Patterico's Pontifications

1/7/2023

Constitutional Vanguard: No, I Do Not Want to Talk to You

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:26 am



It’s been a while since I have written here or on my Substack. We were on a long vacation in Texas to see family, including my mom, who has had a hard time of it lately. Here is a piece I have worked on sporadically throughout December (about 6,700 words in all, so it’s like 8 800-word essays, in my defense!) about the need for conversation and debate. I specifically react to two pieces where people are withdrawing from debate or platforms. The first is John McWhorter’s declaration from 2021 that he feels no need to debate the likes of Ibram X. Kendi and doesn’t blame Kendi or his fellow travelers for feeling the same. TL;DR: I think he’s wrong. The second is Ken White’s decision to withdraw from Twitter. TL;DR: I can’t fault a lot of his reasoning, but I don’t think moving to another social media platform is the solution.

A couple of excerpts for you, first from the free portion, which is slightly over one-half of the piece. It references a now-iconic moment when Ted Cruz waddled into the crowd just before the Indiana primary in 2016 to debate a mostly brain-dead Trumper:

McWhorter portrays Kendi as a creature of a class of race scholars who never face serious challenges to their arguments, and thus reflexively respond with irritation to any criticism. Says McWhorter:

I can’t work with that. Because he has never had to actually defend himself, he would have a hard time getting past just accusing me of making things up or being a racist. I would make quite sure it was clear neither of those things held the slightest water, upon which what I would get for my trouble was looking like a bully with 15 years on him. All he could see in me is an aging Uncle Tom running him down. What I would see in him is what I just wrote.

OK, but you aren’t doing this for one another. Nobody thinks the point of a public debate between John McWhorter and Ibram X. Kendi would be for Kendi to persuade McWhorter or McWhorter to persuade Kendi. And that’s not how Oxford-style debates are scored. We don’t measure success by whether the opponent came away persuaded, but by the degree to which the audience was moved to change its opinion. These debates are for the benefit of the onlookers. And that’s what Ted Cruz was no doubt thinking when he took on the mindless hillbilly in the clip above. He was banking on persuading the people watching the video, not Cletus himself.

And one from the portion for paid subscribers, assuming I still have any who are patient enough with the long intervals between pieces to stick with me:

I have spoken at length about the ways in which Twitter is a less-than-ideal mode of discourse. In this post I contrasted the Socratic discussions recounted by Plato and tried to imagine such a discussion taking place on Twitter. In short, it would be impossible. I gave an example of a “dialogue” in which Socrates’s interlocutor behaved the way people behave on Twitter: deliberately misunderstanding the point, ignoring it when they can’t plausibly misunderstand it, and heaping abuse on the philosopher all the while:

The conversation is not going to go anywhere. It would be like Socrates wandering into a den of monkeys and trying to reason with them while they dance around, hooting and flinging their feces at him.

Yes, we are incapable of rational dialogue the way we were back in the good old days of Socrates.

Except . . . except that when Socrates made the Athenians uncomfortable through his speech, they killed him.

Maybe human beings are just fundamentally horrible and generally incapable of rational discourse, with rare exceptions, no matter the venue.

Access the post here. Subscribe here.

26 Responses to “Constitutional Vanguard: No, I Do Not Want to Talk to You”

  1. So much to think about and ponder in that essay, Patterico, and I will do so.

    I have written many times that when we disagree, I learn more than when we agree. That’s true here, and elsewhere. I look forward to really ruminating on this one.

    Forgive me, but I often wish we were friends in real life. I miss conversations that aren’t simply cheerleading or scoring points.

    Thank you for writing the essay.

    Simon Jester (f584a2)

  2. I’m more with you on the McWhorter case.

    With Twitter, it is different. (Disclosure: I’m also been an engineer in the “internet services industry” since the 90s, live a few blocks from Twitter HQ, and friends of mine are former employees; I will not claim to bias-free.)

    Twitter is a platform. You don’t use it for the tech, the “experience”, or (for most people) to get something done; you go for the people who are also there (network effects). You only keep a fax machine around if you need to send/receive documents to/from other fax machines.

    And my tribe migrated on Mastodon because Twitter is now ruled by a flailing manbaby with impulse-control problems who is driving it into the ground. It is that simple for me. I won’t be any more nostalgic for Twitter than I am for ICQ or Geocities – which is a little, but not like I want them back.

    Zooming out a little, I’m pretty sure we are in for a decade or so of technical Balkanization, at multiple levels. More nation-states are going to go “great wall” to varying degrees – there are hard-to-ignore natsec justifications, beyond the speech & population control that unfortunately inevitably goes with that.

    At the subnational level, we are seeing the same “monopolist rollover” that has characterized social media all along – historically someone’s always dominant, but nobody’s turned that in to an enduring monopoly yet. FB and Twitter are trending towards irrelevant, TikTok + Signal looks like the replacement for the first and Mastadon is at least having a moment at the cost of the second.

    I personally do hope Mastodon succeeds – I believe a distributed model works much better in terms of moderation, community building and finding a healthy balance of inter-ideological friction than a big bucket with an incompetent manbaby operator.

    john (b07953)

  3. “In short, it would be impossible. I gave an example of a “dialogue” in which Socrates’s interlocutor behaved the way people behave on Twitter: deliberately misunderstanding the point, ignoring it when they can’t plausibly misunderstand it, and heaping abuse on the philosopher all the while….Maybe human beings are just fundamentally horrible and generally incapable of rational discourse, with rare exceptions, no matter the venue.”

    There’s no fool-proof gate-keeping on the internet. You can put out a piece on topic “x” and request comments. Anyone with access can then engage. There is no guarantee that the person genuinely wants to have a good faith conversation or has the time and intellect to do it justice. Now a days, people also bring a lot of confirmation bias and propaganda…that their world view is invested in. With the cover of anonymity and no reputational consequence of being wrong or abusive….and no cost associated with tweeting or free blog commenting, you get what you get. Unfortunately that also includes trolls and performance artists who lack any good faith. Some just come to pick a fight; some just come to frustrate any conversation.

    It’s easy to get cynical and question the value of the interaction…like McWhorter. He’s probably correct that some conversations are just not worth the oxygen because one knows how they will devolve. You do really need to trust the other person and value what they might have to say. There has to be some common understanding of facts and logic….at some level. How do you guarantee that on the internet?

    AJ_Liberty (5f05c3)

  4. lying cancun ted was not a liar? Lying cancun ted couldn’t stand the heat so he got out of the kitchen and went on to try and dodge beer cans. Churchill your drunk! Madam your ugly and tomorrow I will be sober! That would fit on twitter. By the way the good old days weren’t so good for everyone.

    asset (8a4a46)

  5. Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of anything is crap.”

    Kevin M (1ea396)

  6. I personally do hope Mastodon succeeds – I believe a distributed model works much better in terms of moderation, community building and finding a healthy balance of inter-ideological friction than a big bucket with an incompetent manbaby operator.

    This is how Wikipedia works, and Wikipedia has huge problems with zealot editors.

    Kevin M (1ea396)

  7. This example from ancient Greece is instructive:

    According to Plutarch, the rivalry between Aristides and Themistocles began in their youth. The conflict between the two leaders ended in the ostracism of Aristides at a date variously given between 485 and 482. It is said that, on this occasion, an illiterate voter who did not recognise Aristides approached the statesman and requested that he write the name of Aristides on his voting shard to ostracize him. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. “No,” was the reply, “and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called ‘the Just’.”[2] Aristides then wrote his own name on the ballot.

    (links omitted.)

    Unfortunately.

    Jim Miller (f29931)

  8. I don’t want to talk to you either, so there.
    Or maybe I should read the article first? Nah.

    The above was a bad joke, but it does sum up how people deal with ideas on social media.
    I used to post on a local news website and kept my thoughts on some things there, like Trump, to myself.
    But I have easy to read right of center views, everyone there knows it, and its gotten so I can give a link to an article on puppies and still get down votes and scolded.
    I find it amusing, but had to stop going to the site because I was enjoying torturing people with ideas they “hated” but never read for themselves

    steveg (b87111)

  9. I don’t love in person “debate”. I’m not fast enough on the draw and I like to think through my points and I have a tendency to freeze or dig in when faced with aggression. Conversation with someone who actually wants conversation is different and on the internet I have time, but live debate with a hostile person isn’t my thing.

    Nic (896fdf)

  10. Great article, Patterico.

    Sorry to hear your mother is having a hard time.

    norcal (862cdb)

  11. Patterico – Hope things get better for your mother, soon.

    Jim Miller (f29931)

  12. I personally do hope Mastodon succeeds – I believe a distributed model works much better in terms of moderation, community building and finding a healthy balance of inter-ideological friction than a big bucket with an incompetent manbaby operator.

    LOL, Twitter lost money in all but two of the last 12 years.

    If anyone was incompetent at actually running the company, it wasn’t Musk, but your side, in running it like an adult daycare center and propped up with VC infusions and stock sales. If Twitter gets run into the ground, it’s because its foundation was one of sand to begin with, not because Musk is now in charge.

    Factory Working Orphan (bce27d)

  13. Great article, Patterico.

    Sorry to hear your mother is having a hard time.

    norcal (862cdb) — 1/7/2023 @ 10:51 pm

    Ditto

    lurker (cd7cd4)

  14. Kendi and DiAngelo are the woke left’s version of our own militant anti-anti-Trumpers: belligerent, tribal, and impervious to reason. They deserve each other, so in a fair world they would debate each other. That’s obviously not going to happen, so back to the real world and McWhorter’s dilemma. I share Patterico’s frustration with McWhorter’s false equivalence between McWhorter’s objection to the “KenDiAngelos” and their objection to him. I’m skeptical that in his heart of hearts he really believes they’re equivalent, and that he isn’t just trying to walk away politely from a fight he knows will leave him dissatisfied and abused. And in the end, whatever his stated reason, I sympathize with his decision to do just that. Self-sacrifice in the pursuit of public service is ennobling, but “race traitor” and “Uncle Tom” insults get old fast.

    lurker (cd7cd4)

  15. Sometimes, you want to engage your opponent so he can make your point for you.

    In Meno, Socrates made his point that you can discover something even if you don’t know what to look for by getting Meno’s illiterate young slave to discover that doubling the sides of a square quadruples its area.

    In the first 2020 Presidential debate, Biden proved his point that Trump was a loon unfit to be President just by letting Trump be Trump on the debate stage with him.

    nk (6151c0)

  16. And I join in wishing your mom well, Patterico.

    nk (6151c0)

  17. Another thing you might notice in Meno is that in Socrates’s Athens, free men and slaves addressed each other alike. Not commonly seen in other times and places.

    Speech is not solely a means of communication. Its uses range from delineating social status to a cudgel to beat others over the head with. So reaching a mutual understanding is not necessarily the only reason to talk to one another.

    nk (6151c0)

  18. Patrick. Peace be upon you, your house, your home.

    steveg (0608bd)

  19. @17 the problem with ancient philosophy is that it is silent on the issue of slavery though Jesus does say the slave is as good as his owner. Later on others asked so why have an owner? When Boswell asked Dr. Samuel Johnson what he thought about the american revolution going on at the time. Dr Johnson said “I observe those who scream the loudest about freedom and liberty are the slave holding southerners. The southern baptist and southern methodists broke away from their churches over the issue of slavery. Most members of those denominations haven’t been taught this. I wonder why ??? At religious blogs I use the handle exodus 21:22-25 which really seems to upset the fundamentalists. Again I wonder why???

    asset (77cc65)

  20. I suppose I could divert the thread by trying to explain to asset the differences between slavery in classical Athens, in biblical Israel, and in New World colonies, but I do not want to go off-topic. Is that refusing to talk to him?

    nk (26c37e)

  21. #19 – Reminds me of the time when Samuel Johnson was confronted with a mistake he had made, and said:
    “Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance”.

    I don’t know whether he ever corrected his mistake about where support was strongest for the American Revolution — New England, not the South — but I think if he did he would have to admit to ignorance and bigotry, not just ignorance.

    Jim Miller (f29931)

  22. Why leave out Zanzibar?

    steveg (94fded)

  23. Zanzibar is less famous than classical Athens or Rome, or biblical Israel, although the existence of slavery in Zanzibar circa 1500 may have been the biggest factor in reviving slavery in the Atlantic sea-faring nations – at least in their overseas colonies and territories.

    Although they started with the Indians.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  24. It may be that one side of an argument is mostly untrue, but that doesn’t mean that the standard side is 100% true, or the best course of action.
    There are some real issues:

    Is the current vaccine booster any good against the current variants and may it even be counterproductive? Is that a reasonable possibility or not?

    2. Are possibilities for treatments (which after all can be given after the fact) being stifled by the return to standard operating procedure?

    Google seems to be making the following editorial hard to find. Keyword searches don’t find it – only maybe the title of the editorial

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/where-are-the-next-covid-treatments-vaccine-booster-shots-doctors-pandemic-paxlovid-treatment-fda-antibodies-11673203403

    …Biden’s bureaucracy is an obstacle, as vaccine immunity ebbs.

    By The Editorial Board
    Jan. 9, 2023 6:13 pm ET

    The Administration wants Americans to get bivalent booster shots that target the BA.4/5 variants. While these Omicron descendants predominated over the summer and early fall, they have been overtaken in much of the U.S. by new variants that dodge antibodies from boosters, prior infection and monoclonal treatments.

    The Administration’s response has been to implore doctors to prescribe the antiviral Paxlovid. But many patients at highest risk for Covid can’t take the Pfizer drug because they have medical conditions or take drugs that could cause life-threatening interactions. One study found that half of hospitalized patients who die from Covid have a contraindication with Paxlovid. [That is, they come from the minority who don’t get it. Emphasis mine] Some patients can temporarily stop taking other medications, but many can’t or would need to be weaned off them. [the problem is that Paxlovid is two drugs – two antiviral pills and one pill, whose active ingredient is included with some anti-HIV treatments to enable the antiviral drug to linger longer in the body. They might try just the anti-viral pills and more frequent doses, and might just think some more. As the editorial later states, patients don’t even get things that are authorized by the FDA – i.e. not off label] Doctors could be sued if they prescribe Paxlovid to patients with contraindications who later have complications.

    The FDA has authorized convalescent plasma for the immuno-compromised, but it is rarely administered because the National Institutes of Health’s clinical guidelines say there’s “insufficient evidence” to recommend it.

    But studies have shown substantial benefit from a high-dose treatment when administered shortly after symptoms develop. The NIH and Defense Department helped fund a randomized controlled trial that found convalescent plasma reduced the risk of hospitalization by some 80% when given to patients within five days of symptom onset. Why bother funding studies if NIH ignores the results?

    NIH’s resistance to convalescent plasma has perplexed some of the country’s top immunologists, who wrote to the agency last month pointing out its “logically inconsistent” position since it has recommended monoclonal antibodies based on much less evidence. Convalescent plasma “has virtually no contraindications,” “neutralizes the latest variants, adapts to the rapidly-evolving virus, and is desperately needed for immunocompromised patients,” the letter noted.

    ***
    The Biden health bureaucracy’s foot-dragging and confusing standards are also impeding new treatments. One example is the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to consider an emergency-use authorization for a treatment called peginterferon lambda developed by the biotech company Eiger BioPharmaceuticals.

    Peginterferon lambda stimulates the innate immune response, which is the body’s frontline defense against viral infections. Covid is dangerous in part because it blunts the body’s natural interferon response. Studies have found that healthy people who become severely ill with Covid harbor genetic mutations that impair their interferon response.

    A large controlled trial found peginterferon lambda reduced the risk of hospitalization by 65% when given to patients within three days of symptoms and hospitalization, or death by 89% in unvaccinated patients—about the same as Paxlovid. The drug also has broad-spectrum antiviral impact that could make it effective against the flu, norovirus and other viruses.

    Even the NIH noted this summer that “interferon treatment may improve COVID-19 outcomes,” especially in patients with certain genetic factors that impair their ability to clear viral infections. Yet Eiger says it was told by the FDA this fall that its trial results were unlikely to meet the agency’s standards for an emergency-use authorization “in the current context of the pandemic.”

    The FDA suggested Eiger perform another large trial and eventually apply for regular approval. In other words, the FDA thinks Covid no longer represents an emergency—at least for authorizing new treatments. Yet in late August the agency authorized bivalent boosters for emergency use without any evidence from clinical trials.

    Drug makers, researchers and healthcare providers have expressed exasperation with the Biden health bureaucracy. Numerous biotech start-ups are developing Covid antivirals, but the FDA has insisted their drugs be tested against the standard of care—meaning Paxlovid. But they say Pfizer won’t give them access to its drug to run trials. [Catch-22 besides the delay factor. Emphasis mine]

    Biotech companies working on monoclonal antibodies for immuno-compromised patients are also urging the FDA to authorize treatments based on smaller trials and lab tests such as those that the agency used to authorize vaccines for children. “We’re racing against the clock here,” a Regeneron official last month pleaded to the FDA. Robert Califf, the FDA chief, has been a great disappointment.

    The Administration might not feel the urgency to advance new treatments because its allies in public health and the media focus almost exclusively on vaccines. While the mRNA vaccines have reduced severe illness, their benefits have diminished with the evolving variants.

    Biden officials blame Republicans in Congress, as they always do, but the Administration somehow found a way to repurpose some $5 billion from past Covid bills for bivalent boosters. Democrats ran Congress for two years. Why didn’t they appropriate more money for treatments?…

    The discovery of truth isn’t helped by censorship.

    Although something could be done to combat nonsense – but it must really be nonsense.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  25. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/covid-19-vaccines-almost-certainly-didnt-cause-damar-hamlins-cardiac-arrest-heres-what-may-have

    But myocarditis is far more frequently seen in the wake of run-of-the-mill viral infections; indeed, it was a more common complication among young males who caught the coronavirus than it was among those who got the vaccine, the CDC said.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  26. but it is rarely administered because the National Institutes of Health’s clinical guidelines say there’s “insufficient evidence” to recommend it.

    There might also be the question of whether insurance will pay for something not recommended.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

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