Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gramsci and the Gish Gallop

From The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit by Brian D Earp.
The term “Gish Gallop” is a useful one to know. It was coined by the science educator Eugenie Scott in the 1990s to describe the debating strategy of one Duane Gish. Gish was an American biochemist turned Young Earth creationist, who often invited mainstream evolutionary scientists to spar with him in public venues. In its original context, it meant to “spew forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate.” It also referred to Gish’s apparent tendency to simply ignore objections raised by his opponents.

A similar phenomenon can play out in debates in medicine. In the case of Lord Voldemort, the trick is to unleash so many fallacies, misrepresentations of evidence, and other misleading or erroneous statements — at such a pace, and with such little regard for the norms of careful scholarship and/or charitable academic discourse — that your opponents, who do, perhaps, feel bound by such norms, and who have better things to do with their time than to write rebuttals to each of your papers, face a dilemma. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Ignore you, and you win by default. Engage you, and you win like the pig in the proverb who enjoys hanging out in the mud.

As the programmer Alberto Brandolini is reputed to have said: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” This is the unbearable asymmetry of bullshit I mentioned in my title, and it poses a serious problem for research integrity. Developing a strategy for overcoming it, I suggest, should be a top priority for publication ethics.
For more on the Gish Gallop debating style, see here.
In the early days of Gish's debates, fellow creationist Henry Morris III wrote, "evolutionists were caught somewhat by surprise when a qualified speaker—complete with a working knowledge of the relevant literature and research—challenged their worldview ... Soon spokespersons for evolution publicly recommended that evolutionists not debate Duane Gish because they would surely lose."

His debating opponents said that Gish used a rapid-fire approach during a debate, presenting arguments and changing topics quickly. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, dubbed this approach the Gish Gallop, describing it as "where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn't a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate." She also criticized Gish for failing to answer objections raised by his opponents.
Earp's point is a great one that is too little discussed. I suspect that it is the engine behind community segregation. But what to call his point? Communal effectiveness arising from shared premises? CEASP? The basic idea is that:
1) You have limited time (and resources more generally)

2) To act, you have to reach agreement

3) Agreement is predicated on shared tactical understanding (how to interpret the immediate circumstances) and strategic understanding (how to interpret the contextual environment) within a shared normative framework.

4) You have to have at least some variance within each factor (tactical, strategic and normative) in order to test and evolve over time.

5) However, the variance cannot be so great that the time needed to reach agreement outstrips the constraint of the time available for decision-making.
Hence the effectiveness of the Gish Gallop. By exceeding the acceptable bounds of tactical, strategic and normative knowledge, you preclude an effective argument or rebuttal. It is a tactic that favors those who seek to win an argument versus those who seek truth. Arguments about Global Warming, Voter Fraud, Male Privilege, Race Privilege, BLM arguments, OWS arguments, Socialism, Minimum Wage, Identity Politics - in all these you see the Gish Gallop on display. The point is not to reach shared agreement but to force the opponent to leave the field of argument.

We tend to think of people segregating from others as a function of bigotry and in-group/out-group dynamics. Yes, there might be some aspects of both those explanations to some extent. But they seem inadequate explanations. All sustained social phenomenon have to comply with the fundamentals of evolution. People do things because those things are advantageous to long term survival.

By affiliating solely or primarily with those with whom you share some acceptable tactical, strategic and normative knowledge, you guarantee that you will be more effective at reaching decision resolution. It does not guarantee that you will make the right decision. That can only be known through trial and error. Those using the Gish Gallop effectively preclude the trial and error from ever happening in the first place. They are like a parasite that disables the system, ensuring failure by stopping epistemological evolution.

Ideologues are the ones who most practice the Gish Gallop because they are the ones most advantaged. Ideologies are about imposing coercive control over others rather than letting nature takes its course with trial and error.

In short, affiliative networks that are more or less open emerge because the shared epistemological protocols (tactical, strategic and normative knowledge) enable continued evolution and development in small increments over time. Totalitarian ideologues have to disrupt and destroy that process of evolutionary refinement because it is superior to their own imposed and static system of control.

Hence the insight of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who sought to subvert the evolution of open, free, participative democracies through cultural hegemony. Postmodernism, Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, Relativism all have their modern roots in the Gramsci mission of undermining liberty through cultural hegemony.

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