Tag Archives: skepticism

Links: 16 July 2013: Finland, voir dire, etc.

1. This article at Slate talks about the voir dire in Zimmerman trial, and why people who know the least end up on juries. This description of the juror’s epistemological attitude struck me:

It’s not that juror B37 is a miscreant or a fool so much as a reflexive doubter that truth and facts are really knowable anymore. She speaks for the millions of Americans who believe that everyone is lying about something and the media lies about everything. The Internet, she explains, is for getting to the next level on Candy Crush Saga, not for getting information. And since everything is a lie, she doesn’t care enough to learn that the riots she believes to have happened did not. One wonders whether she would buy her own book about the truth behind the Zimmerman verdict.

This attitude seems cynical to me. And while I myself often adopt a perspective of doubting assertions of truth, I also acknowledge that some times, as in a criminal trial, we must at least seek truth, and try to get as close to it as we can. We must be skeptical even of our own claims of skepticism; we must not make assertions-of-truth about how all truth is relative.

2. An overview of Finland’s public-sector sharing and equality as it relates to government support and education.

3. Hannah Arendt and “the banality of evil”: “joiners” who set aside personal morality for group inclusion.

“The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of someone else.” His evil acts were motivated by thoughtlessness that was neither stupidity nor bureaucratic obedience, but a staggering inability to see the world beyond Nazi clichés.

and

The insight of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is not that Eichmann was just following orders, but that Eichmann was a “joiner.” In his own words, Eichmann feared “to live a leaderless and difficult individual life,” in which “I would receive no directives from anybody.” Arendt insisted that Eichmann’s professed fidelity to the Nazi cause “did not mean merely to stress the extent to which he was under orders, and ready to obey them; he meant to show what an ‘idealist’ he had always been.” An “idealist,” as she used the word, is an ideologue, someone who will sacrifice his own moral convictions when they come in conflict with the “idea” of the movement that gives life meaning. Evil was transformed from a Satanic temptation into a test of self-sacrifice, and Eichmann justified the evil he knowingly committed as a heroic burden demanded by his idealism.

and

That evil, Arendt argued, originates in the neediness of lonely, alienated bourgeois people who live lives so devoid of higher meaning that they give themselves fully to movements. It is the meaning Eichmann finds as part of the Nazi movement that leads him to do anything and sacrifice everything. Such joiners are not stupid; they are not robots. But they are thoughtless in the sense that they abandon their independence, their capacity to think for themselves, and instead commit themselves absolutely to the fictional truth of the movement. It is futile to reason with them. They inhabit an echo chamber, having no interest in learning what others believe. It is this thoughtless commitment that permits idealists to imagine themselves as heroes and makes them willing to employ technological implements of violence in the name of saving the world.

4. “Fake Intimacy”: A “Quote For The Day” from “The Dish” that matches some of my ambivalence about online communities:

“I don’t think anyone’s really inclined to ‘share’. My thing about social networks is that it’s fundamentally insincere. I know from the record company perspective it’s part of the marketing process, and the fans can communicate with you… but it creates a fake intimacy, which in my opinion results in frustration and ultimately makes people angry. And I think that’s why, on Twitter, or indeed in the Guardian comments, everything turns into a row, and it’s because it’s presented as though they care what you think, but you realize they don’t, and then it turns nasty. It’s a sort of fake democracy. And we prefer to be not fake,” – Neil Tennant, pop genius.

Links: 23 Feb: Doubt, etc.

1. Phillip Lopate makes a point about the value of doubt to essays:

Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.

According to Theodor Adorno, the iron law of the essay is heresy. What is heresy if not the expression of contrarian doubt about communal pieties or orthodox positions? This is sometimes called “critical thinking,” an ostensible goal of education in a democracy. But since such thinking often rocks the boat, we may find it less than supported in school settings. Typically, the exercise of doubt is something an individual has to cultivate on his or her own, in private, before summoning the courage to air it, say, in an essay.

… [writing teachers should] encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself. Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with “yes, buts,” “so whats?” and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples. Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect.

2. Scrapbooking through history.

3. On David Sedaris as a Platonic ideal of fabricated nonfiction and how Sloane Crosley and Davy Rothbart fall short of the ideal and how Sheila Heti strikes off on her own and a short quotation from John Jeremiah Sullivan: I liked this definition:

the essay is one of the purest ways for a writer’s mind to record its own motions, which are the basis of prose style.

I agree that there’s something off about making a career by exaggerating oneself as a comic character as Sedaris has done (though I enjoy his writings as entertainments, they’ve not been something I aspired to emulate) and as Crosley has done (though she does more explicitly what Sedaris does obliquely — say terrible things about people who could easily identify themselves in her writing).

3. Unreadable published prose.

4. One person’s story of realizing she wasn’t a novelist.

5. Andrew Sullivan describes

the forces that free market capitalism unleashes are precisely the forces that undermine traditional forms of community and family that once served as a traditional safety net, free from government control.

6. From the AVClub, Oscar nominees in TV cameos.

7. An argument for an actual political debate, and not just dueling speeches.

8. The value of skepticism as a way of approaching reality (and avoiding pure abstraction).

9. Two pieces on the value of memorizing poems: Auden, Holt.