Saturday, 15 December 2012

Asking for definitions, for greater precision, feigning incomprehension - avoiding the point


One of the favoured tactics of those who do not want to confront criticism (implicit or explicit) of their ideology, is to hijack the debate.

So that, a perfectly clear argument, based on perfectly obvious evidence, and backed by perfectly simple reasoning - is met with instant demands for clarification; especially by the demand for exact definition with elimination of grey areas, and the triumphant production of what are supposed to be counter-example (no matter how rare or dubious).

If these demands are acceded to, then they lead to a debate concerning definitions, the balance of evidence, and - if necessary - the epistemiological status of whole realms of discourse.


I came across all of this when I published an article exploring the implications of social class IQ differentials on college entrance, at varying levels of selectivity.

The article was based on solid (not to say ancient) knowledge and clear assumptions - the precise numerical results depended on the assumptions, but the essential point was simply factual.

Yet insofar as the article was not simply taken as evidence of all sorts of motivations in myself, the response from Leftists was as above: for definitions, which could be challenged, for greater precision which could be muddied by emphasizing grey areas, skepticism about the whole area of intelligence research... in general anything was up for debate except the clear and obvious central point.


Well the same thing happened in the unpublished comments to my earlier article on the anti-Christian tendency of intensive weight-training and its associated regimes; the response of those who didn't like what I was saying was to behave exactly like politically correct IQ skeptics - except they did so in the moral domain.

I mean asking for exact definitions and focus on grey areas, rare exceptions, what is theoretically possible (rather than useful) and so on.

This style of argument is extremely hazardous; since it can be used to defend any sin of which one is convicted. Instead of accepting the force of conviction the discourse is turned into an abstract discussion of the nature and parameters of this particular sin.


What this reveals - from a Christian perspective - is an unrepentantly sinful attitude of treating salvation as if it was the kind of examination in which you want to get a pass grade with the minimum of work: therefore you are trying to discover what you can get away with.

Whereas what is required is to repent sin and resolve to stop defending sin (even if you cannot stop doing it - and many or most people cannot).

What this reveals is a gulf between the secular Right who are revealed as a species of Leftists that happen to be focused on machismo; and the Christian Right who are the only true Right, and who are focused on patriarchy - which is orthogonal to macho.


Note: the reason for this gulf between the Christian Right and the secular 'Right' is ultimately metaphysical - reality ordered by salvation versus reality ordered by a pleasure-pain index. But the difference can be measured more obviously in general and specific terms relating to the matter of attitude towards the sexual revolution: Christians are negative, secularists are positive (with a few minor reservations to do with themselves having more status and power). Thus the litmus test issues are manifestations of the sexual revolution: abortion, contraception, marriage, divorce, 'Game', drugs, plastic surgery (and the fight against aging), tattoos and other body 'modifications'... and the cult of the self-sculpted body as exemplified by intensive weight training. It's all a metaphysical package. 



George Goerlich said...

The end of your post helped clarify for me the meaning of humility. To defend sin seems a very natural human reaction even when the human may realize its wrongness to some degree. To realize something is wrong is to want to stop, but if you can not stop you may simply learn to defend and make exceptions for the behavior. I think no one wants to live with a "negative self-image" in this regard. To overcome and accept your own sinful status, perhaps lower than your pride hoped for, that entails accepting the wrongness of ones continued behavior would be a necessary predecessor to repentance.

In fact, thinking out to a broad look on society - this is one of the most common behaviors. People are constantly and voraciously defending and recasting obviously wrong things as good. It is as if the definition of "good" is "whatever I choose."

Samson J. said...

What this reveals - from a Christian perspective - is an unrepentantly sinful attitude of treating salvation as if it was the kind of examination in which you want to get a pass grade with the minimum of work: therefore you are trying to discover what you can get away with.

Right - an aspect of legalism. I'm reminded of a discussion I once participated in, at a Christian men's blog, in which it was forcefully argued that it is in fact permissible for men to engage in premarital sex, as long as the act occurred according to the proper legal requirements. The arguer was actually impressively knowledgeable about the scriptures, but he failed to understand that he was approaching the issue the wrong way: the primary question was not "what can I get away with", but "what is God's plan for sexuality and the meaning behind it."

stephens said...

Freud was said to have believed that religion was some sort of man made illusion to make us feel better.
I always felt the opposite, that often in life our atheistic tendencies or doubts are brought to the fore, as a defence, when we are doing things that, deep down, we know we should not do.

George Goerlich said...

So then with regards to religion and morality - I wonder if the choice was posed: Do you believe what God says and the most intelligent of Western civilization accepted as true? Or do you believe what some amoral, sleazy and clever and marketing executives on TV tell you to do?

I mean, I don't think what people really realize always what they are arguing for or against, they see the propaganda but not the source.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - It's a good point: I suspect people are so deluged by 'information' that they simply do not remember, hence disregard, its provenance.

BenML said...

This is a great post that struck a chord with me--as one of the people that asked for a definition on your weight lifting article.

From George above:

"The end of your post helped clarify for me the meaning of humility."

It helped me remember an aspect of humility too.

stephens said...

@bgc - "I suspect people are so deluged by 'information' that they simply do not remember, hence disregard, its provenance."

The illusion of truth bias. I suppose it explains why we are continually bombarded with propaganda.

Illusion-of-truth effect: that people are more likely to identify as true statements those they have previously heard (even if they cannot consciously remember having heard them), regardless of the actual validity of the statement. In other words, a person is more likely to believe a familiar statement than an unfamiliar one.

Barbara H said...

This is what we at home call "Alynsky-ism." As in Saul....

Sample: A school wanted the children to wear hats - not important why. Parents would not go for this - it's silly. So the staff got up a parents night - advertised as "come help us decide what kind of hats your children will wear to school." Parents showed up in droves and argued all night over this. The staff, of course, had several choices for parents to fight over. Case closed.

This is just what happens every time a sane person tries to discuss a serious topic socially these days. Immediately nits get picked and the main idea is lost. The sane person shuts up and gets another drink. The insane people feel terrific because they have squashed a crazed "religious fundamentalist" again. Win-lose.

SCP said...

Your post reminds me of a statement by Albert Mohler. A listener asked him his opinion on drinking alcohol. He replied that one might drink some alcohol without sinning but to drink too much alcohol was a sin. He preferred not to drink any alcohol since he would find it tiresome trying to decide how much was too much. I would think that you find yourself in a similar position with weight training. Certainly one may participate in some degree of weight training without sinning. (I would think that one may participate in very strenuous weight training without that particular activity becoming a sin as evidenced by Tim Tebow.) If one decides to participate in any level of weigh training then suddenly the devil is in the details. If you were discussing some other, possibly more cerebral, activity which is not in and of itself sinful which might lead to vanity and sinfulness when taken to extreme I think you might find yourself more tolerant a discussion of how much is too much.