URLs du Jour

2021-09-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • And anyone who disagrees is a fascist. Excellent Eric Boehm print-Reason article out from behind the paywall: Everything Is Infrastructure Now.

    "I truly believe we're in a moment where history is going to look back on this time as a fundamental choice that had to be made between democracies and autocracies," President Joe Biden declared during a March 31 speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What exactly could be so vitally important that not only America's future but the entire project of liberal democracy hangs in the balance?

    Infrastructure. Well, "infrastructure."

    In Biden's telling, everything hinged on passing a multi-trillion-dollar spending package that was ostensibly meant to upgrade America's basic infrastructure but that also contained a wide range of unrelated spending on new social programs, industrial policy, and other forms of federal bureaucracy. Previous generations may have fought civilization-defining battles against tyrannical rulers and such toxic ideas as slavery and Nazism. But the fate of the free world, the president would have you believe, now depends on whether 50 senators (plus Vice President Kamala Harris) will vote for bigger Amtrak subsidies and expanded government-run internet service.

    What's more dangerous: (1) a road with too many potholes or (2) degraded political discourse? You can avoid potholes, but the degraded political discourse will eventually get you.


  • Pun Salad's favorite word du jour is "harbinger". We're working up to the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, and (my guess) it will be tough to find anybody saying anything new or interesting. But James B. Meigs, former editor of Popular Mechanics, has an exceptional article at City Journal, recounting his bout with the crazies: 9/11 Truther Movement a Harbinger of Today’s Paranoid Politics.

    I hadn’t intended to join the Globalist/Bush–Cheney/Zionist/CIA cabal for world domination. And I certainly didn’t mean to become a leading figure in the conspiracy to cover up the truth about 9/11. According to my critics, though, I was all that and more. All I’d meant to do was publish an article investigating 9/11 conspiracy theories. The unhinged response to that article taught me a lot about the hold such paranoid worldviews can have on otherwise normal people. In Jonathan Kay’s 2011 book Among the Truthers, he describes followers of the “9/11 Truth Movement” as having “spun out of rationality’s ever-weakening gravitational pull” and fallen into “fantasy universes of their own construction.” I met those people. They used to call and email me every day. Many took pains to explain all the horrible things that would happen to me once my crimes were “exposed.”

    I now believe the 9/11 Truthers I encountered were canaries in the coal mines of American society. They were an early warning sign of a style of thinking that has only grown more common in the years since 9/11: alienated, enraged, and not just irrational, but anti-rational. Today, fantasy universes abound in our current political culture. On the far right, Capitol-storming QAnon followers imagine vast, deep-state conspiracies involving pedophiles and pizza parlors. The Left’s conspiracy theories aren’t as obviously bonkers, but progressives also imagine powerful forces that secretly conspire against the people. In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, for example, writer Naomi Klein introduced the concept of “disaster capitalism”—a kind of global plot to exploit the powerless—and promised to “reveal the puppet strings behind the critical events of the last four decades.” Today, the Woke Left routinely portrays American institutions as engines of cleverly concealed oppression. Racism, sexism, and the like are not just biases to be overcome but fundamental organizing principles of American society.

    It's a long, interesting, and somewhat depressing article, discussing how easily people slip into conspriracism (which might be a better term than "paranoia"). It's an equal-opportunity disease, affecting both left and right. And from there it's only a short slide into violence, as a "last resort".


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] On a related note… Tom Chivers takes apart a Harvard philosopher's recent book: How not to talk to a science denier.

    Imagine you bought a book with the title How to Talk to A Contemptible Idiot Who Is Kind of Evil. You open the book, and read the author earnestly telling you how important it is that you listen, and show empathy, and acknowledge why the people you’re talking to might believe the things they believe. If you want to persuade them, he says, you need to treat them with respect! But all the way through the book, the author continues to refer to the people he wants to persuade as “contemptible idiots who are kind of evil”.

    At one stage he even says: “When speaking to a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil, don’t call them a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil! Many contemptible idiots find that language insulting.” But he continues to do it, and frequently segues into lengthy digressions about how stupid and harmful the idiots’ beliefs are. Presumably you would not feel that the author had really taken his own advice on board

    This is very much how I feel about How to Talk to A Science Denier, by the Harvard philosopher Lee McIntyre.

    Amazon link at your right, of course. Chivers advises that "It’s mainly a book designed to tell readers that people they already think are dumb are, in fact, dumb." So maybe invest in a different, much more valuable, book by Alan Jacobs: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I really liked his "Thinking Person's Checklist" afterword, which summarizes the book's advice:

    1. When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.
    2. Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”
    3. As best you can, online and off, avoid the people who fan flames.
    4. Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.
    5. If you do have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness, or else lose your status in your community, then you should realize that it’s not a community but rather an Inner Ring.
    6. Gravitate as best you can, in every way you can, toward people who seem to value genuine community and can handle disagreement with equanimity.
    7. Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.
    8. Patiently, and as honestly as you can, assess your repugnances.
    9. Sometimes the “ick factor” is telling; sometimes it’s a distraction from what matters.
    10. Beware of metaphors and myths that do too much heavy cognitive lifting; notice what your “terministic screens” are directing your attention to—and what they’re directing your attention away from; look closely for hidden metaphors and beware the power of myth.
    11. Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.
    12. Be brave.

    My failures to follow this advice are manifest. To everyone except me.


  • We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills. But the thrill we've never known is having taken a pill that generated a fake story in the Rolling Stone. Fox News is probably a little too gleeful about it: Rolling Stone forced to issue an 'update' after viral hospital ivermectin story turns out to be false.

    Rolling Stone was forced to issue an update to their viral story about Oklahoma hospitals being overwhelmed by patients who overdosed on the drug ivermectin after the doctor they cited was contradicted by the hospitals he referenced.

    On Friday, the liberal magazine published testimony from Dr. Jason McElyea who told a local news station that hospitals were being overrun from patients overdosing on ivermectin which resulted in other patients waiting for treatment. McElyea claimed the situation was so bad that gunshot victims were being neglected.

    "The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated," McElyea said.

    It was just a tad too perfect in (see above) picturing the dumb science-denying, Trump-voting Okies taking horse medicine.

    (But I understand they are all in "stable" condition.)

    And even better:

    I suggest everyone involved in producing or promoting this yarn be given a copy of Alan Jacobs' book.

    (Classical reference in headline.)