American Culture

Surrounded by people "educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought"

I read a lot of books, which means I also read a lot of book reviews. And some are classics. They’re essays of a certain type, after all, and there are great essays, so why not great book reviews? John Banvilles’s take-down of Ian McEwan’s Saturday in The New York Review of Books several years ago is already legend. Going back further, it’s hard to imagine a better piece of essay writing than Paul Fussell’s review of The Boy Scout Handbook (to be found in the collection of essays bearing that same name). And perhaps topping the list of all-time classics is Peter Medawar’s well-deserved destruction of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (collected in a book of Medawar’s essays, Pluto’s Republic), back when people actually read, or claimed to read, Teilhard, in 1961.

It’s a remarkable review for a number of reasons, many having to do with what an intellectual fraud Teilhard was. And it’s very funny, too. But here was something else, too, because it contained a sentence that even after decades has stuck with me. And it relates to another phenomenon that Medawar was concerned with–which is, why were (and perhaps still are) so many people taken in by Teilhard? It’s not the first time, of course, and lord knows we’re surrounded by people being taken in by any number of things. This bothered Medawar quite a bit, and genuinely puzzled him. But he thought in part it was the result of expanding education far beyond its natural reach. If that sounds elitist, it probably is. Here’s Medawar’s proposal for the popularity of Teilhard back then:

How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? We must not underestimate the size of the market for works of this kind, for philosophy-fiction. Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought. It is through their eyes that we must attempt to see the attractions of Teilhard, which I shall jot down in the order in which they come to mind.

Medawar then goes on to offer some possible reasons for this. Most are concerned with aspects of Teilhard’s book that are more fundamental to the nature of the book itself than its public, but he does have this to offer as a general comment:

The Phenomenon of Man is anti-scientific in temper (scientists are shown up as shallow folk skating about on the surface of things), and, as if that were not recommendation enough, it was written by a scientist, a fact which seems to give it particular authority and weight. Laymen firmly believe that scientists are one species of person. They are not to know that different branches of science require very different aptitudes and degrees of skill for their prosecution. Teilhard practised an intellectually unexacting kind of science in which he achieved a moderate proficiency. He has no grasp of what makes a logical argument or of what makes for proof. He does not even preserve the common decencies of scientific writing, though his book is professedly a scientific treatise.

And goes on to conclude his review with the following comment:

I have read and studied The Phenomenon of Man with real distress, even with despair. Instead of wringing our hands over the Human Predicament, we should attend to those parts of it which are wholly remediable, above all to the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived.

Medawar should count his lucky stars he did not live to see the advent of Fox News, and what passes for scientific “discussion” these days. All of this was brought to mind by the recent discussions here at S&R between Brian Angliss and Burt Rutan, and once again being forced to confront what Medawar describes as people’s “active willingness to be deceived.” The actual discussion between Rutan, a trained engineer, and Angliss, also a trained engineer, is interesting enough in its own right—sadly, Rutan seems to be operating under a different set of rules here. But this is not unusual. There are areas of popular and scientific concern—global warming being the most recent and best example, but the evolution/”creation science” debate also spring a bit too easily to mind—where people appear more than willing, indeed eager, to cast aside the normal rules of discourse and argument, even to suspend those rules entirely.

As usual, the best sport is to be found in the comments, all 235 of them, since it appears a bunch of people from denialist sites decided to flash mob the discussion. It is here that we find all the evidence we might want to validate Medawar’s hunch that we are surrounded by people who are, indeed, “educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought”–or even being able to sustain any kind of obvious thought process whatsoever. Don’t believe me? Really, go check it out. Comments on Climate discussions are always enlightening, in their own perverse way.

This is just the latest of a long series of problematic “debates” on global warming to annoy me. I have a bunch of Climate blogs that I check out regularly, and the difference between (a) genuine discussions between people who know what they’re talking about but disagree on, say, interpretation or even appropriateness of certain kinds of data, and (b) the people who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about, but like to barge in anyway, is striking. And then the internet adopts its own version of Gresham’s law (“Bad money drives out the good’), where the ignorant overwhelm everything. It’s depressing, that’s what it is.

It’s not at all difficult to find examples in other domains either. We’re surrounded by them—the latest diet craze, the latest Republican idiocy, Jonah Goldberg, whoever Roy Edroso is writing about today. It’s almost too easy. These examples come along merrily, at far too dizzying a speed to keep track of, and they can become overwhelming. In many cases, people’s self-delusions largely only hurt themselves, or, sadly, their immediate families—people who continue to listen to Harold Camping, for example. But there are always discussions which are important, that often get dominated by, or can’t prevent the inclusion of, people who not only have no idea what they’re talking about, but also who can’t manage to construct a linear thought. The internet has been a godsend to these people. Beforehand, they could only interrupt and annoy their families, and friends, if any. Now they can interrupt an annoy everyone.

Just today, my usual random blogging has come up with two examples without even breaking a sweat—it took about five minutes, if that. First, thanks to Brad DeLong’s blog, we find Jonathan Chait eviscerating Veronique De Rugy. Chait’s post, lengthily excerpted by DeLong, is classic, and as is often the case, another signal that much discussion of the political economy is based on stuff that is just made up. It’s worth quoting Chait at length:

But it is true that I do spend a lot of time arguing with the lesser lights of the intellectual world as well, and de Rugy herself is a good example. Our current debate offers a useful example of why I do this. De Rugy wrote a column centered around the claim that the United States has a more progressive tax system than any other advanced country, and as her sole piece of evidence cited the fact that rich people pay a higher share of the tax burden in the U.S. than in other countries. I wrote a response, noting that this reasoning is completely idiotic. Rich Americans pay a bigger share of the tax burden because they earn a bigger share of the income, not because the U.S. tax code is more progressive.

De Rugy’s reply is an incoherent collection of hand-waving that does not come close to addressing this very simple and fatal flaw with her claim. She… conflat[es] the marginal tax rate (the percentage tax you pay on your last dollar) with the total tax rate (the overall percentage of your income paid in tax), using “income tax” as a stand-in for total taxes, and trying to broaden the debate into a bigger philosophical dispute. But it’s not a philosophical dispute. It’s a simple case of her making up false claims based on extremely elementary errors.

And this is why I am forced to be so mean. There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery. The very simple fallacy I pointed out by de Rugy has been knocking around for years, without end. (Here it is in a piece by Stephen Moore in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Here is Senator Jim DeMint making it today in an interview with the approving editors of Reason.) A similar problem exists, perhaps to an even worse extent, with climate change denial.

Second, almost as an afterthought, Larison once again has to point out, both in his own comments and by a reference to Mark Adomanis over at Forbes, that Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now, I’m occasionally prepared to cut Hanson some slack from time to time—he’s one of those people (Christopher Hitchens being the apotheosis) for whom Iraq seems to have taken away any semblance of rational judgment. Davis used to have informed and entertaining things to say about agriculture—now he has uninformed and nasty things to say about politics. And I have friends who think that Hanson has insights. But he doesn’t. He has vitriol, and the ability to string words together in a fashion that implies that there are thoughts lurking underneath.

See, that wasn’t hard at all. It took more time to cut and paste the links and the quotes than to actually find these sorts of examples. In fact, the dispiriting thing about his exercise is how easy it was. Maybe it’s the genre-shifting that’s the trouble—moving from one domain to another. Your doctor might know a lot about medicine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d take his advice on tax planning–or voting. That sort of example is clear enough. But the world, or at least that part of it endlessly portrayed in our 24/7 media, is chock full of people whose ability to sustain a linear thought has been demonstrated, multiple times, to be essentially zero. Michelle Bachmann comes perhaps too easily to mind, and there were apparently a sufficient number of Americans who were prepared to see her become President of the United States. Not enough, thankfully, but still. She even got a spooky Newsweek cover out of it. But your mileage may vary. You will no doubt have no trouble coming up with your own example. But the sheer number of these people to be found on American television is frightening—one reasons to never turn it on.

None of this makes me feel any better. I remember once, as a sprout, watching William F. Buckley on the old Firing Line grill someone—probably a Civil Rights leader, that would have been Buckley’s style—about what was wrong with the idea of a literacy test as a condition for voting. Well, the obvious answer then was the existence of systems designed to keep poor black people illiterate, and therefore ineligible for voting. But in another context it’s an interesting subject for a thought question. Some sort of knowledge or citizenship test has occasionally been offered as a condition for becoming a Member of Congress, and it’s hard to dismiss that notion out of hand, given the kinds of comments we get from, oh, Jim de Mint, just to pick the first name that comes to mind. It has a certain appeal. It couldn’t possibly be enforced, of course.

The more pressing question, I suppose, is how did so many of our institutions—particularly politics and the media—get to be so dominated by these people? Was it when colleges and universities started offering degrees in things like “Media Studies?” Was it growing up with Ronald Reagan as President and thinking that that was the default condition–Reagan? I have no idea. What I do know is that this is the defining characteristic of the people who dominate public discussions on things like the economy and Climate Change these days—people who can sound like they know what they’re talking about, but on closer inspection clearly don’t. But they’ve somehow, often by accident, managed to acquire the ability to sound good. And because they sound good, they’re convinced themselves, and others, that they know something, and that something is worth sharing. It’s a low rent version of the Categorical Imperative—if I can say something, no matter how foolish, I should. George Monbiot is right–these people are fundamentally stupid. But we let them drone on because we’re too goddam polite. There was a time when natural selection would have weeded many of these people out. No longer.

49 replies »


    How to tell somebody why you don’t believe in AGW.

    Science, won the day for scepticism, the scientific method when
    properly applied won the day. It is the solid foundation that sceptics
    are able to base their argument upon.
    Science can’t be politicised, truth of fact can’t be denied, a syntax
    of logic will always destroy beliefs that are without truth.

    The Science says:

    Pressure is the required variable only if one compares Atmosheric
    Thermal Enhancement across planets. For any individual planet, it is
    the atmospheric mass that effectively controls thermal enhancement.
    There is no confusion with the pressure-controlled lapse rate with the
    atmosphere of a given planet.

    Why Now? It’s the science;

    • The climate of Earths’ atmosphere results from a formation of a
    climate machine by combining solar isolation and force of pressure.
    Coupled with spatio-temporal chaotic systems of irradiation and
    radiation of surface and atmosphere, dynamic heat distributions of
    oceans, a multiple pole thermodynamic atmosphere, with a gravitational
    velocity and planetary harmonics, spinning on an uneven axis around a
    Sun, with fluctuation of solar isolation, immersed in a space that has
    galactic electromagnetic winds.
    • The physical construct of a planet, with or without an atmosphere,
    retains ancient energy by the force of pressure on its mass. Otherwise
    planets could not exist.
    • Planets attract cold by the density of its mass and distribute heat
    by the dynamics of mass. Space attracts heat by the sparsest of its
    • Heat rises, cool sinks. Atmosphere cannot back radiate heat to a
    warmer surface than the atmosphere which, cools with height.
    Thermodynamic gas laws describe the mechanisms of weather in the

    Ref: General Remarks on the Temperature of the Terrestrial Globe and
    the Planetary Spaces; by Baron Fourier.

    The pressure of the atmosphere and bodies of water, has the general
    effect to render the distribution of heat more uniform. In the ocean
    and in the lakes, the coldest particles, or rather those whose density
    is the greatest, are continually tending downwards, and the motion of
    heat depending on this cause is much more rapid than that which takes
    place in solid masses in consequence of their connecting power. The
    mathematical examination of this effect would require exact and
    numerous observations. These would enable us to understand how this
    internal motion prevents the internal heat of the globe from becoming
    sensible in deep waters.

    Where NASA got the science wrong:

    Arrhenious in 1897 screwed up about the conservation of energy in
    gaseous mass , he flipped out about the relationship of carbon to life
    in a stupid greenhouse.
    Dopey Hansen in the early 80’s flipped out about Arrhenious’ mistake
    and caused all his stupid mates to believe in an invalid scientific
    They spent billions in chasing argumentum ad populum. When, if they
    had followed a correct method of science, by applying scepticism, they
    would have found the answer that has been there, right under their

    Climate is a multidisciplinary field of science, and cannot be treated
    as a pseudoscience, necessary of propitiation. Science will correct
    this fatal mistake.

    The force of pressure encloses our atmosphere not a greenhouse.

    So, when somebody asks why you don’t believe in AGW you can say;

    “It’s the science, stupid.”

    Ike Eisenhower gave a warning, philosophers expressed it, we fell for
    it. This time it came in the cloak of science

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fadin’.
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changin’.


    • Wufnik, I agree with adelady – this isn’t satire. However, it remains a fantastic example of exactly what you’re saying in your OP – it’s clear Markus has a decent amount of education, but that education has not been applied correctly and so incorrect conclusions have been drawn. And Markus doesn’t know enough to realize that he’s made some serious errors in misapplying physical laws.

      However, this the last I’ll say about Markus’ points specifically as I don’t wish to derail your comment thread into climate. While it would provide you with even more examples, it would hardly further discussion of your actual point.

      In so many ways your point comes down to “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and/or the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  2. Satire? I don’t know whether you should be pleased or dismayed, but I assure you it’s not satire.

    This chap’s stuff pops up quite regularly, and much more long-winded I’m sorry to say, in several places these last few weeks.

    So your case is absolutely secure.

  3. adelady, February 11, 2012 at 7:04 am :

    Yes, adalady, things have been quite different been the debate these last few weeks, wouldn’t you say? As to cases, wufnik is secured.

    In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement

  4. First of all, I write my posts trying to be clever and funny, and as always, Wufnik manages to out-class me without even trying. Last week it was “herring show.” This week it is the quote from above, “But there are always discussions which are important, that often get dominated by, or can’t prevent the inclusion of, people who not only have no idea what they’re talking about, but also who can’t manage to construct a linear thought. The internet has been a godsend to these people. Beforehand, they could only interrupt and annoy their families, and friends, if any. Now they can interrupt an annoy everyone.” Oh man, not only do you come up with interesting insights, but you can really turn a phrase. I genuinely think you’re one of the best essayists I’ve read.

    It’s obvious we live in a time when the idiots vocal, and any of your reasons could be right–because there are more idiots, they are more confident (the education factor,) the success of stupid people like Reagan and W have given them confidence to speak out, the internet has given them a better platform, or the expansion of mass media (and the like) has created demand for people who can say things pitched to the analytical abilities of people with IQ’s of a hundred. Probably all of the above, I’d guess, but I wonder how different this is from earlier times. At least in America, we have always had the proudly ignorant (Jackson and Ma Ferguson,) the anti-scientists (Scopes,) the deliberately dishonest media (yellow journalism,) etc, etc. Is it really any different now, or does it just seem so?

  5. Excellent essay.

    Unfortunately I assume adalady and Brian Angliss are correct. 😦

    I once was in a high school history class where the entire class agreed with a certain conclusion which was not the ‘recieved wisdom’ in popular histories.

    In the next class, I listened in complete amazement as a student quoted the ‘recieved wisdom’ argument with great enthusiasm.

    They had had a good 15 minutes to forget the history class!

  6. Oh come on Brian, a shallow, worthless rhetorical critique if ever there was one. Education you say and claim I have a little.

    I have enough education to know “”And Markus doesn’t know enough to realize that he’s made some serious errors in misapplying physical laws.”” is a mindless ad hominem attack.

    Attack my physics, if you have enough education, but don’t attack me simply because I’m on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.

    As wufnik describes, differences in climate debaters, two types;

    a) Me.
    b) You.

    • Ummm, no. Ad hominem would be “the arguments are wrong because Markus is an idiot.” What he’s saying is that “Markus is wrong and doesn’t understand it.”

      As for “attack my physics,” my best guess is that at one point or another Brian has addressed the things you believe 10-15 times here at S&R. The fact that you haven’t read it or understood it in no way means that it hasn’t happened.

      • I said I wouldn’t contribute to taking this thread further off topic, and I won’t. Sorry, Markus, but there are probably a dozen posts I’ve written over the years where your comments would be on-topic. Take your incorrect claims to one of them instead of cluttering up this one any further.

  7. “”Otherwise, February 11, 2012 at 9:00 am :

    The expansion of mass media (and the like) has created demand for people who can say things pitched to the analytical abilities of people with IQ’s of a hundred.””

    Person of education and analytical wisdom, tell me;

    Does an uneducated man inquire less than an educated man?

  8. No Samuel “Markus doesn’t know enough” is an attack on my person. Brian has not addressed force of pressure as the lever of the climate machine, unless it has been since my discoveries on the 23 January 2012.


    And Here:

    It was nice to meet you people, I always enjoy interaction with souls of the educated moronic.

    • Ad hominem is “an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.” That is not what has happened, as should be plenty obvious to any informed reader. Let me simplify as much as I can.

      If I say that argument X is wrong because Y made it and Y is an idiot, that’s ad hominem.

      If I say that argument X is wrong for [external reason Z] and Y is an idiot, that isn’t ad hominem. It’s conceivable that there’s a direct personal insult in there, but even if there is, that doesn’t make it ad hominem unless I ask you to dismiss the argument because of [personal insult].

      In conclusion, even if there is “an attack up on your person,” that doesn’t in and of itself = ad hominem, by definition. And what Brian said (“Markus has a decent amount of education, but that education has not been applied correctly and so incorrect conclusions have been drawn. And Markus doesn’t know enough to realize that he’s made some serious errors in misapplying physical laws) falls so far short of “attack up on your person” it’s embarrassing to find myself discussing it.

  9. Halfway through this intriguing post. Just wanted to note that, re “educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought” . . . in other words, not really educated.

    • Russ: that really comes down to what we mean by the word “educated.” I’ve been thinking about this post all day and am planning a follow-up on that very subject. If you mean by the word what someone like a President Gingrich would mean in offering up his inevitable “education reform” bill to Congress, then the post is absolutely right. But lurking underneath it is the contrast with what I mean by the term, and in that case you simply couldn’t educate someone beyond their means to undertake analytical thought because if it isn’t teaching how to undertake critical thought it isn’t education.

      If I’m making this sound like a semantics argument, it isn’t. I hope to get this written tomorrow.

  10. See? This is the problem. One guy barges in and everyone spends the rest of the day wasting time that could be put to better use trying to set the guy straight. Markus, thank you, you have proved my point better than I could ever have done. Now go away.

  11. Youse guys don’t spend time to no better use than to continue your education in rhetoric.

    Go away indeed.

  12. Sam wrote:

    “if it isn’t teaching how to undertake critical thought it isn’t education”


  13. So basically, trolls now count as pundits.

    I’m amused by often finding myself in the reverse of this situation – because I’m going to conservative blogs to disagree with factless or anti-factual articles, by posting in the comments with fervor, logic and facts with citations. It seems on the surface that I don’t tend to get anywhere. In fact, find myself repeating the same argument with citations only to have the same argument pop up somewhere else.

    But one positive benefit I’ve found is, while I have probably rarely convinced the factless conservative to change his incorrect opinion, I have at least reset it. Caused it to go back to a certain origin point before it grows again.

    So that’s the closest I have to a positive outlook on this. It is **tremendously* frustrating to have to keep crushing fallacies with facts and logic – but it is necessary and productive of something. It’s keeping the weeds back. IF we just ignore the bad facts and fallacies, they just grow until they can take over the whole space.

  14. jim x–I agree, it’s hard work, but it needs to be done. I’ve done that too. The thing that got the best mileage, ironically, is the fact hat I’m a veteran–this helped in discussions on Iraq, for example. But that was years ago, and it doesn’t help that much now. I just worry that we keep underestimating the dimensions of this, and he problem keeps getting larger. You saw the comments above, and we can both visualize the smirk on his face while he was typing away. We have to figure out a way to not enable these people somehow.

    Otherwise–thanks! It was an interesting post to put together.

  15. “”We have to figure out a way to not enable these people somehow.””

    Is this place suppose to be a place of Philosophy? It’s not.

    That statement is from a misanthropist, wufnik, and it is my people who are disabling you.

  16. “The more pressing question, I suppose, is how did so many of our institutions—particularly politics and the media—get to be so dominated by these people?” It’s when school quit teaching Logic as part of the basic curriculum.

    “Maybe it’s the genre-shifting that’s the trouble…” I’d have to agree. Noam Chomsky may be a brilliant linguist, but every time I hear him speak about culture or politics he’s a simpleton. It really amazes me, but the media laps him up no matter what the topic.

  17. Markus, here’s a question for you.

    What evidence would you accept, that global warming is real? What tests would you have to see, in order to change your view?

  18. Robert, I would be very interested in hearing a specific topic of culture or politics, in which you thought Chomsky was so wrong.

  19. More to the point jim x, there are dozens of studies disproving AGW warming.

    Click to access New_Concise_Experiment_on_Backradiation.pdf

    And many more proving natural variation.

    And dozens of papers proving temperature causation

    Click to access unified_theory_of_climate_poster_nikolov_zeller.pdf

    Apart from the fact I’m a human and can tell what changes in climate have occurred over my lifetime in a realistic perception, unlike GCM’s.

  20. “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” along with any number of times he equates the United States with terrorists. We may not always be right, but we don’t on purpose blow up old ladies in the market or behead people on camera.

    “The United States is unusual among the industrial democracies in the rigidity of the system of ideological control – “indoctrination,” we might say – exercised through the mass media.” This is why Fox News came about I suppose, to break the “rigidity.” (I don’t watch Fox, I don’t have cable and probably wouldn’t watch if I did. It’s just an observation.)

  21. More to the point jim x, there are dozens of studies disproving AGW warming….

    No, that avoids my point.

    It’s a very simple question, Markus. What evidence would you have to see, to accept that Global Warming is real?

  22. “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

    He’s referring to war crimes. It is a fact that every US President has had awful things done under his orders. If we applied Nuremberg laws to our own military, then yes the President at the top who sent the orders would be liable for capital punishment.

    That’s an uncomfortable statement, and it does cast a broad brush over the horrible but SOMETIMES necessary things Presidents have to do. But I don’t see how it’s wrong.

    Just off the top of my head, JFK and the Bay of Pigs was illegal, as was the beginning incursions into Viet Nam; LBJ and his escalation of Viet Nam based on lies; Nixon and his illegal bombing of Cambodia; Ford and his backroom deals with Indonesia; Carter and the shady work he did with the Shah of Iran; Reagan and Iran’Contra; Bush I and Iran-Contra plus Somalia; Clinton bombing to get Al Qaeda; and Bush and Obama both for starting and continuing waterboarding.

    Chomsky’s propaganda model of the mainstream media (which includes Fox and Limbaugh) is also pretty accurate, as far as I’ve seen.

  23. “”It’s a very simple question, Markus. What evidence would you have to see, to accept””

    You’re thick jim x.

    There isn’t ANY evidence available to say Anthropogenic warming is fact.

    • Let me translate what Markus is saying: “There is no evidence you could show me because if it proves that there is an anthropogenic warming effect it is by definition false.” The word you’re after here is “dogma,” folks.

  24. “”The word you’re after here is “dogma,” folks””


    I’ve only seen evidence analogous to pin balls bouncing from post to post in a pinball machine. What unequivocal evidence would you like to present?

  25. What we are observing is akin to the trend that occurred in the 4th and 5th century BC in Ancient Greece between the Sophists who perpetuated the art of empty rhetoric and argumentation irrespective of content, and whose adherents went on to dominate and pollute Athenian politics and ethics, and the Eleatics who developed robust systems of logical thought and sound argumentation.

    The parallels between American “democratic” culture and Greek “democratic” culture are frighteningly similar and may yield some worthwhile insights into the future state of American politics.

    Within the framework of political liberalism, neither of these democracies qualify as such. In Athens the only free political man with any rights to speak of was the wealthy capitalist land owner. But I suppose this is representative of America today after all.

  26. Jim X–worth a try, right? But it’s often wasted effort. Still, one has to keep trying.

    Phileo Nous–yes, I agree, there are distinct parallels. I would just add that Victor Davis Hanson’s (yes, him) The Other Greeks is interesting in this regard–it wasn’t just the large landowners who benefitted from, and formed the basis of, Greek democracy, but the small landowners and farmers who lived outside the cities as well–who were often the majority of the population, if I remember correctly. Of course, there’s little now that’s analogous to that–small farming and rural populations have been in decline for years now.

  27. There isn’t ANY evidence available to say Anthropogenic warming is fact.

    See Markus, here’s the point:

    I’m not talking about existing evidence. I’m talking about **hypothetical** evidence. In the hypothetical realm, anything is possible.

    So what i’m asking you is, in all possible universes – what evidence would have to actually appear for you to accept global warming?

    For example, I’m pretty sure robot-headed amazon women who shoot lasers from their eyes don’t exist. But, for evidence that they do exist, I would accept a) verified CGI-free footage from multiple different individuals, played on all major networks and also b) direct testimony of people I specifically trust who I consider sane. This evidence would force me to adjust my notions of reality – but that’s a separate question.

    So, with the above understanding – what **hypothetical** evidence would you have to see, in order to **hypothetically** believe that global warming is real?

  28. Somewhere in The Invisible Gorilla, the authors mention that humans mistake the ease with which they think about a subject with actual understanding of the topic.*
    Sophistry is like smooth jazz for the mind. It seems to be making a point and you don’t need to work hard to follow it.

    *Obviously I could be falling into the trap discussed here. My evidence against this is that when I did take a cognitive psychology course the authors’ experiments were discussed favorably. So my source is talking about their area of expertise and hasn’t been widely dismissed as a crank.

  29. That’s a very insightful way of looking at things blueshift.

    I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve been in where I’ve been accused of sophistry, for doing the exact opposite of it: sticking to one key question and pursuing it until I get an answer.

    Projection is an amazing thing.

  30. Often what I’m doing when arguing, is just simplifying what someone else is saying – disentangling the complication of an argument to show how it doesn’t work.

    To paraphrase George Orwell, unneeded complication is almost always in the service of obfuscation in some way. I find this complication is often some obfuscation of people’s own beliefs *from themselves* – because humans want to think they’re being sincere, the rationalization can go very deep.

  31. “disentangling the complication of an argument to show how it doesn’t work. ”

    Not to be glib, but how’s this working out?

  32. George Monbiot is correct. Markus Fitzhenry is an idiot, all intelligent people can see that, and we should stop pussyfooting around it.

  33. ” It’s when school quit teaching Logic as part of the basic curriculum. …. every time I hear [Noam Chomsky] speak about culture or politics he’s a simpleton. It really amazes me, but the media laps him up no matter what the topic.” — these too are the comments of a moron, a person no more adept at reason or engaging in intellectual honesty than Teilhard de Chardin.