Open Debate When Words Have No Meaning

Or as we like to say, with apologies to Theodosius Dobzhansky, nothing in movement conservatism makes sense except in the light of creationism. I use the phrase ‘open debate’, as opposed to ‘free speech’, since there is very little good faith from those who seem upset about ‘no-platforming.’ Martin Longman, in an excellent piece about intellectual bubbles, explains (boldface mine):

…it’s inaccurate to say that debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. From my point of view, debate is something you engage in with a shared set of assumptions about the rules, and that includes what passes for a fact and what constitutes evidence. To be productive, there must be good faith from both parties, and that’s what broke down during the Reagan years. There’s really no point in debating Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter or Donald Trump because they don’t operate by these rules and they define bad faith. What the college students of today have internalized is that the conservative movement isn’t offering guest speakers on their campuses for the purpose of having a debate. They’re there to insult and create divisions. They’re there to question the entire intellectual process and the values that underpin academic discovery. What the youth don’t remember is a period of time when the right in this country could operate within the rules and when they were concerned to actually convince people of their views based on facts and evidence.

Personally, I think the comity and intellectual rigor of this bygone age is exaggerated in Brooks’s telling, but in my experience it did actually exist. It may have only existed in elite circles like Ivy League towns and the Acela corridor on the East Coast, but there was a brief period when we had debates in this country that were worth having.

The conservative movement put an end to that. And they keep pushing us further and further away from it. Rush Limbaugh becomes Fox News and Fox News becomes Breitbart. Reagan becomes Dubya and Dubya becomes Trump.

For college kids today, we’re asking them to pretend that provocateurs are intellectuals with some important ideas that will shake them out of their lazy assumptions and mental complacency. But that’s roughly like comparing Sean Hannity to Bill Moyer. These college speakers are coming to make a name for themselves by being rude, hateful, bigoted, and disrespectful. They seek praise, career advancement and book sales from an anti-intellectual movement. It’s a movement that made David Brooks who he is today, but he is only intermittently self-aware of this.

Put another way, consider intellectual fraud and elite racist Charles Murray. There are people who can speak intelligently about the genetic basis of IQ and behavior, both in the high- and low-heritability camps. They’re called population geneticists. Your local campus might even have a few! Were they to debate, students might learn some science! But Charles Murray is not the person to do this. He brings nothing to the table other than polemic and divisiveness (And that’s my job!). His words have no meaning, so why waste the university’s time and resources promoting charlatans and hate mongers?

And, yes, educational institutions need to make these decisions–it’s their job to do so, otherwise you end in up in a ridiculous place, typified by this satire (boldface mine):

I couldn’t agree more: If you think offensive speech shouldn’t be aired in certain contexts and venues, you don’t believe in free speech. Which is why it is incumbent on Weiss, and her bosses, to ask me to come to the offices of the New York Times and give a talk to the editors and columnists of the opinion page about how stupid they are.

It is absolutely necessary, for the sake of democratic ideals, that the staff attend my talk, and they must listen politely (and quietly) as I condescendingly dismiss their idiotic worldviews and personally insult them. They cannot yell at me or express indignation in any way. For them not to allow this to happen would be an alarming sign of the decline of liberalism in the West.

It’s not enough that I have the right to criticize Bari Weiss, James Bennet, and Bret Stephens here at the web publication I work for, or on Twitter, or really any other platform I have access to. The problem is that there is a platform I don’t have access to—the offices of the New York Times, specifically the opinion section—and, therefore, I have no way to personally and directly criticize the people I find objectionable. That is a clear-cut violation of the principle of open and lively democratic debate.

For example, I can call Bari Weiss a ridiculous hypocrite for posing as a champion of free speech on campus after spending her own time in college organizing a harassment campaign intended to deny or strip tenure from “pro-Palestinian” professors, but, absent that invitation, I have no way of making her listen to me say that, which has an obvious chilling effect. (Just ask my colleague Anna Merlan, who was shamefully silenced earlier this week, when Weiss didn’t respond to her tweet.)

I can criticize editorial page editor James Bennet as clearly not up to the task of running a vibrant and interesting op-ed section at a time when finding smart new voices has never been easier or more necessary, but I can’t also call him a pompous twit to his face, while he just has to sit there and take it, because it would be anti-speech of him to object.

How is that acceptable? How will the minds of the New York Times opinion section staff ever be expanded, how will they ever leave their ideological bubble, if they aren’t exposed to ideas that challenge them, like “all of you are charlatans”?

I’m a reasonable person. I am willing to compromise. If they don’t want to personally attend my talk, perhaps they can be allowed to skip it. But at the very least, someone at the Times needs to extend the invitation, and it needs to be well-publicized. The editors and writers of the opinion section must know that their colleagues chose to invite me to their place of work to insult them, as the people they work with sit in attendance at my talk, enjoying it a lot. The obvious contempt shown for the opinion page staff by their colleagues in inviting me in the first place would basically the most important part of the whole thing, speech-wise.

The kids are alright, but the adults, not so much when their words have no meaning.

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Links 3/14/18

Links for you. Science:

Researchers advance CRISPR-based tool for diagnosing disease
Australian report shows rise in resistant E coli bacteremia
HIV, syphilis cluster affecting at least 125 people discovered in Milwaukee
Why Math Is the Best Way to Make Sense of the World
Deadly superbug just got scarier—it can mysteriously thwart last-resort drug


A Leaked Message Board Shows What White Supremacists Think of the Police
Suicides, Drug Addiction and High School Football
Ann Coulter Fires Off Tweetstorm At ‘Globalist’ Jews (I’m old enough to remember when Coulter was a conservative in good standing. This is who they are.)
Welcome to the United States
Beautiful Kodachrome slides of vintage New York, 1940s-1960s
Bowser calls Rubio a hypocrite for trying to restrict District gun laws and tighten federal ones
Vladimir Putin: Maybe ‘Jews With Russian Citizenship’ Meddled in U.S. Elections
West Virginia Teachers and the Working-Class Revolt
Trump wants new authority over polling places. Top election officials say no
In Winchester murder, questions linger about why suspect was able to roam free
YouTube, the Great Radicalizer
So You Want An Endorsement. How Much Money Do You Have?
All DCCC Staffers Who Undermine Democrats Must Be Fired– The DCCC Should Only Fight Republicans
All right, this controversy over conservative columnists in @nytopinion is bugging me. Everyone is dancing around the central point!
Stop Tweeting by the Numbers
Why Tamika Mallory Won’t Condemn Farrakhan
David Brooks: The Triumphant Return of “Team B”
Sucked Into Thing Normies Don’t Care About
Is Trump the New Clinton?

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A Hypothesis About Why NY Times Op-Ed Writers Obsess About College Students

So Ben Mathis-Lilley asks “Sweet Jesus, will the NYT’s conservatives ever write about anything but the “Intolerant Left” ever again?” In a statistical sense, I’m sure they will. But there’s a reason, among several, why they obsess about college campuses: they’re not really competent to write about anything else (and the incompetence goes all the way to the top). What does David Brooks, Bret Stephens, or Bari Weiss know about anything that, let’s say, I don’t? (mind you, this is damning with faint praise). It’s not like they can say anything intelligent about many of the issues of the day: they’re not experts in anything (except figuring out how to get a big NY Times paycheck–which is a good skill, I suppose). Remember when Stephens wrote about climate change, he beclowned himself.

Years ago, when someone asked me why I started blogging, I told them that there was no possible way I could be dumber than either David Brooks or David Broder. I just couldn’t be, so why not write?

But this stuff, they can write about, and they need to fill columns with something.

Posted in Conservatives, Fucking Morons | 1 Comment

Links 3/13/18

Links for you. Science:

Stricter rules for antibiotics eyed for bills on animal drug fees
Hawaii: Where Evolution Can Be Surprisingly Predictable
Nuclear fusion on brink of being realised, say MIT scientists
A simple test for uncorrected insertions and deletions (indels) in bacterial genomes
A Platform for Biomedical Discovery and Data-Powered Health: National Library of Medicine Strategic Plan 2017–2027


Under Trump, the ‘forgotten men and women’ are still forgotten
Here’s one way to clean up college basketball: start paying the workforce
The Parkland kids are revealing America’s failings for all to see
The NRA and its allies use jargon to bully gun-control supporters
Ellison takes point
Why Are Democrats Helping Trump Dismantle Dodd-Frank?
Why Does Everyone Keep Looking at Me?
Holocaust Museum rescinds Elie Wiesel Award to Nobel winner Aung San Suu Kyi
Bang Bang Crazy, Part 12: Excuses, Excuses
The Real Threat To Campuses Isn’t ‘PC Culture.’ It’s Racism.
NYT’s Bari Weiss Falsely Denies Her Years of Attacks on the Academic Freedom of Arab Scholars Who Criticize Israel
Students from Parkland and Chicago unite to expand the gun control conversation
Five myths about gerrymandering
There’s A Fight Brewing Between The NYPD And Silicon Valley’s Palantir
The West Virginia teachers strike is over. But Oklahoma and Arizona may be next.
Partisanship in the Trump Era (pdf)
The DCCC should chill out and do less to try to pick Democrats’ nominees
Steven Pinker has a new book out. It is, predictably, getting a lot of praise. So I would like to make a few comments about Pinker’s last book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which was riddled w/ bad analyses, cherry-picked data, and, in many regards, TERRIBLE sourcing.

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Absurdly Well

Observed on 14th Street NW, between R and S, Logan Circle, D.C.:

Absurdly well

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What Happened In West Virginia?

While there was belated coverage in the national media of the successful West Virginia teachers strike, and there has been some commentary about it as well, it seems to have received relatively little coverage, despite its significance. Just to review what happened:

  1. Teachers demanded a real wage increase and more affordable healthcare (along with the removal of an invasive health monitoring system).
  2. They managed to coordinate a state-wide strike for days, and also managed to gain support from other unions.
  3. When the governor promised their demands would be met–but no legislation had been passed–teachers defied their own leadership and stayed out until both the legislative and executive branches–which are governed by Republicans–capitulated.
  4. This has inspired teachers in Oklahoma to issue demands for better wages and more school resources, or else they will strike April 1.

So this seems more significant than one would gather based on the relative paucity of coverage (and when it was covered, it was, in deadwood versions, usually below the fold or inside*).

We often have a hard time confronting significant change. Something that’s modest or incremental, we can face it, we can slot it into a comfortable cubbyhole, and shout about it. But this seems unsettling. After all, professional Democrats, whose party is supposed to be a friend of labor, have been beating on teachers and their unions for years (have to get that yummy hedge fund money!). A teachers’ revolt–and that is what this was–is unsettling. Conservatives have to be terrified of mass strikes forcing conservative governments to renounce austerity and support public goods. Meanwhile the respectable wings of the pundit class (as opposed to assholes with blogs) can’t regurgitate NBER pre-prints, as this isn’t a matter of analysis or policy, but of power and its distribution.

And before the left (construed broadly) is too triumphant, while teachers in West Virginia are probably to the left of the average West Virginian (or Oklahoman), a fair number of them are probably Trump (or at least ex-Trump) supporters and cultural conservatives. People power is only as good–or bad–as the cause for which it is wielded.

To top this all off, while these were organized strikes (they weren’t spontaneous wildcat strikes, as there had been some planning before hand if talks failed), the usual effect of unions and other left-ish institutions of damping down dissent didn’t happen.

Maybe the West Virginia strike will just be another historical flash-in-the-pan: after all, most events are not historically significant. But this does seem to be unsettling people, and hoping it goes away might not make it so.

*And it was days before the MSNBC talking heads, including the supposedly liberal ones, covered it in any detail.

Posted in Resistance Rebellion And Death, Unions | 1 Comment

Links 3/12/18

Links for you. Science:

Dentists keep dying of this lung disease. The CDC can’t figure out why.
Humanity Keeps Getting Smarter
Captive Orangutans Are Curious (But Wild Ones Are Not)
TX District Attorney Who Said “Vaccines Can and Do Cause Autism” Loses Primary
When Twenty-Six Thousand Stinkbugs Invade Your Home
A New Study Says Naloxone Might Cause More Opioid Deaths. I’m Skeptical.


Let’s have a good-faith argument about socialism (follow on from this)
A New York Times columnist blamed a far-left ‘mob’ for her woes. But maybe she deserves them.
Homelessness is like lots of issues: Racism makes it worse
Elizabeth Warren Says Democratic Votes for Wall Street This Week Are a “Stab in the Heart”
Let’s Get Real About Russiagate
The Stormy Daniels Saga Shows How Vulnerable Trump Is To Blackmail
It’s Time to Abolish ICE
Is That All There Is? How Full Is Our “Full Employment”?
Shirley Chisholm Deserves a Great Big Statue Honoring Her in the Capitol
Meet the Democrats’ ‘Dirty Dozen’ Working to Gut Financial Reforms
For Trump, Crime Is Not a Problem to Be Solved, It Is a Weapon to Be Wielded
YouTube Is Full of Easy-to-Find Neo-Nazi Propaganda
Time to Go Large on Gun Control
I found a blog post that encapsulates the alt-right/Trumpist worldview more perfectly than anything else I’ve ever read
Newspapers can stop issuing corrections now, because this is the correction to end all corrections
Trump says American workers are hurt by immigration. But after ICE raided this Texas town, they never showed up.
No, Your Furniture Shouldn’t Drip or Burst
The Bari Weiss problem
David Hogg is mad as hell

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