Thursday, 28 August 2014

On the impossibility of dialogue

In the busy thread below, this extended comment appeared. It contains some thinking which requires extended response, so I’ve done a lift and here it is up front.

The context is that the correspondent is a regular presence on the internet, commenting on climate change and global warming. His view and mine are different.

In the comment, he tries to explain why he thinks the way he does, to which I offer my efforts to understand.

Please note that his first language is not English, and make allowance that some of the expressions, which might sound abrasive, may be a function of linguistic difference, not necessarily aggression.

Here we go:

Let me suggest something: Pull back and consider that I am convinced you act in good faith and are honest, but you have been brainwashed.
I too have been brainwashed. The only difference is that I´m aware of the brainwashing and you seem to be oblivious (like 99 % of the population).

This is not a promising start. You set out by claiming your intellectual superiority to me, in that you have a privileged (and superior) epistemic status, because I am not aware that the world as I understand it is relative. I might be inclined to disagree with this.

The brainwashing isn´t the result of an overarching conspiracy. Some of it is genetic, some of it is deeply ingrained culture, some is early education, and some of it is impressed on you by the media, your friends, and your enemies.
Being brainwashed seems to be a positive survival trait in homo sapiens. Although many brainwashed populations were defeated and driven to extinction, others which practiced brainwashing as a higher art form, or got a bit luckier seem to have survived more often thanks to this brainwashing, which aligned most of society with the leadership, and moved them to perform as requested.

This is somewhat helpful. You are trying to describe your hypothesis, that our perception of reality is conditioned. In particular, you emphasise the social context of individual development (or call it the means by which I form my Weltanschauung (‘World-view’).

Thus my position is that a lot of what we believe is real isn´t really there. As my grandchildren would say, it´s all bogus.

Though your expression is a little clumsy, what is coming out seems to be a much simplified version of the ideas of Paul Feyerabend, for example, in ‘Against Method’. Feyerabend’s views are well summarised in Wkipedia (here).

So how does this impact the way I absorb information about global warming? First, I know there are actors trying to manipulate me to behave in a certain way. Why? Because whenever an issue arises which involves government decisions, subsidies, taxes, putting a drilling rig on the public library grounds, and moves like that I have to be manipulated to accept such decisions.

The position gets a bit more complicated here. This is because you introduce the Political realm. What you seem to be saying is that the information which is available about global warming has the same epistemological status as the information which we get from politicians or their employees. I think some people might object to this.

Do you see why you really can´t change my mind? As far as you are concerned I´m a ghost. I live in a different universe. You are trying to debate global warming, and I debate the way "they" manipulate us.

A part of the complexity is that you seem to have thoroughly mixed your resistance to political manipulation and your view of the nature of scientific endeavour. To you, these are manifestations of the same phenomenon – the untrustworthiness of given knowledge – and therefore they are the same thing. You reject Science as a whole, wholesale.

And why do you think you avoided the subject when I tried to use Kosovo and Iraq as talkng points? Because your comfort zone is in global warming and the associated science. You want to feel comfortable surrounded by your friends, sitting in a tall stone tower from which you can fling arrows and stones at the enemy trying to scale your walls.

Here, you are making presumptions about me which are not justified. I avoid discussing Kosovo or Iraq because I do not believe I have sufficient knowledge or understanding to comment on these subjects; I have no expertise or opinion which I trust.

And your characterisation of me in the second sentence is laughable. I have spent considerable time addressing your point of view and defending your right to express yourself, even when you have been illogical and inconsistent, yet you accuse me of attacking you. If you still see me as your enemy I would suggest that the problem lies not in my attitude but in yours. You have already decided that we must be enemies, so I cannot have any understanding of you or any human compassion. This means I cannot win. Your mind is closed to my humanity and identity; to you, I am just ‘one of them’. So who is acting in bad faith, you, or me?

On the other hand, I see this behavior as normal, quite human, and also misguided.
How very patronising and wise of you.
Almost everybody is the same. And this is why in the 21st century we see children being slaughtered with laser guided bombs in Palestine, and we look the other way. We have been brainwashed to accept this, and we can´t even bring ourselves to discuss it. And the odds are this post may even be censored, isn´t it?

Since I have both permitted every statement you have made on this blog, and defended your right of comment, even when it pushed libellous status, you have no grounds whatsoever to imply I might censor you, so this is just a personal insult.

To sum things up as best I can. You claim to be my intellectual superior. You set out a view of how the world (of understanding, or knowledge) is constructed. In this, you explicitly reject Science wholesale; to you, it is just as much in error as political propaganda. You frequently draw parallels between political events and scientific knowledge. You then remind me of why I am ignorant and accuse me first of being your enemy, then of repressing you, in spite of the visible contradiction of these in this blog.

Where does this leave me? If, as you say, all science is deception, then we cannot talk about science – not at all – by your terms there is nothing meaningful to say about it. But neither can we talk about anything which we might think of as being a shared human experience. So we cannot have any dialogue. Besides this, you have demonstrated that you do not respect me as an individual or as a human being; in particular, to you I am an inferior being. So you deny me any motivation to continue the effort to engage with you. Finally, you have established that, whatever I say and however I say it, you have determined that I am your enemy. I don’t need enemies, I want friends.

In conclusion, by your terms and rules, since there is nothing ‘true’ to say about science, every comment you make on science is a piece of hypocrisy. Furthermore, on your terms, nobody understands how things really are better than you, so you will never consider the possibility that you might be wrong, or the possibility that anyone else might have anything valid to say. This, too, given your views on propaganda, is hypocrisy. You deny the subject, the means, and the motivation to engage in dialogue. You have determined that discourse is impossible, so, unless you give me some reason to believe otherwise, I can do nothing better than remain silent.

For now, that is all I have to say on the subject.