naive or gullible in any deep sense, or if I thought he had never been a good scientist, I’d chalk it up to confusion over what liberalism means, rather than a (perhaps unconscious) use of Newspeak. But I think he has demonstrated situational and pragmatic awareness recently (in his assertions about sprituality, profiling, gun control, hand washing, etc.). And I do think he knows what scientific falsification means. So, his adoption of deontological reasoning for this particular argument can only be manipulative.

That’s OK, of course. Lots of good has been done by means of such manipulation. I am not a liberal, despite the huge overlap between my conclusions and many liberals’ conclusions. My ethics are a moderate mixture of rule-, value-, conseqence-, and situation-based reasoning. Perhaps that’s what allows me to reject Harris’ claim that his claims about Islam are liberal claims.

p.s. This sentence betrays Harris’ rule-based approach rather nicely: “I await an entry in the DSM-VI that describes this troubling condition.” I hope that was a joke. But all good jokes are good precisely because they contain a kernel of truth.