Moral Binaries

At heart, I’m an Emotivist. Following Ayer, I don’t believe that morals (and their brethren ethics) convey more than, “I like this, and I don’t like that.” Stevenson’s Prescriptivist extension makes sense, too: “I think this is good, and so should you.”

It seems that Hilary Lawson and I share this perspective. He makes the further point, one I’ll surely adopt, that morals and ethics are effectively ‘designed’ to shut down argument and discussion. It’s akin to the parent telling the kid, “Because I said so”—or “because it’s the right thing to do”.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I’m a moral non-cognitivist, but people have difficulty enough grasping relativism and subjectivism, so I’m only going to reference moral relativism here. As a moral relativist, right and wrong were both subjective and contextual. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. I won’t derail this with obvious examples. Once one adopts a position, they enjoy the luxury of turning off any critical thinking.

I’ll presume that morals predate religion and deities, but now that the thinking world has abandoned the notion of gods, they’ve replaced it with morals and ethics—and nature, but that’s a topic for another day. The faith-based world retains a notion of gods, but that is fraught with the same relativism of my god is right, and your god is wrong.

As Hilary notes, we’ve transferred the authority, per Nietzsche, from gods to morals in and of themselves, so it again becomes a device for the unengaged. He notes, as I do, that some absolute Truth is a fool’s errand. Echoing Donald Hoffman, what we need is fitness—what Lawson calls usefulness—, not Truth, which is inaccessible anyway—even if it did exist, which of course it doesn’t.

He cites the position Wittgenstein arrives at in his Tractatus. There is and can never be a place where language—words and symbols—intersect with ‘reality’, so the best we can do is to talk about it in a third-person sort of way.

As I consider the works of McGilchrist, it feels like Lawson is establishing moral simplicity as a left hemisphere function. Seeing beyond this is a right hemisphere activity, so that’s not promising. There seem to be few right-brain thinkers and then it comes to convincing the left-brain crowd. In a poor metaphor, the challenge is rather like trying to convey the maths of special relativity to the same crowd. They are going to tune out before they hear enough of the story. The left-brain is good at saying, ”la la la la, la la, la”.  

Without getting too far off track, a major challenge is that systems of government and laws are facile left hemisphere-dominant activities. These are people in power and influential. Rhetoricians have right hemisphere dominance, but they understand that their power depends on defending the status quo that has elevated them to where they are. As Upton Sinclair said, “’It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This holds true for women and non-binary others.

In closing, Lawson asserts that apart from comic book supervillains, people tend to do what they believe to be good, and yet all goods are not created equally, nor all bads. And in the manner that one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s good is another’s bad.

This moral discourse is not benign. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to steep this in contemporary politics, but this is being propagandised in things like the Ukraine conflict or the Covid response. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. This is divisive and creates a rift. That governments are propagating this divide is even more disconcerting, especially when they unapologetically backtrack only a few months later in the wake of people suffering economic impacts, including getting fired, for opposing a position that has turned out to be wrong and that was being asserted in the name of science and yet with little empirical support. These people are politicians and not scientists but attempting to hide behind science like a human shield, it serves to erode trust in science. Trust in science is a separate topic, so I’ll leave it there.

I recommend watching the complete video of Hilary Lawson to gain his perspective and nuance. My point is only to underscore his positions and to say that I agree. What do you think about morals? Are they a device to assert power over others, or is there something more to it than this? If not moral, then what? Leave a comment.

Not Only the Queen Is Dead

“The Queen is dead. Long live the King,” I believe it goes. There is propaganda through symbolism and spectacle. And there is detachment. Witness in this photograph of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral procession, a sea of mobile devices—black mirrors.

Audio: Podcast rendition of this page content

Are these people living in the moment? I can’t say for sure, but I am thinking they are more interested in laying claim to bragging rights that they were present (in body)—pictures or it didn’t happen, eh?—, but at the same time, they were missing the moment. Perhaps it would have been overwhelming otherwise.

I recall a Buddhist meme where a traveller was more (or as) interested in taking photographs than experiencing the moments—well before the Social Media Age. And what are photographs, except attachments to the past? As if the memory is not enough in and of itself.

I am neither a Royalist nor a Statist, yet I understand that many people are and they have emotional connexions to transitions of this nature. Some ask if the system will persist whilst others wonder if there might be changes conforming to their worldviews. Time will tell.

As for me, I am flexible. Were I Charles, I’d likely abdicate the throne and pass the sceptre to William, whom I would hope would usher the monarchy out of existence in favour of something more modern—and by modern, I mean something in the order of an anachronistic constitutional republic such as (poorly) employed by the United States of America.

Obviously, my preference would be for some autonomous syndicalist structure, but I am not holding my breath, nor do I feel that would fare much better anyway. I feel that’s just another pipe dream anyway as it involves people.

Would you look at the time? I’m off wittering again. Cheers.

Anatomy of a Social Media Challenge

As a Social Justice Warrior, I tend to favour diversity and inclusion as a principle. As such, I follow some people who share this interest. In fact, most of these people expend much more energy toward this end than I do. The challenge I am about to convey is that some people don’t read beyond the subject line, and don’t even attempt to assess the underlying claim, let alone the issue at hand.

I recently engaged in a nonsensical interaction that I am sharing and dissecting. It started with this share, an image of the border outline of Nigeria with an overlay caption that reads: “Nigeria becomes the first country to ban white and British models in all advertising”.

I’d like to point out two items in particular. Firstly, the caption is fabricated. I’ll get to the source reference presently. Secondly, the re-poster aptly corrects the caption when he shared it—”Well, all foreign models, but HELL YEAH!”

Nigeria recently passes a law that essentially assesses a tariff or levy on advertising content using non-Nigerian talent. There is no mention of ‘white’ models, though British models would fall under this umbrella. This protectionist law stems from nationalism. I’d guess that ‘white’ people comprise less than one per cent of the Nigerian national population, but I could be wrong. This is well outside my area of expertise.

My response was to say “Down with Nationalism and the Promotion of Otherism.”
I may be misinterpreting myself, but it feels to me that this is denouncing racism and other forms of otherness.

Sabrina responds, ‘Why is not having white models in advertising a bad thing?” and “Isn’t the whole point of advertising [for] people to…see themselves… ?”
In response, I should have pointed out that the initiative had nothing to do with skin colour. Instead, I responded to the second question: the point of advertising is to sell product. Full stop. If people see themselves with the product, then great. Clearly, this comprises a fraction of successful adverts. More common is to make a connection to what they aspire to. It’s not about making a social statement—unless, of course, that social statement will sell more product. If an ad with a white model will sell more product, a business would be derelict not to employ one; conversely, if white models result in lower sales, a business would be foolish not to switch to the more successful vector.

Sabrina really goes off the reservation with her reply, somehow conflating Nigeria with the African continent. Attention to detail is not her forte.

At this point, I feed into her laziness and send her a link to an Al-Jazeera article addressing the law.

She leaves with a parting shot, and I quote: “Have you ever thought about the harm you might cause by playing devil’s advocate and “creating an argument”?”

She’s off course and then attempts to diminish my point by calling it ‘playing devil’s advocate’ rather than admitting that she hadn’t even considered the rationale and possible ramifications. She didn’t even grasp the main point, so I suppose I should forgive her for not noticing secondary and edge cases.

At this point, Dr Perkins adds her voice. Her initial question is valid, and as I responded, the answer is “No”. The race card was introduced by some narrator who didn’t know what game he was broadcasting. But then she goes on to “applaud Nigeria for making a [decision] centering [on] Blackness”, save to say that was not what prompted the decision.

Notice, too, that other people “Liked” the other comments, a testament to the principle of least effort of the bystanders, too.

I recognise that the original post anchored the conversation off the actual topic, but it was also very easy to track down the reference and note the content discrepancy. Granted, this takes time and effort, but so does responding on a thread and then escalating commitment to a non-cause. And for one tilting at windmills to be tossing around accusations of playing devil’s advocate. It’s not a good sign.

But wait, there’s more. I commented on this post on a second thread.

In this case, Dr Anderson suggests that this is just “a country celebrating its own citizens by recognizing their beauty and knowing they can move product just as good, and probably better than white women, to which I responded that this is a testable hypothesis. It’s either true that on balance white models sell more product or black models do. Again, don’t fail to miss the point that none of this is about white versus black models.

Somehow, LinkedIn can’t seem to keep their threads in order, but Ms Rice takes my hypothesis testing point as a support for racism before precipitating to full-on troll mode.

It scares me to see that there are two academic doctors participating in this thread, neither with a trait of attention to detail nor even a fundamental pursuit of evidence.

This is why it is difficult to engage with social media. You have no idea what level a commenter is coming in on. And even when spoon-fed information, they refuse to alter their position. In fact, they tend to double down on their wrongness.
Moving on…

Sovereign Persons

I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

I have agreed with this sentiment for as long as I can remember, at least stretching back to age 10 or 12 and long before I had ever heard of the likes of Proudhon. I don’t believe that Proudhon is a big focus in the United States. I never encountered him in all of my studies from kindergarten to grad school—and I was an economics major.

In the US, disparaging Marx was always in vogue, with the off-hand remark along the lines of “Communism works on paper, but because of human nature, it can’t work in practice. And by the way, look at the Soviet Union. That’s all the proof you need.” Of course, I was left thinking that at least it worked on paper, something I can’t say with a straight face for Democracy.

For those who are familiar with Proudhon, he is likely remembered for his quote, “Property is theft!” I’ve discussed this before.

La propriété, c’est le vol!

Property is theft!

But this is a different quote: “I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled.” When I was in high school, there was a saying, lead, follow, or get out of the way. As imperfect of a metaphor as it is, I just wanted out of the way. In the world of leaders and followers, I wanted to be an advisor. In a manner—given the false dichotomy of followers and leaders—, this relegated me a de facto follower. Only I am not a follower. I not only question authority and authority figures, I question the legitimacy of their power. Not a great follower, to be sure.

I feel I am the peasant in Monty Python’s Holy Grail who tells King Arthur upon encountering him, “Well, I didn’t vote for you.” Not that voting yields some source of legitimacy. What options does one have?

Philosophically speaking, there is no justification for personal bodily autonomy. Someone just made this claim, and some others agreed. Sounds good to me, but there is no real reason to support the idea save for selfish rationale.

The science fiction staple, Star Trek, famously created a Borg where autonomy was futile. Because of our acculturation, we find this idea perhaps silly or perhaps appalling or absurd, but one is not more justifiable than another except by rhetorical devices. Yet neither is right.

Resistance is futile!

In the West, we tend to prefer a rather middle path, and perception doesn’t actually comply with reality. I think that people believe that they are more autonomous than they are. I’d be willing to argue that this is the same delusion underlying a sense of free will. Sartre might have argued that we each retain a sort of nuclear option as a last resort, but a choice between two options is hardly freedom. It sounds a lot like Sophie’s Choice (spoiler alert).

Not so come across like Hobbes, but I do feel that violence (subject to semantic distinction), or at least the potential for it, is inherent in any living system. With political and legal systems, violence just shifts from explicit to implicit, and so out of sight, out of mind.

In any case, I do not wish to be either ruler or ruled. I just want to advise. I’m an introvert. I want to be left alone. I value the benefits of society and I participate at the margins, and that’s where I prefer to remain. If the direction of the train I am on seems to be running off the tracks I’d presume it should be on, then I’ll get vocal. Otherwise, I’ll take the privilege to concentrate on cerebral and philosophical interests.

I’ll advise you to do the same.

Violence and Rules

I haven’t yet shared my thoughts that equate bureaucracy with violence, but this is somewhat tangential or perhaps orthogonal.

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination. The nature of these rules allows violence to be inflicted on violence and the resurgence of new forces that are sufficiently strong to dominate those in power. Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalised; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose. The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing these rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them; controlling this complex mechanism, they will make it function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules.

Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History 1977

Taking holiday, so taking shortcuts in posting. Here, Foucault discusses Nietzsche.

Institutionalised

Jordan Peterson is decidedly not my cup of tea. I can tolerate Pinker and Haidt. I agree with much of what they have to say, but in this video, the dissonance finally dawns on me. Interestingly, I can tolerate Peterson within the scope of this discussion.

I don’t agree with much of what these three are saying, but it is refreshing to hear Peterson outside of a philosophical domain, a place where he has no place. And although I don’t agree with him here, it is on the basis of his argumentation rather than his abject ineptitude.

I disagree with this trio. This video reveals these three people as Institutionalists. Peterson may be a political Conservative versus Pinker’s and Haidt’s enlightened Liberalism, but this is a common core value they defend with escalating commitment. Typically, we find these to be polar opposites, but here they have a common enemy that is not necessarily anti-institutionalists or anarchists but people who don’t understand venerable institutions and thereby risk tipping the apple cart or toppling the Jenga tower because they just don’t understand. Not like them. Besides constitutionalism, the common thread is Paternalism. They may disagree on the specifics, but one thing is true: We know more than you, and this knowledge is embedded in the sacred institutions. If only the others understood.

In this video, we hear these three commiserate about the diversity and inclusion forces in University today, and where this movement is off base.

Boris Johnson Resigns

In other news, Boris Johnson resigns. Another Conservative politician hits the bin. I’m neither Conservative nor Liberal, so I think I am in a place where I can comment as a disinterested observer. Of course, I am not fully disinterested; I am rather apathetic to it all. None of my horses is in the prevailing parties.

As I’ve been reading (too much) Jonathan Haidt, of all things, a Liberal apologist for Conservatives aimed at a Liberal audience. I have to wonder why Conservative politicians are so corrupt.

Hear me out. Before you accuse me of a hack job, allow me to explain. Are Liberal politicians corrupt? Of course, they are. Probably as corrupt. By and large, they have the same handlers and funding sources. But then why call out Conservatives as being corrupt?

According to Haidt and his Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), Conservatives collectively have more moral dimensions than Liberals and they have elevated ‘disgust’ triggers. This is what makes them more obsessed with ‘purity’.

According to MFT, Liberals have two moral dimensions: Care and Fairness, regarding the left side of the value pairs. Conservatives share these, but they also include Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.

“The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Haidt 2012

I am distracted for a moment by the epiphany that this explains a lot about why American police units operate the way they do—dysfunctionally from the Liberal and minority perspective. Whilst they care and want ‘fairness’, how they care is typically different (though there are clear overlaps), and ‘fairness’ means something different to them. Next, dogpile on loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Loyalty is to their group of other blue lives as well as their nationalistic and paternal fealty. Authority is them. They are the authority, and this is an inviolable relationship. Don’t question it. And then there’s sanctity. We need to clean up the neighbourhoods and cleanse them of criminals. The dirty people need to be taken off the streets as we perform our moral duties.

And I’m back. Whilst this intermission was a diversion, it is at the same time on point because they share this worldview with Conservative politicians—tough on crime, law and order. But what I am calling out is that if this is their worldview, they should be measured by a higher standard.

Distracted again, this also explains a lot about the outrage over Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Each of these people exposed unfathomable corruption, and Conservatives want their heads on platters. This reflects their viewing of the world through a deontological lens and as measured by a different sense of fairness.

I am not judging here. I am merely pointing out that their loyalty to country (or whatever) trumps the fairness mechanism. In a way, they see it as unfair that someone would have the audacity to betray their (notably corrupt) government. They even buy into the argument that they could have used the reporting mechanisms in place rather than air the dirty laundry in the public forum. These people find no discomfort in maintaining state secrets, even when the secrecy is for nefarious intent.

Back again. My point is that if these are primary drivers for Conservatives—fundamental attribution bias notwithstanding—, why do they subvert their own morals? For Liberals, there is no such subversion because they don’t believe these are relevant moral dimensions. This bleeds into the abortion debate—the sanctity of life: Life is sacred (and too much hypocrisy on the Right to unpack here), so you need to abide by moral code. Let’s not run astray again.

Wrapping this up, even if Conservatives are no more or less corrupt than Liberals, they are claiming to have a higher standard and yet they fail to abide by it. For a Conservative to call out a Liberal for the same violation is rather silly because the Liberal never agreed to the Terms & Conditions at the start.

Done

As I was mistyping the title, I realised that ‘resigns’ is ‘reigns’ with an inserted ‘s’. Nothing more.

Revisiting The Righteous Mind

Je m’accuse. I am as guilty as the next bloke when it comes to constructing false dichotomies. I like reading Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene, though I disagree with some fundamental aspects. Having put Time Reborn to bed, I’ve reengaged with The Righteous Mind and it’s dawned on me what goes against my grain. In retrospect, it should have been obvious all along, and perhaps it was. When I read works by these cats, I catch myself saying, ‘Yeah, but…’. A lot.

To be fair, I’ve not read much of Greene, so I’ll focus on the other two, Haidt in particular. From what I can tell, Greene is cut from the same cloth. I’ll elaborate. When I cite Haidt, just know that I mean the other two and their ilk.

Haidt divides the world into Liberals and Conservatives. This is the false dichotomy. I’m aware that I recently expounded on the political spectrum, but this is more than that. Whether this would be better depicted as further Left on the political spectrum or another dimension is open to debate.

I believe the biggest dissonance I feel against this common perspective is that these guys are all Liberals. In particular, they are Ivory Tower Liberals™—paternalistic know-it-alls. Upon reflection, Cass Sunstein falls into this category: paternalistic intellectuals. I don’t mean this pejoratively, but each of these is a privileged prescriptivist. But that’s not my beef.

The other common thread is that these people are all institutionalists. This brings everything into focus. These people are defenders of Enlightenment Age morality, so they’ve all adopted the same metanarrative.

The Righteous Mind – Chapter 7

Haidt’s observations are accurate enough, but only within the frame of institutionalism—a frame I reject. This leaves my perspective out of view and unrepresented. In chapter seven, he establishes his action pairs that serve to divine moral truths about a person’s foundational political beliefs. He argues, like Pinker, that the mind is not a Blank Slate. He adopts neuroscientist Gary Marcus’ definition of innate:

“Nature bestows upon the newborn a considerably complex brain, but one that is best seen as prewired—flexible and subject to change—rather than hardwired, fixed, and immutable.”

— Gary Marcus, The Birth of the Mind (2004)

He further morphs Marcus’ ideas into this:

Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises.… “Built-in” does not mean unmalleable; it means “organized in advance of experience.”

— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2012)

Given this background, Haidt invented these action pairs:

  • Care – Harm
  • Fairness – Cheating
  • Loyalty – Betrayal
  • Authority – Subversion
  • Sanctity – Degradation

I suppose I could reserve an entire post to disintegrate these. Suffice it to say that, categorically, I have issues with the meta of some of them—particularly, the last four. I am more accepting of the care – harm dichotomy, so my commentary would be more nuanced, especially in light of the scenario he cited, which shed light on his own thought processes.

I’m getting off track. The point I want to make is that these shared perspectives on society and identity, respectively macro- and microcosmic, make sense in an institutional framework, but is less necessary otherwise. And although Haidt attempts to defend his positions as not being invasive [my words, not his], this is simply because he accepts the underlying metanarratives blindly.

I’ll probably return to expound on this later, but for now, I am on to other things. Meantime, here is a review from a European, who rightly points out that this is a book written by an American for an American audience, even if he feels it is more universally applicable.

Out of a sense of fairness, I’ve included the Conservative brain image.

Supernatural

There is a battle being waged in the United States today, but it is not centred on the lack of separation of Church and State. I suppose this may be a uniquely American issue given its Constitutional roots, but the root cause is rather a lack of separation between Natural and Supernatural, not between Church and State.

Tomorrow America is celebrating Independence Day [sic], but until we are independent of religion, we cannot be independent. The only real independence is for the politicians who are independent of British control. There is nothing more substantial than this, and nothing for the ordinary citizen, who might as well be taking orders from England. Canada doesn’t look any worse for the wear and tear. I’m not a Monarchist, but it’s no less ridiculous than the Oligarchy or Plutarchy in play today.

I’ve got nothing again churches, per se. I don’t prefer the brainwashing that passes as organised religion, but neither am I fond of the brainwashing that is organised politics. And why is it called ‘brainwashing’? It’s clearly mind-muddling. I digress.

I do believe that it’s in the best interest to separate Church and State, not least because I need freedom from religion. It is already force-fed down my throat and codified into laws. We need less, not more.

Of course, a key topical debate is the abortion issue. This is strictly a religious issue. Even if you want to argue that it’s a moral rather than religious issue, it is still the result of supernatural beliefs. This is where the separation needs to happen.

Why won’t it happen? It won’t happen because people who believe in supernatural forces—especially active supernatural forces—are easy to manipulate. This has been true historically as well as contemporaneously. It’s too convenient for politicians to pull the old Santa Claus trick—if you aren’t good, Santa won’t give you any presents; and if you’re bad, he’s going to bring you coal instead.

I’ve said my peace. In the end, I don’t really even care if you believe in the supernatural, but if you believe that you (or anyone) can interpret these forces, I claim foul and out of bounds. This belief is not different to believing that you can understand what your dog or cat is ‘saying’—or your pet unicorn in the garden. It’s certifiable.

I know that other countries have to contend with this interference. Some even don’t mind the union. Is this a problem in other countries? Is it a problem in yours? Or do you consider it to be a necessary solution?

DISCLAIMER: This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Supernatural television series.

Pragmatic Limitations of Language

Heather at https://hermeneutrix.com/ commented briefly on the recent Political Spectrum post. Visting her site, she is all about words. Check it out. But even before visiting, I had the idea to visualise my reaction to her response.

To be fair, this is a response I get from my Pragmatist colleagues: don’t get your knickers in a twist arguing semantics. But in my noggin, I envision this Venn diagamme. (Well, not exactly. I just made this up, but you get the point.) Since the topic happened to be on the definition of Conservative, I’ll retain the context, but this is arbitrary.

Before I get to this, I want to set the stage with a more common and arguably more agreeable term: tree. If we ask a large number of people on the street to provide attributes of a tree, we might get something like this image abstraction below.

Tree

Venn: Tree

Although people may have different ideas, there will be some key core elements—trunks, branches, and roots. Of course, within the taxonomy of trees, there are types—pine, oak, willow, redwood, birch, and so on—each sharing these key attributes. These trees have some distinct attributes—coniferous versus deciduous, green versus red, flowering versus non versus, fruit-bearing, nut-bearing, height, and age. I think I can stop.

In general, I think it’s safe to say that if you point to a tree, and ask what it is to a person with sight and language, they will either respond ‘It’s a tree’ or ‘It’s an elm’. Even the elm response can be quickly qualified with a follow-up question, “What is an Elm?”

I understand that a botanist or an arborist may have a more nuanced definition. In fact, when I lived in a rental property outside of Chicago, my wife at the time defended the life of a tree that looked rather like a berry-bearing ficus, but that the village elders said was a weed and not allowed to remain. Here, we get into whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable or a squash is a berry or a fruit, or is corn a vegetable or a grain—or are we discussing maize? I get it. Even here, we can quickly come to terms. I said chips; I meant fries.

I could even get into the political conversation where the US justice system tried to redefine person to strip the rights away from those they didn’t want to have them. Of course, the United States has a history of not considering people to be people, though some were given 3/5ths and 4/5ths of personhood. Mighty white of them.

Back to trees. There are natural and artificial trees, but these are just simulations—hullo, Baudrillard. In the English language, there are non-arboreal trees, some not even rendered from fibres. We’ve got shoe trees—for which I fail to see the relationship to trees—and bell trees. We even have tree structures, like a taxonomy or a family tree, leveraging the branching metaphor. Some of these things escape the main bubble, but the connexion is never lost and is easy to navigate to a core understanding.

Conservative

I think we are amicably on the same page here and ready to move on from tree to conservative. Here, the circles are much more varied and divergent. Although there is common ground, as well there are points where there is no intersection in meaning.

Venn: Conservative

I’ve discussed a simpler abstract term before: fairness. To recapitulate, most people will tell you they want situations in the world to be fair. Only fair means entirely different things to different people. I’ve written about this in several places, so I’ll continue on our conservative journey.

Venn: Fair (oversimplified for effect)

Not only has the term conservative morphed over the years, it has different meanings—though to be fair, probably fewer than ‘liberal’. As I’ve discussed here before prior to the recent post, liberals are conservatives, but no one is really defending this position because the goal is identity, and identity involved separation to be distinguished.

Like fair, conservative has some common ground. The challenge is to understand which flavour is being used. Are you communicating by using the same term, or are you talking across each other? In some cases, this can lead to what I’ll call false positives (borrowing the language of statistical errors) where you think you are in agreement, except you aren’t. The other side of this coin is the false negative, where you think you are in disagreement when in fact you are talking about two different things.

This happened to me. A mate asked me to meet her at a certain time and place —I’ll just use McDonald’s because it is so ubiquitous. I went to the McDonald’s and waited. After a while, she called.

“Are you close?”

I scan the car park.

“I don’t see you. Maybe I missed you. I’m parked on the side near Taco Bell, not the oil change place.”

“There’s no Taco Bell at McDonald’s. What McDonald’s did you go to?”

It turns out that she was a distance away and wanted me to meet her halfway—like two-thirds to be honest. I assumed she meant the one we’d commonly visit.

This is a false positive. Communication was presumed to occur. It did. It just wasn’t useful. And since the reason for the rendezvous in the first place is to save time—one might say to ‘conserve’ time, but even I wouldn’t stoop to such a low target.

Wrapping up, the challenge is that trees are objects in the world. We can quickly recalibrate ourselves by reference. This is not possible for abstract concepts. I tend to refer to these are weasel words. Some use these words unknowingly. Whenever I hear some yahoo wintering on about freedom or justice, my first impression is that this bloke is tripping on a Kool-Aid propaganda overdose. Most common people falsely believe that people can understand what’s in their heads.

And to be fair—the left sort, not the one on the right—, when these yahoos utter the term, they are probably using it like their neighbour. But walk a few blocks or miles, and that bet is off. Sure, if the people have a common connexion, this might moderate the differences. But if one attempts to triangulate across worldviews, all bets are off. You may or may not be singing from the same hymnal.