Monday, January 3, 2011

Politics 001 - Why and How

It has come to my attention that there are people who disagree with one another on the internet about politics. This will not stand. Not while I am interplanetary king of this sector.

I've said too much. Delete the last 30 Earth minutes of your memory. Your King commands you.


So anyway, I guess I've decided I'm going to write a regular political essay. I'm blocking out space on my schedule for one every 2nd Monday, and I have it in my mind that the best of comments (which are encouraged) will be rehashed on the alternating Mondays. We'll see. I'm also toying with the idea of putting the topic up to a vote, so feel free to either suggest topics through Formspring (make sure you're IDing as a topic so I don't answer there) or in comments.

Why Talk About Politics?

"I just love to debate."

That's a rather common statement, and I'm guessing that nobody reading this hasn't heard or read some variation on that theme at some point. The idea is of the argument as a kind of gentleman's game, a bit of rhetorical chess, matching the rapiers of one another's wits to test the mettle of one another's logic, stomping one another's mind grapes into the wine of Truth (don't be impressed; it comes in a box), slapping Falsehood upside the head with the hot mops of Logic. You choose the metaphor.

The idea, I think, is that arguing is a bit of a game, like debate club. It doesn't matter what side of the argument you're on, it's just about trying to win, using ideas. It's just a game.

I like this idea, generally. It appeals to me as a Platonic ideal. In actuality, I'm not much for this way of thinking. I think ideas do matter, and the positions one takes on them, likewise, matter. And I doubt very much that I'm in the minority here. You may have noticed that when people disagree with other people, they tend to do so rather vociferously. They don't seem like they're having a good time most of the time. They actually seem upset, maybe even contemptuous, perhaps just plain mad.

More so if the topic is whether or not you should have 4-bet pre with that Ace Queen.

Even more so if it is about sports.

Even more so if the exchanges occur behind the relative anonymity offered by the Internet. Oh baby, that's when the fur flies, because you aren't going to have to face THESE people across the table next Thanksgiving, are you? And, of course, the more anonymous the more vociferous, and the more the jackassery comes out to play. See also: Youtube, comments of.

But the most specially charged of all Internet debates are those dealing with the two big third rails: Religion and Politics. Start on these, and you are asking to be hit with about seven hundred varying Hot Mops of Truth. And folks don't simply disagree, really. They attack.

They? We. Me. I do this.

We attack, as though the person with the differing opinion was a foreign entity to be absorbed or destroyed. We attack, as though this individual were The Cause Of The Problems.

Why is this?

I'm probably being overly obvious here. You're all smart people (with the rather prominent exception of you), and I think we all kind of know this. Religion deals with why life matters. Politics is essentially about what we collectively are going to do. The two sort of get mixed up around in our minds like a gumbo that not many other people want to eat.

The way we feel about both is going to depend very largely on a number of assumptions about the world, and what it is, and how it works, and why it matters, and why WE matter, and what is important about life, the universe and everything. Some of this has been given to us from a young age. Some of it we picked up like lint on a Tootsie Pop. All of this gets rolled up and mashed together and before you know it we've got a Life Operating System, which, when presented with data each day, spits out a variety of conclusions which we then absorb as total truth.

I think we're pretty aware of our conclusions. I don't think we're entirely aware of our assumptions. Or, in some cases, not at all.

It's our worldview. Our template of reality. Our operating system. And when somebody else takes the same data and spits out a completely different conclusion? Well, they are not just attacking your conclusion on this topic. They're attacking your world view. This can be greatly distressing. It can feel like an attack on your SELF, on a quite basic level. I am speaking from experience here.

Inherent in this premise, I think, is the idea of winning. You don't just want to be heard.You want the other person who is attacking our template to STOP DOING THAT RIGHT NOW. They need to understand how right you are, so that you can go on wrapped in rightness. You need to eject the intruder. And so in turn you do the exact same thing to them that they just did to you.

You? Me. Also, probably, you. No, not you, Lama. I did say "probably."

For example, get a Linux guy and a Windows guy and a Mac guy together to talk about operating systems. Confiscate weapons first. But enough about religion, the topic is politics.

We don't love to debate, at least not most of us. In fact, it seems to make us angry. But do we want to win? Does a fat kid love cake? (Answer: Yes. Of course. Everybody loves cake. That's how you can tell who the alien replicants are. The fatness of this poor kid has nothing to do with it; he didn't even exist until I brought him up, and I went and made him fat for no good reason. The metaphor has failed. Please move on.)

Here's something that has never happened to me before.

I don't think I've ever changed anybody's operating system with debate. I've never won. If debate is indeed a game, I am the 2008 Detroit Lions.

I don't think I'm alone. Have you ever "won"? Has some "liberal" or "conservative" looked at you with gratitude and said "My God. Thank you AnnCoulter3489 on Yahoo Answers, it's all so clear to me now!" If so, kudos. You are the Tom Brady of the Internet, but with manlier hair. However, I think there are more people like me with a perfect loss record.

So. The question of the header. Why do this? Why even start a political discussion?

The answer is simple. I have stopped trying to win. I'm not interested anymore. It's not a fight, and I'm not bringing my gloves. I'm not trying to make you use my operating system. I am not sure if I even am trying to get you to understand my operating system (though it would be nice). What I want to do is understand yours. I think this stuff matters. I actually think it is important. I'm likely to make some rather passionate arguments in favor of (or in opposition to) one thing or another. I do think that there is such a thing as a better or worse conclusion from the same data, and in fact I do think that people now relying on different data sources, which are not equal in quality or value.

Nevertheless, I'm less interested in letting you know how wrong I think you are. I'm more interested in understanding why you think you're right. And this, finally, is why I'm going to try this out.

But I want to prepare you: Even if I finally understand, you're probably not going to "win" either. I try to keep an open mind, but operating systems are much easier to swap in machines than in people.

How to Talk About Politics?

Comments are very much encouraged. If this doesn't turn into a conversation I will wrap it up very shortly. I'm not just opening my mouth to watch my tongue wave in the breeze. I know what I think already.

However, there are simple rules.

1) We're going to be polite here. Got it?

We can be contentious. We can be passionate. We can tell one another that we think the other is wrong. We cannot tell one another that we think the other is stupid, or bad. That's poor form. It also makes you wrong. People aren't bad, even if they believe bad things or have bad arguments, or even if they listen to Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann. People want companionship and love and financial stability and friends and sex and food and clean water and to fade the three outer. We are all WAY more alike than we are different, and we're going to remember that.

2) We're not going to be vague. I have "conversations" with friends in which they make the most amazing pronouncements, and then are able to cite no source, or cite a source that does not support their conclusion, or even outright contradicts it, or goes to some opinion piece making the same argument without any sort of citation.

That really doesn't cut it in a Google age. The ability to get credible data is out there. Statistics can be good in more than poker, and checking your facts takes about 5-10 minutes. (And please, let's not go too far down the road with "numbers can be made to say anything." This is true to an extent, but at least we have some data and can try to ask some smart questions about how to analyze it, and why the conclusions reached by some chart may be incorrect or only telling part of the story.)

The simple thing to remember is this: If you start with bad assumptions, nobody is going to think you have reached good conclusions.

So if you say "obviously Bush is a war criminal", get ready to be asked to explain why, and to cite as many sources as necessary. If you say, "everybody knows that Reaganomics works," you're going to want to show your work. Let's not make "everybody knows" and "obviously" presumptions here. I think we'll find that "everybody" doesn't think anything, and nothing is "obvious".

I am pretty sure I'm going to have these words rubbed in my face someday soon.

3) Be humble. This is common sense. Don't pretend to be an expert unless you ARE an expert. Even if you are an expert, at least entertain the notion that you may be wrong about something. Remember, we're all subject to the confirmation bias. Data that supports our world view is like comfort food. It's a hard shell to crack through for some.

For some? For me.

I know there are a lot of bloggers out there with strong political views. Some of you have posted on politics. Others I've even had political conversations with. My real hope for this is that we'll sort of pass the conversation from blog to blog to blog through the week. I would honestly love to hear from those of you who blog. I want to know what you think. One of the valuable things about poker blogging as an online community is that it puts me in contact with a steady supply of people who view the world in very different ways than I do. Some of you don't even like LOST.

My Operating System

You'll start getting the idea about me soon enough if you don't already have one, but let's start here. A little bit about me.

I was asked a while ago on Formspring what I believed. I guess the answer I gave -- while not specifically addressing any political ideal or policy -- can serve as a decent general description of my operating system:

Here's what I know: I know nothing.

You can take everything I know, roll it up into a ball, sprinkle it with pepper, and here's what you'll have:


Here's what I think.

I think that the universe is a work of art that we can never possibly grasp, but on which we are collaborators, whether we desire the responsibility or not.

I think that time is an illusion, and that time travel is easy and available, and merely a matter of mental perspective.

I think that the universe is fundamentally a safe place.

I think that we can be reasonably sure that there's a lot more than we comprehend or even suspect.

I think everything is possible. More than that, I think everything is probable.

I think that winning is not the point.

I think that forcing somebody to be right in the way you know yourself to be right is the end of wisdom.

I think that it's going to get better before it gets better.

I think that if you are guided by fear, or by mistrust, or cynicism, or hatred, then you have missed the train.

I think that you can catch the next train. I hope you do.

I think can't wait to see what happens next.


Be excellent to each other.

Image from the very excellent xkcd.


Alltek Bee Removal said...

I think that your political blog is going to be very interesting. I am not an expert, but I do think that 2011 is going to be a very eye opening to many people.

Julius_Goat said...

Thanks, Alltek Bee Removal. Any predictions?

By the way, I am currently covered in bees. They haven't stung yet, but are blackmailing me. Any tips?

Astin said...

I largely disagree. Politely. After all, it isn't your fault your a moran.

Wait, no I don't, because then Dawn Summers would explode from trying to figure out why we could disagree with ourselves. Then, her explosion COULD be misconstrued as a terrorist attack by a joint US-CANADA (hey, you get to be all in caps, why can't we?) borderish (ie.- kinda near the border) cell. Writing those words probably got you flagged by the DHS. Sorry about that.

This could be interesting... if you actually get around to it.

Also, to get rid of bees, I suggest throwing a water baloon full of simple syrup, dyed red, at the nearest fat kid. The bees SHOULD be attracted to the sweet red syrup (thinking it's a bunch of nectar), and then realize the fat kid has more surface area, and is also more fun as he flops around screaming. Plus, he's already got ice cream on him.

Oh, and politics - umm... yes.

Anonymous said...

You want topics? How about: What can we do about the massiv influence of the pharmaceutical industry on scientific results (or: is there any, if you want to be sceptical the other way around). Or: Since we will run out of oil eventually, is there an alternative at all to off-shore deep sea drilling? Or drilling in Alaskas resorts? It would buy time, but will we use it? If we were able to use it - do we need the dangerous drills?