Sunday, March 29, 2009

Explanation of The Split

By Richard Hamilton-Gibbs

In the scientific world, where experiments can be repeated by other scientists to confirm consistent outcomes, the only question is the integrity of the scientists conducting the studies. Scientific fraud is relatively rare, because it is exposed by the work of other scientists when they do not get the same results. Scientific fraud also disposes of the reputations of the fraudulent scientists once and for all. For example, Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk was exposed as a confidence trickster in stem cell research. His findings have been completely discredited, and are not quoted by even scientific nut-cases as "proof" for anything.

In the real world, many world events are "one-time", and will not be repeated. Then, there is simply a question of Belief. Do you believe the event actually happened? 

This is compounded by the acceptance that politicians recounting current events are not held to the same standard of honesty as scientists. In fact, it is common for American politicians to lie, and the American people regard this kind of "flexibility" with the truth as acceptable, for any number of reasons ranging from national security issues to economic stability.

For example, I have long considered the invasion of Iraq as a dreadful error, wrong on so many levels, and justified by non-existent WMD claims  by the Bush White House.

However a conservative friend of mine has suggested to me that there were WMD's in Iraq, and he listens to Republican conspiracy theorists, who turn up on late night radio and claim that they Believe the WMD's were there in Iraq, but they were spirited over the border into Syria during the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, or somehow magically concealed.

This is a perfect example of an event that, if it happened, only happened once. If those weapons were spirited away into Syria, it happened in a very tight time window. To test this theory, the event cannot be repeated, and there appear to be no eye-witnesses, just True Believers. 

To reach any logical conclusion requires Investigation, not unsubstantiated Belief, which means examining every information source on the subject, before making your personal judgment of what happened. Along the way, you have to take into account that many people will tell self-serving untruths, or quote unreliable sources themselves.

At the end of this analysis, people will all believe different things, based on the credibility they assign to their different sources. So a committed Bushie will still be saying today that they believe there are still WMD's somewhere that we haven't found, and anti-Bushie's will be saying today that the whole GWB White House line was always a fraud to justify invasion.

I think a lot of this has to do with how fearful people are about the motivations and intentions of the rest of the world, and what they then perceive we need to do to protect ourselves from them.

My conservative friend has conservative instincts that lead him to see the rest of the world as very threatening. This allows him to see GWB in a positive light as doing something about a dangerous world. Now he is not a bad person, but he tends to use information sources that reinforce his existing beliefs, and discount sources that he dislikes. In this, at times he is as susceptible as any Creationist to  the dogma of the True Believer, by discounting any information  from any source he dislikes.

This lack of rigor at times needs gentle correction, and that may be because he is under a misconception of how something works, or the relevance it has in any given situation. He needs to have a clear logical pathway, but getting rid of his Belief System can be an impediment to clear thinking. For example, he so loathes Hillary Clinton (and Bill) that there is no point in discussing anything related to them. There is no way either of them can ever redeem themselves, and any successes they have will always be countered by any bad tales, even fictional tales, to make them look either incompetent or evil.

My progressive friends, on the other hand, make connections of great compassion, and do not see the rest of the world as nearly as threatening. Accordingly, they are much more into outreach and helping, and they see the military interventions that have been committed in their name as Americans as not being justified, and rank them as atrocities. Accordingly, the numbers of Vietnamese who died as a result of American intervention there, they take some responsibility for. Many conservative Americans find reasons to justify America's involvement, and as a New Zealander, we suffer from the same issues, because NZ was there supporting the American effort (with regular NZ Army troops). 

Now at times, either view is correct. There are plenty of instances where people have taken advantage of the caring efforts of others to abuse them. There are also plenty of instances where paranoia has led to heavy-handed mass-murder.

Meanwhile, nothing much is going to change with the US  Military, unless this economic meltdown impacts US spending.
This nicely illustrates the huge disparity of US "defense" spending compared to the rest of the world. The next 14 players all added together still fall about $100 billion short of US expenditures.

I think this is probably the difference between the Left and Right wing. Fear. Left-wingers do not fear the rest of the world so much. When, as a Left-Winger, you express anger at the neocon approach to "peacekeeping", neocons feel even more threatened, and more fearful, and talk about a "more dangerous world", because they feel the need to exert more control at any cost over the elements in the world they perceive as a threat they fear. Left-wing resistance to this control makes neocons very paranoid, and have them perceiving the Left Wingers as part of the problem. Neocons often talk about Liberal Conspiracies, Bleeding Heart Liberals, and Commies, to group the less fearful into the Opposition they have to defeat. And as I mentioned before, True Believers, in their paranoia, regard killing their enemies as a viable solution to their problems. 

Both sides can quote examples of the failed policies of the other. Left- and right-wingers each have their successes and failures, and history always tells the story, and the longer ago the events happened, the more accurate the history becomes, because it is not such an emotional issue to the historian, unless it is a pivotal part of his Belief System. For example, ask a Christian Fundamentalist if Jesus rose from the grave, and he will look at you as if you must be nuts to even ask that question, because for them, the answer is "of course!".

And yet, there are other historians who can equally argue that Jesus never existed. That he was a historical fable, of whom the first writings appeared about 60 years after his death, with no record in the secular record of his ever having even existed!

So this is an example of how Belief Systems are built, and persist, and can continue to be supported by people who are not bad people, just totally different in what they choose to believe.

What we choose to believe is always a personal choice. Changing other people's beliefs is often impossible, and is not something I try to do.

I think Google got it in one with their company slogan, "Don't be evil".

I think we all have to define what we regard as evil, or "intentional behavior that is unacceptable to me personally", and make our case for our positions. Too often, people have these underlying beliefs that they have not thought through, and as a result, build a tower of logic that has no real support even in their own belief system. When they examine their fundamentals, they themselves discover that the logical axioms on which they have positioned their beliefs are so flawed that they need to completely rethink their position.

Unfortunately, it is often an impossible task to get people to examine their basic axioms, because they cannot divorce their examination of their basic axioms from the body of prejudice they have built  based on these axioms.

And I think it comes down to fear. The more fearful we are, the more essential it is that "we kill them before they kill us." It is easier to adopt this path when we have no empathy for the "enemy", and do not take their humanity into account.

I think this topic of reconciling people who have very different world views is becoming more and more important. To get into the real basics of what people believe, and why, and how to sift information from dishonest sources to reach the multiple possible logical conclusions, and evaluate all of them to choose what we believe in.

For a more successful future, we need Americans to become a lot more logical in their information analysis, and less trusting of their beliefs.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Split in America

I want to ask all of you to think about how to heal the split in America. I might not have time to answer every response--there are 441 of you on my email list, and I know most of you, plus many of you send out my stuff to others--but you know I will read every one carefully. 

Here, below, is a perfect example of the split, a letter to the SF Chronicle by my friend Karl and a response to it. Please read them both and then think about how we can bring these two sides together. 


Karl's letter:

Isn't it about time for GOP apologies?

As Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele falls all over himself to apologize to the real leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, I think it is a good time to ask the Republicans to go one further and apologize to Americans.

Apologizing for such crimes as lying, and starting a war based on some of those lies, torturing, phone tapping, judge fixing, not to mention offshoring our jobs, making the way for fraud on Wall Street, and otherwise ruining the economy.

It was just a few days ago that Limbaugh was called out for being incendiary and when he asked for them, the apologies even came on his radio program.

So we can wait a few days, now that you Republicans know that America wants you to apologize. You know where to find us.

Karl Hodges

Response to Karl's letter:

Here's a Republican apology

Karl Hodges wants Republicans to apologize for America's problems. He is correct; the GOP owes America an apology, and also a promise to make amends.

As chairman of the San Francisco Republican Assembly, I apologize to every man, woman and child in America. We Republicans failed to do our job to defeat the most unaccomplished and unqualified presidential candidate in history. We Republicans expected the media to expose a glib community organizer from Chicago who never held a job. We apologize for failing to convince rational adults that mindless slogans will not protect the life, liberty and property of the American people and the free world.

America's investors know this president is using the present crisis to dismantle capitalism. That's why the stock market is crashing and Americans are losing their retirement savings. America's adversaries: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and al Qaeda know this president opposed liberation of 25 million Iraqis, and heads the party that whined, "this war is lost." That's why the world is a more dangerous place.

But an apology is not enough; the GOP also must make amends for what it failed to do in November 2008. Therefore, we Republicans will work harder to ensure that this president fails to impose European socialism and second-rate health care on America. We will also tell every American what this president never will tell: "We will pay any price, bear any burden to assure the survival of liberty," and with no apologies.

Mike DeNunzio

Let me just add this, now that you've read both letters: The atom bomb that ended our war with Japan (whether it was right to use it or not) was not a Democrat or a Republican atom bomb, it was an AMERICAN atom bomb. With the economy tanking, we're probably in more immediate trouble than we were in during World War II, and yet America has become so divided that we're almost crippled when it comes to dealing with the problem. 

Please comment below, or send me an email.