Sunday, 6 November 2011

A kind of logic

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Does it have a name?

It is used a lot - everywhere from politics to everyday life.

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It relates to large scale and imprecise policy and action taking place in large scale and imprecise situations - there can be no formal proofs or controlled experiment.

But the situation is one where action must be taken (or else there must be a choice to take no action) and there is a choice of a possible actions.

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The logic is that if there is something that you want to be done, or you think needs to be done, or from which you personally benefit - then the fact that it has been tried before and failed - perhaps tried several times before and failed - is not counted as evidence against trying it again because this time things are different.

In one sense this is correct, things are different, things always are different - yet what this means is that past experience has zero influence on future action.

The reason is that just because it happened like that then, does not necessarily mean that it will happen the same now.

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The logic is that there is no necessary link between the past and the future; therefore the link can and perhaps should be ignored.

The fact that communism used to be bad does not mean that it is necessarily bad to be a communist now; the fact that a person used to behave badly does not mean they will necessarily continue to do so.

Give them another chance/ ignore experience.

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However... when the situation is such that there is disapproval: when you want something not to be done, when the people involved are disliked, when there is a personal disadvantage from a potential course of action - then a single past experience in a different situation may lead to an absolute prohibition.

Nobody give Nazis a second, third, fourth and tenth chance like they do with Communists!

(Indeed, potential or imaginary Nazis are regarded as a bigger threat than actual, existing, massive, expansive, aggressive Communist Empires!)

Nobody says things are different now - just because Fascism/ National Socialism led to bad results in the past does not means that it will necessarily do so in the future. Nobody imagines the experience of the Holocaust is irrelevant to future policy.

A single specific unreplicated instance has absolute authority over all present and possible future actions.

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So this logic works such that on the one hand:

1. No past experience or possible future evidence is ever sufficient to condemn that which is pre-approved.

The onus of proof is that to reject communism entails demonstrating that communism must - under ALL possible and imaginable circumstances - lead to the worst possible results.

And if this cannot be proven beyond doubt we shall give communism another try!

2. Minimal or no past experience is necessary to absolutely rule out that which is pre-loathed.

The onus of proof is that to accept fascism entails demonstrating that under NO possible or conceivable circumstances could it ever lead to any kind of harm.

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In sum, to reject communism requires showing that it is totally evil; while to accept fascism requires demonstrating that it is totally good.

No evidence is ever sufficient to reject that of which we approve, no evidence is ever enough to get us to accept that of which we disapprove.

Probabilities, amount of data, strength of evidence have absolutely no affect on things.

Because this logic is absolutist not probabilistic.

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Policy choices - personal choices - are thus pre-determined, pre-immunized.

Vast edifices of research, analysis and critique are rendered utterly ineffectual.

All that needs be done is change attitudes - and from attitudes this all else follows.

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What to call this style of absolutist reasoning in which attitude is 100 percent determinative of outcome?

In the past it would have had a name: something rather like 'un-manly logic' - and its current dominance would have seemed easily explicable.

Its dominance also seems strongly related to the rulership of society by  bureaucracies - by committees not individuals, by democracy and voting.

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In many ways this kind of logic - a logic based wholly on attitude, on prejudice - is the natural, default mode of human functioning.

There is something to be said for a society which knows what it likes and want, knows what it hates and fights against, and just gets on with the job.

But the domination of a society ostensibly devoted-to knowledge and ruled by research and evidence by covert yet determinative prejudice is simply dishonest and irrational, hence evil.

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So - what to call it?

The logic of prejudice, perhaps?

Or just plain prejudice - a prejudice that - once established - orders all past, present and possible experience to confirm itself?

Yet a prejudice that is ultimately ashamed of itself, that therefore lies about its own nature and operations. That disguises itself with borrowed trappings of skepticism, reason, evidence.

(And the plain fact that the logic of prejudice utterly rules exactly those individuals and groups who claim to be most opposed to prejudice really ought to have been a dead give-away!)

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5 comments:

  1. f there is something that you want to be done, or you think needs to be done, or from which you personally benefit - then the fact that it has been tried before and failed - perhaps tried several times before and failed - is not counted as evidence against trying it again

    This is related to George Orwell's notion of "crimestop" - protective stupidity that prevents loyal party members from seeing their own irrationality.

    And, as Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

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  2. "What to call this style of absolutist reasoning in which attitude is 100 percent determinative of outcome?"

    Given the irrationality and nihilism of which this is but one component, "solipsism" seems appropriate.

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  3. Bruce, I think you may here have arrived at the deconstructionist analysis of discourse by a traditionalist route. Your critique of discourse is much like theirs. The main difference is that they think discourse is all lies because there is no Truth, whereas you think Modern discourse is mostly in bad faith because it is willfully blind to the Truth.

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  4. @Kristor - yes indeed - the analysis resembles the 'social constructivist' view.

    I interpret this as yet another demonstration that reason cannot stand alone, but ultimately depends upon revelation (as Pascal demonstrates).

    When reason is left to stand alone, it consumes itself (as we see all around us).

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  5. We see this in microcosm in the US today.

    The Tea Party is "fascist" -- therefore, no matter what they do, they are considered evil, violent, racist, sexist, etc. No second or even first chances for them.

    Occupy Wall Street is communist -- therefore, no matter what they do, they are considered good, they are deemed innocent of racism, sexism, and violent intent, and they get endless second chances.

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