Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Tue Nov 10 21:07:59 2009
Trolls and Heroes

Importance of and goals in participating in online forii (really rather partisian and a bit philosophic):

Particularly now, as one of the instances where the socialists actually do have a point, class interests are being threatened (albeit minorly) by health care reform, the crazy is coming out. Political town halls and government informational channels are being jammed by people who have no information, very little clue what they're protesting about, and motivated by fears that are unlikely at most.

Busting these, I think, is important. Proving the forumbusters wrong isn't likely, at least not in their eyes, but by injecting doubt, we can impair them in their search for new eyes. Whenever only one person is talking in a disagreement, even if they're crazy or uninformed (or their ideas are crazy), they have an advantage. To block them, we use the minimal force needed to strike at the heart of their assertions and arguments, ideally registering as the same ones. We don't need to replicate their long copypasta'd rants, a simple "you're wrong" can work.

Example: on youtube I had an argument some time ago with someone who was screaming that Obama's efforts were unconstitutional, and I pointed out that most people making that claim neither had anything specific in mind or had a particularly deep understanding of either the constitution or the common law legal system on which it was based. Often, the conversation stops there, but in this case he pulled out some Madison quotes, suggesting that the founding fathers did not intend for anything like the current government. A reply that Madison represented one of the two political parties in the first party system, a mention that Madison and Jefferson were strongly opposed by Washington and Adams, and a mention that the entire point of the Constitution was to provide a stronger central government to replace the failed first try at a government didn't get a reply, although I have not seen that youtuber continue to post the same argument in response to every whitehouse youtube video he can find.

Political discussions are like chess played by vain people. Most of the time people want to rack up points, so they memorise a good opening and hope that people won't take things further. Most people don't. When nobody else shows up, they have the eyes of everyone else who shows up, and potentially get people leaning towards their views. Unlike chess, we're aiming for mindshare, but more particularly we're aiming to disrupt the zeal and single-path thinking that leads nonthinkers in politics. Learning our own openings to reply to theirs is a good way to keep them from their aims, and, being thinkers, we should not replace their zeal with ours, but rather break as soon as possible into deeper waters. The way to do that is doubt and complexity - the real world has it, their arguments do not, and by stabbing at the areas where they misrepresent reality, people go from the scary "I do not care about facts and reality is very simple and you are wrong and evil" Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin style thinking into the much more reasonable Bob Dole or John McCain value-based discussions.

It might be trying to go a bit deep to go directly for philosophy, particularly when one's statement challenges the way most people are ignorant and worshipful - "What if the founding fathers were wrong?" and "I disagree with the foundation of the Constitution" are not as good of a line of argument (even if representative) as pointing out diversity of thought among them. Patriotism, I believe, does make people less likely to be good thinkers in philosophy, but it's more effective to dissolve the term in people's mind than to go directly against it (it being more of a wrongly-simplifying style of thought).

It is inappropriate to bow out of any form of public discourse. If cranks keep on coming, they should be met with arguments that cleanly remove their grip on discourse - the world is much better off with a higher level of political discourse.

I have come to consider political discussions to be mostly about what kinds of human nature are going to be expressed in society. For better or for worse, our right wing Democratic party is the side that represents compassion and a concern for welfare for those less well off, while our far-right wing Republican party is the side that represents individual achievement/privilege. Both sides are fighting human nature, as greed and empathy are both part of who we are as individuals. I am a socialist because I believe that greed and individual achievement/privilege are pretty unimportant, and that violating economic autonomy is not very serious. I support the Democratic Party in a nuanced way, hoping that it will both produce some tangible results that are for the public good and that it can shift politics to the left such that there will someday be actual socialism (although, being opposed to Orthodox Marxism, I would be willing to accept/support potentially many different forms of Socialism/Communism and think there's some work left to be done in Socialist theory to make it both practical and mesh well with liberal values). It would be nice to imagine a time where either factional politics cause the Democratic party to become socialist or alternatively organising a new liberal socialist party on their left that would defeat them. Those days are probably pretty far off.

In the meantime, we need to disrupt those "easy wins" in chess, whether it's a simple disruption of mindshare ("you are wrong") or known ways to undercut cheezy openings ("the founding fathers had this very debate way back when and you're arguing alongside Thomas Jefferson against George Washington").

We should be very mistrustful of any politician that uses language that plays heavily on emotions and demonising, which ... unfortunately leaves us with very few political leaders to like. This is not such a bad thing though - our energies are best focused on values, not people.

I will make an additional assertion: We should be very willing to shoot down stupid arguments for positions similar to ours (or in our direction from whatever we might recognise as centre), and low quality dialogue for our discussions. It is a shame on Republicans that they have not yet expunged Bachmann, Palin, and Beck from prominence, while it is a shame on liberals that Olbermann is not similarly reviled. Without an insistence on high levels of public discourse (which don't require people be almenacs of history or even that they spend a lot of time on these matters so much as they are appropriately willing or interested to have reasonable discussions and lack a tendency towards simplistic good/evil dialogue), societal progress is stagnant/difficult.