Thursday, March 2, 2017

We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be

I watched a segment of a discussion between Tucker Carlson and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I have commented recently that I am reluctant to invest time in gotcha journalism and confrontational exchanges. Mutual respect and exchange is more desirable, and usually more productive. That said, I kept seeing this video segment being alluded to so I finally watched it. Carlson is engaging with Bill Nye the Science Guy around global climate warming and asks a simple question - How much of current warming is attributable to human activity. Nye immediately defaults to the standard logical fallacy of argument from authority or, more colloquially, appeal to authority. Specifically, his liturgical appeal to "the evidence is overwhelming" without specifying exactly what that evidence might be. It is an extraordinarily opaque appeal. At some point he alludes to the vague community of scientists who accept the belief as overwhelming. He never references specific scientists, specific reports or, most critically, to the actual evidence. It is simply hand waving.

An earlier Science Guy, also quite flawed, but certainly more accomplished in science (and indeed an actual scientist), was Carl Sagan. He addresses Nye's style of argument very explicitly in his famous book, Cosmos. Page 333:
There is no other species on Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be. The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
Scott Adams uses this video interview to illustrate the concept of cognitive dissonance. Using it ironically because Nye is accusing skeptics of suffering cognitive dissonance and yet his is the cognitive dissonance most on display. It is extremely uncomfortable to watch. We are humans and most of us are averse to seeing someone suffer. Nye is suffering.

From Adams' post:
The first weird thing is that Bill Nye starts by talking about cognitive dissonance being the only reason that anyone would be skeptical of global warming. But he seems to not understand the concept of cognitive dissonance because he believes only the other side could be experiencing it. The nature of cognitive dissonance is that you don’t know you’re in it when you’re in it. It is only obvious to observers. If Nye had been objective, he would have noted two equal possibilities: Either the skeptics are experiencing cognitive dissonance or the proponents of climate science are experiencing it. But whoever is in it can’t know. It is only obvious to the other side. That’s how it works.

Yes, I do the same thing all the time. I call out my critics for being in cognitive dissonance and act as if the problem couldn’t be on my end. But in my case, the context is usually that I’m teaching you how to spot it. And I also talk about the specific triggers and “tells” so you can check my work. This video has a clear trigger and an enormous tell. Best example you will ever see.

The set-up for the trigger is that Nye’s self-image is that of a rational supporter of science with a command of the facts about climate science. He has made a career recently of defending science, and climate science in particular. Nye’s ego depends on being consistent with his pro-science, rational stance. That’s who he is.

Tucker then asked Nye a simple question about climate science. He asked how much of the warming is caused by human activity. Nye’s entire ego depended on knowing whether human activity is contributing to climate change in a big way, a medium way, or a small way. Tucker wanted some details. How much difference do humans make? After all, Nye had said this was settled science. Tucker just wanted to know what that settled science said.

Nye didn’t know. And by not knowing that simple answer about the percentage of human contribution to warming – the only issue that really mattered to the topic – he proved in public that his opinions on science are not based on facts or knowledge. Nye tried and tried to dodge the question, but Tucker was relentless. That was the trigger. Nye could plainly see, thanks to Tucker’s simple question, that his belief in science was just a belief, because he didn’t actually know the science. When your self-image and ego get annihilated on live television, you can’t simply admit you have been ridiculous all along. Your brain can’t let you do that to yourself. So instead, it concocts weird hallucinations to force-glue your observations into some sort of semi-coherent movie in which you are not totally and thoroughly wrong. That semi-coherent movie will look like a form of insanity to observers.

Look for Nye to go totally mental in the last minute of the clip, changing the topic to political leaks for no apparent reason. That’s your tell. His brain just sort of broke right in front of you.
None of this has anything to do with global climate warming. We are not talking about the facts and evidence related to an immensely complex and chaotic system (climate) or the fallible state of our knowledge.

What Nye is illustrating is that there is a faith-based system of ideological, religious or simply self-interested beliefs that have attached themselves to the scientific issue of climate. Seeing Nye's religious or ideological faith in climate change reminded me of Social Justice Warriors and led me to another train of parallel but completely separate speculations.

Nye has a faith-based belief system as do social justice warriors, but the desire for Social Justice is inimical with the American system of governance, the principles of the Age of Enlightenment which guided the creation of the Constitution and the cultural values of Americans.

And I think I see why.

The American form of government was famously born of an idea not of blood. We are not a tribal people, we are a people committed to the idea of individuals born equally endowed with a set of inalienable human rights that free them from coercive government. The Constitution is repetitively explicit that all power of the government is solely and limitedly that which is delegated from the people and that all power not explicitly delegated is retained by the people. Hence all our negative rights - freedom from governmental interference in assembly, speech, press, religion, etc.

Government is always an exercise in compromises and trade-offs. No matter that there might occasionally appear to be a free lunch, there never is. You pay today, someone else pays today or someone else pays tomorrow.

Justice is of course the means to adjudicate and enforce the laws duly constituted by our representatives in the legislative branches and administered by the executive branch. Legal justice is at best only a close proxy to moral justice. A foundational bedrock of our system of government is the rule of law, not of men. I.e. we are all subject to the written rules, not to the unstable opinion of mobs and men. Again, the fit between goal (impartial creation and administration and adherence to rules) and the execution (district attorneys, police, juries, judges, legislators, etc. all made up of people, people being individually and collectively prone to systemic and individual flaws) can be reasonably loose. But the failure to achieve perfection is no indictment of the validity of the aim.

In contrast, the John Rawlsian utopian dream of Social Justice, particularly as it has evolved in reality versus some academic rendition, is existentially incompatible with the fundamentals of the American constitutional system and American values.

It arrogates to third parties (usually the advocates themselves), the capacity to make decisions on behalf of others without others having representation in that process and it holds those third parties free from the consequences of their decisions and actions. It is essentially authoritarian at its core and often totalitarian.

The Social Justice ideology stands on its own in its will-to-power or can be enabled by the cultivation of a victim culture. See discussions: The Rise of Victimhood Culture by Conor Friedersdorf, Campuses are places for open minds – not where debate is closed down by Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam, Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges by Peter Gray, Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account by Jonathan Haidt, To Escape Blame, Be a Victim, Not a Hero, New Study Finds from Science Daily, and Microaggression and Moral Cultures by Bradley Campbell1 and Jason Manning.

Regardless of its origin, and many adherents are indeed primarily driven by good intentions though blind to the implication of their actions, Social Justice as an ideology is incompatible with representative republican democracy which vests all authority in the individual and accords all people inalienable rights.

In order to function, Social Justice requires that one believe in Plato's Philosopher Kings, and usually that role is accorded to the social justice advocate. The Social Justice zealot believes themselves and their moral position to be superior to that of others and that the others, in their error, should be compelled to submit. Hence their inherent authoritarian and often totalitarian nature.

What we are missing is Social Justice advocates who are willing (and able) to convince others. Social justice advocate arguments are weak, self-contradictory, ideological, and usually unmoored in reality. Being unable to convince a sufficient number of their fellow citizens, social justice people then seek to coerce, shame, and force others to their will. They are the ultimate illustration of why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Freedom allows social justice advocates to hold views that are antithetical to freedom. Their desire for authoritarian control over others is what has to be eternally monitored and managed.

Thanks for the example and the catalyst to a train of thought, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

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