Tuesday, August 29, 2006

That Old-Time, Small-Town Stench.

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Over at Positive Liberty, Jason Kuznicki updates readers about the situation of Meade, Kansas. After the multiple incidence of vandalism, Phred Phelps and his ilk and the nerve to show up. Amazingly, an even larger group of anti-Phelps protesters showed up. Hooray! But then, in an article Kuz' cited, I just had to reply to a commenter:

What we need less of is comments like this from Katie Near:

I think a lot of people think we’re all just a bunch of bigots.

Well, if you don’t want an image, you should be proactive in preventing the behavior. The fact that the people of Meade had to be told by a newspaper that a flag could be a symbol of homosexuality and that the default reaction was extortion, vandalism, and harassment says alot about the tacit approval of such bigotry in the town.

I’m sure Kati Near would sat that people just don’t talk or act that way about homosexuals, or at least they didn’t when she was growing up. We hear this kind of reaction from former residents of many towns now affiliated with spectacular acts of bigoted voices and actions all the time. But how often to these people accompany the lack of memories concerning outspoken bigotry with memories of outspoken anti-bigotry? Almost never.

There’s good reason we have such a solid stereotype for ’small town folk’ in the United States — because it seems to be true. It’s not healthy for any place to be a “small, quiet town/city/village.” Doesn’t it seem obvious there is a lot of conversational intolerance going on there? A lot of taboo?

I think we should keep things in perspective. Let me recap my point.

Quiet

Small

Close-knit

Quaint

Old Fashioned

These are unacceptable euphamisms.These words do not describe healthy communities. Healthy communities, places people can truly call homes, are not quiet; they are full of discussion, praise and doubt, reminiscence and forethought. They do not run their own children out of town to escape their dullness or overbearance. They are vibrant and grow, so they do not stay small for long. They can be different without denying progress, they do not have to be 'old fashioned.' Healthy communities do not need to describe themselves in any of these says.

When somebody who grew up in the suburbs or a big city thinks of small towns (which is the majority of people in the United States), when he/she hears of a "close-knit community,' it conjures thoughts of places where the citizens felt trapped, such as Puritan towns, or redneck stereotypes. We think of fire|brimstone preachers, corrupt sheriffs. We think of all the movies where we celebrate the triumph of the escapees, like Back to the Future when George McFly got the girl, FootLoose when the people could dance, To Wong Fu... when the ladies - and men - were finally treated like ladies, the list goes on.

Yet the next moment, people often turn on the news. Next, a shocking murder disrupts a small, close-knit community in Western Kansas... , and we all exchange horrified glances, and talk to each other the next day about the awful things happening to those poor, poor people.

Those people earned it. Let them have their small-town cake and eat it, too. I, for one, am not going to give credit to any story that evokes false sentiments about a place because it is small, or rural, or quiet, or quaint, old-fasioned, close-knit, or any other unhealthy euphamism for a place that is clearly ripe with conversational intolerance and regressive taboos.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Free Thought Radio and Logical Fallacies

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I've had a good time tuning into and chatting with Infidel Guy live this week. I did it both Wednesday and Friday. I wish I could say they were both equally enjoyable, but all Wednesday night, the IRC chatroom was clogged with the non-sensical rants of a creationist. Friday's show was better because I was able to rally the rational chatters into ignoring Guest4617 and paying attention to the show. The guest last night was none other than P.Z. Meyers!

Long time fans like myself (well, several fans have years more fan-time than I do) were able to commit to listening to Paul and Reg, but others were less patient. It is not well known that Paul is very soft-spoken in person. Most people, including Reg who was on the phone with Paul, could barely hear him at all. I did not have this problem going for me, for several reasons:

  • I have good headphones
  • I think Winamp is a superior audio media streaming device.
  • I opened the task-manager in Windows and set the priority for winamp.exe to "high."
  • I use several DSP/effect plugins: SRS Wow! thing, DFX 7.*, Rocksteady volume leveler, and MuchFX2(which allows dsp plugins to be stacked on top of eather and prioritized, so you don't have to use one at a time), and the job they do together is stupendous.
  • I set Winamp's DirectSound output's buffer to it's maximum length (20s), prebuffer to 9.9s, and buffer ahead on track change to 10.1s. This really helps to stream audio through Winamp.
  • I also have Xear 3D audio configuration on my system, which holds everything else together.

I thought the shows in themselves did pretty well. During Wednesday's show with Mr. Koepsell, I made it a point in the chat room to point out the abuse of arguments starting with "we" and arguments that focus around this mysterious thing we call "society." I said, STOP THIS 'SOCIETY CRAP! Ambiguous Collective fallacy! To ellaborate, according to the Handbook of Logical Fallaciesan Ambiguous Collective fallacy is The use of a collective term without any meaningful delimitation of the elements it subsumes.

"We" "you" "they" "the people" "the system" and "as a whole" are the most widely used examples. This fallacy is especially widespread and devastating in the realm of political discussion, where its use renders impossible the task of discriminating among distinctively different groups of people.

SNIP

One reason this fallacy is so prevalent and difficult to deal with is that it is built into the English language. Consider the question "Do you love anyone?" The ambiguity arises from the fact that the word "anyone" can denote either of two completely different meanings:

  1. An individual, specifiable human being. A single, particular person, in the sense that there is some one person whom I love.
  2. A non-selected unitary subset of the human race, in the sense that I love whichever person happens to be in my proximity.

I also went on to explain why I was pointing out the abuse of "we" and "society" as ambiguous collectives by the host and guest because that particular use often leads to the Anti-Conceptual fallacy, and re-enforces the Argument from Popularity fallacy.

The anti-conceptual mentality treats abstractions as if they were perceptual concretes. It regards a concept as a self-contained given, as something that requires no logical process of integration and definition. This syndrome is motivated by the desire to retain the effortless, automatic character of perceptual awareness, and to avoid the mental independence, effort and risk of error that conceptual integration entails. In the anti- conceptual mentality, the process of integration is largely replaced by a process of association.

The anti-conceptual mentality breeds an identification with and dependence upon the group, usually a group united by such concrete traits as race, sex, or geographical proximity. The moral universe of such people consists of concrete substitutes for ethical principles: customs, traditions, myths, and rituals.

The anti-conceptual mentality is incapable of abstracting from concrete differences among people and formulating general principles of common human rights, or common standards for judging an individual's moral character and conduct. Its sense of right and wrong is anchored not in reason but in loyalty to the tribe and its practices. The solidarity of the tribe is sustained in part by xenophobia - thus the bigoted racism frequently manifested by these people.

For the anti-conceptual mentality, relativism is the only possible alternative to tribal prejudice because for him the refusal to judge is the only alternative to judging by concrete-bound criteria. If one does not think in terms of principles, one has no way of distinguishing those aspects of human conduct and character that are essential from those aspects that are optional.

This subject is very important to me because science is a process by which we induce general principles fromm many small examples and experimentation. Scientific knowledge is an epidemiology - it's statistical. Rule #1 we all learn in Statistics 101: Statistics do not prove anything 100%. Ever. An although I have only taken 1 college level statistics course, and it was in high schoool, and I was still a big flake, I learned this well. Now I am sure in my prediction that a professional statistician cannot become a professional until he/she understands that statistics cannot be used to invoke the Anti-Conceptual and Ambiguous Collective fallacies.

It is important to know that statistics and people are two very, very different things. A statistic is a description of a group of people, but it cannot be applied to an individual. There is no such thing as a fraction of a person, or a negative persons. People are discrete and non-continuous. Statistical constants and descriptions are continuous and indiscrete. This has severe consequences on how we use statistics in judging others and moralising. A study may show that Group X is 60% likely to do Activity Y. But to assume that an individual person you know is a part of Group X does Activity Y 60% of the time is a total fallacy.

Some racial prejudices are examples of this error. In the United States, it is statistically true that black people are much more likely to be poor than white people, and statistically true for poor people to be less educated or otherwise unskilled. But for a any person to assume a black person is poor and ignorant out of hand is indeed racist.

Why is this subject important to the theme of my blog? One of the crimes and tragedies of religious and/or anti-scientiric thinking is that it convinces people they should make decisions and judge according to the will of a group non-entity, which has properties exceeding and outside of its constituents. All collectives can appear, and can be artificaly given properties that are not properties of what it is actually made out of: an amalgum of individuals. It is a crime to judge others - approvingly or otherwise - on the basis of a group entity that does not reflect its own content or on through a cogent group statistic in a way that does not reflect its content.

This means that "V", in "V for Vendetta" is correct. The government should fear its people instead of the other way around. Individuals define groups - groups do not define individuals on a one-to-one basis. It only seems to be anti-scientific thinking that commits the crime and sufferes the tragedy of being usurped by ambiguous collectives and anti-conceptual memes. As such, the scientific worldview, as it enables one to overcome this obstacle, and the only worldview to do so, is the only morally defensible one.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the Buzz Bashes Trudeau

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I emailed Orac about this, since he is more up-to-date on the relevent medicine and history...

I was just going to Quick Trip (a gas station) to get myself a giant fountain drink to suck down while I stand in front of the grill cooking for my family when I tuned into the Buzz to see what was up. Apparently, Slimfast and Suzie ("McDumb-Bitch") have been talking about the Cherrix case. They were well into it when I tuned in, so the first thing I heard was the hosts taking a call from a man who wanted to debunk the woman who had called in before him.

The woman caller was apparently taken in by Kevin Trudeau about a bullshit theory on how raising the Ph in a person's blood can cure cancer/disease. And according to this man caller, Kevin Trudeau is ripping off some old Michael Crichton novel... something about an asteroid carrying a virus that couldn't survive the Ph inside a person's body.

Slimfast and Suzie ate that up, as did I, and so did every caller after that! As soon as this man debunked the Trudeau cure for Cherrix's cancer, a flurry of calls from Buzz listeners came in to call Trudeau an asshole and laugh in that woman caller's face, and cry for Cherrix's fate. Even Slimfast, who entered the Buzz scene as Lazlo's court jester (in honor of his nickname and his favorite candy, he was goaded into chugging a can of SlimFast and TicTacs), knew that since the cancer has spread to the young man's lymph nodes and he is still refusing modern medicine, he's pretty much done for.

So this is my tribute to Lazlo, Slimfast, and Suzie ("McDumb-Bitch") for being excellent and outspoken skeptics on Kansas and Missouri radio, for being openly against 'alternative medicine,' and for Slimfast keeping the Taco Bell watch from when he bought Congo (a movie made from a Crichton novel) on VHS from WalMart. Classy.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I will be blogging again soon.

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