Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Post-modernism's fallacies (I)

Greg Koukl has identified seven further problems with relativism of a more philosophical, rather than practical nature. But before we go into those I'd like to go through my own preliminary list, which currently counts nine points, directly related problems on a day-to-day level, plus a number of other misconcepts that are typical of post-modernity. Some we already know, others we haven't yet discussed in this blog. It is a random list, with no particular order of importance. Some are however of utmost relevance, as we shall see as we get more insight into the problem.

The definition are subjectivism according to Wikipedia reads: "A philosophical tenet that accords primacy to subjective experiences as fundament of all measure and law. In an extreme form, it may hold that the nature and existence of every object depends only on some one's subjective awareness of it". About the latter Anthony Rizzi in the book Science before Science writes a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "Do you really believe the world isn't there if you're not looking at it?": the result of the fundamental mistake of Idealism.

1. The world is not a pie.
The world isn't made in such a way, that if my part is bigger, somebody else's portion is necessarily smaller. It isn't a zero-sum game as in labour negotiations. In the Harvard method of conflict management we learn that when mitigating a dispute between two parties, we don't go for a watered down compromise, but instead we try to forge a new situation out of the dispute. If one party has oranges and claims the right to the other's lemons, we suggest they consider building a fruit juice factory together, not both ending up with half of what they already had, plus only half of the desired object.
The fallacy seems to be based on an erroneous analogy with natural resources, which evidently are limited. But most things are not limited, replenish themselves or are simply not subject to this particular law of physics, especially in economics and in the world of ideas.

2. Down-talking is degrading.
If I talk myself (my country, my traditions, my culture, etc.) down with the object of making the other party feel better, I can spare myself the degradation. It doesn't work that way. On the contrary, the other party thinks: "Well, if your culture is so poor, how can you possibly make a sound judgement about mine". On the other hand, if I am proud of mine, the other party can feel free to say: "If you're proud, look at mine!".

3. It is possible to support two views simultaneously.
On the same note and perhaps a result of the two-party system or the bi-polar world view of the Cold War: if I choose for health care, this doesn't mean automatically that I am against education. I can support both. More controversial: if I am against George Bush, I can still be for democracy. It may seem stating the obvious, but this is how the anti-war movement ended up as apologists for terrorists and advocates for Saddam Hussein (a tyrant during whose tenure the rate of deaths per 24 hours stood at 240, still exceeding current shocking levels).

4. Goodness is unlimited.
Another version of yet the same misunderstanding: if I am good, it doesn't follow the other party is bad: we can both be good. If I value Western culture, this doesn't necessarily mean I think nothing of the East. It is entirely possible to appreciate and see the merits of both. And if irreconcilable, we can always decide to tolerate each other (in the classical sense of the word: see point 8.)

5. Truth by survey does not exist.
Nowadays it is considered the done thing to probe public opinion on a number of issues. These surveys and polls however are for the most part simply a pastime, filling web space and current affair programs of the B category. Silly questions galore: sometimes they are relevant to a particular political issue and are a measure of public opinion ("Is the surge a good thing?"), at other times they are plain silly and call for an opinion over a fact ("Is AIDS a growing problem?"), or worse even - on moral or religious matters ("Does God exist?").

A lack of knowledge may be at the root of putting a matter to the vote that isn't for the people at large to decide at all ("Should the Pope abdicate?"). "Yes", and so what ....?

Does a return of 50,1% make an error right or true? Public opinion is notoriously fickle and if the majority of people make a mistake, which isn't unheard of, should their wish be taken seriously? Remember that Hitler came to power as a result of a perfectly legitimate election, as did the current Hamas government.

These endless surveys and polls, whether appropriate or not, are causing misconcepts and fallacies. Moreover they make people less aware and increasingly insensitive towards minorities, who as a consequence, are faced with a dictatorship by the majority. I seriously think irresponsible and unscientific polling should be boycotted. If you agree, start by nominating ludicrous polls and surveys for the Competition for the Most Outrageous Survey Award.

To be continued.

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