“In economics, the majority is always wrong.”
― John Kenneth Galbraith, economist
Stereotyping makes it easier to categorize thoughts and behavior. The danger is that it’s incorrect. This opens the issue of critical versus collective thinking, where to draw the line, and what are the advantages.
The following thoughts were stimulated by an article on the counting of presidential votes that appeared in The New York Times titled, “Why Do So Many Americans Think the Election Was Stolen?” by Ross Douthat, at:
I’m not concerned with the vote count, I’m focusing on the way the author, Ross Douthat, stereotypes people. Douthat defines a category of “outsider-intellectuals” this way:
“The next category of believer consists of extremely smart people whose self-identification is bound up in constantly questioning and doubting official forms of knowledge.”
The New York Times, a bastion of liberalism, is cautious so as not to appear too blatant, but these qualifications seem like a smoke screen. It certainly is not logically consistent to lump into one group all people who question anything in particular whether or not they’re smart or self-identifying. To do so is to consider them all identical to a large degree.
What does it mean to be extremely smart and have one’s self-identification bound up in constantly questioning? This is not a statement, it’s a judgement. I constantly question things. Does that mean that I’m bound-up in it, and does that mean that I invalidate myself?
There is a big difference between doubting official knowledge and doubting knowledge that is justified because it claims to be official. To doubt certain official knowledge is to say, “There’s something wrong with the official reasoning.” To doubt knowledge justified because it is official is to say, “Officials can’t justify knowledge.” People who have difficulty discerning the difference between these two statements will have difficulty recognizing reason from prejudice.
Most people are poor critical thinkers and do not distinguish between what they’ve heard and what they say. Putting “outsider-intellectuals” into a separate camp and then setting up critical thinkers as self-identifiers—which isn’t defined but sounds bad—is preparation for dismissing them wholesale.
The New York Times defines East Coast liberal bias, although no one authorized them to play that role. Nothing good will come from a biased group who does not recognize their bias and, instead, puts the onus of narrow thinking on other groups. Several “logical fallacy” alarm bells should start to ring as you read the rest of Douthat’s piece.
“Conservatism has always had plenty of this sort in its ranks, but the consolidated progressive orthodoxy in elite institutions means that more and more people come to conservative ideas because they seem like a secret knowledge, an account of the world that’s compelling and yet excluded from official discourse.
“This, in turn, instills a perpetual suspicion about anything that seems to have too much of a liberal consensus defending it, especially any idea that gets mocked and laughed at more than it gets rebutted. And it creates a strong epistemological bias toward what you can only find out for yourself, as opposed to what Yale’s experts or Twitter’s warning labels or The New York Times might tell you.”
Following this argument, we’ve gone from collecting independent thinkers to implying they reject the views held by The New York Times. He has gone from expert opinion being opinion that reflects expertise, to expert opinion being opinion put forward by experts. That is a conflation of what’s true with what’s proclaimed. He has seen the enemy and, it seems, they are all those not in his camp.
“In many cases the outsider-intellectual’s approach generates real insight. But it also tends to recapitulate the closed-circle problems of the official knowledge it rejects.”
Do you do that? Do you recapitulate your rejection of the closed-circle problems of official knowledge?
“Thus the outsider-intellectual type looks at the no-voter-fraud consensus and immediately goes out in search of cracks in the pillar of official truth, anomalies that official certainty elides. A lot of the supposed evidence of fraud that circulates online comes from these efforts — not from grifts or lies (though grifters and liars do pick them up) but from sincere analyses of election data, which inevitably turn up anomalies here and there, which confirm the searchers’ assumptions, which closes the circle and convinces them that the official narrative is false and voter fraud is real.”
This is not what every skeptical person does. He has created a “straw man” argument.
“To the outsider-intellectuals fascinated by anomalies in ballot counts or ballot return patterns, I’ve argued that anomalies indicating fraud would have to show up in the final vote totals — meaning some pattern of results in key swing-state cities that differ starkly from the results in cities in less-contested states… but where claims for those kinds of anomalies have been offered, they’ve turned out to be false. So until a compelling example can be cited, anomalies in the counting process should be presumed to be error or randomness, not fraud.”
This author begins with the fallacy that those who deviate from any norm constitute a type. In the above paragraph, he adds two more fallacies: the “straw man” and ignorance as corroboration.
The straw man fallacy is when you surreptitiously divert the argument to a different subject upon which you can give a compelling argument, and then, have reached a compelling conclusion, you redirect this conclusion back to the original issue. Whether or not fraud would show up in the final vote totals is an entirely different issue from whether voting fraud exists. It is a specific case. You cannot argue the general on the basis of the specific.
Acceptance of ignorance occurs when you argue that not knowing is equivalent to there being nothing to know. In this case, he argues that not knowing of fraud should be accepted as there is no fraud. It may be that there is no fraud, but our not knowing about it in no way implies that it does not exist.
Consider crime. There is a lot of crime we don’t know about and of which we see no evidence. It still exists.
In the end, as is so often the case in passive-aggressive confrontations, we feel we’re being helped to see more clearly. Neither this author nor myself believe significant voting fraud was perpetrated, but whereas he rejects the notion as unsupportable because he can’t see it, I simply believe it was either insignificant or so deeply embedded in the system as to be invisible.
He rejects the concept, whereas I reject the conclusion. He implies that if you are not confused by self-identification, then you should accept the general on the basis of the specific. This is not super smart, it’s dumb.
Evidence can never prove a theory, it can only limit a theory to a realm outside the evidence. You can disprove the theory that the moon is made of green cheese, you can never disprove the lesser theory that some of the moon is made of green cheese. Implausibility is not disproof.
This is no small matter. A theory is just a construction; it is never the whole story. Every theory can be adjusted to fit the evidence. You can never know the ultimate truth because there is no such thing. Ultimate truth is a human concept.
There is no unassailable truth but some people insist there is. This is what underlies the prejudice against independent thinkers. Those who hold this prejudice are the real self-identifying thinkers and Ross Douthat is one.
Every advance sprouts from the cracks in the old truths. If you are not an independent thinker, then you’re not thinking. I am of the independent thinking tribe, and you should be too. Join me. There is only room for one in the group that always agrees with me, but you can start your own group.
The “wonder drug” Ivermectin (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3043740/
and https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/82/8/editorial30804html/en/) has been explored as a treatment for COVID-19 since the summer of 2020. The results of six large clinical trials now appear in a preprint presented by the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, and you can read the report here: https://osf.io/wx3zn/
Dr. Pierre Kory, MD, the leading author, appeared on December 8th before the Homeland Security Committee imploring the government to pay attention to these results. His testimony can be read here: https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Testimony-Kory-2020-12-08.pdf. Almost no legislators attended.
The study reported a 90% improvement in COVID-19 case outcomes, averaged over the six studies. All studies showed improvement. Improved outcomes were seen in all stages: pre-infection, infection, and post-infection viral fatigue.
The NIH last issued a statement of uncertainty regarding Ivermectin in August and has said nothing since. None of the US mass media outlets has reported the hearing, the studies, or even Ivermectin at all. These outlets are waiting on the unresponsive government institutions to issue their opinions.
My December 10th search, using the New York Times home page search tool, for articles on Ivermectin yields no mention within the last 10 years. This is in spite of Ivermectin’s current use in world-wide trails. These trials can be found and followed through the U.S. Library of Medicine, for example here: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04602507
To follow the story in the media you’ll have to go to The Daily Star, from Bangladesh, which published the December 8th story, “Ivermectin Effective in Treating Mild COVID-19” at https://www.thedailystar.net/city/news/ivermectin-effective-treating-mild-covid-19-2007697
If the government agencies respond as slowly as we’ve seen, it may be two or more months before they offer an opinion. At the current rate, a two-month delay will result in 200,000 deaths. If Ivermectin is 90% effective, then its use now could prevent 180,000 of these fatalities.
Institutional thinking favors vaccination. Vaccination is entirely different and independent from treatment. Vaccination is expensive, has many risks, takes time to implement, and has no curative effect.
Treatment and vaccination are complementary; they are not alternatives. There can and should both be pursued, but this seems to be beyond the ability of current institutional thinking. Because of this, hundreds of thousands may die. Such is the result of failing to think independently.
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One of the many problems it seems to me is that the majority of people consider themselves to be very capable critical thinkers…this poor self-assessment is due to their lack of critical thinking ability. It’s a bit of a double bind I think. Facebook is a virtual pandemic of this problem. It’s very discouraging to say the least.
It seems that self-appraisal is flawed by definition. Maybe that’s why being sociable helps keep us sane.
I read an interesting piece at The Atlantic titled “Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine. The architecture of the modern web poses grave threats to humanity.” It’s at: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/12/facebook-doomsday-machine/617384/