Monday, January 25, 2021

Q: What are words for when no one listens anymore? A: To eliminate dissent and to impose 'Unity'

Random comments united by the passing scene
Here at the opening of 2021, it seems that ever more discussions of issues are being united by a common theme: What the topic of discussion actually is, and what the meaning of the words used in that discussion actually are, are the least relevant aspects of those discussions. It's as if we've moved past bothering with shouting and fighting over issues - which might actually require giving some attention to what it is that's being fought over - to ignoring 'their' words while demanding that they accept the position advanced by 'our' words. This isn't just annoying, it's dangerous, as when people aren't able to resolve their disagreements through words, power will eventually be used to impose a 'Unity' that others will be forced to accept.

I'll spare you the reams of examples I've recently had with this, and focus on one that's representative of what I've run into with the Left, Libertarians, Right, Trump'rs and NeverTrump'rs as well. In this, a post had caught my eye from a friend criticizing the website Parler being taken down by Amazon. What caught my attention had less to do with his post, than with the comment that his friend Eric had made on it, using a line that I've been seeing over and over again, that: "The internet is not 'a freedom", and "You aren't guaranteed free speech on private platforms...", which is, IMHO, a dangerously bad mash-up of the issue, and one which both Left & Right are falling into. And so I commented that:
"There are a couple issues in that. Freedom of speech is indeed a private matter, and the 1st amendment forbids Govt to interfere with it, but private companies can say what they want, or prevent speech they dislike, in their private businesses (like baking cakes), subject only to market forces and legal consequences. The Washington Post & CNN were recently hit with some of those consequences to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, when the student Nick Sandman sued them for what they said or edited out, when he was confronted by an Indian Activist in DC, 2yrs ago.

But WaPo & CNN are private companies, Not platforms. A clause in the Section 230 law governing internet communications, protects Platforms, against being sued for speech that others use their platform to convey, and it does so because by nature of being a platform, a virtual 'town square', is they don't have editorial control over what people say on their platforms.

Twitter, Facebook, Gooogle, etc., were created as platforms, but over the last several years they've been exerting editorial control - like WaPo & CNN - while the Govt shields them from the legal consequences of editorial mis-steps.

That's a problem all its own, and a big one (which enables them to accumulate wealth with fewer risks than any other private business faces, which has a large, detrimental, effect on all markets) that needs to be corrected.

Additionally, in a roundabout sort of way, the power which govt has extended to these platforms to escape the legal consequences of exercising (both in banning, deleting, and in their algorithms which promote and suppress speech) free speech, means that govt has actually made a law that promotes the violation of people's freedom of speech, and that does violate the 1st Amendment, not only in regards of freedom of speech, but freedom of association and assembly as well. And if those platforms are ideologically aligned with those in power in Govt, that's a clear and present danger to our liberty, whether those in power in each are of the Left, or Right.

And one last thing, respecting people's right to their opinion, used to be something that was expected of any decent person. Why is it that people are now behaving as if deliberately preventing others to express their opinion, is fine and dandy, as long as it's not Govt doing it?

That's also a problem... not a problem of laws, but a problem all the same, and, IMHO, a much bigger one."
Did I expect Eric to agree with me? No, but I'd hoped he would disagree with me by at least arguing for what he disagreed with, and why. Sure, most often little value comes of such online arguments, but what I'm always hoping for, which is what makes the unproductive responses worth going through, is the chance of hearing a perspective that I hadn't considered before, and perhaps even more importantly, that the people we're not aware of silently reading along with the thread, might get a perspective that they hadn't considered before. Rarer still, and still more valuable, are those occasions where your own understanding of the matter is affected, and even if your position remains unchanged, one or both arguers (and those silently following along at home), will come away with their minds at least somewhat altered, and the differences between you will become better understood because of the argument that was had.

No argument, no peace
Now I know what some of you are thinking, but despite what nervous people tend to say at family dinners, that is the point of an argument over politics & religion, and we should be doing one hell of a lot more of it. There's nothing wrong with having an argument - it's completely fine, healthy, and is one of the significant benefits of engaging with people of differing or opposing views, whether that argument takes place online, or across the dinner table.

You may have to remind a few people though, to remember that to Argue, does not mean to fight, it means:
ar·gue - verb 1. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one's view.
What most surely leads to fighting is failing to argue often enough, in much the same way that good forest management requires regularly finding and clearing out the flammable underbrush, and failing to do so leads to raging wildfires springing up around you with little or no notice. Arguing over differences is what people with a decent respect for the opinion of others do when presented with a differing opinion - not to beat the other person up, but to both get and bring a better understanding of what's being argued about, to those involved in the argument. But of course, doing so requires listening to the other person's argument, and caring about what the meaning of each word that they use is; it requires identifying what is and is not true, and what purposes their words are being used for, and examining the premises that their argument itself rests upon. Attending to those basics brings to light the gaps and contradictions inherent in a position - including your own - for all involved to see.

Having open and honest arguments is essential to maintaining civility in the American melting-pot, and  civility cannot continue long without it. Think of what would happen if 350 million pressure cookers lost their pressure release valves. Yeah, that's about where we are.

With that in mind, would you care to guess what Eric 'disagreed' with in what I said? Would you be surprised if I said that he didn't say which part of what I'd said it was that he disagreed with? Would you be surprised to hear that he simply dismissed what I'd said, and pushed my words aside as he repeated his own words for me to swallow? Would you be surprised to hear that he followed that up by casting a 'wokeful' aspersion upon me as well? Well then you'll be much less surprised than I was, that his reply was only to say:
"not to argue but to just make my point again. The internet is not 'a freedom'
Still getting that confused.
Also try using 'Native American' 👈"
Of course I did not make the 'point' that the internet is or is not 'a freedom', he did. He didn't want to 'argue' against my points, or for his own point, or attempt to engage in or even simulate an intelligent conversation, he only wanted to jab his position into the face of whoever hadn't knuckled under to his point, while tossing a woke grenade after himself as he strolled on by.

That is what a person who has no idea of how to argue, says, and of course far from avoiding the 'fight' he didn't want to get into by 'arguing', such passive/aggressive belligerence typically leads to hot tempered fights that bring no further understanding, and deepen our divisions. Not being in the mood for that, I only noted that sadly he seemed to have missed out on the argument that I was making, and said that if he wanted to reply further after reviewing it, I'd be happy to reply. And to his suggestion of  wokeness, I replied "No thanks, but feel free to do so yourself.

Into that hoped for conversation on the nature of free speech on internet platforms, a likeminded friend of Eric's, Nykita, rallied to his virtue signal and jumped in by asking me "For clarity sake", what ethnic origin I'd meant by "Indian". Sigh. I replied:
"For clarities sake look up the story and decide for yourself."
Being that the moment is what it is, a digression is needed here. Descriptors such as 'white', 'black', 'red', 'brown', 'Indian', 'male', 'female', 'large', 'small', 'fat' (yes, I know), 'skinny', etc. are used as a brief verbal means of providing what is needed to differentiate one thing in a statement, from another, and nothing more. If what you intended was to differentiate a 'white' person from other visible shades of 'black' and 'brown' within a group of people, then 'white' is enough to identify that person. If you intended to single out a white Scotsmen, from a group of white British men, then 'white' alone will be insufficient. If another perceptual difference is available, red hair for instance, then you'd drop the 'white' altogether and use that to identify who you were speaking about, but if something like that wasn't available, you'd have to use the next deeper level of general abstraction, such as ethnicity or nationality, to distinguish the Scotsmen in question, from the Englishmen & Welshmen. Using 'Indian' had no more use, value or intent than to recall to mind the incident where an Indian activist had confronted the student Nick Sandman, in D.C. - there was no need whatsoever to elaborate on what the descriptor 'Indian' signified. Sandman had been confronted by 'Black Hebrews' as well, and others, hence the 'Indian'. Had they also been surrounded by activists whose ancestors were from the subcontinent of India, then further distinguishing attributes of 'Asian Indian', or 'American Indian' (no, 'Native American' adds no clarity at all, as anyone born in America - North, Central or South - is native to America, and it's just a wee bit racist of you to think otherwise) would be necessary.

As there was no need whatsoever for me to add further descriptive information such as the inappropriate 'Native American', I did not, and the reason why he & she brought it up was not to add clarity to the conversation, but only to deconstruct a perceptual incidental into an inflammatory political point, so as to dispense with the conversation that I had been attempting to engage in, and reroute it into one where I could be more easily nailed onto the cross of wokeness, had I been foolish enough to accept their offer to climb up and stretch my arms out upon it.

I declined their offer.

She soon replied that she had looked the story up, and then treated me to a rather bizarre lecture on the social problems that might follow if someone were to carelessly confuse Koreans with Japanese, or Asian Indians and 'Native Americans', when speaking to 'them'. What she didn't do, was contribute any thoughts to the subject at hand, and far from seeking to have any other kind of conversation at all, what she did in seconding Eric's virtue signal, was to use her prized offendedness to shove their point down the throat of anyone problematically less 'woke' than they were.

I replied with the obvious point that seeking 'clarity' had no part in her comments, and that if she actually had looked up the story, then she had:
"... immediately understood who and what I was referring to, as did anyone who was already familiar with the story, so there was no need to clarify further than what I said. The only reason to trouble yourself over the matter, was not to ask for clarity on that - there was no confusion that needed to be cleared up - or to seek clarity on the topic that was actually being discussed, but was done so to strike a pose in virtue signaling, and as I take a rather dim view of that, unless you'd like to return to the topic above, or start a new one on what interests you, I'm betting that we're done here."
Not surprisingly a comment quickly came from Eric that:
"... its clear you're racist Van."
, followed by an exchange ending meme stating that no further words would be exchanged with  'Trumpers' which he'd assumed (why?) me to be - as if he had exchanged any words with me in the first place, let alone words regarding my views on Trump, or about reality. IOW: A picture is worth evading a thousand words.

Clearly, neither one of these two cared one bit about freedom of speech, the internet, ethnicity, the law or how govt might complicate such matters. Worse, neither had any interest in the opinions of those they'd entered into conversation with, except to insist that anyone with differing ideas should abandon their own thoughts and accept those of the wise-woke-folk, for no reason at all. Translation:
Don't argue with me, submit!
These are not people who care about what words are for, or what they mean, or the value of using them meaningfully in conversation. These are people who want to hear themselves repeating positions which they want to hear, and to hear other people saying the same things that they want to hear, and they are unwilling to run the risk of listening to or even overhearing anything other than what they want to hear.

What they are seeking is that false appearance of 'Unity' which remains, after all dissent has been eliminated, which isn't far from what Tacitus had repeated about the Romans: "They make a desert and call it peace."

It'd be nice to say that this is only a problem of the Pro-Regressive Left, but that is not the case at all.

I'd made a comment on another friend's posting of the New York Times's 'reporting' of the timeline of January 6th, and after making it clear that I wasn't excusing anyone of anything, still, in regards to the Time's reporting, I'd commented that it was,
"...Interesting that the first signs of agitation occurred at the fringes by people who apparently weren't all that interested in hearing Trump's speech, and twenty minutes before Trump's 'call to action', those who apparently not interested in listening to his speech and didn't hear that call, began to violently push down the barricades and overwhelm the police. Also interesting that the New York Times seems to have had no hesitation calling this group of protesters either a 'Mob', or violent...."
Another fellow, Todd, a bit of a NeverTrump'r who wanted mostly to say how reasonable he thought himself to be (he gave Sen. McCain as his role model(!)), somehow thought it useful to reply to me in part that:
"...Trump had spent weeks asking supporters to make their presence felt that day. The campaign pushed the whole StopTheSteal tag for quite some time, and set the official count in Congress as the place to show up."
Blink. Think about what it was that we were talking about, in that there were several hundred thousand people there that day, to hear Trump - what degree of blindness to the obvious does it take to point out that Trump wanted people to show up on that day, as being a contribution to the conversation?! Did he really consider that a useful 'insight', or simply a means of restating the obvious in order to ignore the comment he was allegedly replying to? After a couple more comments, I gave a more detailed reply to his last one, which I'll spare you the details of, except for this small and very relevant portion of his, and my reply to it:
Todd: "Here’s the thing: I want civil discourse and pragmatic compromise." I definitely want civil discourse, and I can guarantee it won't be found or maintained through 'pragmatic compromise', as few things are more infuriating to people who care about principles, than pragmatically dismissing them to 'do something!' and get your way. 'Pragmatic' and 'Prudent' are not synonyms, but antonyms, and while 'pragmatic compromise' may seem to get one side to yield civilly, that civility masks something like a buried and smoldering nuclear waste, and from what I can see, we're very close to that bursting out above ground...."
Was I mistaken? Did Todd think I misrepresented his points, or err in describing their meaning? I've no idea, as the only reply received was that:
"’s interesting how Trump supports continue to obfuscate and point out minor nuances to deflect accountability when the entire world know that this was—first and foremost—a Trump supporter riot. The continued deflections make Trump supporters look weak, corrupt, and increasingly moronic."
Once again, a non-response and a not so veiled insult. At this point I too, who loves a good argument, me, who'll happily engage in yards worth of comments over days about what the meaning of 'is', is, at this point, I too had no interest in trying to prompt something, anything, to actually argue with and over. That's not a good sign, but seriously, 'What are words for when no one listens anymore?' I replied only that,
I'd suggest that self awareness is another important trait to cultivate.
So far there's been no further reply.

As I said, I could add numerous other similar exchanges from the Left, Right & 'Center', but it wasn't always the case to this degree, and it certainly didn't used to be so obvious that it even stood out in exchanges with people 'on the same side'. It was just three years ago that the Left, which was going whole hog with the 'Russian Collusion' fiasco, seemed as if they'd cornered the market on accepting & spouting baseless and anonymous 'sources say' as 'proof', so as long as it served to drive their point down the throats of those who dared differing with them. But it was at that point that the 'Qanon' nonsense began circulating, on top of the invective driven NeverTrump'rs, that a couple friends & became concerned that it was beginning to look as if the Right - UberTrump'r, NeverTrump'r & 'Moderates' - were beginning to become comfortable with ideologically driven non-sense as well. The 'conversations' being carried on all around us today, show that concern has come true.

Which brings me back around to the calls for 'Unity!' we're now being subjected to, and asking: 'around what?' People of differing backgrounds and interests cannot suddenly feel 'unity', when they share nothing to unify around. Unless we identify something that we can unify around, there will be no unity, only division, conflict, and eventually some form of forcible submission.

Once upon a time it was possible to at least expect civility, but that requires sharing in some deeper fundamentals, as well as having some regard for reasonable differences of opinions that exist on top of that and between them. Those people who 'don't want to argue' insist on remaining clueless to what each (allegedly) thinks actually is of importance to the other, and in closing their minds and cranking up the reverb in their own echo chambers, they have no means of unifying over a single damned thing.

Even so, we might have been able to share some sense of 'unity', if we at least still shared in some of those deeper fundamentals that America was founded upon and which Americans - native born and immigrants - were expected to share in, but that is no longer the case. On that same note, I'd commented to another friend:
"...What permitted the possibility of "E pluribus unum" (Out of many, One), were the fundamental American principles of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' for all, by upholding and defending individual rights under a Rule of Law that treated everyone equally before those laws, and limited govt's powers to that, through those same laws. The fact that they weren't applied evenly to all from the very start, doesn't diminish the fact that it was those principles that enabled them to be applied over time to ever more and more and more.

But those principles cannot be applied if the concepts and history that gave rise to them, are unknown or reviled.

In an America where most Americans don't understand or care what being an American means, there can be nothing for 'us' to unify around.

What Cancel Culture and the Pro-Regressive Left (and Right) have been making more and more clear for years, is that they do not seek, or want, and will not tolerate, 'out of many, one' - what they've been pushing for is to divide that American One, into as many fractured parts as can be imagined, of which only 'some' will be tolerated by them.

What those 'some' fail to realize, bizarrely, is that through power play after power play, their numbers will be whittled down until only the most powerful one left standing, will be tolerated. As in "First they came for the...""
The Liar fears what's true, the Pragmatist doesn't care
Which brings me to something else that's being missed by both, each, all, sides in the current matter, in regards to 'Liars' and 'Hypocrites'. I'm sure we've all said, or heard, or read posts decrying all of the 'liars and hypocrites', who throughout the summer and up to just a few weeks ago, were praising rioters and excusing violence; denouncing America while spitting on the American flag; denouncing the police and the 'Rule of Law'; calling to defund the police and repeal and replace our Constitution; all from the same people who following what happened at our Capitol building on January 6th, are now suddenly outraged on the other side of all of those same old things (except of course, about antifa still doing all of those same things in Portland and Seattle). If you too are denouncing them as 'liars and hypocrites', I'm sorry to say that you've missed something of importance.

Not even liars & hypocrites
They are not Liars, and they are not Hypocrites - such titles are far above their paygrades, for a liar at least has some familiarity with, and recognition for, the truth that they've fearfully found it necessary to lie about. Likewise, with a Hypocrite, they do see the value in that character trait which they themselves do not have, but wish to be thought of as having. But these people have no fear of, and no regard whatsoever for what is true, they simply say what they say for no other reason than to capitalize on the moment and get their way. They aren't concerned with what the words they mouth might actually mean, instead, like political parrots, they simply say the one thing to get power, and when it becomes useful they'll say the opposite thing to get power, and in neither case did they care anything about either 'thing' they were spewing their words out about. Their words are pragmatic calculations of what people's reactions will be to their saying 'you know, the thing', enabling them to 'do something!' that moves them closer to getting the power they desire.

Instead of the pursuit of happiness and all which comes from that, they engage in the pursuit of power, and we are more and more experiencing what goes with that. Actual liars and hypocrites would be a step up from the politicians and media and eduocracy that we are saddled with today. Calling such people 'Liars' and 'Hypocrites' is granting them a seriously undeserved level of respectability, which they in no way deserve.

So what should we call them? We should call them, what they are, which 'Todd' above actually correctly identified: Pragmatists.

Pragmatism, despite it's several philosophical marketing campaigns, is not about 'common sense', it was devised to do away with principles, and to avoid giving 'too much' concern for what is 'true'. It chiefly advises aiming and settling for 'doing something!', so long as that something might 'work' (and when that stops 'working', do something else) to get the power to do what it is that the pragmatist desires to do. Why? With Reality, Truth and Principles out of the way, appetite and power is all that remains. There's a reason why Mussolini's ghost writer, Giovanni Gentile, thought that 'Pragmatism', the philosophical invention of Americans Charles Sanders Peirce, William James & John Dewey (who turned our schools into what they are today) would help make their new ideology of Fascism into a more pragmatically popular alternative to communism & socialism (both of whom have since capitalized on that idea since), what with its having no 'dogmatic principles or ideals' to be bothered with beyond the needs of the moment, and so they could instead just pragmatically 'do what works' for the good ol' "greater good". Surprising (to pragmatists only), was the fact that such 'thinking' as that soon led to people who had come to value action of 'do something!' over the idea of 'think it over and do the right thing', sensationalistic politics, over objective justice, and the 'cancelling' of Cancel Culture, over the reasonable behavior which the culture of Western Civilization had once made possible - poor choices which have led so many to choose the 'persuasion of power', over that power of persuasion which once upon a time we all argued for.

Those that fail to learn from history....
What we are facing today in those who call for 'Unity' as a means to defeat and dispense with dissent, is a thoroughly totalitarian state of mind, and we are coming face to face with it in a moment of great political turmoil and social unrest, and failing to recognize that, failing to call such behavior out for what it is, and failing to call out the sort of person who pragmatically engages in that for the power they can gain for themselves, is a perilous danger to us all... and many of you needn't look to your 'leaders' for examples of that, not when a mirror is close at hand. 

What do I mean by that? You've all heard Lord Acton's phrase:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
, but were you aware that he wasn't referring to those with political power, but to those who exerted editorial power over the arguments that people would, and would not, see being said about them? Yes, you too, when abusing the power of the words you use, are reaching for Sauron's ring of 'absolute power', and as the misuse of words is a grasping for power over others, how do you expect to escape its consequences? 

There's nothing new under the sun, and men have been writing about what we're now heading towards since at least Thucydides described the Civil War in Corcyra it in 431 B.C., where, in much the same way as the meaning of 'freedom of speech' is now taken as a 'hate speech' and a cause for violence, in that time too:
"...Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them..."
, and what follows soon after that, as it has been repeated, century in, century out, from then to now, as it did before then and will after us, where a society's people can no longer argue reasonably between each other, there are few who are more thoroughly doomed, than those who say they 'don't want to argue' in order to avoid a fight,
"...religion was in honour with neither party; but the use of fair phrases to arrive at guilty ends was in high reputation. Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape..."
Unless we all wish to see what it looks like to have not only brother set against brother, but fathers and mothers against their sons and daughters and against each other, and neighbors attacking you as you step outside your door, or breaking in your door to attack you in your bed - and unlike the relatively polite horror that our forefather's experienced while dressing in blue & grey uniforms to meet & do battle, that's what a real civil wars look like. If you'd like to avoid that looming reality, then my suggestion is this:
Argue. Often. Everywhere.
Argue, not fight, but argue. Encourage your family, friends, acquaintances, to argue about politics, and argue about religion, argue about individual rights and reality. Argue over those and all other such matters at every chance you get, so as to enter into a cleaner reality of giving reasons for, and citing evidence in support of, an idea, an action, or a theory you support. Aim your arguments at persuading others to share in your view, and to better understand the meaning of theirs, all the while desiring to discover any errors that your own view might contain. But that is only possible if 'winning' is not the point of what you are arguing for, but that understanding what is real and true, is.

If we don't do that, then we risk the penalties of those who don't learn from history, and so experience what a world without the niceties of politics, and the tender mercies of even the most barbaric of religions, is truly like. If we don't again learn to reasonably argue politics and religion, we are going to find ourselves thoroughly unified in the only thing left to truly unify around, what Hobbes called the 'war of all against all'.

In short: If you want peace, begin arguing meaningfully amongst yourselves once again. Now.

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