Stephen Hicks’ Strawman

I’ve been reading and listening to Conservative Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism. He’s made it free on YouTube and as PDF. It’s important to note that the book is a decent read, but Hicks makes little attempt to remain in a neutral voice. It’s clear that he is critical of it, so his explaining is not to articulate to the generally interested; rather, it’s to impose his worldview on the topic matter. Read or listen, but keep this in mind. If you lean Conservative, you’ll eye-roll in unison with him; if you lean to the Left, the eye-rolls will have a different significance, as he mows down one strawman after another.

In this clip (bookmarked from the full audiobook), he attempts to make the case that postmodernists—which is as motley a crew as a group of atheists—eschew the notion of rationality for the comfort of feelings. Sure, I suppose some postmodernists do make this argument, but it is hardly a universal position. Taking myself as an example, I have no illusion that most people can register let alone understand their feelings.

I recall being in a corporate-sponsored (human resource-sponsored) interpersonal communications class where the instructor made the claim that one should defend your position by invoking feelings:

  • Your loud voice frightened me.
  • I feel sad when you shout at me.
  • I feel anxious when…

My reaction then is about the same as it is as I write: Whilst I may not understand what the other person may be feeling, there is little reason for me to believe that this person has identified and named this feeling. There is also little reason to presume this person is conveying to me a correctly-interpreted feeling in lieu of a more hyperbolic version for maximum effect. Moreover, some people seem to be offended by pretty much anything. And there’s one thing I’ve learnt along the way:

A person looking to be offended is pretty much guaranteed to be offended.

So, absent context, I have no reason to take this person at their word. Call me a curmudgeon, if you please.

Like Jordan Peterson, a personality who promotes Hicks, standing up and knocking down strawmen seems to be their raisons d’être, but this is sloppy philosophy and lacks the integrity these people claim to admire. In any case, forewarned is forearmed. Caveat emptor.

EDIT: The more I read of Hicks, the less I like it. He misunderstands or at least misrepresents postmodernism in a big way. I am not sure whether it is intentional or through ignorance, but a certain expectated academic neutrality is absent to the brink of malpractice.


The Rhetoric of Truth

I’ve shared a new video on YouTube discussing the rhetorical nature of truth.

Before the Classical Hellenes, Mesopotamians recognised the power of rhetoric as the art of using language to convince or persuade.
The term itself derives from the Greek ῥητορικός, rhētorikós.

As with any human construct such as language, truth and rhetoric are confined by limitations of the system and its logical structure.

In “Gorgias”, one of his Socratic Dialogues, Plato defines rhetoric as the persuasion of ignorant masses within the courts and assemblies.

Rhetoric, in Plato’s opinion, is merely a form of flattery and functions similarly to cookery, which masks the undesirability of unhealthy food by making it taste good.

Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle’s three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos.

But it’s more insidious than all of this. The notion of truth—or whatever we believe to be true—is nothing more than rhetoric.

If one is aptly convinced that something is true, it is. The physical world—the world of objects—contains facts—attributes of these objects, but these facts are tautological descriptors: a red car, une voiture rouge, ou quelque chose. In the conceptual domain of abstractions such as truth, justice, gods, and love, all bets are off.

As Geuss aptly suggests, most of society and civilisation don’t care about philosophical thought at this level. This is privileged activity. It’s not about level of intellect, per se; rather, it’s the privilege of free time to devote to abstract thinking.

Most people are more concerned with getting to the next day to earn a paycheque, and they accept sloganeering for any deeper meaning.

Humans are said to be rational beings. In fact, this predicates entire disciplines such as economics…

…and jurisprudence. Legal systems are founded on the concept that humans are at least rational enough to make fundamental decisions about right and wrong—and this, of course, presumes that the notions of right and wrong in and of themselves are meaningful.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume that humans are at least rational enough for our purposes, and whilst right and wrong may not be objectively validated, that within the context of a society—presuming that not to be mired in its own identity problem—, it can be defined in the manner of a social compact envisaged by the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, et alii. As the saying goes, ‘if it’s good enough for the government… well.

Language is a human construct, yet it’s an apparition. Like a physical object, it appears solid, but there’s more space than not. What’s there is exiguous. Echoing Heisenberg’s observations at the atomic level, one cannot be fully certain of a particular meaning. This is what Derrida (via Barthes) meant by ‘the death of the author’, though there is nothing to guarantee that the author could fully articulate the meaning or intent even if they were present to defend it.

About the same time, Saussure was finding promise in the structure of language, Russell was creating a new language of logic to obviate its deficiencies. Structuralists and logical positivists were a natural extension of the scientism of the 20th Century, the prevailing wave since the Enlightenment, but as with the demise of gods, religious belief, and other things metaphysical, this faith in structure was also specious.

Historically speaking, there is progress (another illusion), and there are paradigm shifts. When a paradigm shifts, an old truth is replaced by a new one. This is typically credited to a progression of knowledge, but it’s actually just that, on balance, people have accepted a new frame, chalking it up to scientific method rather than some rhetorical sleight of hand.

Even so, scientific discovery is different to archetypal notions such as truth or justice. At least we can empirically test and verify a scientific notion, even if what we are observing is later revised because of some previously unknown factor or removed constraint. For example, until Einstein’s day, Newton would not have known that his theory of gravity would break down as it approached the speed of light. But truth is just an opinion—even if widely held. Enter the ‘appeal to tradition’ flavour of logical fallacy—I’ll not dwell on the fact that systems of government are based on this quaint notion of precedents. #JustSaying

“Truth is simply a culmination of the rhetorical power to persuade the ignorant masses.”


I’ve arrived at my philosophical position as an autodidact. I am not a conventional scholar, and my exposure to philosophy derives from books, videos, and online sources including Wikipedia, blogs, Reddit, and the such.

I consider myself to be a non-cognitivist in the realm of Ayers’ Emotivism, and I fully realise that society as we know it relies on some notion of ascertainable truth. Of course, Nietzsche was vilified for observing that ‘God is dead’ and unceremoniously subjected to the ad hominem attacks afforded to the likes of Marx.

I’ve got a certain amount of respect for Existentialists (and Absurdists), but I find the teleological component a bit at odds with the central tenet. To that extent, I am more of a Nihilist.

I am more comfortable with what’s been called ‘Post-Modernism’, despite admiring the effort of some Structuralists and Logical Positivists. Where this love affair ends is where the permeation of science fetishists begin. Scientific Method and Logic are the gods of the New Age.

As a post-Enlightenment child, I’ve been steeped in all of its unfound glory, and it’s harder still for me to escape the pull of my Western indoctrination. So, to argue, one is forced to comply with the rules of logic within the limitations of human language—even the limitations of Russell’s language of Logic. And like arguing with a proponent of religion who points out that you can’t disprove his Ethereal Unicorn, one is forced into positions of arguing against Quixotic figments introduced as metaphysical elements.

Talk About Choice, the Body & Consent

This post takes a different approach than the previous two videos. First, I am reversing the video content and my response, so the video content is quoted.

As I listened to the video, I was taken aback by how rife the content was with logical fallacies. In fact, this would be perfect fodder for an introductory Logic 101 class to evaluate for these fallacies. Although I do not call out these fallacies exhaustively, I do highlight some of them.

One common factor of prostitutes is the history of surviving emotional, physical or often sexual abuse and violence.

Given that these are undefined and unqualified, I am not sure that there is any woman who has never had any violence of some degree or another. I presume this should be further qualified that it is directed toward her. I’ll be perfectly frank: I have never dated a woman who has not been raped at least once in her lifetime, some had been several times, and several others had been molested as children. Only a couple of these had any connections to sex work of any form, so it is interesting that this a raised as a vector, first for the over-expansive domain and second without contrast to other women in a sort of control group fashion.

These previous aspects have been suggested to be even stronger than the factor of poverty.

Notice again the speaking in generalities. No facts are being asserted here. We are trapped in a telephone game, where hearsay and speculation dominate the held position. Somebody anonymous person somehow somewhere suggested that some relationship might exist. There is nothing there.

Some poor women will be prostitutes, and others will take underpaid or illegal jobs…

Duly noted. And some will graduate from college and become computer programmers. And so?

…but the ones opting for prostitution will have had a history of sexual violence.

Notice that no claim is being made that this violence is more or less frequent than the cohort not opting for prostitution.

That a middle-class girl may also find herself working as a prostitute because someone taught her that she was worthless.

Wow. So much to unpack here. The narrator, Elly, is asserting a parallel between prostitution and worthlessness. The implication is a person with worth would not choose this profession because she would choose a worthy profession. I wonder where and how this worth is determined.

…and the only thing of value she could do was to give sexual access to men.

So Elly, whether she admits it or not is deprecating women who choose this profession, but she tries to shroud it in language that she feels otherwise.

Now comes the psychobabble about trauma reenactment, as if it were a thing, and in a classic misdirect, she asserts that this is not even her own judgment; in fact, it is the analysis of these women who are clearly qualified to make a professional judgment of this nature in the realm of pseudoscience.

Anecodote: Women come to the conclusion that they’ve been abused their whole lives, so why not get paid for it.

Here is where I break to discuss post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy or anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is frequently misinterpreted via the availability heuristic, which leads to an overestimation of the prevalence of an occurrence. This is a well-documented logical fallacy. This fallacy is employed when the person arguing has no real data to support their position, so they opt for personal stories, hearsay, and anecdotes. Related to this is confirmation bias, which is the result of, having established a position, only seek out facts that support the position even if these facts are outnumbered by contrary facts by orders of magnitude.

Such thinking is the basis behind anti-vaccination groups and homoeopathy advocates. The best these people can do is to point to themselves or a friend or a friend of a friend who benefited (or was disadvantaged) by some therapy or other action.

Bald assertion: We have a rape and paedophilia culture.

What is the basis for this claim, and what is the scope?

Media culture promotes the message be pretty, be fuckable, or be invisible

Here, we are in full agreement. The technical fallacy here is that for every 10 girls subjected to these messages, 1 becomes a prostitute. Yet even by conservative statistics, at least 1 in 5 women have been raped, 1 in 4 have been sexually abused. So the cause and effect don’t add up. In the US, about 14% of people are officially considered to in poverty.

In statistics, there is a concept of signal and noise. The problem is that understanding statistics is not natural for humans. It involves the analytical System II, in Daniel Kahneman‘s parlance, rather than the heuristic, System I.  A cognitive problem plaguing people is apophenia, where they read patterns into data that simply are not there. A form of this, called pareidolia, is how people see Jesus’ face in toast.

No body can stand beign penetrated to 10 to 30 male strangers every single day.

So the 10 to 20 customers a night I commented was unrealistic has now morphed into 10 to 30. It is somehow important to note that these are strangers, presumably as a nod to acknowledge that 30 acquaintances would be just fine because there would be enthusiastic consent and mutual arousal. Beware stranger danger.

If indeed prostitution is just a job like any other job, like, say, flipping burgers, then I would wager you would have absolutely no issue switching jobs with a prostituted person for one day and let it be your anus that’s penetrated in the state of non-arousal by 15 men during one night.

O! Europa. Firstly, I wouldn’t trade my jobs to flip burgers let alone be a prostitute. Secondly, there are scores upon scores of ‘typical’ jobs I would have no interest in switching into. Nor would I presume that many others could actually do my job in any case. Why would someone presume that the punter wouldn’t notice the old switcharoo? And what’s with the anal penetration. Some prostitutes will ‘do’ anal for an up-charge, but many—perhaps even most—prostitutes won’t even accept anal at any price. This is about boundaries.

And someone seems pretty obsessed with the prospect of being penetrated by 15 men. I’d chalk this up to a power struggle, a foray into the world of penetration politics. Even gay men discriminate between top and bottom, so it’s rather a submission thing rather than a female thing.

Prostitution is incompatible with enthusiastic sexual consent

Elly runs through a bizarre strawman scenario that is too silly to even repeat here, and then she returns to some Disney Princess fantasy world of wooing and requited love.

She (sort of) acknowledges (without saying as much) that there is a distinction between economic and social spheres. I’d suggest reviewing the Isreali daycare study, where they learned that lesson the hard way. This does not mean that some people don’t blend the two spheres. It also doesn’t mean that a woman might not put out for a hamburger but might be persuaded by steak.

Anecdotally, I am aware of some women who say they would have sex with their favourite celebrity—if only he would ask.

In the end, this has become more and more disappointing. As so much of this material are vast generalisations and practically at the level of conspiracy theories, there is not even a debate to be had. There are so many technical flaws, I feel I need to pull a yellow card. There is nothing to push against except for the lack of structure or method. It’s all so nebulous. It’s all so quixotic, tilting at windmills.

To be honest, I don’t see how this would convert someone on the fence, let alone an opponent. This material is pretty much relegated to echo-chamber choir preaching.

I think I need to get back to the topic of subjectivism and out of the weeds of activist politics.


Anarchy, State, and Utopia

I’ve been reading Robert Nozick‘s Anarchy, State, and Utopia because it was recommended by Ian Shapiro. Although I am only about a quarter way through, and he seems to have tried to hit all the angles; unless I missed it, perhaps hits these bits later on.

He thoroughly raises issues and works to resolve them, but, as with Descartes with his Discourse, Nozick seems to exogenously accept certain aspects in an appeal to tradition sort of way. With Descartes, he stripped all belief in the truth of his senses, but then he injects God into the equation from out of nowhere. For Nozick, he just takes property and value as given.

I understand that the Western Enlightenment tradition has a thing for life, liberty, and property—especially Libertarians—, but these are just philosophical notions derived from nowhere. (Wittgenstein, stage left) That he uses utility theory instead of prospect theory as a foundation can be forgiven, but that is shaky ground, too.

And so it goes…